A few weeks ago we had a normal Shabbat Program. the teens lead a mini shabbat ceremony and I gave a D’var Torah. Usually my D’var Torah’s message is lost as I deliver it in english. However, this time I also brought up a topic that cultural seemed to go over almost everyone’s head. The theme of Shabbat was Superheroes, so I made a comparison between the Parsha, Vayishlach, and comic book heroes, specifically Batman. I thought it would make for a great D’var Torah…but not for my audience. Here is what I spoke about:
Batman’s number one nemesis is Joker. These two men have met multiple times in battle, but usually neither come out victorious. They are well matched and very similar. Both are shunned by society, never really accepted anywhere. This dyad of superhero and evil villain is often represented in the aforementioned structure. Two characters paralleled in life. Jacob and his brother Esau illustrate this point beautifully. These twin brothers, who are fathers of separate nations appear as enemies (or at least not friendly) in this Parsha.
Jacob encounters an angel with the spirit of Esau. This “henchman” of Esau wrestles Jacob until daybreak. Every villain has henchman that they send to do their biding and fight their battles. And of course the superhero always emerges victorious when in an altercation with a henchman. So who wins when Jacob and the angel fight? (I think you know the answer) Jacob! When he wins he is given a second name, Israel. What does that sound like? That’s right, a superhero name. Superman and Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne and Batman, Jacob and Israel.
Lastly at the end of the parsha Jacob’s daughter is kidnapped. Simeon and Levi, acting as vigilantes, take Justice in their own hands and kill the men of the camp. Who does that sound like? Vigilante seeking Justice for their family. Batman!
Top. Teens leading the Shabbat Ceremony
Bottom Left. My superhero costume. Note the cape…it’s my tallis. If you like that, check out this!
Bottom Middle. Alina dressed as a Superhero
Bottom Middle. Superhero themed games.
This past week’s Shabbat Teen Program was a bit more eventful than usual. It started normally with the teens greeted by the madrichim who were ready with some great down-time activities. Once everyone arrived and we were ready to begin we had our Shabbat ceremony and I gave a short D’var Torah on the Parsha. This week’s theme was Japanese Culture. We taught the teens how to make sushi and origami. Then a full out dance party seemingly emerged organically. I cannot fully describe how it all happened. However all the right pieces fell into place at the right time. Very entertaining. I do have to admit some of these teens are very talented.
Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending the first School of Madrichim Seminar of the Baltics (A short recap video will be coming soon). The School of Madrichim is the established school/training for the teens in the Baltics. Most similar to a religious school. Each country has its own curriculum and ideology, but the end goal is the same: produce well rounded and knowledgable madrichim to become the future Jewish leaders of their community. This new opportunity brought together the students from the School of Madrichim from Latvia and Lithuania to learn together and share experiences and ideas.
I had the pleasure of leading two different sessions. My first session was about how to find Judaism in anything, and then incorporate it in a program. I started out by showing them that Judaism is everywhere. Included ideas/text were: lying for peace (Yavamot 65b), the prayer said for seeing a rainbow, praying through skype (USCJ-CLJS Teshuvah), even how to tie your shoes (Mishna Berura 2:6). I really wanted to show them that Judaism can relate to anything. Next we came up with a few scenarios, either informal or formal programming, and I required them to think outside of the box in how to infuse it with Judaism. (If you would like to see the session, or want to learn more about this idea, please let me know)
My other session was about the dyad of Cultural and Religious Judaism, and their concurrence on community as a central tenant. We examined their cultural understanding of Judaism and I used Life Cycle Event Rituals to convey community in Religion. Mark Lazar, an incredible informal Jewish educator and workshop leader, had previously challenged all of the students to ask themselves, Why be Jewish? I added that the question is a very difficult one, but what was easier is trying to find what is important. Hold onto that and make that yours. For those who have worked with me before, than you know I love this idea. It is the things that he hold sacred, that tell us a lot about the people we are and the people we want to be. The last two pictures above, are from this session with the Lithuanian students. In determining what were the important aspects of Judaism to the students, I asked them to order each item/idea/ritual/et cetera from most important to least important. I gave them freedom of interpretation over the item/idea/ritual/et cetera. The first list is how they view Judaism now. What they see as being important. The second list is the answer to my scenario: If you were the last Jews on Earth. What would you advocate for and put your efforts towards? Interestingly the major themes in the lists flip in importance. However the two top items, family (the “other”), and Jewish Community remain as the most important ideals.
The School of Madrichim students from Latvia, with their teacher Haga and the Riga Jewish Youth Center professionals, Raisa and Irina.
Myself leading the first discussion with the Lithuanian students
Mark Lazar leading a session
See description above (Note: the Latvian students session picture files were corrupted. the Latvian group was opposite of the Lithuanina group overall, with the exception that Jewish Community was always at the top.)
Side Note: The seminar took place in Bauska, Latvia, which is a very famous city in Jewish history. Rav Kook was the Rabbi of the city from 1895-1904. After, he moved to Israel, then Ottoman Palestine, to become the Chief Rabbi.
(This post is a continuation from the Latvian Independence Day Celebration Post. It contains a short video of the exhibition on St. Peter and St. Paul Church titled, Ave, Munchhausen!.)
There is a legend that Baron Munchhausen lived behind the St. Peter and St. Paul Church in the 18 century. However, this may be an erroneous claim that Munchhausen claimed to add to his imaginative and inventive life’s adventure.
