Simply a “Missed Opportunity” or a Serious Shanda?

My eyes sparkled and my heart felt joy watching this young boy (presumably a resident of South Florida) belt out the Venezuela national anthem (in Spanish of course), wrapped in the flag of Venezuela, wearing a Team Venezuela t-shirt. 


And then, I was sad … and a bit angry.  Because I didn’t see young Jewish kids who were residents of South Florida wrapped in Israeli flags, wearing Team Israel t-shirts belting out the words to HaTikvah in Hebrew.  And I should have.  I should have seen them (and their parents, grandparents, friends, etc), by the thousands, at every one of the four World Baseball Classic Pool games that Team Israel played in (held at loanDepot Park in Miami from March 12-16).  I was at every one of those games and I was shocked and disheartened when the fans in the stadium supporting Team Israel were abysmal in numbers compared to the other teams’ fan base.

Team Israel had a hard tournament pool to be in, not only because these teams are built of mostly MLB players compared to Team Israel’s predominately minor leaguers, but because we were in a pool with all Latin teams who have significant populations of immigrants and immigrant descendants living in Miami and the surrounding areas:  Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Dominican Republic and Nicaragua.  But the Jewish population of this region is nothing to sneeze at either.

According to the 2020 Jewish Population Study, South Florida (Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach) is the 9th largest Jewish community in the U.S and the Jewish community represents 7.9% of the total population in this area (about 481,000 Jewish residents).   If I had to guess, there were less than 2,000 individual Team Israel fans in the stadium collectively over the four games (meaning I count as one even though I attended all our games) which is less than 1% of the local Jewish population and doesn’t Screenshot 2023-03-17 at 12.58.18 AMeven take into account those of us from elsewhere around the country (world) who were in town to specifically cheer on Team Israel. As a Jewish communal professional who has worked full-time in four U.S. communities and as a consultant in dozens more, I cannot wrap my head around the fact that the only “organized group” of Jewish folks in the stands (that I observed) was a small group of day school students at the fourth game on Thursday, March 16.  I don’t understand how the vast majority of my South
Florida friends (all of which work in some capacity in the Jewish community) found out from ME that the World Baseball Classic was happening here and that Team Israel was playing in the original pool games.  Not a single one of these friends could point me to an effort to collectively engage folks in attending the games – no advertising of group sales via a Jewish communal organization, no coordination of buses or group transportation/carpools, no pre-programming built around Team Israel (there are now two documentaries out about their rise to and participation in the the world stage of baseball), no special programs with players or coaches … nothing. [Note:  I found out from my colleague/friend Howard Blas, who was at the games as a freelance journalist for JNS, about one program with a small group of baseball players from a local day school which was held with Team Dominican Republic and Team Israel.]

I feel it is imperative that I point out some specific missed opportunities that the South Florida Jewish community leadership missed out on by not thinking about Team Israel’s participation in the World Baseball Classic as a priority engagement tool and a method of elevating Jewish identity and identification:

Community Building
I was once involved in a Jewish education fellowship where one major component of our cohort learning was the dynamics of “community.” We were challenged to think of all the ways people define community.  I distinctly remember, despite this conversation being in 2009, that during our brainstorming the idea of a sports or music fandom which comes together for an event is a temporary community during the event and also provides for an immediate connection when people meet outside the event.  I can imagine a few ways that attendance at the Team Israel games could have helped Jewish organizations and the greater South Florida Jewish Community to build community.  First, a little friendly ticket sales/participation competition between Jewish organizations, or even between the three major counties, could breed a sense of community identification and pride.  Second, 2023-03-11 23.32.48coordinated bus transportation allows time for folks to chat and make connections during the ride (and especially after the game as they break down their reactions).  Third, shared experience is a strong catalyst for community-building and being together at the game would provide a basis for future relationships and connection based on their group attendance (even just seeing the Israeli flag on a US MLB baseball field is a powerful shared experience).  Fourth, the likelihood that people from one organization will know people from another organization and introduce them to each other.  Fifth, arrangements perhaps could have been made for a pre- or post-event gathering at the stadium or a nearby venue for those in attendance which would promote even more socialization and time to build relationships.

Connections to Israel
In the last few years, there have been dozens of surveys and research pieces conducted on North American Jews of all ages of which the results make Jewish leadership hold their collective heads in their hands and lament about the decreased connection these Jews feel towards Israel – especially young professionals and teens. (Examples of some articles that reference that research here and here.)  As a member of last year’s Maccabi USA Educators’ Cohort, we talked extensively in our training about how to logo_f7157da4176e25c3803d64193ae24351_2xbuild connections to Israel and to Jewish peers via the participants’ passion for sports (check out highlights from Israel Connect). For some young Jews, they don’t have much of a relationship to Judaism and even less to Israel, but they have a passion for sports – particularly baseball.  The World Baseball Classic teams were filled with heroes from most of the MLB teams, and the opportunity to see them play in this unique tournament could have been a significant draw for folks, and then once there, under the auspices of the local Jewish communities, they would see and hear and experience a level of Israeli and Jewish pride, that they would hard-pressed to not be impacted in some way.  There are times when we only see negative images and stories coming from Israel (media bias is real!) and here was an opportunity to see a part of Israel solely through a set of positive lenses.

Exposure to Expressions of Jewish Identification and Jewish Identity
My doctoral dissertation study revolved around Jewish teens who had once been engaged in the Jewish community and through Photo Mar 13 2023, 7 29 55 PMtheir high school years disengaged.  The focus of the study was how they currently express their Jewish identity and Jewish identification (a big distinction that can be found on pages 68-71) and how they anticipate expressions to play out in their futures.  Jewish expression comes in so many forms; for example, for some it comes in the wearing of Judaic jewelry on a regular basis, for some it is connected to observance of traditional Jewish practices, for some it’s about listening to Jewish music, and for others it’s about wearing shirts from Jewish camps or from Israel.  Between sitting the stands with thousands of other Jews – some who
participate in and express Judaism very differently than they do themselves – Jews who don’t regularly express their Judaism in an outward manner would observe hundreds of ways other members of the Jewish community share their connections to Judaism. Screenshot 2023-03-17 at 1.42.49 AM
I observed people wearing Israel regalia of all sorts, some wearing Jewish summer camp sweatshirts, a few Orthodox folks with black kippot, some folks eating food from the kosher grill (yes, that’s a thing at loanDepot Park), a few waving Israeli flags and some who knew the words singing along with HaTikvah, HavaNagila and some modern Hebrew pop music that was intermittently played in the stadium from the loud speakers.  The players Screenshot 2023-03-17 at 1.42.21 AM
had on custom made cleats that pitcher Alex Katz designed. One of the most impactful moments of the Team Israel WBC experience, is watching the team line up for the playing of the Israeli National Anthem, HaTikvah.  Whenever I attend a public event and the crowd is asked to remove their caps for the singing of Star Spangled Banner, I leave my hat on (most of the time a Cardinals’ baseball hat) because in Jewish life, the covering of our heads is a sign of reverence. IMG_2027If you were at the games you would see the two opposing teams lined up on opposite baselines and when the other team’s anthem is played, our Israel team members remove their caps, but when HaTikvah is played they either put on their ball caps OR they put on their
Team Israel kippot (I have to find a way to get one of those!).  Seeing Kevin Youklis, who played for four MLB teams and had a significant career, stand with YouklisPhoto Mar 11 2023, 11 49 24 PMrespect and connection to the playing of HaTikvah, his head adorned with a special kippah, has an impact on those who witness this.  Whenever celebrities openly and positively express their Judaism, in any way, it has an impact on the Jewish community as a whole.  Exposing Jews who may not otherwise be in the presence of such bold and open expression of Jewish identity feels like a horrible missed opportunity.

Jewish Joy and Celebration
Speaking of HavaNagila … there wasn’t a single game in the tournament that the fans from the opposing team didn’t break out in music and song – dancing in the aisles, engaging in songs of heritage and inherited culture.  Here is some video of two different games (meaning representing two different Latin countries) where folks who had brought musical instruments found each other in the stadium and created instant jam bands (and marching bands).

We didn’t have one single outbreak of signing Am Yisrael Chai, not one hora in the aisles, not one shofar blow, grogger swing or one public celebration of our Jewish collective culture.  Witnessing the joy and celebration, the collective national pride, the passing of and role modeling of culture from one generation to the next was so infectious, but it was so sad that there wasn’t a drop from MY culture to participate in and not enough of our “tribe” in the stands to even start it.

Public Jewish Pride in a Time of Abundant
Public Antisemitism and AntiZionism

We are in desperate need of opportunities to express collective Jewish joy and to openly display our love of Judaism and our connections to Israel. I don’t need to go into detail the horrific global rise in antisemitism (JewHatred) and the ongoing attack on2023-03-13 07.06.00 Israel and Zionism – we all know that it has been an incredibly rough and shocking 7ish years as it relates to these attacks on our community. I have heard repeatedly from Jews all over the world – Jews who are active and connected to their Jewish identity and Jewish community – say that they are no longer wearing Jewish-identifiying clothing/jewelry in public, and are avoiding any conversations of Israel in mixed crowds. The teens I interviewed for my dissertation (and those I taught in religious schools over those same years) all shared that they are almost immune to seeing swastikas and other JewHatred graffiti in their schools because it’s everywhere. So when we have an opportunity to come together, engage in something solely positive as it relates to Israel, do so in a very public way (hello Fox Sports 1 and international broadcasting), how could the South Florida Jewish community miss out on the path to walk through this wide open door?

