What Happens in Jewish Culture Club?

While each of our clubs has a different personality, a lot of our activities overlap. Our curriculum is set by our incredible Teen Advisory Board of club leadership, and the club presidents collaborate to design their activities. This month we’ve spent a lot of time celebrating Israeli culture through crafting, from watercolors of Israeli landscapes to making kadorei shokolad and hummus together. We’ve found some incredibly artistic teens this way, and learned about Israel’s biodiversity through art. When we’re not making a mess, we’ve been bolstering our self-identities and mental wellness by exploring different types of Judaism, and their availability in Boulder, and meditating with Jewish mandala coloring for Shabbat.

If we’ve learned anything from our professional development work, it’s that teens are more stressed now than ever. We’ve been using our connections with our teen leaders as well as in the clubs to promote mental wellness. We’ve found that crafting in general can be a stress reliever (for more on this, check out CNN’s article on crafting as a meditative activity), and this works in our clubs of all sizes. In our smaller clubs, these intimate activities occupy students’ hands and allow them to relax, which has opened them up to sharing with us and their peers. In the larger clubs, students have to share supplies, which breaks them down into smaller groups and makes them share more than just paints with one another.

Working with these students has really helped us understand their experiences a little more, and given us tools to help them relax better.

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Happy (early) Tu B'Av!

Happy Tu B’Av, or Israeli Valentine’s Day! Tu B’Av is a relatively unknown Jewish holiday that has been translated into a day of love in Israel, usually around August 14th. We can trace Tu B’Av to the beginning of the grape harvest season in biblical times. Makes sense, no? Interestingly, it’s paralleled with Yom Kippur, which is the end of the harvest season, but connotes a much different kind of reflection. This is the parallel I’d like to explore today: the day of love and the day of repentance. We always hear that if you want to love someone else, you must first love yourself. What if this isn’t a modern aphorism, but rather a biblical treatise? You have to repent and accept yourself (Yom Kippur), before you can celebrate your love with your partner (Tu B’Av). We also have to admit that we’re fallible and ask for forgiveness—two key traits for successful partners. So here’s the challenge for us all on this upcoming American Valentine’s Day: how can you embody the new self you embrace on Yom Kippur in your relationship? How can you use this day not to just celebrate your relationship, but also to question where your relationship stands and how you can improve it in the coming year? Use Valentine’s Day as a day of repentance with your partner and don’t just celebrate the new year of your love, but also embrace the vulnerability of that relationship and your role in its maintenance.

So what is this doing on the BJTI blog? Well, partnerships don’t just exist between romantic lovers. Our relationships with our parents and kids are the most important relationships we have. Use these guidelines to remember to interrogate your familial relationships, and to work on them in the same way you’d work on a relationship with a spouse.

New Year, New You?

We hear this phrase so often in January, that we unquestionably embrace it and its underlying assumptions. And what are those assumptions? That we need to be reinvented in some way every single year. That we are not good enough as is. That resolutions must be made and adhered to in order for us to become our best selves, without any thought or reflection as to who we are right now. This is why the Jewish High Holiday cycle makes so much more sense to me: we celebrate who we are, we take time to reflect, and then we resolve to be better. Rosh Hashanah and then Yom Kippur (although I could do without the fasting). And after some thought, I’d like to resolve to reflect more in general. I call this “bringing more Shabbat into my life.” We spend a lot of club sessions focusing on Shabbat, from challah braiding to making Havdallah candles to yoga, and you’ll notice that each of these things touches on some common resolutions as is. We exercise more when we do yoga, but we also focus more. We use less technology when our hands are covered with dough and flour (hopefully). But more than that, I want to spend time embracing all of the elements that made up my Shabbats as a child, and bring them into my every day. We got together with family, we spent time together around the dinner table, we laughed more and worried less, we celebrated the specialness of the occasion. What if we did this every day? What if we sat around the table and just appreciated all of the things that were on it and the people who were around it? What if we took on an attitude of gratitude for the little things? Let us bring more Shabbat into our lives and move a little slower. And in this way we don’t need to make resolutions to change, but rather to accept who we are, maybe even to appreciate it.

We resolve…to try.

Hanukkah 2018

SO MANY JELLY DONUTS! I think I dreamed about jelly donuts for weeks after Hanukkah this year. Every single club wanted to do a Hanukkah party, and we took everything a step further and threw a party for the 7th graders at Casey Middle School, and a Chopped Hanukkah Challenge. This means that Hanukkah lasted for at least two weeks here at BJTI, which made us wonder why everyone was so invested in a holiday that really isn’t that big of a deal to the Jews. So let’s take a minute to think about why. First, there’s the holiday season itself: as Jews, we don’t get to participate in what feels like the biggest holiday in America (Christmas), even though it’s a religious holiday in a secular country. If you’re looking for proof, grocery stores are open on Thanksgiving, but not on Christmas. On Christmas, even if we do celebrate in our homes, a lot of Jews (and non-Christians) feel invisible. So maybe our Hanukkah celebrations are a plea for visibility in a season that often makes us feel overlooked, which makes me wonder, how can we participate in the season without having to over-glorify Hanukkah?

On a day that might just be another day for us, we could be the invisible workforce that so many people really need. Already Jewish nurses, firefighters, police officers, and emergency workers volunteer to work on Christmas to give their Christian counterparts the day off, but the rest of us, and teens, can do more. We can volunteer at soup kitchens, pet shelters, bring cheer to local hospitals and nursing homes, etc. We can bring Hanukkah to our schools, but also remind them of our other holidays; we can teach about our similarities (Hanukkah and Christmas) and our differences (different sabbaths, foods, cultures, etc), and remind each other to embrace both. And we should do the same: ask your friends what their holiday traditions are and share your own. Come up with some new traditions for your friend group: a holiday food exchange (more jelly donuts), watch movies together, exchange homemade gifts, volunteer together, make New Year’s resolutions, etc.

Whatever you do, and whatever your family celebrates, please have a happy holiday season, and a happy New Year! We look forward to seeing you at club in 2019 and hearing about how you spent break!