SCOTUS: Same Sex Marriage

Today is a monumental day in American history. The Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage. The way I see it religious people have a choice to make. Will we complain about this decision regarding who can get married or enjoin the public in a conversation about the meaning of commitment. There is no doubt in my mind that things will get nasty. I am worried that people acting in the name of their faith will not model respect. Three years ago I wrote:

As religious people, we should welcome this “challenge” of same-sex marriage as an opportunity to define marital commitment in the 21st century. Getting lost in the form of a wedding completely misses the conversation about the content of a marriage. Who better to guide the conversation about commitment?  It is laughable to outsource the definition of a marriage to the state. We clearly do not want to leave this conversation of commitment in the hands of politicians. We want to be the ones crafting the conversation on what makes a life-long commitment work. And in the end we have to realize that we cannot just preach respect, we need to model it.  ( read rest of that post)

I for one am happy about the decision.  What will be the next chapter? How will we in the religious community be part of the conversation, will we shirk away, or worse will we act out? Here is our moment to model showing respect. Today our Supreme Court has helped take us one step closer to making a more perfect union by making it illegal for states to ban same sex unions. Do we want to be part of this conversation?

– See source post Modeling Respect

The Lottery: Shirley Jackson and Korach

In her 1948 short story “The Lottery”, Shirley Jackson describes a small town in contemporary America which has an annual ritual known as “the lottery”. In a small village children gather stones as the adult townsfolk assemble for their annual event, which in the local tradition is practiced to ensure a good harvest. The lottery preparations starts with making paper slips and the list of all the families. Once the slips are finished, they are put into a black box, which is stored overnight in a safe at the coal company. The next morning the townspeople start close to 10 a.m. in order to have everything done in time for lunch. First, the heads of the households draw slips until every head of the household has a slip; Bill Hutchinson gets the one slip with a black spot, meaning that his family has been chosen. The second round is for the family members to draw. For the first round, the men have to be over sixteen years of age; however, in the second round everyone is eligible, no matter their age. In keeping with tradition, each villager obtains a stone and begins to surround the “winner” of the lottery.

Clearly this the root story that inspired the Hunger Games. It also seems like it has a connection to Korach, this week’s Torah portion.  learn that Korach, along with Dattan, Aviram, and 250 men from the tribe of Reuven, challenged Moses and Aaron’s leadership. Eventually Korach, Dattan, and Aviram, along with their entire families were swallowed up by the earth, while the 250 men were consumed by a heavenly fire. While they repressed a threat to Moses and Aaron’s authority their extreme nature of their punishment seems out of proportion. At the end of the Torah portion we read that Aaron is appointed as Cohen Gadol, high priest. Aaron’s election is confirmed through a test of the staffs. There we read:

17 ‘Speak to the children of Israel, and take of them rods, one for each fathers’ house, of all their princes according to their fathers’ houses, twelve rods; you shall write every man’s name upon his rod. 18 And you shall write Aaron’s name upon the rod of Levi, for there shall be one rod for the head of their fathers’ houses. 19 And you shall lay them up in the tent of meeting before the testimony, where I meet with you. 20 And it shall come to pass, that the man whom I shall choose, his rod shall bud; and I will make to cease from Me the murmurings of the children of Israel, which they murmur against you.’ 21 And Moses spoke unto the children of Israel; and all their princes gave him rods, for each prince one, according to their fathers’ houses, even twelve rods; and the rod of Aaron was among their rods. 22 And Moses laid up the rods before the Lord in the tent of the testimony. 23 And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses went into the tent of the testimony; and, behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded, and put forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and bore ripe almonds. 24 And Moses brought out all the rods from before the Lord to all the children of Israel; and they looked, and took every man his rod. (Numbers 17: 17-24)

This seems like such a more reasonable way to resolve conflict. Each loser takes his staff home, no one gets eaten by the earth or burned to death, and the winner gets an almond treat.  It seems that the Levi bracket in the tournament was really tough. There is a lot to be learned by the juxtaposition between the whole Korach ordeal and this almond lottery.

Squeeky Wheel : Shelach and Our Priorities

The expression goes that the squeaky wheel always gets the grease. Why don’t we spend our energy differently? Why not invest our energy in good things that are important, as compared to always doing triage? Are we spending our resources, time, and emotional energy well?

I was thinking about these questions when reading Shelach, this week’s Torah portion. There we learn about spies who gave reports on the land. We spend so much energy dealing with the 10 spies who gave a bad report we never spend enough time on Kalev and Joshua who gave a good report.  Ignoring the good spies just seems to be human nature.

This reminds me of Stephen Covey ‘s Four Quadrants. His system asks us to use of four quadrants to determine the tasks you “need” to do and deciding what should be made a priority. For those who are not familiar with it, here’s a picture and a brief overview.

  • In Quadrant 1 (top left) we have important, urgent items – items that need to be dealt with immediately.
  • In Quadrant 2 (top right) we have important, but not urgent items – items that are important but do not require your immediate attention, and need to be planned for.  This quadrant is highlighted because this is the quadrant that we should focus on for long-term achievement of goals
  • In Quadrant 3 (bottom left) we have urgent, but unimportant items –  items which should be minimized or eliminated. These activities suck a lot of out time.
  • In Quadrant 4 (bottom right) we have unimportant and also not urgent items – items that don’t have to be done anytime soon, perhaps add little to no value and also should be minimized or eliminated.

