October 23, 2018

Passover: The Sequel?!

Screenshot from YouTube.

Just when you think Passover 5778 was behind us, just when the haggadot have been shoved into the cabinet marked “Don’t Touch Till April,” just when the last box of “Pesadik Brownie Mix” has been incinerated, unopened — comes news that there is a second Passover.

Called Pesach Sheni, it comes exactly one month after the first night of Passover, or Iyar 14, and it comes out of a story from the Book of Numbers:

“There were, however, certain persons who had become ritually impure through contact with a dead body, and could not, therefore, prepare the Passover offering on that day. They approached Moses and Aaron … and they said, ‘Why should we be deprived, and not be able to present God’s offering in its time, among the children of Israel?’” (Numbers 9:6-7).

And equally unexpectedly, God not only hears the appeal but rules favorably on it. From that point on, Iyar 14 — well past the threshold for disqualifying impurities — was established as Pesach Sheni. Although no one brings sacrifices these days, there are many who do in fact hold a third Seder on the second Pesach. Some even brave the picked-over kosher aisles for one last box of shmura matzo to eat during it.

Living in a town notorious for its unwarranted, and sometimes unwatchable, sequels, I’m skeptical. Wasn’t eight days of “Dulce de Leche” macaroons enough (I ask the people who came up with an entire song called “Dayenu”)? Was the weeklong, full-scale transformation of our eating — and to some extent, living — spaces insufficiently transformative? After the multisensory “You were there” experience of two seders, isn’t “Pesach 2” bound to be anticlimactic?

But what I’ve realized is that Pesach Sheni contains a few intriguing ideas that apply to even us post-Temple folk:

Inclusivity

After acres of ink devoted to festivals, observances and Temple-building schematics that the generic “everyone” is instructed to follow, comes this inconvenient outlier group. “What about us?” they ask. “We who suffered the loss of a loved one or some other circumstance outside our control that separated us from ‘the gang.’ How can we not take part in the seminal story of our people?”

Literally the dirtiest among us are still demanding a seat at the table. And God demands that we make room for them.

After the multisensory “You were there” experience of two seders, isn’t “Pesach 2” bound to be anticlimactic?

Accessibility

Throughout the Torah, Moses and Aaron are challenged more often than retired gunfighters in the Old West. Often this leads to outbursts of frustration, reversals of history and plagues. But why is this kvetch different from all other kvetches? Maybe because they’re not complaining about the lack of something (looking at you, water and meat), but rather a missing opportunity to bring something good to the community.

And the good news is, God responds affirmatively — improvising on the spot a special law just for these people. It’s enough to make Washington lobbyists jealous.

Second chances

Most of all, the idea of a second Passover springing up out of nowhere one month after the original has something to offer all of us — pure and impure alike.

Our rabbis teach that Hoshana Rabba, the seventh day of Sukkot, can be regarded as a Yom Kippur “extension,” the last day on which we can turn in our belated atonement. This forces us to try to bring the lofty rhetoric and pure spirituality of Yom Kippur into the all-too-earthy world of the sukkah.

Likewise, perhaps Pesach Sheni comes along to remind us of all those amazing and powerful things we said, sang and pledged around our seder tables not so many weeks ago. “You may be once again drowning happily in pizza and brioche,” it tells us, “but don’t forget how hard you just worked to liberate yourselves.”

So when you spot Pesach Sheni on your iCal or HebCal, take a moment to remember the actual lonely orphans who want nothing more than to be a part of it all.

This is their holiday, and God is willing to interrupt even his own Torah to make sure it’s ours too.


Rob Kutner is a writer for “Conan” and the author of the comic book “Shrinkage.”

Celebration, Commemoration and Disappointment

This year it has been an odd holiday season for many Jews. The joy of our celebrations has been marred by disappointment as we ponder the holidays’ themes and their implications for the world around us.

Our commemorations of suffering and slavery and then freedom ought and are meant to resonate in our activities in the real world.

As we celebrated Passover, we are instructed to feel as if we, ourselves, were slaves in Egypt. [Deuteronomy 24:18, “Always remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God redeemed you from your slavery”]. The Passover Seder had us metaphorically re-experience the exodus—we consumed its symbols (the bitter herbs of slavery and Matzah, the unleavened bread eaten while fleeing) to make dramatic and personal the challenges and the implications of the journey from slavery to freedom.

The eight-day Passover festival has been supplemented by contemporary Jews with three more commemorations on the Jewish calendar, the first addition in more than a millennium.

Today we recollect the Holocaust, the annihilation of six million Jews with Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day). One week later Jews observe Israel’s Memorial Day and the sacrifice of its soldiers who defend the right of the Jewish people to be free. It is followed immediately by the celebration of Israel’s Independence Day – this year its 70th.

Most Yom HaShoa commemorations reference the indifference of the world to Jews and Jewish refugees. As the man who would become Israel’s first President, Chaim Weizmann, said in 1937 (eleven years before the creation of the state) the world was then divided “into places where the Jews could not live and places where they cannot enter.”

In the context of celebration and commemoration, with four holidays whose themes intertwine around freedom, moral responsibility and action we witnessed the prime minister of Israel reneging on an agreement with the United Nations. A pact that would have provided refuge in Israel, Europe and Canada to thousands of Africans who have sought asylum in Israel from persecution and violence and who face the threat of death if they are forced to return to their homelands.

Israel is a sovereign state that has the right and obligation to take care of its own, thirty-nine thousand refugees in a nation the size of Israel is not without issues; but the arrangement with the UN and other nations including Canada, Germany and Italy was a viable and fair resolution to the crisis. Yet Prime Minister Netanyahu cancelled the agreement within hours of endorsing it at the behest of right wing allies.

It is difficult to square our traditions and religious admonitions with the expulsion of desperate immigrants into a world where not only their freedom may be denied, but also their lives taken.

Some will commemorate the Holocaust today to largely teach that the “whole world is against us and only an empowered Jewish people that can defend itself will offer security and safety.” That is one lesson that can be drawn from the tragic events of seventy-five years ago; but surely not its only one.

The Holocaust is also a story that happened to a distinct people that has become a shared universal paradigm which speaks to human conscience. It ought to inspire active moral values, enlarge the domain of human responsibility, elicit compassion, and command respect for universal human rights and dignity. That was the core of the Jewish message transmitted by the survivors and by those millions of others who have become witnesses to their witness.

That message ought to be reflected in Israel, envisioned as a beacon to the world, a place that would not only give substance to Jewish nationalism and chauvinism but also to Jewish values. Values that reflect the Biblical injunctions on how to treat the stranger and the sojourner.  Having been history’s “wanderers” we should comprehend the real-world impact of ignoring the Bible’s noble commands.

Those values were diminished by the Prime Minister of Israel and those who pressured him to abrogate the agreement he had reached to resettle the thousands of African refugees.

Unfortunately, Prime Minister Netanyahu was not alone in diminishing history’s lessons and values. For on the very day that coincided with Easter and Passover the President railed against our strangers and sojourners. He demeaned foreign born children in our midst who have lived in America and are American in every sense of the term, save their citizenship papers.

Our holidays are marred by leadership who have ignored the lessons of history and the season and acted in ways as our tradition decried.


Dr. Michael Berenbaum, is the Director of the Sigi Ziering Institute: Exploring the Ethical and Religious Implications of the Holocaust at American Jewish University. David A. Lehrer is the president of Community Advocates, Inc. (www.cai-la.org) a human relations agency in Los Angeles chaired by former mayor Richard J. Riordan.

TABLE FOR FIVE: Five Takes On a Passage from the Haggadah

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

PASSOVER 5778, Haggadah:

“In every generation one is obligated to see oneself as one who personally went out from Egypt. Just as it says, ‘You shall tell your child on that very day: “It is because of this that God did for me when I went out from Egypt.” ’ (Exodus 13:8) Not only were our ancestors redeemed by the Holy One, but even we were redeemed with them. Just as it says: ‘God took us out from there in order to bring us and to give us the land God swore to our ancestors.’ ” (Deuteronomy 6:23)

Rabbi Sari Laufer
Stephen Wise Temple

With these words, we place ourselves directly in the story — in the experience — of Passover. As we read the words of the haggadah, as we enact the seder rituals, we are living our own stories, our own journeys from the narrow places to expansiveness, from degradation to praise, from darkness to light.

But here’s a remarkable thing about Passover: Like the Torah itself, and perhaps like our lives, it is an unfinished story. While we move from slavery to freedom, the haggadah, like the Torah, ends in the wilderness, not the Promised Land. It teaches us that while we may have come out of Egypt — our own narrow places — we may still have miles to go, with twists and turns along the way. We may never get there.

In our haggadah, as in our lives, perhaps the lessons are in the journey and not in the destination. Torah itself is given in the wilderness. What can we learn in our wanderings, in the meandering and sometimes unwelcome turns of our lives?

I am told that in some Sephardic traditions we add additional questions to the seder: From where are we coming? To where are we going? What are we bringing with us? This is to remind us that the story is our story, the experience our experience, the journey our journey.

Will you get there this year? And more importantly, from what narrowness will you come forth? Who will you bring with you? What story will you tell?

Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz
Valley Beit Midrash, Phoenix

There is no phrase more powerful in the haggadah: “In every generation one is obligated to see oneself as one who personally went out from Egypt.” This moves the seder from a display of nostalgia to a recognition of the need for urgent action, from memory to mandate, from being passive to being active. It is a reminder that the current moment is as imperative as the biblical moment — that at every moment we stand between oppression and freedom, narrowness and expansiveness, hiddenness and revelation.

Such spiritual work is never simple. The esteemed 20th-century Musar teacher Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe explains: “We see ourselves in the other, as if every person we encounter is simply a mirror in which we see ourselves! … [W]e have not yet freed ourselves from the self-centered perspective to see that the other is not identified with us…. [I]t is incumbent upon us to focus on the way the other differs from us and see that which the other needs, not that which we need.” (Alei Shur 2:6)

Rav Wolbe teaches powerfully here that to understand the other, we must transcend the self. While it is difficult to understand another’s trauma and impossible to grasp the extent of another’s suffering, we can create the spaces to listen, to cultivate empathy and respond to others’ needs. We must go beyond the notion that we tend only to our own needs — that is not ethical Judaism. Rather, it is essential that we tend to the needs of the other in our midst.

Rabbi Adam Greenwald
Miller Introduction to Judaism Program, American Jewish University

We are all familiar with stories that begin, “Once upon a time.” These are tales of events that happened at a discrete moment in the long-ago past. They can move us and delight us and even teach us something important about ourselves, but they are accounts of something that is over before the storyteller begins to speak.

Then there are stories like the story of the Exodus. According to our tradition, the Exodus didn’t take place “once upon a time.” It takes place over and over and over again in each new generation. We are always on our way out of Egypt, always taking our first fearful and hopeful steps toward the Promised Land. Pharaoh’s army is always at our heels and God’s promise always lies stretched out in front of us — if we have the courage to take it. The cycle of enslavement and liberation is a continuous one. At any point along the timeline we can recognize the same eternal dynamic playing out, on a personal level and on a societal one. In short, this story is our story.

This is the haggadah’s most essential teaching. It has given countless readers of the Bible solace in hard times and inspiration to struggle for freedom. A story that happened once upon a time may be sweet in our ears, but a story that happens each and every day can shape lives and set the destiny of civilizations.

Salvador Litvak
AccidentalTalmudist.org

You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body, and it’s a very limiting vehicle for an eternal soul like you. Even if you live to 120, it’ll be a flash compared to the eons you spend in the World of Souls. The light of that flash, however, is intense. Opportunities abound in this world for lessons and deeds you can take with you.

While you’re here, God and your true identity are hidden. This masking enables you to make free choices. But there was one moment in history when the Eternal One broke through the veil. You and I were there together. We walked out of bondage in Egypt and experienced our authentic selves at Sinai.

When we fulfill the obligation to see ourselves as if we personally left Egypt, it’s not a metaphor. We don’t imagine the Exodus, we remember it. And this should not be a once-a-year event. The Alter Rebbe reminds us that we’re commanded to remember the Exodus every day, and that we do so in the Shema prayer, when we recite: “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the Egypt.” This is called “accepting the yoke of Heaven.”

The great paradox of Passover is that service to God liberates us from both Pharaoh and our own human limitations. As souls, we are sparks of the Eternal. When we remember our true nature, we become free. We also tap into the soul’s unlimited capacity for kindness, wisdom and strength. Shine on!

Rabbi Nicole Guzik
Sinai Temple

Last year, Sinai Temple members went on a mission to Poland. On a trip organized by our sisterhood, we traveled with March of the Living. We marched from Auschwitz to Birkenau, among more than 10,000 people standing side-by-side to signify the 10,000 people that were sent to the gas chambers every single day. We recited the Kaddish over mass graves of children, listened to the stories of Holocaust survivors, thanked non-Jews who jeopardized their own lives to save others, and mourned the millions who perished in Eastern Europe.

Our synagogue’s group was quite diverse, with roots in Poland, Russia, Iran and Israel, among other places. Very few in our group had personal connections to those Jews in the concentration camps. One congregant told me that when he had been a young adult in Iran, the stories of the Holocaust felt very far away. “What about now?” I asked. “Is it difficult to connect to these Jewish stories?” His response will remain with me for the rest of my life: “We are all Jews. It doesn’t matter the country in which we are born. All of this,” he said, pointing to the barracks of the concentration camp standing before us, “this is my story too.”

