September 22, 2019

Sweet New Year Recipes From Molly Yeh

Whether she’s planning menus for her family or her Food Network series, “Girl Meets Farm,” Molly Yeh likes to work backward. “I usually start with the dessert, because that’s what gets me the most excited,” she said. 

Yeh also has a soft spot for challah, the first of her Jewish mother’s recipes (her father is Chinese American), which she learned to make when she moved out on her own. Just in time for Rosh Hashanah, she shared two recipes that will get your New Year off to a sweet start.

Baked Challah French Toast
6 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup whole milk
2/3 cup part-skim or whole-milk ricotta
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
6 large eggs
1 lemon, zested and juiced
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
12 thick-sliced (3/4- to 1-inch) day-old challah bread slices
1 cup frozen blueberries
Powdered sugar, for serving

Combine the brown sugar, cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg in a small bowl and mix to combine. Set aside.

In a large bowl, add the milk, ricotta, vanilla, salt, eggs and lemon zest. Whisk to combine and set aside.

Pour the melted butter in a 9-by-13-inch casserole dish. Dip each slice of bread lightly in the egg mixture and shingle the bread in the casserole dish, sprinkling a large pinch of the sugar mixture on each layer.

Pour the remaining egg mixture on top of the bread and then pour the remaining sugar mixture on top. Cover with aluminum foil and refrigerate for at least 6 hours and up to overnight.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Bake the casserole for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake until the custard is set and the bread is golden brown, an additional 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, add the blueberries and lemon juice to a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat until the berries burst and thicken and the sauce begins to bubble, about 15 minutes.

When ready to serve, spoon blueberries over the center of the casserole and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Molly Yeh’s Chocolate Sea Salt Rugelach , as seen on Girl Meets Farm, Season 3.

Chocolate Sea Salt Rugelach
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup unsalted butter, cubed and cold
8 ounces cream cheese, straight from the fridge
2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract, optional
Egg wash (1 large egg beaten with splash of water)
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips or chopped chocolate
Flaky salt, for sprinkling
Sprinkles, sanding sugar or turbinado sugar, for sprinkling

Combine the flour, granulated sugar and salt in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.

Add the cubed butter, distributing it all over the top of the dry ingredients, then dollop in cream cheese (1-inch dollops should do it, but it doesn’t need to be perfect).

Turn on mixer at low speed and mix until the ingredients are mostly mealy and there are still some larger clumps of butter and cream cheese intact.

With the mixer still running, add the egg yolks, vanilla and almond extract, if using, then continue mixing until the dough comes together.

Divide the dough in half and shape into 2 discs. Wrap each tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 2 days.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler, stirring constantly, or in a microwaveable bowl in 30-second increments, stirring after each. Set aside to cool briefly while you roll out the dough.

Make the egg wash. Roll out a dough disc on lightly floured surface, dusting with flour as needed to prevent it from sticking, until it is a wide rectangle, 18-by-9-inches.

Use an offset spatula to spread half of the chocolate over dough in a thin even layer, leaving a 1-inch border along the long edge that’s farthest from you. (Try to work quickly so the chocolate doesn’t harden.)

Brush the border with a thin layer of egg wash. Starting on the long end closest to you, roll the dough into a long, tight log, then place it seam-side down on a cutting board or baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough and chocolate.

Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 2 days (depending on fridge space, you might want to cut the log in half so there are four shorter logs instead of two long ones; wrap in plastic if refrigerating for longer than 1 hour).

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Brush logs with thin layer of egg wash, then sprinkle with a few pinches of flaky salt and lots of sprinkles or sanding sugar.

Cut into 1 1/2-inch slices and transfer to the baking sheets, spacing them 1 inch apart.

Bake until golden brown on top, about 24 minutes. (You might notice that the cookies seem to sweat and leak some fat while in the oven; this is completely normal.)

Let cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely, or enjoy them warm! Fully cooled cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for several days.

“Girl Meets Farm” airs at 11 a.m. Sundays on Food Network. The “Jewish New Year” episode premieres Sept. 22. 

This factory makes thousands of shofars each year

Some of the thousands of horns lying around the Kol Shofar factory in the Golan Heights on Sept. 6. Photo by Andrew Tobin

Shimon Keinan has a business to run. He doesn’t have time to teach you how to blow the shofar.

But if you come all the way to his Kol Shofar factory here, Keinan is going to make sure you walk away with the horn that’s right for you.

“What should I do?” he explained to JTA. “If someone is going to blow one of my shofars on Rosh Hashanah, I have to make sure he doesn’t fail.”

