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When Someone’s Behavior Leaves You In the Dark

blindspotMy daughter Sophie reported that climbing Masada (she ran up the Snake Path in 25 minutes!) was one of her favorite experiences of our recent family trip to Israel.

For my son Jacob, it was the Ayalon Institute, a secret bullet factory built underneath a kibbutz.

My husband Michael and I told the kids that we adored visiting Yad Lakashish, a non-profit organization that empowers nearly 300 elderly Jerusalem residents on a daily basis by putting them to work as artisans. (Our real favorite part of the trip was how well the kids got along with one another, but we’re keeping that to ourselves.)

But one experience made it to the top of everyone’s list: our dinner at Nalagaat Blackout Restaurant. So awe-inspiring, in fact, that the lessons we learned there keep growing – and yes, this is my second article about it.

If you recall, our family had the opportunity to experience a totally dark dinner served by blind and visually-impaired waitstaff. What surprised all of us the most was that our eyes never adjusted. Not even a little bit. It was pitch black, all the time, with no relief.

When I finally came to terms with the fact that I was going to be completely in the dark until I left, I realized how many of us work with or know people whose behavior leaves us in the dark – and that far too often, we sit there waiting for something to shed light on their behavior. And that light never comes.

What do you do when you work with someone you don’t trust? Whose intentions you can’t see or whose behaviors blindside you?

Working with someone you don’t trust is like sitting in total darkness. You are desperate to see something – anything – that can help you figure out what to do next, say now, or even believe about yourself and your situation. You realize that you need to trade vulnerability for vigilance. You realize that you need to shrink your expectations from thriving to surviving. And all of that can impair the quality of your work as well as your confidence.

There’s no easy fix for working with someone you don’t trust, where you can’t see how to proceed next. But here’s what I did at Nalagaat to adjust my expectations and behaviors in the dark, once I realized that my situation wasn’t going to adjust.

I stopped blaming myself (and my eyes) for not being able to see in this situation.

I acknowledged that I had two options: 1) stay and figure out how to make this work to the best of my abilities or 2) get up and leave.

I adjusted my expectations of what I would be able to accomplish in the dark (from “enjoying a lovely meal” to “emerging without cutting myself or wearing my meal.”)

I asked for help from my team (family) for things with which, under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t need to ask for help.

I offered help, unsolicited.

I recognized that each of us was struggling – both together and individually – with the circumstances.

I made small movements and sought frequent feedback from my team and from the environment as to how I was doing.

I offered positive, reinforcing feedback to the team.

I gave myself positive self-talk throughout the meal.

I took all advice from the waitstaff, who were experts in how to manage this situation.

And probably most importantly, I reminded myself that the darkness wasn’t being dark to make me angry, endangered or frustrated. It wasn’t personal. The darkness was just being what it was, and I just happened to be there for it.

Could you use a little more light shed on how to create a culture that instills a sense of trust? Join us for our webinar on Creating a Culture of Trust.

A Life Lesson Learned Over Dessert in Israel

garden_entranceShalom from Israel!

True confession: the last time I was in Israel, I was with my old boyfriend. Considering that I’ve been with my husband Michael for 18 years, it’s been a long time since I’ve been back “home”.

Of course, when I came to Israel with an old beau, I never anticipated that the next time I’d be here would be with a (different) husband and my teenage twins. And considering the inspiring and moving sites and experiences we’re having on this trip – from camel rides and rafting in the Jordan River to Havdalah at the Western Wall and a walk through Yad Vashem’s Garden of the Righteous — I never could have anticipated I’d learn the biggest life lesson at the bottom of a dessert dish.

Now, it wasn’t just any dessert dish. It was a dish of crème brulee that my son Jacob was eating at Tel Aviv’s Nalaga’at BlackOut, where diners eat their meals, served by blind waitstaff, in total darkness. The experience was startling, humbling and like nothing any of us had ever experienced. Some of us (ok, me) resorted to eating with our hands when utensils proved too tricky without a stitch of light. And by the time dessert came, we had been so taxed by the lack of visual context that we had stopped talking in order to concentrate so that we wouldn’t be wearing our dinners.

