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Living In to Jewish Values

05/30/2018 06:52:03 PM


My daughter attended a Jewish day school for Kindergarten and Grade 1. Early in her first year I volunteered for lunch duty, and had a rude awakening.

Blessings before the meal? No opportunity or direction provided. Throughout the meal, the Judaic studies director yelled at the students to talk less and eat. Her top trick for quelling the din was a “contest” at the microphone. Winners would get bubble gum for telling a joke or showing a magic trick, and for those moments there was a little less chaos. At the bell – again, with no call for blessings – the students dashed off, leaving crumpled bags, cartons, and leftovers on the tables and floor. The director and the custodial staff did the clean-up.

Missed opportunities for practice and meaning lay scattered and discarded along with the wrappers and crusts. Judaism’s core values, while rooted in sacred words and commentary, are reflected in the actions of Jews. We may be called the people of the book, but our values come to life as they spring off the pages of laws and commentary, through what we do.

At every BaMaaGal (“in the circle” or BMG) gathering, whether we share a Shabbat seder, a havdallah gathering, or a Sunday afternoon, our activities explore the sources and meanings of Jewish values, rooted in Torah and lived through the experiences of each teen and their family.

This year’s cohort recently considered a list of 18 Jewish Values. The discussion began with the question: why 18? More questions always emerge: how many actually are there? Who decides? Then everyone gets busy matching the values with the Biblical verses in which they are rooted. It’s always a delightful process to see which emerge as the top contenders in any given group (and a tasty treat to eat our “values sundaes” – yummy confections topped with everyone’s preferred “values toppings!”).

What I hope ensues will transcend what I can evaluate as an educator or a rabbi, and be deeper than what any Jewish education program, full- or part-time, can provide. It will emerge in the practices of these families, in what changes and grows in each teen as they emerge into their Jewish adulthood. The ritual acts of their forthcoming Bnei Mitzvah are – really – not the point.

For each of us individually, and as a community, opportunities to live into values are myriad and multifaceted. It’s about how we Jew, where we Jew, with whom we Jew. Into and through those actions will flow a profound and intimate connection to those values, and a dynamic understanding of their sources. Let justice flow like water, righteousness like an everlasting stream, exhorted the prophet. Two verses back? I hate, I reject your festival. I take no delight in your assemblies.

Well said, Amos. I hear you. We can gather, sing, dance, pray, but I have to be walking the walk. Let that path lead us to meaningful Jewish action, steeped in ritual expression, fully lived in our secular culture, bursting with engagement that radiates our most cherished values.

​​​​​​​- Rabbi Liz

Mon, May 20 2019 15 Iyar 5779