Kvell and Tell

Kvell and Tell

  • Kvell and Tell – June 19 2020 – Jamie Klinenberg Outgoing LoMPTY President Installation Speech
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    The following speech was read by LoMPTY’s Outgoing President, Jamie Klinenberg, during our 2020 Board Installation Shabbat Service on May 29, 2020

    Shabbat Shalom. Thank you all for being with us tonight to celebrate the incredible work of our past boards and the bright future of our upcoming leaders. It has been an honor and a privilege to serve as LoMPTY’s president for the past two years, and I’d like to take this opportunity to highlight the people that have made this year so special.

    First, I’d like to thank the rabbis and the cantor for prioritizing the teen program and trusting high schoolers the way that you do. It means a lot to know our ambitions are always backed. Additionally, I want to thank our incredible advisors, Halle and Andrew, for the support you’ve given us this year. Turning the wildest ideas from a group of teenagers into a reality is not an easy task, and you two have given us the ability to think big and make big things happen. Thank you so much. 

    Now to the board. I had a good feeling about this group a year ago when we were installed, and you have far exceeded my expectations. This year we’ve brought in new members, engaged in meaningful discussions about social issues, connected regularly through Lite Nites, and proudly continued our Cafe LoMPTY tradition – all thanks to you guys. You should all be incredibly proud of the work you’ve done and the leadership you have shown. I’ve come to believe that the president’s job is actually the easiest when backed by an effective and hard-working board, and I’m pleased to say that my job was pretty easy this year. 

    This year’s board has shown me what it means to be truly proud of a team, and I cannot thank this group enough for making this year so meaningful for me. To Sara, who I am thrilled to have succeed me, and to the rest of the new board, I am confident that you will do even better things in the year to come and I can’t wait to see you all thrive. Thank you and Shabbat Shalom.

  • Kvell and Tell – June 16 2020 – Lesli Kraut Presidential Installation Speech
    lesli square

    The following speech was read by Or Ami President Lesli Kraut during our 2020 Board Installation Shabbat Service on May 29, 2020

    Shabbat Shalom 

    When Rabbi Paul and I had one of our first meetings as 

    Rabbi and president, probably around this time last year, I will never forget his words “in every president’s term, for better or for worse there is that one thing that will stand out that you will have to overcome”. At the time, my thoughts turned to the Woolsey fire, still fresh in everyone’s mind and so devastating for our community. I remembered how seamlessly our past president Fred Gruber and our clergy handled it. What else could there be, an earthquake, another fire? Ok, well we got this! 

    This past year our congregation hit a milestone. We grew our partners to over 400 households. Our tot Shabbat’s were well attended, our youth group events and teen trips had record numbers. We started a new 50 something program and launched the Or Ami Village. Our social action and social justice programs are reaching so many in need and changing how we care for the less fortunate. Torah study on Saturday mornings for many became a must attend and our Bnai Mitvah kids, they were eagerly awaiting their special days. And who could forget, Or Ami One, our Gala, honored Michelle November and Rabbi Paul Kipnes, which brought in a record number of tributes and attendees. We were on a role and I was settling in. 

    Then it hit, a world pandemic. Our lives were upended by an invisible virus, forcing us to all shelter at home. What’s incredible to me, as I look back only a few months ago is how quickly our clergy and staff adjusted.   All while comforting their own families (including little one and teens) and never taking their eye off the ball. The hard work and dedication that has gone on behind the scenes is immense and endless to say the least. I want you all to know how blessed we are to have each and every one of them. 

    I am extremely grateful for this community. We have very generous families who have gone above and beyond, donating masks, organizing food drives and contributing to a fund that will enable our congregation to make sure that all of our families can continue to be a part of Or Ami. Our Board and officers have stepped up. Their commitment to Or Ami’s financial stability and sage advice is a reflection of the light that continues to shine on all of us. We are all determined to preserve Congregation Or Ami as the second home that we’ve always known.  

    So you may ask, how was my first year as president of Congregation Or Ami? Honestly, I wouldn’t trade this community, our Board, our committees, our staff and our clergy for anything. We are all truly blessed to have each other.

    Finally, I want to leave you with some advice from Amy Poehler “Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life forever.” 

    Thank you for placing your trust in me to lead our congregation during these unprecedented time.

  • Kvell and Tell – June 8 2020 – Molly Gross’ Speech from Sh’ma Koleinu
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    Or Ami Young Adult Molly Gross delivered this speech during our event last week, Sh’ma Koleinu: Hearing the Voices of Pain During this Time of Brokenness – A Minyan for Seekers of Meaning

    I just want to start by acknowledging my own humanity. I don’t have the perfect words and probably will not say all of the right things, but I am just going to speak from my heart, and I hope you find something to connect to.

