Tag: Teens

3 Jewish Institutions Collaborate on 1 Amazing Dr. Wendy Mogel Lecture

Walking out of the lecture by Dr. Wendy Mogel on “Raising Resilient Kids”, one couldn’t help but be changed. The author of Blessings of a Skinned Knee and Blessings of a B- regaled the assembled adults with stories of parenting gone wild and confidently, sometimes sarcastically reminded us to let our kids be kids. Perfection she implied, acceptance into Harvard she instructed is not the measure of healthy, well adjusted children.

Time to Have Another Child!?
I overheard the parent of 2 college students comment, “I learned so much tonight that I almost want to have another kid, just so I can raise one correctly.” Another quipped, “I was laughing so hard that I didn’t even feel guilty as I recognized the all unhelpful (parenting) habits I’ve developed.”

Yes, a standing room only lecture by two-time New York Times best selling author and parenting expert, psychologist Dr. Wendy Mogel engaged 305 adults for an hour plus session of self-reflection.

A Mirror into our Parenting Style

As Mogel held up a big mirror to all the adults, we nonetheless laughed at ourselves. We reflected upon our parenting styles. We realized that we were not alone in the wonderful, frustrating decidedly unscientific process of raising kids. But that wasn’t the only measure of success that evening.

Elements of a Successful Partnership
The other measure of excellence was that this expensive undertaking was the result of a growing partnership between three overlapping Jewish organizations – Calabasas’ Congregation Or Ami, Woodland Hills’ Kadima Jewish Day School and Malibu’s Shalom Institute/JCA Shalom. Three institutions, each dedicated to nurturing healthy, educated, moral Jewish kids, got together to hold what assuredly will be the first if many lectures on Jewish parenting. And the partnership was energizing.

To what do we attribute the success of this emerging partnership?

  • Choosing a timely topic and a well known, accomplished speaker 
  • Sharing the costs, and thus increasing the motivation to turn out greater participation among multiple organizations 
  • An agreement to share equally any revenue 
  • Shared publicity responsibilities – one made the registration website, one made the flyers, another wrote the press release 
  • Checking our egos at the door 
  • Providing each institution and it’s leaders equal one in the spotlight 
  • Increasing the pool of volunteers by bringing together three institutions 
  • Agreeing to leave our educational “silos” for shared successes

A Promising Next Step for Or Ami’s Center for Jewish Parenting
For Congregation Or Ami, this parenting session is one of many over the years sponsored by our Center for Jewish Parenting. Designed to offer well received and well attended lectures, the Center for Jewish Parenrting has hosted New Community Jewish High School’s Dr. Bruce Powell, and by other local parenting experts. This partnership with overlapping institutions offers an exciting next step for educating Jewish adults for the next generation.

What Teens Say: Reflections on the Triple T teen Retreat

53 teenagers – 7th through 11th grades – gathering together for our Triple T (“Tracks for Temple Teens”) teen Retreat. Over dinner, I asked them a few questions, and gave them my laptop to record their answers.

First Question: What have been the best parts of the retreat so far?

  • Arielle Tylim and Alyssa Kaplan 10th Grade and Ben Buckley 7th Grade: The best part of the Triple T retreat was spending time with our cabins and making new friends. 
  • Rachel Harris 8th Grade: I have loved getting to know everyone better. Before the retreat I knew everyone’s faces but I never really talked to them. I have enjoyed meeting new friends. 
  • Carly Klinenberg 10th Grade: The best part of the retreat was being with all my old friends and making new ones. 
  • Abigail Barnes 8th Grade: I have enjoyed meeting new people and services. 
  • Zoey Pittler 8th Grade: I loved reconnecting with friends that I haven’t seen in a while. I also loved all of the people in my cabin. 
  • Ben Davidorf 7th Grade: One of my favorite parts of the retreat was singing in the services. I loved all the new Jewish songs that I learned like “hay-yah-ho.” 
  • Jacob Buckley 10th Grade and Steven Suffin 7th Grade: We loved every part of camp! We would happily come back!  
  • Aaron Moxness 10th Grade: I thought the retreat was amazing, and can’t wait for next year!! I especially liked playing guitar in the song sessions. 
  • Steven Simen 10th Grade: Um…. this retreat has been awesome, well organized and well planned. The best thing was the water balloon launch. 

  • Caryl Kaplan, retreat nurse/mom:
    The best part of the retreat has been the people I have met both campers and staff!!

Second Question: How was the retreat different from what you expected?

By and large, the number one answer was that they expected to be overwhelmed with praying and rituals. In fact, all but one student responded saying that the retreat was balanced, friend-filled and exciting.

  • Steven Simen 10th Grade: I can’t say anything bad about this, because it has been very good. 
  • Abigail Barnes 8th Grade: I expected the retreat to be really boring but it has been very fun. I have had so much fun hanging out with my friends. 
  • Zoey Pittler 8th Grade: The retreat was almost like I was at Camp Newman, but for just a weekend.

    Aaron Moxness 10th Grade: It was everything I expected. 

  • Rachel Harris 8th Grade: … there have been so many fun-filled activities. 
  • Arielle Tylim and Alyssa Kaplan 10th grade and Ben Buckley 7th Grade: … we had a lot of fun and enjoyed making friends with the younger kids. 
  • Caryl Kaplan, retreat nurse/mom: Watching their interactions as a “fly on the wall” was a heart warming experience. The world could use many more Or Ami young people. 
  • Rabbi Paul Kipnes, 15th Grade: I forgot how kids of all different ages bond together in a camp setting, so that differences disappear and then become one community.

Thanks to Rabbi Julia Weisz, Mishpacha Coordinator Rachel Kaplan Marks, LoMPTY youth advisor Stefanie Philips, and the amazing staff.

To catch a glimpse of how much fun a teen retreat can be, check out our pictures on Facebook. Look at Congregation Or Ami and at Paul Kipnes.

The Joys of Being a Rabbi: Engaging Teens

Confirmation is a reaffirmation of all that Congregation Or Ami is about. I wish you could have been there. On Friday night, 7 Or Ami teenagers – Jessa Cameron, Libby Coufal, Nathan Fried, Ben Ginsburg, Dakota Keller, Marissa Meyer, and Peter Young – stood on our bimah to articulate those values and experiences which bind them to our Jewish tradition and community. Listening to them speak, my eyes misted over.