Education of Aliyah, Dual Citizenship, Right of Return
I am super lucky to live in a city where I can participate in one of the largest Jewish film festivals (the largest maybe).  In 2018, Screenshot 2023-03-16 at 1.10.33 AMwhen my friends (who are just as baseball-obsessed) and I learned that there was a World Premier of a documentary about the Israel national baseball team, we all jumped at the chance to attend.  We LOVED watching Heading Home and its the moment that my connection to this team ignited. I began following some of the players on social media, and continued to look for stories about the team.  One of the most impactful parts of the movie, is the shadowing of the team management and players (and their families) as they worked to establish their Jewish heritage for the purposes of establishing citizenship.  This section of the movie alone offers an amazing “trigger” for educators to facilitate learning around the Right of Return, the ins and outs of dual citizenship, and the process of Aliyah.   Every Jewish organization should have had viewing parties of this movie ahead of the WBC (or the larger communities should have rented out movie theaters for showings) and then facilitated age-appropriate discussions around contents of the movie, specifically this idea of Jewish heritage being a direct link to Israeli citizenship (as well as the issues around patrilineal descent, non-Orthodox conversions, Conversos, etc).

Screenshot 2023-03-16 at 11.52.45 PMBecause of that awesome first premier, the filmmakers decided to premier their second documentary, Israel Swings for Gold, just a few weeks ago at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival.  This second film follows the team as they participate in the Tokyo Olympics.  During this film, the filmmakers also document a part of the aliyah process, but more educationally important, they highlight disheartening issues of antiZionsim and team security.  The movie is currently in selected release, but again, the communities in South Florida could have arranged mass post-WBC screenings and facilitated post-viewing processing.

Jewish Decision-Making
How long can we hold up Sandy Koufax as the epitome of Jewish decision-making?  This generation needs new role models to help them consider when and how they use their Jewish values and Jewish traditions to shape their choices.  I have no idea what most of the team members will do when faced to choose between their career and passion and their Screenshot 2023-03-17 at 1.21.28 AMfaith tradition, but I do know that pitcher Jacob Steinmetz is the first Orthodox Jew to be drafted into the MLB (Arizona Diamondbacks) and will have a lot of Jewish decision-making ahead of him (Photo taken from his Twitter account).  Introducing him to younger generations of Jews now allows them to follow his career and keep an eye out for what and when he will have to make these choices.  Not only will he have to navigate working on Shabbat and Chagim, but if he moves to Arizona, will he live within walking distance of an Orthodox shul?  How will the team manage kosher meals for him (if that’t important to him)?  What does maarit ayin mean to him given his new celebrity status?  The Jewish decision-making does not solely rest on Steinmetz’ shoulders, there are so many choices each of the Team Israel members have had to make (and will continue to make) based just on their desire to be on the team:  Do they respond to criticism’s of Israel on their own social media? Do THEY publicly criticize Israel/Israeli leadership if they don’t agree with something?  Will they take future endorsement opportunities from companies that are engaged in BDS? What will they do about major Jewish holidays and baseball conflicts?  The best way for the Jewish community to get to know the names of the Team Israel players and their current career placements was to be at the games, and the best way for the Jewish community to elevate these men as role models in Jewish decision-making was to make the connection between the public and the team.

Ability to Support Israelis (even when we are at odds with the government leadership)
Let’s be honest, things in Israel are SUPER ugly right now.  While I was sitting in the stands cheering on Team Israel, many of my friends and colleagues were participating in mass protests across Israel (and in some US cities). I have been openly critical of 2023-03-14 18.26.45Israel and the future of Israel-Palestine (blogs here and here) which have sometimes put me toe-to-toe on opposing viewpoints with people I often otherwise align with.  But for a few hours each day of the WBC tournament, I was all-in on Israel, I had come prepared with different Israel shirts to last to the finals (I know, super hopeful!), two different masks, Team Israel hats, blue Sharpies and a Team Israel baseball in case I could get autographs. The few fans in the stands who were there to cheer on Team Israel put all of our political differences aside and had one common goal, show the guys on the field that they were supported and that we too felt pride in a connection to our Holy Land.  The politically diverse Jewish community of South Florida could have used this unique unifying opportunity to come together to support Israel.

The Ripple Effect
This isn’t just about the impact in South Florida, but about the influence those in South Florida have on friends and family across the globe.  Imagine thousands of adult Jews – some of which have very little Jewish expression in any of their social media – all of the sudden are posting positive images of a loud and proud Jewish community celebrating Team Israel, their own individual Jewish identification, and a collective heritage and culture. The impact possibilities are endless.

Turns Out I’m Not the Only One
Not only did I notice the abysmal turnout of support for Team Israel, but TEAM ISRAEL also noticed the lack of support from the local Jewish community. As mentioned before, my friend Howard Blas is a freelance journalist with JNS. In his discussions with Jordy Alter, President of the Israel Association of Baseball, similar disappointment came up.  Howard put me in touch with Jordy, Screenshot 2023-03-18 at 12.51.59 PMwho graciously shared his thoughts with me, and in doing so uncovered some more missed opportunities.  “From my personal and organizational perspective the turnout in Miami, as well as Jupiter and West Palm (in pre-tournament exhibition play) was extremely disappointing. Our organization actually requested (not sure that was the deciding factor) from MLB to be seeded in Miami. Our thoughts were that, even though the competition would be stiffer, the benefits to having the local community turnout would outweigh increased level of competition.”  He continued, “I don’t mean to say that a better turnout of fans would have provided a better result, I believe a better turnout of fans would have benefitted the local and global Jewish communities!!”

The dense Jewish population in South Florida that I sourced earlier leads to greater disappointment if the location of the games had not been somewhere where this was the case.  Jordy stated, “It’s inconceivable that the [this Jewish community] struggled to be visible in the stadium. I believe, with the exception of the high noon game on Sunday with Nicaragua,  the other games had less than 1,000 fans. Especially if you exclude the 300 tickets our organization, the IAB, provided to our friends and families.”   He then compared this drastically small turnout to that the team witnessed competing in Asia. “In 2017, when we had the privilege to compete in South Korea, the Jewish presence was much more evident! How ironic. In fact, after we beat the south Koreans in the first game, the local fans turned out in support of team Israel together with those that traveled to Seoul.”

Clearly Jordy feels as I do, that this moment to embrace Jewish and Israeli pride is even more important given the antisemitic and antiZioninistic world climate today. He shared, “With all the negatively in OUR world today, the blatant antisemitism, the judicial reform nightmare in Israel,  how can a local community not turn out proudly to hear the Hatikvah projected worldwide with athletes representing OUR country and wearing it on their chests?”  Jordy also compared it to the vast difference in the opposing team fan base energy and joy. “Perhaps we can learn a lot from the Latin countries about pride in our country,” he said.

20230307_100849And then, Jordy shared with me a bit more that led to even more Jewish identity building experiences left untapped: Jewish Celebrations and Pluralism.  “In addition to baseball these past 12 days we as a team celebrated Purim and Shabbat together,” he said.  Which then brings me to another bullet point of programs that the local Jewish community could have (absolutely should have) facilitated with Team Israel.  There was a tremendous opportunity to explore pluralism 20230307_095503(non-denomination Jewish ritual experiences) and to share stories of their own childhood and adult Purim celebrations between team players/staff and local Jewish residents. A community-20230307_100406Purim experience with the team could have led to some fantastic learning and laughter.  In addition, there is no reason that team members couldn’t have had home-hosted Shabbat meals (or overnights) or even a mini-Shabbaton
at the team hotel designed with local leadership (I think about the many Limmud Shabbat-based retreats I have participated in and what wonderful learning and memories I take from them.)

What I took away most from Jordy, was that the non-Jewish community worked closer with the team to develop learning opportunities than Jewish community.  “We signed an agreement with the DR (Dominican Republic) federation, in the DR consulate, enabling us to get support and help from the DR in continuing to grow baseball in Israel. We hosted a ceremony with The Philos Project, a Christian zionist organization, against antisemitism.  To that event we brought Israel team Manager Ian Kinsler, MLB starting Pitcher Dean Kremer, DR living legend Nelson Cruz and Nationals third baseman, Jaimar Candelario,” he said.

Jordy summed up our dialogue this way:  “We will think long and hard about our requests of MLB in the future.”

So …. just a lot of “missed opportunity” or a TOTAL SHANDA?!?

I for one believe this was a total shanda.  We embarrassed ourselves on a world stage, we let down the team itself, and the local Jewish community completely lost out on an incredible opportunity to elevate Jewish connections, identification and identity development. I sincerely hope that when Team Israel plays in the 2026 WBC (yes, they qualified!) that whatever local Jewish communities are lucky enough to have the games in their proverbial backyard, do not repeat the same disheartening mistakes.

Until 120

Until 120.  Ad Me’ah v’Esrim.

עד מאה ועשרים

This one-line blessing is commonly wished to someone on their birthday.  But why?

The number 120 as it relates to a person’s age is mentioned a few times in classic Jewish texts.  Most know it as it relates to Moses where in Deuteronomy 34:7 it says, “Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died; his eyes were undimmed and his vigor unabated.”  Commentators believe that the text is clear that Moses lived a full, healthy life until the day he turned 120, and that he died on that 120th birthday. The Talmud and the rabbis within share a bit more insight into Moses living “ad 120”

Sotah 13b
The verse relates what Moses said to the Jewish people at the end of his life: “And he said to them: I am a hundred and twenty years old this day; I can no longer go out and come in; and the Lord has said to me: You shall not go over this Jordan” (Deuteronomy 31:2). The wording is problematic, as there is no need for the verse to state the term “this day.” Moses said it in order to indicate: On this day, my days and years have been completed to be precisely one hundred and twenty, in order to teach you that the Holy One, Blessed be He, completes the years of the righteous from day to day and from month to month, as it is written: “The number of your days I will fill” (Exodus 23:26), indicating that the righteous will live out their years fully.


A Different “Meah v’Esrim”

We know that despite wishing our loved ones a blessing of living a full and complete life until their 120th year, that is is not likely to be fulfilled.  Friday, February 3, 2023 marks 120 days since my mother passed away.   She lived:

  • 78 years, 2 months, 22 days
  • 4081 weeks and 6 days
  • 28,573 days

This is the accounting of Carol Faintich’s full and complete life. And I could articulate endlessly about that life, but for now, I want to focus on the significance of 120 to me – what I have learned, experienced, and felt during this mark of time.


