Book Review: Pope Francis and Rabbi Skorka’s Interfaith Dialogue

— by Jonathan Kremer

Interfaith dialogue is often a challenge. A participant may feel a need to be “politically correct,” to pull punches, or to make every effort to present their own religion in the best light possible. True dialogue enables participants to “lower the defenses, to open the doors of one’s home and to offer warmth,” in the words of Pope Francis, without compromising one’s identity.

The book On Heaven and Earth is a collection of uncompromising dialogues between then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (now Pope Francis) and Rabbi Abraham Skorka, a community rabbi and rector of the Conservative Jewish center Seminario Rabinico Latinoamericano in Buenos Aires.

The conversations between Cardinal Bergoglio and Rabbi Skorka covered a wide range of subjects, including God, religious leadership, prayer, same-sex marriage, science and Argentine political history. They agreed on much: the arrogance of the atheist and the unquestioning believer, religious leaders as teachers and guides, and the dangers of fundamentalism. They even concurred — after a charged exchange — that the Vatican must open its archives, so that lingering questions about the Church’s actions during the Holocaust might be answered.
[Read more…]

Book Review: The Most Influential Rabbi in Modern History

In his new book, Rebbe: The Life and Teachings of Menachem M. Schneerson, the Most Influential Rabbi in Modern History, best-selling author Joseph Telushkin reveals many surprising and sometimes shocking facts, as he chronicles the life and teachings of the charismatic Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, popularly referred to as the “Rebbe” by his followers and admirers worldwide.

In a span of 92 years the Rebbe traveled from his birthplace, the city of Nikolayev, Ukraine, studied in the cosmopolitan cities of Berlin and Paris, where he earned degrees in mechanical and electrical engineering, and finally settled in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn. It was there he reluctantly donned the mantel as the Seventh Lubavitcher Rabbi and humbly assumed the title of the Rebbe.

Prior to his “coronation” he had already attained the stature of a spiritual magnet who attracted into his sphere of influence a warren of world leaders, as well as ordinary people who sought his wise counsel and blessings. More than a biography, this book relates historic events bonded with personal insights and coupled with private moments, which bring the reader to yichudusim, private moments of consultation, with the Rebbe.

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Book Review: Relational Judaism

Relational Judaism: Using the Power of Relationships to Transform the Jewish Community by Ron Wolfson primarily reasserts a core principle of life, business and community organizing: “It’s all about relationships.”

This was also essentially the theme of his 2006 volume, The Spirituality of Welcoming: How to Transform Your Congregation into a Sacred Community.

His patience and willingness to restate his message is impressive, given how slow the uptake among congregations worldwide seems to be, at least in this reviewer’s experience. And as times are changing, the direction of relationship-building is changing, as Wolfson indicates in a telling quote from a congregational leader:

We thought Shabbat would be a doorway to relationships. We learned that relationships are a doorway to Shabbat.

More after the jump.
Or as in the famous quote from Martin Buber that Wolfson will quote further on: “All real living is meeting.”

Another powerful reversal is the story of Rabbi Zoe Klein, upon becoming senior rabbi at Temple Isaiah, Los Angeles:

[S]he was advised by the board to “tell her story to the congregation.” She felt differently:

“The way people feel really connected to you is not if they know your story, but if they feel you know their story. If the rabbi knows your story you feel like you are seen, you matter, you are in relationship.

“So I set up small groups in my study — six to eight people — to share a ‘Sacred Stories Haggadah’ experience; we had a little Kiddush, karpas, appetizer; we told the story of the congregation, and then I would invite people to add their own stories by answering the question: ‘What was your own journey that brought you to this place?’ We concluded with a blessing.

“Some 250 people shared their stories with me and with each other. It was powerful.”

Wolfson’s examples are solid and instructive applications of what those who have participated in support groups of any kind are well aware of: the sharing of personal narratives, stories from our lives’ joys, traumas, challenges, innovations and more, often supports the creation of sustainable communities.

He also offers encouragement to adopt the kind of volunteerism that engages participants in meaningful ways. As this reviewer is involved, she is aware that this area is being developed at Bar/Bat Mitzvah (R)evolution, and in the emerging Jewish Spiritual Education as well.

Wolfson further takes note of the ascendancy of Jewish interest in social justice efforts, and the relational opportunities and challenges of social media.

