We heard from Rabbi Joel Roth who is a professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary and is part of Rabbinical Assembly. Rabbi Roth expounded to us on what the Conservative Ideologies and practices are at WeWork. He also explained that the backbone of the Conservative Movement is following Jewish Law and went into depth on the 4 pillars of Conservative Judaism. He went into detail explaining the difference between Conservative and Reform Jews is that Conservative Jews follow Chalacha while it is an option in Reform Judaism. He said that Chalacha is like a chess board but is strictly set up and Orthodox Judaism has frozen that chess board in the way it was. Rabbi Roth concluded that the conservative system is a continuation of the Rabbinic Tradition. This really made an impact on me as I see myself as a Conservative Jew.
I really enjoyed Rabbi Roth’s session because it gave me a new perspective on the Conservative movement. As the son of a Reconstructing Rabbi, I grew up in many different synagogues from Renewal as a very young child to, Reform, Reconstructing and Conservative, but we mostly went to a Conservative Synagogue. The Conservative movement was a big part of who I was as I was very active in USY. Still, I didn’t really think about Chalacha as the base for the Conservative Movement. I only knew that we were just more traditional than Reform Jews and more egalitarian than Orthodox Jews. Even through my first years of college when I experienced Chabad and Modern Orthodox Judaism, there was still ambiguity about Conservative Judaism.
I appreciated Rabbi Roth’s explanation of what it means to be a Conservative Jew because it solidified what made the movement that I have the most connection with different from the other ones I had experienced. Now I see that I don’t want a frozen chess board of Chalacha like Orthodoxy, but I also want to acknowledge and follow Chalacha to the best of my ability.
By Julian Biller
“You cannot go home again. To the family back home, to the childhood back home. You cannot go home again, to the old farms and the systems which once seemed everlasting, you cannot go home again.” With these words by Thomas Wolfe, Yehonatan summed up his life’s path, and his understanding of his relationship to it. He shared with us his personal story, including an ultra-Orthodox upbringing at the most prestigious yeshiva (“the Harvard of the Yeshiva world”), the realization that he could not stay there and remain true to himself, and ultimately the success he achieved with his influence on the show Srugim and his creation of Shtissel.
All of this, he views through the lens of memory (there is something jarring in seeing someone in their thirties speak so strongly of memory and their ‘past life’). But when he speaks, you feel nostalgia at its’ strongest- a sense of longing for what was mixed with a feeling of sorrow over the realization that it will never be again. And yet his sorrow has an extra layer to it. When many of us think of what we miss from our childhood, it often still exists, though not necessarily in a way accessible to us. Yehonatan, however, made clear that he did not merely leave the world of his childhood, but it no longer exists.
For many of us, it is easy to see an ultra-Orthodox person on the street and assume their world is provincial (I am not arguing that it is; merely that we often are guilty of perceiving it that way), to say the least. It was thus fascinating to hear Yehonatan speak about what his greatest personal success and tragedy. He was back home, in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood he was raised in. He ran into one of his old teachers, who, recognizing him, told him how much he loved the show Shtissel. Yehonatan proudly told us how elated he was that someone whom he so admired appreciated his work. But then his expression dampened. He looked down and said, almost too casually, that there was a catch: When he was growing up, in the world that lives on in his mind and memories, that teacher does not have a TV with which to watch Shtissel. His teacher’s complement, one which was genuinely appreciated, simultaneously drew Yehonatan even further than where he already felt himself to be. He told us that he has sometimes felt like a tourist in his own home, but had the humility to admit that sometimes this can be a good thing- viewing things from the outside can often let us see what we ordinarily miss from within.
Most tellingly, however, Yehonatan ultimately described himself as an immigrant from the religious world. One who leaves an old culture behind, but nevertheless carries it with them, always. Among all that he said, this resonated with me most strongly. Being born in Canada, but immediately moving to Montgomery, Alabama, only to return to Ontario several years later, and having divided the rest of my life among New Jersey, and Israel, I understood him. There is at once a sense of universal comfort, drawn from the knowledge that you can succeed and be comfortable anywhere, contrasted with a sense of rootlessness- a way of wondering not which place wants you more, but which one you feel most at ‘home’ in. To compound this, I often end up in a catch-22 of being ‘American’ while in Canada, and ‘Canadian’ while in America. But much like Yehonatan, rather than merely lament or regret the path of my life, instead, I am appreciative of its richness and depth. And besides all that, I am lucky that Yehonatan’s final words to us ring true, and home is always somehow accessible, whatever it may be: “Sometimes the only way to return home is through a story because in a story the home is the same as you remember it”. Wherever we are, we always have our memories.
