October 24, 2018

Table for Five: Sukkot Shabbat

One verse, five voices. Edited by Salvador Litvak, Accidental Talmudist

I will remove My hand, and you will see My back but My face shall not be seen. 

— Exodus 33:23

Rabbi Zoe Klein Miles
Temple Isaiah 

Moses sees God’s back, rather than God’s face, because God is in motion, moving forward. We are designed to be in motion. 

Astrophysicist Karel Schrijver teaches: “We are quite literally not who we were years, weeks or even days ago. Our cells die and are replaced by new ones at an astonishing pace. What persists over time is not fixed, but merely a pattern in flux.” 

We are made in God’s image, which does not mean we look like God and God looks like us, rather, we are patterned after the moving pattern of God. At this season, we talk about return. But when we say return, we do not mean “go backward.” We mean returning to the path that will take us forward. 

The whole Torah is about a movement, from the exile from Eden to the exile from Egypt, and we never really arrive. Greek Philosopher Heraclitus said, “The only constant in life is change.” He also said, “No person ever steps in the same river twice.” So, when we roll Torah back to the beginning, it is not the same Torah, nor are we the same people. 

There is a reason the most meaningful part of the bar mitzvah ceremony is the passing of the Torah. There is a reason the prayer that brings the most people to tears is L’Dor va-Dor (from generation to generation). Because it touches on the essence of what we are. We are the river. 

Rabbi Benjamin Blech
Professor of Talmud, Yeshiva University

Job wasn’t the first biblical character to ask the question that more than any other challenges our faith. Philosophers call it theodicy. Simply put: Why do bad things happen to good people? 

How can we believe in a kind and compassionate God — his very name in English is a contraction for the word good — when we are so often witness to the unfairness of life and the injustices of the world around us? Doesn’t reality give the lie to religion? 

According to the Talmud, it was Moses who had the nerve to pose the question to the Almighty. Right after God forgave the Jews for the sin of the golden calf and defined his essence by way of the 13 attributes of mercy, Moses said, “Show me, I pray you, your glory.” And that is when God responded, “And you will see my back but my face you shall not see.” Surely Moses knew that God has no body. What Moses wanted was the ability to understand God’s glory in spite of his apparent indifference to human suffering. 

The answer has not only been key to my faith but has numerous times proven itself to be the explanation for some of the most trying moments in my life. “You will see my back!” 

Soren Kierkegaard put it beautifully when he said, “Life must be lived forward but can only be understood backward.” To see God’s back is to recognize that our lives make sense — but only in retrospect. 

Rabbi Mark Blazer
Temple Beth Ami

Moses, God’s strongest conduit to the people throughout much of the Torah, wants what nearly every human wants: To see more of God. 

Even Moses, who had a relationship with God unique in its closeness, can’t completely know God. Later prophets also strove to see more of God. The Bible and later Jewish tradition frequently teaches us that we are on a different wavelength than God, which makes a complete knowledge of the Divine impossible. As Isaiah is told: “My thoughts are not your thoughts.” 

We may view glimpses of God in this life through the natural world, in intellectual, spiritual and artistic expressions, and creations of those who try to make the Divine manifest in this world. Most importantly, we see God in the people around us. Humanity. Every one of us. 

The Torah teaches us in the very beginning, that we were created B’tzelem Elohim, in the Divine image, as reflections of God. Through our meaningful interactions with humanity, with each person on this planet, we gain a deeper understanding of God, each reflection giving us another glance at an aspect of the Divine. 

As we synthesize these visions in our desire for understanding of the One-Who-Is-Everything, we are confronted by how challenging this yearning is. Yet in our striving to know and experience the highest and deepest aspects of this existence, we are comforted to know that even Moses was frustrated by what he couldn’t see. 

Rabbi David Lapin
Rabbi and scholar

Bitachon (faith) and emunah (belief) are different. Bitachon gives meaning to the future; emunah gives meaning to the past. 

We try to predict the future, yet despite our sophistication, our ability to predict the future is limited. We try to predict markets, the weather, election results and the futures of our children but in the final analysis, we need faith to stride into the future with confidence. 

The past, however, is factual and doesn’t need faith. When viewing the past, whether our own pasts or history, we have a choice. We can interpret past events as random, we can understand them in terms of direct results of prior human choices, or we can discover a Divine latticework of interconnected events that gives our pasts meaning. This discovery of the Divine hand in the unfolding past is emunah. 

In our verse, HaShem blindfolds Moshe as He approaches. As HaShem passes, he removes the blindfold “and you will see My back, but My face shall not be seen,” forcing Moshe to turn back and look over his shoulder to encounter God. 

We too, need to pause and look over our shoulders at our own pasts to discover God and engage with Him. 

Rabbi Chanan (Antony) Gordon
Motivational speaker

Picture this scene: As you walk down a hall, you notice through a keyhole in the door of one of the rooms what appears to be a masked man, knife in hand, bearing down on what appears to an innocent, sleeping kid. Your jaw drops as you involuntary blurt out, “Murder!” 

What if I were to tell you that the hall was in a hospital and behind that closed door was a world-renowned surgeon about to remove a growth to save the child’s life? 

All of us experience pain in life. Our reflex human reaction is to scream bloody murder. If, however, we had a broader perspective than the limited view of trying to interpret life events through a “keyhole,” we would acknowledge that we do not see the full picture. More often than not, we understand some of our toughest setbacks only in hindsight, by looking back after the benefit of the passing of time and with a greater perspective. 

The notion of only fully appreciating life events in retrospect is one of the profound lessons the Almighty relayed to Moses, and, in turn, to all of us in the oft-cited Chapter 33 of Exodus, verse 23: “I will remove My hand, and you will see My back but My face shall not be seen.” We are finite beings locked in time … God is Infinite and outside of time and he alone knows what is good for us in the end. 

Yom Kippur Yizkor: Lessons From Monty Hall

burning memorial candles on the dark background

Editor’s note: Below is a condensed version of a talk Sharon Hall gave before the Yom Kippur Yizkor service at IKAR. 

Ten days before my mother [Marilyn Hall] died last year, my sister, brother and I were gathered at her bedside singing the Beatles catalog. She strained to look at us as we  harmonized and she seemed to smile when we broke into “Here Comes the Sun.” One of her nurses pulled me aside and said, “You need to let her go. All the attention has her attention and she can see that you don’t want her to leave and she doesn’t want to disappoint you. So figure out a way to say goodbye.”  

This was a gut punch. I couldn’t do it. Neither could my siblings. I said, “Mom, we know that you’re still going to be the helicopter mother you’ve always been, you’ll just be
here in spirit. Pick your sign to let us know you’re still around. Are you going to be a random white feather? Flashing lights? Ringing bells?” She nodded her head and we leaned in.

“Lights,” she said weakly. And so it was settled. My mother’s presence would be known when lightbulbs flickered. 

A few days later, at her shivah, we asked Hillel Tigay, our chazzan at IKAR, to play some Beatles music during our silent prayer. My Orthodox cousin from Israel turned to his sister and asked, “Is this a shivah or a summer camp?” At that very moment, a string of fairy lights embedded in a hedge of ficus trees, lights that had not worked in eight years suddenly came alive. The bulbs flickered in glittering syncopation. Our entire family freaked out. We told the guests about my mother’s deathbed agreement. We were all in awe. If my Israeli cousin could have crossed himself, he would have.  

