Thursday, January 31

The Making of an IDF Soldier

by Mindi Epstein

Twenty-year-old Maya Boukai, an Israeli who grew up in Indianapolis, recently enlisted in the Israeli Defense Forces and is well on her way to a new and exciting life. This vibrant young lady, who was once too shy to speak in the classroom, will soon become a combat fitness instructor leading fellow soldiers in exercise and group fitness programs as part of their combat training.

Maya arrived at her new life via the JCC.

Fourteen years ago, her parents, Michele and Gadi Boukai, moved from Israel to Indianapolis with their two young children and just a few suitcases containing the entire family’s personal belongings. They settled in a neighborhood on the north side near the JCC because they knew the agency would be an invaluable resource.

It was while participating in JCC programs that Maya got her first taste of athletics. She took swim lessons and became the youngest certified Red Cross lifeguard on staff, taught private swim lessons and mom-tot aqua classes, and became a member of the North Central High School dive team. Her JCC tumbling and gymnastics classes prepared her for the Northview Middle School’s cheerleading squad and ultimately became a foundation for all of her athletic endeavors.

“It all started at the JCC,” Maya says, “where I had the chance to do so many different things.”

Upon graduation from high school, Maya participated in a one-year GAP program in Israel for students between their high school and college years. She was placed as a volunteer at Jordan River Village, a camp whose mission is to give chronically ill Jewish and Arab children the freedom to experience being a kid in the safety of a 61-acre camp compound with 24-hour medical supervision. The camp, which is 100-percent funded and free to the children’s families, is the only camp of its kind in the Middle East.

The children’s joy and the co-existence of Jewish and Arab volunteers, children and families made a lasting impression on Maya. By the end of her GAP year, she knew that she wanted to make aliyah (become an Israeli citizen) and serve in the Israeli army.

A soldier can be assigned to any number of jobs, but Maya had her heart set on one in particular, one that would call upon her athletic skills first developed at the JCC in Indianapolis, and one for which competition is fierce. Tryouts performed in front of a group of Israeli Defense Force officers could have been unnerving, but Maya succeeded in earning the coveted post of Combat Fitness Instructor.

For this young Israeli girl, the JCC was her home away from home during her formative years. It was her participation in a variety of the JCC’s youth programs that helped her gain self-confidence and become integrated into American society. Ultimately, skills she developed here set her on a path leading to the active and healthy lifestyle she is now living in her homeland. 

More about Mindi Epstein

Tuesday, January 29

Meditation is About the Moment

by Lev Rothenberg

“If I have even just a little sense,
I will walk on the main road and my only fear will be of straying from it,
Keeping on the main road is easy,
But people love to be sidetracked.” 
Tao Te Ching, Lao Tsu

“And lo, the Lord passed by. There was a great and mighty wind, splitting mountains and shattering rocks by the power of the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind – an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake – fire; but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire – a soft, murmuring sound.” 
I Kings

Do you ever feel that you spend too much time sidetracked, or think that the soft murmuring sound of spirit is nowhere to be heard? 

If so, you are not alone – you are human.

We work hard all week, hoping to make it to the weekend. We plan all year for our vacation so that we can be happy and carefree for a week. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a weekend or a vacation. And what about all the other days?

We have thousands of thoughts every day. How many of them are new, or useful?

Meditation is not magic. It is not religion. It is not even based on faith.

It is based on experience.

Meditation does not carry you away. It can bring you home.

The key to meditation, as with so many spiritual practices, is being in the moment, not fighting with reality (you will lose, but only 100 percent of the time) and allowing things to be as they are.

Meditation helps us realize that we are not ever lost and that we don’t need to go anywhere to find ourselves or experience peace. It is here. It is now.

The JCC offers two meditation classes starting in February: Mindfulness Meditation and LeggoMy Ego: Getting Serious About Spiritual Awakening.


More about Lev Rothenberg

Thursday, January 24

Small Steps for Big Gains

by the JCC Association and Club One

We are heading into the last week of January. Have you already given up on your New Year’s resolution?

Less than a month into 2013, you still have time to right the ship and recommit to those important personal goals.

If you’ve floundered, it’s likely because we tend to set goals that are too lofty. This is not to say we shouldn’t aim high, but we do need to be realistic.

Otherwise, we’re doomed for failure.