As Grover would say: “Inside. Outside.” “Near. Far.”  “Here. There.”

I think more than anything the last 120 days, I have learned exactly who is INSIDE and who is OUTSIDE the circle of people who will stand by me through anything.  And I have to say, it’s been a bit surprising in many cases.  People who I assumed would very much be inside the day-to-day, have often been incredibly outside my circle as I have been managing the estate, cleaning out the family home of 50 years, traversing my grief journey, and managing my emotional and physical needs,

Community (עֵדָה, קְהִלָה, קִרבָה). 

Hebrew is an incredible language and it’s important to consider how the words in the ancient language describe different kinds of people who surround us.

Most people automatically translate community to kehillah.  Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks (z’l) wrote a profound piece called Three Types of Community.  In it he describes kehillah in that “it gathers together the distinct and separate contributions of many individuals, so that each can say, ‘I helped to make this.'” For me, it has been a profound experience to see different people from incredibly different aspects of my life come together, get to know each other, build relationships with each other, all through the work of taking care of me.  Seeing my dearest friends from Atlanta now interact with my dearest friends from Dallas, and communicate with my friends and family in St. Louis has been a source of joy for me in a very difficult time. Being able to talk to one person about another’s contribution to my life and now they KNOW each other, has expanded my heart in ways I couldn’t imagine.

But another type of community is edah. The root of this word is “ed” which in Hebrew means “witness.”  As someone who has been single for the entirety of her adulthood, it has been my parents, and the last 13 years my mom, who have bared witness to almost every detail of my life.  So in the last 120 days, it has been this collective of people who have bared witness to every trial and tribulation that I have endured.  They have witnessed moments of joy, moments of discovery, moments of curiosity and accomplishment.  And again, in some cases it has been surprising as to who has stepped up to bare witness and who has stepped back, having very little first-hand knowledge of the journey I have been on.

I translated above a third Hebrew word for community and that is kirvah. This kind of community is defined by proximity and closeness.  Through the last 120 days, I have been reminded repeatedly that geography doesn’t define closeness nor proximity and that sometimes those living the closest are indeed the furthest away.  As a result of having a large extended family as well as moving around the country the last 25 years, and nourishing a career with international tentacles,  I have people in every corner of globe who know me.  Through the blessing that is technology (and sometimes the curse), those who are inside my circle have not let geography impact proximity nor closeness.  And for many of those who are outside my circle the last 120 days, they don’t even have an excuse of time zones or thousands of miles as a reason for being more than an arms-length from me. 

Partners (שתופים).

For those that know me well, you know that I am “an accident waiting to happen.”  I am notorious for ER visits and up until my mom died, she was always the first phone call.

Me from the ER after initial triage:  “Hey mom. I’m okay, but ….”

Her: “Which body part? How soon do I need to be on a plane? Who is with you?”

Leave it to me to land myself in an ER only eight days after my mom passing when I shattered my left ankle which required surgery. How very lucky am I that within the inside circle that I have partners who, because of physical proximity and a deep desire to “get their hands dirty,” dived right in and helped physically with so much.  The first team of seven people (some who didn’t know each other prior to this) managed to coordinate a ton of logistics to get me back to St. Louis (yes, I was on a brief visit in Atlanta when I managed this special trick) within 24 hours of injury where they handed me off to another team in St. Louis who have provided meals, helped with medical care and personal assistance, run errands, done housework, assisted with paperwork, and schlepped me all over.  My mom has always been the person to do all of this when I am in medical crisis and all of the sudden, within eight days of losing her, I find myself desperately needing her.  These people are partners without whom I would have had to enter a skilled nursing facility and delay my return to my life in Atlanta even longer.  And it bears repeating, there have been a few surprises the last 120 days – both on who jumped to be a partner and who turned their back.


Home of Origin (בית אבות).

Photo Feb 03 2023, 1 11 59 AMThis physical home in Olivette, Missouri (a suburb of St. Louis), has been our family home for 50 years (as of August 2022).

 I am responsible for cleaning it out, determining what gets donated, what gets passed to other family and friends, what gets sold, what gets shredded, what gets recycled, what gets tossed (I hate putting things in the landfill). Through this process I have learned so much.

I have learned some wild family history: I found my maternal grandfather’s diary of when he and my grandmother dated and learned they “made real love” very early in their courtship (not sure I wanted to know that!); I learned my paternal grandfather flew planes at one point in his life and he was also very involved in local and regional Masonic Lodge activities; and I learned my parents put down $500 escrow for this home in 1972.  

The process has forced me to discover an even deeper sense of self: how I feel about material items, what I have sentimental connections to and what I don’t care about.  It has reinforced my desire to help as many people as I can and value that over personal monetary benefit and the clean-out has driven deeper my priority commitment to the environment versus convenience of time and efficiency. 

In the last 120 days, I have learned what are the best ways to dispose of old photos (it’s actually quite difficult and horrible for the environment); I have learned a tremendous amount about non-profits in St. Louis; I have gained knowledge about vinyl and shellac records, real silver coins and wheat pennies, the estate sale business, on-line sales as a profession (like eBay, Facebook Marketplace and Nextdoor); and I have learned how to pull property sales records for the county. 

When this home of origin is empty of the physical items it has held for the last 50 years, I will turn the keys over to a developer who will bulldoze it. The land in this neighborhood has become quite valuable over the last two decades and instead of modest ranch homes, million-dollar homes now dominate the properties (one is currently listed for $1.8m).

But, the thing I have learned that hits the hardest as a part of the grief journey, is about my need to now redefine “home.”  As someone who has lived all over the country, home has been two places since 1991: wherever the bulk of my daily belongings are and this house. And since 1998, I have added “wherever my pets live” and this house.  If the timeline plays out, by June 1st,  I will no longer have this house to call “home.”  But even moreso, I haven’t had the hugs that have defined this home in 120 days and I never will again.  Today I uncovered both of these chotckies about four minutes apart (one a hanging sign and one a magnet) and it destroyed me – 120 days of grief (mostly bottled up) erupted.  I spent much of the morning asking: where are the hugs now? 


Honor (כבוד).

In the last 120 days, I have spent so much time in my head and my heart trying to figure out: “Am I honoring her wishes? Am I honoring her value system? Am I honoring her life? Am I honoring the integrity of (insert material item from the house)?”  I have had to sometimes weigh my needs and values against hers and sometimes selfishly put my own as a priority.  There have been moments where I have looked at a piece of furniture or a book or a piece of jewelry and forced myself to consider how to honor its legacy the best that I can while honoring my future (this framing came at the advice of a professional organizer who also helps with downsizing and home clean-outs).  While there is so much that I can say with ease, “donate that to….” there is also a tremendous overwhelming amount of items that I have to have that internal heart and head struggle.


The To-Do List

In the last 120 days, I have had a never-ending to-do list filled with meetings at banks, with the estate attorney, at the social security office, with notaries, and with the financial advisors. I have been on-hold for extended periods for more time than my patience “string is long.” I have learned about RMD’s (Required Minimum Distributions from inherited IRA accounts), I have learned about setting up sub-trusts with EINs, and I am now very familiar with Missouri’s 529 College Savings system.  This is the stuff no one truly even wants to learn about (unless they are working towards becoming an estate attorney).  But I can’t ignore that this has been a major part of the last 120 days.  


Until 120.

Within Judaism, time and milestones are marked in very sacred ways. Within the Jewish mourning timeline, we have seven days of shiva and 30 days of shloshim and, when honoring a parent, we are in aveylut (mourning) for 11 months. However, within the Jewish mourning period, 120 days isn’t marked by anything. But I think 120 is significant in that it’s traditionally tied to a person’s life accomplishments through the story of Moshe, and when you become a mourner, you immediately begin a new normal and you are thrust into a new version of yourself.  So at 120 days, I believe it is important to reflect on what you have learned and who you have become as a result. It is also a milestone to say, “I can do hard things. I’ve made it this far.”  I couldn’t have imagined when I walked out of my mom’s hospital room what the next four months would bring (I honestly thought I would already be back in Atlanta full-time), and as I reflect on this finite period of time, I am so very grateful for the community (all versions of it) and the partners who have held my hand. 


For previous articles in this series about my journey as caretaker, loss and grief:
Sacred Time and Silver Linings
The Perfect Storm


The Perfect Storm

Ninety days ago (Oct 10, 2022), I wrote this blog entitled “Sacred Time and Silver Linings” about what led to me
putting Reduced photo me mom may 22JewishGPS’ work on hold, and my entire life on hold, and “temporarily” moving the last few years. In it, I mentioned that at some point I would write about the “Perfect Storm” that allows a person to pause their life in order to serve as primary caretaker for a terminally ill loved one. Now that I am 95 days out of burying my mother, I felt it was time to share about that “Perfect Storm.”

Financial Freedom

Whenever I would speak to my therapist throughout my time of caretaking my mom, she would ask me, “What are you Grateful for?” (This is actually apart of an exercise we do almost weekly called SO GLAD – check bottom of post for explanation). Each time I would say to her the exact same thing, “I am grateful that my parents worked hard, saved, and strategically invested so that I could afford to put my consulting business on hold, keep my house in ATL, and be here.” The reality is, I could have sold my house (let’s be honest, the market was oddly going through the roof throughout the time I was here), but I wasn’t forced to. My family’s financial wherewithal is a gift that few have and it was a gift to our entire family that my parents could have never foreseen in their years of working and saving. So, the first ingredient in the recipe for the “Perfect Storm” of caregiving, is the financial security to do it.

