Chanukiah

 Hannukah Expansion and Contraction by Rabbi T’mimah Ickovits


Have you ever thought about how many candles are lit during Hannukah?

On the first day of Hannukah one candle is lit, the second day two,.. on the eighth day eight candles are lit. Each day an additional candle is added,

Talmud documents dialogues of diverse schools of thought and methods; some practiced in community and others not.  Talmud is a glimpse and invitation into the ongoing conversation.  Increasing the candle count each day was initiated by the Hillel Academy.  It invites a sense of growth, expansiveness, and encouragement.

It turns out that a different candle lighting method  was initiated by Shammai Academy – they began by lighting the maximum number of candles, eight, on the first day, seven on the second reducing to a single candle the eighth day.   Later Kabbalists teach that in the future to come, when Messianic consciousness fills the world, the Shammai Academy’s method will prevail.

Jewish traditions started in the Northern Hemisphere, and so holy time is referenced from here.  During Hannukah, the nights are dark and the days are short.

Months on the Jewish calendar begin with the new moon, peak with the moon in fullness when many festivals are celebrated. Then, cycle back to the new moon. The eight days of Hannukah begin while the moon is waning on the 25th  day of Kislev; the darkness peaks during the holiday just before the new moon of Tevet and continues a day through the second day of  Tevet as a sliver of Moon is visible.  Candles are lit bringing participation, a sense of mystery, vision, and brilliance.

The total number of Hannukah candles lit (aside from the shamus) is the same in both methods described. How many Hannukah candles are lit during the total  holiday?  1+2+3+4+5+6+7+8=36.

A total of 36 Hannukah Candles.

The Hasidic Master Bnay Yisaskhar from his book by the same name (1783-1841)  http://rabbishimon.com/tzadikim/showz.php?p=dinov.htm) writes:

…(The early rabbis ) established 36 candles in correspondence to the 36 hours of initial pure potent light available to the very first humans in the Garden of Eden (Pesiktah 2:2)…

(The holy rebbe, Ba’al haRokayah; Master of the Apothecary)  …whose words of Kabbalah come directly from Eliyahu haNavih z”l says, the glow of the Hannukah mitzvah candle is the glow of the Ohr Ganuz; this light hidden.  It was intentionally established (in this way)  through Ruah Hakodesh* for the future generations because they (the early rabbis) knew that each and every year this light would be revealed.

That is why these days are called “Hannukah”, – that is, it is “hinukh” training (same Hebrew root as Hannukah.) for cultivating familiarity with the coming Future Redemption. Then, this light (first light of Eden) will be revealed in fullness.

Like the sages said in Hagigah 12b – ‘and they hid it for Tzaddikim in the future to come’, also as it written in Is 60:19, ‘you will no longer have the sun to light your days and the glow of the moon will no longer illuminate for you, Hashem; G!D Who Is Was and Will Be, will be your eternal light.’

It is true that technology offers humans many conveniences and much of it is a blessing. It is important to be aware of the shadow side of privilege. Information available today is endless – too often distracting our attention, consciousness, and time. Stress and overwhelm are on the rise.  Electricity lights up our dwellings and break awareness of the natural cycles of night and day, cars and planes make travel efficient. Expediency is valued; more, faster, cheaper are “better.”   Information and change happen very very quickly. All this, and more, serves to separate humanity from the natural rhythms of Earth resulting in people becoming increasingly isolated from each other,  nature, and Spirit.  This pattern is self-perpetuating and left alone will continue to spiral out of control.

Heykhalot literature, early Jewish mysticism, offers Rabbi Yishma’el’s accounts of his journeys into the heavens. He is guided by the angel Metatron; The Holy One of Blessing’s most trusted minister.  In these writings Rabbi Yishma’el gives over  visions from the inner essence of the heavens that the angel Metatron shared with him. Consider this text from Heykhalot Rabboti (Yalkut haRoeem haG’dolim page 2):

…The first human and their generation would sit at the opening of the gates of the Garden of Eden to gaze into the patterns and forms of Shekhinah’s glowing light, for Shekhinah’s glowing light travels from one end of the universe to the other… All who absorb this Shekhinah glow – the bees and flies do not go near them, not only that they do not get sick, they do not get stressed, no demons can get to them, and that’s not all,  even angels do not rule over them…

The glow of this Sh’khinah is a cure for what ails humanity.

What if? What if this light is available here and now and no one can see it?

Hannukah offers an opportunity to train ourselves to be accustomed  to seeing with the first light of Eden. It is true there are multiple ways to cultivate vision as we see from the examples of Hillel and Shammai. Every person is unique and individual. Each one of us has special skills and work to accomplish in this life. So too, training of any kind is best when it considers the qualities and capabilities of the individual. Everyone receives at their own level in their own way.

Simply, setting an intention creates a shift. Even if you question the potency of the light of Hannukah candles themselves, no doubt there is a benefit to pause and open to light during these dark days and its impact in your own unique way.

Regardless of whether you light candles according to Hillel, Shammai, both or not at all, Hannukah is an invitation to cultivate your inner vision.  The Shammai Academy offers an alternative and valuable way of relating movement and responding to it. Earthly resonance includes ebb and flow, winter and summer, peak and valley, inhale and exhale, gel and sol, and life and death.

We can use Hannukah for personal reflection. The school of Shammai suggests acceptance of the ebb, the lessening of ability that happens in life. Change happens due to vicissitudes in time;  external events, illness, changes as we age. Our personal physical reality will diminish from time to time; it is a natural part of the movement.

Hannukah’s oil brings the ongoing need for sustainable energy sources into awareness. Fossil fuel, like the temple oil, is limited, valuable and not quickly renewable, if at all.  It’s availability is diminishing. Fossil fuel is expensive on many levels. Action is needed before the environment is ruined and oil runs out making no viable options are available.  Some say it is already too late.  It takes time, intention, and planning to shift the infrastructure to sustainable methods.

Hannukah offers opportunity to recognize a greater world view.  Humans are finite beings living in a finite world.  It is, indeed, wondrous to open to magic, mystery, and hope of Divine intervention especially in dark moments.  May we each be blessed with what we need when we need it.

The expansive blessing of the of the single day’s portion of oil miraculously lasting for eight days makes people feel safe, builds excitement,  and opens hearts. Simultaneously we can choose to consider the ongoing aspect of diminishment as the Shammai Academy did. The ebb is part of any cycle. Anticipating any loss, by talking with trusted community and developing plans in advance serves to minimize fear and cultivate sustainable  comfort, intimacy, ease, and joy.

A light filled Hannukah to you and yours.

Ruah Hakodesh* – Prophetic, literally “Holy Spirit”

http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/5542-eleazar-ben-judah-ben-kalonymus-of-worms 1173-1238

The Bnay Yisaskhar

http://rabbishimon.com/tzadikim/showz.php?p=dinov.htm  1783-1841

Rabbi T’mimah Ickovits, BSE, is the founding rabbi and spiritual leader of Holistic Jew. She is known for her work with Kabbalah, Torah, and nature. An educator teaching at a variety of venues, Rabbi T’mimah works in support of traditional, cost effective, end of life options in creating The Green Gamliel Initiative in partnership with Kavod v’Nichum. She teaches “davvenlogy”  highlighting holy sparks in liturgy in seminary and privately. Authorized to teach “Continuum Movement” by Emilie Conrad obm, and a spiritual director, she meets with clients in private Liquid Kabbalah and spiritual direction sessions. Rabbi T’mimah runs the Holistic Jew garden serving homegrown produce at community meals.

Photo of Rabbi T'mimah Ickovits

Rabbi T’mimah Ickovits

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GAMLIEL INSTITUTE COURSES

LOOKING FORWARD: UPCOMING COURSE

The Gamliel Institute will be offering course 5, Chevrah Kadisha: Ritual, Liturgy, & Practices (Other than Taharah & Shmirah), online, afternoons/evenings, in the Winter semester, starting January 9th, 2018. This is the core course focusing on ritual, liturgy, practical matters, how-to, and what it means (for everything other than Taharah and Shmirah, which are covered in course 2). The instructors will be Rabbi Stuart Kelman and Rabbi SaraLeya Schley, with some guest instructors during the course.

CLASS SESSIONS

The course will meet online for twelve Tuesdays (the day will be adjusted in any weeks with Jewish holidays during this course).

There will be an orientation session January 2nd.

Information on attending the online orientation and the course will be announced and sent to those registered.

REGISTRATION

You can register for any Gamliel Institute course online at jewish-funerals.org/gamreg. A full description of all of the courses is found there.

For more information, visit the Gamliel Institute website, or see the information at the Kavod v’Nichum website. Please contact us for information or assistance by email info@jewish-funerals.org, or phone at 410-733-3700.

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Gamliel Café

Gamliel Students are invited to an informal online monthly session, held mnthly. Each month, different person(s) will offer a short teaching or share some thoughts on a topic of interest to them, and those who are online will have a chance to respond, share their own stories and information, and build our Gamliel Institute community connections. This initiative is being headed up by Rena Boroditsky and Rick Light. You should receive email reminders monthly. The next scheduled session of the Gamliel Café is December 20th with a discussion of the creation of the Chai Mitzvah curriculum on discussing Jewish dying and death by Rena Boroditsky and Rabbi Joe Blair.

Starting in January 2018, the Gamleil Café will move to the third Thursday evening of each month at the same time. Watch for information on these events.

If you are interested in teaching a session, you can contact us at j.blair@jewish-funerals.org, or info@jewish-funerals.org.

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Gamliel Continuing Education Courses

Gamliel students should be on the lookout for information on a series of Gamliel ‘Graduate’ Courses, advanced sessions focusing in on different topics. These will be in groups of three sessions each quarter (three consecutive weeks), with different topics addressed in each series. The goal is to look at these topics in more depth than possible during the core courses. The first course took place in Fall 2017, focusing on Psalms. The next course will be in April, and will look at death as seen in the Zohar, taught by Beth Huppin. Registration is required, and there will be a tuition charge of $72 for the three sessions. Contact us for information, by email info@jewish-funerals.org, or call 410-733-3700, or simply register online at www.jewish-funerals.org/gamreg/.

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16th annual Kavod v’Nichum Chevrah Kadisha and Jewish Cemetery Conference

Mark your calendar and hold the dates! June 3-5, 2018, in the Washington D.C. area. Details to be forthcoming soon. And Gamliel Students – remember to hold an extra day for the Gamliel Day of Learning that follows immediately after the conference!

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DONATIONS

Donations are always needed and most welcome to support the work of Kavod v’Nichum and the Gamliel Institute, helping us to bring you the annual conference, offer community trainings, provide scholarships to students, refurbish and update course materials, expand our teaching, support programs such as Taste of Gamliel, the Gamliel Café, and the Gamliel Continuing Education courses, provide and add to online resources, encourage and support communities in establishing, training, and improving their Chevrah Kadisha, and assist with many other programs and activities.

You can donate online at http://jewish-funerals.org/gamliel-institute-financial-support or by snail mail to: either Kavod v’Nichum, or to The Gamliel Institute, both c/o David Zinner, Executive Director, Kavod v’Nichum, 8112 Sea Water Path, Columbia, MD  21045. Kavod v’Nichum [and the Gamliel Institute] is a recognized and registered 501(c)(3) organization, and donations may be tax-deductible to the full extent provided by law. Call 410-733-3700 if you have any questions or want to know more about supporting Kavod v’Nichum or the Gamliel Institute.

You can also become a member (Individual or Group) of Kavod v’Nichum to help support our work. Click here (http://www.jewish-funerals.org/money/).

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MORE INFORMATION

If you would like to receive the periodic Kavod v’Nichum Newsletter by email, or be added to the Kavod v’Nichum Chevrah Kadisha & Jewish Cemetery email discussion list, please be in touch and let us know at info@jewish-funerals.org.

You can also be sent a regular email link to the Expired And Inspired blog by sending a message requesting to be added to the distribution list to j.blair@jewish-funerals.org.

Be sure to check out the Kavod V’Nichum website at www.jewish-funerals.org, and for information on the Gamliel Institute, courses planned, and student work in this field also visit the Gamliel.Institute website.

RECEIVE NOTICES WHEN THIS BLOG IS UPDATED and When Other Relevant Items are published!

Sign up on our Facebook Group page: just search for and LIKE Chevra Kadisha sponsored by Kavod vNichum, or follow our Twitter feed @chevra_kadisha.

____________________

SUBMISSIONS WELCOME

If you have an idea for an entry you would like to submit to this blog, please be in touch. Email J.blair@jewish-funerals.org. We are always interested in original unpublished materials that would be of interest to our readers, relating to the broad topics surrounding the continuum of Jewish preparation, planning, rituals, rites, customs, practices, activities, and celebrations approaching the end of life, at the time of death, during the funeral, in the grief and mourning process, and in comforting those dying and those mourning, as well as the actions and work of those who address those needs, including those serving in Bikkur Cholim, Caring Committees, the Chevrah Kadisha, as Shomrim, funeral providers, in funeral homes and mortuaries, and operators and maintainers of cemeteries.

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Joan Nathan Makes a Shabbat Meal Infused with Weed


It took two seasons and 19 episodes, but VICELAND’s weed-culinary show “Bong Appetite” finally did a traditional Shabbat episode, which aired last night. The guest chef? None other than celebrated Jewish icon Joan Nathan, author of King Solomon’s Table, who whipped up a “cannivorous” Shabbat meal…and we’re kvelling.

“Have you ever cooked with cannabis before?” asked the show’s host Abdullah Saeed. “This is the first time I’ve ever cooked with cannabis, let me just tell you,” assured Nathan.

So what was served?

Challah (duh), matzoh ball soup, double lemon roast chicken and apple kuchen (to which, Saeed exclaimed, “Kuchen! That’s a fun word!”). A typical Shabbat meal, except totally infused with weed.

Upon entering the kitchen, Nathan was faced with a pantry stocked with cannabis. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen weed in my life, but that’s OK,” an unfazed Nathan said. And so, with the help of chef Vanessa Lavorato (founder of Marigold Sweets) and cannabis specialist Ry Prichard, Nathan elevated a traditional Shabbat meal to a “higher” plateau (eh?).

Here’s how: The flour for the challah was sifted with kief (the strain: “Forbidden Fruit”); schmaltz was infused with hemp for the matzoh balls; THCA (the acidic version of THC) and CBD were pulverized with salt to preserve lemons for the chicken; and coconut oil got a healthy dosage of ganjah for the apple kuchen.

When braiding the challah, Nathan told Lavorato, “What I do is I six-braid it.” Of course she does. Because she’s Joan Nathan and three braids is for amateurs. “Alright, let’s see how this bakes,” she said after putting the immaculately six-braided weed challah into the oven. “Well, it’s already baked,” quipped Lavorato. Ha. Ha. The episode is loaded with puns.

The episode ended with a Shabbat meal (Nathan didn’t indulge). A table was set. A blessing was recited over the challah. Candles were lit (and so were the guests). Oh yeah, and the candle-holder obviously was a bong…

Shabbat Shalom.

Watch the episode here.

Offering comfort

Hour of Separation, Hour of Connection by Rabbi Janet Madden


A few days ago, someone said to me “Oh, you’re a hospital chaplain,” and before I could respond, followed up with “So you go around and visit patients.”

The easiest answer was “Yes.”

I visit patients of all sorts and in all sorts of circumstances. Some are happily going home with a new baby or a new knee. Others are recovering from a surgery, have a newborn in the NICU or have survived a stroke or a cardiac event. Others are undergoing chemotherapy or are testing in hopes of discovering the cause of their illness. Still others are leaving the hospital and transitioning to rehab facilities or going home to the reality of a life-changing, life-limiting or life-ending diagnosis.

But I don’t just visit patients. In addition to providing spiritual care and advocacy to patients, I provide spiritual care to patients’ families and friends and caregivers and to the hospital staff. And because I am also an experienced hospice chaplain and a certified palliative care chaplain, my workdays often involve end-of-life decision making and death.

As a Clinical Pastoral Education-trained chaplain, I am prepared to serve patients and families of any faith tradition or none. As the hospital’s Visiting Rabbi, I am always assigned to spiritual care for the hospital’s Jewish population. In some instances, I work with patients and families over a period of months—even years. Or, as happened this week, my first meeting with a patient and family comes at the time of death. And sometimes, as in this case, facing death often prompts someone who has previously declined chaplaincy visits to open to spiritual care.

After more than a month in the ICU, there were no further treatment options for Ruth. I had been contacted by the palliative care team ten minutes earlier, notifying me that Ruth would be soon placed on comfort care. Her sister had asked for me to be present.

“She’s had a horrible life, a terrible life since she was a teenager,” Ruth’s sister Rachel told me. “Now, I want her to have peace.”

