Photo courtesy Arianna Huffington.

Q&A with Arianna Huffington on Sleep, Melatonin and Shabbat


The original force behind the news and opinion website Huffington Post (HuffPost) and the wellness startup Thrive Global, Arianna Huffington also is the author of “The Sleep Revolution,” which was released earlier this year. She took time to speak with the Journal on topics ranging from the benefits of Shabbat rest to her political aspirations.

Jewish Journal: You once ran for governor of California. Now you’re known as a leading advocate for getting enough sleep. How did you get from Point A to Point B?

Arianna Huffington: It’s been a long road, but there are some throughlines. One principle that has been constant in my life has been my love of helping people engage and connect. I’m Greek, that’s what we do. We lure you to the table to eat and talk. My brief flirtation with public office was part of that, and HuffPost was certainly a version of that. And so is Thrive Global, which is about helping people connect and engage — with their jobs, with their friends and family, and especially with themselves.

JJ: You say getting enough sleep is beneficial for decision- making, for reducing stress and for creativity. Is there a spiritual benefit, as well?

AH: Absolutely. It’s all connected. Seeking out and being open to something larger than ourselves is an essential element of our well-being. And it’s also a lot harder, if not impossible, when we’re stressed, harried, burned out and in perpetual flight-or-fight mode.   

JJ: In Jewish tradition, we have a word for what you’re talking about: Shabbat. There’s an expression: “More than the Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews.” Isn’t that another way of saying exactly what you’re trying to teach now?

AH: I love that. And it’s so true. Keeping to a contemplative tradition like Shabbat that involves disconnecting and connecting with what’s important to us keeps us connected to the essence of who we are. And that can work on both an individual and collective level.

JJ: I’m always trying to find ways to relax on Shabbat. What are your top three tips for getting enough rest?

AH: First, charge your phone outside your bedroom at night. Our phones are repositories of everything we need to put away to allow us to sleep — our to-do lists, our inboxes, our anxieties. Plus, the blue light they emit suppresses melatonin, the hormone connected to sleep regulation. So putting your phone to bed as a regular part of your bedtime ritual makes you more likely to wake up as fully charged as your phone. Second, try meditating before bed. It’s been proven to help people fall asleep faster. Last, if you’re having trouble falling sleep, read a book — but make it a real book or an e-reader that doesn’t emit blue light. And make sure it is not work-related: novels, poetry, philosophy — anything but work.

JJ: You seem like an incredibly driven person, and someone who’s always busy. Do you really meditate every day? Does it work for you?

AH: I try to. It’s the first thing I do when I wake up — it’s a much better way to start the day than reaching for your phone. And, yes, it really works. It makes me calmer and less reactive throughout the day. 

JJ: Turning to politics, one explanation for the current divisiveness in our country is that people read only the version of the news they agree with. Didn’t your own creation, HuffPost, help get us into this mess?

AH: No, not at all. HuffPost was always about connecting people to their world and to each other, showing them how to be part of creating solutions. Certainly, HuffPost had an editorial voice — we never believed that the truth is somehow always magically in the middle. But that didn’t mean we didn’t welcome all voices from across the political spectrum. 

JJ: How can we get back on track and start talking to each other again?  

AH: A lot of it is about empathy and recognizing the humanity in each other. And that’s a lot easier to do when we put down our devices and engage with each other and ourselves. That won’t solve all the world’s problems, but it will allow us to access the qualities we need to meet those challenges: our wisdom, empathy and creativity.  

How Judaism Helps Us Regain Our Balance


Each period of history has a title bestowed by historians, one meant to reveal some key characteristic of that age. Thus, the medieval period is the Age of Faith; the Enlightenment is the Age of Reason; and the 19th century is the Age of Progress. The name for our age, I would venture to guess, is the Age of Busyness.

Everybody is busy. Americans routinely complain that they work too many hours — and they do. They complain that they have too little time to spend with their children — and they’re right. They complain that they have little time left for quiet reflection, for learning and for celebrating.

Well, actually, they don’t complain about that — because they don’t have enough time to notice its absence, or because they’re so busy that they no longer miss it.

But part of being human, part of living our lives fully, is the inner need to grow and to explore and to play. Contemporary psychology tells us that people continue to grow throughout every phase of their lives, and that the playfulness of children continues into adulthood, as well. To be human is to play, to change and to grow.

Where, in our serious culture of business, work and productivity — or in its flip side of infantile recreation and foolish escapism — do we make room for adult play, adult study and adult growth? America’s Achilles’ heel is its excessive busyness, which spawns equally excessive foolishness to blow off steam.

We’ve lost our balance.

The place to recapture what we have lost is to be found in Judaism’s unparalleled ability to sanctify time. Through the observance of Shabbat, of holy days and festivals, our tradition provides a timeout for adults — not to lose ourselves in fantasies or escape, but to rediscover ourselves and the depths of our own creativity and love. We immerse ourselves in sacred time in order to live better and more fully during the rest of our days.

Now that the holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are behind us and we emerge out of our sukkah booths back into our busy, contemporary lives, our immersion in rest, renewal and community is our passport back into a better way of living our lives. Instead of “spending time,” Judaism gives us the gift of learning to savor it.

The Talmud teaches that “rejoicing on a festival is a religious duty.” What a remarkable idea! A day devoted to a special kind of joy. The rejoicing of the festival has little in common with sitting in a dark room staring passively at an on-screen fantasy, or risking life and limb to thrill ourselves into forgetting what drones we’ve become. The rejoicing of the festival is not one of escaping, but one of returning to our own centers — our own families, friends, community and God.

As it says in the Talmud: “Rabbi Eliezer said, ‘One has nothing else to do on a festival except to eat, drink, sit and study.’ Rabbi Joshua said, ‘Divide it — devote half the day to eating and drinking, and half of it to the house of prayer and study.’”

Our sense of self emerges in cultivating our character, our curiosity and our relationships.

What a fascinating way to rejoice. Recall that the word “recreation” involves creating something anew — in this case, our own souls. By spending part of the day together in prayer, song and Torah study, we rebuild our identities as messengers of God and as bearers of God’s covenant. We restore our sense of belonging in a specific synagogue community and in the Jewish people worldwide. Having restored that essential base, the rabbis of the Talmud then tell us to take the rest of the day for feasting and spending time with those we love.

What a marvelous blend of devotion and relaxation, of heightened identity and then simply being.

What this regimen of holy days and festivals makes clear is that mastery of our work — rather than allowing our work to master us — requires setting clear boundaries and limits to our chores and our work. Our sense of self emerges in cultivating our character, our curiosity and our relationships. By rejoicing with one another on these holy days, festivals and on Shabbat, we declare ourselves to be free in the service of holiness and goodness, of Torah and togetherness.

After the end of the fall holy days, take the lessons of the shofar, the fast and the sukkah with you into our busy world. Remember that we each are children of royalty, and we thrive best when we thrive together. 


Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson holds the Abner and Roslyn Goldstine Dean’s Chair at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at American Jewish University.

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

Massive Shabbat Dinner On Pico Boulevard Canceled After Las Vegas Shooting


After the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas, organizers of a Shabbat dinner gala here in Los Angeles canceled an event that they expected to draw a record-breaking crowd of 5,000.

“Shabbat 5,000,” scheduled for Oct. 27, would have shut down Pico Boulevard between Doheny Drive and Beverly Drive for an open-air Friday night dinner on the asphalt. But after a gunman on the 32nd floor of a Las Vegas hotel opened fire on a country music concert on Oct. 1, leaving at least 59 dead and more than 500 others injured, Shabbat 5,000 organizer Joshua Golcheh began to have second thoughts.  

“It was really just about thinking ahead, and being safe rather than sorry,” Golcheh, 27, said.

Golcheh said he spoke with the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) on Oct. 2 while he and fellow organizer Dara Abaei were deciding whether to cancel the dinner.

Although the LAPD would not tell him to cancel the event, he said officers urged him to proceed with the utmost caution. Golcheh already had plans for barricades, aerial surveillance and a security staff of 60, including armed guards, in addition to an LAPD detail.

But ultimately, he said, he didn’t feel he could rule out an attack such as the Las Vegas shooting.

“There’s no place for putting anyone in harm’s way in my mission statement,” he said. “Therefore we decided to cancel the event.”

The Oct. 27 dinner would have coincided with The Shabbat Project, a global network of community events aimed at bringing together Jews around the world for one Shabbat.

A real estate developer who organizes Jewish unity events under the auspices of his community group, United Nation of Hashem, Golcheh and Abaei organized a Shabbat dinner on Pico Boulevard in October 2015 that attracted more than 3,000 people.

At the time, he told the Journal he wanted to follow up the dinner with a “bigger and better” Shabbat event.

But speaking with the Journal on Oct. 3, Golcheh said he no longer saw an open-air Shabbat dinner as an option.

“I do not foresee an event like this happening ever again,” he said. “I do have creative ideas of how we can have Jews in large audiences together for meals. However, I would never do it in an open-air setting.”

Nationwide, the Las Vegas shooting put the Jewish community on alert.

In an Oct. 2 statement, Anti-Defamation League (ADL) CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said that ADL’s Las Vegas chapter is coordinating with local law enforcement and monitoring the situation closely.

“While we are still learning details and do not know the impetus for the killings, one thing is clear: The threat of mass violence against innocent civilians in America has not abated,” he said. “This threat must be taken seriously.”

Golcheh said he would look for other ways to accomplish the goals of Shabbat 5,000.

“The hope of the event was to bring Jews together,” he said. “And even without having the event, I still hope that Jews throughout Los Angeles can unite and come together and show how strong we are as a nation.

Am Yisrael chai,” he added — long live Israel.

Irma and A Short Story About Goodness


This guest post is from Adam Weinberg, a dear friend and collaborator on Shabbat Tent. His story is a profound  lesson about how goodness changes the world, one family at a time.

You should not place a stumbling block before a person who is blind. It’s a well known commandment found in the Hebrew Bible.  It is found in a portion of the Bible called Kedoshim, most commonly translated as “holy ones”.  I thought about this idea several times while preparing for Hurricane Irma, while running away from Hurricane Irma, while being taken care of during Hurricane Irma, and while on my return home from Hurricane Irma.  I thought about this idea both for its obvious implications as a prohibition from taking sinister action to hurt or deceive someone, as well as its proactive positive inverse — You should find and remove any stumbling block already before a person who is blind.  

Hurricane Irma, and the media attention surrounding its long march towards the islands and the main land made many of us blind. Some physically, but most of us emotionally and psychologically. Here is one story, about individuals, families, businesses, and major corporations (mostly) removing stumbling blocks, doing good and being holy ones for us.  

Hurricane Irma is Coming

My family and I were visiting friends and seeing the band Phish in Denver at Dick’s Sporting Good Arena over Labor Day weekend.  We flew home to Miami Beach on Monday September 4th.   When we landed, a text message awaited us from our Denver friends.  It was screen shot of Governor Rick Scott’s state-of-emergency message that had been announced while we were comfortably experiencing the miracle of flight.  My wife and I shrugged it off.  It’s Miami in September.  Storms develop, threaten, and then sputter out somewhere.  My wife and I both lived through Hurricane Andrew.  Whatever Irma was would be fine.  Later that evening I went to our neighborhood Publix grocery store to restock the refrigerator after our vacation.  Publix was already in some kind of minor hysteria.  Shelves being emptied, friends and neighbors stopped in the aisles discussing escape plans.  It all seemed a bit much considering the projections I had googled didn’t have it making landfall in South Florida for nearly a week; a long time in the uncertain path of a Hurricane.  But it was hard not to absorb some of that frantic energy so I went to the water aisle to stock up.  

When I got to the aisle a Publix employee pointed out to me that Publix was discounting its water.  A case of 24 bottles of 16.9 oz water was on sale for $2.49.  By comparison I know friends who paid $15-20 for the same thing at other stores or through Amazon once everyone shifted into Hurricane preparation mode.  Publix was being good.  Disaster had not struck, and it was at least six days away, but Publix immediately removed any obstacle to acquiring safe drinking water for a price nearly anyone could afford [as a note, in the future Publix should limit the amount of water you can buy under such circumstances to ensure it doesn’t all sell out too quickly, giving as many people as possible access to these deals].

That Monday night I tried to read as many models on Irma as were available online. National Hurricane Center, Wunderground, the-never-wrong-European Model.  A friend posted the website windy.com which has this absolutely beautiful animated map of the world and its wind, ocean, and wave patterns.  You can allow the site to play out several days of ocean activity.  It’s really stunning to watch, so I just sat there watching it as it demonstrated Irma slamming into Miami. I looked at flights to Baltimore, MD where my closest friends outside of Miami live.  Tickets were reasonable at $180 round trip.  But when would Irma really hit?  I went to sleep, no tickets purchased.  By the time I looked at flights again Tuesday morning, the certainty of a direct hit with which the local and State governments and the media spoke had been ratcheted up to an “11”.  Plane tickets to Baltimore were now either sold out or $800 round trip with a stop. My wife and I are fortunate to have three kids.  That’s $4,000 and a serious stumbling block.

The Road Trip Begins

I spent most of the work day on Tuesday looking at hotels in Orlando and Atlanta trying to predict what days we would need them for.  Both cities were quick to jump on Miami’s panic and instituted hardline cancellation policies, giving those who booked on Tuesday afternoon for a storm that might hit on Saturday, or Sunday, or maybe even Monday only a day to cancel.  Basically take your money, throw it in a garbage bag, and set it on fire.  A coworker’s sister works for Marriott and shared with us her “friends” corporate code.  This got us a discount and a later cancellation policy.  I booked rooms for myself and a friend.  About thirty-minutes later I called my parents and sister.  They wanted rooms too in case they began to panic in a similar fashion to myself.  I went back to Marriott.com, entered the “friends” code.  It was no longer enabled.  No more corporate discounts or later cancellation terms.

A good friend said to me during the whole Irma experience that he was unaware of a single couple that didn’t get into a major disagreement over how to deal with Irma. Disagreements which often spread beyond Irma.  By the time I had hotel rooms booked I had one foot in the car; road-trip ready.   My wife on the other hand was spared the anxiety gene, and has a work ethic only matched by her father.  She works at a major hospital on the water in Miami Beach and was on the schedule until Friday. We fought about it.  Without much consulting with my wife, I had agreed to hit the road on Wednesday with our closest friends in Miami.  My wife was not leaving the hospital that quickly.  We fought some more.  Eventually, we reached a compromise.  My wife would work a half-day Thursday. Ensure her patients were taken care of and prepped or evacuated ahead of the storm.  

The first three-and-a-half hours of the drive from Miami to Orlando were fun and the roads generally smooth with short periods of slow down.  This kids drew pictures, watched The Lion King and generally enjoyed themselves.  About 40 miles south of Orlando the real traffic began. Standstill.  Cars began using the shoulder as an additional lane.  I made some comment about the selfishness of people who clog the shoulder in situations of potential need.  My wife decided a better approach would be to assume that anyone speeding down the shoulder was racing to save someone’s life.   This became the new vocalized motto for shoulder-drivers “Save your life!”  Ok, good.

It took another three hours to go those last 40 miles, but we made it to the hotel, a Marriott.  Our plan was to stay in Orlando for one night and then head to Atlanta as early as possible the next morning.  At check-in another Miami evacuee was noticeably anxious.  She explained to the front desk that she had only booked a room through Sunday morning and now the storm had slowed down and was projected to pummel Orlando on Sunday or Monday.  The two women working the front desk responded as perfectly as any two humans could have.  They assured her that many people were booking, cancelling, rebooking, and on and on.  They would find her additional room nights at their hotel. If they couldn’t guarantee it at their hotel, they would find her a room at another hotel.  If they couldn’t find her a room at another hotel they would make sure she was safe in their hotel, even if it meant getting creative with the sleeping situation.  Furthermore, if she ended up booking additional nights at another Marriott and then needed to cancel, the general cancellation terms were waived.  Basically book whatever you want, cancel whenever you want, and you won’t be charged unless you actually sleep in a hotel room.  These women saw an individual who was scared, and they promised her an environment that would protect her while making the financial burden as minimal an issue as possible.  Goodness. Hotels redeemed.