In the ensuing days and months, I became strangely attached to that hedge. There were more flashing-light moments. It was like a party trick. It got a little weird. I would embrace the ficus branches like Kevin Costner in his cornfield, trying to conjure her. 

Talking to the ficus had become my ritual. It wasn’t scary or depressing. It was about light and chlorophyll and oxygen and life. Even with no lights, it was a practice that created a space to see and feel Marilyn Hall’s presence — not her absence.    

“Many told me that dying on a Yom Kippur Shabbat was reserved for holy men. Now, Monty Hall was an amazing guy, but I think he chose that moment to go because he was trying to dodge Yizkor.

My father [Monty Hall] died exactly one year ago. On Shabbat. On Yom Kippur. Right after Rabbi [Sharon] Brous’ sermon. My phone blew up. I made my way past 1,300 Jews in white when it all faded to white. I don’t remember how I got to my father’s house to meet the mortuary van. I don’t remember much at all about that day.  

Monty and Marilyn Hall (Photo provided by Sharon Hall)

Many reached out to tell me that dying on a Yom Kippur Shabbat was reserved for holy men, for the pious and exalted. Now, Monty Hall was an amazing guy for lots of reasons, but if you want to know the truth, I think he chose that moment to go because he was trying to dodge Yizkor. 

My father was allergic to grief. He was from the “buck up” generation. I never heard him recite the Kaddish out loud. It barely escaped his lips as a whisper. He couldn’t metabolize his grief over the death of his beloved wife of 70 years. We understood but we were frustrated that this final chapter would be filled with denial and anger, and for him was devoid of spirituality.  

So when I was asked to stand here today, I thought, yes! I want to embrace this ritual. I want to take my dad’s yahrzeit as a day to make space for grief.

So, Dad, we’re not going to dodge Yizkor. You made this day all about you and so you will never miss it again. And you’ll get to see Mom, because at IKAR, Neilah always ends with a light show.

Sharon Hall is a television producer, mother of two sons, wife of Todd Ellis Kessler, and proud daughter of the incomparable Marilyn and Monty Hall.

My Shabbat March

Samantha Fuentes.

Shabbat ha-Gadol means the Great Shabbat, and for me, this past Shabbat was truly great.

Many shomer Shabbat teens wanted to take part in the Washington, D.C., March for Our Lives. So they organized a full program and arranged for home hospitality for the many guests.

Last Friday night, I joined the teens for Shabbat dinner. The following morning, they led a special youth service. I was called to the Torah and honored with the reading of the haftarah. I was deeply moved when I came to the final verse: “Ve-heishiv Lev Avot al Banim: The hearts of the parents will turn toward their children (Malachi 3:24).

After services, we began our 7-mile trek to the march. Although large parts of Washington are covered by an eruv, there is a gap of around 10 blocks that is not covered. The teens suggested we connect with a church that might be able to help us and allow us to store our food. Rev. Thomas Bowen of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s office connected us with Rev. Darryl Roberts of the 19th Street Baptist Church.

When we arrived at the church, many of its members came out to greet us.  Rev. Roberts and I embraced and we discovered that we live four houses apart. I know that we will develop a close friendship moving forward.

I felt that every step we took was a mitzvah and a sanctification.

Our synagogue community gathered on the steps of the church with other local churches and we shared powerful words of reflection, prayer and song, led by the children of our respective communities. One of our members told Rev. Roberts that the church was formerly a synagogue and his grandfather had been the rabbi. The church has retained the Stars of David throughout the building as a way of demonstrating respect for the builders of the community. I felt the spirituality of yet another connection with this very special community.

Rev. Roberts and I walked together for the next 3 miles toward the march and bonded over a shared passion to serve as religious leaders. There is so much darkness that has come to the world as a result of gun violence, but if two communities and a rabbi and a pastor can come together, it represents a brighter path for the future.

I don’t remember exactly which speaker made me cry at the rally, but tears ran down my face multiple times. The most moving moment was watching Samantha Fuentes, one of the Parkland shooting survivors, excuse herself to throw up onstage.   But as the crowd cheered her on, she immediately bounced back and continued her speech. I felt inspired by her dedication and commitment to never give up.

Following the march, we gathered at a local building for snacks. J. David Cox, the president of the American Federation of Government Employees, arranged for us to have a room to hold afternoon prayers and Torah study, and he took part in our study session. The topic was “Pesach and Civil Disobedience.” The teens spoke passionately about the need to raise a voice when there is an unjust law. I felt inspired to be in the presence of such an amazing group of teens. I know now, more than ever, that our future is bright.

The Shabbat ha-Gadol Torah portion speaks of how Moshe had to place the blood of an offering on the toe of his brother, Aaron, the Kohen Hagadol (High Priest). One of the teens, Coby Melkin, said this was to show that true service of God sometimes requires walking to do a mitzvah. I felt that every step we took was a mitzvah and a sanctification of the far too many souls who have been brutally murdered as a result of gun violence.

The grim statistics about gun violence are scary and depressing. But I left this Shabbat ha-Gadol excited and inspired. We have a new day in D.C. The parents are turning toward the children. The future is bright.

Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld is the rabbi of Ohev Sholom — The National Synagogue in Washington, D.C.

TABLE FOR FIVE: Five Takes on the Weekly Parsha, Vayakhel-Pekudei

Screenshot from YouTube.

PARSHA: Vayakhel-Pekudei, Exodus 35:1-3

“These are the things that the Lord has commanded you to do: On six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Lord; whoever does any work on it shall be put to death. You shall kindle no fire throughout your settlements on the sabbath day.”

Rabbi Susan Leider
Congregation Kol Shofar, Tiburon, Calif.

What kind of death does someone die if they don’t observe Shabbat? Isn’t this just the kind of verse that you don’t want to read in the Torah? You’re at a bar or bat mitzvah with a bunch of people who don’t usually find themselves in the synagogue and you shrink in embarrassment, saying, “What kind of a tradition would enshrine this harsh decree in its holy books?”

There are some who would read this literally: Break Shabbat and you die. But we know that we don’t live in that kind of world. God is not coming down from on high and smacking us when we pick up our iPhone on Shabbat or smiting us when we go to the mall on Saturday afternoon. So what is going on here?

God is a partner, Shabbat is date night. Like Moses at the burning bush, we get an invitation to dance with God. But we must turn aside from our work so that we don’t miss the holy invitation, for if we miss it, it doesn’t come our way again until next week. That moment dies — along with all that, it could have made possible. We move on and another week begins.

When we work without ceasing, a part of us dies. But when we wake up to the potential of Shabbat — the possibility of a loving partner, the opportunity to be swept off our feet by the grandeur of a beautiful world, the renewal of our breath, a sacred meal shared in the company of those we love — we choose life. Choose Shabbat. Choose life.

Rabbi Mel Gottlieb
Academy for Jewish Religion, California

Shabbat, a gift from eternity, is the unending source of inspiration, creativity, ideas and meaningful visions bestowed upon us by the Eternal. Each soul is blessed with inner qualities intended to be woven into the world and added to the garment of creation.