I remember watching each one of them grow up, some since they were infants. We rabbis and cantor have the unique privilege of walking the journey with our teens as they matured into Jewish adulthood. We smile at memories of them singing with joy at Shabbat services, laughing as they learned in religious school, and chanting ancient words from an ancient scroll as they traversed the divide between childhood and adulthood. We watch them assume leadership roles in our LOMPTY temple youth group. We kvelled alongside their parents every step of the way. We remember the challenges of their teenage years, the sadness shared during family illness and loss, the joy of graduations and simchas.

Our national Reform movement, the Union for Reform Judaism, has told us that after years of post-Bar/Bat Mitzvah dropouts, the future of our Jewish people rests on our ability to engage our youth through high school. What makes for such engagement?

  • The creation of relationships between our youth beginning when they are young 
  • The developing of connections between our youth and their rabbis and cantor 
  • The use of social media to build community among our teens and their clergy 
  • Openness to asking deep questions, and to talking about difficult subjects 
  • Willingness to offer unconditional love and acceptance 

But mostly, as we listened to these teens confirm their connection to Torah, Jewish tradition and the Jewish people, I realized how deeply I love these future adults. So I gave them each my business card (complete with my email, facebook, twitter and cell phone number) with the promise that the relationships will endure and their rabbis and cantor will be there for them always.

I know we will remain in touch. Because Or Ami’s former teens – now adults – stay in touch regularly. We go out for coffee, to grab sushi, for help with a paper, and joyously, to plan the ceremony when they will bind their lives under a chuppah with their beloved.

Confirmation offered a glimpse into the future, and a peak into the past. All wrapped up in Judaism. That’s the work of being a rabbi; that’s the joy of the Confirmation ceremony.

Read more: In their own words: 7 Inspiring Teens Speak Out About Being Jews

Bruce Springsteen, Dan Nichols and Electrifying Music

Music is like that. Electrifying, exhilarating, intoxicating. Music can transport us to higher planes of existence. I notice it whenever we go to a concert. Or go dancing. When just sitting in the sanctuary listening to Cantor Cotler when he is in the groove.

Connecting Teens Thru Music
If you want your kids to connect Jewishly, bring them to a Jewish Rock Concert. Watch them interact with their peers, even those they don’t know, as the music transforms them and transports them.

Watch Dan Nichols singing Redemption.]

A Mosh Pit in the Sanctuary
So we invite you to connect or reconnect your kid to Judaism and Or Ami in a uniquely energetic way. Bring them (yes, you should attend but like me will sit toward the back and sides, while the kids are in a mosh pit in the center of the sanctuary). The concert is appropriate for all ages, but every 6th-12th grader should be at or Ami for that 1+ hour experience. Adults should come too.

Tickets are only $10.00 ahead of time (reserve yours online here) or $15.00 at the door. Seats will sell out, so reserve yours now. Reserve your tickets here.

Music speaks louder than words. Make sure your kids and their friends are at Or Ami for this Jewish Rock Concert. 

Jewish Education is Dead; Long Live Jewish Education

I wish I had coined that phrase: “Jewish Education is Dead; Long Live Jewish Education.”  But in truth, this is the title of the talk by Dr. Jonathan Woocher, the Chief Ideas Officer of JESNA, the Jewish Educational Service of North America.  Dr. Woocher, whom I have followed through his writings for years, spoke at the Union for Reform Judaism’s Education Summit 2011, as part of the URJ Biennial Convention 2011. (Yada yada yada.)

To quote one of my tweets: “I was so inspired by Dr. Woocher’s talk that I could barely breathe.”

Dr. Woocher, in his own piercingly insightful way, challenged us to allow old paradigms about Jewish education to quietly go to sleep, as we embrace new realities and new paradigms for the Jewish present and future.  His talk, combining the best of technology including real time polling and engaging videos, offered a compelling critique of the present and a glance into the future of Jewish education.

The Case for Change
Said Woocher, these are the elements that make the case for change:

  • Success of assimilation: we are assimilated. We have not given up our Jewish identities doing so. 
  • Hybrid identities: Our kids (and we) have multiple identities, are fully involved but are asking what Judaism means to them. 
  • We are many things at once. How does that Jewish component speaks? 
  • Diversity of our community. Enuf said!?! 
  • The “sovereign self” – we are all “choosing Jews” 
  • “Patch dynamics”. Never one thing happening at a time. Rather many things happening at once 
  • Prosumerism: simultaneouslsy producers and consumers of our experiences people want to co-produce their Jewish experiences 
  • Institutional loyalty is declining 
  • Constant Busyness and pressure to achieve – how can we carve out space for their busy learning. 
  • Technology – not cause of any of these changes but an accelerant. Helping us to be less dependent on intermediary institutions.

This is Abiding
Not everything has changed.  These factors still remain:
  • Our search for meaning and purpose 
  • Our desire for connections and relationships 
  • Our satisfaction from accomplishment and growth.

Necessary Paradigm Shifts for the Future of Jewish Education
We need to:

  • Put learners at center of Jewish education.  Not institution or leaders 
  • Empowering learners and families
    Educating the whole person. Not just the “Jewish” part. 
  • Educate whole persons, making meaning and impacting lives not jut imparting content and promoting continuity 
  • Engage multiple intelligences 
  • Emphasize relationships 
  • Widen landscape of learning: concerts, media, trips, radio, etc. 
  • Create multiple points of entry
    Bringing innovation in from the edges 
  • Redefine the role of educators as guides, help others to find their way on the Jewish journeys 
  • Break down the silos and forging synergies.

What Should We Do?
Dr. Woocher suggests these new models and collaborations:

  • Magnet programs 
  • Link camps and congregations and year round youth activities 
  • Explicit pathways from early childhood education to next stages of learning. 
  • Day schools as community education centers.
  • Learner- and family-generated learning options 
  • Using technology anywhere and everywhere.
How wonderful to be able to offer you now a clear, well thought out synthesis of Dr. Woocher’s talk.  Yet it is 1:00 am, and it is just the first day of this amazing Education Summit.
Suffice it to say that Dr. Woocher’s talk, and the whole introduction and subsequent sessions of the Education Summit goad me (and our lay leaders and other rabbi) to rethink the whole enterprise of Jewish education within our synagogue.

It is one thing to kvell about what we are doing.  It is another thing to be open to reexamining every element of our program and vision to dream about what could and what should.

Bravo to the Union for Reform Judaism, and especially Rabbi Laura Novak Winer and her team for all they are doing to challenge and inspire us!

