Israel’s Phillippino Workers in Gear; What Can We Do From Here?


Rabbi Howard Cohen recommends donating a “ShelterBox.”

— by Rabbi Goldie Milgram

Throughout Israel, workers from the Philippines, who primarily serve as aides and caregivers for the elderly, have organized collections of clothes, blankets and more for donation.

Approximately 39,000 Phillippinos live in Israel, and The Jerusalem Post reported: “The IDF, Foreign Ministry and Israeli and Jewish humanitarian organizations are sending aid workers to the Philippines to provide rescue and relief efforts in the wake of super-typhoon Haiyan.”

Free shipping through a Philippine carrier was organized by The Federation of Filipino Communities in Israel (FFCI).

More after the jump.
So what might those of us in the west best do at this time of crisis? Rabbi Howard Cohen of Burning Bush Adventures recommends Shelterbox, a well-respected option to my attention:

In this charity your donation is very concrete. Shelterbox delivers a box that provides essential items for addressing the issue of temporary shelter and more. The box contains an incredibly durable tent, stove, cooking set, blankets, water purification devices (very easy to use that last for months), some tools to help people rebuild their lives, plus more items. Each box costs about 500.00. The organization has only about a half dozen paid employees, everyone else is a volunteer.

For more general donations, the American Jewish World Service is coordinating a major effort, as is the Red Cross, and many other traditional non-profit and governmental responders, as reported by major news services.

Next Thanksgivukkah in 80K Years? Wrong!

The upcoming convergence of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving is not quite as rare as some have claimed.

Some of our older readers have already celebrated Hanukkah on Thanksgiving, and our younger readers may do so again, despite widespread Internet hoaxes claiming this has never happened before, or that it will not do so for 79,811 years:

Thursday,
November 29,
1888
 2nd Night 
Thursday,
November 30,
1899
 5th Night 
Thursday,
November 28,
1918
 1st Night 
Thursday,
November 29,
1945*
 1st Night 
Thursday,
November 29,
1956*
 2nd Night 
Thursday,
November 28,
2013
 2nd Night 
Thursday,
November 27,
2070
 1st Night 
Thursday,
November 28,
2165
 1st Night 


Fact-checking is very important.

So what has made this fallacy viral, and how does it happen that there were also times in years gone-by with convergences as well?

Some of the fallacy impact came from an article in the Boston Globe which reported a “calculation” that Thanksgivukkah “won’t repeat for another 79,043 years.” They also reported:

The magic struck last November, when Dana Gitell, a marketing specialist at NewBridge on the Charles, a Dedham retirement community, was driving to work.

She knew the holidays were going to overlap this year “because I had seen a list of holiday dates on the back of a Combined Jewish Philanthropies calendar,” recalled Gitell, the wife of Seth Gitell, a former Menino press secretary now working for House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo.

She was mentally running through a list of clunky names for the phenomenon — Hanukkahgiving? — when the more melodious Thanksgivukkah came to her.

Gitell, her sister-in-law, and a friend — an artist with New Yorker covers in her portfolio — promptly designed Thanksgivukkah illustrations and contacted ModernTribe.com, a hip Judaica site. Together, they created products including cards and a $36 T-shirt that reads “Thanksgivukkah 2013: 8 Days of Light Liberty & Latkes.”

An article in Haaretz noted that she did not have permission to use the image she chose and received a cease and desist order on October 5.

More after the jump.
Mathematicians disagree about recurrence dates on their websites, so it does take work to arrive at what seems to be a truly accurate answer. The most helpful site seems to be of the three Lansey brothers, whose blog with correct information was already online in 2012!

These three brothers did historical research on past dates of Thanksgiving, and posted the years listed in the table above when Thanksgiving and Hanukkah overlapped. The years 1945 and 1956 are marked with an asterisk because those were only Thanksgiving in certain states that maintained the date for Thanksgiving adopted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt (and mocked as Franksgiving). That date was nullified in 1941 by an act of congress settling it into the 4th Thursday.

The creator of the Intel 8086 chip, Steven P. Morse, pointed the convergence out on his website back in in 2012, although he did not adjust for the historical differences in the dates of Thanksgiving in years gone-by. He further explains the solar/lunar calendar drift issues involved:

Chanukah-before-Thanksgiving occurred in the past, and with decreasing frequency as time went on, is because there is a slow drift between the Hebrew Calendar and the secular (Gregorian) calendar. That drift amounts to one day every 217 years. So in about 80,000 years it will drift by one full year and we’ll be back to where we started.  At that time we will once again be lighting Chanukah candles at our Thanksgiving dinner.

Jonathan Mizrahi nicely illustrated this drift in the Hebrew calendar:

Understanding the Jewish calendar would require a further article because it is not a strictly lunar calendar. And — this may come as a surprise to some — the Jewish calendar begins with Passover, the original Jewish New Year according to the Torah which requires Passover to occur in the Spring. Originally ensuring the proper alignment of dates and seasons was accomplished through observation-based adjustments:

… when the fruit had not grown properly, when the winter rains had not stopped, when the roads for Passover pilgrims had not dried up, and when the young pigeons had not become fledged. The council on intercalculation considered the astronomical facts together with the religious requirements of Passover and the natural conditions of the country. — Comprehensive Hebrew Calendar, p. 1-2.

