Judaism in Action

by Rebecca Hirschwerk – Director of Congregational Education

A theology that is not a plan of social action is merely a way of preaching and praying. It is a menu without the dinner. – Mordecai Kaplan, Not So Random Thoughts (Founder of Reconstructing Judaism)

Recently our Or Hadash youth group (4th-6th graders) embodied Mordechai Kaplan’s theology on a volunteer mission to The Soup Kitchen, run by the rabbinical students of Hebrew Union College in NYC. Fifteen students, almost giddy from getting out of school early, boarded the LIRR to run the evening from set up to service, to clean up. They were (and are!) a remarkable group, focused and attentive to their assignments and fully present in their interactions with the guests. They serve as a model for what it means to “do Jewish” and as examples of what education at RSNS looks like for our students, for our families, and for everyone,

What was so amazing about our trip was that we built a foundation of service through the lens of community. Students in mixed grades sitting with each other on the train, having a blast trying to balance without holding the poll on the subway, begging (unsuccessfully) for us to stop at every Starbucks we passed…these moments are all part of “doing Jewish” together as we made our way to HUC. Their eagerness to help others, to feel the responsibility of their privilege, and to learn about housing and food insecurity gives what we do at school relevance and significance. What does anything we learn about being Jewish mean without experiencing the impact it can have on how we live our lives?

This is what education at RSNS looks like. An experiential curriculum of torah, prayer and g’milut hasadim, acts of lovingkindness. Our communal t’filah (prayer) service begins to have relevance when we say the Aleinu and remember when we stood up against hunger as a community. Our classes become so much more meaningful when our fourth graders can act upon the ethics they wrestle with in the Book of Leviticus. As our fifth graders explore the lives of the prophets, they too face a moment to answer God’s call by helping those in need. And as our sixth graders lean into the challenging lives of our ancestral family, they can experience the bonds of family through experiences like our social action havurot.

And this experiential Judaism is happening all over RSNS. This past weekend our congregation heard from our teens who participated in One2One-a five five-week virtual program pairing American high school students with Israeli teens. This is relational Judaism at its finest. Our second cohort begins in March-stay tuned for details! We have one more season of Make, Bake, or Rake Your Way into Tikkun Olam, our Family Social Action Havurot – please join us. And we would love to see you at our Family Shabbat services where we always begin with a lovely hallah bake with Morah Miriam-experiencing Shabbat through all our senses and our sense of community.

In March of 1965, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel linked arms with Dr. Martin Luther King as they marched from Selma to Montgomery. Heschel famously said that he felt like he was “praying with his feet.” Our Or Hadash students prayed with their feet, their hands, their smiles, and their hearts. Our teens, our families, and all of us do the same when we experience Judaism as a joyous call to action. May we all pray together in every way possible in the months ahead.

Rebecca Hirschwerk