Each living being brings a meaningful story to the world and participates in its cycle of collapse and renewal, ready to redeem the world, moment by moment. Behind all the roaring and confusion of this world, the living spirit of the Eternal waits to be found again and again. This is Shabbat.

The Talmud (Berachot 56) calls Shabbat a gift, “1/60th of the World to Come.” It is a day of rebalancing, of remembering that our true, holy purpose is to connect to the soulful reality of our existence. We get caught up in our daily duties and forget that these endeavors are a means to an end. To forget and neglect that we are working toward holiness is to risk the death of our soul. This day is given to us to remember why we are here.

Some attain rebalance through the Sabbath meal and song, through prayer and learning Torah. Others by walking along the ocean.

The Torah also teaches that when we sit around our Shabbat tables, “we should not light a fire in all our dwelling places” — that is, not lose our tempers, not spread words of hatred that light fires of strife, but keep our balance, which spreads peace and joy on this holy day.

Rabbi Cantor Alison Wissot
Temple Judea

Shabbat is arguably one of the most precious and most protected aspects of being a Jew. It seems absurd that given the benefits, we’d have to persuade anyone to keep this unique and holy gift.

Shabbat is special and holy because in one fell swoop, it connects a Jew to God, Torah and Israel. At its core is humility, a midpoint between arrogance and humiliation, a deep understanding of one’s place in the world. We do not control the universe and we need to acknowledge that regularly. We also deserve time to contemplate and celebrate our existence.

Shabbat creates enforced moments to learn Torah, ethics, values — the things that make us better. It enables a real community to come together, not merely people who are friends, or who are like-minded. This is for everyone, whether you like them, whether you agree with them or not. Clearly this is good for society.

Why then, does it need to be framed in such caustic and horrible language?

Human nature is such that we will always find ways to do what is not good unless somehow we are held accountable. With accountability, human beings rise. And even if we can allow an individual to slip, we cannot let the needs of society slide. It is fundamental to the Jewish world that at least once each week, society is immersed in training our character and studying our ethics.

Shabbat needs to be not only observed, but protected, for the good of our world.

Daniel Stein Kokin
Visiting assistant professor of Jewish and Israel Studies, UCLA

Imitation of God’s rest, reminder of the Exodus, marker of God’s consecration of Israel — the Torah’s explanations for Shabbat vary widely. Here, by contrast, its seeming sole purpose is obedience to divine decree. And here — uniquely — a specific injunction against the kindling of fire supplements, the oft-repeated prohibition on work. What sparks this?

Fire is arguably the critical physical interface between God and the world. With fire, God commenced creation (is light not fire at its root?), first communicated with Moses, and guided the Israelites in the wilderness. Similarly, with fire, he blocked off Eden, destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, and consumed Aaron’s sons (for offering, of all things, “foreign fire”). We, too, address God through fire, formerly via animal sacrifice, now through ritualized candlelighting (ironically, in light of this passage, to mark the onset of Shabbat). And thanks to fire, we re-create the world to serve our needs and desires. In short, fire is a divine substance we have somehow acquired (the ancient Greek explanation: Prometheus stole it from Olympus).

Fire can be physically deadly, but no less dangerous is its ability to seduce us into thinking away our limits. Might this be the key to this passage’s teaching?

Perhaps instead of allowing us to imitate God, or celebrate our relationship with God, Shabbat highlights the great chasm between us. Six days we “play” divinity in transforming creation; on the seventh, we acknowledge our folly in doing so.

Or perhaps this is but one further explanation, fated to converse and compete with all the rest. Fire away!

Rabbi Daniel Bouskila
Sephardic Educational Center

Parashat Vayakhel opens with Moses gathering the entire community and instructing them to observe Shabbat. He immediately follows this with the full instructions for building the Mishkan (the Tabernacle). From this juxtaposition of Shabbat to the Mishkan, talmudic tradition established a relationship between the two.

The rabbis read this Torah portion like architects and artists, breaking it apart into different categories and genres of labor. They derived a total of 39 forms of labor needed to build the Mishkan, and they ruled that these 39 forms of labor are, in fact, the prohibited labors on Shabbat. But is Shabbat observance exclusively defined by a list of prohibited labors?

The prophet Isaiah articulates God’s vision for what we call the “spirit of Shabbat”: “If you shall refrain from pursuing business on My holy day, and declare Shabbat a delight … and shall honor it, not doing your own ways, nor pursuing your own business, nor speaking of vain matters —  then shall you delight yourself in the Lord” (Isaiah 58:13-14).

Isaiah outlines an expanded vision for Shabbat: In addition to refraining from the 39 labors, we cease from pursuing our mundane business. In the words of Abraham Joshua Heschel, “The essence of Shabbat is completely detached from the world of space. The meaning of Shabbat is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on Shabbat, we try to become attuned to holiness in time.” Shabbat remains our greatest gift from God.

Male Hysteria

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

At a recent Shabbat dinner, my host launched into a diatribe over a “two-page story” in The New York Times which allegedly argues that Picasso’s art should be ripped from museum walls due to his treatment of women.

“That’s censorship!” my host declaimed.

He mixed in other metaphors to describe his feelings about the #MeToo movement, equating it to “burning down forests and cities.”

I’m not sure how a few men losing their jobs is the same thing as a forest fire, but I got the subtext of his symbolism: He’s panicked.

We’re only a few months into probably the most significant public reckoning over sexual misconduct in history and already we’ve heard alarms bells ring over a female-driven “sex panic.” More and more we hear people cautioning that the #MeToo movement has gone too far, even though few of the predatory and powerful men who have been outed and ousted from their positions of public honor have actually been charged with a crime.

Nevertheless, all these angry, vengeful women are steering society into very dangerous waters: I mean, censor Picasso?

“That’s what the worst communist and fascist regimes in history did to the art of their day,” my host said. “Is that what you want?”

When a newspaper article about one of the prevalent social issues of the decade provokes comparisons to Stalinist communism, I’d say such a reaction is a sign of male panic.

After dinner, I tried to look up the article in question, but couldn’t find it. “Picasso + New York Times” yielded a story about the portraitist Chuck Close, whose show at the National Gallery of Art in Washington was recently postponed due to sexual harassment allegations. That piece explored the question of what to do about the artwork of artists who have behaved badly — including Caravaggio, who was accused of murder.

But the article my friend was referring to —  “Shock of the Nude” by Holland Cotter — wasn’t an article about Picasso at all (which explains why I couldn’t find it) but an art review of the career retrospective of artist Carolee Schneemann.

In it, there are about five lines relevant to Picasso (his name is mentioned only once) in which Cotter muses:

“Which modern misogynist will be yanked from museums next? Gauguin? Picasso? I say, sure, why not? Let’s set them aside for awhile, give them a rest, make room for what we never see, which means art by almost any woman you can name.”

The rest of the article is devoted solely to Schneemann’s work, but let’s discuss that first paragraph: “Set them aside for awhile” is hardly a declaration of censorship. Rather, Cotter is suggesting we take a break from the artists we’ve worshipped for forever in order to make room for artists we’ve been unable or unwilling to see.

Without having read the article, I suggested as much at dinner but my host couldn’t hear it. His hysteria over the changing tide caused by the #MeToo movement blinds him to the truths being revealed.

