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Yom Sheini, 4 Adar 5778
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20 November 2015

Our First Explorers Experience the Outdoor Classroom

By Elyse Everett, ECE Assistant Director

This week our first explorers experienced our Outdoor Classroom. They were free to roam, dig, climb, build, discover, and create in our brand new natural environment. It was apparent from the children’s faces how free they felt to learn and play in this new space.

One teacher described the experience, “The kids are begging to go back. There is just something about being outside in nature and exploring the natural elements.” A kindergartener described her time in the outdoor classroom, “I like the wagons. They carry a lot of bamboo. We can make music and build a hideout with the bamboo. The dirt is the hideout and we decorate it with bamboo and shells.” Another child exclaimed, “You get to dig in the dirt and jump from log to log.” 

Research has shown that access to an outdoor classroom will stimulate student brain development. While outdoors in nature, a child is more likely to “encounter opportunities for decision making that stimulate problem solving and creative thinking because outdoor spaces are often more varied and less structured than indoor spaces,” and “induce curiosity and the use of imagination” (Burdette & Whitaker, 2005, p. 48).  Our teachers have already seen this imaginative play first hand. Another teacher discussed her pre-k class’s first trip to the classroom as magical. “I love the way they are imaginatively playing with natural materials.  They are being more creative than I have ever seen them. It’s just so open-ended and freeing for the children.”

We are planning many different and exciting uses for this new space. These include free exploration, planned lessons, planting & gardening, social gatherings, multi-generational experiences, and religious celebrations. At the moment, our Outdoor Classroom has many varied learning areas available for the children to explore. These include bird & bat houses, a bridge over a stone river, a big pile of dirt, a collecting/building area with loose parts such as rocks, shells, and bamboo pieces, and many stump & logs to climb and explore. In the near future, we will be adding planters for gardening, a stage, musical instruments and more. As a staff, we have had a couple of in-services about the best ways to experience and use the Outdoor Classroom with the children and will continue to learn as a team this spring. In the meantime, we are just enjoying sitting back and allowing the children and their imagination to lead the way.   As one child said, “it is fun because there is just so much you can do.” For more information about the benefits of an Outdoor Classroom, please check out these resources: 

11 Proven Benefits of Outdoor Learning

Top Ten Reasons to have an Outdoor Classroom in Every Schoolyard

13 November 2015

Reflections from the URJ Biennial

We had a group of 15 Temple Members attend the 2015 Union for Reform Judaism’s (URJ) Biennial and the Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) Assembly in Orlando last week. We asked a few of our attendees to share some highlights of their time at Biennial/the WRJ Assembly! If their highlights inspire you, we hope that you Save the Date for December 6-10, 2017 for the next URJ Biennial in Boston, MA.

Cantor Michelle Rubel: 
The URJ Biennial is truly a unique experience for learning, praying, and sharing with Reform Jews from across North America. Besides workshops, speakers, and other important events, Biennial is also a time for the voice of the Reform Movement to be heard. On Thursday morning, the URJ passed a resolution on the rights of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals. In this resolution, the URJ committed to full equality, acceptance and inclusion of people of all gender expressions and affirmed their rights. It urged local, state and federal officials to pass legislation recognizing the rights of transgender individuals and to provide full protection for them from discrimination. And, perhaps most importantly, the resolution urged congregations, camps and other Jewish organizations not only to welcome transgender people into our communities, but to create a safe space for all forms of gender identity and expression. This resolution on gender rights is the most comprehensive statement of its kind from any major Jewish denomination. I was proud to represent our congregation as one of our voting delegates as it was unanimously adopted. I see this resolution as an example of the power of Reform Judaism. The power we have to use our faith, our voices, and our actions to pursue justice and repair the world. I also see this resolution as an opportunity for reflection. What are the ways our congregation can be more welcoming and more inclusive of all genders and identities? How does gender play a role in our congregational life? Are there ways we can adopt a more gender neutral approach to language: on the bima, on forms, and in Temple correspondence? Are our facilities accommodating to transgender and gender non-conforming individuals? These are questions I hope we can begin to ask ourselves, as part of our ongoing commitment to being a warm, welcoming, and vibrant community.