Henaynu Caring Community Youth Coordinator: Helping Teens Reach Out To Each Other

What might a young person appreciate when he or she is sick, loses a grandparent, or has some other problem? Besides the love and support of parents, he/she also might enjoy the support and text/email/Facebook outreach from his/her peers.  

That is why Congregation Or Ami is preparing to unveil a new way that we will be extending the love and support of the Henaynu Caring Community Committee to our youth.

Beginning very soon, a congregant will assume the role of Henaynu Youth Coordinator (HYC).  Her responsibilities will be:
  1. To compile a list of 6th-12th grade youth who are willing to reach out to other youth who are facing illness or other difficult times;
    1. HYC will create a short blurb to put in the Illuminating News, for a few weeks in a row, asking for teens and middle schoolers to volunteer to be in contact with other teens in need. The blurb will be sent to our Program and Marketing Director for inclusion in Illuminating News and run between 2-4 times.
    2. HYC will arrange with our Rabbi to come to a Temple Teen Night to speak with students to invite them to volunteer.
    3. HYC will connect with the LoMPTY youth group leader, who will serve as LoMPTY Henaynu Contact.  
  2. To collect the email addresses, cell phone numbers (for texting) and Facebook contact info for these volunteer youth;
  3. To create (with Henaynu Caring Community Chairs and with Rabbi Kipnes) guidelines for how teens can reach out to other youth: what to say, how often to contact, what to report back to HYC;
  4. Upon hearing about a young person who is sick either through the Henaynu Tracker (caring community email system) or from a contact with the Henaynu Chairs or Rabbis, to contact LoMPTY Henaynu Contact and other youth volunteers and invite/encourage them to call/email/text/Facebook, and report back that they did.
I wonder if other synagogues have created a youth outreach component to their Caring Community program.  I look forward to finding out.  

If your Or Ami 6th-12th grader is interested in
volunteering, please contact me and I will pass their information on to our
Henaynu Youth Coordinator. 

Suicide, Drinking and Dying: What to Say to Your Children (and yourself)

Suicide, Drinking, and Dying
What To Say to Your Children (and yourself)
Rabbi Paul Kipnes headshotThe news spread quickly, which is to be expected when it involves a pair of suicides of young people and the death of another, allegedly by alcohol poisoning. 
Those who knew the young men and even those who did not, are shocked, scared and anxious. Many are reviewing their interactions with these youth to see if they missed any signs about what the young people were thinking. Others are wondering how someone could be considering such drastic action and they did not know it. 
Some parents are wondering how to help their children deal with this tragedy. Others are wondering if they are missing signs from their own children. Still others are wondering where God is in all of this. 
Our hearts break for their families; we seek to console them, their loved ones, and our loved ones.  What can we say that will be meaningful to our children, to the families of the deceased… to ourselves?
In conjunction with the Or Ami Center for Jewish Parenting, we offer these resources written and/or compiled by Rabbi Paul Kipnes, Cantor Doug Cotler and Rabbi Julia Weisz:
5 Initial Thoughts when Dealing with Teens after a Suicide 
  1. Be with them, let them talk, or cry, or just be. Suicide is confusing and it may take time for your child to open up and begin to talk about it.
  2. While most suicidal individuals give off warning signs, many of these signs are missed by even those closest to them. Scrutinizing past interactions for such signs is normal, brought about by feelings of guilt, sadness or remorse. Listen to your child, don’t dismiss his/her sadness, but remind him/her that even those closest to the person who killed himself did not recognize the signs.
  3. Most adolescents have thoughts at one time or another about suicide. It is NORMAL to have such thoughts. Let your child know that he or she can talk to you about anything. Be prepared not to “freak out” if your child shares such thoughts.
  4. If necessary, and if your child needs it, consult with a therapist who works with youth. I would be glad to refer you to such individuals.
  5. Please do not hesitate to contact Congregation Or Ami (818-880-4880) to talk to Rabbi Julia Weisz or with me. When you call, please let them know it is about the suicides and that this is very important.

Read Facing a Suicide: Talking to Your Kids…, for:

  • Some Statistics and Facts Concerning YOUTH Suicide
  • Six Warning Signs
  • Seven Things to Do: When You Suspect Suicidal Feelings: How You Can Help

Read A Letter to our Teens and College Students: About Safe Places and Safe People… Like Your Rabbi and Cantor 

An Excerpt: …Your rabbis and cantor reach out to our teens after the Tyler Clementi suicide: Whether you are gay, straight, bi or transgendered or just plain confused, Judaism teaches that each individual is created B’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God.  It does not matter what other people think about you as you struggle to figure out what you think about yourself… If you are feeling sad, angry, scared or any of a myriad of confusing emotions, and you need someone to talk to, please be in touch with one of us. And always remember that you have rabbis and a cantor and a community that care about you deeply and accept you for who you are.  No matter what.

  • Resources for Helping Your Child Cope
  • Deciphering what is on a Child’s Mind
  • Guidance for Talking to Childen of Different Ages
  • How to Comfort the Mourner
  • What to Say and Not to Say When a Child Dies
Read Some Jewish Responses
Finally, pass this onto friends, teachers, and others for whom this information might be helpful.  
In the days and weeks ahead, may you find the courage and fortitude to face the realities of life: 

that some live and some die
that sometimes things just don’t make sense 
that we can chose: 

to hold those we love closer
and to count our blessings. 
Your rabbis and cantor are always here to talk to, to consult with, to listen. Because we care for you.  

Top 9 Benefits of Taking Jewish Teens To A Pride Parade

Today at the San Francisco Pride Parade, we couldn’t have been more proud!

42 teens from the URJ Camp Newman‘s Avodah session ventured into San Francisco to walk and celebrate. Adorned in their purple camp t-shirts, and led ably by Avodah Director Aaron Bandler (a future rabbi??), our 16-year olds danced Israeli folk dances up Market Street. As they carried a tye-dyed chuppah complete with glass to break, they exhibited additional pride as they marched on the heels of the New York State vote to legalize marriage equality.

We went to San Francisco to live out the values of Torah:

  • B’tzelem Elohim – that we all are created in God’s image (Gen. 1)
  • K’shoshim T’hiyu – that we are all holy (Lev. 19)
  • Ahavat HaGer – love the stranger (36 times in the Torah).

