Tag: Rabbi Julia Weisz

So Everyone Has a Home They Can Afford

A Teaching by Rabbi Julia Weisz 
Rabbi Weisz is my partner-rabbi at Congregation Or Ami, Calabasas, CA.

Several Saturdays a year, thirty at-risk youth from Panorama City step out of vans onto the beautifully kept green grass parks of Calabasas. Or Ami teenagers greet them, whistles around their necks, and act as their coaches for the day. Leading them in water balloon toss, football, capture the flag, basketball, kickball, arts and crafts and other sports activities. These Sports Clinics are for New Directions for Youth, an after-school program that helps keep children and teens off the street, out of drugs and alcohol and away from gangs. They are an amazing opportunity for Or Ami teens, families and rabbis to interact with individuals who live in a very different reality from their own.

A few weeks ago, at our last clinic, the NDY staff gathered around, munching on bagels generously provided by Or Ami families. I went over to welcome them and asked how they were all doing. Two staff members, in particular, expressed feelings of frustration and sadness. These two staff members are responsible for picking up the New Directions children and driving the vans to the Sports Clinics.

They explained that just that morning, the staff picked up two children from a homeless shelter. The month before they were picked up from an apartment. They explained that this was a trend the staff had been noticing for some time. Most of the parents of these children work full time jobs. Some even pick up extra work in the evenings and on weekends leaving young children alone with no care or supervision. The parents shared with the staff that they could not afford to pay rent AND provide food for their children. So, they had to choose. They chose food over shelter, left their apartment and moved into a homeless shelter.

Having to choose food over shelter.
We live in a world and in a state where many working families cannot have both food AND shelter. This is appalling.

It is stories like the ones from the NDY staff that open our eyes to the affordable housing crisis in California. Currently, 22% of households in California are paying more than 50% of pre tax income for housing. Even worse, 39% of working households in Los Angeles spend more than half their income on housing. Spending more than half their income on housing is absurd, but this is the reality.

I love getting my nails done. While chatting with my manicurist I hear many of her personal stories. She works in Calabasas but lives in Little Tokyo in a small two bedroom apartment with six relatives, all to make rent more affordable. She shares a bedroom with her husband and two teenage daughters. She commutes so far away because she cannot afford to live close to work. This is her reality.

A few weeks ago I had a conversation with a friend’s mother. She is in her 60s and shared with me how stressed she is each month when the bill comes from her mother’s senior living apartment building. She cannot believe how expensive it is for her mother to live there and is considering moving her in with a roommate. Her mother is 93 years old. A 93 year old with a stranger for a roommate? This is her reality.

The housing crisis is not just a Panorama City issue but a California one.
The reality, not a lot of California state money is going to affordable homes. The reality, so many Californians CANNOT pay their rent or mortgage.

Historically, Jews are all too familiar with the need for shelter. Our ancestors, our matriarchs and patriarchs -Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob, Rachel and Leah – all lived in tents, shelters susceptible to heavy rains, strong winds, desert heat and freezing cold. For years, the Israelite people wandered in the desert without a permanent dwelling place wondering when and where they would find a home. And Jews wandered again without a permanent home when first emigrating from Europe to America.

As Reform Jews, we value the importance of Tikkun Olam, repairing the world. We hear the call of the 8th century prophet Isaiah, who charged the Israelite people to bring those without a home into the house.

We can help bring those without a home into a house.

Here is how we can help.
Reform California is comprised of Reform rabbis and lay leaders around the state who are working in partnerships across race, class and faith to help repair our broken state. Right now we are working on bringing more affordable housing to California.

There are a few proposals asking that the state allocate money for the building of these homes that will be presented on Capitol Hill the end of June. The proposals focus on investing significant Cap and Trade funds in the building of affordable homes in California. All housing built using Cap and Trade Funds must lead to the reduction of Green House Gas Emissions. There is an opportunity here to both build affordable homes in California AND reduce greenhouse gases to protect our environment. The Legislature will be voting and we have the chance to raise our voices in support of building more affordable homes in California for those in need.

LEARN MORE: By reading this information sheet.

EMAIL YOUR STATE LEGISLATORS: I invite you to contact your California State Senator and Assembly Member, if you would like to support the proposal to allocate a significant amount of money to building affordable homes. You can send an email to your Senator and Assembly member by clicking here.

