By Regan Treewater
(EJNews) – Temple Beth Ora, Edmonton’s Reform Shul is celebrating a very special occasion on April 13 and the entire Jewish community is invited to attend. Rabbi Gila Caine will be officially installed as the shul’s Rabbi during a Kabbalat Shabbat at 8 pm at TBO. Special guests will include Rabbi Steven Chester, Rabbi Emeritus, Temple Sinai, Oakland CA; Daryl Messinger, Chair, Board of Trustees of the Union for Reform Judaism; and Pekka Sinervo, President, Canadian Council for Reform Judaism. Seating is limited so please rsvp to firstname.lastname@example.org or 780-487-4817.
There are a lot of new initiatives happening at the shul. In a collaborative endeavor, merging the traditions of Jewish thought with contemporary societal discussions around body image, TBO and Jewish Family Services are joining forces to host a five-part interactive seminar focusing on the facilitation of positive body perception in children and adolescents. At a time when the #MeToo movement is forcing people to confront difficult questions regarding sexual boundaries, it becomes all the more vital to foster feelings of pride in one’s body and healthy self-esteem in young people. Now, as Israeli musician Netta Barzilai takes the world by storm, her innovative, counter-culture, avant-garde performance-style is yet another instance of creative media challenging conventional interpretations of what is considered ‘attractive.’
Rabbi Caine believes that it is extremely important to begin engaging the Jewish community in an ongoing productive dialog regarding issues of body perception. She is eager to begin this discussion from a perspective informed by spiritual teachings and Jewish traditions. The upcoming course is the brainchild of a group of Jewish professionals who are knowledgeable about contemporary body image issues. In a meeting initiated by Meital Siva, it was agreed that there exists a very real need within the Edmonton Jewish community for an organized forum investigating how to help children and adolescents find lifelong respect and appreciation for their bodies. Rabbi Caine and Jewish Family Services Intercultural Facilitator Jeni Adler, along with their committee, took it upon themselves to make this idea a reality. In a recent interview Adler explained: “I don’t see any other similar courses offered in the Jewish Community. The Judaism content, shared by Rabbi Gila, is an important and unique component.”
The course will be led by professional speakers – all of whom are Jewish, although not necessarily affiliated. Each presenter was invited on the basis of their extensive individual expertise. Meital Siva, who will be co-teaching a section of the program commented: “Since 2014 I’ve been working for the Diversity Outreach Program at Sexual Assault Center of Edmonton. I bring to the table my knowledge and experience in cross-cultural relationships, immigration, parenting in three cultures, building relationships with diverse community groups and service providers, building community, capacity to speak about sexual violence, self-care and healing.” Speakers like Siva will work with Rabbi Caine and Adler to cultivate and maintain a safe space for parents and future-parents to share and discuss crucial issues affecting children and adolescents the world over.
“We need people to know that everything they say, and everything they hear from others, is confidential – we want to make sure we have an environment of complete trust,” commented Rabbi Caine when asked to describe the inception and motivation for the course. Quite often it is assumed that body insecurities are an unavoidable product of tumultuous teenage years – but as the philosophy of this course suggests, a healthy approach early on, and open parent-child dialog, can go a long way towards combating the harmful influences of mainstream commercial media. “We will try to make sensitive, controversial topics easier to talk about,” said Adler.
Adler herself, in concert with her own daughter, will also be facilitating one of the sessions. “I think that having the opportunity to hear from a parent-child facilitator pair is quite unique. She can comment on what worked and what didn’t, and in-between. She also has insider knowledge of how her friends fared,” Adler explained. “My knowledge comes from consciously parenting a 28-year-old daughter. I believed that the approach I took would form her for life! So, I was very mindful. Also, I worked at the Sexual Assault Centre for 7 years, and Planned Parenthood for 15 years. I have been working with Jewish Family Services for approximately 17. Lots of body image, sexuality and relationship content there.”
Although sessions will be hosted at, and co-sponsored by Temple Beth Ora, organizers are doing their best to attract parents from all branches of Judaism, all levels of observance and both affiliated and non-affiliated community members.
“We definitely want different perspectives around the table,” said the rabbi. “It is that we are all Jews that unites us; and together we can begin to travel this road of learning and discuss how to nurture positive body images in our children. I believe it is a consciousness, a greater awareness that needs to be always active as young people grow up and begin to ask questions of themselves.”
Organizers are requesting that participants register in order to maintain continuity throughout the program. “It is very important, in order for everyone to feel comfortable, so they really feel safe to open up. They need to know the people who will be there from week to week,” explained Rabbi Caine.
When people respect themselves, they are better able to respect others – this seminar style program, beginning in early May, aims to celebrate bodies and identities in all their many forms. As Jewish communities around the world cheer for Eurovision contestant Netta Barzilai and her rejection of socially imposed standards of beauty, those of us in Edmonton are being presented a unique and valuable opportunity to help our children grow up with positive notions of their bodies. With any luck, just as the strong and confident Barzilai has proclaimed to the world, our children too will be able to trumpet: “Look at me, I am a beautiful creature!”
Please also note that the Jewish Family Services 63rd Annual General Meeting will be held on April 12 at 7 pm at 8702 Meadowlark Road in Edmonton.