For anyone who is already trained in social work, group work, chaplaincy, or providing psychotherapy of almost any kind, it is initially bemusing to read of a leader in the field of Jewish education writing something that has been known and skillfully practiced in social service organizations since at least the days of the settlement houses:

Working with others on a project can bind people together, but only if attention is paid to relationship building. We learned this lesson in Synagogue 2000 when we insisted that the leadership team begin every session with “check-in,” a brief opportunity for every person in the room to share something about her or his personal life.

I am reminded of the power of the quilting bee, when groups of women would join together to craft beautiful quilts, but through sharing the stories of their lives as they worked, they crafted deeper relationships among themselves.

How is it possible that most clergy and educators do not have the core skill repertoire of social work, and seem to be trying to reinvent it from scratch?

This reviewer is a rabbi and a Master of Social Work (MSW) — a recipient of the Jewish Federation’s scholarship for such training. From this vantage point, the problem would seem to be that of an unfortunate split, almost a conceptual wall, between the domain of training for Jewish social service and that for synagogues, religious education, and religious-movement youth groups.

Wolfson is a PhD academic, and highly accomplished Jewish educator. His American Jewish University bio does not show evidence of Jewish communal service’s core — relational training, most of which is woven within MSW programs.

Here are a few possible examples: (Most other schools of Jewish communal service seem more oriented toward management than actual human services at this time.)

At the 2013 Biennial of the Union for Reform Judaism, President Rick Jacobs lectured on the importance of creating welcoming communities, and Wolfson gave a seminar on the topic too.

Friends walking out, MSWs walked over to me equally surprised at the obvious nature of the content and full of ideas for how to take it deeper.

It made me wonder, might a ready approach to effective change be to leverage the thousands of retired Jewish social workers to serve as community building, or welcome-training volunteers, as well as to increase relational social work-skills training throughout the field of Jewish education and clergy training?

The Reconstructionist Rabbinical College has recently begun to do so in their curriculum. This has also long been the case at The Academy for Jewish Religion.

The restoration of relational communities and consciousness is clearly emerging again as desirable. Consumer consciousness fades in recognition that welcoming communities and relationships that go more satisfyingly deeper require more of an investment of self than dollars.

As Wolfson points out, programming skills are substantial among leaders of all ages in Jewish life. Relationship-building skills and relational program components are needed.

In the age of social media, the pendulum of yearning for meaningful face-to-face relationships is already returning. We need to build upon and use our skillful professionals to deepen the many insights provided in Relational Judaism.  

Cookbook Review: 4 Bloggers Dish: Passover

When food bloggers become friends, it can lead to an interesting collaboration.

4 Bloggers Dish: Passover: Modern Twists on Traditional Flavors is a wonderful compilation of creative kosher recipes from four women who befriended each other in cyberspace. If you are hoping to freshen up your Seder with bright, healthy, and creative recipes, this book is for you.

Whitney Fisch was a model in Milan when she discovered the pleasures of Italian food. Her website, Jewhungry, relates how she keeps kosher while trying everything.

Liz Rueven shares her kosher vegetarian adventures in Kosher Like Me. I especially admire her thorough research and travel adventures.

Amy Kritzer, the creator of What Jew Wanna Eat, started by preserving her bubby’s recipes. From there, she fell in love with cooking and attended the Cordon Bleu Cooking School in Austin, Texas. She shares both vintage and new recipes.

More after the jump.
Sarah Lasry, creator of The Patchke Princess (the fussy princess), is a chef, owner of Tastebuds Cafe, and cookbook author. She is renown for her creative kosher gourmet cooking.

4 Bloggers Dish: Passover: Modern Twists on Traditional Flavors includes step-by-step instructions and beautiful visuals. It offers helpful tips, such as freezer instructions, prep-ahead rules, and a to-go Guide. This book features recipes such as balsamic-braised short ribs, matzah brie caprese, spaghetti squash with quinoa meatballs, sautéed kale, tomato, and mushroom quiche with a hash brown crust, and cinnamon donut balls.

You may try out their recipe for vegetable frittatine, for Passover. Liz Rueven encourages her readers to use greens such as kale and spinach from their local farmers’ market. These greens pair especially well with sautéed mushrooms and onions. Personally, I preferred minced cilantro and low-fat cheddar. I served it with spicy Mexican salsa.

Vegetable Frittatine (Crustless quiche in individual portions)

Dairy, Non-Gebrokts (soaked matza)
Prep Time: 20 minutes; Bake time: 25 minutes
Makes approximately 12 mini frittate in muffin tins.

