U.S. Customs renews order labeling Israeli settlement products

Is the U.S. joining the EU in labeling Israeli settlement products?

On January 23, the U.S. Customs released a statement reminding American importers that goods produced in the West Bank should not be allowed to be imported if labeled as “Made in Israel.”

“Goods produced in the West Bank or Gaza Strip shall be marked as originating from ‘West Bank,’ ‘Gaza,’ ‘Gaza Strip,’ ‘West Bank/Gaza,’ ‘West Bank/Gaza Strip,’ ‘West Bank and Gaza,’ or ‘West Bank and Gaza Strip’,” the statement reads. “Goods that are erroneously marked as products of Israel will be subject to an enforcement action carried out by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Goods entering the United States must conform to the U.S. marking statute and regulations promulgated thereunder.”

The guidance was a reminder of an existing regulation first imposed in 1997 on merchandise imported from the West Bank, Gaza Strip, or Israel.

According to the Forward, while the provision instructs that the failure to mark such products would result in the levy of a duty of 10 percent of the product’s value, the law is barely enforced, if at all, said the Forward.

On Twitter, as the reminder was publicized on Thursday, some drew a parallel with the EU labeling initiative.

The European Commission adopted in November the “Notice on indication of the origin of goods from the territories occupied by Israel since June 1967.” The notice contains guidelines for labeling of products from the West Bank settlements being sold in the 28 countries part of the EU. For products from the West Bank or the Golan Heights, “product from the Golan Heights (Israeli settlement)” or “product from West Bank (Israeli settlement)” need to be added in brackets.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the EU initiative “an immoral decision.” He later ordered the Foreign Ministry to carry out “a reassessment of the involvement of EU bodies in everything that is connected to the diplomatic process with the Palestinians.”

An unnamed State Department official told the Washington Free Beacon on Thursday that the new memo does not reflect a shift in longstanding policy. “We are aware that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection re-issued guidance on their marking requirements,” the official was quoted as saying. “There has been no change in policy or in our approach to enforcement of marking requirements.”

2016 presidential candidates have yet to comment on the recent development. “I’ll predict this is a measure that will be repealed in less than a year on Jan 20, 2017, even under @HillaryClinton,” tweeted Jeremy Saltan.

Saltan is the Bayit Yehudi’s Anglo Forum Chairman and Education Minister, Naftali Bennett’s English Campaign manager in 2013 and 2015. “The timing is very unfortunate and disappointing. Right after such an important visit and speech by POTUS,” he told Jewish Insider. “The Administration had seven years to make this move, and they choose the timing to enforce this law at a time when there are no ongoing talks and it is clear the reason behind that is the Palestinian incitement and violence.”

Up close and personal with the TSA

Recent days have been full of continually unfolding reports about a new intercepted underwear bomb intended to be carried aboard a U.S.-bound plane by an al-Qaida agent. That agent, said to be British, turned out to be working simultaneously with Saudi and U.S. intelligence, and the bomb never got near a plane. But as I prepared last week to board a flight to Alaska, where I would be participating in a conference devoted to the ethical work of Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, I couldn’t help but wonder what role this newly acquired knowledge will play in upcoming discussions about airport security and the effectiveness of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

Even though the TSA’s screening program played no part in thwarting this potential terrorist attack, the question of whether the existence of this bomb will help justify continuing the enormous sums of taxpayer money being poured into body-scanning technology has already begun to haunt me.

Over the past decade, something new has come to define the American ethos: fear. It isn’t as if fear had no part of our impulses until this moment, but the heightened fear that the world is a dangerous place has come to characterize the 21st century American mindset. It is a fear upon which we have allowed institutions to prey, so much that, since the events of 9/11, we have stopped asking many questions that still matter.

Jews are taught to question, and I have found that asking the right questions often leads to taking action. I have made a decision not to allow fear to lead my life, and I am committed to questioning any behavior that seems to have its basis in post-9/11 fear mongering. And that is how I came to find myself earlier this year in a face-off with a TSA agent at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). In that moment, I became achingly aware of just how critical — and difficult — it can be not only to ask the right questions, but also to do so even when asking those questions causes inconvenience. Still, simply doing what one is told, for me, is more transgressive and more destructive than inconvenience.

I was traveling from Los Angeles to Boston. My companion and I had made a decision not to submit to the virtual strip-searches routinely conducted by body-scanner machines. We had two reasons: First, the images of nude bodies transmitted by the machines are indecent and immodest. Even the newest auto imaging technology software that claims to obscure the image of the nude body only presents the machine operator with an edited version of the image, while the machine captures the entire image, which can then be stored by governmental and private agencies.

Second, while TSA and creators of the machines tout the safety of body-scanner technology, the truth is that there is no long-term data to confirm these claims. Researchers have challenged these findings, claiming that the amount of radiation is higher than suggested because the doses were calculated as if distributed throughout the entire body, whereas the radiation emitted is focused only on the skin and surrounding tissues. (This also means that if a bomb were carried inside the body, these scanners would not detect it.) The verdict on the safety of body-scanning technology has yet to be delivered. Rather than walk through a machine that may cause harm to my body, I prefer to ask questions. When told to walk through the body scanner, I informed the TSA agent that I could not submit to that form of screening, but that I would walk through a metal detector and have all of my items searched. The next step would be the infamous pat-down. I knew of one man who successfully opted out, and so we decided to see if we, too, could opt out of both.

Image from a full body scanner now used in airports

We could not. As soon as we explained that we could submit to neither the pat down nor the body-scan, the TSA shut down the entire line behind us, effectively decreasing the efficiency of their overall screening procedures and doubling the wait time for other travelers. Members of the LAPD arrived to deal with the “issue”: two people standing shoeless, respectfully asking questions.

The TSA Web site states that travelers are entitled to ask questions about the process, but the more questions we asked, the more we felt we were being penalized. It was an absurd situation in which to find ourselves — I a Jewish Studies professor and my companion a nice Jewish comedy director — and my emotions bordered simultaneously on laughter and tears as I realized with horror that we had created a spectacle. We were being used to create a spectacle of fear in what amounts to little more than the TSA security theater. I shuddered as I realized I was flanked by apathy and fear. People all around us continued to thoughtlessly walk through body-scanners and receive pat-downs. Those who were not altogether apathetic watched us with expressions of fear.

A revelation: It was not security that was being peddled, but rather fear and paranoia, all to create for the public an illusion of security. Do what we say, give us your trust, refrain from questioning us, and you will be safe. But are we safe? Are we safer than we were before the implementation of invasive searches?

In January 2012, the TSA published online a list of the top 10 finds for 2011. Some of these “good catches” include snakes, birds and reptiles; a graduate student’s science experiment that contained a device that looked like it could be an explosive device (it was harmless); inert landmines; a ninja book with two throwing knives (the passenger surrendered the book at the checkpoint because he had forgotten that it was in the carry-on bag); small chunks of inert C4 explosives found in the checked bag of a member of our armed forces who was taking them home as souvenirs; a pistol strapped to the ankle of a 76-year-old man; a flare gun along with seven flares; a stun gun disguised as a smartphone; and a non-metallic martial arts device called a “tactical spike” found in a passenger’s sock.