Physical Health

Okay, so what are the odds that four days after writing my last blog that I would shatter my left ankle and need my own caregiving Screenshot 2023-01-11 at 2.07.52 AM
for the last few months?!?! But it proves my second point even more than I could have articulated prior to this latest bump in the road. If for any reason, I had a physical challenge, a mobility challenge, a physical strength challenge, an invisible health challenge – I could not have taken care of my mom the way I did. As it was, I had a few medical challenges during my time in St. Louis including a an emergency appendix removal, a severe case of Covid (after three vaccines, double-masking and I caught it eating outdoors Dec 2021), and two major post-Covid health issues (cardiac and allergy). But, the vast majority of the 2.5 years here, I was healthy enough and had enough energy to take care of her and be aware of her needs 24-hours a day. I am thankful for respite care workers whom we engaged in May 2022 to give me some reprieve here and there, but the majority of the time, it was all on me. Some of you are aware of the personal health journey I embarked on Summer 2018 and that by the time I was taking care of my mom, I had lost over 100 lbs (with more to go). I cannot imagine that I would have been able to take care of her and this house if I had been 100 lbs heavier. And certainly, with the full immobility of a broken ankle, surgery and long recovery, I absolutely would have been zero help to her in my current state. So, the second ingredient in the recipe for the “Perfect Storm” of caregiving, is the physical ability do it.

Mental Health

If you have been following my blog for some time, you may remember my post in April 2014 called, “Zeh Lo Pashut – This is Not Simple” where I revealed a relatively new diagnosis of moderate clinical depression (and I don’t think I even mentioned then about a joint diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder and ADD). There is no doubt in my mind that I am so lucky to have found the mental health team I did back then, and that I STILL work with them consistently. Covid gave me the silver lining (another piece of SO GLAD) of virtual mental health because I was able to continuously meet with my therapist and psychiatrist while awayScreenshot 2023-01-11 at 1.58.58 AM from Atlanta. I am also so lucky that the two of them are amazing and that while it took more than a couple of years to find the right medicine cocktail (and the right coping strategies), that I arrived in St. Louis fully functioning with my mental health stable. Had my mom’s illness occurred back in mid/late 2013 or any time 2014 and early 2015, there were be no way for me to have been able to help her. I couldn’t get off the couch to take care of myself, much less another person. And managing the continually difficult news from her illness would have sent me deeper and deeper into hiding. Mental health is just as critical to this “Perfect Storm” as physical health is. Caretaking a loved one is brutal and it cannot be taken lightly – the caretaker will be impacted – often and deeply – through the journey. It’s critical that caretakers remember self-care, and that includes emotional health, and that they are honest when it has gotten to be too much, or if they aren’t in a stable emotional place to even start as a caretaker. This doesn’t mean a caretaker cannot show emotion to their loved one, but it does mean they have to process their emotions with others, and be able overcome the anxiety in the critical moments. I remember one particular rough night when my anxiety was out of control, but I knew I couldn’t take anything to relax me to the point of not being able to make critical medical decisions on her behalf. That is a hard place to be in, but thanks to the tools my mental health team has given me over the years, I was able to manage it. So, the third ingredient in the recipe for the “Perfect Storm” of caregiving, is the emotional ability and mental health stability to do it.

The Intellectual Capacity

When you are the primary caretaker of someone with a terminal illness, and you have zero medical or science background in your repertoire [I am not THAT kind of doctor!], you at least need to have the mental acuity to take all the information in, remember most of it, and understand a significant portion of it. While Google is your friend, it can also be your enemy, so you have to have the critical thinking skills to be able to navigate source evaluation, comparative data, and bias. A caretaker needs to be able to help their loved one formulate hundreds of questions, process what they hear, develop follow-up questions, and be able to extrapolate the information. And that is all before being able to monitor and interpret test results, manage many new often-changing medicines, and keep straight which doctor to call for what symptom. And while on-line medical portals are helpful and digital calendars at our fingertips are lifesavers, a caretaker really does need to be able to keep all the different medical appointments straight in their head. I find it a pure miracle we never missed a doctor’s appointment and never showed up at the wrong doctor on any given day. I am now an “expert” in so many things I never wanted to be or imagined I would be, but I can sincerely offer to anyone the ability to help them navigate the hepatic cancer waters. So, the fourth ingredient in the recipe for the “Perfect Storm” of caregiving, is the intellectual ability to process all of the medical information rapidly coming at you and your loved one, and make sound critical – life and death decisions – every day.

The “Stomach” for it

Caretaking a terminally ill loved one isn’t for the faint of heart. There are bodily fluids and medical procedures that any caretaker will be likely be responsible for or witness to. I learned how to give injections of various sorts, flush and de-access chemo ports, Screenshot 2023-01-11 at 2.01.15 AMgive IV/port fluids, manage bleeding from otherwise minor cuts made significant by blood thinners. And, while protecting the dignity of my mother, it is important to mention the different sicknesses she experienced and often needed help managing. There is no judgement for people who can’t stomach these things – and quite honestly – I didn’t know if I had it in me (I’ve always been the camp leader who said they would deal with blood and broken bones but never loose teeth or puke!), but somehow, I managed my own reactions each and every time I encountered a new medical challenge I had to take care of. So, the fifth ingredient in the recipe for the “Perfect Storm” of caregiving, is the “stomach” for the sometimes nasty and often difficult side of caregiving.

Compassion and Patience

If you managed to get through this checklist so far and think everything is aligned, you have to be honest with yourself – very, very honest. Do you have the compassion and patience to take care of a loved one who is changing every day. Who is sometimes angry, sometimes scared, sometimes sad, sometimes frustrated, sometimes confused (physically as a side effect or emotionally or intellectually), and in the end taking it all out on you? In an episode of dehydration induced confusion, my mom was yelling at me, telling me I was trying to trick her, was convinced I was going to abandon her in an emergency room if I took her there to get help … and through it all, I had to hug her, and hold her hand, and tell her I loved her, and remind her that my number one job is to keep her safe (something we told my nephews often since they were very little). Watching a loved one suffer is brutal, and as hard as it is on you, a caretaker has to remember what the person experiencing it all first-hand is going through. Yes, sometimes the caretaker needs to walk away for a moment (or a few hours, or a weekend!), but in the end, if you are a person whose personality isn’t imbued with compassion and patience, then I don’t recommend serving as a caregiver for a loved one. It is better to admit upfront that this isn’t a part of your genetic makeup, then to create a major rift between you and loved one because it wasn’t something you were built for and tried to do it and couldn’t. This is one time where “fail forward” isn’t an option. So, the sixth ingredient in the recipe for the “Perfect Storm” of caregiving, is a personality with built-in compassion and extreme patience.


There is not a single person who should be judged if they have all of the above explained traits and still don’t want to take on the role as a primary caregiver for a loved one. You have to want to say “yes” and not be guilted into it or forced into it. It’s that simple. And if you agree to take on the role and at some point it becomes too much or another competing priority is taking precedent, then you have to change your “yes” to a “no” – giving the adjacent family and friends some reasonable time to transition to a new caretaker or a team of caretakers. Again, I would beg anyone to not judge another for either stepping out or for not agreeing to step in from the beginning. So, the final ingredient in the recipe for the “Perfect Storm” of caregiving, is the willingness to say “Yes.”


Having all of the ingredients is a gift. I am blessed to have been able to step into this role as primary caretaker and put the rest of my life on hold. I have now transitioned to the role of estate executor/trustee and am responsible for cleaning out my family home of 50 years while resolving all the legal and financial matters that come along with a person’s well-lived life. I am choosing to stay here in St. Louis until the last item is out of the house (with a few much-needed vacations sprinkled in here and there) but I am also very much ready to get back to my career. I love being a Jewish educator and I get so energized when speaking with people about the field in the meta and the practices in the micro. I desperately miss my colleagues across the world and I miss the learners of all ages. (Not to mention some major conference FOMO the last year as the in-person gatherings have begun to emerge.) And as I mentioned before, I am still recovering from that very unfortunate ankle break (violation of the bones, obliteration of the joint, demolishing of the structure), actively engaged in PT, and very, very much the patient now being forced to allow others to serve as caretakers (a huge tribe of them!).

S.O. G.LA.D.

Silver Lining SO GLAD

Delighted In

Sacred Time and Silver Linings

Some might have been wondering why JewishGPS and this blog went silent for many months. Out of respect for my mom’s privacy, her heroic battle against cancer (diagnosed June 2021) was never shared on social media and never talked about in public spaces. As a result, my role as primary live-in caregiver was also not public. Carol Faintich took her last breath a little before 2 a.m. on Thursday, October 6, 2022 with me holding her hand and whispering “pleasant dreams forever” into her ear.

I defended my doctoral dissertation March 4, 2020 and as you are all aware, this pesky thing called a global pandemic hit about a week later. JewishGPS’s work mostly came to a screeching halt and I had no opportunity to leverage my newly minted EdD. By mid-summer 2020, it became clear that my teen nephews were going to be virtual schooling for the foreseeable future, and with a full-time teacher mother, they would need extra support in their academics. So August 19, 2020, I loaded my car in ATL with basic items and my cats and we “temporarily” relocated to my mom’s home in St. Louis.

Fast forward to the end of May 2021, and our family had a successful closing-of-the-school-year celebration. Five out of six of our family bubble members already had a dose of the vaccine and the sixth was scheduled for mid-June. I started packing up for my return to ATL when we accidentally discovered my mom had a malignant gallbladder tumor.

My parents taught us, and more importantly role modeled for us, the value of family and unconditional love. There was no question that I was going to stay in St. Louis and stand with my mom through this journey. I promised her that I would do four things:

  • Keep her safe. Pikuach Nefesh and Shmirat haGuf. I promised to go to every medical appointment, help her process information, keep track of all of her medications, manage her care at every level, make her home physically safe for her, and advocate for her as hard as I could.
  • Protect her dignity. Kavod Habriyot. When a person goes through cancer treatment and a decline from the impacts of cancer, so much of their basic independence and dignity are infringed on. I wanted to be sure that even in the moments we (her paid caregivers, medical staff and I) had to physically expose her body in uncomfortable ways, that we were emotionally “keeping her covered.”
  • Stand with her. Lo Ta’amod, Bikkur Cholim and Rachamim. While there is no way to physically take the burden and pain from her, I wanted her to know that she would never experience discomfort and fear alone. I promised to hold her hand – physically and metaphorically – every moment that I possibly could.
  • Elevate every “good” moment. Hiddur Mitzvah, Hakarat HaTov, Shalshelet Hamesorah, and V’samachta B’chagecha. From the first day of her diagnosis, it was imperative for us (along with her grandchildren) to take advantage of her “good” days (eventually only moments) and maximize them to the fullest. Sometimes those were framed in Jewish celebrations (Shabbat and holy days) and sometimes they were in the mundane of watching our favorite sports team or visiting a park.

