Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

January 12, 2017
14 Tevet 5777

I’ve often wondered what it would look like to have school on MLK Day. Please, don’t get me wrong, I place a tremendous value on and have reverence for the work and teachings that Dr. King gave to the world. It just intrigues this Rabbi to imagine what a school day would look like on a day that we are together as a community, at the school, and honoring this important man. The day would surely start with davening, as usual, however we’d most likely add specific and relevant Torah that would apply to Dr. King. Certain pieces of the day would remain the same...classes, Judaics, lunch, recess...you get the idea. But it would simply have to be different. By the nature of what the day means, it would have to be. Even those pieces of the day that were “the usual” would take on new meaning. But, we’d be surrounded by programs, events, discussions and focus that would reinforce the message of the day. I think it would be incredibly meaningful to share that day together. (Note: this is not my way to announce that school is “on” for Monday…)

With that being said, here is the challenge. This Monday, January 16th is a day where we are not at work or at school, but it is not “just a Monday”. Instead, let’s remind ourselves and our children of the meaning and importance of the day. The memorial component along with the celebratory component are equally as important. We can reflect with awe and reverence as we memorialize a man whose impact on our country and on our world was immeasurable, while we celebrate his life and bring his light and values to our own lives. The question is, how can we do that on other days, not just the day of observing his memory?

In Judaism, we do not have a Torah holiday for the giving of the Torah. There is no specific day that is designated for remembrance of that occasion. If fact, the Talmud debates when the events at Mount Sinai actually occurred! Instead, we are required that on a daily basis, we should celebrate and reflect as if the Torah was given to us today. What a concept, to celebrate something so meaningful - Every. Single. Day. (If you want to know more, please explore the commentaries at the beginning of Shemot / Exodus, or call or email me and we can discuss!) It would be so meaningful and the ultimate tribute to Dr. King, if we recalled his lessons more often than just on that one calendar day that bears his name.

As we look ahead to honoring, celebrating and memorializing Dr. King, I think you will all agree, that we could each use a little more of his lessons and light in our country these days. Here are some ideas of how you can bring this day to life:

 

Visit the King Center

Staffing Rebecca’s Tent Shelter with Young Israel of Toco Hills

Hands on Atlanta MLK Community Service Program

MLK Day at Center For Civil and Human Rights

Georgia Tech MLK Celebration

Atlanta History Center Free Admission

I invite you to share with me how your family made this a meaningful day. Shabbat Shalom.

Continue reading
229 Hits
0 Comments

Expand your Jewish Lens

We each have a different view as we look through our own Jewish and communal lens. Some see Gemara (Talmud) and Halacha (Jewish law). Some see Fiddler on the Roof. Some see homemade challah. Some see dancing and celebrating during holidays. Some see Israel and Hebrew language. Some see Toco Hills. Some see Dunwoody. Some see “OTP” (I recently learned that term!). What do you see?

What is your lens when you view it from your seat at the Shabbat table each Friday night and/or Saturday afternoon? Do you see a small intimate group of friends or family as you usher in Shabbat? Is your Shabbat a time to unplug and cherish the quiet from your daily routine?

Regardless of what your Shabbat looks like, the moment the sun sets on Friday evening, the mood changes, and it becomes special, meaningful and significant.

Wouldn’t it be incredible if we have one big shul that could offer all things to all people? That we all gather under one roof to sing, learn together, share Torah and celebrate the diversity of what we each see through our Jewish lens? My hope is that we can build this by all coming together to share Shabbat. So, I ask you to step out of your comfort zone, meet new people and illustrate for your children what it means to be a part of a larger community -  the AJA Community.

I ask you to Reimagine One Shabbat.

Look through your Jewish lens, and imagine you are now surrounded by hundreds of people, all there to share in candlelighting, Shabbat meals and inspiring davening led by area Rabbis along with special guests and AJA students. This Reimagined Shabbat I speak of is the first ever AJA Family Shabbaton and we can’t wait to share it together as an AJA Community.

I ask you to please mark your calendars for February 3 & 4. We will have a Shabbat filled with rich Tefillah, incredible speakers, delicious food, activities for all ages, and a wonderful sense of community for this special Shabbat. You can participate in one program, one meal, one activity...or join us for events over the entire 2 days. Hospitality will be provided and details will be sent to you next week, so stay tuned.

I can’t tell you how excited I am to have our entire AJA Community - of all ages - here under one roof to Reimagine Shabbat. I look forward to creating a beautiful new vision of AJA Shabbat together.


L’shalom.

RAL

 

Continue reading
236 Hits
0 Comments

The Essence of Chanukah

Dear AJA Community,

 

We have a unique opportunity and challenge this year. Chanukah falls late in the month, so we are on a school break during all 8 days. If we are deliberate in our planning, we can all find new ways to celebrate and share the Chanukah light authentically. It can be volunteering in the community, focusing on community service, tikkun olam or just sharing a nice family meal learning and creating new Chanukah memories, after lighting the menorah together. The focus is finding those special ways to bring the essence of Chanukah to the forefront with ourselves and our children.

