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An UNsatisfying Response

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Any position is capable of being supported by justification.

See for yourself:

Dear Frume Sarah,

I received your letter stating your concerns regarding the recent change in program hours at the Early Childhood Learning Center and its impact on the current and future generation of Jews.

The mission of our Jewish Community Center, which extends to the ECLC, includes outreach to the Jewish community at large. It strives to enrich Jewish life through recreational, social, educational and cultural activities. The objective is to strengthen the connection with the unaffiliated and marginally affiliated community, and those who maintain a strong Jewish identity as well.

Plans have been made with conscious determination to provide a Jewish experience on the actual holiday. In a community such as ours, many families work through the holidays. Providing their child with a Jewish experience is considered valuable. What could be more sacred that engaging young children in Jewish learning during the holiday that is not observed by their family.

The JCC respects the individual observances of it’s [sic] staff and would not require any employee to go against their [sic] personal beliefs.

There are multiple points of entry into the Jewish community. This provides an additional opportunity for Jewish exploration and growth.


Director, ECLC

It so happens that I am well-acquainted with the mission of the Jewish Community Center, having served as its Director of Jewish Education for nearly two years. So too am I aware that the overwhelming majority of the membership would consider themselves unaffiliated or marginally affiliated. This response make it clear that there is no pretense of observing the letter of the Law. As mentioned in my letter, a change of culture is neither expected nor requested. It is a reconsideration that I seek.

No one has ever said that being Jewish is easy. In fact, observing a Jewish life in a host-majority culture that is decidedly NOT-Jewish requires being different. And making tough choices. While it is true that “providing their child with a Jewish experience is considered valuable,” seeing a parent stay home from work as commanded in the Torah would also provide a valuable and powerful lesson. Keeping a Jewish school closed on days that most parents will be at work is not a convenient policy. Or popular one. It is, however, the right one.

OH…and by the way… you know “”what could be more sacred that engaging young children in Jewish learning during the holiday that is not observed by their family?” Providing the tools that will empower the families to create home observances that are in accordance with our most sacred days.

While the Center does offer multiple entry points into Judaism, apparently religious behaviour is not one of them.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. Lael permalink
    Wednesday, 5 May 2010 8:01 pm

    I know I’m one who should talk, struggling as I am with my own Jewish practice, but maybe it’s precisely for that reason this bothers me. The JCC is actually doing a disservice by giving parents a choice to work or not, because the choice their parents make is what the children see. So what happens when the children are old enough to make their own choices about holidays? As a Jewish young adult, the challenges to conform, to fit in at work, where you want to succeed and move up the ladder are so big. How do you confront it, where do you find support to live Jewishly? Sadly, according to the JCC, not at home…or the JCC….

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Thursday, 6 May 2010 9:23 pm

      You articulate this perfectly.

      Kids really do pay attention to the behaviour of their parents. This could be such a teachable moment…

      It’s those of us who are really serious about faith/religion who continually struggle. You are in great company.

  2. Thursday, 6 May 2010 9:25 am

    After almost 7 years in this country I have finally found a Reform Rabbi sticking to her values. I am sure there are more of you out there. Don’t give up, none of should. Being Jewish is far too important. I feel that the community center has. Shavuot is coming up and I am struggling to give meaning and purpose to this wonderful holiday in an atmosphere that most of the reform community doesn’t care enough about it. (If at all).

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Thursday, 6 May 2010 9:25 pm

      Thanks, Ruth. You are right; there are plenty of us around.

      It is hard to be the one to take a stand. It is easier to just give up.

      I never do things the easy way.

  3. Thursday, 6 May 2010 9:30 am

    In response to Ruth, I’d just like to say that the Reform movement continues to observe the chag by closing our syngagogue and our schools. We offer worship and an educational activity for our youngsters so that they can learn about the holiday. It is not the Reform movement that is casting a shadow over the observance of these chags. It is those who wish to make life a little easier for those who don’t wish to observe it. I am saddened that the JCC does not realize how important it is to observe both the major and minor holidays. It gives Jewish professionals and organizations a bad name.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Thursday, 6 May 2010 9:28 pm

      E — I don’t think that Ruth was making a comment about Reform institutions in this case. We all know Reform rabbis who would not take a stand on issues such as this.

      What has amazed me is the number of folks from my shul who are troubled by the JCC’s decision. Though they themselves do not observe the chagim in a strict fashion, the overwhelming consensus is that organizational policy ought to uphold Jewish Law.

  4. Sara permalink
    Thursday, 6 May 2010 8:24 pm

    When a parent sends their child to a Jewish school, no matter what their religion, I imagine they would expect the school to be closed on Jewish Holidays.

    I think the J made a bad decision. They are Jewish by name. They need to respect the holidays they are encouraging families and children to be apart of.

    I would never expect a Christian school to be open for class on Christmas just because it’s convenient for ‘some’ parents.


    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Thursday, 6 May 2010 9:31 pm

      So very disappointing…

  5. Zohara permalink
    Sunday, 9 May 2010 10:15 pm

    I have worked in JCCs and Reform programs and I find it unbelievable that they are going to be open on chagim. It is already challenging enough as a staff person in non-Orthodox Jewish programs to carve out time for more in-depth holiday observances! If all children are welcome to attend and it is included in their tuition, how exactly do they expect to not ask staff members to go against their beliefs? Do they do that by coercing staff members who don’t want to work on chagim to work anyway? Do they hire staff members who don’t care about chagim? I have worked in Jewish-run programs with majority non-Jewish kids and staff and even then parents have been very accepting of closures IF YOU TELL THEM UP FRONT, “THIS IS HOW WE DO THINGS, PERIOD.”
    While my personal relationship with Judaism views practices more as a spectrum of traditions rather than ‘laws’ I think this is a line that ought not be crossed. I have had the demoralizing experience as a staff member in Jewish programs of being refused early leave for Shabbat (ie being required to work hours after sundown) being required to work and attend training on Saturdays, receiving work-related calls during Shabbat. I know you are not about things being easy, but one thing that should be easier is observing Jewish traditions while working in a Jewish workplace.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Monday, 10 May 2010 8:48 pm

      “I know you are not about things being easy, but one thing that should be easier is observing Jewish traditions while working in a Jewish workplace.”

      Good point, Zohara. Although as a pulpit rabbi, I can attest to the difficulties I face in creating meaningful home observances while meeting the needs of my shul.

      That being said, no one, regardless of religion, should EVER be forced, coerced, expected, to engage in behaviour that is contrary to their religious values/laws.

      Thanks for reading AND for sharing your thoughts.

  6. Monday, 10 May 2010 8:23 pm

    “Sure, we’re open on Yom Tov… consider it kiruv!
    What could be more sacred than allowing our precious next generation to be trained in true Jewish values by a group of Christian babysitters… while the Jewish staff are all home celebrating with their own families?”

    Unless they don’t really take seriously that part about honouring individual staff members’ “personal beliefs.” I wonder if it’ll come out of vacation time, personal time, etc., if staff do “choose” to take those days off. (ie, penalizing Jewish staff to pressure them into working on Yom Tov)

    Argh. You are so right, and the world is sometimes so wrong.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Monday, 10 May 2010 8:52 pm

      To be fair, the non-Jewish staff at the school are wonderful AND have a basic understanding of the Jewish rituals and values. They are loving and supportive and kind and I am glad that they are a part of my child’s learning experience. There is irony, of course,of the children engaging in the rituals ON the CHAG with the non-Jewish faculty because the Jewish faculty is at home.

      My guess is that there will be an unspoken expectation.

      It does not speak well of the larger community. I am proud, however, that the members of my (Reform) shul are aghast.


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