Fasting in the lands of the midnight sun


Though the summer season in Northern Europe may be brief, summer days here can seem endless because of how late the sun sets.

In the Norwegian capital of Oslo, for example — which has a latitude that’s just 4 degrees south of Anchorage, Alaska — the summer solstice in late June brings almost 19 hours of daylight. By mid-August it drops to 15 hours, 36 minutes — nearly two full hours longer than in New York.

This is good news for hikers and sun-starved Scandinavians — after all, a feature of Oslo’s bitterly cold winters are the punishingly long hours of darkness.

But the long days come with their own challenges for Northern Europe’s observant Jews and Muslims, who on some days fast according to when the sun rises or sets. That will be the case for Jews on Tisha b’Av — an annual day for mourning the destruction of the Jewish Temple that this year begins at sunset Saturday and continues until nightfall the following day.

“It’s by far the hardest fast of the year because of the long daytime and the heat,” said Yanki Jacobs, a Chabad rabbi in Amsterdam, where sunset will end after 10 p.m. next week.

“If it definitely makes a difference if you can eat at 8 p.m. or at 11,” said Jacobs, who also confided that he is hoping for a cool, rainy weekend because “it’s harder to fast when it’s warm.”

Rabbi Joav Melchior, the chief rabbi of Norway, concurs with Jacobs’ view of Tisha b’Av as the toughest fast of the year.

“In principle it shouldn’t be more difficult to fast in summer because ‘yom tov’ [Hebrew for ‘holiday’] also enters late,” said Melchior, who grew up in Israel.

But in practice, “it feels much longer in the north because sunsets, which in Israel take about 20 minutes, stretch on for hours in Norway,” he said.

In the Netherlands, where dinners are typically eaten at the relatively early hour of 6 p.m., many Jews are used to turning in long before Tisha b’Av begins — leaving them the option of either staying up late to fill up on food or fast for well over 24 hours.

In this regard, Scandinavia’s observant Jews are in the same boat as its observant Muslims, who languish until later at night whenever the month of Ramadan, when Muslims may only eat and drink after dark, falls during the summer.

But a long day is only part of the reason that the Tisha b’Av fast seems more difficult than the one on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement for Jews, which occurs in autumn, according to Melchior.

“On Yom Kippur, you spend the whole day in shul, praying, thinking, reflecting with others,” he said. “You don’t even realize you’re fasting because you have so many other things on your mind.”

But Tisha b’Av is “far less central” a holiday for Norwegian Jewry, which “means you spend a lot of time alone, fasting in your own house and ending up noticing that, hey, you’re actually fasting and can’t eat or drink.”

In Norway, government rules about holidays don’t exactly encourage fasting on Tisha b’Av, according to Melchior.

“Non-Christians are entitled to two free days annually by law, when Judaism has six to eight days when work is not permitted,” he said.

While many employers allow observant Jews and Muslims to take off extra days out of consideration for their faith, most reserve those days for holidays seen as more religiously significant.

According to Jacobs, in the Netherlands, public awareness about Ramadan, when employers often take their Muslim employees’ needs into consideration even when it’s not legally required, has also increased awareness of Jewish fasting days.

But this is not a development felt by Melchior in Oslo.

“More often,” he said, “the reaction in Norwegian society to the Jewish fast days is: ‘What, you guys fast, too?'”

 
 

Why fasting matters on Yom Kippur


As we sit in synagogue or at home on Yom Kippur afternoon, trying — but often failing — not to look at the clock every five minutes, our stomachs grumbling, our mouths parched, our heads hurting, what may be most painful is that many of us don’t know why we’re “afflicting” ourselves, as the Torah commands. 

“You shall afflict your souls,” the 16th chapter of Leviticus tells us, “for on this day He will forgive you, to purify you, that you be cleansed from all your sins before God.” 

Cross references with other verses in the Torah indicate that “affliction” relates to “humility,” which in turn relates to hunger, and, via the Jewish oral tradition of rabbinic argumentation and interpretation of the written Torah, we understand “affliction” on Yom Kippur to mean a 25-hour fast — full abstention from both food and water.

As Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, director of interfaith affairs at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said, one simple reason we fast is because “the Torah says so.”

But because “the Torah says so” isn’t enough for many Jews today, and even for Torah-observant Jews, it may not be a particularly satisfying comfort when the hunger pangs hit at 6 p.m. on Yom Kippur, and there’s still more than an hour and a half to go.

Fasting, as UCLA Medical Center’s senior dietitian, Dana Hunnes, wrote in an email, has a powerful, albeit tolerable and safe (for most people) impact on the human body. The lack of water “can slow down mental abilities, make us feel tired, slow down metabolism, and make our brains feel sluggish,” she said. “Blood sugar lows can make us groggy, give us headaches, and basically decrease our mental abilities. I have heard some equate it to being ‘drunk.’ ” The state of being inebriated, even if very slightly, is actually common on most other Jewish holidays. Wine and other forms of alcohol are staples on Shabbat and holiday tables, particularly Passover, Purim and Simchat Torah. On Yom Kippur, perhaps the goal is to reach a similar mental state, but through physical deprivation rather than indulgence.

“Many commentaries have said that Yom Kippur is an enactment of death and that it’s supposed to be this kind of near-death experience that enables us, as with all near-death experiences, to treasure life in a way that we never understood the day before,” said Rabbi Naomi Levy, the spiritual leader of Nashuva. “I think the fast does start to work on you. It kind of wears down your defenses. I believe that even the words start to impact you differently when you’re hungry and you’re thirsty. After a while, you stop becoming hungry and thirsty; you just feel lighter. It’s like an altered state.”

Other examples of how Yom Kippur can be seen as a “dry run of the day of death,” as Levy put it, are the customs of wearing white (like the traditional shroud that is wrapped around the deceased) and the confessionals recited on Yom Kippur, which have many similarities to the traditional confessional a Jew recites when death appears imminent.

“That’s one interpretation — that we’re supposed to get as close to the scene of our own death as possible, and survive it,” Levy said.

And because Judaism teaches that the soul outlives the body’s death, Yom Kippur, with the body’s desires ignored, becomes a soul-centric holiday. “The idea of refraining from eating and drinking is that one day of the year we focus only on our souls,” Adlerstein said, “Imagining, as it were, that we’re transcending the physical and living a spiritual existence.”

Most fasts in the Jewish calendar, and throughout Jewish history, as UCLA history professor David Myers pointed out, are connected either to mourning for a past tragedy or as a form of prayer to avert an impending tragedy (such as the many pogroms in Eastern Europe leading up to and including the Holocaust). Tisha b’Av is a fast of mourning, as is the Fast of Gedaliah. And the Fast of Esther is a commemoration of the Jews of Shushan’s fast, which was intended to help avert Haman’s planned genocide.

“It’s one of those rare instances in which we can speak of klal Yisra’el [the whole of Israel],” Myers said of the near-ubiquity of Jewish observance of fasting on Yom Kippur. “It isn’t universal, but it is a religious ritual, and a very serious religious ritual, marked by a large number of Jews the world over, regardless of their minhag [custom], regardless of their ethnic origins.”

“It’s not about mourning, which is what the other fasts are about. It’s not about sadness. It’s about a focus on spirituality,” said Rabbi Eli Rivkin, co-director of the Chabad of Northridge. Drawing on Chasidic teachings, Rivkin said that just as in messianic times, when eating and drinking will no longer be needed because the physical world will have been elevated (in that context, today’s laws of kashrut and blessings over food are related to sanctifying the physical), the negation of the physical on Yom Kippur “is a taste of that.”

For us physical beings, though, even a taste of those redemptive times doesn’t change the fact that, well, we’re really hungry, thirsty and tired as the day wanes, which can also distract from the heavy task of introspection and self-awareness that Yom Kippur demands.

 “Of course it’s a distraction, but the challenge is to focus,” Adlerstein said. “You don’t throw in the towel from distractions in life. You learn to focus. We sit at our desks, at our jobs, and there’s plenty to distract, but we learn that we have to concentrate and we have to focus.” 

If the previous year’s shortfalls and sins served to “create a distance between yourself and your Creator,” Adlerstein said, Yom Kippur is about bridging that spiritual divide. “You learn to look away as much as you can from the hunger and refocus on the value of the day,” he said. “You get as much out of Yom Kippur spiritually as you put into it. It would be a terrible shame for people to go only through the motions of the fasting and to miss what the fasting’s all about.”  

Think you can’t observe Yom Kippur? Not so fast


Like many people with health concerns, Arianna Haut cannot fast on Yom Kippur — in her case, because of low blood sugar. 

“I used to have to sneak out of synagogue to eat a granola bar, which is the fastest way to make a person feel like a shmuck,” said Haut, a Mid-City resident and head of school at Summit Preparatory Charter School in South Los Angeles.

The 34-year-old tried cutting down on the amount she ate, but she still couldn’t make it through the day. 

“I realized that I should eat as I normally would,” she said. “I have to, in order to feel like a whole person and observe the gravity of the occasion.” 

Haut is not alone in facing the cognitive dissonance of trying to balance an approaching fast with a health issue. These people want to fulfill the spiritual mitzvah of repentance through fasting on Yom Kippur but must also uphold the mitzvah of respecting one’s body. 

Tradition says that one’s health must always come before fasting — or even praying — on Yom Kippur. As Maimonides wrote in Hilchot De’ot, “Bodily health and well-being are part of the path to God, for it is impossible to understand or have any knowledge of the Creator when one is sick. Therefore one must avoid anything that may harm the body and one must cultivate healthful habits.” 

For some, the biggest challenge in choosing whether to fast is interpreting the gray area in between serious illness and discomfort. Different areas of Judaism approach the subject in different ways. 

Rabbi Yakov Vann of the Calabasas Shul said, “Jewish law recognizes the need for someone who would become seriously ill to eat even on Yom Kippur. With that said, there are differing levels of eating. Ideally, in this circumstance, they would eat below a certain minimum spread over time, as the Torah’s prohibition is mitigated in this manner and the circumstance warrants it. 

“If they must eat and drink freely to avoid becoming dangerously ill, then they would be allowed, or better yet, required, to eat,” he continued. “In this situation, we are taught that even so, they should limit the amount and type of food to that which is needed and refrain from eating pleasurable foods so that the spirit of the fast is felt even if the technical observance from a fasting perspective is not.” 