If it sounds like a list created by The Onion, it was not. This was published by the TSA in support of the strength of its security screening procedures. So let’s break this list down. With the exception of the “tactical spike,” not one of these “top finds” was discovered by a body-scanning device. The pistol would have been easily detected by a metal detector. Further, it is not illegal to travel with firearms, as long as they are declared and not carried on the plane. Typically, passengers carrying undeclared firearms were not arrested, but rather fined. That is, such passengers are suspected not of having terrorist impulses, but of forgetfulness or unintelligent decisions. In the words of the TSA: “Just because we find a prohibited item on an individual does not mean they had bad intentions, that’s for the law enforcement officer to decide. In many cases, people simply forgot they had these items in their bag.”

Now, the landmines: They were, well, inert. They were harmless, as were the small chunks of C4 explosives found in the checked bag of a member of our military. Without a detonator — and it is virtually impossible to carry a functioning detonator through a metal detector — there is nothing that could have been accomplished with the chunks of C4. As for the ninja book with the throwing knives, which the passenger himself surrendered after realizing that it was not in his checked bag, I’m not sure it should be on the list. And while I do not prefer to fly on an airplane with reptilian and avian stowaways, I’m also not sure that doing so would put me in the line of terrorist fire. The intense TSA security screening procedures have been implemented to protect us from the threat of terrorism, not to discover illegal but non-threatening items. I remain unimpressed with the effectiveness of the body-scanning devices and pat-downs. Apparently the experts are equally unimpressed. Rafi Sela, an Israeli airport security expert who helped design security at Ben Gurion International Airport, has said: “I don’t know why everybody is running to buy these expensive and useless machines. I can overcome the body scanners with enough explosives to bring down a Boeing 747. … That’s why we haven’t put them in our airport.”

One brash commenter on the TSA Web site suggests that he would rather the TSA prevent passengers with antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis from flying than confiscate birds, science experiments, unloaded guns, toothpaste and cupcakes. As always, the threat here remains unclear. Given the recent debacles over confiscated toiletries and baked goods, it seems that the greatest fear is that passengers will clean their teeth or develop Type 2 diabetes. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the threat was terrorism. As a result, we allowed many of our rights to be violated in the name of justice and in the hope of preventing another terrorist attack. But what has materialized is the realization that the cost of these procedures to our dignity — not to mention the monetary cost, hundreds of millions of dollars to purchase the machines and maintain them each year — is not worth the mountains of confiscated items.

We all want to fly on safe airplanes. The fallacy is that this must be accomplished by violating our privacy.

In my case, we had to make a decision: insist on ethics and dignity and miss our flight; or accept the pat-down, board our flight, and reclaim our dignity on another day. I opted to fly and found myself standing before a line of 12 to 15 men and one female terminal manager. A female TSA agent began to explain the procedure. I asked her if she would be touching my genitals, and she confirmed that she would be touching my “labia.” I was told to raise my arms, and standing in front of multiple men, my long blouse (which I had worn over black footless tights) was pulled up, exposing my entire bare midriff as well as the bottom portion of my bra. I forced myself to look into the faces of all the men who stood there, bearing witness to my humiliation. I continued to look, as the TSA agent pulled my tights away from my body and ran her fingers around my bare waistline.


The TSA Web site states: “You should neither be asked to nor agree to lift, remove, or raise any article of clothing to reveal a sensitive area of the body,” and, “Bare or exposed skin should not be touched by the security officer.” Both of these regulations were violated in full view of those in charge. Surely, I thought, this must be an anomaly. Driving home to Pico-Robertson from LAX later that week, I experienced a clash of emotions: anger, sadness, shame, humiliation, regret, fear. I was confused. I had a deep sense of having insisted on the “right” thing, but it had gone unrewarded. I felt punished. I asked myself: What, as both a Jew and a human being, is my responsibility? The simple but complex answer is that I am simply responsible. And as I accepted that responsibility, I became a repository for stories more distressing than my own.

A colleague, his wife and their 7-month-old daughter, Hazel, were flying from Charlotte, N.C., to Providence, R.I., for Thanksgiving in 2010. My friend and his wife discussed refusing the scanner, but considering the difficulty of making a 14-hour car ride with a baby, his wife insisted that they “comply.” Out of respect for his wife’s desire to get home for her first Thanksgiving with her new baby, my friend agreed to undergo whatever invasion of privacy the TSA insisted on. He went through the metal detector after disassembling his daughter’s stroller. While he reassembled it on the other side, the agents asked his wife to remove their daughter’s pink cardigan sweater-vest. The mother complied, and the agent felt Hazel’s little torso, presumably for an explosive device.

When asked how he felt about the pat-down of his baby girl, my friend responded: “I don’t know. I’m still telling the story, which probably gives some indication of how I feel. It’s an unnamed feeling, and I have nothing to compare it to — something having to do with violation of what makes me, and all of us, human. I would prefer to put my daughter on a hundred flights that involved no security check at all to even dreaming about a stranger patting her down for explosives again.”

The next time the family flew, they passed through the metal detectors unmolested. But my colleague will never forget watching the family in front of them: “I watched the passive father, who was watching his 14-year-old daughter with her arms extended and her feet shoulders width apart while a TSA agent, a woman, with disposable plastic gloves felt around the young girl’s waistband. Needless to say, I wish I hadn’t seen it, and I’m glad I didn’t make eye contact with that father.”

It occurs to me that it is one thing to allow one’s own dignity to be violated. It is quite another to watch that dignity being stripped from our children. My friend cannot stop saying to himself: It’s not just another policy. He continues: “I disagree with 90 percent of what the American government turns into law, but I always felt myself emotionally tied to my country — that was never a question for me. Until the thing with Hazel. Now I’m indifferent. I’m a husband, a father, a pseudo-Buddhist-Gnostic-Christian — but the America that my grandpas fought for in World War II — that’s a thing of the past, to me. I’m over it. When the revolutionaries come looking for support, they can count me in.”

I recently taught a class on post-9/11 fiction at Loyola Marymount University, and I took the opportunity to initiate a dialogue about terrorism, security, fear, human rights and ethical responsibility. I recounted my own experience as a starting point. One student, an Orthodox Jewish woman from the Pico-Robertson neighborhood, explained that, because of her modest clothing, each time she flies, she and her children must go through the body-scanner as well as receive pat-downs. She was told once that her skirt was not tight enough. As I listened to her story of being penalized for modesty, my distress was reignited. I realized that with regard to the level of indecency of which the TSA is capable, I had only touched the surface.

Ouriel and Gabrielle Hassan (a Canadian citizen with a green card) are Orthodox Jews living in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood. Ouriel’s family is from Egypt. Years ago, Ouriel’s grandfather changed the family’s name from “Hazan” to “Hassan” in an effort to avoid persecution in Egypt. In 2002, Ouriel arrived at LAX on a flight from New York. To his surprise, he was met by two machine-gun-toting soldiers who instructed Ouriel to accompany them. Once in a private room, Ouriel was strip-searched and held for three hours. The items he carried — clothing, Hebrew books, tefillin — were searched meticulously, and he was asked to open his tefillin, which would have destroyed them. When he explained that to the officers, they retracted the order, and, finding no reason to detain him, they released Ouriel with neither apologies nor explanation. He is subjected to scrutiny each time he travels.