My teacher Rabbi Neil Gillman (z”l) explains, “I must learn to see myself ‘as though’ I was there by virtue of my communal memory. Memory is what knits together the generations; memory creates the possibility of continuity and history. Memory creates community.”

Passover reminds us that we continue to survive as a Jewish people when we see each other’s stories as our very own.

Rabbis Take a ‘Live’ Look at Passover Themes

At a pre-Passover live-streamed online video gathering at the Journal’s office on March 25, Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills Rabbi Emerita Laura Geller, Temple Beth Am Rabbi Adam Kligfeld, Open Temple Rabbi Lori Shapiro and Rabbi Eli Fink of the Journal staff sat down with Publisher and Editor-in-Chief David Suissa to discuss the holiday for “Table for Five — Live.” They touched on the rituals of the seder, the metaphorical concept of slavery, modern twists on biblical themes and anecdotes from their own Passover experiences.

Suissa kicked off the event, co-sponsored by Global Limmud, by asking why Passover seems to resonate with so many people. According to Geller, it’s because it works on four levels at the same time. It reminds Jews of their history, and that they can’t stand idly by when others are oppressed. It’s political, because it reminds Jews that there is a Pharaoh in every generation. It’s psychological, because everyone has his or her own Egypt.

“But the most important thing is, it’s a measuring stick,” Geller said. “We grow up around the Passover table. When we were little, we asked the Four Questions, and then we get a little bigger and our little cousin asks the Four Questions. We sit in the seats where our parents sat, [and] where our grandparents sat. At some point, it moves from older generations to our homes, the family recipes to our kitchens. We change. The story doesn’t.”

“The most important thing [about Passover] is, it’s a measuring stick. … We change. The story doesn’t.” — Rabbi Laura Geller

Suissa and the rabbis dived deep into the haggadah, and explained how they bring it to life at the seder table and make it relatable for guests. Kligfeld said that a number of years ago, at his meal, he said to everyone, “Conjure your maror. Conjure a personal bitterness. Imagine it was in the middle of the table. And don’t speak about it, but speak to it.”

Kligfeld’s father, who is still alive, was battling cancer and six months into his chemotherapy treatments. “He named his cancer and spoke to his disease,” Kligfeld said. “He told his disease that although it was a bitter story inside of him, the end of the story is not bitter. The end is salvation.”

Transitioning into a talk about the meaning of “freedom,” Suissa said Passover is about “liberation. It’s about freedom. But yet the word ‘freedom’ is so mysterious and complicated.”

Fink brought up the Talmud, which says that Passover is not about being “freed,” but from moving from one master to another. “They are freed from the Pharaoh, but they don’t get to do whatever they want,” he said. “They’re now servants of this new ruler, God. There’s no such thing as real freedom, the story tells us.”

Fink said true “freedom” is about finding what traps in life you’re comfortable with, and being honest about what you can and can’t do.

On this note, Shapiro brought up that our huge egos make us believe we can be something that is impossible, like becoming the next Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Instead, she said, “It’s being who we are meant to be. I think that’s what Pesach is asking us to do.”

Shapiro also said that Jews need to find their Mitzrayim (Egypt) and “name it, tame it, [and] find redemption.”

Looking forward, Suissa and the rabbis discussed what Jews do following Passover, and how to keep up the spirit of the holiday year round. Kligfeld said that he often spends a lot of time with engaged couples and tells them they are going to be doing tons of planning and spending money on a wedding that is five hours of their lives.

“What about the next morning?” Kligfeld said. “The most significant aspect of this is not the night you get married. It’s the morning you wake up, the next morning, and the one after that, and the one after that, and the one after that. That’s where kiddushin is found.”

Kligfeld continued, “One of the best things we can do as religious leaders in our community is undervalue the seder night so that [Jews] can start to bring Jewish rituals and concepts of freedom into their Jewish lives all other nights of the year.”

B’nai Horin Celebrates 50 Years

Rabbi Stan Levy with longtime B’nai Horin member Evanne Levin.

The second night of Passover was particularly special this year for members of B’nai Horin (Children of Freedom), who gathered for a seder that celebrated their community’s 50th anniversary.

Held at the Olympic Collection in West Los Angeles, the March 31 event featured live music and a presentation that compared biblical and current events: Moses protesting to Pharaoh about the “police brutality against the Hebrews,” the 16 Palestinians killed by Israeli troops at a protest on the Gaza Strip border, and African American Stephon Clark shot eight times in the back by Sacramento police.

During the seder, B’nai Horin founder and civil rights attorney Rabbi Stan Levy said many of the issues addressed when the community first met in 1968 remain today. “Nothing much has changed,” he said.

The hagaddah he created this year focused on refugees. “Our ancestors were impoverished, persecuted Syrian refugees,” Levy said. “The word ‘Hebrew’ means ‘nomad.’ And the Torah has more laws protecting the rights of immigrants and refugees than any other system of law.”

B’nai Horin got its start when “a dozen attorneys, social workers and others involved in the civil rights movement gathered in the basement of Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles to hold [that first] seder,” B’nai Horin’s co-Rabbi Laura Owens told the Journal. “They examined civil rights issues of the day through the lens of Passover.

Rabbi Stan Levy.

“The seder proved so impactful,” Owens said, “that those involved felt that it shouldn’t be a one-time thing. They started gathering for holidays and learning, sharing and growing, and invited others.”

Eventually, they decided to keep the energy and ideas flowing by forming a congregation consisting of like-minded individuals.

“The Torah has more laws protecting the rights of immigrants and refugees than any other system of law.” — Rabbi Stan Levy

And much like the Jews who wandered in the desert for 40 years following the Exodus, B’nai Horin has moved throughout Los Angeles, without a permanent physical space to call home.

During its first 25 years, services were held at The House of the Book at Brandeis-Bardin in Simi Valley.

“It was one of the original synagogues without walls,” Owens said. “The notion being that we are wandering Jews, we are nomads, we make our home where we can.”

It’s also why B’nai Horin doesn’t have a board of directors or mandatory dues. All contributions are on a “can do” basis. B’nai mitzvot have been held at the Riddick Youth Center in Rancho Park since the early 2000s, and Shabbat services have been held there for the last two years. Prior to that, Shabbat services were held in members’ homes, while High Holy Days services have been held in the sanctuary at American Jewish University and at other locations.

B’nai Horin, is a member of ALEPH (the Alliance of Jewish Renewal), and its services are somewhat eclectic, combining “the socially progressive values of egalitarianism, the joy of Hasidism, [and] the informed do-it-yourself spirit of the havurah,” according to its website. Or, as Owens explains it: “In many congregations, they do the Hebrew first, then the English. We like to do the English first, so that when they get to the prayer, they know what it is and what they’re going for.”

It’s difficult to pin down how many members B’nai Horin has, Owens said, because, “We don’t make anyone join; we’re more invitational and welcoming.”

At this year’s seder, one of its longtime members, 77-year-old Holocaust survivor Eva Nathanson, spoke movingly about surviving World War II.

Born in Budapest, Hungary, she was barely 4 years old when her parents tried to shield her from what was happening. Cutting out yellow “Juden” stars, she was told it was an “art project.” Her family being pushed into trucks bound for concentration camps was merely “playing hide and seek.”

Nathanson spent 2½ years hidden under a hole cut in a living room floor and was moved to multiple hiding places throughout the war. She was eventually discovered and taken to the Danube River with other Jews, where she witnessed people pleading for their lives, tied two-by-two, being shot and pushed into the river.  Miraculously, she survived but lost almost all of her family in the Holocaust.

Eva Nathanson. Photo from http://survivingtheholocaust.us/.

She left Hungary in 1956 following the revolution and settled with what was left of her family in Los Angeles in 1957. She went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in business psychology and an MBA in organizational management and human resource management. Today, she is a mother and grandmother and a cancer care worker at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

Owens credited Rabbi Levy with the strength and depth of the B’Nai Horin community that has drawn Nathanson and other members.

“He excels at making Judaism deeply meaningful,” she said, “helping so many to view the teachings of the Torah as being directed personally to them.”


Mark Miller is a humorist who has performed stand-up comedy on TV and written for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate and various sitcoms. His first book, a collection of humor essays on dating and romance, is “500 Dates: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the Online Dating Wars.”

‘Mimounizing’ Your Life

Moufletas.

Although I consider myself a social person, I realized early on that in a party situation, I’ve always gravitated toward the kitchen. Everyone expresses themselves differently, but I think chefs tend to have this trait in common. Most of us would rather watch other people have a good time as we melt into the background while serving little slices of joy and nostalgia.

Perhaps it’s the romantic in me that remembers the atmosphere during holidays when our family cooks would gather in the kitchen. “Tombe la Neige” or Pavarotti would be playing in the background, my aunt’s favorite. She’d be singing along while working on repetitive tasks such as stuffing grapeleaves or frying leek patties.

My cousin who is also a chef told me stories of growing up in Migdal HaEmek in Israel, where roughly half the population is Romanian while the other half is Moroccan. When Passover ends, and Jews begin to eat chametz again, he and the rest of the Romanians look forward to their Moroccan friends’ Mimouna celebrations. He would find himself hiding in his neighbors’ kitchens watching the moufletas being made and wishing he was the cook standing over the stove. He described his awe at watching his friends’ grandmothers turning over the thin crepes, again and again, building up one crepe on top of the other until the stack reached over a foot tall and threatened to topple. Someone else would drench them with butter and honey while other hands would roll them up and bring them to the table.

Mimouna is a singularly Moroccan tradition, and although it’s not a religious holiday, it is a cultural phenomenon that has grown in popularity over the years. While Ashkenazi and even Sephardic Jews usually prepare a dairy feast with matzo brei taking center stage, the Moroccans break out their gold and finery and run a sweet fantasy tour through their neighborhoods, blessing and kissing, flirting and enchanting. During the Mimouna, there is an unwritten rule that even if you have been fighting with your neighbors or friends all year, that night is the time to forgive and be forgiven, to let bygones be bygones, and to hope for love and success. Mimouna is the night when “emouna” or belief meets “maimun,” the Arabic word for good fortune.

Everything about the Mimouna celebration, from the sweets-laden table with stuffed dried fruit to the buttery honey-kissed moufletas, spicy sweet tea and arak (a Levantine alcoholic spirit), tells a story of letting loose and of love. Traditionally, the ban on the time of the year when marriage is prohibited lifts and many couples receive the blessings of their families for an engagement. Matchmakers are out in full force, and romances are kindled and rekindled. It’s easy to feel footloose and fancy-free, lost in the giddiness of the Mimouna atmosphere. Why not take this feeling forward and use it as a motif for the rest of the year?

Everything about the Mimouna celebration tells a story of letting loose and of love.

It’s an unfortunate byproduct of the times in which we live that cynicism and fear often undermine romance and love. While it’s tempting to blame the media or our iPhone-driven lives for this trend, discontent is not the domain of our times. After all, we live in an age when almost anything is possible, and we have more opportunities than ever. So why are we so lonely and disconnected? Why does it take a Mimouna to help us to forgive the grievances we’ve collected?

I can tell you from watching from the background all of these years what I’ve gleaned from the safety of the kitchen while catering parties:

1) Rich or poor, it makes very little difference — all people have worries.

2) The idea of protecting yourself — forget about it; love can’t happen in the absence of disclosure.

3) Looking for someone to make you whole? You need to make yourself whole first.

4) Thinking that if only you meet the perfect person that your life would be complete. Nobody is perfect, and neither are you.

5) Holding on to the past? Past failures are an indication only that you tried, not an indictment of your character. Move on and forgive yourself.

So, before I give you a marvelous moufleta recipe, let me assure you if you start “mimounizing” your life by being generous with your love, your good words and sharing your sweetness, then the air around you will change. It won’t happen overnight, but unlike the magical Mimouna celebration that comes only once a year, your sweet vibes will attract others with good intentions — and that can lead you to relationships and connections that might last a lifetime.

MOUFLETAS — MOROCCAN CREPES WITH SWEET SYRUP
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 packet or 2 1/4 teaspoons active
dry yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups warm water (not so hot that it
kills the yeast)
1/2 cup vegetable oil (not olive)
1 stick butter
1/2 cup honey

Mix the flour, yeast, sugar and salt. Add warm water and mix well in a stand mixer until a soft shaggy dough forms. Knead in a machine or by hand until the dough is very silky and smooth — about 5 minutes.

Oil hands generously and form dough into a rough cylinder about 2 inches in diameter. Using a bench scraper or your hands, pinch off small balls of dough and place on a tray or plate. When all the dough is separated into balls, pour the rest of the oil on the tray and roll the dough balls over in it until they are fully covered. Cover with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel and let the dough rest for 30 minutes.

Put a nonstick pan on the stove on medium heat with a touch of oil on the surface.

Remove a ball and flatten out on a smooth, cold surface. Using well-oiled hands, press and push the soft dough into a very thin, almost transparent, circle — as thin as you can get it and about 10 inches in diameter. Don’t worry if the dough tears. Place the crepe in the warm pan and cook it for about 60 seconds while working on the next ball.

Flip over the crepe and then immediately place the next crepe on the surface of the hot crepe in the pan. Keep rolling and turning, rolling and turning until all the dough balls are used and you have a stack of crepes in the pan, each time lifting carefully and turning over the stack, taking care not to overcook.

Put butter and honey in small pot and heat until butter is melted. Separate the stack of moufletas one by one, spooning the melted butter and honey over each, and then roll into a cylinder or fold in half and then into quarters.