My kids went swimming in the hotel pool.  My wife and I committed to waking up at 4:30am to head to Atlanta. I studied waze and google maps trying to make sense of each map’s inability to accurately increase the estimated arrival time based on current traffic issues.  What I learned was that the estimated arrival time shown in these apps during such complicated traffic data situations is almost always wrong, but there is an easy way to figure out the truth.  If you zoom in on each current traffic incident, each app will show an estimated delay for that specific incident.  Add up all those estimated delays and tack it on to the overall travel time given.  For example, at approximately 2am Friday morning, both google maps and waze predicted that it would take 8 hours to get from Orlando to Atlanta.  There were still a few areas of “red” traffic incidents even at 2am, each with a delay of approximately 30 minutes.  Therefore, the real travel time at 2am; assuming no more traffic incidents occurred, would have been 9 hours.  If it wasn’t obvious from my 2am data set, sleep was not coming easily.  

I texted my sister who had just arrived in Atlanta after driving 19 hours straight from Miami.  I expressed my trepidation for the early morning journey.  I made my case to take I-95 instead of the Turnpike and I-75.  While I-95 was longer in mileage, it had experienced less traffic incidents the day before.  It didn’t have service stations built into the highway which were causing major slowdowns on the Turnpike and I-75.   I committed that if at 4:30am there were already traffic incidents on the Turnpike and I-75 and none on I-95, 95 would be the route.

Meanwhile, the hotel was doing more good.  They waived their normal pet prohibition and many guests were grateful.  Our neighbor across the hall had brought his dog and then apparently went for a very long walk or was deaf.  The dog barked incessantly most of the night. Days after the storm I listened to an interview with a man who remained in the middle Keys during the storm.  When Irma had passed, he went walking around his island and found more of his neighbors’ pets roaming around than his actual neighbors.  I tried to sleep, but it never came. 4:30am. I checked the map apps.  The Turnpike and I-75 already had a few small incidents showing up.  95 was clear sailing.  Nonetheless, all the apps still suggested taking the Turnpike.  I was too sleep deprived to battle the all powerful Waze and its handler Lord Google.  We abandoned the I-95 plan without much debate.

The first few hours, with my wife at the wheel, were smooth sailing.  Some back roads provided beautiful scenery, even if that scenery was too often speckled with confederate flags.  There was a lot of chatter on line about gas shortages.  My wife and I talked about how amazing truck drivers are. While nearly a million residents were fleeing north, the men and women who drive oil tankers were hauling up and down the highways ensuring gas was readily available.  Somewhere around Perry, GA we stopped.  Refill the tank, empty the bladder.  A tanker was at this particular stop refueling the station.  I went over to the men at the tanker and thanked them for what they were doing.  They seemed genuinely grateful for the recognition and we chatted briefly.  One of the men was from a town in Ft. Lauderdale just about 20 miles north of our family’s home.  These guys were goodness.  As stressful as it was, ultimately it’s easy to run away.  It’s much harder to spend days on the road, away from family and friends, to ensure everyone else has the fuel to keep running.

The overly simplistic formula I had devised in the middle of the night was proving true.  The map apps kept pretending that it was an 8-hour drive to Atlanta, but each traffic incident delay needed to be added to that base number.  About 10 hours into the drive, somewhere north of Macon, GA and among beautiful back roads and less attractive confederate flags, I decided we should fly back to Miami.  Most major airlines were now in redemption mode — offering direct flights from Atlanta to the Miami area for around $100 per ticket.  I booked five flights with cancellation insurance for Monday.  I then began the process of trying to find someone who would drive our car back.

Goodness began spilling out in all directions

We had hotel reservations at the Marriott Suites in Midtown Atlanta for the next three nights.  We also had the option to stay at the home of my sister’s best friend from college.  We went with the home.  I called the hotel to cancel.  All reservations were now fully refundable until 2am the night/morning of check-in.  The woman on the phone encouraged me to keep my remaining nights, and decide day by day.  Even if I forgot to cancel, she assured me, they would make sure the room was refunded if I hadn’t actually checked in. More goodness.  We arrived at our friend’s home after about 13 hours of driving, and the goodness began spilling out in all directions.

The Robkin-Salzberg clan have a large but modest home.  Their home exists to be used not be seen.  The only sacred elements in their home are the people, and not any of its things. By the time we arrived, rooms had already been set up for my wife and I, our kids, an amazing couple from Venice, FL, my sister, and her friend from Miami.  If more people showed up invited or otherwise, they were clearly welcome.  There was a ceramics art studio in the basement. Musical instruments lined the walls in another part of the basement.  Food was being prepared in the kitchen.  Enough for twenty people.  We were all instructed not to lift a finger. They would take care of us.  

Stories began to spread throughout the various communities in Atlanta who were housing Florida evacuees.  One couple had a baby in their hosts’ home, and their hosts were now planning the bris for that couple’s new baby boy.  By the time night fell Friday evening my wife and I were still shedding layers of stress but our kids were on vacation.

Irma kept shifting west.  Miami would be spared the worst, but many islands had already been hit hard and Naples and Tampa were now in the direct path.  Our flights for Monday were cancelled and automatically rebooked for Thursday.  If you recall my wife’s insistence on working as close to impact as possible earlier in this tale, you can intuit that returning four days after the storm would be unacceptable.  Drive or fly?  To drive meant to wait until Tuesday, once the storm was done with Florida and Georgia.  Roads would be a mess with debris. Gas tankers wouldn’t be able start refueling until Tuesday. The storm went up the West Coast of the State, but it was so large that East Coast cities like Jacksonville still flooded and suffered wide spread power outages.  Leaving Tuesday seemed like a bad idea.  I started calling Delta a few times a day to see if any earlier flights; perhaps Tuesday night or Wednesday were available.

Meanwhile, the Robkin-Salzberg clan and their guests continued breathe, eat and sleep goodness.  My close friend, and local mayor back home, had chosen to stay put and hang with the police and other first responders.  He was updating me.  Flooding, damage, but overall gratitude that Miami had dodged a major bullet.  I was probably one of a hundred or more people reaching out to him for updates. After the storm he went by my house. Took pictures. Told me it would all be good.  He was goodness.

Another friend back home is a news reporter.  He had to report in this thing.  Not because it provides some rush like sky diving, or because it’s actually safe.  It’s scary as all hell.  It’s completely not safe for all the reasons these same reporters tell you it’s not safe while they dodge debris and get strewn about by 100 mph gusts of wind.  But he did it. He told me a few days later that if his reporting provided advice or calm to even one person that otherwise would have done something to jeopardize their own safety that it was worth it.  He was goodness.

I kept checking on line for updates and predictions from friends. The same friend who posted that mesmerizing site windy.com now posted a note about a former student of his named David who escaped South Florida for Atlanta but now had no ride back.  I asked for his number and reached out.  I told David we weren’t sure if we’d be driving back or flying but either way he’d have a ride with us or he could take our car.  Win win. Plan in place.

Atlanta was great for the kids.  Young kids dealing with the fallout from a major hurricane is not ideal.  This seemed better. We went to parks, the aquarium, played music, made short films.  Over five and half days in Atlanta we ate only one meal not prepared by the Robkins-Salzbergs.  We went out with friends in the City.  After ordering I realized I had forgotten to get anything for our youngest son.  I went back to the counter, placed the order and took out my wallet.  The woman behind the counter refused my money.  She had overheard our kids talking about getting to go home, and decided we had enough to deal with.  The forgotten sandwich order would be on her.  I insisted to pay.  She refused to accept.  Goodness.

Tuesday morning our best friends, who had also escaped to Atlanta, made a run for it back home.  I wasn’t so adventurous and decided to keep looking for earlier flights. If that failed, I resigned myself to Wednesday driving, hoping gas and road conditions would be more predictable by then.  Tuesday night I called Delta back and was connected with an agent named Angie.  Angie was empathy incarnate.  She knew why I was calling without me really having to explain anything.  She told me that everyone she was speaking with was conflicted on how to get home and seats were being booked, cancelled, rebooked, and on and on.  If she kept refreshing her seating map occasionally new seats would become available. Finding five seats on an earlier flight would be challenging but she told me she would stay on the phone with me as long as I wanted her efforts to endure.  She also told me that if I wanted to cancel my Thursday flights in order to drive, all tickets were now fully refundable. Goodness.  

At one point Angie had three seats held for me to Ft. Lauderdale for Wednesday morning.  I could send my wife and two younger kids home first.  She wanted to keep trying.  Refresh the page.  Try a new flight. Refresh.  Check Miami airport instead of Ft Lauderdale. Check West Palm Beach. Refresh.  Debate the usefulness of this exercise.  Refresh. Double refreshing. Eventually Angie had four seats held on a Wednesday afternoon flight to Miami.  Book it.  I could easily find a single seat on another flight. By the time Angie had entered my family’s flight information into the seating manifest she had grabbed a fifth seat and had spent nearly an hour on the phone with me to accomplish the task.  My wife could now get back to work a day earlier.  We could all fly together for about the same cost as gas, food and hotel would cost to make the drive over two days.  David would drive the car back.  Good.

The last thing my grandmother ran away from was Hitler.

We got home early Wednesday evening. Power had just been restored after being out for close to five days.  My in-laws were still without.  They would stay with us.  My father-in-law had already started the clean up before we got home.  Goodness.  My parents escaped South Florida to Atlanta with my 95 year old grandmother.  The last thing she ran away from was Hitler.  From Atlanta, my mother took my Grandmother to New York to visit my aunt and uncle, her other grandkids and great grandkids. Goodness.  My father and sister each drove home solo.  Not easy after absorbing a week of stress.  Impressive goodness.

Then came Jose. The islands got it again.  As I finish this, Puerto Rico is being pummeled by Maria and Mexico is suffering from another major earthquake.  We were fortunate – both because Irma wasn’t a direct hit and because we had the means and finances to run. Others were not.  At home we helped friends and neighbors with clean up.  We had countless conversations with those around us to make sure they had everything they needed.  The local synagogues (and I assume churches and mosques) provided meals, places to stay and around the clock support. After a few days home, a very common story on line and in the media, revolved around looting and disgruntled residents still without power.  I get it. These are real issues.  But I had just been the recipient of so much good, from people who were not police officers, fire fighters, FEMA workers or other first responders – all who deserve high praise as well.  The goodness my family and I received came mostly from people who removed stumbling blocks – physical, emotional, psychological, and financial – simply because they wanted to do something good.  I’m going to focus on that for now.  

If you want to support some charities that I believe are doing the most good they can for Hurricane related challenges, check the grid and feel free to add your suggestions: CHARITY GRID

Love and thanks to Michelle, Simone, Lev, (little) Shai, Sara, Mom, Dad, Grandma Sylvia, Zeity Jack, Safta Rachel, Grandma Frances, Amy, Ben, Ellie, Ari, (Big) Shai, Judy, Navit, Ori, Kol, Havi, Renee, Marc, Chloe, David, Bruce, Pete, Luciana, Gabe, Rosh, Angie, Moshe, hotel folks, restaurant folks, oil tank drivers, the guy at that gas station in no-wheres-ville-Georgia who offered to fill my tires with air, and I’m sure a lot of other folks who deserve it.

______________

Adam Weinberg is a concert producer, promoter, part time guitar player, and occasional writer living in Surfside, FL with his awesome wife and kids.
Photo courtesy of PJ Library

Your child’s Jewish identity can flourish in Los Angeles


Last month, my wife and I were blessed with our third child. When we welcomed our first child home from Cedars-Sinai four years ago, my wife and I looked at each other and asked, “Now what?”

I remember that apprehensive moment distinctly. We spoke about our hope of raising kind, well-adjusted children who felt the same connection to Judaism and the Jewish people that we did. But, there is no training manual for parenting in general, let alone for how to raise a Jewish child in ritzy, 21st century Los Angeles.

Fortunately, like many new parents, we received a great deal of solicited and unsolicited advice. The best advice introduced us to the numerous opportunities for young parents in Los Angeles to weave our new child (and ourselves) into the fabric of our Jewish community.

PJ Library

This is a no-brainer and should be on every new parent’s to-do list. Each month, PJ Library sends free Jewish books to more than 500,000 families with children ages 6 months through 8 years old. There is no catch. The books celebrate Jewish values, culture and tradition. My daughters have adored each book, especially the ones about Jewish holidays. “Good Night Israel,” a variation on the classic “Goodnight Moon,” is my personal favorite. It is refreshing to see children eagerly greet the mail carrier in hopes of receiving a new book from PJ Library. Watching children choose a physical book over screen time is a modern miracle of Maccabean proportion. Nes gadol, indeed. pjlibrary.org

Zimmer Children’s Museum

Photo courtesy of Zimmer Children’s Museum

Fortunately for us, the best children’s museum in Los Angeles happens to be a Jewish museum, located in the same building as the offices of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. The Zimmer not only provides a beautiful interactive space for quality learning and play, it does so through Jewish themes. An annual membership, starting at $109, includes free admission for two adults and all of their children and grandchildren, plus discounts for the Zimmer’s terrific camps and classes. The museum is also a popular place to host a birthday party for your child. zimmermuseum.org

Jewish education

These days, it seems, parents start thinking about their children’s schools — how to get accepted and how to pay for them — even before conception. In Los Angeles, only one-third of the estimated 60,000 school-age Jewish children attend Jewish day schools or religious schools. Yet, countless formal and informal Jewish educational opportunities and resources exist here. A decade ago, Builders of Jewish Education launched jKidLA, a website and concierge service that provides information and helps assess Jewish educational options based on a family’s specific needs and preferences — from Parent and Me classes to preschool and early education. After my wife and I made the commitment to send our kids to Jewish day school, jKidLA helped us navigate the multitude of options. jkidla.com

Finding a Jewish community

Becoming a parent for the first time is a major inflection point in one’s life. It often enhances the desire to be part of a larger community, especially one with other first-time parents and children. This transitional period is an ideal time to “shul shop” for the right congregation or synagogue where you can put down roots, and to explore a local Jewish Community Center, if you are lucky enough to live near one.

Membership rates are more forgiving at this stage in our lives, too. A synagogue, congregation or JCC will invariably offer Tot Shabbats for young children and special gatherings for young families. In addition, studies show that Jewish summer and family camps have a high impact on fostering a child’s Jewish identity. To that end, the Jewish Community Foundation recently awarded a significant Cutting Edge Grant to the Federation’s Family Camp Pilot to create more meaningful camping experiences for families with small children. My wife and I have also benefited from Jewish parenting classes, including a fun, informative series offered by GoSephardic, geared toward new parents. Finally, hands-down, the best resource to learn about Jewish life in Los Angeles is the Jewish Journal. The invaluable print and online publication contains everything Jewish that’s fit to print each week. jewishjournal.com

Shabbat as a ‘palace in time’

It is often said that “More than the Jews have kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jews.” This was true for my family and for most Persian-Jewish families. Growing up, I always found Shabbat dinner special. Regardless of observance level and whatever else was going on in our lives, our extended family knew that a lively evening with three or four generations and great food awaited us every Friday night. Ask any Persian Jew and he or she will extol the virtues of a family Shabbat dinner. Spending Shabbats and Jewish holidays with family are memories that will endure for a lifetime and instill in your child a passion to continue the tradition. In these uber-wired, underconnected times, the Friday night dinner tradition is being adopted far and wide across cultures as a way to bring families closer. If not already a part of your practice, consider treating Friday night Shabbat dinner, in the words of the Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, like a “palace in time.”

Lead by example

Finally, channeling Mark Twain, the reports of the communal demise of millennials and GenXers has been greatly exaggerated. Americans in their 20s, 30s and 40s — and certainly such Jews in Los Angeles — care about issues greater than themselves and are increasingly willing to put their time and money where their mouth is.

I find my own community work not only personally rewarding but a valuable opportunity to involve my children and weave the value of tikkun olam into their lives. I take my children to as many events and service opportunities as possible, such as packaging meals for needy Jews with Tomchei Shabbos, and hosting as many meetings and events at our home as feasible.

We cannot take for granted that our children will care about the Jewish community simply because we do. The next generation’s connection to Israel is no exception.