Wonder why we brought our teens to the Pride Parade?  
Because participation in the Pride Parade…

  1. Instills pride in themselves no matter what their differences.
  2. Offers chance to be boisterously joyful in public about being Jewish.
  3. For teens who are questioning their own sexual orientation, it makes them feel safer and more accepted, a major goal of NFTY’s GLBTQ Teen Inclusion priorities.
  4. Learn about and live out longstanding Reform Jewish positions on marriage equality and gay rights.
  5. Teaches them how to stand up for something significant.
  6. Bonds them together as a group.
  7. Provides a chance to meet lots of different people of all sorts of shaped and sizes and color and religions.
  8. Allows them to really let go and have unrestrained fun and joy in a safe and sober way in a public place.
  9. Gives the opportunity to wear their sillier clothes including green fishnet stockings, pink tutus and Mardi Gras beads.

Finally, as the real life follow up to the previous evening’s program on self-acceptance, this experience allowed each teen the opportunity to verbalized to themselves and out loud to their community, “I’m proud to be me.”

This blogpost was cowritten on the bus back to Camp Newman by Rabbi Paul Kipnes, Camp Newman Faculty Dean & Rabbi, Congregation Or Ami, Calabasas, CA; Rabbi Laura Novak Winer, URJ Director of Teen Engagement; Michelle November, Associate Director of Admissions, New Community Jewish High School, West Hills, CA; Alissa Robinow, Youth Advisor, Congregation Rodef Shalom, San Rafael, CA; Aaron Bandler, Camp Newman Avodah Director.

How My Dad Stopped Being Stupid: Insights of Father of 3 Teenagers

The older teens become, the stupider parents sometimes feel.

There’s something about having teenagers that is the great equalizer. Teenagers, halfway between childhood and adulthood, have more knowledge and sometimes less wisdom.  As they struggle to with their newfound knowledge and relatively greater life experience, they sometimes overreach and appear to “know it all.” In the process, their expansive knowledge pushes back against their parents’ life experience. Parents, it appears, are stupider and stupider.

I have come to realize that if parents are increasingly “stupid” – which they’re not – then my father, who sometimes seemed to know less and less, must not have been as clueless as I sometimes thought!  I have new appreciation for my father, and the havoc raising teens must have brought into his life. In retrospect, I see that for most of those times that I once thought my dad was clueless, he probably wasn’t.

  • Parenting is about raising kids to healthy maturity in spite of our lack of knowledge and their growing sense that they know more or better.
  • Letting teens fully run their own lives would be like letting a day-old deer run free in the forest. She may be beautiful and look competent. She might have great fun in the forest. But, with hunters and predators around, she might just end up endangering herself.
  • Sleep, for the parents of teenagers, comes in fits and starts. Either parents are awake or dozing fitfully until their teen comes home safely from a night out with the car, or they are woken up as these night owls move noisily around the house.
  • Increasingly trying to do it on their own or their own way, teenagers push back against their parents and trumpet their newfound knowledge. The message: teen is smart; parent is stupid.
  • It is very frustrating for parents to be thought of as stupid when they are not. It is even harder for parents to push through being thought of as stupid and still raise these wonderful yet indignant children toward adulthood.
  • Parents love their teens, but may not always like them.
  • As I once overheard parents of teens whisper to each other, “This part of parenthood isn’t so much fun!”

On this Father’s day, with this newfound understanding, I write my dad:

Dear Daddy, 

Thank you for not killing me when I was a teenager. Thank you for not giving up on me even when I was a royal pain in the butt. Thank you for loving me even through those times when I probably was very hard to like. Sometimes it amazes me that humans just don’t eat their young. I apologize for any times I called you a mean name, thought you were clueless, or projected a sense that I was way smarter than you. I now know that you weren’t really stupid. 

Happy Fathers Day. I love you.

A Letter to our Teens and College Students: About Safe Places and Safe People… Like Your Rabbi and Cantor

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We sent the following letter to our entire community…
Cheshvan 5771
October 2010
Dear Members of the Or Ami Family,
We hope that you will share the letter below with your teens and college students.  Some of you might feel comfortable sharing it with your preteens.  It is inspired by the writing of Rabbi Andy Bachman of Brooklyn and Rabbi Alan Cook of Seattle, but the sentiments expressed are very deeply felt by each of us.  We want each and every teen and college student at Or Ami to know that they are part of a community that will love and support them, no matter what.
There are many wonderful resources out there if you, your teens, or your college students are confronting any of the issues addressed in the letter.  We will be providing opportunities in our Temple Teen Night, our Confirmation, our LoMPTY youth group, and in other forums to discuss these matters, but you may also wish to check out some of the following online resources.
§   http://www.nfty.org/resources/guides/bullying/ (Reform youth movement’s resources on bullying and LGBT issues)
§   www.rosalindwiseman.com (creating cultures of dignity, from the author of the non-fiction book upon which the movie “Mean Girls” was based)
§   www.GLSEN.org  (the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network)
§   www.Lambdalegal.org (working for the civil rights of the LGBT community)
§   www.thetrevorproject.org (focused on crisis and suicide prevention among LGBT youth)
Dear Or Ami Teen or College Student:
Hi!  As your rabbi and cantor, we have been asked to respond in a Jewish manner to an important issue. Sometimes those issues are so heavy, so serious, that words seem insufficient.  We are writing you about Rutger’s student, Tyler Clementi, his being bullied and his recent suicide.  Tyler’s tragic death has saddened us greatly.
If you are not familiar with what happened, you can read the full story.  Here’s the gist of it: Tyler was secretly filmed having a sexual encounter with another man in his dorm room at Rutgers University.  This film was then broadcast over the Internet, causing him much embarrassment.  Authorities believe that this was a major factor in his decision to take his own life.  Appropriate personnel from his school and from local law enforcement are continuing to investigate.  Tyler is only the latest and most publicized in a string of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered (LGBT) young people who have taken their own lives because of pressures they felt to conform to the expectations of others.  Our hearts go out to the families and friends of all of these young men and women.
But we want to speak to you, whoever you may be.  Whether you are gay, straight, bi or transgendered or just plain confused, Judaism teaches that each individual is created B’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God.  It does not matter what other people think about you as you struggle to figure out what you think about yourself.
What does matter is that you feel comfortable being who you are – at Or Ami, at school, in your community, and in your home – and you learn how to deal with those who do not accept you.  And you need to know what Tyler, in his shame and pain and suffering, may have been unable to appreciate – that no matter how badly you feel about how things are going in your life, you will always have someone to talk to, and a community that will accept you, support you, and love you for who you are.  Let us also help you if you are in pain or thinking of hurting yourself.  (Suicide is a permanent solution to what is a temporary problem.) Our emails are at the bottom of this letter, and we encourage you to reach out to us if ever you need help.
Tyler Clementi’s life ended because we live in an imperfect world that hurts or even kills people because they are different.  People fear what they do not understand, and so we are left with a twisted world where people are harmed because of who they are, or whom they love.  Others may be hurting due to acts of anti-Semitism, cyber bullying, social exclusion, breaking up with a first love, using drugs/alcohol, or any of the countless other pressures that teens and college students face today.  The effects of such harm will not always be physical, but words and name-calling and lack of acceptance can leave scars just as deep as one who wields a knife.  The good news is that there are more people in the world who support your right to be who you are than not. Torah teaches Kedoshim Tehiyu, that you are holy and valued (Leviticus 19).   We accept you and want you to feel welcomed and valued and respected and loved.
Although the two of us are straight men, we have been blessed with friends and relatives, rabbinic colleagues and other coworkers, and beloved and involved congregants who are gay or lesbian or bi or transgendered.  If we examine our relationships, I believe all of us would find the same to be true.  Some come out easily; others struggle with their identity; still others remain “in the closet.”  One day, perhaps we will be able to say, “Who cares what an individual’s sexual orientation is?”  And until that day comes, so long as such prejudice and bigotry remain, we cannot remain silent.  The Jewish tradition teaches that we are all responsible for one another. 
As your rabbi and cantor, we care for you. So if you are reading this, and you are feeling sad, angry, scared or any of a myriad of confusing emotions, and you need someone to talk to, please be in touch with one of us (our emails are below).
And always remember that you have a rabbi and cantor and a community that care about you deeply and accept you for who you are.  No matter what.
With love,
Rabbi Paul Kipnes                                                      Cantor Doug Cotler
[email protected]                                                 [email protected]
You may want to read Rabbi Kipnes’ blog on the issue (The Holy One Created Tyler Clementi; Why Couldn’t His Roommates See His Holiness?) here