Makes about 30 moufletas.


Yamit Behar Wood, an Israeli-American food and travel writer, is the executive
chef at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, Uganda, and founder of the New York Kitchen Catering Co.

Dear Uncle

Uncle, it’s but a whisper,
the echo of your bare feet
kissing the ocean floor.

The tap of your staff
on a cold marble floor.

These days the roar of metal
engines, and mental ones too,
have just about drowned out
the song of our cells,
the echo of an emptied well:
Mi kamocha Ba’elim Adonai.

Sure the words still ring,
but, Uncle, our hearts
they, too, must sing!

And I wonder if but a word
was uttered before that sea
spread itself open wide
and let our people deep inside.

I wonder, can a song ever truly sound
if not upon a silent ground?

And Uncle, these days the silence
is scarce, a treasure to be found
far, far off the collective course.

You led us from the grips of chains
long ago, and now they’ve come
once more, taken a mental hold.

Clanging, clanging, clanging,
sounding over the echo of a man,
you my dear Uncle, who emptied
the well of his will, as wide as the ocean,
and let Adonai in. Uncle, it’s but a whisper,
this prayer of my heart, turn it to silence,
for any sound keeps us apart.


Hannah Arin is a junior at Pitzer College pursuing a double major in religious studies and philosophy.

Passover and Zionism: Three Sephardic Views

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

“This year we are here, next year in the Land of Israel. This year we are still slaves, next year may we be a free people.” This text appears in most Ashkenazi versions of the Passover haggadah.

In the Sephardic version, the second line is slightly different. It reads, “This year we are still slaves here in exile, next year may we be a free people in the Land of Israel.”

Given the emphasis on “exile vs. Israel” in the Sephardic version, how did Sephardic rabbis in post-1948 Israel understand the haggadah in light of the newly declared Jewish state?

In a pre-Passover address in April 1949, Rabbi Ben-Zion Meir Hai Uziel, who was born in Jerusalem and served as Sephardic Chief Rabbi under Ottoman and British rule, recognized the paradox of saying we are still slaves in exile. Just 11 months earlier, on May 14, 1948, he was in “the room where it happened” when David Ben-Gurion said, “We hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Yisrael, to be known as the State of Israel.”

Now as the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of the first Jewish State in close to 2,000 years, Uziel said: “Throughout our lengthy exile, Passover infused us with the hope to be redeemed in our ancestral homeland. By the grace of God and the Israeli military, we are now happy to say: This year we are a free people in the Land of Israel.”

Nissim called Passover “the holiday that most deeply preserved the connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel.”

By mimicking the haggadah’s language to reflect the Jewish people’s new reality, Uziel seemed to infer that the change in the Jewish people’s status warranted a change in the haggadah’s text.

Uziel’s successor to the Sephardic Chief Rabbinate was Rabbi Yitzhak Nissim.

In 1958, Nissim called Passover “the holiday that most deeply preserved the connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel.” He proclaimed the modern State of Israel as “the beginning of our redemption,” but said that we have “yet to cross the sea into complete freedom.” Different than Uziel’s idealistic Israel of 1949, by 1958, Israel was a deeply divided society, especially along Sephardic-Ashkenazi ethnic lines. Given this reality, Nissim used the metaphor of God “tearing apart” (kara in Hebrew) the sea, saying, “we cannot declare ourselves a fully free people on Passover until we ‘tear apart’ all of these divisions in our midst.”

In 1973, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef replaced Nissim as Israel’s new Sephardic Chief Rabbi. By then a renowned scholar of halachah (Jewish law), Yosef counted among his many published books a detailed commentary to the Passover haggadah titled “Hazon Ovadia.”

Reflecting upon the stanza in the song “Dayenu” that states, “Had God given us the Torah but not brought us into the Land of Israel, that would have been enough,” Yosef writes:

“These words are directed against the secular Zionists who think you can build the Land of Israel without the Torah of Israel. The Torah precedes the Land of Israel in importance, because the Land of Israel without Torah is no better than living in the diaspora. Indeed, it is preferable to stay in the diaspora as an observant Jew rather than angering God by living a secular lifestyle in the Land of Israel.”

In a radical departure from his Sephardic predecessors, Yosef demystifies the existence of Israel and posits that the secular orientation of Zionism actually angers God. Yosef’s creative reading of “Dayenu” deems it preferable for the Jewish people to have stayed “slaves in exile” as religiously observant Jews rather than being a “free people in the Land of Israel” in a Jewish state with a decidedly secular orientation.

As we transition from Passover into Israel’s 70th anniversary, Israel’s first three Sephardic Chief Rabbis inspire a new set of “Four Questions”: Are those of us living in exile still in slavery? Does Jewish independence in Israel automatically mean Jewish emancipation? Is a polarized Israel a true expression of freedom? Can secularism and religiosity coexist in a Jewish state?

Perhaps we should have another seder on Yom HaAtzmaut to ponder those questions.


Rabbi Daniel Bouskila is the director of the Sephardic Educational Center.

Why Is This Sport Different?

Mar 29, 2018; New York City, NY, USA; New York Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard (34) delivers a pitch during the 1st inning of the game on opening day at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

After cleansing my home of every crumb in preparation for the matzo-only occasion, and running more errands than Noah Syndergaard throws strikes, I have been taking a two-week hiatus to honor the one-week holiday. Passover and baseball keep me engaged. Syndergaard — aka “Thor” — hurled his opening pitch after nightfall in Jerusalem, and I began rooting for the Mets immediately after searching for remnants of leavened bread.

Passover has forever been my favorite holiday and baseball my favorite pastime. That they both occur in the spring is no coincidence. Redemption happens when the grass turns green. In Flushing, N.Y., emancipated Jews flock to Citi Field loaded with rations. Jelly sandwiches on matzo make for a tangy game-day snack. Beer too is forbidden on the chametz-free holiday and washing down matzo with Coke is a singular satisfaction. You might notice macaroons. Don’t tell my wife or my mother, commercial ones are better than home-baked.

Watching Saturday afternoon games at night here is also a particular pleasure, one that allows vicarious Sabbath desecration. A forbidden fruit, like an open base with a righty on the mound, is enticing. The seven-hour time difference, of course, means that night games are played here at indefensible hours. When Matt Harvey threw past his bedtime, and Lucas Duda threw to the Van Wyck Expressway instead of to home plate, my children went to school overtired and I went to the office distraught.

Baseball is imbued with the virtue of readiness, the modesty of reacting to something thrown at you really fast. The Exodus happened abruptly, in the middle of the night. Freedom can ring fast, when you least expect it, like what results from a cowhide-covered cork sphere impacting violently with ash. Springtime conditions are ripe for rejuvenation. I can know when to awaken from inactivity just as flowers realize when to bloom. Passover celebrates deliverance when life again bursts from benevolent soil. Our national pastime is similarly promising and played unhurriedly.

Passover relies on elegant symbolism to communicate its significance. The seder is allusive, and ongoing analysis slowly reveals its plot. Baseball is similarly alluring. A pageantry of subtleties unfolds on the diamond at a distinctive pace. With extra innings a game can go on forever, like the discourse of scholars lasts until morning light. A successful seder, like a ballgame, can be languid and lazy.

The seder is allusive, and ongoing analysis reveals slowly its plot. Baseball is similarly alluring.

As a child, Passover was unrivaled because of its simplicity. From slavery to freedom is a story to retell again and again. My parents created an experience that was enchanting and flavorful. Traditional texts and recipes were delectable and consequential. Customs were worth more than the sum of their parts. From dense matzo balls made strictly from hand-baked matzo, to less dense gefilte fish made with inexcusable quantities of pepper, our menu was adorned with flourishes. As the sun came up, my father’s imperfect commentary and singing left us wanting for more.

At the head of my table, the tensions of tradition have become more apparent, its enigmas more arousing than its emotion. How our nation persists is an absorbing mystery. How I pick myself up when I fall is more important than the circumstances of a historical event. A holiday of questions, Passover is satisfying because of its riddles and not despite them. Tasked with the role of storyteller, I summon my parents’ earnestness and devotion. My children deserve an age-appropriate adventure and I oblige them in the manner I was nurtured with at home.

Baseball’s nuances have become attractive with age. I appreciate opposite-field doubles today as much as home runs. The only sport in which the defense holds the ball is anxiously dramatic. Baseball’s oddities and idioms translate more easily than the brash messages of basketball, football or hockey. Soccer is exquisite but the offense controls the ball. My life is monotonous more than it is ever bold. I sometimes take small leads to get ahead and hope not to get embarrassingly picked off.

This holiday season, with children beside me, analogous lessons of Passover, springtime and baseball coincide like a ball and bat, and I have been upholding tradition like my fathers before me.


Mendel Horowitz is a rabbi and family therapist in Jerusalem, where he maintains a private practice working with adults and children.

Weekend of Faith

This weekend marks an important time for people of many faiths.  It is Passover and also Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  I am someone whose life is made easier with faith. I’m also one that does not judge people based on faith. The way I see it, faith allows us to lean on something bigger than ourselves, and if it gives us peace, then how we view the higher power doesn’t matter. Faith is a beautiful and powerful thing. It does not need to always be about religion.

I hope those who celebrate the holidays of this weekend will find peace within their faith.  For me, the weekend is about prayer.  Prayers of thanks for my Jewish life, prayers of thanks for my blessed life, and prayers of thanks for the health and happiness of my family and friends. I’m counting my blessings, embracing the history of my people, and taking comfort in the power of so many human beings on the planet praying at the exact same time. It is quite beautiful.

Take time this weekend to be kind to a stranger. Share blessings with people in need and let your faith inspire you to bring light to someone in the dark. Listen to a child laugh, reach out to someone you miss, ease someone’s sorrow, know struggles will pass, make a new plan, love someone, be aware, be happy, be brave, cry tears of joy, hug like you mean it, and enjoy the delicious holiday food. Enjoy the weekend. Celebrate, reflect, and keep the faith.

 

Rosner’s Torah-Talk: Passover with Rabbi David Kay

Rabbi David Kay was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTSA) in 2002, where he also received a Master of Arts degree in education. Rabbi Kay serves Congregation Ohev Shalom in Maitland, FL. Founded in 1918, Ohev Shalom is central Florida’s original and oldest continuing Jewish congregation. He also serves on the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando. He is a member of the Mayor Buddy Dyer’s Council of Clergy and the Executive Committee of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida, for which he coordinates Orlando’s annual interfaith celebration of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King.

Our discussion focuses on the Torah reading for Passover.

 

Previous Torah Talks for Passover included:

Rabbi Joel Levy

Rabbi Eliyahu Fink

Rabbi Debra Orenstein

 

 

 

 

 

The Smartphone Dayenu

If He had created the first iPhone but had made it nearly impossible to get WiFi anywhere, Dayenu.

If He had made it possible to get WiFi everywhere, but had not made a Facebook app, Dayenu.

If He had made a Facebook app, but had not created an Instagram app, Dayenu.

If He had made an Instagram app, but had not made the smartphone small enough to be taken into the bathroom during every visit, Dayenu.

If He had created the smartphone compact enough to be taken into the bathroom, but not small enough to not be noticed by your children as they watch you scroll and scroll when you should be playing with them, Dayenu.

If He had made your children compassionate enough to not notice that you are addicted to your phone, but your partner still watched in quiet disappointment as you scrolled away during your dinner date, Dayenu.

If your partner was also addicted to his or her phone, but made sure to never stare down at the device while crossing a busy intersection, Dayenu.

If you yourself had been almost run over while looking down at your phone in the middle of a busy intersection, but the phone had survived the whole incident without a scratch, Dayenu.

If your phone had not endured a single scratch, but would mysteriously and abruptly shut off during the Passover Seder with your nearest and dearest, for the love of God, Dayenu.


Tabby Refael is a Los Angeles-based writer and smartphone addict.

The Sandwich of our Affliction – A Poem for Passover by Rick Lupert

Thousands of years ago, when I last set foot in Egypt
when I built pyramids out of the materials that were
available to me, when life was bitter, and sweetness
was a burning bush away

I first connected brick to brick. I rushed out of the
narrow place. I began this journey of memory.
I remember it every time I sit at a table with flatbread.
Some of me stopped for a while in Poland
where apples grew in the forest like weeds.

Some of me wandered into the olive-belt where
the streets ran humid with dates and honey.
The grass is always more of a delicacy on the
other side of the Mediterranean.

Now, at tables where strangers are welcomed
and doors are opened, and our memory is longer
than our physical lives, we mix bitter and sweet
like our first head of school did, a Roman ruin’s

lifetime ago, in Jerusalem, where they still dig down
before they build up. The sweet ingredients depend
on your original neighborhood. They marry the bitter.
One tempers the other. One is arms and one is legs.
One is heart and one is lungs. Everyone does their

own thing but disappears without the other.
These are the tastes that connect us to those we are
named for. And those who will be named for us.
This is the sandwich of our affliction.


God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 21 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “A Poet’s Siddur: Shabbat Evening“,  “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

Table for Teens: Why Is This Night Different from All Other Nights?