Even now, in the busy weeks ahead of the Jewish New Year, Keinan spends much of his day helping customers pick a shofar — and how to make it sound just right. It may not help his financial bottom line, but it keeps him attuned to a higher calling.

On a recent weekday morning, Keinan, 70, was reviewing shofar orders when a family of seven showed up. The husband, Dror Yoggev, took the day off from work and made the several-hour drive from central Israel to buy his first shofar.

“My father-in-law said not to go anywhere else,” he said.

Sorry, Keinan said, but he could not possibly find the time to help at the moment. Why didn’t Yoggev call ahead?

Yet minutes later Keinan, whose work uniform consists of a denim apron and a black leather cap, was rummaging through boxes of shofars in the back of the factory.

“According to your skin color, you probably want a Yemenite shofar,” Keinan said, offering Yoggev a spiraling, unpolished kudu horn, the type traditionally used by the Yemenite Jewish community. (A kudu is a type of African antelope.)

Yoggev explained that while his parents are from Yemen, he would be blowing the shofar at the Ashkenazi synagogue of his wife’s family and thus was looking for the kind of shiny ram’s horn preferred by European Jews.

“So yalla,” Keinan grunted, heaving a box of dozens of ram horn shofars onto the table in the storage room. “If it takes more than 15 minutes to pick one, you’re doing something wrong.”

Over the next couple of hours, Yoggev blew shofars while Keinan offered guidance and criticism: “Chin up. Chest out. Blow from the center of your mouth, not the side.”

In the end, Yoggev settled on a medium-sized ram horn with a small mouthpiece.

“It suits that strange game you play with your lips,” Keinan said. “Now I have to get back to work.”

For Keinan, running Kol Shofar is the fulfillment of a lifelong obsession. He likes to say he was born with a shofar in his hand. But in reality, his parents, who immigrated to Israel from Morocco in 1949, when Keinan was a baby, never had enough money to buy him one. He learned to blow the shofar as a child at his Orthodox synagogue in Tiberias, a small, working-class city on the Sea of Galilee, and he built his own out of a funnel and tubing.

Shimon Keinan watches as a customer, Dror Yoggev, blows a shofar at his Kol Shofar factory, Sept. 6, 2017. (Andrew Tobin)

Dropping out of school at 16, Keinan worked as a welder and was finally able to save enough money to buy a real shofar, which he blew every Rosh Hashanah at his synagogue as well as at the nearby Ashkenazi one. After marrying, he moved to Givat Yoav in the 1970s, where he built a metal workshop that doubled as a turkey farm and raised four children.

In the 1990s, Keinan got a chance to turn his passion into a profession when his rabbi introduced him to an elderly shofar maker in Jaffa who wanted to retire. For two years, Keinan drove to the man’s factory twice a week, more than two hours each way, to learn his techniques. In 1998, he turned the turkey farm into a shofar factory.

Today, Kol Shofar, which still looks a bit like a farm, with thin metal walls and concrete and dirt floors, is one of just two in Israel — the other being the much older Bareshet-Ribak Shofarot Israel, which has locations in Haifa and Tel Aviv.

Keinan said he sells about 7,000 shofars a year, at least 90 percent of them mail orders. Half are sold to Israelis, he said, while most of the rest go to Jews in the United States and Europe. Among his clients are famous Israeli rabbis, he said, including current Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef. The  months between Tisha b’Av and Sukkot are his busiest time of year.

According to Keinan, the hardest part of producing shofars is obtaining the raw materials. Every two or three years he travels to Africa to buy ram and ibex horns. He gets the ram horns — by far the most popular shofar material because of their recommendation by the Jewish sages – from his native Morocco, where millions of the animals are ritually slaughtered every year for the Muslim festival of Eid.

Shimon Keinan and son Hanan posing for a photo at their Givat Yoav factory, Sept. 6, 2017. (Andrew Tobin)

At the moment, the shofar factory is packed with thousands of horns. They fill boxes, shelves and shopping carts; some are heaped in huge piles on the floor. Keinan estimated that he has 20,000 ram horns, 2,000 kudu horns and a few ibex horns on hand. The ibex horns are rare because they come from Israel, where the wild goat is protected. An ibex horn shofar costs about $1,000, compared to about $100 for a ram horn.

Some 15 years ago, Keinan’s son, Hanan, 42, started accompanying his father on his Africa trips. Soon thereafter, he returned to Givat Yoav with his wife and children to join the family business full time. Along with his father, he handcrafts every shofar the factory produces. Three other employees help run the factory and the office.