By Danielle Sobel
Emek Hasheva, a mediation and conflict management group, came to speak with our cohort and give us some techniques about working in a group. In our 2 sessions with them, we developed so many skills for communicating and cooperating as a team. Some of the techniques we learned with Emek Hasheva came from playing games with no rules, playing games with many rules, and associating words to scenarios. Through it all, we learned how to better understand each other as a group. One of the greatest takeaways from our 2 sessions with Emek Hasheva was the importance of Interpersonal Communication. This means, ones ability to talk to others. Although this concept may seem self-explanatory, the manner in which you speak to somebody or present information can dramatically change the outcome of the conversation or the message you are trying to convey, and this was present during all of the hands-on examples we were shown.
By Mitch Cohen
Growing up in America, I’ve always struggled with the way Israel was spoken about on my campus, online, the news, and amongst my friends. I’ve traveled to Israel multiple times in my life, and have found that Israel is so much more to me than the very negative tropes that are constantly being repeated. I know about the strong people and the amazing culture that encompass every aspect of this country. However, most of the world doesn’t see Israel as I do, and I, therefore, feel a need to defend Israel against the negative attention the country constantly receives. I chose to come to Israel with a goal of educating myself further about the conflict in order to take that information back to America and begin to have better discussions about Israel on my campus.
Matti Friedman, an Israeli journalist, and author came to speak to our cohort about the portrayal of Israel in world politics, and why it is often depicted in a certain light. From his experience working for the AP, he was able to give us some insight into the politics of journalism. explained the politics of how journalism works, about how there is an influx of journalists in this small area of the world. Journalists need to constantly find engaging stories for their editors, or they aren’t doing their jobs well, which can explain why they are so hyper-focused on this small part of the world. Friedman explained that the country of Israel sometimes has more journalist covering this country than double or triple number amount of journalists covering all of Africa. When you have an influx of journalist, you then have an influx of news coverage. He then explained that the headlines of the news could lead you to believe that Jerusalem is not a safe city, but in actuality, it is exponentially safer than large American cities when looking at crime rates in both places. Israel is therefore painted as a place that is constantly surrounded by conflict when really, the conflict is not seen here on a daily basis.
He then explained a common misconception about the conflict that most people (including myself) usually believe. Friedman elaborated on his thoughts about the conflict, explaining that people often think about it on a pretty basic level, as an interior conflict between Israelis and the Palestinian people. Instead, he challenged us to think about it as an international issue that involves all the surrounding countries in the middle east. To understand where the conflict stands today, one must know about all the wars and complicated relationships that Israel has with its neighboring countries. A person’s understanding of the current situation would be severely crippled if one were to forget or intentionally ignore the larger scope of history. In short, zooming out is critical.
Matti Friedman helped me have a better understanding of the country I have to come to love so much. Every country has its obstacles, and Israel is no exception to that. While it’s important to recognize these problems, the conversation cannot stop there. It’s our job as Jewish Americans to be loving critics of Israel, while being loving supporters of it, too.
By Penina Lis
Over the last few months on The Nachshon Project, Cohort 5 has heard from many different speakers. Some have focused on Jewish politics, sever have spoken about Jewish identity, and others have taught about the importance of Jewish leadership. Shana Goldberg, an alumnus of Nishmat’s Yoetztet Halacha program and teacher at Migdal Oz educated us on all three topics when she explained her role as a yoetzet halacha and the different spheres of Jewish life her role as a female guide to marital life and relationships impacts.