Hannah Poltorak
Shalhevet High School

As family and friends gather at the white table covered with a layer of thin plastic, they prepare for a long night of being told to think of when they were slaves. The scribbles from the youngest children are held up by proud parents, displaying beautiful artwork drawn in a colorful kindergarten classroom. The teenagers talk and fidget among themselves, counting down the minutes until they get to eat. The fathers and mothers talk about politics, domestic and abroad. Others chatter quietly, then the “head of the house,” whoever it might be, begins to read the script. This seems ordinary. People sitting at a long table together, recalling their history. The unique thing about this night is, wherever you come from, it is the same story. This is the same story that has been told from generation to generation. In the 1500s and during the Holocaust, there was always some way of retelling this story. Now, this might not be your family dinner. You might go straight to the meal or talk all night and wait for dawn to begin your meal. The main focus of this one night is not to focus on whether or not you and your family eat corn. The purpose of this night, I believe, is to put away our differences, along with our chametz. This is a night separate from communal or social controversy. We embrace and enjoy sharing the unique story of all Jewish people — this one, single story.

Eli Adler
Harvard-Westlake

The Mah Nishtanah asks why we recline at the seder, and the haggadah’s answer is that we are celebrating our freedom.

The inherent casualness of reclining at a formal seder creates an especially comfortable and relaxed feeling. This Passover, however, is different. The looseness symbolized by our reclining must not serve as an excuse for us to become complacent, even for a short time.

The Book of Exodus tells the story of the Israelites playing an active role to achieve a long-held goal — to leave Egypt. In the spirit of the Book of Exodus, we must remember how important it is for us to take control. Seeing 14 innocent students our age gunned down last month hurt us all. However, students across the country mobilized. Young visionary leaders arose. We made it clear that we want to be heard.

After participating in the March for Our Lives rally last weekend in Washington, D.C., I realized that, on this Passover especially, we must not sit back. Young people like us are driving a national conversation right now; we are the faces of a movement. We have the chance to cement change that will last for generations to come. Thus, on this night, while we will all recline at our seder tables, we must not use that as an excuse to just rest. Instead, this is our chance to rise, be leaders and honor the commandment of tikkun olam to help repair our world.

Jesse Miller
Polytechnic School

Every year on the first night of Passover, my mother, the matriarch of my household, leads us in the prayers and traditions of the seder. From the beginning, my mother wanted to forge her own relationship with the holiday. She built her own seder books to reflect the values she felt were important to Passover. Key to those pages was a deep understanding of what freedom meant and means to the Jewish people as well as a scientific understanding of how the story came to be. For instance, when reading the plagues on the first night, we always read an accompanying justification for each natural event. This is not to disprove the actions of God, but to frame God’s actions within the scientific order of nature. And as my sister and I have grown up, we have contributed to forming the tradition of the first seder. Incorporating my own values, I introduced a vegan menu for our Passovers. As I grew into a Zionist and Jewishly concerned adult, I have sought to adjust our prayers and traditions to reflect my belief that freedom from slavery and pilgrimage to the land of Canaan means that Jews have a right (to some extent) to a Jewish democracy in the land of Israel. In our home, the first night of Passover is different from all other nights because, on the first night, everyone at the table has an equal stake in establishing our tradition.

Ari Willner
YULA Boys High School

The Talmud (Pesachim 116a) states that a child should ask adults the Four Questions at the seder. If there is no child, an adult should ask. If one is alone at the seder, one should still ask the questions of the Mah Nishtanah. Why is there such an emphasis on asking questions?

George Orwell’s “1984” tells the story of Winston, a man struggling to free himself from a tyrannical society. The police capture Winston and brainwash him to accept false, unquestionable truths dictated by the Ministry of Truth’s slogan: “… freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength.” Winston becomes enslaved to ideas of tyranny — his freedom to doubt squashed.

The ability to ask questions is the underlying concept of the entire seder. According to Rav Yosef Rimon, the seder night is different from all other nights, not because we abstain from eating chametz or because we recline and tell the Pesach story, rather it is different because of our ability to change. By sincerely seeking true answers, we open our minds to different perspectives that we never could have thought of on our own because we are clouded by our underlying biases. That is why one must ask the Mah Nishtanah even if no one else is present: It demonstrates one’s freedom and ability to change.

The seder night has the potential to change us from “slaves” to “free people.” We must ask questions to free ourselves from the bonds of our biases and elevate our minds with ideas from multiple perspectives.

Leah Alkin
Palisades Charter High School

What is different about this one night from the 364 others? Sure, the maror, charoset and afikomen are all variances to every other night. But as my family, friends and I make our way through the seder, it is not those special foods or my aunt’s classic matzo ball soup, or my mom’s famous brisket that makes this night different for me. Rather, four words spoken at the end of the evening make this night different: “Next year in Jerusalem.”

I’ve read it over and over again, not entirely comprehending its weight. This phrase, added to the Passover haggadah during the Middle Ages, reminds us of the importance of Jerusalem to the Jewish people. Over the years, as I have become increasingly aware of the happenings in my homeland, these four words have become more meaningful to me.

One can look at it and think about literally boarding a nonstop El Al flight to Ben Gurion Airport, but personally, I believe it has a more symbolic meaning. When President Donald Trump announced his decision to move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, it was a monumental step toward the acknowledgment of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination. Just like in the Passover story, today, Israel represents freedom for Jews around the world. The right to determine Jerusalem as the Jewish capital represents the pinnacle of freedom. That is what makes this night different to me.

TABLE FOR FIVE: Five Takes On A Passage from the Haggadah

PASSOVER 5778, HAGGADAH:

“This is the bread of affliction that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry come and eat. Let all who are in need come and share the Passover meal. Now we are here; next year, in the land of Israel. Now we are still slaves. Next year, free people.”

Rabbi Denise L. Eger
Congregation Kol Ami

Our Passover story invites us to imagine that we are slaves longing for freedom. The seder meal teaches us to taste the bitterness of servitude in the maror and to see in the shankbone the hand of the Holy One lifting us from Egyptian bondage. We are the slaves. And yet we know we are not slaves. We eat a lavish banquet meal. We have the luxury of time to linger and discuss and drink plenty of wine even as we lean to the left, signifying that we are already free, already people of means. Slaves have none of this.

We repeat and learn and study the narrative of our ancient slavery in order to remember what it was like to be powerless and impoverished, even as we have climbed up the ladder of success. The narrative we recite teaches us that we can’t simply ignore those who in our own day and time struggle to be free and to find their economic footing. Passover is meant to teach us that God passed over the houses of the Israelites but we are not to pass over those who struggle in society: the homeless, the refugee, the undocumented worker, the stranger in our midst. Pharaoh hardened his heart. We must not harden our hearts. We must see them and invite them to share in our table. Passover is our wake-up call. Shake off your indifference to those without. Let all who are hungry come and eat. The time is now.

Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky
B’nai David–Judea Congregation

A commentary known as Hemdat Yisrael:

“I will add my piece to the generations of commentary before me. To me, these words are directed toward those who libel us, saying that we use the blood of Christian children when we knead our matzah, a libel that has done more harm to us than any of the decrees throughout time.

“This is the bread of affliction: it is poor man’s bread, with nothing in it other than flour and water! That our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt: long before Christianity was founded. Let all who are hungry come and eat: Non-Jews as well may join us in our Seder meal. Let all who are in need of investigating how we prepare our matzot come and share the Passover meal and taste the Matzah for themselves! Now we are here. But our holy prophets have promised us that in the future, God will turn the heart of the nations so that they all recognize the God of Israel, and they will be ashamed of their past behavior. Next year then, in the land of Israel!”

What is this bread that we eat? It is the matzo that every past generation of Jews has eaten. Living in as blessed a time in Jewish history as we are, the matzo is the centerpiece of family celebration, amid prosperity, security and a Jewish state that the author of Hemdat Yisrael could only painfully yearn for. But the matzo bears so much more. It may be paper thin, but it is thick with the stories of our generations.

Rabbi Ilana Berenbaum Grinblat
The Board of Rabbis of Southern California

This is the bread. … This is when you take a risk — when you decide to try that new job, new school, new business or project. This is when you’ve come to the edge, where you’ve planned and planned but know the moment has come to take the leap and venture into the unknown, hoping that the provisions you’ve taken with you will be enough.

Then add bitter herbs. … These are the losses, the heartbreaks. No one ever tries to add them to the recipe, but they inevitably get in. Some years their taste threatens to overpower all else. When they appear, be sure to smother them with:

Charoset. … This is the work. This is waking up at 5 a.m. feeling stressed, the weariness at the end of the day, the to-do list that never gets shorter, no matter how many tasks you accomplish.

But mixed in is the secret ingredient, the honey — the love — that gives meaning to all these sacrifices.

Be forewarned: This sandwich is extremely messy. The second you take a bite, it’ll go everywhere. The mess is unavoidable. Any efforts to prevent the mess will surely fail.

This combination of ingredients may seem odd, but by some miracle, if you make it right, the sandwich is delicious. Year after year, you can’t get enough. … And it all begins with the bread.

Rabbi Jason Weiner
Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Knesset Israel

Most commentators notice the invitation aspect of this phrase and the importance of commencing our seder by welcoming guests. Indeed, there are many aspects to the seder meant to enhance the feeling of being free individuals — such as reclining, having a beautifully set table with our best finery and filling one another’s cups.

I believe there is another crucial message in this passage: Our rabbis, particularly those quoted in the haggadah, knew what it meant to be oppressed and downtrodden. They lived during a time of Roman persecution. Some were even killed for teaching Torah. They wanted their fellow Jews to feel exalted and free on this night, but also never to lose touch with the experience of slavery. The Torah tells us that just as we were strangers in the land of Egypt, we must always be able to identify with the difficult experience of being alienated and persecuted. As we begin our seder, therefore, the haggadah reminds us that you are about to engage in a ritual in which you focus on the experience of freedom, of acting like royalty. Enjoy it — you deserve it. But never lose touch with what it means to be poor, hungry and afflicted. We must do everything we can to help ease the burden of the suffering, and step one is identifying with their struggle. We thus begin our seder by holding up the bread of affliction and reminding all those present that we used to eat this stuff, and some people don’t even have this. Let’s help them.

David Sacks
Television writer who podcasts at Torahonitunes.com

This amazing invitation that begins the seder sounds incredibly generous. But if you actually think about it — it makes no sense. On a practical level, who is going to hear you outside your front door? As such, the whole thing seems like an empty practice.

Or is it? Maybe the person who needs an invitation the most is already at the table. And maybe that person is you. In other words, you might be sitting there, but are you really there?

This concept of “being present” has been part of Torah consciousness for thousands of years.

The first “Be here now” was said by God to Moshe at Mount Sinai. HaShem tells Moshe, go up to Mount Sinai and be there (Exodus 24:12). The Modjitzer Rebbe points out that the “be there” part seems redundant. Once Moshe ascends, he already is there! Not so. Being “there” requires your thoughts and your heart to be equally present. No small thing.

So back to our question: Has anyone ever shown up at your seder after you issued that initial invitation?

The answer is yes. And it happens every year. To all of us. Who comes? Eliyahu HaNavi. Elijah the Prophet. The one who announces the arrival of the Messiah. Because we show up. He shows up, too.

The whole world is waiting for the Jewish people to actually be “there.” And when that happens — and it is the destiny of the world that it will — everything changes.

Passover Through Theater and Art

Artwork by Marilee Tolwin.

I sit through most seders in a state of internal conflict, pinned between my desire to engage in a lengthy, substantive discussion and my simultaneous longing to eat. The longer the conversation, the more minutes pass before the brisket is served. The Jewish Women’s Theatre (JWT) serves up a solution — a Passover-themed art exhibition and theater piece stimulating enough to let you rush through the shallowest seder and still feel intellectually sated overall.

The performance, called “Crossing Our Red Sea,” and accompanying art show opened March 10 at The Braid in Santa Monica. The pairing kicked off with nine visual artists sitting on folding chairs onstage, talking about their work. Many had been inspired by a day of Passover study with Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom synagogue.

Viewed in context of one another, the visual artworks present a nuanced meditation on liberation. Susan Landesmann’s “The Path” is an inkjet map of the Middle East covered with encaustic paint in green, blue, gold and red. Next to it hangs a large photograph by Nancy Kaye of a little blond girl in a red velvet dress, skirt lifted to reveal pink tennis shoes, as she prepares to leap over a sidewalk gap. The piece, called “Leap,” offers another take on the meaning of “path” and the leaps of faith we take to reach our destination.

To the left hangs a black-and-white photograph from the 1960s of artist Jan Berlfein Burns’ father exiting an elevator on a bicycle, dressed in a business suit and glasses. Called, “Why is our father different than all other fathers?” it reads as another version of freedom. Just as a little girl can leap with carefree spontaneity over a crack in the sidewalk, so can a grown man surpass societal mores, cycling to work at a time when bicycles were largely considered child’s play.

The visual artworks present a nuanced meditation on liberation.

Other artists in the exhibition include Eve Brandstein, Laurie Gross, Ellen Kimmel, Sonia Levitin, Peachy Levy, Laraine Mestman, Sandy Savett and Sara True.

For the theater piece, four actors perform works written by 13 authors. JWT artistic director Ronda Spinak adapted the works and JWT director Eve Brandstein directed. The four actors, dressed in black, sit on black stools before a beige wall for the staged reading, which hovers between the privacy of a book and the energy of live theater.

Some of the readings are funny, such as “A Blight to Remember.” Written by Shelly Goldstein and performed by Kate Zentall, it includes examples of the author’s family tradition of inventing contemporary plagues for Passover. Renee Moilanen’s “The Third Plague,” performed by Tiffany Maulem, is a humorous look at the hysteria accompanying that ancient and all-too-contemporary plague, head lice.

