A sense of belonging


David’s parents don’t leave after they drop him off at Sha’arim’s Friends N Fun, a program that allows teens and young adults with special needs to attend social outings.

Officially, they need to monitor him in case of a seizure. But really, they just love watching his smile and sheer joy.

After a congenital heart defect and unexpected surgery complications, David suffers from a seizure disorder and brain damage. Life has been difficult for David and his family, and although David is upbeat and friendly, it’s hard for him to have meaningful relationships with his peers.


Each month David waits eagerly for his invitation to arrive. He marks the date on the calendar. He counts down the days, then the hours, until it’s time. Time for the social interaction every child deserves, for friends, for fun. Time to be part of the community.

DAY // WAY 31: Thoughts on Shabbat with Rabbi Stiefel

What questions will you ask this year?

by Rabbi Sharon Stiefel, Mayim Rabim Congregation Sharon S - AS cropped

One of my favorite Haggadah commentaries I found in recent years is this:

Isidor I. Rabi, the Nobel laureate in physics was once asked, “Why did you become a scientist, rather than a doctor or lawyer or businessman, like the other immigrant kids in your neighborhood?”

“My mother made me a scientist without ever intending it. Every other Jewish mother in Brooklyn would ask her child after school: ‘Nu, Did you learn anything today?’ But not my mother. She always would ask me a different question. ‘Izzy,’ she would say, ‘Did you ask a good question today?’ That difference—asking good questions—made me become a scientist.” (Donald Sheff, New York Times, Jan. 19, 1988)

SM day 31 no title

Pesach is built around questions.

Not only are there the Four Questions, the actions we do at the Seder and the items we put on the table are to inspire questions. It is a way to open our eyes to ask, “Why are we behaving so differently tonight?”

Last year, just prior to Pesach, I distributed a stack of cards with questions on them to use at the Seder.  (If you go on line you can purchase a “Passover Box of Questions” advertised to jump start conversation at your Seder.) There are numerous other ways to elicit questions at a Seder. Everyone attending a Seder can be asked to arrive with a question about Pesach or the Exodus. Or rewards can be given at the Seder to encourage questions. A former teacher of mine distributes Passover candy to every person who asks a question at his Seder. 

Teachers know the importance of encouraging questions to keep students absorbed in learning. The importance of questions is the underpinning of our tradition. The Talmud itself is a form of questions and dialogue.

100 days-01Questions are at the heart of being a liberated people.

In a slave’s world, there is no room for questions. Life is arbitrary. Things are the way they are and the slave has no role in changing their existence. Free people, on the other hand, want understanding. We are not automatons; rather, our role is to personalize the story of the Exodus so it is ever more meaningful to us every year.

Often when we study text together, we implicitly embrace that the questions are more important than the answers. We hold contradictions in our tradition, find ourselves at moments of cognitive dissonance, and wrestle with troubling texts. And when we ask our questions, we engage with in conversation that builds our relationships with one another and with our heritage. We share a common bond of valuing our questions.

May this upcoming Pesach be full of questions, as well as joyous and sweet for you and those you love.  


Be sure to check out the rest of our 100 Days events and posts on Twitter as well as on our website. Like posts like this? Why not give us a “chai” five?

Donate $18

DAY // WAY 6: Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest

jhsum logo

The What?

The Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest (JHSUM) is the leading organization in the Upper Midwest dedicated to telling the story of 170 years of Jewish history in the region. Founded in 1984, JHSUM provides programming, publications, exhibits, and curriculum to the local and regional community, as well as offering reference and reproduction services to all interested users.

Archives now housed at University of Minnesota

In 2012, JHSUM gifted nearly 1,000 linear feet of paper archives and thousands of photographs to the University of Minnesota Anderson Library Nathan and Theresa Berman Upper Midwest Jewish Archives.
This provides permanent housing at the University and makes this exciting, rich historical treasure to stay open to the public.

What’s in the archives?

