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  • Devra C. Aarons

CCM Annual Gala Speech by Devra Aarons

Shavua Tov beloved Midrasha community. Thank you for coming out on a rainy night to be in this room together. There is nothing I love more than standing up here and seeing all of you here together. It’s so beautiful to see each of you representing all the pieces of our Contra Costa (and beyond) community - Midrasha is amazing because it IS all of us - Beth Chaim, B’nai Shalom, B’nai

Tikvah, CCJDS, the CCJCC, Berkeley Oakland Midrasha/East Bay JCC, the Federation, the J., American Jews, Israelis, Russians, Ukrainians, Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, interfaith, intercultural, LGBTQA+, Jews of Color - I could go on and on. We

are a beautiful mix. I am so grateful we are all here together tonight to celebrate our work with our community’s Jewish teens.


Here’s what we are celebrating tonight:


1. Our enrollment is up 20% compared to last year. That’s over

120 teens participating in our Midrasha programming during

this academic year.


2. Our educational team is deeply engaging our teens in Jewish

learning and working with our teens to build connected Jewish

teen community.


3. Our retreats keep growing and improving, with 5 new

community partners on board.


4. Our three tikkun olam or social action initiatives - Better

Together, Hamsa Fund and Impact Builder - enable 37 teens

and 17 elders to help make change happen in our community. And we are celebrating the challenge of engaging Jewish teens.


To work with Jewish teens today means to understand that it’s

almost impossible for them to fully focus, to be fully present.

Because of this, I often consider the Hebrew term, “Hineini.” The

direct translation from the Hebrew of this phrase is, “here I am.”


In Exodus chapter 3, verse 4 1 , when Moses encounters the burning

bush and really NOTICES the bush, G-d calls out, “Moses” and

Moses answers, “Hineini” or “I am here.” Would Moses have

noticed the bush if he was immersed in his smart phone?

At Midrasha we want teens to really notice each other, to listen. It’s

why for retreats we purposefully pick locations where phones don’t

work. In Torah, Hineni precedes vital action and often change. The

moment at the Burning Bush is when Moses gets motivated to

return to Egypt to free the Israelites from slavery under Pharoah.


On retreats, our teens’ focus acts as a catalyst to deepen

friendships, to celebrate Shabbat with true Kavanah or intention,

and enables our teens to grow their internal Jewish awareness.

Hineni helps us to be better educators, mentors and guides.


Elie Wiesel talked about the value of being a witness and how it’s a

superpower that allows you to see things that others might miss.

You can’t witness if you aren’t fully present. When you work with

teens as we do “Hineini” translates to hearing “I am fine,” but

knowing that means, “I am in pain” and then listening.


“Hineini” means seeing the teens who need a friend or are sitting by

themselves and connecting them with a group of people who will

bring them love and comfort. It means knowing which name to use

or what gender pronoun to say.


“Hineini” means giving a teen a second or third chance when the rest of the world shuts them out. “I am here” - Hineni - is often the thing a teen needs to hear the

most from a trusted adult or friend. Hineini, being there - fully

there - for our teens, IS the most important part of our work.

I hope tonight you feel the depth and impact of our shared

community. May you by inspired tonight to help us do the work of

Hineni, with your gifts of support. Todah.

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