Creating a new project with Sarah Rabin Spira, Director of Family Enrichment and Community Outreach

By Dr. Marion Usher
DCJCC Interfaith Connections, and Director of Jewish Interfaith Couples

(Cross-posted from JewishInterfaithCouples.com)

There is nothing that brings a bigger smile to my face than a gurgling baby.

So when Sarah and her beautiful daughter came into my house last Monday, I was delighted to see them both. In a nanosecond, we were settled around my kitchen table, and the baby was cooing away and batting her precious little hand at the toy suspended from her carrying basket. What a wonderful way to start the week!

Sarah and I were meeting to see how we could do some programming together. She is now the DCJCC’s Director of Family Enrichment and Community Outreach, and she was very interested in providing more services to the interfaith families that use our JCC.

I was thrilled to hear of her interest.

After reviewing many ideas and options, we settled on doing a “hands-on” project for families that included both the parents and the children, had a learning component, and also a “take home” for both the parents as well as the children. I love these kinds of projects, where the activity will be appealing to families that already use the DCJCC AND also to new families who have not yet stepped into the building.

With that in mind, we brainstormed about all the social media available to us including the DC parent list-servs, blogs, Google ads, our own DCJCC website, my website and many other web locations that might get to our target audience of interfaith families.

Here’s to more great collaborations and programs that reflect the beautiful diversity of our Jewish community!

 

Make Room for Matzah


Make Room For Matzah

Families Together Learning about the Passover Seder
March 17, 2013 |10:30 am–Noon
Ages 2 and up

Come and learn how to create a fun Passover experience for your family!

Parents will leave this experience with new ideas to implement and a complete book of tried and true recipes. Children will take home special hand make objects to use during the Seder.

We welcome all families with young children, especially interfaith families.

Facilitated by Sarah Rabin Spira, Director of Family Enrichment and Community Outreach and Marion L. Usher, Ph.D., creator of “Love and Religion: An Interfaith Workshop for Jews and Their Partners.”

(Learn more and register)

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The Bread of Affection

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By Alex Grossberg, Preschool Assistant Director and Pedagogista

As the students and teachers of our Preschool began preparing for Passover, there was a lot of discussion about the symbols of the holiday. The one symbol that the students kept mentioning was matzah! Unlike most adults, children usually seem to enjoy matzah. As one three year old said, “It’s like a super giant Passover cracker!”

Each year teachers all over the country explain to their preschool students that we eat matzah to remind us of the exodus from Egypt. As an adult, I have a hard time understanding the correlation, so how do we expect a group of two–five year olds to grasp such an abstract concept? During the days before Passover, the students were invited to participate in a matzah factory at the DCJCC.

After talking about the history of the Jews leaving Egypt, the students went through the entire 18-minute process (we were not too strict on time, especially for the younger ones) of making matzah.  We then served it at our Seder in Song the week before Passover.  Here is what the process looked like in the words of our preschoolers:

  1. “We used flour and water. And we mixed it up (motioning mixing the ingredients together).” – Gamalim (2.5 yr old) student
  2. “And we rolled it. We rolled it really flat.” – Gamalim (2.5 yr old) student
  3. “We need some flour on the rollers so it doesn’t stick.” – Peelim (4.5 yr old) student
  4. “I made a pancake!” – Etzim (2 yr old) student
  5. “Squish it! Look how flat I made it. It looks like a state. Or a chicken. And this is the head. It looks like a triangle. It looks like a pyramid. Hey! It looks like a pyramid of Egypt.” – Bogrim (5 yr old) student
  6. “We poke holes so it doesn’t rise.” – Gamalim (2.5 yr old) student
  7. “Don’t let it rise! But, yesterday, my mom made bread. And she put it near the heater on my little chair. We had to wait for it to rise. It took a long time. I got to try a little piece, but it was past my bedtime.” – Bogrim (5 yr old) student
  8. “That doesn’t look like real matzah. It looks to be like real bread. It doesn’t look matzah-shaped. Matzah is square shaped, and ours is a circle.”  – Peelim (4.5 yr old) student
  9. “And now we are baking it in the oven” – Teacher; “We don’t put bacon in the oven!” – Gamalim (2.5 yr old) student
  10. “I made a gorgeous matzah!” – Yanshoofim (3 yr old) student
  11. “It’s the best matzah I ever ate!” – Kochavim (3.5 yr old) student