Working as a halachic advisor, Shana counsels women with varying questions, concerns, and perspectives. As a pioneer in the world of women’s involvement in topics of nida, Shana shared multiple anecdotes from her phone calls and conversations with women from the community. Confiding in Shana, women expressed their anxiety over fulfilling the foundational laws of marital relationships. When unsure whether they were halachically allowed to go to the mikvah or not, a high percentage of Shana’s clients delayed their immersion rather than confide in their male rabbis. In addition to being a haven for women to come to with intimate requests and inquirers, Shana also serves as a role model in her community for what it means to be a confident, body-positive, and empathic listener, friend, supporter of other women.
Discussing her own experiences with the laws of nida and marriage in traditional Jewish law, Shana explained that she felt blessed to be an insider in the “complex systems of laws” and empowered that she “actually knew what to do.”
I was inspired to hear Shana talk about her love for the traditions and laws of Judaism juxtaposed with her love and respect for the women who she shares laughs, tears, and lessons with. Instead of sitting in her seat of knowledge next to only women who have had similar education to her, Shana sought to empower others with the tools that strengthened her own convictions. I hope that in my own life and role in the community I can act with similar empathy, heart, and compassion to my fellow neighbors as Shana displays.
By Shayan Gilbert Burke
Welcome to the largest synagogue in the world: a five-floor main sanctuary seating 10,000 men and women; a 12-meter high, 18-ton ornate wooden ark that can hold up to 70 torah scrolls; nine chandeliers, each containing 200,000 Czech crystals; multiple floors with minyanim every 10 minutes; weddings and bar mitzvahs on a regular basis; beit midrash learning around the clock, and much much more.
The Nachshon Fellows of Cohort Five were warmly welcomed into the Belz Great Synagogue and guided by Yehezkel, a Belz Chassid. Nobody in our cohort had ever been inside this grandiose structure in the heart of Kiryat Belz near Me’ah Sha’arim. Sitting with women on the left and men on the right, both facing the Guinness World Record-holding ark, Yehezkel gave us a window into the life he and other Belz Chassidim live in Jerusalem. He engaged in a candid question-and-answer session, sharing the Belz perspective on Judaism, science, technology, gender roles, parenting, education, and more. By the time our tour was over, half of the hands in the room were still raised, eager to ask more questions. Many of his views were dissimilar to those of the fellows, but provide a powerful experience to learn from a Belz chassid first-hand about how he perceives the outside community, experiences the world from within his insular community, and perhaps how other Ultra-Orthodox Jews might view the world as well.
This visit to the Belz Great Synagogue provided me the opportunity to interact with a fellow Jew whom I may have never encountered otherwise. While in a totally unfamiliar setting, I found the opportunity to connect with someone who shares in the mission to keep the Jewish people strong, united, alive and well. Though his approach to accomplish this goal and his outlook on life may differ from my own, I’m incredibly grateful for having such a rich experience to learn from Yehezkel and to have immersively experienced a world previously unbeknownst to me.
By Matthew Ghan
What happens when you bring some of the best leaders from all across North America together in one space? In our opening week conference, one of the main goals was to bond as a cohort. Throughout the week we participated in many fellow-led activities. One of these activities was the classic “Build a Spaghetti tower with a Marshmellow” on the top. Fellows were put into groups and had to build the tallest tower possible with a marshmallow standing on top. With our 20 minutes of building time, connections were made, and we engaged in powerful discussions about how to bring together the Jewish community. For many fellows on Nashon, this was their first time interacting with others outside their denomination or community. By doing this our perspectives began to widen and we were able to learn from one another. In this activity, we had to learn together, think differently and simply construct a large tower.
What came of this activity was not only the towers, but leaders connecting, thinking differently, and most importantly engaging in dialogue. It was this activity that set the stage for the semester we are about to have. In a time where hate for others is at an all-time high, our communities need dialogue and forward thinking. Similarly to the activity where every perspective was important and valuable, within the fellows, there are radically different opinions on politics and religion, as well as members of every different movement. This same value reigns true in our everyday work as Nashon Fellows working to create more vibrant Jewish communities.
