A mother say to her children, "No Chanukah presents tonight after we light candles. We already received the biggest present today at Mitzvah Day: Childspree."
“Thanks for showing me how to fish,” said the 5th grader, as she gave a big hug to Congregation Or Ami member Randy Sharon. For this young girl, and the 26 other kids from New Directions for Youth (NDFY), this was in fact their first time out fishing. In fact, for most, this was their first time on a boat.
The kids, ranging in age from 10 to 16, came from all over the San Fernando Valley. Each participates in NDFY programs. New Direction for Youth believes that “all youth deserve opportunities to grow and learn in positive environments. Intervention in the lives of at-risk youth reduces the incidence of serious and enduring problems that can perpetuate a cycle of poverty, underachievement, and anti-social behavior. Long-term positive results in a youth’s life are most effectively achieved by tending to the basic needs for guidance, support and involvement.”
Helping At-Risk Kids
Their vision dovetails so well with Congregation Or Ami’s foundational commitment to social justice activism. Long committed to projects helping at risk kids, it was quite apropos that Congregation Or Ami would chaperone a fishing trip for these kids. What could be more fun than a beautiful day on a boat out in the middle of the ocean!
Or Ami fisherman extraordinaire Randy Sharon and youth outreach coordinator Kim Gubner organized our participation as part of an annual outing of the LA Rod and Reel Club (which runs a fabulous event). Or Ami partnered with faculty member Patti Jo Wolfson’s non-profit NDFY to bring the 27 kids fishing. Congregants Jeff Frankel, Murray November, Marty Waschitz and I rounded out the Or Ami delegation.
Jovana, Maya and Me
Jovana, Maya and I were paired up toward the back of the boat. I learned that it doesn’t take much to teach a kid to fish. Grab a piece of slimy bait (move beyond the yuck factor), stick it on the hook, drop it into the ocean, and wait for the fishing line to stop unraveling. Two quick turns of the reel and you are all set. Keep your eye on the line and reel it up every so often to check the bait. Then hurry up and wait.
Each of the girls caught a fish or two. Not enough for experienced fishermen, but plenty for a first time out. Although we all were bundled up against the wind, we found warmth in the kids’ smiles. Yes, the joy was clear (as was more than a little seasickness for some of the kids).
What’s the Jewish Angle?
It occurred to me that there had to be Jewish angle to this trip. Googling taught me that so little has been written about Judaism and fishing. One colleague has made a name for himself as the Fly-Fishing Rabbi, while another wrote a series of blogposts on fly-fishing. Someone even wrote a book on Fly Fishing as a spiritual practice. Mostly, more than a few people cannot believe that rabbis, or other Jews, actually fish.
Clearly, we can take meaning from the 13th century’s Rabbi Moses Maimonides who taught that providing someone with the means to take care of herself is the highest form of tzedakah. Similarly, the Chinese proverb explains, “Give someone a fish, you will feed him for a day. Teach someone to fish, you feed her for a lifetime.”
Still, at the end of the day, most of us fishermen and women were just content enjoying ourselves out on the ocean with a really appreciative group of kids. So we say Modeh Ani l’fanecha – we thank You, O God, for the opportunity to provide new experiences and adult role models for these at risk kids. Amen.