The only reason there isn’t a female Picasso is because she was ignored, spurned, ridiculed, marginalized, not given the opportunities of her peers and relegated to the dust bin of (art) history. As Amanda Hess wrote in a different article for the Times, “[Male artists’] offenses have affected the paths of other artists, determining which rise to prominence and which are harassed or shamed out of work.”

While it is true some outstanding female artists managed to break through in that man’s world — including Frida Kahlo, Mary Cassatt, Louise Bourgeois, Marlene Dumas and, indeed, Carolee Schneemann — far too many more lived, and continue to live, in obscurity.

It is mostly the art of men that adorns the walls of the world’s great museums — from the Louvre to the Prado to the Uffizi — even as the bodies of women are splashed onto their canvases and offered for the viewer’s pleasure.

These realizations don’t have to be threatening. No one is saying, “Burn Picasso’s paintings.” They’re saying, let’s use this unique moment to take a break from our patriarchal myopia to see and celebrate something new.

And I say, sure, why not?

What’s Happening in Jewish L.A. Jan. 12-19: MLK Shabbats, Conversos and Lectures on Israel

Rabbi Joachim Prinz and Martin Luther King Jr.



In honor of Martin Luther King Jr., Shomrei Torah Synagogue is holding a tot Shabbat service led by Cantor Jackie Rafii and Education Director Adrianne Pasternak. “I Have a Dream”-themed artwork by children will decorate the worship space. Service, 6–6:30 p.m.; catered Shabbat dinner, 6:30 p.m. Dinner: adults $18, kids free. Shomrei Torah Synagogue, 7353 Valley Circle Blvd., West Hills. (818) 854-7693. stsonline.org.


The 2014 documentary film “Joachim Prinz: I Shall Not be Silent,” about the German-American rabbi, civil rights leader and Zionist activist, screens at Adat Ari El synagogue. Kabbalat Shabbat service, 6 p.m.; dinner (RSVP required), 7 p.m.; screening, 8:15 p.m. Dinner, $21. On Jan. 13, an afternoon discussion explores Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s contributions to the civil rights movement. 1 p.m. Free. Adat Ari El, 12020 Burbank Blvd., Valley Village. (818) 766-9426. adatariel.org.


Shabbat Spark, an inspirational Shabbat service at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, celebrates a year of social justice study at the shul. Sixth- and seventh-grade students lead Shabbat alongside the Soul Singers and the Shabbat Spark Band. Dinner follows the service. Live stream at tebh.org/livestream. 6:15 p.m. Free. Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, Corwin Family Sanctuary, 300 N. Clark Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 288-3737. tebh.org/sparkdinner.


Kol Tikvah Associate Rabbi Becky Hoffman, Cantor Noa Shaashua and musical guests Dr. Dee and the Sacred Praise Chorale participate in services in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. 6:30–8 p.m. Free. Kol Tikvah, 20400 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills. (818) 348-0670. koltikvah.org.


Rev. Ben McBride, co-director of PICO California, the largest multiracial, faith-based community-organizing network in the state, shares his motivational message of peacemaking and transformation: What does it mean to celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. in today’s political and social moment?  Open your heart and mind to prayer, song, words of the Torah and the prophetic call to do justice in our time. 7:30–9 p.m. Free. Leo Baeck Temple, 1300 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 476-2861. leobaecktemple.org.


The Ted and Hedy Orden & Family Friday Night Live welcomes Rabbis Nicole Guzik, Erez Sherman and Jason Fruithandler; Cantor Marcus Feldman; Rev. John-Paul Foster; poet Rick Lupert; and musicians Craig Taubman, Aqua Marina and the HB Barnum Life Choir for a celebration of the iconic civil rights leader. 7:30 p.m. On Saturday, the Feit Family Shabbat Live welcomes Pastor Mark Whitlock, the COR AME Choir and actor Stuart K. Robinson for a special event. 10:45 a.m. (Services begin at 8:45 a.m.) Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 474-1518. sinaitemple.org.


Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities honor the vision of Martin Luther King Jr. with an evening of music, mutual respect and peace. Participating congregations are Temple Aliyah, St. Bernardine of Siena Parish, the Word of Encouragement Church, the Greater Zion Church Family, the Ezzi Masjid Center and the Islamic Society of the West Valley. 8 p.m. Free. Temple Aliyah, 6025 Valley Circle Blvd., Woodland Hills. (818) 346-3545. templealiyah.org.


Itzhak Perlman.

Renowned violinist Itzhak Perlman shares a wide-ranging program as both conductor and soloist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The musical program features Bach’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Brahms’ “Variations on a Theme of Joseph Haydn” (opus 56A) and Elgar’s “Enigma Variations” (opus 36). 11 a.m. Also 8 p.m. Jan. 13. Tickets $20–$215. Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 850-2000. laphil.com.


Jonathan Davis, vice president for external relations at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel, and a military veteran, will discuss the Jewish state at a Shabbat service lecture. Davis, who was educated at Columbia University and Hebrew University of Jerusalem, served on the Syrian-Iraqi border during the Yom Kippur War. Co-sponsored by the Jewish Journal. Free. Service, 9:30 a.m.; lecture, 11:30 a.m. The Beverly Hills Hotel, 9641 Sunset Blvd., Beverly Hills. Limited seating; RSVP is urged at info@beverlyhillssjc.org. (310) 276-4246. beverlyhillsjc.org.


Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, and C.S. Lewis, the British novelist and Christian apologist, talk about God, sex and the meaning of life in “Freud’s Last Session” by Mark St. Germain. Starring Monty Rayner and Martyn Stanbridge; directed by Robert Mandel. Tickets start at $45. 8 p.m. Through March 4. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda, Los Angeles. (310) 477-2055, ext. 2. odysseytheatre.com.


Devin Villarreal

Temple Ramat Zion’s Adult Education and Breakfast Program presents Rabbi Devin Villarreal, chair of the Jewish Studies department at deToledo High School, who will discuss ways to create a school environment that fosters Jewish commitment, meaning and growth through the implementation of rigorous and soulful curricula. $13. Breakfast, 9 a.m.; program, 9:30 a.m. Registration requested. Temple Ramat Zion, 17655 Devonshire St., Northridge. (818) 360-1881. trz.org.


Julie Whiteman

The documentary “Challah Rising in the Desert: The Jews of New Mexico” premieres in Los Angeles at the Skirball Cultural Center. In the film, the braiding of the challah bread is a metaphor for the five waves of settlement of the New Mexico Jewish community, including conversos escaping the Spanish inquisition 400 years ago, German Jewish pioneers of the Santa Fe Trail in the 1800s, and Jews in the 1960s seeking the counterculture of New Mexico’s unique landscape. A Q-and-A follows with director Isaac Artenstein and co-producer Paula Amar Schwartz — along with a sampling of green chile challah. 3 p.m. General admission $12, full-time students $8. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500. skirball.org.

“ROE AT 45”

The National Council of Jewish Women Los Angeles (NCJWLA) presents reproductive justice advocate Dr. Willie J. Parker, recipient of the 2013 Physicians for Reproductive Health Dr. George Tiller Provider Award and Planned Parenthood’s 2015 Margaret Sanger Award. The doctor will be the featured guest speaker at a program illustrating the experiences of women seeking abortions and the legal, financial and personal barriers they face. Free. RSVP required. 5–7:30 p.m. NCJWLA Council House, 543 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles. ncjwla.org.