Perhaps more than anything else, my commitment to elevating her good moments gave us so many silver linings embedded in this very difficult experience.

Growing up, bringing in Shabbat as a family was very hit or miss and when it happened, it was always with a last-minute store-bought challah. Every Shabbat since September 11, 2020 we marked Shabbat together (most of the time just with us, sometimes with others) with a homemade challah, sweet wine or juice, and candle lighting (even if with electric candles and even if over FaceTime).

Our family has a strong commitment to the St. Louis Cardinals, and while my mom didn’t make it to any games in-person, we watched dozens (hundreds) of games together since my arrival in Fall 2020. Any time I would be at a game in the stadium, I would FaceTime her at least once so she could join in the spirit of the crowd.

Three of the best days she had this past summer were the birthdays of her two grandsons and her birthday. Jack’s birthday in June marked his 16th. We ordered dinner to the house and the boys brought over their cornhole set. While the boys had to hold onto MeMe’s pants so she didn’t fall over while tossing the bean bag, she joyfully engaged in the game. Her 78th birthday in July involved lots of immediate family time (a hysterically funny game of family edition Cards Against Humanity and dinner ordered from a favorite restaurant) and concluded with a surprise dessert party for her in her yard with her closest family and a few friends. Evan’s 18th birthday in August included dinner on the patio of a family favorite restaurant (a place we celebrated her 70th birthday and many other simchas over the years). She had eaten out of the house (always outdoors) only a handful of times since pre-Covid.

By the time Rosh haShanah 5783 rolled around, she could barely eat. But she came to the table and had a sip of juice, a bite of apple and honey, a bite of challah, a small bowl of soup and a 1/4th of a matzo ball and two bites of brisket. But she was determined to be present for this holy day meal.

(continue reading after photos)

Two Jewish obligations (mitzvot) framed this entire experience: Hiddur P’nei Zaken (honoring the elderly) and Kibbud Av V’Am (honoring parents). For me, taking the time away from my home in Atlanta and my career was a no-brainer but I want to acknowledge that Judaism actually required it of me. At some point I will write a more robust blog about the “perfect storm” that allows a person to stop their life to take care of a loved one, but at the end if all things align, we ARE OBLIGATED.

My mother’s funeral was Friday, October 8 and we honored her memory and her legacy through our truncated shiva (thanks to Sukkot) in ways that I couldn’t even have imagined. What I know is that beyond the traditional Jewish ways to remember someone, one of the best ways I can honor her is to pursue my life fiercely. It will take me some time to close out the affairs in St. Louis (her home of 50 years) and to then do some “Robyn Reset” traveling (during which she will be deeply remembered and honored as it’s something we did together), but my goal is to pursue my health journey, my social journey (where is my b’shert?) and my career journey with the gusto my mom would have wanted.

Donations in Carol’s memory can be made to Saul Spielberg Early Childhood Center at United Hebrew Congregation, KidSmart, ReadyReaders, or OASIS Tutoring.

System Shutdown for Emergency Maintenance

I wrote this first piece late on Sunday night (12/5/2021) and shared it to my Facebook page, LinkedIn, and Instagram. Little did I know the reaction it would receive and therefore feel that I need to elaborate even more.

I made a mistake and burned my candle at both ends and up the middle for weeks and weeks and weeks: physically and emotionally. And my body got so vulnerable that when I got a basic sinus infection, I just couldn’t function. I am headed into week three of being sick. Of sleeping more than being awake. My body can’t fight this infection - even with the help of meds - in a timely fashion. And my job and family have suffered. (Not to mention canceling any social plans I had since before Thanksgiving.)

I’ve been forced to “disappear” and to be honest, I feel guilty as hell. My anxiety is sometimes worse than the sinus stuff because of letting down clients and family. It’s a vicious cycle and I’m not out of it yet. I’m sharing this very publicly because I’ve taken a stand for many years to #endthestigma . I always want to do it all - and to it all with near perfection. And this time, I failed miserably - in every way. 

I write this as Sunday evening is coming to a close – as I’m overwhelmed about facing another work week feeling sick and knowing I won’t be able to meet expectations. My own or others.

If you are in the position of supervising others, please ask people before they get into trouble: what they need, how their physical health is doing, how their emotional health is doing (personal and professional), and what you need to do to support them so they don’t need “emergency maintenance.”

There is someone I know very well who has consistently felt intimidated by her supervisor and the HR director any time she asks for sick leave or for family time off. In the 20ish years she has been with this organization, she has accrued over 100 sick days, and yet, when she needs the time off, it’s frowned upon. She had been having increasing problematic health issues in a certain area, and yet wouldn’t take time off to see a doctor because of fear of retribution – sharing she was afraid to lose her job and lose her health insurance. She finally had some vacation time and saw the doctor during that and was told it needed surgical attention sooner rather than letter. She tried to push back on the doctor because of this ongoing fear with her job and taking time off, but the doctor finally convinced her she could wait no longer. Even when turning in a doctor’s order for surgery and extended recovery time, the HR director and the supervisor tried to negotiate with her to delay. Thankfully, she didn’t acquiesce this time, because by the time the surgery took place, it was even more complicated and serious than the doctors anticipated. So now recovery will likely be longer. This should have NEVER happened. Here you have an employee with an abundance of accrued sick time – she clearly does not abuse it. She has a legitimate medical note, and yet she was still asked to delay. This anecdote has not even yet acknowledged the anxiety her supervisor and HR director have escalated many many times because of their attitude to sick leave. In addition, she has another two medical issues she isn’t taking care of as a result of this environment – one of which makes her job harder. And, some high-stakes mental health needs she can’t fully address either (you try talking to your therapist, via phone, late a night while also taking care of kids and see how effective that is).

There is another situation I am privvy to where a grocery store staff member keeps putting themselves at jeopardy for long-term permanent damage because they aren’t dealing with a surgical issue. They pushed themselves all through the last 18+ months of COVID to be on the front lines, taking double-shifts, working middle of the nights, engaged in physical labor they shouldn’t be in order to “get the job done” for this grocery chain and the customers. He finally was told that he could wait no longer, and yet, similar to the last story, when he went into HR with a doctor’s note, was asked to delay until “after the holidays.” His doctor told him, if he does this, he could lose the limb altogether due to blood circulation issues being caused by the injury. Why does it even have to come to this?

Thankfully, I hear less of these stories in the Jewish non-profit space than I do in the corporate or non-Jewish non-profit spaces. But I think the story I repeatedly come across in the Jewish world, is a fear of disclosing mental health diagnoses and needed accommodations. I am an active participate in an on-line space for those who live Jewishly and also live with mental health challenges. The number of times a person has asked in this forum how/when to disclose to a future or current employer about their mental health is staggering and what is worse is the anecdotes in the responses which reveal retribution for so many when they disclosed. We MUST do better. And honestly, I am guilty of contributing to this via my own discomfort and fear – simultaneously saying I want to “end the stigma” but sitting deeply within it and living with fear and anxiety of how people (clients in my case) will respond if I say to them, “I’m a mess and need to step back, and I won’t meet that deadline we discussed.” The scenarios that play out in my head are horrible, and most of the time, not real at all – it’s on me, but it’s on me based on societal history.

In a recent initial interview with an international Jewish foundation, I was asked “What kind of work environment do you need in order to be successful in your job?” This was the opening I needed to share that I need some accommodations for a few things (because without an opening, I would have struggled about how/when to share this):

  • I have a diagnosed circadian rhythm disruption AND I have diagnosed ADD. I work best from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. when the rest of the world shuts down and I have no other input coming in. But this also means, I need to sleep late in order to get adequate rest. I can be at early morning meetings, but if it is daily, my employer won’t see the best productivity out of me.
  • I need to be able to brain dump at all hours of the night and have my colleagues and supervisees understand this is not an expectation on them to work crazy hours. So if they prefer a mechanism besides email for these brain dumps (i.e. Onenote, Slack, Basecamp), let’s work together to devise a system that works for everyone.
  • I need time weekly mid-day to meet with my therapist (she has very limited hours) but I will always make that time up (sometimes at 2 a.m.). And every few months, I need similar time to meet with my psychiatrist.
  • I live with a diagnosed anxiety disorder and depression. It is (finally) fairly well-managed by medication and therapy, however, it will never be cured. I need to work in an environment where I can call in “mental health sick” the same as I can call in for “I have been vomiting all night” and know ahead of time, it will be treated the same. I need to KNOW without a doubt that I won’t be penalized for this. Because the anxiety it can cause leading up to that phone call if it is frowned upon is detrimental and makes it all so much worse.
  • I need on-going professional development because growth and skill/knowledge acquisition contribute to my self-confidence and self-esteem. And while it is nice for an employer to subsidize the cost, I most importantly would like paid time-off to participate in these opportunities. Again, I can almost always guarantee that it will benefit my employee and they will get plenty of work input from me to make up for the time away.

There seem to be some obvious actionable steps to prevent an emergency shut down – physical and emotional.

