Friday, May 28, 2010

Thoughts from Some of My Heroes

The following is a d'var Torah delivered by Devorah Zlochower, the mother of some incredible children, a powerful teacher of Torah, and the spouse of a colleague and incredible teacher of Torah himself, Rabbi Dov Linzer, in honor of the Bar Mitzvah of her son, Kasriel.  Kasriel is a beautiful Jewish soul and a child with autism.  Devorah and Dov have written powerfully in other places on the topic of the the Jewish community and support for Jewish families with children with autism (  This piece brings tears to my eyes and is a reminder of how the Jewish world can change with just a little openness and vision.  Mazal Tov, Kasriel!:

Shabbat shalom, good Shabbos to all of you and welcome to our son Kasriel’s bar mitzvah. I can’t believe we are here!

Kasriel, Daddy and I are so incredibly proud of you! You have earned this moment in the sun and have demonstrated that you are indeed a bar mitzvah – a young man ready and capable of taking on more responsibilities and of filling your place in the Jewish community and the larger world.

Although it might look like Daddy and I have taught you, in truth, you have been teaching us since the moment you were born. I want to spend a little time sharing with you some of the many lessons you have taught me.

First of all, Kasriel you have taught me to look at the world with new eyes. Because you have tried to share with me some of your artistic sensibilities and you have tried to train my eye to notice some of the myriad details that you see, you have taught me to notice the red hawk flying in the sky, the insect crawling on a leaf, the sound of a buzzing fly and the thousands upon thousands of details that make up God’s beautiful world.

Kasriel you have cherished nature since you were a baby. Your first word was “bird” which you said one day when we were taking a walk down in Florida. And since then you have embraced the outdoors. You take responsibility for nature and have taught us not only to appreciate but to understand that we have a responsibility to safeguard our precious, natural world.

Kasriel, you have also taught me the pleasures of the small things. You appreciate not just the birthday gift that a friend gives you but also the wrapping paper. For all of you sitting out there who have ever given anything to Kasriel, written a note, or sent him an invitation, you can be sure that it is sitting somewhere in his room. While this saving has been a real challenge for me who likes to throw things outI have become a little more aware that things for you represent the people you love and that it is important to hold onto the things that remind us of the people who are important to our lives.

But the most important thing you have taught me, Kasriel, is the value of hard work. You work hard at everything you do. Sometimes, I know that you wish you didn’t have to work so hard, but you persevere. And because of that you have learned, that it is hard work that ultimately gets us where we need to get to in life. Some of us don’t learn that lesson until much later in life and the hard way, but you have learned that lesson young and well. Daddy and I are so proud of the effort you put into everything – into your school work, into your friendships and the huge amount of effort you put into this day. May your efforts continue to be rewarded and may you indeed continue growing into the extraordinary, talented, kind young man you have started becoming.

Kasriel, you are already a fine young man and a proud Jew. Daddy and I know that when we send you off to school every day that we are sending off a wonderful ambassador for the Jewish people. You wear your kippah with pride, you check that the food you eat is kosher, you are a proud advocate of the state of Israel, and you do this all with a sensitivity that brings a kesser shem tovthe crown of a good name to the Jewish people. The way you move in the world and between your worlds show maturity way beyond your years and I am simply in awe of you.

On this day and every day, I want you to remember how incredibly proud we are of you and how proud you should be of yourself. You are a sensitive friend, a responsible older brother, a hardworking bright student, a talented artist, a friend of all God’s creations, and a terrific son! I am proud to be your mom and I hope you got some sense of the pride and joy I take in you. Mazel tov my son; I love you very much. 

Dov and I are so grateful that each of you is participating in our son Kasriel’s bar mitzvah. When I began thinking about this bar mitzvah (about 8 years ago) and when Dov and I actually began planning it (about 1 and ½ years ago), we knew we needed it to be small to properly accommodate Kasriel’s needs. We knew that the people who we absolutely needed to have at Kasriel’s bar mitzvah were the people who have been instrumental in helping us raise Kasriel and bring him to this majestic moment. So here you all are and we realize, very concretely, that we have a wealth of people who have played such an important part of our lives. We are grateful to each of you for being part of our lives and for helping all of us reach this special day.

The people assembled here, as well as others who couldn’t make it today, comprise the multiple communities that we call ours. One of the most special aspects of our family life have been the wonderful communities that we have been introduced to through our children: the Aaron School and Aaron Academy community and we are so glad that Kasriel’s teacher, Tracy Haber could join us, the Camp Our Victory community, the Camp Yofi community, the Kol Hayeladim community, as well as our base community, our wonderful Bayit led by Rabbi Avi Weiss, Rabbi Steven Exler and Rabba Sara Hurwitz. We are particularly grateful to Rabbi Avi and Toby Weiss for all the love and support they have showered on our family and feel extremely privileged that our sons have a close relationship with such incredible role models.

Today is a celebration of Kasriel’s accomplishments and having reached this important milestone in his growth as a Jew and as a human being, and I would be deeply remiss if I did not express a small measure of our thanks to some of the people who have nurtured Kasriel to this point. I want to express our deepest gratitude to Dr. Elisa Cruz who has worked with Kasriel for close to 7 years and has played such a significant role in his life. I want to recognize as well Dr. Ellen Linsky, Kasriel’s reading tutor, who has taught him and loved him and shared so many of her passions with him.

