Friday, November 19, 2010

How to keep synagogue education relevant

If you want to know the answer, or at least my opinion, check out my post in OyChicago. They titled it Synagogue 2.0

Sunday, November 7, 2010

May his memory be for a blessing

It is just shocking to me to think that he was just 27 when he was a principal at the South Bend Hebrew Day School. With the help of my dad, and other businessmen and doctors in the community, he built a Jewish Day School in the city known for Touchdown Jesus, not the 5 books of Moses.  I only knew him as a preschooler and a family friend until I was 22, living in Israel on Otzma, and being hosted by him and his wife for several Shabbat meals in Jerusalem.

He was a big fan of my dad’s and the feeling was mutual. They were two good men along with other good men and women fostering Jewish education in a community that would benefit greatly from it. He had a great laugh and a big smile.  He had three great loves: his family, Jewish education and Israel.

Recently when he reconnected with my brother on Facebook, who was a star pupil in 1982, he quizzed him on the shoreshim (roots) from the Tanakh.  My brother, at age 40, still remembered them and I’m sure Rabbi Schwartz beamed across the ocean as he did when he clicked “like” on half the pictures from my niece’s bat mitzvah a few weeks ago.

Facebook. Such an interesting place. Rabbi Schwartz would reconnect with his students from 30 years prior from South Bend, Indiana. He would see that some became ultra-Orthodox, were liberal Jews married to other Jews, some were in same sex relationships, some were married to gentiles, some were still 34 (or 39-you know who you are) and single. I wondered, as he became friends with all of these people, if he would eventually defriend them because they did not meet his Orthodox standards. On the contrary, he commented on all of our walls when we wrote something he liked or if someone had a birthday or announced the death of a parent or grandparent or the birth of a child. It’s not that I don’t think that he had an opinion on our lifestyles, but what was most important was that we were his students, his now adult children and he was literally virtually apart of our lives again.

Today in my religious school class, my lesson was from Panim and it was about the differences between Tsedek, Tsedakah and Chesed.  In summary,  tsedkah is giving, tsedek is more thoughtful giving and chesed is the giving of your time. Rabbi Schwartz definitely fell into the chesed category. Part of being an Orthodox Jew for him was dedicating his life to teaching Jewish kids from many different backgrounds without judgment of their family lifestyle or overzealous kiruv. He exemplified derech eretz - behaving honorably and because of that his impact was vast.

 In an age when we talk about how to be pluralistic in the Jewish Community, Rabbi Schwartz lived it with his work at small town Day Schools across North America since the 1970s. He made an indelible imprint on my family, as I’m sure he did on so many families during his 40 plus career in education here and in Israel.

I work at a pluralistic Jewish organization that employs and teaches religious, liberal and secular Jews in Israel and the U.S. While my own beliefs are liberal, I feel most comfortable with Jews across the religious spectrum rather than in a place that disavows or embraces one dogma over the other.   I appreciate the beauty of Orthodox Judaism while recognizing that for me, it just isn’t how I want to express my religiosity. However, that appreciation has propelled me to walk to the kotel at 5 a.m. from Har Nof, visit a settlement in the West Bank, hear Hatikva at the Great Synagogue on Yom Kipur while refusing to join even a modern Othodox Synagogue because I am a feminist and support gay rights.

 I don’t know that Rabbi Schwartz would agree with my paradox, but I know he would have been happy to see me and hear about the work that I do on my next trip to Israel in December.  Sadly, he passed away this weekend.  I’m glad he was able to see what we were up to virtually, as well as many of his other students. I’m happy he saw my parents recently in a visit to South Bend, as there was much mutual admiration.

One funny thing is recently I was sent to Rabbi Schwartz’s website as a model for doing a project I’m working on. I was told that he might be a good person with whom to collaborate.

And it made me think, we don’t collaborate with projects, we collaborate with people. In the end, it might matter less how we learn or what we learn, but from whom we learn.

We were all very lucky to be students of Rabbi Schwartz, of blessed memory.

To his wonderful family, May the Omnipresent comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. 


  • Otzma: one year volunteer program in Israel
  • shoreshim (roots) from the Tanakh- The Tanakh is the Five Books of Moses, the Books of the Prophets, and the Writings of the Minor Prophets. Every Hebrew word has a three letter root. Shalom = slm.  The same is true in Arabic. Salaam- slm. They mean the same thing: peace.
  • Panim - Jewish organization that teaches about social justice among other things
  • kiruv - Jews reaching out to other Jews to introduce them to more traditional aspects of Judaism. Depending on the context and who you are defined whether it is negative or positive.
  • Har Nof- and ultra Orthodox section of Jerusalem
  • kotel- the Western Wall, wall of the Second Temple still remaining
  • Hatikva- Israel's national anthem
  • May the Omnipresent...- traditional words to say to those in mourning.