While the younger Keinan acknowledged that he cannot match his father’s passion for shofars — and he’s also not religious, he added — Hanan has helped upgrade Kol Shofar’s production process with new techniques and machines.

Kol Shofar’s first two steps for producing shofars are family secrets, but they involve treating the horns to remove the gamey smell and applying heat to straighten them. After that, the narrow end of the horn is sawed off, a hole is drilled in the end and a special tool is used to expand the hole into a mouthpiece. The last step is buffing and shining the exterior.

Hanan Keinan has also pushed to expand the factory’s tourist business —  in recent years, he and his father paved the driveway and built a visitors center, parking area and restrooms. Some 7,000 people took tours of the factory last year, which at about $9 per person is a significant new revenue stream.

But while his son may have a head for business, Shimon remains the heart of the factory.

“He’s not afraid to give visitors a hard time, but when it comes to shofars, he has a serious desire to deliver knowledge and perfection,” Hanan Keinan said. “I think that is a big part of the reason our shofars are really the best.”

Approaching the Jewish New Year

Reuters/David W Cerny

This week, as we enter the final months of the Jewish year, we begin to read the Book of Deuteronomy, the fifth and final book of the Torah. Deuteronomy is primarily devoted to Moses’ farewell address, which he delivered to the Jewish people shortly before his death and their entry into the Land of Israel. It records his words (Devarim, in Hebrew) of rebuke to the Jewish people over various incidents that took place during their 40 years of wandering in the desert, and the lessons they must learn from their mistakes.

There are, in fact, two intertwined and overlapping strata of content in Moses’ farewell address. The first comprises his exhortations to the Jewish people to remain loyal to God; the second is a review of much of the legal subject matter contained in the preceding four books. Although we might expect the first type of material to appear in a farewell address, why was it necessary to rephrase so much of the legal material that had been clearly stated before?

Another striking feature of Deuteronomy is its literary form. Unlike the preceding books, Moses now speaks in the first person. The phrase we have heard continuously in the preceding books—“And God spoke to Moses, saying…”—is almost entirely absent from Deuteronomy.

The Talmud (Megilah 31) teaches that although Moses transmitted the first four books from God verbatim and Deuteronomy “in his own name,” nevertheless, even in the latter case “the Divine Presence spoke from his mouth” (Zohar 3:232a). In other words, Deuteronomy is no less Divine than the first four books of the Torah, but whereas the first four books are God’s words transmitted directly by Moses, Deuteronomy is God’s words transmitted through Moses. But if this is the case, why the sudden change in literary form between the first four books and the final one?

The answer to both these questions hinges on the fact that this book is addressed to the generation that will enter the Land of Israel. The abrupt change in lifestyle—from a nation of nomads sustained by God’s supernatural protection into a nation of farmers who must work the land—called for a practical restatement of God’s hitherto abstract teachings. The generation of the desert had been nourished with miracles, beginning with the ten plagues and the Exodus from Egypt, through the Splitting of the Sea, to the revelation at Mount Sinai, the manna, the well of Miriam, and the protective Clouds of Glory. Their perspective on life had thus been elevated to a level quite above and beyond the ordinary; God’s normally invisible hand in nature had become a manifest reality for them. They were thus able to relate to the Torah in a concomitantly abstract, spiritual way, and that is how it was transmitted to them. All of this was about to change. God’s hand in the parameters of day-to-day life was about to become veiled in the garb of nature.

This transition was a natural and essential part of achieving God’s purpose on earth: to transform it into a spiritual place, in which not nature but God is understood to be the driving force. In order for the façade of nature to be torn away, humanity, led by the Jewish people, had to now invest itself into the natural order and, in that context, retain consciousness of God, revealing the infinite within the finite.

This is why it was necessary for the Book of Deuteronomy to be transmitted in the first person. By communicating the message of Deuteronomy via the voice of Moses, God was telling us that even while remaining faithful to the Torah’s objective truth, we must see its subjective relevance to every individual and in every generation. In this sense, the first-person narrative of Deuteronomy indicates not a lesser Divinity than the other four books but a greater one.

Thus, as we prepare to conclude the present Jewish year and embrace the coming year, the Book of Deuteronomy is a lesson in keeping the Torah alive and relevant, the means by which we can begin the yearly cycle of studying the Torah on a new level of understanding. By ensuring that the Torah remain eternally relevant, we can read it from an always deeper, fresher, newer perspective, and thereby continually deepen, freshen, and renew our relationship with God.