Actor Melanie Chartoff performs, among other pieces, her own story, “Indecent Sexposure,” about being caught on camera shopping at the Hustler store on Sunset Boulevard — a  shopping excursion prescribed by her doctor. This experience freed her to worry less about what others think, and the telling included the stellar observation, “I’m in the adolescence of
old age.”

Other pieces were as serious as the plagues, like Esther Amini’s “Am-ree-kah,” an excerpt from a memoir-in-progress. Her parents, having fled religious persecution in Persia, find themselves turned away from a Manhattan synagogue as “not Jewish” because they don’t speak Yiddish. Determined to make it in America, they head uptown to another synagogue, where they are welcomed. The piece is a moving reminder of how many people don’t live with the freedom we take for granted.

The evening ends with the uplifting, soulful “Dayenu Remix,” written by Shawn Goodman and performed by Maulem and the ensemble (including AJ Meijer, a new JWT company member). Dayenu, the name of a thousand-year-old Passover song, means “It Would Have Been Enough.” Part of the “Remix” goes:

“If I could stay in bed wrapped in the morning’s sweet dream before jolting awake to check my nerve-wracking email, that would be enough.

“Dayenu!

“If I could get to the sink without taking inventory of my wrinkles in the magnifying mirror, that would be enough.

“Dayenu!

“If I could spend the best part of the day on meaningful goals and not mindless minutia, rather than the other way around, that would be enough.

“Dayenu!”

If you can get to “Crossing Our Red Sea” this year, that might be enough.

“Crossing Our Red Sea” runs through April 7 at The Braid in Santa Monica. The gallery show runs through April 30. For more information, visit jewishwomenstheatre.org.


Wendy Paris is a writer living in Los Angeles. She is the author of “Splitopia: Dispatches From Today’s Good Divorce and How to Part Well.”

Girding Your Loins

“This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly: it is a passover offering to the Lord.” (Exodus 12:11)

These words are but one example of the many, many rules about observing Pesach and specifically, the seder. But what are they really telling us today?

Sure, it’s easy to find modern analogues for almost everything in the verse. We Southern Californians are no strangers to sandals, a staff was just 1750 B.C.E.’s answer to a smartphone, and of course, everyone wants to get to the matzo ball soup as quickly as possible!

But what about the loin-girding?

Perhaps this highly concrete language is not just a reflection of pre-Israelite fashion, but a message that we should try to feel the urgency of the Exodus in our guts. (I would have said “kishkes,” but they’re chametz.)

So again, what does that mean to we moderns?

This existential feeling of being constantly “on the move” is not only good for remembering our past, it’s critical to our present and future.

The feeling of “always being on the move” is hardly a novelty in Jewish tradition. Most of the books of the prophets that we read as the haftarah are about our people losing the land and being exiled because of our sins (spoiler alert: God brings us back later). It’s no accident that Chaim Potok chose to name his masterful history of the Jews “Wanderings.”

And even as a Jew, living in the most welcoming Diaspora in Jewish history (sorry, Babylonia), I have to say, the feeling of “not quite fitting in” never completely leaves me. When I read about my immigrant ancestors who left everything behind in Eastern Europe and started at America’s ground floor, I can’t help wonder “What if that were me?”

But as with most things in Judaism, this goes deeper.

I think the feelings of transience that the seder is meant to evoke make it something like Sukkot on the other side of the year. On that holiday, we dwell in mandated temporary shelters to remind ourselves of the fragility of creation, and our ultimate dependence on God.

So why do we need this reminder when we already got it back in the fall, and at least then we could eat kishkes? I would turn the question around and say, “Why don’t we have more of these reminders?”

For every day, we wake up and construct a world: of priorities, obligations, opinions, grievances and desires. The trick is to remember that is not the entirety of the world.

Which is where Pesach comes in, rouses us from our cocoons like an army bugler, and says, “Wake up! Time to move! And for heavens’ sake, put on some pants!”

Which brings us back to loins. Without jeopardizing the PG rating of this column — there is, of course, a second association with loins. They are the source of our children. And the children are the overwhelmingly driving purpose of the seder. The word haggadah comes from the biblical command to “tell the story to your children.” Read in this light, “gird your loins” becomes a way of saying “safeguard what you pass along to the next generation.”

So what exactly are we passing along? The fact that this existential feeling of being constantly “on the move” is not only good for remembering our past, it’s critical to our present and future.

In the policy sphere, we as a nation are grappling with the thorny question of immigrants, literally the “strangers” that we were in Egypt. This is a topic we need to engage our kids in, whatever side of it we come down on.

And in a broader sense, child development experts and educators talk about something called the “growth mindset.” This is the idea that no matter our age, we are never “fixed” into our current traits, strengths and weaknesses. Rather, we can always learn something new, try something new and be someone new.

In other words, we human beings are always on the move. And that’s a good thing.

Chag sameach. And may your girdings not be too tight.


Rob Kutner is a writer for “Conan” and the author of the comic book “Shrinkage.”

Atheist Meets Pesach

Photo from PxHere.

The only time in my family history when both sets of grandparents gathered together for Pesach seder, it was a disaster.

Aside from having children married to each other, the Rosenfelds and the Cohens had nothing in common. My paternal grandfather, Herbert Rosenfeld, was a proud atheist. He smoked cigars, deployed practical jokes (even on veritable strangers), sizzled bacon for his breakfast and became a public spokesman for the American Humanist Association, railing against nuclear weapons and organized religion.

My maternal grandfather, Rabbi Bernard Cohen, invested his life in the United States building Jewish educational institutions, my grandmother Ethel at his side. Papa Cohen was a founding director of the Bureau of Jewish Education in Los Angeles and innovated bat mitzvahs for girls in Conservative Jewish circles. My Aunt Eleanor was the first, in 1945.

This did not make the Cohens progressive enough for the Rosenfelds, who accepted the Cohens’ seder invitation for the sake of the children. It was a trial for Papa Rosenfeld to abide talk of the God he left behind, starting from the karpas and on through the afikomen. He held it together until the infamous chicken soup and chopped liver incident.

You see, my older sister, Sharon, never liked soup. But she loved chopped liver. Nana Cohen, a balabusta with Old Country recipes and emotions, was inordinately proud of her chicken soup and chopped liver. When my sister refused the ladle of soup cruising toward her bowl, Nana exclaimed, “But it’s delicious! I made the matzo balls! Look at all the bowls I used!”

There are just some things you do not say at a traditional rabbi’s seder table, and Papa Rosenfeld had just said one of them.

My mother implored, “Mama, please let Sharon have her chopped liver. Leave her alone.” But when Nana Cohen held her ground, Papa Rosenfeld could take no more, blaspheming, “Jesus Christ!”

Papa Cohen stared at Papa Rosenfeld. There are just some things you do not say at a traditional rabbi’s seder table, and Papa Rosenfeld had just said one of them. The in-laws became the outlaws.

Was Papa Rosenfeld playing the role of the wicked son, the rasha, at the seder? Or was he, as I concluded years later, really the child who does not know how to ask, the lo yodea lishol? When he was just 6, his father died, and a rabbi told Papa that his father’s death had been God’s will. This was inadvertently cruel and led to my grandfather’s lifelong atheism. But Papa and his siblings had no formal Jewish education. Papa’s only understanding of God was that of the Grim Reaper.

In my life, I have noticed that many atheists, lacking a healthy concept of God, develop a cynical streak. I always adored Papa, but he startled me with his fatalistic views. One day during lunch, Papa predicted that a nuclear bomb would one day kill us all. I was 8 years old and swallowed hard.

Papa Rosenfeld covered his bleak view of life with practical jokes and irreverence. Ironically, I realized it was Papa Cohen, despite his sterner outer demeanor, who was the more upbeat of the two. It was Papa Cohen, not Papa Rosenfeld, who had faith in the future and felt meaning in the now.

While growing up, I was a little obsessed by my two sets of beloved grandparents and their opposite worldviews and lifestyles. I honored my Cohen grandparents’ commitment to faith, their understanding of the importance of boundaries and traditions. But I was dazzled by my Rosenfeld grandparents’ worldliness, their artistic and bohemian friends, my grandmother’s cache as a female homeopathic physician in the 1960s.

When I was first exposed to ba’al teshuvah-style Torah teaching, I retired my obsession. I saw that I didn’t have to choose between a life of Jewish faith and tradition versus a life of intellectual sophistication, or even bohemian friends. The ba’al teshuvah phenomenon brought into the Torah-observant community thousands of Jews with advanced secular education, an appreciation for the arts and culture, and a thirst for knowledge that has enriched and diversified Orthodox Jewish life.

Each year at the seder, I celebrate being part of our remarkable covenantal, eternal tribe.


Judy Gruen is the author of “The Skeptic and the Rabbi: Falling in Love With Faith” (She Writes Press, 2017).

Our Better Angels

Let’s give Mark Zuckerberg the benefit of the doubt and assume that when he created Facebook, he intended to contribute to the progress of humankind.

In the years since its 2004 launch, the imperturbable Zuck stuck to Facebook’s raison d’etre like President Donald Trump to Twitter: Facebook’s mission is to “make the world more open and connected”; “give the most voice to the most people”; and confer “the power to build community and bring the world closer together.”

I’d sing “Kumbaya,” but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to square Facebook’s ideal with Facebook’s reality.

Zuckerberg’s stubborn aversion to criticism is troubling enough. But his company’s total capitulation to capitalism has punished the very people he intended to elevate — compromising user privacy and turning attention spans into ad revenue, even if the advertiser is a Russian hacker selling fake news. Last week, things got even darker in Zuckerberg’s open, connected world when we learned that the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica exploited user data to create “psychographic” profiles of Americans in order to manipulate them.

Facebook shares plummeted, sending the company’s valuation down by nearly $50 billion, proving how easy it is to plunge a utopian vision into a dystopian beast. And it’s a cautionary tale of how even the best intentions can be compromised by sinister forces. Pharaohs, we’re reminded, are still out there.

Even if trends suggest reduced violence, the human inclination toward evil — what the Torah calls yetzer harah— remains.

How ironic that Silicon Valley’s arbiter of human progress — who built a community of more than 2 billion “friends” — is so naïve about human nature. Because anyone who has ever been in a relationship knows: The more open and connected, the more vulnerable you are.

Still, by some measures, humankind is better off than it was a few hundred years ago. Harvard professor and psychologist Steven Pinker wrote in his 2011 book, “The Better Angels of Our Nature,” that the world today is demonstrably less violent and more peaceful than at any other time in human history. Science and medicine have eradicated diseases that once amounted to a death sentence; and extreme poverty has declined at unprecedented levels in recent decades, from afflicting 80 percent of the world population in 1820 to not more than 10 percent in 2013.

Today, we have great art, we can send Teslas beyond the stratosphere, and if you’re as wealthy and weird as Barbra Streisand, you can clone your dog.

But I’m not sure that we’re kinder, more tolerant of difference, or less selfish. Even if trends suggest reduced violence, the human inclination toward evil — what the Torah calls yetzer harah — remains.

Because here’s what I see:

Journalist Peter Maass fretting over “how to make people remember or care that 15 years ago the United States invaded Iraq, setting off a war that continues to this day, with several hundred thousand Iraqis dead, millions turned into refugees.”

And yet, onto the scene walks our new national security adviser, John Bolton, who has built his career on bellicosity. Bolton has made the case for military action against Saddam Hussein, Ayatollah Khamenei and, most recently, Kim Jong Un, asserting in a Wall Street Journal editorial that a pre-emptive military strike against North Korea’s nuclear-weapons program is “perfectly legitimate.” To agree with this position is to accept that hundreds of thousands or even millions of people could die, and that Pinker’s promising argument would be rendered obsolete with the touch of a button.

It’s enough to prove that although human progress has made us healthier, wealthier and smarter, it hasn’t made us less cruel. Just look to Syria or South Sudan for proof that some people can only solve problems with war.

And let us not discount the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which persists because too many people on both sides think intransigence and intolerance is preferable to flexibility and friendship.

Every year Pesach comes along to remind us that we do not live in an ideal world. God gave us Torah because even a chosen people need laws to keep their good nature in check; because even a slave people, once liberated, can repeat the destructive patterns of their Pharaoh.

In Facebook’s world, it’s called regulation.

Moderating forces are necessary because no person — and no technology — is immune to the corrosive nature of power.

This is the blessing and the curse of human agency: Power is necessary for survival and progress, but we must guard against wielding it as a triumph over others. From the Exodus to the State of Israel, the Torah’s lesson is this: Power, once vested, is something to wrestle with, but never rest or revel in.

Chag sameach.

Voice of a Dreamer

As we sit down to our Passover seders this weekend and retell the story of how we wandered in the desert to achieve our freedom, we are once again reminded that despite the passage of 3,000 years, people are still struggling to be free.

Soraya Alvarez (not her real name) is one of those people. In 1990, when she was just 2 years old, Soraya and her parents left their home in Durango, Mexico, and crossed the Sonoran Desert on their way to the promised land: America.

Alvarez was too young to recall the journey, but she related the following story that her father told her: During the family’s trek through the desert, their “coyote” — a man hired to help them cross — warned Alvarez’s father that United States Border Patrol agents were approaching.

“My father was carrying me and we were trying to hide behind these bushes, so he put me down behind the bush. But I started to cry and wouldn’t stop. When he looked down, he realized I was crying because there was a big cactus and I was being punctured by it.”

That incident could serve as a metaphor for Alvarez’s personal and professional life in America. Today, as an undocumented immigrant, she works for a nonprofit organization that advocates for the rights of immigrant youths — those punctured by U.S. immigration enforcement policies.