Last year before Pesach, he and his wife and their 3-year-old son traveled from Los Angeles to Vancouver. As Ouriel prepared to enter the body-scanner, TSA agents approached Gabrielle and told her that her son, Eliyahu Yosef Hassan, would need to undergo additional screening procedures. She was told to point out Eliyahu’s bags and personal items; being only 3 years old, however, he had no personal items. Eliyahu was then taken from his mother and brought to a special screening area where a large woman roughly “patted” him down, grasping at his genitals and demonstrating indifference to his fearful and hysterical sobs. Gabrielle was prohibited from holding her son’s little hand. Despite TSA regulations that do not permit children to be separated from parents, she was forbidden from standing near him because he might “pass” something to her.

The TSA claimed that “Eliyahu Yosef Hassan” was on a no-fly list. It turns out that the name of the person on the no-fly list is “Yusef Hasan.” Yet little Eliyahu has experienced the traumatizing security screening two additional times. Although the TSA allows people with names similar to those on no-fly lists to apply for special numbers that will alert agents to these similarities and simplify screening processes, Eliyahu is not eligible for this number because he is under 16 years old. Instead, they must be prepared to submit their son to this humiliation. Additionally, TSA agents have withheld from Gabrielle the offer of a private screening room and patted her down in public by putting their hands underneath her skirt and against her legs, as well as lifting her clothing and running their hands underneath the underwire of her bra. Women, particularly those who dress modestly for religious reasons, are being publically humiliated, and their fathers, husbands and brothers must often deal with guilt stemming from their inability to protect their loved ones from degradation.

These are not the experiences of all travelers. But it is difficult to justify even one small child being violated by procedures implemented on the basis of their capacity to protect us from acts of terrorism. Children are being touched in a way that would be illegal anywhere outside of the gray zone of the TSA screening area. In a society that has, given the countless sexual abuse scandals involving priests, coaches and others in positions of authority, we are obsessed with protecting our children from physical and sexual abuse. Yet we give random people in TSA uniforms the authority to touch our children in any way they see fit — all in the name of safer skies. The past years have shown us that people in positions of power often violate children. But our fear of terrorism has become greater than our fear of child abuse, and we have offered up the dignity of our children in exchange for the illusion that we are safer because of it.

Some suggest that if one finds pat-downs to be inappropriate, he or she should not resist the technology that is designed to detect the materials sought through pat-downs. But a number of experts in the field remind us that these machines make mistakes. Agents testing the system have successfully passed through body-scanners with weapons. And they have warned of the possibility of overdose. One glitch could cause a body-scanner to emit an overdose of radiation. But just how common are errors? Apparently the TSA screeners at LAX have grown accustomed to them.

Jaime Eliezer Karas recently declined the body-scan at LAX, chose the pat-down, and watched the agent insert the piece of fabric into the machine that detects traces of explosive material. According to Karas: “We stood there in silence, both knowing everything was almost over. Suddenly, the machine displayed a message: ‘EXPLOSIVES DETECTED.’  The TSA agent did not flinch. As if in a previously choreographed sequence, he glided over to the next machine and was replaced by another agent.” Karas decided to inquire about what was wrong, and the second TSA employee replied that the cloth came up as having detected explosives, and that he was scanning it again at the next machine. The agent — who works for the same organization that terrorizes little Eliyahu Hassan every time he flies — was unconcerned by this information. The second machine did not think that Karas was carrying explosives, and he was given clearance to proceed toward the gates. Indeed, Karas carried no explosives. But the point is the inability of the technology to accurately assess the situation 100 percent of the time.

Many of us have forgotten how to be mindful. Are the deep costs to human dignity worth the ambiguous outcomes — piles of confiscated toothpaste and cupcakes amid optimistic claims that we are now safer? I continue to ask myself what, exactly, is my responsibility? How can I contribute to making a positive and meaningful change?

Much like the inconsistency in how TSA regulations are carried out, the attitudes of TSA members vary. Some TSA agents are snide and aggressive.  One woman, who recently conducted my pat-down in Seattle, was different. As she asked me if I had ever experienced the procedure, the look on my face told her I had. I opened my mouth to speak, but I had no words and I knew somehow that my face was telling the stories I could not speak in that moment. She looked at me intently, lowered her gaze and said, “I know. I’m sorry. It’s awful. You shouldn’t have to …  “ Her voice trailed off and she looked back up at me, as if asking for a pardon for what she was about to do.

Perhaps I was more of a revolutionary in this moment, when I smiled and said, “Thank you. Thank you for saying that.” There was something in her acknowledgment of her complicity in something indecent and undeserved that moved me. Her acknowledgment of how we were both, in that moment, being shamed as women, as citizens, and as human beings was an opening: an unspoken dialogue.

Responsibility begins with awareness and, one day, hopefully, ends with action.

The TSA claims that “since imaging technology has been deployed at airports, more than 99 percent of passengers choose to be screened by this technology over alternative screening procedures.” Perhaps we should think carefully about why people “choose” radiation over public humiliation — or perhaps there’s not much to think about there.

Monica Osborne is a professor of Jewish literature and culture and has written for The New Republic, Tikkun, Jewcy.com and other publications.

U.S. Customs issues guidelines on Sukkot species

U.S. Customs issued guidelines for bringing into the United States the four species of Sukkot.

The gist of the guidelines issued Tuesday is that the species will be allowed in subject to inspection.

“U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) understands that observant Jewish travelers entering the United States during the Sukkot holiday might carry religious items (etrogs, palm fronds, twigs of willow and myrtle) in their vehicles if arriving at land border ports of entry, or in their personal baggage if they are arriving by aircraft,” says the directive e-mailed to the heads of religious movements by Sanquanett Williams, the program manager for agriculture safeguarding at U.S. Customs, which is a division of the Department of Homeland Security.

“These items are regulated to prevent the introduction of invasive pests and diseases; however, these items might be allowed into the United States after inspection by CBP agriculture specialists.”

Signs of disease or insect infestation will disqualify items generally.

More specific restrictions include the following:

* Etrogs will only be allowed in through “Atlantic ports north of and including Baltimore; ports on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway; Canadian Border ports east of and including North Dakota; and Washington, D.C. (including Dulles) for air shipments” and “Pacific ports north of California including Alaska, Canadian Border ports west of and including Montana, excluding Hawaii”;

* Twigs of willow from Europe or that are “green in color, have soft tissue present, or have buds that sprouted” are banned entry.

The other two species, palm fronds and twigs of myrtle, are simply subject to inspection.

Israel’s inclusion on terrorist watch list was a mistake

Israel was included erroneously on a U.S. Department of Homeland Security terrorist watch list, a U.S. official said.

Gillian Christiansen, a spokeswoman for then U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement division of the department, said Israel’s recent appearance on a list compiled by the department’s office of the inspector general was a mistake.

“The addition of Israel in the OIG’s list of ICE’s ‘Third-Agency Checks’ (TAC) was based on inaccurate information provided to the OIG during the course of its audit,” Christiansen said in a statement sent by e-mail to JTA. “The U.S. does not and never has considered Israel to have links to terrorism, but rather they are a partner in our efforts to combat global terrorism. The United States maintains close intelligence-sharing relationships with Israel in order to address security issues within its own borders and in our mutual pursuit of safety and security around the globe.”