Julie Whiteman, who with her husband, Brian, appeared on a Season 5 episode of “Shark Tank” to pitch their idea about Groovebook, will discuss how they got their idea, how they launched their business — acquired by Shutterfly for $14.5 million — and the behind-the-scenes secrets of the reality TV show that features aspiring entrepreneurs. Sponsored by the Woodland Hills chapter of JNET, a business networking organization for the Jewish community. More than 250 business professionals, entrepreneurs, owners and representatives from companies all over Los Angeles are expected to attend. Appetizers and desserts served. Free. Reservations required. 6–8:30 p.m. Temple Aliyah, 6025 Valley Circle Blvd., Los Angeles. jnetjanuary.com.


Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, an Israeli activist and attorney who has led the legal fight against the financing of terrorism, anti-Israel boycott campaigns and the “lawfare” tactics utilized against Israel, participates in a book signing and lecture at the Beverly Hills Jewish Community. Co-sponsored by the Jewish Journal. Book signing, 7 p.m.; lecture, 7:30 p.m. Free. Private home adjacent to The Beverly Hills Hotel. Limited seating; RSVP is urged at info@beverlyhillsjc.org. (310) 276-4246. beverlyhillsjc.org.


Steven Windmueller, professor of Jewish communal service at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, discusses the American Jewish community and President Donald Trump. The lecture is part of a three-part series designed to explore key factors shaping American Jewish life for future decades. 7:30 p.m. Free. Temple Beth Am, 1039 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 652-7353. tbala.org.


Daniel Weingarten

Writer, comedian and actor Daniel Weingarten brings to the stage his fresh, multicultural (Mexican, Argentine, Jewish) perspective about his life and the world at large. $18 (two-item minimum). 18 and older. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., show at 8 p.m. Hollywood Improv, 8162 Melrose Ave., Hollywood. (323) 651-2583.  hollywood.improv.com.

What’s Happening in Jewish L.A. Jan. 5-11: Special Shabbats, Film Screenings and Lectures

An event honoring Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. will take place on Jan. 11.


Naomi Levy

A soulful monthly Shabbat service with the Nashuva community takes place in Brentwood. Led by Rabbi Naomi Levy, wife of former Jewish Journal Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman, Nashuva (Hebrew for “return”) is a congregation of Jews committed to spirituality and social action. Services feature a live band, meditation and the embrace of a welcoming and accessible environment. Zimmer Children’s Museum staffs onsite and concurrent programming for children. An oneg Shabbat with treats follows. Attendees are encouraged to dress casually and wear white in honor of Shabbat. 6:45-8:30 p.m. Free. Brentwood Presbyterian Church, 12000 San Vicente Blvd., Los Angeles. nashuva.com.


Lev Eisha, a community of Jewish women, holds a joyous Shabbat musical celebration for Jewish women. Rabbi Toba August, Cindy Paley and Joy Krauthammer lead the service. A Kiddush follows. Though the service is for and led by women, all are welcome. 9:30 a.m. Free. Beth Shir Shalom, 1827 California Ave., Santa Monica. (310) 575-0985. leveisha.org.


“The Women’s Balcony”

Temple Beth Am screens the Israeli dramatic comedy “The Women’s Balcony” as part of the synagogue’s film series. In the film, an accident during a bat mitzvah celebration leads to a gender rift in the devout Orthodox community in Jerusalem. Producer, writer and film historian Michael Berlin participates in pre- and post-screening conversations. 7:30 p.m. $12. Temple Beth Am, 1039 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 652-7353. tbala.org.


Revital Goldreich, an award-winning artist who is in the process of earning a master’s in interfaith relations from the Academy of Jewish Religion, California, teaches how to make stained-glass windows to Shomrei Torah Synagogue members and their friends. Participants learn the four steps to the art: cutting, grinding, coppering and soldering. Goldreich cuts the glass and organizes a production line to grind, copper and solder the glass. The four-hour workshop is limited to eight participants. Ages 18 and older. Through March 25. $36 (first time in the studio), $18 (second time in the studio), free (third time in the studio). 1-5 p.m. Revital’s Studio, 20643 Quedo Drive, Woodland Hills. (818) 458-9389. stsonline.org.


Jewish Genealogical Society of the Conejo and Ventura County founding member Werner Frank discusses the small world of Jewish genealogy and the rationale behind the claim that all Ashkenazi Jews are at least 30th cousins. 1:30-3:30 p.m. Free. Temple Adat Elohim, 2420 E. Hillcrest Drive, Thousand Oaks. (818) 889-6616. jgscv.org.


The New Hollywood String Quartet & Friends will honor the 100th birthday of the late Rose Engel with an afternoon of music by Schubert. A reception with light refreshments will follow. Presented by the Rose & Edward Engel Music Commission. 2-4 p.m. Free; RSVP is requested. David Familian Chapel, Adat Ari El, 12020 Burbank Blvd., Valley Village. (818) 755-3480, ext. 244. adatariel.org.


Anthony Bourdain

Producer Anthony Bourdain’s “Wasted! The Story of Food Waste,” an exploration into why 1.3 billion tons of food is thrown away each year, screens at Kehillat Israel. Celebrity chefs including Bourdain, Massimo Bottura and Dan Barber appear in the 2017 documentary film. A free dinner kicks off the event. A panel discussion follows. 6:30-8:30 p.m. Free. 16019 W. Sunset Blvd., Pacific Palisades. (310) 459-2328. ourki.org.


“116 Cameras”

Would you jump from a 10-meter-high diving board for the first time for $30? Swedish filmmakers Maximilien Van Aertryck and Axel Danielson worked with this premise in their 16-minute documentary short, “Ten Meter Tower.” What drives the participants more: the fear of the plunge or the fear of missing out? This film, along with two other documentary shorts contending for best documentary short subject at the Academy Awards, screen at the Museum of Tolerance. The other films are “116  Cameras,” director Davina Pardo’s 16-minute film following Holocaust survivor and stepsister of Anne Frank Eva Schloss’ effort to preserve her story interactively, and director Garrett Bradley’s “Alone,” a film about the American prison system tearing apart a family. A discussion follows with New York Times Hollywood reporter Brooks Barnes and Van Aertryck, Pardo and Bradley, the films’ directors. 7 p.m. Free (advance reservations required). Museum of Tolerance, 9786 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 772-2505. museumoftolerance.com/opdocs.


Nina Lichtenstein

Nina Lichtenstein shares stories from her book, “Sephardic Women’s Voices,” which traces the lives and writings of contemporary Jewish women born in North Africa who migrated to France. The author explores the meaning of their Sephardic heritage, their roles as women and their experience of exile. There will be an excerpt reading, interview and Q-and-A with the author. Light refreshments served. Books available for sale. 7-9 p.m. $10. The Braid, 2912 Colorado Ave., #102. Santa Monica. (310) 315-1400. jewishwomenstheatre.org.


Paul Koretz

Join a discussion about current events with Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz, who represents the Fifth District, as he talks about key issues and challenges facing the community. Open to the public. A brief Q-and-A will follow. 1-2:30 p.m. Free; registration is required at (323) 937-5900. JFS Freda Mohr Multipurpose Senior Center, 6310 San Vicente Blvd., Suite 275. jfsla.org.


