Educationally Speaking – September 2017

Finding Jewish Values…in the most unexpected places

Debi M. Rowe, MAJE, RJE, Director of Education and Programs

I love going to Jewish educational conferences! Discovering new insights, meeting new people, finding new lenses through which to look at the world…which is what I got to do in early August at NewCAJE 8 in Northern California. On one side of the exhibit hall, I encountered “Fair Trade Judaica”—a vendor that was displaying all kinds of delightful items: kippot, hanukkiyot, chocolate bars, banners, mezuzzot, glass  works of all kinds—they had it all!

My first impression was that the artisans were “recycling” discarded items: soda cans, bicycle chains, glass and more to create lovely, usable Judaica. I discovered that I was only partly right. “Up-cycling” is the term I learned for what the artisans had actually done: they had transformed each of the discarded items for a new purpose, thus going far beyond mere recycling.

Through discussion with Ilana Schatz, the Founding Director of Fair Trade Judaica, I also learned more about “Fair Trade”— a movement that promotes economic partnerships based on equality, justice and sustainable environmental practices. Fair trade connects consumers in the West with producers from other countries, and links the Jewish values of human dignity, self-sufficiency, and environmental sustainability with fair trade standards assuring fair and livable wages, no child labor, healthy and safe working conditions.

The products and the discussion led me to think about the New Year in front of us: Torah School that begins on September 10 and our new Jewish year of 5778 that begins at sundown on September 20.

How can we “up-cycle” in the year ahead? How can we transform ourselves for a new purpose? I believe that the words of our liturgy direct us toward renewal and transformation in very direct and concrete ways.

In our Torah School, teachers who may teach the same basic subjects they did last year to the same age group of students, renew their activities and procedures (even if only for their own sanity). By doing so, they renew themselves in the process.

Students encounter similar concepts from years past, the same prayers appear on the same pages of the siddur, yet the children do approach each with the new point of view that a year’s growth affords them.

What can you “up-cycle” in the year ahead?

L’Shanah Tovah!