And then, Jacob broke the silence: “I’m so sad about this dessert!” he said. “Don’t you like it?” I asked him, to which he replied, “I love it. It’s the best dessert I’ve ever had. But since I can’t see it, I don’t know when it will be over!”

“Jacob,” I said, “you have just summed up one of life’s great lessons and challenges: how to truly enjoy what you have because you have no idea when it will end.”

As we thanked our blind waitress for her excellent service, we thanked God for the gift of our sight, and felt truly thankful for this incredible family trip to Israel. And while it’s the first for the four of us, I hope it isn’t our last – but no matter what, we are truly enjoying what we have because we have no idea what the future will bring to any of us.

Shalom from Israel.

Is Your Halo Hollow?

For the past two years, if you were looking for me on weekday mornings between 8 and 9 am, you would have found me at my local CrossFit – that workout regimen that combines Olympic gymnastic and weightlifting moves and high-intensity aerobic training with weeping, grunting and collapsing. This was going to be the habit that upgraded my physique! This was going to be the new activity that changed my life for the better!

Guess what? It didn’t work – and not for the reasons you might think. It didn’t work because I misplaced my halo.

For two years, I believed that if I exercised the way that professional athletes do, I could also eat the way professional athletes do. 50 pull-ups? 100 squats? 200 sit-ups? Surely that’s a recipe for carte blanche dining, right? As it turned out, it wasn’t. I had fallen prey to a behavioral halo effect bias that was hurting me both physically (100 squats!) and emotionally (feeling stuck at the same weight).

The “halo effect” is defined as the tendency for a person’s positive or negative traits to “spill over” from one personality area to another in others’ perceptions of them. My halo effect was behavioral – I was expecting the benefits of one overwhelming positive action (intensive exercise) to spill over into another area of my life (my eating habits). I thought that if I behaved beautifully in the gym, I could misbehave at the table. So maybe I could have gotten away with it a little bit, but I couldn’t get away with it nearly as much as I told myself. And as much as I tried to right-size my portions, I couldn’t shake that “halo” feeling that I shouldn’t have to work out so hard to still eat so little.

I am not alone. Have you ever worked for a manager who believed that her intelligence and talent gave her the right to explode at her direct reports? Behavioral halo effect. Do you know a major donor who thinks that the size of his gift permits him to boss other volunteers (as well as professionals) around? Behavioral halo effect.

And how about you? Do you:

  • Treat your members and customers with incredible patience at work…and then come home and blow up at your kid for leaving his shoes in the hall?
  • Give your undivided personal attention to your boss but keep one eye on your cell phone when a direct report wants to talk with you?
  • Attend every board meeting but cancel your supervision meetings?
  • Make sure your babysitter or nanny never wants for anything, while brushing aside your spouse’s needs?
  • Take care of everyone else while ignoring your own health and happiness?

If you answered yes to any of these, your halo is hollow. You’re allowing one set of positive behaviors to cast an artificial glow on others that clearly don’t deserve a spotlight. How do you fix it? Stop granting yourself permission and excuses to behave carelessly, and start giving yourself credit for the fact that you clearly have what it takes to act responsibly, considerately, and like a mensch. If you can do it somewhere, sometimes, and with some people, you can do it (almost) everywhere, every time, and with most people. Especially with and for yourself.

So how did I drop the halo and its blinding effects? I quit exercising and eating like a linebacker and started working out like someone who needed to 1) have better balance and 2) be careful about what she ate. I no longer allowed one overwhelmingly positive action to grant me permission for excess or carelessness.  By dropping the halo, I raised the bar for my behavior and dropped the excuses — along with almost 25 pounds — along the way!

When Getting Along Is Easier Said than Done

by Noa Peri-Jensch

This past Saturday, I was listening to a Bar Mitzvah boy at our synagogue. He spoke about the most important mitzvah of ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ He explained that we should love and accept others’ shortfalls just as we accept our own.

