September 20, 2018

Angry Persian Grandmas

Screenshot from YouTube.

As I was giving a talk for hundreds of people at a local Purim program last year, I was nearly booed off the stage by some elderly Persians who wanted to hear only a classical Persian musical concert. One old woman stood up and screamed “Baseh!” (“Enough!) so many times that it seemed as though I was subjecting her to torture in a North Korean prison.

The strangest part of the incident was that seemingly none of the younger audience members, who were seated way in the back, understood that the front half of the room wanted to pelt me with rotten cucumbers because it had not realized that the program would feature remarks as well as live music.

In a well-intentioned gesture that went terribly wrong, one of the young musicians onstage behind me thought it would be a good idea to play haunting notes on her violin to accompany my heartfelt words and throw some support my way. This only emboldened the now-shouting older men and women, who believed that even the musicians were trying to tell me to get the hell off the stage.

In my 15 years of public speaking, I never thought I’d be yelled at by a bunch of Persian grandmothers, and I was grateful that my family had not accompanied me that evening. They would have thrown a cucumber at the head of the woman who had shouted the first, “Baseh!” And not a Persian cucumber — one of those mighty English ones.

When my anger and humiliation subsided, I realized that the people who had shouted at me were just being old Persians.

When my anger and humiliation subsided, I realized that the people who had shouted at me were just being old Persians. That did not exonerate them for their rudeness, nor did it reduce their behavior to patronizing stereotypes, but it did comfort me, because it served as a reminder that many a grumpy, sassy old Persian still lived in this city, and no doubt had incredible stories to tell, if anyone only bothered to ask.

Elderly Persians are incredibly endearing — old women with names such as Elaheh (“Goddess”) and Ehteram (“Respect”), and old men with names such as Jahangir (“Conqueror of the World”) and Farzin (“One Who Is Learned”). Their great-grandchildren have names like Jayden and Madison.

I love these folks — the men who gather every day at the picnic tables at La Cienega Park to play backgammon and reminisce about a time when they were young and Iran was free; the women at the Persian kosher supermarkets who look for the “good” cucumbers for minutes on end, because there is no one back home to care for anymore and, to their great heartbreak, they now have all the time in the world.

These men and women possess the kind of resilience that I could only hope for. Their stories and sacrifices humble me when I think that I’m so impressive because I know how to use a Walgreens app to order photo prints.

It’s imperative that younger generations of Iranian-American Jews engage their elders, whether their grandparents, who are often ignored at Shabbat meals in preference of Instagram scrolls, or even reaching out to older ones who they have never met. I have derived immeasurable meaning from simply visiting a few Iranian-Jewish elder care facilities in West Los Angeles on Friday afternoons bearing flowers, grape juice, challah and gratitude. The residents’ appreciation makes me happy to be alive.

I recount the story from last Purim not to foment anger or stereotypes against my community, but to show readers that, like Purim itself, there are beauties hidden in our midst, and sometimes those beauties include the charmingly undiplomatic ways of a generation that is slipping through our fingers.

And perhaps one day, a few decades from now, I will give a public address to a new generation of Iranian-American Jews that has little knowledge of the heartbreaking struggles and beautiful survival of its great-grandparents, a generation that will tap on its iPhone XXXVs, tune me out and instruct its driverless cars to be ready once my soporific speech is over.

At that point, I will pause my remarks, look sternly into the eyes of this young, selfie-obsessed audience and shout, “Baseh!”


Tabby Refael was born in Tehran after the Islamic Revolution. She previously served as executive director and co-founder of 30 Years After, a group whose goal is to promote civic action and leadership among Iranian-American Jews.

Inclusion

Image via Yachad.org

The following is a transcript of a speech at a recent Bnai David-Judea Shabbaton. One part of the program was in conjunction with Yachad.

Yachad, The National Jewish Council for Disabilities is a thriving global organization dedicated to addressing the needs of all Jewish individuals with disabilities and ensuring their inclusion in every aspect of Jewish life.” 


Purim. It’s a story of good guys and bad guys, with a cast of characters that includes an inebriated king; a disobedient queen; a new queen with a secret; a pair of clumsy conspirators; and Darth Vader with a colonial-style hat. And we celebrate וְנַהֲפוֹךְ הוּא — the sudden reversal of fortune — by wearing costumes, putting on silly plays, and eating and drinking way too much.

All this may seem an odd juxtaposition with the subject of inclusion.  Though when you think about it….masks, costumes… Purim is perhaps the one time of year when we’re all judged — in fact want to be judged — by external appearances.  But people with special needs are often and unfairly judged that way all the time.  Though on Purim, costumes allow everyone to be included.

Actually, the tradition to celebrate Purim by dressing in costume is ironic, since the story the Megillah tells is so caught up in identity.  And identity is Purim’s real connection to inclusion.

Consider, for instance, that despite being a people מְפֻזָּר וּמְפֹרָד בֵּין הָעַמִּים, scattered and dispersed, by the time of the Megillah the distinction between the remaining tribes of Israel has been supplanted by a common identity: יְהוּדִים, Jews. He’s not Mordechai the Benjaminite; he’s מרדכי היהודי.  That the Persians used a one-size-fits-all label is no surprise; but the Megillah makes it clear that the exiles adopted it as well.

One could argue that this shared designation is the seed of וְנַהֲפוֹךְ הוּא. For the first time in our history, we’re truly united by a common identity.

Still, it’s a fragile community, as Mordechai instructs Esther to conceal even this fragment of identity (her שארית ישראל, if you will).  So she hides behind a mask and distances herself with a queen-Esther costume.  וְנַהֲפוֹךְ הוּא begins in earnest when Mordechai realizes that Esther’s mask and costume not only hide her, but simultaneously isolate her from the community.  She’s both afraid to be seen and is reluctant to see.  He awakens her to a responsibility towards the נֶּחֱשָׁלִים אַחֲרֶיהָ, the community she’s left behind.

So beneath the broad arc of triumph of good over evil, the Megillah is a story of community and inclusion. Esther’s actions demonstrate that we must remember those who, metaphorically speaking, do not live in the palace. Mordechai is our conscience, reminding us of the נֶּחֱשָׁלִים אַחֲרֵינו.

The word נֶּחֱשָׁלִים appears only once in Tanach — in Parshat Zachor, which we read every year on the Shabbat before Purim:

אֲשֶׁר קָרְךָ בַּדֶּרֶךְ, וַיְזַנֵּב בְּךָ כָּל הַנֶּחֱשָׁלִים אַחֲרֶיךָ — וְאַתָּה עָיֵף וְיָגֵעַ

“Remember what Amalek did to you along the way: when you were weary and worn out, they attacked all who were lagging behind…”

Note that it wasn’t Amalek who was responsible for their exclusion.  We were tired (עָיֵף) and worn out (יָגֵעַ)… and we neglected those in the community who fell behind, הַנֶּחֱשָׁלִים.

But just who are the נֶּחֱשָׁלִים אַחֲרֵינו — the left-behind, the excluded?

Of course, there’s the traditional triumvirate of the גר יתום ואלמנה — the stranger, the orphan, the widow.  But even this excludes those with special needs.

Like Esther, people with special needs sometimes hide, or are isolated, behind their masks.  Esther’s mask is described as יְפַת-תֹּאַר וְטוֹבַת מַרְאֶה, beautiful — but we soon learn that she’s more than just a pretty face.  How often do we give those with special needs a chance to show what they can do?

Consider my daughter Aviya.  She’s happy, friendly, outgoing.  She loves noses and circles.  She particularly enjoys playing with words — saying them backwards, reversing letters.  She doesn’t read books, she reads “koobs”; she comes home from school everyday on the “sub”.  She does this not because of her challenges; she does this because she’s clever and enjoys being silly.  It’s part of what makes her special.  But too often a perceived mask and costume leave her excluded, and leave her endearing traits unknown, unacknowledged, unappreciated.

To be sure, there are some things she can’t do and maybe will never be able to do.  There are some things she may never understand.  But what she does understand are feelings of exclusion.  When she goes up to other kids, they usually stare at her.  Though she doesn’t always understand this, she often feels their silence and their distance.

I worry that soon, when Aviya becomes a young adult, many grown-ups will respond to her the same way.  And despite a tremendous vocabulary, she can be hard to understand — and gets so frustrated at having to repeat herself that she often retreats into herself.  Or hides behind a koob.

She and so many others in our community are the נֶּחֱשָׁלִים בתוכנו — the excluded in our midst.

The word נֶּחֱשָׁלִים is often translated as “weak ones,” from the word חלש. However the shoresh of נֶּחֱשָׁלִים would appear to be  ח-ש-ל, not ח-ל-ש.  But חלש is the word the Torah uses to describe the battle with Amalek:  יהושע and his troops did not “defeat” Amalek; rather, ויחלוש יהושע – he “weakened them”.

So too, it seems נֶּחֱשָׁלִים should really be נֶּחֱלָשִים.  Not חשל but חלש. This is an example of a linguistic process called metathesis — the reversal of sounds or letters in a word.  And it’s not all that uncommon. For instance, כתונת is the source of the english word “tunic”; or the mispronunciation “nucyular”; or Aviya, who comes home everyday on the “sub”.

Usually this flipping of sound can survive to become part of the language only when the mispronunciation would not be confused with an established word. Thus the hebrew word כבש has the synonym כשב.

What makes נֶּחֱשָׁלִים remarkable is that its apparent shoresh, ח-ש-ל, already exists:  חשל is the forging or shaping of metal to strengthen it.  And not just metal — as Kelly Clarkson would say: מה שלא הורג מחשל.

So חשל and חלש have essentially opposite meanings.

Maybe all this is not a coincidence — maybe we’re being told

אל תאמר נֶּחֱלָשִים אלא נֶּחֱשָׁלִים

Don’t describe them by what they are  — weak, excluded — but as what we should all be  — members of a strong community.

Perhaps the text is reminding us not just of the actions of Amalek, but also how to correct our own failings. That, despite a common identity, more is required to forge a community.  For the עָיֵף וְיָגֵעַ — we, the weary and worn out — to be strengthened, we need to include the excluded. וְנַהֲפוֹךְ הוּא.

In other words, Kelly Clarkson got it wrong: it’s really

אלא שמחשלים אחרים, הוא חישל אותו

Those who strengthen others, strengthen themselves.  As individuals.  As a community.

So this Purim,

  • Remember to let Mordechai be our conscience and Esther our action hero.
  • Don’t forget that a mask — yours or another’s —  obscures ones view, and that external appearances are mere costumes.
  • Recall the words of Shoshanat Ya’akov, which we sing after reading the Megillah,
    להודיע שכל קוויך לא יבושו ולא ייכלמו לנצח כל החוסים בך
  • “…to make known that all who hope and trust in You
  • will never be ashamed or humiliated…”
  • Remember that הִתְהַפְּכוּת, reversal, begins with our sense of, and commitment to, the entire community of יְהוּדִים.

We should remember this as we scroll through the Megillah next week… or any time we settle in to read a good koob.

I Forget What This Poem is About – A Poem for Haftarah Tetzaveh / Shabbat Zachor by Rick Lupert

Shabbat of Remembrance –
I’m having trouble remembering
all the things I’m told

my biological DVR should hold.
I have a vague memory of
standing at a mountain

but the details of what
I was supposed to do with
Amalek’s sheep are fuzzy.

Kill them all? Can that be right?
That doesn’t sound like me.
Is this why Saul almost lost

his anointed job? Because he
wouldn’t kill the sheep? I had to
look up the word prostrate

because I forgot what it meant
or maybe I never knew. I can’t
put my face on the floor for

every mistake. It’s so dirty like
the floor of the sea was, which I
remember every time I

put on my shoes. Or dirty
like the gallows after Haman and
his sons hung there for days.

I eat a three sided cookie
to remember this because
nothing paints a picture like food.

Haman and his great great
no-one really knows ancestor Agag
their names written on our shoes.

Our mandate – to wipe them
from our memories, as every year
we remember them.


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.

Make a Hamantashen Costume for Purim

Photos by Jonathan Fong

r Purim? Celebrate in style by dressing up as a giant hamantashen. Besides being a fun costume that will make anyone the star of the festivities, it also can be a starting point to teach kids — and anyone unfamiliar with the customs of Purim — about the history, meaning and significance of this three-cornered cookie.

Creating your own hamantashen costume is easy with a few yards of felt. Also, because it’s put together with a glue gun, there’s no sewing involved. And that’s another reason to celebrate.

What you’ll need:
2 yards light brown felt
1 yard felt for filling
(your choice of color)
Scissors
Hot glue gun

1.

1. Cut out a large circular piece of light brown felt that is between 30 and 36 inches. I traced a circle with a 32-inch diameter hula hoop and then cut the circle with scissors. You can purchase felt by the yard at your local fabric store.

2.

2. Cut out another large circular piece of felt that is the same size as the first, but in a color to represent your filling. It can be red, purple, brown, etc. — your choice. Then scrunch it into a mound and hot glue the “filling” to the middle of the light brown felt.

3.

3. Fold in three sides of the outer circle of felt to form a triangle. Fill the folds with felt scraps to make the hamantashen three-dimensional, and hot glue the folds in place.

4.

4. Hot glue the seams where the folds meet at the three corners. You may want to fill in these sections with more felt scraps to plump up the “cookie.”

5.

5. Trace a triangle onto another piece of light brown felt with your finished hamantashen and cut it out. Hot glue one side of the triangle to one side of the hamantashen, but leave a 12-inch section in the middle open so you can stick your head through.

When Purim is over, this costume can be repurposed as a hamantashen-shaped dog bed. The three sides of the cookie even act as bolsters for the dog’s head for cushioned comfort. Bonus points if your dog happens to be named Esther.


Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at jonathanfongstyle.com.

What’s Happening in Jewish L.A. Feb. 23- Mar. 1: Anne Frank’s Stepsister, Purim Events and More

Eva Schloss

FRI FEB 23
“THE FORBIDDEN CONVERSATION”

Gili Getz

Writer and actor Gili Getz performs his one-man, one-act play that explores the American-Jewish community’s difficulty with discussing Israel in an honest way. A former Israeli military photographer, Getz stages his performance as part of Avi Shabbat, a Shabbat dinner held on college campuses that honors the life of Avi Schaefer, who served in the Israeli army and was struck and killed by a drunken driver in 2010. A Shabbat dinner and discussion will follow the performance. 6 p.m. Free. Loyola Marymount University, St. Roberts Auditorium. (310) 568-6131. For additional information, email zachary.zysman@lmu.edu.

“MIRACLE SHABBAT”

The Miracle Project and Valley Beth Shalom/Temple Aliyah’s OurSpace Kolot Tikva Choir, under the direction of Chazzan Mike Stein and choir leader Shahar Weiner, present a musical collaboration of prayer and spirit in observance of Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month and Autism Awareness Month. Complimentary parking. Community dinner follows. 6:30-8:30 p.m. Free. Elaine Breslow Institute at Beit T’Shuvah, 8847 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 204-5200. beittshuvah.org.

“HIP-HOP SHABBAT”

Temple Isaiah puts a contemporary spin on Shabbat with a service featuring hip-hop, R&B, electronic dance music, electric guitar and samples of music by Dr. Dre, the Fugees, Usher, P. Diddy and Sia. Temple Isaiah Rabbi Joel Nickerson, Cantor Tifani Coyot and songleader Danny Rubenstein lead the eclectic, high-energy and mind-expanding service. 6:45 p.m. Free. Temple Isaiah, 10345 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 277-2772. templeisaiah.com.

SUN FEB 25
AN EVENING WITH EVA SCHLOSS

Eva Schloss

Eva Schloss, a Holocaust survivor and stepsister of Anne Frank, discusses her wartime experiences and what we can learn from the past. Erin Gruwell, an educator focused on tolerance who inspired the film “Freedom Writers,” interviews Schloss. David Suissa, editor-in-chief of the Jewish Journal, emcees. Presented by the Jewish Journal, Jewish Community Center and Chabad of Downtown L.A. VIP reception 5 p.m., doors open 6 p.m., program 7 p.m. Students $10, general admission starts at $40. RSVP to nathan@miller-ink.com or meira@miller-ink.com or (310) 571-8264. Los Angeles Theater, 615 S. Broadway, Los Angeles. evaschloss.com.

RABBI AARON LERNER LECTURE

Rabbi Aaron Lerner discusses “The Present and Future of Jewish Life, Learning and Israel on Campus.” For the past five years, Lerner has helped expand Hillel UCLA’s leadership training program to include about 150 student leaders, who reach nearly 1,700 Jewish students annually at UCLA. Brunch 10 a.m., lecture 11 a.m., Q-and-A to follow. Free. RSVP at Kehillat Ma’arav office. Kehillat Ma’arav, 1715 21st St., Santa Monica. (310) 829-0566. km-synagogue.org.

“WHY HARRY MET SALLY”

Author Joshua Louis Moss discusses his 2017 book, “Why Harry Met Sally: Subversive Jewishness, Anglo-Christian Power and the Rhetoric of Modern Love,” with USC Cinema and Media Studies professor Michael Renov. The event is part of Casden Conversations, a scholarly initiative of the USC Casden Institute that brings together students, faculty and the greater Los Angeles community for discussions about Jewish life. Co-organized by IKAR. 4-5:30 p.m. Free. USC, Doheny Memorial Library, Room 240, 3550 Trousdale Parkway, Los Angeles. (213) 740-1744. dornsife.usc.edu/casden-institute/events.

MON FEB 26
AN EVENING WITH LARRY ELDER

Larry Elder

Author, radio talk show host and “The Sage From South Central” Larry Elder discusses “America in the Era of Trump” during a Jewish Republican Alliance event. Expect Elder’s take-no-prisoners style. 7:30–9:30 p.m. Advance tickets $18, tickets at the door $20. Valley Beth Shalom, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (805) 380-7721, ext. 701. jewishrepublicanalliance.org.