    For me, the world is a difficult place to be right now. I’m trying to do everything I can, and simultaneously it feels like not enough. Our world is suffering from a pandemic. Amidst all of the pain the world is facing in light of COVID-19, recent events have brought another type of pain to attention. The death of George Floyd amongst countless others has forced the nation to confront the ongoing problem of unequal justice in our country. 

    In light of this, I am taken back to an English course I took last semester titled, “Representations of the Holocaust.” Many themes and discussions feel relevant and hope to share some with you.

    It is easy for me to care about the Holocaust because it is personal to me – it relates to my identity, culture, religion, and family. Although many of the students taking the course identified as Jews, many non-Jewish students elected to as well. I was struggling to show up to class each day, as the subject got more difficult and the memories even more painful. I continued to remind myself as to why this mattered to me. I took solace in my intention. 

    Yet as showing up every day got more and more difficult, seemingly impossible, I questioned, why were these students deeply concerned with learning about my struggles? And through discovering the answer to my own question, these students inspired me. They made the active choice to bear witness to the pain of others.

    One non-Jewish student spoke about her Korean heritage and ensuing struggle to understand her grandmother’s trauma in her upbringing and assimilation to America. She wanted to learn how to tell stories, and understand those of others. She illuminated the beauty within storytelling for me, and taught me that it is a privilege to hear stories, even the painful ones. 

    Yet, it is also a privilege to be heard. Benjamin Franklin said: “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” I will never forget the tears my non-Jewish classmates cried, or the pain they expressed, about something that did not personally affect them, and I feel it is my duty to show the same empathy towards others in return.  

    Sometimes there are no words to depict one’s trauma. Trauma can lead to muteness – an utter loss of language. Some share their stories, and others find that denotation fails them. How do you express to someone adequately, what you have witnessed, when you literally don’t have the language yourself? 

    So, there is no “right.” There is no proper way to mourn. People process and express difficulty in various ways: head on, through repression, going silent – yet independent of the means, we must sympathize with their struggle. 

    Yet despite these challenges, people are speaking up now, trying to tell us what has happened. And it is our job to listen.

    In order to achieve social achievement, my professor Al Filreis taught me there first must be a scream. The black community is screaming right now. And it may feel uncomfortable. Yet social achievement cannot be reached unless the scream is heard, otherwise, it is just a scream.

    In order to reach social achievement, we must listen, carry these stories, start conversations, educate others, say their names, evoke change. 

    So, there’s a scream – a cry for help. We hear the cry, and we must cry too. And in our crying, feeling, caring for struggles that we may not carry ourselves, we provide human solidarity. We hear their indescribable pain, and amidst our lack of experience that keeps us from understanding it entirely, we say “we see you, we hear you, your testimony is truth.” And our achievement comes in caring and human connection.

    And, as writer and holocaust scholar Terrence Des Pres states, “all things human take time.” So let’s put in the time. The time to challenge the structures that support these pervasive issues. The time to stop the ongoing inequality towards the black community, and all communities of color. The time to acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers. I’m accepting that I do not know what others experience. I understand I will never understand. However, I am committing to diversity and inclusion, and to stand against racism. I will work to be an effective ally.

    As human rights activist Desmond Tutu says, “if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Based on Torah, My parents frequently instructed us to not stand idly by. I can’t stand idly by. Instead, I will continue to struggle and sit in the discomfort. To not lose my humanity nor empathy. And I invite you, with me, to acknowledge our stories, our privilege, and to together bear witness to the stories of others. It is vitally necessary and urgent that we listen. Thank you.

  • Kvell and Tell – June 4 2020 – Ellie Schwartz’s Speech from Sh’ma Koleinu
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    Or Ami Young Adult Ellie Schwartz delivered this speech during our event this week, Sh’ma Koleinu: Hearing the Voices of Pain During this Time of Brokenness – A Minyan for Seekers of Meaning

    As I have watched the news and scrolled through social media the past few days, the death of George Floyd and the ongoing protests have consumed all my screens. I have seen posts stating that “white silence is white violence,” but I do not feel as if neglecting to post my thoughts to my Instagram story should reflect my outlook, or lack thereof, on the prevalence of racism in our world. The truth is–I do not know what to say. I do not know what to feel. 

