“Conversation & Cocktails” Takes Place in Orange County

Conversation last night had over a dozen young adults
Conversation last night had over a dozen young adults

Last night, I led a discussion with over a dozen young adults (20s-30s) in Costa Mesa to hear their ideas about what they are interested in doing for Jewish learning opportunities. Suggestions from participants included topics, locations, and events to do. It was a nice opportunity for them to have their voices heard as well as to meet other young Jews in the area.

Cocktails were enjoyed
Cocktails were enjoyed

The event, “Cocktails & Conversation” was the second such event of its kind; the first one took place in Long Beach in February, while this one took place in central Orange County. Cocktails were also offered, largely using the leftover spirits from the “Texts & Tasting” series over the past two years.

In addition to this event helping to provide fodder for re-booting my young adult efforts this fall, I am also seeking to re-brand them.

Re-Branding SoCal Jewish Young Adult Enrichment

A year-and-a-half ago when I was creating a new brand for reaching out to young Jews in their 20s-30s in the greater Orange County and Long Beach area, I realized that my focus was getting something out quickly. I needed an additional brand to Southern California Jewish Student Services (SoCalJSS), which focussed on university and high school students. This emerged from talking to young adults who had said distinctly that they were not students when I told them the organization for which I worked. So, I needed a new brand.
When I created Southern California Jewish Young Adult Enrichment a year-and-a-half ago, my intention was to create a brand that communicated what it was, but essentially using it as a working title. Well, the working title has clearly been still in use and a transition needs to occur. Yes, the name says what it is, but it’s too much: it’s too unwieldy.

So, I’m on the search for a new name for my young adult initiative. Hopefully, by September, a new name and logo will be forthcoming. Stay tuned!

How Am I Spending My Summer?, part 1: June 2014

With 1/3 of the Taglit-Birthright Israel trip from this past Sunday - Birthright Follow-Up is a focus for me this summer
With 1/3 of the Taglit-Birthright Israel trip from this past Sunday – Birthright Follow-Up is a focus for me this summer

A question I frequently receive is “What are you up to for the summer?” As it turns out, it is not time off.

Yes, school is out, so there is no programming, per se, with university (or high school) students.  However, there are occasional Shabbat dinners with Beach Hillel, meetings with young adults and college students, and other communications with them (Facebook, email, etc.).

The biggest chunk of my time last month was spent working on Beach Hillel matters
The biggest chunk of my time last month was spent working on Beach Hillel matters

While Beach Hillel consumed the biggest chunk of my time in June, I was able to catch up on email and other communications (especially having come off of being away from email while leading a Taglit-Birthright Israel trip), as well as spend some time on professional development, by attending a seminar on post-Birthright engagement.

Of course, the summer is also a great time for taking meetings with other professionals and setting things in-motion for the future.

Let’s see what July brings!

Profiled in this Month’s Issue of “Long Beach Jewish Life”

Community Profile in LBJL - July 2014It’s been a while since I’ve been profiled in a Jewish news medium, which is why I’m glad to share that I was profiled in this month’s issue of Long Beach Jewish Life (pages 6-9).

The writer, Jon Strum, kicks off his article “To date, our Meet the Rabbi series has introduced Long Beach Jewish Life readers to several of our local pulpit rabbis.” Strum continues, “This month, we are talking with Rabbi Drew Kaplan, and our profile of Rabbi Drew represents a departure from past practice – in a number of interesting ways.”Community Profile in LBJL - July 2014 - full page 8

In enumerating these ways, he points out two distinctions:

First, Rabbi Drew has no pulpit. He serves as the current rabbi and director for Southern California Jewish Student Services and Southern California Jewish Young Adult Enrichment, both initiatives of Beth El Synagogue. Through Southern California Jewish Student Services, Rabbi Drew also serves as the resident rabbi for Beach Hillel.

The second point of departure in profiling Rabbi Drew is that he was the first rabbi that I’ve met with that, following our conversation, sent me an email with links to his several blogs, along with his Instagram account, Facebook page and Twitter account.

He concludes that section with “In other words, among all of our local rabbis, Rabbi Drew is clearly the most savvy when it comes to social media, and the most connected in how he uses it. And, given the youthful demographic that he represents, that makes perfect sense.”

For more of the profile, you can click here.

Convening on Post-Birthright Israel trip Engagement

Participants at the NEXTwork convening
Participants at the NEXTwork convening

Last week, I attended a Birthright Israel NEXT Western Regional NEXTwork Convening in Southern California, designed for Jewish communal professionals who work with young adults. The convening, which took place at The Ranch of the Leichtag Foundation in Encinitas on 16-17 June, focussed on engaging post-Taglit-Birthright Israel participants and encouraging their involvement in Jewish life. This was the second such convening of Birthright NEXT that I have attended, with the previous one having been in May 2012 in Long Beach (25 months ago, about which I have not [yet] written).* The location was great and I hope to somewhere, sometime write further about The Ranch.