 

It is important to remember that the essence of Chanukah is more than just a military victory or a miracle of lights and oil. It represents something that was as important over 21 centuries ago as it still is today.

 

The Jewish people were victorious in their refusal to assimilate into the Hellenistic culture. We didn’t want to just go with the flow (when do we ever?!) and accept their teachings, celebrations and beliefs. Today, we face a similar “battle”. Although, on a daily basis in the U.S. we are not pushed toward other holidays or religions, we are still surrounded by them. This becomes even more apparent during this specific time of the year. Everywhere we turn outside of our community, we are exposed to the lights, decorations, music and festivities of surrounding cultures. They are beautiful and bright and special, but they are not ours.

 

This time of year, it becomes challenging, and at the same time more imperative, to embrace our Judaism. To show our pride as members of this incredible community. To remember our Jewish values and those we share with our children daily. To remind ourselves and our families about the essence of Chanukah, and about the focus we have as Jews to stand strong and hold tight to our connection to our community. Notice my word choice here, folks...embrace. Hold tight. This is an important time to communicate and demonstrate a deep love for our faith and heritage, to encourage our feeling for and attachment to Judaism - and embrace it.

 

I have found over the years, the holidays that resonate most with the children - those they will remember into their adulthood - are those that are infused with meaning and purpose. (and some of your Nana’s delicious brisket doesn’t hurt…) These memories and meaning will create a connection for your children, not only to the actual holiday, but will help them continue to embrace our beautiful Jewish community, long after the Chanukah candles are gone.

 

Some events and resources for Chanukah can be found here. If you have more to share, please let us know so we can share with our AJA community.

 

  • Event: Grand Menorah Lightings around Atlanta
  • Online Event: Share the Lights World Project
  • Event: Young Israel of Toco Hills, Pre-Chanukah Carnival 12/18 - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • Event: Pinch Hitter Program
  • Article: Teaching the Meaning of Chanukah
  • Article: 8 Thoughts for 8 Nights
  • Article: Making Chanukah with Children Meaningful
  • Article: Chanukah Insights and Stories
  • Video: The Fight for Freedom
Continue reading
214 Hits
0 Comments

What's Your Blind Spot?

Parshat Toldot

 

One of the very first things they teach you when you're learning to drive is to watch out for "blind spots" - those areas that are so close to us, that the rear view mirrors cannot pick them up. We must therefore get out of our comfort zone, and actually turn our heads to ensure that it is safe to stop or make a necessary turn.

 

We can apply this metaphor to our own lives at those times when things are "too close" to be seen - when our ego and pride cover up our shortcomings, thus, creating a blind spot.  A blind spot is an area that we can't see, unless we take the time to look. The funny thing about blind spots is that we can see other people's blind spots just fine, it's our own that we struggle with.

 

One of the many great features of the Torah is that it does not shy away from exposing the blind spots of our ancestors. We learn from the story of Yitzchak, that we are all blind to something. Maybe it's a blind spot in a relationship; perhaps we have a blind spot when it comes to G-d. Maybe we are blind to our own qualities and our own challenges. We are sometimes blind to our own blind spots. Ironic, yes?

 

From the Torah we know that Yitzchak had a literal blind spot. He lost his eyesight towards the end of his life. But it seemed that Yitzchak was more than physically blind and was unable to make a solid character assessment. When charged with the task of choosing one of his sons to receive the bracha and serve as the next family representative, he chose Esav (who used his hunting skills to swindle people) instead of the wholesome and pure Yaakov.

 

To understand Yitzchak’s thought process, like all good amateur therapists, it helps to understand the relationship with his own father, Avraham. He was a prominent man and was the star. He was after all, Avraham (av hamon hagoyim). He had the initiative, and was recognized for his contributions to the world. He unveiled circumcision; inaugurated the concept of bikkur cholim (visiting the sick); made the first seudat hodaah (a celebratory meal after a mitzvah); fought powerful kings to save Lot, and argued with G-d to save Sodom. Avraham stood firm for what he believed was right. Avraham, for all these reasons, will always be a powerful figure in the Torah.

 

Yitzchak, as opposed to Avraham, was not a powerful figure, he was not a catalyst for change. What was Yitzchak known for? What did Yitzchak accomplish in his life? He was passive and his only claim to fame was being the child selected for slaughter.

 

The events of Parshat Toldot changed the way Yitzchak looked at the world. He was forced to confront his own legacy. As Yitzchak’s life was drawing to a close, he reflected, saw that he had not made an impact in this world, as he wasn’t even able to sustain his father’s earlier accomplishments. In some respects, Yitzchak may have seen his life as a failure.

 

So why did Yitzchak initially choose Esav over Yaakov? Yitzchak believed that Esav, with a little love and guidance would be better equipped to sustain Avraham’s initiatives. Esav was cunning and daring. He could make things happen. Esav was a man of the world, a man of action, courageous and bold.  Although he used questionable methods, Esav had what it took to bring change to the people, and Yitzchak saw Esav as the true successor to Avraham.