    I do know this. Back in Elementary School, My teacher would pull out a prehistoric, dusty television set and show my class a video of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and this dream is not over. This dream has changed overtime, shying away from its nightmarish truth. But it has not changed enough, and it is still a nightmare for black and brown Americans who live in constant fear. 

    As a Jewish teen and the Social Action Vice President of Or Ami’s LoMPTY youth group, I feel it is important to look at these current injustices through the eyes of our Jewish values. Tikkun Olam refers to the Jewish notion of “repairing the world.” A lot of times, people aim to repair their own world, their immediate surroundings and the challenges they face based on where they live and come from. But instead of repairing our world, Tikkun Olam teaches us that we must repair the world, for we are one singular human family. 

    Our Torah has taught me to welcome the stranger, to value freedom and equality, to honor democracy and disagreement, always remembering that we were all created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God. I believe that a fundamental part of repairing the world is first understanding it. As we witness the protests in Los Angeles and cities throughout this country, the divisiveness of our world has revealed a new concept for us to grasp: The commitment to Tikkun Olam is fading. It is up to us to revive its importance and help those around us, particularly our black and brown family. 

    Now it is time for us to come together and engrave an end to racism in the fabric of our history. It is time for us to mold our world into everyone’s world. 

    To be completely transparent, I am scared. It is terrifying to see people treat each other with such anger and violence. 2 months ago I was in school getting upset about bad hair days. It is hard to believe how much has changed since then. If someone had told me all of this was coming, I would not have believed it. 

    We all are fearful of the widespread destruction of Covid-19. And honestly, Behind a closed door on a comfy couch, I have felt bad for myself many times recently. But then I watch TV, and I learn about the horror of George Floyd’s murder. I am not going to lie. I still do feel bad for myself. I feel bad that I cannot hug my friends hello and goodbye. But George Floyd’s friends did not get to give a goodbye, even from six feet away. He was taken from them unexpectedly in the cruelest way possible.

    In Judaism, we value G’milut Hasadim, acts of loving kindness. It breaks my heart to know that people willingly act without kindness or sympathy. Throughout this pandemic, I have coped well because of my loving Or Ami community, and so have many others. But compassion seems to be taking a backseat in our world and is being replaced with hate. The only way for us to get through these hard times is to act with love and behave with kindness. 

    Majority of police in our world act with kindness too. I have friends whose fathers are on the police force. We see in the news the bad stuff, the ugly stuff. But everyday, police officers save our lives, yet it is not tweeted or broadcasted. Rather than stereotyping groups of good people with a few bad people, we must act with respect and admiration. Through G’milut Hasadim, acts of loving kindness, I believe we can change the world to one filled with people who act kindly and justly.

    Over the past week, many of us have stopped complaining that our masks do not let us breathe. Why? Because we watched an innocent black man die because another person would not let him breathe. Stuck in my home for a while, I have taken my freedom for granted, and I never will again. George Floyd was never free from fear or racism. He was never really free to live his life. So, now we must live our lives to protect those who never could. Let’s begin today. 

  • Kvell and Tell – February 10 2020 – NewGround: A Jewish-Muslim Partnership for Change

    NewGround: A Jewish-Muslim Partnership for Change
    by Myron Dembo

     Congregation Or Ami’s Center for Jewish Learning recently sponsored a program with NewGround: A Jewish-Muslim Partnership for Change. Founded in 2006, NewGround is creating a national model for healthy relations, productive engagement and social change between American Muslims and Jews. The focus of the program is to learn to appreciate each other’s differences.

    One of their programs, Muslim and Jews Inspiring Change (MAJIC), gathers a select group of Jewish and Muslim teens who begin the year with a fall retreat and meet twice a month to learn about themselves and their peers and how organizations in their communities respond to major social issues. Their views are shaped by discussing different issues in pairs and small groups led by adult group facilitators, and working on educational and social projects throughout the year. Graduates of the program shared deep learning about embracing differences and transcending boundaries. 

    Many attendees entered Or Ami’s sanctuary prepared to listen to presentations about Jewish-Muslim relations. However, we were surprised when asked to pair up with a person we don’t know and to speak to each other about: An experience where you felt gratitude for something someone did for you. The ground rules were that we could not interrupt or respond to what our partner said. Our only responsibility was to listen. After two minutes, the other partner responded to the same question. A second topic was then introduced: Share an experience where you were impacted by someone with a different background from you. The purpose of these activities was to illustrate the program’s emphasis on teaching participants how to listen.

