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D’var Torah: Rabbi Beth Naditch (Vayishlach)

In Vayishlach, Jacob and Esau reunite for the first time after many years, having not seen each other since Jacob stole both Esau’s birthright and blessing, and fled. The night before this momentous meeting, Jacob wrestles with a being until morning, refusing to end the struggle until blessings are granted. Usually, when I write or speak about Vayishlach, I choose to focus on one of these events, which are but two of the happenings in a parasha rich with family drama, self-reflection, struggle, and reconciliation. Because there is so much homer l’drosh, or “material on which to drash,” one key event in this parasha is usually skipped over in favor of more “pleasant” subject matter. In today’s political climate, however, I find it increasingly problematic to navigate around the harder parts of the text, rather than wrestle with them. I refer to the story of the rape of Dina, which we also read this week.

Dina is the one daughter amidst the large family of Jacob’s sons. We read “va-tetze Dina,” Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne unto Jacob, went out to see the daughters of the land. Unlike Jacob, who, when he went out from his home (vayetze Yaakov), was rewarded with a communication from God and a dream that has captured the Jewish imagination throughout the ages, Dina meets a different fate. Upon her going out, she is seen by Shechem, a prince of the land, who forcibly “took her, and lay with her, and ‘humbled her,’”

There are multiple responses to what happens next in the text. We know of three: Shechem apparently spoke words of “comfort and love” to Dina, and asked to have her as his wife. Shimon and Levi, also sons of Leah, seem to use the rape as an opportunity to attack and plunder a whole city, using revenge as their justification. Jacob, upon hearing of the rape, neither says nor does anything until his sons come in from the fields. Rashi, commenting on the text, is less than helpful as he offers a 10th century version of blaming the victim, noting that Dina herself went out into the fields as a yatzanit – implying that a young woman who goes out alone could hardly expect any other result.

Whose voice is missing from this entire episode? Dina’s. We don’t know what plans she had that day, as she “went out to see the daughters of the land.” We don’t know how or where she encountered Shechem, or what her experience was. We don’t know what it was like for her to be in his home after the rape. We don’t know what it was like for her to have her father stay silent, and we don’t know what it was like for her to have her brothers deceive a whole city, and then kill all of the men of the city, purportedly on her behalf. Leah is not even mentioned as an actor in the story. What we do know is that Dina’s silence has reverberated across the generations, and that her silence is usually reinforced in favor of the “easier” parts of the story to digest. Particularly in this political climate, it is incumbent upon us to address both active and passive messages that our children are receiving about how to behave in the world. We do not want even one more emerging adolescent or adult to believe that he or she is a prince of the land, entitled to take forcibly whatever strikes his or her fancy. Additionally, we should be trying to create communities and spaces where survivors do not have to remain silent. Our wrestling is teaching our own children how to navigate our world, how to respond to challenging and troubling events that are all too common, how to stand up for those whose voices are not heard. As we do this, perhaps we can demand a blessing for our work as well.

Rabbi Beth Naditch, ACPE Supervisor/Spiritual Care Educator at Hebrew SeniorLife, Schechter Parent

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D’var Torah: Stephanie Maroun (Vayetze)

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet.” Shakespeare’s quip asserts that monikers are superficial window dressing, detached from the very thing or person they identify. In contrast, Biblical names unquestionably signify traits and even responsibility.

Parashat Vayetze recounts the stirring story of Jacob and Laban’s daughters, Leah and Rachel, Jacob’s beloved. A tug of war for attention is naturally produced by this triangle, fraught with open favoritism. In a reversal of fortune, Leah and handmaids Bilhah and Zilpah bear the majority of Jacob’s children and only finally does Rachel deliver two sons. Examining the veritable roll call of names in Parashat Vayetze offers a fascinating, unexpected glimpse into the sisters’ jockeying.

The theory of nominative determinism contends that people gravitate towards areas of work that fit their names. Leah must have believed this instinctively. Her offsprings’ names are deliberately engineered to do the work of elevating her standing in Jacob’s eyes as she brandishes a series of auspicious choices: Reuben (“behold, a son”), Simeon (“obedient”), Levi (“joined”), Judah (“praised”), Issachar (“there is reward”), Zebulun (“to dwell or gift”), Dinah (“justice”) and through Zilpah, Gad (“good fortune”) and Asher (“happiness”).

