Thursday, February 24, 2011

Amanda asked, "who are you?" I think I have an answer...maybe.

At Art for the Jewish Heart on Tuesday, Amanda asked us about our identity.  She asked us while we cut out pictures from magazines and pasted them around a mirror to reflect how we see ourselves.  I honestly was having trouble coming up with a verbal answer to her questions.  It's a hard thing to analyze yourself and really say..this is exactly who I am.

The consensus around the table was that everyone has a set of morals and values that represent who they are, but that there are many things about us that change as we grow and learn about all the opportunities we have in this world and the choices we have to become who we want to be.

I have to honestly say (and I know it's going to sound like a plug for Hillel, but) that Hillel, in the few short months that I have been working here and taking part in all the amazing events has really helped me open my eyes to who I am, as a person and more importantly as a Jew.  Growing up, I was in a community that was not largely Jewish leaving me with a lot of questions from other people and of my own about what it means to be Jewish.  Being at Hillel allows me to ask my questions and formulate my own ideas about what it means to me...

Shabbat every week has introduced me to so many amazing people that I would have never met if it weren't for Hillel.  Torah on Tap allows me to have intellectual discussion about Torah that I may not have ever had.  Camping Shabbat opened my eyes to the real meaning of Shabbat.  I was actually able to really take time and reflect on the week behind me and the week ahead while only surrounded by a campfire, acoustic music and some other amazing Jewish students.  There were no distractions at traffic, no lights, only the music, our prayers and our reflection.

So I guess I don't really have an answer for "who I am."  I'm a Jewish student that loves to help people.  I love to learn new things and I love going on adventures.  That doesn't really describe "who I am," but it does tell me how I am going to continue to figure out who I am.  How do you identify yourself? What makes you YOU?  It's really important to think about.  I hope that you will reply or at least take a moment to think about it, really think about it.

Like Rabbi Daniel said, turn off the auto-pilot.  Embrace the chances you have to make choices and change how you do things that can overall make your life better.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Bringing Back a Childhood Classic with a Jewish Twist

 Rachel Benjamin narrowly avoided a soapy and wet fate by carefully balancing across a wooden plank to bring a pitcher of water to the other side of a kiddie pool.
             “It’s just like when Moses crossed the Red Sea,” she said. “Well, sort of.” 
 Benjamin is the president of Kesher, a reform Jewish student organization at the University of Florida. She organized the fake game show, Legends of the Hidden (Jewish) Temple, Sunday afternoon in the Hillel garden.
Using the original children’s show from the 1990s as a model, Benjamin and Hillel staff created replicas of games from the show, like a bungee race and scavenger hunt. Each of these games told a story about Jewish history.
In the bungee race, students had to fight against a bungee rope secured to a wall to be the first person to grab the last bottle of oil to light the Hanukkah menorah. Thus, explaining the story of Hanukkah and the miracle of the burning oil.
In the following round, students had to bring a filled pitcher across a wooden plank placed over three kiddie pools filled with red soapy water. The game was symbolic of Moses bringing the Jewish slaves out of Egypt and parting the Red Sea to flee oppression in the desert.
In the final round of the event, students had to follow a series of clues throughout the Hillel building to find the 10 commandments. The two student winners of the event received Jewish themed hats and shirts from Hillel.
“Hillel’s support of Kesher has been invaluable,” Benjamin said. “The staff helps coordinate and house a lot of our best events.”

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tzedek Tuesdays

So I’ve now posted a few blogs about sustainability. We can all do our individual parts, but what about large institutions, such as UF?

The University of Florida Office of Sustainability offers a good resource so what you can do as a student or faculty member at UF and what the university is already doing on its own. ReThink the way you can be “green” at UF.

I LOVE this idea! Always annoyed by carrying around an empty coffee cup but feel guilty creating trash every time you quench your Starbucks craving? Meet your conscience half-way and get a reusable coozie!

For more cool ideas that Sustainable UF and the Office of Sustainability offers, visit their website and “Like” them on Facebook.

Does God Really Care About How I Tie My Shoes?

Yes, actually.  There is a halacha – a statement in the code of Jewish law (Shulchan Aruch 2:4) – relating to the order in which a person puts on his/her shoes.  First the right, then the left.  The questions is: does God *really* care about the order in which I am putting on my shoes?  And for that matter, does God *really* care about anything else I do throughout the day?  And what does this have to do with Jewish identity anyways?