But then, in the fourth century, according to Judaism 101:  

Hillel II established a fixed calendar based on mathematical and astronomical calculations. This calendar, still in use, standardized the length of months and the addition of months over the course of a 19 year cycle, so that the lunar calendar realigns with the solar years. Adar I is added in the 3rd, 6th, 8th, 11th, 14th, 17th and 19th years of the cycle. The current cycle began in Jewish year 5758 (the year that began October 2, 1997).

If you are musically inclined, you may find it helpful to remember this pattern of leap years by reference to the major scale: for each whole step there are two regular years and a leap year; for each half-step there is one regular year and a leap year. This is easier to understand when you examine the keyboard illustration below and see how it relates to the leap years above.

It’s nice to note that some of the children alive today will be here for the next Thanksgiving-Hanukkah convergence. May it be so!

Addendum: There are some who wrote well-publicized articles that overlooked the evening overlap of these festivals. Jewish holidays start at sundown and secular holidays start at sunrise. They wrote their articles declaring a never-to-be-repeated event by disregarding the almost 8 hours of convergence the evening before. Which to my mind is odd for Jewish writers to do, given we know that the evening rituals and meals of both Hanukkah and Thanksgiving are the spiritual main events. For Jews, given that sundown is approximately 4:19 pm, we will be lighting our menorahs and then eating our latke-stuffed turkey dinners (or whatever fusions evolve over time) there-after. Evening convergences have happened in the past, and will continue to do, as the table at the article’s beginning demonstrates.

Chag Sameach from Rabbi Goldie Milgram

Test Your Thanksgivukkah Knowledge: Reb Goldie’s Dreidel Quiz

My students ask me, “Rabbi Goldie, just what gives?
Is celebrating Thanksgivukkah really the way a good Jew lives?”

There is only one way I know to decide:
By the dreidel’s spin, you’ll have to abide.

Here is how it works, you should pardon the mention,
of these Five Thanksgivukkah Academic Spin K’vetch-tions:

  1. If your dreidel lands on the Hebrew letter Hey-and you answer correctly, you get to take half the “pot”.

    Is Thanksgiving based on a Jewish festival, and which one?

  2. Should your dreidel land on the Hebrew letter Shin (outside of Israel) or Pei (in Israel) — if your answer is incorrect, half goes back into the pot.

    What was the first of the three miracles of Hanukkah?

  3. If your dreidel lands on the Hebrew letter nun, for a wrong answer, all your winnings go back into the pot.

    Does Hanukkah commemorate the first known dedication of the Temple?
  4. A correct answer when your dreidel lands on Gimel let’s you take everything that’s in the pot.  

    Whose idea was it to make Thanksgiving an American National holiday?

  5. Bonus Question, right or wrong, everything in each person’s pot goes straight into the tzedakah box!

    When is the next time the first night of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving will coincide?

Check your answers and record how well you did after the jump.
1. Is Thanksgiving based on a Jewish festival, and which one?

Some readers may have seen Internet articles suggesting that Thanksgiving originates from the Biblical harvest holiday know as Sukkot. The timing is usually close enough to make this seem plausible.

However, research reported by my colleague Robert Gluck in an article titled Did Sukkot Help Shape Thanksgiving? includes his discussion with Biblical scholar Jonathan Sarna. Sarna, the Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University and chief historian of the Philadelphia-based National Museum of American Jewish History, explained:

The Puritan’s did not believe in fixed holidays. If it was a good season, they would announce a thanksgiving, but it’s not like the Jewish holiday which occurs on the 15th of the month of Tishrei (Sukkot). They did not believe in that.

Sarna then points Gluck to Diana Muir Applebaum, a Massachusetts-based historian who wrote the book Thanksgiving: An American Holiday, An American History. She explains:

The Separatists at Plymouth did not create an annual holiday [of Thanksgiving]. Rather, a holiday that grew in popularity and stabilized into an annual celebration over the course of several decades was later traced back to an event that took place at Plymouth in December 1621.

Applebaum adds:

Puritans accepted the Sabbath but rejected all other holy days in the Five Books of Moses as being given by God for only Jewish observance. The Puritans practice was to declare of day of thanks giving when the harvest was actually good, they did not adhere to regular festivals, it was not their way.

2. What was the first of the (at least) three miracles of Hanukkah?

The original “miracle” of Hanukkah was the collaboration of the tiny handful of remaining religious Jews with the vast number of non-observant Jews of the time to wrest Jewish sovereignty over Israel back from the occupying Syro-Greeks.

A second miracle begins with appreciating the relevance of this text, of Megillat Ta’anit Chapter 9:

During the days of the Greek Kingdom, the Hasmonean [Maccabees] entered the sanctuary, rebuilt the altar, repaired the sanctuary’s walls, replaced the sacred vessels and were engaged in its rebuilding for eight days.