    One adult attendee was paired with a young girl from the MAJIC program who explained that she was raised in a Reform Jewish background. During one of her first MAJIC sharing sessions, she met another peer who was raised in an Orthodox Jewish environment. It was clear that they experienced Judaism differently. Initially, it was difficult for each to understand their different life experiences. However, after months of a learned listening process, they came to understand and respect their different ways of experiencing Judaism. The year-long dialogue between these students illustrated that not only Jews and Muslims need to learn to respect each other, but they also learn that there are many ways for Jews and Muslims to understand the differences within each of their own religions.

    The program’s co-director, Andrea Hodos, emphasized that learning how to listen is a key attribute when moving from a position of fearing differences to ultimately appreciating the benefits of differences. This deep process takes a great deal of practice, especially since researchers report that we remember only between 25% to 50% of what we hear. Listening is a skill that must be learned just like any other skill. Ms. Hodos showed a video of students commenting how their improved listening skills helped them to understand themselves and others with different religious and life experiences. The activities used in the program have important implications for developing programs dealing with conflict resolution, and appreciating cultural and religious differences.

    Visit the program’s website at mjnewground.org to learn more about their many activities.

  • Kvell and Tell – January 18 2020 – B’nei Mitzvah With Disabilities Find Their Way to the Bimah

    B’nei Mitzvah With Disabilities Find Their Way to the Bimah
    by Rahel Musleah
    (excerpted from Hadassah Magazine, to read full article CLICK HERE)

    …some synagogues and organizations have created inclusive programs. At Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, Calif., another URJ exemplar congregation, children with disabilities are integrated with other children, echoing the trend in general education. “Everyone was present at Sinai, including people with special needs,” says Rabbi Paul Kipnes, 55, who runs the b’nei mitzvah program. “You come with the kid and we work with you. It’s so ‘non-special’ that I don’t even notice it anymore,” he adds, noting that he has taught a child with autism to sound the shofar and another who is deaf to sign his Torah portion. Adaptability and creativity are key, he says. However, experts emphasize that it is also essential that educators have the right training and tools available to ensure that all the children involved in an integrated classroom benefit—not just those with special needs.

    For his part, Kipnes held hands on the bimah with Jacob Gilbert, who has autism, sensory disorder, intellectual disabilities and social ineptness and needs touch pressure to calm his body. Jacob’s teacher held his arm and rubbed his back when he chanted Torah, haftarah and other prayers, and when Jacob sat down, he interlaced hands with the rabbi’s. It brought everyone to tears, says his mother, Heather Gilbert-Bakalor, 45, an early childhood educator.

    Jacob is now in the synagogue’s youth group. “His bar mitzvah was the shining moment of his life,” his mother says. “It opened up his potential. He knows what he’s capable of now.” 

    CLICK HERE to read the full article

  • Kvell and Tell – November 18 2019 – L’dor Vador

    In a speech at Hebrew Union-College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Or Ami congregant Seth Front kvells about the positive impact that Congregation Or Ami interns and rabbis have had on his daughter Amanda:

    L’dor Vador
    by Seth Front

    Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the expression l’dor vador, from generation to generation, because this past August marked the 30th yarzheit of my father, Rabbi Henri Front (HUC ’55), in whose name we have a scholarship. And let me say, it is always an honor and privilege to be here again at the Hebrew Union College, an institution that was so beloved by my father.

    I’ve been asked today to address the donors, to somehow explain the importance of these scholarships. And the only way I can do that is through the story of my daughter Amanda, who is 19 years old, born long after my father passed away.

    Amanda was a theater geek growing up, spending every free moment in productions of one sort or another. Getting her to study for her Bat Mitzvah was difficult, more of an obligation to her parents than anything else, yet I still cried uncontrollably during the service, much to the surprise of my wife Amy, who had never seen me so emotional. 

    I was crying because “l’dor vador” had fully hit me: with neither of my parents alive to witness this rite of passage, I truly felt like the elder statesman in the family. 

    We belong to Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, and after her Bat Mitzvah, with Rabbi Paul Kipnes’ and Rabbi Julie Weisz’s encouragement, Amanda went to Camp Newman for the first time, a place she’d return to every summer after, going from camper to CIT and now counselor. It’s where she’d meet HUC student and Or Ami rabbinic intern, Julie Bressler.

    Amanda would immerse herself in Judaism during the summer because during the school year, with rehearsals every day and twice on weekends, she rarely had time for religious school or youth group. So I was surprised when, at the start of her senior year, she asked to join the confirmation class.

    I tried to persuade her against it because I didn’t want her to make a commitment she couldn’t keep, but she shot me down immediately.

    “Are you denying your only child a Jewish education?” 

    I told you she had a flair for the dramatic.