In Rachel’s barren stead, Bilhah produces Dan (“God is my judge”) and Naftali (“my struggle”). Rachel bestows names that reveal the sharp surprise that she cannot best Leah’s fruitfulness. Perhaps these soul-baring names are ploys to provoke sympathy in Jacob. The names of Rachel’s eventual sons, Joseph (“God increases”) and Benjamin (“son of my right hand”), clearly reveal Jacob’s immutable preference for Rachel and her sons despite Leah’s efforts.

Our names represent an amalgam of desirous traits, family history and our parents’ wishes for us. Do our names predispose us to careers or personalities? Can another’s emotional response to us be affected or influenced subliminally by how we are called? Leah must have harbored hope in this idea. Yet, if we look at Rachel’s enduring predominance, birth names did not take root and establish a new landscape for this family. They were just roses, full of passion, but powerless.

Judi_Rapaport

Meet Judi Rapaport!

Judi is thrilled to be back at Schechter for her 35th years as a Kindergarten teacher! She is also the proud parent of two Schechter alumni! Judi studied at both Boston State College and Hunter College in New York before becoming a teacher. Aside from Schechter, she served as a camp director at sleep away camp and as an assistant director at day camps. Each year, she looks forward to meeting new students and their families, while also reconnecting with staff members.

In her free time, Judi loves to spend time with her family, travel, read, attend theatre and do lots of walking!

Judi feels #SchechterPride when she sees the spark in the eyes of her students as they become excited about something we are doing. She is so appreciative of the beautiful notes the children and their families send throughout the year. Everyday is a different day with excitement and enthusiasm, which makes each day so special and unique!

Dan_Savitt

Meet Dan Savitt!

Dan is excited to be at Schechter for his 14th year teaching 7th grade Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and Toshba (Rabbinic Literature) and serving as the Tefillah Coordinator. He holds a B.S. in Chemistry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and studied for two years at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies. Dan is the father of two Schechter students: Eliyah in 3rd grade and Adiv in pre-K. Every year, Dan looks forward to engaging with the unique dynamic of each class. He is especially excited to continue to help develop the Judaics and z’man kodesh (tefillah) program this year with his colleagues and students.

In his free time, Dan juggles!

Dan feels #SchechterPride when he hears from students after they’ve graduated from Schechter!

Rinat_Noy

Meet Rinat Noy!

Rinat is excited to be at Schechter for her 23rd year as a Hebrew Support Specialist. She holds a B.A. and an M.A. in Special Education and Counseling from Haifa University. Additionally, she is certified in reading, writing and math for children with learning disabilities and holds a Certificate in Hebrew proficiency. Prior to joining the Schechter team, Rinat worked as a learning disability specialist with children ages 5 to 14 years old. Every year, Rinat hopes to help her students fully integrate into their classrooms

In her free time, Rinat likes to be active. She does pilates and gym activities.

Rinat feels #SchechterPride when she watches her students graduate. She also feels #SchechterPride during Schechter’s Yom Ha’Atzmaut celebration!

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D’var Torah: Rabbi Hamilton (Toldot)

Influence can be more forceful than power

How can we tell the difference between a leader who is self-promoting and one who stands for something larger than her or himself? The former pursues power, the latter generates influence. The former self-inflates, the latter stirs others by example.

In this week’s portion of Torah we learn that Isaac specializes in digging wells. After restoring Abraham’s wells, he sets out to dig his own. Initially he runs into trouble with the local population and aptly names the first two wells esek (argumentation) and sitna (hatred). Each of these wells is dug by Isaac’s servants vayachp’ru (they dug). The third time, however, when Isaac takes personal responsibility by digging himself vayachpor (he dug) (Gen. 26:19, 21, 22), the outcome is dramatically different. And he moved on from there and dug another well, and they did not quarrel over it, and he called its name rehovot (spacious) and said, Because now God has widened for us, and we’ve been fruitful in the land (Gen. 26:22). Isaac’s personal involvement and perseverance engendered spaciousness.