TUE FEB 27
“FACES OF AMERICA”

The Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Asian Jewish Initiative convenes “Faces of America: Immigrant Stories From the Diverse Asian Continent.” Panelists are Tabby Davoodi, co-founder of 30 Years After and a child refugee from post-revolutionary Iran; Halim Dhanidina, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge and the first Muslim judge in California; Karen Korematsu, daughter of civil rights activist Fred Korematsu and founding executive director of the Fred T. Korematsu Institute; and Angela Oh, a mediator of civil rights cases and a second-generation Korean-American community advocate. ADL Regional Director Amanda Susskind moderates. A light dessert reception follows. Advance registration required. Registration 6:30 p.m., program 7 p.m. Free. Democracy Center at the Japanese American National Museum, 100 N. Central Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 446-4228. la.adl.org/event/faces-of-america.


Purim Events

SAT FEB 24
KOL AMI’S BEATLES PURIM

Rabbi Denise Eger and Congregation Kol Ami host a Beatles-themed Purim celebration, “Sgt. Esther’s Shushan Hearts Club Band.” The night begins with Havdalah and a free Persian dinner. Then, Kol Ami members and the house band retell the story of Purim through the music of the Beatles. All ages welcome. 7-10 p.m. Free. RSVP required for dinner. Email reception@kol-ami.org or call (323) 606-0996. Congregation Kol Ami, 1200 N. La Brea Ave., West Hollywood. kol-ami.org.

SUN FEB 25
STEPHEN WISE TEMPLE PURIM

A Stephen Wise Temple carnival for all ages features games, prizes, food, rides and costumes. Admission includes all rides and games. Food not included. 10:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Early bird tickets for kids 4–18 are $38; on Feb. 25, $50. Parents and kids 3 and younger admitted free. On Feb. 28, the synagogue holds an evening of music, dancing, food and schmoozing for grown-ups, featuring cocktails, appetizers and hors d’oeuvresataschen. 21-and-older only. RSVP required. 7 p.m. Free. Stephen Wise Temple, 500 Stephen S. Wise Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 476-8561. wisela.org/purim.

WED FEB 28
“THE ROCKY HORA PURIM SCHPIEL”

An interactive Megillah experience transports the Kehillat Ma’arav sanctuary into Mordechai’s Shushan. Attendees dress in their finest traditional Purim garb and costumes. A raffle fundraiser and dairy meal top off the festivities. 5:30 pm. $10. Kehillat Ma’arav Synagogue, 1715 21st St., Santa Monica. (310) 829-0566. km-synagogue.org.

“STRANGER PURIM”

IKAR invites you to its Justice Carnival and Purim celebration. Enjoy food, fellowship, a drink and a spiel. Costumes encouraged. Megillah reading 6:30 p.m., party 8:15 p.m. $15 in advance, $20 at the door (tickets not required for Megillah and spiel). Food and drink tickets separate, $5 to $15. Busby’s East, 5364 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 634-1870.
ikar-la.org.

“SHE WILL ROCK YOU”

A 1970s rock-inspired musical mashup of the story of Esther and the songs of Queen lights up Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills (TEBH). Rock out like a champion with fine wine and premier beer. TEBH and Temple Isaiah clergy participate in the spiel and Megillah reading. Cocktail hour and appetizers 7 p.m., spiel 8 p.m. Cocktail event $36. Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, 8844 Burton Way, Beverly Hills. (310) 288-3737. tebh.org.

PURIM AT PICO SHUL

Pico-Robertson congregation Pico Shul holds “Bluegrass, Moonshine, Mitzot and Megillah,” a Purim celebration featuring a speedy and fun Megillah reading. Yee-haw! Evening service 6:30 p.m., megillah and moonshine 7 p.m. Free. Pico Shul, 9116 Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. On March 1, after 10 a.m. services and an 11 a.m. Megillah reading, a Purim feast will be served at 5 p.m. Dinner $36. Pico Shul, 9116 Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. picoshul.org.

MISHKON TEPHILO PURIM

A Megillah reading at Mishkon Tephilo is followed by dinner and dancing. Comedian Jackie Tohn (“Glow,” “A Futile and Stupid Gesture”), poet Rachel Kann and DJ Jeremy participate. Bring your own beer. Doors and drinks 7:30 p.m. $10. Mishkon Tephilo, 206 Main St., Venice. (310) 392-3029. mishkon.org/purim.

THU MARCH 1
PURIM COMEDY AND SCREENING

Comedian and impersonator Michael Sherman tells the story of Al Jolson, a Jewish jazz singer who hid behind his identity by portraying an Old South minstrel masquerading in blackface. As with Purim, a true identity is hidden behind the persona. A screening of “The Jazz Singer,” the 1927 film starring Jolson, follows. 7-10 p.m. $8. Hollywood Temple Beth El, Sapper Hall, 1317 N. Crescent Heights Blvd., West Hollywood. (323) 656-3150. facebook.com/htbel.

The Sexiest, Healthiest Hamantashen You’ve Ever Had

I admit I had to refresh myself on the story of Purim before coming up with a recipe for this week’s column. Growing up primarily in the United States with two Israeli parents who didn’t celebrate much outside of Rosh Hashanah and Passover, left a gap in my understanding of some Jewish holidays. Also, I didn’t attend a Jewish or Hebrew school, so it’s sad to say the only time I remember wearing a costume was on Halloween.

What I do remember is my first taste of Osnai Haman (“Haman’s ears”) in New York City, generally called hamantashen (“Haman’s hats,” traditional Purim pastry). I was invited to attend a Shabbat meal at the home of a Jewish family, and the taste of the sweet filling with earthy poppy seeds and buttery pastry became firmly etched in my mind.

Apparently, the bar was set too high from that first taste of what I like to call the “Jewish Pastries.” The trouble was that the store-bought versions, in the U.S. and even in Israel, always fell short of the mark for me. They tended to be too soft, too sweet or too bland for my taste, so I filed them under the “not worth the calories” folder in my mind, with hamantashen and rugelach falling firmly into that category.

Because I’m a pastry chef who is more interested in eating savory food than sweets, a dessert needs to be pretty special for me to indulge. I’m far too lazy to spend my limited cooking currency at home on anything other than real food, so hamantashen was never on my radar.

I need extra motivation to bake something sweet at home after a work week filled with day-to-day desserts and special-occasion cake orders. By coincidence, one of my friends who is gluten intolerant told me she was coming over early the next morning for a quick coffee. This prompted me to run to the kitchen to make something special for her. The bonus: Her Israeli husband would be thrilled when I sent her home with a Purim care package.

Unfortunately, it’s rare to find poppy seeds here in Uganda, and I ran out of my stash in the freezer. This was now a challenge!

Because I grow raspberries in my garden, I always have homemade sugar-free raspberry jam in my fridge. I sweeten it with a form of powdered stevia and thicken it with chia seeds, as they gel nicely when added to liquid.  Feel free to use the sugar substitute of your choice or use real sugar in the same quantity.

Here is a sensuous hamantashen recipe that won’t leave you needing to spend half the afternoon in the gym.

This jam is heavenly on top of yogurt or as the crowning glory on timeless desserts such as Malabi, a brilliant custard served in Israel and all over the Middle East. As an aside, legend has it that Malabi originated in Persia from the name of a cook who created it for a sultan. If you don’t feel like making a filling, it’s perfectly acceptable to use any quality jam or preserves in this recipe.    

Because I had just read the story of the fiercely brave Persian Queen Esther, and how she saved the Jewish people from inevitable demise, I decided to infuse my pastry with an exotic Persian twist. I used a few drops of rosewater mixed into my jam along with some zest of an orange. Next, I needed to replace the traditional flour with something gluten-free. Almond flour fits the bill because not only is it easy to work with but almonds are a fantastically Middle Eastern ingredient.

So here it is, a sexy hamantashen recipe if I do say so myself, and one that won’t leave you needing to spend half the afternoon in the gym. My friend was blown away and didn’t believe that they were gluten-free until I pinky swore her half a dozen times. Best of all, I followed the Purim tradition of giving to those less fortunate — and by that, I mean all gluten-intolerant folks out there. How satisfying to think that the evil Haman’s silly hat would be replicated as a pastry all these centuries later and eaten by Jews all over the world. I’m sure Queen Esther would approve.

GLUTEN-FREE HAMANTASHEN
2 cups finely ground almond flour
¼ cup powdered stevia, sugar
substitute or granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 ½ tablespoons melted browned butter,
cooled
1 egg
1/8 teaspoon liquid stevia extract
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Raspberry and rose chia jam
(recipe below)
Powdered sugar or sugar substitute
for garnish

RASPBERRY AND ROSE CHIA JAM
1 ½ cups fresh or frozen raspberries
3 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon orange zest
¼ cup powdered stevia, sugar substitute
or granulated sugar
1 teaspoon rosewater (optional)
3 tablespoons chia seeds

Place berries, water, zest and stevia or
sugar in a small saucepan and simmer until berries soften. Mash berries until a jam-like consistency is achieved.

Place in a glass jar or bowl and stir in rosewater and chia seeds. Cover and refrigerate for a minimum of two hours to set.

Makes about 1 ¼ cups

For cookies:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line a baking tray with a Silpat or parchment paper. Sift almond flour into a bowl to remove lumps, and add sugar substitute and salt.

Brown butter by putting in a small saucepan and heating gently while stirring until the butter is golden brown.  Strain out milk particles by running through a sieve and let cool. Beat together egg, liquid stevia, orange zest, vanilla and cooled melted brown butter. Add to dry ingredients, stirring until a dough forms. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 30 minutes to make it easier to roll out.

Lightly flour parchment paper or a Silpat using a teaspoon of almond flour and use a rolling pin to flatten dough to 1/8-inch thickness. Using a drinking glass or a cookie cutter, punch out circles of your desired size and place on parchment-lined baking sheet.

Use a sharp knife or offset spatula to gently peel each circle off the surface without tearing. Continue to roll out and cut circles out of dough until it is used up. It should yield about 20 circles.

Place a circle of dough in front of you. Dollop a heaping teaspoon of jam or filling of your choice in the center. Pull together three sides of the circle to form a triangle shape and pinch together corners. Place on baking tray and put in the fridge to set for 30 minutes.

Bake in preheated oven for 12 to 15 minutes or until the edges of the pastry triangles begin to brown and turn golden. Do not overcook.

Let cool on a rack. Store in a closed container in the fridge. Dust with powdered sugar if desired.

Makes 20 hamantashen

Next week, look my recipe for Sephardic salmon cakes, roasted zucchini and tahini.


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.

Badass Queen of Purim

Screenshot from YouTube.

How do I love Vashti? Let me count the ways.

In case you aren’t familiar with this woman of the Bible, Vashti makes only a brief appearance at the beginning of the Book of Esther, in which we read the Purim story. We meet her as Queen Vashti, married to the King Ahasuerus, who rules across the Persian empire.

King Ahasuerus seems to care a lot about appearances. First, he hosts a six-month display of wealth for his subjects, an ego-stoking extravaganza. Then, he invites all the men of the kingdom to a feast, complete with open bar. One week in, when the guests are good and drunk, the king commands his queen to appear before the people and show off her beauty, wearing the royal crown.

And Vashti refuses.

Why does she refuse? There are many interpretations, of course, this being a Jewish story. The most classic one, on which many later traditions are based, is that the king asked Vashti to appear before the people naked, wearing only her royal crown.

Whether or not we accept the naked theory, Vashti does not comply with the king’s desire that she display her beauty before hordes of drunken men. His advisers are horrified. They urge him to banish her, so that the women of the kingdom will not wonder if they, too, should begin to think for themselves and disobey their husbands.

And so Vashti is banished from the kingdom, leaving the job of queen vacant, to be filled by Esther, the conventional heroine of the Purim story.

When a sacred text is discussed over many centuries, its characters take on the form of current events. In ancient Babylonia, the rabbis imagined Vashti as a wanton idolater. The earliest modern feminists, in the 1800s, lauded her as a model of liberation. And in our particular moment, Vashti resonates most obviously with the #MeToo movement as she refuses to comply with workplace sexual harassment in the palace.

When the king asks Queen Vashti to appear and display her beauty, she faces a fundamental human question: Should I do what is asked of me by others?

The term “sexual harassment” is new, but as we see from this story, it’s almost incredible how ancient and pervasive the act is. From her vantage point as queen of the Persian empire, our heroine sees this abuse of power for what it is and chooses to abdicate the throne rather than acquiesce. Courageously, Vashti gives up her wealth and power in exchange for … well, who knows what happens to a divorced ex-royal in ancient Persia?

But gender politics are not the only lens through which Vashti’s story has powerful resonance. I also love how her refusal can be an inner, spiritual teaching, as well.

When the king asks Queen Vashti to appear and display her beauty, she faces a fundamental human question: Should I do what is asked of me by others? Or do I, instead, dare to live by my own instincts?

We face this question in infinite ways. It can come in the form of deciding whether to speak the truth about our sexual orientation or gender identity. It can challenge us when we feel drawn to become more or less religious than our families of origin. Or it can manifest in terms of dreams for how to live our lives — I think of my high school friend, a gifted classical pianist who passionately wanted to pursue music but whose parents insisted she enter a fast-track, pre-med program.

And on a daily level, this question appears in decisions as simple as how to represent ourselves on social media. Do we include our struggles or present only a carefully curated spread of perfect-looking moments, as Ahasuerus presents the riches of his kingdom, as he seeks to present his perfect wife?

Vashti can inspire us to ask: What happens when we refuse to dwell on the level of appearances and see, instead, with our hearts? What happens when we refuse to aim for admiration, perfection, accolades, and instead make our goal simple: to be our most authentic selves?

If you dress up for Purim, keep Vashti in mind and be the queen of yourself.


Alicia Jo Rabins is a writer, musician and Torah teacher who lives in Portland, Ore.

ARTIST OF THE WEEK: Udi Goren

Udi Goren
“Supermarket, Purim,” 2015

A supermarket in the northern coastal city of Nahariya, Israel, on Purim. “Supermarket, Purim” is part of the international exhibition “Passage to Israel,” which opens on March 8 at the Sagamore Hotel in the South Beach area of Miami Beach, as part of a three-month “Peace 70” initiative (passagetoIsrael.org).

Celebrating the Absurd

There are different sorts of happiness.

There is a quiet happiness, an inner sense of bliss, the innocent joy of a small child, one of wonderment and gratitude — a happiness to carry with you at all times.

Then there is the seasonal happiness that blooms for all to see, bursting out in song, in dance and in celebration of Sukkot, Simchat Torah — all the festivals of the Jewish calendar — as well as a wedding, a birth, or any occasion that provides a time to feast and rejoice with family and friends.

All very sensible, normal sorts of happiness.

Purim is not normal. It’s nuts. A rational person is hard put to celebrate Purim, as are all those who believe they know who they are. Because the joy of Purim means to leave all that behind.

Purim is the ultimate joy, and the only way to experience that joy is to break out of yourself — not by making yourself happy, not by doing things you enjoy, and not by sticking to your life, your friends, your family and being the person you are so comfortable being.

No. By playing the clown, by taking the risk of making yourself look like a total idiot, by allowing the insanity within you to burst out, you can bring smiles to strangers on the street and uplift all those around you — even those who had lost all hope for joy.

The light of Purim knows no bounds.

Why Purim? What happened in Shushan that is cause for such madness?

Purim is the day the Jewish people took ownership of their Jewishness, at a time when it was utter madness to do so.

That’s the subtext to the Megillah that is often ignored. We’re told that Haman’s decree of total annihilation was upon the “Yehudim” — the Jews. The implication is that any Jew could easily slip out of this predicament. Any Jew could be totally clear of danger by just saying, “What, me Jewish? I speak Farsi. I dress Farsi. I eat Farsi food. I celebrate Farsi celebrations. I’m just another Farsi like you.”

Purim is not normal. It’s nuts. A rational person is hard put to celebrate Purim, as are all those who believe they know who they are.

And that, it could be argued, would be the sensible thing to do. You’ve lost your land. Your temple lies in ruins. What gives you a right to exist? What sense does it make to have “laws that are different from all other people” while you are “scattered among the nations”? Why identify with your people, practices and beliefs when that identity means only persecution and hatred?

God has abandoned you, for heaven’s sake!

Given all that, what the Jews did was absurd. They said, “We are Jews. We were born Jews. We will die Jews.” They fasted and prayed, and then fought for their lives. Why? There is no explanation. But we are still here. Absurdly.

I identify with that. In a certain way, it happened again with my generation.

I am a child of the post-Holocaust. My generation is made up of those raised on the image of the Jew as a skeleton behind the barbed wire of Auschwitz.

When there was a Holocaust documentary on TV, I had to watch it. At the local Jewish Community Center lounge where I went to hang out with friends, the entire back wall was covered with a mural of those deathly figures. When I was schlepped to the synagogue for whatever occasion, I doubt the rabbi ever delivered a sermon without mentioning the 6 million.

The message was drilled, pounded and welded relentlessly into our little minds, until it became part of our neural circuits: We are the people they hate. If someone is looking for a people to persecute, to blame, to despise, to obliterate from the face of the earth, here we are.

As for God and our religion, there was only one conclusion a sensible person could come to: God had abandoned us and the deal was off.

Please tell me why any kid would want to stay in this club?

And then something crazy happened. Barely a quarter-century had passed since the implementation of the Final Solution, and a Jewish renewal began to flourish. We returned, perhaps not in droves, but with pride, with chutzpah, with love — madly embracing that which our parents and grandparents had quite reasonably dropped by the wayside.

Why? I don’t know. We are a crazy people. We can’t let go of our God.

In the Babylonian Talmud, Rava says, “On Purim, you must get drunk until you don’t know the difference between ‘Cursed is Haman’ and ‘Blessed is Mordechai.’ ”

We are drunk with wine — a deep, rich wine aged over millennia. The wine of a love that can never be lost, of a marriage that can never be broken.

