Meet Jordyn Halpern, JVS Summer Intern

CBS is pleased to introduce our Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) Kohn Summer Intern, Jordyn Halpern. Jordyn is supporting multiple departments at CBS during her internship (June 19 - August 8), but she is focusing on communications. Wearing her communications hat, Jordyn will learn about thoughtful marketing and website management as well as gaining blogging experience. Today, we're sharing her first blog contribution.

Jordyn has been a terrific new member of our team, and we look forward to a full and fun summer working with her!

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Facebook_JordynFrom Boston to the Bay Area

Shalom. I’m Jordyn Halpern, rising sophomore at the University of San Francisco (USF), and I’m absolutely thrilled to be your newest Kohn Intern. I am a communication studies major and social justice minor, and I’ll be working closely with CBS to deepen my skills in marketing and social media for the duration of the summer. I’m looking forward to increasing my skill set in an environment that allows me to explore not only my personal interests, but Jewish faith as well.

Currently, I’m a full-time resident of the Bay Area, but I originally hail from the East Coast – a town just south of Boston, Massachusetts. I grew up in a predominantly Jewish area, and my weeks consisted of going to public school during the day and heading to Hebrew school in the evening. I remember being in the 7th grade and having a b’nai mitzvah to attend every weekend (and sometimes finding a way to go to three in a day!). Moving to San Francisco was definitely a culture shock in that regard. My little town was its own Judaic bubble, especially when compared to this big city; I had never been exposed to so many cultures so fast! I did join the Jewish Student Organization at USF, and am very excited to be holding a position on its executive board in the fall. Working at CBS is certainly helping me in maintaining my Jewish identity, and I am extremely thankful to have the privilege of working with this congregation. 

Meet Rebecca Goodman

CBS is pleased to introduce our new Director of Youth Education, Rebecca Goodman. Rebecca has been involved as a Jewish educator and administrator in the Bay Area for many years, most recently serving as the Director of Education overseeing the joint religious school program of Congregations Beth Israel Judea and B’nai Emunah. Her passion for Jewish learning and experience in forging connections with the communities she has served make her supremely qualified to lead our Shabbat School program – we are thrilled to welcome her to our sacred community of learning.

Today, we’re sharing an introductory note from Rebecca.

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Goodman_PlaceHolder The Director of Youth Education may be a new position at Congregation Beth Sholom, but I have dedicated the past two decades to educating Jewish youth. After falling in love with Judaism as a child at Congregation Beth Jacob in Redwood City, I attended Jewish summer camps, traveled to Israel, was a madricha and President of my United Synagogue Youth chapter. Although I took a detour from my Jewish path to study engineering in college, I remained connected to the Jewish community by teaching religious school. After a couple years, I realized that my passion was much stronger for helping Jewish youth connect to their Jewish heritage than it was to ensuring that the next bridge or building would remain standing regardless of the pressure put upon it.

I graduated from Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion with a master’s degree in Jewish Education and a master’s degree in Jewish Communal Service. I earned the title “Reform Jewish Educator” in 2007. This title is granted to those who fulfill “extremely stringent academic requirements in the areas of education, educational administration, and Judaic studies plus a supervised educational internship.” I have worked for the Bureau of Jewish Education in Los Angeles, served as Director of Contra Costa Midrasha, and as Director of Education at Peninsula Temple Beth El in San Mateo and Congregation Beth Israel Judea in San Francisco.

I am excited to become a part of the CBS community and to meet you. My hope is that everyone has a good time in Shabbat School – and that they develop a strong Jewish identity and a love of Jewish learning that they will feed throughout their lives, starting here at CBS.

I look forward to sharing with you my vision for the Shabbat School and Hebrew programs in the coming weeks and months. In my first few days, we've finalized the registration forms, the calendar, and the fees for the coming year. Next, I will reach out to last year's faculty and madrichim so that I can meet them and finalize our staff for the fall. The most important thing I need from you is your completed registration form so that we can plan accordingly and make sure we have the right number of teachers, madrichim, and supplies for our students.