Studies show that children learn far more by watching what we do than by listening to what we say, especially when we try to teach empathy and gratitude. When it is not possible to include them, I explain to my toddlers: “Daddy won’t be home tonight to put you to bed because he is working on a mitzvah or tzedakah project.”

We cannot take for granted that our children will care about the Jewish community simply because we do. The next generation’s connection to Israel is no exception. I take my children to the annual Celebrate Israel Festival, join them at their school’s annual Independence Day activities, and read them books and share stories about the Jewish homeland.

If the issues you care most about extend beyond the Jewish community, consider engaging in that philanthropy or activism from a Jewish perspective. Whether you care passionately about criminal justice reform or climate change, cancer research or children with special needs, there is a Jewish organization in Los Angeles working effectively on it.


Sam Yebri is a board member of the Jewish Community Foundation, Builders of Jewish Education and 30 Years After.

"Hot mess kitchen"

Events in Los Angeles: Week of Sept. 14


FRI | SEPT 15

AMY DRESNER

Amy Dresner discusses and signs “My Fair Junkie: A Memoir of Getting Dirty and Staying Clean.” Growing up in Beverly Hills, Dresner had it all. She attended a top-notch private school and the most expensive summer camps, and she even had a weekly clothing allowance. However, if there was anything she could snort, smoke or have sex with, she would. She ultimately found herself penniless, divorced and with 240 hours of court-ordered community service. Get her story about struggling with sobriety, sex addiction and starting over in her 40s. 7 p.m. Free. Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. (310) 659-3110. booksoup.com.

INTERFAITH COUPLES’ SHABBAT DINNER

Gather with other interfaith couples to share stories, get support and share best practices about navigating two backgrounds in one relationship — and, of course, eat! 7:30 p.m. $36. Address in Culver City given upon RSVP. (213) 973-4072. interfaithfamily.com/losangeles

SAT | SEPT 16

RABBI DAVID GOLINKIN

Join Rabbi David Golinkin, Kehillat Ma’arav scholar in residence for the day, for “Shabbat in 3-D” in the morning, and Selichot observance in the evening. The Shabbat service will explore the topic: “What to Do About the State of Judaism in the Jewish State.” The theme of the Selichot observance is: “Asking Forgiveness and the Confession of Sins in the Talmud.” 9:30 a.m. Shabbat; 8 p.m. Selichot. Free. Kehillat Ma’arav, 1715 21st St., Santa Monica. (310) 829-0566. km-synagogue.org.

“COMING TO THE AID OF THE PERSECUTED: SAVING THE YAZIDIS FROM PERSECUTION”

The Yazidi people of Northern Iraq are facing slavery and genocide at the hands of ISIS. The Jewish Journal, in partnership with the Beyond Genocide Campaign, presents a panel to discuss the genocide of the Yazidis and what it means for their future. The panel features Rabbi Pam Frydman, coordinator at the Beyond Genocide Campaign; Yotam Polizer, co-CEO at IsraAID; Haider Elias, president of Yazda; Eitan Arom, Journal staff writer; and Rabbi Mel Gottlieb, president of the Academy for Jewish Religion, California (AJRCA). 5 p.m. Free. Congregation B’nai David Judea, 8906 Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. Also 9:30 a.m. Sept. 17 at University Synagogue, 11960 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles; and noon, Sept. 18, at AJRCA, 574 Hilgard Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 368-1661. norcalrabbis.org/yezidis.

SUN | SEPT 17

“HOT MESS KITCHEN”

Authors Gabi Moskowitz and Miranda Berman want millennials to avoid the perils of takeout and take back the kitchen. They discuss their new cookbook, “Hot Mess Kitchen: Recipes for Your Delicious Disastrous Life,” 3 p.m. Free. Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. (310) 659-3110. booksoup.com.

YALA’S RUNNING CLUSTER

Join Young Adults of Los Angeles’ Running Cluster for a four-mile, wooded loop from the Doheny Fountain to the newly restored Electric Fountain at Beverly Gardens Park. After the run, enjoy smoothies and pressed juice at Alchemy Health Foods, 638 N. Robertson Blvd., West Hollywood. 9:30 a.m. Free. Doheny Fountain, North Oakhurst Drive and North Doheny Drive, Beverly Hills. yala.org.

BIRTHRIGHT ISRAEL REUNION EVENT

All Birthright alumni and Israel Defense Forces members are invited to this social Birthright Israel, Israel Free Spirit Reunion event for past NCSY Connect and Aish trips. 8 p.m. Free. Morry’s Fireplace, 9118 Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 229-9000.

TUES | SEPT 19

WRITER PAT THOMAS

Writer Pat Thomas talks about his book “Did It! From Yippie to Yuppie: Jerry Rubin, an American Revolutionary,” with Rubin’s former wife, Mimi Leonard. The book is an oversized oral and visual history of the infamous and ubiquitous Yippies co-founder, anti-Vietnam War radical, Chicago Eight defendant, New Age/self-help proponent and social-networking pioneer. 7 p.m. Free. Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. (310) 659-3110. booksoup.com.

GRETCHEN RUBIN

Gretchen Rubin discusses her upcoming book, “The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People’s Lives Better, Too),” with Dr. Daniel J. Siegel, clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, where he helped establish the Mindful Awareness Research Center. Through her research, Rubin has discovered that people fit into four categories: upholders, questioners, obligers and rebels. 8 p.m. $20. Ann and Jerry Moss Theatre at New Roads School, 3131 Olympic Blvd., Santa Monica. livetalksla.org.

Hearing and listening: Parashat Ki Tavo [Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8]


Rabbi Adam Greenwald

One of the stylistic features of biblical Hebrew is that it often repeats key verbs in order to emphasize their importance. Traditional commentators, who operate from a paradigm in which not a single word in the Torah is devoid of the possibility of meaning, find intimations of profound insight in many of these seemingly unnecessary repetitions.

One such repetitious, and somewhat awkward, construction comes in the first verse of Deuteronomy 28: “It will be that if a listening you will listen [sham’oah tishma] to the voice of Adonai your God …” Here we find two conjugations of the Hebrew verb shema, which translates as either “hear” or “listen,” perhaps yielding a more accurate translation of “if you will hear, and truly listen, to the voice …”

The “Sefat Emet,” a Chasidic commentary composed in the late 19th century by Rabbi Yehuda Leib Alter of Ger, suggests that the dual use of the verb underlines the difference between hearing and listening. He writes:

“The living soul constantly hears the voice of Torah, but this is hidden from us. This is why the verse says: ‘hear, listen’ — listen to that which you already are hearing.” (“Sefat Emet,” Ki Tavo No. 2, as translated by Rabbi Arthur Green)

Hearing is an involuntary act. Unless we have lost our hearing to physical illness or injury, or jam our fingers in our ears quite tightly, we are constantly taking in the sounds of the world around us. We may avert our gaze and choose not to look, we can close our lips and choose not to taste, we can cross our arms and choose not to touch, but we cannot choose not to hear.

However, we can, and often do, choose not to listen to that which we hear. Indeed, whether because of distraction, antipathy or indifference, we have a phenomenal capacity to shut our minds and hearts to the sounds that pour in unbidden through our ears.

We are inundated with heartbreaking news of the state of the world — stories of violence and disaster, stories of hate and mendacity — and our capacity to temporarily block the link between our ears and our hearts sometimes feels like an act of self-preservation. Yet, the long-term consequences of this overuse of the internal mute button creates the conditions where evil can most easily flourish.

Our capacity to hear without listening is not limited to news shared by and about people we do not know; in fact, we all have been guilty of granting a similar lack of attention to the people who are closest to us in the world. Who hasn’t found themselves responding to the words of a partner or child with a cursory set of “uh-huhs,” which indicate that their words are skipping like stones off the surface of our consciousness? In our distraction, we miss urgent subtexts, pleas for attention and for care that are submerged in the endless stream of words that come our way from the people who most need our attention.

And, finally, and perhaps most common of all: We silence our inner voice — our hopes and longings, our pangs of conscience and our insights of what’s possible — going about our daily business disconnected even from ourselves. While there certainly are moments in the Bible when God speaks with a booming voice from the heavens, the Holy One also is depicted as speaking in a kol demama dakka, a still small voice, that is easily overlooked. When Deuteronomy instructs us to listen carefully, it does so because it is possible to miss even something as significant as the voice of God if we are not paying sufficient attention.

Our tradition teaches that every morning and every evening, and once more before going to sleep at night, we are to recite another paragraph of biblical text that begins with the word “shema.” In doing so, we remind ourselves again and again that while hearing is a biological act, listening is a sacred act. It requires more of us than simply our ears; equally important are our minds and hearts. Redemption, both social and personal, waits on the other side of our capacity to unite all three — to not just hear but to truly listen.


RABBI ADAM GREENWALD is director of the Miller Introduction to Judaism Program at American Jewish University and a lecturer at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies.

Yaniv Cohen. Photo courtesy of Yaniv Cohen

Shabbat’s host with the most welcomes all to the table


On a typical Friday morning, Yaniv Cohen makes several stops in his extensive round of grocery shopping. He begins at Costco in Van Nuys, then visits Cambridge Farms in Valley Village before moving on to Pistachio and Super Sal Market in Encino.

Then he goes home and starts preparing for the 80-plus guests he has invited for Shabbat dinner. The 35-year-old will hardly know most of his guests. Some he invited only that morning, when he met them in the fruit aisles at Costco or while perusing the sunflower seeds and almonds at Pistachio.

“If I hear people talk in Hebrew, I start talking to them and invite them over to my house for Shabbat dinner,” Cohen said. “I also publish my dinners on my Facebook page and on the pages of Jewish communities in the Unites States as well as Israel and South America. I love having people over for Shabbat, and I hope that one day I’ll host Shabbat dinner for a thousand people.”

Cohen was born in Haifa and immigrated to the United States 12 years ago. He became obsessed with sharing Shabbat hospitality in 2008, while living in Maryland.

“A friend [showed] me the beauty of Kabbalat Shabbat and how fun it is to have guests over and teach them the meaning of this Jewish tradition, and so it started then,” he said. “I used to meet people in the mall, the street, the supermarket, and after a two-minute conversation, I’d already invited them over for Shabbat dinner.”

In time, Cohen’s periodic dinners became more and more elaborate, with dozens of participants. Nine months ago, shortly after he purchased his 2,700-square-foot house in North Hollywood, his Friday night gatherings became a regular thing with guests coming for dinner and sometimes staying overnight.

“Before I had purchased my house, I used to live in a guest house not far from here, and although I was invited to Shabbat dinners, I always came back to a dark and quiet home and was pretty lonely,” he said. “So, when I saw this house in North Hollywood and saw how spacious the living room is, I immediately thought that it would be the perfect place to host, and I put an offer on it.”

While he enjoys meeting new people and sharing Shabbat with them, he admits he has an ulterior motive, as well. Cohen, who takes Friday off from his air-duct and carpet cleaning company to get ready for his guests, is a bachelor seeking a wife, and he wouldn’t mind meeting her at one of his dinners. In fact, a couple who met at one of his dinner parties are planning a September wedding in Israel.

“It’s amazing how many connections are being made between total strangers in my home — and not only love connections,” Cohen said. “People found jobs, apartments for rent, play dates for their children. I feel blessed that I’m able to do this mitzvah. Sometimes, I see women who are divorced or widowed and they come over with their children who had never experienced a real Kabbalat Shabbat, with all the blessings, the cup of wine and the songs, and they enjoy it so much. It gives them a sense of belonging, of a family.”

Cohen estimates it costs between $800 and $1,000 to host guests each Friday night. He gets some financial help from friends and a GoFundMe page on the web, and some of the food is donated by Pacific Kosher Grill in North Hollywood.

When guests arrive at his home, Cohen greets each of them with a warm hug. They find long tables covered with white tablecloths, set up perfectly with plates and utensils. Among his guests have been new immigrants, tourists from Israel, bachelors and bachelorettes, families with young children, single moms and some regulars. With the help of a few friends, Cohen serves chicken, fish and Israeli salads, with cake for dessert, along with cookies, fruits and a variety of nuts.

In August, he broke a personal record for one night with 125 guests who accepted his persistent invitations.

Cohen’s generosity extends beyond the Friday night dinner.

Observant Jews who don’t drive on Shabbat and live too far to walk home often spend Friday night at Cohen’s house. He lets them sleep in guest rooms and in a recreational vehicle he bought especially for this purpose, where six people can sleep comfortably.

“I bought bunk beds, closed the patio and purchased a sofa bed,” he said. “If needed, I also give my own bedroom and move to sleep on the patio myself.”

After most dinners, Cohen does the cleanup mostly by himself, finishing around 3 a.m. He gets a few hours of sleep before waking his guests at 8 a.m. and inviting them to walk with him to services at Adat Yeshurun Valley Sephardic Congregation in North Hollywood.

Guests who don’t wish to accompany him to services can stay at his home and wait for his return around noon, when Cohen serves a lunch of cholent that, per tradition, he prepares the night before, with the help of a neighbor.

His seemingly boundless giving amazes his guests.

“I came with my daughter to one of his Shabbat dinners after hearing about him from friends,” said Rachel Dror, 45. “It was pretty incredible. I’m a divorced mother and we don’t exactly celebrate Friday night with the Kiddush because it’s different doing it alone and doing it with a group of people. Yaniv made us feel immediately welcomed and at home. The food was fantastic, as was the company.”

Liron Abutbul, 25, came to Cohen’s dinner with a friend whom Cohen had met at the Super Sal Market. “It was such an experience to celebrate the Shabbat with dozens of people,” Abutbul said. “We didn’t know anyone there and we felt at home. I arrived in Los Angeles a year ago. I don’t have a family here. And Yaniv made me feel like I have a home to go to. He is a very unique guy.”

Jonathan Levin, 33, decided to check out Cohen because friends couldn’t stop talking about the dinners.

“I called Yaniv, who was only too happy for me to come over. Actually, he kind of pressured me to come and bring friends with me if I like,” Levin said. “I went to his house one Friday in August and it felt like a holiday. I don’t know how he manages to do it, but there was plenty of food and enough room for everybody to sit around the table. He is a pretty cool guy.”

Many of Cohen’s guests stay until the Havdalah ceremony that ends Shabbat. But no matter when they leave, Cohen makes sure no one goes home hungry.

”I never know how many guests will show up each time, but, miraculously, the food is always enough for everybody,” he said. “I feel blessed that I can do this. I’m already thinking about breaking some walls, enlarging the living room, so I can have even more people over.” n

Rich Garcia, head of security at Sinai Temple, is a Jew by Choice and a military veteran. Photo by Ryan Torok

Rich Garcia: Stepping forward for Marines and Judaism


When U.S. Marine Sgt. Rich Garcia was on a mission in the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan, an improvised explosive device destroyed the vehicle he would have been on had he not moved to another to take over for a Marine who was ill.

He credits a siddur, of all things, with keeping him safe.

“That was the first time I carried a siddur out on patrol,” Garcia told the Journal. “After that, I carried that siddur everywhere.”

Garcia, 33, was a Marine from 2002 to 2011, serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was raised by a Jewish father, who also was a Marine, and a Catholic mother. They separated when he was young and he lived with his father.

As a Marine, Garcia went to Shabbat services at boot camp and wore a Star of David necklace under his combat gear. He began converting to Judaism in 2014 through the program Judaism by Choice. Today, his connection to Judaism is not just spiritual but professional as the head of security at Sinai Temple.

“I think since he has chosen Judaism, he has made a connection with our families, and it’s more than just a job,” Sinai Temple Rabbi Erez Sherman said. “It is a sense of duty.”

Born in Corsicana, Texas, Garcia grew up outside of San Diego, raised mostly by his father, Richard Levine. Garcia said his father encouraged him to go to synagogue on Shabbat at a Conservative congregation.

“He pretty much said, ‘Hey, you can pick whatever religion you want … but let’s go to synagogue,’ ” Garcia said at Sinai, a handgun holstered at his side.

On Sept. 11, 2001, his father woke him up to watch on television as the second plane flew into the World Trade Center. A high school senior, he skipped school that day and visited a military recruiter.

“I grew up in a very patriotic household,” he said. “Honestly, I probably knew what terrorism was when other high school kids were not even thinking about it.”

