Torah Aura Productions



Transliteration and Translation 1

Monday, February 28, 2022 2:21 PM

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Transliteration and Translation 1

Joel Lurie Grishaver

Joel Lurie GrishavMore than 160 years ago my father was Bar Mitzvah at Temple Ohabai Shalom in Boston. It was a Reform Synagogue with a traditional leaning. My father never learned a letter of Hebrew, he read his Torah Portion off of a sheet of transliteration. He never did learn a letter of Hebrew, but he did OKAY in the Union Prayer Book universe. He was a Youth Leader, a Temple Treasurer, and a board member of the Brotherhood and the JCC. In those days, the Reform movement only ran a Sunday School. No Hebrew involved.

Given the apparent motivation and Jewish reality, those days seem to be returning.


Jewish Life is about a lot of things.

Je Suis Charlie. In Europe, there is still antiSemitism. Some of it is historic, but much emerges from contemporary Middle Eastern politics. There are lots of angry Muslims in Europe. I will not claim there is no antiSemitism in North America, but it is masked by a lot of other factors like the Boston Marathon. In Europe, some parents still want their kids to deal with the reality of anti-Semitism, but that is not the American reality. The PM of Israel is not going to offer American Jews safety in Israel. Now in the deep-seated racism that permeates the popular discussion one can find the roots—but honestly told, Jews here count as whites, and Jews (outside of Abortion clinics) don’t fear being targets.

Israel. Netanyahu may consider himself a leading Republican, but fear of Iran is not going to motivate any Jewish parents to submit their children to Jewish learning. (Maybe a few Persian Jews, but the number is not statistically relevant.) Jewish parents may want their children to feel pride in Israel, see themselves as part of a world Jewish community, and have lots of other positive feelings about their Jewishness, but learning Hatikvah is not a step in the Jewish lifecycle and it will not serve as a foundation for much Jewish learning. None of that will stop Jewish tourism. I would be interested to know the impact ISIL has had on the Birthright program.

In-Marriage. In The Jew Within: Self, Family, and Community in America (Indiana University Press, 2000, Eisen and Cohen) we learn of the Jewish Sovereign Self, that allows Jews to feel that they carry their Jewishness within and that it can be passed on to their children regardless of in-marriage. They can marry anyone, live any lifestyle, yet by force of will, the identity of their children will continue to be Jewish. The whole network of organizations originally designed to pass Judaism on is no longer needed. In the wake of Sovereign Self Jewish organizations no longer need to be exclusively Jewish and Jewish education lost its strongest motivation. In Simon Sharma’s, The Story of the Jews, we learn that many dynamic Jewish communities lived integrated lives.

Peer Group. If in-marriage is no longer central, then a dating pool is no longer sacred. One can no longer not find someone called “Rabbi” to perform any wedding (or a gym to belong to). Bar/t mitzvah’s can happen without congregational involvement. Belonging to the now expensive synagogue is a matter of choice. Judaism has become a hobby—a way of life, for sure, but a hobby. The Jewish community can now happen via social media, and like sports’ team allegiance, it is influenced by but not controlled by family history.

Observance. Orthodoxy is clearly viable. Non-Orthodoxy is still viable if less secure. Networking is the way of the Jewish future. Reform has those who attend the Rabbi’s Saturday morning Torah study, while the Conservative Movement has an elite made up of those who show up weekly for Saturday morning services (often, key Day School families). Alternative minyanim fill the urban landscapes, Day schools, youth groups, Israel trips and summer camps are no longer what they were in the golden age, but all still draw their crowds. Hillel remains in business. And then there is Chabad.

Identity. Jewish music lives a life outside of synagogues. Google Jewish artwork and be surprised. Yiddish Books have an afterlife at the Yiddish Book Center. Jewish Identity is not what it once was but it is still very much alive. Judaism would be a second-rate hobby if there were no things to collect my sister, Judy, dreidels, and my friend, Janie, collects tambourines as her tribute to Miriam. Jewish life is alive and well in cultural terms. How many famous Jewish drag Queens can you name? (Start with Lady Synagaga).