I already know that the faculty is fantastic, the members that I've had the opportunity to meet are wonderful, and the staff is dedicated, warm, and helpful. I am very excited to join the team and meet you. If you find yourself near CBS on a Tuesday or Thursday, please take a moment and stop by my office to introduce yourself.

Meet Claire Ambruster, JVS Summer Intern

CBS is pleased to introduce our Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) Kohn Summer Intern, Claire Ambruster. Claire is supporting multiple departments at CBS during her internship (June 21 - August 12), including communications. Wearing her communications hat, Claire will learn about thoughtful development and management of social media strategy and also gain blogging experience. Today, we're sharing her first blog contribution.

We've been very impressed with Claire so far, and are fortunate to have her on our team, even if only for the summer!

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My Journey to Working in the Jewish World

Facebook_ClaireAmbrusterLast week, I began my summer internship through the Kohn Summer Intern Program – a project of Jewish Vocational Service. My fellow interns and I met for the first time at the Contemporary Jewish Museum. We enjoyed a tour of the museum, schmoozed, and discussed our goals for the summer. As Kohn interns, we each work separately at different Bay Area Jewish nonprofits. On Fridays, we come together for interesting seminars, during which we discuss everything from Jewish life to job skills. I will be working with Congregation Beth Sholom (CBS) this summer, and am very excited for the opportunity to explore the inner workings of this synagogue – from drafting CBS Facebook posts to managing membership databases. I am also enjoying getting to know the Beth Sholom community. Simultaneously, I look forward to getting to know the other Kohn interns and learning about the different types of work they are doing to invest in the Jewish world.

Although I now am committed to Jewish practice, I did not always envision that for myself. I grew up in a secular home in San Francisco. Although we lit Hanukkah candles each year, we also strung colored lights around our Christmas tree. As I grew older, I wanted to learn more about my tradition, and I asked my parents to enroll me in Hebrew school. Once enrolled, I quickly became inspired by Jewish teachings. When the time came to pick a high school, I decided to further my Jewish education and enrolled in a pluralistic Jewish high school. I soon fell in love with Jewish studies – from Talmud to contemporary Jewish thought. As I grew, I developed confidence in my faith. I began to contemplate taking larger concrete steps towards Judaism, and I pondered the idea of having a bat mitzvah ceremony and eventually going through conversion, as I am not yet considered halachically Jewish.

Last summer, I was given the opportunity to have my long-anticipated bat mitzvah ceremony. I was participating in the Brandeis Collegiate Institute (BCI) summer program in Los Angeles, and had spent several weeks engaging in a whirlwind of profound learning with my peers. On the final Shabbat of the program, I stood before a crowded room, eagerly anticipating the ceremony. I read from the Torah, singing notes I had learned only weeks beforehand. Afterward, I reflected on the biblical passage, in which the daughters of Tzelafchad demanded to receive their father’s inheritance, which traditionally went to sons. In the same spirit of the daughters of Tzelafchad, I stood in front of the community to inherit and reaffirm my Jewish identity. After years of questioning my Jewish identity, it was incredibly redemptive and exhilarating to read from the Torah and feel the joy surrounding me.

It is moments like this one – where communities come together in joy and in loss – which remind me how important Judaism is in my life. I look forward to helping build the Jewish world here at Beth Sholom for the remainder of the summer!

Kezayit (An Olive's Worth): What's In A Name? (Or What's With Orev?)

CoverDesign2_RavenNow and again, someone asks me why I sign my CBS emails with a two-part first name: Christopher Orev. Fair question.

In day-to-day life, I prioritize my given, secular name, Christopher. In this respect, I'm like most Jewish Americans. My patronymic Hebrew name, Orev ben Avraham Avinu v' Sarah Imanu, is known by very few people and used by fewer still, generally reserved for use in a ritual context.

So why, then, do I insist on writing Christopher Orev? Because my Hebrew name is very important to me, and I feel it should appear in formal correspondence, especially in a Jewish context. Because the name itself is unusual, however, I'm often asked what it means. Not long ago, Rabbi Glazer suggested that I share the origin of the name on the CBS blog in the hopes that a handful of readers might find my explanation of interest.