The archives are filled with synagogue and Jewish institutional records, as well as historical materials from rural Midwest communities, family and personal histories, oral histories, photographic and film collections, and genealogy materials. The collection is particularly strong in the areas of Jewish homesteading in the Dakotas, Northern Minnesota Iron Range Jewish communities, Minneapolis and St. Paul synagogue records, Jewish women’s organization records, and materials reflecting life on Minneapolis’s North Side Jewish community. Visit the archives online to search the database and schedule a visit to the archives in person.

Now that collection preservation is handled by the University, JHSUM is focused on interpretation, education, and programming—including increasing the number of public displays of historical materials.

Where can I see materials on display?

  • The Sabes JCC’s Kaplan Family Jewish History Center, Tychman Shapiro Gallery
  • Shared Walls Exhibition Areas at the St. Paul JCC
  • Sholom East Display Case
  • Sholom West / Knollwood Plaza Exhibit Spaces

scrap storiesWhat’s next?

“Peddlers to Processors—Scrap Stories from the Upper Midwest” is an exhibit that runs from April 3 to May 26, 2016 at the Sabes JCC.

Learn how the barely tolerated Jewish junkman, who picked up everything from bones and bottles to rags and iron, became a leader in the Green Revolution. You may find your grandparents’ story here. Produced by the Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest.

On display in the Tychman Shapiro Gallery & Shared Walls Exhibition Areas www.jhsum.org


Be sure to check out the rest of our 100 Days events and posts on Twitter as well as on our website. Like posts like this? Why not give us a “chai” five?

Donate $18


DAY // WAY 2: Celebrate Purim with these two steps

1. Matanot La’Evyonim — Gifts to the poor

On Purim we give money to at least two poor people, and this gift can be given through a community representative–such as Minneapolis Jewish Federation. This gift is a special mitzvah, not to be included in the amount of money a person sets aside for charity during the rest of the year.

Minneapolis Jewish Federation works in partnership with organizations around the world, like the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), the world’s leading Jewish humanitarian assistance organization, to improve the well being of vulnerable people in Israel and more than 70 countries.

To see how donations make a difference, read about Tatiana and Bronisalv receiving food and supplies—sometimes by sled—in the bitter cold of Ukraine.

Closer to home, programs like Jewish Family and Children’s Service (JFCS)’s Kosher Meals on Wheels, ensure that vulnerable seniors have both Kosher meals and daily check-ins from a friend, right at home. To read about one such participant, click on Harold’s story.

We can’t feed Tatiana or Harold without your help. In honor of Purim, give today.



2. Give Mishloach Manot to friends, and use these fun printable gift tags to share the joy of Purim!

Mishloah Manot means, “sending of portions” in Hebrew; on Purim we gift food and drink to family and friends. Minneapolis Jewish Federation has a way to make your hamentashen plate a little more special–adorable gift tags.

Simply package your gifts, print and cut these cute tags, and you’ve got Purim wrapped up!


Be sure to check out the rest of our 100 Days events and posts on Twitter as well as on our website. Like posts like this? Why not give us a “chai” five?

Donate $18

Killed in Action: John Dawson


Dear Community Member,

Roughly 17 years ago this week, a military fatality occurred that left a permanent mark on me.

At the time, my wife and I were living in Israel with our four young children. We had become attuned to daily life in Israel.

One day, two Israeli soldiers were killed on the Lebanese border. The newspapers had front-page in-depth stories about both of them. There was a quote from one of the fathers that has never left me. He said, “I feel like my right arm has been severed.”

pull quoteHis pain touched me deeply. The entire country seemed to share the families’ grief. In the US, we are usually isolated from the pain that a soldier’s family endures. This is because when our military suffers a casualty outside of our own state, the news is barely reported.

In tiny Israel, the draft is mandatory. Everyone knows of a soldier who has been killed or wounded. Israelis take their Memorial Day—Yom Hazikaron—very seriously. A siren goes off on Yom Hazikaron and people stop, wherever they are (even on the freeway), and stand at attention. You can see this somber tribute by clicking here.

In our giant country of 320 million people, with a volunteer army, most give little thought to Memorial Day. The day seems to have morphed into a holiday weekend that celebrates summer and graduations.

We can learn from the way Israel mourns and commemorates her fallen.

With this in mind, and Memorial Day approaching, I looked up several US soldiers who recently died. I’d dawsonlike to tell you about one of them.