During boot camp in San Diego, he participated in Shabbat services. It was then that a rabbi on base gave him the siddur he would carry with him throughout his service.

After his discharge, Garcia moved to Los Angeles, drawn to its large Jewish community and the job opportunities in private security. He began working at Sinai Temple last year, around the time that he completed his conversion coursework, led by Rabbi Neil Weinberg.

“He is a single man who wanted to become Jewish because he loves the Jewish religion and the Jewish people. He did all the requirements in our program — keeping Shabbat every week, going to synagogue weekly and keeping kosher,” Weinberg said in an email. “I am very proud that he converted to Judaism through our Judaism by Choice program.”

At Sinai, Garcia runs a team of former military men. He said providing employment to military veterans is a way of helping them after their service. “Give them a role, make them feel like they’re needed, because in the military we were needed, we had a role,” he said.

Garcia, who lives in the San Fernando Valley, is an employee of Centurion Group, a full-service security company that serves houses of worship, among other clients. A member of Sinai Temple, he holds a degree in criminal justice from the University of Phoenix and he plans to earn an Emergency Medical Technician certification.

His Sinai team attends the annual High Holy Days security briefing organized by the Anti-Defamation League. He works closely with The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles in keeping abreast of security threats.

As a Marine, Garcia went to Shabbat services at boot camp and wore a Star of David necklace under his combat gear.

Gone are the days of discovering improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan. These days, he is more likely to order an evacuation after a suspicious package is spotted at a bar mitzvah. Recently, a spate of threats targeting Jewish community centers put his team on higher alert. 

“It kept my guys on their toes — we took it personally,” he said. “This is our home, and we’re not going to let anybody destroy our community.”

In March, he traveled to Israel for the first time and participated in the Jerusalem Marathon as part of a delegation that included Sherman as well as other Sinai congregants . He ran in memory of Marcus Preudhomme, a fellow Marine who was killed in action in Iraq in 2008. Preudhomme’s name is inscribed on a bracelet on Garcia’s wrist.

During the trip, Garcia became a bar mitzvah at the Western Wall. Sherman was by his side as he recited an aliyah — Parashat Vayakhel.

Though he spends his free hours at the gym, he ran the half-marathon instead of the full.

“I ran the half, I’m not going to lie to you. Oh, my gosh, that was hard,” he said. “It was hills. I’m in the Jewish community. I wish they would’ve told me Jerusalem is all hills — they knew I was going. But it was great.”

Eric Bauman on Nov. 1, 2014. Photo from Wikipedia

Shabbat vote at issue in contested election of observant Jew as California’s top Democrat


Morris “Fritz” Friedman needed help to vote in the election for chair of the California Democratic Party, which took place on May 20, a Saturday.

As an Orthodox Jew, Friedman was forbidden from picking up a pen during Shabbat. So he asked a convention volunteer, Sean Kiernan, to fill out his ballot and sign it for him, casting it for Eric Bauman.

Bauman has since declared victory by a narrow margin of 62 delegates among some 3,000. But now, Friedman’s vote is at the center of an effort to unseat Bauman, himself an observant Jew from Los Angeles.

In contesting the election over alleged voting irregularities, the campaign for Kimberly Ellis, Bauman’s opponent, pointed to Friedman’s ballot as an example of double voting. Ellis is refusing to concede despite calls from Democratic leaders, including the speaker of the State Assembly, to back down.

“We believe deeply that not only did we not lose by 62 votes, but that we won this election outright and pretty handily,” Ellis said in a June 7 interview with the podcast “Working Life.”

In a June 5 “ballot review” on the campaign website, Ellis alleges that the signature of an employee of the Kaufman Legal Group, the law firm representing Bauman, appeared on multiple ballots. Kaufman Legal Group later identified the employee as Kiernan, who aided Friedman with his vote.

Some pro-Israel Democrats seized on Ellis’ challenge of Friedman’s vote as the latest transgression of a campaign with a shaky record on Jews and Israel.

“In challenging mismatched signatures, Kimberly Ellis is effectively targeting Orthodox Jewish delegates,” a group called Democrats for Israel Los Angeles said in a statement posted on Facebook.

The group also pointed to a vocal Ellis supporter who posted a cartoon on Facebook last month featuring an Israeli flag with the Jewish Star of David replaced by a swastika.

But Bauman said the double voting accusation is more likely an example of unscrupulous electioneering by the Ellis campaign than animus toward Jews.

“They’re casting about, and they have no real evidence that anything is actually wrong,” he said.

“I don’t think the singling out of a couple of Orthodox Jewish men was, per se, anti-Semitic,” he said. “I think it was just that they were grasping for straws.”

Paul Kujawsky, like Friedman, is an Orthodox Jew and served as a delegate to the May 20 convention. He believes he and Friedman were the only two Orthodox Jews to vote in the election for party chair. He said that having a helper sign the ballot on his behalf is a well-established practice that he’s used many times when votes occur on Saturdays.

“It’s pretty clear that [the Ellis campaign] knew it was not an issue of double voting but claimed it was, anyway,” Kujawsky said. “So it’s not about anti-Semitism, but it is about integrity.”

Neither Ellis nor her campaign responded to repeated requests for comment.

The party has referred the matter to its Compliance Review Commission, a body that adjudicates internal disputes. But Ellis’ campaign hopes to put the election in the hands of an independent third party, fearing the California Democratic Party itself is unduly influenced by Bauman, according to its June 5 statement.

Bauman, a former union organizer, has headed the Los Angeles County Democratic Party since 2000 and served as vice chair of the state party since 2009. LA Weekly has called him a “powerful boss” and a “kingmaker,” while the Los Angeles Times named him a “consummate party insider.”

A self-identified Zionist, Bauman is a member of two Los Angeles-area synagogues, the Orthodox Shaarey Zedek in Valley Village and Adat Ari El in North Hollywood, a Conservative synagogue where he wraps tefillin on weekday mornings. He keeps a kosher home in North Hollywood with his husband.

Culturally and politically, Bauman and Ellis are about as different as two California Democrats can get.

Ellis headed Emerge California, a nonprofit that aims to increase the number of women in elected office in California, from 2010 until this year, when she quit to focus on her run for party chair.

An African-American woman from the Bay Area, she attracted liberals disaffected with the party establishment, including many who supported Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Democratic presidential primaries, by pledging repeatedly to “redefine what it meant to be a Democrat.”

But before Ellis announced her run in August 2015, Bauman’s ascendance often was treated as a foregone conclusion. When friends wanted to draft her into the race, Ellis said in the June 7 “Working Life” interview, she told them, “That’s a preposterous idea and I’m not interested.”

Now, she claims to have won the election.

“Based on the information contained here, the actual vote count is in question,” her campaign said in a June 5 statement outlining the allegations. “It is believed that the wrong individual is serving as chair.”

Noa Tnua founder Roy Schwartz Tichon, second from right, and board member Noam Tel-Verem, third from right, posing with volunteers before the launch of their bus service in Ramat Gan, Israel. (Avihai Levy via JTA)

Fed up with Shabbat laws, secular Israelis fund bus service to the beach


TEL AVIV – These secular Israelis are done playing by the rules on Shabbat. They’re going to the beach.

Noa Tnua, a tiny Tel Aviv busing cooperative, has crowdfunded hundreds of thousands of shekels to dramatically expand its service to the coast on the weekends, when most of the country’s public transportation shuts down to observe the day of rest. Some 2,600 Israelis have donated online — a record this year on the popular Headstart platform this year.

“The success of this campaign shows just how fed up people are with the situation on Shabbat,” said Noa Tnua founder and chairman Roy Schwartz Tichon. “If you can’t afford a car in Israel, you’re stuck at home on the weekend.”

The unexpected influx of more than 313,000 shekels ($87,000) and counting since March 15 — nearly doubling Noa Tnua’s original target — has been driven by widespread frustration with Israel’s Shabbat ban on public transportation. But backers of Israel’s religious “status quo” — fiercely guarded by haredi Orthodox politicians — have called such initiatives a threat to the state’s Jewish character.

Noa Tnua, which means Move Forward in Hebrew, has pledged to use its crowdfunded windfall to open two new bus lines this summer — one along Route 18 from Tel Aviv south to Jaffa and Bat Yam, and another from the Negev city of Beersheba to the coastal town of Ashkelon. A public survey to determine the location of a third line has been scheduled for June.

The group also said it will offer soldiers free rides on Route 18 until the end of the year and give away at least 180,000 shekels ($50,000) in rides to disadvantaged populations. The campaign will end Sunday.

Schwartz Tichon, a 24-year-old student at the Open University, opened Noa Tnua’s first bus line in June 2015 along the busy Route 63 between Tel Aviv and its Ramat Gan and Givatayim suburbs. Using money he saved during his mandatory army service, he started the nonprofit along with board members Noam Tel-Verem, 25, and Lior Tavori, 32.

Elia Halpern and her son riding the Noa Tnua bus to Tel Aviv, 2016. (Courtesy of Halpern)

Every Saturday, a rented 53-seat tour bus traverses the route five times, making about 30 stops, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Nearly 2,000 people have signed up for the service to date, with hundreds using it on summer weekends.

Elia Halpern, 46, a court stenographer and single mom from Ramat Gan, has been a Noa Tnua rider from the beginning. She said getting access to the bus was like “being released from prison.” Before discovering Noa Tnua on Facebook, she had mostly spent her Saturdays at home because she cannot afford a car or taxi rides to nearby Tel Aviv and back.

“Now we go see movies or visit my family in Tel Aviv,” Halpern said. “I recently took my son to the beach on Saturday for the first time. He was so excited. Roy has really done something amazing for me and other people in the area.”

Israel prohibits most public transportation on Shabbat based on an understanding reached in 1947 between then-Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and the Agudath Yisrael movement, which represented the small haredi Orthodox community of the time. That status-quo agreement became the basis for many religious arrangements in Israel, including in the areas of kashrut, marriage and education.

Allowances and loopholes in the Transportation Ministry’s regulations, passed in 1991, let a limited number of bus lines operate on Shabbat. Haifa and Eilat, cities with large non-Jewish populations, are allowed to have bus services. And shuttles, or “sheiruts,” run in and between some cities based on the claim that they address a vital transportation need, as allowed in the regulations.

In Jerusalem, a private bus service called Shabus has run since 2015. By working as a collective, the group circumvents the requirement that it be licensed by the government. Noa Tnua is similarly structured. Members sign up online for free, and pay 9 shekels per ride via the smartphone app HopOp, which processes the payments after Shabbat.

Roy Schwartz Tichon: “If you can’t afford a car in Israel, you’re stuck at home on the weekend.” (Avihai Levy)

While Israelis have complex and varied views on issues of synagogue and state, there is broad support for public transportation on Shabbat. A survey commissioned last year by Hiddush, a group that promotes religious pluralism, found that 72 percent support keeping at least some buses and shuttles running between Friday afternoon and Saturday evening.

Hundreds of donors posted supportive comments on Noa Tnua’s crowdfunding page, with many complaining about the status quo.

“A successful project. Whenever there is religious coercion, those interested in maintaining a free state must unite,” one wrote Thursday.

“A most welcome initiative until this country regains its senses and there is full public transportation for the entire population,” wrote another.

Schwartz Tichon, who grew up in Haifa taking Shabbat buses for granted, said the Orthodox should not be able to dictate how the whole country spends the weekend, especially when the biggest impact is on the poor. He said his ultimate goal is to make public transportation on Shabbat a reality that the government would simply have to accept.

“If three-quarters of the country wants something, eventually it will get it,” he said. “We’re the ‘Start-up Nation,’ we know how to change things.”

But few are holding their breath for action by Israel’s Knesset, where haredi political parties wield considerable clout, especially on religious issues. Haredim and their supporters have argued Shabbat must be protected for the sake of Jewish unity. In a debate with Schwartz Tichon last week on Israel’s Channel 10 TV station, haredi journalist Benny Rabinovich sounded this theme and vowed to relentlessly oppose Noa Tnua.

“If we want to remain a Jewish state — the secular, religious, haredim, Ashkenazim, Sephardim, all of us — the only thing that makes it Jewish is the Shabbat. Nothing else,” Rabinovich said. “I’ll make sure this bus line is closed because you’re taking actions that are against the law. I promise you that I’ll do whatever it takes in the Transportation Ministry. I will not give up.”

Halpern, who donated 50 shekels to Noa Tnua’s campaign, advocated more of a “live and let live” mentality.

“We shouldn’t force them to have buses in their neighborhoods,” she said, “but they shouldn’t force us not to have them either.”

Don Rickles

A moment on silence for Don Rickles


I’ve had a lifelong fascination with people who can’t keep their mouths shut. I don’t mean that in a negative way. I mean it in the sense of the person who could always fill awkward silences in social situations. These rollicking social animals don’t fill awkward silences by waiting for them and then pouncing. Their style is to make sure the awkward silences never happen in the first place.

I never met Don Rickles, who passed away today at the age of 90, but if I had to guess, I would think he’d fall in that category of people who don’t mix well with awkward silences. He might even be an extreme case. His frantic style during his comedy acts and interviews on late night television suffocated any possibility of silence. If there was any awkwardness, it would be from the digs he would take at everyone and anyone around him.

This clownish quality is rarely given its due. I have a close friend who I love having over for Shabbat. He’s French. His name is Bob. He’s super high energy. His spirit never flags. He will sing, do a little magic, weigh in on someone he recently met, comment on the food, recite a few lines of poetry, engage with others, never bring up Trump, and, basically, elevate the whole spirit of the table. He’s Rickles without the digs.

He told me once that he feels a sense of responsibility in social situations. He has a gift. He can make people happy. He can entertain them. Why not use it? Whether he’s in a good mood or not is not the point. The point is to put others in a good mood.

I’ve never had Don Rickles over for Shabbat. I may be totally wrong about him. Maybe he clammed up in social situations and saved himself for the stage, as many comedians do. Maybe he made no jokes at Passover seders. Maybe he wasn’t the life of the party during meals at the Polo Lounge or in Vegas clubs.

I doubt it, though. If his public act is any guide, I’d be surprised if he didn’t enjoy being the life of the party.

But even if I’m exaggerating here based on ignorance and partial information, it’s worth raising a glass to all those people who take it upon themselves to elevate the mood and spirit of social situations. We need them. We have more than enough grouchy and moody people, or even just people who prefer to say nothing if they have nothing to say.

Because here’s the thing about rollicking social animals: Even when they have nothing to say, they come up with something. Their material may fall flat once in a while, but they prefer that to the coldness of silence.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with silence, especially if you’re at a yoga or meditation retreat. But when people gather to enjoy life, silence can wait. I say, bring on the clowns.

Don Rickles was one of the greatest clowns we had, and there was nothing awkward about that.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

The shadow side of Shabbat


We went to a float tank this weekend. An interesting sort of Shabbat like experience in that you rid yourself of EVERY sensory experience by floating in warm salt water in a tiny dark, enclosed space.  This might absolutely freak you out, which it did me this time. In my youth when I had done these tanks, I found them freeing and calming. Now, as a full fledged adult, my task oriented brain was much more reticent to let go into the floating space, so busy was I with planning and details of the future. When I finally decided to ACTUALLY surrender, I panicked. I cheated and opened the little door to let in some light and touch that outside reality. So difficult for me was this pause, that it made me appreciate the difficult gift that Shabbat can be, or any kind of meditation, cessation from work kind of experience. It’s scary to unwind. Maybe this is why we DON’T necessarily DO it sometimes! We don’t know necessarily what is behind the need to be busy. The distractions of our lives seem impossible to live without: the need to make money, to show up for the co-workers and the others to whom we are responsible. Even the pursuits of the hobbies and activities we count on to unwind us or to inspire us become priorities.  What happens to the “other” things though… The relationship issues we might be covering up? The hurts or the discomforts that arise from glitches in our communication with others. The wounds that need attending sometimes get tossed to the back burner as they may be too painful to address in the moment. Then conveniently we get busy enough to ensure that a “better” moment for dealing with them never comes.

This Saturday morning was unique in our house. No one had to be anywhere. Services, rehearsals, performances these were only in the LATER category of our day. This part of the day was to contain us as busy family coming off an extremely busy couple weeks in peaceful rest.