Can intermarriage be transformed into an opportunity for the Jewish community or is it a threat to its survival? Sinai Temple Rabbi Erez Sherman moderates a panel discussion on one of the greatest issues facing the Jewish community. Participants are Rabbi Brad Artson, dean of rabbinic studies at American Jewish University, and Rabbi Aaron Lerner, executive director of Hillel at UCLA. Their discussion explores intermarriage from different points of view and addresses a number of critical questions: What are its implications for individual Jews, families and the community? Can the trend of an increasing number of Jews marrying outside the faith be reversed? Everyone welcome. 6:30 p.m. Free dinner for Sinai Temple Men’s Club and Sinai Temple members; $10 for nonmembers. Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 474-1518, ext. 3340. sinaitemple.org.


Shulem Deem

Some observant Jews integrate elements of secular society into their lives. Others keep the outside world at a safe distance. During tonight’s Shalhevet Institute discussion, “Rethinking Insularity: The Role of Boundaries in the Modern World,” Shulem Deen, author of “All Who Go Do Not Return,” and Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam in Monsey, N.Y., discuss the challenges facing their communities. Abigal Shrier, a writer on Jewish affairs, moderates. 7:30 p.m. Free. Shalhevet High School, 910 S. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 930-9333. shalhevet.org.


Make meals for those in need of healing with Sinai Temple’s social action committee, sisterhood and Sinai Temple Rabbi Nicole Guzik. Ingredients and supplies for cooking soup will be provided. If you can’t join in on the cooking but are willing to drop off soup at someone’s house, contact Guzik. Adults and children ages 10 and older are welcome. 7-9 p.m. Free. RSVP at (310) 481-3234 or nguzik@sinaitemple.org. Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. sinaitemple.org.


Pressman Academy alum and Milken Community Schools Jewish studies teacher Joshua Krug discusses “My Jewish Generation: A Portrait of Millennial Jewish Identities in the USA.” Krug opens up about his personal journey from Beth Am in the 1990s to a doctoral study in Jewish education while he reflects on the state of his Jewish generation. By sketching a loose map of his generation, he will shed light on what is happening to Judaism and Jewish identity in America today. 7:30 p.m. Free. Temple Beth Am, 1039 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 652-7353. tbala.org.


Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

An interfaith event celebrates the birthdays and legacies of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, partners and friends in the fight for civil rights. Choirs will perform, faith leaders will speak, and participants, including those from Stephen Wise Temple, Bel Air Presbyterian Church and Faithful Central Bible Church, will reflect on King and Heschel’s contributions to humanity. 7:30 p.m. Free. Stephen Wise Temple, 15500 Stephen S. Wise Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 476-8561. wisela.org/kingandheschel.

Shopping for Votes: The Haredi-Ben-Gurion Alliance

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

On Jan. 1, Israel’s governing coalition suffered a blow: It could not find the majority needed to pass the so-called Supermarkets Bill, which is intended to give the Interior Ministry the power to decide whether a city can allow the opening of stores on Shabbat.

The Haredi Shas party has been demanding such a law, claiming that Supreme Court rulings have changed the sacred “status quo” on Shabbat observance. But some of the coalition parties do not approve of the bill. They dislike the idea of clashing with Israel’s secular voters over the sensitivities of a Haredi party.

On the morning of Jan. 1, in an attempt to convince the larger Israeli public that the law is required, Deputy Minister of Finance Yitzhak Cohen found an unlikely ally. Holding a sheet of paper, he gleefully read aloud from an old letter without revealing the identity of the writer. “Do you know who wrote this?” he then asked.

That Shas finds Ben-Gurion a useful ally is thus not as surprising as you’d think.

It was not a well-known rabbi, a Torah scholar or a Haredi sage. Shas was relying on an atheist to make its point: Israel’s founder, David Ben-Gurion. The letter, dated January 1936, was sent to a group of young pioneers — members of a kibbutz. They worked on Shabbat, and Ben-Gurion was pleading with them to stop.

“There is a need for a mandatory day of rest,” Ben Gurion wrote.

The leaders of Shas likewise believe that such day can be mandatory.

That an Israeli Haredi party uses Ben-Gurion to make its case is a positive sign — a sign of normalization, of the gradual Israelization of Haredi Israelis. Also, Shas leaders have a point. In many ways, their approach resembles Ben-Gurion’s — not necessarily on the specific issue of how Shabbat ought to be observed, but rather on the issue of uniformity versus diversity.

It is often an overlooked aspect of the debate on Shabbat, but the law currently on the table makes it hard not to notice: The debate about Shabbat is also a debate about other issues — such as the power of the state to control and dictate the culture of a country, and to control how localities behave.

It is these aspects of the debate over Shabbat that exhibit the intellectual incoherence of both proponents and opponents of the law.

Shas leaders — the initiators of this legislation — are happy to impose their cultural preferences on cities in which a majority of residents are secular. But they cry foul if a government attempts to impose its cultural preferences on Haredi cities. For example, if the government tries to force the city of Bnei Brak to open its roads to Shabbat drivers; or when it tries to force Haredi schools to include more “secular studies” such as math and English in their curricula.

The same is true as one examines the coherence of the law’s opponents. They want localities to have the freedom to open stores on Shabbat but insist on their right to impose a certain curriculum on Haredi schools. They want everyone to have the right to decide what to do on Shabbat but support strict regulation of culture by the state when they deem it important (one recent debate concerns the right of a right-tilting TV channel to broadcast news as it desires).

That Shas finds Ben-Gurion a useful ally is not as surprising as you might think. Ben Gurion wanted uniformity for many good reasons — to have a sense of community, to establish the power of the state, and to bring together a collection of people from different places and cultures. But he also wanted it because he was the one to decide what uniformity meant. In his time he called the shots, so uniformity, in most instances, meant that everybody did what Ben-Gurion said.

Today, as an important member of the ruling coalition, Shas has the power to call some shots. It can strive to achieve, on some issues, a Shas-type uniformity. So yes, you can call it “preserving the status quo.” But the real name of it ought to be: Where you sit is where you stand.

Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.

Make L’chaim, Not War

I was startled awake from my Shabbat afternoon nap by the sounds of sirens and shouting coming from the Jerusalem street outside the apartment my wife and I were renting for a few weeks during the summer of 2015. Was it a terror attack? An accident?

Any kind of commotion is a magnet for me. I have spent most of my life walking into potentially volatile situations to see how I can help, both in my countermissionary and Jewish outreach work, and in my work as a police chaplain and a reserve law-enforcement officer.

I rushed down six flights of stairs and up the hill to the nearby intersection. Immediately, I saw that this was no terror situation. On one side of Rechov Neviim, just across the street from the Bikur Cholim Hospital, about 150 bearded men dressed in all manner of black coats and hats swayed, chanting one word in a trancelike state.
“Shabbos! Shabbos! Shabbos!” they screamed.

Across the street, about 70 young secular Israelis, dressed in shorts and tank tops, brandished signs and chanted slogans protesting the infringement on their rights to use public transportation, shop or eat in restaurants on Saturdays.

It turned out, the protestors were regulars, fighting over how Shabbat would be observed in the public spaces of Israel — a battle that ratcheted up again recently when the Supreme Court ruled that Tel Aviv grocery stores could open on Shabbat.