Abra Lee – Director, Religious School:
One of my major take-aways from the Biennial was from Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the URJ, when he said on Shabbat, “We must concern ourselves with helping Jews to fall in love with Judaism... When we practice audacious hospitality we are not erasing boundaries we are removing barriers. We strengthen the road to Jewish life when we provide a variety of on-ramps.” My hope is that we can continue do that at Temple Emanu-EL.

Shari Rotstein - Associate Director, Religious School:
The 2015 Biennial was a very powerful experience. It gave me the opportunity to learn from some wonderful scholars, connect with fabulous colleagues to share best practices, participate in spiritual worship (it is impossible to describe what it is like to pray with 5,000 people), be enriched by keynote speakers and panelists who shared views on Israel’s safety and the peace process.  We had the opportunity to hear from the URJ President Rick Jacobs focus on the theme of audacious hospitality. I was part of a historical unanimous vote of the Reform Movement to approve a resolution supporting transgender rights.  I was moved by Anat Hoffman, Director of the Israel Religious Action Center (thepublic and legal advocacy arm of the Reform Movement in Israel) as she shared with us the difference North American Reform Jews can and have made in their fight for advancing pluralism and defending the freedoms of conscience, faith, and religion in Israel. The highlight learning session for me a 2-part series on Starting with the Ending: Design Thinking Strategy for large congregations. Design Thinking is a hand-on, optimistic, human-center approach to designing innovative initiatives. This technique is one I can take back to our community and utilize as we continue to transform our Religious School.  I am truly grateful to Temple Emanu-El for allowing me the opportunity to attend.

Jill Cimafonte - Director of Early Childhood Education:
I am so grateful to have had the privilege of attending the URJ Biennial this year. It was extra special because Rabbi Prosnit, Nan Honig (VP of Education on the Board of Trustees), and I began our 2 year journey in the Communities of Practice entitled “ Building Excellence in Jewish Early Childhood Education”. We are amongst 11 other top Reform early childhood programs across the nation that were selected for this process. We will take a good look at who we are as a school and share best practices.  I also greatly enjoyed the opportunity to network with my ECE-RJ (Early Childhood Educators of Reform Judaism) colleagues. As a founding member of this wonderful organization that began over 15 years ago, I am so proud to be a part of this vibrant and support group!

Cindy Postilnick - Sisterhood President:
WRJ passed three resolutions during its Assembly.  One of these was in support of pay equity.  Lilly Ledbetter, an amazing woman, addressed us about her 10-year struggle to sue Goodyear Tire for paying her significantly less than her male counterparts.  She worked as a manager for Goodyear from 1979 until 1998, when she retired. Her lawsuit reached the Supreme Court, where her claim was denied because she did not file her suit in a timely manner, even though she did not know about the discrimination in time to do so. Finally, in 2009, Congress passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in order to address the issue of past acts of discrimination. It was the first piece of legislation signed by President Obama. Lilly Ledbetter and the WRJ are asking for Congress to do more. The bill is often not enforced and inequities continue. Companies do not publish their salary levels, and require that employees keep their salaries secret. Employees continue to experience retribution when they request pay equity. WRJ is asking that its members lobby their representatives for an expansion of the Lilly Ledbetter Act to address these issues. This is one example of how, during its 100 years of existence, WRJ has often been in the forefront when it comes to social action. 

Sharon Zydney-Walker:
Asking me to pick a highlight from the 50th WRJ Assembly is hard. Really hard. Five days of learning, of worship, of inspiring speakers, of connecting with other Reform Jews and having my Dad visit just to be there as I was installed on the WRJ Executive Board and only 1 highlight? Actually it isn’t really that hard - for me it has to be the sweeping revisions to the WRJ Constitution that we approved Thursday morning. Yes, a constitutional revision is my highlight. The 500 delegates of the WRJ Assembly voted to allow individual women to join WRJ, no longer requiring membership to be through WRJ affiliated, congregational based Sisterhoods. WRJ’s door is now open to all women who share the WRJ mission of “strengthening the voice of women worldwide and empowering then to create caring communities, nurture congregations, cultivate their own personal and spiritual growth and promote progressive Jewish values worldwide.”  I was inspired listening to women at the microphone speaking for those who would directly benefit from this change – women in the military who are stationed overseas, women in the US, North America and worldwide who live where there are such small Jewish communities that there may not even be a congregation (Reform or otherwise) for them to join and of course those who for, any number of reasons, have not joined a congregation or whose congregation does not have a WRJ affiliated women’s group. Women like my sister and I’m sure like many of your female family members and friends. I realized,  once again, how fortunate I am to live in a community with so many options for me to live as a Jewish woman and how my Temple, and Sisterhood, has enabled me to grow as a Reform Jewish woman and provided me with a caring and supportive Jewish home. 