Army Corporal John Dawson, 22, was a medic killed in action in Afghanistan on Wednesday, April 8. He was from Northbridge, Massachusetts, not far from Boston. He left behind his parents, sister, and many relatives. He was an honors student, active in his church, an avid bicyclist, and a soccer player. While in the Army, he started a blood drive that helped save more than 200 hospital patients.

At his funeral, his father said, “If you knew John, you knew a respectable, kind, caring, thoughtful, smart, witty, and fun kid….You will always be our hero, John. Thank you for the 22 years you provided us.”

Why do I tell you all of this? For two reasons: gratitude and memory.

First is showing gratitude. We Americans have freedom, in part because we have a military. I am thankful that in the United States we can practice our Judaism, have Jewish organizations like the Federation, and enjoy freedoms that are unparalleled in human history. I feel grateful to our soldiers and their families.

Second is honoring their memory. Too few of us remember the sacrifices made by our soldiers and their families on our behalf. Especially on Memorial Day, I think we should honor the memory of the soldiers who gave their lives. Plus, this month marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Europe in WWII.

Hundreds of thousands of American soldiers have died allowing us to live as we do. This number is beyond our grasp. We can however think of Corporal John Dawson. This Memorial Day, I’d like to suggest please that you have him and his family in your thoughts.

May we honor his memory and the memory of all who have died serving our country.

Zechronam Leevracha—May their memories be a blessing.

Thank you,



P.S. Our Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas has a close relationship with the Minnesota National Guard and works to support our troops abroad. If you would like to help, or would care to share any other thoughts, please send me an email at gmann@mplsfed.org.

3f20ad9d-952c-4775-a626-9028bda29b2dHonor Guard at Corporal Dawson’s Funeral. Corporal Dawson’s military awards include the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal with V Device, the Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, and the Combat Action Badge.

IMPACT: Federations Protect the Most Vulnerable


When the cold winds whip through Dora Pozel’s house in the Carpathian Mountains of western Ukraine, Federation helps her brave the harsh winter with warm clothes, blankets and a recently installed gas stove, electric heater, and radiator.

Likewise for 64-year-old Stelian Obada, who lives alone in a remote corner of Moldova, the poorest country in Europe. Stelian suffers from cerebral palsy, severe arthritis, glaucoma, and central retinal artery thrombosis. Each winter, Federation makes him a little more comfortable with food packages, as well as coal, gas, and firewood to heat his home.

#60DaysMJF Images for E-mail and Blog (11)This help for Dora, Stelian, and thousands of other Jews in the former Soviet Union (FSU) is provided by the Jewish Federation’s partner agency, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). Through JDC’s Hesed network of more than 2,600 social welfare centers, the Winter Relief program provides boots, coats, blankets, coal and wood, and helps cover heating costs for Jews from Belarus to Kazakhstan.

Last year, JDC’s Winter Relief program helped nearly 15,000 elderly and 8,000 children survive a bitter winter—children like Alexander Petrov’s five girls and two boys, who live in a small Ukranian village with no gas supply or running water. Without the JDC-provided coal, the Petrov children are often drafted to join their parents in a nearby forest to collect firewood.

For many in this part of the world, where some of the poorest Jews in the world reside, Jewish Federation support is literally the difference between life and death. The social security they receive from their governments is insufficient, and they often are forced to choose between spending what little money they have on food and medicine, heating or home care – basic human needs that no person should have to go without.

Jewish Federation and JDC’s partnership is the only safety net that exists for the FSU’s most vulnerable. With their support, Dora, Stelian, the Petrov children and so many others have a better chance at surviving the winter.

You can help inspire Dora, Stelian, and thousands of other Jews in the former Soviet Union (FSU) today in three ways:

 to change lives locally and globally through a gift to the Minneapolis Jewish Federation Community Campaign, which builds community, cares for the welfare of Jews everywhere, and maximizes participation in Jewish life.


by investing your time—make calls at a Call for Change phone-a-thon, join a committee, or become a campaigner. 



by exploring the many ways to get involved with Federation, from attending an event to exploring leadership opportunities, to hopping on our upcoming Campaigner’s Mission!