Posted by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein
Ahad Ha’am, a great Zionist thinker and icon, knew that one of the keys to creating a thriving Jewish culture in Palestine, and among assimilating Jews in Europe, was reviving the ancient Hebrew language. While Hebrew had been relegated to books of law and philosophy for centuries, Ahad Ha’am and his contemporaries wiped away the dust, and revived the spoken language, creating a modern Hebrew culture.
More than 100 year’s later Hebrew is again at the center of cultural transformation, with a novel program bringing Hebrew into Jewish homes—again.
Can a bunch of free Hebrew children’s books preventing Israelis from disappearing into the melting pot of American culture? A pioneering program is being launched nationwide seeking to do just that.
While America has been a land of opportunity for hundreds of thousands of Israelis, it is also a place for where many lose their connections to the Jewish community. Sifriyat Pijama B’America, or the Pijama Library in America, is seeking to reunite Israelis and Jewish and Israeli-American culture.
The project is the brainchild of Adam and Gila Milstein, leaders in the Israeli American community in Los Angeles. “There are hundreds of thousands of Israeli families nationwide,” said Milstein, “who are not affiliated.” And that trend has him very worried about the future of the Israeli Jews in America.
Sifriyat Pijama B’America is a Hebrew language spin-off of a large and popular program called PJ Library, which sends thousands of Jewish-themed books for free into homes. The Hebrew sister project launched in 2011 and within weeks, 2,000 families signed up to receive monthly Hebrew language children’s books that they can read to their children. The program was off to an amazing start. The organizers realized that just sending books was not enough, and looked for ways to make the program even more effective.
This summer, Sifriyat Pijama B’America is also launching a Jewish day school initiative, tying the book program to Jewish day schools in a novel way. The program brings participating families to register for the free program at local Jewish day schools around the country. By bringing the families to Jewish day schools, the organizers, Adam and Gila Milstein, the Israeli Leadership Council, the Avi Chai Foundation and The Harold Grinspoon Foundation, hope that these families will end up becoming more involved in Jewish education.
“The goal,” said Adam Milstein, Sifriyat Pijama B’America’s founder and champion, “is to get unaffiliated Israeli families more connected to Jewish education and life, and hopefully increase enrollment at Jewish day schools.”
It’s estimated that up to 1 million Israelis have immigrated to the United States since 1948. Their children tend to assimilate quickly, attend public schools, and maintain a highly secular Jewish lifestyle. But as Milstein points out, “being secular in America means assimilating and disappearing at a faster rate.”
Sharon Barkan, a Hebrew teacher in Los Angeles, has enjoyed the books and feels it’s an important part of raising her Israeli-American children. “For me words are the strongest thing there is,” said Barkan, “these books are the connection my daughter now has to the Hebrew language.” Reading the books with her kids has been, “a wonderful experience. And the beginning of each book has information and activities that we do with the kids.”
The books chosen seem to resonate with their audience, “My daughter,’ said Barkan, “likes to speak about the characters in the books - they are very compelling.”
Milstein’s main concern are children. “Many families are clearly not affiliated and connecting with Jewish education. And the victims are the kids, because the kids have no connection to Jewish life and Israel. That is why so important to bring into Jewish life and learning to them.”
Registration is now open at 28 schools nationwide and online and can accommodate 6,000 families. The organizers hope that up to 50,000 people will be reached in this current year of the program. When families register, they have two year’s of free books.
The books are chosen by a committee made up of representatives from the Israeli Ministry of Education, early childhood educators and psychologists to promote Jewish values. Each book contains instructions to the parents to help them teach the values that each book promotes. While the books are not religious in nature they contain Jewish themes and characters.
“It is much easier for Israel’s to become unaffiliated from the Jewish community, than maintain a connection,” said Milstein, “but we hope that through Jewish education, getting families active in passing on Jewish values and Hebrew language, that we can create a thriving and connected community of the future.”
I am sure that in heaven Ahad Ha’am is smiling.
