MEGAN LEAVEY *Movie Review*

Kate Mara stars in Megan Leavey as the title character, a US Marine who serves heroically with her military service dog, Rex.  After Megan leaves the Marines, she begins petitioning to adopt Rex upon his own retirement from the Corps.  The film emphasizes themes of love, friendship and loyalty.

Megan Leavey also stars Tom Felton, Ramon Rodriguez, Common, Edie Falco, Bradley Whitford, Will Patton.  It was directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite.

For more about the themes in Megan Leavey and what it has in common with Dirty Dancing and Grease, take a look below:


—>Keep in touch with the author on Twitter and Instagram @realZoeHewitt.  Looking for the direct link to the video?  Click here.

Bill O’Reilly vs. Jon Stewart on Common controversy

Bill O’Reilly and Jon Stewart discuss rap artist and poet Common’s visit to the White House.

Part 1

Part 2

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Danger Lurking in U.S.-Israel Linkage

Israel and the United States have more in common than ever as both nations fight the terror scourge. That’s good news, but Jewish leaders would be wise not to get smug about it.

True, this growing commonality may lead to a new understanding in Washington of the difficult decisions Israeli leaders have had to make for years. But linkage also has some big potential downsides.

The war in Iraq could produce a sharp public backlash against U.S. involvement — in that particular conflict and in a region that is hard on traditional American naivete. And that backlash could taint U.S.-Israel relations if the public links failed U.S. policies with Israel.

This is dangerous territory, because so many chronic Israel bashers have made a cottage industry of blaming pro-Israel forces for U.S. involvement in Iraq, from former Republican presidential candidate Pat Buchanan to Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.), who recently pointed the finger at a cabal of Jewish neocons he said wanted the war to help Israel.

That kind of linkage is inflammatory nonsense.

Polls show U.S. Jews were less supportive of the Iraq venture than Americans in general before last year’s invasion, and that skepticism has remained constant since President Bush prematurely declared "mission accomplished." Almost no major Jewish groups expressed any public views on the war, and few privately lobbied in favor of it.

Still, there is a persistent perception — last echoed by Hollings — that a group of Jewish neoconservatives somehow manipulated a gullible administration into the war to serve Israel’s interests. That kind of warped thinking could become more prevalent and more dangerous as the American people tire of the rising body count and the unending financial drain of the war.

A different kind of linkage is taking place, because of the obvious similarity between U.S. and Israeli policies in their respective wars against terror. The nightly television images tell a powerful story: U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan are doing the same things Israeli troops have been doing for years in Gaza and the West Bank — maintaining an occupation against an enraged population, inflicting unintended civilian casualties in bitter urban warfare and holding large numbers of terror suspects without trial.

That commonality will make it harder for the United States to criticize Israel for tactics the United States is employing in Iraq and Afghanistan. But what happens if U.S. public opinion turns sharply against the war?

Israelis can’t afford the luxury of turning their backs on a terror threat that is an everyday part of their lives, but very few Americans, so far, have been affected by our confrontation with this menace. We could turn our backs on a fight we could come to loathe — and on those who are still fighting it.

A backlash against the war isn’t inevitable, but it will become increasingly likely if the United States cannot work out an effective transfer of power in June and if the current violence deepens. It could accelerate if the prison abuse scandal intensifies — a scandal that seems to suggest that Americans, too, can get sucked into the vicious irrationality of that part of the world.

And that backlash could rub off on Israel, increasingly seen as the United States’ partner not just in the war on terror but in the controversial means used to wage it. While there is no antidote to such a backlash, Jewish leaders can work now to minimize it.

They can avoid gloating over the fact that the United States has adopted may Israeli tactics it previously criticized. That may feel good today, but it could come back to haunt the pro-Israel movement, if the Iraq venture continues to go sour.

They can continue to make it clear that whether Bush’s decision to make Iraq the second battle in the war on terrorism was correct or not, it had nothing to do with a desire to protect Israel.

They can react sharply and with hard facts to those politicians who express their loathing for the war by blaming it on Israel, on pro-Israel organizations or on cabals of Jews, not on the president who was apparently determined to overthrow Saddam Hussein from day one of his administration.

Hollings’ comments last week could have been a teaching opportunity for Jewish groups to remind reporters that Jews are just as divided about the war as Americans in general. Instead, Jewish groups, with the exception of the Anti-Defamation League, were mostly mute.

It’s one thing to say this nation and Israel are involved in a common struggle against international terrorism; it’s something quite different to say that the terror war somehow justifies all of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s policies.

The United States and Israel are partners in this global fight, but the leaders of both countries have linked other agendas to that war. That multiplies the possibility that the new linkage may ultimately undermine U.S.-Israel relations.

For the Kids

Take a Leap

Let’s leap into the month of Adar! This is the month in which we are told: “The month of Adar brings great joy!” That is because Purim, a very joyous holiday, begins on the 14th of Adar. So, get into the spirit everybody and jump for joy!