Easier said than done,” whispered the man sitting behind me. “Easier said than done.”

As a coach, I often hear from clients that life would be so much easier if only difficult colleagues, employees, customers and bosses didn’t surround them. And while it’s fair to assume that every workplace has a few challenging people, working with difficult people in your own Jewish community can be especially hard. When every aspect of our lives is deeply intertwined, from work to our personal relationships, we realize that the person we fought with at last week’s board meeting is now sitting next to us at Shabbat dinner.
A “difficult” personality is better described as a “very different” personality from us. Even a great friend can be a challenging co-worker if your work styles don’t align. But before you deal with a difficult person, you need to deal with yourself first by asking:

  • Why does this person bother me?
  • What do I need in order to feel more comfortable dealing with this person? Do I need them to listen to me? Do I need to better understand their intentions? Do I need our work relationship to be more flexible? More stable? More task-focused or more people focused?
  • What can I do to communicate this need?
  • What about me could be bothering my co-worker?
  • Is our issue resolvable? Is it worth resolving?

Early in my career, I was introduced to the Myers Briggs personality assessment. After taking it, I gained a great amount of insight into not only myself, but also my group of “difficult people.” Here are a few common examples of how our personality profiles can lead to a difficult relationship:

Introvert/Extrovert: Some people are more centered and productive when they work alone in a quiet environment. Others cannot function on a task without bouncing ideas off other people. If a very social extroverted personality tries to “think out loud” with a very introverted focused on internal processing, they will feel rejected if the introvert does not show enthusiasm and make minimal comment. An introvert trying to focus their mind on organizing their thoughts will feel frustrated, resentful, and drained by a more sociable co-workers constant “interruptions”.

Which one are you? Which one is your difficult person?

Sensor/Intuitive: Some prefer to look at the facts and details, and others are more interested in the big picture and its general impact. When a sensor watches a co-worker’s eyes glaze over as he relays all the vital data he collected, he may assume that the other person finds his report boring or unimportant. However, it can be just the opposite. An intuitive personality is often so busy trying to turn these tiny facts into a big, meaningful picture that she can become overwhelmed, lost, and shut down in frustration. On the other hand, if an intuitive person goes directly to the end result, a sensor may become anxious without seeing the data that led to that result.

Which one are you? Which one is your difficult person?

Rational/Values: As if things were not complex enough, people differ even further in how they process decisions they make. Some people make decisions and base their opinions on rational, analytical thought. They are very comfortable in the realm of cause and effect. Other people base the same choices on their personal values and how the topic at hand will affect others.

Which one are you? Which one is your difficult person?

Organized/Spontaneous: Some people can change at a moment’s notice. They are constantly adapting and changing their work to reflect the needs of that exact moment. Other people, however, prefer stability and predictability. They want to make a detailed plan of action for the next six months. That spontaneous co-worker may wrestle with the needs and demands of their hyper-organized partner. They may even feel the organized person is too rigid.

Which one are you? Which one is your difficult person?

Clearly, neither side is right or wrong. However, these differences can create challenges in working with those who are different! This essential difference in perspective can lead to a difficult relationship.

Working with difficult personalities does not need to be so challenging. Next time you encounter a difficult personality, remember that you might also be difficult for them! Look at your own personality profile and how it might be the reason for the clash.

If working with difficult people still feels “easier said than done,” register for our webinar on Dealing with Difficult People on Thursday, May 21.

The High Cost of a Single Missing Leadership Trait

“The task of the leader is to get his people from where they are to where they have not been.” – Henry A. Kissinger

When you think about leaders you admire – whether it’s Moses or Miriam, the CEO of your organization or the president of your Board – you likely see in them several well-known and well-regarded leadership skills and attributes: vision, passion, confidence,  strategic thinking, conflict management, results-orientation, integrity, decision-making and more.

These leadership traits make up a critical combination of competence, commitment and character – and hopefully, you demonstrate many of these yourself whether you hold a leadership title or not.