The list does not fault government policies and instead recognizes the likelihood that a suspect traveler from that country might have terrorist ties.

If a traveler from one of the countries is detained, the country’s inclusion on the list triggers a special check by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The list, attached to a May 10 document from the DHS Inspector General’s office, was reported last week by CNS News, a conservative news service.

The list of 36 nations includes a number of other close U.S. allies such as Turkey, Bahrain, Morocco and Philippines, as well as nations beset by internal fighting like Sudan and Somalia.

Tisha B’Av 101 — the basics

What is Tisha B’av?

Tisha B’av is the Fast commemmorated on the ninth day of the month of Av. It begins at sunset Monday July 23, 2007 and ends at nightfall on July 24.

Why do we fast on Tisha B’av?

According to the Mishna, five misfortunes befell the Jews on this day throughout history:

  • This was the day that the spies maligned Israel, and the Israelites, begging not to go to Israel, were sentenced to wander in the desert for 40 years;
  • Both the First and Second Temples were destroyed;
  • The City of Betar was captured by the Romans, ending the Bar Kochba Rebellion.
  • A year later, the Jerusalem was destroyed.

What other customs do we follow this day?

As on Yom Kippur, people do not wear leather shoes, wash or anoint with oils. Because it is a day of mourning (unlike the High Holidays), some do not sleep with a pillow or on a bed, or on chairs, but on the floor, especially for the customary reading of Megillat Eicha, or Lamentations, which says:

Al eileh, ani bochiya. (“For these things, I do weep”) (1:16) , lamenting the destruction of Jerusalem.
Bacho tivkeh balaylah
v’dimatah al lechiah
ayn lah menachem mikol ohavehah
kol re’ehah bagdu bah
hayu lah le’oyvim.

“Bitterly she [Jerusalem] weeps in the night, tears upon her cheeks, she has no one to comfort her out of all her friends, all her friends have betrayed her and become her foes.” (1:2)

See also Commemorating Tisha B’Av — what to do?

For more information, click http://www.jewfaq.org/holidayd.htm.

Sephardic Dinner Spices Up Holiday

As Rosh Hashanah approaches, I am reminded of our trip to Italy a few years ago. We arrived in Milan in the early afternoon and checked into our hotel, planning to attend Rosh Hashanah services that evening at the Sephardic Synagogue.

We were relaxing in our room, and were surprised when the phone rang, because we did not think any one knew where we were. It was Adina Cohen, inviting us to her home for dinner after Rosh Hashanah services.

Cohen was born in Beirut, and her husband, Rabbi Eliezer Cohen, the retired chazan (cantor) of the Sephardic synagogue, is from Cairo. They now live in Milan, and both have strong Sephardic backgrounds. They had heard from their nephew, Moshe Salem, who lives in Los Angeles, that we were traveling in Italy and might be in Milan during Rosh Hashanah.

After services, we met them outside the synagogue and walked to their home, along with several members of their family. We were seated in the living room and met their three daughters, Melitta, Sharon and Elisheza, as well as aunts, uncles, cousins and friends, as they arrived from the synagogue.

The Cohens welcomed their guests, and we were all invited into the dining room, where a large table that almost filled the room was set for the holiday meal. Almost everyone spoke English, but they made sure that we sat close to their daughters, who were educated in Israel and spoke several languages. They made us feel welcome, and explained many of the Sephardic customs with which we were unfamiliar.

The evening began with washing of the hands, and a blessing was recited over the two round, home-baked loaves of challah. The rabbi broke off pieces of the challah, dipped them in salt and sugar and passed a piece to each guest. Adina Cohen explained, that for this special bread, the dough is left to rise only once and takes less time to prepare. The unusual texture, crusty on the outside, yet light and soft inside, comes from kneading the dough to its maximum elasticity, and is quite different from the challah that I make for my family.

Then the ceremonial foods were presented. Each dish was served separately, and a special blessing was said. First a plate of sweet dates, representing peace and beauty, was passed around the table. Then a bowl of fresh pomegranate seeds in rose water was served, the symbol of fertility and worthy deeds.

Next, slices of candied zucca (pumpkin) were eaten, representing a full year of good blessings for the family. Hubbard or butternut squash is the closest to Italian zucca, and may be used instead.

Also, during the New Year celebration, leeks are eaten to bring good luck, and Adina Cohen brought out a large leek frittata that was cut into wedges and served. The final dishes consisted of apple slices cooked in honey to symbolize a sweet year, and bowls of black-eyed peas, expressing hope for the future.

We thought the evening was over, but it was just beginning. The formal dinner started with a whole poached salmon, that was cut and served at the table, topped with homemade mayonnaise. Cohen told us that some of the foods that she serves now, such as fish, were not usually eaten in Lebanon, because they were considered a luxury and almost impossible to find. Since her marriage, many of the dishes she prepares for Rosh Hashanah are her husband’s family recipes from Egypt.

Roasted veal stew was the main course. Cohen mentioned that often lamb is eaten during Rosh Hashanah, but since it was not available, they substituted veal. Crusted rice, first steamed and then fried, was the perfect accompaniment for the veal, and was served along with stewed zucchini and sauteed Swiss chard.

Dessert was simple and refreshing — platters of sliced melon and cactus pears garnished with mint leaves.

Sharing and friendship were at the heart of this wonderful evening, as well as the special role that the foods played. It was a family affair, Cohen a talented cook, baked the challah and prepared the entire dinner herself. Her daughters, were in charge of setting the table and responsible for doing the dishes, and Eliezer Cohen performed the service.

Inspired by the hospitality of the Cohen family in Italy and fascinated by our experience with the Sephardic foods they served for Rosh Hashanah, we have added these dishes to our family holiday dinner.

Symbolic foods are: dates, pomegranate seeds with rose water, candied pumpkin, leeks, apples cooked in honey, black-eyed peas, baked beets.

Rosh Hashanah Challah

2 packages active dry yeast

3/4 cup warm water

2 tablespoons sugar

3 to 4 cups flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

3 eggs

Sesame seeds

Combine yeast with water and pinch of sugar. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, remaining sugar, salt and two eggs. Add yeast mixture to flour mixture.

Dough will be moist and sticky. Knead about 10 minutes, adding flour or water as needed, until maximum elasticity. Dough should still be moist. Sprinkle dough with flour, cover with plate or towel and let it rise until double, about one hour.

Divide dough in half; place each half on a lightly floured board and lightly knead into two round loaves. Place on a greased baking sheet, leaving space between loaves as they will rise when baking.

Brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake at 350 F for 20 to 30 minutes or until golden brown and completely baked inside.

Makes two loaves.

Leek Frittata

4 eggs

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

5 medium leeks (about 3/4 pound), white part only, split and washed well

4 tablespoons olive oil

Mix the eggs, salt and pepper with a fork.

Slice the leeks into thin slices. In a 12-inch nonstick skillet, heat olive oil and cook over medium-high heat until tender for six to eight minutes.

Pour the eggs over the leeks, mix and cook over medium-low heat until the eggs are set on the bottom but soft on the surface, three to four minutes.

Put a plate over the frittata and invert the skillet to reverse the frittata onto the plate. Slide the frittata back into the pan to cook the other side. Cook for about five minutes. Slide onto a platter, cut into wedges and serve hot or at room temperature.