Nine years younger than Ruth, and her power of attorney, Rachel was both broken-hearted and resolute about her decision to place Ruth on comfort care.  Rachel is an RN and she was deeply involved in Ruth’s care. Rachel had steadfastly believed that Ruth would recover from some of the medical issues that had eroded her health and she had refused any spiritual care visits for her sister, fearing that Ruth would “give up hope” if a chaplain visited. Now, Rachel, her sister-in-law and her best friend and I sat together and Rachel shared her sister’s story.

Ruth, a social worker, was 57 years old. Her 72 year old husband lives in a facility for dementia patients; he is non-verbal and needs round-the-clock care. They had no children. For the last 8 years, since her husband had been moved to a facility where he can receive the care he needs, Ruth had lived with her beloved dog. When her dog died, she adopted a second beloved dog and her greatest worry, Rachel told us, was what would happen to her dog.

She cared more about her dog than she did about herself, Rachel said. Ruth drank too much. She gained an unhealthy amount of weight. She wouldn’t exercise. She worked too many hours and suffered from insomnia and didn’t get the medical care that she should. She had few friends and didn’t socialize. She was not connected to a Jewish community or any community.

Ruth mourned the loss of their brothers, both of whom had died, years apart, one as a child, one as a young adult, both on her birthday. She mourned the death of her parents. She mourned her husband, lost to early-onset Alzheimers.

Rachel said that Ruth acknowledged her depression but didn’t want treatment. Ruth had told Rachel months ago that she had had enough; she was ready to die. Ruth had been her babysitter when Rachel was a child and her lifelong friend and confidante. Ruth and Rachel were the last living members of their birth family, and Rachel shared her deep hurt that Ruth did not want to live, that she wanted to leave her.

In the hour that we spent together, the last hour of Ruth’s life, we engaged in life review, talked about grief and loss and about beautiful, sustaining memories. I chanted for Ruth and Rachel, and recited the Viddui and the Shema, We blessed Ruth for a gentle, peaceful transition. Rachel told Ruth how much she loves her, thanked her for the lifetime of loving care that Ruth had given her, and told her that wanted no more pain for her.

A couple of hours later, after Rachel and the others had left, after I had sat with Ruth’s body until it had been picked by by the mortuary transport, after I completed charting the visit, after I prayed and washed my hands, and stepped outside for a few moments of air, I reentered the hospital and went to another room to visit another patient.

Rabbi Janet Madden PhD was ordained by The Academy for Jewish Religion-California. She serves as the rabbi of Temple Havurat Emet and Providence Saint John’s Health Center and has been a student of the Gamliel Institute. She is a regular contributor to Expired And Inspired.

Rabbi Janet Madden

Rabbi Janet Madden

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GAMLIEL INSTITUTE COURSES

LOOKING FORWARD: UPCOMING COURSE

The Gamliel Institute will be offering course 5, Chevrah Kadisha: Ritual, Liturgy, & Practice (Other than Taharah & Shmirah), online, afternoons/evenings, in the Winter semester, starting January 9th, 2018. This is the core course focusing on ritual, liturgy, practical matters, how-to, and what it means (for everything other than Taharah and Shmirah, which are covered in course 2).

CLASS SESSIONS

The course will meet online for twelve Tuesdays (the day will be adjusted in any weeks with Jewish holidays during this course).

There will be an orientation session January 2nd.

Information on attending the online orientation and the course will be announced and sent to those registered. Register or contact us for more information. Detailed information on the preview will appear here in the weeks leading up to that event.

REGISTRATION

You can register for any Gamliel Institute course online at jewish-funerals.org/gamreg. A full description of all of the courses is found there.

For more information, visit the Gamliel Institute website, or at the Kavod v’Nichum website. Please contact us for information or assistance by email info@jewish-funerals.org, or phone at 410-733-3700.

____________________

Gamliel Café

Gamliel Students are invited to an informal online monthly session, held on the 3rd Wednedsays of the month (but watch for any changes). Each month, a different person will offer a short teaching or share some thoughts on a topic of interest to them, and those who are online will have a chance to respond, share their own stories and information, and build our Gamliel Institute community connections. This initiative is being headed up by Rena Boroditsky and Rick Light. You should receive email reminders monthly. The next scheduled session of the Gamliel Café is November 15th with a discussion of creative liturgy by Jean Berman.

If you are interested in teaching a session, you can contact us at j.blair@jewish-funerals.org, or info@jewish-funerals.org.

____________________

Gamliel Continuing Education Courses

Graduates of the Gamliel Institute and Gamliel students should be on the lookout for information on a series of “Gamliel Graduate’ Courses, advanced sessions focusing in on different topics. These will be in groups of three sessions each quarter (three consecutive weeks), with different topics addressed in each series. The goal is to look at these topics in more depth than possible during the core courses. The first course took place in Fall 2017, focusing on Psalms. The next course will be in April, and will look at death as seen in the Zohar. Registration is required, and there will be a tuition charge of $72 for the three sessions. Contact us –  register at www.jewish-funerals.org/gamreg/, email info@jewish-funerals.org, or call 410-733-3700.

_____________________

DONATIONS

Donations are always needed and most welcome to support the work of Kavod v’Nichum and the Gamliel Institute, helping us to bring you the annual conference, offer community trainings, provide scholarships to students, refurbish and update course materials, expand our teaching, support programs such as Taste of Gamliel, the Gamliel Café, and the Gamliel Continuing Education courses, provide and add to online resources, encourage and support communities in establishing, training, and improving their Chevrah Kadisha, and assist with many other programs and activities.

You can donate online at http://jewish-funerals.org/gamliel-institute-financial-support or by snail mail to: either Kavod v’Nichum, or to The Gamliel Institute, both c/o David Zinner, Executive Director, Kavod v’Nichum, 8112 Sea Water Path, Columbia, MD  21045. Kavod v’Nichum [and the Gamliel Institute] is a recognized and registered 501(c)(3) organization, and donations may be tax-deductible to the full extent provided by law. Call 410-733-3700 if you have any questions or want to know more about supporting Kavod v’Nichum or the Gamliel Institute.

You can also become a member (Individual or Group) of Kavod v’Nichum to help support our work. Click here (http://www.jewish-funerals.org/money/).

___________

MORE INFORMATION

If you would like to receive the periodic Kavod v’Nichum Newsletter by email, or be added to the Kavod v’Nichum Chevrah Kadisha & Jewish Cemetery email discussion list, please be in touch and let us know at info@jewish-funerals.org.

You can also be sent a regular email link to the Expired And Inspired blog by sending a message requesting to be added to the distribution list to j.blair@jewish-funerals.org.

Be sure to check out the Kavod V’Nichum website at www.jewish-funerals.org, and for information on the Gamliel Institute, courses planned, and student work in this field also visit the Gamliel.Institute website.

RECEIVE NOTICES WHEN THIS BLOG IS UPDATED!

Sign up on our Facebook Group page: just search for and LIKE Chevra Kadisha sponsored by Kavod vNichum, or follow our Twitter feed @chevra_kadisha.

____________________

SUBMISSIONS ALWAYS WELCOME

If you have an idea for an entry you would like to submit to this blog, please be in touch. Email J.blair@jewish-funerals.org. We are always interested in original unpublished materials that would be of interest to our readers, relating to the broad topics surrounding the continuum of Jewish preparation, planning, rituals, rites, customs, practices, activities, and celebrations approaching the end of life, at the time of death, during the funeral, in the grief and mourning process, and in comforting those dying and those mourning, as well as the actions and work of those who address those needs, including those serving in Bikkur Cholim, Caring Committees, the Chevrah Kadisha, as Shomrim, funeral providers, in funeral homes and mortuaries, and operators and maintainers of cemeteries.

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Words—Historic and Current—To Be Heeded


In November, 1953, less than a year into his first term in office, during the height of the McCarthy era, President Eisenhower received an award from and delivered the keynote address at the Anti-Defamation League’s annual board meeting in Washington, D.C. As the story was recounted to me by someone who was there (I worked for the ADL for 27 years), those in attendance thought it would be a routine address by the new president making nice to one of the country’s leading civil rights/Jewish organizations, kind of a pro forma “you are nice and do good work”.

Shortly before the speech, ADL leaders learned that the national press and the then novel TV cameras would be observing and what was going to be routine was now a “major policy address.”

It turned out that the speech was among the, if not the, first times that Ike spoke out and distanced himself from Sen. Joe McCarthy. But it was by indirection, he never mentioned McCarthy’s name (to that point Ike was still trying to ignore McCarthy, as if the senator didn’t matter).

To those in attendance, it wasn’t clear what the news was, but by the next morning the message had gone out. Eisenhower had spoken about the right of every American to meet “your accuser face to face”, the “right to speak your mind and be protected in it.” He extolled the values of the “soul and the spirit” that make us proud to be Americans; who the threat to those values was became apparent:

Why are we proud? We are proud, first of all, because from the beginning of this Nation, a man can walk upright, no matter who he is, or who she is. He can walk upright and meet his friend–or his enemy; and he does not fear that because that enemy may be in a position of great power that he can be suddenly thrown in jail to rot there without charges and with no recourse to justice. We have the habeas corpus act, and we respect it.

And today, although none of you has the great fortune, I think, of being from Abilene, Kansas, you live after all by that same code in your ideals and in the respect you give to certain qualities. In this country, if someone dislikes you, or accuses you, he must come up in front. He cannot hide behind the shadow. He cannot assassinate you or your character from behind, without suffering the penalties an outraged citizenry will impose.

                                                                   ****

….I would not want to sit down this evening without urging one thing: if we are going to continue to be proud that we are Americans, there must be no weakening of the code by which we have lived; by the right to meet your accuser face to face, if you have one; by your right to go to the church or the synagogue or even the mosque of your own choosing; by your right to speak your mind and be protected in it.

Ladies and gentlemen, the things that make us proud to be Americans are of the soul and of the spirit. They are not the jewels we wear, or the furs we buy, the houses we live in, the standard of living, even, that we have. All these things are wonderful to the esthetic and to the physical senses. [Emphasis added]

I was reminded of this historic statement by two speeches this week from leading Republicans, who, like Eisenhower, bravely took on one of their own and made clear what others fear, or lack the courage, to say. They laid down markers as to what is acceptable conduct in American politics and, without being explicit, who was engaging in conduct that was beyond the pale.

On Monday night, Sen. John McCain spoke at the National Constitution Center as he received its Liberty Medal. It’s a passionate statement about what’s important and unique about America.

During the course of the speech he offered the following:

To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain ‘the last best hope of earth’ for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.

We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil. We are the custodians of those ideals at home, and their champion abroad. We have done great good in the world. That leadership has had its costs, but we have become incomparably powerful and wealthy as we did. We have a moral obligation to continue in our just cause, and we would bring more than shame on ourselves if we don’t. We will not thrive in a world where our leadership and ideals are absent. We wouldn’t deserve to. [Emphasis Added]

Like Eisenhower, without mentioning the name of his antagonist, the senior senator from Arizona got his message across loudly and clearly.

Then on Thursday, former President George W. Bush delivered a speech in which he never mentioned Trump, but the sinner he was referring to was transparently clear:

Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication…. We have seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty. At times, it can seem like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together. Argument turns too easily into animosity. Disagreement escalates into dehumanization. Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions – forgetting the image of God we should see in each other.

We’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism – forgotten the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America. We see a fading confidence in the value of free markets and international trade – forgetting that conflict, instability, and poverty follow in the wake of protectionism.

We have seen the return of isolationist sentiments – forgetting that American security is directly threatened by the chaos and despair of distant places, where threats such as terrorism, infectious disease, criminal gangs and drug trafficking tend to emerge.

                                                                 ***

This means that people of every race, religion, and ethnicity can be fully and equally AmericanIt means that bigotry or white supremacy in any form is blasphemy against the American creed. And it means that the very identity of our nation depends on the passing of civic ideals to the next generation.

We need a renewed emphasis on civic learning in schools. And our young people need positive role models. Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone, provides permission for cruelty and bigotry, and compromises the moral education of children. The only way to pass along civic values is to first live up to them.

In short, it is time for American institutions to step up and provide cultural and moral leadership for this nation. [Emphasis Added]

The McCain and Bush speeches are historic moments; perhaps the beginning of a wave of revulsion at the lies, distortions, hate and awful policies that emerge from the Trump White House. When two pillars of a party, much like Eisenhower in 1953, say enough is enough and that it is time to “step up”—perhaps people will listen.

Photo from Pixabay.

As a Woman


As a woman, I don’t vote for women just because they’re women.
As a feminist, I don’t vote for women just because they’re women.

As a woman, I don’t march just because something is called a “women’s march.”
As a feminist, I don’t march just because something is called a “women’s march.”

As a woman, I am offended when other women claim to speak for me.
As a feminist, I am offended when leftist feminists try to tell me what to think.

As a woman, I chose to stay home and care for my son when he was young.
As a feminist, I knew that this was my choice, that feminism means freedom for women to make these choices.

As a woman, I would never do anything to advance my career that undermines my self-respect.
As a feminist, I know that feminism is not a free ride: along with rights comes personal responsibility, including the responsibility to say no in difficult situations.

As a woman, I don’t keep silent about immoral behavior, no matter what the consequences.
As a feminist, I know that silence equals complicity.

As a woman, I love being a woman. I am offended by theorists who claim that we are all gender-fluid, that my femininity is a social construct.
As a feminist, I believe in biology, not trendy theories.

As a woman, I am against all restrictions on women that are not personal choices.
As a feminist, I find it hypocritical that leftist feminists never speak out against the restrictions on Muslim women that often are very much not personal choices.

As a woman, I don’t feel oppressed living in the United States.
As a feminist, I know that oppression and patriarchy exist in other countries, countries often ignored by leftist feminists because those nations don’t fit their political narrative.

As a woman and a writer, I have been bullied by both the left and the right, by women as well as men.
As a feminist, I know that bullying is a sign of weakness and insecurity. I have taught my son that no level of bullying is acceptable, and that the only way to respond to bullies is to walk away.

As a woman, I am inspired by strong, sexy women like Gal Gadot.
As a feminist, I know that being comfortable with my sexuality fuels my strength as a woman.

As a woman, I know that Israel is one of the most feminist countries on earth: Israeli women rise to incomparable positions of power in every field.
As a feminist, I know that Zionism and feminism have historically been prominent pillars of liberalism: efforts to demonize Zionism stem from bigotry, not liberalism or feminism.

As a Jewish woman, I love the ritual of lighting candles every Shabbat, of bringing the light into my heart and releasing it into the world through singing the blessing.
As a Jewish feminist, I may not support some of the restrictions placed on women in Judaism, but I respect a woman’s right to choose, as long as it is a choice.

As a woman, I think it’s well past time to take back the word feminist from people on both the right and the left who don’t understand what it means.
As a feminist, I know that if you don’t think women should be controlled — by either the left or the right, by men or other women — then you are indeed a feminist.

As a woman, as a feminist, as an individual, I think for myself, thank you.


Karen Lehrman Bloch is a cultural critic and curator. Author of “The Lipstick Proviso: Women, Sex & Power in the Real World” (Doubleday), her writings have appeared in The New York Times, The New Republic, The Wall Street Journal and Metropolis, among others.

WATCH: The Tunisian Jew Behind the Pretzel Challah Craze


In 2013, pastry chef Dominique Ansel invented the cronut (a donut and croissant hybrid). Little did he know, he was inspiring a pastry revolution, which would spawn a legion of hybrid spin-offs; i.e. the dookie (donut + cookie), the cruffin (croissant + muffin), the cragel (croissant + bagel). And then came the pretzel challah. There’s no fancy moniker (challetzel doesn’t really work). It’s no nonsense, straightforward and to the point.

Pretzel challah is the brainchild of Alain Cohen, owner of Got Kosher?, a Pico-Robertson establishment that serves Sephardic cuisine (including kosher charcuterie) in what is a primarily Ashkenazi juggernaut. Born in Tunisia and raised in Paris (where his father owned a popular kosher restaurant), he moved to Los Angeles in 1981 to pursue a movie career, but, in his own words, “life happened” and he landed, as fate would have it, back in the food industry. Cohen got the idea for pretzel challah when he was working at La Brea Bakery with chef Nancy Silverton. At the bakery, Silverton baked a pretzel baguette. “I was impressed by the idea of turning something very simple and making it different by mixing two traditions,” said Cohen.

The key ingredient that transforms a plain jane loaf of challah into a pretzel challah is lye. After the challah dough is braided, it is soaked in a lye bath (lye is a chemical solution that’s used to make soap) before being baked.

Pretzel challah has proved to be a pioneer in Los Angeles Jewish cuisine. Got Kosher’s? pretzel challah can be found at Trader Joe’s, Pavilions, Whole Foods, Gelson’s, Bristol Farms, and, of course, at its flagship store: Got Kosher?