Ingredients:

  • Canola oil cooking spray
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 eggs, beaten
  • 4 tablespoons milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons fresh herbs of choice, chopped (dill, parsley, cilantro, basil)
  • A few twists of freshly ground pepper
  • 5 oz. crumbled feta or goat cheese, or cheese of choice (shredded or crumbled)
  • 1 onion, chopped finely
  • 6 oz. mushrooms, washed and chopped and/or one red (or orange) pepper, chopped finely
  • One generous bunch or one 5-oz. bag of organic spinach or kale, washed and rough-chopped

Instructions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350˚F with oven rack in middle.
  2. Spray muffin tin with canola oil.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk eggs with milk. Add salt, pepper and herbs.
  4. Add cheese and mix well. Set aside.
  5. Heat olive oil in large pan.
  6. Add onion and sauté until translucent.
  7. Add mushrooms and/or peppers and sauté until soft.
  8. Add greens and toss until wilted.
  9. Drain pan of any liquid that has accumulated (save for soup stock).
  10. Cool for 5-10 minutes. Add the vegetables to the egg mixture in large bowl. Mix to integrate well.
  11. Spoon 2 tablespoon of mixture into each opening in muffin tin. Mix periodically so that ingredients are distributed evenly.
  12. Bake for 20-25 minutes until frittatine are set and tops are golden.
  13. Remove from oven and allow pan to cool for 10 minutes. Using a small spatula or a tablespoon, gently remove individual frittate from tin and serve.

Tips:

  • Serve Immediately: Because these are really mini soufflés, they are puffy and light when served immediately. If not, they do “fall” but they retain their basic shape and are still delicious. I use them as a protein-rich addition to brunch or as a light dinner with salad and soup.
  • Take to Go:  They make a convenient afternoon snack and a satisfying lunch to go. They are solid enough to pack in Ziploc bags and take along for day trips or school lunches.
  • Freezer: They freeze well in a Ziploc bag. Take them out of the freezer in advance and reheat, gently, in microwave or in oven at 325F for 10-15 minutes or until warmed through. I like them at room temp, too.

Get to Know Israel From Inside: Ari Shavit’s “My Promised Land”

— by Kenneth R. Myers, Esq.

With Secretary of State Kerry’s peace initiative in the Middle East nearing a conclusion, this is a great time to read My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel by Ari Shavit. If you have already read it, consider reading it again.

Shavit is a Sabra, and the son and grandson of Sabras. His British great-grandfather came to Palestine as a tourist in 1897, returned home to fight for the Zionist cause, and ultimately resettled his family in Palestine.

Shavit lived through the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War, and has been a kibbutznik, a soldier, and ultimately, a well-known journalist.  

Shavit carried out the direction in Genesis 13:17, and traveled the land, beginning in the steps of his great-grandfather. He interviewed both important and ordinary Jews and Palestinians, and visited sites of historic significance in the struggle between the Jews and the Palestinians.  

More after the jump.
In every page of this book, his love for the land comes forth. He asks the question, how did the best of intentions of the early settlers to live side-by-side with the Palestinians, turn into 60 years of confrontation with no apparent solution?

The book describes the massacres, the important battles, and the victories and defeats of both sides.

Shavit visited locations where Arab villages existed but do not anymore, or have been replaced by Israeli towns and cities. He visited Jewish settlements that have been, and in some instances are still, marauded. He pieced together the reasons that Palestinians departed or were driven away from them.

The title, “My Promised Land,” is misleading: After reading the whole book, “Our Promised Land” sounds more appropriate. Along with the victories and wonders Israel has accomplished, the Palestinian claim to a fair shake comes through loud and clear.

Shavit sets forth great achievements by Israel, far beyond any parallel development in Arab lands. But he also perceives several missteps. The most serious of these, Shavit explains, was the government’s decision to retain, at least for a time, the territories conquered in the Six Day War:

[F]rom the beginning Zionism skated on thin ice. On the one hand it was a national liberation movement, but on the other it was a colonialist enterprise. It intended to save the lives of one people by the dispossession of another.

In its first 50 years, Zionism was aware of this complexity and acted accordingly. It was very careful not to be associated with colonialism and tried not to cause unnecessary hardship. It made sure it was a democratic, progressive, and enlightened movement, collaborating with the world’s forces of progress. With great sophistication Zionism handled the contradiction at its core…

But after 1967, and then after 1973, all that changed… The self-discipline and historical insight that characterized the nation’s first years began to fade… You were wrong to think that a sovereign state could do in occupied territories what a revolutionary movement can do in an undefined land… Ironically, [occupation] brought back the Palestinians Ben Gurion managed to keep away.