_______

Rabbi Chaim N. Cunin is Director and General Editor of Chabad House Publications and Associate Rabbi at the Beverly Hills Jewish Community, which meets weekly at the Beverly Hills Hotel. For more information, visit BeverlyHillsJC.org.

Adapted from the newly-released Kehot Chumash, published by Chabad House Publications and based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson. Available online at www.kehot.com.

Easiest. Rosh Hashanah dinner. Ever.

Some people take great pride and pleasure in planning their Rosh Hashanah menus for weeks or months in advance, chugging away at kugels and cakes and soup to put in the freezer. I know my grandmother and Aunt Ruth both did their High Holidays cooking all summer so they would be “ready.”

But not everyone cooks for 20 people or enjoys the toil and preparation of holiday cooking for weeks on end. And for those people, this simple menu is for you.

Traditional Jewish New Year flavors of apple and pomegranate can show up in unexpected places — like sangria, which is a perfect, easy choice for entertaining, since you can make a large batch and chill until ready to serve. And even a simple roast chicken becomes special for the holiday with an apricot mustard makeover and crispy roast potatoes.

You can keep your preparations and flavors simple while serving up a sweet, delicious and deceptively impressive spread for family and friends.

APPLE POMEGRANATE SANGRIA

Apple Pomegranate Sangria

Sangria is the perfect drink to serve for Rosh Hashanah – it’s supposed to be sweet and is perfect paired with two traditional flavors of the holiday. You can use whatever wine you have lying around, or change things up with red wine if you prefer.

Ingredients:

1 bottle white wine such as sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio (or moscato if you like very sweet wine)

1 cup pomegranate juice

4 ounces vodka (optional)

1 lemon, sliced

1 apple, cored and sliced

1 1/2 cups ginger ale or club soda

Pomegranate seeds (optional)

Directions:

Place sliced apple and lemons in a sealable container. Add 1/2 cup pomegranate juice, 1/2 cup wine and vodka (optional). Allow to sit overnight in the fridge.

When ready to serve, place fruit and liquid in a large carafe. Add remaining wine and pomegranate juice. Top with ginger ale or club soda to your liking. Serve chilled or with ice.

Optional: For an extra special presentation, make pomegranate seed ice cubes by adding a few seeds into each section of an ice cube tray. Fill with water or pomegranate juice and freeze overnight. When ready to serve, add 1 or 2 ice cubes in each guest’s glass, or all the ice cubes to the carafe of sangria.

SHEET PAN APRICOT DIJON CHICKEN WITH BRUSSELS SPROUTS AND POTATOES

Sheet Pan Apricot Dijon Chicken

Sheet pan dinners are all the rage this year and with good reason: Throw all your ingredients on one large sheet pan and then pop it in the oven. Your cleanup is reduced without sacrificing any deliciousness. This recipe can easily be doubled to feed a larger crowd.

Ingredients:

1 whole chicken

1 pound small red or Yukon gold potatoes, halved

1 pint Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved

1/4 cup apricot jam

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon brown sugar

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons orange juice

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

6 garlic cloves

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Cut chicken along the backside, removing spine. Flatten and lay on top of sheet pan.

In a small bowl, mix together apricot jam, mustard, brown sugar, olive oil, orange juice, salt and pepper.

Spread around three-quarters of the seasoning mixture on top of and under the skin of the chicken; reserve one quarter.

Spread potatoes on one side of the pan, brussels sprouts on the other. Drizzle potatoes and Brussels sprouts with olive oil, salt and pepper. Add whole, unpeeled garlic cloves to the tray, alongside the potatoes and brussels sprouts.

After 30 minutes, check on Brussels sprouts and, if caramelized to your liking, remove and set aside. Toss potatoes to ensure even cooking and place back into oven for another 25-30 minutes.

Remove from oven and spread remaining seasoning on top of chicken. Cut chicken into quarters and serve immediately.

PUFF PASTRY BAKED APPLES

Puff Pastry Baked Apples

Growing up, baked apples were a tradition in my house. This dessert looks impressive but is actually easy to execute. Serve with sorbet, vanilla ice cream or whipped cream for an extra sweet start to the new year.

Ingredients:

2 sheets puff pastry

4 Gala apples

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup margarine or butter

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ginger

Pinch fresh nutmeg

Pinch fresh ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup raisins

1 egg, beaten

Sanding sugar (optional)

Directions:

Take puff pastry out of freezer and allow to sit at room temperature 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 F.

In a medium bowl, mix together margarine (or butter), brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, clove and salt. Add in raisins and mix.