The good news for someone in such a situation is that fasting is not the only mitzvah that can be observed on Yom Kippur, according to Rabbi Daniel R. Shevitz of Mishkon Tephilo in Venice.

“Abstaining from bathing, cosmetics, leather shoes and sex are all traditional observances, even if health issues prohibit fasting,” he said.

“As far as that goes, one should eat and drink only what is necessary for protecting health. A restricted diet, in this case, is still an acceptable observance.”

He added that there are other things one could do to make up for an inability to fast completely.

“Isaiah taught us that social justice is an indispensable component of our observance. In the event that health concerns prohibit fasting, giving of one’s resources to alleviate hunger is certainly praiseworthy,” Shevitz said. 

Rabbi Sam Spector of Temple Judea in Tarzana agreed, saying that giving to food pantries is commendable. He also said one key is to understand the point of fasting in the first place.

“When we look in the Haftarah that we read on Yom Kippur (Isaiah 58:3), it tells us that God does not accept insincere fasts — if you are fasting then going out oppressing people tomorrow, the fast doesn’t count. So the key for people who cannot fast is to find an alternative for them to still find the meaning behind why we fast. If they do this, then they are fulfilling the commandment more than people who fast without intention. 

Because Yom Kippur is a day when we do things out of the norm, Spector said he encourages people to find ways to bring that to the forefront of their minds. 

“Even wearing different shoes [that aren’t leather] than usual can help bring you into the mentality of thinking about why Yom Kippur is different, and therefore, how we can act differently in the year ahead,” he said. 

“Mishkan Hanefesh,” the new High Holy Day prayer book for the Reform movement published by the Central Conference of American Rabbis, addresses the issue of those who cannot fast directly. 

It offers multiple prayers and meditations on the topic, including one that states:  “For those unable for reasons of health to participate in the fast, it is a commandment to eat and drink on Yom Kippur. For Torah is not a source of punishment, but an instrument of compassion and loving-kindness, intended to enrich and improve our lives. I honor the diving gift of my life and the sacred imperative to preserve life… “May I experience the spiritual intensive of this day with a whole heart, and may I go forward this year to fulfill many mitzvoth, in life and health, in sincerity and dedication.” 

Study: Fasting on Yom Kippur doubles risk of premature birth


Fasting on Yom Kippur in the later stages of pregnancy doubles a woman’s risk for premature delivery, according to a new Israeli study.

Researchers at Soroka University Medical Center and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba reached the conclusion after studying the records of thousands of pregnant Jewish women over a period of 23 years, The Jerusalem Post reported. The study’s findings were published in the Journal of Maternal, Fetal and Neonatal Medicine.

The researchers theorized that dehydration and a lack of food lead to early labor pains.

The study used Bedouin women on the same dates and Jewish women a week before Yom Kippur as control groups. They also designed the study to exclude women with a history of premature deliveries.

Premature birth is defined as delivering a baby before it reaches 37 weeks.

 

Why fast for Yom Kippur?


In a time when fasting can be a political statement or a fitness trend, you might wonder about its enduring value as a spiritual ritual. To learn more, we asked people who fast on Yom Kippur what they get out of it. Our modest sample yielded folks who are interested only in a meaningful personal experience, unrelated to why anybody else fasts. For these people, the act of fasting on Yom Kippur is a choice that has nothing to do with contemporary exigencies.

“The High Holy Days are one of the first traditions in the Jewish world that has stayed steady, even if you’re not observant of other holidays,” said Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom, a Conservative congregation in Encino. “Many observe this ritual, and with a seriousness that they don’t with others. … They do it not because it’s culturally compelling, but because the religion asks it of you. … Fasting is basic to a beginning of spiritual practice.”

Judy Gordon, a member of the Conservative Mishkon Tephilo in Venice, is 72 and said she wanted to fast on Yom Kippur long before her parents allowed it when she was 12. “I remember being so proud I could do it, because all the adults were doing it,” she said. “[Fasting] was a progression to being a mature Jew.”

Gordon, who works against domestic violence at Rainbow Services in San Pedro, relishes the opportunity each year to renew her choice to fast. Making the choice, in fact, is part of the process. “I happen to like Yom Kippur,” she said. “I rejoice in the fact that I have the ability to change my choices, to make better ones next year. … It’s my way of looking forward.”

If the full fasting experience — no food or water for 25 hours, as well as abstinence from sexual relations, bathing and wearing leather shoes — seems difficult and exotic to some people, others accept that it can be a mutable experience.

In the Mishkon Tephilo congregation, “Virtually everybody fasts to some degree,” Rabbi Dan Shevitz said. “It’s not a binary situation.” Some people, he said, consciously take nothing by mouth for a few hours, some consciously eat less than they normally would. “I don’t see it as an all-or-nothing proposition,” he said.

Meaning can be found in different applications of the ritual, he said. One member of his congregation used to observe the full fast, but now must take medication that requires water, so he customizes his commitment. This man is no less devout for minding his health; God wants you to take care of your body. Fasting, Shevitz said, “is not about sacrifice. That’s not a serious religious exercise. I would resist the question ‘What’s the point of fasting?’ It’s a spiritual exercise, a somatic exercise, to be in touch with your body in a way you aren’t during the spiritual exercise of prayer.”

Fasting, he said, is about awareness. “Fasting puts us in touch with the fact that we have bodies and take up space,” Shevitz said. “We buy things, eat them — often too much or too often. Fasting puts us in touch with our bodies in a way that helps us feel our place in the universe.”

Feinstein seconds that notion. “We live in a culture where a person is identified with their body. That’s America, and it’s L.A. … Once a year, you’re reminded that you are not your body, there’s something called spirit and soul.” On Yom Kippur, he said, “We’re reminded of a different set of values. … We’re reminded that we are more than our bodies.”

Shevitz offered that simply being hungry isn’t in itself meaningful; that it’s not necessarily debilitating. People delay meals all the time when something more important pops up, he said.

Something more important often popped up for Dr. Richard Braun. The retired surgeon, 83, has fasted on Yom Kippur since his bar mitzvah, but going without was part of his profession. “As a surgeon,” he said “you miss meals. It’s part of the fact of being a surgeon.” But that’s different from the fasting that’s part of Yom Kippur. “It’s an imperative, it’s a conscious thing to do,” Braun said. “You clear the table and think about other things; whether you’ve lived up to your expectations.”

Braun has been a lay cantor at the Valley Beth Shalom Yom Kippur service for 40 years. He approaches the holiday with a sense of anticipation of “performing” and davening, and with concern that he’s “exemplary enough to convey the meaning and spirit of prayer.” Hunger and thirst really don’t cross his radar. “I feel happy because Yom Kippur ends on a high note. I don’t think I realize I’m thirsty. … Hunger doesn’t matter.” 

The sense of clarity that comes from assessing how well he reached his goals for the year, and in setting new ones, overrides physical stress.

On Yom Kippur, Gordon just wants to be in shul. “I resonate with it,” she said. “I’m very much a prayer person.” That she revels in the spiritual realm doesn’t mean reality takes a holiday. Gordon gets joy from fasting, but also headaches. At least she used to before developing the coping mechanism of avoiding caffeine two days before Yom Kippur. That way, she said, “You get the [withdrawal] headache a day before, not on the holiday.”

Who says you can’t be both spiritual and practical?

Israel Police on high alert ahead of Yom Kippur


Israel Police have been holding talks with Israeli Arab representatives in bid to diffuse tensions ahead of Yom Kippur, after the burning of an Upper-Galilee mosque earlier this week. Police hope that calm will be restored in time for Yom Kippur on Saturday.

Security forces sealed off the West Bank on Thursday at midnight, and the blockade will last for 48 hours until Yom Kippur at midnight. The blockade can only be lifted for humanitarian or medical reasons and with the permission of the civil administration.

The Taba border crossing and the Yitzhak Rabin and Jordan River border crossings to Jordan will shut down at noon on Friday and reopen on Saturday at 9 P.M. The Allenby terminal will close at 11 A.M.

Air traffic to and from Israel will halt from 1 P.M. on Friday to 9:30 P.M. on Saturday and the border crossings to Jordan and Gaza will close down. The weather forecast bodes well for fasters, with comfortable temperatures.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Going around the world to break the fast


Breaking the fast has its own set of traditions. Ashkenazim usually break the fast with something salty, like herring, because they believe fish restores salt lost by the body while fasting. Herring also was the cheapest fish in Eastern Europe, where the custom originated.

Egg and cheese dishes—dairy products in general—are popular among the Ashkenazim for the first foods after Yom Kippur.

Some Eastern European Jews break the fast with a German sweet roll called shnekem, from the German word for snails, because of its coiled shape. The yeast dough containing milk and sour cream is rolled out, brushed with melted butter and sprinkled with a cinnamon sugar, raisin and nut filling then rolled up, cut into slices and baked.

Gil Marks writes in “The World of Jewish Desserts” that Central European Jews ate cheese kuchen, a coffee cake, for the meal following Yom Kippur. German Jews also ate erstesternen, a cinnamon star cookie, so called because stars were the sign of the end of the fast day.

Zimbabwe Jews break the fast with juice, traditional rolls with oil called rusks, oil biscuits and cheese. Sweets include almond and honey turnovers and sponge cake. Later they dine on a meal of cold chicken, fried fish, chicken soup and other sweets.

The Jews of South Africa, whose origins were in Europe, have babke, a sweet milk bread with almonds and raisins originating in Poland. They also drink soda water, milk or lemon tea. Later they have a meal starting with pickled herring and lemon fish.

Typical among South African Jews whose ancestors came from the island of Rhodes is breaking the fast with melon pip milk, bread with olive oil, sponge cake, honey and almond turnovers, and rusks.

Others break the fast with cold chicken, chicken soup and sesame biscuits, followed by almond sponge cake with syrup or marzipan. (Marzipan is a sweet mixture of almond paste, sugar and egg whites often tinted with food coloring and molded into forms such as fruits and animals.) Layered phyllo pastry with almonds and honey also may be served.

Among Sephardim and Middle Eastern Jews, a light snack is followed by a heavier meal. For example, some Syrian, Iraqi and Egyptian Jews break the fast with cardamom coffee cake. Some Iraqis drink milk, then have the cake or a cardamom-almond cookie called hagadi badah, Marks writes in “The World of Jewish Desserts.” Afterward they have a big meal that includes teebeet, a stuffed whole chicken with rice that has been left to cook over a low flame all Yom Kippur day.