In Covey’s words we should create habits that put “first things first to achieve effectiveness. Too often decisions are guided by the “clock” of scheduling and not by the “compass” of purpose and values. In Covey’s words, if people want “to live, to love, to learn, and to leave a legacy” they need to move beyond “urgency” . We cannot just be greasing Quadrant 1 or listening to the bad spies. We need to strive to spend more of our time in the Quadrant 2 and invest in the good spies.

 

Letter from the President to My 11 Year-Old Son

Back in December Adina and I got invited to the White House for a Hanukkah party. It was a great experience for the two of us. It also prompted a great conversation with Yadid. At the time I shared his letter he wrote to the President. I am proud that he had the idea of writing the President. I was honored to serve as his shaliach, emissary.

6-3-15 - POTUS Decision - Asked and Answered RV2 - Yadid Orlow_letter_Page_1

Recently we received a response. I thought some of you might like to see the response.

 

yadidpotusresponse

What a lovely response? We are very proud of our son and proud to be Americans. It was really nice sharing this experience with Yadid. He still thought it was a big deal, even though Yadid is now 11 years old.

– White House Link-  Asked and Answered: What 10-Year-Old Yadid Asked the President

Backpocket Jewish Wisdom

So there are campers down at the pool and the life guard is not there yet. What do you expect the counselor to do? At one level we would just be thrilled if the campers do not drown. On another level we do not want to waste a moment. So your stellar counselor starts them off on a group activity or improv game. This shtick is the bread and butter of camp. But would we give our counselors an A+ for this?

  • In these interstitial moments we build group dynamics, the bunk forms, and most importantly we have fun. While there is no doubt we should not overthink having fun, what would it look like to use these moments to have meaningful Jewish moments of reflection? This seemed like a fitting question for the Backpocket Education’s blog.

To this end I wanted to share ImProverbs . It is a low cost guide to Jewish wisdom that every counselor can have in their back pocket. ImProverbs is a playful mashup of form (see folding instructions below) and content (lessons on being a Mensch).  The idea of a mashup of Proverbs and improv comes from Danny Messenger, a friend from Camp.  I imagine you might have comments or suggestions regarding the content or other uses for the form. Please send either or both to Rabbi Avi Katz Orlow at avi@jewishcamp.org

backpocket

 

And the best part is if they lose it in the pool, no worries, just make another photocopy.

– Reposted in Back Pocket Education Blog

Beyond Facetime: The Blessing of Presence

I have been away for work a lot over the last few weeks. Being away reminds me how much I love my family. Another moment that this comes into focus is every week when Adina and I get to bless our children with the Priestly Blessing. This blessing that we say on Friday night comes from Naso, this week’s Torah portion. There we read:

And the Lord spoke to Moshe, saying: ‘Speak to Aaron and to his sons, saying: On this wise you shall bless the children of Israel; you shall say to them: The Lord bless you, and keep you. The Lord make God’s face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up God’s countenance upon you, and give you peace. ( Numbers 6:22-26)

With my absence on my mind I have been thinking about how the essence of this blessing is that the children of Israel will get face time with God ( see use of the word Panav). While I am sure my children miss me while I am gone, I am not sure how much they realize how much I  miss them. While I love Facetiming with them, it does not cut it. What I need is being physically with them. Our virtual connection makes us numb to need for being face to face with the people we love. Being in the presence of my family is the best present. That is a blessing. Do we ever pause to think that is God who really wants to be brought into that space?

Back to Bamidbar – Cornerstone 2015 Shavuot and Going Back to Camp

I just got back from an exhilarating week at the 2015 Cornerstone Fellowship Seminar. There we trained over 330 counselors and supervisors who will be enriching the Jewish lives of thousands of campers and staff members this summer. I was thinking about this as we are in the final countdown to Shavuot and as we start the reading the Book of Numbers this Shabbat. In Hebrew, the book is called Bamidbar, the wilderness. With Shavuot we celebrate the giving of the Torah, what is the significance of our “entering the wilderness?”

In the Midrash we learn, “There are three ways to acquire Torah, with fire, with water, and with wilderness” (Midrash Numbers Rabbah 1:1). This Midrash could be understood to mean that we acquire Torah through passion (fire), immersion (water), and through a long trek in unknown land (the wilderness). Shavuot coming means that the end of school is close at hand. And with the end of school, the camp season is around the corner. This Midrash seems to be lived out at Jewish camp.

Camp is an amazing place where our children will make s’mores and memories by a camp fire (the fire), take the deep water test (the water), and go on a physically challenging hike (in the wilderness). Jewish camp is amazing on another level though. There, our children will be led by extraordinary role models who will ignite our children’s passion (the fire). There they will be part of building their own immersive purpose-driven Jewish community (the water). And there, we hope their experience will set them on their life journey to have a community of people to travel with along life’s path (the wilderness). As we are getting ready for Bamidbar and Shavuot I hope we are all also getting ready for camp, they are all profoundly revealing and edifying.

Chag Shavuot Sameakh – have a great holiday and enjoy packing for camp!


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