The Holy One Created Tyler; Why Couldn’t His Roommates See His Holiness?

This weekend, though consumed with the celebration of life – a wedding, two B’nai Mitzvah, the bris of a baby – my heart was breaking as I tried to comprehend the deadly harassment that led to the death of Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi.  His roommate taped a private sexual encounter, publicized it on twitter and put the video up on the internet.  Humiliated and bullied, Tyler jumped off a bridge to his death.  I am horrified and embarrassed that such acts continue to happen. 

It is enough that our young people struggle so to acclimate to college life. That Tyler was targeted in what is supposed to be safe space (his dorm room) by people who were supposed to support him (his roommates) and that his privacy and dignity was destroyed are unconscionable. 

It wasn’t just 18-year-old Tyler who suffered.  I learned from Rev. Dr. Neil Thomas, Senior Pastor, Metropolitan Community Church, Los Angeles, that five teens who took their lives in September:

Raymond Chase, 19 Rhode Island; Seth Welsh, 13, California; Asher Brown, 13, Texas; Tyler Clementi, 18 New Jersey; and Billy Lucas, 15, Indiana; five teens who took their own lives, not this year, but this month (September)…. We mourn with them and we commit ourselves to live our legacy now and use our voices and our lives and to work together to bring to an end the senseless violence against all our our children; specifically LGBTQI children who face taunts and harassment every day in the playgrounds and classes of our schools and colleges.

There are many lessons to be learned from this horrific harassment.  My friend Rabbi Denise Eger of Temple Kol Ami focuses rightly on the need for better education of our youth on issues of tolerance, human sexuality and the appropriate use of the internet: 

In this weekend of the movie premier of The Social Network about the founding of Facebook the emerging facts of the Tyler Clementi case scream out for our society to have a renewed discussion about acceptable boundaries in the face of the internet and a real discussion about tolerance, acceptance and human sexuality. There is lots of condemnation but little honest talk about the need to educate our young people.

I support her call for better, deeper and more encompassing education in our schools and in our synagogues.  

Perhaps there is another lesson, simple yet important, that one would think (hope) that in the 21st century, we would not longer have to teach.  It is a most basic lesson of the value of each human being.  Apparently, we must go back to basics.  So here goes:
Judaism and Torah teaches that we are all are created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God. Let us be clear about what Genesis meant and means.  Being created in God’s image means that each person is valued, worthy, and sacred.  Such love – between mature consenting individuals – is similarly holy.  Gay or straight, bisexual or transgender – the people, their gender identities and the ways they make love – are blessed.  The Torah teaches that; our tradition affirms it.  Those who read it any other way are misquoting the Bible for their own twisted perspectives and purposes. 

So let us mourn the deaths of Tyler, Raymond, Seth, Asher and Billy, and the thousands of other LGBTQ teens and adult who, struggling to understand and accept their own identities, face unrelenting bullying and harassment.  May our synagogues and schools and colleges becomes havens of hospitality, safe places to come to accept the holy way the Holy One made each of us. 

A Letter to My College Bound Daughter

Click here to download a PDF of this sermon.

Who has seen the movie Toy Story 3? My wife Michelle and I saw it with the kids on the day it came out. There we sat, watching Pixar’s animated film about a bunch of talking toys, when I noticed the tears running down my wife’s face. I squeezed her hand tightly; I too was crying. Now just so you know, we didn’t get choked up in the original Toy Story, nor in Toy Story 2. We were crying because just like our eldest child Rachel, the owner and friend of the toys, a character named Andy was going off to college. When we later saw the movie The Kids are All Right, we again found ourselves sobbing during the off-to-college scene.

Michelle and I are experiencing a wonderful yet tear-inducing reality that our little redhead has flown the coop, venturing off as a freshman to Pitzer College in Claremont, CA. We long dreamt about and planned for our child to go to college. Yet now that she actually has the gall to go, we find ourselves on a rollercoaster of emotions.

Who has sent children or grandchildren off to college? Who remembers your own parents’ reactions when you first left home? (Who would like to schedule some time in my office to work through the memories of your parent’s joy when you left home?) How many are already emotional at the thought of your own children leaving, even though your own kids won’t go to college for many more years?

As Rachel prepared to leave, I sat down and wrote her a letter. Rereading it a few days later, I realized that the message I had tailored to my eldest child was applicable to so many transitions beyond leaving for college. Essentially, we can all use words of encouragement to go out and “seize the day,” to make the most of our lives while remain true to our core Jewish values.

