Tag Archives: outreach

It’s Not Enough: In Pursuit of a Life on Fire

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theperfectlife

You may have a nice job, good friends, and a happy family life. You may be fortunate enough to peer out of your bedroom window as the sun peeks out in the early morning. You might be blessed to have health, a roof over your head, clothes on your back, and food in your belly. Still, it won’t be enough.

If we stop a moment, the reality that we need more sets in. Practice gratitude by counting all the wonderful gifts you were given. That helps. But, most days, you need more.

A teenager with good grades, good looks, and good fun will need more just as a senior living in a retirement community enjoying the golden years needs more too.

What’s the more?

What are we searching for? Why are we empty?

We crave a life on fire.

fire

We desire to live in an inspired, meaningful way. We want lives that are rich with cause, depth, importance. We want to impact. We want to mean something.

How do we live a life on fire?

I marvel at my powerhouse friends and family who do great big things with their lives. They start organizations. They  travel globally to share a message. They help thousands of people through unconditional support with a wide open heart, broad smile, and sparkle in their eyes.

How can we make every moment count? What can we do to uplift ourselves and those around us? What do we need to build to be worthy of living a life on fire?

Maybe nothing.

Maybe, we just need to audit our current lives and see what needs are right in front of us. Everything that has led up to this moment, this very moment, was by design. We are walking through a movie set, characters intentionally placed just so, backdrop calculated by a masterful Director. We are just asked to look around, take it all in, and react.

Image result for movie set

What is being asked of us? Something needs our attention and only we can figure out what that is. A difficult relative. Financial strain. Worries about health. A void in some area. There is a lesson buried underneath our individual worlds and we can uncover it when we live our fiery lives with our eyes wide open.

What does my life demand of me right now vs. what do I feel like doing? If we go through each day in pursuit of truth, working on ourselves, wanting to help the world – no matter the home, the family, the career- life will be more than enough. We will live a life on fire and set the world ablaze.

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It Could Have Been Me

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I was stuck in massive traffic driving home from work today. I’m not one of those frenetic drivers that take pride in how many minutes I can shave off my trip. I prefer to leave early and arrive early- I’ve been known to spend four hours in an airport to ward off that “rushed” feeling. So there I was at a complete stop for what felt like eternity despite numerous green lights assuring me I’d have my chance to lift my right foot from the brakes to the gas. I began to feel the slightest bit antsy. My chance, it appeared, would never come. I started looking around at the cars ahead of me in the hopes of catching a glimpse of the freeway entrance. I lightly tapped on my horn once but stopped immediately after the muscular, tattooed guy  with hair that defied gravity aggressively and obscenely gesticulated at me in a wildly successful intimidation technique.

My kids were in the back of the car so I had to stay cool. I pushed my annoyance down and tried to distract myself by replying to texts and listening to the kiddies’ day. That went fairly well and pretty soon I began inching forward. That’s when I saw him. The policeman that reoriented me from feelings of frustration to concern in half a second flat. Then I saw three police cars, a tow truck, and an ambulance. Someone was directing traffic and several others in uniform were dutifully taking notes and speaking to bystanders. My stomach clenched in dread of what any one of us could experience any day – a tragic car accident. I sucked in my breath preparing myself for a grotesque image of mangled cars and injured passengers. I worried in those moments about what my kids were about to witness.

When we finally were in view of the actual accident, it was thankfully milder than I expected. I saw no one hurt and while one car’s hood was all but lopped off, the windshield was in tact. Another car had significant damage at the rear but also nothing that looked like impacted passengers. Still, the scene was a sobering one and my kindergartner and I discussed it. He told me he was feeling “cautious, careful, and anxious” having witnessed such a scene. I confessed to him that I shared his feelings.

What began as an ordinary drive turned into recognition of life’s fragility and gratitude that people were spared. That’s the power of witnessing tragedy or even near-tragedy. The Torah discusses how merely observing the trial that follows a woman suspected of infidelity obligates an onlooker to take extreme measures to strengthen boundaries and self-discipline. Reacting to disturbing events with a detached “thank God that wasn’t me” is how we squash anxious thoughts but what lies beneath is really a much more connected “that could have been me”. And that’s appropriate. It could have.