Parenting Towards Passover

Like most parents I know, I generally feel that I’m doing a pretty mediocre job of balancing the competing demands of young children, work, household responsibilities etc.  This feeling often gets exacerbated around Jewish holidays.  I would love to be the kind of Jewish Supermom who comes home from work, engages her children in meaningful discussions of the upcoming festival (complete with relevant Hebrew vocabulary and a craft project or two), and then whips up the perfect holiday feast from scratch after they go to bed. 

Sadly, this is far from my reality.  Time is scarce, life is busy, my kids don’t particularly enjoy being engaged in meaningful discussion, and, although generations of families who have taken my classes at the J’s Parenting Center might imagine otherwise, I actually hate doing crafts projects at home.   So I tend to limp across the finish line of each holiday, trying at least to read one seasonally appropriate book (usually courtesy of the PJ Library, a fantastic resource) and maybe teach the kids one song that fits the occasion so that they can make me look good in front of the grandparents. 

But my challenge to myself this year is to find low-stress but more hands-on ways to engage my kids in the lead-up to each holiday, and specifically, right now, to involve them more meaningfully in preparations for Passover, which begins next week.  Now, I have the serious advantage of having my children at the J’s preschool, where they do Passover-themed art projects, learn songs, and even have their own SederAnd the Seder itself presents many great opportunities for kid involvement, from the Four Questions to Ten Plagues to the afikomen hunt.  But how to make them active participants as we get ready for Passover at home, given the huge demands that the preparations already place on my own time and energy?

I’ve set small goals – to involve the kids in at least one or two preparatory activities and to sneak in some meaningful discussion along the way.  So this week, they are “helping” me clean the house for Passover by spending a few minutes after school each evening sorting through the toys in their toy bins and making a (so far very small) pile of stuff that they no longer play with.  It’s not a tremendous amount of help, but it does make them feel invested in the process, and it gives us a chance to talk as we work about the Passover story and why we clean out all of our chametz. 

And in the frantically busy day leading up to the first Seder, I will try to find at least 20 minutes for us to make haroset together, using an easy recipe like this one. While we watch the food processor grind, we might talk about why we put haroset on the seder plate, and hopefully that will lead to a discussion of the symbolism of the other seder plate elements as well.  And if I need to keep the kids occupied while I get some other cooking done, having them color in printable seder plates like these  will give them something of their own to contribute to the Seder table.  (This doesn’t count as a crafts project in my book – I can handle crayons as long as there is no glue or paint involved). 

Hopefully, this year, I will feel like I’ve guided my kids into the holiday with a bit more intentionality.  I may not be the Jewish Supermom of my dreams, but it’s a start.

For lots more fun and easy ways to involve your kids in the celebration of Passover, check out the Partnership for Jewish Life and Learning’s Passover resources page.

The Bread of Affliction

Passover has two critical teachings. The first is that in every generation, l’dor vador, we retell the story. But it’s not just enough to recite the words—we need to help the listener understand, reinventing and reimagining the story of the Exodus for this generation in a way that resonates. you have to tell it effectively. Like any good story, it has to have drama and meaning, heroes and heroines. The Haggadah has it all: Who could argue that the story isn’t dramatic? It also has meaning—after all, our identity as a people grows out of this experience. Moses and Miriam also emerge as leaders for the ages.

The Passover seder is filled with symbols of both oppression and freedom that help us tell this story—for instance, the parsley connotes springtime, the egg reminds us of the possibility of rebirth, and the maror (bitter herbs) give us a literal taste of the bitterness of slavery.

The second lesson lies in the ultimate symbol of the Passover seder, the matza. Sometimes referred to as the Bread of Affliction, it is a sobering reminder of our experiences as slaves. As we hold up the matza we say, “This is the bread of affliction, the poor bread, which our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry come and eat. Let all who are in want, share the hope of Passover.” (URJ Haggadah)

The Haggadah’s statement “This is the bread of affliction,” Ha Lahma Anya, contains one of the most significant lessons of the Passover story. In my own childhood, we had seders of thirty-five or more people, and yet my mother always found room for anyone who found themselves in need of a seder. Here at the DCJCC, Passover is not the only time we think about Ha Lahma Anya. There are hungry people in our community every day. The drama and the lessons of Passover remind us to reach out and help those whose basic needs aren’t being met on a daily basis.