So, What Should You Do On Purim?

Send gifts of food to random Jews you don’t know — just because they are your fellow Jews.

Listen to the Megillah, by night and by day, and make a fool of yourself booing Haman.

Feast with your friends and family and total strangers — and don’t worry about what anyone thinks of you.

Most important, go to those who are forgotten — on the street, in retirement homes, in prison cells, in jobs they can’t take a day off from to celebrate — people locked into believing they are defined by those things and unable to escape. Make a total fool of yourself, and bring those people the liberation of joy.


Tzvi Freeman is an author and senior editor at Chabad.org.

Unmasking Purim, Fighting Amalek: Behind the whimsy of this holiday lie some deep lessons for living.

Many people are preparing their Purim carnivals, skits and spiels. I wish they would stop, just for a moment. All that energy devoted to the kids and to having fun is good, but there is more to consider. The frivolity of Purim masks an evil — and a richness of tradition on how to fight that evil, an effort from which we can be easily distracted.

First, a little about the holiday. Its name comes from the Persian word “pur” (plural, “purim”), which means something like “dice.” Haman tossed the dice to determine the date to annihilate the Jews. We are also told that the Hebrew translation of pur is “goral,” which can mean “chance” or “fate.”  (From one perspective, life feels like chance. From another, it feels like fate.) So instead of calling the holiday Purim, try calling it “Dice”— or, even better, “Chance.”

The story of Chance is told through the rich fabric of the book of Esther. The observance is simple: read the entire Scroll of Esther (the whole megillah) on the 14th day of Adar (the 15th of Adar in some ancient cities). In addition, Esther 9:22 tells us that Purim is to be a time of feasting and gladness, of sending dishes of food to friends and gifts to the poor.

A single line in the Talmud, Megillah 7b, inspires much wobbly to incoherent merriment. “Rova said: A person is obligated to become intoxicated (livsumi) to the point that one does not know the difference between ‘cursed is Haman’ and ‘blessed is Mordecai.’” (Many people who fulfill few other commandments are punctilious in the observance of Rova’s opinion.) The “gladness” tradition is probably the source of the costumes, carnivals, skits and spiels.

In traditional synagogues on the Sabbath before Purim, we read these verses from The Torah: “Remember (zachor) what Amalek did to you on your journey out of Egypt, how they came upon on the road and cut off all the weak people at your rear, when you were parched and weary, not revering God” (Deuteronomy 25:17-18).

We learn from this tradition that in addition to the other Purim customs we are supposed to “remember Amalek.”

“Remembering,” or perhaps better, “being mindful of” is an inner-life commandment. It is hard to measure whether you have fulfilled it. Perhaps one just has to read the few biblical verses that describe who Amalek is and what Amalek did.

The inner-life traditions (Kabbalah, Mussar, Chasidism) require much more. These traditions — more focused on transformation than just outer observance — require studying and internalizing the meaning of Amalek as a path for spiritual and moral growth. Our inner-life traditions see the biblical Amalek as reflecting a psychological archetype. In essence, what Amalek did then, Amalek is always doing now inside of every human being.

In case you don’t remember Amalek so well, here’s some help: Genesis 36:11 tells us that the progenitor of the tribe of Amalek was the grandson of Esau, the fraternal twin of Jacob/Israel. Esau was the father of Eliphaz. Eliphaz had both proper wives and a concubine named Timna with whom Eliphaz bore Amalek. Amalek, then, is the grandson of dispossessed Esau, dispossessed again by being the son of a concubine. We can only theorize as to what caused Amalek’s hatred toward the Israelites.

Perhaps in an unhappy, forlorn state, Amalek sees himself as a victim of Jacob/Israel stealing the birthright from his grandfather Esau. Instead of moving on, Amalek chooses to fixate, stew and hate. The children of Israel become the focus of his envious hatred. What they have is rightfully his, Amalek believes. This hatred is passed down in tribal consciousness, maybe even as a core self-understanding: “We are those who hate the people Israel.”

Amalek dwells out in the world, in full view. Within us, he hides in our political outrage, as well as in the interpersonal harm that we inflict on each other.

In Exodus 17:8-18, Amalek attacks the Israelites as they come out of Egypt. After a back-and-forth battle, the Israelites fight off Amalekites. After the battle, God says to Moses that God will surely erase the memory of Amalek, and God is engaged in an eternal war with Amalek.

These and other Biblical incidents create the image of an intractable enemy, always present when Israel is weak. In the aggadah (rabbinic narratives rooted in the Bible), the image of Amalek is filled out, for example, as mutilating the bodies of Israelites captured through vile cunning.

Amalek is finally cornered in 1 Samuel. In this narrative, God commands King Saul to annihilate the Amalekites, those committed to the annihilation of Israel. Saul does so, but lets Agag, their king, live. Samuel the Seer tells Saul that God has ripped the kingship away from him for disobeying God. Samuel has Agag brought before him and slays him — but, according to the aggadah, it’s too late. In the interim, Agag has sired a child, who begets a generation. In Esther 3:1, we learn that the Amalekites have migrated to Persia (today’s Iran). Haman is the son of Hamdata, the Agagite. Haman is an Amalekite.

Haman is foiled in the time of Esther, but as a symbol, lives on. In the Zohar, Kabalah’s foundational book, Amalek descends from the primordial snake. He is the stuff of spiritual impurity and poison.

As a spiritual psychological archetype, Amalek roams the world. He appears in Stalin, Hitler’s National Socialism, Mao’s and North Korea’s Communism, in the extremist theology of Islamic terror and in ethnic “cleansings” and depredations all over the world.

There is an Amalek in the mass shooters, in racial hatred, in the sundry evils that plague our nation and world. Amalek is known as being impervious to reason — his thinking flows directly from his hatred. He does not hate for what people do, but for what they are. And not even really that. Amalek is addicted to hatred. Whom he hates is secondary.

To remember Amalek is to know that there truly is evil in the world, not just the absence of good. Amalek destroys the good.

For many people, the study of Amalek stops here. We ask ourselves who is Amalek today, and many people have ready answers. Bush is Hitler, or Obama is Hitler or Trump is Hitler. The left are Nazis. Everybody we hate is Hitler or Nazi. That is your inner Amalek talking inside your political passions. Amalek loves to hate and dehumanize those whom we hate.

Once we remember that Amalek dwells within our political passions, we take one more look at where else Amalek lives. This last area of spiritual psychology is core to my own teaching.

First, Amalek dwells in families. I have heard spouses speak to each other with finely articulated hatred. I ask the offender: What’s the source of this license to insult? Their inner Amalek chirps up: “I’m just saying what I feel. I am supposed to be truthful about my feelings.”

I sometimes counsel, “There is a higher truth here. The truth of clarity, not of insult. The truth of wisdom, not invective. The truth of making things better, not destroying that which is gasping to survive.”

Amalek hides mostly in our anger. Amalek loves it when you find something to get angry about. Many of us carry within us resentments, wounds, senses of unfulfilled entitlement that infect our thinking and color our emotions. We can’t imagine letting go of some perceived (or real) injustice, because some part of our lives has learned to thrive, to take meaning in that sense of having been wronged.

For us, as for Amalek, resentment and anger can be the organizing principles of our lives. True, Judaism teaches us, rightly, to fight evil. But most of what we are angry about is not evil. Most of us are angry about the messiness of life lived with other people with whom we disagree. Perhaps far more imperfect than we are, but imperfect just like we are. Amalek hides in our outrage, in our rationalizations, which allow us to see mere momentary opponents as embodiments of evil.

Finally, the inner Amalek hides in not only the parts of the self that attack others, but those that attack our own well-being.

Unresolved grief, despair, irrational guilt and obligation, inner shame, irrational fear and anxiety, envy and destructive desire are fueled by poisonous permissions, excuses and rationalizations of Amalek.

Sometimes we who care for the souls of others feel like emergency room staff. People wheel themselves in, emotionally and spiritually broken, hemorrhaging the belief that things can get better.

Let me share one ER moment, one of thousands.

I once counseled a woman who was trying hard to to get to her writing projects. Her marriage was tough and she felt spiritually spent and dissipated. She had gone to therapy and discovered the painful legacy left by her parents. Armed as she was with insight, she still was wallowing in the mire.

I asked, “What is the she saying?”

“She, who?” the woman asked.

“She, that unhappy voice within,” I responded. “She has something to say and she is saying it, but her voice is close to inaudible.”

I taught this young woman a bit about different ego states, subpersonalities and discordant voices. She caught on.

“She says that I am a loser, that my talent was spent a long ago, that like my father I won’t amount to much, that I dream big but accomplish little.”

“How does she feel about you?” I asked.

“She hates me. She wants me to be the worse wife and mother possible. She wants me depressed and unavailable.”  She heard herself talking and then asked, disconcerted, “Who is she?”

“She is the Amalek within,” I said.

Even those of us who have gotten somewhere in life know that we harbor within us voices and forces that if expressed or lived out could shatter it all. So many people wake up in the gutter with a final cry that they want to live that they have formed communities (such as 12-step programs) of those cut down by Amalek. Some of us, Amalek stabs in the back.  Others die by a thousand slashes.

However old I am, I am not taking that pattern of thought, speech or behavior out of Egypt with me. There is a strict baggage limit on the freedom train.

In sum: Amalek dwells out in the world, in full view. Within us, he hides in our political outrage and the interpersonal harm we inflict on each other. Deeper within, Amalek gnaws away at our own well-being.

Here is a way to fight Amalek. First, in the weeks before Passover, create a detailed vision of the person you want to be in every area of your life, including how you spend your time and manage your private thoughts, feelings and emotions. The vision should be realistic and achievable, not just high-sounding phrases.

Next, try to detect the voices of Amalek as he aims to block your path or distract you from your goal. Amalek always has a speech, some excuse or rationalization in the costume of reason. This is where virtue comes in. Your path includes rules of speech and behavior.

It is a fight. Some days the battle goes my way, and other days Amalek gets the upper hand. I keep up the fight. This fight reaches its most bitter moment right around Shabbat Zachor, the Sabbath before Purim.

Take a break for Purim — the feast of gladness and joy. Realize that you don’t have to drink to get intoxicated because Amalek is toxic enough.

Start to refine the battle to one close-quarters fight that I believe I have the vision, the will and skill to win. Stop using that word. Stop that passive aggressive behavior. Be straight and aim for the good.

As Nisan, the month of the Exodus, comes closer, realize that the time is now. However old I am, I am not taking that pattern of thought, speech or behavior out of Egypt with me. There is a strict baggage limit on the freedom train.

By the middle of Nisan, I have flushed out at least one face of Amalek and I realize now that he is not I — that he is Pharaoh bent on enslaving me. Things are clearer now. What I thought was part of me was actually a chain. I get out of Egypt, ready for the word of God to fill me.


Rabbi Mordecai Finley is the spiritual leader of Ohr HaTorah and professor of Jewish Thought at the Academy of Jewish Religion, California.

Purim Parallels in ‘Black Panther’

Marvel’s latest blockbuster, “Black Panther,” is an epic sermon on multiculturalism and the struggle to tame identity politics. Its grand themes of personal identity and ethnic pride are especially meaningful in today’s polarized socio-political climate, where a new sense of ethnocentric pride is galvanizing the outrage-driven left while also making American white nationalism “great again.”

The film is set in the fictional wealthy African kingdom of Wakanda, a highly sophisticated modern country with ancient traditions, rituals and beliefs. Since ancient times, when their technological advances were further ahead of the rest of the world, Wakanda’s foreign policy has been isolationist. The kingdom shuns outsiders to protect its most important resource, a secret mineral called Vibranium that powers their scientific achievements and would be deadly in evil hands.

The titular Black Panther and king of Wakanda is a man named T’Challa. His militant nemesis is Erik Killmonger. Having experienced and witnessed grave racial injustice, Killmonger believes Wakanda’s isolationist tradition is wrong. A supremacist, Killmonger plots to arm black people all over the world with Wakanda’s super-weapons in an attempt to conquer the world.

T’Challa also agrees that isolationism is wrong but he plans to enrich the lives of black people around the world through generosity, education and kindness.

T’Challa is cut from the same royal cloth as Queen Esther. His ethnic pride also inspires charity and kindness, as well as thriving within the global community.

Similarly, the Purim story is also about multiculturalism and ethnic pride. The entire threat of Haman’s genocidal plot turns on the fact that Queen Esther is a Jew but is hiding her identity because her people are refugees in exile. However, they do not intend on melting into Persian society. Their plan is to retain their Jewish identity and return to the Promised Land, but the memory of Israel and our Temple is beginning to fade at the beginning of the Purim story. We were so broken and downtrodden that King Achashverosh was nonplussed by the idea of exterminating us.

Our salvation came about because Esther owned her Jewish identity. She sparked a renewal of Jewish pride and identity across Persia that was so great, it inspires Purim traditions of charity and rituals of kindness to this day.

T’Challa is cut from the same royal cloth as Queen Esther. His ethnic pride also inspires charity and kindness, as well as thriving within the global community.

On one level, “Black Panther” is a metaphor for the historical struggle between Black nationalist extremism and the civil rights movement. Both are inspired by the same identity politics but yield opposite results.

Esther embraced her identity to save her people, and when her people were safe they celebrated by bringing light into the world. “La’Yehudim hyta ora v’simcha” – “There was light and joy for the Jews.”

Similarly, T’Challa’s ethnic pride inspires him to add light into the world by raising up the oppressed and downtrodden.

“Black Panther” makes the case for embracing identity politics to uplift others and inspire brotherhood. That is the opposite of supremacy. Ethnic pride is not an end in itself. At its best, it’s part of a vibrant and unifying multiculturalism.


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

Moving and Shaking: L.A. celebrates Purim, IDF soldiers celebrated, Elon Gold reignites Jewish comedy

From left: Michael Robin, Melanie Zoey Weinstein, Marnina Wirtschafter and Jaclyn Beck sing a politically themed song parody of “Seasons of Love” as part of IKAR’s Purim celebration. Photo by Len Muroff.
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Mayim Bialik suited up for the Velcro wall at Valley Beth Shalom’s March 12 Purim carnival. Photo courtesy of Mayim Bialik.

Los Angeles Jews celebrated Purim across the city and around the world on March 11 and 12.

On the Westside, Shtibl Minyan and Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills held “Hamilton”-themed shpiels, “Hamalkah: A Purim Musical” and “Esther: A Purim Musical,” respectively. Temple Isaiah hosted “The Late Late Show Purim,” with Rabbi Joel Nickerson playing talk show host James Grogger and featuring characters from the Purim story as his guests. At Temple Beth Am, senior staff and interns dressed as either Little Orphan Annie or her dog, Sandy, to convey the message that “the sun will come out tomorrow.” Aish Los Angeles held a jungle-themed Purim party for young adults ages 21 to 32 at Morry’s Fireplace.

Venturing to Club Fais Do-Do, IKAR held a combination Megillah reading and shpiel, featuring slides with funny images. Between chapters, the shpiel team screened a number of video shorts, including “IKARaoke,” starring “Royal Pains” actor Mark Feuerstein. The spiel ended with a politically themed song parody of “Seasons of Love” (from the musical “Rent”). Costumes, too, skewed political, with Rabbi Sharon Brous dressed as the Statue of Liberty.

Festivities continued Sunday around the region, with carnivals at Temple Judea, Temple Isaiah and Valley Beth Shalom (VBS), among other places. At VBS, actress Mayim Bialik (“The Big Bang Theory”) was one of the carnival-goers who suited up for the Velcro wall.

In Israel, Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, was spotted dancing after a Megillah reading at the Tel Aviv Hilton with his son, Avi Hier, and Andrew Friedman, president of Congregation Bais Naftoli.

— Esther D. Kustanowitz, Contributing Writer


Soldiers who traveled to Los Angeles as part of Lev Chayal “Trip of a Lifetime” gather around businessman and philanthropist Marvin Markowitz (top row, seventh from left, seated). Photo by Debra Halperin Photography.

Soldiers who traveled to Los Angeles as part of Lev Chayal “Trip of a Lifetime” gather around
businessman and philanthropist Marvin Markowitz (top row, seventh from left, seated). Photo by Debra Halperin Photography.

Lev Chayal held its second annual “Toast to Our Heroes” party on March 4 at The Mark for Events on Pico Boulevard. The party honored 10 Israel Defense Forces soldiers who were wounded during hostilities with Hamas in Gaza in 2014.

Lev Chayal, which translates to “Heart of a Soldier,” is a group dedicaxted to honoring wounded Israeli soldiers by offering them free leisure trips to Los Angeles. Chaya Israily and Brocha Yemini founded the group in 2016 under the auspices of the Chabad Israel Center.

The black-tie evening coincided with the second trip for soldiers sponsored by Lev Chayal. During their 10-day tour of Los Angeles, dubbed “The Trip of a Lifetime,” the soldiers attended a Lakers game, toured the headquarters of dating app Tinder and visited the Getty Villa museum, among other attractions.

Businessman and philanthropist Marvin Markowitz donated the use of the event space and paid for a significant amount of the event’s expenses.

Some 200 people attended the event, which raised nearly $50,000. Lev Chayal is preparing for the next trip for soldiers in December.

— Eitan Arom, Staff Writer


Alan Dershowitz and Roz Rothstein at “Combating the Boycott Movement Against Israel” conference. Photo courtesy of StandwithUs.

Alan Dershowitz and Roz Rothstein at “Combating the Boycott Movement Against Israel” conference. Photo courtesy of StandwithUs.

More than 250 people participated in the “Combating the Boycott Movement Against Israel” conference on March 4-6, organized by the group StandWithUs, which focused on countering the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.

Supported by the Diane Shulman and Roger Richman Israel Education Fund, the conference at the Hyatt Regency Los Angeles International Airport drew students, professionals and activists from the United States, Canada and Israel. Attendees and members of StandWithUs, a nonprofit pro-Israel organization, shared their experiences with the BDS movement and the tactics they have used to challenge it on college campuses and other places.

