It’s a wrap. Or at least, it was a wrap.
On Sunday, Feb. 7, students from the Joint Jewish Education Program (J-JEP) participated in World Wide Wrap. The annual program, organized by the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs, was held at Rodef Shalom Congregation and welcomed more than 150 students and volunteers.
Standing above the bima in Levy Hall, Rabbi Seth Adelson, senior rabbi of Congregation Beth Shalom, donned tefillin and provided instructions on laying and removing the leather straps and boxes. With the aid of slides displayed behind him, Adelson explained each box’s contents as well as the appropriate blessings for recital. Following Adelson’s presentation, volunteers assisted students with wrapping tefillin.
“It’s a program of the Conservative movement to give kids exposure to the mitzvah of tefillin,” said Rabbi Sharyn Henry of Rodef Shalom Congregation. “Since our school is combined between Rodef Shalom and Beth Shalom we’re doing it here.”
J-JEP is a self-described “collaborative effort between Congregation Beth Shalom and Rodef Shalom Congregation.” Although the former is Conservative and the latter Reform, the congregations have combined their K-7 religious and Hebrew education programs. Philosophical and practical decisions divide the movements; however, those involved have committed to working past particular differences.
“J-JEP is a cooperative operation between Rodef Shalom and Beth Shalom so we work with religious sensibilities,” said Adelson. “Theologically, we may disagree on some grounds, [but] we agree on much. My Reform colleagues and I agree where we disagree is the issue of requirement or obligation. Halacha and mitzvot are binding on us, and although my Reform colleagues may disagree about that, we certainly agree about teaching tradition.”
When we translate mitzvah, we translate it as “an opportunity for connection to God or holiness,” said Henry.
Accordingly, while Adelson sees laying tefillin as a binding commandment, Henry considers it an opportunity for engaging with holiness.
“Because we have two congregations who make up one school, you want to get two philosophies across,” Henry said. “In the end, the practice works the same, but the philosophy is different.”
“Part of the ideal of J-JEP is students are exposed to a broad understanding of Jewish understandings and practices,” said Rabbi Aaron Bisno, Rodef Shalom’s spiritual leader. “This [program] comes to us from the Conservative movement, and we think it’s a value for students to have a wider and deeper appreciation for Jewish tradition.”
World Wide Wrap has occurred globally for more than 15 years. According to FJMC’s website, “World Wide Wrap unites men, women and children in prayer.”
“It gets people to understand a little about tefillin, which is important because people say what’s that, what are those?” said Bryan Cynamon, past regional president of the Tri-State Region of FJMC.
“One of the things we find in Conservative and Reform synagogues is people aren’t used to seeing tefillin and using tefillin, so if we get kids accustomed to it they will be more likely to use it in the future,” said Mark Frisch, past president of Beth Shalom’s Men’s Club
Marshall Balk volunteered to help students lay tefillin. When asked why he participated in the program, Balk explained, “My kids go to school here, I wanted to introduce them to putting on tefillin.”
Stephen Neustein is past international vice president of FJMC and chaired this year’s World Wide Wrap at Beth Shalom and Rodef Shalom.
“Synagogues around the world join together, people register and make commitments to the program,” said Neustein.
One aspect of Pittsburgh’s program is that following the wrap, Neustein led students in another rap.
While rhyming the words of “Strapped-The Magnificent Seven,” lyrics by Orin S. Rotman, Neustein proclaimed:
I woke up this morning
And got out of bed
My head was achin’,
Got pain in my leg
I’ve got my problems
And so do you
But I got ways to deal
‘cause I am a Jew
There is hope
And a way to cope
When I get strapped
I get strapped.
Neustein, a wrapper, admitted he was not much of a rapper. Instead, he directed interested parties to Rotman, a member of Congregation Beth Judea of Long Grove, Ill., and star of the YouTube video “Tefillin Wrap Rap.”
While Neustein took the stage for this year’s program, he said that in previous years, participants have written raps for the event.
“Sometimes kids write them, sometimes we write them. Here at J-JEP we’re still trying to figure our way out and work out logistics,” he said.
World Wide Wrap, which coincides annually with Super Bowl Sunday, exposes students to different aspects of Judaism, said Liron Lipinsky, J-JEP director.
“Our mission is to prepare all of the J-JEP students for Jewish life whatever it may look like when they are adults,” she said. “The same thing goes for other aspects of Judaism, [like] kashrut or Shabbat, whether they have that level of observance at home now or later.”
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.