|Tammuz 5775 | June 2015|
| Greetings from our CEO |
This is the time of year I receive a very significant gift: the reflection booklets of graduating students from some of our Melton schools. The booklets are filled with the words of transformation, of how the experience of learning in the Florence Melton School has made a difference in the lives of our graduates. It is also a time of transitions of the bittersweet variety, as Rabbi Efrat Zarren-Zohar moves into a new role and Miriam Brunn Ruberg is retiring.
| A New Sense of Community |
Debby Kaplan of Evanston, IL, says she has become a more “mindful Jew” as a result of enrolling in Melton at the BJE in Chicago.
| Focus on Israel: Conversion |
Rabbi Dr. Seth Farber writes that "as the modern State of Israel is still going through growing pains – the systemic approach towards conversion in Israel needs to be more sensitive." He founded ITIM 2002 to counter the alienation that many Israelis feel as they attempt to navigate Israel's religious bureaucracy. Rabbi Farber spoke at Melton's 2013 International Directors Conference in Israel. He received the Nefesh B’Nefesh Bonei Zion Award for 2015. The award recognizes outstanding Anglo Olim who encapsulate the spirit of modern-day Zionism by contributing in a significant way toward the State of Israel.
| Torah from our Teachers |
This month's Dvar Torah comes from Rebecca Starr, who reminds us how the month of May offers a season of commemorations and celebrations that mirrors that of Jewish biblical history.
| All in the Melton Family |
Mazal Tov to Joyce Siegal, Melton School Director in West Palm Beach, on the birth of a grandson, Asher Richard Siegel to parents Ben and Betsy.
A triple Mazal Tov to Lynn Wexler, Director of Melton School in Las Vegas, on her recent marriage to Jeff Jonas, and on the college graduation of her son and his enlistment as a commissioned officer in the aviation program of the US Navy.
Mazal Tov to Deena and Rabbi Morey Schwartz, Melton Director of Education, on the marriage of daughter Leora to Natan Sabach at the end of June.
Mazal Tov to Melton faculty member Sandra Lillianthal of Boca Raton on being chosen for the coveted Covenant Award.
Mazal Tov to former Melton Director Judy Meltzer whose daughter Amy Meltzer was also a Covenant winner this year.
Mazal Tov to Jody Hyman, Director of Operations & International Friends Liaison, upon her son Zach's graduation from Northwestern University this month.
| Greetings from our CEO |
This is the time of year I receive a very significant gift: the reflection booklets of graduating students from some of our Melton schools. The booklets are filled with the words of transformation, of how the experience of learning in the Florence Melton School has made a difference in the lives of our graduates.
The language is beautifully familiar even as each is a unique expression. From the mature woman who never had the chance to study Judaism as a girl, from the searcher on a path to conversion, from the parents whose date night at weekly Foundations classes offered a meaningful way to feel more confident in raising their children, from the doctor who didn’t realize how much there was to learn about the Jewish people, and from many more of our graduates we have much to learn about why Melton matters.
I want to pay their gratitude forward to all of you readers who help us bring new Melton learners around the table and who enjoy the Melton buffet, to our amazing Board of Directors for your leadership and support, and to the committed Melton ambassadors who are our International Friends. Most importantly, my gratitude goes to my colleagues: our extraordinary Melton staff on both sides of the pond, our passionate Melton directors all over the globe who make Melton thrive, and our inspiring Melton faculty who deliver the transformative learning that is our hallmark—one class at a time. Kol Hakavod on completing another year of learning (in the northern hemisphere)!
Transitions of the bittersweet variety must be noted at this time of year!
-- Judy Mars Kupchan, Melton CEO
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| Learning in Melton Brings a Renewed Sense of Community |
Debby Kaplan of Evanston, Illinois, says she has become a more “mindful Jew” as a result of enrolling in Melton.
Debby heard about Melton classes when she was working at a knit shop after she retired and a friend stopped into the store on her way to class. Debby was intrigued by her friend’s positive experience and decided to enroll.
Two years later, Debby is preparing to graduate from the Core courses offered at North Suburban Synagogue Beth El and North Shore Congregation Israel in Chicago. As a result of her experience, she decided to rejoin her synagogue after many years of non-membership. Faculty member Judy Weiss hit upon several thought-provoking themes throughout the classes-one of which, was community. Learning about what it means to be a contributing member of a Jewish community provoked Debby’s motivation to rejoin a synagogue. As a result of Melton, “I am more aware of what I do and I am trying to do it in a Jewish way,” Debby says.
