The cupcake seen around the world

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A teen birthday guest drew a swastika on a cupcake at her 14-year-old friend’s birthday party. Photo courtesy of the mom’s Facebook page

On the morning after her 14-year-old  daughter’s birthday sleepover, one Valley woman received a text containing a photo of a cupcake decorated with a swastika.

The photo came from the mother of one her daughter’s guests, who said her daughter felt uncomfortable  the night before when one of the other teens drew the symbol during a cupcake-decorating session. “Imagine my surprise,” said the Valley woman, who has requested that her name not be used. Upon further investigation, she found that two of the girls posted the cupcake photo on Snapchat, along with snarky comments.

“A few of the girls expressed discomfort and offense at the decoration,” the mom told Jewish News via email. “My daughter told the girls she was offended and walked out of the room … Nobody thought it was funny. Another guest decided to smear the cupcake frosting and toss it in the trash. When I came downstairs, I saw several cupcakes decorated with sprinkles and chocolate, but I never saw the swastika one. The girls self-regulated their own party because after the incident, they spent the next few hours doing karaoke, opening presents and just chilling with each other.”

After the party, the birthday girl’s mom posted the cupcake  photo on her Facebook page, with a brief explanation about what happened. By the next day, the cupcake made news around the world.

“I was absolutely surprised by the response to my Facebook post,” said the Valley woman, who works in public relations. “Not at the overwhelming reaction to a swastika on a cupcake – which is just not OK in any situation – but the vitriol at a certain political party. As I stated in my original Facebook post, this was not a political position, but more a statement about the environment we now seem to be living in, where racist, anti-Semitic, and mysoginistic acts or words are being allowed to fly with no huge reaction. Intolerance cannot be normalized regardless of who is in office — the human race will exist long past any one president’s term or terms of office, so let’s not lose our humanity. People still need to be kind and respectful to one another, regardless of color, religion, sex or political position.”

Not only did her Facebook post make international news, but similar to the childhood game of “Telephone,” inaccurate reports were published, such as the story headlined, “Arizona teens bring a cupcake with a swastika in icing to a Jewish girl’s 14th birthday party.”

“This was one cupcake decorated by a 14-year- old,” said the mom. It was thoughtless and insensitive and she thought it was just being funny — but it wasn’t a hate crime nor was she trying to bully my daughter. I dare anyone out there to remember doing stupid things as a teen — we were just fortunate that social media wasn’t around to blow up everything.”

The mom said that her daughters and their friends also learned an invaluable lesson about the power of social media.

“Whereas this story has spread much further than I imagined and even wanted … it also allowed people to quickly see a photo and read a headline and assume a whole lot more than what actually happened. In the end, this was a thoughtless action by a young girl who learned some very important lessons. We all can learn lessons — whether we’re 4 or 14 or 44!”

The parents of the girls who posted the photos “were shocked that this happened and grateful that it had been brought to their attention,” said the mom. “Each parent had a meaningful conversation with their own daughter about the Holocaust, hateful symbolism, intolerance, sensitivity, friendship and standing up for what’s right. My family received heartfelt apologies from the girls who decorated the cupcake, which was enough for me. All the kids learned important lessons stemming from this event.”

Leisah Woldoff is managing editor of Jewish News.

 

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This past week

Oftentimes, my life seems to be on one continuous loop – commutes to and from school, putting out a weekly paper, meal preparations and lots of laundry. I’m not complaining, but sometimes it’s nice to get a break from the routine. This past week has been a whirlwind of a break.

Thursday: I joined about 800 other women in our community at the Valley of the JCC for the Great AZ Challah Bake. This was part of the Shabbat Project, which reached 1,150 cities in 94 countries this year. An estimated 1 million people took part in celebrations on and around the Shabbat of Nov. 11-12, according to a press release I received.

