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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Howdjya Doosi Doosi Doodle, Howdjya Do

                                                                                                   April, 2012

Dear Family and Friends:

Its 4:00 PM on a Tuesday (sounds like “The Piano Man”), and I sit at Starbucks at the Indiana Memorial Union for my weekly “rabbi hours.”  Rabbi hours is the time we publicize that I will be here and any student can come by, sit down, have a cuppa, and talk about whatever they want with yours truly.  Usually I have a lot of “customers.”  Subjects have ranged from: “is there life after death,” to “will this be the year for the Cubs” (apparently not as they are 3 and 12 as we speak).  Only one customer today; a slow day.  But, I don’t want to talk shop.
This is an interesting place.  I’m looking at eleven rows of tables, five in a row.  All are filled with students.  Lots of hubbub, some study, a real college vibe.  But I’m noticing that at almost every table, mine included, there is a computer open and on, and/or a smart phone in someone’s palm.   I can’t imagine where all of these cyber messages are going to or coming from.  It seems to me that millions of X’s and O’s are bouncing around in space and no one ever gets a busy signal.  Is that possible?   I can remember living on Greenview Avenue on the North side of Chicago where we did indeed have a phone, but shared it on a “party line” with several other families. I even remember the number, AMbassador 2-6035 (you dialed AM 2-6035).   I was about eight years old.  You’d pick up the phone to make a call and hear other people in conversation.  So you would hang up and wait for them to finish and hope that the next time you would get a dial tone.  Oh, I forgot to mention the rotary dial.  Anybody remember them?  We used the index finger on our right hands like kids use their thumbs today…to connect.
So, here I sit bombarded by electrons bouncing off of distant satellites.  No ill effects so far.  But I also notice how the various screens seem to get in the way of human interaction.  There’s three people sitting at the table next to me and each one is on his or her device sending what must be very important texts to someone else.  I’d like to shout at them, “Hey, guys.  Talk to each other.  You’re right there.”  But, of course I say nothing.  Don’t want to be the old guy geek, you know.

Years ago I wrote a staff letter regarding my first encounter with a self-pump gas station and how it bothered me to be able to conduct that transaction without talking to another human being.  I vowed to stick my head into the station office and say “hi” to the attendant just to rebel against the trend.  Well, I did that for a while and then, of course, accepted the inevitable.  Convenience won out and just like everyone else I swiped, I pumped, and I was on my way.  Maybe I shouldn’t judge these kids too harshly.

It’s not all bad.  Almost three thousand people have tuned in to read some part of this blog.  I never would have thought.  I see that readers in Russia, Latvia, the Czech Republic, Israel, Brazil, Ukraine, Germany, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, as well as the USA have seen my writings.  It is more than one can imagine.
I love the ideas that unite us and the communications that bring us closer together. But Nevertheless, I hate the screens that divide us.  The next time we are sitting at a table with our computers open and our smart phones in the palms of our hands, let’s try and put them on vibrate and talk a bit.  Woody Guthrie told us to greet each other with a “Howdjya doosi doosi doodle, howdjya do, howdjya do?’ So maybe toss out a Howdjya do to the person across the table.  Let’s do pay some attention to the person behind the screen.  It will be good for humanity.


PS.  I’d love to hear from any of you far away folks out there who read this.   Shoot me an email at ronklotz@gmail.com,.  I imagine there’s room for a few more X’s and O’s in the stratosphere.

Words From Coach Ditka

A (maybe 'The") Story of Reform Judaism

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Holocaust Memory in Israel

Here is a wonderful article about Yom Ha Shoah, written by our NFTY Sheliach.

 The Evolving Narrative of the Holocaust Memory in Israel
By Roey Schiff

Holocaust  Remembrance Day, which comes upon us soon, is a time to reflect on the darkest  tragedy of the Jewish people in the modern age (and some would say in all of  history). The importance of having such a day is indisputable, but personally,  I must say I find myself pondering the events of the Holocaust quite  frequently. Whenever the temperature is freezing outside and, despite my  multiple layers and warm clothing, I still feel cold, I can't help but wonder  how in the name of God people could survive the harsh European winter with only  a thin piece of cloth covering their bodies. Or when I feel hungry after not  eating for a few hours, I wonder how one can endure this distressing sensation  for weeks, months, or even years.