Knowledge. Once again we are not at the epoch of the curve (I don’t think) but there is a lot of Jewish learning around. Just look at the success of international Limmud. A conference for adult Jewish learning. Check the brand new options at The Official Hillel Guide to Jewish Life on Campus published by Hillel International. Check out The Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning. It is not what it once was, but it is still impressive. What doesn’t happen in the Hebrew school years can still happen later in life.

Social Action. Call it Social Action. Call it service learning. Call it Tikkun Olam: Ensuring fresh water, ending slavery, providing woman’s education, and feeding the hungry—improving the world. We live in an age, especially of youth, where projects that improve a lot of humanity are big. Here is a popular trend that is completely in sync with the Jewish tradition. Consider this an area of opportunity.

Personal Growth. There was a moment when 12-step literature, self-help, and spirituality were huge. It is not a fad that has continued, but it never vanished completely, either. I spend two days a week working at Beit T’shuvah (The House of Return) working as a spiritual counselor to a whole bunch of addicts in recovery. Understanding the issues of sobriety, I know that a positive sense of self is really important and Jewish values speak directly to this sense. We live in a world where problems of addiction have not been solved and inoculations against them are still useful. Here is another use for Jewish education.

Affiliation. Affiliation, once an end, now becomes a means. Lots of Jewish organizations study The Spirituality of Welcoming: How to Transform Your Congregation into a Sacred Community (by Ron Wolfson) as a sacred text. In order to keep their institutions going, the study and practice of sustainability became a major Jewish practice. Jews built a larger Jewish community and network of organizations than was needed. Now that they exist, these institutions have a life force that wants to continue. They have at their heart a cycle of finding and meeting the needs of a Jewish audience, or an audience that wants a Jewish connection.

Capitalization. Like affiliation, capitalization is a self-perpetuating Jewish goal. A number of organizations exist to raise money for good Jewish projects and stay in business as much for the fundraising as for the project. Both affiliation and capitalization are self-sustaining processes that build Jewish life through building Jewish life. They thrive off the projects they choose, but their process is self-generative,


Every educational revolution starts with methodology. It is always the new method first. We are at the leading edge of an endless array of new methodologies which means new motivations are on the way. Inexplicably, the how always proceeds the why. The “what” comes before the “what for?” While experiential and project-based, technology, and flipped classrooms are rampant, the what for is now on hold.

The question that needs answering is: “Why should the Jewish people survive?” There are lots of old answers: That Judaism offers a lifestyle, culture, a set of values and a process that the world needs. That Judaism provides a way of dealing with birth and death and other life issues. That the Jewish tradition charges the world with a standard of behavior that is kind, compassionate, and just. From the Jewish tradition emerges art of every kind and variety—especially the word. Judaism offers the world a series of treasures that cry out to be preserved and whose preservation transforms those dedicated to them.
My father was Bar Mitzvah because that is what Jews did. I’m not sure that as a fatherless child of a single mother of the working class that would have happened today. I went to Hebrew School and nothing was lacking in my Jewish upbringing. Today, the numbers are slipping. Those who believe that only Orthodox Judaism will survive don’t understand North American Jews. They believe that Judaism will survive only as #1 number one priority, I know that Judaism can survive as a top three or top five priority. Today Jewish social life doesn’t automatically lead to schooling, but it has room for school—and yes, compromises will be involved.

We are not in the proudest hour of Jewish life—though there is a lot to be proud about—and there should be little doubt that in most of its manifestations it will survive. If Jewish life came out of Elephantine Egypt, it will emerge today. Parents will continue to bless their children (not as many parents) with a Jewish education—and that education will change and evolve. So some children will read transliteration or learn on skype, they will still do what Jews have always done—balance their secular and Jewish lives—and emerge to face the future.