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About 800 women and girls attended the Great AZ Challah Bake on Nov. 10 at the Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Center. Photo courtesy of Molho Photography

The Shabbat Project’s goal of presenting an opportunity for Jewish unity was very welcome, especially this week after last week’s election spurred so much divisiveness, protests, and racist and anti-Semitic actions. According to the release, 8,000 women attended a challah bake in Buenos Aires, 15 families in a tiny Jewish enclave in Cancun, Mexico, kept Shabbat for the first-time and there was even a Shabbaton on board a cruise ship in the Atlantic.

Friday: My family and I joined about 100 other people for an outdoor Shabbat dinner in a cul-de-sac in a Phoenix neighborhood, organized through the Phoenix Community Kollel as part of the Shabbat Project. One of the beautiful things about Shabbat is sharing it with other people in a variety of ways. The weekend before, my family and I were in Flagstaff and celebrated Shabbat at Congregation Lev Shalom (previously Heichal Baornim), where we participated in a beautiful musical Shabbat service with congregants there.

Saturday: We celebrated a bar mitzvah of a friend’s son at our synagogue and coordinated some play dates.

Sunday: I traveled to Washington, D.C., for the American Jewish Press Association’s annual conference, which was held in conjunction with the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly (GA). 20161114_003547 After arriving at my hotel near Dupont Circle, I had vegetarian Indian food with colleagues from Nashville, Jerusalem and Dayton, Ohio then toured the National Museum of African American History and Culture as part of the GA.

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From an exhibit at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Monday: The AJPA conference kicked off with a “Show & Tell” session that showcased AJPA newspapers around the country, and attendees shared multiple ideas with one another. Other sessions included Dr. Tehilla Schwartz Altshuler, director of the Israel Democracy Institute Media Reform Program, who spoke about the similarities and differences between American and Israeli media; and we learned about trends, tools and technologies of new journalism and new media from Yaakov Katz, editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem Post, William Daroff, JFNA senior vice president for public policy and Sarah Tuttle-Singer, Times of Israel new media editor.

AJPA attendees were also invited to attend the GA Plenary, which featured Natan Sharansky, head of The Jewish Agency for Israel, and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

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Accepting the Rockower Award on behalf of Jewish News, presented by incoming AJPA President Craig Burke, CEO of Mid-Atlantic Media. Photo courtesy of AJPA

Next, AJPA attendees headed to the International Spy Museum for the 35th annual Simon Rockower Awards reception. Plus we got to tour the museum, which was founded by philanthropist Milton Maltz and features a collection of international espionage artifacts. At the ceremony, Jewish News won first place for Outstanding Digital Outreach in Division B, for newspapers with a circulation of 14,999 or less.

Tuesday: I got a chance to meet with my husband’s cousin’s wife for breakfast. She’s an Israeli filmmaker who was in town to speak at a session at the GA and was heading back to Tel Aviv that morning. (A little plug for her – Rama Burshtein, who wrote and directed “Fill the Void,” just released a new comedy in Israel: “Through the Wall.”)

Next was a session about journalists who covered the 2016 presidential race and the struggles they faced, including anti-Semitic attacks.

The GA’s closing plenary was next, featuring a tribute to Shimon Peres, featuring his son Chemi Peres, chairman of the Peres Center for Peace; an address from JFNA President & CEO Jerry Silverman; and a video conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,

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Benjamin Netanyahu addressing the GA attendees at a plenary.

who expressed high hopes for Israel’s future relationships with other countries, citing technology partnerships as an example.

That afternoon we had a session about solution journalism (attendees from the business departments of their newspapers had some separate sessions that focused on their work) and we finished the day with a dinner meeting of AJPA’s executive board. (And then I took an evening walk, about three miles total, to the White House, with a colleague from Nashville.)

Wednesday: The conference came to a close with a change in plans – an opportunity to visit the State Department with briefings from government officials: Ira Forman, special envoy of the Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism; Chanan Weissman, the White House Jewish liaison; Tom Yazdgerdim, special envoy for Holocaust Issues; and Michael Yaffe, senior adviser of the special envoy to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. 20161116_091731

After that it was a lunch during AJPA’s annual meeting and then we all headed home to our respective cities – and newspapers and communities.