Modernity probably knows the story of Baron Munchhausen from the 1988 movie, “The Adventure’s of Baron Munchhausen” (Some of the video in the exhibtion is from the movie). A fantastical account of the fartfetched folktales that were his life adventures. The real Munchhausen was born in Germany later served in the Russian military. Munchhausen’s escapades took him to Latvia, where he met and married Jacobine von Dunten.
On November 18, and the days preceding, Riga celebrated the anniversary of its independence. The celebration was centered around Staro Riga, which is an incredible display of little shows and projections onto some of the most famous buildings in Riga. I have to say, it was very cool.
Though the history of Latvia is very extensive and full of conquest, I will be focusing on the November 18, 1918 independence and modern history (if you would like to learn more, feel free to visit your local wikipedia page).
Shortly after the First World War and the collapse of the German Empire, Latvia proclaimed its independence. The newly assembled Latvian Army won battles against German forces that propelled them to success against the Red Army. In 1920, Latvia and Soviet Russia signed a peace treaty, and the next year was admitted into the League of Nations.
During World War II, under the threat of invasion, Latvia signed a an assistance pact with the Soviet Union. However the pact was short lived as Nazi occupation lasted from the summer of 1942 until the end of the war. During this time it is estimated that between 89-95% of the Latvian Jewish Community was killed in the Holocaust. Latvia was under the Soviet regime from 1944 until the fall of Communism in 1989.
Now Latvia is a member of the United Nations and the European Union. And even though full independence was not acquired until May of 1992, Latvians still celebrate the November 18 decree.
Top Left: The Ave, Munchhausen exhibit on the St. Peter and St. Paul Church. (See next post for a video)
Top Right: The St. Peter and St. Paul Church during the day
Middle Left: The Riga Cathedral in blue and red lights. This exhibition was a visual representation of the 800 year history of the church. (Note: this church is the same church that is in the foreground of my banner for my blog (look up). It is the building with the clock on the left.)
Middle Middle: Fireworks over the Daugava River.
Middle RIght: “Light boxes” suspended from a tree
Bottom Left: Bikes used to power the exhibition on the Musuem of Decorative Arts and Design. The faster you peddled the faster the children moved.
Bottom Right: The children that moved when their compliment bike was peddled.
On Sunday, November 13 Jews all over the world participated in a Global Day of Jewish Learning coordinated by the Aleph Society; and supported by many organizations including the JDC. Over 200 communities in 40 countries studied the Shema and its power as a prayer to unite Jewish communities. The event fosters Jewish learning through text and encouraged participation from Jews with varying backgrounds, from the Torah scholar to the beginner. For individual Jews, this engaging opportunity creates an awe-inspiring connection to the Global Jewish Community that examined the same text; and our local communities we learn and grow with.
At the Jewish Community in Riga, Latvia, several events took place in support and participation of the global day of learning. At the School of Madrichim, the teenagers looked at the text of the Kriat Shema to determine the significance of the prayer as a communal obligation. Commanded to say it twice a day, the Shema is a foundational prayer of our tradition. It is our proclamation that we, as Jews, have only one God and reminds us that Hashem took us out of Egypt. Each paragraph was looked at and interpreted independently and then collectively. At the end of the discussion the importance of community became explicit with retribution of no rain and the reminders that we must make for ourselves. Mezuzot, tefilin, and tziztit, which are find origins from in Shema, are physical reminders for the community to love and keep the mitzvot. Reminders became the theme of the discussion, with points ranging from their necessity and visibility in our everyday life. However, the prevailing idea from our conversation is that just as the Shema is a cornerstone of Judaism, so too is the importance of community in our tradition.
A delegation from the Jacksonville Jewish Federation, ultimately making their way to Israel, stopped off in Riga to get a glimpse into the activities of the Community. We shared with them the hardships of the impoverished Jews who receive support from the Welfare office and the JDC. The delegation also met with Community professionals that have been instrumental in the revival efforts for the community. Ultimately the delegation saw the large strides the community has taken and left with hope and optimism for the perseverance of Klal Yisrael.
(From Left to Right) Michael Novick (Executive Director, Strategic Development for JDC) , Joey (Me), Mark Sisisky (JDC Board Member), David Robbins (JDC Board Member)
Having some fun as a group of locals and delegates started Israeli Dancing at Menorah Restaurant.
This is a video I made for the 11elevenproject (check it out!). It is a mini day-in-the-life.
Energy-dense, or fatty foods, a known by some as “comfort foods”. When we are feeling anxious or nervous fatty foods can calm and comfort us. This is because the energy-dense foods silence the stress response in the body (If you would like to learn more about this idea let me know. It is related to the hypothalamus, NPY and glucocorticoids. But enough with the science). But for me, I have found a different type of food that comforts me…anything I make. It is not surprising, autonomy, is to some, a prerequisite to being happy. Well, for me this is definitely true. Having the ability to make my own food, on my own, on my time…has been good for me. Below are some dishes that I have made thus far with the limited amount of food and kitchen appliances available to me in Latvia.
This portion of the post was inspired by my fellow JSC Yahel Matalon (her blog is great).
This is the first meal I made. Sauteed vegetable over pasta and garlic bread.
My attempt at the traditional Korean dish Bibimbop (Pescertarian style).
First and vegetable stir fry.