Drowning in Good Fortune

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Do you have different versions of yourself? I know I do. My favorite is the one where I’m sitting at my Shabbos table with guests all around me who are totally different in background and attitude toward Judaism. Somehow, over the roasted chicken or salad we unify into a group that makes sense- all the while sparring about different ideas (we are Jews after all). That Friday night ambiance is unbeatable. The house is filled with yummy smells and is immaculate. The kids are angelically sleeping upstairs. I’m in my element having facilitated a situation where all these random people are enjoying Shabbos and I feel as connected and alive as ever. My husband is not too tired yet (he’s been known to doze at the table or to mysteriously appear on the couch asleep). I myself am pretty tired having spent a good portion of Thursday night cooking for said Shabbos meal but this experience is too divine to miss. The guests leave having made a new friend or two or- minimally-with a full belly and meaningful memories.

It’s interesting that this is my go-to image. I love my children more than anything but let’s face it, they’re practically persona non grata in the scenario I just created.  I picture other “favorite versions” of myself that are maternal like the one where I’m discussing philosophical matters with my 5 year old son. Another is smushing his little brother’s cheeks (Maternal or Sadistic? hmm…). Anyhow, In these images, I’m smiling and blessed too. Still, there’s something very special about those Friday nights. My guests assume I did them a favor inviting them to share a meal but the reality is they were helping me bring my favorite self into fruition.

Judaism posits that true and absolute happiness comes from our closeness with Hashem (God) and by closeness I mean similarity. In all my images of “favorite versions” where I’m feeling my happiest – whether it be the role of a hostess, parent, or giver in any capacity- something deeper is at play. I’m feeling spiritual. I’m feeling connected to something Higher. I’m feeling Godly. (Side-note: This is why I am not a fan of The Giving Tree by Shel Silversein which probably means you hate me now but here’s why: A tree that spends its life as a giver should look big and beautiful with tons of fruit growing- an orchard even- by the end. But a stump?? Who wants to give if giving means we’re left with next to nothing? Giving should create expansion!) On the flip side of giving, I loathe asking for favors or being in a vulnerable position for this very reason. If I am not giving, I don’t feel happy; I don’t feel  powerful; I am not impacting for the better.

One way a Jewish person is supposed to view tzedakah (charity) is that the purpose of poverty is to create opportunity to give. But, where does that leave poor people? Poor, poor people. Come to think of it, we’re all poor in one way or another. Some are searching for financial security, some for a spouse, some struggling to have children, others wishing for happiness, connection, and meaning. The list is endless and I have yet to find someone who couldn’t identify an impoverished area of life. Step up if your life is perfect but careful, it’s ghost town for miles.

So why DOES Hashem want this vulnerability in us? Why does He want us dependent? Is this a punishment? Are we all punished? Judaism teaches us that there’s a reason. This area of emptiness/damage is our life boat. We are otherwise drowning in good fortune. Perhaps it’s counter-intuitive but if I’m sitting at the head of my table, serving dinner, I’m feeling Godly (like I wrote above). The problem with feelings of Godliness is that they need to be tempered lest we have delusions of grandeur. It would be a recipe for a very miserable life if I walked around feeling like God constantly. Talk about fear of failure and unrealistic expectations! Talk about isolation and haughtiness! Humility is one of the most difficult traits to acquire and there is no better way to experience humility than being forced to acknowledge our  weaknesses, voids, and obstacles. May our strides toward humility be paved with plenty sweet and happy blessings.

Jewish Outreach: The Endangered Species

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I’ve spent considerable time defending why Jewish Outreach should have a presence on campus and elsewhere. I’d like to now discuss an issue I consider to be legitimate (joking!). There are learning centers in Israel that are dedicated to grooming young men and women to go out and help make the world a better place by teaching Torah and inspiring Jewish young people. The worthiness of such institutions are invaluable given the sharp incline in Jewish assimilation and intermarriage in  America. So far, so good.