After building a detailed history, Shavit examines Israeli society, politics, economics, government, and the competing positions between Israel and the Palestinians of today.  

[F]ive different apprehensions cast a shadow on Israel’s voracious appetite for life:

  • the notion that the Israeli Palestinian conflict might not end in the foreseeable future;
  • the concern that Israel’s regional strategic hegemony is being challenged;
  • the fear that the very legitimacy of the Jewish state is eroding;
  • the concern that a deeply transformed Israeli society is now divided and polarized, its liberal democratic foundation crumbling; and
  • the realization that the dysfunctional governments of Israel cannot deal seriously with such crucial challenges as occupation and social disintegration.

Through interviews with key political and government figures, Shavit explores each of these five apprehensions, gloves off and no holds barred.

For anyone trying to understand where Israel is headed and what might happen there in the future, My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel is a must-read.

Book Review: Jewish Men at the Crossroads

— by Rabbi Goldie Milgram

Jewish Men at the Crossroads takes a dip into the section of the gender pool some now call “masculism,” or “masculinism.”

A publication of the Conservative Movement’s Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs, the volume is a collection of essays by Jewish men offering intimate sharing from issues of their current lives. The intent is to stimulate men into returning to synagogue life through participation in male support groups.

The book has its problems, such as the absence of talk about the range of masculinities within gender, as in GBTQIA and a stunning absence of essays relating to maleness and social justice.

That said, many essays do reflect a poignant honesty about these Jewish mens’ encounters with life’s inevitable challenges.

More after the jump.
Those among who have been caregivers will surely empathize with the following story, for example:

The last five years of Freyda’s life… the last five years of our marriage were difficult, to say the least.

I loved caring for Freyda. It was a burden of love.

However, our life dramatically changed. Our travel was limited. We could no longer do many of the activities we had grown to love together. Our intimacy was limited to hugging, holding hands, snuggling in bed… but I loved it, I truly loved it….

The situation at times was intolerable. I was often fatigued, but I could not sleep. I was frequently depressed. I was often angry and would get upset… yelling at Freyda… an innocent being, my love/my soul mate… this was most disturbing to me… — Arnold Miller

In another essay, a man with autism brings us into his Jewish life, in a way that clearly illustrates the need for heightened understanding of diversity in our population, and strategies for changing the social climate of congregations:

I had been praying for God to cure my autism and wondering why God didn’t answer my prayer. I realized at that point that I had been praying for the wrong reason.

I started to pray for the strength to accept autism and live with joy, laughter and connection. My prayers were answered more richly than I ever imagined. Sometimes I still hate autism, but now I love life more than I hate autism…

After ten years, we finally left our synagogue and joined a new one where people smile at me even if I am sometimes too loud or excited and no one stares at me like I am a piece of trash….

My favorite Jewish holiday is Passover because it is the story of our people’s journey from degradation to liberation… — Jacob Artson

The reality of intermarriage is frankly acknowledged. Strong feelings and approaches uncharacteristic of the Conservative movement’s platforms and positions are included:

I am distraught that many synagogues still will not let the non-Jewish parent participate on the bimah for a baby naming or a bris. — Joshua Kohn

Mazel tov… is he Jewish?…

I do understand that for some people, if their child dates a non-Jew, it is a “big deal.” But , for me, is that paramount to my daughter’s happiness? Or even my happiness? Doesn’t a father give up some of his happiness for his children?…

Yes, my children — I consider Josh my son — [they] were married by a rabbi and a minister.

No, my granddaughter is not having a naming, though her parents just recently had a ceremony in my home to give her a Hebrew name. And, yes, they are going to be doing a similar type of ceremony in his church.

Yes, my granddaughter is going to be raised in both religions… Would I love him more if he was Jewish? No. He is the son I never had. I love him for who and what he is. Plain and simple. — Dave Julis

Unfortunately, the book also contains unchallenged stereotypes and assumptions:

[G]irls’ learning styles… focus on attentiveness, persistence, orderliness, and sedentary work, while boys thrive when they can be physically active and have time to be rowdy…

Boys… respond to hands-on activity, competition, challenge, and incentives. — David Weiser

If we are to maintain the religious affiliation of American Jewish men, then we have to preach and teach Jewish men to see introspection, empathy, kindness, noble character, humility and gratitude as male ideals. — Ed Feld

The most telling barrier [to engaging me in synagogue life] is that most men are simply uncomfortable praying. — Jack Chomsky

Jewish Men at the Crossroads is about the happenings in the lives and minds of Conservative men. Among the topics addressed are retirement, becoming a caregiver for a declining, beloved spouse, becoming an in-law to someone who is not Jewish, observing yartzeit for one’s child, recognizing that raising children requires role-modeling and a serious investment of time from both parents, age-related loss of libido, health issues, and having a child in the Israeli army, and a good deal more.