Peel and core each apple, leaving apple intact but with a cavity for stuffing. Stuff sugar-margarine mixture inside each apple.

Cut each sheet of puff pastry in 2 pieces (there should be 4 pieces in total). With a rolling pin, roll each rectangle piece gently, stretching puff pastry so it is slightly larger.

Sit each stuffed apple in middle of puff pastry. Fold puff pastry up and over apple until completely covered, trimming excess pieces. (Optional: Using extra puff pastry, carve decorative small leaves to place on top.)

Brush each wrapped apple with beaten egg. Top with sanding sugar if desired.

Bake for 28-32 minutes until golden and juices are just beginning to run.

Serve warm.

After the Iran vote, now what?

Is it over?

Recently, during a KPCC radio talk show about the Iran deal, the host, Patt Morrison, asked me whether, now that President Barack Obama has the 34 votes he needs to support the Iran nuclear agreement, the rancor and vitriol within the Jewish community that marked the debate over it would subside. 

Honestly, I wish I knew the answer.

The truth is, the debate has opened up some wounds that are going to take some time to heal, assuming they will heal. We knew this day of reckoning would come, and the vote would go down one way or the other, but we acted as if the only thing that mattered was winning the fight, not how we’d live together after it ended.

“We were so busy fighting about days one through 60,” Rabbi Aaron Panken, the head of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion told me — referring to the number of days before the congressional vote — “we haven’t really thought about what happens on day 61.”

I suggest that on day 61, in the spirit of the Jewish New Year, we take a breath and take stock. This, it seems to me, is where we are:

First, we are divided. Right after the deal was announced in July, Jewish leaders, here and in Israel, proclaimed that the Jewish world stood united against it. This moment, they said, was a rare instance of 13 million Jews, one opinion. But shortly after that pronouncement, the Jewish Journal conducted a national poll that revealed a majority of American Jews favored congressional support for the deal by a wide margin — 53 percent to 35 percent. That revelation changed the conversation. It showed a significant political and ideological rift among American Jewry.

Second, it is now clear no single voice represents the Jews. As the debate intensified, mainstream American-Jewish organizations lined up against the deal in concert with the Israeli government. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee led the charge. The Anti-Defamation League also said no, albeit with a slightly more nuanced approach, as did the American Jewish Committee, and numerous local Jewish Federations all weighed in against it. Dueling petitions from hundreds of rabbis, competing op-eds and those pesky scientific polls showed there is a disconnect between the organized and, for lack of a better word, the disorganized Jewish worlds.

Third, a critical aspect of this schism is age. The Jewish Journal poll reported that Jewish adults under 40 supported congressional approval of the deal 59 to 25 percent. This next generation is going to take a long, hard look at organizations and leaders that speak in their name, and spend their donations, but don’t share their views.

Fourth, it is important to be clear who crossed the lines of civility and who didn’t. On Aug. 28, The New York Times ran a misleading article headlined, “Iran Deal Opens a Vitriolic Divide Among American Jews.” The reporters listed numerous examples of vitriol from those who oppose the deal. They wrote that longtime Israel supporter Rep. Jerrold Nadler had been called a “kapo” for siding with the president. The deal’s opponents, they wrote, also held rallies denouncing the pro-deal lobbying group J Street as traitors, and Obama as a terrorist. 

As for the other side, the reporters found that they … appealed for civility. There has been no equivalence to the meanness of tone and foulness of language expressed by what is, to be sure, a minority of the deal’s Jewish opponents. We have a vitriol problem, but the name-calling comes largely from one side. 

Fifth, our divisions are nothing new. Let’s not treat this like it’s the beginning of the end of Jewish unity. It is more like the continuing expression of historic Jewish disunity. We fought bitter internecine fights over how to react to the Holocaust as it was happening, over the formation of the State of Israel and over the Oslo accords. Those ideological divisions have transferred neatly to Iran. Once this debate is over, we won’t leave the ring, we’ll just go to our corners.  

Sixth, here’s the good news: We tend to fight with our mouths. There have been some anguished exceptions throughout history, but, most of the time, we seem to understand that words may hurt us, but sticks and stones are a lot worse.

Seventh, another thing The New York Times misunderstood is that the debate did not create two sides, but three — and that is a crucial point going forward. Some Jews hate the deal and oppose it. Some like the deal and support it. The third group doesn’t like the deal, but thinks it’s the best of all realistic options. In the Jewish Journal poll, even though a majority of Jews interviewed supported the deal, only 42 percent said they believe it would prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon over the next 10 years. This group views the deal with low expectations, raised suspicions and eyes wide open. 

