From Outside the Walls In – JOFEE at the J | D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog

by Eli Goldstein, Shimon and Sara Birnbaum JCC, Bridgewater, NJ

Parashat Ki Teitzei

Editor’s Note: Welcome to D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog! Most weeks throughout the year, you’ll be hearing from the JOFEE Fellows: reflections on their experiences, successful programs they’ve planned and implemented, gleanings from the field, and connections to the weekly Torah portion and what they’ve learned from their experiences with place in their host communities for the year. Be sure to check back weekly! 

P.S. Interested in being or hosting a JOFEE Fellow? Applications for cohort two are now open for both prospective fellows and prospective host institutions! 

Sunflower children
Shimon and Sarah Birnbaum JCC – Growing children and sunflowers | Photo credit: Ken Kaus

This week’s torah portion, Ki Teitzei, is quite the pot of gold for mitzvah aficionados, containing seventy-four of the Torah’s 613 commandments. In this parshah, we find laws that create structure and protection around our relationships with other people, with natural creatures and plants, and with objects and property. These include laws involving the “beautiful captive,” burial and dignity of the dead, returning of lost objects, and – two JOFEE favorites – the law of sending away a mother bird before taking an egg from her nest (shiloach ha’ken) and the law of kilayim, the separating of certain plant and animal species. Together, these mitzvot build a framework for Jewish community that integrates care of self, care of others, care of the earth, and the careful (re)allocation of resources – core ethics for sustainability in JOFEE education.

Through my work as a JOFEE Fellow, these ethics are penetrating the walls of the Shimon and Sara Birnbaum JCC where we are building a foundation of JOFEE programming. This summer we had a great farm to table cooking program. We cared for ourselves and for the earth by growing fresh vegetables and making great dishes like vegetable empanada and vegetable pizza with ingredients fresh from our garden. The kids picked and prepared all the vegetables before they even reached the table, then had a feast with plenty to go around for all. It was one of the most popular classes all summer long.

Fresh Mix | Photo credit: Eli Goldstein
Fresh Mix | Photo credit: Ken Kaus

Our older kids took on some extreme adventures working together on our challenge ropes course. We built teamwork and positive encouragement – the care of others – through hands-on, experiential learning framed in the outdoors. The kids learned to belay and trust one another. The summer was just a small sample of what the JCC has to offer – built on what the JCC has done well for years and strengthened through the content and pedagogical training I received as a JOFEE Fellow.

Kol ha'olom kulo gesher tzar m'od - the whole world is a narrow bridge | Photo credit: Eli Goldstein
Kol ha’olom kulo gesher tzar m’od – the whole world is a narrow bridge | Photo credit: Ken Kaus

This fall we have some wonderful new events that continue this work. Starting in September, the JOFEE speaker series will begin with a workshop of Sukkah Design led by JOFEE Fellowship Director Yoshi Silverstein looking outside the (sukkah) box for design ideas and inspiration and connecting with the ancient harvest traditions at the root of the holiday.

The series will continue with pickling workshops, and in depth look at The People’s Own Organic Power (POOP) Project. Also starting in the fall, Nature fun at J will be an enrichment class taught by myself. The class will be a ten-week class focusing on understanding the magic and mystery of what is around us.  Participants will learn about trees, plants, how to compost, orienteering, pickling, and many more cool things that we can learn from our environment.

The Shimon and Sara JCC is building a JOFEE foundation for the future and I can’t wait for it to become a staple at our JCC.

Eli Goldstein is the Youth and After-school Director at Shimon and Sara Birnbaum JCC in Bridgewater, NJ. He worked in the resource allocation field called banking in his prior life before Jewish communal work and JOFEE. See his full bio here.

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