Since adulthood, I knew I wanted to devote my life to sharing Judaism’s beauty with other Jews. I was fortunate enough to meet a guy who was passionate about the same cause and wanted to build a home filled with Torah and loving-kindness. We immediately moved to Israel and found the cheapest, smallest apartment we could find. We were thrilled.

We spent over four years in Jerusalem and were fortunate enough to carve that time out to infuse our home with spirituality. We talked and dreamed together about the outreach we would eventually move on to do. We also took classes and soaked up lessons from the wonderful role models Israel boasts so we could leave as prepared as possible to enrich Jewish communities and campuses.

We were job hunting in a post-2008 world where every organization and business was downsizing. There were very few choices and we felt incredibly fortunate when we landed in Southern California working for (arguably) one of the most successful campus outreach organizations in North America. We worked long and hard but loved every moment. We made incredible relationships with people I now call family – and for some- I call their families family too (Hi Sorrells!).

We left USC and I can tell you about that later. Point is, Rabbi Daniel and I decided to move on although we weren’t sure where we were going. The job options in kiruv (Jewish outreach) are so few and far between – I can’t tell you how many charismatic, dynamic, upstanding rabbis I’ve come across who are now real estate brokers, lawyers, and IT people. I’m not knocking these professions AT ALL- just commenting that what may be the real estate market’s gain is the Jewish community’s loss. To some, this is a fact of life. To me, this is a tragedy.

The crazy thing is that it boils down to the money (doesn’t it?). What’s driving expansion of non-profits that creates new jobs? Philanthropists and their willingness to invest in Jewish outreach. The National Study of American Jewish Giving put out a publication called Connected to Give: Key Findings. Here are the the five key findings:

  1. Most American Jews are charitable givers (76%- the same percent that are intermarrying according to Pew. Random but interesting.)
  2. 92% of Jewish contributions go to non-Jewish organizations. 79% go to Jewish organizations.
  3. The biggest factor influencing American Jews to make a charitable contribution is an individual’s connection to and engagement with the Jewish community.
  4. As income increases, the incidence of giving increases.
  5. Younger Jews are less likely to give to Jewish organizations (although not surprisingly more likely to give through new methods like texting, giving circles, and crowdfunding sites)

Let’s focus  on #3 and #5: The younger Jews are less likely to give to Jewish causes and the biggest factor influencing American Jews’ contribution is individual connection and engagement with the Jewish community. My conclusion is that younger Jews are, as individuals, feeling less engaged and connected to the Jewish community (otherwise they’d donate more to it). But it’s not all doom and gloom because Jewish Outreach is a wonderful counter-attack to the disconnection all these young Jews are experiencing.

Problem is, in order to provide quality Jewish programming to engage young people, funding is a critical necessity.

I hate to leave you with this conundrum but that’s exactly what I’m doing. Hopefully no one closes their laptops feeling depressed- my goal is to be solution-oriented and empowering. There certainly are some wonderful efforts being made to combat the low engagement and charity that is a reality for Jewish non-profits (nod to Moishe House for innovation). Clearly, however, there is more to be done. If we’re just focused on fundraising and old-fashioned programming, Jewish outreach will become irrelevant quickly. We need to think about the needs of our generation and the best way to reach out- fast. Your Bold Ideas and comments are most welcome.

Jerry Seinfeld’s Profundity (circa 1992)

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Jerry Seinfeld has a great bit about how the #2 fear in America is death and the #1 fear is public speaking. I watched it when Seinfeld was on NBC every Thursday night and my parents and sister sat around the television together with me- a family tradition. This particular 30 second bit was good enough to search youtube and dredge up.

I verified Jerry’s statistic with this webmd article– and if I was willing to spend more time on this, I’m sure I’d come up with more evidence that people do, in fact, fear public speaking over death. What’s so awesome about this observation is that death makes perfect sense as a top fear. After all, no matter what your belief system, the element of the unknown and the foreign make one’s own death a topic that can minimally create anxiety! The knowledge that death is an absolute does have a silver lining of sorts. (Am I being morbid?) When we know we’re only here for a finite amount of time, we’re more compelled to maximize and appreciate that time. If I was told (by a credible source) that I’d live forever, I think I’d go about my life with a much more laissez-faire attitude. On some level, I’d understand that I have an infinite amount of time to correct any wrongdoings and the concept of “wasting” time would also cease to exist. Death lights a fire under those of us that consider it.  We know, if we’re gonna act, it better be now.