 

So why, in the end, did Yaakov get the blessing? Because of trickery or some kind of ruse? This is the most important point of this Parsha. Yaakov came to this “meeting” dressed in Esav’s clothes and covering his arms with goat skins to resemble his brother’s hairy complexion. But, Yitzchak was not tricked, he was not deceived. Yitzchak knew precisely to whom he was giving the blessing!  It was at THIS moment, that Yitzchak saw a different Yaakov. A Yaakov willing to take action, albeit not through the best means, but he was ready to make things right. Yaakov took on some of the characteristics of his grandfather, became fit to receive the bracha and engage the world. At that moment when Yaakov took on some of the traits of Esav and Avraham, Yitzchak cried out “hakol kol Yaakov vihayidyim yiday Esav! (Yaakov you have successfully merged the man of the tent and the man of action!)

 

Yitzchak looked inward late in life and identified his core weakness.  He “sensed” his blind spots and took steps to change the future. Once we are set in our ways, it is difficult for us to see our blind spots, let alone to make significant changes in them. Just like with Yitzchak and Yaakov, unless we take the time to look, we can miss our own blind spots.

 

As a school, it is important that we take a look at our blind spots, both as individuals and collectively as an institution. We encourage you, our parents and community, to reach out to us when YOU see a blind spot we may be missing. One way we will be reaching out to you for input will be via a series of parent and community surveys we are designing. We want to know what you think, and your input is vital to the continued success of our school. Until those surveys come out, as always, I encourage you to reach out to me via email, phone or a good ole’ fashioned panim el panim (face-to-face) conversation.

 

In the spirit of this week’s Parsha, I encourage each of us to open our eyes, remove the blinders and take the time to look at our own blind spots this Shabbat.

Continue reading
252 Hits
0 Comments

Our Village.

I have found over the years that it’s important to identify what you know and what you don’t -  what you can do and what doesn’t come as easily.

 

Exhibit A: this past Shabbat, Florence took our daughter, Eliana out of town to a Bat Mitzvah. There I was, faced with flying solo with Aviva and Ezra. I knew exactly what I needed to do. I called in the reinforcements. My friend was gracious enough to help, and offered to take my youngest for various pieces of Shabbat, so I was able to attend community events, while also being Abba (father) to my own Leubitz community.

 

It was a perfect arrangement. I joined the Shabbos Project Block Party at Beth Jacob on Shabbat. This was a worldwide initiative that drew at least 1,000 people in Toco Hills - and I was in awe of how the community was gathered for such a positive and special Shabbat lunch. The message of strength of community was everywhere.


Sunday morning, the kids and I enjoyed the AJA Neon Dance Party with well over 80 people - many of whom were new families who came to tour our school. (We anticipate a full ECD this coming year!) The kids danced, played and had a ball. It was a very diverse crowd, and gave me yet another glimpse into the connection within our community (this view was a little more fluorescent and loud, though!)

 

My weekend concluded Sunday night with the L’chaim Event, celebrating 18 years for the Chabad of North Fulton. I was moved by the speakers’ stories of the growth of this Chabad community. Rabbi Minkowicz and his late wife, Rashi (z”l), built such an incredible community - that was crystal clear. I was taken aback by the diversity in the room, connecting and bonding as a community to honor the late Rashi and celebrate the growth of Chabad of North Fulton.

 

The overall theme of my weekend was one simple word: Community. It ran through my head constantly.

 

After my dear wife and daughter arrived safely home on Sunday night, I had time to reflect on the weekend. My conclusions:

 

1- Florence is amazing. (she never reads my emails, so tell her I wrote this, plz). Seriously. I did my best to pinch hit, but no one keeps the Leubitz family running like she does. She keeps it all moving like I operate this school, with systems and protocols and plans that work. I follow her plans, and it just works. But, for me to run the show without her...er... (changing the subject…)

 

2-  Homes are like schools. My time flying solo and trying to run the house, started me thinking of the similarity to how homes and schools run, and then I thought about my leadership style at AJA. Just as I needed help to coordinate the weekend, I was reminded that no Head of School is the expert in all things. An effective HOS finds the best teachers, staff and administrators and lets them thrive in their own areas of excellence. We have some of the most talented and qualified staff here at AJA, I am grateful to have them here. I couldn’t do it without their expertise.

 

3- It’s all about Community. In Real Estate the key is “Location. Location. Location”. Using Creative Rabbinic License, I’d revise it to: “Community. Community. Community.” We need each other. We depend, trust and lean on each other, and we are each a part of a village. In this village, we each have a role. One of my roles is to challenge and empower the faculty and administrators here to work toward their full potential. Along those same lines, I challenge you.

 

What is your area of expertise? Can you come teach a class at the school? Can you open your home to a new family for Shabbos or a Sunday meal? Can you volunteer with the PTSA or Booster Club? Is your heart in a non-for-profit and we need to know about it here at AJA? What can you add to your/our community? Email DIrector of Admissions, Erica Gal, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., and she’ll make sure to connect you with the right person to help you find your role in the village - to help give back to your family, friends and your AJA community.

 

We are incredibly fortunate to be a part of the AJA Community and the Atlanta Jewish Community. I do know, community doesn’t come to us by chance, we have to build it. And, I believe that our children deserve nothing less.  

 

 

L’shalom.

Continue reading
300 Hits
0 Comments