All of these experiences made me realize just how small our world is and how interconnected we are and how many people work so diligently to bring good into the world. Despite the feelings of divisiveness and hatred that have been expressed this past week in the aftermath of the election, we have to remember that all of that is nothing new – it has always existed and will likely always exist (Ira Forman said the same thing about anti-Semitism during the briefing at the State Department).

We need to focus on the good and work hard to bring out the goodness in the world instead of focusing only on the bad. Hearing about all the good being done around the world – the GA plenaries also included stories told by individuals from Greece, Israel, Morocco and the Ukraine – I felt some light was brought into the darkness that overshadowed the world in the days after the election.

And now on to all the laundry that piled up in my absence …

Leisah Woldoff is managing editor of Phoenix Jewish News.


Celebrating International Yoga Day

Tuesday, June 21 is International Yoga Day and in recognition of this, the Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Center is hosting four free yoga classes tomorrow.

“Yoga has so many benefits for both the mind and body that we wanted to take this opportunity to invite the community to experience it at no cost,” said Denise Krater, fitness director, in a release. “Regular yoga practice improves strength, balance and flexibility while releasing tension and stress.”

The J’s yoga offerings on June 21 include:

9:30 a.m.:  Yoga Flow, which uses flowing movements paired with breath to release mind and body;

11 a.m.:  Restorative Yoga, which aims to rejuvenate the body;

Noon: Gentle Yoga, which uses gentle postures to strengthen core and increase flexibility and is great for beginners; and

6 p.m.  Power Yoga, which provides challenging poses to increase strength and stamina.

The classes are free and open to the community. Participants should wear comfortable clothes and bring water.

The Valley of the Sun JCC is an inclusive community center open to all ages, faiths, backgrounds and abilities. It is located at 12701 N. Scottsdale Road, just south of Sweetwater.

In a statement issued from Nevada last week, Hindu statesman Rajan Zed commended the VOSJCC for offering these free classes, as well as offering regular yoga training.

Yoga, referred to as “a living fossil,” was a mental and physical discipline for everybody to share and benefit from, which can be traced back to around 2,000 BCE to Indus Valley civilization, noted Zed, president of Universal Society of Hinduism, in the statement.

He further said that yoga, although introduced and nourished by Hinduism, was a world heritage and liberation powerhouse to be utilized by all. According to Patanjali who codified it in Yoga Sutra, yoga was a methodical effort to attain perfection, through the control of the different elements of human nature, physical and psychical.

The statement also included information from the U.S. National Institutes of Health, which said that yoga may help one to feel more relaxed, be more flexible, improve posture, breathe deeply and get rid of stress. According to a recently released “2016 Yoga in America Study,” about 37 million Americans (which included many celebrities) now practice yoga; and yoga is strongly correlated with having a positive self-image.  Yoga was the repository of something basic in the human soul and psyche, Zed added.


Human mosaic of Israel

In celebration of Israel’s 68th Independence Day tonight, Nefesh B’Nefesh launches an emotionally charged video to accompany the joyous occasion and showcase the human mosaic of Israel. Watch it here.

From war hero to farmer, teacher to midwife, the video tells the stories of the everyday heroes who epitomize what makes Israeli society unique – the strength of its immigrants. Israel’s human mosaic illustrates both the diversity of olim (immigrants) and those who have dedicated their lives to securing and building the State of Israel.

The video pulls its title, “With these Hands,” from the Naomi Shemer song written for Yehoram Gaon, “Od Lo Ahavti Dai”, and emphasizes the building of the state, a project which began over 68 years ago and continues today.

Those featured in the video are:

• Capt. Ziv Shilon, who was seriously injured by an explosion on the Gaza border in 2012 and lost his hand. The story of his recovery has made Shilon into a household name in Israel as an icon of resilience, leadership and Zionism.