So, we this is one source for knowing they were engaged in purifying the Temple. And the next miracle is that the Hasmoneans, known for their extreme (and later horrifically fanatical) piety, underwent a surprising shift in consciousness. Instead of waiting for the fire to come down from God to rekindle the altar, they lit it themselves.

So where did the idea of the miracle, of the little flask of oil lasting specifically eight days, come from?

Now our story has gone full circle: It could have come from Sukkot!

Another colleague of mine, Brian Field, reminded our rabbinic discussion list last week that this connection can be found in preserved texts that are not part of the Jewish canon. They are collectively known as the Apocrypha.

Of these, a Hanukkah narrative is found in II Maccabees 10 (see The Anchor Yale Bible Commentaries), where the Maccabees:

Celebrated the occasion [of winning back the Temple in Jerusalem] after the manner of the Festival of Tabernacles [Sukkot], and decreed that the eight-day festival in honor of the [Temple’s] purification.

To find the actual documentation of the story of the miracle of the oil lasting, which is given long after the original Hanukkah events, one must roll forward in time to the period of the Babylonian Talmud, where it is introduced in Shabbat 21:

What is the reason for Chanukah? For our Rabbis taught: On the 25th of Kislev begin the days of Chanukah, which are eight, during which lamentation for the dead and fasting are forbidden.

For when the Greeks entered the Temple, they defiled all the oils in it, and when the Hasmonean dynasty prevailed against and defeated them, they [the Hasmoneans] searched and found only one cruse of oil which possessed the seal of the High Priest, but which contained sufficient oil for only one day’s lighting; yet a miracle occurred there and they lit [the lamp] for eight days.

The following year these days were appointed a Festival with the recitation of Hallel [specific psalms] and thanksgiving.

3. Does Hanukkah commemorate the first known dedication of the Temple?

Hanukkah in Hebrew means “dedication,” and shares the same Hebrew root as hinukh, “education.” The rabbinic commentary Midrash-Pesikt Rabbati, chapter 2, offers seven “Hanukkahs,” i.e., points of dedication. Here they are in a translation by Rabbi Judith Abrams:

1. The Hanukkah of finishing creating the heaven and earth, which God observed by “turning on” the two great lights (the sun and moon) in the sky (Genesis 2:1, 1:17).

2. The Hanukkah of completing the wall enclosing Jerusalem (Nehemiah 12:27), observed with lots of singing.

3. The Hanukkah of the successful return from Babylonian captivity (Ezra 6:17), observed with lots of singing and offerings.

4. The Hanukkah of the Hasmonean priests, for which we kindle the Hannukkah lamps, symbolizing their complete victory. The original menorah in this case was probably fashioned from spearheads turned into torches, since the original menorah had been taken away. (See Magic and Folklore in Rabbinic Literature, pp. 34-39.)

5. The Hanukkah of the World to Come (Zephaniah 1:12-1), in which the wealthy and unjust are utterly annihilated by God, accompanied with the sound of crying, this time cries of sorrow, not joy.

6. The Hanukkah of the princes’ anointing the altar (Numbers 7:84-89).  After all twelve princes finished bringing their offerings of silver and gold items, the whole array, clanging mightily, we might suppose, accompanied by the bellowing of the sacrificial oxen, was followed with what one might call, “the still, small voice” that Moses hears from beyond the ark’s cover.

7. And the Hanukkah of the First Temple’s dedication (Psalm 30:1), celebrated with this psalm. (Pesikta Rabbati 2:3)

4. Whose idea was it to make Thanksgiving an American National holiday?

It turns out the idea came from a woman, Sarah Josepha Hale.

Several presidents ignored her missives petitioning for such a national holiday. Before her time, President George Washington held a national day of Thanksgiving, but did so only once. Various states, mainly in New England, had Thanksgiving celebration traditions, but held them on days different to each other.

So which president took Sarah Josepha Hale up on her suggestion?

I first learned the answer from my colleague Seth Goldstein, who shared how Hale, at the time a 74-year-old magazine editor, wrote a letter to Lincoln on September 28, 1863, urging him to have the “day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union Festival”:

You may have observed that, for some years past, there has been an increasing interest felt in our land to have the Thanksgiving held on the same day, in all the States; it now needs National recognition and authoritative fixation, only, to become permanently, an American custom and institution.

She also lobbied the presidents with pressure from her readers.

Our national holiday of Thanksgiving was established in response to her letter and because it served the strategic interests of the President, as the decision came came in the midst of civil war and several months following the Emancipation Proclamation.

He declared Thanksgiving to be a national holiday on October 3, 1789 — 74 years after George Washington, and 243 years after the pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock on December 21, 1620.

Bonus Question: When is the next time the first night of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving will coincide?

The first night of Hanukkah will fall out during Thanksgiving dinner-time in 2070, and then again in 2165.

Previously there were overlaps in 1888, 1899, 1945 and 1956, and since some states would, in days gone-by, use different Thanksgiving dates to the majority of the nation, there were two more overlaps as well. Since Thanksgiving has not always been held on the same day of the same week each year in the past, figuring this out is not as simple as it might seem.

