Letters to the Editor: Cantor’s Kavanah, Homeland, Kol Nidre LIVE

Cantor’s Kavanah Remains Cool

We are grateful for the lovely profile on our immensely talented chazzan, Hillel Tigay (“The Rock Cantor,” Sept. 21). But we want to set the record straight on one matter. Here’s what went down mere moments before Kol Nidre at IKAR four years ago: With deep kavanah and intense focus combined with anticipation, excitement and a bit of absent-mindedness, our beloved chazzan took a final deep breath before beginning Kol Nidre and knelt down behind the podium to take a swig of … wait, is that Diet Pepsi? Our rabbis, perched on either side of him, stared in shock — one (lovingly) kicked him in the shin and whisper-shouted, “What are you doing?” Hillel, somewhat startled, cleared his throat, discarded the bottle and began a transcendent Kol Nidre, illuminated by the awareness that even with the best of intentions, we are all avaryanim — people who sometimes fall short. In the years that followed, this near miss was spun into urban legend (the cantor drinking soda at Kol Nidre) and became great Purim shpiel fodder, but was unfortunately incorrectly reported in the Jewish Journal as fact. We regret to inform anyone who was inspired by reports of this act of rebellion: We’re cool, but we’re not unhinged. One of the reasons Hillel is so adored at IKAR and around the Jewish world is because his hipster, tweed-cloaked, rocker persona is intimately bound up in a deeply reverent Jew who has worked his whole adult life to honor the Jewish tradition and bring it to life with love. 

Rabbis Sharon Brous and Scott Perlo, Melissa Balaban, Jaclyn Beck, Dev Brous, Ross Levinson

Editor’s note: The Journal stands by its story as reported.

Another MOT Missed Out

Your Sept. 28 issue contained a list of some Jewish nominees who did not go home with an Emmy (“ ‘Homeland’ Sweeps Emmys,” Sept. 28). I was not included. My nomination was for guest actor in a drama series for “Breaking Bad.”
I don’t know that you can find a more authentic Jewish name than Margolis. In the same category, Ben Feldman of “Mad Men” also lost out. I suspect that he might be a Member of the Tribe.

Mark Margolis
via e-mail

Shul-Hopping Spreads Tolerance

Kudos to David Suissa on his article “Sticking to Our Labels” (Oct. 5). I was raised on an Ashkenazi Modern Orthodox kibbutz practicing one dimension of Judaism: ours. Hence, the “more religious Jews” were considered obsessive compulsive, the less religious were below grade-level and the non-Ashkenazi Orthodox were simply on the other side of the tracks.

After teaching Hebrew and bar mitzvah as well as reading the Torah for over 30 years in various types of synagogues in Los Angeles, from Sephardi to ultra-Orthodox to Conservative to Reform, I learned to appreciate each and every community. The transformation wasn’t easy. It took me many years to let other customs, traditions and rituals enter and become part and parcel of my comfort zone.  

I believe that “shul-hopping” would usher a great deal of good and love into the Jewish community around the world. Familiarity eradicates animosity and may even usher in acceptance. We are a small nation facing constant threats of annihilation from the outside and need no infighting from the inside.

When we pray, we ask God that “He who makes peace in His heaven may he make peace for us and for all Israel, Amen.” It’s time for a new nusach (formula): “He who makes peace in His heaven may he make peace for us and for all Israel and teach us to do only good and accept each other for what we are.”

Danny Bental

Kol Nidre Streamed Straight to St. John’s

What a surprise when I found myself checked in to St. John’s Medical Center in Santa Monica on Kol Nidre. Uneaten challah and iPad in hand, my son and I searched for a service on the Internet. Then as “manna from heaven” not only did he find a service, but immediately I recognized Rabbi Naomi Levy [streaming live on jewishjournal.com]. Her enthusiasm filled up the screen, and I knew I was on the way to recovery.

What a dichotomy of healing — St. John’s hospital and Rabbi Naomi Levy, and they both worked.

Janet Wortman
Marina del Rey

Intermarriage and Tradition

Ruth was the only comfort and staff for Naomi’s old age, and her great-grandson was King David (“Rabbi Reverses Interfaith Marriage Policy,” Sept. 28). The Reform movement’s last resolution on interfaith marriage from 1973 says that “interfaith marriage is contrary to Jewish tradition.” Who knows what other heroic leader of our people may result from one of these intermarriages?

Louis Richter
via e-mail

A Jewish Diet

The Tu B’Shevat seder, with its many fruit and nuts, challenges us to reconsider our usual diets, and the recommended Jewish diet. While the FDA recommends a diet high in grains, rich in nutrients and low in saturated fats, Judaism recommends a diet high in holiness, rich in consciousness and connection, and low in selfishness. These four factors guide not only a Jewish diet, but also a Jewish life.

