When Jo Rosen, chair of the adult education committee at Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center in Ridgewood, selected "healing" as the theme of this year’s education program, she was responding to several factors.
First, she said, the idea had been much discussed in the wake of last year’s Temple Israel Holocaust Remembrance Day program, coordinated by synagogue member Nancy Recant and featuring a panel consisting of children of survivors. Recant, a documentary filmmaker, said at the time that she hoped the panel would have "a healing effect."
"Jews are at a crossroads," Recant had said. "We need to take a hard look at how we’re going to survive to look at our own healing, to arouse awareness."
Inspired by this mandate, said Rosen, Rabbi Gil Steinlauf, the congregation’s religious leader, has chosen to devote several of this year’s adult b’nai mitzvah classes to the topic. Building on the synagogue’s recent affiliation with Greenfaith, New Jersey’s interfaith coalition for the environment, the rabbi will offer a session devoted to healing the earth. In addition, he will teach classes on healing in the Bible, parenting and the needs of children (based on Wendy Mogel’s book "The Blessings of a Skinned Knee"), and on the healing that follows grieving and bereavement.
"One of the most powerful teachings in Jewish tradition is the message of healing," said Steinlauf, who added that "there are so many ways to access them, including through the study of texts and the teachings of our sages."
Rosen, who describes herself as a "pragmatist," says this year’s education programs, while diverse in content, are similar in featuring "home-grown talent" members of the congregation with expertise in a variety of areas. "I always try to tap into our congregation’s talent," said Rosen. "It’s a good way to get people involved and it promotes community. Also, it helps to keep the budget down." She said she selected healing as this year’s theme because "I see it as being a very large umbrella under which many things can be offered."
On Oct. ‘4, Joyce Apsel, a congregant and a master teacher of humanities at New York University, will deliver a presentation entitled "The Rights of the Child The U.N. Convention and U.S. Policy." A well-known lecturer on human rights, genocide, and the rights of children, Apsel, who holds a juris doctor degree from Rutgers Law School and earned her master’s degree and doctorate from the University of Rochester, will analyze the content of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and raise issues concerning the protection of children in the United States and around the world.
Apsel told The Jewish Standard that while creating such documents does not ensure that they will be followed, it’s important to heed the teaching in Ecclesiastes, "Where there is no vision, the people perish."
She also said that the U.N. Convention which sets out the civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights of children has been signed by every country except for the United States and Somalia. "The U.S. has always been reluctant to sign onto international human rights documents," she pointed out, noting that, for reasons of "politics," it took until 1988 for this country to formally endorse the U.N. Convention on Genocide, which was drafted in 1948.
Among other provisions articulated in the convention on the rights of children, which became international law in 1989, is an acknowledgement that every child "has certain basic rights, including the right to life and to his or her own name and identity."
Apsel, a longtime Ridgewood resident and former director of education at the Anne Frank Center USA in New York, recalled a presentation she made to a fourth-grade class in the Bronx in which she asked the children what they considered to be the basic needs of a child. One of them answered, "to sleep in the same bed every night."
"I want to make us think about our vision [for children] in the community, the country, and the world," said Apsel. She wants her listeners to ask themselves questions such as, "What role should the family have in protecting the rights of the child?" Perhaps, she said, the talk will cause her listeners to "rethink the treatment of their own children, and those of their neighbors," adding that access to a good education, which is included in the U.N. Convention, is not equitable in the state of New Jersey, where children in Ridgewood have a far greater advantage than children in Paterson. "These are issues of social justice," she said."