• Rena Rapps, a newlywed who made Aliyah from the US in 2014, on her 20th birthday with the dream of starting and raising a family in the Jewish State.

• Marta Weiss, a Holocaust survivor who at a young age survived Auschwitz-Birkenau camp among other horrific encounters. Last January, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Weiss represented the State of Israel at the United Nations in an emotionally charged appeal never to forget.

•  Shmuel Jambrina, a 25-year-old soldier from Spain who served in the Nahal Brigade. He is now a reservist who is planning a career in education and starting a family of his own in Israel.

• Chana Deevon, who recently retired after 53 years of working as a midwife at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem. She delivered nearly 40,000 babies over the course of her career, including her granddaughter and great-granddaughter.  Four generations of the Deevon family appear in the video.

• Rabbi David Twersky, who immigrated to Israel in 2013 and now lives in Jerusalem. He made Aliyah in order to live out the aspirations and dreams of his parents and grandparents in the Jewish homeland, closer to the Jewish people.

• Shachar Nitzan, a third-generation farmer from Ein Vered.  He studied agriculture in Rehovot and is farming the same land that his father and grandfather worked before him.

Source: Nefesh B’Nefesh


Museum archives keep history alive

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Photo by Richard Ehrlich for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

Katrina Shawver of Phoenix was working on a manuscript of her friend Henryk Zguda’s biography and was looking for information about what happened to him during the Holocaust. After contacting the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, she was shocked at the 130 documents she received with Zguda’s name on them.

The records included prisoner transport lists, registration paperwork, infirmary dates, work statistics and block transfers.

“I never knew this cache of documents existed,” says Shawver. “I think Henry would have been equally shocked.”

Shawver had only met Zguda for a year before he passed away in 2003, but his widow granted permission  for Shawver to write his life story. Through the documents, she corroborated many facts about Zguda’s nearly three-year imprisonment in Nazi concentration camps as a Polish political prisoner during World War II.

“When I met Henry, I became fascinated that he had been through hell and back, a firsthand witness to  Nazi crimes,” she says. “He had no children to leave this story to, and it would have been lost forever had I not captured it.”

Shawver is just one of more than 20,000 people who have successfully turned to the museum for help in their search for documentation about the fates of their loved ones and other Holocaust survivors — victims of the Nazis and their allies.

With more Holocaust survivors getting older and dying, getting accurate and complete information from  the museum’s massive archives to requesters as soon as possible is more crucial than ever.

Since an important archive called the International  Tracing Service was opened in 2007, the museum has provided a free service that has united  generations of families and tracked long-lost family members, helping Holocaust survivors, their children and grandchildren, to fill in the blanks in their family history.

“What is the greatest fear of survivors today? That when they are no longer here, what happened to them  would be swept under the rug,” says Paul Shapiro,
head of the museum’s Office of International Affairs who was instrumental in pushing to open the ITS archives. “These millions of original documents are an insurance policy against forgetting.”

With more than 150 million pages of documents relating to 17 million people, the ITS collection contains  a wealth of information about survivors and victims of the Holocaust and Nazi persecution and about displaced persons.

Facilitating research questions like Shawver’s is the job of the museum’s top-notch team of ITS researchers.  Holocaust survivors and their family members contact the museum on a nearly daily basis with queries about relatives, and sometimes using nothing more than a first or last name, the ITS researchers try to find documents that will shed light on the experiences of these Holocaust victims.

Much of the museum’s information comes from the ITS archive, established by the Allies after World War  II to help reunite families and trace missing people. The archive, located in Bad Arolsen, Germany, includes millions of pages of documentation from World War II. It was kept closed until 2007, when, with help from the museum, it was opened to the international community. Now, 11 nations have access to copies of the archive, and the museum holds the U.S. copy.

The museum has received requests, both online and in person, from across the U.S. and from 75 countries  around the world. Free of charge, the museum’s researchers scour their own collections as well as the ITS archive in search of relevant documents.

The museum receives, on average, more than 250 requests per month. To date, the Museum has provided information in response to more than 23,000 requests, and researchers have assisted about 400 visitors onsite at the museum.