My mother’s example helps me guide the mission of the Center, as we continue to go into our community and take notice and action on behalf of those in need.  As you celebrate Passover, take a look around and reach a hand out to those in your community and beyond.

Carole R. Zawatsky is the CEO of the Washington DCJCC

Cherry Blossoms and Jewish Advocacy

With the Cherry Blossom Festival commencing and the flowers out in full force, it’s no longer doubtful (despite the recent weather) that Spring is officially here. Author Rob Sachs posted an article, “An Afternoon of Cherry Blossoms and Swastikas,” on The Huffington Post about his unique experience at the annual festival this past weekend.

He discusses his weekend jaunt through the Tidal Basin and then, unexpectedly, into the adjacent United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Sachs juxtaposes the joyful nature of the annual Cherry Blossom Festival to the pain and suffering on display within the neighboring museum and draws a comparison to the Jewish tradition of stepping on a glass; he attributes this tradition, as do many, to the call from the Jewish community to remember the pain of the past even in the most joyous moments of our lives.

To that end, springtime – for Jews – is all about celebration and juxtaposition.

During Purim, for example, we are literally commanded to eat, drink, and throw raucous parties, while simultaneously crying out the name of our enemies and exterminators over and over until we’re numb to the sound.

Likewise, Passover, which is right around the corner, requires us to eat and drink like Kings and Queens. However, we still must dip our greens in the tears of our ancestors and spread the bitter pain of the Jews of yesteryear all over our matzot.

While these are the traditions many of us grew up with, maybe it’s time to consider adding some new traditions to our beloved springtime regiment of Food with Reflection. Bad things happened in the past, and it’s important to remember them, nevertheless it’s also important to reflect and act upon the struggles our communities face today.

There’s no better time than Spring – the season of renewal and hope – to get involved.

This April, for example, consider coming out to volunteer with the DCJCC’s Spring into Action program on April 10th (or other new volunteer opportunities). This annual event raises awareness about local environmental issues while providing opportunities for the community to engage with each other and work hand-in-hand towards a solution.

This year, our 2011 theme is around urban agriculture, community gardening, and park restoration. With oil prices, obesity rates, and unemployment all on the rise, it’s important to remember that our food system isn’t just about food; the way we grow our food impacts the environment, our health, and the economic and employment stability of our communities.

Local and sustainable agriculture is a great source of fair employment, healthy food, and community-building throughout the greater Washington DC area – it’s a great chance to meet some local farmers, advocates, and other families in your own neighborhoods. And bring the kids! This year, Spring into Action falls at the same time as Earth Day and Global Youth Action Day, to get all ages involved in sewing some seeds of change.

If you’re looking for a new, conscientious twist on Passover, also consider heading over to the National Rainbow Seder with DCJCC’s GLOE, or the Labor Seder with Jews United for Justice. Both of these seders are fun, meaningful ways to explore some of the most important social issues of our time – this year focusing on the rights and freedoms of the LGBTQ international community, and the struggle to find – and keep – good jobs.

(And there’s nothing like Jewish guilt and copious amounts of food to drive a movement, so don’t wait to jump on board: both of these events tend to sell out every year.)

At the end of Sachs’s article, he pondered that maybe his detour into the museum wasn’t so random after all; as Jews, we are inexplicably tied to a history of people that have sought justice for themselves and their communities for millennia.

No matter what your favorite part of Springtime is – the eating, the socializing, or the reflecting – take a break from the normal routine and make this holiday intentional by exploring not just the issues of the past, but those pertinent to our communities today.

And don’t forget to stop and smell the blossoms! Spring is as fleeting as it is special. Take advantage of it.

By the DCJCC’s Behrend Builders coordinator, Michal Rosenoer. Contact her with comments, concerns, or for more information at behrendbuilders@washingtondcjcc.org.

