Passover Calendar 2007


SEDERS

March 25, Noon. $6-$15. Secular potluck. Sholem Community. Culver City Middle School. R.S.V.P. by March 23. ‘ TARGET=’_blank’>www.chosennet.com.

April 3, 5 p.m. $15-$40. Free (90+). Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging. Reseda. R.S.V.P. by March 30,
(818) 774-3000.

April 3, 6 p.m. $20-$45. Congregation B’nai Emet. Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center. R.S.V.P. by March 26, (805) 581-3723.

April 3, 6:30 p.m. $30-$60. Sinai Temple. Los Angeles. R.S.V.P. by March 29,
(310) 481-3382.

April 3, 6:30 p.m. $25-$50. Adat Shalom. Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 475-4985.

April 3, 6:30 p.m. $32-$36. Musical and interactive. ATID (21-39). Sinai Temple. Los Angeles. R.S.V.P. by March 29,
(310) 481-3244.

April 3, 7 p.m. $12-$45. Congregation Am HaYam. Ventura. R.S.V.P., (805) 644-2899.

April 3, 8:45 p.m. Calabasas Shul. Private residence, Calabasas. R.S.V.P. by March 26, (818) 591-7485.

April 5, 6:30-9:30 p.m. $40-$50. Women’s Seder. National Council of Jewish Women/Los Angeles, 543 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (323) 852-8518 or joanie@ncjwla.org

April 5, 6 p.m. $8. “A Women’s Seder.” Potluck. University Synagogue. Los Angeles. R.S.V.P. by April 3, (310) 472-7165.

April 7, 5 p.m. $36. B’nai Big Bear. R.S.V.P., (909) 866-9556.

April 8, 1 p.m. $16-$39. “Let My People Stay!” Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring. Los Angeles. R.S.V.P. by April 2, (310) 552-2007.

FAMILY EVENTS

“Fun and Wacky Passover Family Adventure.” Music, ropes course, moonbounce and camp open house.
March 25, 1 p.m. Free. Shalom Institute,
34342 Mulholland Hwy., Malibu.
(818) 889-5500.

“Multicultural Mosaics: Creating Seder Plates.” Ages 6 and up. March 25, 2 p.m. $10-$14 (includes materials). Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (866) 468-3399.

CLASS

“Insights Into Haggadah.” March 27,
8 p.m. Free. Jewish Learning Exchange,
512 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles.
(323) 857-0923.

RETREAT

“Seder in the Wilderness.” Limited camping space available. April 6-8. $10-$55. Congregation Or Ami. Malibu Creek State Park. R.S.V.P., (818) 880-4880.

Why I Became a NFTY Freak


Debbie Friedman, celebrated Jewish songwriter and singer, wrote the words, “The youth shall see visions.” For decades, this song has had a profound impact on Jewish youth of America, instilling value and hope among a generation in search of themselves.

In October of my junior year, I “saw my vision” and embarked on a journey that will shape me for the rest of my life.

It was a cool California Friday, and I had packed up my duffel bag to head off to NFTY Southern California’s Leadership Training Institute. NFTY, the Reform movement’s North American Federation of Temple Youth, has become a huge influence on my life as a teenager, and as a Jew.

NFTY has been around for more than half a century and consists of 19 regions around North America, hosting monthly weekend retreats for Jewish high school students. Each weekend encompasses social action, prayer and socializing. NFTY’s primary job is to confirm Jewish identity in teenagers while providing them with tools for their future as Jews — knowledge of prayer and customs, traditional songs, and lifelong friends on the same journey.

I had always had a strong Jewish identity. I am an assistant teacher at religious school at Temple Adat Elohim in Thousand Oaks and have spent 10 summers at Camp Alonim. I know all the prayers like the back of my hand and feel a religious connection to my faith. But when I got to NFTY, I finally felt like I could fully realize my Jewish identity.

NFTY SoCal was an instantly inviting environment. The second I stepped out of the car for that weekend Leadership Institute, I entered the most seminal chapter of my life. Instantaneously I was greeted with big smiles and warm hugs, and I knew that I was going to belong. From the first Shabbat service, I knew my life was about to be enriched with something it had never seen before. After the event concluded on Sunday, I became a devout NFTY freak, counting down the days until the next NFTY event and constantly talking with my new friends.

NFTY inspires youth to change the world. No, NFTY shows the youth that it is up to them to change it. Social action programming, leadership training and intensive lessons in Judaism have provided youth with the framework to lead. NFTY is constantly inspiring all and assuring them that they do mean something to this world, not something miniscule, but something with a massive impact and great importance.

