I would like to start by saying thanks to the other MH residents for sharing in your blogs. I try to read them from time to time and enjoy especially seeing what other MH are doing outside the United States. I've been fortunate enough to visit the Boston MH and the Nola MH during travels and I hope the day comes soon where I can visit MH London, Austria, Belarus, Moscow, or Capetown!
The most recent knowledge that has positively affected my abilities as a MH programmer is that of Jewish history. It is an incredibly large, all-encompassing topic. When I say this, I really do mean it all. My personal learning voyage led me from religious school instructor to learner, realizing that the things I wanted to teach were the things I did not yet know! On a learning trip in Israel, I focused on questions I might not have otherwise had. What was the Sinhedrin? Where did the Torah come from? Whose midrashim and interpretations to we "default" to? I must admit, my knowledge is still relatively elementary, but it's still a big step for me. I think the Sinhedrin was the group of prestigious rabbis closest in timeline to recieving the Torah. I learned that we view the rabbis who were closer to the time of recieving the Torah is what we default to, even if their words are full of mystery to us. Where the Torah came from--that's another huge question I am still chewing on! Did it come from Hashem, was it dictated to Moses, or was a group of great, wise men divinely inspired? I can say that this knowledge of our Torah's scholars has certainly helped me understand better what's going on in Shabbat services every week, and the meanings behind our customs and holidays. This basic Jewish knowledge is helping me enrich my MH programs with more depth knowledge-wise. It has also launched me to seek knowledge, and engage carefully with my MH participants to see what they are interested in seeing for further programs.
I am actually currently in Boston visiting my dad, and I have taken advantage of this opportunity to think about the history of American Judaism. I haven't actually gone to the historic sites here--too cold! But I did flip through an American Jewish calendar the other day at Grandma's. America, with all the many things it offered, did somewhat "splinter" Judaism into different groups. Yet, I think the bright side of all of this is that you can see as far back as the early 1900s, when the first European Jews walked in through Ellis Island, they were proud to be American. Here, Jews can practice religion freely, unlike other places in the world currently, or in the past in the time of our ancestors. And for this, I think we should ALWAYS be grateful.
Also, new American Jews in the early 1900s really wound together the spirit of being American with the spirit of being Jewish for thousands of years. I sometimes ask myself why is it that Jews are often involved in social justice pursuits? We know what it is to be persecuted, and when we touch ground in America, we're just so happy to be alive that we want to be sure to give tzedakah. We combined the high fashions of NY with Purim masquerades. We made Torah dressings with an eagle and the American flag wound into the Judaic decorations. We were proud. We felt a strong sense of nationalism. And maybe we let go of some traditions in order to experience what it is America has to offer. American Judaism is so unique. You can experience Judaism at whichever level you wish, and find a home for yourself. I know this can be fearsome for those of us who worry about the future of Judaism, and wonder if our people will slowly let go of all the traditions and laws that make us who we are. But because I am grateful for the liberties in my country, and I'd like to see the good in it, I do. Thank G-d for the Jewish educators in our communities near and far, who keep these flames alive within us.
And besides that, I'm proud that American Jews have taken on the spirit of exploration, social justice, and providing for the most in-need members of our local and global communities.
Needless to say, I think learning to appreciate my own home country's history of Judaism, even in small ways, helps me understand what is needed Jewishly right in my home town. It brings forward the things really worth praising about American Jewry. Also, the more we think about where we come from, the more I believe we develop our sense of purpose and sense of belonging. In this case, we are all one big Jewish family, and we've been around since ancient times! (So cool!) :)