ATTEND THE LOBBY DAY: If fighting for affordable housing is an important issues for you to tackle, or you are interested in seeing what it is like to get a bunch of Rabbis and lay leaders from California synagogues together around social justice issues, join me in Sacramento on June 2. We will fly there in the morning, lobby at Capitol Hill, hear and share stories around the housing crisis, we will make sure our voices are heard before flying back in the later afternoon. We can work together to help bring shelter to those in need. Email Rabbi Julia Weisz for more information.

Shelter Us Beneath Thy Wings
The Hashkiveinu prayer is said each night before going to sleep. In it, we ask God to spread over us a shelter of peace. It is hard to envision someone feeling that peace when they are fighting every day for shelter.

May we someday live in a world where homes are affordable, where children can sleep in their own beds, not in homeless shelters. We can work together to help build shelter for those in need.

Only then, will we know peace.

Ken Yehi Ratzon, May this be God’s will. Amen.

Rabbis Are Parents Too! Naming Noam Privately and Publicly

Picture by Michael Kaplan

I have officiated at more than 100 britot (brises) for newborn baby boys and girls (and plenty of older adopted children as well). None made me more nervous than the bris I recently led.

Ask anyone about my anxiousness. My office assistants would laugh as they shared how concerned I was that every synagogue room was clean, dusted, and set up properly. Our cantor would remark that I was doubly attentive about the choices and placement of music. The parents would note the abundance of calls and texts to ensure that every aspect of the ceremony detail was … perfect.

Why all the Nervous Energy and the Extra Detail Work?
Because we were naming Noam Daniel Weisz, son of my partner rabbi, Julia Weisz and her husband David. I was officiating at a ceremony for a colleague with whom I spend inordinate amounts of time visioning, problem-solving and planning. One for whom I have tremendous respect and appreciation. I was honored with great responsibility: balancing the communal need to welcome our “temple baby” with Julia and David’s own needs as parents. Yup, this bris had to be extra special.

Split Personalities: The Bifurcated Existence of Jewish Professionals
Communal leaders – rabbis, cantors, educators, Federation leaders and others – spend vast amounts of time building relationships, creating community, and designing meaningful Jewish moments for others. When our own s’machot (joyous moments) approach, we are pulled in two directions. On the one hand, with the communities in which we work, we want to share our joy, find consolation, or be role models of how to mark both experiences. On the other hand, Jewish professionals have the need and right to have a personal (non-rabbinic) life cycle experience.

Julia and David set a perfect tone of balance when they decided to divide the brit milah ceremony into two parts: the bris (circumcision) which would be held in a separate room for family only, and the naming which would take place in the sanctuary as a public ceremony. Such Solomonic wisdom from so young a couple!

The Bris: Blessings Between Family Members

Picture by Michael Kaplan

The bris was intimate, musical and moving. We were connected midor lador (from generation to generation) and mimedinah lamedinah (across state borders) as Noam’s out-of-state relatives, including Super Nana and Super Zayda (great grandparents), watched the live streaming webcast of the ceremony and as Noam’s Aunt Jo FaceTimed in from Texas, where she was required to participate in the first days of her graduate school nursing program. His three living grandparents schepped nachas (shared the joy) in person with the rest of us.

Mohel (urologist) Dr. Andy Shpall explained the ritual, led the ceremony, and, in 30 quick seconds, circumcised young Noam with calm and professionalism. Cantor Doug Cotler, master musician, played background music and added in appropriate Jewish songs to focus our attention on this transcendent, joyous moment.

Cantor Doug and I caught each other’s eyes, and together recognized the blossoming kedusha (holiness). We wordlessly agreed to extend this portion of the day’s festivities to encircle the sparks of holiness. An extra song added. Then family members each blessed baby Noam with words that completed the sentence, “May you be blessed with…”

Eyes welled up as Mom (Julia) and Dad (David) blessed their baby. Family gathered close together and we pulled Aunt Jo’s iPad picture closer. Touching, hugging, holding each other, they all embraced Birkat Kohanim blessing. Eyes welled up poured out tears, as family celebrated the simcha.

Transition Time: Returning to the Rabbi Role
As family members were ushered downstairs to the sanctuary (where our lay leaders ensured that front row seats awaited them), we gave the Mom and Dad transition time. They spoke with the mohel about care for their circumcised infant. They took moments to hug each other. They held little Noam. Breathe in the blessings; breathe out the pre-bris worries. Breathe in; breathe out. Breathe in; breathe out.