“Today, you can’t say anything about minorities, about gay people, about Palestinians, about Muslims or about Arabs,” said Harvard University law professor emeritus and defense attorney Alan Dershowitz. “But when you put a shoe on the other foot, you can say analogous things about the nation-state of the Jewish people, about the Jewish lobby, and ultimately about Jews.”

He said college campuses should “demand a single standard” that is fairly applied to both sides.

“Whatever the left says is hate speech against them, we must demand that that be deemed hate speech against us on the other side,” Dershowitz said.

Other guest speakers included Judea Pearl, father of late Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl; Yaki Lopez, consul for political affairs at the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles; and Anne Bayefsky, director of the Touro Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust.

Hannah Karpin, 17, StandWithUs High School Intern at Palos Verdes Peninsula High School, said the conference enabled her to learn more about the BDS movement.

“I think it should be acknowledged as an anti-Semitic movement,” said Karpin, who is planning to attend college next year. “It was shocking to hear that some recognizable organizations were behind the BDS movement.”

— Olga Grigoryants, Contributing Writer


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Elon Gold. Photo by Ryan Torok.

Comedian Elon Gold performed at a Purim comedy concert at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills on March 9, during which he talked about why Israel is the nipple of the Middle East breast (Gold said Israel is the most sensitive area and he doesn’t get to visit it as much he would like) and acted as Abraham negotiating with God over how much should be cut off during a circumcision (with God sounding like Marlon Brando and Abraham like Woody Allen).

Gold is Modern Orthodox and his material focused almost exclusively on the Jewish experience. He asked at one point if any gentiles were in the crowd. When nobody raised a hand, he insisted there were a couple of goy but they were hiding. He then asked the non-Jews how it felt for them to be the ones hiding.

Alex Edelman, a stand-up comedian who opened the show, gleaned material from his Jewish upbringing and did an eight-minute bit about the year his family celebrated Christmas, much to the chagrin of his yeshiva teacher.

The several hundred attendees included Pico Shul Rabbi Yonah Bookstein and his wife, rebbetzin Rachel Bookstein; Jacob Segal, co-chair of the Southern California Israel Chamber of Commerce; David Suissa, president of TRIBE Media Corp., and his daughter, Tova; and Scott Jacobs of JooTube.

On a more serious note, Gold took the opportunity to denounce the anti-Semitism that has been on the rise over the past couple of months, with Jewish community centers being targeted with bomb threats and several Jewish cemeteries vandalized.

“You mess with the Jews, you lose,” Gold said.


From left: FIDF Chairman Ari Ryan and FIDF board members Francesca Ruzin and Michael Spector. Photo courtesy of S&N Photography.

Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) held its Young Leadership Western Region Spring Mixer on March 9 at the Nightingale Plaza dance club on La Cienega Boulevard.

Some 650 young donors mingled over cocktails under violet lighting as house music blared, celebrating the work FIDF has done to support Israeli troops. Life-size posters of IDF soldiers in uniform beamed at the guests.

For an extra $18 above the $36 ticket price, attendees were able to send a Purim gift package to an IDF soldier.

The event, chaired by Danielle Moses, Mimi Paley, Francesca Ruzin and Miles Soboroff, raised more than $41,000 for FIDF.

In 2016, FIDF supported, by its own count, 66,000 soldiers, veterans and bereaved family members, including 14,500 through educational programming, 2,800 through assistance to so-called lone soldiers who don’t have immediate family in Israel, and 8,000 soldiers needing financial assistance.

— Eitan Arom, Staff Writer


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Michael Janofsky

Michael Janofsky, a former correspondent for The New York Times and more recently managing editor of LA School Report, has joined the Jewish Journal as an assistant editor. Janofsky was a sportswriter, national correspondent and Washington, D.C. reporter over 24 years with the paper. After moving to Los Angeles in 2006, he worked as a speechwriter for the dean of UCLA’s business school and a freelance writer and editor before joining the Journal.

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com. 

Chelsea Clinton cites Purim in scoring congressman who says ‘demographics are our destiny’

Chelsea Clinton speaks at an event, April 17, 2014. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

Chelsea Clinton cited the lessons of Purim to chastise a congressman who said restoring Western civilization could not be done “with somebody else’s babies.”

“Clearly the Congressman does not view all our children as, well, all our children,” Clinton, the daughter of former President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, who lost the November presidential election to Donald Trump, said Sunday in a tweet quoting a tweet by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa. “Particularly ironic & painful on Purim.”

Clinton’s husband, Marc Mezvinsky, is Jewish. Purim celebrates the triumph of Persia’s Jews over a deadly enemy, Haman. Some Jewish traditions cite its lessons as upholding diversity.

King in his tweet praised Geert Wilders, the anti-Islam Dutch lawmaker whose party is among those competing in elections this week in the Netherlands.

“Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny,” he said. “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”

The tweet was reviled as bigoted almost as soon as King posted it.

“This is so offensive, it’s hard to know where to start,” Jonathan Greenblatt, the Anti-Defamation League CEO, said in a tweet. “America’s greatness is the diversity of our culture, the dynamism of our demography.”

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., alluded to King’s closeness to Trump, and claims from Democrats that Trump’s election has spurred increased bigotry, in calling the comment “racist.”

“It’s no accident that communities across America have been threatened by emboldened racists,” she said in a statement Monday. “The GOP Leadership must stop accommodating this garbage, and condemn Congressman Steve King’s statements in the strongest and most unequivocal terms.”

In an appearance on CNN on Monday morning, King would not say whether he believed Muslims were “equals,” but defended the tweet from charges that it was racist.

“It’s the culture, not the blood,” King said. “And if you can go anywhere in the world and adopt these little babies and put them into households that were already assimilated into America, those babies will grow up as American as any other baby with as much patriotism and as much love of country as any other baby. It’s not about race.”

At least 7 JCCs receive bomb threats on Purim

A view of the Harry and Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center in Milwaukee Wisconsin, which was one of several JCCs to receive more bomb threats on Sunday. Photo from Facebook.

At least seven Jewish community centers in the United States and Canada received bomb threats while they were hosting Purim events.

The threats, either called in or emailed, were reported Sunday at JCCs in Rochester, New York; Chicago; Indianapolis; Milwaukee; Cleveland; Houston, and Vancouver, British Columbia.

Most of the JCCs were evacuated and searched. None of the threats turned out to be credible.

For some of the centers it was their second threat in the past week.

The threats are part of a wave that has hit JCCs, Jewish schools and other Jewish institutions since the start of 2017. More than 150 threats have been received since the beginning of the year, according to the Secure Community Network, which coordinates security across Jewish organizations in North America.

On Sunday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the second such threat against the Rochester JCC in less than a week “a despicable and cowardly act” of anti-Semitism. Cuomo ordered the New York State Police to launch a more intense investigation into the threats, and to work with federal and local law enforcement on the investigation.

“Like all New Yorkers, I am profoundly disturbed and disgusted by the continued threats against the Jewish community in New York,” Cuomo said in a statement. “As New Yorkers, we will not be intimidated and we will not stand by silently as some seek to sow hate and division. New York is one family, and an attack on one is an attack on all.”

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said he plans to provide additional law enforcement intelligence and staffing to the JCC in Milwaukee so it “continues to be a safe place” after it was evacuated Sunday for the fourth time in six weeks.

Meanwhile, a rally was held Sunday outside the Rady Jewish Community Centre in Winnipeg, Canada, which was evacuated due to a bomb threat on Thursday, “to send a signal of unity against fear and terrorism.”

A Poem For Purim in Which Our Happiness Gets Bigger by Rick Lupert

It is the Hebrew month of Adar and my
happiness is getting bigger.

That’s not meant to sound dirty.
It’s a traditional tradition, as old as Purim itself

as old as eating cookies shaped like human ears
as old as wearing Venetian masks

I think Purim is where Mardi Gras got the idea.
As Purim approaches, our happiness gets bigger.

On this day we march down the Bourbon Streets
of our lives, imbibing whatever it takes

to blur the lines between what’s wrong and what’s right.
(or what’s left if you’re feeling politically charged)

Hoping, no mandated, to see how close we are
to evil, and still land on the good side of the line.

I have to be honest, when I first heard the word
Megillah, I was disappointed to find out it didn’t

have anything to do with Gorillas. The cartoon of
my youth informing my understanding of Jewish History.

I’d always wanted a monkey of any kind and to
find out Purim only led to a cookie, was a tragedy

of King Kongian proportions. It was like someone
was saying Haman to me as loud as they could

next to my ear which I’m lucky enough to
still have attached. And can we all just agree,

There should be a much higher proportion of
chocolate Hamentaschen? (no offense fruit)

This is all getting a bit silly, but that’s Purim.
Straddling the line between good and evil.

A dizzying balance to maintain. I’m standing
on one foot. Hoping the other one lands

in a respectable location. My happiness is
getting bigger. I’d draw you a picture, but

I’m out of time.


Los Angeles poet Rick Lupert created a 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 20 collections of poetry, including “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 “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.

Stepping back, stepping forward

King Ahasuerus & Queen Esther in Apocrypha. Photo from Wikipedia.

Parashat Tetzaveh (Exodus 27:20-30:10)

The Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chasidism, taught that God’s most powerful influence comes not through acting in the world, but rather through conscious and deliberate refraining from acting. He beautifully illustrates this concept with reference to one of life’s quieter, but no less amazing, miracles: teaching a child to take his first steps.

About the time that a small child begins to stand on his own, a caring parent will lean down and beckon, “Come to me.” The child will take a tentative, wobbly step toward his smiling mother. And then, the mother will do something profoundly frustrating: She will back away, creating more distance for the child to traverse.

At first there is confusion, even anger, on the face of the toddler. But, eventually, the distance coaxes him to take one more step, and then another. As the mother makes space, the child learns to walk. It is by pulling back, not swooping in, the Baal Shem Tov taught, that God and we create new realities.

The confluence of this week’s parsha, Tetzaveh, and the holiday of Purim, which begins at sunset after Shabbat, is a study in stepping back and leaving space for something new to emerge. Tetzaveh is the only parsha of the latter four books of the Torah that doesn’t mention Moses. Purim’s central text, the Book of Esther, is the only volume of the Bible that doesn’t mention God. Both the parsha and the Megillah defy expectations with the conspicuous absence of ubiquitous characters, inviting us to lean in and listen more closely, to step into the seemingly empty space to discover new and exciting possibilities.

Parashat Tetzaveh describes the ordination ritual for Aaron and his sons to the priesthood, the process of bringing human beings into the direct service of God. There can only be one Moses, but, over the course of Jewish history, hundreds of priests would be ordained to carry out their sacred tasks, and after the destruction of the Temple, thousands more rabbis would carry on the chain of ordination.

During this brief moment in which Moses steps aside, we learn that there are other ways to enter into the service of the Holy One aside from being called as a prophet. In Moses’ absence, we are invited to re-imagine our own role in the Jewish story, to envision ourselves as potential leaders and vessels of holiness.

Purim similarly invites us to consider our own power. In previous stories of deliverance from mighty enemies, our triumph always came directly from the hand of God. It was God who split the sea for the escaping Israelite slaves, and stopped the sun in the sky over Joshua’s armies, and protected Daniel in the lion’s den. The story of Esther is the first time we come face to face with the potential of annihilation and don’t have God at hand to save the day.

The Purim story is the most relatable of biblical tales for a world in which God doesn’t appear to sort out all our problems, in which we are called to faith in ourselves and our own abilities to do extraordinary things.

Instead, our salvation comes through human courage, the willingness of Esther to put her life on the line to speak her truth. In that way, the Purim story is the most relatable of biblical tales for a world in which God doesn’t appear to sort out all our problems, in which we are called to faith in ourselves and our own abilities to do extraordinary things.

By taking a step back in the twin stories that define this liturgical week, Moses and God invite us to take a step forward and discover our own capacity to act. A parent who never learns to give their child space will never equip them with the ability to survive and to thrive on their own.

Moses is mortal, and he will not cross over into the Promised Land with us, so we’ll need to be able to appoint a chain of leaders who will guide us into our new chapter. And even God can’t be with us every step of the way either, booming instructions, blessings and warnings.

Today we walk on our own, a path laid out by Moses our teacher, on a path toward God our parent. Like children learning to walk, we still stumble and fall sometimes, but as we come to trust our own legs, what a joy it is to learn to carry ourselves forward, with confidence in ourselves to set forth into the world.

Rabbi Adam Greenwald is director of the Miller Introduction to Judaism Program at American Jewish University (intro.aju.edu) and a lecturer at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies.

Purim events in Los Angeles

Atid is throwing an ’80s prom! Comb out your mullet and come dance to the decade’s greatest hits on March 11. There will be a photo booth, spiked punch, an open bar and prizes for the prom kings and queens with the best costumes. (Atid events are strictly for Jewish young professionals, ages 21-39.) 9 p.m. $30 at the door; discount for members; tickets available at eventbrite.com. Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 474-1518. atidla.com.

Beth Chayim Chadashim clergy join colleagues Rabbi Zach Shapiro and Cantor Lonee Frailich for a lighthearted look at the solar system on March 11 in “ ‘Big Bang Theory!’ Does Purim.” Costumes and guests of all ages are welcome. Hamantashen will be served. 6 p.m. Free. Temple Akiba, 5249 Sepulveda Blvd., Culver City. (323) 931-7023. bcc-la.org/calendar.

IKAR presents the Purim Justice Carnival on March 11. Wear a costume that represents justice as you dance and drink the night away. The band Mostly Kosher will be there with a DJ and photo booth. 7:30 p.m. Megillah reading and spiel; 9 p.m. carnival. $15 in advance; $20 at the door; tickets available at tinyurl.com/ikarpurim2017. Café Club Fais Do Do, 5257 W. Adams, Los Angeles. ikar-la.org/purim2017.

Kehillat Israel presents its extravaganza on March 10, featuring a variety of carnival games with prizes. Costumes encouraged; something for kids of all ages. 5 p.m. $25 includes dinner, a wristband for games, popcorn and cotton candy; $10 individual meal ticket. Kehillat Israel, 16019 W. Sunset Blvd., Pacific Palisades. (310) 459-2328.  ourki.org/events/purimextravaganza.

Leo Baeck Temple’s March 12 event will feature tacos, Italian ices, hamantashen and fun for the family: a climbing tower, zip line, dunk tank, petting zoo, bounce houses, games, arts and crafts. Costumes encouraged. 11 a.m. spiel; 11:30 a.m. carnival. Leo Baeck Temple, 1300 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 476-2861. leobaecktemple.org.

Nessah will hold a traditional Megillah reading followed by a carnival and Israel teen Megillah reading and party on March 11. Carnival will feature a bounce house, games, arts and crafts, food and more. 7:15 p.m. $10 in advance; $15 at the door. Nessah,142 S. Rexford Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 273-2400. nessah.org.

Nessah also will host a party for high school and college students on March 11. There will be a Megillah reading followed by a costume party with prizes for the best costume, a falafel bar and a DJ. 8:30 p.m. Free. Nessah,142 S. Rexford Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 273-2400. nessah.org.

Pico Shul presents its annual Purim Feast on March 12. Enjoy food, wine and spirits, including some of Los Angeles’ finest Israeli-style barbecue. 10 a.m. morning service; 11 a.m. Megillah reading. 5 p.m. feast. $18; tickets available at tickettailor.com. Pico Shul, 9116 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. picoshul.org.

Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel is celebrating Purim with a carnival on March 12, featuring games, food, music and prizes. There will be a special show at 12:30 p.m. 11 a.m. Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel, 10500 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 475-7000. sephardictemple.org.

Shomrei Torah Synagogue’s carnival on March 12 will feature a Ferris wheel, bungee jumping, rock-climbing wall and more. Food, beer and wine available for purchase. 11 a.m. $1 per ticket; tickets will be issued day of carnival. Shomrei Torah Synagogue, 7353 Valley Circle Blvd., West Hills. (818) 854-7650. shomreitorahsynagogue.org.

Stephen Wise Temple will host a family-friendly Purim carnival on March 12. 10:30 a.m. $36 presale for children ages 4-18; $45 day of admission; free for adults and children 3 and younger. Stephen Wise Temple, 15500 Stephen S. Wise Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 476-8561. wisela.org/purim.

Stephen Wise Temple also will host a “Purim for Grown-Ups” on March 11. Celebrate the holiday with happy hour cocktails and appetizers. Festivities will include the story and songs of Purim from the Stephen Wise clergy. 21-and-older event. 5:30 p.m. Free; RSVP required. Stephen Wise Temple, 15500 Stephen S. Wise Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 476-8561. wisela.org/purim.

Stephen Wise Temple’s Young Adult Division and Leo Baeck Temple’s Young Professionals Group present “Jammintaschen 2017” on March 11, featuring live music, costumes, food, two open bars, human-size Jenga and lawn games. 21-and-older event. 8 p.m. $10 in advance, $15 at the door. Tickets available at wisela.org/purim. Stephen Wise Temple, 15500 Stephen S. Wise Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 476-2861. wisela.org.

Temple Ahavat Shalom and Temple Ramat Zion are partnering to present a Purim carnival on March 12. There will be rides, games, a photo booth, a petting zoo, bounce houses and food. 11 a.m. $40 wristbands; $25 preschool wristbands. Temple Ramat Zion, 17655 Devonshire St., Northridge. (818) 360-2258. tasnorthridge.org/purim.

Temple Akiba presents a carnival on March 12 featuring laser tag, games, food, jumbo slides, a costume contest, bake sale, silent auction and prizes. 10 a.m. $20. Temple Akiba, 5249 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Culver City. (310) 398-5783.

Temple Aliyah will have its Megillah reading and Purim spiel on March 11. 6:30 p.m. Free. Temple Aliyah, 6025 Valley Circle Blvd., Woodland Hills. (818) 346-3545. templealiyah.org/purim.