Not so. Somehow the pause of this Shabbat brought out an underlying complexity that the “busy” had been covering. The reality of the day was less than that peaceful glow I’d personally anticipated. For whatever it DID turn out to be though unexpected, and certainly un-fun, it was a necessary occurrence . I am a big lover of Shabbat. I love the idea at least of the total cessation from work. From using things we consider necessities during the week- car, phone, computer, television, and the list only goes on and on. I love the idea that this then means we can enjoy just the passing of time with people that we care about. This kind of time spent though is not synonymous with ease. True, deep communion with ourselves and others someone is filled with many other colors sometimes that have to be gone through in order to truly allow ourselves to freely float.

May this week allow for both, the shadow and the re-integration.

See you on our mats!  WEDNESDAY @ 9:15 am  AND  FRIDAY @ 8:15 am

in peace,

Michelle

Matzo Balls with Mushrooms and Jalapeños in Broth. Photo by Ellen Silverman

PBS cooking host Pati Jinich’s Mexican-Jewish Passover


Celebrity chef Pati Jinich grew up in Mexico City, where she spent Shabbat dinners at her bubbe’s house.

“When we walked into her house,” Jinich fondly recalls of her grandmother, “the first thing she had was a big, gigantic bowl of guacamole, but it was a Yiddish version, because it was a combination of chopped egg salad and guacamole. Next to that, she would have a big bowl of gribenes” — crisp chicken or goose skin — “with fried onions. And then she already had sliced challah. So you would grab a slice of challah, put the chopped egg guacamole mixture on top, and then you top it with gribenes.”

This Mexican-Jewish fusion runs deep in Jinich’s family, as it does for many other Mexican Jews.

“It’s become fashionable to do a Latin theme on Jewish foods, but a lot of people don’t realize that Mexican-Jewish cuisine is really deeply rooted,” says Jinich, who stars in the hit national PBS cooking show “Pati’s Mexican Table.” “It’s not just, ‘Oh, I’m gonna throw a chili in here, or some spices.’ There’s a full Mexican-Jewish vocabulary that has existed for centuries.”

Jinich’s bubbe also made p’tcha (pickled calf foot), but instead of serving it with horseradish, she served her version with pico de gallo.

Sephardic Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition first came to Mexico more than 500 years ago. Larger waves of Jewish immigrants arrived over the past 150 years, most of them from Eastern Europe, Syria and the former Ottoman Empire. Today, the Jewish population in Mexico  is close to 50,000, most of them living in Mexico City.

So the idea of Mexican-Jewish fusion is not something new for Mexican Jews like Jinich; it was part of life while she was growing up. For example, Jinich points to Gefilte Fish a la Veracruzana, which has a sauce of tomatoes, capers, pickled chilies, olives, cilantro and parsley.

“The Jewish community thought of using it for fish patties — gefilte fish,” she said. “So that’s a standard — a must — in many Jewish Ashkenazi homes. Instead of eating the gefilte fish cold with aspic, which you need an acquired taste to love, Mexican-style gefilte fish is served warm, in that thick, spicy tomato broth. And it’s really irresistible.”

Jinich, 44, traces her roots to Poland and central Europe — her grandparents fled pogroms and immigrated to Mexico City in the early 20th century. As a young adult, she became an immigrant herself, following her Mexican-Jewish husband to the United States 20 years ago. Jinich, now a mother of three boys, lives in Washington, D.C., where her television show, currently in its fifth season, originates in her home kitchen.

Although Jinich is a natural in the kitchen and on camera, she began her career as a policy analyst, focused on Latin American politics. But her passion for food — and especially the cuisine of Mexico — brought her to culinary school in 2005. Before becoming a chef, she taught Mexican cooking to friends and neighbors while living in Dallas in the late 1990s and served as a production assistant on another PBS food series, “New Tastes From Texas,” a show that featured guest hosts such as Mexican food pioneers Diana Kennedy and Patricia Quintana.

Jinich has published two cookbooks, “Pati’s Mexican Table: The Secrets of Real Mexican Home Cooking” (2013) and “Mexican Today: New and Rediscovered Recipes for Contemporary Kitchens” (2016). And her television show, which screens all over the world, has been nominated for two Emmys and two James Beard Awards, the Oscars of the food world. 

Pati Jinich. Photo by Michael Ventura

Pati Jinich. Photo by Michael Ventura

In short, Jinich has become a 21st-century ambassador to Mexican cuisine in the United States. But she brings a modern sensibility to the foods of her native country, which are being rediscovered with renowned chefs such as Denmark’s René Redzepi of Noma, who is opening a satellite of his famed restaurant in Mexico, and Enrique Olvera, who has been featured on Netflix’s popular series “Chef’s Table.”

Jinich sees the culinary world’s recent attention to Mexico as inspiring.

“For a long time, everyone took Mexican food for granted,” she explains. “It took this new cadre of chefs looking at Mexican cuisine and taking all the traditional elements and presenting them in a more sexy, modern way. Not only for the outside to recognize the richness and sophistication of Mexican cuisine, but also for Mexicans. Mexicans are so excited about their own cuisine. Now, it’s going back to the roots — sometimes to the extreme — and really highlighting what makes Mexican food so unique. And I think Mexican cuisine is having a very big moment. There’s so much to explore.”

With recipes such as Asparagus, Mushroom and Goat Cheese Enchiladas with Pine Nut Mole Sauce or Mexican Thanksgiving Turkey, Jinich has an approach that is more accessible than many of the chefs currently helming the Mexican dining scene. She lives by the credo that any home cook can bring the warmth and color of Mexico into the kitchen.

And although Jinich is Jewish, her recipes are, for the most part, Mexican. She did not grow up attending Jewish schools or eating kosher food. At the same time, following in the footsteps of her bubbe, as well as an Austrian grandmother who taught her how to make matzo ball soup (recipe below), she treasures the dishes of her Mexican-Jewish repertoire

“What happened with Ashkenazi food, which is sort of bland, is that it got blessed with all the warmth and colors and flavors of Mexico. It was like a gift to Ashkenazi cuisine.”

“Blessed” is how Jinich also describes her own multifaceted identity. Despite feeling “shaken” by the current political climate in the U.S., she sees herself as simultaneously Mexican, Jewish and American.

“I used to tell my children as Mexican Americans, you’ve been doubly blessed, but you’re doubly responsible,” she says. “You have to be proud about being Mexican, and you have to make Mexico proud, and you have to make your Mexican family proud. And at the same time, you have to be grateful to America and responsible as an American citizen. And one cannot forget the third element, which is about being a Jew and the Jewish values.”

It’s a recipe for life Jinich clearly embraces.

MATZO BALLS WITH MUSHROOMS AND JALAPEÑOS IN BROTH

From “Mexican Today: New and Rediscovered Recipes for Contemporary Kitchens” by Pati Jinich (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016).

– 1 cup (2 2-ounce packages) matzo ball mix
– 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
– 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
– 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
– 4 large eggs
– 1/2 cup canola or safflower oil, divided
– 2 tablespoons sesame oil
– 1 tablespoon sparkling water (optional)
– 1/2 cup white onion, finely chopped
– 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
– 2 jalapeño chilies, seeded if desired and finely chopped, more or less to taste
– 1/2 pound white and/or baby bella (cremini) mushrooms, cleaned,  dried, part of the stem removed, thinly sliced
– 8 cups chicken broth, homemade or store-bought

In a large mixing bowl, combine the matzo ball mix, parsley, nutmeg and 3/4 teaspoon salt.

In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs with 6 tablespoons of vegetable oil and 2 tablespoons of sesame oil. Fold the beaten eggs into the matzo ball mixture with a spatula. Add the sparkling water if you want the matzo balls to be fluffy, and mix until well combined. Cover the mixture and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

In a large soup pot, bring about 3 quarts salted water to a rolling boil over high heat. Bring heat down to medium and keep at a steady simmer. With wet hands, shape the matzo ball mix into 1- to 1 1/2-inch balls and gently drop them into the water.  Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until matzo balls are completely cooked and have puffed up.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat in a soup pot. Add the onion, garlic and chilies and sauté for 4 to 5 minutes, until they have softened a bit. Stir in the sliced mushrooms, add 3/4 teaspoon salt, stir and cover the pan. Steam the mushrooms for about 6 to 8 minutes, remove the lid and continue to cook uncovered until the liquid in the pan evaporates. Add the chicken broth and bring to a simmer. Taste and adjust seasoning. Add the cooked matzo balls (use a slotted spoon if transferring from their cooking water) and serve.

Makes 8 servings.

GEFILTE FISH A LA VERACRUZANA

A standard in Jewish homes across Mexico. Courtesy of Pati Jinich.

– Gefilte Fish Patties (recipe follows)
– 3 tablespoons safflower or corn oil
– 1/2 cup white onion, chopped
– 1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes
– 3 cups water
– 2 tablespoons ketchup
– 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
– 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper, or to taste
– 1 cup Manzanilla olives stuffed with pimientos
– 8 pepperoncini peppers in vinegar brine/chiles güeros en escabeche, or more to taste
– 1 tablespoon capers

Prepare Gefilte Fish Patties; set aside.

Heat the oil in a large cooking pot over medium-high heat. Add the chopped onion, and let it cook for 5 to 6 minutes, stirring, until soft and translucent. Pour the crushed tomatoes into the pot, stir and let the mix season and thicken for about 6 minutes. Incorporate 3 cups water, 2 tablespoons ketchup, salt and white pepper, give it a good stir and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat to low, to get a gentle simmer, as you roll the Gefilte Fish Patties.

Place a small bowl with lukewarm water to the side of the simmering tomato broth. Start making the patties, about 2 1/2 inches by 1 inch and about 3/4-inch thick. Wet your hands as necessary, so the fish mixture will not stick to your hands. As you make them, slide them gently into the simmering broth. Make sure it is simmering and raise the heat to medium if necessary to keep a steady simmer.

Once you finish making the patties, cover the pot and turn the heat to low. Cook them covered for 25 minutes. Take off the lid, incorporate the Manzanilla olives, pepperoncini peppers and capers. Give it a soft stir and simmer uncovered for 20 more minutes, so the gefilte fish will be thoroughly cooked and the broth will have seasoned and thickened nicely. Serve hot with slices of challah and spiced-up pickles.

Makes about 20 patties.

GEFILTE FISH PATTIES

– 1 pound red snapper fillets, no skin or bones
– 1 pound flounder fillets, no skin or bones
– 1 white onion (about 1/2 pound), quartered
– 2 carrots (about 1/4 pound), peeled and roughly chopped
– 3 eggs
– 1/2 cup matzo meal
– 2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
– 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper, or to taste

Rinse the fish fillets under a thin stream of cool water. Slice into smaller pieces and place in the food processor. Pulse for 5 to 10 seconds until fish is finely chopped but hasn’t turned into a paste. Turn fish mixture onto a large mixing bowl.

Place the onion, carrots, eggs, matzo meal, salt and white pepper in same bowl of food processor. Process until smooth and turn onto the fish mixture. Combine thoroughly.


Lara Rabinovitch Neuman works for Google as a food writer and regularly teaches food culture courses at the Skirball Cultural Center.

Ivanka Trump and Senior advisor and son-in-law of U.S. President Donald Trump, Jared Kushner arrive with their children Theodore (R), Arabella (L) and Joseph (C) to board Air Force One at West Palm Beach International airport in West Palm Beach, Florida U.S., February 12, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Jared and Ivanka Can Give Shabbat A Rest – Or Not


 Observance of Jewish law is complicated, personal and private

This Sunday, Jews everywhere read the Purim tale of Mordecai and Esther’s heroism through their proximity to the king. The Megillah will have new resonance now that America’s First Family includes Orthodox Jews. The religious observance of First Daughter Ivanka Trump and husband Jared Kushner has drawn both fascination and scorn. For example, their attendance at inaugural events on Shabbat, depending on whom you ask, was anything from a beautiful example of Jewish law meeting extraordinary circumstances to what one liberal feminist called “a perversion of Jewish values.”

Then there’s the striking number of poor decisions by President Trump on Friday nights and Saturdays, suggesting Kushner is a moderating influence on his father-in law. They include Trump’s Tweets about Obama’s supposed wiretapping, the “so-called judge,” and the Orlando nightclub shooting. So too the first travel ban, the CIA speech, the inauguration crowd brouhaha, and the attack on former POW Sen. John McCain.

The half-joke is that the Kushner/Trump family’s Shabbat observance is putting the nation at risk by loosening the safeguards on their out-of-control pater familias. For example, in a Tweet, Jewish journalist Ron Kampeas’s evoked living “in terror” that Kushner will be out of commission for 72 hours this September, when Rosh Hashanah runs directly into Shabbat and puts Orthodox Jews out of circulation for three days straight.

So maybe it’s wrong for Jared and Ivanka to prioritize Shabbat observance over the administration’s needs, since even major violations can be sanctioned in unusual circumstances.

Or maybe it’s wrong for them to ever violate Shabbat – either because the seventh is sacrosanct, or because breaking it would reveal them as hypocrites and poseurs.

Members of the First Family aren’t talking – and good for them.

Orthodox Jews have a specific procedure for complicated situations of Jewish law – a person goes to his rabbi and asks a “shayla,” a Jewish legal query. The rabbi will probably ask questions about the situation, do some research using various Jewish sources, and give an answer – and then the person follows it. There’s no “appeal process,” and the answer is not transferable to other people, because different people may get different answers (the classic example is the very same chicken that is kosher for a poor Jew but forbidden to a rich one).

I presume that as Orthodox Jews, Jared and Ivanka are following that procedure. Their rabbi needn’t send out a press release identifying himself and explaining his rulings. There have been and probably will be times when the two violate Shabbat, as Kushner did during the campaign after the release of Trump’s vulgar Trump tape about groping women.

More prominently, Jared and Ivanka reportedly asked a shaylabefore riding to the Inaugural Ball, though the sole evidence in the media was weak – a talk-show statement by Israeli Republican Party chair Marc Zell, who named neither the rabbi nor his source.

Zell claimed the Inauguration permission was based on safety concerns under the Jewish concept of pikuach nefesh (saving a life) should someone want to hurt them during their public participation, though that seems inadequate. They didn’t have to attend at all. Still, there are many concepts in Jewish law that could have legitimized a permissive stance, such as “honoring the kingdom” (and that includes democracies), “recognizing the good,” and “honoring parents.”

But pikuach nefesh itself could surely be a reason for future rabbinic permission to violate Shabbat when the job is as high stakes as advising the most powerful man in the world. Observant Jewish doctors and Israeli soldiers violate Shabbat all the time, albeit while minimizing their infractions, because of the life-and-death nature of their jobs. Politically, former Senator Joe Lieberman wrote an entire book about the balance involved in this topic, and there are many actions politicians have done and will do that are usually not appropriate on Shabbat but are acceptable or even necessary in their situations.

So if Jared and Ivanka violate Shabbat over the next four to eight years in a surprising situation – or keep Shabbat despite urgent matters – it certainly will be interesting to watch. But how they came to those decisions is none of our business. The most respected rabbinic minds in the country would gladly help them navigate these waters – and maybe they already have. Or maybe the couple has chosen a more modest rabbi they admire from their shul (synagogue). Absent contrary evidence, we can assume their actions have rabbinic guidance because that’s what Orthodox Jews do.

Purim celebrates Jewish men and women in a unique situation to do good because of their access to the seat of power. If Jared and Ivanka are to be this era’s Mordecai and Esther (God, are you listening?), the last thing they need is a million American Jews and non-Jews pretending to be their rabbi. They already have a rabbi. Leave them alone.

David Benkof is a columnist for the Daily Caller, where this essay first appeared. Follow him on Twitter (@DavidBenkof) and Muckrack.com/DavidBenkof, or E-mail him at DavidBenkof@gmail.com.

Program promises Shabbat of lifetime


The vast majority of tourists who visit Jerusalem go to the Old City and, depending on their interests and beliefs, make a point of seeing archaeological sites, eating in the Mahane Yehuda Market or visiting the Israel Museum.

What few get to experience is an authentic Shabbat meal in the home of a Jewish family.