The Naming: Schepping Nachas (Sharing the Joy)
The naming gathered a substantially larger group, mixing Rabbi Julia’s and David’s colleagues, friends, Or Ami congregants and family. Cantor Doug bonded the group by teaching them Nachas, Nachas, his new, original song for celebrating any significant moment of meaning. Paired with Siman Tov uMazel Tov, Nachas, Nachas brought old world yiddishkeit to our decidedly new American Jewish ceremony.

Grandparents shared readings about the significance of a name. Following the tradition – part superstition, part practical – of waiting until the bris to announce the baby’s name, David and Julia shared Noam Daniel’s name and its derivation from his deceased great-grandfather Oscar/Naphtali and his deceased step-grandfather Daniel. The congregation ooo’ed and ahhh’ed as the baby slept and cuddled. Hebrew blessings confirmed his Hebrew name and our prayers for his speedy recovery from the circumcision.

Allowing “Julia, our Rabbi” to Be “Julia, his Mommy”
How do communities care for the caregiver? Just as some adults have difficulty parenting the parent, congregations do not naturally know how to care for their Jewish professionals. Without such tools in their toolbox, it rests upon the shoulders of the leaders – clergy and president/board chair – to set the expectations. So as part of this ceremony, we explained to the assembled that today – and for the weeks (and years) following – Rabbi Julia and David need to be able to be like any other parents. Today especially, we celebrate with them and allow them just to relax into the most sacred of roles – the parents of a child.

Therefore, as part of the naming ceremony, we shared the congregation’s vision for Rabbi Julia’s maternity plan. We reminded the community that for the next three months, while on maternity leave, “Rabbi Julia” becomes “Just Julia.” We who have been so lovingly and tirelessly cared for by our Rabbi Julia, will want to care for her by allowing David and her to focus solely for baby Noam and each other. So as we see her in the mall, out at dinner, up online, we will NOT discuss Temple issues or updates with her. All temple related issues or concerns can be shared with her assistant Nancy Acord or with Rabbi Paul Kipnes. Message delivered, we moved toward conclusion.

Birkat Kohanim: A Benediction for a Baby and Family
Since the blessings of the community are as significant as are those of the clergy, we asked everyone to stand up and form one complete, unbroken chain of hugs or hand-holds, reaching all the way forward to Noam’s grandparents and from them to Noam’s parents, and to him. Quickly the large gathering became even more intimate. The assembled repeated the words of Birkat Kohanim (the Priestly Benediction) to Noam.

It was a moment of kedusha (holiness). To purposely misquote our patriarch Jacob, Achen, yeish Adonai bamaqom hazeh vanochi ken yadati – Surely God was in this place, and we all knew it!

Throughout the service, we lovingly treated Rabbi Julia and David as just two parents (not a rabbi and her spouse). We articulated the hope and expectation that she gets to be mommy first for her child, rabbi next. You see, Rabbis and other Jewish professionals (as mommies and daddies) can have rich, deeply meaningful spiritual lives, if we just need to educate our communities, articulate the expectations, and pre-think a process to address issues that might arise.

How does your community work to care for your caretakers and leaders?

Counting Down the Miracles at Or Ami

Dear Friends:

As Congregation Or Ami enters its 16th year and the Jewish world begins its 8 nights of Chanukah, we – your president, rabbis and cantor – rededicate ourselves to this incredible Jewish community.

16 years ago, Grammy award winning Cantor Doug Cotler was engaged as the first clergy member of a new community, dedicated to communal caring, Torah learning, effusive thanking and musical energy.

14 years ago, Rabbi Paul Kipnes was inspired to join Or Ami by the warmth of the community, and the dedication of our membership to innovation, to deep Jewish spirituality, to Henaynu caring and to social justice activism.

3 years ago, Rabbi Julia Weisz was charmed by Or Ami’s educational creativity and the commitment of the parents and leadership to learn and grow alongside the children.

1 year ago, Helayne Sharon accepted election as president of Or Ami, based on her strong commitment to a vibrant Campaign for Youth Engagement, a vigorously active Board of Directors, and a vital board-clergy partnership.

Daily we are energized, uplifted, and humbled by the remarkable Jewish community we experience at Congregation Or Ami.

We feel blessed to work in partnership with our hard-working and diligent Board*, self-reflective and inspired adults, and amazing young people – the very people who are ensuring Jewish continuity today and a Jewish future for tomorrow.