For more information, visit ushmm.org.

 Source: U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum


PJ Library partners with Yehuda Matzos

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This Passover, PJ Library is partnering with Yehuda Matzos to engage families in Jewish life.

Yehuda Matzo, a company in Israel – with its U.S. distributor, Kayco/Kedem Food Products – is providing in-kind advertising to create awareness and further Jewish identity, a first for the company. This is also the first time PJ Library is partnering with a company to co-brand a product on a national level, according to a release.

This year, the PJ Library logo will appear on the matzah packaging and a unique URL will direct families to the PJ Library enrollment/sign-up form.

In addition to co-branding on Yehuda Matzo boxes nationwide, the PJ Library national team is providing resources to professionals across the country to create programs for families around the matzah boxes and Passover themes.

“What a better way to get more Jews further involved into Jewish tradition than by teaming up with PJ Library and the great work they do reaching out to both affiliated and unaffiliated Jews,” said Mordy Dicker, executive vice president of marketing and business development for Kayco/Kedem-Kedem Food Products, in the release. “Through the outreach that PJ Library does, we hope that the next generation of young Jewish people will have a deeper sense and understanding of being Jewish.”

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PJ Library is an international program of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, which partners with Jewish philanthropists and communities to distribute high-quality Jewish children’s books and music to families with children ages 6 months to 8 years. The free books are delivered each month to families’ homes.

In Arizona, there are PJ Library communities in Flagstaff, the Greater Phoenix area, Prescott and Southern Arizona. Sign up here.

This month, PJ Library Phoenix launched the PJ Our Way program, which expands the program to children ages 9-11; children can sign up at pjourway.org.

To learn more about upcoming PJ Library events in the Valley, visit PJ Library, Phoenix on Facebook.

 


A full moon early at Latino-Jewish Seder

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Our table at the Latino-Jewish Seder shared stories of how our families came to the United States in a lively conversation prompted by the story of the Exodus.

Purim starts tonight, on the full moon, as Jewish holidays of freedom do. So last night (March 22), being nearly the full moon, seemed an appropriate time for the annual Latino-Jewish Seder hosted by the American Jewish Committee and Valle del Sol – even though Passover won’t come till the next full moon.

The organizers seek to find common ground between the Jewish and Latino communities in Arizona by emphasizing Passover’s story of liberation in a way that leads many participants to examine their ethnic identity, that which comes to them through the stories handed down from their parents and grandparents.

This marked the fourth year that the event was held at the Cutler-Plotkin Jewish Heritage Center in Phoenix, and the 12th year that the two organizations have provided this “opportunity to engage in a cross-cultural experience” to those in Valle del Sol’s Hispanic Leadership Institute, AJC board members and invited guests. About 80 people attended.

In welcoming remarks, Lawrence Bell, the executive director of the Arizona Jewish Historical Society that owns the Cutler-Plotkin, stressed the history of the building, which was Phoenix’s first synagogue and later home to Chinese and Spanish Baptist churches, and observing there could be no better place for Hispanic and Jewish Americans to get together. He said that the seder is one of his favorite events at the center: “I attend every time, just because I like it so much.”

Carlos Galindo-Elvira, chief development officer of Valle del Sol, said that it was an accident that the seder fell this year on the same day as Arizona’s Presidential Preference Election (the proper name of what people know as our state’s presidential primary). “But what is not by accident is the theme … and that’s freedom,” he said. “The fact that there’s so many people standing in lines to vote, to exercise their right, affirms freedom.”

“We are gathered tonight to have a seder, which is the festive meal that celebrates Passover. Passover is the Jewish festival of liberation, based on, drawn from the story of the Exodus in the Torah, the Bible,” said Rabbi Dean Shapiro of Temple Emanuel, who led the seder again this year. His fluency with Spanish and Hebrew provided an important link for a group in which the lingua franca was English, accented or not.