Alternative for Passover: The Spinning Seder

spinningseder-003-webLove Passover Seder but hate how matzoh, kugel and brisket can pack on those pounds?

Like the story of the Exodus, but struggle with the sedentary feeling of your traditional Seder?

Then join us for the Washington DCJCC’s first annual Spinning Seder: Pedal Out of Egypt. Come together with our qualified fitness staff as they take you on a challenging course of hills, sprints and four cups of wine as we retell the Passover story.  Best of all, the whole thing’s done-with in 45 cardio-health-enhancing minutes.  Our Johnny G Spinning Bikes all come equipped with cup holders to keep that Manischewitz Concord Grape within easy reach, as well as convenient access to the cycling seder plate — complete with roasted egg, parsley, charoset, shankbone and exclusive kosher-for-passover Bitter Herb Cliff Bar.

Why is this night different from all other nights? Because we’re going to get your heartrate up AND tell the story as if we had personally come out of Egypt. If Elijah wants to come to this seder he’s gonna have to pedal hard and keep up. You’ll experience our specially composed Four Questions — written for the Fit Son, the Couch Potato Son, the Training Wheel Son and the Son-Who-Thinks-Nintendo-Wii-is-Exercise. The afikomen will be awarded to the best interval time during the hills course. We won’t say “Dayyenu” until the Grace After Meals has been said, Had-Gad-Ya has been sung, and an appropriate cool-down session along with post-exercise stretching is complete.

When it’s all done, we’ll say as Jews have been saying for years, “L’shana habaya b’Yerushalayim al’Ofnayim.”

Register Today!

The Locavore Seder: Because Kosher for Passover Doesn’t Have To Be Gross (not to mention environmentally hostile)

From Wendy Fergusson, not only our director of the Ann Loeb Bronfman Gallery, but also the organizer of this year’s Community Second Night Locavore Seder.

Why does “kosher for Passover” automatically send shivers down my spine? Well, I guess it all started in my days in an ultra-orthodox seminary in Jerusalem. That year, instead of covering the kitchen from floor to ceiling in tin-foil, I threw my hands in the air and begrudgingly ate at the seminary’s cafeteria. I was sick for a week- no, make that 8 days. The cafeteria’s version of “kosher for Passover” was overly processed and packaged foods, soup mix with MSG over everything, and food cooked days in advance (sometimes weeks, folks). Ugh. I found myself eating strange cakes three meals a day and my stomach ultimately hated me.

Two things struck me as very odd. First, plain ol’ fruits and vegetables are kosher for Passover! So, why then during Passover, do we try to make everything we are used-to out of sub-par ingredients?!? It’s just 8 days! Would it kill us to just eat healthy meals for 8 days? Do we need all these funky cakes, matza-lasagna, and other crazy Passover inventions? You know what? A dinner of tilapia, broccoli, and mashed-potatoes is kosher for Passover.  A chicken breast, asparagus, and honey-glazed carrots dinner is kosher for Passover too! Those packaged, overly processed Passover foods are disgusting and an embarrassment to Jews everywhere.

Why as Jews, who love to eat, do we settle for this crap?

Second, as Jews we have the responsibility (and sometimes burden) of honoring our environment (Rambam’s baal tashchit) and too many people completely convert to excess aluminum, plastic ware, and other disposable items on Passover. Forget Passover, this often happens every week on Shabbat! With minimal effort, we can easily cut down on the amount of disposables used at Shabbat and holiday meals. Every little bit helps!

This was the inspiration for our 2009 Community Second Night Locavore Seder. We are inviting you to join us for a celebration of the second night of Passover on April 9, using ingredients found within a 250 mile radius of Washington. As we celebrate the freedom of the Israelites let us also take a step forward towards sustainable, local produce! We’re asking you to help us reduce the amount of waste at the Seder by bringing your own cup or glass to avoid the need for additional disposables. The actual Seder will be led by Cantor Maurice Singer in the traditional style with lots of singing and participation. Our private chef for the Seder has created a fabulous menu which showcases a variety of local flavors while recreating some of the traditional tastes of Passover like matzo balls and tzimmes.

To learn more about the Seder, view the entire menu, and register online, go to: http://thejdc.convio.net/site/Calendar?view=Detail&id=108841

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