  • Create an organizational culture that talks and walks congruently. Don’t say that your organization respects mental health but doesn’t openly ask employees what mental health accommodations would make them more successful. Don’t say your organization values physical health but you force people to take a half-day sick leave if they need to see a doctor.
  • Pro-actively tell people they need to take time to see doctors – that they should not put anything off. Tell them you don’t want them to wait for emergency maintenance! Do this regularly.
  • Look for obvious low-hanging mental health days you can pay staff to be off. In the Jewish world, for most organizations, Chol haMoed Pesach is a great example. The days leading up to Thanksgiving are also fairly easy (unless your organization has a major Thanksgiving-tied event) and the week bookended by December 25 and Jan 1st. For many folks, this alleviates any concerns about childcare if schools in your area are closed, allows for less expensive travel flexibility, and creates space for families to spend much-needed quality time together.
  • Unless you are a school with set instruction hours, be upfront about offering flex hours. You can always set obligatory times when staff must be available or come together for collaboration/meetings, etc. But by offering flexibility you acknowledge differentiation for your staff and also recognize the benefit to your stakeholders to having people available at different times of day and different days of the week.
  • Consider how these actionable items should change your interview process and your on-boarding.
  • When you know staff is working extra hard, giving 110%, striving to get through a tough situation or tough deadline – acknowledge it. Verbal sincere thanks, public acknowledgement (to your board, to other staff, to donors), post-event staff celebration, gifts of thanks – they all go a long way.
  • Take lessons learned from Covid and forced remote working to integrate hybrid work environment opportunities. But give your employees a choice – because some may choose to be on-site every day due to their work-style needs.
  • Create real systems of redundancy in as many areas as you can. When an employee knows that everything will fall apart if they take a sick day, they likely won’t take it. If they know someone else is trained to step in seamlessly (and yes, I am even talking about rabbis/cantors and executive directors), they can take time to take care of themselves without guilt or anxiety.
  • Honor the “disappearance.” Don’t text, call, email, nag an employee who is out sick. In the end, disrupting their recovery creates a longer-term absence. If they want to set a daily set check-in, then they can set that up (some people might need it for their own comfort), but employers shouldn’t ask for it.

I encourage everyone reading this – Jewish professional or not, management or not – to make a list of what they could do, should do, need to do … in order to prevent themselves or someone in their work environment from need emergency maintenance. Even if it means simply forwarding this link and saying, “We need to talk.”

Tu B’Av, T’shuvah and Tying it Together

Back in August 2009, I took a leap and nervously jumped into the blogging waters. This was before JewishGPS and so many of my colleagues were blogging already. They were getting some national attention and I knew that I needed to plunge into the pool in order to “keep up.”

I had no idea what I wanted to write about first or what catchy name I was going to use, so I sat down and started brainstorming things I had an opinion about. Ultimately, I landed on the title above “Tu B’Av, T’Shuvah and Tying it all Together: Jewish Musings about Daily Life.” Below is a copy of that first blog post (I intend to share many of them here on this blog in the coming weeks/months. I hadn’t thought about this blog in a long time, but today, I went and visited the grave of the little girl I mentioned in this blog, and checked to make sure the pink butterfly-shaped stone I had left there on her English Yahrzteit in Dec 2020 was still there (it was). And I as touched it, I remembered I had written this so many years ago.

Ultimately this blog is about creating your own ritual artifacts and giving yourself permission to customize Judaism for you. At some point, I will write about what I learned about the importance of this in identity development via my dissertation work. The “Tying it Together” of my blog title is a nod to the tzitzit on this talit but also on all talit – and how we can be commanded to wear tzitzit BUT how we wear them is up to us.

All About this Talit

I was adamantly opposed to wearing a talit. It just wasn’t what I was brought up with and I am not one to be forced into something I don’t want to do. As part of my job in Orange County, we had the teens make their own tallitot. But how could I ask each of them to do it if I wasn’t willing to do the same?
So I set out to make a talit that meant something to me.

  • The butterflies are in memory of a very special little girl Shoshana Tikvah Cohen z’l who passed away at 3 years old. She loved butterflies and she loved pink. The irony is that Shoshana was being raised in a modern Orthodox family and ultimately wouldn’t be a talit-wearer herself. But her Ima gets me … and gets this talit.
  • I tied three of the four tzitzit corners in Southern California. The fourth I tied in Jerusalem.
  • My original talit bag was actually a pillow cover (the zipable throw-pillow kind) that I bought in Daliyat el Carmel – a Druze Village with amazing textiles. I lost that case and hope to get myself another one on a future trip to Israel. (UPDATE: I did indeed get another one in the same Druze market – see to right.) The pattern in the case matched a wall-hanging that one of my best friends has hanging in his kitchen (we bought them at the same place at the same time while staffing a Birthright Israel trip).

Other facts about my talit:

  • The directions I use for tying tzitzit (and teaching others to do so) come from a Torah Aura Instant Lesson.
  • I used fabric glue to put it all together.
  • My cat Allie has chewed two of the strings, I guess I need to fix that at some point. (Update: Allie passed in 2015 and the strings are still short … I now can’t imagine replacing them as they are a sweet reminder of her.)
  • I almost got beat up in a Jerusalem hotel but a group of young haredim who didn’t approve of a woman with a talit. Thank goodness for hotel security and a good friend!
  • If I am ever without my talit, I won’t wear another one
The pink butterfly and some pink hearts I placed on December 25, 2020 (her English Yarhtzeit)
Shoshana’s grave that I decorated with colorful butterflies on her 20th Yahrtzeit. Forever 3.

Ally: UpStander. Partner. Advocate. Partner. We Must Train Them. Now.

In very early January 2019, I sat in the homes of three Jewish teenagers from Atlanta to engage them in a deep discussion with the goal of creating a portrait of them: their self-schema, their Jewish identity, and the intersection of those. It was during that time that I first learned not only how rampant JewHatred (aka antisemitism) was in their casual encounters – in school and on social media – but that it had made them quite apathetic to doing anything about it. Because the teens I was profiling were considered “underengaged” in Jewish life, I turned the line of questioning related to encountering antisemitism to the 15+ Jewish teens (9th, 10th and 11th graders) that was was teaching in a local weekly Reform supplemental education setting. Not only did this group confirm the prevalence of Hitler jokes online and swastika graffiti littering their schools, but they also corroborated the shrug of indifference and the ultimate apathy. I was so stunned. Was this apathy due to our failure as Jewish adults and educators to instill in them the need to speak up and speak out against any form of anti-Jewish sentiment? Was the apathy due to a lack of skills we had given them to use their voices? Was this apathy something that the next generation of Jews was prone to due a time distance from the Shoah (Holocaust) and a lack of personal connection to this critical event in Jewish history?

Repeatedly, when I asked “why not?” (expecting to hear they were scared to stand out among peers for responding), I heard the same appalling narrative:

  • No one will do anything about it.
  • The school leadership doesn’t want a stain on their school so they sweep it under the rug.
  • If they (school facility staff) clean it up one day, it appears the next somewhere else and no one gets punished so it just keeps happening, so it’s better they just leave it.
  • If it’s everywhere at school where there are adults and supposed consequences that don’t get enforced, what do people expect to happen on social media where there is no supervision?

Here are three excerpts from the portrait interviews I conducted (their comments were duplicated repeatedly by the teens in my class). The teens chose pseudonyms for themselves at the start of our work together:

While contemplating how Judaism plays out for her in her school environment, Luna shared:

There are a lot of people at my school who think it’s funny to make jokes about the Holocaust and there are like Nazi symbols in the boys’ bathroom mostly and like on the desks too, and like people don’t realize that that’s not funny.

When asked how she and her Jewish friends respond to seeing these symbols, Luna explained: “There’s nothing that we can do. If we told the school they, like, people have told the school before, it’s just, there’s nothing anyone can do about it because there’s always hate…We do talk about how terrible it is; we don’t like it.” When sharing about social media and Jewish identity, Luna conveyed, “People used to like put them [anti-Jewish content] on like social media, they’d like to put it on Snapchat or something. It’s sometimes not at school and was more of like people sending memes about the Holocaust and Hitler.” Luna reiterated, “I don’t know why anyone would think that’s funny.”

Michael also expressed that his school time is a major category in his life and that he encounters questionable expressions towards Jews at school. Michael said, “That would be jokes…I usually don’t get offended because I understand they are jokes and not intended to offend anyone who’s affected by the Holocaust, at least I hope so.” Despite these interactions with his peers, Michael had a completely different reaction to the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Michael reported: “In October when the terrorist attack on Pittsburgh happened [at the Tree of Life Synagogue], I felt very compelled to speak out. It definitely hit close to home for me…I wanted people to recognize that antisemitism was still a thing.”

As one of a few Jewish players on the football team, Jason and the others [who are Jewish] are nicknamed “Jew” by the others. The Jewish players not only respond to the nickname, but call each other the term as well. Jason explained, “My mom thinks this is a big deal, but I just don’t and she won’t let it go. She doesn’t understand. A teammate wrote ‘Jew’ on this board thing and it’s just a nickname…It’s just a joke.” In a second conversation about the situation, Jason said, “It comes up in the fact that my, my friends and teammates know [that I’m Jewish] and it’s more of a term of endearment. Because not everyone is [Jewish], so they bring it up as sort of like a nickname.” When asked how he feels about his mother and other adult reactions to this, Jason said, “I just feel like if they were in the locker room seeing how everyone interacts with everyone else, they wouldn’t think that it was such a big deal.”

So why am I writing about this now, September of 2021? Because there is a major incident going on in one of the Atlanta suburban school districts (just miles from my home) that needs more attention. Swastikas and the words “Heil Hitler” were found this month in bathrooms at Pope and Lassiter High Schools. The acts occurred during the Jewish Holy Days.

This excerpt is from a Sept 22, 2021 news report about recent JewHatred at Cobb County Schools and the district and community reaction:

COBB COUNTY, Ga. — Two Cobb County School District high schools were vandalized with slurs, during the Jewish high holiday, Yom Kippur. Now, there’s a petition calling for anti-hate curriculum to return to the classroom.

Local organizations accuse the district of not taking a stronger stance against antisemitism.

The Atlanta Initiative Against AntiSemitism (AIAAS), the Anti Defamation League, American Jewish Committee and Jewish Student Union plan to share a petition to board members during Thursday’s meeting. 

UPDATE: Dozens of protestors appeared outside the board meeting (recording here), local rabbis and leaders spoke, and the AIAAS delivered more than 4,000 signatures on the petition. One of the demands is the reinstitution of the ADL No Place For Hate curriculum. While the board heard the comments and they superintendent told the crowd that the district will not tolerate hate, and that those responsible are now facing disciplinary charges, most members of the community that I know don’t feel this is enough.