Pan dulce, a sweet yeast bread in loaf form or rolls, is served by some Sephardim before and after the fast, Marks notes in his book. Marks also writes that the Jews of India for the meal following Yom Kippur have a semolina-filled turnover called singara or kushli, and sutlach, a Middle Eastern rice flour pudding.

Some Yemenites break the fast with ginger cake or watermelon, then they drink coffee and eat cookies. Afterward they have more of the broth from before the fast or another Yemenite soup.

Edda Servi Machlin, author of the cookbook “Classic Italian Jewish Cooking,” among others, recounts that her Italian family drinks vermouth and then eats a special, oval-shaped bread to break the fast. They then enjoy a meal with soup and pasta, chicken, fish, stewed fennel, cold noodles with sauce, sweet cakes and fruit.

Marks writes that Italians typically break the fast with il bolio, an Italian sweet yeast bread.

Nicholas Stavroulakis, who wrote “The Cookbook of the Jews of Greece,” relates that Greek Jews prepare interesting drinks to break the fast. One is made with grenadine; another with almonds; another with lemons; and one has melon seeds, water, sugar and almond extract or rosewater.

Rachel Dalvin, who has researched about the Jews of Ioannina, Greece, shares the fact that these Jews broke the fast with avgolemono, chicken-lemon soup, and a variety of stuffed vegetables that were common in Turkish cookery and acquired because Turkey occupied that part of Greece for centuries.

Some Moroccan Jews break the fast with fijuelas, a deep-fried pastry soaked in sweet syrup. They may also drink arak, an anise-flavored liqueur. Later they have coffee with milk, cake and cookies. Still later they have harera, a special thick soup with chicken and ground vegetables.

Here are some special recipes to break the fast from “Olive Trees and Honey” by Marks, a cookbook of traditional Jewish vegetarian dishes from Jews around the world that can be prepared ahead.

Ingredients:
2 to 5 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon table salt or
2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 cups plain yogurt
1 cup milk or
1/2 cup buttermilk and 1/2 cup water
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil (optional)
4 cups peeled, seeded, diced or grated cucumbers
1/2 cup chopped scallions
1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped fresh dill, cilantro or mint or
6 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon plus
3 tablespoons fresh dill
2 chopped hard-boiled eggs or
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Preparation:
Mash garlic and salt into a paste in a bowl. In a large bowl, blend yogurt, milk and oil. Stir in garlic, cucumbers, and scallions. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Five minutes before serving, stir in herbs. Pour into serving bowls and garnish with eggs or walnuts. Serve with crusty bread or pita.

6-8 servings


Italian Cold Pasta in Egg-Lemon Sauce

Ingredients:
Sauce
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons flour or
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon salt or
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons sugar (optional)
2 cups boiling vegetable soup or water

Pasta
1 pound tagliolini/taglierini or thin egg noodles such as linguine
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh parsley (optional)

Preparation:
Beat eggs, egg yolks and lemon juice in a saucepan. Whisk a little of the egg mixture in a bowl with the flour or cornstarch to make a paste. Stir it back into the egg mixture.

Add salt and sugar if using. Gradually beat in hot soup or water. Cook over medium heat, stirring continually with a wooden spoon until smooth and thick, about 8 minutes. Remove from heat and continue to stir for 1 minute. Pour into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let cool.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt then noodles and stir. Return and bring to a boil and cook 7 to 10 minutes. Drain. Place in a bowl and toss with olive oil. Let cool at least 30 minutes.

Mix noodles with sauce and garnish with parsley.

5-6 servings


My Favorite No-Herring Taste Appetizer

Though I do not like herring, once I tasted this dish more than 20 years ago I was won over and make it often—and not just for breaking the fast.

Ingredients:
2 cups herring in wine
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons dill
2 teaspoons sugar
Chopped scallions

Preparation:
Wash and pat dry herring. Place in a blender. Add sour cream, mayonnaise, dill, sugar and scallions. Blend a second or so just until herring is pureed slightly. Spoon into a serving dish. Serve with crackers or pita chips.

4-6 servings

(Sybil Kaplan is a journalist, food writer and cookbook author who lives in Jerusalem.)

Yom Kippur without fasting: How kids can atone, too


For most adults, the central experience of Yom Kippur is fasting. By abstaining from food and drink, we exercise control over our bodies and do not give in to our most basic impulses. This makes it pretty easy to feel the “affliction” that the Torah mandates.

But parents sometimes find it difficult to include children in the holiday observances, since anyone under the age of 13 is not required to fast.

Here are some ways you can help your children have a meaningful Yom Kippur by teaching them disciplined, controlled behavior as well as the meanings behind the rituals.

Fasting for those under 13

Children can develop a sense of what fasting symbolizes if they are involved in their parents’ or older siblings’ fasting experience. The seudah mafseket (pre-fast meal), as well as the break-fast meal, should be a special gathering for the whole family — fasters and non-fasters together.

During Yom Kippur, you can share your feelings about fasting with your children. If you’re not feeling well, your kids might surprise you with how sympathetic they are and how helpful they can be. Children nearing the age of 13 can fast a few hours to prepare for their forthcoming adult responsibilities.

You can have your children eat on Yom Kippur together with elderly or sick people who are also not fasting. This way, meals are likely to be eaten in a holiday spirit, complete with blessings before and after. Those who are not fasting should make kiddush over grape juice or wine to sanctify the day and add a special line in Birkat Hamazon.

Alternatives to fasting

While fasting from food and drink may be the most well-known of the Yom Kippur rituals, there are several other opportunities for individuals of all ages to “afflict their souls” on this day. It is appropriate for children who are not fasting to still refrain from bathing and using creams or lotions.

Also, children can participate in the custom to abstain from wearing leather shoes, and it can be particularly meaningful to them if you explain why.

Rabbi Moses Isserles pointed out how this practice enforces compassion for all living creatures: “How can a person put on shoes, a piece of clothing for which it is necessary to kill a living thing, on Yom Kippur, which is a day of grace and compassion, when it is written, ‘His tender mercies are over all His works’?” (Psalms 145:9).

Use the days and weeks leading up to Yom Kippur to take your child shopping for a modest pair of shoes for the occasion: canvas sneakers, plastic sandals or something simple from a local thrift store.

‘Jewish Lent’

On Yom Kippur, you can also encourage children to give up some basic comforts, such as a favorite toy, a special hair accessory, a particular game or even an outdoor activity. The important thing is that your child, with the assistance and support of an adult, takes time to choose a specific way to abstain. Feel free to call this act “fasting from” — for instance, “fasting from soccer” or “fasting from Liza the bunny.”

If appropriate, you can discuss this deprivation at your seudah mafseket (“What will be challenging for you about 25 hours without soccer?”), and then again at your break-fast, when the deprivation is all over (“What thoughts came to mind when you thought about how much you missed Liza?”).

During services

Depending on your community, you may or may not have age-appropriate services for children. If your children are sitting through services mainly geared toward adults, it can be helpful to have a conversation to help them connect to the meaning of the day.

For example, you might discuss how Yom Kippur is a day for personal and communal atonement. This word, which might be unfamiliar to children, can be broken up into three words: “at,” “one” and “-ment.” Ask your kids: What does it mean for a person to be “at one” with himself or herself? What would it take for our community to be at one with ourselves? What about with others?

However you choose to connect your children to the rituals of this holy day, keep in mind that though they may not yet be mature enough to express it. Children are spiritual beings. Giving them an opportunity to sit and listen to the sounds of the service, and explaining to them the adult experiences of the day, can provide children with a chance to reflect and connect.

Indeed, just by taking a few simple steps to translate for your children the complicated symbolism and meaning behind your rituals, you have the power to enhance your own personal connection to the holiday.

Sarah Chandler is the director of Jewish Family Learning & Life at West End Synagogue, A Reconstructionist Congregation in New York.

Acting rabbi brings rebirth to 1920s shul


For more than 35 years, Temple Beth Israel of Highland Park and Eagle Rock existed without a rabbi. No longer.

This month, Susan Goldberg became the acting rabbi of what is believed to be the city’s second-oldest shul still operating out of its original location.

For Temple Beth Israel (TBI), the addition signals the latest step in a rebirth that has seen membership triple in the past few years. For Goldberg, 37, it is the latest chapter in a unique story.

“I’m an unlikely rabbi,” she said.

This is not to say that her family doesn’t have strong Jewish roots. Her great-grandfather may have been the first kosher butcher in Los Angeles, she said.

But for the Goldberg clan, Jewish identity was always political, not theological. Her father, longtime community lawyer Art Goldberg, was a leader of the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley in the ’60s. Her mother, Ruth Beaglehole, established the Center for Nonviolent Education and Parenting, now known as Echo Parenting and Education. And her aunt, Jackie Goldberg, served as LAUSD school board president, an L.A. city councilwoman and state assemblywoman.

“Their Jewishness came from their work in the world trying to make the world a better place,” Goldberg said. “That’s what it meant to be Jewish. That was the core of our identity.”

No one would have guessed that Goldberg would turn to a religious life when she enrolled in a dance conservatory and later embarked on a decade-long professional career that took her around the globe. It was during this time, however, that she visited numerous synagogues, took some classes and discovered another side of Judaism.

“There’s a lot of real beauty and depth in the tradition that hasn’t always been cared for and shared,” she said. “I think part of what happened is there was a watering down of the tradition in my parents’ generation.”

After settling in Eagle Rock, she enrolled in rabbinical school at the transdenominational Academy for Jewish Religion, California, and visited TBI with her family. When the person leading Friday night services went on vacation, they asked her to fill in.

The rest is history. While Goldberg continued her rabbinic studies — she is in her fifth and final year — she also started to lead some Friday night and family services,  High Holy Days services and more. Last year, she completed an internship at the congregation, too.

Still, the hiring of Goldberg was a big deal at TBI. Founded in the 1920s, the small independent synagogue with roots in the Conservative movement hadn’t had a rabbi on a regular basis since the last one died in the 1970s. For decades it relied on visiting rabbis to conduct High Holy Days services and knowledgeable lay leaders, along with a cantor, for Saturday morning services.

“Walking into a service was like walking back into about 1955,” said Bill Fishman, TBI’s president. “It was a very heartfelt, authentic Conservative Judaism kind of caught in amber.”