Temple Aliyah’s Purim carnival is March 12. There will be thrill rides, carnival games, kids rides, inflatables and food. 10 a.m. $30 for all-day ride bracelet; other options and tickets available at templealiyah.org/purim-carnival. Temple Aliyah, 6025 Valley Circle Blvd., Woodland Hills. (818) 346-3545. templealiyah.org/purim.

Temple Beth Am will host a full Megillah reading and “Annie” Purim spiel with a surprise cast on March 11. Stay after and help “Operation PB&J” by assembling survival kits and making lunches for the homeless. 6:45 p.m. Ma’ariv; 7 p.m. Megillah reading and spiel. Free. Temple Beth Am, 1039 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 652-7353. tbala.org.

Temple Beth Am invites families with children 5 and younger to wear costumes for a musical Shir Purim on March 12. Afterward is the family celebration “A Land Far, Far Away: Purim Celebration” for children, gesher through fifth grade students and their families. 9 a.m. Shir Purim; 10 a.m. family Purim celebration. $15 per child. Temple Beth Am, 1039 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 652-7353. tbala.org.

Temple Beth Hillel’s March 12 spiel will be set to the tale of “Beauty and the Beast,” with its annual carnival to follow. 10 a.m. spiel; 11:30 a.m. carnival. $20 for 25 tickets ($20 for 20 day of the event); $40 wristbands ($45 day of the event). Temple Beth Hillel, 12326 Riverside Drive, Valley Village. (818) 763-9148. tbhla.org/purim.

Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills presents “Esther: A Persian Musical,” a “Hamilton”-inspired spiel and party, on March 11. The event will be filled with music, costumes, prizes, food, photo booth pictures, crafts, games, face painting and lots of hamantashen. 5 p.m. $10; free for children 5 and younger. Roxbury Park Community Center, 471 Roxbury Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 288-3737. tebh.org/purim2017.

Temple Etz Chaim’s carnival on March 12 features a silent auction, food, games, dunk tank, face painting, bungee jumping, arts and crafts, puppy petting zoo and bounce houses. 11:30 a.m. $1 per ticket. Temple Etz Chaim, 1080 E. Janss Road, Thousand Oaks. (805) 497-6891. templeetzchaim.org.

Temple Israel of Hollywood will hold its Purim carnival and spiel on March 12. 10:15 a.m. family Purim spiel and Megillah reading; 11 a.m. carnival. Ticket packages start at $20. Temple Israel of Hollywood, 7300 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 876-8330. tioh.org.

Temple Judea presents a “Frozen” spiel singalong on March 12. The carnival to follow will include a kid zone, rides, obstacle course, games, a dunk tank and entertainment. Kosher barbecue will be available for purchase, as well as other treats and snacks from some of the Valley’s best businesses. 9 a.m. spiel; 10 a.m. carnival. $1 per ticket. Temple Judea, 5429 Lindley Ave., Tarzana. (818) 758-3800. templejudea.com.

Temple Kol Tikvah sponsors a community celebration on March 10 with acrobats, magic, balloon animals, a bounce house, live music and dinner. Costumes are encouraged; all ages are welcome. 5 p.m. Purim service for ages newborn to 6 years; 5:30 p.m. dinner (with advance RSVP to (818) 348-0670, ext. 200); 7 p.m. family Purim Shabbat service and spiel. Free. Kol Tikvah, 20400 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills. (818) 348-0670. koltikvah.org.

Temple Menorah’s 43rd annual Purim carnival on March 11 will feature new carnival games, hula lessons, the South Bay (Video) Game Truck and three giant bounce houses. The theme is a tribute to Disney’s animated “Moana.” 3:30 p.m. family friendly Polynesian dance show; 4:30 p.m. carnival; 6:30 p.m. Havdallah, Megillah reading and spiel. $1 per ticket. Temple Menorah, 1101 Camino Real, Redondo Beach. (310) 316-8444. templemenorah.org.

Valley Beth Shalom presents “VBS Superhero Purim: Guardians of Shushan,” starting with a full Purim service and traditional Megillah reading, led by Yossi Dresner, at 5 p.m. March 11. A Purim celebration and Megillah reading follows at 7 p.m. in Niznick Sanctuary. VBS’ carnival kicks off at 10 a.m. March 12 with games, prizes, rides, bounce houses, food trucks and more. $25. Valley Beth Shalom, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 788-6000.

Wilshire Boulevard Temple presents “Purim With a Purpose” on March 12. 10 a.m. spiel and kids costume parade; 11 a.m. carnival. $1 individual tickets; games and rides are 1-5 tickets, lunch is 7-10 tickets; $60 wristbands allow unlimited rides, games and most activities. Irmas Campus, Wilshire Boulevard Temple, 116661 Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (424) 208-8906. wbtla.org/purimcarnival.

Young Jewish Professionals of Los Angeles presents its “Old Hollywood Purim Gala” on March 11, with a Megillah, bar, DJ, live band and hundreds of other young Jewish professionals. Hollywood glam attire. 21-and-older event. 9 p.m. Tickets start at $30. The Continental Club, 116 W. Fourth St., Los Angeles. yjplosangeles.com/purim.

Make a joyful noise (maker) for Purim

Photos by Jonathan Fong

One of the highlights of any Purim celebration is the waving of noisemakers, or groggers, every time Haman’s name is mentioned during the Megillah reading. It’s a fun way to “boo” him and drown out his name.

Part of your pre-Purim festivities can be making your own noisemakers. They’re easy to assemble, with just a few supplies you probably already have around the house.   

What you’ll need:

– 2 small paper plates
– Plastic fork or spoon
– Duct or packing tape
– Dried beans
– Stapler
– Decorating materials

1. With duct or packing tape, secure a plastic fork or spoon to a small paper plate so that most of the utensil’s handle extends past the rim of the plate. This will serve as the handle of the noisemaker.

purim1

2. Add about 10 dried beans to the plate. These beans, when shaken, will create the noise. Instead of beans, you also can use any small objects such as pennies, screws, jelly beans, paper clips — see what you have handy.

purim2

3. Place your second paper plate upside down on top of the first one. Staple the edges so that the beans do not slide out. Make sure to staple the area around the handle, as the space between the two plates is biggest there.

purim3

4. Now decorate the noisemaker however you wish. You can wrap it with paper, as shown in the example, or cover it with duct tape, stickers or felt. You even can draw on it with markers or crayons. Finish it with a ribbon at the base. Customize one for everybody at the celebration, and get ready to make a whole lot of noise.

purim4


Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself  projects at jonathanfongstyle.com.

4 Steps to Make Purim Great Again and Help the World

Hats for sale on MakePurimGreatAgain.com (JK:-)

Are you stuck in the Purim Party rut?

Do you go to few Purim parties and then pay for it the next day with a horrific hangover? If this is the case your Purim needs an extreme makeover, because there is more to Purim that meets the bottle. If you are suffering from over-doing-it from too much Purim Partying, you actually miss out on the seriously great parts of Purim.
You see, Purim’s combination of customs and mitzvot make it totally unique in the Jewish year. No holiday has Purim’s power to unite Jews from all backgrounds and generate spiritual growth. If you want to make your Purim Great Again, if you want your Purim to be “off-the-charts”— then use these four steps to make your Purim truly memorable, enjoyable and rewarding.

There are four mitzvot for Purim – and each one is a step up a ladder of spiritual/material interaction and revelation of the Divine.

Step One: Listen To The Megillah aka Kriyat Megillah To relive the miraculous events of Purim we listen to the reading of the Megillah, the Scroll of Esther, on Purim evening, and again during the day. Try to hear every single word of the Megillah – so make sure to turn off your cell phone! 🙂 When Haman’s name is mentioned make lots of noise and stamp your feet to “eradicate” Haman’s evil name. According to Kabbalah this noise has profound impact. It’s not just kid’s shtick. Click here for Pico Shul’s Purim Schedule.

Step Two: Give money to the Needy aka Matanot La’evyonim Concern for the needy is a year-round responsibility. However, on Purim it is a special mitzvah to remember the poor. Give charity to at least two, but preferably more, needy individuals on Purim day. The mitzvah is best fulfilled by giving directly to the needy. If you cannot find poor people, you can donate online and I will hand out tzedakah to poor Jews for you on Purim Day. All of it goes to Tzedakah – we do not take any cut. How much? A lot. Seriously consider giving 10% of your monthly profits to help poor members of our community. You will feel very good and do a lot of good in the world. As with the other mitzvot of Purim, even small children should fulfill this mitzvah.

Step Three: Send Food Gift-Baskets to Friends aka Mishloach Manot On Purim we emphasize the importance of Jewish unity and friendship by sending food gifts to friends and family. On Purim day, deliver at least two gift-baskets of ready-to-eat foods (e.g., pastry, fruit, beverage), to at least one friend on Purim day. The more you deliver – the better! Don’t have time to pack your own? There are many stores that sell read-made baskets and only need to add your card! Children, in addition to sending their own gifts of food to their friends, make enthusiastic messengers. We travel around by minivan and the kids run up to houses and deliver the baskets.

Step Four:  Eat, Drink and be Merry aka Purim Seudah Purim is celebrated with a special festive meal on Purim Day, where family and friends gather together to rejoice in the Purim spirit. This feast should be over-the-top with courses, variety and duration. Join us at Pico Shul for our Purim Feast! It is a mitzvah to drink wine or other inebriating drinks at this meal – and that is where the tradition to drink on Purim originates.

Now that you have your blueprint, you can start filling in the details:

  1. Organize where you will be to hear the Megillah
  2. Get cash ready for poor and/or make online donations to worthwhile organizations helping the poor on Purim Day
  3. Shop for gifts for your friends and family.
  4. Reserve a spot for Purim meal, or make your own.

If you follow this four step Purim regimen, you will elevate your life, and the lives of many people around and the world. Have a safe, inspiring and delicious Purim!

Seeking joy in the month of Adar

Edmon J. Rodman’s Purim sign has vibrant colors to brighten his mood. Photo by Edmon J. Rodman

In a year when many of us are feeling varying degrees of political depression, Purim will arrive not a minute too soon.

After absorbing several stories about toppled headstones in Jewish cemeteries and waves of bomb threats at Jewish community centers across the country — including one to the Westside JCC, where my wife and I sent our kids to preschool — I needed something to change my melancholy mask to something happier. To my surprise, the month of Adar, Purim’s place on the Jewish calendar, was it.

Providing reprieve from the day-to-day downer news was the serendipitous proclamation in the Talmud that “When Adar enters, we increase our joy.” To make sure the message stuck, I discovered, there is even a custom of hanging a sign in your home with the saying on it. 

But could just a few words on a piece of paper make anyone happy? Especially in times like these? If finding happiness were that easy, it seems a lot of therapists would be out of work.

However, if a simple sign actually could help move you to a moment of joy, you couldn’t beat the price. And considering that Obamacare may soon be history, I reasoned, we might all need to make something like this work, anyway.

So, a few weeks before Purim, when we read the Megillat Esther — the ancient story of how Esther and Mordecai saved the Jews of Persia from the death sentence decreed by Haman — I decided to issue my own joy decree, with a sign declaring it for all to see. Hoping to chromatically distance myself from a mood of blue, I wrote my sign, which reads “When Adar Begins, We Increase in Joy” — in violet and hot pink. Committed to my new role as joy-seeker, I posted it on the refrigerator and made it the wallpaper for my cellphone and computer. Now, I was happiness-ready.

“Let the simchas roll,” I thought.

Except they didn’t. The sign kept the idea on my mind, all right — I could picture it with my eyes closed, but the wellspring of joy that Adar supposedly promised somehow remained elusive. With every deadline and headline, my happiness goal seemed to get pushed back another day.

Still, the next evening, seeing the sign on the fridge, with it’s bright letters almost pulsing, lit a small flame, and nudged me into trying to cook, an activity that I enjoy. The resulting asparagus stir fry made me smile — and my wife, too — yet, like Chinese takeout, this appetizer of joy left me hungry for something more.

Satisfying my hunger was a passage I found in a kind of Jewish philosophical cookbook called Pirkei Avot, or “Ethics of the Fathers.” “Who is rich?” it asked. “He who is happy with his lot,” came the answer, leading me to consider that the next time I get out the wok, I should focus more on the joy of the moment: my ability to experience the sound, the smell and the taste of cooking. As Ecclesiastes suggests, “There is nothing better for a person than to rejoice in his work.”

The next day, under the influence of my sign, I tried a different tack, going out into the backyard to check out our blooming blueberry bushes. Imagining how sweet they would taste in pancakes only withered, however, into recalling that after the berries began to ripen, I would need to do battle with the birds, who were as excited about them as me.

And yet, I was reminded of the wisdom of Rav Yerucham Levovitz in his work “Sefer Chochmah uMussar,” in which he states, “A truly happy person does not allow his happiness to be dependent on any external factor over which he may not have control.” I suspect he would have told me to forget about the birds, but there they were, still fluttering up my joy.

Looking for something over which I did have control, I turned to the orderliness of my prayer book. There I found Ashrei, a prayer that I have read many times on Shabbat morning. “Happy are those who dwell in Your house,” it begins. Though this verse, taken from Psalm 84, clearly suggests that happiness comes from dwelling in God’s house, reading it during my quest for joy made me wonder how I could make myself happy in my own spiritual house, as well.

A week later, I had my chance.

The Movable Minyan, an independent congregation that we attend on Shabbat, is completely lay-led. Although Shabbat is supposedly a time of peacefulness, sometimes the minyan is everything but, with a group of busy individuals coming together to lead services, read Torah, give a drash and contribute to a potluck lunch.

Yet, the morning was a joy. Why? Examining our services through the words of my newly found sages of joy, I could see that the efforts of our instrumentalist and service leaders (of which I was one) helped to create an atmosphere of rejoicing, making the morning a real simcha, one where all present could be happy with our lot. And the delicious dairy meal that followed seemed a perfect fit for the rav’s prerequisite for happiness, as the uncoordinated menu was completely out of our control.

Bringing it all together for me, though, was my experience leading Shacharit, something I have done for years. When it came time for singing El Adon, which speaks to the grandeur of nature and its Creator, my eyes moved over to the English translation and I saw the words, “Rejoicing” and “gladly,” as if for the first time. This time, I took it as a sign.

Trump, the Purim President

President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., on March 1. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Every Purim, the Jewish Journal produces a spoof cover to help our readers celebrate a holiday that demands laughter and joy.

Last year, we thought we hit the mother lode. How funny would it be, we thought, to devote the entire cover to Donald Trump? This was March 2016. Trump was coming off what pundits said was his worst political week ever: His campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, had just been charged with battery; Trump suggested that Japan and South Korea acquire nuclear weapons, refused to pledge support for the eventual Republican nominee, and agreed that women who had an abortion should be punished if the procedure were outlawed.

In a CNN/ORC poll, Trump trailed Hillary Clinton 53 to 41percent.

“He has completely turned off huge swaths of the electorate,” former Jeb Bush spokesman Tim Miller said of Trump. “His numbers have continued to get worse. He would get absolutely massacred on a historic scale [in a general election]. All of the data demonstrates it.”

Ah, the good old days.

So we sat around the conference room, smug as could be, and came up with a slew of wisecracks about the man-who-could-never-ever-ever-be-president. “Trump Unveils Spring Sheitl Line” showed various images of Trump’s hair. “Awkward Trump Family Seder” showed Trump with supporters that included his Orthodox daughter and son-in-law sitting with David Duke and Louis Farrakhan. “Baby Gap Announces New Hand Model” sported a photo of Trump with extra-tiny hands. And the centerpiece? “Trump Boasts at Grandson’s Bris: It’s YUUUGE!”

It was a great cover, all a big joke.

Now look who’s laughing.

On Purim, we read the story of Esther — of the intermarried, assimilated beauty queen who becomes a Jewish hero; of the high and mighty Haman, who is brought low and sent to the gallows; of the Jews, whose children were about to be exterminated, exterminating their enemies’ children instead (they don’t teach you that last part in Hebrew school).

Purim is the upside-down holiday, and Trump is the Purim president. All that ridicule, all the expert predictions, all the hopes the Hillary Clinton supporters had — Trump turned all of them on their head.

The problem is, he stopped.

What I mean is, after Nov. 8, Trump didn’t continue to turn our expectations on our heads — he lived up to them. Trump’s critics expected him to continue his most outlandish behavior. But that’s not what I, for one, was hoping he would do.

I was hoping the man who seemed hysterically unpresidential would rise to reflect the dignity of the office. Instead, we have 4 a.m. tweets about his predecessor wiretapping his phone, or a series of tweets mocking Arnold Schwarzenegger’s low ratings on “Celebrity Apprentice.”

I was hoping we’d have a contrarian, independent approach that would break the Democrat/Republican stalemate on health care. Instead, I fear we’re seeing the same attempt to defund the Affordable Care Act, and stick the poor and middle class with higher health care costs.

“There can be little doubt that the plan will price millions out of the health insurance market,” Republican health care expert Avik Roy wrote in Forbes of the Republican plan put forward this week.

I was hoping we’d have a businessman who could stand up to the bottomless pit of waste that is the Pentagon — $150 billion according to the Pentagon’s own just-released report. Instead, Trump promises to boost military spending by $54 billion and take money from foreign aid, Head Start, environmental protection and food aid.

I was hoping we’d have a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan to bring America and American workers into the 21st century — the kind of bill the Republican Congress refused President Barack Obama. So far, no such thing.

I was hoping the Trump who was pro-choice for seven-eighths of his life would override the Trump who pandered to the anti-abortion vote for one-eighth of his life. Instead, he offered Planned Parenthood a sap’s bargain — stop funding abortions or lose all federal funding (which doesn’t, by the way, pay for abortions).

I was hoping the cruelest things he said about Muslims and Mexicans wouldn’t translate into cruel, impractical and ineffective policies. Instead of turning those promises upside down, he upended innocent lives.