I want to give a special thanks to Lupe Michaca. Lupe has been my not so secret partner in raising the boys these past few years. She loves them and lets them know it and she has handled the after school time with great skill. She has also blessed our boys with her children, Anahly and David. Anahly has been a big sister to our boys as well as a wonderful babysitter; thank you, Anahly for taking such great care of Netanel and Kasriel.

Our sons’ Jewish education has not taken a conventional path and we are overwhelmed to have found such creative people who have taken as great an interest in our sons’ Jewish lives as we have. Kasriel has been tutored in Hebrew by a very special man with whom he has formed a close relationship. Dr. Meir Rotem has been teacher, friend and honorary Sabba to Kasriel who besides learning with Kasriel has shared his love of Jewish texts and the land of Israel. We are so grateful that you and Gloria could join us, Meir.

Our dear friends, Bat Sheva and Elliot, have provided a second home for us and have been patient, loving friends to our Kasriel and Netanel as well as amazing role models. We want to particularly thank Bat Sheva for working with Kasriel this year on Hebrew reading and for putting together the magnificent book of Kasriel’s drawings related to his Torah portion.

Camp Yofi at Ramah Darom has become an incredibly important part of our lives – it is the place where Jewish community and special ed. community come together for us. It is the place where we are truly ourselves in all our dimensions. We are so happy that Ayala Wasser, Kasriel’s havera from last summer is here with us and we are especially grateful that the Rosenbaum family has joined us today. Sandi and Dan invited us to Max’s bar mitzvah after we met at our first Camp Yofi, and it is at Max’s bar mitzvah that Kasriel said to me, “ I think I want to read the Torah.” So thank you Sandi and Dan and thank you Max for providing us with the inspiration for today.

We are beyond grateful that so much of our family has joined us at this simchah. We are truly overwhelmed by your presence and the substantial effort it took to come here. Whether it was traveling a great distance or coming with, thank God, many children in tow, or both – we are so very grateful. Although our family is dispersed – IsraelTorontoChicagoClevelandMarylandPennsylvania, Upstate and New Jersey, you have always been there for us to lend a hand, an ear, or support and advice. We are particularly grateful to our parents, Bubbe and Zeide Zlochower and Zeide Linzer who have been such important influences in Kasriel’s and Netanel’s lives and have read hundreds of books, purchased hundreds of action figures, thousands of Lego pieces, and listened to hours upon hours about dinosaurs and animals. We want to also express our gratitude to Dov’s aunts, Aunt Diane, Aunt Estie and Aunt Marguerite who have worked lovingly, graciously and subtly to fill the hole left by the passing of Dov’s beloved mother and Kasriel’s grandmother, Annette Linzer whom we miss very much today. Bubbe Linzer was present at Kasriel’s bris and got to see Kasriel named after her father, Rabbi Leonard Mishkin. She is very much in our thoughts today and Dov and I feel her gentle guidance all the time.

I want to give special mention to a very special person who plays the most significant role in Kasriel’s life, Netanel Linzer. Netanel, your wisdom and your big, big heart amaze and inspire us every day. You are Kasriel’s constant companion, the person he confides in the most, and the guy who slips him answers to math problems. You are more than just a brother, you are a friend. Mommy and Daddy are so proud of you and we can’t wait for your bar mitzvah in 2 and ½ years.

Finally, we want to thank all of you – our friends. Because our parents and many of our siblings live out of town, we rely very heavily on our friends. Many, many of you have helped in substantial ways with this bar mitzvah and we are thankful for opening your homes, helping shlep, lending us a Torah and helping two busy, not so organized people get through this rather large job. We are very aware that especially with children with special needs, community and friends become critically important for support, for advice, for names of doctors, for a shoulder to cry on or sometime just a grim joke. We are so grateful to our friends who have offered us so much support – we could not do it without you, really.

אחרון אחרון חביב to my dear husband and partner in crime, Dov, this bar mitzvah, like the raising of our sons and so much else we do, has been a real partnership. I did not make this bar mitzvah, Dov and I did it together. And I do not take that for granted. You were there and are there for me always. I could not hope for a better role model for our sons. We have learned much in this journey of raising our sons and it has not always been easy. You have learned to do the impossible, to be a Torah scholar of the highest caliber and not impose that particular ambition on our sons, you teach them but you also make it clear that that you learn from them and appreciate who they are. Our sons know the role you play in our community but they are not intimidated by it. I am grateful to you for so much and I love you very much. Mazel tov, honey.
I do not remember what packing for my first summer at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, in 1977, was like. It is likely that we bought everything exactly as it was on the list. I do remember helping put labels on all of my clothing and I remember two books I took to camp: a brand new, dark blue Tikkun LaKorim from KTAV publishers and a yellow and turquoise covered Hebrew - English Paperback Dictionary by Ben Yehuda (I still have that dictionary, frayed cover and all). I don't really remember packing up at the end of the summer either although I vividly recall that our trunks, back in the old days when everyone came to camp with hard sided trunks, were not allowed into the house but were unpacked in the garage where the "camp smell" was expected to dissipate. Between those two bookmarks of packing and unpacking, I found my Jewish summer home. For twenty summers, I would replicate the loading and unloading of stuff all the while having fantastic, challenging, some times difficult, experiences. Regardless of whether it turned out to be the best summer EVER or just a good time, Camp Ramah in Wisconsin was my Jewish summer home - one of two places where the awareness of God's Divine Presence was always at its highest.