An aging shul known for its independence and warmth, there were times that TBI struggled to scrape up a minyan.

More recently, demographic changes in the area have introduced younger — and often intermarried — families to the neighborhood. TBI, whose members like to call it “Temple Beth Haimish” — haimish is Yiddish for homey or unpretentious — has made a point to welcome them. Membership has skyrocketed from 40 member families to 120 over just a few years, Fishman said.

Despite trepidation among some members about whether a rabbi was needed, Ed Leibowitz, who organizes family services, said the time had come and Goldberg was exactly the right person for the job.

“There really wasn’t that spiritual direction as far as introducing a new generation into the faith and connecting the older generation to the new one,” Leibowitz said. “Susan’s really been spectacular in that.”

Fishman agreed.

“She’s got this background of bringing people together,” he said.

An acting rabbi for now, Goldberg will be ordained in May. That’s when the next big question comes up.

“Can we pull enough money to have a rabbinic presence?” Fishman asked. “The answer is: We don’t know. We’re doing what we can to raise money however we can.”

While the synagogue was able to raise enough funds to hire Goldberg for this year on a part-time basis, the congregation remains small, and dues are low.

But that’s a worry for another day. For now, everything is just about perfect for Goldberg.

“The things happening at the temple now are so exciting,” she said. “There’s this beautiful return to get things going at this temple, and it’s been beautiful to be part of it.”

If you seat them, they will come


Twice a year, many synagogues find themselves dealing with a wonderful but very practical problem: how to handle the huge numbers of people who show up for the High Holy Days and don’t fit in the sanctuary.

For some, the answer involves reserved seating or alternative services held elsewhere. Others leave their temple en masse for a larger temporary home where everyone can celebrate Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur together.

At congregations like Stephen S. Wise Temple in Bel Air, which counts 3,000 households as members, it’s a matter of simple mathematics. Its sanctuary can hold 1,200 people, and that’s not nearly enough for those who wish to pray during the holiest days on the Jewish calendar.

To deal with the issue, the Reform congregation offers services at four different locations: the sanctuary, another hall on campus, the Skirball Cultural Center and the Bel Air Presbyterian Church. For congregants, the question is where to go.

“It’s on a first-come, first-served basis,” said Ariana West, director of communications. “You get your tickets early, you get the chance to go wherever you want to go first.”

Seats themselves, though, are not reserved, and the services are basically the same in substance, although one is designated a family service, she said. Clergy rotate among the venues.

“No matter what location you’re at, you get to hear from each of our rabbis,” West said.

Valley Beth Shalom in Encino has chosen an alternative strategy. Instead of simultaneous services at multiple venues, it offers multiple services at its own site throughout the day.

“It means a lot to us to have the community together at the High Holidays,” said Bart Pachino, executive director. “Thankfully, we can facilitate a large number of people at our campus.”

The main sanctuary and an attached social hall can seat 1,300 people, and a second social hall can accommodate another 1,000. Still, two seatings in the main sanctuary are necessary to meet the needs of this 1,600-family Conservative shul, which offers family and Sephardic services as well.

Making that happen isn’t easy, especially because seats for all services are assigned.

“People get to keep their seats or improve seats as the years go by,” Pachino said. “You get a ticket with a specific seat number, so, from that standpoint, it’s like going to a concert or a ball game.”

Placement is not based on how much a member contributes to the temple, financially or otherwise, he said, but the seating committee does try to work with people’s preferences.

“We spend the last 60 days obviously having our members pay their dues and work through the seating issues with volunteers who work for hundreds of hours during this time frame,” Pachino said.

Sinai Temple in Westwood uses a mix of alternative services and reserved seating to deal with spillover crowds during the High Holy Days. The 1,950-family Conservative congregation has five on-site venues to accommodate everyone.

Traditional services take place in its 2,000-seat sanctuary, as well as in another 865-seat room that was called into duty a few years ago due to demand, according to Howard Lesner, executive director.

These seats, which are determined at the time someone becomes a member, all are reserved. The cost depends on the seat’s location — whether it is in the back, middle or front of the room. Lesner declined to provide further financial details.

For all the other members attending High Holy Days services — and there may be another couple of thousand at any time — there are three alternative open services. There is a Torah-in-the-round that features music, a family minyan that is more lay led with no music, and another with musician Craig Taubman and a band.

“People can pick and choose among the unreserved venues for what kind of service they want,” Lesner said. “It works because it gives people choice.”

The downside, of course, is that you never know for sure how many people may show up for each one. Consider the Torah-in-the-round service, which has been increasingly popular.

“Literally 100 people last year couldn’t get into the room because of seating,” Lesner said. This year it has been moved to a different venue to fit everyone.

For some temples worried about squishing and squeezing congregants during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Ohr HaTorah has a solution: move. This independent congregation based in West Los Angeles relocates its entire congregation to a larger space, in this case the Wilshire Ebell Theatre.

“It’s our second home,” said Meirav Finley, executive director. “There’s a very festive, great, communal feeling.”

The 250-family congregation is unable to fit everyone into its current building for the High Holy Days, so the 1,270-seat theater is perfect, she said, even though there are some noticeable differences.

“It is a huge room, and there is a huge stage,” Finley said.

There are practical issues, too.

“For example, the cantors face the congregation, so they face the audience. Here in our shul, the cantors face the ark,” Finley said.

Temple Akiba in Culver City spends the holidays at Veterans Memorial Auditorium, which has 1,400 seats, far outnumbering the 400 in the synagogue’s sanctuary. The 330-household Reform temple brings a portable, folding ark as well as its Torahs. A set designer decorates the stage, draping the front and providing flowers.

“You know you’re not in the synagogue, but you know you’re there for a service,” said Carol Sales, temple administrator.

To maintain control over the environment, Temple Akiba rents out other rooms in the facility as well. That way it’s quiet, Sales said, and there won’t be a repeat of a past Yom Kippur where there was food from another event and fasting congregants could smell it during services.

This is not to say, however, that Temple Akiba’s sanctuary sits empty during the High Holy Days. Quite the opposite — it is filled by Congregation N’Vay Shalom. Based in Hancock Park, that transdenominational synagogue of 30 families does not have its own building.

“We do bar and bat mitzvahs in people’s homes or in the big social halls of private clubs or hotels, so we’re very used to being the old-fashioned traveling community. We feel very comfortable creating spiritual space wherever we go,” Cantor Eva Robbins said.

However, she added, gathering at Temple Akiba for the High Holy Days is special.

“It is a wonderful feeling to be in an established sanctuary with a beautiful ark. It sort of raises the level of just feeling much more grand.”

Congregation Kol Ami, a Reform congregation in West Hollywood, also holds High Holy Day services at another religious institution, but in this case, it’s a church. With a sanctuary that can accommodate about 220 people, far fewer than the 750 or 800 who might show up for Kol Nidre, it had to do something.

“We couldn’t even do triple services and fit everybody in,” Rabbi Denise L. Eger said.

So the temple reached a deal to gather at Immanuel Presbyterian Church, which shares Kol Ami’s progressive values and has proven to be an affordable partner. As for the church’s Gothic architecture and large image of Jesus, it’s gotten easier to deal with over the years, Eger said.

“God has a heart of many rooms, and that heart and soul is what we try to focus on, especially in these days of repentance,” she said, then paused.

“But we did need a space for all the people.”

The surprising appeal of Kol Nidre


On his way to converting to Christianity, philosopher Franz Rosenzweig attended Yom Kippur services and was so moved that he decided to remain Jewish. One look at the most famous prayer for the occasion makes it hard to believe that he did not abandon Judaism all the quicker.

Kol Nidre actually is no prayer at all. Rather it is a legal formula in Aramaic that delineates obscure categories of vows and oaths known to the Bible and the rabbis, and then solemnly proclaims that we are free of them.

The origin of this concern was our ancestors’ anxiety over reneging on promises sworn in God’s name. The Talmud permitted such oaths to be canceled, but only one by one and in the presence of a talmudic sage. The idea of a blanket nullification was anathema to rabbis who first heard of it in the eighth and ninth centuries and denounced it as “a foolish custom.” But no one listened.

The prayer had emerged alongside a parallel practice of smashing clay pottery on which a formula to annul vows had been engraved, the idea being that your enemy might have conjured evil spirits and forced them magically to promise you harm. Breaking the bowl would free them from their promise.

Here, then, is a superstition-laden prayer that was condemned by rabbinic authorities but stuck anyway. Its final version reflects a 12th century substitution of “vows made in the future” for “vows made in the past,” so as to do away with its obvious disregard for talmudic law. Even so, it hardly represented Judaism at its moral best. In the 19th century it fueled German anti-Semitism to the point where Jews were hauled into court and forced to swear that they would be held answerable for the truth of any oath they took there.

Despite all this, Kol Nidre persisted, eventually supplied with unforgettable music and the choreography of a courtroom trial held before God. Jews were chanting it is as far back as 11th century France; 14th century German cantors were prolonging the melody to make sure latecomers got to hear it. Polish Rabbi Mordecai Jaffe (1530–1612) sought in vain to change the text because cantors resisted coupling the age-old melody to new lyrics. Nineteenth- and 20th-century rabbis tried to substitute Psalms or write a new prayer altogether.

A more successful subterfuge was to play Kol Nidre on a musical instrument without words or to chant the prayer but omit the words (especially in translation) from the prayer book.

What attracts us to this strangely haunting ritual of Kol Nidre? Is it the music? Surely. Is it also the high drama of the occasion — Torah scrolls dressed in white and held stunningly in full view of the congregation throughout the chant? Yes, it is that as well. But it is more. “All These Vows: Kol Nidre” (Jewish Lights: $24.99) assembles the thoughtful and moving answers of more than 30 people — rabbis and cantors, artists and thinkers — the world over. My own view is that Kol Nidre connects us with the sacred.

Since the 19th century we have been on a road toward greater secularity — not necessarily a bad thing, if by “secular” we mean the discovery that the world is devoid of magical forces and that everything runs by an immutable set of scientific laws. But we have paid a price. Secularization is the process of yanking at the curtain of the universe and discovering there is no wizard micromanaging it. But a universe that operates by natural law can still have mystery. We pilgrims on the yellow brick road strive to be secular, scientific and savvy without giving up on God and the certainty that life still matters. On Kol Nidre eve, it is as if nothing has eroded that certainty because energy runs high, memories go deep and some things seem not to have changed in a thousand years or more.