Now don’t leap to conclusions!

If you were born on Feb. 29th, 1980, how old would you be this coming Feb. 29, 2004? (Leap years happened in 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996 and 2000.)

What’s the Connection?

After you find the words, try to put all the facts
together. What did John Holland invent? Who is Mario Andretti? Who are Graham
Nash and Jimmy Dorsey? You may need to ask your parents and/or the Internet for
some help. Send your answers with what these guys all have in common to


Off the Page

“Dave at Night” is an adventurous book based on Gail Carson Levine’s father’s life. Dave’s parents die and nobody wants him to live with them. Dave is placed in a cold, disgusting Jewish orphanage filled with obnoxious teachers. If you would like to find out what happens to Dave, read “Dave at Night.” — review by Yonatan Isaacs & Benjamin Rostami, sixth grade, Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy

If you have a Jewish book you would like us to know
about, review it and send it to .

Getting Stuffed on Sukkot

“Have you ever noticed how plump autumn foods are?” asked my 9-year-old daughter two decades ago as we passed a sukkah, a leafy hut, locked behind the gate of a Manhattan synagogue.

“You mean the peppers, pumpkins, eggplants, apples and squash?” I said, staring at a farmers market worth of produce dangling from the sukkah’s flimsy walls.

Outside the synagogue’s iron bars, we looked from afar but could not touch or smell the year’s final harvest, a sight more brilliant than fall foliage in New England. Dwarfed by high rises in a city lined with concrete, we were still attached to Judaism’s agrarian roots.

This scene was a far cry from what I recalled from my childhood. During the 1950s, the sukkah at my suburban synagogue was open all day to people who wanted to step inside. Each evening, the sisterhood women carried steaming pans of stuffed peppers, squash and eggplants to the backyard sukkah, where members of the congregation shared a communal meal. Many of the dishes they prepared entailed stuffing one plump vegetable inside another. Were these women merely paying homage to the garden’s last blast of the season, or was there a deeper, perhaps unconscious meaning to the traditional Sukkot fare they prepared year after year?

“The most common Sukkot dishes are filled foods, particularly stuffed vegetables and pastries, symbolizing the bounty of the harvest,” wrote chef Rabbi Gil Marks in his cookbook, “The World of Jewish Entertaining” (Simon & Schuster, 1998).

Over the centuries, Jewish cooks have gutted and chopped nearly every edible plant species, mixing the pulp with onions, breadcrumbs, matzah meal, meat, spices and assorted vegetables and fruit. They then stuffed these aromatic concoctions inside the vegetables’ cavities, roasting them to create heavenly results.

During the weeklong celebration of Sukkot, people eat their meals in a sukkah, or temporary hut, and holiday recipes call for seasonal produce.

Often migrating throughout their history, Jews both shared and borrowed cooking techniques from local people wherever they settled.

“In the Hellenistic world of Greek and Roman dominance, stuffed foods were prominent features at banquets,” said Corrie Norman, chair of the department of religion and director of the Rome Program at Converse College in Spartanburg, S.C. Filling an already full-looking food, such as a fig, was a double way of indicating celebration and abundance. A common sweet throughout the Sephardic Middle East is a nut-filled date.

“Jews picked up on and advanced the significance and artistry of celebratory stuffed foods,” Norman said. “For example in modern Rome, stuffed fried vegetables are associated with Jewish origins.”

This group of recipes is called alla Giudia (in the Jewish style). While this vegetable-stuffing technique has fused with Roman cuisine, its name credits its Jewish origin.

A former “semiprofessional” cook, Norman is currently combining her enduring passion for food with her studies in religion and history. As an affiliate of the Harvard Pluralism Project, she coordinates student research on food, meaning and gender.

“Fruits, vegetables and their harvest are the realities of fertility,” Norman said. “Roundness or fullness also signify fertility, which also means life.”

Throughout time, there has been a link between agriculture and fertility, the harvest and birth. Stuffing one food inside another at the end of the growing season underscores this point.

“Stuffed squash is full and round,” Norman said. “It is full of mysterious, wonderful ingredients, hidden initially but eventually bursting forth.”

She explains that whether most people are aware of it or not, they understand the significance of a symbolic food, such as stuffed cabbage, by its taste and its presence — or absence — on the Sukkot table. They may associate that sweet apple strudel of their youth with their mother or grandmother.

“That form of embodied knowing — often not rational or conscious — is key to sustaining symbolic meaning,” Norman said.

This is one reason why many people continue to prepare family recipes on holidays, when they could more easily order the entire menu from a deli or restaurant, Norman explained.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if a Jewish grandmother, making her stuffed eggplant from scratch, felt that going to all that trouble in a day of convenience foods somehow helped make Sukkot special for her family,” she said. No doubt, after she is gone, her family will savor their memories of her and the special eggplant dish that she prepared, which connects them to their Jewish ancestry and the mystery of the harvest.