This activity sounded so simple on the surface, but it was everything but that. Every member of the team had to jump in and give their perspective. My group used this as an opportunity to discuss the different ways we see Judaism. It was in this moment that bridges began to be made and we all realized that we are stronger together. That does not mean we always need to agree, but we need to see and accept people for who they are. Ultimately we are as strong as the towers, and communities, we build. Within that one week, so much strength was built. I can’t wait to strengthen these communities and towers in the rest of the semester…
By Jamie Gottlieb
Growing up, my childhood Rabbi told the same story every year about his first time in shul. He was there for a friends Bar Mitzvah, and had no idea what he was doing. He reached down and picked up the book placed in front of him and mimicked the actions of the people praying around him. Soon into what my Rabbi now knows is the amidah, the man next to him reached over and turned my Rabbi’s “book” around. My rabbi’s face turned bright red when he realized he’d been holding the siddur upside down the whole time he was in the synagogue.
Well, while many Jews may not physically be holding their siddurim upside down, often times we have no idea how to derive meaning or connection from the prayers within them. Many Rabbis have different interpretations and answers to the question of how we find meaning in prayer. However, Rabbi Elie Kaufner flips this concept on its head. Instead of asking how we can find meaning in prayers, he asserts that the siddur is a summary of the Torah. Therefore we can derive meaning from the context surrounding the lines that make up the siddur.
This enables us to reframe the siddur as a pathway to a series of mindful meditations. These meditations allow us to stop and practice true gratitude for our lives, whether that be to a traditional g-d, higher power, or whatever one may believe in. The beauty is that for this method you don’t have to believe in any type of G-d figure at all!
Rabbi Kaufner took us through one of the central prayers of the Amidah to show us how this analysis of the siddur would work in practice. Line by line we picked apart the first blessing of the Amidah. Creating several stops along the way and paving our own path to prayer. One of these stops that I found particularly impactful was when we looked at the context of the line “of God most high” which includes the mention of righteous non-jew Malki Zedek. This moment in my prayer practice will now be dedicated to displaying gratitude for all of the wonderful non Jews I have in my life.
Reframing prayer in this way has the ability to imbue so many lives with meaning. However, in order for this idea to become popularized this intentionality would need to be imbued into our Jewish educational framework. A complete overhaul of how we teach prayer and Torah in most (but not all) of the North American Jewish world would need to take place. Instead of teaching prayer through memorization of hebrew words people don’t understand, we need to improve Jewish literacy. Focusing on understanding context not just reading the words. Finding meaning that will sustain a commitment to Jewish life and learning past one’s Bar Mitzvah. Granting every Jewish person with the ability to crack the siddur code and pave their own pathway to prayer.
What Rabbi Ellie Kaufner taught us in his shuir is of utmost importance to the sustained future of Judaism in North America. He didn’t simply teach us the “correct” way to approach prayer. Instead he taught us how to use a tool that will help us find meaning in our lives and that we can pass on to help others.
By Yonina Silverman
Every Tuesday afternoon we load buses and head to the Pardes Beit Midrash. Here, we divide into classes and learn for a couple of hours about different topics including Jewish Identity, Woman in Judaism, Talmud study and modern Jewish thought. These couple of hours are a combination of classroom learning and chevrutah time where were learn the material together with a partner. After these class session are over, we all gather back together again for a delicious dinner. This a time to reflect and discuss the classes we just had with our friends. For those who do not want to discuss, however, it is also a time for casual conversation with those around us. After dinner, we all gather together in the Beit Midrash for a sicha klalit where we hear from a different speaker every week. Both the classroom learning and the communal learning are a great way to interact with our friends in a different way than we are used to interacting with them during the rest of the week. It is a time to pause our academic school life and just focus on Torah study. No matter your Torah background, every member of the Nachshon project is able to study texts at their own level and at their own pace. I look forward to this learning every week and hope that I continue to learn as much, if not more, than I have already consumed.
By Yonina Silverman
After a wonderful Shabbat during orientation week, we all loaded the buses and headed to a forest to have a bonfire. Despite the cold weather, we gathered around the fire and had the opportunity of hearing from Yoni and Nina, also known as Yonina who are well known singers in the Israeli modern orthodox world. While this couple travels the world signing for different people, we were privileged with a private concert. The couple sang many songs that we knew and also some of their originals. At one point we even got up and danced all together. The signing was both happy and upbeat while maintaining a sense of humility and meaning. This experience showed the power of singing and how melody can evoke different feelings within us. I am happy I was able to take part in this private concert and I thank the Nachshon Project for allowing us to take part in this memorable moment.
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