Now it looks like the man who promised to make America safe will make us less secure. The man who told us he would run America like a business is running it like Trump Steaks. The man who proclaimed “America First” is doing his best to hide whether Russia is actually a very close second. And the man who promised to release his tax returns, well, what can I say, the joke’s on us.

Happy Purim.


ROB ESHMAN is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @foodaism
and @RobEshman.

Hamantashen: As easy as one, two, three corners

What makes the Purim holiday so special? Is it the heroic tale of Queen Esther? The children dressing up in costume to re-create the story? The sweet pastries her story inspired?

For all of these reasons, my family loves Purim! It is a time when our grandchildren and great-grandchildren dress up, attend a Purim carnival and feast at our Purim dinner — a reminder of how our children celebrated when they were young.

This year, we will enjoy the holiday with family and friends at one long table in the dining room. A sampling of our Purim groggers (noisemakers) will be arranged down the center. (We can’t include them all because our collection now numbers almost 100.)

The most popular treats for Purim are hamantashen, three-cornered pastries. They are served throughout the world, filled with poppy seeds, prune jams and more. 

I still remember making my first hamantashen using a recipe I received from my mother. Instead of using the traditional yeast pastry, sold in bakeries, she made them with cookie dough filled with poppy seeds and homemade strawberry jam.

Over the years, I have developed many recipes for making these holiday delights. One year, I added chocolate and poppy seeds to the cookie dough and filled it with a mixture of melted chocolate and chopped nuts, resulting in a decadent treat for chocolate lovers.

Another family favorite is a Poppy Seed Yeast Ring; it’s like a delicious coffee cake that doubles as a hamantashen yeast dough. The dough is covered with a towel and refrigerated overnight, then rolled, filled and served hot for breakfast. Or you can make the dough in the afternoon, refrigerate it for several hours, bake and serve for dessert after dinner.

This year I am including a recipe for a hamantashen pastry filled with vegetables, too. It can be served as an appetizer or a main course for the vegetarians among us.

Remember, the dough and fillings usually can be prepared in advance, and stored in the refrigerator or freezer, then baked when convenient.

Now, go get ready to make some noise — in the kitchen and at the table with your Purim grogger!

DOUBLE CHOCOLATE HAMANTASHEN

– Chocolate Filling (recipe follows)
– 3 cups flour
– 1/2 cup finely ground almonds
– 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
– 1/4 teaspoon salt
– 1/2 cup sugar
– 1 cup unsalted margarine
– 3 tablespoons hot water
– 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
– 1 egg
– 1 egg white

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Prepare Chocolate Filling; cover and set aside. 

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine flour, almonds, baking powder, salt and sugar. Blend in margarine until mixture resembles very fine crumbs.

Blend water and cocoa in small bowl and beat in egg. Add to flour mixture and beat until mixture begins to form dough. Do not over-mix.

Transfer to flour board and knead into a ball. Chill 30 minutes for easier handling. Divide into 6 or 7 portions. Flatten each with palms of hands and roll out 1/4-inch thick. Cut into 3-inch rounds with scalloped cookie cutter. Place 1 teaspoon of filling in the center of each round. Brush edges with a little water. Fold edges of dough toward center to form a triangle, leaving a bit of filling visible in center. Pinch the edges to seal.

Place on a baking sheet lined with lightly greased foil or a Silpat mat and brush with egg white. Bake in preheated oven until firm, about 20 minutes. Transfer to rack to cool.

Makes about 5 dozen hamantashen.

CHOCOLATE FILLING

– 1/2 cup cocoa powder
– 1/2 cup sugar
– 1/3 cup coffee, milk or half-and-half
– 1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
– In a large bowl, combine cocoa powder, sugar, coffee and walnuts and blend thoroughly.
– Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

In a large bowl, combine cocoa powder, sugar, coffee and walnuts and blend thoroughly.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

POPPY SEED YEAST RING

The dough from this recipe also can be used to make Yeast Hamantashen; see below. From “The Gourmet Jewish Cook” by Judy Zeidler.

– Poppy Seed Filling (recipe follows)
– 2 packages active dry yeast
– 1 cup warm milk (110 to 115 F)
– 1/2 pound unsalted margarine
– 2 tablespoons sugar
– 3 eggs yolks
– 2 1/2 cups flour
– Pinch of nutmeg
– 1/4 teaspoon salt
– 2 tablespoons olive oil

Prepare the Poppy Seed Filling; set aside.

In a measuring cup, dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup of the milk. In a large mixing bowl, cream the margarine with 2 tablespoons sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks and beat well.

Combine the flour, nutmeg and salt. Add the yeast mixture to the mixing bowl alternately with the flour. With the back of a wooden spoon, smooth the top of the dough and brush with oil. Cover with a towel and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Divide the dough into 2 portions. Roll out each portion on floured wax paper into a 16-by-20-inch rectangle. Spread half the Poppy Seed Filling over each dough half, leaving a 1-inch margin around the edges. Starting from a long edge, roll up each one, jelly-roll fashion. Bring the ends together to form a ring.

Place each ring in a 10-inch pie pan, sealing the ends together. Brush the top with the remaining milk and sprinkle with poppy seeds. (If you like, you can hold the rings in the refrigerator, covered, for 1 hour.) Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown. Serve hot.

Makes two Poppy Seed Yeast Rings.

POPPY SEED FILLING

– 3 egg whites
– 1/2 cup sugar
– 1 1/2 cups canned poppy seed filling

In a large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Fold in the 1/2 cup sugar and poppy seed filling.

Makes 4 cups.

To make Yeast Hamantashen:

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Roll out the dough and cut it into 3-inch rounds with a cookie cutter. Place a teaspoon of poppy seed filling in the center of each circle of dough. Fold the edges of the dough toward the center to form a triangle, leaving a bit of the filling visible in the center. Pinch the edges to seal.

Place the hamantashen on a baking sheet lined with lightly greased foil or a Silpat mat and bake for 10 minutes; pinch edges again to reseal and bake 10 minutes longer or until golden brown. Transfer to racks and cool.

Makes 3 dozen hamantashen.

VEGETABLE HAMANTASHEN

– Carrot or Eggplant Filling (recipe follows)
– 1/2 cup unsalted margarine
– 1/2 cup sugar
– 3 eggs
– Grated zest of 1 orange
– 2 cups flour
– 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
– 1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Prepare Carrot or Eggplant Filling; cover and set aside.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat margarine and sugar until well blended. Beat in 2 of the eggs and zest, blending thoroughly. Add flour, baking powder and salt, blending until dough is smooth.

Transfer dough to a floured board and divide into 3 or 4 portions for easier handling. Flatten each portion with palm of hand and roll out 1/4-inch thick. Using scallop or plain cookie cutter, cut into 2 1/2-inch rounds. Place 1 teaspoon of filling in center of each round. Brush edges of round with a little water. Fold edges of dough toward the center to form a triangle, leaving a bit of filling exposed. Pinch edges to seal.

Place hamantashen 1/2 inch apart on a baking sheet lined with lightly greased foil or a Silpat mat. Brush with beaten egg. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes in preheated oven, until golden brown. Transfer to racks to cool.

Makes about 5 dozen hamantashen.

CARROT FILLING

– 1 pound carrots, peeled and grated
– 1 1/2 cups water
– 1/3 cup sugar
– 1/3 cup ground almonds
– 1/4 cup golden raisins

Combine carrots and water in a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer, stirring occasionally until all the liquid has evaporated, about 20 minutes. Add sugar, almonds and raisins. Simmer on low heat until thick and liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes. Cool.

Makes about 2 cups.

EGGPLANT FILLING

– 1 (1 pound) eggplant, peeled and diced
– Water
– 2 cups sugar
– 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
– 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
– 2 tablespoons lemon juice
– Grated zest of 1 lemon

Place eggplant in a large saucepan and cover with water to cover. Bring to a boil and boil until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Combine sugar, 2 cups water, cinnamon and nutmeg in large saucepan. Bring to a boil. Add eggplant. Remove from heat and cover. Let stand 1 hour.

Remove eggplant with slotted spoon. Cover syrup until thick, about 20 minutes. Add eggplant, lemon juice and zest. Boil until syrup forms into a firm ball when dropped into cold water from spoon, 220 F on candy thermometer. Spoon into a bowl and cool.

Makes about 2 1/2 cups.


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

No Esther in sight

Headstones were toppled at the Waad Hakolel Cemetery, also known as the Stone Road Cemetery, in Rochester, N.Y. Photo courtesy of News 10 NBC WHEC

The role of Achashverosh, the vain king who prefers to drink from goblets of gold, who is ready to turn over a nation to a minister who offers ten thousand talents of silver, is too easily filled this year’s Purim. Haman and Bannon practically rhyme. It’s a facile elision I’m not sure I agree with, but it comes naturally. But where is our Esther, and where is our Mordechai? 

I don’t think people are still pinning their hopes on Ivanka and Jared. They couldn’t do anything to stop the erasure of Jews from the White House statement about the Holocaust. And Trump still denounced the Orthodox Jewish reporter who pitched him that softball question so he could denounce anti-Semitism.

It was only after the first Jewish cemetery was vandalized that Trump finally had something to say about the subject. That gave Jews on the right a glimmer of hope that the Haman and Achashverosh shoes wouldn’t fit. Was Ivanka working behind the scenes?

But after more Jewish cemeteries were vandalized, Trump shared another brilliant insight. He thinks it’s possible that anti-Trump people might be knocking down Jewish tombstones in order to make him look bad. Of course, David Duke said it first – not that Trump notices or cares where he gets his ideas from. That’s right up Achashverosh’s alley: everything bad happens to him; his is never the flaw or fault that allows it.

If there’s one thing Trump loves to talk about, it’s not crimes of hate but the crime rate. Despite Trump’s fantabulism, it’s increasing across the U.S. for real in just one way, hate crime. But he won’t talk about the seven African American transgender women who were murdered. Or give an ounce of reflection to how his rhetoric against immigrants might have played a role when an Indian engineer was murdered by a crazy white man who screamed “Get out of my country!” 

But that’s old news. Like Peter denied Jesus (l’havdil – not to morally compare them), Trump and his entourage won’t talk about how the perpetrators could be following the lead of his rhetoric. Every day we keep learning in new ways that Trump does not have the capacity or desire to understand what’s going on, or to take responsibility, the way we would want a president to do in order to lead the nation.

But if Trump doesn’t get it that cemetery vandalizers are undoubtedly anti-Semitic, how could his two closest Jews, Ivanka and Jared, not? It’s inconceivable that neither of them understands what kind of a person you have to be to knock down Jewish tombstones.

Any or all of these three things must be true: Jared and Ivanka are too cowed by Bannon to do anything, or they don’t have the power to change Trump’s course when Bannon is pushing him, or they are willing to let it slide as long as Jared gets what he wants for Israel.

I would guess number three, but whichever it might be, it means neither of them is prepared to be Esther. Not that I wouldn’t like to see Jared in a diadem (on Ivanka it would be redundant), but I don’t think the most beautiful crown will make either one a queen.

The bottom line is that with all that is happening, many right-wing elements in the Jewish community, like Jared, are willing to trade our safety here for the sake of letting Israel do whatever it wants as it trades Palestinian lives and land to build more settlements.

It would be as if Esther were to go to Achashverosh and beg to spare only the lives of a particular Jewish sect in the holy land, while letting Haman carry out his plot against all the other Jews throughout Persia’s empire.

Their bet seems to be that it will work out in the grim end, that Israel and the U.S. don’t need democracy as much as they need more control. They may also be betting that stateside Jews will come out with our privilege intact after everything goes down – that we will get to stay “white,” and not get grouped with Muslims and Latinos. (Never mind that Jews are all races, or that Sephardim may look like Arabs.)

That can only happen if we willingly separate our lives from the lives of Muslims and immigrants and Latinos and Black people and queer people. And maybe some American Jews could have done that, since we have almost forgotten that not too long ago, Jews were not considered white, and that our essential identity was one of refugees. But the world has been conspiring to remind us. 

Trump wants us to believe that we will stay white no matter what happens, as if his opinion will matter, while the cemetery destroyers desperately want us to to know that we never were white. Whoever is wrong, when pushing comes to shoving, I don’t think we will make it through unscathed.

So far, the most extreme extremists in the U.S., the ones who target Muslims and Jews equally, are outside the halls of power – it seems like a litmus test for White House staff is that one must be willing to target Muslims but not say anything against Jews. (And maybe there are too many Hanukkah books, after all.) That makes the Trump administration a natural fit with Jews who accept the idea that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. But how long will it be before the wall between being anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim falls as other walls go up? How long before anti-Semitism gets to embody its full meaning: hatred of the descendants of Noah’s son Shem, which includes Ishmaelites and Israelites, Jews and Arabs?

Facing his fear that Esther will fail, Mordecai promises that “help will arise from another place” – and then Esther comes through. Maybe it’s not too late for Ivanka. But for now, we need to be looking for help from that other place. Our best prospect may be the compassion that has been passing back and forth from Muslims to Jews and Jews to Muslims, as we each step in to help when the other is attacked. A Muslim community given the key to a synagogue after its mosque was burned down; Muslims raising funds and giving time to repair Jewish headstones.

Mishloach manot and matanot la’evyonim, sending nourishment to one another, exchanging gifts of encouragement to revive our lives, which are being impoverished by these times. Just like the Jews did for each other at the end of the Scroll of Esther.

Not exactly a silver lining, but if the powers that be can’t generate an Esther, then we have to step into those royal shoes. Let’s step lively.

It’s Purim. Here’s Your Mission.

Children on Purim Photo by Flavio Grynszpan

One of the more challenging aspects of living an inspired life is experiencing meaning during those inevitable stretches that appear to be spiritually vacant. Many of us live our lives eagerly waiting for the next peak moment to arrive. We cross the days off our calendar in anticipation of the next big milestone, event or vacation, and we endure the hard days because we know something better lies ahead.

And, why not?

The approach seems harmless, maybe even therapeutic. It helps take the sting out of the everyday grind, and keeps us excited about our future: ten more days until the long weekend, a few weeks until my boss goes on a long vacation, one month until our family will all be under one roof again, the first time in years.

But, the mathematics here cause concern. Most of life, at least for me, exists somewhere between our significant highs and inevitable lows. If meaning only arrives when life crescendos, our fulfillment ratio won’t be pretty. Maybe once a week for the lucky ones, far more sporadic for the rest of us.

Recently, I caught myself absorbed in this kind of slump. As an educator, I live for the watershed moments of my classroom, of our institutional achievement, and of my teaching. If I could pull it off, I’d want everyday and everything in my life to be an earth-shattering experience – and why wouldn’t I? And so it’s not surprising that I’ve been struggling to find fulfillment absent a groundbreaking event. Although my job description includes teaching, learning, relationships and community building – things that should be naturally meaningful – if I allow each day and week to bleed into the next, these supposedly fulfilling tasks feel like… tasks.

I am fairly convinced that there are both many and no real ways to actually resolve this dilemma, but this year I’m finding some ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’ in the duel strata of the Purim story.

The world of Megillat Esther is a famously godless one. Anomalous among the Torah’s many books, Esther’s ten chapters fail to mention God’s name, let alone attribute a divine hand in its topsy-turvy plot. The story itself begs the reader to be seduced by its fairytale style and too-good-to-be-true plot twists. With the absence of God’s presence, the story itself appears to be one of good fortune or luck: It just so happened that Mordechai was sitting at the king’s gate… It just so happened that Esther was chosen to be queen… It just so happened that Achashverosh opened up his diary to Mordechai’s page…

Indeed, the name of the holiday, חג פורים, a Holiday of Lots, appears to riff off of the story’s fluky plot. While all our other holidays commemorate the explicit hand of God in our national history, a cursory reading of the Purim story offers a worldview that’s whimsical and arbitrary. Something like: in a world without God, Chance reigns.

But of course, our Holiday of Lots is grounded in a Scroll of Hiddenness, מגילת אסתר. While the first-layer of the Megillah tempts us into seeing the world as if things just happen, I believe the Megillah wants us to dismiss that view as artificial. Instead, the Megillah challenges us to develop a religious consciousness, a spiritual acumen willing to find meaning, God, and godliness even when its presence isn’t immediately obvious. Different than our other biblical stories, Megillat Esther raises the ante and demands that we become active and engaged seekers of God, rather than mere consumers. Meaning is unavoidable at the birth of one’s child; it takes a bit more effort to find it while paying your taxes.

I love this idea, but it’s also demanding. The hidden theology of Megillat Esther requires us to search actively for meaning and to work to uncover God’s presence in the world. It encourages us to be suspect of appearances, and instead value the deeper layers of soul, purpose, and intent.

On one level, we wear costumes on Purim to accentuate the carnivalesque nature of the day. Yes, Jews can party, too. But on a deeper level, our costumes are meant to express our less revealed selves, the hidden layers of our persona that tend to be a bit more concealed. Amidst the merriment and joy of Purim, we simultaneously affirm that there’s always more than meets the eye. Ironically, though in typical Jewish fashion, the Purim costume is actually meant to subvert the outer world in favor of revealing our inner-world. (So, choose your costume wisely!)

Herein lies the great work of the Purim season. Revisit an aspect in your life that feels perfunctory and reflect on its purpose, reignite a relationship that’s stultifying by identifying its real worth, and try to remind yourself that peak moments are always lurking, we just need to do a better job opening our eyes.

Purim Sameach.

Ari Schwarzberg is Director, The Shalhevet Institute and Judaic Studies Faculty at Shalhevet High School in Los Angeles.

Fun Purim books for children arrive for the holiday

Purim, which begins this year on the evening of March 11, usually isn’t a holiday that inspires many new children’s books, but this year we have three that directly relate to the holiday and two others, both humorous, that reflect a bit of Purim spirit.

“Talia and the Haman-tushies” by Linda Elovitz Marshall. Illustrated by Francesco Assirelli (Kar-Ben Publishing).