This must be why when the season’s first chill penetrates my sweaters, I reach for a booklet of holiday recipes that my grandmother gave me in desperate hope that I’d keep a Jewish home. That autumn of 1968, I was a 20-year-old in miniskirts, indifferent to her concern. I must have hurt her feelings when I left that booklet on her coffee table. But undeterred, she mailed it to me anyway.

Today as withered leaves blow across the sidewalks of New York, I think of my grandmother as I head to the nearest Korean market, where at Sukkot, the onions are their most pungent, the squash bulging and beautiful and the cabbage ranging in color from green to purple. I wish she were still alive so I could tell her that I make the stuffed cabbage and squash recipes from that booklet, which is now wrinkled and yellowing with age.

I remember her as a portly woman with a kind heart who urged her family to eat more than they cared to. Spiritually connected to Sukkot, she was a good Jewish grandmother who insisted that her loved ones leave the table completely satisfied, if not a little stuffed.

Holishkes: Stuffed Cabbage

1 large cabbage

Freeze cabbage overnight. Defrost completely (about 4 hours). Gently pull off leaves from half of the cabbage, about 12. (Save remaining cabbage for soup or other recipes.) Don’t worry if leaves tear. Cut away their course center spines and discard. Cut larger, outer leaves in half.


2 15-ounce cans tomato sauce

Juice of 2 lemons

2 tablespoons white vinegar

1 1/2 cups honey

1 cup red wine

4 cloves garlic, minced fine

Salt and pepper to taste

2/3 cup raisins

Place all of the sauce ingredients, except the raisins, in a saucepan and bring to a simmer on a medium flame.

Remove from heat and stir in raisins. Reserve.

Meat Stuffing:

1/3 cup raw rice

1 pound chopped beef

1 egg, beaten

1 tablespoon dill, minced


No-stick spray

Prepare rice according to directions on package.

Combine first four ingredients in a bowl, mixing well.

Place a heaping tablespoon of meat mixture on cabbage leaves, selecting a spot away from tears and where it nestles well.

Gently roll leaves around stuffing, tucking in edges and sides. Fasten with toothpicks in strategic places.

If stuffing mixture remains, roll it into meatballs.

Coat a large roasting pan with no-stick spray. Place cabbage rolls and meatballs inside, layering if necessary. Pour sauce over the top, making sure it dribbles between all cabbage rolls. Simmer on a low flame for 90 minutes, until sauce thickens slightly and meat is well done. Serve hot. Recipe can be prepared ahead and reheated on a low flame.

About 12 entree-sized portions, plus several meatballs.

Vegetable Curry Stuffed Peppers

2 potatoes, peeled

1 cup walnuts, chopped

8 peppers: Select ones with flat bottoms so they don’t topple during cooking. For eye appeal, choose red, yellow, green and orange peppers.

3 tablespoons cooking oil

3 large onions, diced

8 cloves garlic, minced

19-ounce can Cannellini (white kidney beans), drained in colander

4 tomatoes, seeds removed and diced

4 tablespoons parsley, minced

3 teaspoons curry powder

2 teaspoons cumin

3/4 teaspoon turmeric

Salt and pepper to taste

no-stick cooking spray

15-ounce can vegetable broth

1/2 cup white wine

Cut potatoes into chunks and boil until soft. Drain.

Roast walnuts at 350 F until light brown, about two to three minutes.

With a knife, cut a circle around pepper stems, large enough to insert stuffing. Discard stems. Cut away interior fibers. Rinse with cold water to flush out seeds. Place upside down to drain. Dry skins with paper towels.

In a large pot, heat oil on medium flame. Sauté onions and garlic for one minute. Mix in potatoes, walnuts, beans, tomatoes, parsley and spices. Stir for three minutes.

Coat an ovenproof pan with cooking spray. Preheat oven to 350 F.

Spoon enough vegetable mixture inside peppers so it bulges into a dome over their tops. Arrange peppers in pan. Gently pour broth and wine into pan, surrounding but not saturating peppers.

Roast for 45-60 minutes, until peppers soften and pucker and vegetables on top turn golden brown. Serve hot or at room temperature.

8 servings.

Autumn Harvest Acorn Squash

No-stick spray

2 1/2 pounds acorn squash

5 carrots, peeled and coarsely diced

1/3 cup chopped pecans, toasted for 2 minutes until brown

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon cardamom

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/3 cup dried cherries

3/4 teaspoon salt or to taste

1/4 cup brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray Pyrex baking pan with no-stick spray.

Cut squash in half along one of the grooves on its skin. Remove and discard seeds. Place squash in pan flesh side down and skin side up. Pour water into pan 1/2 inch deep. Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until flesh is soft. (While baking, check water level and add more if too much evaporates.)

Meanwhile, steam carrots until soft, about three to five minutes.

When squash is ready, cool for five minutes and remove from pan. Gently scoop out flesh with a spoon, being careful not to rip skin. Place in a bowl. Add remaining ingredients, mixing well.

Spoon mixture into squash shells and serve immediately.

6-8 servings.