One of Judaism’s highest held values is tikkun olam, repairing the world. In NFTY, we learn about the hardships and challenges that face our earth, and we use our knowledge to educate others on these issues — such as the genocide in Sudan, the kidnapped children in Uganda and modern-day slavery in America and the rest of the world. We have also participated in donating money to relief organizations and contributed endless hours of making bracelets and blankets for recently freed slaves in Los Angeles.

If it were not for NFTY, I would not even know that there was a genocide and that there are still slaves today.

Many people ask me: “Why are you so Jewish? Why are you so religious?” At times I hesitate to answer because my response may shock others, yet most of the time I reply: “I stand up for the 6 million Jews who perished in the Holocaust just because they were Jewish. I have a Jewish identity because I am fortunate enough to be able to have one and not be afraid.”

NFTY has taught me to appreciate life so much more, and to be proud to be Jewish because so many millions of Jews could not be proud of whom they were without fatal consequences. A poem written by Chad Rochkind, a NFTY alumnus, reads, “To be a NFTYite is to know that the words, ‘And the youth shall see visions’ are more than just a song.”

I now know that these words are truly more than lyrics, they are a way of life that NFTY inspires, and they have shaped my path as a Jew, as a leader, and as a human being.

For information on NFTY, visit

Meditate on Shabbat in the Old City


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Minutes from the Western Wall, brilliant bougainvillea grace the courtyard of an Old City apartment encased in Jerusalem’s signature stone. This is where participants in Sarah Yehudit Schneider’s women-only meditation retreats symbolically leave the rest of the week behind to embrace the healing, nurturing powers of Shabbat.

One powerful way to harness these transformative qualities of Shabbat is through stillness.

“Stillness resonates with stillness,” Schneider said. “Hashem ‘rested’ on Shabbat and ceased from creating form and vibration. When we ‘rest’ in silent retreat and meditation, we create a vessel for receiving the precious flow of Divine peace that is uniquely available on this holy day.”

Schneider is the founding director of A Still Small Voice, a correspondence school that provides weekly teachings in classic Jewish wisdom to subscribers around the world. The program has earned the endorsement of many respected leaders, including Rabbi Levi Y. Horowitz, the Bostoner rebbe; Rabbi Noah Weinberg, dean of Yeshivat Aish HaTorah; Rabbi David Refson, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Neve Yerushalayim; and Rabbi Meir Schuster of Heritage House.

Schneider, who says she “has pursued the study and practice of religion, meditation and comparative mysticism since the early 1970s,” moved to Jerusalem in 1981. She has studied at Neve Yerushalayim and with Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh, a noted teacher of chasidut and kabbalah.

She teaches privately to individuals or small groups and is the author of “Eating as Tikkun,” “Purim Bursts ” and “Kabbalistic Writings on the Nature of Masculine and Feminine.”

Observing traditional halachic guidelines for Shabbat, Schneider said, usually fosters an atmosphere in which to access the “healing, guiding and enlightening potential inherent on Shabbat.”

Taking this experience to a heightened level is the goal of her meditation retreats, which are also halachic.

“There is a whole other wealth of ‘light’ and bountiful resource that … remains untapped. Shabbat is a healer. Shabbat is a counselor. Shabbat is a teacher. Shabbat is a loyal and beloved companion,” Schneider said. “It is a taste of the world to come — a taste of perfect clarity, health, knowledge and ecstatic satisfaction.”

The typical retreat takes place monthly before Rosh Chodesh. It begins two hours before Shabbat candlelighting and continues two hours after to allow for journal writing. Sitting and walking meditations complement traditional Shabbat davening. Save for meditation instruction and meals, when conversation focuses on the weekly Torah portion, the group maintains an otherwise silent environment.

Schneider leads participants through specific meditation exercises focusing on the Shem Havaya — the Ineffable Name — based on traditional Jewish sources. She also encourages participants to label thoughts that arise in meditation and, in a subsequent exercise, to respond to these thoughts with short affirmations or prayers, including the following examples:

All-encompassing prayer for those who come into one’s thoughts during meditation, whether for good or bad: Please Hashem, bring light and love, trust and healing into this place [or into that person].

A potentially helpful prayer for thinking or planning: Hashem, please engrave this thought into my memory so that when I sit down to plan it will be there.

Remembering (positive): Thank you for all the sweet experiences of my life but help me stay in the present.

Remembering (negative): Hashem, help me find a way of healing this memory, perhaps by just letting it go. In the meantime, help me to stay in the present.

