By Rocky Cohen
This past year of working with the kids in the IJC B'nai Mitzvah program has been such a joy. They are intelligent, curious, and deeply feeling. Our work together has primarily been based on learning Hebrew through practicing blessings and the Shema and in studying the 'arc' of Shabbat morning services with an emphasis on the emotional journey it is designed to facilitate.
We have also been connecting to Jewish tradition and community through music - songs both liturgical and popular, and sharing our favorites with each other. Students have practiced leading Erev Shabbat in their homes, and participated in co-leading a Kabbalat Shabbat online.
Recently, we had a difficult discussion following the week of conflict and then ceasefire in Israel/Palestine. Within a structured, contained and agreed-upon set of group communication guidelines, I received the students' feelings and questions privately, shared them anonymously, and then reassured them that they were having similar emotional experiences to each other-- primarily: fear, shame, confusion, guilt. After a time of being present with and validating our emotions, I briefly taught them how to distinguish between the People, the Land, and the Government of Israel and then also spoke about antisemitism.
During this difficult session, the kids were more engaged and respectful than in any other class. It is an honor to do this important work and I look forward to continuing learning and growing with this bright community of future leaders.