Archive by Author

Coming Out in a Jewish Community: How Our Congregation Embraces LGBTQ Teenagers



On the bimah during his confirmation, twelfth grader Sean Cooper recounted his coming out experience: When I came out as a homosexual, I posted a picture to Facebook with my father, with the caption “….”. While some may have previously inferred my sexual orientation, that post was my first official public coming out. The next […]

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A Formula for Engaging Jewish Teenagers



Working with teenagers is simply heartwarming. We experienced this yet again at our recent Havdala Under the Stars, Congregation Or Ami’s year-end gathering of our Triple T (Tracks for Temple Teens) youth program. Picture this: a large group of teens, 7th to 12th grades, sitting around a campfire, singing songs, playing games, and grouping and regrouping […]

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Just Say Yes: Inclusion is a No-Brainer



Past President Michael Kaplan likes to tell the story about why he joined his current congregation and ultimately became its president. He talks about one High Holy Days when he entered the sanctuary with his wife, their profoundly challenged son Brandon, and Brandon’s guide dog. Settling into the services, sitting in the front row, they […]

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Get Ready for Summer 2014 URJ Birthright Israel Trips!



The URJ is offering unprecedented access to its Kesher Birthright Israel trips for summer 2014. Never before has it been easier to sign up for or participate in a URJ Kesher Birthright Israel trip! I had the pleasure of explaining the possibilities at the URJ Biennial convention. Learn more about the process below: Now encourage […]

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Amidst 5,000 Worshipers, a Sanctuary of Peace



It’s not often that a rabbi gets to sit back off the bimah and lean into inspiring prayer. The constant responsibility for creating T’filah for others, partnering with a cantor and other shlichei tzibur (prayer leaders), draws our attention everywhere but our own spiritual selves. And then there are moments like this morning’s shacharit  service […]

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Biennial: The Antidote to Pew Study Anxiety



Soon after I finished reading the Pew Research’s Religion and Public Life Project study, “A Portrait of Jewish Americans,” the first thing I did was to register for the Union for Reform Judaism’s Biennial Convention in San Diego. Getting together with 5,000+ committed Jews ranks high on my short list of responses to the more […]

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How a Whole Congregation Wrote its Rabbi’s Yom Kippur Sermon



Utilizing a process called the Social Sermon, I developed my Yom Kippur morning sermon this year in partnership with Facebook Friends, TED ,and a group of insightful congregants. To be blunt, this year, the whole Congregation Or Ami wrote its rabbi’s Yom Kippur sermon. Where Great Sermon Ideas Come From Rabbis explore sermon ideas from […]

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Why I Waste so Much Time Blogging About Youth Engagement



As our youth engagement achievements (and at times, our failures) become heard and seen, others view these stories as invitations for conversations about best principles, surmounting difficult obstacles, and articulating a vision that is both easily understood yet as nuanced as our teens.

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10+ Things I Really Hate about URJ Camp



Now in my third day as faculty member at the URJ Camp Newman in Santa Rosa, CA (and in my 18th year on faculty), I have been here long enough to clearly articulate all the things I hate about this place. And there are many! Waiting in line for 3-5 minutes for a meal that […]

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Facing the Worst-Kept Synagogue Secret



Do you want to know the worst-kept synagogue secret? It is not about politics at the pulpit or the fact that most Jews do not regularly attend Shabbat services. No, the worst-kept synagogue secret is that almost 90% of the young people who become bar or bat mitzvah in our synagogues are absent from our […]

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Using the ATM To Bring Teens to Temple



The entire American Jewish world, it seems, is focused on how to engage or reengage the younger generations of Jews. Foundations are funding, denominations are discussing, and Federations and synagogues are searching for the latest and greatest strategies to engaging these lost generations. Our own Union for Reform Judaism kicked off its Campaign for Youth […]

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Where Prayer is Spine-Tinglingly, Bone-Shakingly Inspiring



At home, we sometimes used to struggle to feed balanced meals to our three teenagers. Imagine trying to feed 1,000 as these Jewish teens sat together to for Shabbat dinner. And that was only the beginning. We are gathered at a hotel in Los Angeles for the NFTY Convention, perhaps the largest Jewish teen gathering […]

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Jewish Teens as Role Models for Jewish Kids



The teenage girl puts her arm around the fourth grader. They both smile. The younger child feels warmth, love and a sense of “I matter” from her protector, a cool positive Jewish role model. The teen feels a sense of purpose, of meaning and a sense of “I matter” from a child who looks up […]

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Nurturing the Next Generation of Jewish Songleaders



Recently, Congregation Or Ami sponsored two teens – 10th graders Sophie Barnes and Josh Gellerman – to attend the NFTY NASHIR Songleading Weekend in Seattle, Washington. As Cantor Doug Cotler has made it a priority to nurture new Jewish songleaders, musicians, composers and singers, we were excited to send these musical teens for training. Both […]

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