Temple Beth El: Young Tzaddikim
“A Tzaddik (a righteous person) is someone who makes choices that create the most mutual benefit in any given situation,” explained Rabbi K’vod Wieder of Temple Beth El. The congregation’s 8th Grade Tzedakah Board included 21 Tzaddikim in training who celebrated their work with Temple Beth El in May with a “Tzedakah Banquet.”
As Rabbi Wieder said, “When we first began the program, we needed to decide where we wanted to make a difference in the world. There were lots of issues that were important to everyone. People debated back and forth about whether to focus on cancer vs. AIDS, poverty vs. racism, disabilities vs. the environment and many other issues. The discussions were hot and heavy. Finally, we all narrowed down our focus to three issues: poverty, cancer, and resources for the disabled.”
Once the students decided which issues to focus on, they learned a little bit about them. With the help of their families, they did internet research to find organizations that addressed these issues, brought information on these organizations to their board and decided which organizations should be the ones to submit grant proposals to the group. All of the students raised their own money to make the grants too.
“We told the organizations that we would give grants — financial gifts – of up to $3,000 if they submitted a proposal,” Rabbi Wieder said. “We received eleven proposals to review and discuss. Once we had the grant proposals in our hands, we needed to evaluate them. We did one site visit and then hosted eight different organizations who made presentations to us. Then, we evaluated them by according to Jewish sources of wisdom. According to the great rabbi and philosopher, Moses Maimonidies, the best kind of Tzedakah is when a project helps its participants and recipients become more self-supporting. Jewish sources also say that the charity has to respect the dignity and power of each of the recipients.”
After much deliberation, the students chose four organizations for grants. They went to the Illumination Foundation for its interim housing program for the homeless, the Cancer Research Institute for helping to fight cancer from the inside out, to Israel’s Yad Sarah for its medical equipment lending service and to the Goodwill Fitness Center of Santa Ana for its gym that helps people with all kinds of disabilities.
“The 8th Grade Tzedakah Board takes our teens seriously and acknowledges that they are an invaluable part of our community with the power to make real change,” Wieder concluded.
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Shir Ha-Ma’alot: Always Inclusive
Congregation Shir Ha-Ma’alot (SHM) in Irvine is one of twenty Reform congregations across North America that will receive a prestigious “Incubator Grant” for as much as $5,000 from the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) to provide seed funding for innovative projects to actively engage more people in Reform synagogue life. These projects stimulate creative thinking in three main areas: creating a culture that supports and encourages conversion; retention and engagement of post B’nai Mitzvah teens and their families; and engagement in synagogue life. The grant is being used to create Kesher High School, an inclusive program for 8th and 9th graders with special needs that is available to the whole community.
SHM is known as a place where families and children with special needs are included and are an integral part of the community, explained Marisa Kaiser, SHM’s director of education. A full-time inclusion specialist, Amy Kadell, makes everything “accessible and easy to learn in a positive, reinforcing environment,” she added. The congregation’s Kesher Hebrew Class is designed for students who are unable to learn Hebrew in a traditional setting.
As students age out of the adaptive Hebrew class, a need has presented itself for adaptations to be made in order for students to continue their full participation in the post-B’nai Mitzvah program. Creating a bridge for students to participate in the mainstream dinner, electives and social activities with appropriate support, an adaptive curriculum will be developed for Kesher students’ core class time. The core class for special needs students will run in parallel with the core class for other students, Kaiser explained.
“The first step is to make kids successful in Hebrew, the next step is to make them successful as teens and the next step is to help those who can’t learn,” Kaiser said. “While there is a separate portion of the high school program for the Kesher kids, they have the opportunity to feel like part of the community by having dinner and electives with other students.”
Another new program at SHM this year is the Hebrew Chavurah program, consisting of three to five students who meet weekly or on Sundays for Hebrew instruction before or after their Judaica classes. This program, which offers the benefit of small-group instruction, is an alternative to the regular Hebrew classes students can attend on Tuesday or Wednesday afternoons.
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Temple Beth Tikvah:
Temple Beth Tikvah’s “Center for Artistic Expression” strives to provide a broad program of arts to meet the varied interests and abilities of participants, of all ages, including adult and teen programs and classes in beginning guitar, yoga and story activity times for the youngest students.
The center opened its doors with a premiere summer session of workshops and classes for adults and children. Designed to explore creativity, hidden talents and new-found abilities in “first timers,” as well as experienced participants, the classes offered opportunities to develop Judaic themes into artistic endeavors. Taught by resident artists and professionals, classes and workshops were small, to ensure personal attention and instruction for each student and emerging artist.
The culinary arts class enabled participants to try a new dish, while giving a sense of accomplishment for following the recipe. Classes for kids and teens taught the young people how to bake and frost cupcakes, barbeque, make dinner and cook for Shabbat.
“Ceramics for Kids,” a hands-on program gave kids a chance to create by getting their hands into clay, followed by learning a variety of painting techniques. Adults had their own “Open Ceramics Painting” sessions. When completed, all items were glazed, fired and returned to Temple Beth Tikvah for pick-up.
“Learning the Art of Glass Mosaics” was not only project-based, but also included techniques, experimentation and instruction. Older teens and adults enjoyed this Biblical art with a modern twist that includes beads, ceramics and jewelry.
The fall semester will begin in October and will include a variety of new and continuing classes, such as tallit making, “Drawing from the Right Side of the Brain For Those Convinced That They Can’t Draw,” challah-braiding/baking, yarmulke crocheting/sewing, Chanukah pillow-quilting, healthy Jewish cooking for Thanksgiving, music and dance classes and creative gardening. Future classes are now being planned along with a possible art show for the community.
Programs have nominal fees and are open to the community. All are held at Temple Beth Tikvah’s Asa Center for Lifelong Jewish Learning. For information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Congregation B’nai Israel (CBI) Coastal Initiative, which is bringing some of the congregation’s activities and programs closer to people who live in Irvine and Newport Beach, very much involves the religious school, according to its director, Robin Hoffman. “We’re renting space at Tarbut V’Torah, so that people who live in coastal areas will not have to drive so far,” she said.
According to Hoffman, “The school is the same school. Classes will be at CBI on Wednesday, TVT on Thursday and everybody will meet at CBI on Sunday. It’s really important to maintain a community and a center. We’re maintaining continuity with the teachers in both Hebrew and Judaica. Kids can make up classes at the other location or choose the other location to accommodate their schedules.”
The congregation has always had a Wednesday or Thursday Hebrew school option in Tustin. Now the Thursday option is in Irvine.
CBI is hoping to provide adult education and social programs at its new location. There are many family education programs, especially on Sunday mornings.
“One of our biggest successes was the Siddur cover family project,” Hoffman said. “People were engaged in it for three hours, and the Siddur was used in the student’s Bar or Bat Mitzvah. We offer life-cycle-centered programs, such as family art day where people do art projects with Jewish themes.”
CBI will also have a new rabbinic intern, Dan Kaiman. He will be working with 8th graders while learning with Rabbi Elie Spitz.
“The feedback on the move is positive,” Hoffman concluded. “I love being part of a congregation that’s forward thinking, and I love to meet people where they are.’
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