That leads me to the#2 fear: public speaking. It’s not that I don’t get it. I’ve certainly been nervous when getting up to speak in front of a large crowd. I’m comfortable if the audience is somewhat familiar to me but a group of new people can definitely make me unsettled. But fearing the spotlight to the point that death sounds more appealing? My best guess of this fear’s roots is our obsession with what our peers think of us- we know how powerful peer pressure can be. Our peers can make us or break us and we need to be really careful with who we choose to spend time and call a friend. The fear of being judged is also fair. Who of us can confidently state that we truly do not care what a single person has to say about us? I don’t know about you, but I like being told I’m doing a good job at work. There are many things I do that are tinged with the motivation to gain approval.

This desire to be approved or judged favorably makes thinking and acting unusually all the more difficult. When choosing the “right” thing despite others condemning us or misunderstanding, I believe we make ourselves different. Being different is either a source of pride or of shame. I heard that from Rabbi Noach Orlowek, a parenting/education expert, who describes how Jewish kids will feel either proud or ashamed of their heritage. My husband and I experienced this phenomenon first-hand at USC when we were told by a Jewish person (not a USC staff member) to refrain from asking students if they’re Jewish out of concern that they may be embarrassed in front of their non-Jewish friends.

Why should a young Jewish person be ashamed of their religion, though? What about Judaism is so unpalatable? This question spills into many issues that plague the modern Jew living in the Western world. I’d love to hear what you think, but my theory is ignorance. Jewish people today are simply unaware of what it means to be Jewish to the point that we’ve stripped down to bagels with lox and Temple once a year. Jews are these nerdy chubby guys with glasses, curly hair, and a schnoz. Who’d want to be in that club?

There are those that propose we need to make Judaism edgier to be more relevant which, to me, is even worse. There are plenty of “cool” celebrities with shiny outsides and twisted insides. Judaism will lose the war if we’re fighting to be the coolest. Fa sho’ (see?). The goal for me is to shatter the misconceptions of Judaism that exist for us all – religious and not. Is there a God? Who is God? If we’re expecting Santa, we’ll be sorely disappointed and disillusioned. If we ask questions, though, and never stop searching for answers that appeal because they’re authentic and make sense, Judaism will get richer and richer and our pride will grow accordingly. No wonder so many want to change Judaism or leave it altogether. Why walk into Baskin Robbins if we don’t even understand ice cream?

When we choose to be different, we walk into the spotlight with confidence. When we’re born being different and don’t begin to understand what we’ve been born into, we reject the spotlight thrust upon us. Jerry Seinfeld had it right. Public speaking can be far worse. Being center stage with no idea why we’re there or what to say is more tragic – perhaps- than death.

La Responsa

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Amazing what adrenaline can do. I was hoping for an early night. Just half an hour ago, I was lying in bed (half-asleep) and ready to turn in. I decided that I’d let the blog go for the evening or the week but, by-the-by, found an article in the blogosphere that took my article (this one) out of context to promote different and oppositional ideas so now…I’m awake.  I’d rather not draw anyone’s attention to this blog because I don’t agree with the writer at all but I would like to acknowledge the style of the writer’s (Rebecca’s) article. Rebecca didn’t attack me in any way or at least I don’t feel attacked by Rebecca personally but some of my writing was misinterpreted to fit with her agenda which I don’t love. Rebecca- we’re women- so let’s put it all out there. You’re my Jewish sister. Let’s get real. Really real. Therefore, friends, I give you: La Responsa.

1. In my article “Blowing the Head Off Of Campus Outreach”, the goal for most kiruv professionals is to help a student feel more connected to Judaism, God, other Jews, and to develop (from that connection) a stronger commitment to Judaism. Most kiruv professionals that I’ve spoken to (and I talk to the most fanatic!) do not want carbon copies of themselves or even to force a student into an “orthodox lifestyle” (her words). A richer connection to Judaism and more serious level of commitment to reflect that connection is not the same thing as forcing someone into a little cookie-cutter mold called “orthodox”.  True story.