To Cohen, the success of his challah “is amazing, it’s a gift from God.”

Recruiting Jews to the Cause of Persecuted Yazidis, One Synagogue at a Time


After Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, Yotam Polizer, co-CEO of the disaster relief organization IsraAID, called his friend Haider Elias in Houston to see if IsraAID could help him.

Instead, Elias countered with his own proposition: His home was spared by the flooding, so he and half a dozen members of his religious community — a Middle Eastern ethnic group called the Yazidis — offered to work alongside IsraAID packing possessions and removing debris from flooded Jewish homes.

“There is really a shared destiny,” Polizer told an audience on Sept. 17 at University Synagogue in Brentwood, sitting next to Elias. “There is a unique partnership between the Yazidis and the Jews.”

Because of their historical proximity to genocide, American Jews are a prime target for Elias’ effort to lobby the United States government to come to the aid of this ancient religious sect as it struggles with an ongoing genocide at the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

During two trips to Los Angeles last month, Elias addressed the local Jewish community in a series of synagogue visits, private dinners and High Holy Days appeals, hoping to mobilize them to lobby the United States on behalf of displaced and enslaved Yazidis. With Yazidis a population of well under 10,000 in the United States, Elias is increasingly relying on Jews to join the ranks of his supporters.

“As soon as we talk to a Jewish community member, they understand it right away,” Elias said in a phone interview after he returned to Texas. “They absorb it. They relate. They know exactly what is happening. It’s very hard for some other communities to understand.”

The Jewish community has loomed large on his recent travel schedule. In late July, Elias flew to Israel and visited Yad Vashem with fellow Yazidi activist and former sex slave Nadia Murad.

In September, he spoke on four panels in West Los Angeles with Polizer, whose group has offered aid and counseling to Yazidis in Iraq and Europe, and Rabbi Pam Frydman, an activist who heads the Beyond Genocide Campaign for the Board of Rabbis of Northern California. All four panels were co-sponsored by the Jewish Journal.

Returning to Los Angeles on Yom Kippur, Elias spoke at Temple of the Arts in Beverly Hills. In muted tones from the lectern, he described the events of Aug. 3, 2014.

In a single day, ISIS overran the Yazidi homeland in the Sinjar region of northern Iraq, murdering nearly 6,000, Elias said, including his 24-year-old brother, two of his cousins and nearly 50 close friends.

ISIS fighters loaded thousands more Yazidis onto trucks, with women and girls destined for sexual enslavement and young boys due to be brainwashed as child soldiers. About half a million Yazidis were driven from their homes, ending up in displaced persons’ camps where hundreds of thousands still live in tents.

Meanwhile, the Kurdish Regional Government has prevented Yazidis from returning home with any food, medicine and supplies that would enable them to rebuild their lives, Elias said.

Elias grew up in Til Azir, a small city of 28,000 Yazidis in the Sinjar region. Today, it’s a ghost town.

He followed news of the genocide from Houston, his home since 2010 after earning a visa for his work as a U.S. Army translator.

His home in Iraq was ransacked down to the windows and doorframes.

At the time, he was studying toward an undergraduate degree in the hope of becoming a doctor. But shortly afterward, he abandoned his medical ambitions to start Yazda, a lobbying and advocacy group based in Lincoln, Neb., where most American Yazidis live (yazda.org).

Elias engages audiences on a frenzied schedule. Between his two L.A. engagements last month he flew to New York and San Francisco, stopping each time for a brief layover in Houston.

To some extent, his efforts have succeeded. In the days after the genocide, demonstrations and lobbying in Washington, D.C., by Elias and others helped persuade President Barack Obama to launch strategic airstrikes that enabled Yazidis to escape an ISIS siege.

In March 2016, following lobbying efforts by Yazda and Frydman’s Beyond Genocide Campaign, the House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution recognizing the Yazidi genocide.

Now, Frydman and Yazda are pushing for Congress to pass the Justice for Yazidis Act, which would extend psychosocial support and speed refugee resettlement for Yazidis and other persecuted minorities in Iraq.

Elias said his work takes its toll. Each time he speaks to an audience, it traumatizes him anew.

He drew a contrast with his previous occupation as a translator.

“Translators, they’re like instruments,” he said. “They transfer the words. Most of the time they’re too busy to feel the information. If you’ve gone through something, it’s different.”

“It affects you,” he added. “And if it doesn’t affect you in the moment, it has its negative impact soon after, in the future. It makes you different.”

With all of his speaking engagements, Elias has little time to see his wife and three children, ages 16, 14 and 6 years old, and little leisure time for himself. Once a film buff, he hasn’t finished a film since August 2014, he said. His mind always returns to the massive amount of work on his docket.

His work also impacts his children. “Their daddy is not around most of the time,” he said.

Elias said his children understand why he’s gone so often. When other kids ask what their father does, “they say nothing directly,” he said. “They say he’s helping people.”

Remember

A Different Take on the Kaddish/Yizkor Issue by Rabbi Laurie Dinnerstein-Kurs


[Ed. Note: A further followup on the issue of Kaddish and Yizkor in difficult situations. — JB]

I agree wholeheartedly with Karen’s (Rabbi Karen B. Kaplan, Disenfranchised Grief at Yizkor, 9/27/2017, http://jewishjournal.com/blogs/expiredandinspired/224733/disenfranchised-grief-yizkor-karen-b-kaplan/) take on the prayers that are intended to engender sadness upon recalling the loss of a “loved one” – but, do the opposite. Undeserving praise is untruthful.

I would only like to bring in the possibility of using these prayers with a different slant.

Karen poses the question, and a good one at that… “the meaning of the Fifth Commandment for those who have or did have abusive parents. How can one be good to oneself, which is a mitzvah, yet honor such a parent?”

I think flipping the question is the start to the answer. “How can I honor myself when I had less than honorable parents???” So, now we need to answer that question.

It has been shown in data and surveys that certain negative behaviors of parents – witnessed by children – can often lead to children continuing that behavior. To honor oneself, one would have to make a concerted effort to knowingly and willingly and purposefully separate THEMselves from THEM (the bad influences).

During these moments of prayer we can give thanks that WE are NOT them. We can review the past with sadness, but hopefully also see the present and how far we have come in spite of their actions. That we have overcome, that we are stronger for it, as we ARE standing here, and we are no longer broken. For those of us who are not yet completely healed – Baruch Hashem – there is tomorrow.

In bad times, we need to build ourselves up,.even when others try to knock us down. Remaining strong is the biggest pushback to their attempts to keep us weak.

These prayerful moments afford us the opportunity to give the royal finger, saying, “I  am a survivor of your actions. I am here, I am relatively happy, and I will move forward.  MY horrible memories can be countered by my successes.” There is no law preventing anyone to change the words of the prayer to fit the occasion (minhag – maybe – but not law). Reinvent the prayer to say what is in your heart. HHMMM, truthfulness on Yom Kippur?

So with every Kaddish/Yizkor moment, those of us who might find love and loss difficult concepts recalling their various and sundry relationships, we might take it as our personal time to:

1) SMILE as we free ourselves to say the truth,

2) BE PROUD that we are not them

3) STAND UP TALL, SHOULDERS BACK – for what we have accomplished IN SPITE of them!!!!

4) THANK HASHEM THAT WE ARE HERE and have become the fabulous persons that we are – on our own – with little or no help from them, and likely no support!!

5) PRAY WITH GRATITUDE AND JOY that we have this opportunity to dilute a toxic relationship and call it out for what it really was.

6) MAY WE NOT DWELL on the past negative and rejoice in our current positive? May we have the strength to look back and acknowledge the pain…but also have the strength to move forward in gladness.

HERE’S TO OUR CONTINUED SUCCESSES!!!  AMEN!

[Ed. Note: Laurie Dinnerstein-Kurs wrote an earlier entry for this blog that was somewhat related. Here is the link to it:. http://jewishjournal.com/news/los_angeles/seniors/185031/zachor-prayer-unacknowledged-mourners-rabbi-laurie-dinnerstein-kurs/ — JB]

Laurie Dinerstein-Kurs hails from Brooklyn, currently living in NJ.  Having originally learned about Taharah as a yeshiva student, I knew I would participate as soon as the opportunity presented itself.  I have participated in doing Taharah for almost 30 years.  I am currently the ROSHA of our chevrah.  When not doing Taharah, I taught school – up until I retired and went back to school and became a chaplain.  I held the Federation position of County (Mercer) Chaplain for 15 years.   My two children have blessed us with grandchildren.

Rabbi Laurie Dinnerstein-Kurs

Rabbi Laurie Dinnerstein-Kurs

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GAMLIEL INSTITUTE COURSES

LOOKING FORWARD: UPCOMING COURSE

The Gamliel Institute will be offering course 5, Chevrah Kadisha: Ritual, Liturgy, & Practice (Other than Taharah & Shmirah), online, afternoons/evenings, in the Winter semester, starting January 2nd, 2018. This is the core course focusing on ritual, liturgy, practical matters, how-to, and what it means (for everything other than Taharah and Shmirah, which are covered in course 2).

CLASS SESSIONS

The course will meet online for twelve Tuesdays (the day will be adjusted in any weeks with Jewish holidays during this course).

There will be a preview of the course on Monday, December 11th. An orientation session is scheduled for January 1st.

Information on attending the online orientation, and the course will be announced and sent to those registered. Register or contact us for more information. Detailed information on the preview will appear here in the weeks leading up to that event.

REGISTRATION

You can register for any Gamliel Institute course online at jewish-funerals.org/gamreg. A full description of all of the courses is found there.

For more information, visit the Gamliel Institute website, or at the Kavod v’Nichum website. Please contact us for information or assistance by email info@jewish-funerals.org, or phone at 410-733-3700.

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Gamliel Café

Gamliel Students are invited to an informal online monthly session, usually on the 3rd Wednedsays of thet month (but watch for any changes). Each month, a different person will offer a short teaching or share some thoughts on a topic of interest to them, and those who are online will have a chance to respond, share their own stories and information, and build our Gamliel Institute community connections. This initiative is being headed up by Rena Boroditsky and Rick Light. You should receive email reminders monthly. The next scheduled session of the Gamliel Café is October 18th with a discussion of documents and forms that the Chevrah (or other group) in the community can offer the family at the time of a loss to help them navigate some of the issues they are facing.

If you are interested in teaching a session, you can contact us at j.blair@jewish-funerals.org, or info@jewish-funerals.org.

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Gamliel Graduate Courses

Graduates of the Gamliel Institute, and Gamliel students who have completed three or more Gamliel Institute courses should be on the lookout for information on a series of “Gamliel Graduate’ Courses, advanced sessions focusing in on different topics. These will be in groups of three sessions each quarter (three consecutive weeks), with different topics addressed in each series. The goal is to look at these topics in more depth than possible during the core courses. We plan to begin this Fall, in October and November. The first series will be on Psalms. Registration will be required, and there will be a tuition charge of $72 for the three sessions. Heading this intiative is the dynamic duo of Rena Boroditsky and Rick Light. Contact us –  register at www.jewish-funerals.org/gamreg/, or email info@jewish-funerals.org.

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DONATIONS

Donations are always needed and most welcome to support the work of Kavod v’Nichum and the Gamliel Institute, helping us to bring you the conference, offer community trainings, provide scholarships to students, refurbish and update course materials, expand our teaching, support programs such as Taste of Gamliel, the Gamliel Café, and the Gamliel Gracuates courses, provide and add to online resources, encourage and support communities in establishing, training, and improving their Chevrah Kadisha, and assist with many other programs and activities.

You can donate online at http://jewish-funerals.org/gamliel-institute-financial-support or by snail mail to: either Kavod v’Nichum, or to The Gamliel Institute, both c/o David Zinner, Executive Director, Kavod v’Nichum, 8112 Sea Water Path, Columbia, MD  21045. Kavod v’Nichum [and the Gamliel Institute] is a recognized and registered 501(c)(3) organization, and donations may be tax-deductible to the full extent provided by law. Call 410-733-3700 if you have any questions or want to know more about supporting Kavod v’Nichum or the Gamliel Institute.

You can also become a member (Individual or Group) of Kavod v’Nichum to help support our work. Click here (http://www.jewish-funerals.org/money/).

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MORE INFORMATION

If you would like to receive the periodic Kavod v’Nichum Newsletter by email, or be added to the Kavod v’Nichum Chevrah Kadisha & Jewish Cemetery email discussion list, please be in touch and let us know at info@jewish-funerals.org.

You can also be sent a regular email link to the Expired And Inspired blog by sending a message requesting to be added to the distribution list to j.blair@jewish-funerals.org.

Be sure to check out the Kavod V’Nichum website at www.jewish-funerals.org, and for information on the Gamliel Institute, courses planned, and student work in this field also visit the Gamliel.Institute website.

RECEIVE NOTICES WHEN THIS BLOG IS UPDATED!

Sign up on our Facebook Group page: just search for and LIKE Chevra Kadisha sponsored by Kavod vNichum, or follow our Twitter feed @chevra_kadisha.

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SUBMISSIONS ALWAYS WELCOME

If you have an idea for an entry you would like to submit to this blog, please be in touch. Email J.blair@jewish-funerals.org. We are always interested in original unpublished materials that would be of interest to our readers, relating to the broad topics surrounding the continuum of Jewish preparation, planning, rituals, rites, customs, practices, activities, and celebrations approaching the end of life, at the time of death, during the funeral, in the grief and mourning process, and in comforting those dying and those mourning, as well as the actions and work of those who address those needs, including those serving in Bikkur Cholim, Caring Committees, the Chevrah Kadisha, as Shomrim, funeral providers, in funeral homes and mortuaries, and operators and maintainers of cemeteries.

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Photo courtesy of Momentum Pictures.

Q & A with Daniel Radcliffe


In the “Harry Potter” films, actor Daniel Radcliffe battled the evil Lord Voldemort with his wand and fortitude. Since the eighth Potter film premiered in 2010, the English actor has tried to diversify his career with films such as the supernatural thriller “Horns,” the gay, Jewish beat poet saga “Kill Your Darlings” about Allen Ginsberg, and the horror film “The Woman in Black.”  Now he’s back with a new movie, “Jungle” — which hits theaters on Oct. 20 — based on the book of the same name by Israeli adventurer Yossi Ghinsberg. The memoir tells of Ghinsberg’s misadventures during three weeks stranded in the Amazon jungle in Bolivia in the early 1980s. The Journal recently caught up with Radcliffe, whose mother is Jewish, to talk about his new film.

Jewish Journal: Why were you drawn to the story and to the character of Yossi Ghinsberg?

Daniel Radcliffe: I pursued the part passionately. Sometimes when a story is true and incredibly powerful and communicates something that’s useful about the human survival instinct, I just wanted to become a part of further disseminating that story into the world.

JJ: Did you identify with the story’s themes of survival, especially as an actor after Harry Potter?

DR: You can be worried that people will typecast you, but I’ve been lucky because for every director who saw me out there as just Harry Potter, there was another one who was excited by the prospect of reinventing that image.  You just sort of grab those opportunities when they come around as much as you can. And also I’m very lucky that I’m in a position where I don’t have to work, so I don’t have to accept roles that I’m not passionate about.  

JJ: You spent many hours speaking to Yossi about his experiences. What kinds of questions did you ask him?

DR: Just talking to him about his inner monologue; how he kept himself going.  He said an interesting and also very sad thing about hope. I asked whether the hope of getting home is what kept him alive, and he said actually the opposite was true. Most of the time, he was just surviving from one moment to the next. He said that the moment when a plane flew overhead, he thought he was going to be saved. But the second when that plane flew away was the most demoralizing, deepest despair he had ever felt. He said as useful as hope can be, it can also break your heart.

JJ: Did you learn anything interesting from Yossi about Israelis?

DR: It was this idea that for the generation of kids who grew up as the sons and daughters of Holocaust survivors, like Yossi, what is your responsibility?  What do you have to live up to? I think that because Yossi wanted to go off backpacking, that was a disappointment to his father, a Holocaust survivor, and so I think his journey was tinged with a bit of guilt.

JJ: You went on an extreme diet for a month to lose weight for the final scenes of the film.

DR: I was generally having a fillet of fish or chicken and a protein bar every day, as well as vast amounts of coffee and cigarettes. It just makes you feel a tiredness that seeps into your whole being.

JJ: What was it like to film the scene in which your character removes parasitic worms from his forehead with a pair of tweezers?

DR: When you look up and you see the crew looking beyond grossed out, you go, OK, clearly it’s gone all right.

JJ: What was your most difficult moment on the shoot?