But there’s one more crucial leadership trait that, according to Harvard University business professor and social psychologist Ann Cuddy, can make all the difference between you and your organization being loved or loathed. And more importantly, it’s a trait that everyone in your organization who interfaces with customers, members, donors, or prospects needs to cultivate if they don’t have it already.

What’s in the secret leadership sauce?

The added ingredient associated with the most effective leaders of our organizations is Warmth. Warmth is the very first trait that people perceive about us, and based on that initial reading – whether we like it or not – people decide whether our intentions are positive or negative.

Warmth is considered more important and more influential than competence (our ability to do the job). And while the people with whom we work may forgive us for a breach in competence, studies show that “a single instance of negative-warmth behavior is likely to irredeemably categorize the perpetrator as a cold person.”


So what does that mean? It means that your front office staff member who gets things done but has a brusque tone is costing your organization credibility. It means that a supervisor who is brilliant at the technical aspects of her job but who is described as having an “edge” is costing you staff morale. It means that the fundraiser on your team whose numbers are good but who also rubs some donors and prospects the wrong way is costing you money.

It means that every single member of your organization needs to know that making people feel included, engaged, respected – and cared about – is a part of his or her job description.

Here are 10 ways to increase feelings of warmth among your team, in the organization, and with customers, members, donors, and prospects:

  1. Increase the number of agenda-free “casual conversations” you have.
  2. Give others your complete attention (no cell phones, emails, looking over their shoulders for someone more interesting, etc.).
  3. Be curious about other people’s work and non-work activities.
  4. Share your own personal and professional challenges with your colleagues.
  5. Demonstrate empathy for others’ challenges.
  6. Let rumors, gossip and bad news die at your desk.
  7. Be willing to apologize when you make a mistake or hurt someone’s feelings.
  8. Trust others and be trustworthy yourself.
  9. Use inviting body language, such as eye contact, smiling and nodding.
  10. Explain your intentions to others when making decisions or taking actions that affect them.


If you, your team and your leaders could use some help getting even warmer this summer, email us at

10 Blind Spots To Start Seeing Now

Now here’s a sentence you don’t hear too often the week after Passover: “I’ve dropped 17 pounds.

But I’m saying it – loud and proud.

Now of course, I must admit that the week before Passover, I was also down 17 pounds, but for me, maintaining my weight loss over a holiday not widely known for its health benefits is a victory.

I also admit that I’ve lost 17 pounds before. Many, many times. So what makes this weight loss different from all others? This time, I used the same coaching approach on myself that I teach in the Jewish Coaching Academy  and that I use with my clients to anticipate obstacles.

Whether our task is losing weight, beginning a new fundraising campaign, kicking off a professional development program, doing performance reviews, or anything that we’re starting – or starting again – we need to reflect on the common stumbling blocks that get put before us, by ourselves or others:

  1. How committed we really are to doing the work or making a change.
  2. How many other things we’re also committed to right now.
  3. How “secretly committed” we are to maintaining the current situation.
  4. How hard or complex it is.
  5. How much time it’s going to take.
  6. How many things we couldn’t have anticipated (or could have but didn’t).
  7. How much energy it requires.
  8. How quickly or easily we may get discouraged.
  9. How challenging it may be to get others on board, or who else we needed on board but didn’t realize.
  10. How powerful the voices in our head can be that stop us from being bold and moving forward.

When we skip thinking and talking about these blind spots, we increase the chances that our efforts will fail, that folks will become frustrated, and that we will have to go back to square one – again. When we consider and admit these stumbling blocks to ourselves and to others, we’re far more likely to move forward with eyes wide open and success in our view.

“Anticipating Obstacles” is only one of the 10 skills that I teach in the Jewish Coaching Academy, a 10 hour blended-learning program that teaches coaching skills through a Jewish lens to professional and volunteer leaders. Over 100 people have graduated from our program – and our next public program is on Thursday, May 7th in New Jersey.

Click here for more information.

Our early bird special ends Friday, April 17!