These small retreats accommodate four or five guests. Advance registration is required. Fees include vegetarian/dairy meals and modest accommodations. It also requires shared responsibility for clean-up and other tasks. For more information, contact A Still Small Voice, Correspondence Teachings in Classic Jewish Wisdom, at POB 14503, Jerusalem, 91141; phone (02) 628-2988; fax (02) 628-8302, smlvoice@netvision.net.il or visit

The Jewish State of Relaxation


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At spas around the world, activity menus focus on the body, offering the likes of hiking, exercise, body treatments and tai chi. Occasionally, spirituality can be explored in a special class or workshop. Long before the spa frenzy began filling travel columns nationwide, Jews recognized the value of spas and retreats. But these oases focus on the mind and heart, with the purpose of refreshing one’s spirituality and peace of mind.

As kosher retreats are becoming increasingly popular, Jewish travel is taking on a greater spiritual dimension. Jews seeking growth, transformation and activities have been vacationing at Jewish spiritual retreats, a.k.a. Jewish spas, where spirituality is infused daylong. From the moment of arrival, creative Jewish expression is nurtured in a variety of ways. Some offer experiential prayer services where participants sing, dance or drum along. Others offer contemplative campouts, ripe for informal discussions and reflections, which tend to be led by a group leader. Jewish singing is encouraged, and retreats offer yoga, meditation, nature walk, and additional recreational activities such as sports.

Elat Chayyim (www.elatchayyim.org), a well-known Jewish retreat nestled in New York’s scenic Catskill Mountains, offers weekend, weeklong and holiday retreats that join participants with rabbis, Jewish scholars and artists. Once there, partakers fill their days with recreation, prayer and workshops. According to Rabbi Shefa Gold, who teaches “Kol Zimra: Chant Leader’s Training,” “this energy has the potential of being focused and directed as a healing force.”

Couple work is also encouraged on such retreats. Efraim and Rosalie Harris-Eisen lead a special workshop on spiritual intimacy for couples. Designed to facilitate couples to apply Jewish wisdom, text and mysticism to bring out the best in their relationship, the instructors say “couples leave ‘Spiritual Intimacy’ with renewed commitment, passion and compassion.”

Another interesting workshops worth noting is “Torah Through Yoga.” Many people practice yoga solely for the health benefits, which include increased flexibility, relaxation, improved posture, balance and muscle tone. But yoga’s spiritual benefits are an integral part of the practice. Courses that blend Jewish thought with ancient practices of yoga are thought to help release emotional tension, confusion and restriction. The act of stretching and releasing tense muscles, and becoming more aware of oneself and one’s environment, has been shown to have therapeutic affects.

Isralight (www.isralight.org), a popular Jewish organization in America and Israel, offers plenty of spiritual retreats at various locales, year-round. Their Web site terms their retreats “a holistic Jewish experience,” and their retreats blend recreational activities such as hiking, tennis, mountain biking, swimming and volleyball with Jewish expression via song, meditation, music, prayer, yoga and yes, even massage.

Basia Wolfe of Bala Cynwyd, Pa., frequently attends Isralight retreats with her husband, Mottel.

“People are transformed by these retreats,” she said, “they understand how Judaism is so deep.”

According to Wolfe, guests and retreat staff tell stories by a bonfire and sing along with a guitar “until the wee hours of the night.” Wolfe also enjoyed the ropes courses, boating trips and “bonding-trust group activities” and sums up the Isralight experience as one that shows Jewish people that they can find a deep spirituality in their own religion without looking elsewhere.

Jewish spas are not just about Shabbat services in the woods. Luxurious pampering and kosher cuisine can be found en masse at several spas, such as Kosher Health Institute and Spa, located at Hilton Head, S.C., and operated as a partnership between Kosher Expeditions (www.kosherexpeditions.com) and the Hilton Head Health Institute (www.hhhealth.com). The focus of some Jewish spas center less on attaining spiritual transformation, and more on transforming one’s health, weight, diet and longevity. Through up-to-date research on kosher nutrition and weight loss, fitness and body image, blood pressure and stress management, the Kosher Health Institute and Spa provides a personal program tailored to an individual’s needs. It differs from a traditional spa in that guests are provided with structured learning to motivate them for serious life-management strategies. Kosher culinary instruction and nutritional consultations are designed to keep guests on track long after their stay.

In line with a traditional spa’s carte du jour, kosher spas offer various therapeutic massages, aromatherapy and reflexology. The aromatherapy massage uses essential oils from plants such as lavender and rosewood that are considered to have not only botanical properties but also provide a mystical healing element that brings about greater calm or energy.

By helping people reach a state of contented relaxation, mental calmness, and spiritual awareness, the solutions to life’s quandaries and its perennial questions start to come into focus. In this age of self-exploration and expression, it is no wonder that Jewish retreats and spas hold such appeal.

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