DR: One moment that was particularly heartbreaking was when the final scene was postponed for a week because the river had risen 7 or 8 feet and washed away our set. In my hotel room, I had a massive bar of chocolate and I had asked the kitchen to give me a steak for that night; I was going to eat finally. I was so close that I could practically taste it, and then it got rescheduled a week. 

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Jewish pianist Mikhail Klein collapses, dies on stage


(JTA) — The celebrated pianist Mikhail Klein collapsed and died on stage at the age of 72 while performing his own composition in his hometown of Irkutsk.

Klein, who in 1987 was awarded the prestigious title of Honored Artist of Russia, died at the foot of a grand piano of the Irkutsk Philharmonic Orchestra on Tuesday before hundreds of people who had come to hear him play, said the municipality of the Siberian city, situated near Russia’s border with Mongolia.

“I was sitting in the front row and, seeing that Mikhail Leonidovich was ill, ran up to him,” the head of the city department of culture, Vitaly Baryshnikov, told RIA Novosti.

Two of the city’s most prominent physicians were in attendance but their attempts to reanimate him with a cardiac massage did not succeed. He died, reportedly of heart failure, just before 8:30 p.m. He had lived in Irkutsk for the past 45 years and has worked for the Irkutsk Philharmonic for all that time, the orchestra wrote in an obituary mourning his death.

With his “fanatic devotion to the arts,” the obituary said, he “brilliantly represented Russian musical art in many cultural and educational activities” locally and abroad. “His other passion was sports, loyalty to his friends — colleagues in the volleyball team, which he carried through all his creative life,” the statement also said.

Known in Russia and beyond for his renditions and interpretations of works by Sergei Rachmaninoff, Ludwig van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms and other great composers, Klein, who was Jewish, was also a prolific jazz composer and enthusiast.

He was playing “This is all Russia,” a jazz composition that he wrote featuring fragments of several famous Russian songs, before he collapsed.

Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

Close Encounters of the Spielberg Kind


Although Steven Spielberg is one of the world’s most respected and successful directors, earning critical acclaim and billions at the box office, he hasn’t been the subject of a feature-length documentary — until now. In more than 30 hours of interviews conducted over a year, filmmaker Susan Lacy (PBS’ “American Masters”) got the Academy Award-winning moviemaker to talk at length about his influences, his films, their themes and how his life has informed them, resulting in an HBO documentary, “Spielberg,” which premieres Oct. 7.

“He is very shy about interviews, does very few. So this was quite an extraordinary experience to hear him really open up,” Lacy said at the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour. She also got more than 80 of Spielberg’s colleagues, collaborators, friends and family members to comment as Spielberg dissects his work in the film.

Full of anecdotes and fun facts about iconic movies, the documentary also is intensely personal, with revelations about Spielberg’s childhood and family and how both affected his movies. His parents’ divorce and its impact on his family influenced “E.T.” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” “Saving Private Ryan” was inspired by the stories he heard from his father, a pilot who served in World War II.

“His early movies drew on what he knew,” Lacy said of Spielberg, who grew up in the Phoenix suburbs watching television, reading comic books and chasing his sisters Anne and Nancy around with a Super 8 camera. He was also the target of bullying and anti-Semitism, which made him ashamed of being Jewish.

“He didn’t want to be connected to Judaism as a child because he didn’t want to be a pariah. Growing up in the suburbs of Phoenix in the only Jewish family on the street, it made him an outsider,” Lacy told the Journal.

Neighborhood kids would laugh when Spielberg’s grandfather called him by his Hebrew name, Shmuel. “I always wanted to fit in, and being Jewish, I couldn’t fit into anything,” he confides in the film. “I began to deny my Jewishness … I didn’t want to be Jewish.”

Lacy explained that when Spielberg met actress Kate Capshaw, who converted to Judaism before their wedding in 1991, “She said, ‘You must reconnect with your faith.’ Then he made ‘Schindler’s List,’ and it brought him back completely into the fold, and proud of being Jewish.”

Spielberg had read Thomas Keneally’s book about Oskar Schindler in 1982, but held onto it for a decade until it was the right time to make the film, which earned him two Oscars and led to the creation of the USC Shoah Foundation.

“It was, emotionally, the hardest movie I’ve ever made,” he told Lacy. “It made me so proud to be a Jew.”

Capshaw and Spielberg’s seven children are not in the documentary, but his sisters, his father and his late mother are “because they were there at the birth of his becoming a filmmaker and could talk about who he was at that time in his life,” Lacy said.

With 2 1/2 hours to work with, Lacy focused on Spielberg’s film directing, eschewing other projects and giving less play to his less successful movies, including “1941” and “The Color Purple.”

“He was not reticent to talk about failures,” Lacy said. “But if you want to tell a real story with a beginning, middle and end, and in any kind of depth, you simply cannot cover everything.”

It was more important, she said, to highlight the common themes in his oeuvre, including families’ separating and reuniting, the resilience of children, fighting for freedom and good people trying to do the right thing against all odds.

“Steven is actually an incredibly personal filmmaker,” Lacy said. “The box office has never been what’s driven him. What has interested him has changed and matured as he’s grown up. But that boy who loves movies, loves moviemakers — that kid is still in him.”

Just 21 when he made his first television movie, “Duel,” he stood up to the network, refusing to blow up the menacing truck at the end of the film. He insisted on shooting “Jaws” on the ocean, although it was a logistical nightmare to do so. “Having a vision and sticking to it, not letting anybody get in the way of it — that’s probably the best lesson you could learn from Steven Spielberg,” Lacy said. “ ‘Schindler’s List,’ a 3 1/2-hour, black-and-white movie about the Holocaust, could have been a huge flop. But it was something he needed to do, he knew how to do it, and he stuck with that.”

Lacy appreciated that Spielberg “in no way tried to steer this film and did not see it until it was finished.” So when he called to tell her he liked it, “I almost fell on the floor. What happens if Steven Spielberg doesn’t like your movie?” she said. “I’d set a very high bar, and I was nervous all the time that I would not achieve it. I hope I did.”

She came away from the project secure in the knowledge that Spielberg “is exactly who he seems to be. Sometimes you’re disappointed when you meet a hero and that did not happen with Steven,” she said. “He was everything I expected him to be and more. I’m not trying to be gushy here, but he’s a really, really good human being. He’s a mensch.”

How My Muslim Journey Led Me to Study Jews


I never envisaged that my life journey would take me to study the Jews of my southern Moroccan oases and North Africa. Growing up as a practicing Muslim in a Moroccan village, I never could have imagined that I would, one day, do research with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum on Vichy and Nazi policies in North Africa, or that I would become affiliated with the UCLA Center of Jewish Studies, one of the oldest centers in the United States, and become a member of the Association for Jewish Studies.

How did this happen to a Muslim Moroccan boy?

One starting point is that I experienced discrimination in my youth. In southern Morocco, where I grew up, race is a factor in determining social and economic status. The Haratine, who have a darker skin color and are seen as socially inferior, farmed lands owned by the local Maraboutic families known as Shurfa (historically light-skinned). For decades, my father served these families as a day laborer. I grew up affected by this.

When I began my research on Jews, on a few occasions I was called a Falashi (Black Jew from Ethiopia), signaling that I was not only breaking rules by studying Jews but also highlighting my lower social status as a dark-skinned Muslim.

But the more I learned about Jews and the more opposition I received, the more I wanted to continue. Maybe subconsciously, I identified with the foibles of a minority. But there was something else: I also was moved by the deep attachment that Moroccan Jews have for their Moroccan heritage and the positive feelings toward Mohammed V as a righteous king for protecting Jews during World War II. This helped me persevere and overcome personal and professional obstacles.

Still, I have to say I got lucky. My parents, illiterate and with no comfortable income, raised a family of four sons and four daughters on subsistence farming and herding. Having a child who would end up earning a doctorate in socio-cultural anthropology in the United States was never part of their agenda. But I was always thirsty for knowledge, and my educational ambition got the attention of some prominent people in Morocco. Their support gave me my first break and my perseverance did the rest.

In my first year in graduate school at the University of Arizona, I struggled to come to terms with the option of specializing on the Jews of Morocco. I knew that going back home with a degree with a limited audience would be a big risk, especially in the context of a negative political environment over the Palestinian-Israel conflict.

What kept me going was becoming immersed in the amazing story of the Jews of Morocco. Moroccan Jews worldwide represent one of the largest Jewish communities of the Arab world. Despite the politics of the Arab-Israeli conflict, most of them remain deeply connected to their Moroccan homeland. While fewer than 4,000 Jews currently live in Morocco, Jewish shrines and cemeteries are protected and maintained by the local Arab population and the government.

In my studies, I wanted to tell a Muslim story about living with Jews as neighbors. My book, “Memories of Absence: How Muslims Remember Jews in Morocco,” was an attempt to describe Jewish life in the southeastern Moroccan region based on Muslim generational memories. I tried to make the point that, in Morocco at least, you cannot study Jews without factoring in Muslim participation in Jewish life and Jewish-Muslim relations. 

The Moroccan Jewish tradition of Mimouna — in which Jews create a magical neighborhood feast on the last night of Passover — is a good example of the relationship of mutual respect and co-existence that existed, and continues to exist, between Muslims and Jews.

As a historical anthropologist, I was exposed over the years to strong cultural connections between Moroccan Jews and Muslims. Attending Shabbat dinners, I recognized Moroccan cuisine that I enjoyed at home. Visiting synagogues in Marrakech, France or Los Angeles, I heard sounds that reminded me of recitation of the Quran in the mosque. Researching a shrine such as Baba Sale in Netivot, Israel, I remembered the days when my village would travel to Muslim shrines.

I have come to recognize that in their language, food, music and rituals, many Moroccan Jews have preserved their Moroccan identity, no matter where they live. As I continue my research, it is this deep cultural connection, above all, that will nourish my journey. 


AOMAR BOUM is associate professor and vice chair of undergraduate studies in the anthropology department at UCLA.

Memorial candles

Every Year Coming to Yizkor by Rabbi Janet Madden


Every year now, in the midst of apples and honey and family recipes and the sweet new beginnings of Rosh HaShanah, I am already looking ahead to Yom Kippur, thinking of the first Yizkor book in which my mother’s name was included and the first Yizkor service in which I, too, was among those mourning a parent. Every Rosh HaShanah reminds me, again, of how every year since that first year, the High Holy Days have been connected to her yahrzeit and private, personal mourning and memories and to the first Yizkor service of the new year. Every High Holy Days brings me the opportunity to remember and mourn publicly, with those newly-bereaved, as I was that year, and with those who have learned, as I have, that there is a beautiful balance between sadness and comfort when we acknowledge our griefs in community.

Of course, I knew long before my mother’s death that the ten days of the Yamin Noramim—the Days of Awe—are filled with reminders of the brevity and uncertainty of life. The liturgies of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur reiterate the reality of our mortality. The Unatana tokef prayer, especially, uses graphic images to remind us of our reality: that even as we wish one another to be inscribed and sealed for a good year, we really have no idea what sorrows and joys await us. But the year that she was diagnosed and we were told that she would not survive more than a few months—and in fact died within weeks—was the first Rosh HaShanah that I had just buried a loved one, and, I think, the first time I understood the Unatana tokef.

Every year since that year, the High Holy Days make me more aware, again, of mortality. Of course, they are supposed to. The High Holy Days are intended to be awesome; they are infused with a sense of urgency that encourages us to not engage in denial, to not postpone, to not avoid difficult conversations and decisions. In heightening our awareness that life ends and that there is never enough time, the process of engaging in teshuvah—of turning, returning and being turned—is intended to disrupt us, to wake us up and shake us out of complacency. The High Holy Days push us to reflect on life’s big questions: who we are, what our purpose is, what our lives mean, how we want to be remembered.

For me, the season of the High Holy Days is also the time that I turn over garden soil, harvest the last of summer crops, plant winter vegetables, and rake up feathers from my molting chickens. I think of this as a naturally pensive time, the turning of the seasons reminding me that I’ve lived through another year and that so many have not. The timing of the High Holy Days means that the natural world itself reinforces the theme of turning and returning: summer has ended, the daylight is changing, leaves are turning colors and falling from trees, the Autumnal Equinox—which this year, in the Northern Hemisphere, took place on the second day of Rosh HaShanah—momentarily balances day and night as exact equals. I like to think of the Yom Kippur Yizkor, the first Yizkor of the year, as the liturgical equivalent of the Autumnal Equinox: the opportunity to balance sorrow with consolation, the past with the present, regret with hope, private remembrances with public commemoration. Perhaps that is the reason why even those who otherwise eschew synagogue attendance show up for Yizkor—because grieving alone is painful and grieving together to reminds us that so long as there is a Jewish community we are not alone.

Rabbi Janet Madden PhD was ordained by The Academy for Jewish Religion-California. She serves as the rabbi of Temple Havurat Emet and Providence Saint John’s Health Center and has been a student of the Gamliel Institute.

Rabbi Janet Madden

Rabbi Janet Madden

 

[Ed. Note: We at Kavod v’Nichum and the Gamliel Institute hope that your holiday season – for those who celebrate – was meaningful and uplifting, and that you have been inscribed and sealed for a good, sweet year full of blessings. To those who engage in the work of the Chevrah Kadisha in the broadest sense be granted additional blessings for their participation in this holy endeavor and sacred labor. — JB]

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GAMLIEL INSTITUTE COURSES

LOOKING FORWARD: UPCOMING COURSE

The Gamliel Institute will be offering course 5, Chevrah Kadisha: Ritual, Liturgy, & Practice (Other than Taharah & Shmirah), online, afternoons/evenings, in the Winter semester, starting roughly in January, 2018. This is the core course focusing on ritual, liturgy, practical matters, how-to, and what it means (for everything other than Taharah and Shmirah, which are covered in course 2).

CLASS SESSIONS

The course will meet online for twelve Tuesdays (the day will be adjusted in any weeks with Jewish holidays during this course).

Information on attending the course preview, the online orientation, and the course will be announced and sent to those registered. Register or contact us for more information.

REGISTRATION

You can register for any Gamliel Institute course online at jewish-funerals.org/gamreg. A full description of all of the courses is found there.

For more information, visit the Gamliel Institute website, or at the Kavod v’Nichum website. Please contact us for information or assistance by email info@jewish-funerals.org, or phone at 410-733-3700.

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DONATIONS

Donations are always needed and most welcome to support the work of Kavod v’Nichum and the Gamliel Institute, helping us to bring you the conference, offer community trainings, provide scholarships to students, refurbish and update course materials, expand our teaching, support programs such as Taste of Gamliel, the Gamliel Café, and the Gamliel Gracuates courses, provide and add to online resources, encourage and support communities in establishing, training, and improving their Chevrah Kadisha, and assist with many other programs and activities.

You can donate online at http://jewish-funerals.org/gamliel-institute-financial-support or by snail mail to: either Kavod v’Nichum, or to The Gamliel Institute, both c/o David Zinner, Executive Director, Kavod v’Nichum, 8112 Sea Water Path, Columbia, MD  21045. Kavod v’Nichum [and the Gamliel Institute] is a recognized and registered 501(c)(3) organization, and donations may be tax-deductible to the full extent provided by law. Call 410-733-3700 if you have any questions or want to know more about supporting Kavod v’Nichum or the Gamliel Institute.

You can also become a member (Individual or Group) of Kavod v’Nichum to help support our work. Click here (http://www.jewish-funerals.org/money/).

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MORE INFORMATION

If you would like to receive the periodic Kavod v’Nichum Newsletter by email, or be added to the Kavod v’Nichum Chevrah Kadisha & Jewish Cemetery email discussion list, please be in touch and let us know at info@jewish-funerals.org.

You can also be sent a regular email link to the Expired And Inspired blog by sending a message requesting to be added to the distribution list to j.blair@jewish-funerals.org.

Be sure to check out the Kavod V’Nichum website at www.jewish-funerals.org, and for information on the Gamliel Institute, courses planned, and student work in this field also visit the Gamliel.Institute website.

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SUBMISSIONS ALWAYS WELCOME

If you have an idea for an entry you would like to submit to this blog, please be in touch. Email J.blair@jewish-funerals.org. We are always interested in original unpublished materials that would be of interest to our readers, relating to the broad topics surrounding the continuum of Jewish preparation, planning, rituals, rites, customs, practices, activities, and celebrations approaching the end of life, at the time of death, during the funeral, in the grief and mourning process, and in comforting those dying and those mourning, as well as the actions and work of those who address those needs, including those serving in Bikkur Cholim, Caring Committees, the Chevrah Kadisha, as Shomrim, funeral providers, in funeral homes and mortuaries, and operators and maintainers of cemeteries.