If there is a way to go forward with some kind of unity, this third group, I believe, holds the key. Those who oppose the deal can stop fighting the reality of it and start pushing, pragmatically, for arrangements to improve security in America, Israel and among our other Mideast allies in the face of it. We need to learn from the Obamacare debate that, at some point, the fight’s just over. 

Or, at least, I hope it is. 

Shanah Tovah.


Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @foodaism.

Will Gaza Pullout Bring Civil Strife?

On the eve of the Jewish New Year, Israel’s national discourse was dominated by talk of potential civil war, but few of those talking dared define the possible dimensions of such a conflict.

Would it mean confrontations between soldiers and civilians? Would it be limited to the extreme margins of the settler movement? Could it really present a threat to the very existence of the State of Israel, as Knesset member Yossi Sarid suggested?

Various groups on the right have sent a clear warning to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that if he moves ahead with plans to dismantle settlements in Gaza next year, he will face the danger of "tearing the nation apart." Sharon, for his part, is showing no signs of backing down, insisting he will push ahead with the disengagement plan and will not be cowed by threats of civil strife. For the time being, it seems, both the extreme right and Sharon are pointing to the danger of civil conflict to serve their own causes.

Tens of thousands gathered at Jerusalem’s Zion Square Sunday night to protest the disengagement, carrying posters calling Sharon a "dictator." Although rally organizers pulled down a sign labeling Sharon a traitor, the event was reminiscent of a similar rally nine years ago against the Oslo process, with demonstrators carrying signs of then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin dressed in a Nazi uniform. Two months later Rabin was murdered.

Also highlighting the depth of the division, dozens of well-known right-wingers — among them Bentzion Netanyahu, father of Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the minister’s brother, Iddo — signed a petition urging soldiers not to obey orders to evacuate settlers, insisting that such an evacuation would amount to "crimes against humanity."

Also, at a meeting between settler leaders and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, the settlers warned that a civil confrontation could take place within weeks. Under certain circumstances, they said, settlers would not hesitate to confront soldiers.

Eliezer Hisdai, mayor of the West Bank settlement of Alfei Menashe, whose daughter is buried in the settlement, said: "If anyone dared touch my daughter’s grave, if someone tried to take her out of the grave, I would shoot him, be it a soldier or the chief of staff."

Nissan Slomiansky, a Knesset member from the National Religious Party (NRP), charged that Sharon and his disengagement plan were "crazy." Despite such statements, NRP was expected to stay in Sharon’s coalition.

But despite such statements, the NRP voted Monday to stay in Sharon’s coalition. And, indeed, some settler leaders refrained from direct calls for confrontation, electing to play it safe. They spoke instead of the danger that others could resort to violence.

At the Jerusalem protest, there was obvious concern that rhetoric could get out of hand. Speeches were toned downed, and settler leaders urged their supporters not to resort to violence and to avert a civil conflict.

Zvulun Orlev, the influential welfare minister from the NRP, sharply condemned anyone threatening civil conflict — though at the same time, he declared that Sharon was wrong in putting all the blame on the settlers.

For now, Sharon is displaying no weakness. At a meeting with Likud activists in Tel Aviv, he declared: "We will go ahead with all our plans. I don’t believe it is possible that the present situation can continue with such hatred and incitement."

He was furious at Cabinet ministers for not standing by him publicly, although they had voted in favor of the disengagement and cautioned this week, for the first time in public, against the danger of a civil war.

The security services are concerned that as the actual disengagement grows closer, the threat of Jew-against-Jew confrontations will become more real. General Security Service sources have spoken openly of the increased possibility that zealots may try and hurt Sharon or attempt to sabotage the mosques on the Temple Mount.

There is genuine concern that Jewish extremists will follow the example of Yigal Amir, Rabin’s assassin, whose single act of violence triggered events that may have resulted in the collapse of the Oslo process.

Israel’s police inspector general, Moshe Karadi, has already instructed his officers to take drastic measures against any "show of incitement." If the verbal escalation continues, the authorities are likely to issue administrative arrest orders against suspects, bypassing the courts.

The administrative detention of right-wing activist Noam Federman, who had been suspected of links to a West Bank settler group that tried to bomb an Arab school in Jerusalem, was extended Monday for an additional three months.

Still, no one knows for sure what the real prospects are for a violent clash between the government and settlers. After all, Israel survived the evacuation of the northern Sinai settlements in 1982.