    So she went to confirmation, where she and the other students met with Rabbi Paul or Rabbi Julia every few weeks at a local restaurant to discuss Jewish values and ethics, but more importantly, to struggle with defining Judaism for themselves while getting to know their clergy in a way most of us never would have imagined a generation earlier.

    The year ended with a Confirmation Shabbat Service, and I promised my wife I wouldn’t cry this time. At the service, each of the confirmands spoke about one experience that informed their Judaism. When Amanda got to the bimah and began speaking, with a poise and warmth that enveloped everyone in the sanctuary, well, I broke down crying.

    “Again?” my wife said.

    “Amanda’s up there channeling my father.”  

    Now we were both crying.

    That night, I saw Amanda take ownership of her Judaism.  How did that happen? How did her Judaism blossom so beautifully?

    It happened because of the virtuous circle the Reform movement has created, between the synagogues, the URJ camps, and most importantly, the Hebrew Union College, which feeds them both. It happens because of the influence of rabbinic students like Julie Bressler, now a rabbi at Temple Beth Shalom in Needham, Massachusetts, who helped develop my daughter’s leadership skills at Camp Newman; and Rabbi Julia Weisz, who nurtured my daughter in ways too numerous to mention at Congregation Or Ami. Both graduates of HUC Los Angeles. Both recipients of scholarships while here. 

    The next summer, when Amy and I visited Amanda at Camp Newman for Shabbat, she told us she was giving up theater to pursue a career in Jewish Youth Engagement. So a pending Gap Year spent working in regional theater became a year working at Or Ami, creating innovative programming for the Youth Group under Rabbi Julia’s tutelage, and forming a strong bond with yet another HUC student, Rabbinic Intern Elana Nemitoff, now a rabbi at Temple Israel of Westport, Connecticut.

    Another year has gone by, and my daughter is now a freshman at Oregon State University, where she just completed Sorority Rush. She told us that when the young women of the sororities asked her what she planned to do after college, she replied “I’m going to rabbinical school.” 

    It was Amanda’s not so subtle way of informing her parents as well.

    We didn’t push this on her. Sure, maybe she’s got some of my father’s genes – after all, they say it skips a generation – but just as significantly it’s because of the influence of three who have passed through these doors – Rabbi Julia Weisz, Rabbi Julie Bressler, and Rabbi Elana Nemitoff-Bresler – first mentors, then friends, and maybe one day colleagues, who, along with Rabbi Paul Kipnes, encouraged my daughter on her Jewish journey. 

    The Hebrew Union College made a video two years ago whose theme was “We Are There.” The Hebrew Union College was there, all along my daughter’s journey.

    To the donors here today, all I can say is what I know firsthand: your generous gifts don’t influence just one student; rather, they ripple – l’dor vador – from generation to generation. Kol hakavod.

  • Kvell and Tell – October 21 2019 – Men’s Night Out
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    mens night out 1

    When we first created Men’s Night Out at Congregation Or Ami, we hoped that an occasional gathering of men would lead to friendships and meaningful conversations. Over the years, Men’s Night Out has succeeded in that and more. When the men from Jewish families gather at a congregant’s home, we schmooze (kibbitz or talk), eat a light but tasty meal, and connect over shared interests, work or just being men from Jewish families. Each gathering includes a deep conversation with Rabbi Paul Kipnes about engaging topics, including how to respond to antisemitism, being a father/son, how do we define success, creating civil conversations in a polarized world, and what does it mean to be a man today. Each gathering attracts men from age 28 to 88, which has provided fascinating connection that transcends age and generations.

    At the conclusion of Men’s Night Out, Rabbi Kipnes randomly divides the participants into troikas (groups of 3 men) who pledge to get together in the next month for breakfast, lunch, or a drink. These troikas have led to lasting friendships, new business connections, and deeper connections to the congregation. Head to orami.org/rsvp to find out about each future Men’s Night Out.

  • Kvell and Tell – September 15 2019 – Food Forward, The Story of a Truck
    Cong Or Ami - Truck Update 8-26-19
  • Kvell and Tell – August 28 2019 – Henaynu

    Henanyu – “We Are Here”

    When the Henaynu Caring Committee heard that Blake Green had his tonsils and adenoids removed, chair Susie Gruber sprung into action, delivering a card and a toy to keep him smiling as he recovered. When Susie received this note from Blake, then she too was smiling. If you or your loved ones experience illness, surgery or even a simcha (joyous moment), please let Or Ami and our rabbis know by calling the synagogue or emailing wecare@orami.org.