For more information visit: http://www.sp-ba.org/
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May 7, 2012 | 12:48 pm
Posted by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein
Delmon should keep swinging the bat in a Tigers uniform because Judaism believes in the God of second chances. Judaism instructs us that we must give everyone the opportunity to make amends. In fact, I have a few suggestions that can make Delmon one of the most popular players in the Jewish community today.
When Young was arrested on April 27th, and charged with misdemeanor aggravated harassment and assault, Motown, the baseball world, and the Jewish community cringed in disbelief. Some called this the end of his short career.
Baseball commissioner Bud Selig, who is happens to be Jewish, suspended Young for seven days without pay. With a $6.75 million dollar salary, that added up to $258,000 in lost wages. The Tigers were prohibited from further disciplinary action because of baseball and the players’ association labor agreement.
Young issued an apology to his friends, family, team and the community, and confessed that the whole incident was related to an alcohol problem that he will now address.
In a press conference before Saturday’s game after the end of his suspension, Young said, “I made a lapse in judgment, but I can tell you that I am not an anti-Semitic. I wasn’t raised that way, came from a good family, and we weren’t taught any of that, especially growing up in a diverse area.”
In fact it seems that the hardest part of the ordeal for Young is being branded an anti-Semite.“Me branded being racist or bigoted, that’s not me,” he said. “I have a lot of diverse friends; I live in a diverse area; that’s just not me or my character.”
And while there is part of me and I am sure many other Jewish fans, who, every time that Delmon Young is going to approach the plate for the foreseeable future, will be reminded what happened, that doesn’t have to be the case.
The entire essence of the Jewish High Holidays challenges us to seek out those that we have wronged and ask forgiveness. We ask God for forgiveness for what we did against God, and we ask friends and family to forgive us for how we let them down or hurt them in the previous year.
The Days of Awe compel us to believe that everyone deserves a second chance. Does this forgiveness extend to Delmon Young? You bet.
While the hurt in me thinks that Young and his number should be ejected from baseball, on further contemplation, that would be wrong.
Rather, let’s give Young a chance to learn from his mistakes, become a spokesperson for tolerance and most importantly, let him become an ally of the Jewish community.
The power of teshuva can turn this hurtful incident into a one that teaches compassion and love.
Young knows that one apology can’t convince people that he’s not an anti-Semite and said, “I know it’s going to take a while. I can’t smooth this thing over and convince anyone after one speech, but just go out there every day and be a positive influence.”
Delmon, if you sincerely make amends now you will be forgiven in an instant.
Here are some of my suggestions:
Delmon, I am sure that you can become not only a friend to the Jewish community, but that you can become a shining example of the power of teshuva, the power of the individual to transcend their shortcomings and become great.
We as a Jewish community will forgive you, and make sure that you are remembered as a great friend of the Jewish people.
Rabbi Yonah is an Oxford educated rabbi who loves music, Israel and runs Jewlicious. You can follow him on twitter.com/rabbiyonah
May 6, 2012 | 11:10 pm
Posted by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein
Moran Samuel sat in her wheelchair on the dais after winning a gold medal in the rowing competition. She waited for the Hatikvah to start. And waited. And then a strange song started that sounded nothing like Hatikvah. She signaled that this was not the right song. What happened next you will never forget.
Moran Samuel was not always disabled. She awoke one day when she was 24 and was paralyzed from the chest down due to a rare stroke in her spine. Undeterred by her disability, she became the leading woman player in Israeli wheelchair basketball, and began rowing competitively.
She arrived in Italy ready to win her last competition before the paralympics in London. The Italians though were not as thoroughly prepared as Moran. They didn’t have Hatikvah ready, maybe because they didn’t think that an Israeli was going to win.
When Moran realized that they didn’t have the music, she took the microphone, and sang it herself. See the video below courtesy of Mideasttruth.com
Hat tip to TM
Rabbi Yonah is an Oxford educated Rabbi who loves music, blogging, and Jewlicious. You can follow him on @rabbiyonah