In 1947, David Ben-Gurion came to an agreement with Orthodox rabbis that stipulated that public transportation would be closed on Shabbat, and municipalities could legislate which businesses could open. In Jerusalem, nearly all businesses are closed on Shabbat, and there are frequent and loud demonstrations over the status quo.

Since I founded Jews for Judaism 32 years ago, to counter deceptive proselytizing efforts targeting Jews, I have learned that what pulls people into cults is the warmth, love and community they offer. And what pulls people back to Judaism is the warmth, love and community we can offer. Coercion, manipulation and protests don’t move any minds or spirits.

So that Shabbat afternoon, I approached the Charedi side of the protest.

“Gut Shabbos,” I said to them, speaking in Hebrew and Yiddish. “Instead of chanting, ‘Shabbos,’ why don’t you say ‘Gut Shabbos,’ or ‘Shabbat Shalom?’ Show the chilonim [secular Israelis] what is beautiful about Shabbos.”

As if I didn’t exist, this extremist fringe of the Charedi community continued their mantra.

So I walked over to the secular side.

“Shabbat Shalom!” I screamed above the din. “Anyone who wants to see what Shabbat is really about please follow me to my apartment, a half a block away, for some good food and conversation. We’ll enjoy Shabbat, instead of standing here fighting about it.”

A few minutes later, I began to walk down the hill to my apartment. I turned around, and to my surprise about a dozen young secular Israelis were following me.

“Dvora,” I announced to my wife as we walked in, “we’re going to need a few more chairs, and all the food we have.”

I have spent most of my life walking into potentially volatile situations to see how I can help.

Dvora was unfazed, since we have hosted hundreds of people at our Shabbat table over the years, from Jewish Hari Krishnas to Jews of all ages eager to learn about their heritage. We pulled out pita, hummus, Moroccan fish, salads, drinks, chocolate rugelach — whatever we had. I also brought out a few bottles of good scotch.

The conversation flowed, as did the l’chaims. I shared some of my crazy stories about the people I’ve encountered and helped — religious and nonreligious, Jews and non-Jews. I wanted them to see that Judaism is about loving every Jew, and indeed, every human being.

A few hours later, long after the demonstration on the street had dispersed, we walked our guests out. They thanked us, saying they now had a new impression of Orthodox Jews and of Shabbat.

When I see the violent protests going on in Israel today, most recently related to Charedim being drafted into the military and protests over train construction on Shabbat, I know that anger and force won’t turn hearts and minds. And while these complicated issues won’t be solved over a spontaneous l’chaim, either, I know — given the mission of Judaism to make other lives safe, better and more meaningful — that it’s a step in the right direction.

Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz resides in Los Angeles and is the founder of Jews for Judaism.

How Do You Say ‘Wishbone’ in Hebrew?

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

If an American holiday falls on the Jewish calendar, does it make a sound? That’s a question we American immigrants ask ourselves annually with the coming of Thanksgiving.

Ahh, Thanksgiving. That special holiday, rich with delicious foods unknown to most of humankind, commemorating a story that none of us over here can seem to remember. As an expat living in Israel, on no other day do I feel more American. No longer am I the Jewish kid in the public school cafeteria, trying to explain why my people eat a roll substitute made of “matza farfel”. In November, I become the American immigrant who defends the practice of adding marshmallows to yams (and pumpkin spice to coffee).

And why wouldn’t you? What is Thanksgiving, if not a day to stuff your face in the presence of loved ones? That’s a question I get every year from my Israeli friends.

Yossi: “Ehhh, Benji, so waht eez Tenksgeeving?”

Me: “So the Pilgrims came to Plymouth Rock…..and they met an Indian named Squanto….although he wasn’t from India….and then they had a big feast with the Indians….and at some point, umm….I think they…kinda killed them all through genocide and disease….(long pause)….hey, who wants cranberry sauce?!

(Under my breath) “I really need to look this up before next year.”

Anyway, who has time to explain? There’s a meal to prepare! At least for those Americans who step up to embark on a wild goose turkey chase through Israeli supermarkets. As Dorothy told Toto, we’re definitely not in Kansas anymore. At this time of year, the immigrants come out of the woodwork seeking community and shopping tips.

Even if the unthinkable were to happen and you weren’t to find cranberries, life would go on, right? As long as you have a turkey, which is its own adventure. Since Israelis don’t buy whole turkeys, you have to make a special request to the supermarket or butcher (a week in advance to be safe) and ask them not to cut it. You might pay three or four hundred shekels (make sure you’re seated before converting that to dollars) AND you might even discover that your Israeli oven doesn’t fit a big bird. Hey, nobody said life was easy.

No oleh (someone who makes aliyah) remains 100% American so it’s fitting that we put our own Israeli twist on the day. Since Thanksgiving is a normal Thursday here, its proximity to the weekend means we all just push it back a day and celebrate Friday night. Voila…Shabgiving! If it’s your custom, you can begin with the traditional Sabbath prayers or if you’re the creative type, you can make up your own, like “hamotzi stuffing min ha’turkey”. (Note: To this date, no one has ever actually done this.)

Actually, Thanksgiving dinner would be more fun if we ran it like Passover Seder. You want pumpkin pie? Go find it.

A Shabbat meal is always nice but let’s not lose focus: tonight is about the traditional holidays foods: turkey, stuffing, green beans, pumpkin pie, and more. Which brings us back to the yams, marshmallows, and bending over backwards to explain to the locals why a country with such expensive health care would ever eat them together.

And speaking of the locals: just as our Israeli friends open their doors to us for holiday meals, it’s only fitting that we do the same and welcome them to our feast. Keep in mind that they’ll be confused and bewildered by our bizarre food combinations. So why waste them on their unappreciative palettes? Give them some oatmeal and a taco shell and they won’t know the difference. “This is our traditional food, Sivan, which our forefathers have eaten for thousands of years. Now turn to page 45 and lead us in the bracha over the 4th cup of gravy.”

Jokes aside, it’s a great time. So maybe we don’t have the Macy’s Day parade, the Cowboys before 11 PM, or the proverbial crazy uncle who you only see once a year and argue politics with. This country is tiny, you can see him every weekend if you want (or send him daily texts through the family WhatsApp group).

What we do have is a few hours of camaraderie, community, and a chance to remember the traditions of where we came from and how delicious it tastes. And just remember: no matter how many carbs you ingest, you’ll burn them off running around town for cranberries.

Happy Thanksgiving!

This column originally appeared in Dallas Jewish Monthly. 

Joan Nathan Makes a Shabbat Meal Infused with Weed

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

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

So what was served?

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom.

Watch the episode here.

SOUL BITES: Highlights from Shabbat Sermons

Photo from Pixabay.

Rabbi Ari Lucas, Temple Beth Am

In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein revelations that the Hollywood mogul had serially abused women sexually, and repeatedly created situations where women saw themselves as having to choose between submitting to his unwanted advances or give up any hopes of a career in Hollywood; in the wake of all the publicity his actions were getting, many women have taken to social media and posted: “MeToo”. And the floodgates opened.