Six years ago, Michelle Cohen and her husband, Nati, a young Jerusalem couple, decided to offer Shabbat dinners to groups and individuals seeking a genuine Shabbat dinner experience.

Sensing a business opportunity as well as a way to share the best of Israel with tourists, they launched Shabbat of a Lifetime, a company that Cohen said has grown to more than 70 host families that have offered a Shabbat dinner experience to more than 30,000 visitors from 100 countries.

For a fee that Cohen says is roughly equivalent to the cost of a Friday night dinner in a hotel restaurant, hosts offer Shabbat dinner (including ones customized for a variety of dietary needs, like allergies) tailored to overseas guests. Rituals are explained and questions encouraged.

The goal, Cohen said, “is to create positive encounters between them and Israelis. The tourists have a positive experience and return home as [goodwill] ambassadors.”

Cohen said she and her husband got the idea for Shabbat of a Lifetime after spending six months in India.

“During our time in India, we realized that the most meaningful part was meeting the local people and learning about their culture. There are maybe 2 million non-Jewish tourists who come to Israel every year, and we asked whether they are getting the opportunity to meet local Israelis in their homes. The answer was no.”

About 95 percent of guests come as part of a tour group, while the rest book directly via the company’s website (shabbatofalifetime.com). Ninety-nine percent are non-Jewish tourists or Jewish tourists who are not religiously observant.

“Let’s say you’re part of a group of 15 Chinese businessmen [who are] in Israel to understand how to invest in Israel. One part of your trip will be to join a Jewish family at a Shabbat meal to learn about Jewish culture and Shabbat traditions. Or, let’s say you’re an unaffiliated Jewish family who [is] in Israel to celebrate a daughter’s bat mitzvah. Rather than spend Friday night in a hotel, you can join an Israeli family.”

Some of the tourists hosted by Shabbat of a Lifetime are in Israel on dual-narrative tours that offer visitors the opportunity to spend time with Israelis and Palestinians.

“In the morning, they visit Palestinian farmers, and on Friday night, they’re sitting with a Jewish family in Jerusalem and having chicken soup. We’ve hosted a group of African pastors, students on university programs and Jewish women looking to strengthen their Jewish identity” and who had rarely or never experienced Shabbat before visiting Israel, Cohen said.

While the tourists learn about Israeli culture and food, “it’s eye-opening for the host, as well,” Cohen said. “We’ll have encounters between German tourists and a religious family, for example, and we have many, many groups from China.”

From her observations, Cohen said, Chinese tourists “tend to be very interested in the entrepreneurial mind of Jews and Israelis. They want to know what it is about these traditions that create the foundation for Israeli innovation.”

All families that host meals for Shabbat of a Lifetime observe Shabbat, “but there is a whole range of backgrounds and communities they identify with,” Cohen said. Families also must have the capacity to host a group of 14. One family can host 50.

“We prepare the host family about what it will entail to host, say, 30 Southern Baptists,” Cohen said. Although the food is important, so too is an understanding of their guests’ unique backgrounds.

“Our purpose is to facilitate genuine encounters,” not formal, stiff, overly polite dinners, Cohen said.

Yehoshua Looks and his wife, Debbie, have hosted more than 150 Shabbat of a Lifetime meals during the past four years. “We host up to 36 people and it sometimes ends up being a couple more,” he said, laughing. “We turn over our living room-dining space to Shabbat of a Lifetime. They provide the food, the tablecloths, the chairs. We like to serve on actual china, which goes into the dishwasher.”

Looks said his family became religiously observant long ago, “and part of our process was being involved in a very warm community in St. Louis.”

Even back then, Looks, an Orthodox rabbi, said, “we’d set a couple of extra place settings,” in anticipation of guests at the Shabbat dinner table. “We created a family dynamic of having an open home and welcoming people from all types of backgrounds.”

At Friday night dinner, Looks and his wife explain the reason Jews sing “Shalom Aleichem” and “Eshet Chayil,” and bless their children before reciting blessings over the wine and challah. 

“With some groups, the reaction is more cultural, for others, it’s more spiritual,” he said. “We get a lot of Christian evangelicals who are fascinated by the idea of Shabbat.”

Regardless of their religious or cultural backgrounds, Looks said, his guests seem to enjoy discussing the Sabbath.

“We live in a world where we’ve lost the experience of rest. I’m 60-something and grew up in a world where, on Sundays, the stores were closed. There was more time and space for family bonding.”

Looks likes to tell his guests that Shabbat is his time to disconnect. “I share with all the groups that my favorite Friday afternoon activity is to unplug my internet, close down the routers. I even challenge some of our guests to try to shut off their cellphones for 24 hours.”

Looks hopes his guests — who include many secular Jews from abroad — come away with the sense that Shabbat “isn’t about what you can’t do but instead [is] a time to open ourselves up and connect on a more spiritual level to our families, our communities and to God.”

Although hosting week after week can be tiring, Looks said the “incredible warmth” his guests bring has enriched him and his family beyond measure.

“After living in Israel for 20 years, it’s easy to become a little complacent about Israel,” Looks admitted. 

“To hear stories from people who see Israel with fresh eyes invigorates us. It makes us excited about living in Israel all over again.”

Activists gather at Portland International Airport on Jan. 29. Photo by Steve Dipaola/Reuters

Invite a Muslim for Shabbat


It will be a very long time before I forget the news I heard this week of a 5-year-old Muslim child handcuffed at Dulles Airport on Saturday because he was deemed a security threat. News outlets later reported that this boy is a U.S. citizen who lives in Maryland.

While that news continues to disturb me, I can only imagine what it does to Muslim children living in our country.

This past Monday night my wife came home and told me that a Muslim acquaintance of hers who she knows through work told her that his child is very scared and is crying non-stop since Saturday.

We started talking about what we could do to help this child.

Every Friday night we host lively Shabbat dinners in which we usually entertain members of our congregation.  But after hearing that story, my wife and I decided that we should invite this Muslim family for Shabbat dinner.

A Shabbat dinner is a powerful opportunity to connect while breaking bread together.

Recently the Washington Post wrote a story about a former white supremacist who changed his racist views and entire world view after celebrating Shabbat dinners with his classmates.

In our case we would have a different goal. Our goal in inviting Muslims would not be to convert each other or to engage in interfaith dialogue or to give each other political litmus tests. Indeed, the best Shabbat meals we have are the ones that accept an informal policy of not talking politics.

Rather, we must simply demonstrate that we are embracing and giving respect to our Muslim neighbors.  In this specific case, our goal would be to tell this Muslim child that there are people in this country who are not Muslims but who care very deeply about him and his well-being. Not only do we not want him to leave our country, we want him to grow up and be one of our future leaders. Nothing says I care about you and I believe in you like freshly baked challah bread and homemade bread.

From the perspective of Jewish law the Talmud specifically authorizes inviting a non-Jew to a Shabbat meal (Beitzah, 21b).

Indeed the Midrash (Bereishit 11:4) tells of the time that the Roman ruler, Antoninus went to visit the great sage of the Mishnah, Rebbe for a Shabbat meal. He was so impressed with the lukewarm Shabbat food that was served that he returned during the week for another meal. But this time the food was served piping hot and it wasn’t good. He asked Rebbe what was missing. Rebbe said, “We are missing one spice. The spice of Shabbat!”

We should all follow Rebbe’s lead and share the spice of Shabbat.

Now that I think about it I am embarrassed to admit that through no specific intent or plan it so happens that we have never had a Muslim join us for Shabbat dinner. We just don’t run in the same circles.

It feels like now is the time to change that. Now is the time for people of all faiths to reach out and give some extra love to our Muslim neighbors.

The President campaigned on the promise of putting a ban on Muslims coming into this country. This past week through his Executive Order many law abiding Muslim citizens including green card holders, students, and people who have served the US Army, were handcuffed at airports and detained like criminals. Even though many were released, I don’t remember hearing an apology.

In light of what happened this week, Muslims in this country have every right to feel scared and marginalized.

It is our job as citizens, whether we are Republicans or Democrats, to reach out and embrace our Muslim neighbors. We must tell them that having a 5-year-old boy in handcuffs is not what we want our country to be. We must say to our Muslim neighbors  that we want you in this county.

For this reason, I am asking my fellow Jews this week to reach out and invite a Muslim family to their own Shabbat meal this week.

Now is the time to show our love to those who are scared and marginalized.


Shmuel Herzfeld is the Rabbi of Ohev Sholom – The National Synagogue, the oldest Orthodox synagogue in Washington, D.C.

Faith and doubt: S.Y. Agnon’s Nobel Prize, 50 years later


On Dec. 10, 1966, Shabbat in Stockholm ended at 3:55 p.m. This gave Israeli writer S.Y. Agnon; his wife, Esther; and their daughter, Emunah, exactly 35 minutes to travel from the Grand Hotel to the Stockholm Concert Hall, where Agnon would receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. 

As Shabbat ended, Agnon prayed the evening Maariv service, made Havdalah for his family, and — being that it was the fourth night of Chanukah — lighted four candles and recited all of the accompanying blessings. He rushed to get dressed in his tuxedo and tails, and the family then met the limousine driver who hurriedly drove them to the ceremony. To save time, Agnon shaved in the limo. 

When Agnon arrived and ultimately took the stage to receive his Nobel Prize from Swedish King Gustav VI Adolf, the audience noticed that in place of a top hat, Agnon had a black velvet yarmulke perched atop his head. Upon receiving the prize from the king, Agnon recited the Hebrew blessing traditionally said upon seeing a king. He then delivered his acceptance speech in an ancient Hebrew dialect, staking his claim as a Hebrew writer representing the continuity of a canon of sacred literature: 

“Who were my mentors in poetry and literature? First and foremost, there are the Sacred Scriptures, from which I learned to combine letters. Then there are the Mishnah and the Talmud and the Midrashim and Rashi’s commentary on the Torah. After these come the Poskim — the later explicators of Talmudic Law — and our sacred poets and the medieval sages, led by our Master Rabbi Moses, son of Maimon, known as Maimonides, of blessed memory.”

On this night, the European-born boy originally known as Shmuel Yosef Czaczkes became the first-ever Hebrew language writer to be awarded a Nobel Prize. Moreover, he did so as a citizen of the State of Israel, becoming the country’s first Nobel Prize winner in any category (and to this day, its only winner in literature).

When reading Agnon, who moved to Palestine as a young immigrant in 1908, one is treated to a unique and unprecedented literary experience, where modern-day stories are composed in a Hebrew that is entirely ancient, with the narrative and dialogue creatively woven from phrases lifted directly from biblical, talmudic and rabbinic literature. This, along with Agnon’s observance of Jewish law, paints the portrait of what one might call a “religious writer.” 

But was Agnon a religious writer?  

In her memoir, Emunah Yaron (Agnon’s daughter) addresses the question of her father’s religiosity and faith: “There are many who did not believe that my father was an observant Jew, even though a big black kippah always covered his head. There are those who said that this kippah was simply a mask, a deceiving appearance intended to fool the public into believing that he was actually a religious Jew who observed the commandments.”

What could possibly account for this widely held perception among many of Agnon’s readers? Yaron continues: “Perhaps the lack of belief by many in my father’s religiosity stems from the fact that in reading my father’s works, they often detected in his plots and characters subtle or even overt theological speculations into religious matters, which many of his readers interpreted as outright heresy.”

In Agnon’s story “The Dust of the Land of Israel,” the narrator proclaims: “The doubters and skeptics, and all who are suspicious of things — they are the only people of truth, because they see the world as it is. They are unlike those who are happy with their lot in life and with their world, who, as a result of their continuous happiness, close their eyes from the truth.”

Agnon’s masterpiece novel, “A Guest for the Night,” is full of cynicism toward God. The novel grew out of Agnon’s visit in 1930 to his birthplace in Buczacz, Poland (now part of Ukraine).  The narrator returns to visit his hometown, Shibush (a sarcastic play on Buczacz — the Hebrew word “shibush” means “disorder” or “confusion”), and finds it completely desolate, bearing the evidence of the ruins of war and pogroms. 

The people he meets in Shibush are crippled physically and emotionally, including Daniel Bach, whose brother has recently been killed and who has himself seen a corpse, wrapped in a prayer shawl, blown up. Bach declares, “I’m a simple person, and I don’t believe in the power of repentance … I don’t believe that the Holy One, Blessed be He, wants the best for his creatures.” Later in the novel, the narrator echoes Daniel’s bitter reflections: “If it is a question of repentance, it is the Holy One, Blessed be He — if I may say so — who ought to repent.”

Agnon (center) at the 1966 Nobel Prize ceremony. Photo courtesy of Zion Archives

Although “A Guest for the Night” could easily be understood as Agnon’s post-Holocaust lamentation on the destruction of Eastern European Jewry, he actually wrote the novel in the 1930s, and it was published in 1939 — all before the Shoah. Agnon’s novel foresaw the dark fate of Eastern European Jewry, including the last remaining Jews of Agnon’s hometown Buczacz, where he was born in 1888. As such, Agnon’s bitter indictments of God take on somewhat of a prophetic tone.

In Amos Oz’s semiautobiographical “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” the Israeli author devotes an entire chapter to Agnon, where he writes, “Agnon himself was an observant Jew, who kept the Sabbath and wore a skullcap. He was, literally, a God-fearing man: in Hebrew, ‘fear’ and ‘faith’ are synonyms … Agnon believes in God and fears him, but he does not love him.”

Oz also explored these issues in “The Silence of Heaven: Agnon’s Fear of God,” where he writes that Agnon’s heart was “tormented by theological doubts” and that Agnon’s characters often treat their challenges in life as “religious issues — providing that the term ‘religious’ is broad enough to encompass doubt, heresy and bitter irony about Heaven.” 

When asked if Agnon was a “religious writer,” Emunah Yaron writes that her father’s response was that he was “an author of truth, who writes things as he sees them, without any ‘make-up or rouge’ camouflaging the face of things, without any décor trying to deter the eye from the core issues.”

“For these very reasons” writes Yaron, “my father — who was a religiously observant Jew — refused to join the Union of Religious Writers in Israel.” 

As an observant Jew writing from within the tradition, Agnon reminds us that it is possible to observe God’s commandments and pray to God while simultaneously struggling with God.

In the story “Tehilah,” Agnon has the narrator standing at the Kotel — Judaism’s holiest site — contemplating prayer: “I stood at times among the worshippers, and at times among those who question.”

That’s life in an Agnon story. Indeed, 50 years after Agnon’s Nobel Prize — that’s life.

Israel’s ‘Shabbat war’ heats up, with Jerusalem feeling the squeeze


On the first Friday evening that Jerusalem restaurant Azza 40 opened without a kosher license, allowing it to serve customers on the Jewish sabbath, crowds of ultra-Orthodox Jews protested outside, threatening to smash windows and burn the place down.

“It was crazy,” said Reut Cohen, 29, the restaurant's owner and head chef, recalling the events of September 2014. “The police came, the street was blocked, there were religious people yelling, swearing, even spitting at us.”

It was just one of many protests, most of them peaceful, that ultra-Orthodox groups have mounted against cafes, restaurants and cinemas that open on Shabbat, the Jewish holy day. Several have been led by Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox deputy mayor, Yitzhak Pindrus.

Azza 40 is still going strong, with Friday nights and Saturdays the busiest days of the week, despite occasional disruptions. But the pressure on businesses not to open between sunset on Friday and sunset on Saturday has increased, fuelling tension between the growing Orthodox community and those who feel religious strictures are impinging on their freedom.

Perhaps the clearest illustration of the potential fallout of what's been dubbed by local media the “Shabbat war” came this month in Tel Aviv, a city normally known for its secularism.

Work on a new railway station and track maintenance had to be suspended on a Saturday after complaints from religious parties in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition.

It was a desecration of the holy day, said the chief rabbinate, which had largely ignored such work in the past but had been facing pressure in ultra-Orthodox newspapers and on social media to demand it stop.

“Shabbat is not open to negotiation and haggling, and there's no place to compromise its sanctity,” said the chief rabbis in a statement explaining their position.

As a result, work was moved that weekend to Sunday, the start of Israel's week, causing traffic meltdown as the main Tel Aviv highway was partially shut down. Special buses – ironically organised on a Saturday – were laid on. 