So whether you have a child or grandchild going off to college, or are that student yourself; whether you have recently started a new job or find yourself searching for one anew, or are beginning or enjoying a recent retirement; if you have recently said goodbye to dear friends who moved away or had to move yourself; if you are reencountering the world after illness or loss or are struggling with the jumble of emotions in the midst of a loved one’s illness or death; if you are welcoming a new member into the family – the birth or adoption of a baby, a fiancé, spouse or partner, a new son- or daughter-in-law, step-parent, or…; if you are about to make a decision to change the path of your life or if you just feel yourself getting stuck in a routine and want to consider a return to a vibrant life path; or whatever transition you find yourself in… I hope these words will inspire you.

Of course, whenever I mention Rachel and her transition of going to college, please substitute in your mind your name and your own transition, since this is for you too.

Dearest Rachel:

You are about to embark on the next leg of the journey called “your life.” For all of us, this leg is bittersweet: Sweet, because as you go off to college, exciting new worlds will open up to you, worlds that you didn’t even imagine existed. They will inspire you and challenge you; you will grow in incredible ways.

Of course, this is a moment of sadness too. Your departure to college makes it undeniably clear that you are no longer a little girl, my little redhead, who lived in a protective bubble of family and community, as safe as possible under the watchful eyes of mom and dad.

No, although Mom and I fantasized about it, they don’t seem to allow parents to be your college roommates. You are off on your own. Although we will undoubtedly connect regularly – texting, BBM, Facebook, iChat and maybe even that old standby, the telephone – Mom and I will no longer have front row seats on your journey; from this day forward, we learn about you from you.

This all happened way too quickly. I miss the days when you could just curl up into my arms and my hugs and kisses were all you seemed to need, yet I know that you and I will be fine. We have worked hard to create a close, trusting relationship, which will grow and deepen as you and I change and grow. More than anything, I cherish our closeness. It gives me the strength to allow to you go off to the college of your choice, instead of my preferred choice: URTC – University of Right around The Corner.

As you leave, there is so much I want to remind you about, values to reaffirm, lessons to repeat. Now I know college is filled with really smart professors and really handsome T.A.’s. However, I want to share with you 18 bits of my chochma, one piece of wisdom for each of your 18 years of life.

  1. First, last, and in between, remember always that you are compassionate, intelligent, and beautiful. Every time we talk to you, you take our breath away with your insightfulness, the depth of your kindness, your “you.” This essence animates you. Our Creator, the Holy One, endowed you with these gifts. Embrace them, honor them, hone them. Especially because…
  2. The world is about to open up for you. Embrace the excitement and the challenge. Reb Nachman of Bratslav, wrote kol ha-olam kulo, gesher tsar me-od, v’ha-ikkar lo l’fached klal – that the whole world is a very narrow bridge, and the most important thing is not to be afraid. So step up, step out – be it with people, experiences, or opportunities. Don’t be afraid to fall or fail. Where we can, Mom and I will be there to support you, but we trust your strength and resilience to pick yourself up and redirect. (Of course, be thoughtful. Just because a bridge presents itself, doesn’t mean you have to cross it.)
  3. Every new experience allows you to reflect upon the ideas you take for granted and ideas you have never before encountered. Absorb the knowledge; be challenged by the ideas of others. Listen carefully to their perspectives on the world, their philosophies, and even their theologies. As the Talmudic sage Ben Zoma taught: V’eizeh hu chacham? Who is wise? Ha-lomed mikol adam – the one who learns from every person.
  4. Remember that we were all created b’tzelem Elohim, in God’s image. So seek out the diverse people who populate your college. As the Passover Seder reminds us, ger hayiti b’eretz mitzrayim, that we Jews were once strangers, shunned, to the edges of society by people with narrow minds. Move out of the Egypt of narrow-mindedness and into the promised land of pluralism.
  5. Remember that you are beautiful. So make sure you fall in love with someone who treats you beautifully. And try to fall in love with someone who shares your love and appreciation of Judaism and wants to create a Jewish home. Not because Judaism is the only truth. Not because you cannot find happiness with someone who is not Jewish (you can). Do it because it is who you are.
  6. Mom and I pride ourselves in getting you to this point in your life, healthy, whole and in one piece. Now your safety and future is up to you. Remember the four questions that Dr. Bruce Powell, founder of New Community Jewish High School, asks ourselves to consider before we do something: 1. Is it safe?  2. Is it legal?  3. Is it moral? And, because what you do today in your dorm room or at a party is apt to show up that night on someone’s Facebook page: 4. Would you want your mother, father, grandparents, teacher, or rabbi to know about it? If you cannot say “yes” to all four, perhaps you should not walk down that path.
  7. You see, the world will present you with a plethora of opportunities to indulge your wildest urges – intellectually, physically, spiritually, with artificial stimulants, with artificial people. College is a time of experimentation. But heed the wisdom of the wise Ben Zoma who said, V’eizeh hu gibor? Who is mighty? HaKovesh et yitzro. The one who controls her passions. So just remember: ultimately you are responsible for who you will become and what you make of your life.
  8. You are now the guide of your own learning. Make wise choices. Sign up each semester for classes that are thought-provoking and inspiring. Ask questions, and respectfully challenge pat answers so that you can advance from collecting knowledge to developing wisdom.
  9. Remember also that Judaism is a multifaceted, multi-vocal, intellectually compelling religion. There is so much you – and I – still don’t know about it. So choose a Jewish studies class each year to learn more about Judaism as an adult.
  10. At your school, the Religious Students Union provides a golden opportunity to broaden your horizons. Naturally, Jewish life on campus is not the same as at Or Ami. Just as you are growing intellectually, socially and independently, so too allow yourself to grow Jewishly. Do not feel self-conscious at what you don’t know. Seek out the Hillel director to explore together what your college Jewish life could look like. You might be surprised at the opportunities that appeal to you.
  11. Make sure to get to Israel. Apply for a Birthright trip early – with the Reform movement. Consider taking a semester abroad in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv.
  12. And speaking of Israel, you may soon discover that the University world is not always supportive of her. Many people use the open intellectual environment as a cover to bash Israel. You know that I love Israel, her people, and her land… You also know that I believe there is much to criticize the government of Israel about. As an Oheiv Yisrael, a lover of Israel, we must separate the critique of policies from our support of the fundamental right of the Jewish people to a Jewish pluralistic, democratic state. So align yourself with AIPAC, or StandWithUs, or Shalom Achshav/Peace Now. Wherever you stand, be sure to differentiate your response from those that just seek to harm Israel or our people.
  13. By the way, your religious/spiritual foundations are about to be shaken in exciting and scary ways. As you learn about the plethora of perspectives out there, you might find yourself considering ideas and beliefs beyond the Jewish ideas with which you have been raised.
  14. Don’t be afraid to find out that some of our most cherished beliefs have parallels or antecedents in other cultures or religions. I believe that God shares wisdom in many ways with many peoples, and that there are many paths to that Truth. Buddhism has informed the Jewish spirituality I have embraced; Christianity, Islam, and Judaism share compelling ideas about justice and compassion.
  15. I encourage all Or Ami students to call or email your rabbi – me – or Cantor Doug, when you are feeling shaken to your core. A lot of life happens in four years. We will help you remain grounded and process complex issues.
  16. About grades. Do your very best. You do not need to be an A+ student. But as you learned at “New Jew” (your high school), always strive to be an A+ human being. Living a life of kindness and compassion, integrity and honesty, of tzedakah and justice – this is non-negotiable.
  17. Rachel, you amaze and inspire me. Your journey excites me, as I get to watch you in the process of becoming. Know that your parents will be all right too, because we believe in you.
  18. May the Holy One bless you on your journey. B’tzeitecha u’voecha – in your going away and in your coming home too. Mei-atah v’ad olam. From this day forth and forever.