Challenging goals are healthy, but they need to be broken down into chunks to ensure success. As age-old wisdom states, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one single step.”

Make that first single step a small one, and soon your small steps will become strides and your strides will become achievements.

Here are common goals and ideas for some small steps you could take to achieve them:

I want to start exercising: Select an activity you enjoy and can easily fit into your schedule. Do five minutes of it four days a week. Do this for a week. If successful, then either add more days or more time (e.g., 10 minutes four days a week). Repeat this until you’re exercising at least five days a week for 30 minutes each day.

I want to eat more fruits and veggies: Add a fruit or veggie to one meal or snack five days a week. Do this for a week. If successful, then either add more days or another fruit or veggie the following week. Repeat this until you’re eating at least five a day.

I want to lose weight: See above!

I want to be less stressed: Choose a short relaxation activity you can do each day for a week (e.g., breathing exercises for one minute, a short walk, or simply smile). Do this for a week. If successful, then either repeat the same activity the following week, extend the time or pick a new activity. Do this until you’ve built a daily relaxation habit.

Small Step Tip: Get a calendar and display it. Check off each day you do your small step. This sense of accomplishment will help keep you motivated.

Tuesday, January 22

In the Winter, It’s Still the Garden

by Richard S. Kordesh

Our barren yard in January shows many lingering signs of having been not so long ago a small space teeming with colorful fruit and surging flowers. 

As I take a slow walk to the garage, I imagine the cucumber plants that climbed green ladders, blossoming in the summer with white and yellow flowers. 

Today, that empty garden bed rests in a brown, semi-frozen sleep. It hardly looks like the nutritious home that nurtured flourishing vegetables only a few months ago.

Even on this frigid, sunless day, I see in my mind’s eye where ripening pears hung from tree branches, where beans twirled up bamboo poles, where onions pushed upward through layers of mulch and carrots plunged deep into the dirt. Through these recent memories, I enjoy this whole scene even on a winter day.

Yet, the winter brings its own visual pleasures, even when it has generated such little snow.

With the leaves and plants gone, the garden that remains exhibits its most stark and simplest forms – shapely trees, resting planters, a solitary white, clay rabbit – all of which straddle a path now reduced by the cold to ground-level stubbles of dormant grass.

The fall of the gardening season yielded gradually to the barren peace of winter. The deep freeze kills molds that could threaten the seedlings that will emerge in the spring. 

When one experiences these seasonal rhythms with one’s children, many later lessons can emerge in real stories of birth, growth, aging and renewal that will occur in many realms of their lives.

Guest blogger Richard S. Kordesh is the author of Restoring Power to Parents and Places and has worked professionally in the community development field for 35 years. Visit Richard's website for more

Thursday, January 17

Inside the artist's process

by Lisa Freeman

As curator of the JCC Art Gallery, I’m constantly on the search for new artists and photographers who are looking at the world around us in creative and visually stimulating ways.

courtesy of
This search sends me and Director of Arts and Education, Lev Rothenberg, up winding staircases and into artists’ nooks all over the Indianapolis area.

The smell of oil paint is an intoxicating draw as we walk into studio spaces all over the city. Paintbrushes, palettes, used-up paint tubes and canvases welcome us into the artist’s world.

The artists we have been honored to host in the JCC gallery imagine and create in a myriad of styles and mediums as varied as oil, gouache, cut paper, watercolor, mosaic, photography, and two and three-dimensions, just to name a few.

This diverse group looks for inspiration in music, literature, current events, conversations with a colleague, nature or something totally random that may have caught their interest in passing.

We’ve been very fortunate to explore and learn about the artistic process by sitting and asking questions in the studios and work spaces of great creative minds, such as Lois Main Templeton, as well as her partner and friend, Phil O’Malley. We’ve met Jerry Points, who is one of the pioneers of the Carmel Arts and Design District, and Kyle Ragsdale, who also serves as curator of the Harrison Center for the Arts gallery.

This week at the JCC, there is an opportunity for you to gain insight into the processes of another talented artist.

Shawn Causey, whose exhibit entitled Only That is currently at the JCC Art Gallery, is inspired by the intersection of music and painting, which informs her artistic life. Her love for the solitude of the painting studio parallels the pleasure she takes in the music practice room.

More about Lisa Freeman