To further complicate matters, those of us sitting down in gratitude to Thanksgivukkah’s latke-stuffed turkey dinners at roughly 4:19 p.m. after the first light of Hanukkah is lit in 2070, may be surprised that Joel Hoffman does not count first night overlaps as valid.

In his late-coming Nov. 24 article, Why Hanukkah and Thanksgiving Will Never Again Coincide Again, he only counts as valid whole days, not erev — “evening” overlaps. From a ritual point of view, that view is hard to swallow.

It is true that after the first night of Hanukkah overlaps of 2165 and 2070, no degree of overlap is presently scheduled to occur for tens of thousands of years into the future. This is because of the gradual drift between the secular solar calendar and our Jewish lunar calendar.

However, Jewish calendar adjustments are made from time to time to ensure Jewish holidays align with their intended seasons, so likely, that too will change. Learn more in our article, Next Thanksgivukkah in 80k Years? Wrong!  

Nu? Did you have a good learning?

Or does it seem somewhat unfair,
when the origin stories we were raised with just do not square?

Where do you stand on this cosmic convergence?
Is it more than just a bonanza for merchants?

For this Hanukkah, may you be blessed,
to have gratitude that we are only spinning a dreidel, for we get to stay dressed!

Chag Sameach from Rabbi Goldie Milgram

The Donkey and the Rabbi: A Story of $98K

— by Rabbi Goldie Milgram

A story found in the Talmud (Talmud Yerushalmi, Baba Metziah, Chapter 2, Halacha 1) recounts how just after a rebbe bought a new donkey, one of his yeshiva students found a precious jewel in a small sack hanging on a rope tied around the donkey’s neck.

The law was that anything that comes with a purchase belongs to the new owners. What would the rebbe do? Accept it as providential good fortune, or return the jewel?

The rebbe taught his student to return the stone, for sometimes one must go further than obeying the law in order to maintain peace.

Life has recreated the dilemma of our midrash this week, with the rabbi who bought a desk and found a bag filled with $98,000 hidden behind a drawer within it.

What would you have done?

Book Review: Zayde Comes to Live

— Reviewed by Rabbi Goldie Milgram

It takes a remarkable soul and talented writer to accomplish the simplicity, elegance and gentle support accomplished in Sheri Sinykin’s award-winning children’s book Zayde Comes to Live with illustrations by Kristina Swarner. Zayde is Yiddish for grandfather and the grandparent does not need to live in your home for this powerful book to have great value. When family dynamics allow for it, the reciprocal love, between a grandparent and a grandchild can be one of life’s most precious and memorable gifts. Even so a great challenge arises for those who live long enough, as the grandfather explains simply and clearly to his little granddaughter:

“My body is getting tired. I know you can see this. Soon that outside part of me will return to the earth.”

The granddaughter responds with the eternal voice of the child to ask: “But what happens to the inside part of you?” It is here that we realize just how tenderly and accessibly the author has come to our rescue in the pages that have lead up to this poignant moment.

More after the jump.
This brief illustrated volume makes it possible to appreciate what the grandfather calls “the cycle of life” in action:

“Now he lives in a sleeper-chair in the living room…He watches squirrels in the trees. And movies on TV. And me….”

Sinykin’s Zayde gives us the perspectives and words we may well need in our mouths for accompanying our family members, and no less ourselves, with dignity and kindness to the very end. Each of the little granddaughter’s observations of Zayde‘s changes in status help us to normalize and accept as living life’s final chapter.

“When we read, he gets out of breath and I say, “It’s okay, Zayde. Let me.”

The granddaughter learns from friends about their traditions’ after death traditions ideas. And she asks her rabbi:

“Is Zayde dying?” I ask him, because rabbis do not lie.”

I love the rabbi’s answer; his name is Rabbi Lev. Lev means “heart” in Hebrew. And when the granddaughter continues, after the rabbi answers, she asks:

“When Zayde dies…what will happen to him?”

Every page is important reading rich in child-appropriate responses and approaches in response to which the granddaughter’s imagination takes off in such healthy and helpful ways. This is a reminder to us how adult-style thinking and worry can get in the way of simply loving and living in each moment. Our souls travel with hers and Zayde‘s.

Time progresses. Zayde sleeps more and more. Sinykin continutes to show us how to relate, with simple inquiry, just like the granddaughter does.

“What were you dreaming about, Zayde?”

The granddaughter’s voice, deliberately nameless, becomes our own.

“‘I don’t want you to die, Zadye.’ Her voice “whispers like his air machine.'”

The grandfather’s response when she says this is perfect. I urge everyone to read this book. It is certainly what I want to be able to tell my grandchildren someday, rooted in shalom, the Hebrew word for peace and completeness.

The author the granddaughter begin to collect memories about her grandfather, while he yet lives. Each step of the way, this read-over-and over-styled book prepares us to create and receive comfort, intimacy and meaning for living. The title, Zayde Comes to Live, contains a pun so beautiful as to immediately inspire us toward a deeper understanding of this time of life.