2. My “brazen” (her words) mention of students needing inner-strength to live a more Jewish life even when friends and, at times, family take exception…Where to start? We all (should) make choices at some point that don’t sit well or even threaten others. Whenever I go on a diet, I inevitably encounter people who are threatened by my new choices and I need to fortify myself to eat healthy and exercise in the face of such people. OK, not quite. It’s been a while since I’ve been on a real diet but the principle is there. It is  hard for certain types of people (usually the insecure types) to feel comfortable when someone else is making choices to live a healthier, happier life (I’m not just talking  about Jews). The idea is that those who truly love us will be happy we’re happy and support us. If not immediately, then eventually. Rebecca: Why fear change? Change can be good! In that vein, why fear questioning? The definition of “brainwash” is to adopt radically different beliefs by using systematic and often forcible pressure. The ability to question is a person’s only chance NOT to get brainwashed and I certainly hope you aren’t trying to brainwash your readers, Rebecca 😉 STRONG people QUESTION. WEAK people bury their heads in the sand.

3. My step-to-step guide of how a kiruv professional develops a relationship with students does sound contrived and, in fact, is contrived. I’m not being facetious when I tell you that I’m not naturally sociable and don’t enjoy socializing, per se. The result of these steps is actually an organic relationship. Proof? My husband and I were “set up” on a blind date that led to a (short) series of dates before our engagement. The whole process was forced, contrived. However, my marriage is anything but contrived. It is very real. One can go through a premeditated series of steps and the outcome of the connection between those two people will depend on those two people- not the steps that got them there. My best friend is dating a guy who had a crush on her for two years and used the pretense of friendship to solidify a bond with her. Was he being dishonest? Honesty isn’t even in the equation. The honesty was his intention to connect and whether they’d end up together was up to their chemistry. Same with my relationships with students. Either we end up having a deep and long-lasting friendship or the chemistry isn’t right.

4. Rebecca seems overly concerned with families who “try to figure out how to relate to their children and how to weather the growing pains of the baal teshuvah”. To me, a healthy and loving family views a member’s growing devotion to Judaism as a positive thing and accommodates the family member’s request for, say, kosher food. If my children ask me to serve them food that is more “kosher” than I’m accustomed to eating, I would be happy that they want to strive for a stronger commitment. I would commend my own parenting efforts because, after all, I taught them the importance of being Jewish which led to this self-discovery. I don’t want my kids to follow my path in Judaism. I want them to follow theirs. Abraham was happy to have Isaac and not another Abraham. Those two were different and had very different paths towards God. Both were good. Neither one should be judged. Abraham wasn’t preoccupied (I assume) with the fact that Isaac didn’t embrace the kindness of hospitality the way he did. Rather, he was proud that Isaac developed the trait of self-restraint and discipline.

5. Finally, Rebecca’s (and her commenters’) plea for more transparency in campus outreach. I can only speak for myself and my husband when I say that our prayer for our students is a heightened awareness and connection with Judaism. We never made any other claim. Those students that I’m closest with (and are probably reading this) know I bust their chops about dating non-Jewish people because I love them and feel close enough to discuss my opinions openly with them. In return, they discuss their honest opinions with me. I’ve debated some extremely opinionated students in my day and one girl (who I feel very close to) has, indeed, left me changed. I believe she has made me a more open and less judgmental person. I hope I have made her more proud of her Judaism. How much more transparent can I get?

If you have an opinion – whether you agree with me or you don’t- I’d love to hear it.

Rebecca- whoever you are, wherever you are- I love you girl. Before you judge, how about listening with an open heart? You may be surprised there are no devil horns beneath my wig.

Jewish Philanthropy and Jewish Outreach’s Circular Relationship

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This one will take you 30 seconds to read. Tell me what you think!There is a higher ratio of Jewish philanthropy:Jewish causes than affiliated Jews:unaffiliated Jews. (See here for Pew survey and compare with NextGen Donor Survey)

There are more unaffiliated Jews than there are kiruv professionals.