In Parshat Noah, God opens the floodgates of the heavens in response to the corruption He witnesses on Earth. The text tells us vatimalei ha-aretz hamas – the land was filled with hamas. We’re not certain what the word hamas means in the Bible. In other contexts, it appears to mean corruption or injustice. Ibn Ezra, a medieval commentator on the Bible claims that hamas refers to stealing and “taking women by force.” According to his interpretation, some kind of sexual violence leads God to regret at having created the world such that God chooses to start over with one family.

The way we speak and behave are reflections of the choices we make. The earth may continue to be filled with hamas – way too many stories of sexual violence. But God has promised never again to purify the land with floodwaters, so the responsibility falls to us – the rainbow after the storm – to do the work of pursuing justice and uprooting evil from our land. Let’s continue that work together.

Rabbi Mordecai Finley, Ohr HaTorah

This week’s Torah portion, Noah, has a verse that has become a foundation for the spiritual and mystical approach to prayer. In Genesis 6:16, we find God saying to Noah, “Make a tzohar (light) for the teivah(ark).” The Hebrew word “tzohar” has two basic interpretations in the Talmud: “radiant gemstone” and “skylight”, but they both mean “a source of light.”

Jewish commentators have creatively mistranslated the word “teivah” in Genesis 6:16, that refers to Noah’s “teivah” (ark), as “word”, so that we can read this verse “put a light in the ark” as “make a light for the word.”

The Baal Shem Tov teaches that when one places the radiant light of consciousness into a word of the prayer book (or any sacred text, for that matter) one perceives “worlds, souls and divinity.”  The letters, the pronunciation of a word of the prayer book or the Bible, are a vessel that holds an inner depth.

I think that one must first have some experience in a contemplative practice so that one can reach deep within. We have to be able to create that skylight of consciousness to illuminate the hidden chambers of holy words.

And we must take the time to enter into the holy books like a spelunker. It is dark in there, and the journey inward is tough, and maybe boring, but then you detect that the atmosphere has changed. You find yourself in this cavern, thick with souls, words and divinity.

Rabbi Gabriel Botnick, Mishkon Tephilo

Most people forget it’s there, but at the end of Parshat Noach is the story of the Tower of Babel.  The Torah states that for many generations after the flood, the people of the world were unified in both language and matters – namely, building a tower to challenge the heavens.  God – worried there’d be no end to human achievement if this trajectory continued uninterrupted – decides to confuse the people, “so that no one would understand the language of their fellow” and thus cease being so productive.

However, the Hebrew word for “language” is “Safah”, which can relate to a culture’s unique language or the collection of words a person speaks. And the word for “understand” here is “Shama”, which is more often translated as “listen.”  With this in mind, one could translate this line so that it reads “no one would listen to the words of their fellow.”  In other words, God knew the best way to keep us from achieving greatness would be by having us not listen to one another.

We often get so caught up in our own narratives that we fail to listen to the narratives of others.  As Jews, our tradition teaches us that no one should go to bed hungry, sleep without a roof over their head, or suffer without medical care.  However, as humans, we may differ in how we prefer to achieve these goals. Imagine how much more we could achieve if we saw the Tower of Babel not as a punishment, but as an invitation:  if we actively listen to one another, nothing can stop us from achieving whatever we desire.

Helena Lipstadt (Guestspeaker), Beth Chayim Chadashim

A rainbow always comes as a surprise. Usually after rain and when the sun comes out. What do you say when you see a rainbow? “Wow,” “it’s unexpected,” “magical,” “beautiful.”

Ten days ago I was in Poland. It rained nearly the whole time I was there. My friends and I were walking around in the drizzle and suddenly we turned around and saw a rainbow in the sky behind us. Wow! The rainbow made us feel happy and hopeful.

This was my sixth trip to Poland in six years. It is the place my family comes from. In the middle of the 20th century, Poland was the site of an enormous flood of anti-Semitism. The Polish Jewish community was almost completely destroyed in this flood, including my grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins. There was no ark to hold this community.

I never expected to find rainbows in Poland but I did. The rainbow – an ineffable combination of fire and water – is shocking in its possibilities. It is once again a sign of change, of hope, of beauty. A surprise, when it appears. Everything depends on our being able to see it. See it and remember our time of floating together above the flood in one, life-saving ark.

Rabbi David Wolpe, Sinai Temple

I’m going to talk about Harvey Weinstein.

We read this morning the story of Noah, which by the way, if you read the verse carefully, is in part about sexual immorality. But we don’t know the name of Noah’s wife. It isn’t until Abraham comes along that [Sarah], the female partner is named. Just as the female partner is named in the original intention of creation with Adam and Eve and then somehow falls out of the picture. And that is a lesson, both in how easy it is to erase and how important it is to restore. About how often through history women didn’t have names and voices and position and power, and what that can mean.

When you sexually violate someone, you are taking part of the core constituent of their identity, part of their soul and saying it’s yours and not theirs. Remember the biblical word for sex is yada – to know – to know someone. So what are you saying when you violate them? “I know you. And you’re worthless.”

When you have monsters of ego and desire, it is our responsibility as Jews, as human beings, not to just laugh over stories like this or have a prurient interest or to read about them because after all it’s interesting, but to be outraged and to speak up and to say how wrong it is.

It is a long way from Noah’s wife to Sarah. We are the children of Sarah. It is our job to teach that to the world.

Rabbi Sharon Brous, IKAR

It strikes me this year is maybe what’s happening is that the story of the tower of Babel is coming to drive home the lesson of Noah, that there’s power in community but the real danger comes from uniformity. It comes from when we’re all so busy working for some greater goal that we’re silent when we see things happening along the way that are cruel, that are indecent, that are simply wrong.

The world sometimes finds itself upside down. Sometimes what’s normative is what’s wrong. And what’s right is to stand up and to speak out against whatever that pervasive culture is. Whether that culture is in the White House or whether that culture is in the studio offices.

This is incredibly hard to do because these challenges sometimes lose us friends, and they sometimes lose us our jobs. They sometimes lose us opportunities and deals. But resistance is built into the Jewish ethical and moral and religious system.

We’ve seen over the last few weeks exactly what’s at stake when everybody knows what’s happening but few, too few, are willing to speak about it. We’ve seen the dangers of silent complicity. The Torah of Noah is that it’s not enough to just stay decent and to not join in to the evil.

It’s not enough to just be good in times like these. We also have to find the courage to defy God, to defy colleagues, to defy authorities, to defy anyone who’s willing to contribute to the normative practices that are so toxic in our current climate.

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

Photo courtesy Arianna Huffington.

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.

Massive Shabbat Dinner On Pico Boulevard Canceled After Las Vegas Shooting

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

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.

Your child’s Jewish identity can flourish in Los Angeles

Photo courtesy of PJ Library

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.

Events in Los Angeles: Week of Sept. 14

"Hot mess kitchen"



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.


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



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.


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.



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.


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.


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.



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 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.

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

Yaniv Cohen. Photo courtesy of Yaniv Cohen

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: Stepping forward for Marines and Judaism

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

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.”

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

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

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.”

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

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)

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.”

A moment on silence for Don Rickles

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,


PBS cooking host Pati Jinich’s Mexican-Jewish Passover

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

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.


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.


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.


– 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.

Jared and Ivanka Can Give Shabbat A Rest – Or Not

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
 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.”

Invite a Muslim for Shabbat

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

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.