The only fault with the volume is the opportunity lost by author and illustrator to honor diversity in Jewish families, by reflecting some diversity within the family itself, a Sephardi relative or main character perhaps. Nono is grandfather in Ladino, and nona is grandmother. That said, the illustrations are very accessible windows in and of themselves into heartfelt, thoughtful, healthy exploration for all faiths into this step of the way forward for each and every soul.

Did I mention today is my father’s yahrzeit? Yahrzeitis Yiddish for the annual memorial for a soul’s passing, the Ladino term is nahala. Last night, as is traditional, we lit a memorial candle at home because a single flame is the Jewish symbol for a soul. The candle is burning beside me as I write this review of yahrzeit, which I first read a year ago, when it first came out. Life was too painful to write on this topic then, so soon after several traumatic deaths of loved ones, and not at all the fault of the volume.

It’s not so easy to write when crying — even so, the tears are good tears and the memories of many good times together are beautiful to revisit. I do wish that Zayde Comes to Live would have come out just a bit sooner. Turns out it’s not just for (grand)children.

Woman’s Suicide Reveals Dark Side of Orthodox Jewish Outreach


Deb Tambor, z”l

— by Izzy Eichenstein and Off the Derech Facebook writers

The Off the Derech (off the path of Orthodoxy) Facebook group is for people who have left Orthodox Judaism. I am one of several moderators on the group. This past Friday, one of our members, Deb Tambor, committed suicide. She was 33 and had left the Orthodox community.

What many don’t know is that when you leave Orthodox Judaism for the secular world, and you fight for custody of your kids, you don’t always win. The ultra-Orthodox community turns against you for leaving, and then turns your children against you. That is what happened to Deb.

More after the jump.
Jewish Outreach, or “kiruv” in Hebrew (not to be confused with other meanings, such as the conservative movement trying to be inclusive of couples with mixed marriages), often targets college students and young professionals. Our group exists to educate students and their parents about Orthodox kiruv, outreach professionals, their supporters, their practices, and their motives. Not all are bad — what this article comes to say is that turning parents and children against each other is unacceptable.

The pain and abuse that Deb suffered at the hands of the community was too great for her to bear, and ultimately drove her to suicide. Our hearts goes out to the friends and family of Deb Tambor. Nobody should ever be put through the hell that she endured.

Abandoningeden [screen name], a fellow blogger and friend, wrote:

Deb was a lovely woman who often posted encouraging words to others struggling with leaving the Orthodox Jewish religion, and posted about her own struggles. The last time I heard from her was when she was congratulating me for having a child. And I got to know some details of her life over the years: How she had several children with an Orthodox Jewish spouse whom she divorced. How her own father testified against her in the child custody case because she was no longer religious, and she lost custody of her children. How her children were told negative things about her because she was no longer religious, and how they began to treat her with the same disdain shown towards her by her former chassidic community.

I know that many will claim that this was an isolated incident. But the only thing isolated about this is the fact that it ended in suicide. Women who want to leave ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities are often held hostage by motherhood. Being denied access to your children, or having to fight to retain custody, is a powerful deterrent to leaving. I know several women on the many forums in which I post, who have been through, or are currently dealing with similar situations.

These are good people who want nothing more than to be good parents. They do not want to be chained to a community in which they don’t wish to belong.

There is nothing Jewish about turning children against their parents, whether it exists in kiruv circles, or in off the derech circles. This extremist madness has to stop.

Note from Judaism Editor, Rabbi Goldie Milgram:

It is with a heavy heart that I post this article, that arrived unsolicited. Other posts that articulate that this is not an isolated problem appear in the following locations as of September 30:

Izzy Eichenstein is author of The Rebel and the Rabbi’s Son, and the blog Jewish Outreach: What Your Rabbi Isn’t Telling You.

And as of Oct 2: http://www.tabletmag.com/jewis…
http://forward.com/articles/18…
http://www.haaretz.com/jewish-…

Publishing House Calls for Diversity in Short Story Submissions


Photo: Neil Heilpern

A special call for short stories by Reclaiming Judaism Press focuses attention upon the need for stories that reflect the great diversity among Jewish youth and families.

Scheduled for a 2014 fall release, the emerging collection from the jury’s process for “A Family Treasury of Mitzvah Stories” revealed gaps in coverage when it came to lives that include: GBLTQ, immigration, special needs, interracial, interfaith, Middle Eastern and Sephardi Jews and neighbors, Jewish cultures outside of the U.S., and progressive gender roles.

Founder and editor in chief of Reclaiming Judaism Press, Rabbi Goldie Milgram, called for submissions of stories that reflect youth and family diversity, while deepening appreciation and understanding of the vast array of Jewish spiritual practices, each of which is termed a mitzvah.

More after the jump.
The submission guidelines for “A Family Treasury of Mitzvah Stories” include a request for fiction, as well as creative non-fiction stories, between one page- and 3,000 word-long, that are appropriate for families with youth from the age of 5 through teens.