What is the solution? In the recommendation section of my dissertation, I put forth the following proposal which involves the education of and the elevation of non-Jewish allies through Jewish education opportunities:

Jew-hatred and “othering” education. In an electronic communication via Facebook on January 21, 2020, the Jewish Community Relations Council, Milwaukee chapter, reported that “Antisemitism (sic) has increased 329% from 2015 to 2019” (para. 1). The study participants relayed varying types of anti-Semitism, Jew-hatred, and “othering” that they experienced from their peers. From Holocaust memes and jokes flowing on social media to swastikas graffitied around their schools, the participants expressed feeling a lack of ability to curtail the problem and the lack of desire to confront the immaturity of their peers. One participant shared that he and his friends consider the nickname “Jew” to be a term of endearment.

While many religious schools may teach about the Holocaust to older students and integrate the need for Jewish youth to confront anti-Semitism, I am unaware of any pre-teenager initiatives whereby religious schools provide education to their Jewish students, students’ unaffiliated Jewish friends, and students’ non-Jewish friends. Providing multi-faith training to younger students will help prevent the growth and perpetuation of these inappropriate occurrences by young people. Including peers in this education will create a systemic approach to ally-ship and create a significant difference, similar to the role that allies and school-based Gay-Straight Alliances play in the life of their LGBTQ peers (GLSEN, 2007.).

In December 2019, after a series of violent crimes against Jews in New York and New Jersey and other non-violent attacks around the country, The Simon Wiesenthal Center tweeted an assertion that non-Jews have a significant role to play in defeating anti-Semitism (see Figure 72). The center’s stated role as indicated on their website ( is as follows:

[A] global human rights organization researching the Holocaust and hate in a historic and contemporary context. The Center confronts anti-Semitism, hate and terrorism, promotes human rights and dignity, stands with Israel, defends the safety of Jews worldwide, and teaches the lessons of the Holocaust for future generations. (para. 1)

A lesson plan authored by the Anti-Defamation League (2018) outlined three roles people—including non-Jews—can play in confronting anti-Semitism.

· Ally: Someone who speaks out on behalf of someone else or takes actions that are supportive of someone else.

· Advocate: Someone who publicly supports or recommends a particular cause or policy.

· Activist: Someone who gets involved in activities that are meant to achieve political or social change; this also includes being a member of an organization which is working on change (Anti-Defamation League, 2018).

The Teaching Tolerance website provides free education materials for children in grades K–12 and their page explains “anti-bias approach encourages children and young people to challenge prejudice and learn how to be agents of change in their own lives” (para. 3).

With the abundance of resources available to educators in Jewish supplemental schools, Jewish educators can be a catalyst for helping Jewish youth become more confident in standing against these behaviors while creating a peer-allied support system.

Next Steps.

While I am adamant, along with others in my local community, that Cobb County Schools MUST act in a significant way – through a restorative justice lens (that’s a blog for another day) – and through district-wide education, I am equally as committed to the notion that the Jewish community around the country needs to act – not by solely placing the responsibility on the schools, but by taking concrete steps to launching its own education initiatives to address the problem.

My Heart is in the East

If you haven’t read my post from November 2019 titled, “Unexpected Impact (of my own Israel Education)” then I suggest digesting that first before delving into this commentary.

News from Israel is hard to digest. Sometimes it is hard to gather “facts on the ground” through the blaring noise of media bias, sometimes it’s hard to hear your own internal voice through the shouting of friends and family who represent dozens of viewpoints. Sometimes, our struggle is self-facilitated – a dialogue between our anscestral allegiances, our ever-evolving values, and our increasing knowledge and awareness of information we weren’t introduced to through traditional education avenues.

First, I have learned to refer to this land – this very holy land, historical land, beautiful land for so many – as Israel/Palestine (particularly in first reference). Framing the conversation from just that place helps me acknowledge it’s history, it’s current reality and it’s potential future. (If you are confused by this, read my aforementioned previous blog.) I have learned to refer to the West Bank as West Bank/Judaea-Samaria and sometimes as “the disputed territory.” I have learned to compartmentalize Gaza. With this in mind, I try and digest for myself what is occurring in Israel/Palestine this week (recognizing others will use me as a touchstone for their own understanding).

48-hour Bomb Map from Red Alert

For me, there is one “easy” issue – Hamas is a terrorist organization running Gaza and it attacks it’s neighboring communities in Israel/Palestine almost daily. They are exploiting other tensions this week (outlined below) to literally blanket bomb civilian communities throughout the land. Thousands of rockets have been launched, many intercepted by Iron Dome, but some falling on homes, schools, neighborhoods, shopping areas, etc. Citizens of every faith and age are in danger, hiding in bunkers and hallways, fearful of the next siren. Hamas abuses Gaza citizens as human shields – hiding weapon arsenals in hospitals and schools and nursing homes. Hamas spends millions of dollars on weapons to terrorize Israeli Jews but doesn’t spend money on infrastructure in Gaza and on the well-being of its citizens. Hamas must be stopped. Israel has a right to protect its citizens. Full stop. No negotiation. And, it’s important for people to understand that the IDF could take out Hamas – fairly easily – but they don’t because doing so would take out most of the Gazan civilian population and Israel cares too much about human life to do that. So the military tries to be strategic, but it’s not easy based on Hamas’ human-shield tactics. The international community MUST stand against Hamas (and its terrorism funders) and help free Gazan citizens and neighboring Israeli citizens from their stronghold.

Everything else, is so very complicated and so very hard to digest.

Situation One, The Temple Mount: A VERY complicated history surrounds this area as the land has transferred ownership hands many times through war, treaty, and negotiation. The result is an on-going dispute about how a site holy to multiple faiths can be governed fairly. The primary Muslim sites on the Mount (al-Aqsa Mosque, the Dome of the Rock and the Dome of the Chain) are under the jurisdiction of a Jordanian Waqf (an Islamic religious trust) as a result of negotiation after the war in 1967 when Israel took back the land. However, security surrounding this area is maintained by Israeli police. There are rules limiting who can visit these places and when and under what circumstances. There are fears among the Muslim community that Israel aims to destroy the holy sites and there is fear among Jewish Israeli’s and Israeli security teams that Muslims will use the geographic location to launch weapons and other projectiles on Jews in other areas of the Old City (which has happened). In recent weeks, far-right Jews have been antagonizing Muslims visiting these sites during their holy month of Ramadan and these fights have escalated into horrific clashes involving Israeli police, Muslims from all over the world visiting for Ramadan, Israeli Muslims, Palestinians, and additional Jewish antagonists. Already dozens have been injured. The Temple Mount is so incredibly holy to so many faiths, and yet it keeps getting defiled by hate, ignorance, distrust, and generations of inherited trauma. There must be a path to peaceful and open access to this very sacred space.

photo from Middle East Eye AFP

Situation Two, Sheikh Jarrah: Located in East Jerusalem is a community called Sheikh Jarrah in Arabic and Shimon Hatzaddik in Hebrew. Prior to the war in 1948, this was a Jewish neighborhood but when Jordan acquired the land through war, the Jews there fled and were not permitted to return. Jordan then allowed a small number of Muslim Palestinian families to move into the area. In 1967, when Israel re-acquired the land through war (a war they did not initiate), the Muslim families were allowed to stay in this city but they paid rent to the Israelis who had claim to the land from 1948. For about the past 10 years, a group of Israeli Jews with ties to the neighborhood from pre-1948 have been petitioning the Israeli courts to let them reclaim residence of the property for which they have been “landlords” of for over 50 years – which would result in evicting the Palestinian tenants. The case is with the Israeli courts but it’s being tried in the hearts and minds of people everywhere. Many see the evictions as a violent oppression – bullying – of the Palestinians while others simply see this as a decades-old “real estate dispute.” For everyone, it really symbolizes the larger battle of Jerusalem, the Temple Mount, the disputed territory, and the entire land of Israel-Palestine. After 50+ years, why do the Israeli Jews care some much about re-claiming this land? There is a belief that the more Jews that live in eastern Jerusalem and throughout the disputed territory, the harder it will be for a Palestinian State to be established there and outright impossible for a capitol to be centered in East Jerusalem. Their motivation for residing there is antagonistic. Instead of recognizing that the rental agreement has worked for 50 years, and looking towards the future peace that could exist throughout the land, they are focused on control and manipulation of the future – which cannot be peaceful if these tactics prevail. Sometimes (often) ethics are more important than “legal” right. This is one of those cases.

So how does this end? When does it end? Who ends it?

I’ve come to learn that the ONLY path to peace is through the people, not the governments and leaderships. It’s through person-to-person dialogue, trust-building, learning to love each other as individuals. Please – Jewish friends and colleagues: engage yourself in deep meaningful dialogue with Muslims in your community, in the disputed West Bank, across our country, and across the world. So many great programs to get involved in including a few I described in my previous post (Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom and Friends of Roots.) Muslim friends, please understand that many Israelis and American Jews love Israel, have family and friends there, feel a strong tie to the land and our people through our collective history there, that does not mean we condone all decisions the government makes and all decisions Jewish residents make. Partner with us to silence the loud minority that keeps perpetuating this. This has to stop.

For the time being I am sad and scared. I am frustrated and agitated. I want everyone to look deep into the nuances, to examine with their own critical thinking, the Hows and Whys of this week’s events. I want people to approach dialogue and disagreement with compassion for the “other.” I want to be able to sleep at night without my Red Alert app going off every 10 seconds. I want to know Muslims everywhere are able to finish Ramadan without anger with peace in their hearts and minds. I want to be able to teach about this time years from now and explain to my learners that ordinary people, like them, dug deep and helped end the on-going conflict.