Young Talia, along with her perennial food malapropisms, returns for the Purim holiday after her previous forays into “rude vegetable soup” for Rosh Hashanah and “yum” Kippur breakfast. When she’s certain she hears that Grandma wants to bake “Haman-tushies,” she emphatically decides she will never eat one. As they bake together, Grandma tells her the story of Queen Esther. The large illustrations and simplified Purim story are perfect for the toddler set.

“Purim Chicken” by Margery Cuyler. Illustrated by Puy Pintillos (Albert Whitman & Co.).

Farmyard animals with names such as Cluck, Quack, Moo and Neigh put on a yearly Purim play, with Quack always starring as Queen Esther. But this year, a hungry fox is preparing Quack to be the star of his dinner instead. Cluck, who covets the Queen Esther role, manages to save the day. Not much information about the holiday, but silly and fun nevertheless.

“Is It Purim Yet?” by Chris Barash. Illustrated by Alessandra Psacharopulo (Albert Whitman & Co.).

This sweet introduction to Purim is part of a series that introduces very young children to some of the Jewish holiday traditions. (Previous titles covered Chanukah and Sukkot.) The lyrical text opens with spring waking up from “deep winter sleep” and continues with chronicling the activities of children as they make hamantashen, pack up gift baskets, wave noisemakers and dress up for a joyful Megillah reading at synagogue.

“Maddie the Mitzvah Clown” by Karen Rostoker-Gruber. Illustrated by Christine Grove (Apples & Honey Press).

Clowns and Purim often go together, but becoming a “mitzvah clown” is a new thing. Some national Jewish youth-oriented organizations are encouraging teens to clown around (in costume) at adult senior homes and children’s hospitals instead of engaging in typical mitzvah-themed activities such as visiting soup kitchens. They say that entertaining others in this way also helps shy teens become more comfortable in social situations in general. This picture book expands on that idea through the story of Maddie, a shy mouse who loses
her inhibitions after learning the art of clowning when she performs the mitzvah
of bikur cholim (visiting the sick) at a senior convalescent home.

“The Silly World of Chelm: Everyone’s Favorite Tales of the Wise Men of Chelm” by Shepsel (Howard Spielman) and Avraham (Arnold Fine) (Two Lights Publishing).

More than 150 funny and logic-challenged folktales regarding the town of Chelm have been gathered together in an appealing compendium that the publisher called the “World’s First Definitive Encyclopedia of Chelm Stories.” The editor has collected the stories from those originally published weekly over decades in The Jewish Press newspaper. The original line-drawn comic-style illustrations also have been included. Each story is two or three pages in length and certain to provide much amusement for any family. The book is a delightful gift for kids who can’t get enough of those unforgettable and noodle-head residents of the mixed-up village of Chelm.


LISA SILVERMAN is the director of the Burton Sperber Jewish Community Library at American Jewish University.

Calendar: February 17-23, 2017

FRI | FEB 17

PETER YARROW & NOEL PAUL STOOKEY

These two icons, part of the famous Peter, Paul & Mary trio, will share the stage and sing many of the group’s classic hits. Peter, Paul & Mary helped transform folk music with their music that spoke to and inspired people during a time of social change. 8 p.m. Tickets starting at $41. The Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks. (805) 449-2787. civicartsplaza.com.

SAT | FEB 18

“SHUL WITH A SCHOOL: THE HISTORY OF NON-ORTHODOX DAY SCHOOLS IN LOS ANGELES”

This installment of the Shabbat Morning Speaker Series at Knesset Israel of Beverlywood explores the topic of local day schools with Sara Smith, a doctoral candidate in education and Jewish studies at New York University. 9 a.m. davening; 11 a.m. speech. Free. Knesset Israel of Beverlywood, 2364 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 839-4962.

SUN | FEB 19

RUNNING CLUSTER

Join Young Adults of Los Angeles’ Running Cluster for a few laps around the one-mile path circling beautiful Echo Park Lake. Brunch at Mohawk Bend (2141 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles) to follow. 9:30 a.m. Free. Echo Park Lake at Park Avenue and Glendale Boulevard, Los Angeles. yala.org.

MUSICAL RECITAL

The Jewish Music Commission of Los Angeles and Valley Beth Shalom present Los Angeles Philharmonic concertmaster Martin Chalifour and internationally acclaimed pianist Steven Vanhauwaert in a recital of classic and modern masterpieces. It will include music by Mozart, Sibelius, Harberg and Franck. 2:30 p.m. $15. Valley Beth Shalom, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 788-6000. vbs.org.

MON | FEB 20

HAMERCAZ PLAYDAY

The Zimmer Museum will be open exclusively for use by children with special needs. Enjoy playtime, arts and crafts and a kosher lunch. All family members are welcome. 10 a.m. $5; $25 maximum per family. Must RSVP to hamercaz@jfsla.org or (866) 287-8030. The Zimmer Museum, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., No. 100, Los Angeles. (323) 761-8984. zimmermuseum.org.

TUES | FEB 21

POET DINAH BERLAND

cal-berlandWriter-in-Residence Dinah Berland will read from her book of poetry “Fugue for a New Life.” Berland is a widely published poet and book editor with a background in art. 6:30 p.m. Free; RSVP (required) to culture@smgov.net. Annenberg Community Beach House, 415 Pacific Coast Highway, Santa Monica. (310) 458-4904. annenbergbeachhouse.com/beachculture.

IAC REAL ESTATE NETWORK

Frank M. Bush, the general manager and superintendent of building for the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety, will give a presentation to the Israeli American Council Real Estate Network members. He will discuss what it takes to build an American metropolis. 7 p.m. $50. IAC Shepher Community Center, 6530 Winnetka Ave., Woodland Hills. israeliamerican.org/realestate.bush.

THE NEW EUROPEAN JEW

Jewish communities across Europe have experienced a revival in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. The revival has reached across cultural and geographical borders and has brought a new sense of meaning and community. Join special guest Polly Zaharieva, who is visiting from Sofia, Bulgaria, to taste Bulgarian cuisine and learn about the sights and sounds of Bulgarian-Jewish culture through interactive activities. Tickets include special hors d’oeuvres and a liquor tasting. Additional drinks available for purchase. 7 p.m. $15; $20 at the door. B/G/A (Bar & Garden Annex), 6142 Washington Blvd., Culver City. yala.org.

AUTHOR ELLEN UMANSKY

cal-umanskyJoin Ellen Umansky as she discusses and signs “The Fortunate Ones.” This debut novel moves from World War II Vienna to contemporary Los Angeles, connecting two women who are generations apart. A special Chaim Soutine painting binds these two women. In 1939 Vienna, Rose Zimmer’s parents send her to live with strangers in England in a desperate attempt to remove her from a war zone. When the war finally ends, Rose is alone in London, searching for the Chaim Soutine painting her mother had cherished. Many years later, the painting finds its way to the United States. In modern-day Los Angeles, Lizzie Goldstein is at a crossroads in her life. The Soutine painting, which had provided lasting comfort to her after her mother’s death, has been stolen. The painting will bring Lizzie and Rose together and ignite an unexpected friendship. 7 p.m. Free. Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. (310) 659-3110. booksoup.com.

BASIC TRAINING: A MILITARY LEADERSHIP WORKSHOP


cal-garth-masseyGarth Massey, the founder of Military Leadership Methods and a Marine Corps veteran currently serving as an infantry battalion commander, will teach strategies to become a better leader and succeed in your career. The workshop, organized by the Jewish young professionals group Atid, will help improve your efficiency and decision-making tactics. Limited to the first 50 people to register. Atid events are intended for Jewish professionals ages 21 to 39. 7:30 p.m. $10; tickets available at eventbrite.com. Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 474-1518. atidla.com.

WED | FEB 22

“THE JEWISH CARDINAL”

Join the Jewish Studies and Catholic Studies programs at Loyola Marymount University for a film screening of “The Jewish Cardinal” and an interfaith discussion with John Connelly (UC Berkeley) and Rabbi Mark Diamond (Loyola Marymount University).  The movie tells of how a priest named Jean-Marie Lustiger — born Aaron Lustiger to Polish-Jewish immigrants in France in 1926 — survives the Holocaust in hiding with a Christian woman and fervently converts to Catholicism at age 14, even as his mother dies in Auschwitz. Lustiger goes on to be ordained a priest in 1954, rising swiftly through the ranks of the Roman Catholic Church, to be named a cardinal in 1983.  Kosher reception offered. 6:30 p.m. Free. Ahmanson Auditorium, University Hall 1000, Loyola Marymount University. (310) 338-7664. bellarmine.lmu.edu/interfaith.

THURS | FEB 23

WORTHY OF LOVE PURIM PARTY

In honor of Purim, the Jewish holiday of topsy-turvy fun and games, Worthy of Love, which hosts monthly birthday parties for homeless children, is throwing a carnival for children living at Skid Row’s Union Rescue Mission. A full 100 percent of registration fees will go to buying presents for the children at the mission. 7 p.m. Tickets are $30 and available at eventbrite.com. Union Rescue Mission, 545 S. San Pedro St., Los Angeles.

EMERGING TECH AND LIABILITY

Join Emet, Young Adults of Los Angeles’ network for legal professionals, and the Tech Network for a discussion about the laws and debates surrounding self-driving cars, video games, artificial intelligence and more. 7 p.m. $10 through Feb. 21; $15. The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., No. 100, Los Angeles. yala.org.

California may soon legalize pot, but what does Jewish law say?

Among the more puzzling of the Jewish mitzvot is the commandment to get so drunk on Purim that you can’t distinguish the hero from the villain in the holiday story.

This year, recounted Rabbi Yisroel Engel, director of Chabad of Colorado, one ultra-Orthodox Denver man decided to ditch the booze and substitute marijuana brownies to achieve the required inebriation.

“I found that very bizarre,” Engel said in a phone interview.

The experiment was the exception to the rule in Denver’s Orthodox community, Engel said: Most understand that whatever state laws might say, recreational use of marijuana stands contrary to the values of Orthodox Judaism.

“It’s great to get high,” Engel said. “But you know what? You can get high on spirituality, on the soul, on prayer. Get high on God.”

The conventional Orthodox line on marijuana is at best ambivalent.

Nobody is suggesting that taking a puff of cannabis is like eating pork,” said Rabbi Jeremy Rosen, an Orthodox lecturer, writer and pulpit rabbi in Manhattan.

Rosen compared the Jewish view on cannabis to that of wine, which halachah allows — even encourages — but only in moderation.

“Drunkenness is totally disapproved of,” he said, dismissing Purim as a debatable exception. In general, “nobody is in favor of being drunk. But in small quantities of wine, it’s a mitzvah.”

On Nov. 8, Californians will have a chance to vote to legalize marijuana, and in fact, it seems likely they will: A statewide UC Berkeley poll of California voters published last month showed more than 60 percent of California voters favor legalization.

But just because Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, would legalize the drug in California doesn’t mean it would become allowable under Jewish law.

Though most Orthodox authorities consider smoking weed a frivolous pursuit to be discouraged, an end to pot prohibition creates an opportunity to reconsider some of the halachic and religious considerations around lighting up.

To be sure, Jewish texts bristle with verses that poseks — interpreters of Talmudic law — use to prohibit the smoking of marijuana.

Deuteronomy 4:15: “For your own sake, therefore, be most careful.”

Leviticus 19:2: “You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.”

Numbers 15:39: “Do not follow your heart and eyes in your lustful urge.”

For Diaspora Jews, though, the clearest prohibition is perhaps dina d’malchuta, literally, sovereign law — Aramaic shorthand for the concept that an observant Jew should obey civil authorities as well as rabbinical ones.

Legalizing weed would lighten the dina d’malchuta concerns around using cannabis. But Jewishly speaking, the absence of a prohibition doesn’t constitute permission.

“The idea, ‘Well if something is not illegal it must be OK,’ is very much not a Jewish idea,” said Rabbi Mark Washofsky, professor of Jewish law and practice at the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati.

“Lots of things are not prohibited,” he went on. “At the same time, you might not want to spend a whole lot of time using them. … Just because you’re allowed to drink wine doesn’t mean you should be a drunkard.”

And although wine proves a useful analogy, pot is not explicitly addressed in the Torah. Where the word of law is unclear, as it is with cannabis, the normal Jewish prescription is dialogue.

“Merely because the state of California decides to legalize marijuana does not mean anything for Jews until we talk about it,” Washofsky said.

As it stands, much of the Orthodox mainstream rejects marijuana entirely. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (1895-1986), the Lithuanian-born posek whose pre-eminence in American Jewry is such that the Orthodox often refer to him by only his first name, Rav Moshe, declared smoking marijuana to be “obviously forbidden.”

“It destroys his mind, and prevents him from understanding things properly,” he wrote in “Igros Moshe,” a nine-volume halachic commentary. “This is a terrible thing, since not only can the individual not properly study Torah, he also can not pray and properly perform mitzvot [commandments], since doing them mindlessly is considered as if they were not done at all.”

To bolster his opinion, the rabbi cites the punishment for gluttony offered in Deuteronomy: death by stoning.

A Torah of cannabis

Sure enough, there are those, such as Yoseph Needleman, who dismiss Feinstein’s prohibition as “suck-up-to-the-man disinformation.”

That’s the message in his 2009 book (written under a pseudonym), “Cannabis Chassidis: The Ancient and Emerging Torah of Drugs (A Memoir),” about the canned answers he received from mainstream rabbis when he was looking for guidance as a high schooler as to how the Jewish religion treats pot.

“Not that I thought I would find one, but I wanted a tradition that was helpful about how to enjoy drugs better — specifically, reefer,” he said. “Because that was a wholly natural thing, according to all the rumors on the street.”

That search led him to Jerusalem, where he spoke with the Journal in March at a café in the Nachlaot neighborhood.

Yoseph Needleman

Needleman is a lanky, bearded man whose words tumble quickly after one another in a rush of enthusiasm. He stretched out his long legs at a sidewalk table on a street of hip coffee shops where it’s not uncommon to walk past several Friday pleasure-seekers rolling marijuana cigarettes in public.

Marijuana laws are more stringent in Israel, but both society and police are just as tolerant of it in some places as they are in California. One gets the sense the cops consider other matters more pressing in Israel.

Where most Orthodox poseks read the holy texts as prohibitive of marijuana use, Needleman sees a potential guide for the perplexed stoner.

For example, in the introduction to his book, he cites Proverbs 25: “‘If you get a taste of honey, take only as little as you need and let the rest pass, lest ye take too much and vomit it all up.”

“Very deep, right?” Needleman probes in the book. “Anything ‘sweet,’ this applies for.”

The Jewish tradition of smoking pot is old and deep, he argues.

Needleman is fond of quoting Yaakov Yosef of Polonoye, biographer of the Baal Shem Tov (Israel ben Eliezer), the mystical founder of Chassidism. Yosef once claimed he would trade his portion in this world and the next, all for just a taste of what the Baal Shem Tov got from his pipe.

Law and stigma

Then as now, divisions in Jewish opinion were stark. In a 1772 letter, the Vilna Gaon, a legendary Torah scholar, excommunicated the followers of the Baal Shem Tov, taking issue with their dancing, exuberant methods of prayer and their smoking.

In today’s terms, the letter might have read, “What exactly is it that they’re smoking over there?”

There are many who now take a similar disapproving view of Needleman’s cannabis theology.

“If that’s what you’re talking about as spiritual experience, then Timothy Leary must have been the most spiritual person ever,” said Rosen, the Orthodox lecturer, referring to the psychedelic pioneer who popularized LSD.

“I don’t call that spiritual,” he added. “I call that something else: altered mind state.”

But then, there are plenty who are inclined to agree with Needleman on the spiritual potential of marijuana use.

The manager of marijuana law and policy for the Drug Policy Alliance, Amanda Reiman, is among the top backers of Proposition 64 in the state.

Reiman grew up in the Reform tradition, though today she no longer observes most rituals. Once a year, however, she gets together with a group of friends on Yom Kippur to light up and share insights on how they hope to change and grow in the new Jewish year.

“I would say it’s absolutely been a helpful tool in terms of spirituality,” she said in an interview.

But aside from her own practice, Reiman believes that legalizing pot is a Jewish imperative because marijuana prohibition disproportionately affects marginalized populations, she said.

“As Jews, we’ve had so much in our history of being marginalized and unfairly persecuted,” she said. “I think we have a responsibility to recognize that this has been happening to our communities of color for decades in the United States, and we need to play an active role in righting those wrongs.”

In that belief, she might find some support from halachah.

“If you see an injustice, you have to fix it,” said Washofsky, the Reform rabbi. “That’s what Jewish law tells us. But how we understand the definition of injustice is not always determined by the text. Sometimes we have to look at the world and make the decision on our own.”

Coexisting with cannabis

For years, Ean Seeb, a marijuana entrepreneur in Denver, wanted to sponsor the local Jewish Community Center’s annual poker tournament, and for years the organizers turned him down because they were uncomfortable carrying the logos for his marijuana businesses.

This year, they reached out to him to say they were going to be allowing cannabis-related sponsors and branding.

For Seeb, a regional board member for the Anti-Defamation League who’s active with JEWISHcolorado (formerly the Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado), the reversal is a signal that “the negative stigma of cannabis users is slowly fading away.”

If California voters choose to legalize marijuana, run-ins between the recreational marijuana industry and Jewish communities here would be likely, if not inevitable.

They wouldn’t be without precedent: At one time, the South Robertson district, which encompasses several heavily Jewish neighborhoods, was home to more than 20 medical cannabis dispensaries, said Doug Fitzsimmons, president of the South Robertson Neighborhoods Council.

For the most part, dispensaries and the neighborhood’s religious institutions coexisted without problems, Fitzsimmons said. Over time, though, it became clear that a lack of strict regulation created nuisances to the community. Because dispensaries are cash businesses, robberies were frequent, and customers would sometimes loiter and smoke weed in front of the shops, Fitzsimmons said.