The Melton approach is non-judgmental, and the Ethics course in particular, was a meaningful text-study experience for Debby. There is always more to learn, and Debby now feels she has a renewed sense of self-confidence to study more about living a life of Jewish meaning.
-- Annie Glickman, Melton Regional Director
and Director Melton Greater Kansas City
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| Working in the Spirit of Naomi |
“Wherever you walk, I shall walk, wherever you lie, I shall lie,. Your nation is my nation, your God is my God”.
The biblical Ruth – whose narrative was read in synagogues around the world on the holiday of Shavuot – has served as the archetype for Jewish converts throughout the generations. Her commitment, manifested in the biblical phrase cited above, has three dimensions. As Ruth insists that her destiny is tied to that of her mother in law (a miracle in and of itself), she speaks of her physical bond (walk/lie), second, her national bond (nation) and finally her religious bond (God). Each of these dimensions is relevant to the current conversion crisis that plagues the Jewish people, and each one need be addressed by our community if we want to move forward as a people.
Thirteen years ago, I founded an organization called ITIM dedicated to transforming Jewish life in Israel. Over the past decade, our office has received more than 10,000 calls from Jews by choice or those seeking to be Jewish searching for help navigating the process here in Israel. Some of these people want to live in Israel (walk/lie), some want to be Israeli Jews (nation) and some want to be fully observant. I am proud that we have been a resource for thousands.
But – as the modern state of Israel is still going through growing pains – the systemic approach towards conversion in Israel needs to be more sensitive. Because conversion is tied to citizenship in Israel, there is an aura of suspicion surrounding all converts. Moreover, because the rabbinate and the Interior ministry have little experience with the multiplicity of traditions that enrich the Jewish people, delegitimization is rampant and alienation a commonplace. Finally, the Israeli rabbinate has raised the threshold for conversion higher than in previous generations – creating serious impediments to hundreds of thousands of individuals who came on Aliya as Jews but can’t be married here because their personal status is in question.
ITIM believes that our people can do better. We have engaged in legislation and litigation to open the doors for Jews by choice in Israel and protect their rights. We have followed up on existing laws to make sure they are being implemented fairly. And most of all, we have tried – in the spirit of Naomi – to be welcoming and embracing of those who seek to tie their destiny to ours.
To be sure, the world Jewish community has a role to play in the future of Jewish life in Israel. And I believe that the way we deal with conversion today will help shape the future of our community for generations. It is not coincidence that the holiday of Shavuot celebrating the giving of the Torah is connected to the holiday when we read Ruth’s story. For only by enabling others who seek to share our destiny to do so, can we fully appreciate the multifaceted dimensions of the Torah.
-- Rabbi Seth Farber, Director of ITIM, Israel
| Torah from Our Teachers, by Rebecca Starr |
The month of May offered us an amazing opportunity to consider the Jewish calendar months of Nisan, Iyar and Sivan. We finished celebrating Pesach and started counting the Omer. Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron, Yom HaAtzmaut follow close after. And now, we make our way to Lag B’Omer, Yom Yerushalayim, Rosh Hodesh Sivan, and the commemoration of the giving of the Torah and commandments (Exodus 19:1 - 20:23) to the Jewish people on Shavuot, the 6th day of Sivan.
The progression of this season of commemorations and celebrations mirrors that of Jewish biblical history. The Israelite community travels from slavery to freedom and our own Jewish calendar allows us to take this same journey. We think of how blessed we are to be a free people and consider those among us who are not. We appreciate the goodness in the world while still remembering that it is not yet a perfect place.
The unique journey of the Israelite people from Egypt to Mt. Sinai is one to which our Melton community of learners can relate. Our learners get a glimpse into their Jewish past and consider how the decisions made throughout our history have brought the Jewish community to where it is today. The Melton curricula allow our students to embark upon their own journey whether it is of a personal, family, or even broader nature.
At our Pesach seders, we read that, “In every generation a person is obligated to see himself/herself as if he/she came out of Egypt.” (Pesachim 116b). As teachers of the Melton curricula, we are privileged to bring the past alive for our students and help them see themselves within the chain of tradition as they consider the future of the Jewish world.
As we reflect on this incredible season, it is my honor to continue to encourage my students to remember the past, to see how it has given birth to the present, and to consider what the future might bring.
B’hatzlacha and Kol HaKavod.
Rebecca Starr has been an instructor for the Melton School in Detroit for seven years. She is trained as a Jewish educator and works in a variety of settings including synagogues, Camp Ramah, and the Jewish Federation of Metro Detroit teacher education program. She is married to Rabbi Aaron Starr and has two sons, Caleb, 8, and Ayal, 5.
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