The truth is that God does care about the order in which we put on our shoes.  Not because we “help” God or “hurt” God based on the extent to which we incorporate Jewish law into our lives, but rather for a much deeper, meaningful reason.  God cares because God wants us to get the most out of life!  Hashem is often referred to as our Father in Heaven who loves us, and just like every parent wants the best for their children, so too does Hashem want the best for us.  Just like a parent will impart to a child important habits which create a healthy lifestyle, so too Hashem through the Torah teaches us ways to live an unbelievably fulfilling life.  Somehow, the order in which we tie our shoes must, by definition, teach us something unbelievably important about getting the most out of life.  The question is: what?

One of the secrets to a meaningful life is to be aware at every moment – to think about our purpose – why are we doing what we are doing?  What is it all for?  Humans have an uncanny ability to lose focus on what is really important in life and get caught up in the menial and trivial.  How many times have relationships ended over something petty?  How many times have you opened an SMS while in the middle of a conversation with somebody?  Judaism places immense importance on staying focused and avoiding autopilot.  That is why we place a mezuzah on the doorposts of our homes – to remind us to think about why we are entering a room – what is the purpose in my being here? 
This is also the wisdom behind why halacha tells us to tie our right shoe before the left.  On a simple level, it comes to remind us to pay attention to the seemingly menial aspects of life; if we are supposed to avoid auto-pilot when tying our shoes, all-the-more-so when it comes to every other aspect of life.  On a deeper level, kabbalah – Jewish mysticism – teaches that the right side represents the attribute of gentle lovingkindness, whereas the left side represents strict, unwavering justice.  Jewish law is teaching us to constantly pay attention to our various character traits – there is a time for lovingkindness, and there is a time to be unwavering.  

As humans who have a uncanny ability to lose sight of the big picture of life, and to so easily slip into autopilot mode, does it not make sense to scatter reminders throughout our lives to recharge our focus?  What if anything does this have to do with Jewish identity?
This post was written by Rabbi Daniel Wolnerman, he can be reached at 

Monday, February 21, 2011

Who are you?

 As Cady Heron's mom asks after she finds the fertility of the Undubelly Tribe under the kitchen sink. Our identity shapes us and our actions everyday. Without a sense of identity we are doomed to wander the earth confused and never really feeling like we belong. Tomorrow, February 22nd at 8pm, Manoa Arts will holds its second Art for the Jewish Heart of the semester. We will be discussing identity as individuals, but also as Jews. Where do you belong and how do you fit in? We will also talk about how stereotypes affect our identities as well. 
As Purim is coming up, how does this apply to wearing a costume and hiding our true selves? Express how you connect with this issue by doing 3-D Modge Podge Collages. If you don't know what Modge Podge is, come find out and bring friends! We will provide all of the needed materials. Art for the Jewish Heart is a "safe place," there are no right or wrong answers, just come out and express

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Through the act of living...from Andrew

How do we build a Jewish life that is spiritually deep and reflects our rich tradition, without having to deny our place in the modern western society in which we find ourselves?  This is an important question I took home from last night's Torah on Tap discussion. It a question that cannot be answered simply from an intellectual or philosophical perspective—but one which must be answeredthrough the act of living itself.  My next few blog posts will offer some possibilities, and I encourage comments and offerings of your own to add to this discussion.

For this post, I'd like to focus on the concept of Kavanah, which is a Hebrew word rich in meaning, usually translated asIntention.  The practice of formulating personal kavanot/intentions before we engage in our daily activities is one way to begin breaking ourselves out of a life build out of habits and impulses, and moves us to living with greater consciousness and awareness.  It draws us into the holiness of each moment, and the holiness that can dwell within each action.  Our tradition teaches us that everything we do is an opportunity for inner and outer transformation.  Eating can be holy, interpersonal interaction can be holy, making a living can be holy.  Torah is not a document to be read, it is an ideal to be lived out in the real world, through everyday actions.  Recognizing this, and consciously choosing to identify the holiness of the moment through kavanot/intentions can be a meaningful practice.

Shabbat shalom.
Andrew Shaw

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Tzedek Tuesdays has a guest entry this week! Presenting.... MISSY GOLDSTEIN!

Anybody who doesn't know what cancer is, must be living under quite a large rock.  And anyone is hasn't been affected by cancer might just be the luckiest person in the world.  Cancer is a truly horrible disease that is claiming more and more lives every day, with still no sure.  