Me speaking, while Rabbi Ari Weiss looks on
Me speaking, while Rabbi Ari Weiss looks on (photo courtesy of NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation)

I attended, primarily (but not exclusively) due to my having recently lead – for my first time – a Taglit-Birthright Israel trip and wanting to not only hear what other people are doing and to get a better sense of what to do post-trip-wise, but also simply to be in such a space to thinking about what to do.

Adam Pollack speaking
Adam Pollack speaking

I came away from the convening with not only a renewed sense of the importance of post-trip engagement for our bus (most of whom live within the area), but also for reaching out to other recent Taglit-Birthright Israel trip participants, who may be looking to plug in to Jewish life and/or their Jewish identities. Moreover, I also spoke with some other nearby trip leaders to let them know that I am available for meeting up with their participants post-trip to guide them along in their Jewish journeys.

On a tour of a greenhouse at The Ranch
On a tour of a greenhouse at The Ranch

Somewhere else in the conversation at the convening, someone posed the question: “What’s the plan for weaning millenials to be independent?” Meaning: it’s great for organizations to be arranging events, etc. for these young Jews, but perhaps an important goal is to “teach people how to create Jewish events and to create Jewish life for themselves.”

Dr. Josh Yarden speaking
Dr. Josh Yarden speaking

The core content delivered at the convening was by Dr. Josh Yarden, who presented on “Designing Experiential Educational Programs”, which was a very helpful session on facilitation. Here are some of the conceptual gems Dr. Yarden shared:

-Some people are either extremely well-planned and everything must go according to that layout of the discussion while other people are entirely go-with-the-flowniks. However, to be a good facilitator, you have to be extremely well-planned AND be flexible; too often, people become locked in one way or another.
-The best plan is to be so well-prepared that you can set aside your plan and bring in the material accordingly.
– Don’t get distracted by running in a tangent; instead, you can say, “I like what you had to say – remind me later to talk about that.”
– It’s not about you – don’t make the session about you and talking about you, etc.
– If you use language that they might not understand, that can be alienating to the audience
– When coming back from a meal or something similar, it is good to do some sort of activity to settle people down
– When studying Jewish texts, people who are not that familiar with Judaism usually expect two things from texts: 1) That they are going to be alienating and 2) That they need to treat them with reverence. When they actually engage with them, people can be opened up with new perspectives.
– Texts can be used as a portal into people’s identities
– One goal of studying Jewish texts is to enable the audience to have a connecting with Jewish texts. We can give them a fun way to connect with Jewish texts and Jewish language
– Learning consists of a tripartite of aspects: Knowing, Doing, and Feeling and usually, in order to get to knowing, it needs to start with feeling, then doing, then knowing. This is Affctive Learning – how are they going to integrate this knowledge into their lives? You want to create the aesthetic and the feeling, and not trying to teach everything
– If you’re not asking good questions, you’re not going to get good answers
– Don’t say what you’re not going to do – only talk about what you are going to do
– He likes to have three texts up for discussion: a traditional Jewish text, a contemporary Jewish text, and a general text
– It’s a good thing to model oneself being vulnerable
– If you don’t collect feedback, you’re not going to help the field move forward

Morlie Levin speaking
Morlie Levin speaking

Another tool he gave us in considering a content-based discussion is that of the triangle-square-circle: you should have three points [as a presenter] (Triangle), what are the takeaways you want them to have [in other words, what do you want them to be squared away with?] (Square), and sometimes you need to revisit something (Circle).
I tend to like content-heavy elements and I greatly enjoyed Dr. Yarden’s material.

Rabbi Ari Weiss speaking
Rabbi Ari Weiss speaking

Attendees from Hillels, Jewish Federations, and other staff from such organizations were present to come together to discuss engagement strategies and thinking about the particular population. One of our earlier sessions was led by Adam Pollack, the Western Regional Director of Birthright NEXT, who laid out some foundational information about millenials, the generation that is going on Taglit-Birthright Israel trips these days, which was helpful. Even if we had a sense of those with whom we are working, it was still helpful to be reminded of who they are. We also heard from Morlie Levin, the CEO of Birthright NEXT, who gave a background as to what Birthright NEXT is doing these days. Rabbi Ari Weiss, the Senior Director of Education at Birthright NEXT, also spoke a couple of times, including guiding a discussion around the Taglit-Birthright Israel Educational Platform and how we can translate it into action post-trip.

I hope to continue to write about how these post-trip follow-up activities go….

* Although I have referenced it.

Back from “Birthright”: Follow-Up from our Taglit-Birthright Israel Trip Begins

Our Taglit-Birthright Israel group
Our Taglit-Birthright Israel group

A week and a half ago, I returned from Israel, having – for my first time – led a Taglit Birthright Israel trip.  It was quite a trip and there is much to say about it!  Look for future posts about the trip on this blog 🙂

One thing that struck me was hearing many participants say how more excited they were for exploring their Jewish identity than they had before.  I was very glad to hear that.  However, one thing I learned – having gone on the trip – was that the trip is really a spark for exploring one’s Jewish identity in contradistinction to being the place where one fully explores it.