Serves eight to 10.

Veal Stew

This stew can be prepared a day ahead and tastes even better after the flavors have a chance to meld.

4 pounds veal shoulder, cut into 2-inch cubes


Freshly ground black pepper

1/3 cup olive oil

1 onion, diced

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 carrots, peeled and sliced

2 celery stalks, sliced

1 cup dry, white wine

3 cups veal or chicken stock

1 large tomato, chopped

1 tablespoon tomato paste

2 bay leaves

10 whole black peppercorns

4 sprigs fresh parsley

8 sprigs fresh thyme, tarragon or oregano

4 long sprigs fresh marjoram or 1 teaspoon dried marjoram

1 tablespoon dried thyme, tarragon or oregano

10 pearl onions, par boiled for 5 minutes and peeled

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Season the veal on both sides with salt and pepper. In a large heavy pot or casserole, heat the oil and saute the veal on both sides until brown.

Add the onions and garlic and saute until soft, about five minutes. Add the carrots, celery and saute for five minutes. Add the wine and simmer for two minutes. Add the stock, tomato, tomato paste and bring to a boil.

Combine the bay leaves, peppercorns, parsley and fresh and dried herbs in a piece of cheesecloth; tie with a string and add to the pot. Cover and bake for 2 1/2 hours or until tender.

Toss in the pearl onions. Remove the cheesecloth bag. Serve in soup bowls.

Serves eight to 10.

Judy Zeidler is the author of “The Gourmet Jewish Cook” (Cookbooks, 1988) and “The 30-Minute Kosher Cook” (Morrow, 1999). Her Web site is members.aol.com/jzkitchen.

The Heart of Time

What books must every Jew read? What books are critical to informing your understanding of your faith, your culture, your people? With this issue, The Jewish Journal introduces a new weekly column: My Jewish Library. We’ve asked rabbis, scholars and thinkers to each pick the one book that was essential to their Jewish life. They will discuss the book and its impact, and explain why you need to add it to your Jewish library. You can join the discussion in our online forum. You can also purchase the book for yourself by clicking the link below.

For the rest of this year, My Jewish Library will replace the weekly Torah portion. Readers (and b’nai mitzvah students) in search of the weekly Torah portion will find several years worth archived and easily accessible at www.jewishjournal.com/MyJewishLearning.php.

Click here to buy this book

Click here to discuss this book

“The Sabbath” by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, illustrated by Ilya Schor (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1975).

Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote in his classic, “The Sabbath”: “There are few ideas … which contain so much spiritual power as the idea of the Sabbath.” His book draws from and reflects that power, which is why I have recommended it more often, and with more life-changing results, than any book other than the Bible.

I generally explain Shabbat by identifying some key laws and customs. On Shabbat, we wear lovely clothing, set a beautiful table and eat the best foods. Parents bless children; spouses bless one another. We enjoy the delights of naps, walks, meditation, singing, pleasure reading and lovemaking. We spend unhurried time with family, community and God. No errands. No commercialism. No petitions for more. Shabbat is a time to rejuvenate and re-soul.

I hate to be a stickler, but these are the rules.

When Shabbat is thus described, we readily understand why the ancient rabbis called it “a taste of the world to come.” But while my description is accurate, many Jews have a very different impression of Shabbat. They see it as restrictive: no cooking, no travel, no carrying. For kids, traditional observance means no TV, no computer, no coloring, no bike riding.

Heschel explains the love and meaning behind Shabbat restrictions. Melacha (labor eschewed on Shabbat) includes all energies used to manage creation, rather than accept and enjoy it as we find it. Even activities that foster relaxation or reduce physical labor are prohibited, if they generate something new. Obviously, creating and manipulating creation can be beneficial. In fact, we are commanded to do melacha six days out of seven. But one day is for menucha (Sabbath rest). This involves more than cessation of labor or collapse in front of the television. Menucha is what God created on the seventh day (Genesis 2:2) — an active, affirmative form of rest where “the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord.”

Menucha is restorative, but that is its consequence, not its purpose.

“Man is not a beast of burden, and the Sabbath is not for … enhancing the efficiency of his work.”

For Heschel, Shabbat is “the climax of living…. Six days a week we wrestle with the world, wringing profit form the earth; on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul.”

Sabbath prohibitions, associated with the commandment to keep the Sabbath, are meant to keep Shabbat different from the other days. Shabbat connects us to family and community by first unplugging us from business and technology. The “thou shalt nots” are designed to create space for something distinctive and holy to enter.

And that is precisely where the “thou shalt” commandments come in. They help create the oneg (pleasure, delight) of Shabbat. Reflecting the commandment to remember the Sabbath, the “thou shalt’s” remind us of Shabbat’s ultimate meaning as sign and covenant. Shabbat is simultaneously the source and culmination of creation. We imitate God, who rested and called Shabbat not just good, but holy. We recall the Exodus from Egypt, in that Shabbat grants us a measure of freedom. “Inner liberty depends upon being exempt from domination of things as well as from domination of people,” Heschel writes. Shabbat confers liberty by commanding independence from technology, routine, acquisitions, even civilization itself.

It is difficult to explain how Shabbat feels to those who observe and love it. As someone who has taught and written about Jewish ritual, I have come to know, perhaps better than most, the limits of language to convey the experience of ritual. A tractate on lighting Friday night candles can offer valuable background and even wisdom, but it will never yield the personal and deep insights gained by simply and consistently lighting candles.

Heschel has a way of explaining Shabbat that makes you want to observe it — if not with all the traditional restrictions, then certainly as a holy and distinctive day. His lush language conveys the depth and beauty of Shabbat, which he calls “spirit in the form of time,” “homeland, source, and destination,” “resurrection of the soul,” even “our mate.” For Heschel, the answer to our search for meaning lies in finding the balance between weekday and Shabbat, productivity and renewal, having and being. The goal is “to work with things of space [during the week] but to be in love with eternity [through Shabbat].”

This may be Heschel’s most important idea: that Shabbat, and Judaism in general, find holiness in time more than in space. Shabbat is our “cathedral in time.” In Heschel’s beautiful words: “Monuments of stone are destined to disappear; days of spirit never pass away…. We cannot solve the problem of time through the conquest of space, though either pyramids or fame. We can only solve the problem of time through the sanctification of time…. We must not forget that it is not a thing that lends significance to a moment; it is the moment that lends significance to things…. All week long we are called upon to sanctify life through employing things of space. On the Sabbath it is given us to share in the holiness that is in the heart of time.”

Rabbi Debra Orenstein is spiritual leader of Makom Ohr Shalom synagogue in Encino and editor of “Lifecycles 1: Jewish Women on Life Passages and Personal Milestones” (Jewish Lights, 1994).

Did You Know…?

Did You Know…?


• Sometimes the marriage ceremony is held outdoors. Particularly in ultra-Orthodox and Chasidic weddings — but anyone can do this — the marriage ceremony is performed outside at night. The custom developed because the stars are associated with God speaking to Abraham: “I will bless thee and multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven and as the sand of the seashore” (Genesis 22:17).


• The bride stands to the right of the groom because of a biblical verse is Psalms (45:10): “The queen stands on your right hand in fine gold of Ophir.”