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From left: Cannabis Feminist co-founders Jackie Mostny, Galia Benarzi and Jessica Assaf. Photo courtesy Cannabis Feminist

The Jewish feminists who are rocking the cannabis world


On a recent Sunday afternoon in Venice, yoga-toned locals sipped cucumber lemon water and perused an assortment of cannabis wellness products arranged on silver platters in a private backyard. Freshly cut sunflowers decorated the display tables, where female representatives from organic brands like The Budhive, which makes THC-infused honey drops, talked to potential customers about the calming effects of their microdosed hard candies.

If this sounds radically different from the experience of stepping into an L.A. medical marijuana dispensary — where products can be locked behind glass display cases, and male budtenders might not know what to recommend for, say, menstrual cramps — that’s because Jessica Assaf, the half-Israeli co-founder and CEO of Cannabis Feminist, has made it her mission to bring an ethos of health, wellness and, most of all, femininity to her year-old collective.

At community events like the one in Venice, called “bake sales,” Assaf, 27, and her co-founder, Jackie Mostny, a veteran of the Tel Aviv startup scene, serve as informal cannabis ambassadors, educating new users — women, in particular — about the physical and mental health benefits of the plant. Bake sale goers can trade in pink tickets for products, all selected and tested by Cannabis Feminist. They range from a Medicine Box dark chocolate truffle designed as a sleep aid, which sells for $20, to Assaf’s $40 private label facial oil made with rosehip extracts and cannabis oil sourced from Humboldt County.

“We’re not promoting psychoactivity,” said Assaf, who began her career as an activist for toxin-free beauty products. “We’re promoting cannabis as a powerful plant compound for the skin.”

What sets Assaf apart from other “ganjapreneurs,” thousands of whom have flocked to Los Angeles in recent years to get in on the so-called “Green Rush,” is her sales model. Taking a page from Tupperware parties, Assaf, a Harvard Business School graduate who credits cannabis use with improving her self-esteem, is pairing cannabis products with the peer-to-peer, in-home sales approach that enabled American housewives to earn their own money.

In 2016, legal sales of cannabis products in North America reached $6.7 billion, with California accounting for 27 percent, according to a report by Arcview Market Research, a leading publisher of cannabis industry data. By 2021, sales are expected to top $22 billion.

The budding industry also claims the highest number of female bosses of any U.S. business sector. A recent survey by Marijuana Business Daily found that 27 percent of executive-level jobs in cannabis businesses are occupied by women, down from the previous two years, but still higher than the 23 percent in American businesses as a whole. That gives Assaf, and many others of her ilk, reason to believe that by getting in on the ground floor and helping to shape their industry — never mind the local government policies that guide its development — they are building what could become the first multibillion-dollar industry run by women.

What’s also possible? Cannabis could become the first multibillion-dollar industry run by Jewish women.

It’s no secret that Jews have long played an outsized role in the cannabis sector, starting with the fact that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the plant’s psychoactive compound, was first identified in 1964 by Israeli scientist Raphael Mechoulam who, along with his team at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, went on to discover the human endocannabinoid system.

In recent years, Israel has emerged as a global leader in medical cannabis research, filling a void created by U.S. law that classifies cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug — the same category assigned to heroin and LSD — that makes research exceedingly difficult to conduct.

While no data is available to indicate how much of the cannabis industry is made up of Jews, it’s clear that, as with the garment business of the early 20th century, Jews comprise such a significant proportion of the industry that it has become closely identified with the tribe.

“The cannabis industry as a whole is so welcoming, and it’s been phenomenal to find all these badass Jewish women who are so cool, smart and driven. It’s all about collaboration.” — Molly peckler

Given the prevalence of Jews and women in weed, it’s no surprise that, in Los Angeles, poised to become the largest legal cannabis market in the world, Jewish women are staking their claim — and in the process, forming a kind of sisterhood of mutual support and cooperation.

Like Assaf, Catherine Goldberg, 28, a cannabis events producer and social media marketer based in West Hollywood, moved to Los Angeles from the East Coast in the last year to work in cannabis, as did Molly Peckler, a professional matchmaker who came here with her husband from Chicago to grow her cannabis matchmaking service, Highly Devoted. “The cannabis industry as a whole is so welcoming, and it’s been phenomenal to find all these badass Jewish women who are so cool, smart and driven,” Peckler said. “It’s all about collaboration.”

Indeed, collaboration is Assaf’s guiding principle with Cannabis Feminist, which grew out of a Women’s Circle she hosted at her home last fall. New to L.A., the Bay Area native put out a call on Instagram for women to gather in her Venice Beach living room to discuss their relationship to cannabis. Forty people showed up.

Assaf recently trained her first two Cannabis Feminist consultants, both culled from her monthly Women’s Circle, to sell the collective’s selection of products to their friends in exchange for a percentage of sales. Down the line, Assaf envisions an all-female team of cannabis wellness consultants who not only will recommend medicinal products, but also deliver them on demand.

To enact her vision for a women-run cannabis empire, Assaf has been pursuing outside investment. Cannabis Feminist’s first angel investor was co-founder Galia Benarzi, a Tel Aviv-based tech entrepreneur who recently orchestrated the largest crowd-sale of a virtual currency to date.

“One of the coolest things about Cannabis Feminist is that it actually has a feminine work culture,” said Benarzi, who mentors Assaf and Mostny from Tel Aviv. “This can mean the way we talk about conflicts when they arise, how we hold space for each other’s ideas, or the way we think about revenue shares.

“For me, coming from such a male-oriented work life, it’s really been a breath of fresh air.”

Interview with Kosha Dillz


Name: Rami Even-Esh

Best-known for: His alter-ego, Jewish rapper Kosha Dillz

Little-known fact: “The first time I was in the newspaper was for a wrestling tournament when I was eight. I was a little obsessed with getting in the paper.”

Rami Even-Esh, better known by his stage moniker, “Kosha Dillz” is the son of Israeli immigrant parents and now a Koreatown resident by way of Perth Amboy, N.J. A professional hustler from childhood, Even-Esh has sold everything from t-shirts to CDs to vintage embroidered hats.

After a stint in prison, Even-Esh, 36, found success in the music industry. This year, he reached his sobriety bar mitzvah (13 years clean) and can now count multiple tours with Vans Warped Tour and collaborations with artists like Matisyahu, among his successes. He also recently recorded and released his newest album, “What I Do All Day and Pickle.”

Jewish Journal: Such an odd stage name. What’s up with your fascination with pickles?

Kosha Dillz: There’s not really a fascination. They’ve become popular, so I guess I was ahead of my time with the name.  Pickles are right behind cats and pizza.

JJ: You moved to Los Angeles in 2011, so what brought you here?

KD: Music. I was already a professional musician when I came out to L.A. I just thought there was more of an opportunity and already had some friends out here, as well. I also really liked the recovery community in L.A., because there are a lot of people in the entertainment industry in the recovery community. Where I was from, it was surreal. No one was in the recovery community. I was like a unicorn.

JJ: How do your life experiences color your music?

KD: My music is just me being me. It’s what I’ve been doing since day one — rapping about selling drugs, doing drugs,  not doing drugs, Jewish stuff, Israel stuff, and that’s it. People will always ask, “Why are you so pro-Israel?” Well, it’s because I’m pro-myself. I’m an Israeli citizen. I didn’t choose that, it’s just who I am. And I think everyone should rep who they are.

JJ: What do you hope listeners get from your music?

KD: I want them to feel connected to my struggles.

JJ: Is your Jewish identity ever at odds with your rapping identity?

KD: Not at all. I’ve been rapping about Jewish stuff since day one. When I was 19, my identity was more about being a white rapper, but now it’s more about being a Jewish rapper. I’ll rap in Hebrew and make it overtly known that I’m Jewish. My stage name is “Kosha Dillz.” It’s basically “I’m a Jew” in rapper-ease.

JJ: Before you were rapping, you were a wrestler. What happened?

KD: I was wrestling from the time I was 8 until I was 20.  I stopped because of drugs — solely and only that. Otherwise, I would have kept wrestling. The real core of who I am is tied up with all the drugs and drug dealing. And then I got arrested multiple times. Then I got clean. And somewhere along the way, my music took center stage.

JJ: What marked the beginning of your career as a musician?

KD: I started rapping, and recorded my first song when I was 17. It was awesome. And then I recorded another and another, and slowly but surely, by the time I was 21, I had started burning CDs on my computer, and then tried to sell them at shows — demos, not even finished versions. I was honestly just really into selling things because I loved the hustle, and that started my rap career.

JJ: What’s the best part about being on tour?

KD: It’s very freeing. I look at touring like you’re mentally going into the wilderness. When you’re not on a tour bus, you’re driving through Kansas or Colorado and you see these amazing mountains, and you pull the car over, get out and scream at the top of your lungs because you know no one can hear you, and then you laugh to yourself because you’re crazy, and drive another seven hours through the middle of nowhere to a tiny show somewhere. It’s great. And I truly believe that touring is an experience and a way to reach out to fans.

JJ: How do you connect with fans?

KD: It’s interesting. When you’re touring these days, you’re not just selling the music, but you’re selling yourself — like a brand. With the internet and social media, the connection is way more instant. They might look at me and think, “Oh, he’s Jewish, let me go see him,” or “He’s in recovery — that’s interesting” or “Oh, he’s been to all 50 states, and I’m from Rhode Island and he’s been there, too.” You never know exactly what part of your identity will connect with someone.

JJ: Do you prefer performing or studio work?

KD: I love performing in front of people, but if you want to grow as an artist, you need to do studio work. You need to be creating new stuff that’s captivating, that will grow you a bigger audience. What you create in the studio is a tangible thing that people can share while you’re sleeping.

JJ: Do you enjoy the studio process?

KD: I do enjoy it, but it’s very terrifying, because I don’t want to go in, and I don’t want to do the work. I’m inherently lazy and very resistant, but then, when I’m in there, I’m suddenly like, “I need an album for the tour! Well, I guess I better come up with some rap songs, like, right now.” I give myself a deadline by paying for the studio time for two weeks. Essentially, I better come up with something, or I’ve wasted all my money. Honestly, most of my career has been showing up. I’m only in competition with myself. If I don’t reach out, or get to the studio, I’m the only one that hurts.

JJ: Switching gears. What are some of your favorite places in LA?

KD: One place I really, really love to go is Bibi’s Bakery. I always take people there. I also love this hike that I do every week called Cobra Fitness Club. It was my first commitment to regular social exercise. We get coffee and weird shakes.

JJ: One final question. Do you have a pre-show ritual?

KD: Oh man. I run around frantically! First I’ll run to the bar and get some water, and then I’m like “Guys! I’m going on now! Make sure you watch!” And then I worry that someone’s in the bathroom or outside having a cigarette and will forget I’m performing. It’s a pre-show ritual I’d rather not have. It would be nice to just chill. But until I’m massively famous, and the entire world is waiting for me to perform, I’ll feel like that. I guess that’s the Jewish end to this story: I’m worried!

Find out where Kosha Dillz is performing at koshadillzworld.com.

Mark Zuckerberg delivering a commencement speech at Harvard University in which he quoted the Mi Shebeirach prayer on May 25. Photo Paul Marotta/Getty Images

How Mark Zuckerberg embraced his Judaism


Mark Zuckerberg wrote last December on Facebook that for him, “religion is very important.” Looks like he meant it.

The Facebook co-founder has been invoking Judaism a lot lately. In May, he quoted a Jewish prayer at Harvard’s commencement. Two weeks ago he posted a picture of his daughter with a family kiddush cup. And on Saturday night, he posted a public apology at the end of Yom Kippur.

It’s quite a transformation for a public figure who once defined himself as an atheist.

Although he was a member of the Jewish fraternity AEPi before he dropped out of Harvard, Zuckerberg didn’t discuss his Judaism much before 2015. Replying to a comment last year, Zuckerberg wrote that he “went through a period where I questioned things, but now I believe religion is very important.”

Zuckerberg’s recent string of Jewish affirmations began nearly two years ago following then-presidential candidate Donald Trump’s call for a ban on Muslims entering the United States. Being raised as a Jew, Zuckerberg wrote, made him sensitive to attacks on all minorities.

“After the Paris attacks and hate this week, I can only imagine the fear Muslims feel that they will be persecuted for the actions of others,” Zuckerberg wrote, referring to that year’s terror attack in the French capital. “As a Jew, my parents taught me that we must stand up against attacks on all communities. Even if an attack isn’t against you today, in time attacks on freedom for anyone will hurt everyone.”

Zuckerberg invoked his Judaism again after the August white supremacist rally in Charlottesville.

“It’s a disgrace that we still need to say that neo-Nazis and white supremacists are wrong — as if this is somehow not obvious,” he wrote.

But judging from his Facebook profile (and in his case, shouldn’t we?), Zuckerberg has reconnected with his Judaism not just as a national figure but as a person and a father. His post featuring a collage of a kiddush cup, Shabbat candlesticks and homemade challah waxed about passing the cup from generation to generation.

“For shabbat tonight, we gave Max a kiddush cup that has been in our family for almost 100 years,” he wrote, referring to his eldest daughter. “Her great-great-grandfather Max got it after our family immigrated here and it has been passed down through our family ever since.”

For shabbat tonight, we gave Max a kiddush cup that has been in our family for almost 100 years. Her…

Posted by Mark Zuckerberg on Friday, September 15, 2017

At the Harvard commencement, Zuckerberg told graduates that he sings an adaptation of the Mi Shebeirach — the traditional Jewish prayer for the sick — when he tucks her in at night.

“And it goes, ‘May the source of strength, who’s blessed the ones before us, help us find the courage to make our lives a blessing,” he told the graduates in May, quoting a version of the prayer by the late Jewish songwriter Debbie Friedman and lyricist Rabbi Drorah Setel. “I hope you find the courage to make your life a blessing.”

While the mogul’s newfound piety may be attracting attention, he is doing what any young Jewish parent might, said Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, director of CLAL-the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. Plenty of Jews lose interest in their religion, then reconnect to it after having kids.

“There are a million people in his age cohort who are deeply proud of being Jewish and are trying to figure out what it means,” Hirschfield said. “You marry and partner and have a family, and it’s not surprising that the questions of ‘How do I have a more meaningful life and build a better future’ become more important and powerful and imminent.”

InterfaithFamily.com was especially pleased that Zuckerberg, whose wife, Priscilla Chan, is not Jewish, has posted about his family’s Jewish rituals.

“The fact that such a super-influential couple clearly are making Jewish choices for their family is the best news with which to start the new year,” wrote Ed Case, founder of InterfaithFamily.com. “Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan could really change the course of Jewish history if they got involved in efforts to engage interfaith families in Jewish life.”

Zuckerberg got Jewishly personal again when he asked for forgiveness at the end of Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of repentance. His critics might say he has a lot to atone for.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Facebook was accused of allowing Russian hackers to post thousands of ads influencing the election. And users also were allowed to target ads based on phrases like “Jew hater” and “how to burn Jews.” (Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, who also is Jewish, said the company would address the problem.)

“For those I hurt this year, I ask forgiveness and I will try to be better,” he wrote Saturday night. “For the ways my work was used to divide people rather than bring us together, I ask forgiveness and I will work to do better.”

Tonight concludes Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year for Jews when we reflect on the past year and ask forgiveness…

Posted by Mark Zuckerberg on Saturday, September 30, 2017

It isn’t the first time that Zuckerberg has encountered trouble because of the content published on his site. In 2015, some 20,000 Israelis filed a class-action lawsuit against Facebook for ignoring incitement to terrorism on the network and enabling terrorists to find sympathizers. The case was dismissed this year.

While Zuckerberg may not have always talked publicly about his Judaism, he has surrounded himself with people who do. His college roommate moved to Israel and became a Conservative rabbi. Sandberg has spoken frequently about how Jewish rituals helped her cope following her husband’s untimely death in 2015. And his sister, Randi, is open about her Jewish observances. She says her family unplugs for a “digital Shabbat” each weekend, and sang “Jerusalem of Gold,” a classic Israeli song, at the Davos World Economic Forum.

Davos also occasioned the first JTA clip about Zuckerberg, published in 2008. While he attended the forum that year, Israel’s delegation invited him to visit the country.

He has yet to accept. But after giving his daughter a kiddush cup and atoning on Yom Kippur, maybe this is the year.

A makeshift memorial is seen next to the site of the Route 91 music festival mass shooting outside the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas on Oct. 3. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Las Vegas Jewish community rallies to help in aftermath of shooting


Two Las Vegas synagogue held special evening prayers and a GoFundMe page raised over $50,000 for an injured Jewish woman as the city’s Jewish community rallied to help in the aftermath of the mass shooting on the Strip.

Chabad Rabbi Mendy Harlig, a chaplain with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, told the Chabad.org website that he spent time on Monday at a local hospital with the husband and mother-in-law of Natalie Grumet, a Jewish California resident who was injured in the shooting, The Times of Israel reported.