These  experiences that were so common in the concentration camps are so hard for us  to grasp that it's understandable (though still not acceptable) why in its  early years Israel did not exhibit a receptive attitude toward Holocaust  victims or even toward the historiography of the events of the Holocaust.  Survivors' stories sounded so horrifying that their audience thought they were  exaggerated. I remember once hearing a survivor's testimony: he said that in  the beginning, even his family didn't believe him, and thought his suffering  caused him to confuse reality and imagination. This kind of reception generated  reluctance among survivors to tell what they had been through. Many felt  ashamed and guilty of "being led like sheep for slaughter" instead of resisting  more forcefully. Therefore, they refused to talk about their experiences and  preferred to leave the past behind them, as if it belonged to another life; a  life that had no place in their present circumstances in Israel.

The  turning point occurred fifty years ago and one of its more recognizable  milestones was the Eichmann trial. Adolf Eichmann was a senior Nazi officer who fled to  Argentina and lived there under a fake identity until May 1960, when the  Israeli Mossad  captured him and took him to Jerusalem to face trial in an Israeli court.  The charges against him were numerous, including crimes against humanity, such  as his coordination of many deportations of Jews to ghettos and extermination  camps. For those and other charges, he was found guilty and sentenced to death  (the first and only time a death sentence was enacted in Israel). However, it  wasn't the verdict, but the trial itself that changed Israel's (and the entire  Jewish world's) approach toward the Holocaust. The trial aroused international interest,  bringing Nazi atrocities to the forefront of world news, and it was the first  time the survivors were given such a public stage. One survivor after another  testified in court, and the nation listened to the voices of the witnesses,  feeling their agony. It prompted a new openness in Israel, as the country  confronted this traumatic chapter in Jewish history.

The  impact of Eichmann's trial is felt to this day in the way Israel promotes  Holocaust education and encourages survivors-who are aging-to share their  experiences with others. Holocaust Remembrance Day is the culmination of our  efforts to honor survivors and remember the fallen. In Israel, at one point  during the day, a siren sounds, traffic stops, and the entire country observes  two minutes of silent memorial. There is no public entertainment, as theaters,  cinemas, pubs, and other public venues are closed. Radio, television, and even  music programs are all adapted to recognize the serious atmosphere of this  special day.
In  Hebrew, Holocaust Remembrance Day is called   (יום השואה והגבורה) Yom HaShoah  V'Hag'vurah, which means, Day of the Holocaust and Heroism. The rationale  for this name arises from Israel's past approach that preferred to focus on how  Jews heroically resisted their Nazi tormentors through fighting them in the  ghettos and joining underground partisans who fought the Third Reich in its  occupied countries. For the same reason, the original proposal was to hold Yom  HaShoah on 14 Nisan, the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.  Due to its proximity to Passover on 15 Nisan, the commemoration was postponed  to take place on 27 Nisan-after the holiday but still close to the anniversary  of the ghetto uprising.

Today,  Holocaust Remembrance Day helps us gain a broader understanding of the concept  of a hero: It's not just someone who bears arms and fights in the name of a  higher purpose. A hero is also someone who chooses to live and retain his human  dignity in the most unbearable conditions. I'm proud to call all those who  experienced the Holocaust my heroes, as they prove to the entire world that the  human spirit is stronger than can ever be imagined. Let us always remember this  message together with the memory of those who perished and the heroism of the survivors.

Roey  Schiff is  the NFTY and Israel Programs Shaliach  at the Union for Reform Judaism.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Parenting 101

Note:  The Union for Reform Judaism asked me to write a response to a podcast discussion on helping our children become independent.  The following is the response.


