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Join BJE's co-chairs Amy Leibowitz and Madeline Miller, on Sunday, October 22nd from 10:00 am to 12:30 pm for [email protected] Community Service...
seeks to inspire Jewish youth to “Learn. Act. Reflect. IMPACT.” BJE's goal is for youth to engage in meaningful service opportunities.
BJE offers a wide range of support to day schools (accredited, full-time K-12 private schools), educators and families with the goal of helping ensure the highest levels of quality and accessibility across the religious spectrum and through the greater Los Angeles area.
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Join BJE, in partnership with Mountain Restoration Trust, for a family-friendly day of community service learning at Juan Bautista De Anza Park in Calabasas. The morning’s activity will model service learning as practiced by BJE Impact: the...
Dr. Alan M. Spiwak
I think what is most important to me is making sure that Jewish education is available to any family who wants it. Whether it’s religious school, day school, summer camp, or something else, it’s all about making sure we continue to offer Jewish kids great experiences in Jewish environments. That’s how they’ll become active participants in Jewish life as adults.
My own kids benefitted from day schools and Jewish camping, and I saw how it provides a basis for both a value system and a knowledge base about who we are as Jews.
My kids are now adults and both are parents. They’ll have to make their own decisions about Jewish life for their families. But I’m grateful we were able to provide the opportunities we did, and we always tried to lead by example. I feel blessed that they’ve already had their own engagement in the Jewish community as adults.
Professionally, I was trained as a clinical psychologist and my area was children and families, so getting involved with educational organizations was a natural fit. My leadership with BJE has given me an opportunity to work with a terrific professional staff, and to see all the incredible effort that goes into producing all the programs and events that BJE makes happen. I’ve also appreciated being part of addressing specific educational needs in the community and helping ensure access to Jewish education.
In many Jewish communities - as the Jewish holidays of the month of Tishrei near their close -- it is customary to read the book of Ecclesiastes (Koheleth) during the shabbat of sukkot. A holiday known as "z'man simhateinu" - the time of our joy - is, paradoxically, celebrated in part by reading reflections, traditionally ascribed to King Solomon, that suggest that the human condition is utterly inexplicable. In the face of an uncertain and often frustrating world, the book ends by counseling the reader to maintain awe of God and to observe God's commandments.
The phrase "et ha-elohim yir'a" - hold God in awe - calls to mind similar Biblical references. In the book of Jonah, for example, Jonah describes himself as a person who holds the God of heaven in awe, and the sailors on whose ship he is a passenger are, likewise, described as having awe of God; hence, their extreme reluctance to cast him into the sea. In juxtaposition to these references, Amalek - the marauding arch-enemy of the Israelites - is described as lo yarei elohim: NOT having awe of God.
What does "yirat shamayim" - awe of heaven - represent, in Jewish tradition? The Torah, early in the book of Genesis, describes humankind as created in God's image. For this reason, it is not surprising to come upon a Biblical text in which Abraham -- in the midst of an encounter with God -- "tables" that experience and runs to greet three strangers whom he sees in the distance, welcoming them to his tent. Abraham recognizes that "yirat shamayim" expresses itself in concern for the well-being of others.
Koheleth, as the sukkah itself, reminds us that much in life is beyond human control. Jewish tradition maintains that the most fundamental decision, reserved exclusively to each individual, is "yirat shamayim" - awe of heaven. Embracing "yirat shamayim" as an orientation to life is to recognize, as John F. Kennedy so beautifully phrased it, that "here on earth God's work must truly be our own."
Reflecting on the ultimate message of classical Jewish texts, Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Commonwealth, observes that that message "is about how to construct a society that honors the human person as the image and likeness of God. It is about a vision, never fully realized but never abandoned, of a world based on justice and compassion...." Perhaps this is the "take away" suggested by the concluding words of the book of Koheleth, accounting for its inclusion as a text of study, as sukkot nears its close. Hag sameah,
by Dr. Gil Graff
The Hebrew months of Av and Elul evoke reflections on dimensions of Jewish thought and experience well worth considering, as we approach the New Year. The Ninth of Av (this year observed from sundown July 21 - sundown July 22) is associated, primarily, with the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and the ensuing dispersion of much of Judea's Jewish population; it is traditionally marked as a day of collective mourning. The month of Elul i(which this year begins at sundown August 10) is a time of individual soul-searching and commitment to self-improvement, as the "Days of Awe" (Rosh HaShanah - sundown September 9 - 11 and Yom Kippur sundown September 18 - 19) draw near.
Aspects of these consecutive months are both contrasting and complementary. The Ninth of Av is a day of communal commemoration. The heshbon ha-nefesh (soul-searching) of Elul, during which the shofar is, daily, sounded, is an exercise in individual growth and renewal. Each of these dimensions of life, Jewish wisdom suggests, is essential.
There are approaches to life that focus exclusively on development of the self, and paths that call for abdicating any sense of individuality to become part of a greater whole. Neither self-absorption nor self-abnegation is a Jewish ideal. As Hillel observed two millennia ago: "if I am not for myself, who is for me, and if I am only for myself, what am I?" To flourish in the world as a human being is to develop the self and, at the same time, to contribute to the well-being of others. Hillel further instructed: "do not separate yourself from the community."
The Ninth of Av serves as a reminder that the word Jew derives from Judea, referring to a way of life and a national origin. During the months of Av and Elul, the annual cycle of weekly Torah study draws its readers' attention to the Book of Deuteronomy. As Moses, nearing the end of his life, instructs the Israelites to teach successive generations (a major theme of this closing book of the Torah), religious life and peoplehood, he conveys, are inextricably, intertwined.
Elul is a month of preparation for Rosh HaShanah, celebrating the creation of the world. Av and Elul together remind us of the importance of responsibility to ourselves and, no less, of responsibility to others; of the texts and experiences that have shaped a collective sense of Jewish identity; and that Jews and Judaism are part of the larger story of humankind. These are the motifs that point toward the start of a New Year. May our individual and shared reflections of the season inspire us to a shanah tovah, a year of goodness.
Dr. Gil Graff is Executive Director of BJE
Photo credit: Lauren Reeves and KAM Isaiah Israel
Celebrate Shabbat and Jewish education by participating in BJE Celebrates Shabbat on November 30, 2018!
BJE Celebrates Shabbat is a one-night celebration where community members gather together for Shabbat dinner ...
BJE’s impact is felt throughout greater Los Angeles. These are just a few
ways we’re making a difference this year.
Across the Jewish spectrum, Jewish schools in Los Angeles receive a wide range of services and support from BJE.
From birth through young adulthood, young Jewish people in Los Angeles are engaged in Jewish life through BJE programs and accredited or affiliated schools.
BJE leverages the strength of our vibrant community to generate public and private funding that benefits Jewish educational programs and institutions throughout Greater Los Angeles in a wide range of ways.