In Jewish tradition, the bride is a queen and the groom is the king.


• A light bulb is often substituted for a glass during the ceremony. Since many believe the main purpose of breaking the glass is to create noise (to scare away the demons), some prefer a light bulb because it is easier to break and usually makes a louder noise.

Will You Marry Me?

Grooms are making big productions of their proposals these days. Sometimes they rent a billboard; sometimes they pop the question at a quiet, intimate time; sometimes it is in a restaurant while a violinist plays their favorite song.

What’s in Style Today?


• Bridal suits are making a comeback.


• Rosette details on sleeves, bodices and backs are in the news. Rosettes are also used on the headpiece and accessories to complement the wedding gown.


• Pink, peach, and other pastels are a fashionable alternative to traditional white, ivory and silky white.


• Beads, lace, sequins, pearls and embroidery are used for embellishments.


• In place of a regular wedding album, you might also choose a “storybook” plan, where the photographer takes continuous pictures so that you end up with a copy of a picture of each event and each shot. (This produces a very large and thorough album, and is more expensive than a standard album.)

Little Tricks of For a Great Wedding

For Him:

If you are able to control the music, select a romantic one. She will always remember the song that played when he proposed — and it is bound to become “your song.”

For Her:

Are you going to have a “Presentation of the Bride?” The groom is brought into a room before the ceremony. There he finds the bride, looking her most beautiful, in her wedding attire. The couple has some time to spend together, after which they have the signing of the ketubah and take photographs.

Other Kooky Wedding Customs


•Couples in 18th-century Mexico shaved their heads to signify their adulthood.


•French suitors sent their nail clippings to their betrothed.


•In 18th-century England, a new bride’s mother-in-law broke a loaf of bread over her head to bring luck and happiness to the couple.


•Polish brides brought luck and happiness to their new homes by walking around a fire three times and kicking each door with their right foot.


•Prenuptial agreements, which have enjoyed a resurgence, actually date back to ancient Jewish and Roman marriages.

How To Get Through the Day


• Stay Calm.


• Break away for a few minutes


• Take some deep breaths.


• Keep focused and avoid problems before they become problems.


• Just remember: The most important parts of planning an event is having fun and enjoying the benefits of all your hard work. With careful planning, even the most elaborate and glamorous affair can be a dream.

Joan Greenberger Friedman lives in Reading, Pa., and can be reached at joan@friedman.net.

Lessons of the Season

Imagine the Jewish calendar as three concentric circles: the Torah reading cycle, the holiday cycle and your personal life cycle.

The circles line up in various combinations, like one of those "work wheels" from camp. If your bat mitzvah falls on Shabbat Chanukah, you may always view the message of the festival and your own coming of age in light of the famous words from the Haftarah: "’Not by might and not by power, but by My spirit,’ says Adonai of Hosts" (Zechariah 4:6).

This time of year is rich with synchronicity and commentary among Torah, Haftarah and holiday. The Song of the Sea in the Torah reading is complemented by Deborah’s Song in the Haftarah. This Shabbat is therefore known as Shabbat Shirah, the Sabbath of Song. In honor of Tu B’Shevat, the New Year for trees that falls at this time of year, we celebrate trees and nature, along with music and poetry.

Each Jew interprets the richness of this season through the prism of his or her own experience. The holiday of trees that augurs spring means one thing for a Jew emerging from shivah, and something equally but differently meaningful for a couple who just found out they are pregnant.

Still, many lessons are inherent, and shared, in the correspondence and mutual commentary between the holiday and Torah cycles. For example, both Tu B’Shevat and Beshalach offer lessons about governance, gratitude and faith.

In Genesis 2, God forms Adam out of the dust of the earth, and then plants a garden, "causing every tree to grow that is pleasant to see and good for food." If that is not enough to establish a special relationship between human beings and nature, especially trees, we learn that God put Adam in the garden to "cultivate it and to watch over it." Tu B’Sehvat reminds us of our role in governance. God provided trees for food, and granted humanity "dominion … over every living thing" (Genesis 1:28).

If the holiday promotes environmental governance, then the Torah reading urges responsible political governance. Pharaoh is the negative example; he uses people the way some individuals and corporations use and abuse environmental resources. Ultimately, Beshalach teaches us, human beings have governance, dominion and responsibility, but we do not really own or control anything — not the environment, and certainly not other human beings.

Tu B’Shevat also reminds us to be grateful, and not to take nature’s miracles for granted. The Talmud goes so far as to say that people will be judged in the next world for any permissible delight, including fine fruit, that they saw in this world, but did not consume. Similarly, Shabbat Shirah promotes celebration and praise. Moses and the Children of Israel sang. Miriam and the women danced. Later, they would complain and forget, but in the wake of the miracle, no one took God’s goodness for granted.

Tu B’Shevat is not just the rough equivalent of Arbor Day and Earth Day. It also functioned as tax day. One of several ways that Jews gave to the Temple was by offering their first fruits. The tithing of fruits was calculated on an annual calendar, beginning with the 15th day of the month of Shevat (i.e., Tu B’Shevat).

We designate the first fruits for God even before we know how the harvest will come out. In a remarkable show of faith and commitment, Jews pay God and community first. Thus, Tu B’Shevat is associated with giving — and with trust.

Beshalach reports God’s impatience with Moses’ prayer, as Pharoah’s army approached, seemingly trapping the Children of Israel at the shore of the Red Sea: "Why do you cry to me? Speak to the children of Israel, that they move" (Exodus 14:15). The rabbis imagine that none of the tribes was willing to move first (Sotah 37a). One man, Nahshon ben Aminadav, (literally) took the plunge. The waters parted only once he stepped out in faith and dared to go into the sea.

Thus, Tu B’Shevat and Shabbat Shira teach us to be daring in faith and to give of ourselves; to cultivate gratitude and to be effective stewards of nature and one another.

Along with these thematic links, the custom of feeding bread to the birds also connects Shabbat Shirah with nature and Tu B’Shevat. This custom has a place on my family’s life-cycle wheel, because it is based on my grandfather’s favorite midrash. My grandfather was no lover of animals. He never got over the "meshugas" that our family owned a dog. But once a year, he took joy in feeding the birds, and he never tired of telling us why:

David, who is said to have written the psalms, understood that the Temple would be destroyed, and feared that the psalms recited there would be forgotten. So he taught the psalms to the birds. (In Hebrew numerology, the word "nest" equals 150, the exact number of psalms.) On Shabbat Shirah, while it is still winter, Jews feed bread to the birds to hear them chirp and "sing" psalms. We sustain them with gratitude, knowing that nature also sustains us. No matter what, Jews, like birds, must continue to sing.

Rabbi Debra Orenstein is spiritual leader of Makom Ohr Shalom synagogue in Tarzana and editor of “Lifecycles 2: Jewish Women on Biblical Themes in Contemporary Life.”

A Date With Passover Memories

Once a year, soon after Purim, my parents lug down the hydraulic press from their attic. For those of us more comfortable in the world of DVDs and CD-ROMs, a hydraulic press is an old-fashioned contraption that looks like a wooden bucket perched on a little metal table, with a metal pole you turn to squeeze whatever you put inside — often, grapes to make wine. My parents use it to make halek, the date syrup that is the Iraqi-Indian version of charoset.