We on the delivery side of Jewish learning are going to have to work harder to recruit and sustain participation, but we have sufficient talent. No one promised us a challenge-free existence. We will succeed because God is on our side. We will succeed because what we are doing is worthwhile. And, we will succeed because we need to. Meanwhile, the OLDER generation of educators will scream “minimalist” and be responded too, “you don’t know the present reality.” Evolution takes place.

Today, the foundation for Jewish Camping, funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation, has supported the opening of 10 new camps. These were designed to attract audiences that had not previously been drawn to Jewish camping. They include Passport NYC (urban), Adamah Adventures (Outdoors), Eden Village Camp (farming), Ramah Outdoor Adventures (Outdoor), URJ 6 Points Sports Camp Academy (sports), Bima (arts), Camp Inc., (Business and entrepreneurial), Camp Zeke, (health and wellness) JCC Maccabi Sports Camp and URJ Six Points Science Academy Science and technology camp. Here is an old product twisted to look brand new. They will still have song leaders, Havdalah, and a good dose of Israel. Likewise, North Shore Congregation Israel has recast its Hebrew school as a camp, and a group in Atlanta has added Jewish Education to an extended after-school care program. And more are doing so—this way and that.

Jewish Education may take place in new frames, but the core motivation remains the same. New rationalizations will follow new forms, but life goes on.

On Teaching: Teaching as Interpretation

Monday, February 28, 2022 2:17 PM

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May 10, 2018

On Teaching: Teaching as Interpretation Reply

Teaching as Interpretation

Joel Lurie Grishavby Joel Lurie Grishaver

One of my favorite texts of all time is Rashi’s comments on the first verse of the Torah.

Rashi’s first comment begins “Rabbi Yitzhak said…” If you know a little bit about Rashi, you will know that Rabbi Yitzhak was Rashi’s father. The idea our teaching begins out of our own family experience is a wonderful notion.

Rashi then begins his second comment by saying, “The Torah only says one thing, “explain me.” Or perhaps, “make a midrash out of me.” The idea is that it takes our struggling and interpreting to have the Torah make sense. Just as Rashi begins his teaching with the invitation to join in a struggle to make meaning, our role as Jewish teachers is to do the same. The living Torah character that serves as the Torah Aura logo began his existence as an illustration of this Rashi. Likewise, both Torah-Toons and Being Torah, our definitional work, started out as our expression of Rashi’s interpretation.

We live in a world of too little time for Jewish life. We regularly have nowhere near enough hours to teach the things we want to teach. We spend our professional efforts in triage, deciding which things will fit into the slots we have. The next time you have to make such a choice, remember how Rashi did it, “Rabbi Yitzhak” and “explain me.”

Torah: Seven Faces—Seven Ways

Monday, January 11, 2021 7:29 PM

by   Dale Sides Cooperman, Early Childhood, ECC Classroom, ECE Classroom, Idie Benjamin, Simhat Torah, Teaching Tools

Idie Benjamin and Dale Sides Cooperman

Dale Sides Cooperman and Idie BenjaminThe fall is a time of endings and beginning. The cycle of the year begins anew. Summer ends, and school begins. We say goodbye to old friends and make new friends. New-ness permeates everything we do. We even begin anew, with another year of the Torah reading cycle.

In our early childhood classrooms, and in our synagogues, on Simhat Torah (literally “rejoicing with the Torah”), we parade, dance, and sing with the Torah scrolls. We celebrate the completion of the year just past, a year filled with reading and learning from the Torah, and now, celebrate the year ahead where we will continue once again the joyous task of reading and learning. The Sefer Torah—a Torah Scroll, contains the five books of Moses, the first five books of the Tanakhthe Jewish Bible. It is the holiest object for Jews.

There are seventy faces to the Torah: Turn it around and around, for everything is in it.” (Bamidbar Rabbah 13:15)

In this midrash (Rabbinic story) the sages tell us that there are different ways to interpret the Torah, to access its message, and to gain understanding from a literal reading to deep insight. The Torah is the starting point of our understanding of Judaism and of creating a Jewish identity. All of us, including children, can find our unique face in the Torah. This discovery helps lead to a deeply personal Jewish identity.

