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RCPP Newsletter April 2012

April 2012

Resource Center for Program Professionals Update

Dear Network Professionals,

The end of May brings us to Shavuot. We not only celebrate receiving the Torah, but read the Book of Ruth, whose namesake character is seen as the paradigmatic convert to Judaism. I know many of you are in congregations where this is used as an opportunity to honor the Jews by Choice in your community. But all of this sweet focus on Ruth's choice to be Jewish often overlooks an important fact: Ruth made this decision not for a partner, but because of the relationship she had with her mother-in-law and perhaps inspired by her mother-in-law's values and life choices.

Program Ideas

Your programming for Shavuot can highlight this relationship of mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law as the beginning of Ruth's journey into the Jewish community:

  • Invite your community to imagine what Ruth experienced living with Naomi in Moab that made her want to be Jewish. Create a contest that highlights poetry, songs, plays or stories that build on this idea.
  • Honor mother-in-law and daughter-in-law pairs that are community members. Be sure to include pairs where there is a recent marriage as well as others that have a longer story, those with a daughter-in-law who is not Jewish as well as some who have chosen Judaism.
  • High school students could make videos of their mothers and grandmothers that focus on how Judaism is transmitted through the generations. This could be a powerful demonstration for teens who will, one day, pass Judaism down themselves.

Here are some other ideas for those in your community newer to Judaism and Jewish culture:

  • Organize a pre-Shavuot recipe sharing evening. Some think the tradition of eating dairy foods may come from the idea of Israel being a land of milk and honey. In honor of that imagery, Shavuot meals are customarily heavy on the dairy. Bring all the experienced and budding chefs of your community together to trade dairy recipes for their Shavuot home celebrations. Find our suggestions here.
  • Have a bread-making extravaganza! In the time of the Temple, two loaves of bread were waved before the altar as an offering. Ashkenazi Jews have a custom of serving two loaves of challah on holidays and Shabbat in remembrance of this ritual. Sephardic Jews have a custom of baking round breads called siete cielos (seven heavens in Spanish) that are made of seven braids instead of three. Five symbols are added to the top of the loaf: the tablets of the Ten Commandments, Jacob's ladder, a fish and a hand (which were symbols of good luck) and a dove symbolizing peace.

For those who want a refresher booklet on the holiday, we offer our newly redesigned Shavuot: The Basics. Please consider leaving copies in your lobby and send the signal to both congregants and visitors that it is easy to learn more about Judaism and Jewish culture.

Rabbi Geela Rayzel Rapahael lends her insight on how Ruth might have felt when she left Moab. For more articles like this, visit our Shavuot Resource Page.

Marketing Ideas

Thanks to all the communities who so quickly added the Organization Affiliate Badge to their websites' homepage. This badge instantly shows all visitors to your site that you are a welcoming institution!

For those who want to add it now, click here to find instructions.

(If you are not yet a part of our Network, let me know and I will walk you through the simple instructions.)

For Engaged Couples

Many of us work with interfaith couples who are seriously dating or already engaged to be married. Many interfaith couples choose to have a ketubah and even make it a focal point of their wedding and a highlighted art piece in their new home. There are many websites devoted to ketubot and to the artists who create them. In order to make the process of choosing an interfaith ketubah easier for interfaith couples, has created a new resource that describes five different ketubah trends and offers links to websites where they can be found.

Let all the interfaith couples in your community who are in the midst of wedding planning know about this new resource.

Cut 'n' Paste

Here is some content that you can easily cut and paste into a message for your congregants or community members, pointing out some of the many resources at

Lag baOmer (or "Lag b'Omer") is a minor holiday that falls on May 10 this year, 33 days after the start of Passover. The name literally translates to "33rd (day) of the Omer." But what's an "Omer"? It was a unit of measurement used for counting barley sheaves brought as an offering to the Temple in ancient Israel. The 49 days from Passover to Shavuot were each marked with a sacrifice of barley; today we count the days ("counting the Omer") instead. A time to remember our fighting spirit, Lag BaOmer is most often celebrated by a picnic with a bonfire. Some communities organize a school picnic for Lag baOmer.

The rabbis of the 2nd century of the Common Era saw the period of counting the Omer as a "semi-mourning" period. As a result, some Jews refrain from having weddings or parties, dancing, listening to music or getting haircuts — all of which are customarily avoided during shiva (first week of mourning) — during the Omer. But on Lag BaOmer, the restrictions are lifted for the day. Check out how one Californian handles the restrictions in this humorous video.

Do you want to find out more about Lag baOmer and get recipe suggestions? You might enjoy this article, complete with barbeque tips.

And then, at the end of the 49 days of counting, it's Shavuot. The holiday commemorates the receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. There is a custom of reading the Book of Ruth on Shavuot, a story whose namesake character is seen as the paradigmatic convert to Judaism. For those who want to read the questions and insights of those who are considering conversion or who have converted, and/or want to join that conversation, join the conversion discussion board at

And do encourage your congregants to join the Network to take advantage of all our resources.

Hag Samech,

Karen Kushner,
Chief Education Officer

Hebrew for "33rd [day] of the Omer," a minor Jewish holiday that falls 33 days after the start of Passover. Having Jewish family origins in Germany or Eastern Europe. Of the culture of Jews with family origins in Spain, Portugal or North Africa. The spring holiday commemorating the Exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. The Hebrew name is "Pesach." A bread that comes in a few different varieties; its most common variation is a braided egg bread, though there are water challahs that don't have eggs, and there are whole-wheat challahs which sometimes also don't have eggs. It is customary to being Sabbath and holiday meals by saying blessings and eating challah. Plural form of the Hebrew word "ketubah," meaning "document," a legal document that is both a prenuptial agreement and a certification that a Jewish marriage has taken place. Reform synagogues are often called "temple." "The Temple" refers to either the First Temple, built by King Solomon in 957 BCE in Jerusalem, or the Second Temple, which replaced the First Temple and stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem from 516 BCE to 70 CE. Hebrew for "my master," the term refers to a spiritual leader and teacher of Torah. Often, but not always, a rabbi is the leader of a synagogue congregation. Hebrew for "seven," refers to the seven days of mourning following the funeral of a family member. The first five books of the Hebrew Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), or the scroll that contains them.
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