The Surprising Contribution That You’re Already Making

If you work or volunteer for a non-profit organization, chances are, you get excited when people make contributions. Contributions of time and talent mean that the work gets done. Contributions of ideas mean that new perspectives and opportunities emerge. And contributions of money mean that your mission and vision can be realized.

And where else should you be looking for contributions? Wherever you hear the words fault and blame.

Those two words, fault and blame, immediately put people immediately on the defensive, create divisiveness in teams, and make people feel untrusted and untrusting. Cut them out and replace them with the word contribution. When you ask people to think about what contributed to a problem, as well as how they themselves might have contributed to the problem, and who else (including, perhaps, you) had a contribution to this problem, it lowers the heat of the conversation and reminds people that challenging situations are complex, with many players. In fact, I ask my coaching clients to practice the habit of naming their own contribution first when speaking with their team or direct reports, which makes people feel more comfortable admitting their own contributions.

Contributions can range from communicating unclear expectations, setting unreasonable timelines, micromanaging (or under-leading), a lack of follow-up or follow-through, allowing scope-creep, a missed opportunity to offer feedback, ignoring the warning signs, or a failure to speak up or speak out.  Contributions can be big or small – and yet, every contribution matters. (Sound familiar?)

The next time a difficult conversation or situation arises, ask yourself, “what was the other person’s contribution to this?” AND ask yourself, “what was mine?”

Fault and blame make people want to stop contributing time, talent, ideas and money. Contribution begets contributions.

So what’s yours?

When is Climate Change a GOOD Thing?

Because of our traditions, we’ve kept our balance for many, many years. Here in Anatevka, we have traditions for everything.

How to sleep, how to eat, how to work, how to wear clothes…

You may ask how did this tradition get started? I’ll tell you. 
I don’t know. 
But it’s a tradition!”  – Tevye, Fiddler on the Roof 

We all know that traditions can be sacred. We also know that traditions can be comforting. But when you think about some of the interpersonal and institutional “traditions” that our organizations uphold, they can feel crazy-making and soul-sucking.

Traditions like what?  Like:

We openly and honestly express our opinions…unless we’re talking to someone who can write a big check.”

Supervision meetings are the first to get cancelled when something’s got to give.”

We talk about the importance of work-life balance but reward those who come early, stay late, and are on e-mail ‘round the clock.”

We call these traditions our organizations’ “culture,” as in, “that’s the culture around here.” And we often say we want to change the culture, and then get defeated when we feel like it will take too long, or we don’t have the authority, or we can’t get the buy-in.

My take: stop trying to change your culture (“the way we do things around here”), and start working to change your climate (“the way I do things around here”). Think about how you speak, behave, and interact with others, as well as the mes­sages you share about your colleagues, volunteers, organization, and community, and focus on contributing something powerfully positive. Ask that the people with whom you work directly do the same. You may not be able to create a massive shift in the well-worn traditions of your organization, but you can certainly make a healthy and helpful difference right now in the work and lives of the people you touch everyday.

After all, as David Ben-Gurion remarked, “Tradition must be a springboard into the future, not an armchair for repose.

It’s So Much More than the Apples and Honey!

