407-645-5933 ext. 236 marisa.west@shalomorlando.org
Get To Know Your Soul’s Cycles

Get To Know Your Soul’s Cycles

We’ve reached an important milestone in my house: the traditional choice of a Bar Mitzvah date. I awaited this event with a great deal of excitement. It was a sign that my son was getting older and it was the first step in the Bar Mitzvah itself. And it brought back memories of the excitement (and anxiety) I felt as I faced my own Bat Mitzvah many years ago.


I know that my son’s Bar Mitzvah will be like mine in many ways. There will be the studying with the rabbi and the cantor. Then he will need to write a d’var torah, or speech, based on his Torah portion. And finally, there will be the big day itself, when my son leads the congregation in worship and reads from the Torah.  There is comfort for me in knowing what to expect as my husband and I go on this journey with my son. The similarities will also allow me to assure my son along the way. And these rituals which are new to my son but familiar to me, also help reinforce the value of l’dor v’dor—from generation to generation.


Life cycle events, like Bar Mitzvah, mark certain transitions in our life from birth through death. They also connect each of us to previous generations and to our Jewish values. But where did these events come from? Why is a Bar Mitzvah held at the age of 13? Why is the Bar or Bat Mitzvah the age at which Jewish parents are no longer responsible for their child’s Jewish education? Bar Mitzvah is not prescribed in the Torah. In the Talmud, it says that a girl becomes an adult at age 12 and a boy at age 13, but the ceremony that we associate with Bar Mitzvah came hundreds of years after this was written. And the history of our other life cycle events is similar. 


While it may not be necessary to know the history of brit milah, b’nai mitzvah, or the wedding ceremony to participate in these events, it can add more meaning to the events themselves when you know how they’ve evolved over the centuries. This summer Melton Orlando will be offering Soul’s Cycles, a six-week course beginning June 1, that explores the origins of Jewish life cycle events and the rituals and values associated with them.

To learn more about this in-person class- REGISTER HERE 


Shavuot Festivities for the Entire Orlando Jewish Community

For some, their Bar or Bat mitzvah may be the end of their formal Jewish education. Not in my house. From a very early age, probably before my bat mitzvah, I knew that my parents expected me to continue in religious school through 10th grade confirmation and our Rabbi continually reinforced the idea that learning was a lifetime activity. As was customary at the time, confirmation was a ceremony held on Shavuot, in which we confirmed our acceptance of the Torah. Once the service was over and we had celebrated with our friends and families, many of us stayed on to participate in our temple’s tikkun leil Shavuot – a long night in which we studied the Torah with our rabbi. Off and on since then, I’ve had the opportunity to come together with various communities and explore one of Shavuot’s most important themes, the promise our ancestors made to accept the Torah and share its lessons from generation to generation. So, when I was approached to develop a Jewish learning program for Shavuot it was only natural that my mind returned to all those nights spent studying the Torah. Of course, it also helped that I knew the Jewish Federation had hosted a similar Shavuot program last year, and that it was extremely successful.


As we read in the Torah, it wasn’t just Moses or the high priests who stood at Mt. Sinai, but the entire Israelite community. So, it’s really quite fitting that Into the Night: A Shavuot Experience should bring together our Orlando Jewish community. In preparing for this event, I’ve had the pleasure of working with Rabbis, cantors, and educators from across the spectrum of Jewish beliefs and practice. On Sunday, May 16, our leaders will take time to share music, worship, and learning not just with their own synagogue communities but with the larger Orlando Jewish community.


The great thing about Into the Night: A Shavuot Experience is that it’s not just for adults. Just like the Torah was a gift to the whole community and future generations, this celebration is for adults and children. Yes, there will be a Shavuot service. Yes, there will be Torah study. But there will also be a chance for kids and their parents to follow the tradition of eating dairy on Shavuot by learning how to make ice cream in a plastic bag! And if you’re up to something a little more challenging, join our Executive Director, Keith Dvorchik, as he bakes his famous cheesecake. There will also be the opportunity to meditate on the meaning of the holiday and how we can use this time of year to heal ourselves and become more whole.


As I think back to the Shavuot celebrations of my youth, I also look forward to spending this Shavuot with you, my Orlando Jewish community. Don’t miss out, come for one or two activities or stay for the whole night. I hope I’ll see you online on Sunday, May 16, from 7:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.