“We are fighting the good fight, pushing against the narrative that scapegoats immigrants,” she said. “We feel all immigrants should live with dignity and respect, regardless of where they come from.”

Alvarez shared her story as she sat in the boardroom of the downtown law offices of Stone, Grzegorek & Gonzalez, which specializes in immigration law and facilitated this interview. She chose to use a pseudonym and not state where she works for this interview, she said, because she fears for her parents.

Alvarez said her father came to the United States on a visa in the 1980s before she was born. He earned money by working in construction. Following her birth, he needed to make more money to support his family and came back to the U.S. to work again. “I didn’t meet my father until I was 2,” Alvarez said.

Her father loved America. He saw the opportunities available and wanted his daughter to take advantage of them. And so, he convinced Alvarez’s mother that their family should go there to make a new life.

Alvarez said she always knew growing up that she was undocumented. “My father always told me, ‘You’re in this situation because of us, and now you have to work twice as hard as anyone else.’ ”

Work hard she did. Alvarez was valedictorian of her 2006 high school graduating class at the Elizabeth Learning Center in Cudahy.

However, she was taken aback when she applied to colleges.

“I guess I was naïve,” she said. “I thought because I had good grades and was involved in all these organizations and clubs and I was volunteering, that somehow I would be able to get financial aid. But I realized that the situation was more difficult.”

Soraya Alvarez (back to camera) speaks at a rally for immigrants. Photo courtesy of Soraya Alvarez

“When I say it’s not my fault, my parents brought me here, I’m criminalizing my parents.” — Soraya Alvarez

Still, she persisted and earned a bachelor’s degree at Cal State Los Angeles. She then received a master’s degree in international relations at Chapman University.

Even after she qualified for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in 2015, following President Barack Obama’s executive order, she lost her job at a nonprofit organization in May 2017, when her DACA status expired as she was in the midst of the renewal process.

“This was happening around the time the Trump administration came into power,” she said. “All the government offices were understaffed. And I guess a lot of lawyers feel threatened by the possibility of being audited, so they didn’t want to take the risk” of keeping her on.

Two weeks after she lost her job, Alvarez received her DACA renewal, which is now in effect through May 2019. It took her three months to find her current job.

“I was very concerned because I have student loans from my graduate studies, so I was really stressed out. I think my mental health really took a dive,” she said.

As it turns out, Alvarez is now the only undocumented immigrant in her family. Her 25-year-old brother was born in the United States, and when he turned 21 he was able to have their parents become permanent residents.

Alvarez said she’s not comfortable being labeled a “Dreamer” — the term often used to refer to DACA recipients. “Looking back, we were able to achieve so much as Dreamers, but I felt like we placed our experiences on a pedestal because we appear to the American public as educated.”

Growing up in America and assimilating into American culture have been positive experiences for her, she added, but at the same time she is concerned about many others who she sees as being left behind.

“When I say I’m not a criminal, I consider that to be very anti-Black, because so many Black people and other people of color have been incarcerated as a result of criminalization,” she explained. “When I say I’m not a terrorist, I feel like I’m also criminalizing the Muslim community. When I say it’s not my fault, my parents brought me here, I’m criminalizing my parents.”

Her parents are concerned about the potential legal ramifications of her activism.

“I’m not breaking any laws,” she said, “but I am going to rallies and speaking out and putting my name out there. It’s taking a risk. My parents caution me. They say, ‘We see on TV that activists are being rounded up.’ But I feel like our times require people to stand up and speak truth to power. And if I were to just give up and let things happen, I wouldn’t have a clear conscience.

“Because, U.S. residents are also being targeted and can be criminalized,” she said. “If ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] were to come and target me, they might try to target my parents as well. I’ve seen that happen with other people.”

She tries not to get caught up in what might happen to her in the future, even though she fears the Trump administration may abolish DACA. Instead, she focuses on her work and living in the present.

Her goal, she said, is “to change the hearts and minds of people who are on the other side, who continue to dehumanize us, criminalize us and scapegoat us for all the societal problems that exist.”

If there’s one thing she wishes she could do, it’s travel the world.

“I can only imagine what life would be like outside of these walls,” she said. “As someone who is really passionate about human rights issues around the world, it’s definitely something that I always think about.”
Alvarez said she might consider returning to Mexico one day “if we are not able to fix our situation here and find relief.

“I don’t feel like a prisoner per se,” she said, “but I would love to be able to go and explore one day without having to feel like I can’t.”

Cleaning Our Hearts for Pesach

Everyone gets that cleaning the house for Passover is a hassle. Having to go through all the cabinets, sweep, vacuum, mop (in Morocco, they would replaster the walls!) is no fun.

But it’s an opportunity to do a spiritual cleaning, as well.

On a spiritual level, bread products, or chametz, represent our negativity, or our yetzer harahs — those aspects of ourselves that we’d love to get rid of.

Maybe on a deeper level, that’s what’s so difficult about cleaning for Pesach. Doing so requires us to come face to face with our chametz, our shortcomings. And who wants to do that?

While cleaning, aspects of ourselves that we’ve grown comfortable with suddenly get exposed as the enemy.

Muffins? Laziness. Cake? Lust. Cookies? Greed.

Well, not exactly, but you get the idea.

Cleaning for Passover has two parts. The first comes in the days or weeks leading up to the holiday.

That’s the “normal” part of the cleaning process, and most likely takes place during the daylight hours.

But then things get, well … interesting.

When the night before Pesach arrives (the 14th of Nissan), we turn off the lights, light a candle and finish the process of getting rid of the chametz.

This is when the “inside” cleaning begins.

The Talmud describes this process in the most interesting way. It says that we do the cleaning by “the light of the 14th of Nissan.”

This is strange because we do this cleaning at nighttime!

Why, then, this language “by the light of the 14th”?

Let me try to explain.

When Moses walked toward the burning bush to investigate the wonder he was seeing, HaShem said, take off your shoes because you are standing on holy ground.

The question is, why didn’t HaShem tell Moshe to take off his shoes before he stepped on the holy ground?

According to Rabbi Matisyahu Salomon, it is because the ground wasn’t holy yet. What made it holy was Moshe’s wanting to investigate the phenomenon and learn more about God.

This, then, is the light of the night of the 14th. It’s more than a candle.

It’s the light your soul generates by your very desire to become better.

You can see this is in the Hebrew word for candle, nare. It’s spelled nun raish. Our holy rabbis teach that the nun stands for neshama, and the raish stands for ruach, two parts of our soul. From this we see clearly that the light of the candle is the light of the soul.

According to Jewish law, we must use a candle (today a flashlight is also good) but not a torch. Why? Because if we see too much of our own imperfections, we may get depressed. There’s too much to fix!  So the rabbis teach when it comes to this inside cleaning, we go one step at a time.

In fact, one of the most amazing customs is that when we do find chametz (remember that stands for evil!) we sweep it away with a feather.

A feather, of all things!

Do you see the beauty of this? Our sages are teaching us, when you go into those dark places within yourself be thorough, but also, don’t forget to be gentle.

So where do we start?

The truth is that cleansing the heart is a lifelong process. But because we get a special blessing on Passover, we have to take advantage of it.

So let’s focus on two qualities that make the biggest messes: anger and jealousy.

How do I clean my heart of those?

The first step is to acknowledge the difficulty of the process.

Now we can begin.

Fixing anger begins with understanding that everything comes from God, the good and the challenging. When I get angry and blame other people for things, I attribute a power to them that they simply don’t have. This is why the sages compare anger to idol worship. Big stuff.

It doesn’t mean that the person who brought the pain into my life is blameless. It just means that they aren’t the ultimate source.

So if I want to clean my heart of anger, it begins with my looking above, and understanding that, ultimately, there is no power other than God.

What about jealousy? How do I clean my heart of that?

Muffins? Laziness. Cake? Lust. Cookies? Greed. Well, not exactly, but you get the idea.

By knowing that God never runs out of blessings. Whatever you need, there is plenty more of it in heaven. The more we realize God can do anything, the more we come to understand that the person I’m jealous of didn’t take my portion. Didn’t marry my soulmate. Didn’t give birth to my child.

When we really believe this, and we’re secure in the knowledge that there is plenty more available of whatever I need, if God wants it for me, then I can at last take joy in other people’s joy — and not feel like their happiness is coming at my expense.

If all this seems like a big job, remember the words of one of our greatest teachers, Rabbi Israel Salanter.

He said that the loudest sound in the world is the sound of a habit being broken. He also famously said that it’s easier to learn the entire Talmud than it is to eradicate one bad character trait.

It’s difficult. But so worth it because when we fix our hearts, we fix the entire world.


David Sacks is an Emmy Award-winning writer and producer. His weekly podcast, “Spiritual Tools for an Outrageous World,” is available at torahonitunes.com.

The Beauty of Ritual

Photo from Pinterest.

When you have a child later in life, there are many issues you don’t consider. For me, one of the more troublesome has been: Who will be there for the holidays?

At 8, my son is not yet aware of what he’s missing. But each Pesach in particular, I am achingly aware. Throughout my childhood, the holidays marked the times when a flood of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins descended upon our house, filling it with the raucous joy that only close family can impart.

My grandfather, my father’s father, led our seders. Elegant, dignified, commanding respect simply by being a gentleman — a gentle man — my grandfather set the tone for our seders for the next few decades: sensual, spiritual feasts that left our hearts, minds and souls in some sort of cosmic unity. Or at least that’s how it felt.

By the time my son, Alexander, arrived, that unity had begun to shatter. My mother died when he was 2. My brother moved to Florida when my son was 3. My cousins, undermining every value my grandfather tried to instill, dispersed.

Seders soon became makeshift affairs — with an assortment of close friends providing a variegated experience each year.

As much as I am grateful for those friends, the fact that Alexander is not growing up with the same holiday rituals each year tugs at my heart. Oh sure, I fill in where I can at our synagogue, which excels at Sukkot, Simchat Torah and Purim. And I now try to have an annual Hanukkah party for his friends.

But, love ’em or hate ’em, there’s really nothing like being with family on the holidays.

Perhaps unconsciously, I’ve been adding more Jewish ritual to Alexander’s life in other realms. I have sung the Shema to him every night since he was born. We light Shabbat candles as often as we can and go to the children’s Shabbat service as often as the synagogue provides it. (Which means not during the summer months. Did you miss the part in the Torah where God says that going to the Hamptons on summer weekends is more important than a Shabbat service? Yeah, I did too.)

Recently, a new ritual has entered our lives. One evening, as I was fumbling to get the keys out of my bag, Alexander was asking for something that I wasn’t ready to give him. I looked up, and the mezuzah at our door stared back at me. “OK, we’ll see,” I said. “But anyway, it’s time that you start to kiss the mezuzah every day.” He eagerly reached up and did so.

I have to admit, I was a little shocked. This is a child who groans before Hebrew school and likes his Shabbat service only because of the pretty Israeli teachers. But he has taken to this new ritual with gusto, with an enthusiasm usually reserved for kibitzing with his friends.

It has made me think: What other rituals can I easily integrate?

These 3,000-year-old rituals aren’t going anywhere. They’re here to make us feel loved, safe, connected.

The truth is, even when you don’t have a child late in life, families change and often disintegrate. People get sick, divorced, move across continents, die.

But these 3,000-year-old rituals aren’t going anywhere. They’re here to make us feel loved, safe, connected — to provide us with the foundation to create light. And the beauty of most rituals is that they’re not dependent on others: The bond is between each of us and God.

If faith provides hope, ritual provides order. But perhaps more important, ritual provides a reminder of faith, just as nature and beauty do.

Last week, Alexander had to get checked by a cardiologist (for hopefully a very minor issue). For the next 24 hours, he had to be wired up with uncomfortable tabs across his chest. When he realized that tearing off the whole thing was just going to send him back to a long, unpleasant ultrasound, he finally relented to being distracted till bedtime.

I was a little concerned with how he was going to sleep with his chest looking like technological warfare. A slightly tattered, stuffed Torah, given to him as a baby, has been called upon for times like this. “Here,” I said, “Let’s let the Torah hold the monitor so you can just relax and go to sleep.”

When I checked in on him a bit later, he was sleeping peacefully — clutching the spool of the Torah with one hand.

Chag sameach.


Karen Lehrman Bloch is a cultural critic and author.

In a Secular Passover, Jews Are Nothing Special

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

There is a great crisis currently occurring in the American-Jewish community — a crisis of identity. What are Jews here to accomplish? Are Jews special? Or are Jews just a group of socially active members of the political left, with no specific religious inclination or mission beyond mirroring the priorities of the Democratic Party?

That debate takes center stage each year around Passover, when we hear revisionist lectures about the nature of the holiday. Each year, we hear from secular-leaning Jews that the story of the exodus from Egypt is more representational than real, that it is more universal than specific. “Let my people go!” has an admirably vague power to it; no one wants to be victimized by an arbitrary power structure. Thus, members of the Jewish left use that slogan from the Passover story to push for everything from transgenderism to same-sex marriage, from boycott, divestment and sanctions on Israel to environmental regulation. The Passover story becomes a story about President Donald Trump or about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or about the restrictiveness of traditional lifestyles.

But the Passover story isn’t vague. And it carries a universal message — but that message doesn’t stop at freedom from tyranny. The question posed by the Passover story extends beyond mere absence of external force. It extends to another question: What’s the purpose of freedom? Does liberty have a rationale, beyond mere absence of force?