There are more kiruv professionals than there are kiruv jobs.

There are more kiruv jobs than there is Jewish philanthropy.

Thanksgiving it’s Chanukah!

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Happy Chanukah! Happy Thanksgiving! I had a wonderfully low-key day with the kids and when my husband, Daniel, returned from supervising the kosher department at a local market, my whole family sat down to a turkey and latke dinner like many American Jewish families I know. I love the overlapping theme of gratitude in Thanksgiving and Chanukah- it’s a great time to appreciate what and who matter most.

Did Maya Angelou really say this? It makes this quote so credible if she did. Either way, until we make a stable and comfortable living (God willing), I endeavor to follow her advice (funny how easy it is to take advice from Maya) and count my blessings, kiss my kids, and appreciate my life. Still, even with full bellies and gratitude, we carved out a part of our evening to The Job Hunt. Gulp.

If only finding a job just required a couple clicks on a keyboard. I have concluded that technology has hindered our prospects because employers are flooded with resumes as soon as they post a job on any career site- Jewish sites included.  Daniel and I search Indeed.com, Monster.com, CareerBuilder.com, LinkedIn.com, JewishJobs.com…to no avail. We are often led through tedious and repetitive applications that go unnoticed as some HR ghost hoards resumes like I hoard chocolate (joking of course- our chocolate never lasts long). Still, we search, apply, email, call, rinse, repeat.

There are so many well-meaning people out there dispensing “feedback” that leaves me scratching my head. We moved to San Diego in the summer and yes, as a matter of fact, I do know San Diego has a high cost of living with very few jobs for Jewish community leaders and finance people. But we made the decision to be here- for now. Why? For starters, I have parents and a sister who I liberally boss around (I am the baby in my family even at 30) which really helps me adjust to working full-time and supporting a husband who is struggling to find a job/career. One of the first women I was introduced to in San Diego instructed me to move somewhere else because the prospects are so dismal. Funnily enough, her husband just found a job.  Those who believe they’ve cracked the code for finding a dream job in record time love to tell us how we need to focus more, work harder, network better, smile wider.

There’s another category of unwanted advisers who have equally good intentions. I dub them Whandis (Wannabe Gandhis). These are the sweet people who knowingly tell me beautiful but empty rhetoric that sounds more like a greeting card than a to-do list  (see above- yes, I’m serious).

The feedback I really appreciate is specific, constructive, tangible and (even better when) paired with effort on the part of the adviser. Any kind of effort from anyone who might know someone who knows someone is appreciated. Short of that, if a close friend or family member reassures me with “You’ll see, it will be okay” that warms my heart because (depending on the day) I know it will, in fact, be okay. Listening (or in your case- reading) is huge too since I get to kvetch my little heart out and then go about my day business as usual.

So I raise my Thanksgivukah glass to you, well-meaning naysayers, Wandhis, family, and friends. Keep the feedback coming- the silence would get boring after a while anyway. And while you’re talking, maybe you can pass along the word that Daniel is looking for a job?

The following links below are Daniel’s resumes: One for a position in non-profit (rabbinical/director capacity) and the other in finance. We had help from family, friends, and professionals and somehow still feel unsure of the finance one (I’m pleased with the non-profit because of his experience). I do ask that you read one (or two!) and, if at all possible, forward along to friends and colleagues. If you could share this blog with others you know so they too can help, I’d be grateful. It’s hard to be in the vulnerable position of asking for favors but here I am so THANK YOU. THANK YOU. THANK YOU.

Here’s the link to his rabbinical resume:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B7JHujxI2lfHMEN4MzNlWU96NlE/edit?usp=sharing

Here’s the link to his finance resume:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B7JHujxI2lfHdml0X3BlOXJFd2R4RThfeWRJZ3hWYm5vMGhn/edit?usp=sharing  

 

The Conference

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Thank you kindly for reading this and being so supportive- it has encouraged me to share with you more and I hope it helps the reader as much as it’s helping the writer.