The Torah has both an inside and outside. Children know the outside. We honor the Torah by the beautiful covers that cover the scrolls, the silver crowns, and other adornments. But it is the inside, the words that are written in the Torah scrolls, where we find the core of Judaism. How do we help children to understand their faces in the Torah, and help them to find meaning and relevance for themselves in these words, written thousands of years ago?

On Simhat Torah, seven times, we parade around the synagogue with our flags and dance and sing with the Torahs. A Torah parade is called a hakafah—a circling. Since seven is a more manageable number, let’s use the seven hakafot of Simhat Torah to find seven faces of the Torah, seven ways for young children to find meaning in the Torah. What can the Torah tell them?

Hakafah #1—Listen to the Torah – The first story in the Torah tells how God created the world. When God was finished making the world, it was time for Shabbat. This is the face of the Torah that shows we believe in a world of order and beauty where everything is good. This is the face of awe – where young senses experience the magnificence of the world in which they live.

Hakafah #2—Listen to the Torah – The Torah tells us the story of Abraham and Sarah and that they were the first Jewish people. This is the face of belonging to something larger than our families. What might that mean to children? It is the beginning of a belief in God and/or community.

Hakafah #3—Listen to the Torah—The Torah tells us about special Jewish days – Shabbat, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Passover, and Shavuot. This is the face of celebrating our shared story. It connects children to the Jewish community with memories and gives them rituals and traditions as varied as the children with whom we spend our days. In our schools and with our school community, we help them to create their own memories that attach them to Jews near and far.

Hakafah #4—Listen to the Torah—The Torah tells us that there are special mitzvot for Jewish people to do that make us Jewish. We celebrate Shabbat and holidays, wear a tallit, keep kosher, and say brakhot and prayers. We teach children to appreciate the joy in all the day-to-day experiences and help them to see the blessings in everything we do. This is the face of practice and tradition. It is in the doing that children become part of the Jewish community.

Hakafah #5 —Listen to the Torah—In the Torah, we read that God tells us there are special things that Jewish people do – to be kind to friends and neighbors, to give tzedakah, to keep our world clean, to help people who are hungry, to tell the truth, and to do tikun olam, making the world a better place. This is the face of tikkun olam, bringing wholeness to the world. Children learn that their actions can bring us to the better world envisioned in the Torah, that they are empowered to understand that they can make a difference in the world.

Hakafah #6 —Listen to the Torah—In the Torah, there are prayers to God. The Shema is in the Torah. The Shema teaches us to listen – to God and to each other. This is the face of there being something greater than us, of so many faces and so many people standing together and really listening to themselves, to others, and to God.

Hakafah #7—Listen to the Torah—In the Torah, God tells us that the land of Israel will always be a special place for Jewish people. This is the face of being part of a large community. It is the place of Torah stories and history—their history.

On Simhat Torah, as we finish reading the Torah and immediately start to read it from the beginning, we are reminded of the centrality of the Torah to Judaism. We need to find ways, faces, for young children to see this as well. Each of these hakafot is a face, a way for children to understand the Torah. Each of these faces is a way for children to discover a way to be Jewish. Each of these faces helps them to find meaning in being a part of the Jewish community. It is our responsibility to find ways for children and their families to see each of these faces and to find their Jewish path.

Vicky Kelman

Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family by Amy Ellis McNutt

“Hanokh l’na’ar al pi darko / gam ki yazkin lo yasur mimena” ( Proverbs 22:6)

This biblical teaching has been ringing in my brain since reading “Becoming Nicole.”

The most usual translation for that proverb is

“Train (educate) a lad (young person) in the way he/ she ought to/ should go; he/ she will not swerve from it even in old age.”