Homework Time is Family Time

Homework Time is Family Time

When my son started kindergarten, I envisioned all the wonderful elementary school experiences he would have including a 5th grade year full of celebrations. I never imagined that he would finish his elementary school years taking his classes online as we continue to physically distance ourselves during Covid-19.

Today, instead of sending my son out to the bus stop each morning, I send him to the dining room table before making my way to my virtual office in the next room. At regular intervals, my husband comes out of his virtual office to check that my son is staying on task. It’s not easy having everyone working from home, and sometimes our house seems sooo small. This year, my son’s last year in elementary school, there will be no overnight school trip or 5th grade trip to Universal Studios. My son’s 5th grade yearbook probably won’t include his picture because he’s attending school virtually and won’t be there for school picture day. On the other hand, we all get to eat lunch together. Homework has become a family event with everyone pitching in. When any of us feel stressed about schoolwork, client work, or the next adult Jewish education class, we sigh and pet a cat.

It’s not exactly the year I planned, but neither is it all bad. We’ve learned to roll with whatever comes our way. My son’s time in elementary school, especially during this year of Covid-19, has reminded me that parenting is all about being flexible. Yes, we need to maintain rules and consequences. But there are also teachable moments, laughter, and the lots of practice learning how to change direction at a moment’s notice. This is the way we stay sane these days—or at least whatever passes for “sane” in the time of pandemic.

Here’s the new Melton lineup

My name is Julia Berger, and I am the Federation’s new Adult Jewish Learning Coordinator. Although I’m not brand new to this role (I began in August), I wanted my introduction to be accompanied by some big news about the Melton Adult Jewish Learning Program, and today is the day!

We just released our course schedule for fall 2020 and spring 2021, and I want to share a few details with you. You can read full course descriptions (and my bio) on the Federation’s Adult Jewish Learning page:

Members of the Tribe

Together, we’ll examine aspects of what might be considered the Jewish mission, a blend of practices that distinguish us as Jews, and what to do with this idea of being called the “Chosen People.”

6 weeks, starting October 13


Modern Living: Maintaining Balance

Workers in the United States increasingly put work-life balance at or near the top of their priority list. Surveys show that most find that balance elusive. In this course, we will explore ways we can find balance in our lives.

4 weeks, starting December 1


Jewish Medical Ethics

Within the field of ethics, one of the most challenging frontiers is medical ethics. This new course, taught by Melton’s Yael Weinstein, explores what Judaism has to say on a number of challenging issues, including human and animal cloning, surrogate motherhood and multiple parents, genetic identity, and assisted suicide/aid in dying.

10 weeks starting January 19


OMG, Can You Believe?

In this exploratory course, we’ll seek answers to the BIG questions around God and God’s relationship to Humankind. Take for yourself a Divine moment to uncover and consider many different understandings of God expressed by Jewish thinkers, past and present.

6 weeks, starting April 6

And again this year, we are allowing community members to get a taste of the Melton learning experience with a one-night-only class, and we have a timely one planned for next month:

Rhythms of Jewish Living: Sukkot

Just after the high holy days end, we are again commanded to come together to praise God, only this time in fragile booths that are both reminiscent of the story of Exodus and our agricultural past. This year, gather with fellow learners as we delve into the ancient texts that tell us how to celebrate Sukkot and contemporary texts that help us come to our own interpretation and understanding of this joyous holiday.

Tuesday, October 6 (registration details coming soon)

If you have questions about any of these courses or the Melton program in general, please feel free to contact me.

I look forward to meeting you soon!

On the ground in Israel: a land shaped by conflict

On the ground in Israel: a land shaped by conflict

This past week I was in Israel. It was easy while I was there to forget there is a conflict going on. Everywhere I went, including Jerusalem, things were quiet. I was able to enjoy the outdoor malls, the sites and food of the buzzing metropolitans of both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. I was able to take in the Jewish mystical city of Tsfat and tour the ruins of Masada. 

Nevertheless, even with the quiet, while driving down to the Dead Sea we experienced the roads of Area C of the Oslo Accords under Israeli control, went through checkpoints and saw the barrier between the disputed territories and Israel proper. On the news and through college campuses on the other hand it is difficult to avoid mention of the conflict. Israel is rarely depicted for its own merits but rather filtered through the lens of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

These two aspects to the same land begs the question: How did Israel come to be the state it is today? How did the conflict evolve into what is happening and the facts on the ground? If you want to find out how, why and where the conflict began join us on Monday nights at The Roth Family JCC starting January 6 for Beyond Borders: The History of the Arab-Israeli Conflict.