Philly Program Grows and Succeeds in San Fran

Jane Slotin, executive director of Partnership for Effective Learning and Innovative Education (PELIE); Helene Tigay, former executive director of the Auberbach Central Agency for Jewish Education in Philadelphia; and David Waksburg, executive director of the Bureau of Jewish Education in San Francisco, (BJE) at the BJE’s Annual Celebration. Photo credit: Yulia Goldshtrakh

PELIE Recognized for Bringing Successful Jewish Education Program to San Francisco

— by Katie Stinchon

Recently, more than 200 lay leaders, clergy, educators, and volunteers gathered at the Bureau of Jewish Education’s Annual Celebration  to honor five congregations for participating in a pilot program called NESS (Nurturing Excellence in Synagogue Schools), which initially took root in Philadelphia before being expanded by PELIE (Partnership for Effective Learning and Innovative Education) in San Francisco. PELIE was also recognized for their work transforming Jewish education at the local synagogues.

PELIE is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to improve complementary Jewish education in North America, change the perception the public has about the field, and attract new investors.

In 2008, PELIE awarded a grant to the Bureau of Jewish Education in San Francisco to bring NESS to Congregation Beth Jacob in Redwood City, Congregation Kol Emeth in Palo Alto, Congregation Rodef Sholom in San Rafael, Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco and Peninsula Temple Shalom in Burlingame. Since rolling out NESS in these schools, enrollment has increased 22 percent.

The NESS process engages parents as partners and results in a shared conversation throughout each synagogue. It creates religious school education that is aligned with the mission and values of the synagogue, and that ultimately educates parents alongside their children. NESS consultants provide on-site intervention and work with synagogue lay and professional leadership to develop custom-design plans to fit the needs of each synagogue. The goal of NESS is to provide Jewish youth with a meaningful educational experience in order to foster and develop a positive Jewish identity and increase community involvement. Its key components include adapting best practices for teachers from both secular and Judaic standpoints; professional training; school assessments; and leadership, organizational, and curriculum development.

Founded in 2007, The Partnership for Effective Learning and Innovative Education (PELIE) works to improve complementary (part time) Jewish education in multiple settings throughout the nation. PELIE accomplishes this through advocating, consulting, and researching the field; by highlighting and adapting models that work; and by funding with local partners to bring change to their communities. PELIE also works to bring technology into Jewish education along with a variety of other “tools” – assessment, organizational, and experiential – to impact the ever-changing field of complementary Jewish education.

Circumcision Update

— by Rabbi Goldie Milgram  

As world health organizations move toward saving lives through re-introduction of circumcision in developing nations for AIDS prevention, a San Francisco ballot proposes a ban on circumcision under age 18. Since the matter compromises freedom of religion, Jews and Muslims are particularly closely monitoring the process.

While male converts report a negligible loss of sensation, the rite is valued for its spiritual impact. Its meaning is perhaps best expressed as a father once put it to his son at a ritual known to this reporter: ‘Son, most men wrestle with this huge impulse to use muscle instead of mind over difficult matters. We circumcised you today because we love you and know that Judaism is the greatest of all treasures that we can pass on to you. Circumcision means to always remember that you are a Jew, and that to be a Jew means to think first, to check out your ethics before you act. Ezekiel said: ‘In your blood live.’ May this be the only blood that is ever shed in your name.”  Accordingly, when a Jewish man looks down, his commitment to a mitzvah-centered life, rather than a self-centered or sex-centered life is literally engraved in his flesh.  Circumcision is a sign of how much value parent(s) place upon their son being Jewish. It is also part of how a male convert affirms his own “member”ship.  

In the accompanying video dialogues with PJVoice Judaism Editor, Rabbi Goldie Milgram and Rabbi Bonnie Cohen discuss the issues around circumcision, Rabbi Cohen's training as a mohelet (mohel – a circumcision professional), her invention of a physical tool to teach the best methods of circumcision, and also ways to make the baby comfortable during the procedure.  

More after the jump.

Background on Rabbi Bonnie Cohen  

In the early '90's Rabbi Cohen apprenticed to become a Mohelet (feminine grammar for mohel, one professionally trained to do Jewish ritual circumcision). She was surprised to learn that there were no training tools for perfecting surgical technique for infant circumcision, doctors routinely practice on babies. Responding to the need she spent many years developing a proper training tool that is now available.  

Biographical background:  

Rabbi Cohen has changed hats many times over her professional career weaving together a breath of experience along the mind – body – spiritual pathway. For many years her focus and area of expertise was health and nutrition although religion always occupied a major part of her life.  As a young woman she attended psychiatric nursing school but immediately focused on nutrition and other natural healing modalities. She combined hands-on work with nutrition that she taught at the Swedish Massage Institute in New York City, and had offices in NYC, Woodstock and New Paltz, New York.  

Bonnie Cohen was a student of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach (z"l) who encouraged her to share her expertise on nutrition and natural healing alternatives with Jewish women. She is grateful for the opportunity to learn with Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and to have received rabbinic ordination from him and ALEPH:  Alliance for Jewish Renewal, in 2000. Included in the qualifications Reb Zalman listed on Rabbi Cohen's' ordination certificate is, "practitioner of the sacred healing arts."  

Rabbi Cohen was director of a not for profit educational organization, supported by a wholesale natural foods bakery, that designed and implemented nutrition workshops throughout the New York tri-state area. Beginning in the mid '70's, and for the next thirteen years, she oversaw the total day-to-day operations of large health food stores with juice bars and deli-counters; and then she became interested in Jewish education.  

Bonnie was blessed to work with a dedicated team of visionaries creating the Woodstock Jewish Congregation in Woodstock, New York. She began as the only teacher, teaching all grades plus a special education class and accomplished the impossible; she made Hebrew school fun. The WJC went on to become a powerful magnet for Jewish education in Ulster County, NY.

Rabbi Cohen lived and worked in Woodstock, New York for thirty-two years and then spent eight years working outside of the United States. Upon her return she noticed the exponentially larger number of children with learning disabilities than before she left. After researching the problem and pondering solutions she created, "Thirteen", a mentoring protocol, and Feeling Good – Pass It On, a teaching protocol, to assist those with neurodevelopmental challenges focus and overcome disabilities.  

For further information please contact Rabbi Cohen at [email protected].

Happiness does not necessarily come in a box of fast food

Dr. Daniel E. Loeb

To fight the national epidemic of childhood obesity, San Francisco recently passed a resolution forbidding toys being bundled with children’s meals such McDonalds’ “Happy Meal” unless they do not meet certain basic nutritional standards as an effort. This law has been criticized as denying parents the right to chose how to raise their children. Critics bring up the specter of an “overprotective nanny state.”

On the contrary, this law opens up choices for parents. They can buy the toy by itself,  the “happy meal” by itself, a “healthy meal” by itself, or buy a toy along with either meal and slip it inside before giving it to their child instead of being trapped into McDonalds’ logic of all-or-nothing.

This a great win for parents, healthy children, freedom of choice, and capitalism.