The GoFundMe page established to help Grumet return to California for further treatment had surpassed its $50,000 goal by Tuesday.

Samantha Arjune, daughter of the recently retired superintendent of the Ramaz Jewish day school in New York City, also was injured in the attack. On Monday, she underwent surgery on her leg; Arjune is not in a life-threatening situation.

The two women were among the more than 500 injured in the attack by a lone gunman shooting Sunday night at a concert from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. At least 58 were killed.

Harlig said he spent Sunday night at the scene of the attack offering support to police officers in dealing with the horrors they witnessed and the following day at hospitals providing support to victims and their families. He also worked with Israel’s consul general to help find Israelis visiting or living in Las Vegas who had been unaccounted for; they have all been found and none were injured.

Temple Sinai in Las Vegas on Monday evening held a special service to help the community come to grips with the attack. More than 100 members, young and old, attended the service, the Forward reported. Synagogue members said they planned to visit the injured and their families at local hospitals.

Midbar Kodesh Temple also held special evening prayers and a nighttime vigil.

Todd Polikoff, president and CEO of Jewish Nevada, the state’s Jewish community federation, told The Times of Israel that his staff had been bringing supplies to the blood service sites and sending food to the trauma center.

“Once the physical wounds heal, there are going to be a lot of people who need a lot of care dealing with this in a mental way,” he said. “There were 22,000 people there. We know there were a number of members of Jewish community who were there who got out unscathed physically. But know they’re going to need help.”

A post on the Jewish Nevada Facebook page from Monday said, “As the sun rises on Las Vegas today, we will be a changed city. What will not change is our compassion for one another, our ability to embrace millions of visitors every year, and our resilience in the face of challenging circumstances. This is the greatness that we know persists, in spite of the tragedy that we saw this evening.

“We must now turn to our attention those friends, family, and strangers who are in the most need. They are the ones who will need to see and experience all of the greatness that we embody in our community. Now, more than ever, we need to remind our fellow community members, the rest of the country, and the world that we are #VegasStrong.”

We are incredibly saddened by the violence and loss of life tonight on the Strip. We are also very thankful for the men…

Posted by Jewish Nevada on Monday, October 2, 2017

Las Vegas Metro Police officers after a mass shooting at a music festival on the Las Vegas Strip on Oct. 1. Photo by Las Vegas Sun/Steve Marcus

Jewish and Israeli communities respond to Las Vegas attack with aid, call for action


UPDATE 10:21 A.M. OCT. 4: The five missing Israelis mentioned below in the story “are safe and accounted for,” Anna Rubin, director of media affairs at the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles, told the Journal.

The Oct. 1 mass shooting at a country music festival in Las Vegas, which left at least 59 people dead and 527 wounded, was “obviously not just about the Jewish community,” Jewish Federation of Las Vegas President and CEO Todd Polikoff said hours after the attack.

The Federation, nevertheless, was committed to assisting those affected by what many are calling the deadliest shooting in modern American history, he said.

“I don’t think there is any part of this community that is not feeling the impact of these events. We’re constantly looking at how we can help the whole community, Jewish and non-Jewish, and deal with what transpired,” Polikoff said in a phone interview the day after the shooting.

Those efforts have been multi-faceted.

“Right now it’s information-gathering. We’re trying to reach out to members of the community, various synagogues and anyone in our base to let us know that everyone is safe that they know of and if they’re not, what’s the situation.”

He added that as of that morning he did not know if anyone in the Jewish community had been injured or killed, but there were 22,000 people at the concert, “and we know members of the Jewish community go to these festivals,” he said.

Rabbi Levi Harlig of Chabad of Southern Nevada said he had spent time with the family of one Jewish victim at Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center, where 14 patients had died as late Oct. 2. The Route 91 Harvest music festival began Sept. 29 and concluded on Oct. 1.

He said he visited the hospital after hearing about a Jewish woman from Orange County whose husband had dropped her off at the concert, where she was shot in the neck.

“Thank God [her injury] does not seem to be life threatening,” Harlig told the Journal.

There are an estimated 70,000 Jewish people living in Nevada, with the majority residing in Las Vegas, according to Polikoff.

The Federation leader said the organization has been in contact with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.

“We’re trying to work with Metro as best as we can,” Polikoff said. “They have a hotline for people who are looking for family members; we’re trying to drive people to the blood services in town because blood services are greatly needed and we’re trying to be a community partner the best we can.”

The authorities said the gunman, Stephen Paddock, fired his weapon from a room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel, overlooking the concert, during the performance of headliner Jason Aldean. Paddock began firing at the crowd gathered at the Las Vegas Village and Festival Grounds at 10:08 p.m., the authorities said.

The rapid gunfire sent concertgoers running for their lives while others crouched on the ground and held each other.

As the shooting continued for several minutes, a SWAT team closed in on the shooter’s location. The Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo of the police department, said Paddock committed suicide after SWAT pinned him down. ISIS – or Islamic State – claimed responsibility for the attack. Law enforcement, however, said the shooter acted alone.

Polikoff said he was asleep when his Apple Watch buzzed at 1 a.m. with a news notification about the incident. He thought it was his watch alerting him to wake up, as it does every morning at 5 a.m. for the gym. The news – that 20 people had been killed – stunned him. By the time he got in his car to drive to work, the number had risen to more than 50.

Various members of the Federation staff left the office to donate blood and found long lines, “100 people deep,” he said.

Noa Peri-Jensch, regional director of the Israeli American Council in Las Vegas, said her organization was encouraging people to assist those donating blood.

“The blood centers are packed with donors, so we have decided that instead of blood, we should assist those who are standing in lines to donate blood,” she said. “Members of the Israeli community went out in a big truck to hand out water and food to those in line at the blood centers.”

Anna Rubin, director of media affairs at the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles, which serves the entire region of the southwest United States, including Nevada, told the Journal on Oct. 2 that five Israelis were unaccounted for in the wake of the attack.

“We are monitoring the situation,” Rubin said, explaining that the consulate was notified by the missing individuals’ families. Additional information on the missing Israelis, whose parents are in Israel, was not immediately available. 

Julie Martinez, a mother of two girls, has lived in Las Vegas for eight years. The daughter of an Israeli mother and an American father, Martinez was supposed to go to the concert with a friend but changed her mind at the last minute. Her friend, however, attended.

“My friend went there with her four-year-old daughter. She called me crying and in shock after she ran from the concert area to the Tropicana hotel,” Martinez said. “That’s how I found out what had happened. They stayed there for five hours until the police let them go back home. The streets were completely empty. No one was allowed to leave. Many people who attended the concert ran as well to the Tropicana. People gave them drinks and helped them out. Every body was so helpful, she told me.”

In the aftermath of the shooting, Jewish organizations including the Union of Reform Judaism, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and Los Angeles social justice-oriented congregation IKAR renewed a call for the enactment of tighter gun control legislation.

“There is so much we don’t know yet about this shooting. What does seem clear is that the gunman used at least one fully automatic assault weapon among the 17 other weapons, including rifles with scopes, that police found in his hotel room. These are weapons of war, easily accessible in America,” IKAR Rabbi Sharon Brous said on Oct. 2 in a statement titled “Enough With Your Thoughts and Prayers. People are Dying.”

ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt echoed Brous’ call for gun control.

“We firmly believe that one way to limit the power of extremists and reduce violence in our communities is to enact tough, effective gun violence prevention measures,” Greenblatt said.

Polikoff, meanwhile, said at this early juncture, he did not want to focus on the politics of the situation.

“One thing I’m not listening to is anyone who wants to turn this into any sort of political commentary. I don’t think this is the time or place [to say] ‘This wouldn’t have happened if so and so were in office.’ “ he said. “We have to worry about the people who were hurt and the families who lost loved ones at this time. I will let everyone else discuss the politics of what they want to discuss. I will focus on people who need help.”

Harlig, the Chabad rabbi, said the shooting shook him up.

“You hear stories about New York, Florida, overseas, and all of a sudden this is our hometown, so it is frightening, but I think the holiday of our rejoicing is coming up, Sukkot, so we will have a double amount of strength to counter the darkness,” he said.   

Harlig expressed confidence that life in Vegas will soon – perhaps too quickly – return to normal.

“Unfortunately people get caught up with the excitement and the glamour here and are quick to forget. It might take a day or two but I think it will go back to normal,” he said. “Let’s wait for the dust to settle.”

Ayala Or-El, contributing writer, contributed to this report

The far-right Nordic Resistance Movement marches in Gothenburg, Sweden, on September 30, 2017. Photo by Fredrik Sandberg/AFP/Getty Images

Swedish Jews celebrate Yom Kippur under heavy security as neo-Nazis march in major city


Jews in the Swedish city of Gothenburg expressed relief on Monday after a neo-Nazi march on Yom Kippur bypassed the city’s main synagogue and the community received hundreds of messages of support from groups and individuals.

On Saturday, 30 members of the far-right nationalist Nordic Resistance Movement, or NRM, were arrested when they did not follow their assigned route, clashed with counterprotesters and tried to walk toward the Scandinavia Book Fair, the largest literary festival in Scandinavia. Among those arrested was the group’s leader, Simon Lindberg.

Jews had worried about harassment and vandalism during the march, which was rerouted after appeals by the Jewish community that it not pass the synagogue on Judaism’s holiest day. Police presence around the synagogue was heavy, with cars patrolling the area as well as a helicopter and a boat in a nearby canal. The synagogue also provided additional security.

Despite this, Yom Kippur services went on as usual and had a large turnout, community chairman Allan Stutzinsky told JTA.

The Gothenburg community, which is typically under tight security and has approximately 1,000 official members, feared not only the neo-Nazi marchers but potential left-wing counterprotesters, Stutzinsky told JTA earlier this month. People affiliated with the NRM were responsible for anti-Semitic threats that led to the shuttering in April of the Jewish community center in Umea, a city in northeastern Sweden, according to Stutzinsky.

Jews in Gothenburg had worried that the synagogue would be vandalized with swastikas over the weekend, Stutzinsky said. Instead they woke up on Sunday to find that people had drawn hearts with chalk around the building in support.

Amid wide media coverage of the march, the community received hundreds of messages of support from groups and individuals. Stutzinsky, who earlier this month compared present-day anti-Semitism to that in pre-World War II Europe, praised the response.

“The threats exist, but they don’t dominate society. Civil society in Sweden stood up for us in a way that the civil society in Germany didn’t do in the ’30s. We have received a lot of support,” he told JTA.

Last month, the Jewish community appealed a police decision to allow the NRM to march along a route that would have taken them only about 200 yards from the city’s main synagogue on the Jewish holiday. The neo-Nazis had originally wanted to march on the main streets of Gothenburg, but the police offered the alternate route near the synagogue.

After appeals by the Jewish community, as well as several other groups in Sweden, an administrative court in Gothenburg rerouted the protest. The Anti-Defamation League and the World Jewish Congress also urged the Swedish government to ensure the Jewish community’s safety.

Still, the fact that the march took place was worrying, Stutzinsky said.

“We have people who openly follow Nazism and who publicly show that they are Nazis and that they have that agenda,” he said of the marchers.

Aron Verstandig, chairman of The Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities, said Monday that the incident represented a larger trend of the rise of the far right, citing recent demonstrations across Sweden. On Thursday, Verstandig spoke with Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven about the march. Lofven denouncedthe rise of neo-Nazi groups and said the government needed take action to combat such organizations.

Though the far right is worrying, the largest threat to the community comes from Islamist terrorism, said Verstandig, who also serves as chairman of the Jewish community in Stockholm. He cited recent terror attacks against Jewish institutions across Europe, including in 2015 on a synagogue in nearby Copenhagen that left one dead.

The community isn’t going anywhere, but the various security threats take a toll, he told JTA. The synagogue in Stockholm uses more than a fifth of the money it raises from membership dues to pay for security, in addition to members volunteering to patrol the synagogue.

“There is always something you need to consider,” Verstandig said. “If you go to the kosher grocery store in Stockholm and want to buy some ground meat, that meat is more expensive because there has to be security. It affects everything. If you want to go to a Shabbat dinner, we have to spend money on security. It makes it harder.”

Concertgoers taking cover at a country music festival on the Las Vegas Strip following a mass shooting attack on Oct. 1. Photo by David Becker/Getty Images

After Las Vegas shooting, rabbi uses High Holy Days poem to protest gun violence


In the wake of the shooting Sunday night in Las Vegas that left at least 58 people dead, a New Jersey rabbi has used a Jewish poem as a vehicle to argue against gun violence.

Those who attended synagogue during the recent High Holy Days likely chanted or read the “Unetanah Tokef,” which describes how God decides at the beginning of each Jewish New Year who will live and who will die.

“On Rosh Hashanah it is inscribed/ And on Yom Kippur it is sealed/ How many shall pass away and how many shall be born/ Who shall live and who shall die/ Who shall reach the end of his days and who shall not/ Who shall perish by water and who by fire,” reads the most recognizable part of the poem, which goes on to list different ways people can die.

The version by Rabbi Douglas Sagal of Temple Emanu-El, in the central New Jersey town of Westfield, substitutes gun models and makes for the causes of death: “who by full automatic fire, and who by semi auto; who by AR, and who by AK; who by pistol and who by revolver.”

But unlike the “Unetanah Tokef,” in which the reader is comforted to know that “repentance, prayer and righteousness avert the severe decree,” Sagal ends by saying that those actions “will do absolutely nothing to avert the decree, nothing, for our politicians are too frightened.”

Read Sagal’s poem here:

Unetaneh Tokef for AmericaToday it is written, today it is sealed in the United States of America-Who shall die, and…

Posted by Douglas Sagal on Monday, October 2, 2017

FBI agents ride an armored vehicle to a staging area on the Las Vegas Strip on Oct. 2. Photo by Las Vegas Sun/Steve Marcus

Enough with your thoughts and prayers. People are dying.


As of the most recent count, 58 people were senselessly murdered in Las Vegas last night, and more than 500 wounded. Another horrific mass shooting tragedy on American soil. This is a sad day for our country—and I am heartbroken for the many families whose lives have been irrevocably upended by this act of terror. But for all of those thinking and praying for the souls of the dead and their bereaved families, think and pray on this: we, as a nation, have once again failed to protect our citizens from preventable tragedy.

There is so much we don’t yet know about this shooting. What does seem clear is that the gunman used at least one fully automatic assault weapon and had ten rifles in his hotel room. These are weapons of war, easily accessible in America. There have been 1,400 mass shootings since Sandy Hook, and yet we have failed to think or pray up a way to pass legislation that would change this reality. And even worse, after highly publicized mass shootings, there tends to be a loosening of gun laws. Right now, Congress is considering legislation that would make it easier to obtain silencers. Just imagine the increased scope of the carnage last night had the shooter possessed a silencer. It is criminal that Congress has failed to act in the face of the epidemic of mass shootings over the past many years; it is obscene that they are considering legislation that will exacerbate the problem.

This is not rocket science. A ban on weapons designed for battlefield use and a ban on high capacity magazines. Universal background checks for all gun buyers. Expanded mental health treatment. Restricted gun sales to anyone with a history of violence—especially a history of domestic violence—or mental illness. The overwhelming majority of Americans support these measures. So what exactly are we waiting for? Maybe we should pray on it?

Charles Clymer wrote this morning: “Being in this country, right now, is living in a terrible lottery. At anytime, at any place—a church, a school, a concert, at work, on a random street—we are at risk of being in a massacre. And our Congress continues to do nothing. They have failed us.”

One of these days, our nation will hit a tipping point. I dread the calamity that finally awakens us to the need to extricate our political system from the craven grip of the NRA and take real action to protect people from weapons of war. In the meantime, shame on us for not mustering the political will and the moral outrage to effectively address this crisis. Shame on us for letting our elected officials off the hook.

The news cycle will move on from this in a couple of days. It always does. And the only ones left to dwell in the tragedy will be those who lost loved ones or whose lives are forever altered by injury and trauma.

I am a person of faith, someone with a real prayer life. But I also know the limits of prayer: we cannot pray our way out of this endless loop of devastation and distraction. The only way out is collective spiritual and political action. That means saying NO to the diversionary tactics, NO to the empty excuses, NO to the bald-faced lies that will inevitably follow on the heels of this tragedy, as they always do. We have to use our voices, our resources, our connections, whatever public platform and political capital we have to call out the insanity of easy access to deadly weapons. This will not end until we end it.


Enough with your thoughts and prayers. TAKE ACTION: Call your members of congress.
Tell your House Member to oppose the Sportsmen Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act (SHARE Act) which would deregulate gun silencers.
Tell your Senators to oppose Senate Bill 446, the concealed carry reciprocity bill.
Learn more here: https://everytown.org/act/
Find your rep here: https://www.house.gov/htbin/findrep


Sharon Brous is senior rabbi and founder of IKAR.