A wide array of mitzvot, interpreted through the lens of spirituality and meaning for living, are given in the special call in order to stimulate creative storytelling. For example:

  • lo tikom v’lo titur (Hold no grudges and take no revenge), and
  • teshuvah (admitting errors and taking steps for healing of relationships).

A Family Treasury of Mitzvah Stories will be dedicated to Danny Siegel. Vast numbers of Jewish educators and clergy have been inspired by Siegel’s decades of innovative mitzvah-centered publications, poetry, guidance and programs, including the Ziv Foundation, which dedicated over $14 million to fulfill a huge array of mitzvah opportunities.

Reclaiming Judaism Press creates innovative resources for meaningful Jewish living in a context of respectful Jewish pluralism. The first volume in this series Mitzvah Stories: Seeds for Inspiration and Learning, along with its matching deck of Mitzvah Cards and free downloadable discussion guide, fully reached its goals for diversity inclusion, receiving finalist honors from the Jewish Book Council’s National Jewish Book Awards.  

Attending Yom Kippur Services Online


Rabbi Milgram practices blowing the shofar as Kabbalah4all.com‘s leader David Aharon Curtis prepares to begin his service.

— by Rabbi Goldie Milgram

On Erev Rosh Hashanah, my ankle was too swollen and painful to even hop over to the car to attend  the services. That created a rare rabbinic opportunity for me: attending free High Holiday services on-line.

I did not know what to expect at all, as I had only accidentally tripped over the possibility, when researching a quote online earlier in that week. Here is how it works, at least with Kabbalah4all.com, and the golden-voiced, inclusive service leader, composer of Jewish music, David Aharon Curtis.

Everything on the website, including Shabbat and festival services year-round, is for free. I registered as a member, and downloaded the evening section of the High Holiday Prayerbook, (machzor). Before sundown, I logged in for the Rosh Hashanah evening service.

More after the jump.
What were the services like? The liberal, gender-inclusive services were led by Curtis from what looked like inside of his home, in front of a sweet setup of holiday candles, a menorah, pomegranate and shofar.

It turns out that David Aharon Curtis has been streaming services for eight years already — what a boon to those in hospice or otherwise homebound. Some, it seemed, even gathered in small minyanim (groups of 10 or so) in remote areas without synagogues, tuned in and were able to have a service in this way.

The prayer books, provided as PDF downloads are interlinear: The transliterations, English and Hebrew, are not opposite each other, but rather are in the learner-friendly line-by-line approach. There are also lovely spiritual kavvanot, contemplative explanations, written in the text before each prayer.

The leader rarely showed his face, so one could mostly focus on praying along with the service leader’s lovely voice. A few nature slides and pictures of a Torah or shofar dominated the screen.

In the video to the left you can see an example of the leader’s approach to the Shema, a central prayer in most Jewish services. It’s easy to follow along in the English and transliteration, the leader chants in the Hebrew and occasional Aramaic of the Kaddish, using mostly traditional and a few contemporary melodies. I recognized a few melodies as attributable to Debbie Friedman, of blessed memory. My husband, raised in South Africa, was delighted at the relative absence of talk and simple presence of authentic prayer.

As David Aharon Curtis pointed out in his brief talk at the end of the service, while one can have a sense of connection and community in an on-line service, it’s difficult to meet and mingle afterward. The approach does seems to be catching on, a wide variety of free live-streaming High Holiday service options come up in a key word search, among them the radio broadcasts from New York’s Temple Emanuel and Central Synagogue.

Nashuva, a post-denominational California community that meshes spirituality with social action, is live-streaming their Kol Nidre service, to led by Rabbi Naomi Levy at 9:45 pm tonight. A well-known author and actist, Rabbi Levy is author of several books including Talking to God: Personal Prayers for Times of Joy, Sadness, Struggle, and Celebration. In addition, there are a growing number of synagogues and havurot providing Shabbat and holiday services on-line to members in good standing; these typically require a password for viewing.

For those who are housebound, or far from a congregation this Yom Kippur, or at any point in the Jewish year and your Jewish practice permits it, services on-line will be a great help.

Life-Affirming Holocaust Painting Draws Attention in Reading

— by Rabbi Goldie Milgram

What is your reaction to this Holocaust painting by Juliette Aristides?

Now on display in a one woman show Observations at the Reading Public Museum that continues until September 14, the large canvass titled 1945 (Bendheim Remembrance) attracts rapt and immediate attention. Ownership of the painting quietly changed hands during the opening weekend, shortly after Alison Rotenberg brought her husband Dr. Larry Rotenberg MD, a child survivor of the Holocaust, over to see saying: “We’re buying this.” The Rotenbergs plan to temporarily place the work in their Reading, Pennsylvania home, for depth of contemplation and then move it to a more permanent, public venue.

See their interview following the jump, and see Dr. Rotenberg’s article A Child Survivor/Psychiatrist’s Personal Adaption in the Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry.
How do I know all of this? Full disclosure: Juliette Aristides is my step-daughter, though she was an adult when I married her father, Barry Bub, then a family practitioner in Reading, PA. Juliette was born in South Africa, and while yet in her infancy, immigrated with her parents to Reading, PA. Many family members were murdered in Nazi death camps on both the paternal “Bub” and maternal “Bendheim” sides of her lineage. Her long period of research and work on the canvas was encouraged and funded by a surviving branch of the Bendheim family.

