Waiting and hoping

Like the rest of the community, we at Jewish News are waiting to hear any word on Jophrey Cord, the 13-year-old Temple Emanuel congregant who was last seen on Monday, Dec. 23. What we are hoping for, though, is a good word. We are hoping that he will be found, safe and sound, but it’s something we cannot know. All we can do is send our prayers up to heaven and our words of encouragement out to the family.

We can only imagine the worry they are going through. We also can only imagine what the boy was feeling to have left behind a note saying his family would be better off if he went away.

These are sensitive issues, and while we struggle with how best to cover them, foremost in our consideration are the feelings and thoughts of the people involved. This is at the core of who we are as a newspaper-media company devoted to the community.

We know by the number of hits on our website that the story is being followed by many in the community, and we will do our best to provide timely updates and to let you know as soon as we do what has happened to Jophrey. In the meantime, if you have any information on his whereabouts, please contact the Mesa Police Department at 480-644-2211.

For more information on Jophrey and the search for him, click here.

Eight arts resolutions for 2014

I have a confession: Despite my love for all things arts and cultural, I don’t get out and experience enough of it. Not enough time, too expensive, no one to go with—there’s always an excuse, right? Well, it stops now. Mid-December is prime New Year’s resolution-making time, so here are my eight arts and culture resolutions for 2014:

1. Walk the street: There are art walks all over town, from First Friday in downtown Phoenix and the Scottsdale Artwalk every Thursday to monthly events in Mesa and Chandler. These events always provide interesting art, great people-watching and — if you get there early enough — drinks and snacks. What’s not to like?

2. Meet the author: We’re very fortunate to have two top-tier independent bookstores in town: Changing Hands in Tempe (and soon, Phoenix), and The Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale. Both stores draw fantastic authors to the Valley on a regular basis. Special events like the Brandeis National Committee Book & Author Luncheon also offer readers a chance to interact with their favorite authors. This year, instead of just reading books, I’m going to go hear the people who write them.

3. Get out of town: There are interesting things to see all over Arizona, from the prestigious Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona in Tucson and the Desert Caballeros Western Museum in Wickenburg to the monthly art walk in historic Jerome and the Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village in Sedona. The summer is the perfect time to head out for a higher altitude and a new experience.

4. Sit in the dark: I’m a huge movie buff, and Valley film festivals are a great way to see independent, foreign and hard-to-find pictures. Our own Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival is celebrating its 18th year in February and has a great lineup planned. Other festivals that always have fantastic selections are the Phoenix Film Festival, held in April, and the Scottsdale International Film Festival in October.

5. Try something new: I’ve lived in the Valley for more than 20 years and there are still museums I’ve never visited and theater companies I’ve never patronized. This year, I’m going to broaden my horizons a bit and try out some new places.

6. Save when I can: All this culture has the potential to get expensive, but there are a number of ways to have fun on the cheap. The Act One Culture Pass program is still available at local libraries; check out a pass for one of 15 Valley cultural attractions, and you get free admission for two or four people for a week. Institutions like Phoenix Art Museum and Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art offer free admission on certain days, while others, like the ASU Art Museum, are always free. There’s a lot to see for very little money if you know how to do it.

7. Splurge when necessary: Some cultural experiences are expensive, and there’s no way around it, but I need to remember that a ticket price doesn’t just buy a few hours of entertainment — it buys a memory and an experience that has the potential to stay with me forever. Some 2014 performances I have my eye on are “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess” at ASU Gammage, and the APS Pops series at Phoenix Symphony, which includes tributes to Marvin Hamlisch, the Academy Awards and the music of James Bond.

8. Take advantage: There is so much to do and see in town, and very little of it stays around for very long — movies close, plays leave, exhibitions end. In the coming year, I’ll be devoting myself to taking advantage of all the Valley has to offer.

Ideas for engaging young Jewish families

After the chairman of the Jewish Federations of North America, Michael Siegal, pledged to raise $1 billion to support tuition-free Jewish preschool, there’s been discussion about how offering tuition-free Jewish preschool might help encourage young families to choose a Jewish preschool over a non-Jewish preschool and, in the long run, this might serve as a launching pad to continued Jewish affiliation.

While some say this isn’t financially feasible, proponents of this idea say it is possible it could succeed if done the right way, such as offering a first-year stipend for a family’s first child.

Since innovation is such a popular buzzword in today’s Jewish community, I thought I’d throw in some ideas of my own for attracting families with preschool-age children.

1. Baby-sitting brigade
Some organizations offer baby-sitting for their evening programs, which I think is fantastic. However, to get out of the house with young children, parents still have to feed them, dress them (which includes finding “the other shoe”) and get them into the car before the program starts. Then afterward, they often have a cranky, tired child on their hands and a bedtime routine to go through after they get home (if the kids don’t fall asleep in the car, which never seems to happen when you most want it to).
Wouldn’t it be great if there was a baby-sitting brigade available to stay at home with the children? Baby-sitters trained in first aid, CPR and how to navigate a kosher kitchen could keep the bedtime routine intact and parents could enjoy the evening’s program knowing their children are home snug in their pajamas hearing their PJ Library book before bed. Temple youth groups could design it as a fundraiser, to help raise programming funds or to help save for their Israel trip.

