June 15, 2017
Teens work together at Union of Reform Judaism regional youth conference
at Temple Beth Am in Jupiter
By Randall Lieberman
Published in the Sun Sentinel Jewish Journal
Temple Beth Am, a Reform synagogue in Jupiter, recently hosted more than 160 Jewish teenagers in high school from all over the region for a weekend of learning, prayer and team-building.
The occasion was the Union of Reform Judaism's North American Federation of Temple Youth-Southern Tropical Region (NFTY-STR) Liz Leadership Training Institute (LLTI).
NFTY's Southern Tropical Region includes an area starting in the north in Central Florida all the way down to the Florida Keys.
Families from Temple Beth Am came together and volunteered to host these participants at their houses over the weekend, as well as transporting them to the temple for various programs.
"The moments these participants shared throughout the weekend will not only guide them in the future, but have given them a support system made of new friends and fond memories," said Amanda Feld, Temple Beth Am's director of youth engagement. "It was a delight to host this annual event and work with the region to make the LLTI a success."
Members of Temple Beth Am's high school youth group (JAMTY) really enjoyed attending and hosting the institute.
"LLTI is the foundation for a Jewish youth group board," said Becca Steidle, 14, of Jupiter, who will be entering ninth grade at Jupiter High School in the fall. "It is incredible how everyone is connected and we are able to learn everything we may need in one weekend.
"One main point they make is that every youth group board is connected."According to the Union for Reform Judaism's NFTY-STR website, "NFTY is a movement that builds strong, welcoming, inspired communities through teen-powered engagement. Together, we pursue tikkun olam [repairing the world], personal growth, youth empowerment and deep connections — all rooted in Reform Judaism."
The Liz Leadership Training Institute creates an opportunity for youth leaders to provide useful tools and words of wisdom for the new and upcoming year of NFTY-STR leaders.
Through learning, prayer, teaching and excitement, the LLTI prepares teens to actively perform their youth group board positions successfully.
The networks of different positions grouped together at the LLTI include President, Programming Vice President, Social Action VP, Religious and Cultural VP, Communication VP, Membership VP, Song Leading Network and Leadership 101 (everything teens need to know from Group Leading to the NFTY cheer).
The weekend kicked off with a meaningful Friday night Shabbat [Jewish Sabbath] service. All 160 teens joined the Temple Beth Am congregation in song and prayer led by Rabbi Alon Levkovitz, Rabbinic Intern Brett Tancer and Regional Song Leader Rachel Wolman.
As the sun set, JAMTY welcomed Teens work together at Reform youth conference in Jupiter by lighting the candles in front of the 300+ people in attendance.
Throughout the weekend, teen leaders dispersed to different network groups and practiced useful tools and skills to take back to their youth groups and congregations.
They also participated in interactive teen-led programs that focused on leadership qualities for both youth group responsibilities and everyday life.
The LLTI was carefully planned and organized by Julie Marsh, NFTY-STR's regional director; Feld; and the regional teen board members.
For more information about Temple Beth Am, or its high school youth group, visit www.templebetham.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 561-747-1109.
Click here to see it in the Jewish Journal.
May 17, 2017
Mazel Tov to Emily Minsky for being awarded the Pathfinder Award for Literature. The Pathfinder High School Scholarship Awards are presented each year to those high school seniors in Palm Beach and Martin counties who have demonstrated outstanding achievement in 18 academic, vocational and athletic categories. Pathfinders is sponsored by The Palm Beach Post. Learn more about these awards by clicking here.
February 15, 2017
"Doctors Said My Son with Autism Wouldn't Talk,
By Debby Gans
Published on Kveller.com
The doctor’s expression told me everything I needed to know about my 3-year-old son. Her words confirmed that he would never speak, learn, or socialize due to Autism Spectrum Disorder.
“Just take him home and love him,” she said. Imagine being the mom in that moment.
Ten years later, that mom and that child stood together on the bimah overlooking an audience of 250 family members and friends. This was a day like no other and one that we only dreamed could be possible. It was Benji’s bar mitzvah.