People mistakenly think that they cannot pray because they cannot believe. The reverse is true. Prayer compels belief, not the other way around. For a very brief moment, as Kol Nidre is chanted, we are in touch with the sacred and with our finitude; with those we love and with the broader human universe; with our own better selves and with the God we are not even sure we believe in.

Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman, a professor of liturgy, worship and ritual at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, is the author most recently of “All These Vows: Kol Nidre” (Jewish Lights).

Holiday Heartburn


I had this crazy dream the other night where all across my neighborhood, in all the Jewish homes and on all the dining tables, the only thing being served to celebrate the High Holy Days was brown rice and seaweed.

I’m not sure where this Spartan nightmare came from, but if I had to guess, it would be that I’ve been talking too much lately with a couple of religious Jewish women who want to start a mini-revolution on how Jews eat.

These culinary rebels believe that it’s difficult to connect with God and the spiritual demands of the Holy Days while we’re injecting 3,000 calories of eggplant salad, hummus, brisket, potatoes, sweet and sour chicken, honey cake and cookies — and then desperately reaching for the Zantac.

In other words, they believe that kosher and holy eating should reflect not just what we eat, but how — and how much — we eat.

This is a painful time for me to consider such notions, with my blessed mother cooking enough food for a Third World country as we prepare for the annual rite of nonstop holiday meals for 20 people. It’s fair to assume that my mother, and probably most of the mothers of her generation, wouldn’t know what to make of a movement that called for light eating and portion control.

It’s not just the old generation. Food, particularly large quantities of delicious food, is a traditional and accepted way of honoring guests and holidays. In my hometown of Montreal, you know how much someone is honoring you by the variety of protein they serve you. If they serve you, for example, brisket, chicken, meatballs and lamb, they probably want you to hire their daughter for a summer internship. If you only get chicken, you probably owe them money.

Here in Pico-Robertson, most of us have, I’m not kidding you, about 125 Thanksgiving-level meals a year. Do the math: Just the two Shabbat meals a week account for 104, and when you throw in all the annual holiday meals — which include, by the way, not one or two but eight elaborate meals for a holiday like Sukkot (four meals in the first two days and four more in the last two days) — well, that’s a lot of Zantac.

This injection of many millions of guest-honoring calories is one reason why people walk very slowly around here during the holidays.

But one observant Jew who never walks slowly is the trim and perky Deborah Rude (pronounced Ruday), one of the culinary rebels of the neighborhood. Rude, a mother of two, bills herself not as a dietician, but as a “livitician” (“Don’t diet, live it!” said the slogan on her business card).

I checked out her office the other day, and, as I pondered the display of flax seed oils, pumpkin seeds and other organic goodies, I couldn’t resist asking her if she remembered a specific moment when she snapped — when she knew that her future would be devoid of starch and protein overload.

It turns out that moment was six years ago, at a Shabbat lunch she was invited to in the Hancock Park area. As she recalls it now, all the food platters on the table had a variation of one color: brown. The overcooked potatoes, the kugel, the cholent, the chicken, even the green beans, she said, were “brownish.”

She promised herself that day that in the future, all her Shabbat meals would have lots of color, freshness and variety — and, most of all, be served in small portions. In fact, when she hosts her Shabbat guests today, she actually serves the portions herself and never leaves any tempting platters on the table.

“The less we eat,” she said, “the more energy we’ll devote to singing and speaking words of Torah.”

That noble sentiment is shared by another health rebel of our neighborhood: Susan Fink, a mother of four and a member of B’nai David-Judea Congregation.

Fink is hip to the dangers of caloric overload under the cover of religious celebration, but her big thing is the spiritual and physical value of exercise. She’s a personal trainer whose goal is “to promote a healthy lifestyle for mind, body and spirit.”

Many of her clients, she said, are fellow observant Jews who see exercise as a way to enable their continued indulgence of those neverending festive meals.

Fink tries to set them straight — “two bites of kreplach can be the equivalent of 30 minutes on the treadmill,” she warns them — but it’s not easy.

“We the Jews are very attached to our food,” she said, in a sharp burst of understatement.

It is this deep attachment to food that my friend Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller reflected on when I asked him for his thoughts on the subject.

First, he quoted a rabbinic scholar and ethicist of the 19th century who connected the Hebrew root for eating with the Hebrew root for destruction, suggesting a dark side of culinary indulgence.

Then he got more spiritual.

“Not eating is not suffering,” he said, “it’s elevating ourselves to a state of transcendence. The fast, on Yom Kippur, reminds us how little material we really need; that we can do with less meat, with less bread, with less of everything. It makes us soar away from our animal side toward our holy and spiritual side.”

Of course, this is the same guy who once served me about five courses when he had me over for dinner, and who made a special announcement at a recent Hillel retreat that “all of you must try these amazing desserts!”

I guess you can call it the disconnect between our intellectual instinct and our primitive urges; between knowing the value of moderation and succumbing to that extra helping of noodle kugel; between understanding the benefits of high-fiber nutrition and surrendering to our grandmothers’ mouthwatering tradition.

If Judaism is about negotiating the tension between opposite impulses, this is surely a very Jewish subject.

Have an easy fast.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Ads4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

Teens, fasting and fainting


The minutes of Yom Kippur are ticking off the clock. Your knees are weak from standing for all of the Neilah service and your stomach begins to growl — you’ve been fasting all day and your body wants food, needs food. You tell yourself, “I can go without food another hour. I always feel faint when I fast, and, besides, the gates of repentance are closing.”

But next thing you know, you’re hard on the floor, stiff as a board with several doctors above you, one checking your pulse, one feeling your forehead, one telling you to wake up, wake up.

That’s what happened last Yom Kippur to Yael Rabin, now a sophomore at Shalhevet, who fainted half an hour into a 90-minute Neilah at Congregation B’nai David-Judea. She was feeling fine until suddenly she felt dizzy, blacked out and then woke up on the floor like it had all been a dream — except that she was in throbbing pain all over her body.

“When I woke up, it was like someone had hit me with a wooden board several times,” Yael said. Witnesses said she fell straight down and hit the floor so hard that services were stopped for several minutes.

Numerous doctors surrounded her and paramedics were called, and Yael and her family ended the holiday in the emergency room at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

“It was really hard the first few days” of recovery, Yael said. “There was so much pain everywhere, especially my neck.”

Yael suffered from whiplash and a mild concussion. She couldn’t walk and had to wear a neck brace for more than a week after. She couldn’t play sports or participate in PE for the next few months.

Yael didn’t feel any symptoms until it was too late, but if she had, she would have had Jewish law on her side in breaking her fast.

“In Yael’s case, the fainting should have been avoided by breaking her fast because of the long-term health consequences that resulted when she didn’t,” said Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky of Bnai David-Judea, where two congregants fainted on Yom Kippur last year. Kanefsky advises at first eating small amounts that don’t technically count as eating in Jewish law — less than a cheekful of liquid and a kezayit (about the size of a cracker) every eight minutes. If that does not help, then one should fully break the fast.

From a medical standpoint, it turns out that the particular circumstances of Neilah, the closing service of Yom Kippur, add up to a kind of formula for fainting. According to Dr. Laurel Schramm, Yael’s doctor and a pediatrician in Beverly Hills, dehydration coupled with extensive standing makes fainting all the more likely.

When teenagers faint it’s usually because they’re dehydrated, Schramm explained. Fasting contributes to dehydration, meaning that the body doesn’t have enough fluid to send oxygen to the brain. A decrease in blood to the brain can cause loss of consciousness, or fainting.

Standing still for a long time makes matters worse by putting stress on the legs, causing blood to stay there and away from your head, she explained.

“When you’re standing still, gravity pulls the blood down, and there’s no muscle movement in your legs, no massaging the blood back up your body,” said Schramm, who is Orthodox and fasts on Yom Kippur herself.

Coming at the culmination of a fast that started before sunset the night before, Neilah is the final, parting, pleading prayer when many Jews feel more connected to God than possibly any other time of the year. Maybe that intensity leads to fainting, too.

While shortening Neilah or abolishing fasting might seem like tempting solutions, that might ruin the emotional and spiritual impact of the day.

“Were it not for the fasting,” Kanefsky said, “people wouldn’t take the day half as seriously as they do. There would be no aura and sense of urgency around the day that exists now.”

But, Kanefsky said, it is unnecessary to stand throughout Neilah while the ark is open.

“A common misconception is that standing is required when the Ark is open,” Kanefsky explained. “In fact, one only has to stand when the Torah is moving, for example, when the Torah is being lifted after Torah reading.”

Kanefsky usually announces this before Neilah every year, and he makes clear that anyone who feels that his health is in danger should eat the minimum quantities and can still feel he is following the law.

But if those things don’t help, it’s important to stay aware of the symptoms. If you suddenly feel cold and sweaty, or if you get dizzy and think you may faint, you should lie down immediately on the floor and raise your feet above your head, Schramm said.

Yael plans on fasting again this year, but she has a new awareness.

“If you feel sick, listen to what your body is telling you,” she said. “God doesn’t want you to get hurt.”

Louis Keene is a senior at Shalhevet and on the staff of the Boiling Point, where this article first appeared.

Community Briefs


Mazon Pledges Funds to Sudan

Two Jewish groups have joined forces to try to save the lives of sickly, starving Sudanese refugees fleeing from government-sanctioned brutality.

Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger and the Jewish Coalition for Sudan Relief have pledged $25,000 apiece to provide emergency medical care, food and nutritional information to displaced refugees living in camps in Chad and in the western Darfur region of Sudan.

Rabbi Lee Bycel, a Mazon board member and former president of the Brandeis-Bardin Institute, will serve as emissary for the two Jewish groups. Bycel plans to spend Yom Kippur in Chad to bring attention to the plight of the nearly 200,000 Sudanese refuges have fled there over the past 18 months.

“On this fast day of ours, I will fast with people who do not fast by choice, who may never ‘break the fast,'” Bycel said in a statement. The rabbi himself said he personally wants to raise $75,000 for relief efforts, in addition to the Mazon and Jewish Coalition money.