Nanci Pompan:
Programming at the Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) Assembly, our 50th, included workshops on the nuts and bolts of running a successful sisterhood, women’s issues, and spirituality and I went to all three types.  I attended sessions titled “How to Find Spirituality in the Every Day,” led by Rabbi Jaimee Shalhevet, “40 Years in the Desert, 40 Houses of Worship,” led by Anat Hoffman from the Israel Religious Action Center and Women of the Wall, “Engaging Younger Women: An Introduction to Judaism 5.0,” led by Rabbi David Wolfman, and “Can You Make Your Circle Wider? Sisterhood and Audacious Hospitality,” led by URJ VP April Baskin and Naomi Less and “The Old, The New, The Holy: Jewish Ritual in the 21st Century,” led by author Anita Diamant, Rabbi Rachel Saphire, Rabbi Susan Shankman, and Rabbi Mary Zamore. They were all outstanding and all the participants enjoyed learning from such wonderful presenters. I also attended the YES Fund luncheon where we heard from Rabbi David Saperstein, former director of the Religious Action Center and Rabbi Jonah Pesner, the new director. Monies collected for the YES Fund (Youth, Education, and Special Projects) provide scholarships for students at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, supports NFTY programs and the URJ’s new Sci-Tech Camp, and support programs in Israel and around the world. I also love running into rabbis and cantors who either grew up at Temple Emanu-El or worked here at one time. The WRJ Assembly/URJ Biennial is a great place to play Jewish geography and to realize what a small Jewish world it is. I am excited to share all that I learned at the next Sisterhood meeting. 

We invite you to visit the URJ Biennial YouTube channel, where you can watch many of the speakers, services, and more. 

06 November 2015

Shabbat Shalom from the URJ Biennial

By Rabbi Ethan Prosnit

Shalom from Orlando, Florida where I am attending the Union for Reform Judaism’s (URJ) 73rd Biennial. When you are with 5,000 other Reform Jews, one can definitely say that “it’s a small world after all!” The amount of Jewish geography taking place in the convention center is truly amazing from the elevators, to the escalators, to the line at Starbucks; it seems like everyone knows everyone.

Beyond the Jewish geography, what has truly been incredible has been the energy during the first two days of the URJ Biennial. The URJ Biennial is an opportunity for lay leaders, clergy, Reform congregants to learn, pray, share ideas, hear from inspiring guest speakers, and network to make Temple Emanu-El even stronger community.

One of the highlights for me the past two days has been collaborating with Jill Cimafonte, Director of Early Childhood Education, and Nan Honig, the Vice President of Education and Youth Development on our Board of Trustees. We are a part of the URJ’s Community of Practice focusing on excellence in Reform Movement early childhood engagement. At the Biennial, we gathered with 12 other congregations to begin an 18 month journey to focus on generating synergy between the school and the synagogue, and inspiring and nurturing families’ lifelong Jewish journeys. The Community of Practice is an exciting opportunity for our ECE to continue to be on the fore-front of Jewish early childhood education. Over the next two years, we look forward to sharing with the congregation what we have learned and implemented.

Other highlights of the Biennial so far have been hearing actor Michael Douglas and restauranteur Danny Meyer discuss audacious hospitality in their own Reform Congregations. It has also been wonderful to sit with our staff and congregational leaders (by the pool!!!) and share ideas about creative worship, religious school models, and inclusion measures that we have learned at Biennial workshops. And of course, the music has been amazing.

Stay tuned to next week’s blog when more of the Temple Emanu-El delegation will share their highlights and key take-a-ways from their Biennial experience. Wishing you all a wonderful Shabbat from “the Happiest Place on Earth” (Temple Emanu-El is a close second)!

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