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Those well-versed in Tanakh might worry that I've chosen Orev in some misguided tribute to one of the two Midianite chieftains killed in Shoftim 7:25. But, no, the ill-fated Midianite is not my namesake.

Because Orev means 'raven,' some friends of mine have assumed that my choice stems from my fondness for natural history and especially for reviled and misunderstood species. I am fascinated and excited by ravens, but that partiality isn't my principal motivation, either. Instead, I chose Orev because of the raven's mysterious role in the story of Noah.

"And it came to pass at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made. He sent out the raven, and it kept going and returning until the drying of the waters from upon the earth. And he sent out the dove from him to see whether the water had subsided from the face of the ground." (Bereshit 8:6-8).

Where did the raven go?

Contemporary biblical critics contend that the raven's disappearance is evidence of the biblical narrative's many sources. According to these scholars, when the stories of Torah were first edited and assembled, scribes often included details from differing accounts (rather than choosing between them). By this reckoning, one of the ancient riffs on the flood story had it that a raven was released while another, slightly different version of the tale assigned the recon flight to a dove. The two versions were simply spliced together so that Noah released the raven and then the dove.

The literary, analytical, and rational inclinations of this particular Torah reader make me appreciative of such striking examples of narrative juxtaposition and mythmaking. But while I appreciate our sacred text through a decidedly non-supernatural lens, I also invest Torah with much social and mystical power. These two, very different approaches to Torah — one universalist and secular, the other specific and traditional — place me in a grey zone of contemporary Jewish identity, but I consider this balancing act (this push-pull or hybrid position) to be the very essence of the Conservative movement’s philosophy.

But what does this have to do with my name? Back to Noah’s raven; what became of it? There are a number of traditional drashs that explain the raven's disappearance, but I view the stray bird as an analog of my Jewish neshamah (soul). This particular orev "flew the coop," so to speak, for a few generations, but has at last come back to the ark (through the covenant of conversion).

I find a satisfying etymological riff on this interpretation in the Hebrew name itself, עורב. Ayin means "eye," Vav means "and," Resh means "beginning" or "head," and Beit means "house" or "home." Orev, therefore, can be read as "eye and head home," an oblique reference to the raven's "seeing" his way home. Likewise, my neshamah has turned anew (or returned) to Judaism and Jewish peoplehood.

Another gratifying etymological connection has been made between orev and erev, meaning 'evening' or 'dusk.' Both words are comprised of the same letters, and Hebrew linguists believe that the word orev was derived from erev, a reference to the raven's dark plumage. If so, the raven’s name is born of the gloaming, my favorite time of day, one electric with magic and possibility, and ideal for sustained rumination.

But the etymology can be (and is) taken one step further. Ervuv is the Hebrew word for 'mixture' and, just as day mixes with night at erev, some rabbis point out that, although it is officially deemed treif, the raven is the only bird species to split the difference on the Mishnah's four kashrut qualities; it possesses two kosher attributes and two treif attributes, and is therefore a "mixed" creature.

This mixture angle is also important to me. When I emerged from the mikveh, I was a new Jew. If you had asked me then if I stood at Sinai, I would have confidently replied, ‘Yes.' Yes, at least, with respect to metaphysics and psychology...but my personal history is not that of Hebrew school, kugel, or Camp Ramah. My Gentile past informs my Jewish identity in unexpected, generally positive ways, but the individual ger, like the individual shul, will never please klal Yisrael. Because I am actively engaged in the Jewish community (across the denominational, political, and theological spectrums), my very "Jewishness" is sometimes challenged. Some fellow Jews review my attributes and deem me kosher; others say I'm treif. I'd be fibbing were I to claim that this limbo doesn't trouble me, but I also recognize that it provides me with a special opportunity to examine questions of identity. I will be wholly Jewish and yet I will be "the stranger that sojourns among" my fellow Jews. The name I have chosen embodies two themes that are important to me: my (re)turn to Jewish peoplehood and also the peculiar/particular Jewish identity of the ger.