I won’t give too many details about the arduous process that results in the glossy brown, intensely sweet halek, but for starters, let me just say it ain’t easy. My parents produce enough halek not only for themselves, but for three daughters, eight grandchildren and numerous seder guests. Halek remains a favorite breakfast and snack food during the week of Passover. That’s a lot of halek, so my parents begin with 15 pounds of pitted, crushed dates. After the dates are soaked overnight, the hydraulic press strains and liquefies the fruit so that the halek retains every drop of honeyed essence. The liquid is then boiled until it thickens; it is mixed with ground walnuts before serving.

I know some families who make halek without the dramatics of the hydraulic press (a cheesecloth and hand-squeezing can do the trick). But my parents wanted to reproduce the exact process they knew from India, for my great-uncle Elias — the family’s master halek-maker in Calcutta — used a hydraulic press. In fact, Uncle Elias used to send us halek in sealed containers for 15 years after we moved from Calcutta to Philadelphia. When my parents bought the hydraulic press in Philadelphia’s Italian Market, they continued the tradition on their own.

The haggadah tells us that on Pesach we must re-enact the story of the Exodus. But for many of us, Pesach is also a time to re-enact the customs of our parents and grandparents. Elana Goldberg of Teaneck, N.J., doesn’t have a hydraulic press, but she devotes hours to making a sweet dish the way her bubbe did. The fried dough cake filled with raisins, prunes and raspberry jam, then soaked and baked in honey, lemon juice, cinnamon and sugar, brings back a taste she treasured as a little girl.

"I thought it was heaven. It was the highlight of the seder for me," Goldberg remembers. Today, with two sets of twins, 8 and 5, and a 3-year-old, Goldberg still puts aside a whole night to recreate this piece of her grandmother.

"Somehow it’s not Passover without it," she said, "and the only way to get it is to make it myself."

Journalist and author Patricia Volk ("Stuffed: Adventures of a Restaurant Family," Knopf, 2001) sets her table with an inventory of heirlooms: Aunt Lil’s nut dish with squirrels on the side for charoset; Granny Ethel’s silver platter for matzah, and "place plates" to put under each place setting; Poppy’s silverware; Aunt Dorothy’s stemware; Nana’s "peacock plates" and salt cellars in peacock-blue clear glass; her father’s silver repoussé kiddush cup, and great-grandmother’s vase.

Looking for the afikomen is the thread that takes Ed Koch back 50 or 60 years.

"My father always hid the matzah under the sofa pillow, year after year," recalled the former mayor of New York. "But we always played the game. We’d look everywhere, and then look under the sofa pillow. We received a few coins, but for a 7-year- old, it was a treasure."

Today, when Noah and Jordan, his 5-year-old grandnephew and 8-year-old grandniece, look for the afikomen, "there’s no fix. You gotta really find it."

Their reward?

"We’re up to a dollar," Koch said. "You don’t want to spoil the kids."

At the Passover workshops he presents, Dr. Ron Wolfson, vice president of the University of Judaism and author of "The Art of Jewish Living: The Passover Seder," (Jewish Lights, 1996) suggested matching the four cups with different varieties of the many good kosher wines now on the market. Last year, however, Wolfson got a complaint from a participant after Passover.

"Your idea backfired," the man said. "Everybody was looking for heavy Malaga. That’s what they remembered from their youth."

"That taught me an important lesson," Wolfson said. "The great attraction of Passover is that we not only recite the haggadah — this historical document — but we also live and breathe and eat and touch and smell the history, with the additional layer of family memory. The seder becomes a family reunion, a powerful reliving of family history."

Wolfson enjoys reliving one particular episode of his own family history that took place on Passover, although he may not have relished it as much years ago.

"I almost didn’t get engaged to my wife because of gefilte fish," he recalled. "When my future in-laws came to our family seder for the first time, they offered to make the gefilte fish. We sometimes had up to 50 guests, so they bought 100 pounds of fish, and worked for a week preparing it. They chopped it up by hand in a gehocker [a cleaver], poured cups of sugar on it, shaped it into balls, stuffed the mixture into the fish skins and sliced it. That was their tradition from Germany and Poland. My family, originally from the Russian Pale of Settlement, never saw gefilte fish like that before. They never tasted gefilte fish like that before. They expected it to be bland and unsweetened, and they were in shock."

"Familiarity is comforting," said Dr. Rhonda Yoss-Kaplan, a psychologist in Port Washington, N.Y. "It’s grounding. It connects you to your own personal history and identity, to what’s gone before and what you will hand down to your children."

The discomfort associated with change, she added, is the unknown aspect of things that are new and different.

But traditions don’t have to be rooted in history. Anyone can start a tradition at any time, Wolfson pointed out.

"I would welcome anything that opens up the seder as an interactive experience that has the family’s mark on it," he said.

He enhances his own seder in numerous ways. Steamed artichoke hearts for karpas (the green vegetable that serves as the appetizer) allow nibbling until the meal is served (there’s parsley for the traditionalists). A "Chad Gadya" competition engages anyone who wants to prove they can get through the long last verse in Aramaic or English without taking a breath.

Aliya Cheskes-Cotel, director of education for the New York Metropolitan Region of United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, listed many customs she follows from her childhood: the kids hide the afikomen and the adults search for it; everyone sings two songs off-key, the way Grandpa Isaac did; each person saves a piece of the afikomen and puts it away in a drawer until next year’s seder, when it is eaten.

So it does, in this era where the new rubs shoulders with the old. Miriam’s Cups, puppet shows, magic tricks, updated plagues, kosher-for-Passover pasta and nouvelle cuisine notwithstanding, an element of the old persists. Zinfandels and Cabernets haven’t yet totally supplanted Malaga. Some things change, it’s true, but it’s also comforting to know that some things don’t.

So when I asked my 9-year-old daughter, Shoshana, what one thing she would want to make sure her seder included when she grows up, I wasn’t surprised that she answered me without hesitation.

"Halek," she said, licking her lips.

I’d better learn to use that hydraulic press.

Rahel Musleah, the author of “Why on This Night? A Passover Haggadah for Family Celebration” (Simon & Schuster, 2000).

Purim Around the World

I know you’re going to have a lot of fun dressing up, eating
hamantaschen and drowning out Haman’s name with your groggers! Here are some
other interesting customs that used to be practiced at Purim around the world:

France — Because of the verse in the Megillah, “I shall
surely wipe out the memory of Amalek,” children used to take smooth stones,
write or engrave Haman’s name on them and strike them together during the
Megillah reading whenever his name was mentioned.

Egypt — Young men would ride through the streets of the
Jewish quarter on horses and camels to simulate Mordechai in the verse “and
they brought him on horseback through the street of the city.”

Italy — The youngsters would divide into two camps and throw
nuts at each other and the adults would ride through the streets of the town on
horseback, with cypress branches in their hands.

Germany –On Purim eve, torches containing gunpowder would
be ignited. During the Megillah reading, the gunpowder exploded with a
deafening noise.

Educating Rita

Rita Milos Brownstein, author “Jewish Weddings” (Simon &
Schuster, 2002) said she wishes she had known about yichud before she was

Brownstein, 50, cited yichud — the time after the ceremony
that affords the bride and groom some privacy to share their first moments as a
married couple — as one of the traditions she learned about while researching
her book that she would have enjoyed at her own wedding some 20 years ago.