The dispute caused turmoil in Netanyahu's cabinet, with the transport minister, who supported Saturday work, on the firing line. He kept his job, and construction was quietly resumed a week later, including on Saturdays, a sign neither Netanyahu nor his ultra-Orthodox partners wanted the coalition derailed.

But while Tel Aviv was briefly shaken by the debacle, the sharp end of Shabbat tension remains Jerusalem, where the ultra-Orthodox make up a third of the population, an increase of five percentage points over the last decade, and religion is never far from any issue.

 

“IT'S A DESERT”

This week, Jerusalem's municipality charged eight grocery store owners with violating bylaws that prevent businesses in the city center from opening on Shabbat. The increasing sway of the ultra-Orthodox in the city, in numbers and politically, means the municipality is under constant pressure to clamp down.

The results are uneven: One cinema chain closes on Shabbat, another stays open, despite protests. In some cases, businesses have found convoluted solutions to allow restaurants in the centre to operate on the holy day, when tourists are often at a loss to find anywhere to eat. 

Last year, Cafe Landwer, a chain of around 60 coffee shops, opened a site in Independence Park, an attractive green space close to the Old City, across from the U.S. Consulate.

It wanted to operate on Friday evenings and Saturdays to cater to tourists and secular customers. But an ultra-Orthodox group opposed the move and threatened to withdraw the kosher certification granted to Landwer Coffee, a separate company owned by the same family, if it didn't change policy.

Cafe Landwer franchised the restaurant and its name has changed to Alma Cafe, although the menus still say Cafe Landwer. There are occasional protests by the ultra-Orthodox, but it stays open on Shabbat, its busiest day of the week.

“It's one of the few places in the centre of Jerusalem that is open on Saturdays, so everyone comes here,” said manager Karina Topaz, 23. “When we first opened, a few people came and yelled at us, but now it's okay.”

In nearby German Colony, a wealthy neighbourhood of old stone houses, there is no such permissiveness. Whereas ten years ago there were two or three cafes on its tree-lined main street that operated on Shabbat, now there are none.

“At the weekend, it's like a desert. It's dead,” said Orly Turgeman, 35, who manages a small hotel in the neighbourhood.

“You have the feeling there's nothing left in Jerusalem. There's not the environment of an open, pluralistic city.”

The ultra-Orthodox population, with its dress code of black hats and coats, has a birthrate more than twice the national average, making it Israel's fastest growing group.

German Colony has become more religious over the years, with its many elderly, Orthodox residents keen to maintain the traditional calm of Shabbat. The same is true of Kiryat Shmuel, the neighbourhood where Azza 40 is located.

“I am very much not in favour of restaurants opening on Shabbat,” said Rabbi Meir Schlesinger, whose home and synagogue are around the corner from Azza 40. “It disturbs the Shabbat atmosphere of the place, besides being against Jewish law.”

Reut Cohen, the owner, is unfazed. She now offers pork and shellfish on the menu – both distinctly non-kosher – and is determined to stand up for secular principles.

“It's critical for our business, the neighbourhood, the city and the country,” she said. “If the religious don't want to come, that's fine, but they have to live and let live.”

‘Demon’ arises from Poland’s past


So much of Jewish life is about remembering, keeping Shabbat, yahrzeit dates and who in the family slighted whom, that when it comes to a movie about forgetting, such as the Polish and Israeli film “Demon,” we may be at a loss. But as we peer through the edgy gloom of this production, which takes place in an isolated farmhouse in Poland, and see that what some of the film’s characters want to bury is crucial to our collective memory, we have eerie reckoning to the theme, as if taken possession by its message.

This is not a typical horror picture — there are no slashings, screams or chainsaws — yet “Demon,” directed by Marcin Wrona, frightens with a more modern form of horror: that of forgetting the lasting impact the Holocaust has had in Poland.

Stalking this film with a gaunt presence, a groom-to-be, Piotr (Israeli actor Itay Tiran), arrives from England into the Polish countryside on the eve of his wedding to inspect a deserted farmhouse and barn that he and his fiancée, Zaneta (Agnieszka Zulewska), have been given as a gift by her parents. Mysteriously drawn to a spot on the surrounding property, he discovers a pile of human bones, which in the rain seem to swallow him into the ground. We are not sure what effect this accident might have (though the film’s title provides a heavy hint) until after the couple’s very Polish church wedding. The first clue comes after the ceremony, when Piotr, by custom, is supposed to dash a shot glass against the wall but instead places it on the floor and prepares to step on it. Is that he is becoming a Jew the horror?

“It is the first sign he is in a different culture. He doesn’t know who is,” the film’s producer, Olga Szymanska, said.

The screenplay, written by Pawel Maslona and Wrona, is loosely based on the play “Adherence” by Piotr Rowicki, a story of a dybbuk: in Jewish folklore, a wandering, often malevolent spirit that takes possession of a living person. In film, “the dybbuk theme has not been touched in Polish culture for 80 years,” Szymanska said, referring to S. Ansky’s play “The Dybbuk,” later made into a movie, in which a bride is possessed.

The word “dybbuk” is derived from the Hebrew verb dabak, meaning to adhere or to cling, but it is not until late in the film that we discover what — or who — is doing the clinging.

As Piotr’s behavior grows progressively more erratic, and the wedding party, sometimes humorously, devolves into the reception from hell, the father-in-law tries to cover up things by plying his guests with more and more alcohol. After Piotr collapses to the floor in what looks like an epileptic seizure, a doctor and priest (both are guests) are summoned to consult on his condition.

“There are no special effects in the film,” Szymanska said. Yet a special chill, unfortunately known to many Jewish viewers and based on the fog of history, creeps in. When the dybbuk is questioned by a local elder, a teacher who is Jewish, she reveals (speaking through Piotr) that her name is Hanna. She is a local, young Jewish woman who mysteriously disappeared in the pre-World War II era, explains the teacher, who even remembers her.

Speaking in Yiddish, Hanna talks about a promised husband and returning to carry out what “death interrupted.”

As rumor quickly spreads through the party that the groom is possessed, the father-in-law’s fear that the reception will be ruined spins out of control. For him, this is the real horror story. Standing, play-like on a stage, he regales his inebriated guests, saying, “We must forget what we didn’t see here.” When he tries to explain away the groom’s possession as a “collective hallucination,” the film itself is taken over by the dybbuk of history.

“The whole movie is not about the Holocaust,” said Szymanska, who feels it is more about “the past” in which, for centuries, “both Poles and Jews lived together.” Yet, it is the forgetting and remembering of that side-by-side neighbor relationship between Polish Christians and Jews that currently has Poland possessed.

Since the publication of “Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland,” by Jan T. Gross in 2001, a book that details a July 1941 massacre in which, Gross says, 1,600 Polish Jews were murdered (later estimates give a lower number) by a group of non-Jewish Poles, the issue of whether Poles collaborated with the Nazis in the Holocaust has erupted into a painful national debate. Even though the country has a National Institute of Remembrance to investigate such charges, just this year, the country’s right-leaning government has proposed a new law, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, “that would authorize a three-year prison sentence to anyone who claims that Poland collaborated with Nazi Germany.”

“Demon,” released in 2015 in Poland into this atmosphere, got caught up in this national debate. “There were some right-wing people who didn’t like it, and said it was this kind of wave of movie that’s anti-Polish and accuses Poles of killing Jews during the second world war,” Szymanska said.

Sadly, Wrona, who was married to Szymanska, will not be able to participate in the discussion his film might spark here, as on Sept. 19, 2015, at the time of the Gdynia Polish Film Festival, where “Demon” was being shown in competition, he took his own life in his hotel room.

Explaining what she thought drew her husband to the film, Szymanska recalled that “Marcin was very attracted to mysticism.” In the film, he “found an intersection to recall our two nations’ pasts,” she explained. He was interested “in what a modern dybbuk would tell us.”

“Demon” opens Sept. 9 at Nuart Theatre in West Los Angeles.

What I wish synagogues knew about single parents


I’m not sure where to begin. I first want to say that my synagogue — and I think synagogues in general — have done a really great job of welcoming congregants who have converted, are intermarried, and are in gay and lesbian marriages. My synagogue also welcomes adopted children and Jews of color. It is still mainly an Ashkenazi population, but it quickly is becoming more diverse. The rabbi, cantor and board of trustees have worked hard and continue to work to make the synagogue inclusive.

But there is one population that seems to be left out: single parents. I think I speak for most single parents when I say we didn't marry with the intention of divorcing. Unfortunately, divorce happens for all sorts of reasons, which oftentimes are private and painful. And as welcoming as synagogues have become of non-traditional families, the one thing they have in common is they remain two-parent households. Shira may have two imas, but there are TWO parents in Shira’s house.

Many single parents have fewer financial and emotional resources than married parents and less time to volunteer. And while the divorce papers may have been signed, single parents are often dealing many years later with uncooperative ex-spouses and the shifting landscape of children’s custody.

When I was married, I was a super-volunteer at my synagogue and loved being involved. I knew well the rabbi, cantor and religious school director. When they asked me to take leadership roles in various areas of synagogue life, I was happy to contribute.

Then I divorced. My ex-husband met with the cantor to discuss his feelings about the split, so it clearly wasn’t a secret. Yet for all the time and energy I had generously devoted to the synagogue, no one called or reached out to me. The group that arranges meals and transportation for sick congregants never called to see if I wanted a few meals delivered. I had to apply for reduced dues since my ex-husband was the main breadwinner.

I was already feeling ashamed and embarrassed due to my divorce, and I felt the synagogue, my second home, was ashamed of me and my failed marriage. Instead of lifting me up when I needed the most help, the congregation let me down.

I still feel committed to Judaism and living Jewishly, but I am conflicted about Jewish institutions. I don’t feel like my synagogue has a place for people like me, and I also feel that there is little compassion or understanding for single parents. I don’t need a support group; I need support.

There is an unspoken stigma regarding divorce in the Jewish community. The failure of a marriage implies that something is “wrong”— abuse, addiction, affairs, mental illness. In addition, success in the Jewish world is almost always defined as highly educated, capable of self-support and able to maintain a functioning family. So when my marriage fell apart, it was logical that I felt like a failure.

A phone call from the rabbi or cantor acknowledging the challenges my family and I were facing would have gone a long way in easing my frustration and disillusionment. As it stands now, since I am outside the normative two-parent family, I’m not sure what or where my next steps will be.


Eliana Salzman is the pen name of a single mom of two teenagers.

Israelis would get 6 Sundays off under bill to create ‘Western’ weekend


A Knesset committee has approved legislation that will mandate six long weekends each year — a step toward a possible Monday-to-Friday work week.

Providing the six Sundays off each year beginning in 2017 will start to transition the Israeli work week to that of most of the Western world, supporters argue. Kulanu lawmaker Eli Cohen, who proposed the legislation, argued that it would also increase work productivity in Israel, which lags other developed countries.

Israel has a Friday-and-Saturday weekend, though children in elementary school also attend school on Fridays. Many Israelis do not work on Friday, and Sunday is considered the start of the work week. The current weekend fits in with the Jewish Sabbath on Friday night and Saturday, and the Muslim day of prayer on Friday.

According to a 2016 report by the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies, Israeli productivity is low and getting lower compared to most of the relatively wealthy countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, even though Israelis also work about 4 hours more per week than residents of other OECD countries.

“The transition to a long weekend will dramatically change the character of work and offers many benefits by reducing the burden on workers, improve the balance between work and family life, improve individuals’ lives and contribute to business sectors like retail and tourism, and better synchronize work and school vacations,” Cohen said, according to Haaretz.

The bill, which was approved Sunday by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, must still be approved by the full Knesset. The legislation is aimed at leading to all Sundays off in the future.

Two of the six proposed long weekends would take place during the summer, and the other four would come during the Passover and Hanukkah vacations.

The first full Knesset vote is scheduled for Wednesday, where it is expected to pass.

Forced to pick between observance and graduation, Jewish Bruins choose both


Aaron Ebriani was 11 when his father, Eli, died, and the event inspired him to honor his memory by fulfilling as many mitzvot as possible — and by helping others do the same.

So when he realized a few months ago that all of UCLA’s departmental graduations fell on Shabbat or the holiday of Shavuot, he saw a chance to commemorate his father by helping some fellow students keep the faith.  

“I jumped on it,” he said onstage June 9, standing in front of about 80 other Jewish undergraduates during a ceremony he instituted. “This entire graduation was done in [my father’s] name.” 

Ebriani’s realization was followed by a flurry of emails and hours of meetings to organize a Thursday afternoon graduation that Jewish students could attend without violating proscriptions against driving or carrying objects on a holiday.

To demonstrate the need for such an event, he circulated a petition to present to UCLA’s administration that gathered more than 300 signatures. Later, Rebecca Zaghi, a graduating senior who directed the event, went through each of the names on the petition to send an invitation via text message.

Although Shabbat-observant Jews could attend a class-wide graduation before dusk on June 10, they would have had to break Shabbat or Shavuot to attend the smaller ceremony in the following days associated with their individual majors.

“The whole idea was that departmental [graduations] are more small and intimate,” Zaghi told the Journal. “They’re the people that you’ve taken classes with and grown with.”

Statistics from UCLA and the Jewish student organization Hillel International suggest that most of the approximately 450 Jewish UCLA seniors did not attend the ceremony. But, using Hillel at UCLA’s status as a registered campus organization, along with $1,000 in Hillel funding, the June 9 graduation nearly filled each of the 505 seats in the auditorium of UCLA’s Schoenberg Hall with friends and families.

“You have 80 Jewish students who for the first time ever self-organized a graduation so that they could observe our traditions,” said Rabbi Aaron Lerner, executive director of Hillel at UCLA. “It’s amazing. It’s really amazing.”

Zaghi said that at her and Ebriani’s urging, UCLA administrators have made note of the next year when Shavuot would interfere with graduation — 2024 — and are taking steps to avoid the conflict. But she said now that the tradition has started, moving forward, “Why shouldn’t the Jewish community have their own graduation?”

“If it wasn’t for Shavuot and the whole conflict with graduation, none of us would be here today,” Ebriani said at the event. “So let’s take a moment to appreciate that.”

The ceremony began after the graduates filed in to “Pomp and Circumstance.” Then Heather Rosen, the UCLA student president, who is Jewish, called for a moment of silence for William Klug, the professor slain on campus the previous week in a murder-suicide, along with the four victims of a terrorist attack in Tel Aviv the day before. The sound of raucous cheers and air horns blown with abandon quickly died out as audience members bowed their heads.

Toward the end of the ceremony, when UCLA Dean of Students Maria Blandizzi asked the crowd to hold its applause until she finished conferring degrees, her request predictably fell on deaf ears, as celebratory cries and air horns sounded nearly throughout, despite a visibly irate usher who confiscated the noisemakers.

When Ebriani marched across the stage, it was a culmination not just of a UCLA degree, but also months spent to put the event together. “It really wasn’t the easiest thing,” he said in an interview the next day. “But I’m glad we did it.” 

Sam Weiss: No more pain: A senior’s struggle for normalcy


SAM WEISS, 17
HIGH SCHOOL: Granada Hills Charter High School
GOING TO: Ohio State

Sam Weiss, 17, was a medical mystery for most of his life.

He suffered from wrenching chest and stomach pains no doctor could properly diagnose. By last December, his condition had worsened to the point where he was physically shaking and frequently losing consciousness.

“I didn’t understand that that wasn’t the norm — that I wasn’t supposed to feel that,” he said in an interview.

Then, about two months ago, he underwent a surgery for a twist in his esophagus and eight ulcers.

As a graduating high school senior, the San Fernando Valley resident is preparing to reinvent himself as a college student living a new reality: a life without pain.

“For the first time ever, I feel good, and it’s amazing,” he said.

He added, “This is my reset button.”

Sam boasts a list of achievements that would be impressive even for a person who didn’t live his first 17 years in chronic pain.

For three years, he dedicated himself to independent study after his illness precluded him from regular enrollment at Granada Hills Charter High School.

As president of United Synagogue Youth’s (USY) for the Far West region, he leads the organization’s activities and conventions in Arizona and California.

He also tutors bar mitzvah students, including special needs students, and plays guitar, ukulele and piano. He also sings.