But a more accurate translation of the phrase “al pi darko” (in the first half of the verse) would actually be “according to his ( her) way.” The word darko definitely means “his way.” And there is more than a difference in nuance. The standard translation indicates that there is right way somewhere out there that determines the “should,” the prescribed path to be taken. (Of course, this being the Bible, darko = his way, could also be darko, His way, but I did not run across any commentaries pointing that out.)

The translation I suggest, emphasizes that the way to educate is to discern the child’s way and follow from there.

Nutt-Becoming-NicoleThe book, Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family, by Amy Ellis Nutt, is a portrait of a family that was able to raise two children in accordance with this teaching, in very unusual and trying circumstances. Wayne and Kelly Maines, unable to conceive after five years of marriage, have the amazing luck to be able to adopt newborn identical twin boys (well, to be exact, they had thought they were adopting one baby—who turned out to be two—and they had another surprise waiting that didn’t begin to manifest itself immediately.) They named their new sons, Jonas and Wyatt.

The family settled in a conservative, family-oriented rural town in upstate New York. The boys’ adoptions became legal at seven months and life unfolded in a fairly predictable fashion, until….

Everyone began to notice that these identical twin boys were not so identical. As they grew into toddlers, differences began to develop in their styles of play. So far, not so different from patterns observed with most twins and siblings. But their styles begin to diverge further and further and with some clearly observable consistency. “Wyatt loved everything Barbie while Jonas loved everything Star Wars. The biggest difference between the boys could be seen in the characters they chose when they acted out stories. Jonas was always the “boy” character and Wyatt the “girl” character. He loved playing Cinderella, Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, Wendy from Peter Pan and Ariel from The Little Mermaid.” Then, at age 3 in a moment of closeness with Wayne, Wyatt tearfully tells his father that he hates his penis. (chapter 3)

“How do we understand what al pi darko means here? Wayne and Kelly are baffled, especially Wayne who has been thinking along very traditional fatherhood role lines about things such as playing football and hunting with “my boys.”

As she struggles to understand Wyatt, Kelly is more open to finding out what darko/his way,” might mean. Wyatt was just “different” is how she explained his behavior to friends and family, initially. “She knew most others didn’t understand, especially Wayne. She’d seen her husband sitting reading the newspaper while Wyatt skipped around in his tutu, a hand-me-down from his friend Leah. Wayne pretended not to see him. He didn’t look up. He didn’t want to look up.” (chapter 3)

Wayne just wanted a normal family like the one he had grown up in. Kelly wasn’t sure there was such a thing as “a normal” family. The family she grew up in had not been like other families she knew. Unsure there even was a “normal” family, she wasn’t struggling against her expectations, as Wayne was.

Kelly struggles on with how to parent Wyatt and Jonas, how to discern who they each are as individuals—as well as with the “absence” of Wayne from shared parenting duties, especially those involving Wyatt..

Kelly faces the daily clash over clothing with Wyatt. She perceives it to be cruel to dress Wyatt in clothing he hates. At first, as a compromise position she searches for plain, as opposed to frilly, clothing in the bright colors he seems to crave. She makes that first purchases with hesitation, without consulting Wayne who doesn’t approve but doesn’t try to stop her.

“Why do you have to indulge him? Wayne would ask.

He’s trying to tell us something, “Kelly would say. “He’s showing us who he is, and we’ve got to help him figure it out.” (chapter 4)

All children need this kind of close loving attention from an adult who means something to them.

One night, Kelly sits down at her computer and inputs the phrase “boys who like girls’ toys” and what she discovers there kicks off her own educational journey to discover who Wyatt is.

The rest of this fascinating book tells the story of Wyatt’s emergence as Nicole and follows Nicole and Jonas as far as college, an eventful journey encompassing acceptance and joy, discovery, cruelty, prejudice, transformation and growth, and a history-making court case.