After a crackdown on dispensaries citywide by the city of Los Angeles, the number of shops dwindled. But if recreational pot becomes legal after the November vote, demand for the plant could bring such businesses flocking back to Robertson Boulevard.

Talking to kids about pot

Each year, Bruce Powell, founding head of school at de Toledo High School in West Hills (formerly New Community Jewish High School), gives a talk to the school’s entire student body. He tells the teens to ask themselves five questions before doing anything:

Is it legal? Is it moral? Does it comport with Jewish values? Is it going to hurt another human being? Can you proudly tell your grandmother about it?

Powell’s prescription addresses risky behavior more broadly. But with regard to marijuana, a change in the law would modify the students’ answer to the first of those questions: Although the product would still be forbidden for those younger than 21, it would exist in the same legal classification as alcohol.

But Proposition 64 wouldn’t touch any of the other questions. Notably, Powell said, it would not impact the Jewish values on which the high school bases its drug and alcohol education.

“This is definitely going to be another challenging parenting moment,” he said of the likely change in legal status. However, “it’s no different than parents talking to their children about drinking, about driving, about sex.”

In all those conversations, Jewish teachings figure prominently for Powell.

“Everything is created b’tselem Elohim [in the image of God],” he said in an interview. “So how do we want to treat that image? Do we want to diminish that image?  Do we want to increase that image? And then we ask the question: What do drugs do to that image? Do they help the image? Do they increase the image?”

Meanwhile, at Chabad of Colorado, Engel has a different strategy for dissuading people from toking.

Instead, he suggested, “Try POT — stands for ‘put on tefillin.’ ”

Moving and shaking: Purim celebrations, TEBH honors and more

The ninth annual Beverly Hills Purim Ball, a benefit for Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills (TEBH) held March 10 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, honored Bunni and Murray Fischer with the Humanitarian Award, Steve Ghysels with the Community Spirit Award, and Israel Consul General in Los Angeles David Siegel and Myra Clark-Siegel with the Leadership Award.

Television personality Jerry Springer served as master of ceremonies.

Murray Fischer, a prominent Beverly Hills attorney, and his wife, Bunni, a travel consultant, are lifelong Temple Emanuel members.

Ghysels is senior vice president and regional managing director for Wells Fargo Wealth Management of Beverly Hills and sits on the board of Cedars Sinai-Medical Center.

Siegel, for his part, has represented Israel as a diplomat in Los Angeles since 2011. His wife, Myra, is director of communications and senior strategic counsel for American Jewish Committee’s Project Interchange.

The approximately 300 attendees included TEBH Senior Rabbis Laura Geller and Jonathan Aaron; TEBH Associate Rabbi Sarah Bassin; TEBH Cantor Lizzie Weiss; businessman and philanthropist Stanley Black; evening working committee members Michelle Kaye and Lisa Kay Schwartz; and others.


A March 20 discussion featuring Rabbis Sharon Brous of IKAR, Laura Geller of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, Ari Schwarzberg of Shalhevet High School and Elie Spitz of Congregation B’nai Israel in Tustin explored “How to Live as Jews in the World: Particularism vs. Universalism.”

From left: Rabbis Sharon Brous of IKAR, Ari Schwarzberg of Shalhevet High School, Laura Geller of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills and Elie Spitz of Congregation B’nai Israel participated in a panel at Academy for Jewish Religion, California. Photo courtesy of Academy for Jewish Religion, California. 

“I believe there is one God but there are many spiritual paths to that God. That is universalism,” Geller said during the Sunday night panel, which was organized by the Academy for Jewish Religion, California (AJRCA) and took place at the school’s Koreatown campus. “And at the same time, I want to claim and own that for me the particular Jewish path is mine.”

The moderator, AJRCA President Emeritus Rabbi Mel Gott-lieb, prompted the speakers to weigh in on the positives and negatives of universalism and particularism.

“What does it mean to be both universalist and particularist?” Brous asked. “What does it mean to be a human being and part of a family?”

“ ‘Here I am, just another Jew, just another rabbi, living in a modernized Jewish shtetl,’ ” Schwarzberg said, summarizing his  occasional ambivalence about living in the predominantly Jewish Pico-Robertson.

The event, which perhaps raised more questions than offered answers, was part of AJRCA’s effort to raise its visibility in the community.

AJRCA differs from the two other Los Angeles seminaries (Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and American Jewish University) in its pluralistic approach, coupled with the fact that it serves many “second-career students,” Gottlieb said in an interview at the conclusion of the well-attended event.

Temple Beth Israel of Highland Park’s Rabbi Robin Podolsky, one of approximately 100 attendees, said the speakers “asked the right questions, went to the right places and provoked the necessary thought.”

Additional attendees included AJRCA interim President Lisa Owens, AJRCA provost Tamar Frankiel and others.

Owens described the event as “particularly and universally wonderful.”


Shalom Hartman Institute (SHI) North America has hired Rabbi Philip Graubart as West Coast vice president and Rabbi Joshua Ladon as Bay City manager, according to a March 10 announcement.

Shalom Hartman Institute North America Bay City manager Rabbi Joshua Ladon. Photo courtesy of Shalom Hartman Institute

The hirings mark the continued expansion of the organization’s West Coast operations. The two join Michelle Stone, SHI North America’s Los Angeles city manager, and Rachel Allen, SHI West Coast program coordinator, to complete the SHI West Coast presence, according to a press release.

Launched in 2010, SHI North America is a self-described “leader in sophisticated dialogue and study on major Jewish questions,” according to a press release. 

With the addition of these two professionals, the broad expansion of SHI programs and initiatives on the West Coast will continue to flourish,” the release said. 


About 100 Sephardic Jewish community members, leaders and others attended the March 6 installation of Rabbi Raif Melhado at Kahal Joseph Congregation.

Rabbi Raif Melhado of Kahal Joseph Congregation. Photo courtesy of Melhado

“It is a very special community. It’s my honor and pleasure to be able to be working with them,” the 33-year-old Modern Orthodox rabbi, who began last August, said in a phone interview. 

Melhado was ordained at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School (YCT) in 2015. Prior to coming to Kahal Joseph Congregation, he served as a rabbinic intern at Hebrew Institute of White Plains in New York. 

The evening program featured remarks by Melhado; Kahal Joseph Rebbetzin Jessica Melhado; de Toledo High School Jewish studies department chair Rabbi Devin Villarreal; Hebrew Institute of White Plains Rabbi Chaim Marder; YCT President Rabbi Asher Lopatin; and Kahal President Ronald Einy.

A dinner reception followed the installation, featuring a concert by Sephardic band Bazaar Ensemble’s Asher Levy (vocals, oud), Yoni Arbel (guitar) and Sean Thump (saxophone).

Among attendees were Rabbi Daniel Bouskila, director of the Sephardic Educational Center, and Kahal Joseph Congregation Senior Chazzan Sassoon Ezra.

Kahal Joseph Congregation is a Sephardic Orthodox community with Iraqi and Syrian founders serving approximately 300 member families. The synagogue is located in Century City.


As usual, this year’s Purim festivities brought out the creativity and light-heartedness of the local Jewish community, evidenced by a host of carnivals, costumes and more. 

At B’nai David-Judea on March 23, young people dressed up as characters from “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and battled each other with toy light sabers in the lobby of the modern Orthodox Pico-Robertson synagogue. This followed a Megillah reading that was brought to life by a theatrical play in which Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky performed the role of Haman.

One attendee, however, stood out as a little more old school than those who were inspired by last year’s blockbuster movie. Israel Gootin, 12, a student at Yavneh Hebrew Academy, dressed as the classic video game “Tetris,” with a costume that involved a foam-like sandwich board with a graphic from “Tetris” imprinted on it. Nearby, a teenager dressed as the villainous Joker wore a royal-purple suit and thick red paint on his face to enlarge his smile. 

Israel Gootin, 12, a student at Yavneh Hebrew Academy, attended a Megillah reading at B’nai David-Judea dressed as one of the iconic video games, “Tetris.” Photo by Ryan Torok

Across town, college-age community members dressed up as cowboys and cowgirls to celebrate at Chabad Jewish Student Center at USC’s “Purim in the Wild West.” They roasted s’mores on a campfire, took turns riding a mechanical bull and posed for snapshots in a photo booth … when they weren’t being told by the rabbi running the party, Rabbi Dov Wagner, to separate by gender on the dance floor. Wagner and his wife, Runya, oversee the center, which is located downtown. 

The Chabad event was not the only themed party to celebrate Purim. “Purim in the Stadium,” a March 23 concert with Moshav band, was held at Chabad SOLA (South La Cienega) and was co-organized by Israel education network AMIT. The event featured an hourly Megillah reading, kosher food and more. Attendees included AMIT Western Region Director Michal Taviv-Margolese, Moshav band vocalist Yehuda Solomon and others.  

“Hot Jazz and Cool Cats,” a New Orleans-style party, took place at Rabbi Yonah Bookstein’s Pico Shul, in Pico-Robertson, on March 24. Pico Shul served up margaritas as well as gumbo and jambalaya for the adults, while children enjoyed swinging at Haman piñatas, according to the rabbi, who dressed as Zionist icon Theodor Herzl.

 “You know, we are the originators of the Hamañata,” Bookstein said in a phone interview. “Haman got totally crushed and destroyed. It was brutal. Haman met a brutal end at the hands of children. Yeah, he went down fast.”

Rabbi Joshua M. Aaronson in the dunk tank. Photo courtesy of Temple Judea

In the San Fernando Valley, Temple Judea put on the spiel “Shmaltz,” a spoof on the musical “Grease,” before a celebratory Purim carnival on March 20. There were rides and carnival games, not to mention kosher barbecue and a vendor marketplace. As part of the fun, Rabbi Joshua M. Aaronson was among those who took part in a dunk tank. There was even some Shushan royalty on scene, as Cantor Yonah Kligman dressed up as King Ahasuerus and Rabbi Cantor Alison Wissot appeared as Queen Esther.


The American Committee for Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem honored local businessman and philanthropist Marvin Markowitz on March 24 at Sinai Temple during “A Shushan Purim Costume Gala.” 

American Committee for Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem honorees Marvin Markowitz and Barak Raviv. Photo by Robert Lurie

Comedian Elon Gold emceed the evening that raised over $200,000 and drew more than 350 attendees, according to Paul Jeser, director of the organization’s Western region.

Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa presented Markowitz with the award, saying, “Shaare Zedek and you have something in common. You have committed your life to repairing the world.” Upon receiving the honor, Markowtiz, who has been in a wheelchair due to declining health brought on by West Nile virus, managed to stand up with the aid of an assistant and a walker.

“I feel like I am standing taller than ever,” he told the Journal later. The evening featured live music courtesy of Mike Burstyn, who sang “My Yiddishe Momme” to Markowitz’s mother, Lili, a Holocaust survivor who recently turned 90. It also recognized Barak Raviv of the Barak Raviv Foundation with the NextGen Award.

Special guest Monty Hall, former host of the TV game show “Let’s Make a Deal,” was seated alongside Markowitz, whose business ventures include The Mark for Events, a popular venue for parties and fundraisers, and Factor’s Famous Deli.

“When I walked in and saw the costumes, I thought I was doing the show all over again,” Hall said. 

Others who were seen included Markowitz’s family members, including his wife, Libby, three daughters and two sisters; StandWithUs founder Roz Rothstein; Journal president David Suissa; philanthropist Daphna Ziman; prosecutor Elan Carr; and Sam Yebri, co-founder of 30 Years After.


The progressive spiritual community known as IKAR held a Purim Justice Bonanza consisting of a Megillah service, a spiel featuring filmed and live sketches, and an after-party co-sponsored by JQ International at Café Club Fais Do-Do on March 23. The event drew nearly 400 people to hear the Megillah reading and 200 for the after-party, which featured a drag performance. Some revelers went outside to visit food trucks and to schmooze in a quieter outdoor seating area. Another room featured a silent disco, where participants could dance along to music played directly into their earphones.

From left: IKAR Executive Director Melissa Balaban and IKAR Rabbi Sharon Brous attend IKAR’s Purim Justice Bonanza. Photo by Steve Sherman 

Rabbi Sharon Brous, who wore a “Snow White Privilege” costume, appeared with her husband, David Light, who dressed as the character Mugatu from the “Zoolander” movies. Associate Rabbi Ronit Tsadok came as the late singer Amy Winehouse.

This year’s spiel highlights included “Clergy in Cars Getting Coffee,” a filmed parody of the Jerry Seinfeld web series “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.” IKAR’s version featured Brous going for a drive, getting a cup of coffee and singing “Let It Go” from Disney’s “Frozen” with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. The video (and others from the spiel) can be viewed on IKAR’s YouTube channel.

— Esther D. Kustanowitz, Contributing Writer

“Moving and Shaking” highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com.

Jewish man who stormed Paris synagogue in jihadist costume not charged

A Jewish man who stormed a suburban Paris synagogue dressed as a jihadist and shouting “God is great” in Arabic was not charged with any crime.

Police called the man, who is in his 40s, to a hearing on Friday, the day after he rushed into the Chabad synagogue in Vincennes wearing a djellaba – a loose-fitting Moroccan robe – and carrying toy Kalashnikov rifles, Le Figaro reported. The incident occurred on Purim, when it is traditional to dress in costume.

“I wanted to lighten the mood, I think I made ​​a big mistake,” he told another Paris-based paper. “Purim is a special party where you can let go and drink. I had an Arab costume with a red and white headscarf and a Kalashnikov. Arriving at the synagogue, I told the soldiers that it was a fake. I laughed with them. I shouted ‘Allahu Akbar,'” a phrase terrorists often use while committing attacks.

The appearance rattled the security guards at the synagogue, according to reports.

The incident occurred two days after suicide bombers affiliated with Islamic State killed at least 35 people in attacks at Brussels Airport and a metro station in the center of the Belgian capital, and nearly a week after three Israelis were killed in an attack in Istanbul after their travel group allegedly was targeted.

Purim bash combines the holy with the holistic

Reading the advance info for “Dawn: The Open Temple Purim Bash,” which took place on March 24 at the Rose Room in Venice, the 6 a.m. start time might have appeared to be a typo. But it was not. It was also no deterrent for the approximately 100 early risers who flocked to the event, the first Purim party in L.A. of its kind. 

Many in attendance knew going in what to expect. “Dawn” was inspired by the healthy-lifestyle Daybreaker events, a series of early morning raves begun two years ago in Williamsburg, N.Y., by Matthew Brimer and Radha Agrawal as a way to provide the young and young-at-heart with a nightlife-style experience at the crack of dawn — without the booze, the high heels and late-night haze. Daybreaker parties quickly found a big market and now enjoy a global following, including in Los Angeles. The freedom and escapism of a great party should be available to everyone, the founders believed, not just night-owl coeds and bar flies. To that end, Daybreaker offers an alternative path to community, to creating meaning.

Rabbi Lori Shapiro is doing something similar with Open Temple, a congregation she created in 2012 with the help of four families “who sought a contemporary way of ‘doing Jewish’ with a 21st-century vibe that would be inclusive of their interfaith families,” Shapiro said. 

When Shapiro — “an indefatigable networker” as one attendee described her — attended a Daybreaker party in Venice two years ago, she looked around at the hundreds of people dancing in costumes, high on kindred vibrations and celebrating the beginning of a new day, and thought, “This is Purim.” After meeting with local Daybreaker producer Andre Herd, who is Jewish, she got permission to set the wheels in motion to adapt the Daybreaker model for Open Temple’s Purim party. Herd even produced. 

“Daybreaker parties are sober raves where celebration is inspired by getting high on life, yoga, music and community,” Shapiro said. “As one of the mitzvot of Purim is to not be able to tell the difference between Mordechai and Haman (through alcohol), Open Temple’s Purim Bash challenged the reveler to achieve this through dance, celebration, projections of word and image [and] Om Shalom Yoga.”

“Dawn” kicked off with a one-hour yoga session led by Zack Lodmer of Om Shalom Yoga, allowing participants to greet the day by stretching their muscles and centering their chis. A dance party followed. Instead of a traditional Purim spiel, live performances featured aerialists and horn players. A tzedakah box at the front entrance invoked Purim’s commandment to give to the poor by collecting donations for SPY (Safe Place for Youth), which helps homeless youth in Venice. And a massive projector rotated biblical images and different verses from the Megillah behind the DJ booth, as well as messages of world peace and inclusivity reflecting the spirit of Open Temple. Hamantashen the size of bowling balls were free for the taking, along with protein and various other nutrition bars, hot coffee and freshly pressed juices, courtesy of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills’ YoPros, who partnered with Open Temple for the event. 

Rabbi Sarah Bassin of Temple Emanuel said it was the two synagogues’ first official partnership, hopefully the first of many. “We’re both rabbis who share an openness to partnerships and non-territorialism, and creating the best opportunities for people to connect,” Bassin said of Shapiro. “So we were really excited to participate in this and bring our people out.” 

Spoken word and guitar performances rounded out the event, which lasted until about 9 a.m.

Despite the early hour, nobody skimped on costumes — the space was flooded with painted faces, neon spandex and full-body leotards. One girl donned an L.A. Kings getup head to toe. One volunteer, Benny, was dressed as Quailman, Doug Funnie’s alter ego.

“Nice costume!” one woman shouted to him as she walked by. “It’s kind of reminiscent of tefillin — ”

“Yeah, that’s what I was going for, but I ran out of belts!” Benny said. He had attended his first Daybreaker a couple of weeks earlier and had heard “Dawn” would be a comparable alternative. 

“I have a friend who does Open Temple stuff, and she was like, ‘This one’s going on, and if you volunteer, you can get in for free!’ Last time I did it, I was out and sitting in traffic by 8:30 a.m. I took a conference call, and no one had any idea I was sitting in sweaty dance clothes.”