“Music is like the equivalent of my intermittent Shabbat. … I just sit back and relax and enjoy the sound, and my mind goes blank,” he said, adding that before his surgery, playing music was one of the things that enabled him to mute the pain.

But his career interests lie elsewhere: When he enrolls at the Ohio State University in the fall, he will be studying as a pre-medical student.

“The fact that he wants to be a doctor blows my mind,” Merrill Alpert, USY’s Far West youth director, told the Jewish Journal. “I was sure the kid was going to be a rabbi.”

His passion for the Jewish world notwithstanding (Sam called himself “extremely Jewish”), his decision to seek a medical education stemmed from the figures in his life who have brought him the most relief, as well as the most frustration.

“That was the worst day of my life, when a doctor said, ‘Yeah, this whole pain thing — it’s not going away. This is something that will be there forever,’” he said.

For years, doctors told him his pain was psychosomatic, that it was all in his head. He wasn’t satisfied with that answer. Finally he found a doctor who wasn’t satisfied, either.

After researching his condition on the internet, Sam came across a surgeon named Miguel Burch at Cedars-Sinai, who he thought could help, and convinced his parents that he should have surgery. Sam underwent a 5 1/2-hour operation that involved temporarily removing his stomach from his chest cavity.

Since the operation, he’s lost 30 pounds, works out nearly every day and now runs a 7-minute mile.

Explaining his decision to pursue pre-med in college, he said, “I can be that surgeon that helped me.”

With a pain-free life stretching out in front of him, Sam said his deliverance is “both bothering me and inspiring me,” as he wonders what could have been had he lived his whole life without pain.

“It’s not really fun to think about,” he said. “And yes, I struggled and it made me the person that I am, but who could I have been?”

Luckily, he has the rest of his life to answer that question.

WATCH: Prince tribute during shabbat – Nashuva sings “Purple Rain”


Challah-Chella: Shabbat tent at Coachella 2016


The 4th annual Coachella Shabbat Tent brought wine, challah, delicious Shabbat meals, Havdallah and other great programming to Coachella 2016.

College students across US join #SolidarityHavdalah with European Jews


Hundreds of college students gathered across North America and Israel Saturday to conclude Shabbat with #SolidarityHavdalah, a campaign to show unity with their European peers facing anti-Semitism.

The students came together at Brandeis University in suburban Boston, as well at more than a dozen other locations in North America, from Harvard to Emory, along with two in Israel and one in Canada. Participants read a statement dedicating their Havdalah ceremonies “to the countless Jews that fear publicly contributing to the spirit (ruach) of the people of Israel.”

Some then posted photos and videos on social media under the event’s hashtag. 

On a cold evening on the Brandeis campus, dozens of students, some at a Reform-Conservative event and others at an Orthodox one, recited the blessings to Debbie Friedman tunes and lit Havdalah candles over wine. Freshman Max Silverstone, who read the statement at the Reform-Conservative event, said a recent trip to Poland opened his eyes about the difficulties facing European Jewish students in expressing their identity. 

After hearing the statement, many Orthodox students were unable to make social media posts, since they weren’t carrying their smartphones, said Misha Vilenchuk, who helped organize #SolidarityHavdalah. That was one disappointment in an otherwise successful campaign for Vilenchuk, a 22-year-old Brandeis senior.

“We succeeded because Jews were not only celebrating Judaism but also their Jewish identity … with freedom of expression and declaring their unity through this simple yet significant statement,” he told JTA. 

A Moscow-born Russian-American Jew, Vilenchuk said he aims to draw attention to threats to Jewish freedom of action and conscience anywhere in the world. Of anti-Semitism in Europe, he said, “It’s vocal, visible and vicious.” 

Vilenchuk founded the student group Coalition Against Anti-Semitism in Europe, or CAASE, a year ago following the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo newspaper’s office and the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket in Paris. CAASE joined the World Union of Jewish Students and the American Union of Jewish Students in putting together the Havdalah and promoting it on social media.

Yaela Halper, a Brandeis freshman who is CAASE’s vice president — Vilenchuk is president — played a major role in the social media campaign, much of which involved reaching out through friends and Jewish networks on Facebook.

“We want it to be a community-building event,” she said.

Vilenchuk said 20 student groups confirmed participation, including from Yale, Yeshiva University, McGill and Hebrew University. He estimated 1,100 students showed up at those events. There were likely others. As Vilenchuk noted, “Students don’t like to RSVP to anything,” and the statement was posted online. 

“We declare our distinct Jewish identity and our Jewish pride — together with Jewish students and our allies across the globe, the statement concludes. “Tonight we make our voices heard and join our ahim and ahiot (brothers and sisters) from Paris to Jerusalem, from Caracas to New York, and say, ‘no more.’”

L.A. eruv repaired just before Shabbat, dedicated to LAPD


Less than hour before Shabbat began in Los Angeles, the team that runs the L.A. eruv announced that it was repaired after a car accident near the Hollywood Bowl knocked over a traffic light that the eruv uses.

And Howard Witkin, who coordinates all eruv operations, said it was thanks to a rapid response by his emergency crew and the kindness of the Los Angeles Police Department, which preserved the integrity of the eruv by not cutting the string that it constitutes, out of respect for the eruv's integral role in the Jewish Sabbath. As a sign of gratitude, Witkin dedicated this week's eruv (which relies entirely on donations) to “the officers of the LAPD.”

“We are grateful for the assistance of the dedicated officers who handled the accident in Hollywood today that took out a street light pole and took down the eruv,” Witkin wrote in an email blast. “The officers worked to preserve our lines and guide traffic around and beneath them because they know that the lines were important to our community. Then they made it easy for our eruv team to restore the eruv. It is wonderful to live in a country of emes [truth], din [justice] and shalom [peace].”

An eruv makes carrying items within its boundaries on Shabbat permissible for Jews, according to Jewish law. This includes synagogue-goers carrying books and prayer shawls to parents wheeling strollers.

According to Jewish law, carrying on Shabbat in a public domain is prohibited. But a kosher eruv — an enclosure often comprised of connected fencing, walls or string — turns an otherwise public domain into a private domain for halachic purposes.

Retooling Hebrew school


Hebrew schools today incorporate a lot of hands-on learning, and several innovative models for Hebrew school have been launched in recent years, including the project-based learning Hebrew school model, the learning through the arts Hebrew school model, the aftercare “camp like” Hebrew school model, and the online Hebrew school model.

I applaud the pedagogical improvements as well as the funding and creative innovations to the Hebrew school model.  However, I feel that Hebrew schools today still lack a particular “mindset” about Judaism, approach to learning, and purpose of Jewish education which is essential to their success.

What I propose and will explain in this article is the retooling of Hebrew schools with the proper mindset about Judaism and Jewish education.

For starters, the term Hebrew school is factually inaccurate and outdated, plus, we all know this term conjures up negative connotations.  I say this, in part, because Hebrew schools do not teach Hebrew as a language, and originally the word Hebrew was used to downplay the Jewishness of where Jewish children went after public school.  Therefore, a new name is long overdue.

So what would be a better name to replace the name Hebrew school? I propose the name Mitzvah Center.

Changing the name of Hebrew School to Mitzvah Center, however, is not for semantics, but for the purpose of creating a change in the “mindset” and modus operandi of Jewish education.     

  • A Mitzvah Center is a more accurate description of one of the main purposes of Jewish education, which is to learn how to do Mitzvot.
  • By using the term Mitzvah Center this would be a constant reminder about one of the main functions in being a Jewish, which is doing Mitzvot. 
  • The term Mitzvah Center more actually reflects what should be a significant focus of a Hebrew school’s curriculum content.
  • The term Mitzvah Center relays that Jewish education and Judaism are not just for children but for adults as well.

A Mitzvah Center will still look 80% like a Hebrew school (even if employing an innovative model), however, there are four essential practical differences.

  1.  A Mitzvah Center facilitates the performance of Mitzvot.

Whereas a Hebrew school in teaching about lighting Shabbat candles includes the hands-on activity of the students making Shabbat candlestick holders, a Mitzvah Center would send home candles every week for all the women in the home to light.  This is an entirely different perspective on the role of a school, and from a “Center” Jewish education spreads out.

In keeping with the Shabbat candles example, there are numerous examples where a little girl was given Shabbat candles to light and this sparked a family to grow Jewishly. First the mother also lit Shabbat candles with her daughter, then a few weeks later the mother decided not to have the TV on in the living room while she lit Shabbat candles. Then a few weeks later…

Ditto for giving out little grape juice bottles after teaching the students about the Mitzvah of making Kiddush, as well as giving out Shmura Matzah before Passover, etc.

As one can see, a Mitzvah Center does not just teach about Mitzvot, but takes on the responsibility to do everything it can to help its students concretize the learning into action and with their families.

  1.  The ambiance and climate of a Mitzvah Center is Mitzvot.  

When a parent comes into the Mitzvah Center to drop off or pick up his/her child(ren) s/he would see various Mitzvah stations in the foyer with Mitzvot that can easily be done on the spot.  For example, putting on Tefillin (with the rabbi there to encourage and to help facilitate), saying the Shema, giving Tzedakah, watching a one minute video with a Torah lesson for the week, as well as the opportunity to drop off a can of food for the foodbank, to pick up Shabbat candles, etc.

These have been called “Touch and Go” Mitzvot because they only take a short moment of time to do, and they do not necessitate a lifestyle change.  Never-the-less they are an important aspect of “doing Jewish,” and a Mitzvah Center serves to remind everyone of this by creating a culture of doing Mitzvot.

  1. A Mitzvah Center would have a different Mitzvah Campaign every year.

This is exactly what it sounds like. One year the Mitzvah Center (and synagogue) would promote, for example, the Mitzvah of Mezuzah, the next year perhaps various Mitzvah projects for the poor, then in future years the promotion of the Mitzvah of keeping Kosher, the Mitzvah of helping the environment, the creating of a Jewish library in one’s home, a No Adult Left Behind when it comes to adults being able to read Hebrew, families hosting each other and/or just being hosted for a Shabbat dinner experience in a round-robin format once a month for a year, etc.   There are a lot of Mitzvot to promote!

Part of being Jewish is about spiritually growing, and many of these type of Mitzvot require a significant time commitment, financial commitment, and/or an adjustment to one’s lifestyle. Therefore, one Mitzvah Campaign per year is a practical and steady pace.

Not every Mitzvah Center family is going to participate in every Mitzvah Campaign.  One’s expectations need to be tamed.  But right now no one is participating.  No one just wakes up and says s/he is going to start keeping putting on Tefillin or keeping Kosher, etc. without a significant amount of encouragement and support.  A Mitzvah Center’s yearly Mitzvah Campaign provides a much-needed opportunity and encouragement for people to grow Jewishly.

  1.  A Mitzvah Center instills “Mitzvah Activism” into its students.

Part of being a Jew, which has been lost in the Hebrew school system, is sharing one’s Jewish knowledge with other Jews and helping Jews do Mitzvot.  This teaching would be instilled into the students by them actually teaching and helping others do Mitzvot.  For example, the older kids in the Mitzvah Center would help the younger students with Hebrew reading and they would serve as a “Tephillah Buddy” for younger students at school-wide Tephillah services.

Another example of many possible ones: On the Sunday of Sukkot the students in the B’nai Mitzvah class would go to the houses of the synagogue’s members, former members, the Jewish old-age home, etc. with a Lulav and Etrog to help as many Jews as possible fulfill this Mitzvah.  Parent volunteers would drive and there could even be a contest to see who can get the most people to shake a Luluv and Etrog.  Additionally, when a family decides to start keeping kosher at home, members of the synagogue’s teenage Youth Group would help Kasher the family’s kitchen and dishes. (These later two examples are also one way #1 above is accomplished.)

Of course a Hebrew school can implement any of the above aspects of a Mitzvah Center without a name change, however, changing the name from Hebrew school to Mitzvah Center creates a powerful psychological and philosophical message (see the four bullet points above), and also by implementing all four aspects of a Mitzvah Center, this creates a synergy that results in an effectiveness that is more than the sum of its parts.


Joel E. Hoffman is an ordained rabbi, but he works as a special education teacher at a public high school in Massachusetts.  He also teaches 7th grade Hebrew school and writes on Jewish themes. 

Challah, wine, Torah … and Trump?


For the past few months, whenever we’ve hosted guests at our Shabbat table, I’ve repeated different versions of the same joke: “I’d like to thank everyone at our table for not saying the name Donald Trump once during the last hour. What a miracle.”

When I mentioned this last Sunday to Rabbi Stewart Vogel of Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills (where I moderated a Shalom Hartman Institute event with Yossi Klein Halevi), he immediately replied, “You should write a column about that! I never like to bring up politics on Shabbat. It’s not in the spirit of Shabbat vayinafash.”

So, to get a better understanding of what the rabbi meant, I did a little research on “Shabbat vayinafash,” which is included in the Shabbat lunch blessing over the wine (in the Sephardic tradition, we repeat “vayinafash”).

“The language that the Torah uses to describe the rest or cessation that is commanded on Shabbat is ‘Shabbat vayinafash,’ literally translated as your nefesh, your bodily soul, will cease,” Jerusalem author and teacher Elana Mizrahi writes on Chabad.org. “On Shabbat, we gain a neshema yetera, an additional soul. While so much of Shabbat is about physical pleasures such as eating, wearing fine clothing, and sleeping, the pleasure and ‘rest’ that one derives from Shabbat is deeper than these things, for you could take part in them during the weekday and yet you wouldn’t be observing Shabbat.”

Reading Mizrahi’s words made me realize that a Shabbat meal can easily suck us into a weekday energy. After all, what do we usually do when we sit around a table over a meal? We talk about stuff that’s on our minds. And, more often than not, what’s on our minds is current events. So, if the world is abuzz about a presidential candidate who spews vulgarities during a televised debate, it’s not surprising that we would bring it up during a meal’s conversation.

The problem is that it’s hard for us to see conversation itself as a Shabbat ritual.

We have no problem observing rituals such as lighting the candles, blessing the wine, washing our hands and blessing the challah, but after that, when conversation starts, freedom of speech takes over. We may observe basic rules of courtesy, but as far as content goes, often all bets are off. A presidential candidate acting like a vulgar buffoon? Why not talk about it?

In fact, this topic may lead to interesting discussions about the unraveling of American political culture, the dumbing down of the media and the electorate, or the undue influence of big money on politics. But is this in the spirit of “Shabbat vayinafash”? I don’t think so, especially if it leads to unpleasant arguments when people just want to prove that they’re right.

I have no doubt that everyone has meaningful stories waiting to be shared. At its best, a Shabbat table should elicit these kinds of moments.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate a good argument; it’s simply that I can have those arguments during the week (as I often do). When Shabbat comes along, however, I’m looking for something more — something elevating, something spiritually nourishing.

The usual custom of discussing the weekly Torah portion is fine, but it’s not enough. Lately, I’ve gotten into the habit of asking people around the table to share meaningful stories.

Last Friday night, I asked my friend Edna Weiss to share a story about her late husband, Mickey Weiss. She recounted how he came up with the idea of collecting and distributing perishable food to the needy. It started one day in a downtown Los Angeles warehouse about 30 years ago, when Mickey saw a batch of fresh, unsold strawberries about to be thrown out. He had just seen homeless people not far away and figured they could use this free food. Within a few months, Mickey had set up an operation to feed the needy that eventually became a national movement.

Weiss took her time telling the story. It was a deeply personal story that brought joy to the storyteller as well as to those hearing it. 

I have no doubt that everyone has meaningful stories waiting to be shared. At its best, a Shabbat table should elicit these kinds of moments.

Torah rituals are not an end in themselves — they have spiritual components. The ritual of blessing the wine, for example, is useless if the wine makes us drunk and obnoxious. The whole purpose of blessing the wine is to make it holy, to remind us that it should bring us deep joy rather than just pleasure.

The Shabbat meal is itself a ritual with a spiritual component. We don’t simply gather to eat and schmooze as we do during the week. This weekly meal — one of the gems of the Jewish tradition — is our opportunity to elevate our conversation in a way that elevates our neshema yetera, our additional Shabbat soul.

The Donald can always wait until Monday.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

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