Wednesday, September 28, 2011

What Have We Learned This Week? This Year?

2011 SEPTEMBER 28 - co-published with Jewpoint0: The Darim Online Blog
by Arnie Samlan

When I joined Facebook, the first updates I began to post daily balanced my work and my play. They bounced between humorous (most often) and serious. Some reflected my rabbinic side; some addressed my musical (and scratch DJ) side; many dealt with pop music or pop culture.  After a few months, I figured out that social media is not about listening to myself, it’s about bringing people together to share.
As I began to wind down my work week in preparation for Shabbat,  my social media Friday began, a few months back, to take on a different form. I needed a wrap up of the social media week, just as Shabbat is the wrap up of my work week. Inspired by a radio “shock jock” who used to end each morning with a call-in segment called “What have we learned today?”, I decided to try asking this question on my Friday Facebook status. And so, every Friday morning, my status reads “It’s Friday! What have we learned this week?”
Several months in, our (no longer myWhat Have We Learned This Week? community is thriving. Each week literally dozens of friends from around the world share their reflections.  The recognition of learning that has taken place ranges from the odd (“I learned about the reproductive system of a hen”) to the seriously reflective (“we can spend time weighing our day, debating its worth, or we can recognize all of the good in our day and count it as worthy!”), to the personal  (“To have a little more faith in myself than I might otherwise deem I deserve.”) to the proudly parental (“That my son is receiving a wonderful public school education from wonderfully committed teachers.”)
Beyond their individual reflections, the participants in this weekly ritual have begun to talk to each other, supporting (or challenging, such as the discussion on the difference between “fact” and “truth”) friends and sometimes strangers as we close our week together.  My Friday Facebook wall has become a safe place for introspection, joking, kvetching, and praying. We judge our own learnings from social media and from the rest of our life and, without judging one another we get the opportunity to learn from each other’s weekly journeys. And in the end, it’s the sharing of one another’s journeys that is what life, as well as social media, is about. 

Judaism has a practice in which a person conducts a 
cheshbon ha-nefesh, a self-audit of one’s soul. Some people engage in this practice daily, others less often. During the Rosh Hashana season, it’s particularly apropos, as we look back on the year past and at the year ahead. We assess ourselves honestly, and we set our course for the future. Why not invite my Facebook friends to share their owncheshbon hanefesh on my Facebook wall?
May we all continue to learn and share, and may be all be blessed wish a shana tova u’metukah, a happy and sweet New Year.
So… What you have you learned this year?  
Arnie Samlan is a rabbi, Jewish educator, consultant, Jewish life coach, and aspiring DJ. Follow him on Twitter (@JewishConnectiv) and his blog (http://thenotoriousrav.blogspot.comArnie is part of the professional team of the New Center for Collaboration and Leadership of The Jewish Education Project.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Shana Tova from The Notorious R.A.V.

At a recent gathering of community leaders, I spoke about two approaches to life and to change: The traditional rabbinic approach to Rosh Hashana, in which we feel remorse or guilt and work to improve our actions vs. the wisdom of Thomas Leonard, a past leader in personal and executive coaching who wrote “See how perfect the present really is. Especially when it is clearly not.”

Where should we start with the change we want in our lives, then: From a place in which we feel incomplete or from a place in which we feel complete? According to the Chasidic leader Simcha Bunim of Peshischa (1765–1827), we actually start in both places. He spoke of how each person must have two pockets, with a note in each. When one feels down and depressed, s/he should reach into the pocket for the note which says "For my sake was the world created." [Mishna Sanhedrin]. And when one feels above it all and haughty, s/he should reach into the other pocket, and for the note: "I am but dust and ashes."[Genesis 18].

Both ideas represent truth, and both represent our starting points at the High Holidays. We are strikingly mortal. Yet at the same time, the world was created for each and every one of us.

Our world and our lives contain continuous challenge. We find ourselves riding a roller coast of ups and downs: emotionally, financially, and often in our careers and relationships. What the Hasidic story teaches is the need for balance. We recognize our power and our limits, our strengths and our vulnerabilities. And we use all of who we are to balance ourselves and to make ourselves, our families, our communities and our world better in the year ahead.

May you and yours be blessed with a shana tova u’metukah, a Happy and Sweet New Year,

The Notorious R.A.V.

Twitter: @JewishConnectiv