The Ruby Award is Jewish LearningWorks’ award for excellence in Jewish youth education and engagement. This annual opportunity for recognition was established in 2020 in collaboration with the San Francisco Teen Initiative, to amplify the importance of teen engagement. We are proud to give this award in memory of Rob Ruby, and honor his commitment to teen education.
In 2023, the Ruby was awarded to Meg Adler, Associate Director of Bay Area Programs at Camp Tawonga. Meg Adler is a true gem in the field of Jewish youth education. Under her leadership at Camp Tawonga, the Tawonga B’nai Mitzvah Program has grown, flourished and deepened, now serving 130 students per year. As the lead staff for this program, it is Meg’s vision, creativity and commitment to each family that make her a true standout. Meg is also a Middle School Educator at Edah, Studio 70, where she has created a space for middle school girls to express their own voices alongside the voices of women from Jewish tradition.
We are honored to share with you Meg Adler’s words and teaching, as she received the Ruby Award
Thank you to:
- Jewish LearningWorks;
- Eileen Ruby for her generous support of youth programming;
- my friends and colleagues, and family who are here today;
- my friends and colleagues, and family who are not but support me; and
- my loving wife Colleen, who when I’m stressed and need to settle down says, “tell me about this week’s Torah portion.”
I’d like to call into this moment someone who is not in the room in body, but who is with me whenever I study Torah: Rachel Brodie. Rachel, I continue to study Torah with joy and passion. And I’m sure you’d be glad to know I still have no plans of applying to Rabbinical school.
This week we read the last two parshiot of the book of Leviticus, Behar and Bechokotai. We start off learning about shmita (the year of release for the land and debts) the jubilee (the really big year of release for the land and debts). We learn how to hold property, ie wealth, loosely. These laws, and the many more that follow, and like concrete applications of the foundational ideals that no one really owns anything. Leviticus 25:23:
וְהָאָ֗רֶץ לֹ֤א תִמָּכֵר֙ לִצְמִתֻ֔ת כִּי־לִ֖י הָאָ֑רֶץ כִּֽי־גֵרִ֧ים וְתוֹשָׁבִ֛ים אַתֶּ֖ם עִמָּדִֽי׃
But the land must not be sold beyond reclaim, for the land is Mine; you are but strangers (or travelers) resident with Me.
God is the constant, we are the variables. The Earth remains, though generations come and go (as Kohelet says), yes even if the Earth becomes uninhabitable to humans, even more so, it will outlast us.
This text reminds me of Bereishit 3:19, “For dust you are, And to dust you shall return,” and even more Kohelet, “A time for being born and a time for dying, A time for planting and a time for uprooting the planted” (3:2). And as soon as I learned I would be receiving this Ruby Award, in some way I felt this same sense of passing through that all of these texts express. This same sense of stranger-hood. The great world of Jewish learning, past and present, spread out on either side of me and I knew my place in this tradition was significant but transient. As if I was a stranger resident in the land of Torah.
In some ways, ironically perhaps, it is my job not to be an expert, but to be a stranger to Torah. As a teacher, I am always engaging in new learning myself, looking up answers to questions from parents or students, researching new ideas for lesson plans, reading new books and texts – ever deeper – learning new techniques (Julie Batz taught me trope this year!), experimenting with rituals, and on and on. I must remain a stranger to our tradition by pushing myself into uncharted territory for the sake of my students – to make sure I’m showing up as the most energized and engaged learner I can be – and for my own gratification. Most teaching is role modeling. So, to be a great teacher is to be a great student. And to be a great student is to know that the more you know, the more you realize you do NOT know. So too with pretty much anything – although I’d have to argue that there is a particularly large amount of stuff to learn in the Jewish world.
It is for this reason, among many, that I am humbled to be recognized for my work as a Jewish educator. While I am deeply proud of my career and the high bars I have set for myself, I am also acutely aware of how much growth lies in front of me. More than anything, this award motivates me. Thank you for the honor and the jolt of energy, alike.