This is part of why I Relay.

SO here's my shpiel:  Relay for Life at UF is an 18-hour event, through the American Cancer Society, designed to raise money for cancer research and awareness.  It brings together students from all over the UF community to fight for a common cause.  It's also an amazingly fun event that provides activities and entertainment every half hour.  The theme for this year is Road Tripping for a Cure: Driving out Cancer.

Every team picks a city or road trip stop and holds fundraisers that have to do with that location. 
 So get excited for early morning yoga, the Mr. Relay competition (yes, this means dressing a guy up like a girl to run around and raise money), and all different kinds of bands to play throughout the 18 hours.
What could be better than spending 18 hours with all of your closest friends?

Everyone is touched by cancer in some form, and it reaches closer to home for some than others.  I Relay to honor the life and memory of my aunt, a strong woman who lost the fight to cancer two years ago.  My best friend’s mother, who is one of the most amazing women I've ever met, has been fighting breast cancer since before I met her over ten years ago.  These strong women are my role models and it is within my power to help give them more birthdays, so I do. 

So now I expect that you're asking how you can involved in this wonderful event.
Well, it's really simple. 

1. You can sign up to join Hillel/Jewish Student Union's  Relay for Life team.
-go to, click "join a team," and search for UF Hillel.

2. Donate to the team (online, check, or cash).

3. Come to our team meeting tomorrow (Wednesday, February 16) at Hillel for more information- 5:30pm

4. Attend our upcoming fundraisers:

-Gelato Company- Tuesday February 22 8-10pm
-Casino Night- Saturday February 26 7-10pm
-A Cappella Night- Wednesday March 23- more info to come

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me:

Missy Goldstein
(904) 238-0836

Seeing is Believing

Moms--an endless source of exhaustion, but also an endless source of inspiration. 

When my mom was 22, she went to live in Israel for a year. The 'experience of her lifetime', she would call it. So when it came time for me to register to go to Birthright, she strongly encouraged me to do it. I was interested, but slightly apathetic. "Go," she told me. "You have to see it to understand it".

And with that, I registered. Rewind to December 2008 when my friend Courtney and I made our way over to the Promised Land, excited, sleep deprived and not knowing what to expect.

What Birthright provides is unbelievable--a chance to experience your homeland and culture in a mere ten days. It is by no means enough time to explore every part of Israel, but rather it leaves you wanting--even craving--more. As someone who had never questioned their faith, going to Israel served as an affirmation that my Judaism was an intricate and important part of who I was. Standing in front of the Western Wall left me speechless and for those who know me, having nothing to say is a rare occurrence. Floating in the Dead Sea in the throws of winter, camping out in a Bedoin tent in 30 degree weather and waking up at 5 a.m. to ride a camel are all things I never imaged I would be able to do. Hiking Masada, even though not at sunrise, gave me literal perspective on how life changing a trip like this could be. At the top I was able to view miles and miles of beautiful and quiet desert and there was nothing but Israel in front of me.

 And then there were the quieter, more solemn moments like our visit to Yad Veshem. I had visited the Holocaust Memorial in Washington D.C. but this had a more profound impact. Because of the atrocities that filled the strikingly beautiful and modern building, the need and urgency for the state of Israel--a home for Jewish people-- arose. When we visited Mount Herzl with our Israeli soldiers, there was an ominous silence that surrounded our Birthright group when we stopped at a grave of one of their friends. We stood as a unified group, silent and emotional, realizing that without the great sacrifice of those soldiers, Israel would cease to exist. At that moment, I had never been prouder to be Jewish.

 And so I hate to admit it, but my mother was right. You had to be in Israel, experience the people, the culture and the religion to understand why its existence is so important. My Birthright trip to Israel gave me a personal connection to a homeland, rather than an assumed affiliation to a country and for that I am eternally grateful. 

It is my hope that each and every Jewish young adult will be able to have this same experience. Birthright registration has opened today and the University of Florida Hillel will be taking students this summer. My experiences are a mere sampling of what you will be able to see and do when you get to Israel, thus I encourage you to explore your heritage and Judaism by registering for what will undoubtedly be a defining moment in your life.

This blog post was written by Jessica, the Jewish Student Life Coordinator at UF Hillel. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @jess_davis78!


For instructions on how to register, see the box below. To register, click here: .