The Bush administration recently declared that Sudanese troops and militias had committed genocide against non-Arab villagers in Darfur. The United Nations estimates that 50,000 blacks have died and 1.2 million made homeless by government attacks on Darfur villagers since a rebellion broke out there in early 2003.

Mazon has contributed more than $31 million since 1986 to anti-hunger organizations, and to advocacy groups working to aid needy families and at-risk children around the world.

Donations for Sudanese refugees can be sent to Mazon, 1990 S. Bundy Drive, Suite 260, Los Angeles, CA 90025. Checks should be made payable to Mazon. — Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

VBS’ Feinstein Takes Over as SeniorRabbi

If Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) gave its rabbis titles, like assistant or associate or senior — which it doesn’t — Rabbi Harold Schulweis would likely have been called senior rabbi for the last 35 years, since he set the direction and the vision for the Conservative congregation in Encino

Now that Schulweis, 79, has passed those responsibilities on to Rabbi Ed Feinstein, Feinstein would, in theory, get the addendum of “senior.”

“If two people like each other and appreciate each other, there are no questions about who is No. 1 and who is No. 1. That is silly kind of talk,” Schulweis said.

At the same time, the reality of there being one person at the helm is not something the shul ignores. Schulweis felt the time was right to let Feinstein, who is widely beloved and admired by the congregation, take that step up. He will be officially installed this spring.

“The policy, the directions and the projects will be in his hands, and he will have the first vote,” Schulweis said. “He is 51, and I am in relatively good health, and there is no reason for him to not have the challenges and joys of being senior rabbi.”

Schulweis says he will continue with all of the same duties, and that his interaction with congregants will not change. He is not retiring, nor is he taking on the title of emeritus.

Feinstein, who has been with VBS for 11 years, looks forward to shifting the relationship with his mentor and his congregants.

“Rabbi Schulweis has given me a congregation and a community with learning at its center, and I will protect and preserve and enhance that,” Feinstein said. “We will also be working harder this year on prayer, on social action and on community building.”

The congregation, the board and the other rabbis are all excited about the change, since it provided a way to keep both Feinstein and Schulweis as integral parts of the community.

Feinstein himself has no illusions about what the change means.

“I’m going to get a lot older a lot faster,” he quipped. — Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Religion Editor

Kushner to Pen Spielberg Munich Pic

Pulitzer Prize-winner Tony Kushner (“Angels in America”) is writing a new screenplay for Steven Spielberg’s film on the aftermath of the 1972 Munich Olympics, focusing on the hunt for the Black September terrorists who took the Israeli team hostage.

Production of the film has been postponed to June 2005 from an earlier scheduled start of June 2004.

Marvin Levy, Spielberg’s spokesman, denied a New York Post report that the postponement was based on fears that Muslim extremists might target the locations to be used in the movie. He also denied that “Vengeance” had been chosen as the film’s title.

Instead, the delay is mainly due to Spielberg’s dissatisfaction with the first draft of the script, submitted by Eric Roth (“Forrest Gump”).

The only cast member announced so far is Australian actor Eric Bana (“Troy,” “Hulk”). Spielberg had also hoped to cast Ben Kingsley, with whom he collaborated in “Schindler’s List,” but Kingsley will be unavailable at the new starting date.

The tragedy of the Munich Olympics, in which the terrorists easily infiltrated the Olympic Village, resulted in the death of 11 Israeli athletes. Two were killed immediately by the terrorists, and nine died in a bungled attempt by German police to free the remaining hostages.

Spielberg has said that his Jewish heritage took on a new dimension while making “Schindler’s List.” The Shoah Foundation, which he established 11 years ago, has since videotaped the testimonies of 52,000 Holocaust survivors and witnesses.

The documentary “One Day in September,” on the Munich Olympics, won an Oscar in 2000 for Swiss producer Arthur Cohn. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Outreach Service Offers Alternative

With many Jews feeling dissatisfied over the cost of High Holiday tickets and unfulfilled by holiday services, the National Jewish Outreach Program (NJOP) is offering free or low-cost explanatory “Beginners Services” nationwide — and the Southland is no exception. In a recent NJOP poll, more than 50 percent of respondents said that High Holiday services are either too long, boring, repetitive or not relevant. Moneywise, nearly 70 percent felt that the cost of High Holiday tickets was either too high, unwarranted, a turnoff or should be reconsidered.

Since 1990, the NJOP has offered free or low-cost High Holiday Beginners Services that are open to Jews of all backgrounds and levels of observance. Billed as the “High Holiday service for those who aren’t so high on the holidays,” many of these alternative services include abundant explanations, opportunities to ask questions, easy-to-learn melodies and numerous English readings.

“If we want people with little or no synagogue experience to be inspired by the holidays, we have to offer meaningful encounters that are inviting, uplifting, non-judgmental, and even fun,” says Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald, founder and director of the New York-based NJOP. “I am proud to say that NJOP’s Beginners Services have had a tremendous impact on tens of thousands of Jews, strengthening their connections to Judaism and Jewish life.”For more information, contact Aish HaTorah at (310) 278-8672, ext. 703; The Westwood Kehilla at (310) 441-5289; Calabasas Shul at (818) 591-7485; or visit www.njop.org. — Sharon Schatz Rosenthal, Contributing Writer

Jewish Community FoundationAwardees

The Jewish Community Foundation awarded last month grants totaling nearly $453,000 to support innovative programming at 16 Jewish organizations.

“We want to encourage nonprofit agencies to develop cutting-edge projects,” Foundation Chief Executive Marvin I. Schotland said in a release.

Among grant recipients:

Embrace the Day, Invite the ‘Stranger’


My earliest High Holiday memory goes back to about age 7. It was the night before Yom Kippur and my parents had gone off to the synagogue, leaving my 10-year-old brother and me with a babysitter. I forgot that I wasn’t supposed to eat anything that night, went into the kitchen, got on a chair to get a banana from the top of the refrigerator, peeled it halfway down and put it into my mouth.

My brother shouted, "You can’t do that!"

Then I remembered, wrapped the banana back in its peel and put it back on top of the refrigerator. I don’t know what my mother thought when she discovered that banana, she never said anything about it. But I think that from then on I felt that Yom Kippur was something very important.

When I was 12 I won an essay contest at my Conservative synagogue by writing that my favorite Jewish holiday was … Yom Kippur. Although my choice was one calculated to win, I had in fact begun to enjoy the High Holidays. Something about the period of self-evaluation and striving to return to right behavior (my understanding of teshuvah), appealed deeply to me. So did self-affliction — I wanted to fast before my mother would let me (she made me wait until I was 13).

My strong positive feelings about the High Holidays have continued unabated throughout the 30 years of my interfaith marriage. When Wendy and I were dating, she was always willing to attend services with me. For a number of years we went to the Harvard Hillel services. In those days the services were held in Harvard University’s Sanders Theatre, a not very comfortable or synagogue-like setting, but we were attracted by Rabbi Gold, an Orthodox rabbi whom we had consulted before our wedding. He had treated Wendy kindly and respectfully when he advised her not to convert before we were married unless it was something that she wanted for herself.

After we bought a house in the suburbs, we joined our neighborhood Reform synagogue when our daughter was ready for religious school. At some point when our children were very young, we developed our own High Holiday custom. Traditional Jews observe tashlich on the afternoon of the first day of Rosh Hashanah — they go to a body of moving water and throw bread or stones into it, as a symbolic casting away of sins. I had never performed that ritual before, but somehow we got started going to a neighborhood park on Yom Kippur afternoon and throwing bread into the Charles River — though most of the bread was intercepted by hungry ducks before it even hit the water. We have clung to that custom "religiously" and every Yom Kippur afternoon, dressed in our finest suits and dresses (which must look very curious to the families playing in the park), we feed the ducks/cast away our sins. My children, who are now 21 and 26, still insist that, as the person with most of the sins, I should throw in most of the bread.

For Wendy and me, Judaism is very much a matter of religion. We have experienced so many High Holidays at this point that the rituals and customs of the holidays are familiar and comfortable to us as a couple. On Yom Kippur, the Kol Nidre melody reminds us of all of those past years. We both fast and return to the synagogue for the afternoon Yizkor memorial and concluding services. We enjoy the opportunity for an extended quiet time of reflection. Each year I hate to see the day’s"’time-out" from daily routines come to an end.

I think that our attitudes toward the High Holidays have rubbed off on our children. Several years ago, our daughter, Emily, spent a fall semester in New Zealand. She had to make a major effort to be in a synagogue for Yom Kippur — take a bus from the conservation project she was working on into Auckland, check into a youth hostel, have pizza for dinner alone and then make her way to the Progressive synagogue to attend services. In a wonderful example of Jews taking care of other Jews, she was befriended by a couple who invited her to their home to break the fast and to stay the night; it turned out that one of the couple’s children had been married by the rabbi of our own synagogue! When our son, Adam, was in Munich last fall, he, too, made his way to the Progressive synagogue, and was taken in by a young family.

The Torah and haftorah portions on Yom Kippur morning year after year are, for me, the most inspiring expressions of Jewish values — from the Torah portion’s command to "choose life" to the haftorah portion’s command "to unlock the shackles of injustice … to share your bread with the hungry."

And these readings have an interfaith theme — in Deuteronomy 29:9-14, 30:11-20, Moses says that those who are about to enter into God’s covenant and be established as a people include everyone in the community, even the "strangers in your camp." I experience the themes of the liturgy of the day — which emphasize the Day of Judgment, self-evaluation and repentance, seeking forgiveness, ethical behavior and taking advantage of a new beginning — as applying fully to Wendy. When the congregation prays communally for repentance, I experience her as a member of the congregation and community.

For me, the High Holidays, and Yom Kippur in particular, are a great gift — a gift that interfaith families can benefit from and fully enjoy.

Edmund C. Case is the president and publisher of
InterfaithFamily.com and the co-editor, with Ronnie Friedland, of “The
Guide to Jewish Interfaith Family Life: An InterfaithFamily.com Handbook”
(Jewish Lights).

A Hearty Meal to


This year Yom Kippur begins on Friday night and continues until sundown on Saturday. Since many families do not cook on Shabbat, I planned a menu that will solve the problem.

The meal has to be hearty to prepare for the 24-hour fast ahead, but it should not be heavy. Fried, highly seasoned or salty foods are not advised.

A simple solution to your Yom Kippur menus is to serve a fish stew, bland one night and spicy the second. Inspired by a recipe for Bouillabaisse, it is based on a rich fish stock, seasoned with wine, tomatoes and herbs.