by Orit Ramler Szulik

Rabbi Zalman Blooming called me inviting me to facilitate a conversation with students at a Chabad Shabbat dinner. The topic: setting goals now that Rosh Ha Shanah is around the corner. His call was like the sound of the shofar, a penetrating wake up call!  What’s better than a wake up call before the High Holidays?
After I hung up the phone, I realized that I was dormant going through life and didn’t even stop for a minute to savor what the holidays are all about.  Yes, I was already planning the meals I need to cook, the clothes I will wear, the greetings I will send, the increased security that unfortunately I hope to encounter in every synagogue, the people I will see that I only see for this occasion, the people who sadly left us that I will miss in services, the schedule for walking my dog while we are in Shul, the rescheduling of clients due to the days I won’t work, the first holidays with my kids away from home… I was thinking about so many things but none of them are really about the core of Rosh Ha Shanah and Yom Kippur.
The Rabbi’s call, just as a call from a life coach, focused me right back on target when he greeted me saying “Shanah Tovah Orit”.  The Rabbi’s words brought the apples and honey closer, and provoked the craving for the round sweet challah. Suddenly I understood that it is that time of the year again, when we look deep inside to learn from the year that we are leaving behind, and the time to set goals that will elevate us in so many ways to become better.  A better partner, a better mom or dad to someone, a better neighbor, a better family member, a better friend, a better student, a better co-worker, a better citizen and a better (fill in the blanks), mainly a better version of ourselves and a better human being overall. 
Cheshbon hanefesh,  “an accounting of the soul”, as my husband wisely reminded me when I was telling him about the Rabbi’s call, is what we are invited to do at this time of the year.  How do we do it?  We start by immersing ourselves in a period of introspection, repentance, and reexamining our priorities – Heaven for life coaches!  Today I found myself thinking of where I am and who I am, and setting goals for where and what I want to be a year from now.  My general goal is to become “better” – which to me it means a step further towards fulfillment and living a meaningful life. “Better” to me means ways in which I can make the world a better place and bring fulfillment to the people with whom I interact casually and on a more regular basis.
I invite you to join me and savor the spirit of the High Holidays and the gifts they offer, gifts that go way beyond going to Synagogue or the delicious food that we will be eating soon. Reflect on the past year and the place where you are today.  Write it down. Be honest with yourself. Dream big dreams for yourself. Visualize where you want to be and what you want to be. Expect the best out of you.  Make a plan with small steps, one at a time that will help you get there. Be accountable to yourself, it’s up to you!
My gift to you is a guide of questions that can help you get started with your introspection process. Questions always open doors, and the answers always enlighten.
1) What’s important:  – What’s important to you in life? –What’s the gap between what you are doing and what you love? – How can you narrow the gap? What is working well in your life now?  – What are you living out of your life?  – Why do you think that’s the case?  – What are you putting up with?  – What opportunities did you take up?  -Missed?  – What are the lessons learned? – How do you want to be remembered in life?
2) Life Balance:  – Where are you out of balance?  – If you could do one thing to put balance in your life, what would that be?  – What would you like to have more time to do?  – How are you taking care of your body, soul & mind? Is there anything missing?
3) Relationships/community: – What kind of people did you surround yourself with?   – Who contributed to your life? – How? – What, if anything, would you change about your circle of friends/relationships? – Is there a community that is missing in your life? – What was your contribution to your community and your family? – How well did you listen to people? – Who do you have unfinished business with?
4) Change: – What changes are you going through now?  -What changes do you want to make?  – What do you believe will happen if you make those changes?  – What needs to change for you to make those changes? – Are you resisting changes? – Is there another way? – How?
5) Career/Business:  – What fulfilled you in your career/business? – What’s your vision in your career/business?  – Do you have the right resources? –How can you get them? – How can you get from here to there?
6) Moving forward: – What would you repeat from last year?  – What would you do different? – What moving forward looks like to you?  – What’s stopping you? –What’s beyond that obstacle?  – What will support you in your next steps? – What do you need and how you can get it to move you forward? – What will it take for you to start anew, with a fresh perspective?
Rosh Ha Shanah and coaching go hand in hand, and every coaching conversation connects us with what’s important and helps us practice introspection. Now is the time to set priorities, as well as clear and measurable goals. Find a strategy that will work for you and go for it learning from the “obstacles” that are part of life and moving forward remembering that you are not alone, there are many resources available.
Shanah Tovah Umetukah!  May you have a good and sweet year, a year of constant introspection, rich in questions and answers, a year of personal growth, good health and fulfillment. Yes, it is so much more than the apples and honey!

No Kippahs, No Siddurs: Our First September (Ever!) as a Public School Family

by Deborah Grayson Riegel, MSW, PCC,

Every year for the past three years, our kids’ supply list has included three-ring binders, colored dividers, and calculators. This year is no different.

Every year for the past eight years, our kids’ backpacks have been filled with index cards, highlighters, pencils and tissue boxes. And this year is no different.