Here you will:
-Provide your basic information
-Select IsraelExperts as your trip organizer
-Sign a waiver
-Submit a deposit payment
-Confirm your e-mail

**Our trip dates have not been finalized and will only be finalized when registration closes. The tip will most likely be in early may BUT please select the month you prefer to go.

2. Complete your application at the IsrealExperts InfoCenter
Within 24-28 hours of registration, you will receive an email from IsraelExperts. You will be asked to continue your application process using an IsraelExperts InfoCenter profile created for you--the login information will be provided. Here you will need to follow these steps:

Choose the University of Florida trip:
- Provide medical information including: medical needs, emergency contact information and medical insurance details
-Note your friend and/or family requests
-Upload passport (See step #3)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Amanda is back!

So I'm back and ready to attack....all my programs for the rest of the semester that is! There are a lot of things in the Hillel Arts Department to look forward to. Next Tuesday will be our second Art for the Jewish Heart for the semester,but more details to come. (facebook search: Art for the Jewish Heart) Today I want to focus on a new and exciting program being brought to the Gainesville community, the First Gainesville Jewish Film Festival.

The festival will be held at the Hippodrome Theatre in downtown Gainesville beginning Monday, March 14th and will be a duration of six nights. Each night of the festival will have a particular Jewish theme, from Jewish Identity to Contemporary Israeli Media. The program will also feature speakers and discussions following the films. Opening night we will be featuring the film "The Yankles," which is an upcoming festival favorite around the world. The event is free to the public and open to the entire Gainesville community. Please mark these dates on your calendar, March 14th, 15th, 21st, 22nd, 28th,and 29th and get pumped for an awesome 6 nights of Jews on the big screen!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

What a pluralistic week!

What a week this was!

It started with a post Jeff wrote on Pluralism that I read at 4am last Sunday, and which kept me awake until I could write a thoughtful response. Rabbi Daniel posted his own perspective on Pluralism later in the week and we discussed all of these ideas with our students on Torah on Tap, during our Shabbat dinner conversations and during Shabbat lunch.

As we celebrated Havdalah last night, marking the end of Shabbat (and of the week in which all of these happened) and the beginning of a new week, I mentioned that a traditional Havdalah candle needs at least two wicks that interconnect at the end, producing a much stronger flame than each wick would create separately. One big wick is not good - we need several wicks (even if they are smaller) that come together to produce the strong flame. It honors the value of each part separately while also acknowledging the greater result that can be obtained when these separate parts are put together. Like Shabbat and the rest of the week. Like all of our different opinions, and the way they shed light upon and strengthen each other.

Marcia Falk, a Jewish American poet wrote a version for the Havdalah blessing that speaks to me in a very personal and profound way. It presents the distinctions we celebrate at Havdalah in a non-hierarchical way, honoring the different parts of the week and the way they contribute to a richer Jewish experience of time. In my mind, a perfect expression of how I would like to see UF Hillel celebrating Pluralism....

As we start a new week, may her words serve as inspiration for us as we learn from, challenge and grow with each other.

Distinctions (Marcia Falk)

Let us distinguish parts within the whole

and bless their differences.

Like the Sabbath and the six days of creation,

may our lives be made whole through relation.

As rest makes the Sabbat precious,

may our work give meaning to the week.

Let us separate the Sabbath

from other days of the week,

seeking holiness in each.


נַבְחִין בֵּין חֶלְקֵי הַשָׁלֵם

וְעַל הַהֶבְדֵּלִים נְבָרֵךְ.

נַבְדִיל בֵּין יוֹם הַשְׁבִיעִי

לְשֵׁשֶׁת יְמֵי הַמַּעֲשֶׂה,

וּקְדֻשָׁה בְּכָל יוֹם נְבַקֵּשׁ.

See you in two weeks!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Set List for the Jerry Minyan

Here's the set list for tonight's new Jerry Minyan:

*not in correct order*

Franklin's Tower
Touch of Grey
New Minglewood Blues
All Around This World (Old and in the Way tune)
Friend of the Devil
Sugar Magnolia
I Know You Rider
Pig in a Pen (Another Old and in the Way tune)
Casey Jones
Jack Straw
Scarlett Begonias

It's going to be a blast, bring your instruments, shakers, drums, maracas, whatever!