That question becomes more important day by day — because, as we’ve seen, there are widely disparate interpretations of the nonaggression principle in modern politics. The same people who invoke “Let my people go!” to push same-sex marriage have no problem coercing religious Americans into participating in ceremonies that they feel violate their religion. The same people who point to the exodus from Egypt as a sort of moral imprimatur for anti-Israel activity are perfectly fine with Jews being thrown from their land in the Gaza Strip.

The Passover story isn’t vague. And it carries a universal message — but that message doesn’t stop at freedom from tyranny.

Passover isn’t just a story of exit from. It’s a story of movement toward. The entire passage in Exodus carrying that famous slogan doesn’t end with Pharaoh’s release of the Jews, it explains why God cares whether Pharaoh releases the Jews. God tells Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord: Let My people go, that they may serve me.’ ” The story of Passover doesn’t end with the Jews leaving Egypt or with God parting the Red Sea or with the Egyptians perishing beneath the waves. It ends with the Jews standing before Sinai, saying the words “na’aseh v’nishmah” — we will do and we will hear. And it ends with the fulfillment of the promise God made to the ancestors of the Jews: to inhabit the land of Israel.

These dual promises are connected — and should inform how we view Passover. Judaism is not Christianity, nor is it secular humanism. Its goal is not abandonment of the particular for the universal. Judaism makes a specific and unique claim: In serving God in a land promised to the Jews by God, the Jews act as a beacon of light to the world. God doesn’t tell Moses that his mission ends in libertinism or self-defined morality — God says he’s freeing the Jews to serve Him.

Once Jews lose the particularism of their religion, there is no point to celebrating Passover. Passover becomes just another symbolic story that has nothing to do with Judaism per se; Israel becomes just another land; the morality of Judaism just becomes warmed-over Kantianism. Jews become secular humanists, with the added benefit or drawback of carrying ethnic minority status. And nobody is going to stay up two nights running to retell that story. The glory of the Jewish people and the glory of God are inseparable in the Exodus story. If we Jews define ourselves as free from God, we define ourselves out of the story of human history.


Ben Shapiro is editor-in-chief at The Daily Wire, host of the most listened-to conservative podcast in the nation, “The Ben Shapiro Show,” and author of The New York Times best-seller “Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear Silences Americans.”

In Every Generation

In every generation
Each of us must learn
How to look at a stranger
And see the beloved.

In every generation
Each of us must find
The invisible security gate
Guarding our heart
And break it.

And so in every generation
We drink teardrops
From curls of parsley,
Teaching ourselves to taste
Our secret sorrows.

We burn our tongues raw
With bitter herbs, learning
To taste the suffering
Of our neighbor.

We break the matzo in two
And across its surface,
Broad and tan as the desert
Seen from above, we spread
Charoset to remind us
That only together can we be
Liberated: strangers, neighbors,
Our own hidden selves, mixing
Together the bitter and the sweet,
Spoonfuls of chopped-up apples
And walnuts on our tongues,
The cinnamon scent of freedom
Filling the desert at last.

‘Breaking Matzo’ Celebrates Magic of Passover

Screenshot from Facebook.

By day, Andy Goldfarb is a busy venture capitalist in Brookline, Mass. By night, or when the divorced dad of two daughters has a free moment, he focuses on Breaking Matzo, his 15-year-old passion project.

Breaking Matzo is a website (breakingmatzo.com) designed to help people have more enjoyable Passover celebrations. It includes recipes, DIY projects, a glossary of Passover terms, and educational articles and videos.

“As a venture capitalist, I invest in the dreams of entrepreneurs and delight in the fruition of their vision,” Goldfarb, 50, told the Journal. “That’s one kind of magic. But as a father, I believe in another kind of magic. The magic of sharing holidays and life events with my children.

“I believe that by making the holiday magical, memorable and meaningful for all generations, we increase the likelihood of families continuing the Passover tradition generations into the future.”

Growing up, Goldfarb spent Passover with his great-grandfather Max Fish in Baltimore. He looked forward year-round to the celebration with his family. Breaking Matzo is full of traditions from Goldfarb’s family, information from Jewish books and materials that friends have sent to Goldfarb over the years. Goldfarb said he chose the name for several reasons: It refers to the classic Passover game in which adults break the afikomen and then the kids search for it; it’s a twist on “breaking bread,” which is about gathering with friends and family and sharing a meal; and, according to the website, the name made people laugh.

Breaking Matzo also has a thriving Facebook fan page (facebook.com/breakingmatzo), with more than 39,000 followers. Some of the recent recipes posted include a chocolate matzo mousse cake, Piedmontese charoset and “Grandma Boody’s Brisket.”

If readers want to DIY their way through a Pinterest-like Passover, they can make a Passover Gnome Garden complete with parsley (karpas) sprigs, which look like plants growing in a garden. There’s also a page devoted to creating painted wine glasses for Eliyahu and Miriam.

Goldfarb’s daughter, Caroline, a senior at Harvard University, said she is a huge fan of her father’s website. Every Passover, she cooks with her father, and she has made every DIY project on the site.

“It’s been truly incredible watching my dad grow Breaking Matzo,” she said. “Activities and recipes that I used to make as a child are now being made by kids all over the country and all over the world. I love seeing photos and stories from hundreds of people about their traditions, and learning how they have used the information, recipes and activities on Breaking Matzo to make their holidays even more special.”

Breaking Matzo also has a thriving Facebook fan page. Some of the recent recipes posted include a chocolate matzo mousse cake, Piedmontese charoset and “Grandma Boody’s Brisket.”

Another avid reader of the site, Shelby Ward of Mississippi, said Breaking Matzo has helped her and her Christian partner connect with the Jewish faith. They follow the Facebook page and make the recipes. Because the site also has separate web pages that cover general information on various aspects of Jewish life, Ward and her partner also use it to learn more about Judaism.

“Since my knowledge of Judaism was limited until three years ago, social media has been a valuable tool in my quest to learn more,” Ward said.

Goldfarb said he is planning to expand Breaking Matzo to add Shabbat as the next holiday. “Some day,” he added, “I hope to compile it all into a cookbook.”

For now, he’s focused on making the upcoming Passover as special as possible. He will invite his usual 25 to 30 friends and family members, as well as people who have never celebrated Passover.

Everyone will eat his family’s classic recipes, as well as read about Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. “and other incredible people who have fought for justice and equality, even in the face of grave danger,” Caroline said. “The Passover meal gives us a special time to reflect on the meanings of justice, hope and equality, all while gathered with family and friends.”

Charoset Sampler From All Over the World

While planning for Passover, my favorite family holiday celebration, I received an email from Jennifer Abadi about her new Passover cookbook, “Too Good to Passover: Sephardic & Judeo-Arabic Seder Menus and Memories From Africa, Asia and Europe.”

I met her many years ago, a young food writer, teacher and cookbook author living in New York. We continue to correspond because I always am amazed at her accomplishments, teaching, stories, recipe research and cooking special dinners. She now has written an amazing cookbook about her Sephardic heritage, which she admits has taken her nine years to complete.

A compilation of more than 200 Passover recipes from 23 Jewish communities, this cookbook-memoir provides a historical context to the ways in which the Jewish communities of North Africa, Asia, the Mediterranean and Middle East observe and enjoy this beloved ancient festival.

In addition to full seder menus and Passover-week recipes, each chapter opens with memories of friends and family.

“Too Good to Passover” is a versatile and inspiring reference cookbook, appealing to those who may want to introduce a different “food theme” during the holiday.

One of the mainstays on the seder plate is charoset, usually a mixture of fruits, nuts, wine and spices. Depending on the ingredients available, the mixture is ground together to resemble the mortar that was used by the Jews when they were slaves in Egypt.

We love the concept of new food ideas for Passover, always adding interesting items to our menu. During the seder, we have a charoset tasting that includes examples that Jewish communities around the world serve during the holiday. Each guest receives a plate containing several charoset options with small flags identifying the country that they represent.

We love the concept of new food ideas for Passover, always adding interesting items to our menu.

I was amazed that more than 20 charoset examples were included among her Passover recipes, and this year we have included some of the traditional Sephardic charoset recipes that I have adapted from Jennifer Abadi’s new cookbook.

AFGHANI CHAROSET
1/2 cup raw whole almonds
1/2 cup walnuts
1 cup cashews
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup black raisins
10 small dates, pitted and coarsely
chopped (about 1/2 cup)
6 tablespoons applesauce
4 teaspoons sweet kosher-for-Passover wine
2 tablespoons orange juice

Pulse nuts, cinnamon, cardamom and salt in food processor until coarsely ground, about 30 seconds.

Add raisins and dates and pulse 30 seconds, then add applesauce, wine and orange juice and blend until mixture is thick and chunky.

Serve at room temperature in a bowl. Store in refrigerator bring to room temperature 1 hour before serving.

Makes about 2 cups.

TURKISH STYLE APPLE-DATE CHAROSET
1 8-ounce red apple,
peeled, rinsed, cored and
cut into 1/2-inch cubes
(about 1 1/2 cups)
8 ounces Medjool or regular dates, pitted
and coarsely chopped
2 cups water
1/4 cup pine nuts, dry toasted in a small
skillet, cooled and finely chopped
1/3 cup walnuts
2 tablespoons sweet kosher wine or
cider vinegar

Combine apples, dates and water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes to prevent burning, until mixture is thickened like a chunky compote.

Remove from heat and combine with remaining ingredients in a medium bowl. Chill until ready to serve. Before serving scoop into small bowls and bring to room temperature.Makes about 2 cups.

BULGARIAN STYLE CHAROSET
1 pound (about 24 large) Medjool dates,
pitted and cut in half
1 cup water
1 2/3 cup walnuts
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice,
red wine or grape juice
1/2 cup finely chopped or coarsely
ground walnuts (for garnish)

Bring dates and water to a boil in a small saucepan over high heat. Reduce to medium-low heat (so as not to burn) and steam dates, covered, until soft, 5 minutes.

Blend the walnuts in a food processor for about 30 seconds. Add the cooked dates and lemon juice and pulse until very smooth.

Cool to room temperature and serve in bowls sprinkled with chopped walnuts. Store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or the freezer for up to 1 month.

Makes about 2 cups.

GREEK-STYLE CHAROSET
2 cups black raisins
6 ounces peeled red apples, cut in 1-inch cubes (about 1 cup)
3 cups walnuts
2 teaspoons orange juice

Blend raisins, apples, walnuts and orange juice in a food processor until thick and smooth.

Measure 1 level tablespoon of mixture at a time, and roll into smooth balls about 1-inch in diameter. (Mixture will be soft, so roll gently). Place in a bowl or container and refrigerate for 1 hour or up to 1 day in advance.

Makes about 2 cups.


Judy Zeidler is a journalist, cooking teacher and cookbook author, including “Italy Cooks.”

Passover Lessons, Hard and Soft

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

I want to pick up the phone and say, “Mom, help! How’d you make your matzo balls?” But, of course, the lines are not open to the afterlife, and I can’t remember what she told me. I thought I’d miss my mother most when the worst things happened, but as it turns out, it’s when the best things have happened — and now, of course, when I want to make her matzo balls.

It’s Passover on Cape Cod, and not a Jew in sight. Yet at the surprising suggestion of my WASP husband, we’ve decided to host our own festival of freedom and invite two neighbors … who have never been to a seder in their lives.

But the truth is, we’ve never hosted a seder in our lives. We’ve always gone to Los Angeles friends’ seders, carrying a tidy kale salad and bottle of merlot. But never soup. And certainly not the matzo balls.

Which poses a pyramid-size tower of obligation. Because if this is going to be my seder, I need to honor my mother and make two kinds of balls, hard and soft.

Now, while most families divide along lines like Republican or Democrat, Yankees or Red Sox, Beatles or Rolling Stones, my family was divided about matzo balls. Although Mom and I favored them hard and chewy, the rest of the mishpachah liked them soft and fluffy. So, she’d make both.

If our matzo ball tradition isn’t going to die with me, I’ll have to channel my mother.

That was Mom all over. When it came to food, it might take a week of late nights after work, but all pistons fired in creating a celebratory spread — very different from my own hectic, ad hoc approach.

So, how do I replicate what she did? If our matzo ball tradition isn’t going to die with me, I’ll have to channel my mother. And I don’t know how to do this.

Born in Budapest, raised in Paris, married to a German and assimilating in America, my mother had an aspirational, practical and unconventional approach to gastronomy, be it chicken paprikash or wiener schnitzel. Having experienced upheaval, war and loss, she brightened in the kitchen and loved surprising guests with small extravagances. Never appetizers, but “canapés”; delicately rolled “veal bird” cutlets fastened with a toothpick; exquisite palacsinta crepes. And, of course, her robust chicken soup, its secret a nice hunk of flanken. But about those matzo balls — she welcomed an assistant, and often that person was me. But why hadn’t I paid better attention?

Perhaps I was too embarrassed by our quirky combos. Tuna salad with egg, capers and anchovy paste? Liverwurst on rye toast with butter? Oh, for some Froot Loops, a Hostess Twinkie, a TV dinner!

But now to focus on my Cape Cod seder; getting the right stuff in this part of Massachusetts isn’t simple. Brisket must be special ordered, and Elijah himself can’t guarantee it’ll arrive on time. Horseradish? Easier to find Waldo. I drift in the supermarket aisles, a gefilte fish out of water. Finally, a depleted section offers some lonely boxes of matzo ball mix.

Back home, I stare at the box, which provides no clues on hard or soft results. I am frozen with indecision. I so want to be my mother’s daughter.