Las Vegas Metro Police and medical workers stage in the intersection of Tropicana Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard South after a mass shooting at a music festival on the Las Vegas Strip on Oct. 1. Photo by Las Vegas Sun/Steve Marcus

Jewish groups in aftermath of Las Vegas attack call for tougher gun control laws


Jewish groups responded to the mass shooting in Las Vegas by condemning the violence and calling for gun control legislation.

At least 58 people are dead and more than 500 wounded in the attack at a country music festival outside the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on the Strip late Sunday night. It is the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

The Anti-Defamation League, B’nai B’rith International, the National Council of Jewish Women and the Reform movement were among the groups that called for tougher gun control laws in the attack’s aftermath.

“While we are still learning details and do not know the impetus for the killings, one thing is clear: the threat of mass violence against innocent civilians in America has not abated. This threat must be taken seriously,” Anti-Defamation League National Director Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement. He called for the enactment of “tough, effective gun violence prevention measures.”

Greenblatt said its Center on Extremism is investigating the background and activity of shooter Stephen Paddock and whether he may have ties to extremists or was motivated by any extremist ideology.

B’nai B’rith International said it is “well past time for meaningful, bipartisan gun violence legislation in this country.” It also said: “Though information about the shooter and his arsenal is still being uncovered, we have long held there is no acceptable, reasonable need for civilians to have access to large rounds of ammunition.”

“B’nai B’rith stands in solidarity with the Las Vegas community and with all those impacted by gun violence around the nation,” the statement also said.

National Council of Jewish Women CEO Nancy Kaufman in a statement called for Congress to act to “stem the tide of this senseless violence before yesterday’s tragedy becomes just another record to be broken.”

“Federal lawmakers must act now to restrict access to automatic weapons, reject the current bill before Congress that would make it easier to buy silencers, and instead focus on how to make our communities and our country safer. NCJW expects nothing less from our elected officials,” the statement also said.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said the mass shooting cannot be termed a random act of violence.

“Even before all the facts are known we know this: rather than revere gun rights our country must finally revere human life,” he said.

“We mourn those callously slaughtered in Las Vegas and pray for the wounded. But our prayers must be followed by action, long overdue limits to the easy access to fire arms.”

The Jewish Federations of North America in its statement called on people wherever they are to donate blood.

“These attacks are just the latest instances of senseless violence that terrorizes innocent people everywhere and must come to an end,” the group said.

Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, also called the attack “senseless.”

“On behalf of world Jewry, I condemn this horrific criminal act,” he said in a statement.

David Bernstein, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, said that while authorities have not determined whether the shooting was an act of terror, “there is no question that it has terrorized and traumatized hundreds of innocent people.”

Cheryl Fishbein, the JCPA’s chair, added: “It is imperative that we come together to address the underlying causes in the days ahead.”

There are over 70,000 Jews and at least 19 synagogues in Las Vegas, according to the JewishVegas.com website.

Episode 58 – The man who slept in Hitler’s room and infiltrated guarded refugee camps


When people talk to journalists, they tend to be extra careful as to what comes out of their mouths. It takes a whole new level of journalism to penetrate into the depths of the soul of a person – you have to smoothen your way in, create intimacy, have a drink or two together, and then, and only then – maybe you’ll get a glimpse into the what someone really thinks.

Tuvia Tenenbom has made this practice an art. Tuvia was born as Charedi in Israel to a German speaking family, but eventually moved to the States where he founded the Jewish Theater of New York, which is currently the only English speaking Jewish theater at the Big Apple. He wrote 16 plays for that theater.

As a columnist, Tuvia’s essays were published in the most highly esteemed papers out there, including a column in De Zeit, Germany’s leading newspaper.

In recent years Tenenbom has devoted his time to write books. His very unique genre is a non-fiction, journalistic, humoristic, books which describe the journeys that Tuvia embarks on – “I sleep in Hitler’s Room”, his debut book, depicts his journey throughout Germany, talking to Germans, sometimes pretending to be a German himself, hiding his Jewish identity.

In the book “Catch the Jew” Tuvia pretends yet again he’s a German journalist, thus infiltrating the highest ranks of Palestinian regime in the Territories, to find out what the Palestinians really think about Israel and the Jews.

His third book, “The Lies They Tell”, described a painful journey throughout the United Stated, when Tuvia goes to places in America, so deprived of government or God, that no one knew still exist.

Tuvia’s upcoming book will unfold his adventures at the refugee camps in Europe.
2NJB is thrilled to have Tuvia Tenenbom with us.

Tuvia’s books on Amazon

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Monty Hall. Photo from Wikipedia

Monty Hall, philanthropist and host of ‘Let’s Make a Deal,’ dies at 96


Television icon and philanthropist Monty Hall died on Sept. 30 at the age of 96.

For decades, Hall lived a double life: ebullient game show host and celebrity to millions by day, and, when not on camera, indefatigable fundraiser and philanthropist for Jewish and other causes.

Renowned for co-creating and hosting “Let’s Make a Deal,” Hall was equally if not more proud of raising, by some estimates, more than $1 billion for charity.

[FROM OUR ARCHIVE: Monty Hall’s best deal]

Monte Halparin was born Aug. 25, 1921 in Winnipeg, Canada, the son of Rose and Maurice. His Orthodox Jewish family was in the kosher meat business, and Hall grew up delivering orders on his bicycle. His mother, Rose, was a schoolteacher, performer and Hadassah regional president who Hall once called a “combination of Golda Meir and [Yiddish actress] Molly Picon.”

The family struggled and lived in close quarters. Hall couldn’t afford to stay in college, so he dropped out. Fortunately, a Jewish businessman and friend of the family, Max Freed, altered the trajectory of Hall’s life. When Hall was 19, Freed, 10 years Hall’s senior, offered to pay for Hall’s college education, but with three conditions: His grades had to be B-plus or higher, he had to report regularly to Freed on his progress, and, most importantly, he had to promise that one day he would do the same to a kid who needed help.

Hall seized the opportunity. He re-enrolled at the University of Manitoba, frequently checking in with Freed to inform him of his grades. In 1945, he earned his degree.

While in college, Hall performed in musical theater productions and worked an evening job as a radio disc jockey. After graduating, he moved to Toronto, where he worked at a radio station. There, his boss told him to shorten his name from Halparin to Hall. Restless and looking for bigger opportunities, Hall moved to New York in 1955 and transitioned to television. Five years later, he moved to Hollywood.

While in Hollywood, his big break was co-creating with Stefan Hatos “Let’s Make a Deal,” a game show inspired by the Frank Stockton short story “The Lady, or The Tiger?” in which a man’s choices result either in love or death. “Let’s Make a Deal” debuted on NBC in late-1963 on NBC’s daytime lineup. It aired until 1968 before moving to ABC, where it ran until 1976.

The show became one of the most successful in television history. Hall, for his part, hosted 4,700 episodes of the show.

Part of the appeal of “Let’s Make a Deal” was having audience members who dressed up in costumes in hopes of being picked by Hall to appear on the show.

Additionally, the show’s legacy was its inclusiveness, Hall said.

“ ‘Let’s Make a Deal’ was the first television show that used Black people, brown people, yellow people, old people, fat people, skinny people, because we felt this was a cross section of America,” Hall told the Archive of American Television in a 2002 interview.

Among Hall’s other claims to fame, “Let’s Make a Deal” gave rise to a classic probability puzzle. After a contestant has chosen one door, and then the host offers him the opportunity to change his mind and choose another, should he? Would changing his mind put the odds of a better prize in his favor? Hall himself once said that in “The Monty Hall Problem,” as it came to be called, the contestant’s choice matters less than the way the host manipulates the player.

Hall and his late wife, Marilyn, who died in June, raised three children: Richard, a television producer; actress Joanna Gleason; and Sharon, also a television producer. The couple were married for nearly 70 years. The Halls met in Canada, wed in 1947 and moved to New York together, before finally settling in Beverly Hills. Marilyn Hall was as an actress, writer, producer and philanthropist.

“My parents kept show business as far away from our house as possible,” Gleason once told the magazine Playbill. “It was a very normal upbringing. It just happened to be that at certain times of the day, you’d turn on the TV and there’d be my father.”

In 2013, Hall was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 40th Daytime Emmy Awards ceremony. He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1973.

Hall had a lifelong commitment to Judaism. He was a longtime friend of the late Rabbi Jacob Pressman of Temple Beth Am, where the family belonged. In 2005, Hall had his second bar mitzvah at Temple Shalom for the Arts — today known as Temple of the Arts. In later years, he attended IKAR.   

Hall credited his commitment to Judaism and his mother, Rose, for his devotion to charitable giving. In fact, he spent much of his life raising money for charity. Causes he supported included the children’s charity Variety International, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and Israel Tennis Centers. Additionally, he was a regular presence on the gala circuit, emceeing events benefiting Hadassah, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, American Committee for Shaare Zedek Medical Center and Jewish Home for the Aging (now the Los Angeles Jewish Home), among countless others. 

In a 2014 Jewish Journal video series titled “Mondays With Monty,” Hall recounted an exchange with his father, who’d stopped going to synagogue. His father told him he expressed his religion through his devotion to his family. Hall said he couldn’t argue with that. In fact, in the 2002 interview with the Archive of American Television, he said he wanted to be remembered for being someone who did his best for his family.

Hall more than lived up to his promise to Max Freed to help others in need, becoming a major fundraiser for countless charities.

“I’d like to be remembered as somebody who cared, who cared for other people, who did his best, who did his best for his family, for his friends, for the community, for the country and continued to do it,” he said. “I think what you do with your life is your epitaph.”

Hall is survived by his children, Joanna Gleason (Chris Sarandon), Richard Hall and Sharon Hall (Todd Ellis Kessler); and grandchildren Aaron David Gleason, Mikka Tokuda-Hall, Maggie Tokuda-Hall, Jack Kessler and Levi Kessler.

The funeral is scheduled for 10 a.m. Oct. 3 at Hillside Memorial Park. Shivah will be cut short because of Sukkot, so please send your condolences to the family at ataida@ikar-la.org.

The family has asked that contributions in Hall’s memory be made to IKAR, AJWS and LAJH.


Monty Hall spoke to the Jewish Journal about his bar mitzvah:

This skeleton of a 46-foot sperm whale hangs at the Whaling Museum in Nantucket, a resort island that was once a hub of the whaling industry. Photo courtesy of the Nantucket Historical Association

This Yom Kippur, a synagogue will read the book of Jonah under a whale skeleton


One of the more colorful portions of the daylong Yom Kippur liturgy is the reading of the book of Jonah, an enigmatic narrative of a reluctant prophet, an indignant God and a giant fish.

But because of the service’s timing, relatively few people are around to hear it. So one rabbi is spicing up the reading by holding it under a 46-foot skeleton of a sperm whale.

The reading Saturday afternoon will take place at the Nantucket Whaling Museum, located on the Massachusetts resort island. A hub of the whaling industry in the 1800s, Nantucket was immortalized in Herman Melville’s classic novel “Moby-Dick” as the starting point for Ishmael’s journey.

“I read it [Jonah] as allegory, but the idea that it could happen captures the imagination more when you see maybe [the whale] is big enough that it could happen,” said Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor of Congregation Shirat HaYam (Hebrew for “Song of the Sea”) in Nantucket. “We feel very comfortable going into the sea, but our biblical antecedents had a great fear. They would see great large fish and that would spark the imagination. I felt this would be the ideal place to talk about it.”

The short book is read in its entirety during the day’s afternoon service, coming after the exhausting Musaf service and before the climactic, closing Neilah service. The story is gripping: A man runs away from God, gets thrown off a ship and finds himself living in the belly of an enormous fish for three days. Jonah eventually (spoiler alert!) makes it to the sinful city of Nineveh, where he attempts to save the residents from the wrath of God.

Nantucket has remained connected to its maritime heritage even after the whaling industry faded. Many of the island’s large houses belonged to sea captains and ship owners. The island has hosted dramatic readings of “Moby-Dick,” and some of Nantucket’s wealthy vacationers moor yachts at the dock. The museum chronicles the island’s history and its whaling past. The giant skeleton, taken from a beached whale, is its crown jewel.

Shirat HaYam also hopes to pay homage to Nantucket’s heritage. Following a traditional Hebrew chanting at synagogue, an English reading will take place under the whale, and Bretton-Granatoor will give a lecture about how Jewish sages have viewed sea creatures throughout history.

As the Days of Awe draw to a close, Bretton-Granatoor hopes the reading will instill a biblical sense of awe into his congregants.

“The idea that I can take a biblical book and make it feel real, make it feel tangible, is very exciting,” he said. “The idea that something we read about now is tangible — here’s a whale above us — imagine what the writers of the Bible thought about if they ever saw something this size.”

Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer listening to President Barack Obama deliver his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 28, 2014. Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

When Jewish justices got the Supreme Court to shut down on Yom Kippur


Since 1995, the U.S. Supreme Court has not held public sessions on Yom Kippur. Since the court opens its term on the first Monday in October, it is not unusual for the Jewish Day of Atonement to arrive just as the court begins its public work.

How the Supreme Court came to observe the Jewish High Holy Day is a story about religious diversity on the court, the quiet perseverance of two justices and an unexpected illness.

In an impromptu appearance at a synagogue here last week on Rosh Hashanah, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg recounted how she and fellow Jewish Justice Stephen Breyer approached Chief Justice William Rehnquist and explained that Jewish lawyers who had been “practicing their arguments for weeks” should not be required to choose between religious observance and representing their clients before the court. According to Ginsburg, Rehnquist agreed.

But Ginsburg was being respectful of the memory of Rehnquist – cognoscenti have slightly less gracious memories of his role in the change.

There were no Jewish justices on the Supreme Court in the almost quarter century between the resignation of Abe Fortas on May 15, 1969, and Ginsburg’s swearing-in on Aug. 10, 1993. (Breyer joined the court on Aug. 3, 1994.) I appeared before the court as private counsel a number of times between 1971 and 1994, and the Supreme Court clerk was always accommodating to Jewish religious observance. Cases in which I was scheduled to argue orally were scheduled for dates that would not conflict with Jewish holidays.

In 1994, I was scheduled for two appearances during a Supreme Court session in March that included Passover. At my request, the arguments were scheduled so as not to conflict with the first and last two days of the holiday.

A lawyer asking for an argument to be rescheduled was one thing; a Supreme Court justice sitting out an argument was quite another.

Yom Kippur in 1993 and 1994 came in September, so there was no religious conflict during Ginsburg’s first two years and Breyer’s freshman year on the court. But in 1995, Yom Kippur was on Oct. 4 – a Wednesday on which the court was scheduled to hear oral argument. No counsels apparently had requested that their cases be rescheduled. Although the court’s Hearing Calendar had arguments scheduled for that date, they were abruptly postponed. The court took the day off on Yom Kippur, as it has done ever since.

Those of us who followed the court closely and were battling for recognition of Jewish religious rights were curious as to how this happened. The story – as I heard it at the time from a knowledgeable source – did not portray Rehnquist as cordially accommodating to Jewish religious observance.

The account I heard then was that Ginsburg and Breyer had approached Rehnquist after oral arguments were scheduled for that Oct. 4. The two Jewish members asked the chief justice to be respectful of their religious identity and postpone the arguments scheduled for Yom Kippur.

Rehnquist, however, had not accommodated Jewish observance in a 1986 case in which I had argued on behalf of an Orthodox Jewish Air Force psychologist who wanted to wear a yarmulke with his military uniform. Rehnquist had written the Supreme Court’s majority 5-to-4 opinion rejecting the First Amendment claim.

Before she was nominated to the Supreme Court, Ginsburg as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals — along with Antonin Scalia and Kenneth Starr, judges at the time — had voted in favor of the psychologist’s motion to rehear the lower court’s rejection of the yarmulke request. (Following the high court’s rejection, Congress would enact a law, still in effect, that grants military personnel in uniform a statutory right to wear a neat and conservative religious article of clothing.)

In 1995, according to the version of the story I heard, Rehnquist turned down the request of Ginsburg and Breyer to reschedule the court date to accommodate Yom Kippur. He told them that they could, if they chose, absent themselves on Yom Kippur and still vote, pursuant to the court’s practice, after listening to the audio tapes of the oral arguments.

Soon thereafter, however, Rehnquist found that he, too, would be unable to sit with the court on Oct. 4 because his painful back condition required medical treatment on that day.