But if the story were simply about not delegating or living vicariously we might miss the point. This is especially true in today’s world that champions self-reliance, the individual, and independence. Isaac’s personal involvement is understood not as an isolated act but rather as leading by example whereby others followed and dug in a similar manner (Netziv). His ever-widening influence was generative and replenishing.

“Empowerment” – despite the word’s etymology – is not optimized in a power-framework as much as in an influence-framework. May we seek and meet influential leaders who stir and liberate blessed potential in others for good.

A sweet Shabbat to you.

Rabbi William Hamilton is the rabbi at Congregation Kehillath Israel, Brookline, and a Schechter alumni parent.

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Meet Lianne Gross!

Lianne is excited to be at Schechter for her 2nd year as a 6th- and 8th-grade Judaic Studies teacher. She holds a B.A. and an M.A.T. from Brandeis University and a Massachusetts License in Secondary History with an SEI Endorsement. Every year, Lianne enjoys reconnecting with former students and getting to know new ones. In addition, she looks forward to bringing projects and ideas into the classroom that she has worked on throughout the summer.

In her free time, Lianne teaches and performs Israeli dance.

Lianne feels #SchechterPride when her 8th-grade students present research projects from their Judaics classes. The presentations are attended by parents and 7th graders and it is always a successful celebration of learning!

Jill_Grasfield

Meet Jill Grasfield!

Jill is in her 7th year at Gan Shelanu, currently as the school’s Auxiliary Services Coordinator. Jill holds a B.S. and CDA certification. Prior to joining the Schechter community, she worked at Hertz Nursery School for eight years and Cole Harrington for two and a half years. This year, Jill is particularly excited for this new role and looks forward to a new challenge!

In her free time, Jill enjoys walking the beach for sea glass.

Jill feels #SchechterPride when her students come back on a Monday morning and say they missed her, and parents share they have been singing song basket songs all weekend!

D’var Torah: Dan Brosgol (Chayeh Sarah)

Chayyei Sarah- Love is in the Water

In this week’s parasha (Chayei Sarah), Abraham’s servant is sent on a very important errand – to go back to the Land of Haran to find a suitable wife for Isaac. After some clarifying questions, his (nameless) servant leaves, and find his way back to Abraham’s ancestral homeland. Stopping at a well at the outskirts of Nahor, he prays to God that the wife-to-be reveal herself to him in a very specific way:

“Here I stand by the spring as the daughters of the townsmen come out to draw water; let the maiden to whom I say ‘Please, lower your jar that I may drink,’ and who replies, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels’- let her be the one whom You have decreed for your servant Isaac” (Genesis, 24:13-14)

As luck, or divine intervention would have it, Rebekah shows up immediately and that precise conversation happens. In the language of Staples…. that was easy. Isaac marries Rebekah, and the rest is (Jewish) history.

This story of a meeting at a well preceding an important marriage occurs, famously, two other times early in the Torah: when Jacob meets Rachel, and when Moses meets Tzipporah. That the Tanakh repeats familiar scenes, words, or language, is not a new idea. Neither is the idea that ancient wells, where commerce took place, where people gathered, or where travelers exchanged news, were a hub of activity and Biblical matchmaking.

Fast forward 3900 or so years from the events of this story, though and you might be asking yourself what the modern-day equivalent of a well would be. Where might you go after a long journey to feel refreshed, or to perk up a little bit? If you’re like me, the first thing I do is get coffee.

Imagine sending your friend to help find you a husband or wife at not a well, but at Starbucks, and praying to God saying “Here I stand in line at Starbucks, waiting for my app to load, and the next person who orders a Pumpkin Spice Latte and offers to buy my drink – let her/him be the one You have decreed for my best friend.”

In truth, stranger things have happened. My parents met over the last bagel at a Hillel breakfast, I met my wife in line at a party at Brandeis, so it’s not rare at all, actually, to have food, or beverages, involved in love stories, both Biblical and modern.

Shabbat Shalom, and for those of you looking for love, keep your eyes open at Starbucks or Whole Foods this week. You never know who you might meet.