What are your favorite moments with people in our community this past year?
At a recent Be Mitzvah celebration, the Be Mitzvah mom shared a very moving story about how her dad, the grandfather of the Be Mitzvah children, when he was a child. He came from an interfaith family, at a young age, he started walking to a synagogue down the street to attend religious school. Eventually the rabbi noticed him, and asked who his parents were. When the young man shared that his dad was Jewish and his mom wasn’t, the rabbi told him that he could no longer attend the religious school because according to halacha, Jewish law, this young many wasn’t Jewish, since his mother wasn’t Jewish. The man then decided to follow his mother’s faith tradition. The Be Mitzvah mom shared how she felt like her family finding Judaism Your Way allowed her children to come back to the traditions of her father, something she was so grateful for.
“… she felt like her family finding Judaism Your Way allowed her children to come back to the traditions of her father…”Rabbi Amanda Schwartz
Being able to return to being with one another for High Holiday services. Initially, I wasn’t very excited about just streaming our Rosh Hashanah service without having our community physically present or even without being able to see them in Zoom screens because, for me, the experience of leading prayer services is so much about the interaction with the community. Yet, being able to sing together and be together was one of the most memorable services. And then the next day, we gathered at the Gardens for Rosh Hashanah. It was like getting a piece of myself back.
Finally, during sukkot, the JYW team gathered in my backyard. Sukkot in antiquity was a holiday that happened at the end of the harvest and it was a time when Jews would celebrate all of their hard work. We gathered to celebrate sukkot and mark completing the hard work of putting together virtual and in-person, COVID safe holidays. As part of our celebration, we had a contest to see who could make the best edible sukkah. Sukkot is known in Jewish tradition as “zman simchateinu” and during the contest, I certainly experienced that joy because I laughed the hardest I have laughed in a long time.
What are you most excited about in the coming year?
I’m really excited about some of the new projects I’m working on like leading our Diversity Inclusion Advisory Team. I am optimistic it will help Judaism Your Way become closer to being that fully open tent that we want to be. And, I’m also excited about the work we are just beginning to explore on how we might better holistically support the Judaism Your Way community around end-of-life issues.
“I am also excited about the work we are just beginning to explore on how we might better holistically support the Judaism Your Way community around end-of-life issues.”Rabbi Amanda Schwartz
If you could impart one final Hanukkah thought to our families, what would it be?
The story of Hanukkah as we know comes from three different Jewish sources. The book of Macabees, describes Hanukkah as the military victory of a small group of Jews named the Macabees defeating the much larger Greek army. Another account comes from Josephus, who calls the Hanukkah the “Festival of Lights.” And then the final account is from the Talmud, which doesn’t talk about a military victory, rather, tells the story of the miracle of oil, so more of a spiritual victory. To me, these different origins of Hanukkah teach two really important lessons:
- Each of these accounts tells the story of Hanukkah from a different lens. This is a reminder that all of us view the world through our own experiences and biases. A lesson of Hanukkah is to bring light to the world. We need to be able to see the many experiences that make up stories, history, and our interactions with one another.
- Second lesson I see from these different accounts is that it’s a reminder of how the holiday developed in antiquity and it’s continued to develop today. I see this as an invitation to put our own spin on not just Hanukkah but all Jewish holidays. So, what might your family want to add to Hanukkah to do it your way? Perhaps, that tradition will be something Jews in the future will be talking about hundreds or even thousands of years from now.
“A lesson of Hanukkah is to bring light to the world. We need to be able to see the many experiences that make up stories, history, and our interactions with one another.”Rabbi Amanda Schwartz