Thus, the task ahead of us (my wife and I were the trip leaders) is to leverage the participants’ experience and to help guide them on their continued Jewish journeys now that we’re back.  Although we had a small get-together with some of the participants in the days following our return, we hope to have other get-togethers, as well as other follow-up meetings.  There is much work to be done!

Leading a Taglit-Birthright Israel Trip

Taglit - Birthright Israel LogoI will be serving as one of two leaders on an upcoming Taglit-Birthright Israel trip and I’m very excited, as it will be my first time ever going as a trip leader (I went 13+ years ago on a trip as a participant).

The trip provider with whom we will be going is Israel Outdoors and most of the participants are either students at California State University, Long Beach (whom we know through Beach Hillel) or in the Long Beach area, with other young adults joining us, as well.

Very much looking forward 🙂

Leading Discussions with SoCal Hillels this Spring

Speaking with California State University, Fullerton students in March about Purim
Speaking with California State University, Fullerton students in March about Purim

As the spring semester is wrapping up, I wanted to share which discussions I have led at which campuses here in Southern California, through my current position as rabbi of Southern California Jewish Student Services. I will start off with my two discussions at California State University, Fullerton with the Hillel group there, where I led a text-based discussion about dreams in February and spoke about Purim in March.

With Occidental College students - April 2014
With Occidental College students

In April, I visited the Hillel group at Occidental College for the first time, where I got to learn about the campus culture there and, specifically, their Hillel.  We then engaged in a question-and-answer session, with the students peppering me with some tough queries.

Speaking at California State University, Long Beach in February
Speaking at California State University, Long Beach in February

Finally, I led three “Torah on Tap” discussions at California State University, Long Beach in collaboration with Long Beach Hillel. The first of these in February, in advance of St. Valentine’s Day, was a text-based discussion on finding one’s partner.  The second was a question-and-answer conversation in March about sex. And the third  was a text-based discussion on “pious fools” in April. I was glad I was able to lead these discussions in Fullerton, Long Beach, and Occidental and greatly enjoyed being able to share Jewish wisdom with these college students 🙂

“Bourbons & Boundaries”: Discussion on Intermarriage in Classical Jewish Texts

"Bourbons & Boundaries" had a great turn-out on Sunday
“Bourbons & Boundaries” had a great turn-out on Sunday

The other night, I led an in-depth textual exploration of the prohibition of intermarriage in Judaism.  It was the fourth and final  event in a series to combine a spirits-tasting alongside a deep textual exploration of a topic in Jewish tradition in the 2013-2014 (5774) year.

One of the more salient points to emerge was that the Biblical texts have a concern about being led astray after other gods and practices if one marries out.  However, this concern then changes upon the return from the Babylonian exile.  Moreover, the classical concerns were not the same as the concern nowadays about the Jewish status of the offspring of such unions.

Bourbons: Before and After
Bourbons: Before and After

With the featured spirit being bourbon, I was glad and thankful that the turn-out was high, with over 25 people in attendance, about as many as the previously most attended event, “Scotches & Separation”.  I want to thank Farley Herzek, who sponsored two bottles, as well as Ken Schlesinger, who brought two bottles, as well as Ira Siegelman, Seth Groder, who also brought bottles.  Thank you.

Now on to considering how to move forward with this program 🙂

Celebrating a Bar Mitzvah

Rabbi Drew speaking about tallit and tefillin at bar mitzvah
Rabbi Drew speaking about tallit and tefillin at bar mitzvah

Last week, I joined with a family (and their friends and family) to celebrate their son becoming a bar mitzvah. A question I got frequently was, “Where is the Torah-reading?”

When this family initially reached out to me in the summer of 2012, they indicated that they wanted to do something to celebrate their son becoming a bar mitzvah, but did not want to have it in a synagogue or do a Torah-reading service. So, we set about coming up with a type of event that would mark his becoming a bar mitzvah and having it to be an intimate celebration with friends and family.

After all, there is no specific celebration laid out to commemorate one’s being a bar mitzvah – that is, someone who is now part of those who are obligated in the performance of the commandments of the Torah. So, we had the father of the young man say the birkat shepatarani, we had the young man lay tefillin and wear a tallit – the first time he had done so in public.  The bar mitzvah boy also read out a nice speech about the process and about where he stands with his Jewish identity.  The parents also wanted to have close family members light candles at the celebration, since candles are a nice touch. And, throughout, I spoke, describing what was going on and why.

In the end, the bar mitzvah boy and his family ended up enjoying their time.  And both they and their guests were glad to have the explanations throughout, as it provided a sense of what was going on and the meaning behind it.