I love you.

Friends, those are words of wisdom I shared with my baby as she ventured off – ideas about values and openness, about safety and Jewish involvement. These are the same words I could share with all our Or Ami college students as they step into the next phase of their lives.

Over the past year, Or Ami has begun to refocused and strengthen on our youth. We now have reinvigorated programs: Mitzvah Club for families with children in 2nd-6th grades; Temple Kef Night, evenings of fun for 6th-8th graders; and an active LoMPTY senior youth group for high schoolers. Today, we are proud to announce four new initiatives to reach out to our Or Ami college students:

  • If you send me your child’s or grandchild’s email and snail mail address, I will be in touch regularly. First, I will share a version of this letter, advice for the college student, addressed specifically to your child. Then we at Or Ami will be in touch with them over holidays and before semester break.
  • As soon as I reach our goal of raising $2,500, the first 25 college student children of Or Ami members who take an approved (by me) Jewish studies, Israel studies or Hebrew class will receive a $100 gift card for iTunes, Amazon or Starbucks. This will begin spring semester. The idea is to incentivize Jewish learning; it’s an investment in the Jewish future.
  • We are beginning to webcast our Shabbat Services, primarily to ensure that our congregants who are ill or homebound will be able to enjoy the Cantor’s music and our prayers. In fact, we are experimenting today by webcasting these High Holy Day services. We will make sure that our college students know that when they are missing home, feeling lost or alone, they can log in to sing Listen and Shema with Cantor Doug, light candles with the congregation, or be inspired by their rabbi.
  • Or Ami’s First Annual Thanksgiving Weekend College Reunion is happening this year. On the Saturday evening of Thanksgiving weekend, I am inviting all Or Ami college students of current and former members to join me as my guest for an early sushi dinner. Come reconnect with each other and with your rabbi, and there still will be plenty of time to go out later with your other friends.

As our children go off, we pray that they go to a place where they will be safe. Where they will be wise in times when we won’t know. And that they will find God’s light, when the stars come out each night. Our babies are precious; we needn’t give them up when they go to college. We can guide them differently, more subtly, but with the same love and inspiration. Or Ami’s Henaynu caring and support does not end when our kids graduate high school. Let’s shine the light of Or Ami brightly as they make their way into the world.

May we as individuals, as parents and grandparents, as children, as a community, continue to recognize the beauty in our relationships with one another, continue to reach out, to inspire each other, to evolve, and to embrace change.

36.5 – What’s Special and Jewish about that Number?

How do you raise kids who understand and value being Jewish? Who have a greater chance of giving you Jewish grandchildren?  And what is special and Jewish about the number 36.5?

Most evidence points to four primary factors:

  • Family affiliates with a synagogue and remains members and involved AFTER the youngest child becomes a Bar/Bat Mitzvah
  • Children participate in Jewish Youth Groups and study Judaism through High School Confirmation programs
  • Family has a Jewish home, which includes vigorous home celebration of holidays and attendance at services monthly
  • Children attend Jewish summer camps and go on teen Israel programs

Thus Congregation Or Ami kvells (shares its pride) even more that our delegation to the URJ Camp Newman in Santa Rosa, California rose to 36.5 people. Led by Rabbi Paul Kipnes and his wife Michelle November, our Or Ami delegation gathers primarily in the first sessions at camp, bringing light and energy to the camp community.

This past Shabbat, most of us gathered at the Mosaic (an outdoor hang out area) for what our kids like to refer to as “Torah study.” In fact, the gathering is an Or Ami Shabbat party, where our Or Ami children can share stories, connect with their rabbi, and enjoy the sweetness of Shabbat (in the form of their favorite cookies and candy snacks).

Our youngest participants include Jake Oliner in the 4th-5th grade Bonim session, while the oldest include counselors Rachel Kipnes and Sarah Sherman as well as Rosh Eidah (unit head) and former Mishpacha teacher Jonathan Rothstein-Fisch (known to all as “Fish”). Between bites of cookies and sips of soda, Or Ami participants spoke about their favorite parts of camp:

  • making new friends
  • climbing the 50 foot tower
  • the peacefulness of Shabbat
  • camping overnight in the Treehouse
  • just being able to “be myself”
  • Judaism that is so relevant and spiritual
  • getting to spend time with their rabbi
  • hashkavah (late night, pre-bedtime activities)
  • swimming at the pool

Rabbi Kipnes, who serves during the year as the Rabbinic Camp Committee Chair and over the summer as Dean of Faculty for the first session, has worked vigorously with the Foundation for Jewish Camping and Camp Newman itself to provide substantial scholarships for those who need it. Says he, “Where else do we find Jewish kids immersed in Jewish living for extended periods of time, all the while being cared for by great college and grad-school age positive Jewish role models?”

Michelle November, a social worker by training, serves as Camp Mom. Part of a team led by a licensed, practicing psychologist, the Nefesh Team (Nefesh means “soul”) help the counseling staff handle camper issues that have ranged from providing a hug of a camper with simple homesickness to bringing parents and counselors together by phone to help campers struggling with depression or others facing the death of a grandparent or dear friend.

Why do we bring a group of our Or Ami young people to Camp Newman every summer? Why, in the middle of the Rabbi’s sabbatical, is he spending two weeks at camp? Because the Jewish future is built around poignant, positive Jewish experiences which sear into the heart and soul a love for Judaism. Jewish Camp – and especially Camp Newman – more than almost any other place, provides that intense Jewish heat to make kids more and more Jewishly-connected.