As Jews, we’re commanded to strive for holiness in every facet of our lives. One ritual and spiritual practice that helps us infuse holiness into our daily life, is offering blessings. Offering a bracha or a blessing with mindful consciousness — known in Hebrew as kavanah — helps us transform apparently mundane acts into moments rich with spiritual potential. Saying a blessing before and after each meal ensures that we stop to appreciate our food and its Ultimate Source. In our tradition, eating without blessings to thank God is like stealing from the Source of Life, while robbing ourselves of spiritual awareness. Judaism tells us a proper diet should include healthy portions of holiness — ideally beginning and ending each meal with blessings.

A second key ingredient in a Jewish diet is consciousness. Maintaining a traditional Jewish diet requires a high degree of consciousness in order to follow the ritual guidelines of kashrut commonly described as keeping kosher. The word kosher, which means ritually fit, can apply to a wide range of subjects from the food we eat to the wedding rings we may wear. In the dietary realm, the core ideas of kashrut are defined in the Bible. While the biblical Garden of Eden narrative clearly defines a vegetarian diet as ideal, our Noah narrative highlights the human lust for blood and meat. In Judaism meat eating can be seen as a concession to human blood lust, which was allowed, but highly regulated through ancient cultic ritual and the practice of kashrut.

As we know, the biblical traditions of kashrut include definitions, prohibitions and guidelines for treating animals. Kosher land animals have cloven hoofs and chew their cud (thus cows and most herbivores can be kosher, but pigs and all carnivores are treif, or un-kosher). Kosher fowl essentially include all birds except birds of prey. Kosher marine life must have fins and scales and may not be scavengers. According to kashrut, meat and dairy products may not be mixed, and traditional kosher homes have separate dishes, silverware, cookware and utensils for meat and dairy products.

While kashrut allows the slaughter and consumption of animals for food, it demands that the animals be treated with respect. Judaism requires the schochet (ritual slaughterer) to perform his duties consciously minimizing pain and maximizing reverence for life and the Life Source.

A third dish in the Jewish diet is connection. Our foods connect us symbolically to the teaching of our tradition, and sociologically to our heritage. This is best reflected in the Passover meal, or seder. Tradition teaches us that in this ritual meal, bitter horseradish represents the bitterness of slavery and saltwater reminds us of the tears of bondage, while fresh spring herbs symbolize the promise of hope. Through the Passover meal, food helps us symbolically reenact the journey from slavery to freedom. Similarly, the oily latkes and sufganiyot of Chanukah, remind us of the remarkable events surrounding the rededication of the oil lamps that burned in the ancient Temple.

A Jewish diet also connects people through a program of communal meals. One of the joys of the Sabbath is joining friends and family for a celebratory meal — by tradition this should be the best meal of the week. Every life-cycle event — bris, baby namings, b’nai mitvah, weddings and funerals — is accompanied by a communal meal. These meals and the food we often serve, connect us not only to our family, but to our particular familial heritage.

Our tradition demands that our diet be not only high in holiness and rich in consciousness and connection but also low in selfishness. We are commanded to share our bread with the hungry, even to feed our animals before we feed ourselves. At every Passover seder, we’re expected to call out to all who may pass, all who are hungry, let them come and eat. We strive to make providing food to the hungry a regular part of our Jewish practice, contributing to food pantries and volunteering at soup kitchens.

Mazon is a Hebrew word that means food. It is also an international Jewish organization that urges us to donate 3 percent of the cost of a celebration (such as a wedding or bar mitzvah party) to help feed the hungry the world over. Our blessing after meals includes the phrase "Chazan et hakol," praising God for providing food for all who live. We realize we must be partners with God to realize this promise.

As we know, there is enough food to sustain all who live on this planet if only we’ll be partners with God in the distribution of our resources — learning to share our abundant blessings with those in need. At times, in our world full of hunger, poverty and suffering, the blessings of holiness, compassion, connection and selflessness may seem distant ideals. The Source of Life and Sustenance, which we sometimes call God, may seem distant when we see the eyes of a hungry child.

Leo Baeck, a great rabbi who was sent to concentration camps by the Nazis, was once asked where God was during the Holocaust. His answer? Every time one prisoner helped another to drag a heavy wagon or shared one hard crust of bread with another starving inmate, God was there in the helping and sharing.

May we who are blessed with abundance, be blessed also with the strength, will and conviction to share what we have.

This is the foundation of a Jewish spiritual diet.

Sheryl Nosan-Blank is rabbi at Temple Beth Torah of the San Fernando Valley.