By Rabbi Karen Thomashow
On the first day of HUC in Jerusalem, amidst our orientation, I learned that the word orientation comes from the Latin word for “orients,” which indicates the direction of the rising sun. It was exciting and moving to think of the initial days of a formal journey toward the rabbinate not in terms of where I would end up, but rather beginning to point myself in the direction that I want to travel toward.
Recently I learned that the Hebrew root of letters ayin-resh-resh, meaning to awaken, rouse, or stir inspired the development of the word orientation as well. I think it is equally meaningful to think of initial days of any journey or commitment as a time to arouse an interest, awaken a hunger, and stir a positive energy.
I think of the word orientation and the powerful meaning that it’s etymology suggests as the Campaign for Youth Engagement kicks off at Holy Blossom Temple. On June 25th our congregation fulfilled its board-supported and youth committee-inspired vision to launch our own Campaign for Youth Engagement vision team. Modeled after the URJ’s grassroots, North American effort, a group of approximately twelve people intend to bring along another few thousand toward the goal of a shared Holy Blossom Temple future. In this future, more than the current 30% of high schoolers remain involved in our synagogue community post B’nei Mitzvah.
When we held our kick-off meeting of our HBT CYE vision team. the discussion was incredibly sensitive and ethical about the desire to be inclusive and make sure not only are all congregants included in the grassroots conversations, which will occur over the course of the next year, but that all staff persons are respectfully made partners in the visioning as well. During this launch, we had an electric and yet spontaneous discussion about wanting to craft a mission statement for our team. We began with a discussion about Duncan Hines’ two word mission statement (Moist Brownies), which is the candle to which they hold all decisions and actions. We created a three-word mission statement of our own to similarly orient our team:
You(th). Here. Always.
Our group agreed that by “here” we actually meant “heneini,” or “here I am,” as Moses replies to God when God appears to Moses through a burning bush. We began with the word “youth” but amended it to show that our efforts are for life-long, whole family connection.
The day after the kick-off I wrote a reflective note to my colleagues. I shared that I had one of the best nights of my tenure at the Temple. I believe that the synergy of forward-thinking, respectful, and truly meaningful discussion with leaders who care unwaveringly about our youth and their positive engagement made for an impacting kick-off meeting. This was our local orientation to one another, our goals, our tasks, and the campaign to date.
Being oriented feels exactly as I understand it was intended to be–stirring and as bright as the sun.
Rabbi Karen Thomashow has served as associate rabbi at Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto, Ontario, Canada since 2007.
Originally published in Ten Minutes of Torah