Every year for the past 11 years (since my twins were two), their curriculum has been filled with learning in both Hebrew and English, in both secular and Jewish subjects, and their calendar was blocked off for both national and Jewish holidays. Every year my son Jacob has gone off to the first day of school with a kippah on his head, while my daughter Sophie hoped that she could get away without wearing a skirt for Shabbat on Fridays.

But not this year.

For the first time ever, our kids will be attending public school instead of a Jewish preschool or a day school. The decision was deeply personal and painful — the kind that kept me and my husband Michael up many nights wondering if this was the right thing for our children and for our family. What made the choice hardest was that we adored our Jewish day school, we loved the families we shared sports teams and Shabbat dinners with, and we felt like we were a part of a Jewish community that was a warm and wonderful fit for our values and interests. And despite all that, when we really, truly thought about what was best and what was next for our two children (just for our two — not for anybody else’s), the answer in our heart of hearts wasn’t Jewish day school anymore. It had served our children’s and family’s needs beautifully…until it didn’t. The “why” feels irrelevant. The “now what,” however, feels very, very real.

So what’s the big deal? Our kids, like millions of others, will attend their local public schools for the next five years. They’ll make new friends (as will I, my wise daughter re-assured me), they’ll play on new sports teams, they’ll have a quicker commute, more local friends, and (to my son’s delight) they can take meat for lunch. It will be fine.

But I’m not fine. I mean, I know in my heart and my gut that this was the right decision, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not still mourning what we had, and, if I’m being honest, who we were as a Jewish day school family.

What we had was an immediate school community based on shared Jewish values, a collective commitment to putting our money where our morals were, and a hub for social action and the pursuit of justice locally, nationally, in Israel and around the world. What if in our new school all we have in common with the other families is a zip code and complaints about the sanitation department refusing to recycle?  

Who we were was a family that wore its involvement in and commitment to Judaism on its sleeve, across the calendar(s), through its checkbook, in every homework assignment and lunch bag, and more. What if our involvement starts to flag and our commitment begins to wane without the structure that Jewish day school brings?

I recognize the anticipatory anxiety I have now that I didn’t have back when we were a Jewish day school family (was it only this past June?) is partially rooted in wanting to know how we will keep our kids Jewishly educated, active, involved and interested. It is also rooted in the admission I’ve made to myself that making a single monumental choice to send our kids to Jewish day school meant that the parents got to “coast” a little bit Jewishly. It was easy enough for us to say to ourselves, “What else do we need to do here? We’re a day school (AND a Jewish summer camp) family. Isn’t that enough? Dayenu!”

Well, here we are at the start of a new school year, and a new chapter in our lives as a Jewish family. Who knows what it will bring? I can anticipate a few things, of course: Our children will grumble about  Friday school days that go until 3 pm (even in the winter) and they will need to tell their friends during sleepovers and parties that they can’t have the Buffalo wings because they keep kosher. Our children will also be exposed to new subjects and electives that weren’t available to them before, due to the time restraints of a dual Hebrew-English curriculum. The parents will need to actively invite both new friends and old for Shabbat dinners, and will commit to putting up a Sukkah (not me – my husband) even if we’re one of the few families or only family at their new school who does so. We will all need to find ways to discuss what’s happening in Israel on a regular basis, especially since this won’t be a daily discussion at school. We will need to blaze a new path for what we do and who we are as a committed Jewish family without the structure and support of being a day school family. We will all need to learn some new ways of Jewish being, doing, thinking, believing and belonging.

It’s back to school for all of us. In many more ways than we could have imagined.


“Deb has been a respected speaker and facilitator for a number of our JCC conferences over the past few years. While I've heard about her energy, hard work in preparing, and meaningful content, it took her recent keynote speech at our annual JCCs of North America Professional Conference to make me realize what an incredible asset she is. Watching her present a content-filled, energetic, and personalized session -- without using any notes -- was very impressive. Deb is a multi-talented, serious, and impactful presenter."

– Allan Finkelstein, Past President and CEO, JCC Association of North America

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