Because this was not a Passover seder in the sense of celebrating the Jewish holiday religiously, but rather a social event with a purposeful overlay of producing dialogue and good will between people of different backgrounds, there was a liberating sense that rather than engaging in a ritual, we were engaging in a dialogue. In addition to listening to the story of the escape from Egypt, we were freed to listen to others’ stories of  departure and arrival, often of departing a dark circumstance such as poverty or oppression to seek the freedom of America’s shores.

The rabbi prodded this dialogue, pausing our recitation of the Haggadah every so often to ask questions that people answered and discussed at length at their tables.

My wife and I have come to look forward to this celebration each year, precisely because it’s informal and creates unexpectedly deep conversations. At our table, we had a young lady whose parents came from Mexico, a woman whose forebears were from Ukraine, another woman from Guatemala, a man whose father’s family came from Germany and whose mother’s family came from Mexico and a couple whose roots were in Mexico and the American Southwest.

In explaining the central theme of the evening, the rabbi stressed that the events of the Exodus would have occurred about 3,500 years ago, so the experience of Egyptian slavery is something that no living Jew has had. “And yet, nonetheless, to this day, we tell this story, we eat these foods so that we will experience this story because we want to own a share of slavery, not so that we can be downtrodden but so that we can sympathize and empathize with those who are downtrodden … so that the story of oppression will never be someone else’s story, but our own, as well. So that our lot will always side with those who are hurting, enslaved, whose lives have been made bitter. We never want to forget this story. Its fingerprints are always on the Jewish soul.”

Sharing that story in this distinctly American context gives participants a vision of our country as it should be – one where unique individuals and communities don’t assimilate to become American but instead become American by adding the richness of their identity and heritage to a bountiful banquet of possibility and freedom.

– Salvatore Caputo


A Valley connection to ELI talks

Two Valley residents – Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz and Marcia Fine – recently presented ELI talks, highly produced 12-minute presentations that “explore central themes of Jewish literacy, religious engagement and identity, presented in light of their presenter’s own work, personal experiences or Jewish or secular texts,” according to elitalks.org. They presented their talks in Chicago in November 2015 and their videos recently became available online.

In “How Far Will You Go to Give? Judaism and Organ Donation,” Yanklowitz, president and dean of Valley Beit Midrash, talks about how his experience volunteering in a small village in Ghana almost 15 years ago led to his recent decision to donate one of his kidneys to a complete stranger.

Author Fine,  of Scottsdale, discusses the connections among trauma, Torah and the science of genetics in her ELI talk, “Against the Traumatic Tide: Epigenetics and Positive Jewish Identity.”


Finding ‘truth’ at LimmudAZ

In preparation for last weekend’s LimmudAZ, I looked over the schedule a few days before to map out my day. With one exception, I chose to select whatever session called to me most, rather than ones that I thought I should attend for work purposes.

Because of the variety of offerings, both of topics and speakers, each of the approximately 400 participants had an opportunity to weave their own unique experience during their time on the second floor of Arizona State University’s Memorial Union on Jan. 31.

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Ready for a day of learning at LimmudAZ. Photo by Joel Zolondek

In retrospect, most of the sessions I chose seemed to reflect the same theme.

The first session I attended was “Resetting the Balance Between Work/Family Responsibility: A New Point of View” with Dr. Ada Anbar. I had hoped for some guidance on juggling work and family life – because that issue is definitely something in the forefront of my life – but it was more of a look at the views professionals have about working mothers of young children. The speaker’s point of view was that since people have approximately 60 years in their adult life, from age 20 to 80, a parent should devote 10 years to “intense parenting” (meaning one parent should be at home with the child so that the child isn’t in preschool).

My youngest child is 5 and all three of my kids attended preschool so my first reaction was to feel defensive, but ultimately what she was saying was that children, their parents and society at large would benefit if children received intense parenting for at least the first three years of their life. And that society should make it easier for parents to devote more time to their children by providing support for families who want to have a stay-at-home parent with young children and that it should be easier for women to re-enter the workforce after staying home with their children. And who can argue with that?