Understanding Narrow Places and the Golden Calf

A couple of years ago as a participant in the M2 Institute for Experiential Jewish Education Senior Educators’ Program, our group debated how learners concretely experience a wide variety of Jewish values. So for example, if we wanted to teach a group of teenagers about the value of “responsibility” we may arrange for a group of puppies from a local shelter to be given into their care for a few hours. Then we would debrief and unpack the emotions, the insights, the gleanings from the experience and apply their knew knowledge to their understanding of “responsibility.” We tossed out a wide range of Jewish values and brainstormed different concrete experiences we could offer learners in order to enrich their relationship to these values. For the most part, the ideas came easily … until we were presented with the value of “freedom.” Some asserted that it was impossible to create an experience of freedom because in order to do so, a person would have to experience bondage (a lack of freedom) first. And anything short of putting someone in jail for a night, you couldn’t create a scenario where someone would literally be temporarily stripped of their freedom. While there was some debate about this, our cohort mostly came the conclusion that indeed it wasn’t really possible in the contexts of our programming to have people truly experience freedom. It has stumped me and challenged my creativity for a long time. And now it doesn’t need to.

Thanks to Covid and sheltering-at-home protocols, physical distancing, businesses and schools being closed, we have all experienced the feeling of being held in a narrow place (Mitzrayim – aka Egypt). We have felt trapped, we have felt lonely, we have felt controlled. We have experienced loss, we have experienced grief, we have experienced confusion, we have experienced uncertainty. So juxtaposed to the freedom we will feel once we are vaccinated (and we have herd immunity), we can now speak about the value of freedom with a completely new perspective.

And just as we can talk about what we are looking forward to (meals in restaurants, sending kids back to school full-time, traveling, hugging friends and family we haven’t seen in a year or more) we can also now fully understand that there is FEAR in new-found freedom – a new understanding of the Golden Calf.

The Jews lived for generations in Egypt, some of it freely and some of it bondage. The Jews of the Exodus story only knew slavery and now that they were experiencing freedom for the first time, many had fears of the unknown: the desert terrain in front of them, how they would be fed, how they would get shelter, how they would govern the community. It was that fear that drove a subset of them to engage in idol worship in the hopes that they would not perish in this new unknown freedom.

So what is on the “Golden Calf” list we will have as we will emerge from Covid quarantine? What will we hold onto because of fear? Will we ever return to a buffet restaurant? Will we feel comfortable eating a piece of cake after someone has blown out the candles? Will we always wear masks in public? Will be investigate the vaccine status of everyone in our circle? Are we ditching handshakes in deference to the elbow bump?

As you take to your Seder tables this year, consider how you will engage your family in processing their new understanding of the juxtaposition of bondage and freedom. All of our family members (the simple, the wicked, the wise and the one who doesn’t even know what to ask) will have something to say – an emotion to share, a new piece of knowledge, a fresh understanding, a reflection, and just like the maggid (the story) in the Hagaddah, we should ask each to participate in the shared experience.

May your vaccines be expedient and your escape from the Mitzrayim of shelter-at-home soon come to end. And may next year, our Seder tables and our homes be overflowing with guests.

Chag Pesach Samaech!

FailureFests (aka, Failure Fiestas)

Last year I was delighted be hired as a curriculum consultant/writer as part of a project Screenshot 2020-07-21 23.04.52initiated and funded by Jewish Teen Funders’ Network (JTFN) and developed by M2: the Institute for Experiential Jewish Education. The year-long project was to design a new modular
teen philanthropy curriculum Screenshot 2020-07-21 23.04.36rooted in a Jewish framework.  JTFN engaged Mdue to their expertise in experiential Jewish education and Mcontracted me to be a part of an amazing team.

The first step in the process was to convene stakeholders from around North America for a two-day ThinkTank in NYC (January 2019).  As part of the process, and rooted in the core concept of M2’s educational philosophy, participants were asked to explore (thicken) certain values related to teen philanthropy and consider what education implications that value would have in a teen philanthropy program.

My partner, Micol Zimmerman Burkeman, and I chose to delve into the value of “Growth.”  Mhas developed a multi-step process they recommend people use when thickening a value (from a universal concept to a specific permutation of that concept).

The first step in the protocol is to articulate a definition (can be taken from a dictionary or other source) and to list associations of the value you are deepening.  Micol and I recorded the following:

  • The process of developing or maturing physically, mentally or spiritually.
  • Transformation, movement, challenge, nurturing, self, change, reflection, process, dynamic, flourishing, thriving, development

The next step is to share (and record) at least three ways we have seen this value in action in our own lives or in other known stories.  I talked about the impact that Alexander Muss High School in Israel had on my own transformation through challenge, reflection and personal development.  We identified the transition of Jacob into Yisrael in the bible story, and then Micol shared the story of her then-five-year-old daughter being taught about an “ish” mindset in order to combat her self-critical/perfectionist nature.

The next step in thickening a value is to pick one of the stories and flesh out the details of how the narrative played out.  Micol explained how two books: “ish” and “Beautiful Oops” were used as a trigger tool for her daughter to see mistakes as opportunities and to not quit or give up if she sees something as not “the best.”  Micol explained that her daughter’s teachers and her husband all provide encouragement, they help her daughter see the potential in certain mistakes, and they verbally reward her when she doesn’t give up.  As a result, her daughter may draw outside the lines or not see something as perfect and will acknowledge, “Look mommy, it’s ‘ish’!”

The Mprotocol then asks participants to extrapolate bigger learnings from the details of the story.  Micol and I developed the following:

Self-critical and Striving to be best:

  • self-understanding
  • desire to be better
  • knowing there is room for improvement
  • critique must/should honor where someone is/has been

The Potential of Mistakes:

  • Mistakes as opportunities to learn
  • Failing Forward/Reframing Failure
  • Reflection on new perspectives
  • Process is critical

Teaching moments:

  • outside help is often needed and needing help is okay
  • new perspectives give us different/fresh information
  • outside people give us mirrors to our blind spots
  • Teaching moments are “teaching with compassion”

The next step in this thickening process asks us to consider how might learners in teen philanthropy (or whatever program/initiative/curriculum it is) encounter or express this value (as seen through the lens of the extrapolations).  At this point, Micol and I developed the following list as it relates to Jewish teen philanthropy programs:

  • In the due diligence/evaluation process when choosing a potential beneficiary organization, teens explore how that organization has managed mistakes/failures/challenges in its own work.
  • In creation of their RFP’s or marketing, they are taught to look to outside people to get feedback before anything is final – they learn creating drafts and “red ink” is part of the process (i.e. 3 mistake rule)
  • The program manager develops a mentor program with outside philanthropists and a coaching program with educators so participants can also develop personal growth in addition to the group growth experience.
  • Time for self-evaluation is built into every session through journaling or image boarding to explore: what did I learn? what can I do better? what can I / did I bring to the group?  what did the group give to me?
  • Educators implementing the program receive training on reframing failure and addressing positive growth in focused ways.
  • The group holds regularly scheduled “FailureFests*” (failure celebrations with balloons and noise makers, etc.) so failures become something to celebrate – individually and as a group – and each one is accompanied by feedback (in the construct of critical friends’ feedback).

*(PARDON THE LANUGAGE) but Micol had heard about a concept called “Fuck-Up Nights.” Here are two articles (of many) explaining the concept:

The next step of the thickening protocol asks how the adoption of this value and these learning experiences impact the learners.  We said that participants will:

  • come to understand the value of transparency and humility
  • experience and discern between group growth and individual growth
  • internalize that not being perfect doesn’t mean you aren’t worthy – quite the contrary
  • accept that we (humans) never get things right the first time
  • recognize that tunnel vision is real when working on a project
  • appreciate that mistakes/failure are critical part of the process of creation and doing your best work
  • learn how to receive critical feedback
  • value other people and their different perspectives and that we need them to be successful (know that other people’s wisdom is valuable)
  • acknowledge #Idontknoweverything
  • have a sense that self-awareness and self-understanding make us and our impact better
  • set aside time from self-reflection because it is necessary
  • learn skills related to giving and receiving feedback
  • recognize that progress is not perfection and that perfect is not the goal and no one is perfect
  • welcome the idea that failure should be celebrated as long as we learn from it.

Fast-forward to my professional development experience today.  As an alumna of Northeastern University’s EdD program, I receive emails about on-going professional development opportunities and immediately registered for the “Experiential Learning in an Age of Disruption” program (aka SummerBash) co-sponsored by the University’s NeXT (Network for Experiential Teaching and Learning) Network and a national education network called CAPS (Center for Advanced Professional Studies).  (For highlights, search Twitter for #NExTCAPSBash.)

At one point during this day-long virtual learning experience, the conversation between the panelists (and eventually spilling into the chatbox) turned to how we encourage learners to take risks even if it means failing and subsequently how do we help them see “failure” in this context as something good.  I immediately jumped back to the work Micol and I did 18 months ago and shared about “Failure Fiestas” and the two articles about F-Up Nights.  The concept caught the eye of the panel moderator and he mentioned that he would want to know more and several participants articulated the same in the chat box.

And so here we are …

Screenshot 2020-07-21 22.47.17You may wonder how the work that Micol and I developed ended up influencing the curriculum. On Page 45 of the first edition, there is a section dedicated to “Failing Forward” (shout-out to Dr. Stephen Pietrolungo for my new ‘Fail Forward’ t-shirt which he’s sending from SoCal, see photo at bottom) and includes information on a “Failure Party” but also includes ideas for reflection journaling prompts and a group processing exercise using these quotes:

  • “Perseverance is failing 19 times, and succeeding the 20th.” -Julie Andrews
  • “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.” -J.K. Rowling
  • “One’s only rival is one’s own potentialities. One’s only failure is failing to live up to one’s own possibilities.” -Abraham Maslow
  • “Do you know what ‘FAILING’ stands for? It stands for ‘Finding An Important Lesson, Inviting Needed Growth.’” -Gary Busey
  • “If the possibility of failure were erased, what would you attempt to achieve?” -John C. Maxwell


So, as an education leader, parent, clergy member, mentor or coach: 

How might you celebrate your own “failures?

What risks might you take in order to achieve 
something new and great?


Fail forward shirt



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