Juliette’s usual theme in her art is “beauty” — making this work all the more significant. When I first saw this painting, it was unframed, leaning against a wall in Juliette’s atelier in Seattle. Tears rushed in as I witnessed this new evolution in Holocaust-related art. Even so, since the painting’s inception I had wondered how this interpretation might affect survivors and their loved ones-both here and overseas.

The couple who will take possession of the painting when the show closes, Alison and Larry Rotenberg were willing to be interviewed for this article. They own several other pieces of her work and have known her since childhood when she was an art student. I ask Alison, a retired realtor in the Reading area, what touches her in the imagery, some aspects are so subtle that they can only be discerned by viewing the 49″×72″ oil on canvas work in person.

“It is evocative of so much. On the right hand side of the painting are the crematoria, the smoke, and perhaps the souls going up. Then the two people–he is looking off to the side with that sort of pained expression, with the striped shirt that was so common in the concentration camps. She is much straighter, looking ahead. She steps out, she’s stepping forward…they’re leaving that all behind and the future is ahead. Or he could be one of the prisons and she could represent the future, for as it is said we can light a candle or curse the darkness. We recently went to the 20th anniversary of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and Larry and our second son went to the original gathering in Jerusalem around 1981. There are fewer and fewer people alive to attend these things. This painting, it’s for future remembrance.”

Dr. Larry Rotenberg was born in Romania, where his family was walled into the ghetto that was set up for the Jews of Czernowitz. In the fall of 1941, not yet eight years old, along with his family and 200,000 others he endured a forced march to the Ukraine in mid-winter where his beloved parents would die of the extreme conditions in a village turned-internment camp. His sisters foraged for food until two sisters and Larry were shifted to an orphanage in Bucharest by way of Yasi in 1944. From there the youth made their way to Western Russia, Poland, Sweden, Denmark and finally to Canada in 1948. This data I’ve taken from his published article which is a poignant valuable piece for all who wish more understanding of the beautiful, sustaining, early life family remembrances, experiences, reactions and emotional development of a young Holocaust survivor. During our interview, he indicated first meeting his wife in Vancouver, Canada. Still, it is the painting that he wants to speak about on our call:

“The work has a degree of both dread and grandeur. Dread of what they have left behind and the grandeur of their future. It reminds me of Coleridge’s Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner:

Like one, that on a lonesome road
doth walk in fear and dread.
And having once turned round walks on,
And turns no more his head;
Because he knows, a frightful fiend.
Doth close behind him tread.

It sort of summarizes for me what this couple are trying to do, trying to escape from this frightful scene but they can’t quite do it, although they are going into a hopeful future, they still have to take the weight and heaviness with them spiritually and mentally. They will always carry it with them. What is so amazing is that this painting is such a powerful evocation of the spirit of survival of the Holocaust.”

I ask could this image have been received ten, twenty, thirty years ago? Dr. Rotenberg explains:

“The immediacy of the past was still sufficiently there to keep this from occurring. Well, it is so that what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger. In a sense this couple carries with them a hope of humanity, a hope of the world. If you go back to the Talmud it teaches that one who saves a life, saves the whole world. This painting captures aspects of that, too. Each human being contains a world that lives within him or her and dies within him or her. Triumph and tragedy are combined in this picture, evocative of the importance of the singularity of human survival.

If you want to be even more symbolic, it is almost like Adam and Eve have re-emerged from being thrown out into the world and have come through a crisis and through the crisis to somehow survive and yet carry the memory. The painting is complex, offering dozens of layers of meaning. The thing about art is that ultimately you like a piece because it speaks to you. It captured Alison and certainly captures me.”

Our call ends, and so I turn to find that section of the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Colerige, a poem my father had me memorize as a youth. Its fullness capturing the essence of our the feelings they’d presented with such unity of vision:

Like one, that on a lonesome road
Doth walk in fear and dread,
And having once turned round walks on,
And turns no more his head;
Because he knows, a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread.

But soon there breathed a wind on me,
Nor sound nor motion made:
Its path was not upon the sea,
In ripple or in shade.

It raised my hair, it fanned my cheek
Like a meadow-gale of spring-
It mingled strangely with my fears,
Yet it felt like a welcoming.

Swiftly, swiftly flew the ship,
Yet she sailed softly too:
wetly, sweetly blew the breeze-
On me alone it blew.

Observations, the solo exhibition of works by Seattle artist Juliette Aristides continues until September 14 at the Reading Public Museum.

Book Review: Kosher by Design Cooking Coach

Makes Every Step Easy and Delicious

— by Rabbi Goldie Milgram

Those who like step-by-step, New York Times-level recipes, where nothing is taken for granted about prior ingredient or utensil knowledge, will greatly appreciate Susie Feishbein’s Kosher by Design Cooking Coach: Recipes, tips and techniques to make anyone a better cook. This volume is part of a continuing series, which demonstrates each vital step through the vibrant photography of John Uher. Fishbein, a widely published cookbook author, also teaches on cruise ships, offers week-long culinary adventures in Israel and Italy, and has been profiled through the media.