2. Saturday evening programs
Many preschool parents can still remember when Saturday night was different from a weeknight so they may be willing to deal with the stress of leaving the house (see above) for the chance of a fun night out. So during the times of year when Shabbat ends early, a Havdalah program  is ideal. The ceremony is short and sweet (and there’s a flame, which is an attention-getter for little ones with a short attention span). The program doesn’t need anything fancy – the Havdalah service provides a Jewish experience, then all that’s needed is some snacks. Maybe some toys, like Legos, cars or puzzles, but really the children will likely just run around the room. This will give an opportunity for the parents to sit around and schmooze, and maybe have a little wine. Ideally, the event should be held somewhere – like a synagogue social hall – where parents can still keep an eye on their kids while chatting. This type of event helps build camaraderie between parents and helps generate warm, fun feelings about synagogue for the children (how this translates to learning how to sit quietly during services will need to be addressed another time).

3. Programs that require little parental effort
I think one of the most brilliant programs for preschool families out there is PJ Library. The only effort it takes to participate is to sign up online, then walk to the mailbox at least once a month. With very little effort (that doesn’t require finding any lost shoes), families get Jewish content in their home that can lead to different Jewish experiences (making a tzedakah box, cooking a recipe found in back of some of the books, discussing concepts addressed in the books or learning more about a holiday). Another idea is programs that promote casual Shabbat dinners or holiday celebrations with other families with young children (sort of like ShabbatLuck for families).

I think that most Jewish parents are interested in teaching their children about Judaism and may be interested in learning more on an adult-level, too, but it just takes so much effort to get out of the house (see above). I do realize that, as a parent of three young children, these programs may seem a little self-serving (and are partly in jest), I think once a few years have passed and everyone’s getting a good night’s sleep, then these same families – and children — will feel part of the Jewish community and be willing to participate more actively.

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter.

Volunteer abroad opportunities

After writing about Shira James, a Valley occupational therapy student who volunteered in Guatemala through Service for Peace, I checked to see what other volunteer abroad opportunities were available for Jewish young adults. Here is a sampling of the many available programs.

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), a Jewish humanitarian assistance organization, sends volunteers to help Jews in more than 70 countries around the world. Through the Entwine Jewish Service Corps program, volunteers can sign on for multi-week or one-year programs. JDC is looking for “active, enthusiastic and knowledgeable Jews to serve and live abroad,” according to its website.

The application deadline for this program is Dec. 31, 2013.

For more information and to find out about other JDC programs, visit jdcentwine.org.

Young Jewish adults can also find volunteer travel and learning opportunities through American Jewish World Service (AJWS), a human rights and development organization that “promotes lasting change by providing financial support to local grassroots and global human rights organizations in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.”

For those looking for a shorter commitment, AJWS offers 7-10 day study tours.

Upcoming locations include Senegal, Guatemala and India.

For more information, call (212) 792-2938 or visit ajws.org.

If you’re looking for a taste of Israeli culture, The Kibbutz Program Center offers volunteers ages 19-35 a two and a half to six month kibbutz experience. Duties could include milking cows or making furniture, depending on your placement once you arrive in Israel.

For additional information, call (212) 462-2764 or visit kibbutzprogramcenter.org.

Volunteers for Israel connects Americans to Israel through volunteer service by partnering with civilian and military organizations in Israel. Programs include working with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF); volunteering with Leket Israel, part of Israel’s Food Bank; and living and working with Israel soldiers and other volunteers as part of the Summer International Youth Program for ages 17-25.

Learn more about Volunteers for Israel by calling (866) 514-1948 or visit vfi-usa.org.

For other programs in Israel, contact Shahar Edry at the Israel Center, 480-483-7121, ext. 1109.

Mixing the Hebrew and Gregorian modes

Sometimes dates don’t just creep up on us, they almost run right past. My father died on Dec. 28, 1992, which corresponds to the fourth of Tevet.

Thanks to the same Hebrew calendar cycle that brought us Thanksgivukkah, his yahrzeit comes this Friday evening. It’s been a big, happy week in our home, what with Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and our sixth wedding anniversary, so reflecting on Dad’s yahrzeit brings me up short.

Obviously, since Hanukkah is determined by Hebrew dates, it will always be the same number of days from my father’s yahrzeit. If we celebrated our anniversary on its Hebrew date (the 22nd of Kislev) instead of the Gregorian date, the anniversary would always fall during Hanukkah. This once-in-a-lifetime confluence of holidays and significant family events in the Hebrew-Gregorian mish-mosh is bittersweet. It reminds me that I’m approaching milestones for which I wish I could ask my father’s advice, but I can only guess what he’d tell me.

While Jewish time is bounded by Shabbat and the other holidays, the vast majority of us here in diaspora-ville live and define Jewish time in the Gregorian mode. Shabbat starts on Friday evening and a yahrzeit comes surprisingly early — and sometimes we’re just not ready.