That doctor’s lack of compassion drove me to do the complete opposite. I researched every potential treatment—medical or alternative—that could help Benji navigate more comfortably through the world. In my desperation to find what would help him, we traveled to the ends of the earth to meet with different practitioners. I wanted to try anything and everything—it all gave me hope. My husband, a medical doctor, wanted to pause and evaluate. He wanted studies, clinical trials, and evidence to the efficacy of all possible therapies. We met in the middle, and our mantra became if it wasn’t going to harm him, we would give it a try.
The first real hope was meeting with a practitioner who was on the Autism spectrum herself. She gave us practical solutions to begin helping Benji. Prior to working with her, Benji spoke only in limited canned phrases. After working with her once and doing minimal follow up at home, Benji asked a real question. “Where Daddy? He at work?” This was a major breakthrough! She was the first specialist that proved “taking him home and loving him” was not the fate that Benji was determined to have.
Many miles, loads of money, and tons of time were all spent on finding treatments. Some helped a little and a few were life changing. Fast forward eight years and Benji is thriving in a mainstream school, academically, socially, and spiritually, and is considered a gem in this community. He has many fans from all over the world.
When thinking about how we should plan for Benji’s bar mitzvah celebration, I had a conversation with him on how I saw the day. I made the suggestion of a low-key bowling party, and his response was, “I have climbed some seriously big mountains, don’t you think I deserve a traditional bar mitzvah?” So, we planned a traditional bar mitzvah, and nearly every single person who was invited came from near and far to share in the celebration.
Unlike many other milestones in Benji’s childhood, the preparations for this event went smoothly. Benji loves Hebrew and has a true affinity for Judaism. Although it was very challenging for him to learn English, learning Hebrew was easy for Benji. The biggest challenge for him (as well as for me) was understanding and interpreting his Torah portion.
In front of a packed sanctuary, Benji didn’t just shine, he captivated a room full of his family, friends, and key players in his journey with Autism. Saying the day was meaningful is an understatement—it was magical. From the moment he stepped on the bimah, he led the service as if he had been training to be a rabbi for his entire life. He loved every moment as he chanted prayers, sang Hallelujah in Hebrew, and gave a heartfelt and relevant speech about letting go of anger. It moved a room of 250 people to a standing ovation. This was a first for our rabbi of 20 years. Every person in the audience was overwhelmed by the joy that Benji exuded. It was a day beyond anything I ever imagined possible.
This is not your typical proud mom bragging about their child; this is about being an advocate so that my child could experience the world in the same manner in which his peers do. Benji’s bar mitzvah was a defining moment in our family’s lives.
Back when he was 3, I didn’t know whether Benji would ever speak. At 13, he lead an entire service alone in front of 250 people.
So maybe if you are told that your child will never be able to speak, learn, or socialize, think of Benji and have hope. Against some pretty steep odds, he stood on the bimah and said to me and my husband, “Thank you for always being by my side and guiding me through life. I could not ask for better parents. You are the few parents that did not accept what experts said, refused to give up, and always tried extremely hard to help me be the best Benji I can be.” I felt like my heart was going to explode out of my chest with pride.
In the beginning, I expected to be the teacher—after all, that’s what I did before Benji was born. Little did I know that he would teach me far more than I could ever teach him. Raising Benji has taught me to be less afraid of the world, to always believe even if I have to alter my perspective, and how to be a better person.
Most importantly, our quest to help Benji taught me to never lose hope and to see that sometimes, miracles really are possible.
See the story published on Kveller.
Click here to read a fascinating profile published on Cantor Jessica by Haverford Magazine.
February 22nd, 2016
Congratulations to Jonah Cohn who was honored by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Southeast Regional Office in Boca Raton. Jonah led the HaMotzi at their 2016 South Florida Luncheon which took place on Monday, February 22nd. Annually they recognize a young person from the area that has done work in the community to raise awareness about the Holocaust.