My Journey to Become a Madrika

By Jamie Ireland

Have you ever taken courses that you felt were designed for you? Well, I have. Having been a long-time CSJO-er, it was nice to be certified as a Madrikha earlier this month in Detroit in a beautiful ceremony at the Birmingham Temple. As my certification suggests, now I may legally perform all of the similar duties as a minister, priest or rabbi- pretty cool! As a Secular Humanist Leader, I can be the legal officiant at weddings, conduct memorials and other ceremonial functions and engage in moral counseling upon request. 

During my 5-year leadership program, I learned about the history of the Secular movement, the history behind our holiday and life cycle celebrations, as well as educating our youth and managing our organizations. Much of my studies reinforced ideas that I knew but bolstered my knowledge in these areas. But there was new learning as well when I took courses on Sephardic and Israeli Jewry. My favorite, because I knew the least-therefore learned the most- was the course with hands-on practical skill learning of philosophic guidance and counseling.

As a teacher of our Jewish Culture School and serving on the board I have been active in our Tri-Valley Cultural Jews community since its inception 12 years ago. I wanted to have more background knowledge of our movement and as a lifelong-learner, I knew there was always more to learn so I went for it, tackling the feat of this program that I had heard of as a teen and now I have completed it … it feels so good to accomplish this long-held goal.

Jamie Ireland
Tri-Valley Cultural Jews
November 2017

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Let the Lights Shine

By Joan Kurtz

Last year at this time, I chose not to display my electric menorah in the window as we celebrated Chanukah. My community had experienced an increase in anti-Semitic activity – spray painted slurs on the high school walls as well as on rocks at the top of our local mountain. I felt intimidated and nervous about showing the lights. I let "them" win. But not this year!

Since then, I have joined a local Resistance group. I have called and wrote letters to my senators and representatives. I have marched and protested locally as well as in my state capital. I have read magazines and blogs, listened to the radio and watched the news, both the liberal stations and the conservative ones. It’s always good to know what the other side is hearing and thinking. So now I am empowered and nothing is going to stop me now.

Chag Sameach to all, and may your menorahs burn ever so bright this year for all to see.

My Instinctively Jewish Need to Feed Everyone

By Samara Cogan


The first thing I did at work on the morning of November 1 was email my HR department to ask if we could organize a food drive for the holidays. At first they said that they didn't need much help. All they wanted me to do was collect boxes to hold our canned good donations. I took it upon myself to read everything about the group hosting the larger food drive we were contributing to and the organization we were ultimately donating to. I printed out flyers and signs to post on the doors of our building. I posted the event information and the list of preferred food donations next to the donation boxes. When I realized that people would walk right by the boxes without noticing them, I decided to draw more attention to them. I spent hours tracing, coloring, and cutting out paper leaves which I taped to the floor, creating a path of fall leaves that led right to the donation boxes. I was the talk of the office for several days after that. 

When it comes to donating food, this wasn't my first rodeo. When I worked at a grocery store, I worked with a local food pantry to collect, store, and deliver fresh produce donations. I did the majority of the (literal) heavy lifting because the donations were my personal project to reduce food waste and support our community. The store also organized several opportunities for employees to volunteer with Meals on Wheels, packing meals and delivering them to vulnerable seniors. 

Even further back were my experiences at The Jewish Children's Folkshul of making food baskets for the Mitzvah Food Project (formerly the Mitzvah Food Pantry). Each child would bring in an item or two from a list of Thanksgiving food items, and each class would work together to assemble a basket of food and decorate the basket with paper chains and whatever random craft items the assistants pulled out of the supply closet. We also took a class trip to the food pantry to check food labels for expiration dates and sort items by different food categories. 

Helping other people, particularly by feeding the hungry, has always been a part of my life and my Jewish upbringing. This upcoming holiday season will be difficult for many people, and I encourage everyone to do what they can to make it easier for our most vulnerable populations. Channel your inner Jewish mother, aggressively offering someone a snack. Because sometimes a little nosh can make a big difference.


A quick Google search will show you organizations in your area that are working to address issues of hunger. The most needed item for any hunger organization is ... MONEY. Giving money allows the organization a level of flexibility to buy what they need, and cash often stretches pretty far if they use that money to buy food in bulk or buy items with a short shelf life (e.g., dairy products, fresh fruits and vegetables, meats). If you want to donate food, check the websites for the organizations you want to help. They often have lists of most needed items as well as requests for items that follow specific nutrition guidelines, like low sugar or low sodium foods. Make sure your food donations are not expired and that the containers aren't damaged, dented, or fragile (no glass!).

There are so many ways to contribute to hunger organizations, so check out your local non-profits and food banks. Some might need drivers to pick up donations from bakeries or grocery stores. Some might be looking for volunteers to glean or harvest excess fresh produce from farms and gardens. Some might need items other than food, like clothing, toiletry items, or cleaning supplies. Everyone can contribute something. Do your research, get out there, and make a difference!