There was no question about the next session I wanted to attend – “The Power of Sharing Our Stories in Song” – with Marieke Slovin, a performing musician, yogi, writer and songwriter in Prescott who leads song-writing workshops and composes original music from spoken stories. Since song-writing is one of my passions, I was interested in learning about her Story-to-Song method. It was a small group, which was great, and the theme of our song organically developed into one about our grandparents. We each shared a few words about a grandparent or grandparents and throughout the course of the hour, we wrote the chorus and she’s going to finish the song. A quote in her course description reads, “The great gift you can give the world is to tell your truth,” which created a lovely segue into my next session, “What Does it All Mean?” with Bruce Eric Kaplan, a television writer/producer who has worked on such shows as “Seinfeld,” “Six Feet Under” and “Girls” and a cartoonist for The New Yorker. He recently wrote a memoir called, “I Was a Child.”

The session was an entertaining therapy session, where he shared the process of writing the memoir – which dealt with the death of his father, and his feelings that he never really knew his parents because they never really shared anything about themselves with their children. Some of the Jewish mothers in the room offered their advice and analysis about his experience. Kaplan referenced the “truth” quote from the song-writing session – he had wanted to attend that one, but didn’t make it – and his message to the group was that while we are here in the world, we should all strive to be our most authentic self and share that authentic self with others.

Next was lunch, where everyone gathered together for the official welcome from Sandy Adler and Suzanne Swift – two of the volunteers that coordinated LimmudAZ both this year and last – and I was happy to run into some people I hadn’t seen in a while.

After lunch, I attended one session that I felt obligated to attend – “Israel in the News: How to Get Your Point Across” – because I’m a fan of the Honest Reporting website and thought it might be useful. Maybe it was because of the timing being right after lunch, but I had difficulty focusing during this one. But one point that did get across was that negative stories about Israel are outweighing the positive and that truth becomes irrelevant if the untruths are repeated often enough.

By late afternoon, the next session – “Four Senses Yoga,” taught by Cindy Rogers, a blind yoga instructor – was very welcome. I don’t often do yoga because I’m not very coordinated when it comes to all the different poses, so I liked the description, which read, “Experience yoga as you never have before. Blindfolded! Remove the sense of sight to fully embrace your other senses. This gentle practice allows you to connect to your true inner self.”

I was a few minutes late because I was chatting with someone in the hallway between courses so when I got there, the room was already dark. I received my blindfold, found my space then followed the instructions to breathe and move into different positions. I wasn’t sure if I was doing it right, as I couldn’t see anyone to follow, but it was OK because nobody could see me either.

My final session was a packed room with Rabbi Pinchas Allouche of Congregation Beth Tefillah, who spoke about living a purposeful life.

He shared his POPP (Personality, Opportunities, People, Places) theory with the group, asking: Are you using the skills you were born with? Do you use the opportunities you are given to use those skills? And reminding us that people come into our lives for a reason, as do the places we find ourselves.

So, with that in mind, I felt my day’s journey – as well as everyone else’s there – was the way that it should have been.

And I’d like to thank all of the volunteers who made it their purpose to bring LimmudAZ to life in our community.

Leisah Woldoff is managing editor of Jewish News.


Valley rabbi inspired ‘Joy’

David O. Russell, the writer and director of the film “Joy” recently called Rabbi John Linder of Temple Solel “one of the inspiring voices of the film.”

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In an interview with Tara Hitchcock of AZ Family, Russell said that Linder surprised many people by  declaring mid-life that he was going to become a rabbi. “I knew him as a hockey player,” Russell said. (Read more about Rabbi Linder’s hockey playing here.)

When Russell attended Linder’s installation, he said that the rabbi presiding at the ceremony asked Linder, “Are you prepared to be the unanxious presence in the room?”

That phrase stuck with Russell and he had Linder in mind when he used it in the film, which is currently in theaters.

Watch the clip here.