The fish stew can be prepared in advance for the Friday meal using a small amount of seasoning. On Saturday night, simply reheat the leftover broth, add additional fish and pass a spicy red pepper-garlic sauce, which can be made ahead and refrigerated.

Both menus include a flavorful fresh salad as a first course, assembled and tossed just before serving. The clean, fresh flavor of sliced raw fennel that is enhanced by its faint hint of anise, and combined with diced tomatoes, is a perfect dish to serve at the beginning of the meal.

Honey symbolizes hope for a sweet year ahead. For break-the-fast Saturday evening dessert serve traditional Honey-Fruit Cake, which can be made several days ahead.

Whether fasting or feasting, both dinners are appealing and allow the cook time to concentrate on the holiday rituals, while spending time with family and friends.

Fennel and Tomato Salad

3 medium fennel bulbs

2 to 3 cups cherry tomatoes, halved

6 cups assorted baby lettuce

Salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/4 to 1/2 cup olive oil

2 to 3 tablespoons Balsamic vinegar

Cut off and discard the tops of the fennel and trim the base. Discard tough outer layers. Rinse well under cold water.

Cut the fennel in half then horizontally into thin slices and place them in a large salad bowl. Add the tomatoes and baby lettuce. Add salt and pepper to taste and toss gently. Spoon the olive oil and Balsamic vinegar over the fennel salad and toss gently.

Serves six to eight.

Bouillabaisse (Fish Stew)

5 cups Fish Stock (recipe follows)

Red Pepper-Garlic Sauce (recipe follows)

1/4 cup olive oil

2 onions, diced

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 leeks, thinly sliced

4 celery stalks, sliced

2 carrots, thinly sliced

1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes or 3 cups chopped fresh tomatoes

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 teaspoon dried thyme

2 teaspoons fennel seeds

2 bay leaves

3 cups dry white wine

Dash saffron, optional

3 small potatoes, peeled, diced and parboiled

4 to 5 pounds firm-fleshed fish fillets (halibut, whitefish or sea bass) cut into 1 1/2 inch chunks

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 carrots, julienne, parboiled and drained

Prepare the Fish Stock and set aside. Prepare the Red Pepper-Garlic Sauce, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

In a large saucepan, heat oil and sauté onions, garlic and leeks, about five minutes or until tender but not browned. Add celery and carrots and simmer five minutes. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, thyme, fennel seeds, bay leaves and white wine. Bring to a boil and simmer 20 minutes. Add saffron and fish stock and simmer one hour. Add potatoes and half of fish. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Simmer 15-20 minutes or until fish is cooked through. Do not overcook. Ladle into hot soup bowls (reserving enough broth for the following night) and garnish with julienne carrots.

When serving Saturday night to break-the-fast, add remaining fish and pass the Red Pepper-Garlic Sauce along with toast to spread it on.

Makes about 12 servings.

Fish Stock

4 pounds fish heads and bones

2 onions, thinly sliced

4 carrots, thinly sliced

3 celery stalks, with tops, sliced

2 bay leaves, crushed

10 parsley sprigs

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

1 1/2 cups dry white wine

6 to 8 cups water

Salt & freshly ground black pepper

In a large heavy pot, place the fish parts, onions, carrots, celery, bay leaves, parsley, fennel seeds, wine and water to cover completely. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat, add salt and pepper to taste and simmer for 30 minutes, uncovered, allowing the liquid to reduce to two to three cups.

Strain through a fine-mesh sieve or cheesecloth. Cover and refrigerate or freeze.

Red Pepper-Garlic Sauce

2 slices egg bread, crusts trimmed

4 cloves garlic

1/2 roasted sweet red pepper

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 teaspoon paprika

1/2 cup olive oil

1/2 to 1 cup stock from fish stew

Soak bread in cold water and squeeze dry. In a food processor or blender, blend bread, garlic, sweet red pepper, tomato paste, paprika, olive oil and 1/2 cup fish stock, until smooth paste. Add additional fish stock if needed. Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Makes about two cups.

Italian Honey-Fruit Cake (Pan Forte)

6 ounces dried figs

1 cup golden raisins

1 cup unsulphured dried apples

Grated peel of 1 orange

Grated peel of 1 lemon

1/2 cup flour

1/4 cup cocoa

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon mace

1/8 teaspoon white pepper

3/4 cup honey

1/2 cup sugar

Juice of 1 orange

1 1/2 cups whole toasted almonds

1 1/2 cups whole toasted filberts

1/2 cup powdered sugar

Place figs, golden raisins, dried apples, orange and lemon peel in a food processor and blend until finely chopped. Or place in chopping bowl and chop fine. Transfer fruit mixture to a large mixing bowl.

Sift together the flour, cocoa, cinnamon, mace and pepper. Add to dried fruit mixture and mix well.

In a heavy saucepan, heat the honey, sugar and orange juice until the sugar dissolves. Carefully pour hot liquid into dried fruit mixture. Add nuts and stir well. Line an 8- or 9-inch round baking pan with parchment or wax paper and spoon in mixture. Bake at 300F for 50 minutes to one hour or until cake browns around the edges and paper comes away from the pan. (Cake will be sticky on top.)

Cool in pan 10 minutes. Dust a 12-inch square of foil with 1/4 cup powdered sugar. Turn cake upside down onto prepared foil. Peel off paper used to line pan and invert onto cake plate. Before serving sprinkle with additional powdered sugar.

Tisha B’Av Today


This week a friend confessed to me his problem with fasting on Tisha B’av. My friend is Orthodox and Israeli — an alumnus of one of the elite hesder yeshivas — and he felt that it would be wrong for him to fast this year on Tisha B’Av.

“I cannot abide the litany of persecution and victimization, which the community reads in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, all the while ignoring those who are our victims not far away in Ramalah and Qalqilyah, Daheishah and Tuqua.”

Within the American context this problem is equally bad. The annual litany of persecutions included in the kinot (poems) of lamentation recited on Tisha B’Av eve and morning are usually enhanced with readings impressing upon the congregation the ongoing, continuing, eternal oppression “we” have suffered. This stance of eternal victimhood, with the whole world as fixed and immutable oppressor easily erases differences in time and place, differences in situation. We in the United States are not under any physical threat. We are probably the most affluent and powerful Jewish community in recorded history. Anti-Semitism in the United States is a fringe phenomenon which, when it rears its ugly head, is immediately swatted by the highest levels of the government. Mistaking our situation for that of another Jewish community in history is dangerously delusional. While those who ignore the past might be doomed to repeat it, those who are stuck in the past cannot see the present, and make serious and costly mistakes that will harm us in the future.

This however is not what Tisha B’Av is about.

Tisha B’Av is the day on which we are forced to confront the radical possibility that we are unable to create an ethical polity. Tisha B’Av is the day on which we must give ourselves an accounting of how “Jerusalem” became a “den of murderers” in the words of the prophet. We must think hard about how all our cherished hopes for ourselves as a community based on ethics and a commitment to social and economic justice can — and at times have — slipped through our hands. How have we stood on the sidelines while we became allied with the forces of injustice, or the agents of oppression.

On Tisha B’Av we sit on the floor, alone; we do not greet each other. We perform the dissolution of the basic bonds of community. For one stark moment we must stand naked before ourselves and say: “How did we get here?”

For this reason I will fast on Tisha B’Av. Davka — especially in a Jewish calendar year that includes Israel Independence Day do we need Tisha B’Av. Especially in a country in which we control resources and have the possibility to allow working people to earn living wages and exist in dignity — or not — do we need Tisha B’Av. Especially here and especially now we need to stop and reflect on Tisha B’Av. In the words of the prophet: Zion will be redeemed by justice, and her returnees by righteousness.


Dr. Aryeh Cohen is chair of rabbinics at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies of the University of Judaism. He is also the president of the Progressive Jewish Alliance.

Not So Fast


“I started fasting for half a day on Yom Kippur since I was in first grade,” said 7-year-old Erin Faigin nonchalantly. Between helping her dad run the High Holiday preschool program at Temple Beth Torah in Granada Hills and fasting until lunchtime, Faigin seems to like the responsibility the holiday presents. Karen Davis, Faigin ‘s mother, seems content with the idea of her daughter’s partial fast. “Since her dad and I are so active in the synagogue, none of us is going to get breakfast that day by default,” said Davis with a laugh. While Davis is not concerned about her daughter’s desire to fast, the issue of children fasting for Yom Kippur is often a debatable topic for parents.

According to Rabbi Sheryl Nosan of Temple Beth Torah, children are not required to fast, however, parents should teach kids the meaning of the holiday. Within her congregation, Nosan encourages the ritual for healthy children who have completed b’nai mitzvah. “I want the bar or bat mitzvah to mark a significant change in their Jewish lives. Fasting is one of the ways that they can feel a tangible change in their Jewish responsibility,” she explained. For children who are approaching b’nai mitzvah, she recommends an abbreviated fast.

Shelli Kachlon, an elementary school teacher, is not so quick to allow her three children to skip meals that day. “We don’t ask them to fast, because they’re not bar miztvahed and they don’t have the responsibility like an adult would, but if they want to, they can,” explained the North Hollywood resident. Kachlon’s 11-year-old son, Ariel, tries to fast for a few hours each Yom Kippur in preparation for his post-bar mitzvah days. Her other two children, Heather, 9, and Jennifer, 4, do not participate. “My girls are too young and they don’t understand,” Kachlon explained.

Dr. Wendy Mogel, a local clinical psychologist and parent educator, suggests that instead of presenting the idea of fasting in a negative light, parents can position it as an honor and an opportunity. “When a child takes on any mitzvah and voluntarily engages in ritual, it is worthy of parental encouragement. It’s a better way to try to be grown up rather than wanting to watch R-rated videos,” Mogel said. She stresses that parents should commend children for effort. “What I’ve seen so many times is 7- and 8-year-olds say with pride and conviction, ‘I’m going to fast this year,’ and they last an hour or two,” she recounted. “This is an opportunity for parents to say, ‘What a good start you’ve made. Last year you didn’t do it at all. This is a milestone.'”

Nosan said that by the time a child is old enough to understand that we do things differently on Yom Kippur, he or she can begin to learn the food component of the holiday. “For a 5-year-old, that might mean three meals, but no special foods, like sweets or cakes or cookies.” She also notes that different children may have different needs and that if a parent has questions, he or she should check with the child’s doctor.