Annnnd, here's the new logo.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Pluralism: Another Perspective

Let me first preface by saying that a discussion about pluralism can be very sensitive.  Many people have ideas, assumptions, and worldviews with which they live, and a discussion which introduces new ideas into the mix has the potential to be offsetting.  I want everybody to realize that I approach this discussion with the understanding that my words and ideas might not be popular, but that I am coming from a place of love and a pursuit of knowledge and truth.
Let’s talk about the definition of pluralism.  Jeff quoted a definition from Wikipedia.  Let me interject one of my favorite Michael Scott quotes:
Wikipedia is the best thing ever. Anyone in the world, can write anything they want about any subject. So you know you are getting the best possible information”

I’m not so sure the definition of pluralism found on Wikipedia is a great definition.  The problem with the idea that pluralism “recognizes that some level of truth and value exists in other religions” is that this opens to the door to saying everything is true.  Could this possibly be?  How could, for example, the Jews, Christians, and Muslims all be espousing truth, considering each group says the other two are *wrong*???
Additionally, this definition assumes that there is no such thing as capital-T “Truth.”  How could there be?  Isn’t the idea that there is Truth the source for so much religious intolerance and violence throughout human history?  I would venture to say the opposite is true.  The idea that there is no capital-T Truth – i.e. atheism/secular humanism/post-modernism has actually cost more lives throughout human history.  Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Pol Pot all denied the existence of objective reality – capital-T Truth, and that trio alone was responsible for the murder of tens of millions of human beings. 
I want to respond to a few points made by Rogerio, and I also want to encourage anybody reading this to chime in with their thoughts.

Rogerio brought a number of proofs to the idea that Judaism very much embraces pluralism.  Let me state explicitly: I agree that Judaism embraces pluralism – the only question is: where do we draw the line?  I ask that question because I think we all agree that a line needs to be drawn somewhere.  For example, if we changed some things in Judaism to incorporate Jesus into our Jewish daily living – i.e. erected large crosses at the front of the synagogue, changed the words in the prayer book from baruch atah Adonai  to baruch atah Jesus, and started sending Birthright trips to the Vatican instead of Israel, would that still be considered Judaism?  Does that fit within our understanding of pluralism?  I venture to say it does not.  Clearly I am using an extreme example, the point is simply that everybody draws the line somewhere.  I am not here to tell people where to draw the line, but simply to encourage people to think about how and where these lines should be drawn.  Another example.  This past weekend many people observed a national American holiday: Superbowl Sunday.  Let’s take the game of football and make some changes…let’s say we lengthen the field from 100 yards to 150 yards and give the teams five downs instead of four.  Is that game still called football?  Maybe.  What if we replaced the field with ice and required the players to wear ice skates.  Still football?  What if we added a rule that a team could score an extra four points by throwing the ball through the goal post.  Still football?  Again, I imagine we all draw the line somewhere.  At some point the game is no longer called football because it no longer is football.

Rogerio claims that (and this is a direct quote): “What Jewish pluralism, at its most elementary level, does ask from our students (and from us as part of the Hillel staff) is to recognize that Jewish choices very different from their/our own are also legitimately Jewish and belong in our building” (I added the bold)
I am not so sure that this is the Jewish definition of pluralism.  Do we all get an equal say in what is “legitimately Jewish”?  Do the Jews for Jesus have a place in Judaism?  Is belief in Jesus legitimately Jewish? 
The Zohar (book of Jewish mysticism – source for most of the kabbalah we have today) says that when Hashem gave the Torah at Mount Sinai, He really gave 600,000 Torahs.  This is because there were 600,000 people participating in that experience, and each person related to Torah differently.  It is true that there are different opinions in the Talmud.  It is true that Rashbam and Rashi, two of the greatest midevil Torah scholars, had different opinions…BUT there were certain things that every opinion in the Talmud and midrash agreed upon, and that Rashi and Rashbam would agree to.  These include the existence of God, the fact that Hashem gave the Torah to the Jewish people at Mt. Sinai, that Hashem is actively involved in all of our lives, that Shabbos is important, that we absolutely must not eat milk and meat together…and much more. 

The question is: what is True?  Is Judaism another humanly fabricated religion, or are we, the Jews, the descendents of those who stood at Mt. Sinai and received an unbelievable gift called Torah – the instruction manual and how-to guide for getting the most pleasure out of life? 

Where do we draw the line?



-Leave some comments! -Jeff

This post was written by Rabbi Daniel Wolnerman.  You can reach him at