Full review after the jump.
I was writing this review beside my son, Adam, as he and his wife Daniela were reviewing the copy that I have provided them for Rosh Hashannah. Their comments say it all:

It’s great to have a volume where you don’t have the frustration of trying to figure out how to remove the butter from the steak, the crab from the sushi, and the pancetta from the pasta. Here you have excellent, interesting dishes for everyday, Shabbat and holidays: from Italian to Japanese, French to Mexican, and Korean to Southwestern U.S. And it’s all kosher.

We have fleishig (meat) dinners for Shabbat and holidays, so I was debating whether to make the “spiced coffee-braised brisket” this Rosh Hashannah, or to try something more exotic, like the very yummy Lamb Couscous, which I tried with ease and success before sending Adam and Daniela the cookbook. The first step in this recipe is creating an infusion, using two mint tea bags — how cool is that! Oops — Suddenly, we were all captivated by the kosher grill option of “Kansas City ribs.”

Pragmatism always prevails, and your cooking life will change life if you acquire a mixer with a dough hook. The creative adaptations offered for the “Susie Bosch mixer challah” base recipe include rosemary olive challah, cinnamon raisin challah, chocolate chip-based Babka challah, and spiced pull-apart challah.

When you cook milchig (dairy), you might start with “Building a Cheese Plate” on page 52, where Fishbein ensures that you will achieve the same result as a French restaurant, or better, at a fraction of the cost.

Many press articles rue the loss of socialization skills among young people. Fishbein embraces and encourages the Jewish value of hachnassat orchim (hosting guests), right inside her recipe commentaries, e.g.:

People usually think of serving cheese plates at open house style parties or as hors d’oeuvres [first course], but a cheese plate can be a stunning simple appetizer for a dairy lunch or dinner. Not only is it delicious but it can also be a conversation piece as people share and indulge.

Fishbein opens with a section called “Playbook,” where she even teaches how to think about cooking: “Do not overcook your food on the first go around or it will not be tasty when reused and recooked in its second form… From a kosher perspective, try to preplan how you will use the leftovers…” In this section, she highlights how to “synergize” recipes to maximum effect, e.g. Cajun quinoa (page 261): If your quinoa was made in a pareve pot with parveve utentils, you can try these fantastic quinoa Burgers:

Mix 2 cups leftover Cajun quinoa with 3 beaten eggs, 1/4 cup Parmesan, 3/4 cup breadcrumbs, and 3 ounces crumbled goat cheese. Form into 4 burgers. Heat 2 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet and sear the burgers 2-3 minutes per side.

Every chapter includes a “Game Plan” section, where Fishbein visually highlights the available recipes in an overview, and gives sound advice, such as:

“Don’t serve Nori-Wrapped Salmon and then follow it with salmon as the main course. Most importantly, watch the portion size. The equivalent of a whole meal should not be served before the dinner has arrived.”

About this sample recipe from the volume, Fishbein says:

Cherries, Port, lamb and rosemary make for a perfect flavor profile. But can a dish so elegant really incite bad manners? It sure can when you find yourself licking your plate clean of this delectable sauce.

Lamb Shanks With Cherries and Port (page 198)

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours, 40 minutes
Yields: 6 servings lamb shanks

Ingredients:

  • 6 lamb shanks (have butcher trim bones), rinsed and patted dry
  • Fine sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, peeled, cut into very small dice
  • 1 rib celery, minced
  • 1 carrot, peeled and minced
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves and sprigs chopped
  • 1 cup dried cherries, divided
  • 1 (750-ml) bottle Port wine (Ruby, if possible)
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons divided, good-quality black cherry preserves
  • 2 cinnamon sticks

Preparation:

  1. Season the lamb shanks with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil in a large heavy pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. In batches, so you don’t crowd the pan, add the lamb shanks and brown, 3-4 minutes per side, turning to sear all sides. Remove to a jellyroll pan.
  2. Add the onion, celery, and carrot to the pot, stirring to scrape up browned bits from the bottom. Add the rosemary, thyme, and 1/2 cup dried cherries. Remove from heat. Pour in the Port and chicken stock. Stir. Return to medium heat. Whisk in the 1/2 cup black cherry preserves to dissolve. Drop in the cinnamon sticks. Return the lamb shanks to the pot. Raise heat, bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer. Cover and cook for 2 hours. Check after 1 hour and see if the shanks need rotating if they are not completely submerged.
  3. Remove the shanks from the pot. Remove and discard the cinnamon sticks and rosemary sprig. Using an immersion blender, blend the sauce, then simmer for 20 minutes over medium heat, uncovered, to reduce, skimming any impurities from the surface. Whisk in remaining 2 tablespoons black cherry preserves. Return the shanks to sauce and sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup dried cherries. Cook for 10 minutes; serve with sauce. Can be made in advance and reheated.

Blessings for a meaningful, memorable and delicious new year!