During this Festival of Lights, we celebrate these numerous Or Ami miracles:

1,408 sufganiot (jelly filled donuts) to be hand-delivered at Chanukah
1,190 worshippers at our Yom Kippur service
987 pages of music, prepared for our Or Ami chorale
613 marshmallows consumed at our campfire Shabbat services
320 adults at a recent parenting lecture
300 comfort bags filled on Mitzvah Day for foster kids
285 children in our school programs
173 times per day we buzz people into the synagogue
162 adults at a congregant-led evening all about deli
131 thousand dollars in our rainy day savings account
115 youth involved in our new Triple T: Tracks for Temple Teens
103 at risk children touched by our social justice programs
54 B’nai Mitzvah celebrated annually
41 rabbis and educators who served as our faculty and interns
39 families studying Torah in Mishpacha
26 mini-Torah scrolls for new primary school students
24 board members overseeing our sacred congregational work
21 empty nesters, active adults at a pot luck dinner
20 LoMPTY teens attending a regional NFTY retreat
18 adult B’nai Mitzvah this past year
12 musicians in Jewrassic Park, our Shabbat band
9 national congregational awards earned by Or Ami in our first 15 years
5 detailed financial reports prepared monthly by our finance committee
2 new exciting youth retreats (for 7th-12th and 4th-6th graders)
1 amazing Congregation Or Ami!

During Chanukah, we Jewish families put a chanukiah in our windows to illuminate all that is holy and true.

Congregation Or Ami is holy and true. We feel blessed to be part of it and we are thrilled that you are part of our family.

Chag Chanukah Sameach – Happy Chanukah!

President Helayne Sharon
Rabbi Paul Kipnes
Cantor Doug Cotler
Rabbi Julia Weisz

* Thank you to our Board and Officers: President Helayne Sharon, VP Debi Young, VP David Silverstone, VP Vadim Parizher, VP Hedi Gross, Secretary Stephanie Blau, CFO Steve Goldstein. Board Members: Eddie Bauch, Michelle Feinstein, Heidi Friedman, Dianne Gubin, Gary Kaplan, Cheryl Lederman, Steve Martini, Kevin Palm, Debby Pattiz, Melinda Pittler, Amir Rudyan, Jeff Singer, Cathy Spencer, Jon Wolfson. Ex-Officio: Rabbi Paul Kipnes, Cantor Doug Cotler, Rabbi Julia Weisz, Immediate Past President Lucille Shalometh Goldin; Past President/Advisor Michael Kaplan, LoMPTY President Noah Kipnes

I’m Overjoyed, Overwhelmed, and at Peace

These days I am feeling overjoyed, overwhelmed and at peace with all that is happening at Congregation Or Ami.

Overjoyed: I love to watch the reactions as people stop by our newly remodeled synagogue. With wide eyes and big smiles, each exclaims in amazement how beautiful our synagogue home looks. [Stop by sometime to see it with your own eyes. And celebrate with us the synagogue rededication on Friday, August 26 at 7:30 pm.]

Overwhelmed: I love to meander around our remodeled home, imagining our new youth lounge filled with teens connecting to each other and Judaism. I relish sitting quietly in the sanctuary, pondering it’s holiness and life’s meaningfulness. I enjoy imagining the many different activities for adults, families, and individuals we now can enjoy simultaneously. In the quiet that still pervades the building, I imagine the cacophony of voices as people eat, pray and love Jewish living.

At Peace: I love visiting our new rabbi Julia Weisz in her office as she and an endless group of congregant adults and teens dream and reimagine our learning programs. A whirlwind of activity, this newly minted rabbi has already transformed the way we will look at learning in our community. The future is very bright indeed.

Join me as we prepare to formally welcome Rabbi Julia into Or Ami.

  1. Save the date – Friday, October 14 – when we will consecrate Julia Weisz as our rabbi, during a family friendly campfire service, and/or 
  2. Participate in giving her a gift, honoring Rabbi Julia’s ordination and welcoming her to the temple. We are gifting her what she wants/needs: a new computer to help organize her creativity. You may donate by contacting Barbara Gordon in our office at 818.880.4880. Or you may donate at www.orami.org/donate.]

Kvell with us about our new home.
Kvell with us about our new rabbi.

But mostly kvell with us because the new year 5772 promises to be one of tradition and innovation, of blessing and goodness.