This year, I didn’t get to go to The Conference. The picture above is from last year- I’m the brunette in purple on the right but we all look alike 😉 The Conference I’m referring to is the annual conference held in Baltimore for WIK (Women In Kiruv — Kiruv is Jewish outreach). Obviously, I’m no longer a Woman In Kiruv so I miss The Conference this year. And boy do I miss it. Last year, I met so many other women in community and campus outreach, connected with a few new ladies, caught up with a few old ones, shared and received ideas to improve every aspect of the job, and argued over what expectations are and what they ought to be. Like I said, the WIK Conference last year was amazing.

Here’s an example of a topic that was discussed- but there were so many. It was the first (and only) time I’ve left my young children for a couple nights and I came back floating! Listening to experts in the field generously share their experiences, hearing other women from around the world who all but live my life, being part of the idealistic out-to-better-the-world club of Women In Kiruv was a dream come true and all the more difficult not to return this year.

Luckily, I am teaching Jewish Studies to first graders and seventh grade girls which makes me very happy. I believe Kiruv is not a far cry from Chinuch (Jewish education) but as I interviewed last year, many administrators disagreed which astounded me. During one such interview, the school’s principal noticed that my resume accurately portrayed most of my work experience in Jewish outreach as opposed to teaching. The principal asked me if I realized how vastly different Kiruv is from Chinuch. With Kiruv, one can concentrate on relationship-building and each individual whereas in education, the focus needed to be on the curriculum at hand.

Perhaps that’s an apt description of a typical Jewish studies class but having read the results of the Pew survey and personally meeting the overwhelming number of assimilated Jews, should it be?  My dad still cringes when recollecting memories as a boy attending cheder (Hebrew school) which all the Jewish kids in his neighborhood were sure was a punishment. I was interviewed by a dean at another Jewish school where I mentioned that my high school experience was dry when it came to Jewish studies. His response was that he wasn’t interested in his teachers doing more than they already did and when I came across his graduates who now attend USC (the campus my husband and I worked), many find Judaism irrelevant now. I shouldn’t and don’t place blame on any one thing or person though if it’s broke- why not try to fix it?

But I digress. I am so fortunate to have found one of the only Jewish Day Schools left in the USA that has a complete and thorough mix of affiliations and each student is accepted and cherished. Not to mention the school’s headmaster and principal are student-centered and sensitive to the importance of relationship-building outside a classroom. While I’m no longer a Woman In Kiruv, at least I get to be a woman who spreads Torah’s wisdom, devotion to God, and love for Judaism. Interestingly enough, people used to ask me all the time “How do you do it?” when I was a Woman In Kiruv. No one asks that anymore because working mothers are far more common- though no less formidable. Truth is, my lifestyle then was much easier because I got to set my own schedule. I would meet several girls for coffee daily, recruit new students with my husband on campus daily, host weekly programs and cook for Shabbos meals which definitely adds up to a whole lot of work but I loved it and I got to make my own hours. Now that I have a job with a set schedule, I dash out of the house at 7:30am having gotten the kids changed, breakfasts served, lunches made- not to mention a mirror check so I look presentable. I return home at 4:30pm to help with homework, make dinner, organize/clean remains from the morning, bathe children, and do bedtime routines. By 7:00pm I have my evening to grade papers, create lesson plans, prepare for the following day’s rush, and talk to you fine people. I guess I’m whining about what every working mom whines about but I never realized that being a Woman In Kiruv would be a less consistently exhausting career.

So, what was this post about? Ah, yes. The Conference. By now I hope you know that being a Woman In Kiruv is an identity – just like being a Rabbi In Kiruv is one. My husband is not only facing a possible career change but also a transition in identity. The Conference serves as a reminder of that- or rather missing it does.

There are many mitzvos (commandments) that Jews are supposed to do daily, weekly, monthly but only six that we are instructed to do constantly. The first of the six? Faith in Hashem. God does everything for us and what we perceive as difficult is actually training ground to grow as bigger and better people. My prayer for myself, my husband, and anyone else that needs it is that we receive the blessings, clarity and resources we need to live our lives to the fullest and maximize ourselves as individuals.