McNutt not only tells the family’s story but provides rich information. She devotes a lot of space to biology and definitions so that we come to understand the bigger human picture of which the Maines is an example. Genitals and gender identity develop differently in utero. Gender identity develops in the brain, and usually, but not always, correlates with the genitals. For those in the minority, the struggle to live in a body that feels like the wrong body is intense and painful (chapters 14, 15, 16) “Sexual orientation is who you go to bed with. Gender identity is who you go to bed as.” (chapter 16)l

Becoming Nicole, should be required reading for parents and teachers, not because so many of us will raise transgender children, although we will all encounter them one way or another, but because it models al pi darko, so clearly. Kelly and Wayne, though their pacing and timing are exceedingly different and their evolutions follow very different trajectories, are models of what it means to educate, guide, parent a child Al pi darko.. Kelly moves first, taking a stance of curiosity almost from the start. Wane is slower out of the starting gate and his path is rockier, but both can be role models for us.

Jonas is the family member who is least revealed. I came away from the book feeling I barely knew him. Jonas says that he knows no other reality than this sibling who was Wyatt and is now Nicole. He had no other expectations. Who Nicole is doesn’t seem to surprise him or challenge any assumptions. She is who she is. His sister. Given that being a twin of a more ordinary sort is complicated enough—I kept wanting to hear more from him.

In his famous Haggadah, the artist David Moss represents the four children (sons) like playing cards, commenting that parents are dealt their children almost by chance, as we would be dealt a hand of cards. We get the children we get. It’s always a surprise—and we a step up to the task of playing that hand. Kelly and Wayne model that for us.

We learn from the Maines’s story that a large part of the parenting job here is also advocacy for the child in the world “out there.” The interface with extended family, neighbors, church, and school system (and think: youth group, summer camp, sports team). Advocacy is a huge part of the Maines family journey (in ways that echo the experience of all parents of kids who have needs that the system is not ready to deal with) but because it deals with gender, it is more fraught and more fear-inducing. For the Maines family, the issue that eventually leads them to court is the use of the bathroom in school.

Our Jewish community institutions are just starting to confront the issue of the inclusion of transgender members. I did a “quick and dirty” little survey of some synagogues, day schools, and summer camps and was pleased to discover that although some are further along in the process than others, all are struggling to figure out how to be inclusive and welcoming of this newly identified ( for them) segment of our population. They are juggling many issues at the crossroads of facilities (physical space), legal questions, and Jewish tradition.

If you haven’t already, you will soon notice new labels for restrooms in public places*, new choices on questionnaires in addition to the standard “M” and “F,” and much discussion about preferred pronouns. The pink and blue “binary world” of boy/girl, into which this generation of parents and educators (not to mention grandparents) was born is gone forever and this new set of lenses through which to view gender is a huge jolt. McNutt provides an interesting and comprehensive guide to the unfolding of this new aspect of the miracle that is the human race.

For Jewish resources and support: check Keshet, a national organization working for the full equality and inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Jews in Jewish life.

Teaching as Interpretation

Monday, January 11, 2021 5:44 PM

Teaching as Interpretation

Joel Lurie Grishavby Joel Lurie Grishaver

One of my favorite texts of all time is Rashi’s comments on the first verse of the Torah.

Rashi’s first comment begins “Rabbi Yitzhak said…” If you know a little bit about Rashi, you will know that Rabbi Yitzhak was Rashi’s father. The idea our teaching begins out of our own family experience is a wonderful notion.

Rashi then begins his second comment by saying, “The Torah only says one thing, “explain me.” Or perhaps, “make a midrash out of me.” The idea that it takes our struggling and interpreting to have the Torah make sense. Just as Rashi begins his teaching with the invitation to join in a struggle to make meaning, our role as Jewish teachers is to do the same. The living Torah character that serves as the Torah Aura logo began his existence as an illustration of this Rashi. Likewise, both Torah-Toons and Being Torah, our definitional work, started out as our expression of Rashi’s interpretation.

We live in a world of too little time for Jewish life. We regularly have nowhere near enough hours to teach the things we want to teach. We spend our professional efforts in triage, deciding which things will fit into the slots we have. The next time you have to make such a choice, remember how Rashi did it, “Rabbi Yitzhak” and “explain me.”

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