However, there is always the possibility that continuous talk of civil strife will amount to a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Growing a Shul in Calabasas

It is now two years since I moved to Calabasas to become the rabbi of a new Orthodox congregation. And there is no time like the eve of the Jewish New Year to take stock.

People said it couldn’t be done. Some believed there was not much hope for an Orthodox synagogue in this community bordering the San Fernando and Conejo valleys, where expensive homes pepper the steep hills, because members would have to walk to services, and outsiders would be deterred from moving here because of the high price of housing.

But as a congregational rav 10 years prior, I knew I had never been in a shul that failed to grow dramatically. In my circles, I see a fantastic yearning for Modern Orthodoxy. The yearning comes from two directions: traditional Conservative Jews who lament that their movement abandoned them, and Orthodox laity who prefer the Shabbat-observant Torah Judaism that synthesizes the best of secular culture with the authenticity of Torah values.

Many shuls search for rabbis who are devoted deeply to foundational values of Torah-true Judaism, and who also love what is good, wholesome and valuable in secular culture. Everywhere I have gone, I have seen a positive response to the effort to synthesize Torah values and the world around us. Could it succeed in Calabasas?

Young Israel of Calabasas began with only 10 families. Last year, by Rosh Hashanah, we had grown to 25 families after a year. And this year, as we mark our second year’s conclusion, we have grown to 40 families. Our growth has been noticed. The National Council of Young Israel honored us at this year’s national banquet in New York as one of the most exciting new Young Israel congregations in America. The Orthodox Union nationally honored us as a Synagogue of the Week.

We achieved these distinctions by realizing that, at this moment in time, the "old rules" are not going to work here. Not everyone will sit at a three-hour service. Some people want the rabbi’s sermon more. Some come to pray. Ashkenazim and Sephardim have different prayers, melodies and cultures — and the congregation grows by virtue of their union. Older families — retired individuals who have built congregations and sat on their boards — bring wisdom and one set of life experiences. The group’s largest-growing core — "mid-life" families in their 40s with children in elementary school, high school and even college — arrive with a somewhat different set of needs, priorities and talent sets. And the younger families in their 30s, who are starting to establish themselves in careers and houses and building new families, come with yet other needs, augmented by an untainted idealism.

The challenge for a rabbi who would bring Modern Orthodoxy to a community — from Calabasas to Timbuktu — is to recognize that Jews are not expendable and, although malleable and flexible, cannot be coerced into going where they will not go. This is most challenging. Jews who will not walk but insist on driving to shul on Shabbat — at this moment in their lives — pose a challenge to an Orthodox rabbi. On the one hand, they are not supposed to do that. Yet. Yet.

Yet I ask myself, "Why is this family driving past two Reform temples, three Conservative temples — and a shopping mall — to spend Shabbat morning at an Orthodox shul with an Orthodox rabbi, Orthodox Torah reading and an Orthodox rabbinic message in an Orthodox service?"

And, in several sermons, I have asked that question aloud and tried to understand. These families do not want to shoot an arrow at a wall and then paint a bull’s-eye around where it lands. Rather, they covet a rabbi who will tell them honestly: "Here is the bull’s-eye. Here is Judaism in the Torah’s perfection." And then, little by little, year by year, their archery marksmanship improves. And they really want to get closer to the mark. But they will proceed at their own pace.

There are Orthodox Jews who follow all the mitzvot, pretty much. They are not the drivers. The rabbi teaches, the rabbi cites sources, the rabbi schmoozes and the rabbi needs to know where and when to let the issue rest — for another day.

Much of my job is about validating people: Teaching Ashkenazim the richness of the Sephardic heritage. Who realizes that the Babylonian Talmud that we all study and teach our kids came out of Sephardic Iraq? Teaching that Sephardim gave us the Rambam and Ramban, the Code of Jewish Law and extraordinary foods, melodies and traditions. It is about dealing, on the other hand, with the resistance of certain families from Israel to contribute their equal share to a synagogue, to pay membership dues, to understand that the Senate Religion Committee still has not approved President Bush’s nomination for secretary of churches, mosques and synagogues — so the federal funds are not here, and people have to pay privately for their houses of prayer. It is about understanding the South African preference for Friday night services; the richness of Persian rituals, customs and foods; the unique needs of those who are single or divorced adults, especially on Shabbat; the psychology of Holocaust survivors.