So who is the “.5” member of our delegation? Six month old Julian, son of former Or Ami Rabbinic Intern (and now Rabbi) Jordana Chernow-Reader, who is gaining first-hand experience of Jewish camping as he revels in being passed from hand to hand amongst the staff and faculty of Camp Newman.

Interested in learning more about Jewish camping?

We Met Randy: Survivor of a War Fought by Conscripted Child Soldiers

Congregation Or Ami Social Action Chair Laurie Tragen-Boykoff writes:

Over a hundred of us at Congregation Or Ami joined together last Wednesday evening to hear from a young man who spent eight years of his life running from a mad man. In order to avoid capture and conscription as a child soldier, Randy told us of walking four miles each evening and sleeping in abandoned warehouses with hundreds of other children trying to escape the same fate. He escaped capture and he survived.

Through the efforts of Invisible Children, a very unusual grass roots organization, Randy, and other children – both who were caught and those who were not – have been given a second chance. By Invisible Children’s beautifully creative efforts to bring this ongoing crisis to light in America, hundreds of children have become the benefactors of Invisible Children. They are being reintegrated into their families and schools. A new generation of leaders is being raised; hopefully it will be a generation that will prevent the likes of mad men – Joseph Kony, Adolph Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden, and Cambodian genocide’s Pol Pot – from ever bringing genocide into the world again.

Or Ami congregants were inspired and moved to act. Scores of us ended the evening by providing ongoing educational scholarships and other needed support. And your children came through, as well:

Teen Josh Wolfson writes: I was very inspired by Invisible children, not just because of the horrible situation they are in, but because they made me realize how much I have. I live in a beautiful city like Calabasas, I go to a great temple, I get an excellent education, and I get all that handed to me because I was born into a great family. I was dealt a tremendous hand, yet these kids, they aren’t even given any of those cards. They grow up in situations that most adults could not even handle, and I feel like, if I can help with the issues in one of these talented kids lives, with just 35 dollars a month, than I will give up that much for as long as I can.

Teen Ian Sharon: During Temple Teen Night, we had the experience of witnessing the tragedy in northern Uganda. We watched a video about the war in northern Uganda, and how one man can tear a family apart. A man named Kony is forcing his men to kidnap children in the middle of the night and forcing those children to fight for his LRA army. If his child soldiers cry, he will hurt them or even kill them. If a child soldier escapes and is caught, he will be executed. Now, Kony and his men are capturing children in Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Central African Republic. The Invisible Children organization camps outside of the White House, and also lets communities like ours know about the horror and the terror of Kony’s actions. I even bought a bracelet and explained the horror to all of my friends, telling them to tell other people. I am helping the Invisible Children by letting my voice be heard, unlike the child soldiers in Northern Uganda.

Though Invisible Children has helped empower the people of Northern Uganda, the conscription of child soldiers is a plague, spreading to the Sudan, Congo and Central African Republic. There is still much to do and an enemy of children and people everywhere to defeat. For further information, contact Social Action ChairLaurie Tragen-Boykoff or visit the Invisible Children website.

Al Tifrosh Min Hatzibur – What Does Separating/Connecting to the Community Mean in a CyberWorld?

http://www.valerieherskowitz.com/images/photo-online_community.jpgOur world is changing… will our synagogues keep up? 

My kids’ world is different than mine.  They email, text, ichat (though my son told me this morning that skype has better video), facebook, watch tv, play video games and still seem to get their homework done. My wife tells me that they cannot focus as well or break off easily from the multisensory always wired world in which they exist.  Yes, this concerns me.  Yet I keep wondering if our concerns, while rightly focused on what will become of their lives as they develop these multitasking meta-personalities,  are just further evidence the fact that we just might not “get it.”  (Are we the parents of the 1960’s, decrying long hair and rock and roll music, things once described as the downfall of civilization as we know it?  Or are we pre-Maccabees seeing the downfall of Jewish values?)

My rabbinic colleagues sometimes argue about what online social networking really means.  They differentiate between “real community” and “virtual world,” claiming that the former creates actual connections while the latter is, well, unreal. I keep wondering if differentiations they make are meaningless, because people increasingly live lives online, so that if we fail to embrace this new reality, we – synagogues, rabbis, non-networking communities – will soon become “virtual/unreal” ourselves. 

Now comes Brad Stone, whose New York Times’ article The Children of Cyberspace: Old Fogies by their 20’s, suggests that the newest generation thinks and experiences the world differently from previous generations.  He holds up his Kindle experience to illustrate beautifully his point: 

My 2-year-old daughter surprised me recently with two words: “Daddy’s book.” She was holding my Kindle electronic reader.  Here is a child only beginning to talk, revealing that the seeds of the next generation gap have already been planted. She has identified the Kindle as a substitute for words printed on physical pages. I own the device and am still not completely sold on the idea. My daughter’s worldview and life will be shaped in very deliberate ways by technologies like the Kindle and the new magical high-tech gadgets coming out this year — Google’s Nexus One phone and Apple’s impending tablet among them. She’ll know nothing other than a world with digital books, Skype video chats with faraway relatives, and toddler-friendly video games on the iPhone. She’ll see the world a lot differently from her parents.

Then he talks about what’s real and what’s not:

And after my 4-year-old niece received the very hot Zhou-Zhou pet hamster for Christmas, I pointed out that the toy was essentially a robot, with some basic obstacle avoidance skills. She replied matter-of-factly: “It’s not a robot. It’s a pet.”

What does this mean to our communities?  Listen to Mizuko Ito, a cultural anthropologist and associate researcher at the University of California Humanities Research Institute, who said

that children who play these games would see less of a distinction between their online friends and real friends; virtually socializing might be just as fulfilling as a Friday night party. And they would be more likely to participate actively in their own entertainment, clicking at the keyboard instead of leaning back on the couch.

We synagogues, and religious communities, will want to open ourselves to how the cyberworld reframes the rabbinic dictim al tifrosh min hatzibur – do not separate yourself from the community.  If I am not within the synagogue, or even a member of a synagogue, but I read Jewish books, participate in online study sessions, watch/pray with streaming video services, socially-network with other like-minded Jews, email prayers about people who are sick and email prayer to be put in the Jerusalem’s Kotel (Western Wall) … am I one who is tifrosh – separated from the community – or not?  Because my kids, and increasingly more of my congregants, and clearly so many of our 15, 20, and 30 year olds, feel so connected.