I think back to my childhood seders. Extended family, accents flying — “Szervusz,” “Bonsoir” — Jews and non-Jews, and always a stray, an outsider. My German-born father mispronouncing the same words from the haggadah every year: the 10 plaggs on the people of Ay-geept. … Ee-koss of the past …

And I realize there was no orthodoxy there. Our seders were living entities that could withstand any number of variations. Like that time my mother at the last minute switched everyone to the second night because I had gotten a job. She adapted. Our seder was a feast as moveable as its ingredients were set, and its tent as large and generous as her heart.

I survey the matzo ball dough. Forget hard or soft. I wet my hands and remember to keep the spheres small, and when the dainty dollops bob in the broth, I fish out one, blow hard, and nibble: Neither hard nor soft. But … tasty.

Table set, haggadahs in place, I open the door to our new Yankee friends. I feel I’ve crossed my own Red Sea and delivered myself into a new tradition, one that’s all mine. And Mom is doubtless somewhere smiling, knowing all the most important things are in place.


Kate Zentall is a freelance writer and editor, as well as a recovering actress who regularly falls off the wagon with Jewish Women’s Theatre.

The Emotional Mission of ‘7 Days in Entebbe’

Operation Thunderbolt ranks as one of the most dramatic events in the brief history of the State of Israel. The miraculous story of Israeli commandos flying literally under the radar to liberate hostages in Entebbe, Uganda, on July 4, 1976, sounds more like a military fantasy than reality.

When I heard “7 Days in Entebbe” was opening in mid-March, I did some quick math and calculated the Hebrew date was on Rosh Chodesh Nisan. Passover is in the month of Nisan and Nisan is affectionately called the Month of Redemption by the rabbis of the Talmud. There could be no better time to experience a new film about the rescue mission to liberate the captive hostages of the Air France flight. So, on Rosh Chodesh Nisan, I went to see the film with a friend whose father was an Israel Defense Forces commando in Operation Thunderbolt.

I was rooting for this movie but it is overwrought and its messages are unnecessarily ambiguous. Artistically, the film is dragged down by a strange recurring dance sequence punctuated by an even stranger selection of music. Politically, anti-Zionists may call it hasbara (public relations) and Zionists may call it pro-Palestinian propaganda. In fact, it is neither, and that is a very good thing. But I did not go to the theater for the film’s messages, artistry, or its politics. I was there to feel something.

Every Passover, we read the haggadah at the seder and we are reminded of the obligation to imagine ourselves being redeemed from Egypt. For my ancestors, this may have been possible. They were regularly oppressed and routinely persecuted for being Jews, and it was hardly a giant leap to imagine personal slavery in ancient Egypt. But to a proud American Jew, living with equality and freedom, it seems impossible.

I may not be able to imagine myself as a slave in ancient Egypt, but I do have some idea of what freedom feels like.

I think the section of the haggadah asking us to imagine being redeemed actually is teaching us a powerful secret. The point is not to imagine we were actually enslaved and redeemed but to approximate the feelings of redemption that our ancestors felt. The seder and all of its rituals are meant to evoke those feelings. If it doesn’t, we should seek alternate means of achieving this result.

Storytelling is one way to consciously create feelings. A good story connects us to its characters and we are able to experience a version of their feelings. Ideally, the haggadah tells a story that creates this kind of empathetic feeling of redemption for us. However, there are other forms of storytelling that can help us feel the freedom of liberation from slavery, like movies. It’s why I went to see “7 Days in Entebee.”

Toward the end of the film, Defense Minister Shimon Peres celebrates with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Peres and Rabin are the Moses and God of the Entebbe story — a dynamic duo working together to save lives. Peres turns to Rabin and says, “Congratulations, Mr. Prime Minister. You saved 100 Israeli lives today.” When I heard those words, I felt a strong tug on my heart. It was the emotional punch I’d been looking for. The joy of freedom. It was not my freedom, but I felt it anyway.

I will hold onto that spark of redemption and bring it to the seder. I may not be able to imagine myself as a slave in ancient Egypt, but I do have some idea of what freedom feels like thanks to “7 Days in Entebbe.”

Mission accomplished.


Eli Fink is a rabbi, writer and managing supervisor at the Jewish Journal.

Passover: Liberating God’s Food

Jewish rituals are very much about what we can’t do. We can’t eat on Yom Kippur, we can’t work on Shabbat, we can’t eat bread during Passover, and so on.

The prohibitions on Passover are especially detailed. Every year, rabbinic authorities and food companies spend an enormous amount of energy determining how to make thousands of supermarket items “kosher for Passover.” I’ve seen very observant Jews go nuts on this holiday. Some are careful not to put water on their matzot because any moisture might “leaven” the matzah.

But here’s the really crazy part — the holiest and most spectacular food items in the world require no rabbinic supervision whatsoever and are “kosher for Passover” all year long.

These are the foods that come straight from God and straight from the earth, foods like beets, bananas, Swiss chard, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, watermelon, apples, persimmons, tangerines, spinach, red peppers, kiwi, strawberries, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, zucchini, celery, endive and mangoes.

Ask Picasso to design 20 fruit and vegetables and I’m not sure he can do better than what’s on that list. Ask any nutrition expert and they’ll tell you that fresh and natural produce are the best way to nourish your body. Ask any great chef and they’ll tell you that fruit and vegetables offer the most imaginative possibilities for great recipes.

At our seder tables this year, we can turn God’s earthy foods into the main dish. We can liberate ourselves from
overly processed foods, from too much meat, too much sugar, too much of everything.

And yet, we still have a tendency to treat vegetables as merely the “side dish” to the main meat dish. The age-old tradition, for those who are not vegan or vegetarian, is that meat is the hero and everything else is the supporting cast.

Passover offers us a unique opportunity to turn the tables.

At our seder tables this year, we can turn God’s earthy foods into the main dish. We can liberate ourselves from overly processed foods, from too much meat, too much sugar, too much of everything. Even for carnivores, we can use this season to celebrate the best, holiest foods on earth.

Are you up for it? I hope so, because this special Passover Food issue is loaded with amazing non-dairy vegetarian recipes such as Herb-Stuffed Mushrooms With Arugula, Bulgarian-Style Ratatouille, Eggplant Chopped “Liver,” Raw Zucchini Roll-ups With Smoky Eggplant and Gold Beets and Nectarines With Hazelnuts and Oregano.

Our Food editor, Yamit Behar Wood, who has shared plenty of great meat recipes in the past, has gotten into the real- food Passover spirit with a story titled, “Can Passover Food Liberate Us? Vegetable Dishes That Steal the Seder.”

She writes: “The seder is a perfect time to re-evaluate priorities and to detoxify our environment in the hopes of gaining a better way forward in all aspects of our lives. And what better way to start anew spiritually than to begin to rethink not only what comes in and out of our lives but what physically goes into our bodies?”

You’ll find four pages in this week’s issue of Wood’s celebration of some of her favorite vegetable dishes.

In “An Eight-Day Love Affair With Vegetables,” Wendy Paris writes:

“This spring-cleaning holiday, this festival of liberation is the perfect time to free ourselves from what can be mindless, unhealthy eating habits — the chewy granola bars in the car, the Cinnabon at the airport. Eating more vegetables is a way to care for our bodies, a mitzvah itself. Cramming ourselves with chocolate-covered potato chips and processed products with names like “Smokey Flavor Xtra Long Snack” is not a mitzvah, even when they’re kosher for Passover.”

The holiest and most spectacular food items in the world require no rabbinic supervision and are “kosher for Passover” all year long.

For her story, Paris interviewed local chef Jeremy Fox, who is a master of farmers market cooking and the author of the recently released ode to things that grow, “On Vegetables: Modern Recipes for the Home Kitchen.”

Paris writes: “For your own vegetable-based Passover dinner, Fox advises thinking in terms of a mezze-style meal of many small plates. … Include a variety of textures, and consider the flow of flavors across the whole evening.”

One of the things I love about the Jewish tradition is that we can inject our own personal meaning into the Jewish holidays. If Passover is about not eating leavened products, why can’t it also be about eating real foods?

So feel free to get into the spirit. Although we do have some terrific recipes in this issue, you can create your own. The point is to use this time of year to free ourselves from the things that harm us and embrace the things that nourish us, spiritually as well as physically.

It’s amazing to think that we can come out of this year’s Passover holiday with a renewed appreciation for the foods that best nourish and sustain our bodies. Talk about liberation.

See you all at the farmers market.

Passover Meal Prep: Leek and Beef Patties

I certainly won the Parent lottery, and I don’t think it’s an accident that I was given the ones I got. I also was exceptionally fortunate that part of my winnings came with a few stand-in mothers in the form of aunts. Although I feel the heavens showed terrible judgment when they decided not to make me a mom, I was able to channel the nurturing aspect of my personality into professional cooking. I often think that most chefs are parents in sheep’s clothing because most of us simply want to make our customers happy by feeding them well.

This year, I missed my annual early morning birthday phone call from my Aunt Dora, who died six months ago. I found myself waiting to hear her voice all day, my heart sinking a bit every hour that passed without her good wishes and blessings.

Dora’s birthday falls this week, marking the time of year that, in the past, she would have started to prepare and freeze her most iconic dish for Passover. I can’t think of a better way to honor her memory than to pass along her recipe for the most emblematic of all my childhood foods: ktzitzot prasa. Meat and leek patties are a typical food of Rosh Hashanah and Passover throughout the Jewish Sephardic world, particularly in the Balkans. Omit the meat for a vegetarian version but double the amount of potato so they hold together better.

The Bulgarian Jews, from which my father’s side of the family hails, have a vibrant tradition of foods deriving from their Spanish roots. All of my aunts prepare this dish  because it’s a must on our table for Passover. Dora taught my mother to make these and by extension taught me. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say it’s the favorite dish across all generations of our family.
These leek and beef patties aren’t difficult to make, but if each ingredient isn’t handled correctly, the whole dish will be inedible. Leeks tend to hold a lot of sand, so clean them thoroughly by slicing them lengthwise, then wash them in many changes of water. You don’t want gritty patties. Been there, done that.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say it’s the favorite dish across all generations of our family.

You also must cook the leeks so that they are soft and don’t result in a patty that is fibrous, but not so soft that they are mushy. Done that, too. Next, grind the cooked leeks and squeeze as much water out of them as possible, so they will hold together when fried. Also, season them well. Otherwise, they’ll be bland. Dora taught me to do a test patty and adjust seasonings before cooking the rest of the batch. Then, if you’ve done all of that right, the patties must be fried in oil that is just hot enough, so they brown and don’t come out oily, but not so hot that their outsides burn before their insides cook.

Fortunately, Dora taught us all how to break up these steps so that these patties wouldn’t be too time-consuming for holidays when there were sometimes 30 or more people around her Passover table.

She would chop, clean and grind the leeks weeks in advance, straining them in the refrigerator overnight with a heavy plate on them to squeeze out liquid. The next day, she would mix them with the meat and seasonings and fry them, storing them in containers ready for the freezer.  The night before the holiday, she would transfer them to the fridge to thaw.

This Passover is the first in most of our lives without Dora, and it will be a difficult one for her family. Although I won’t be with my cousins in Israel, my parents and I will hold her in our thoughts as surely as we will squeeze lemon wedges on the
ktzitzot prasa before our first bite.

I still have some burning questions I would have liked to ask her about our culinary traditions, but it’s comforting to think that her great-grandchildren will be able to capture her essence through the soul food she so lovingly passed along.

BULGARIAN LEEK AND BEEF PATTIES
3 1/2 pounds leeks, only white and light- green parts, cut into 1-inch segments
1 medium-size potato, boiled and mashed
1/2 pound ground beef
2 eggs
2 tablespoons matzo meal (optional; if you are gluten-free, add more potato)
2 teaspoons salt or to taste
3/4 teaspoon black pepper or to taste
Vegetable oil for shallow frying (don’t use extra-virgin olive oil)
1 cup chicken stock for reheating
Lemon wedges for serving

Place clean, cut leeks in a large pot and cover with cold water, bringing to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to simmer, cover pot and cook until leeks are soft, about 15 minutes.

Put the leeks in a strainer and press with your hands until they are dry as possible.

Transfer the leeks to a food processor and gently pulse to grind, taking care to not over grind. Combine the leeks, mashed potato, ground beef, eggs, matzo meal, salt and pepper in a bowl and mix thoroughly. Let the mixture rest, covered in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

When ready to cook, heat 1/8 inch of neutral-tasting vegetable oil in a shallow frying pan on medium heat.  Take a golf ball-size scoop of mixture in damp hands, flattening it gently into a patty, about 3 inches in diameter. Fill the
entire pan with patties but leave space between them.

Fry until cooked through and brown on both sides. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Serve immediately, refrigerate or freeze for future use.

To reheat, we use a method called “papiado” in Ladino, the Judeo-Spanish version of Yiddish. Papiado-style cooking calls for evaporating excess liquid in food in an uncovered dish in the oven. Modeling on this method, we place the patties in one layer in the pan on a burner and then pour over them a small amount of chicken stock, no more than a 1/2 cup. The patties are then cooked on medium-low heat until the liquid is absorbed, and they are a bit puffy and warmed through.

Serve hot or at room temperature with lemon wedges.

Makes about 40 small ktzitzot.


Yamit Behar Wood, an Israeli-American food and travel writer, is the executive
chef at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, Uganda, and founder of the New York Kitchen Catering Co.