Mogel also comments on the touchiness of the subject of fasting. “It’s a very charged topic already, because it has to do with food,” she said, referencing how our culture and the media glorify thinness. “That leads me to want to tell parents to not put too much pressure on kids,” she says. Mogel warned that if a child has a tendency toward eating disorders, parents should not encourage fasting.

In addition to learning by fasting, Davis said her daughter is gaining an understanding of Yom Kippur by helping her father with the synagogue preschool that day. Still, both components are shaping her Jewish identity. “On Yom Kippur,” Faigin said, “I kind of think about my family and glad for them and that I’m glad I’m a Jew.” Will she fast for the whole time when she is older? “Maybe,” she said.

Fasting for Peace


Tisha B’Av, the fast day commemorating the destructions of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem 2,500 and 2,000 years ago, respectively, doesn’t rank up there with most celebrated Jewish holidays.

But Rabbi Eli Stern of the Westwood Kehilla believes more attention to the holiday can help bring about a better world.

“Even if one may not be able to relate to what it means to have the Temple destroyed, perhaps one can relate to what the rectification process is for bringing about healing and the final redemption,” says Stern, associate rabbi for outreach at the Westwood Kehilla, a small Orthodox congregation.

That healing process primarily focuses on improving the way people treat each other, since tradition holds that the Temple was destroyed because of the baseless hatred that was rampant among the Israelites.

Westwood Kehilla is sponsoring a full day and evening of programming focusing on topics of interpersonal relationships, as well as on the traditional texts of Tisha B’Av, which recount the destruction and the aftermath.

This year’s program will also focus on the situation in Israel.

Stern says the suffering in Israel and the extent of the turmoil could be God’s sending a reminder to the Jewish people that the need for working toward redemption is stronger now than ever.

“It is in our power to bring about the redemption and to bring about a Jewish people and a whole world that lives in peace and security and in harmony with God and with each other,” Stern says. “Tisha B’Av is the most powerful day on the calendar to effectuate that transformation,” he says.

The program, Saturday evening, July 28, and Sunday, July 29, will include readings from the Lamentations and Kinot, the traditional elegies read on Tisha B’Av, as well as classes taught by Stern and Rabbi Joel Zeff, former rabbi of the Kehilla, who now teaches in Jerusalem.

For a full schedule of the day, call the Westwood
Kehilla at (310) 441-5289 or e-mail outreach@kehilla.org

Let’s Celebrate! It’s Yom Kippur!


In the waning hours of Yom Kippur, the last rays of sun cast long shadows through the stained-glass windows. It is time for “Ne’ila,” the final prayer in a day filled with prayer, when the gates on high, opened especially wide for this day, begin their final closing.

So still, so intense, so enraptured are worshipers for these final moments of supplication, that most forget they have been fasting for 24 hours, that they have been standing in one place for hours, that within seconds of hearing the piercing blast of the shofar, they will rush home to the waiting coffee and honey cake.

“It’s like the final leg of a race, where there is a sprint to the finish line,” says Rabbi Alan Greenbaum of Temple Adat Elohim in Thousand Oaks. “Not in the sense of ‘let’s finish this up and get home,’ but ‘let’s use every last ounce of energy we have to make this meaningful.’ “

The idea of prayers rising through a heavenly portal is painted graphically in the liturgy of Ne’ila, a word that means locking. The image of the gate, along with the idea of the Book of Life — and the ark open for the entire Ne’ila service — gives worshipers something tangible to visualize, says Rabbi Donald Goor of Temple Judea in Tarzana.

“With those two very physical images in people’s minds, it makes it a very powerful moment,” says Goor.

The image of a compassionate God, waiting for our penitence until the very last minute, encapsulates what Judaism is about, says Rabbi Yisroel Kelemer of Congregation Mogen David on the Westside.

“The most beautiful prayer we say is ‘open up the gate, even as the gate is closing,’ ” Kelemer says, quoting from “Ne’ila.” “God is there to the last minute to accept our repentance. To me, that is the loving God, the kind God, the patient God. That is the fantastic, powerful theme of Ne’ila.”

And as the sky grows dark, the passage of time is palpable, lending more urgency to the prayers.

Rabbi Nachum Braverman of Aish Hatorah on the Westside says that as the final minutes tick down, the full import and opportunity of the entire period of repentance — from the month of Elul through Rosh Hashanah, the Ten Days of Repentance, and then Yom Kippur — comes to rest in those last moments of prayer.

“When we are young, we have choices and a feeling that we can be whatever we want, we can go anywhere,” Braverman says. “But I think everyone has a sense that at some point, they’re not sure when, that sense of opportunity to make what they wanted of life has been lost … They come to terms with the mediocrity of their lives, but there is a tragic sense of loss.

“I think Yom Kippur holds out hope to become free of the past, to remake yourself and have a fresh beginning. Ne’ila is the last chance. That sense of hope and of loss, and the hope that we can redress that loss, gets packed into those fading moments of Ne’ila.”

Braverman also points to the sense of community during Ne’ila, when all voices join together to say the “Shema,” and to loudly and repeatedly proclaim, “Adonai Hu HaElohim” — “The Lord is God.”

“You feel the whole community reaching out as one with such a sense of passion,” he says. “As you come to the end, there is such a sense of intensity, exhilaration. I find it enormously moving every year.”

It is a power that brings out even those who aren’t there for much of the service.

Many secular Israelis in Los Angeles, for instance, who don’t come to Kol Nidre the evening before and spend the day fasting at home with their families, come out in great numbers for Ne’ila.

“I don’t know if Israelis in Israel go to shul, but here I think they feel like they have the urge to do something about it,” says Gal Shor, managing editor of the Hebrew-language weekly, Shalom L.A. “I don’t feel like I need to spend the whole day, but the last two hours is fine.”

While some of the trend can also be attributed to the fact that Israelis aren’t used to the idea of paying to go to shul — and usually no one asks for tickets at Ne’ila — Shor also says the desire to hear the Shofar brings families out.

That seems to be true all over, where Ne’ila and the Havdalah that follows have become family-centered events.

At Temple Beth Zion, a small, mostly elderly congregation on Olympic Boulevard, Rabbi Edward Tenenbaum holds a special ceremony to bless the children just before the blowing of the Shofar.

“A lot of people bring their grandchildren and families together for that final moment,” he says. “It really seems to bring a family bond.”

At Temple Akiba in Culver City, that community bond is strengthened by a 25-year-old custom: All members who own shofars — usually about 50 or 60 people — are invited to come up to the bimah in the darkened sanctuary.

“At the end of Havdalah, everyone blows the tekiah gedolah together, and it’s a big, festive thing,” says Rabbi Allen Maller. “It’s been a long day primarily of introspection and inwardness, and a good sort of ending, to make a distinction between that day and now, is a grand finale, a big celebration.”

Many congregations have a song-filled final “Kaddish,” and others also sing “L’shana Haba Biy’rushalyim” — “Next Year in Jerusalem.”

Even the stampede to get home and eat, within seconds of the shofar sounding, gives tribute to the power of Ne’ila, Kelemer points out.

“God bless them, all everyone wants is to get out,” Kelemer says. “But not two minutes earlier, you could hear a pin drop. It was like we were transformed into a different realm, a whole different world.”



The Effects of Fasting

By Sandy Goodman

Fasting is an ancient practice common to Judaism as well as other religions. The fast on Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, is reflective of personal sacrifice. It is a time to set aside all activity, including eating, and focus on prayer and repentance. In addition to spiritual benefits, fasting also has salutary effects on the body. Not eating for a notable period of time rids the body of toxic wastes, enabling it to make a fresh start.

Four Pre- and Post-Fast Tips

1) Eat a normal meal the day before Yom Kippur, with an emphasis on carbohydrates.

2) Drink a lot of water prior to the fast.

3) When breaking the fast, drink plenty of water and juices.

4) Eat the first solid foods slowly.

Excerpted from www.jewishfamily.com. For more information, read “Jewish Family & Life: Traditions, Holidays, and Values for Today’s Parents and Children” (Golden Books) by Yosef I. Abramowitz and Rabbi Susan Silverman.

Advice for the Yom Kippur Fast


An expert at Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center hasinvaluable advice for your Yom Kippur fast.

According to Dr. Elliot Berry, head of clinical nutrition at theHebrew University-Hadassah Medical School, there are a number ofthings you can do in advance to ease your fasting:

  • Take frequent drinks of water throughout the day before the fast begins.
  • Your last meal before the fast should include complex carbohydrates, such as pasta, rice, potatoes and whole-grain bread. When complex carbohydrates are stored in the liver, water is retained so that the body suffers less dehydration during a fast.
  • But be sure to eat a balanced meal before the fast. Proteins and fats are absorbed more slowly than sugars and provide the necessary energy. You should balance your meal with 55 percent complex carbs, 15 percent proteins and 30 percent fats.
  • Do not overeat before you fast.
  • Do not take salty or sweet foods or beverages before the fast, because they may make you thirsty.

Dr. Berry also has sound advice on the best way to break the fast:Break your fast with a drink (not carbonated) and a slice of bread ordry cake. After an hour, enjoy a full meal. — Jewish TelegraphicAgency

Tips for an Easier Fast


An expert at Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center hasinvaluable advice for your Yom Kippur fast.

According to Dr. Elliot Berry, head of clinical nutrition at theHebrew University-Hadassah Medical School, there are a number ofthings you can do in advance to ease your fasting:

  • Take frequent drinks of water throughout the day before the fast begins.
  • Your last meal before the fast should include complex carbohydrates, such as pasta, rice, potatoes and whole-grain bread. When complex carbohydrates are stored in the liver, water is retained so that the body suffers less dehydration during a fast.
  • But be sure to eat a balanced meal before the fast. Proteins and fats are absorbed more slowly than sugars and provide the necessary energy. You should balance your meal with 55 percent complex carbs, 15 percent proteins and 30 percent fats.
  • Do not overeat before you fast.
  • Do not take salty or sweet foods or beverages before the fast, because they may make you thirsty.

Dr. Berry also has sound advice on the best way to break the fast:Break your fast with a drink (not carbonated) and a slice of bread ordry cake. After an hour, enjoy a full meal. — Jewish TelegraphicAgency