Hoo boy, do I have a lot of kids.  Spending thirty-seven years directing a URJ camp brings a lot of children into the family.  Do you think I know a lot about parenting?  Well, I know a lot about camp directing, and Jewish programming, and conflict resolution, and homesickness and more; but I never thought of myself as an expert in parenting.

About eight years ago, our son Jeremy and our daughter-in-law Melissa brought Zoe into the world.  Of course grand parenthood presented only wonderful opportunities to my wife and to me.  But an unexpected opportunity was watching our children become parents to our granddaughter.  They are terrific parents; perhaps even better than their own.  I’d been so impressed with the way they reacted to situations with Zoe that I once commented on it and asked, “Where did you learn to be such wonderful parents?”  Their response was a surprise.  Both Jeremy and Melissa said, “We learned it at camp.  Being counselors at camp was our training ground.”

It made perfect sense once I actually heard it from my kids.  For years at camp I taught what we called our “Machon Program.”  “Machon,” Hebrew for “Institute,” was a summer-long guided experience, slowly and with much support, easing first-year counselors into that role.  Even though I had referred to the program as “Parenting 101,” I never really thought of it as a true training ground for future parents.   Jeremy and Melissa said that learning how to cope with a cabin full of campers gave them confidence in their abilities to solve problems.  They indicated that working with other staff members taught them how to communicate and create strategies together to help campers adjust.  So it is with fathers and mothers, co-counselors in the cabin of real life, creating strategies for campers that share their last name.
The discussion on helping our children learn to be independent is so important.  One of the strategies might be sending our children to camp.  Over the years I’ve heard so many parents comment on how much their children had matured after just one session at camp.  Parents often saw a real jump in their child’s self-confidence.  Children learn how to share and be social at camp.  Of course strengthening Jewish identity is also high on the menu here.  Campers feel free at camp but the reality is that we live in a closely supervised, scheduled, and even monitored world, out in the woods. Counselors make sure campers get along, arrive on time, process all that is happening, and they make sure their kids (our counselors view their campers as their kids…it’s a good thing)  are integrated into the spirit and community of camp.  Campers make the “best friends ever,” because counselors see to it that relationships are built in the cabin.  Campers’ self-confidence builds as they grow as individuals responsible to the group; successfully building those relationships, successfully learning new talents, successfully living away from home.  Success is all around at camp.  We used to smilingly say, “Everyone’s a winner at Goldman Union Camp.”  It seems free and floating.  It is really all planned and anticipated.  It is a safe place for our children emotionally as well as physically.  It is a safe place for our children to develop feelings of confidence, responsibility and independence.
All this and I’m just talking about the camper experience.  Can you imagine how intensified the experience becomes when a camper moves on to become a staff member taking on the responsibility of making it all happen?  Our URJ camps are the best in the country because of the care and energy we put into teaching young Jews, eighteen and nineteen year olds, how to care for children.  Learning to listen, to be aware and understand what is happening around them, to articulate what it means to be a role model, to make a positive difference in a child’s life, as well as how to plan a program, lead a discussion, creatively fill down time in the cabin, how to think on one’s feet, and how to communicate with others, all translate into useful parenting talents.

URJ camp staff members come to camp for nine or so weeks each summer.  Lessons learned for the first time during first session are put to the test during the second session.  By the end of the summer our staff usually return home proud of their work, deeply affected by the new relationships they have created with campers and other staff members, and inspired by their successfully completing a summer of creative Jewish education and Jewish role modeling (our staff members are all Jewish educators, no matter what position they might hold).  Completing a summer as a URJ staff member is exhausting and exhilarating.
For both campers and staff, learning about, sharing, and rejoicing in our common Jewish heritage is the cement that binds it all together.
The strategies and techniques mentioned in the discussion on helping our children become responsibly independent are valuable.  But in-between the school years; in-between the studies, the parties and the dates; in-between the sitting-up-late-waiting–for-them-to-get-home times, summers at camp might just be the best way to give our children the gift of responsibility, community, and self-confidence. 

Rabbi Ron Klotz, Director (retired), URJ Goldman Union Camp Institute (G.U.C.I.)