This is the balancing act: for one, understanding the needs of a family in crisis, another questioning whether the congregation is adhering to one rule or another, a third asking that the sermon length be elasticized to assure the same ending time each week, a fourth coming only for the sermon and asking for it to be longer. It is about seeing that the people who come only for the sermon might stay after if a creative Adult Beginners Service is inaugurated. So you inaugurate. It is about seeing that there are 20 children between ages 7 and 13 wasting their time. So you create a Shabbat Youth Service for them, find a new experimental siddur and see the service through. This one wants a newsletter, and that one wants a weeknight Bible class on the Prophets (Nevi’im) that follows the account of the Five Books of the Torah. You add a Talmud class on a second weeknight, and it cuts the Bible class attendance because some of those regulars start coming on the other night instead. So you look at the situation, the people, and you move the Talmud class to Saturday afternoon, in between the afternoon Mincha and the nighttime Maariv service, and you end up increasing the attendance at the service, while restoring the turnout at weeknight Navi class.

Now, as our Young Israel of Calabasas marks the completion of a two-year spurt from 10 to 25 to 40 active membership families, we begin our biggest experiment yet. For two years, we prayed in a private home, not big enough, not enough members to rent nicer space. The nicest space in town is in the Hilton Garden Inn located a 25-minute walk down the hill, at the edge of the town center, The Commons. We know that drivers can get there, but would people agree to do the walk down the hill (and back up again) every week — and pay for the privilege?

This time — not just for the High Holidays but for every Shabbat in the foreseeable future — the Young Israel of Calabasas is leaving the ease and tightness of private quarters atop the hill, and "The Little Shul That Could" is finally going down the hill.


Dov Fischer is rabbi of Young Israel of Calabasas. His Web site is
www.rabbidov.com.

Ready or Not

There is a new High Holiday book on my shelf that I have been avoiding assiduously, if only for the exalted title: "This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared." Rabbi Alan Lew’s book, subtitled, "The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation," reminds me that the summer is ending, and the time has come to prepare for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

"A mindful awareness of our circumstances often makes things worse, not better," Lew writes. "Suddenly aware of problems we never knew we had, we may genuinely feel that we are much worse off than we thought we were; we may feel a sense of urgency, even of desperation, about our plight."

The rabbi says that this is the "emotional basis" of Selichot, "the week of urgent, desperate prayer that commenced approximately three weeks into the process of daily contemplation we began with the blowing of the shofar on the first day of Elul [the last month on the Hebrew calendar]."

For many of us, September — with shorter days, the beginning of the school year and the return to a more regimented schedule — signals a time for inner contemplation, for re-evaluation of our personal goals, accomplishments and the direction our lives are taking.

No matter how you prepare for the High Holidays — whether you recite the traditional Selichot prayers, or whether you simply plan elaborate sweet meals to beckon in a sweet new year — these autumn holidays set us apart from the rest of the world. While they are only busy with back to school, we are also busy with the Days of Reckoning.

More than a personal time of reckoning, the High Holidays bring us together, as a community, as a family and as a nation, to chart our course. With the war in Iraq, a continuing intifada in Israel and anti-Semitism plaguing Europe, this year was a tumultuous one for the Jews; although it was less so than the year prior, when Sept. 11 turned the world upside down. Do you remember how different everything was in 2001?

According to Jewish tradition, now is the time that the events of the upcoming year will be decided. "Who will live and who will die?" we recite in the holiday prayer.

But instead of looking at it with trepidation and avoidance, Lew writes we should look at this time as one of opportunity.

"This moment is before us with its choices, and the consequences of our past choices are before us, as is the possibility of our transformation," he writes.

"On Rosh Hashanah, the gates between heaven and Earth are opened, and things that were beyond us suddenly become possible. The deepest questions of our heart begin to find answers. Our deepest fear, that gaping emptiness up ahead of us and back behind us as well, suddenly becomes our ally. Heaven begins to help us."

Heaven help us all. Shanah Tovah!

Rosh Hashana 5763

So, what do math and Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, have in common. On this day, Jews are supposed to do a cheshbon hanefesh. This literally means “accounting of the soul.” We count up and categorize all the actions we’ve taken, and all the thoughts we’ve had during the year: How many good? How many bad? How many generous? How many selfish? How many useful? How many just a waste of time? Then we decide which actions and thoughts we want to repeat and which we will throw away.

Rosh Hashana celebrates the birthday of the world. The Jewish, or Hebrew calendar follows the cycle of the moon. The English or Gregorian calendar follows the cycle of the sun. Both calendars are divided into 12 months. A leap year in the English calendar happens every four years, when an extra day is added at the end of February. In the Jewish calendar, an extra month is added every three years. And guess what? This year’s Jewish calendar is a leap year! That means that there will be two months called Adar.