After a thirteen year hiatus, I find myself packing once again for my first summer at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin. This time, however, I do it as the camp director. The process is different, of course: I no longer label my clothes; we don't have trunks to pack; and I never used to take manilla file folders with me to camp filled with articles and information (no matter how serious a young man I may have been). Today, we packed up the office. On Sunday, I will pack up my own clothes without any parental help. And on Tuesday morning, I will once again drive up to Conover, past all the little towns whose names I used to know in order, recognizing that each town meant we were a little closer to camp. In 1977, I came to camp with no overnight camp experience. In 2010, I return after 11 summers as the founding director of Camp Ramah Darom, a summer home for Jewish children in the South that I helped build and that I will love forever, and thirty-two years of personal and professional experience in Jewish camping. And like every new camper, I am both a little apprehensive and very excited.

On Tuesday, the Roshei Aidah arrive at camp and we will continue the preparations for staff week that we have been working on for many months. On Friday, our camping staff, along with several Roshei Anaf - Department Heads - join us for Shabbat. Sunday brings more department heads into the fold. On Monday, our Mishlachat - our Israeli Staff Delegation - arrives. And on Tuesday, the overwhelming majority of the staff come to their summer home to get ready for our campers. Before you know it, many of you will be putting your children on flights and or on buses to make the trek up to our remote, beautiful, summer retreat. Many new campers will be excited and apprehensive. The same can said for our veteran campers as they come to the same camp they have known and loved wondering about their counselors, their bunkmates, and, well, their new director. It will be an adventure for all of us.

According to this week's parashah, B'Ha'alotekha, a Cloud rested over the portable Tabernacle, the Mishkan, when it was put up:

יח עַל־פִּ֣י יְהוָ֗ה יִסְעוּ֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וְעַל־פִּ֥י יְהוָ֖ה יַֽחֲנ֑וּ כָּל־יְמֵ֗י אֲשֶׁ֨ר יִשְׁכֹּ֧ן הֶֽעָנָ֛ן עַל־הַמִּשְׁכָּ֖ן יַֽחֲנֽוּ׃ יט וּבְהַֽאֲרִ֧יךְ הֶֽעָנָ֛ן עַל־הַמִּשְׁכָּ֖ן יָמִ֣ים רַבִּ֑ים וְשָֽׁמְר֧וּ בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל אֶת־מִשְׁמֶ֥רֶת יְהוָ֖ה וְלֹ֥א יִסָּֽעוּ׃

"At a command of the Lord, the Israelites broke camp, and at a command of the Lord they made the camp; they remained encamped as long as the cloud stayed over the Tabernacle. When the cloud lingered over the Tabernacle may days, the Israelites observed the Lord's mandate and did not journey on."

Camp Ramah is not the Mishkan nor is it the Bet HaMikdash. But, it is the place that so many of us feel closer to God than almost anywhere else. It is the place where so many are more aware of the Divine Presence than we are during most of the rest of the year. As we get ready to head North, the Cloud is preparing to descend on our temporary home. While we know that it will permit sun and warmth to shine down, that Cloud will remain over our camp for the next eleven weeks. And then, as if commanded, it will rise up and we will break camp and return to our respective winter cities. When that happens, we will leave more knowledgeable and more committed, with greater bonds to God, to our friends, to our People and our tradition. And, hopefully, we will remember that the Cloud travels with us, as a Mishkan Me'at - a small portable Tabernacle - in our souls.

See you in Conover!

Shabbat Shalom

Friday, May 21, 2010

This appeared on the JTA Website. It is a beautiful new Israeli song titled "I am a Jew" or "אני יהודי". A great way to enter Shabbat and a great message about the broad range of all of us who call ourselves Jews!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Lewis Black, Jon Stewart and Glenn Beck

One of the great pleasures that recently developed in our home was Elan discovering The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.  He loved reading The Onion and now watches Stewart and when I am home, I get to sit with him and we laugh and enjoy and discuss the topics.

Last night, in one of the best segments I have ever seen, Lewis Black took Glenn Beck to task for his constant use of the term...well, watch to find out and then share your thoughts with me.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Back in Black - Glenn Beck's Nazi Tourette's
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Monday, May 10, 2010

Nativ - A Great Way to Spend a Year in Israel

Nativ - A gap year program for post-High School Seniors is truly remarkable.  The first half of the year is spent either at the Hebrew University or at the Conservative Yeshiva. The second half of the year is spent either on kibbutz or in places like Yerucham.  The following is video recently prepared by the participants. They are everything that we would want emerging adults to be.