According to my sources, this gave the two Jewish justices an unexpected opportunity. They approached John Paul Stevens, the most senior justice who would be presiding if Rehnquist were absent. They pointed out to Stevens that if the two of them were not on the bench on Oct. 4, only six justices would sit to hear oral arguments on that day. Although that number is technically a Supreme Court quorum and the absent justices could vote after listening to audio tapes, Stevens agreed that the optics of such a diminished panel would be less than ideal. Stevens then postponed the Yom Kippur session, and the practice stuck.

This year’s Yom Kippur falls on Friday night and Saturday morning, Sept. 29-30, and the court won’t convene until Monday, Oct. 2.

But thanks to Justices Ginsburg, Breyer and Stevens, the next time a public session falls on Yom Kippur, a sign of respect for Jewish observance will again prevail.


Nathan Lewin is a Washington lawyer who has argued 28 cases before the Supreme Court and is on the adjunct faculty of Columbia Law School.

Step into the shoes of Yonah this Yom Kippur


Ari Schwarzberg

One of the first Jewish ideas I can recall from my youth is that resting somewhere inside us, we each have a yetzer hara and a yetzer tov, an evil and good inclination. These figurative angels and demons account for our inner voices that compel us to be both our best and our worst each day of our lives. As we mature and grow older, we hope that we’ll be more angelic than demonic, but it’s  hard to imagine being able to simply hit the delete button on our dark side. Our “good” and “bad” sides constantly battle for proprietorship of our soul and much of our religious work is to redeem ourselves from the immoral thoughts and actions embedded in our genetic code.

This is all well and good. We know that we’re not meant to be perfect and that there’s work to be done.

But what do we do when our demons burden us? How do we respond when doubts or skepticism shake up our faith or when religious leadership and community fall short of our expectations? What about when the world we inhabit is tormented by one natural disaster after the next, leaving innocent people dead and homeless and cities ravaged and torn up? These are difficult questions for everyone, but for the believers out there, these can be testy times.

Surely, living a religious life requires the capacity to hold multiple feelings and ideas simultaneously: we believe and we question, we love and we hate, we’re both contemporary and ancient;. Judaism, in particular, has never been a simple person’s game. I’m sure I don’t just speak for myself, however, in saying that this year’s Yamim Noraim proved a bit more complicated than usual. A time where I usually find my spiritual burners to be revving, this year my theological demons wouldn’t stay under lock and key.

Despite the challenges, I was still deeply moved by the soaring tefillot of Rosh Hashana.  I felt the religious intensity in the air, and I loved being a part of my community. But, as Yom Kippur begins, my inner voices are asking questions about a world that seems more unjust than just and more merciless than merciful – these are crippling ruminations that I’d prefer go into hibernation this time of year. The last thing we want on Yom Kippur is swirling thoughts in our head that might pollute the holy work of the day.

Or is it?

What if we were to bring our most real and honest selves into shul this Yom Kippur and engage God not only with belief and faith, but also with the rawness of our vexations and difficulties that comprise an inextricable part of any religious consciousness?

If you’re not yet convinced, look no further than the curious selection of Sefer Yonah as the haftora for Minha on Yom Kippur afternoon. Often bestowed upon an honorable member of the community, rabbis and scholars have long wondered how a story about a rebellious prophet figures into the Yom Kippur liturgy. In short, the prophet Jonah begins his book by rejecting God’s request, and ends the story as a reluctant messenger of God, who despite fulfilling God’s demand does so God’s demand does so unwillingly, even angrily.

As dusk settles on Yom Kippur day, the image of Yonah provides a strange way to usher in the climactic moments of Ne’eila. Why are we bringing reluctance, rebellion, and anger into a day designated as kulo l’Hashem, a day steeped in holiness and enveloped by godliness?

But perhaps that’s it. Yonah’s role on Yom Kippur instructs us that a relationship with God isn’t always one of simple faith and submission. Sometimes, there are moments of clarity and purpose that bring us close to our Maker, and other times we are lost and troubled, feeling like God’s presence is anything but near.

For most of Yom Kippur we spend the day knocking on heaven’s door, a 25-hour existence that does its best to transcend the human realm. But then there’s about a ten-minute window late in the afternoon when we’re invited into the world of a troubled prophet who finds an unjust world intolerable. Yonah doesn’t mince words: in the final chapter he twice exclaims to God that “it is better for me to die than to live.” Even at the close of the story, after God does His best to show Yonah His ways, we are left wondering about Yonah’s reaction. The story closes on a cliffhanger with the reader unsure whether Yonah remains recalcitrant or is finally convinced of God’s preeminence.

The linchpin, however, is that despite all this Yonah is and remains a prophet. While many other prophets prove their prophetic worth by unquestionably heeding God’s demands, Yonah’s prophetic qualities are best understood in the inverse. Yonah’s constitution as a navi b’yisrael (a prophet of Israel) directly emerges from his boldness. Though he could have checked out or remained silent, Yonah demands a world that is better, his moral clarity ultimately furnishing an activism that could just as easily have faded into apathy. Rather than remaining asleep in the hold of a ship, Yonah brings his frustrations into a conversation with God. In fact, the climactic moment of the story occurs when Yonah channels His accusations into an actual tefillah:

וַיִּתְפַּלֵּל אֶליְהוָה וַיֹּאמַר, אָנָּה יְהוָה הֲלוֹאזֶה דְבָרִי עַדהֱיוֹתִי עַלאַדְמָתִיעַלכֵּן קִדַּמְתִּי, לִבְרֹחַ תַּרְשִׁישָׁה:  כִּי יָדַעְתִּי, כִּי אַתָּה אֵלחַנּוּן וְרַחוּם, אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם וְרַבחֶסֶד, וְנִחָם עַלהָרָעָה.

He prayed to the LORD, saying, “O LORD! Isn’t this just what I said when I was still in my own country? That is why I fled beforehand to Tarshish. For I know that You are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in kindness, renouncing punishment.

This is the prayer par excellence of our tradition, the 13 attributes of God, a refrain we’ve been saying for weeks now and that we’ll say throughout Yom Kippur. Yet, Yonah inverts this tefillah, accusing God of being overly merciful at the expense of truth and justice (notice how אמת is glaringly absent in Yonah’s prayer). The point being that although Yonah vehemently disagrees with God, his consternation becomes a vehicle for tefillah, an instrument for a more honest and vulnerable communion with God.

Of course, God is right and Yonah is wrong. Our ability and need to question God is not a comment on His perfection. Still, this short story is retold on Yom Kippur as a reminder that a real relationship with God is not always harmonious.The prophet Jonah models the capaciousness, the ability to both believe and question, that any meaningful relationship demands. We both relate to Yonah’s firm declaration in Chapter One that “I am a Hebrew; and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land (1:9),” while also sympathizing with Yonah’s disposition as described by the narrator: “This displeased Jonah greatly, and he was grieved.” Religious life is neither linear nor one-dimensional.

So, I invite you all to give it a shot. If you’re feeling troubled or frustrated with the world, if things haven’t been going the way you’d imagine them, step into the shoes of Yonah, and bring your complete self into your service of God this Yom Kippur. For such is the way of prophets.

Wishing you a G’mar Chatimah Tova.

 

 

Keeping the Faith


I am a regular temple goer throughout the year, but there is something about the high holidays that brings me peace I don’t know how to properly articulate. I love my faith and could listen to my Rabbi give a sermon all day, every day, but there is nothing better than Kol Nidre with Rabbi Naomi Levy.  It is a moving service and I feel like I am in the presence of God on this particular day. Perhaps it is because I am surrounded by such a large group and we are all in prayer together, or maybe it is just because my heart is completely open on this day. Open to joy and sorrow, happiness and heartache. It is a day that matters to me.

I am going into Kol Nidre this year with both relief and fear. Relief to unload the weight of so many things on my soul, and fear about what my life will look like without so many burdens pent up inside me. After a year with so many unanswered questions and trials and tribulations, I have no expectations, but real hope when I go to Kol Nidre services. I simply want to be free. Free of my demons, of which there are many, and free of the busyness in my mind that prevents me from sleeping. I want my choices to be unaffected by cancer, and I want my future to become clear. No guarantees, just clarity after foggy days.

I am not the type of person who looks for guarantees in life. Things happen, both good and bad, and I am a roll with the punches kind of girl. I will think about the last year, thank God for holding my hand through all of it, and pray for the strength to be always be brave, even when I don’t think I can. I shall search for forgiveness, knowing it will come. I shall search for clarity, knowing it will come. I shall ask for sleep, knowing it will find me. I shall envision all of our names being inscribed in the book of life, and I will focus on keeping the faith.

 

 

GatherDC is hosting a Yom Kippur event at the Sauf Haus Bier Hall & Garten in Washington. Photo courtesy of Sauf Haus Bier Hall & Garten

Spending Yom Kippur in a beer garden


On Saturday, when Jews around the world will fast and gather in synagogues to pray on Yom Kippur, some young Jews will be coming together in the U.S. capital at a more unconventional venue: a beer garden.

Aaron Potek, the 31-year-old rabbi for GatherDC, a nondenominational group that does outreach to young Jewish professionals, is hoping to reach young Jews who otherwise would not attend synagogue on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar.

“They are people who would not be going to a service otherwise,” said Potek, who was ordained by the liberal Orthodox Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in New York City. “Some will be fasting, some won’t be fasting. Some are coming from absolutely no [Jewish] background, some are coming from more of a background but have been alienated by more traditional approaches.”

The event is not a prayer service and thus will not feature many of the traditional Yom Kippur routines. Instead, from 11 a.m. to 1:15 p.m., an expected 120 participants will come to the Sauf Haus Bier Hall & Garden on Dupont Circle to hear lectures, study Jewish texts, meditate and participate in discussions. Leading the event alongside Potek is Sarah Hurwitz, who worked as a speechwriter for President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama.

And though it takes place at a beer garden, the bar will be closed and no food or drinks will be served. Those who do bring food will be asked to eat it inconspicuously.

“I don’t care if you’re fasting or not, I still would like you to try to connect to the day of Yom Kippur,” Potek told JTA on Wednesday. “That’s not a statement about Jewish law, that’s not a statement about what the Torah says about fasting, that’s just living in the reality, and saying there are people who don’t fast and who don’t connect to fasting.”

Potek says he hopes to attend religious services on Saturday, but likely will end up praying on his own in between the beer garden event and preparing food for homeless people at another GatherDC event.

Rabbi Aaron Potek hopes to attract young Jews who otherwise would not be attending Yom Kippur programming at an event hosted at a beer garden. (Bruce Powell)

The setting led to some minor controversy.

“Having an event in a beer garden — the implication is that food and beverages will be served — on Yom Kippur is highly inappropriate and crosses the line of acceptability. To me, this is a mockery of our traditions,” Harris Cohen, the vice president of the D.C. Orthodox synagogue Ohev Sholom, told Religion News Service.

Cohen later reiterated his view, writing on Facebook that though he had been made aware that no food or drinks would be served, he still thought the choice of venue “highly inappropriate.”

Rabbi Ari Hart, who like Potek is a graduate of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, initially criticized the event on Facebook, saying the beer garden venue “runs against both the spirit and the law of Yom Kippur.”

However, after being informed by JTA that there would be no food or drinks served at the gathering, he apologized for his initial criticism and gave Potek his blessing.

“It’s just a space,” Hart wrote in an updated status. “A controversial, unconventional space? Sure. Would I feel comfortable? Probably not. Does that matter? Definitely not. Would hundreds of Jews who would feel uncomfortable in my shul, or any shul, feel comfortable there? Definitely yes.”

Potek considered a few venues prior to settling on the beer garden. Price and capacity ended up being the determining factors, he said.

“We wanted it to not be in a synagogue. We wanted it to be in a popular, centrally located area, something that people associated with their regular life,” he said.

Despite the kerfuffle, Potek is looking forward to the event.

“I’m really excited,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that questions of denominational lines have distracted from what I’m ultimately trying to do, which is help people talk about the meaning of Yom Kippur and the meaning of their lives.”

Holiday Pumpkin Soup. Photos by Cyndi Bemel

RECIPES: A Sukkot menu that celebrates the land’s fall harvest


The harvest festival of Sukkot is a great time to be home for the holidays.

The most obvious reason is that the main symbol of the festival is the sukkah, the decorated outdoor booth that provides families a wonderful opportunity to invite friends and neighbors to share a snack or come together for a meal.

In the spirit of the holiday, dishes should include seasonal fruits and vegetables, along with several kinds of grains, as a reminder of the fall harvest. 

This year, our family and friends will enjoy interesting foods from a menu that is healthful and low in fat, and much of it can be prepared in advance.

Begin with a hearty Holiday Pumpkin Soup, which can double as a great addition to your Thanksgiving dinner. Garnish with a sprinkling of toasted pumpkin seeds that add a crunchy texture, and serve with grain-rich bread made from whole-wheat flour and cornmeal.

Another Sukkot culinary custom is to serve foods filled with rice or other grains. Kreplach, blintzes, cabbage, squash, and other vegetables are perfect examples. But, red bell peppers stuffed with rice and fruit, and baked until tender, are my favorite.

For dessert, lemon-flavored treats always are welcome and refreshing, since lemons are in the same citrus family as the etrog, or citron, one of the four species used ritually during Sukkot. (The other three species are the palm, willow and myrtle.) The lemon cake recipe below uses generous quantities of fresh lemon juice and grated rind for some extra zest. 

HOLIDAY PUMPKIN SOUP

3 tablespoons unsalted butter or nondairy margarine
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic
1 tart apple, peeled and thinly sliced
4 cups pumpkin, peeled and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
6 cups vegetable broth or pareve chicken broth
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Parsley and toasted pumpkin seeds for garnish

In a heavy saucepan, heat butter; add onion and garlic and sauté until tender. Add apple and pumpkin, and sauté 2 to 3 minutes, until tender. Add thyme and 5 cups broth. Bring to boil or until soup thickens.

With a slotted spoon, transfer all of pumpkin mixture to a food processor and process slowly, adding remaining 1 cup of broth until pureed.

Return pureed mixture to saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes or until soup thickens. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle into heated soup bowls and sprinkle with parsley and toasted pumpkin seeds.

Makes about 7 cups.

HARVEST CORN BREAD

1 cup whole-wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/4 cups yellow cornmeal
2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup milk
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 egg
2 tablespoons sesame seeds

Preheat the oven to 425 F.

In the large bowl of a mixer, combine flour, salt, baking powder, 1 cup yellow cornmeal and sugar. Blend well. In a separate bowl, combine milk, oil and egg. Pour into flour mixture, beating until dry ingredients are moist.

Brush an 8-inch-square baking dish with oil and sprinkle with cornmeal. Pour in batter and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until wood toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on rack and cut into squares.

Makes about 16 squares.

RICE AND FRUIT STUFFED RED BELL PEPPERS

Quick Tomato Sauce (recipe follows)
8 large, sweet red bell peppers
1 1/2 cups uncooked, long-grain rice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1/3 cup sliced dried prunes
1/3 cup sliced dried apricots
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
2 cups vegetable stock, chicken broth or water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons pine nuts

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Prepare Quick Tomato Sauce; set aside.

Cut off stem ends of peppers (1/2 inch from top), and remove the seeds and inner white ribs. Blanch and invert to drain while preparing filling.

Rinse and soak rice in hot water, covered, for 30 minutes; then drain.

Heat oil in skillet and sauté onion until tender. Add prunes, apricots, parsley, cinnamon, turmeric, stock and drained rice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Mix well. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stuff peppers with rice mixture and cover with stem ends of peppers. Cover and bake in preheated oven for 1 hour or until tender, basting occasionally.

Makes 8 servings.

QUICK TOMATO SAUCE

1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 cup water
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup golden raisins
Salt to taste

In a large pot, combine tomato sauce, water, lemon juice, brown sugar, raisins and salt to taste. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Cover and set aside. 

Makes about 3 cups.

Sukkot Lemon Cake

SUKKOT LEMON CAKE

6 eggs, separated
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
Powdered sugar for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 F. 

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat egg whites at medium speed until foamy. Gradually beat in 1/2 cup of the sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time, beating well after each addition.

In another bowl, beat egg yolks until very thick and lemon-colored. Gradually beat in remaining 1 cup of sugar until mixture is smooth. Combine flour and salt and blend into egg-yolks mixture, alternately with lemon juice. Fold in lemon zest. Using a wire whisk or a rubber spatula, fold yolk mixture gently into egg-white mixture. 

Pour batter into ungreased 10-inch tube pan. Bake in preheated oven for 50 to 55 minutes, until cake springs back with finger. Invert on wire rack and cool completely. Just before serving, sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Makes 10 to 12 servings.


JUDY ZEIDLER is a food consultant, cooking teacher and author of 10 cookbooks, including “Italy Cooks” (Mostarda Press, 2011). Her website is judyzeidler.com.

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