“Nobody told me about it,” she said.

“There are so many beautiful wedding customs and traditions
that many people don’t know about. I wanted to introduce them so people would
incorporate them in their own weddings.”

“Jewish Weddings,” Brownstein’s second book, combines the
visual appeal of a coffee-table book with helpful hints and important
information about Jewish wedding traditions as well as practical tips for
choosing shower themes, invitations, favors and more.

For example, she explains Jewish concepts including aufruf
(when the groom is called to the Torah for an aliyah, representing his
commitment to Torah as a married man); ketubot (marriage contracts); and sheva brachot
(seven nights of parties thrown for the couple following the wedding).

One section of the book contains “How We Met” vignettes, in
which Brownstein even shares her beshert story — the moment she knew she had
met her intended.

Another section details real-life weddings, complete with

A graphic designer by day for the Jewish Federation of
Greater Hartford (and previously for such publications as House Beautiful and
Good Housekeeping), Brownstein spent about a year writing the book in her free

Understandably conscientious about design, Brownstein
designed the entire book and had copy writer Donna Wolf Koplowitz polish the

The author lives in Simsbury, Conn., with her husband,
Michael, daughter Ariel, 17, and son, Ben, 14. Judaism plays a “pretty major
role” in their lives, Brownstein said, explaining that it helps her make daily
choices about business dealings, what to eat and how to treat others.

She started learning more about her religion 10 years ago.

“The more I learned, the more I wanted to learn,” she said.

Her Jewish learning led her to write her first book, “Jewish
Holiday Style” (Simon & Schuster, 1999), for which she combined her
background in magazine publishing and her new observance.

Now Brownstein has found a new way to express her love of
Judaism: She is starting a line of menorahs, kiddush cups and other items to be
sold in Judaica stores. Â

A Great Party Happened Here

"Entertaining is a lot like gardening," Linda Burghardt said. "You can’t make mistakes."

In other words, no matter what you do, it’s OK.

Just as each combination of flowers produces a different garden, each approach to party planning results in a unique gathering. Through these suggestions, hosts can reinvent Chanukah parties or weave in new ideas with established traditions:

1. Make a guest list of family and friends who light up your life. Celebrating the holiday with friends is fun for people with small families.

2. Using construction paper, show children how to cut out dreidels or candles and create one-of-a-kind invitations by filling in the time and date.

3. If you want to do something fancier, buy plastic dreidels with removable tops and put a note inside each one, explaining the party details.

4. Make a centerpiece by turning a large cardboard box into a dreidel and letting children decorate it. Fill the dreidel with party favors wrapped in blue and white paper, taping mesh bags of Chanukah gelt or real money on top. Attach long ribbons, so it’s easy for children to pull party favors from the centerpiece.

5. If you enjoy grab bags purchase them, make gifts yourself or ask guests to bring something to exchange. Organize two sets of grab bags — one for children and one for adults. Set a price range to ensure fairness.

6. Plan a manageable menu and prepare as many dishes ahead of time as possible.

7. Experiment by making latkes out of sweet potatoes or vegetables such as carrots, zucchini or turnips.

8. For extra-crunchy results, drain latkes on brown paper bags from grocery stores rather than on paper towels.

9. Make Chanukah gelt by melting chocolate and spooning it into rounds on aluminum foil coated with a no-stick spray. When they’ve cooled, wrap individually in silver or gold foil.

10. Create a lovely ceremony by asking guests to bring menorahs from home. Provide candles in a variety of colors, sizes and shapes, including some from Israel.

11. Place menorahs around the dining room table at the appropriate guest’s place. Say the blessing and light the shamashim (the central candle) together, followed by the other candles. Prepare to be dazzled.

12. Explain each step for guests who’ve grown fuzzy about Jewish customs or who are learning about Judaism for the first time.

13. After dinner, read Isaac Beshevis Singer’s delightful "Zlatch the Goat" from his collection of stories by the same name. Young and old alike will be entertained by this charming tale.

14. Sing songs such as "Rock of Ages." Remember to copy song sheets and distribute to guests, so they can join in.

15. Before the party, take a long bath. Allow 45 minutes to relax. Remember your role as host is to extend warmth and welcome people into your home. Forget perfectionism — it has no place at Chanukah.

From “Jewish Holiday Traditions” by Linda Burghardt (Citadel Press, 2001).

Comes the Bride

The ceremony was lovely. There was music, wedding cake, a love song and plenty of sentiment to go around. But what made this wedding stand out was the bride: the entire congregation of Temple Beth Hillel in North Hollywood.

More than 650 people took part in a special ceremony Jan. 7 to witness the creation of a new Torah, which is being written to replace one of the congregation’s three main scrolls. Rabbi Jim Kaufman, Cantor Alan Weiner and Cantor Emeritus Sam Brown performed a mock wedding under a chuppah on the bimah, renewing the congregation’s commitment to God and to Torah study.

“God’s gift to us is the Torah,” Kaufman said from the bimah. “Our gift to God is writing down the Torah, hearing and understanding the words and then transforming these words into actions, righteous deeds that will guide our lives and help the world.”

Rabbi Shmuel Miller of Los Angeles talked about the customs involved in writing a new scroll. He then asked the congregation to recite with him the words “Le shem kedusha sefer Torah,” (“a Torah in God’s holy name”) before he painstakingly inscribed the first word.

“Mazal tov! It’s a girl!” Miller said, to much laughter.

Congregants completed the ceremony by holding up their own tallitot to “share” the chuppah and said traditional blessings including the “Kiddush” and “Shehecheyanu,” followed by cake and dancing to music by the Golden State Klezmers.

Erica Klein, 16, was one of the temple members honored with holding up the chuppah poles on the bimah. The teenager has been a teacher’s assistant at Beth Hillel’s day school for the past three years and has served on the board of the temple youth group.

“It was really beautiful. I never thought I would see a new Torah being scribed. It was really amazing,” she said.

“We’re very excited about this program because our children can take their children and show them a Torah dedicated to them,” said rebbetzin and program co-chair Sue Kaufman. “We knew this project would have real meaning for everyone.”

Committee member Rita Silverman said the ceremony brought new meaning to her understanding of Jewish history.

“I never understood the role of the Torah as the ketubah between God and his people,” Silverman said.

“Any good marriage needs a good contract, and the Torah is as good as it gets.”

Sunday’s event initiated a 10-month program of Torah study titled “Torah: Soul of Our People” involving every level of members from preschoolers to seniors. According to Kaufman, the project will also act as a fundraiser for the synagogue’s aging facility.

“The synagogue is 53 years old. It is very easy to raise money for a new building, but not so easy to raise money for heating, ventilation, plumbing and air conditioning,” the rabbi said.

Upcoming activities include a four-part adult education lecture series with classes like “The Matriarchs” on Feb. 3, taught by Savina Teubal, who has a doctorate in ancient Near Eastern studies, and a Shabbaton series March 30-31 titled “Entering the Orchard: the basics of Biblical interpretation,” taught by Rabbi Arthur Kolatch.

“Torah: Soul of Our People” will culminate in a dedication ceremony Sept. 30. For more information on the lecture series and other events, call (818) 763-9148.