Some sapping does rise during essays reflecting on the stereotypes that “manhood is about strength, courage, willpower” and that “traditional… male values [are] honesty, courage, decisiveness, responsibility and resilience,” when, for Jews, “success is measured by being a mensch and helping make this world a better place.”

But where is rebellion against the oppression of the workforce, and the military use of men, and now women, as cannon fodder? Where are strategies for rising up and recalibrating society? These are not to be found as much as several essays that indicate a desire for a better balance of work and family.

Fire in the belly is patently lacking. These are essentially really nice men, coping with life’s dealt hand more than taking up the mantle of justice being called for by our ancient and contemporary prophetic voices.

Also missing in the book is any tipping of the hat to the Jewish men’s movement retreats that have been happening for decades, led by Yosaif August, Shawn Zevit, and colleagues at what is now called the Isabella Freedman Retreat Center, in Connecticut. There are many seminal publications these “Hearing Men’s Voices” groups might seek out for discussion:

Also, the developers at Moving Traditions created a substantial developmental program for Jewish boys called The Brotherhood. Their research and development sheds a great deal of light on what it can mean to be a Jewish male in the 21st Century.  

Reflection upon the forces that have influenced many of the contributing authors of the book, is perhaps their own next step. We hear little to nothing about domestic violence, or other violence, such as life as WWII vets; or the role of subsequent wars on their masculinity; or the unisex/”free love” of the 1960s; or male or boyhood survival in the wake of the soul-searing emasculation of the Holocaust.

And what of the roles and masculinities of men who bring us glory and/or shame in societies — Madoff? Doctorow? Wiesel? Mamet? Dayan? Spitzer? Gehry? Adelman? Shamgar ben Anat? (See Judges 3:31) And infinitely many more.

Bar Mitzvah essentially goes missing — perhaps a statement of its own about this increasingly problemmatic ritual. The stories within our very tradition, as at least one author points out, point men toward revisiting what they have drawn from their “fathers’ wells” — at home, and in the stories about men and masculinity within Jewish tradition and contemporary culture. Perhaps some of this will emerge in a second volume, as the program advances.

The last sentence of the introduction by Bob Braitman, past president of FJMC asks: “What is a Jewish man?” It is a bit disingenuously stated that the problem seems to be that “men have somehow become less visible in both the leadership in many professions and in the volunteer world.”

Presumably this refers to the arrival of women rabbis, cantors and the preponderance of women who now attend services and serve on boards and committees in the liberal Jewish movements. Though some hold leadership and research positions, the men writing these essays do not appear eager to reclaim an increased position in any of these roles.

In many ways Jewish Men at the Crossroads is about a new wave of Jewish men seeking healing, who are not at the innovative fringe but rather becoming newly receptive to its waves and practices. The work of supportive healing and growing at the level of spirit and awareness is crucial to Jewish and humane development.

Rabbi Simcha Weintraub appears as a contributing author in this volume. The founder of The National Center for Jewish Healing, Weintraub is a great man to have on board for this initiative. For while women are increasingly attaining equal votes and roles, and are being “allowed” to succeed, Jewish men still have the cultural burden of being expected to succeed.

Indeed, Rabbi Weintraub points out metaphorically that “Jewish men may have stopped breathing” from the stress, and the burden of traditional expectations about their potential to accomplish, innovate, earn and be honored. So, let us end by borrowing from the blessing Rabbi Weintraub offers for men:

Enjoy breathing with reflection; community with solitude; work with rest.

Ken Y’hi Ratzon — May this be God’s will; Amen.

Book Chat: Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine

By Hannah Lee

Americans are avid consumers of over-the-counter pills and capsules. Parents of patients being treated at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) often ask to continue their non-prescription regime of herbs and other dietary supplements. What most of us don’t know is that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has no authority to regulate them, so these products do not have to be tested for efficacy or purity before they’re marketed.

Sometimes supplements are later tested by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), a part of the National Institutes of Health, but their test results are published in scientific journals. It does not have the clout of the FDA for product recalls or warning labels. People shopping at their local supermarket or drugstore do not know if the labels are false or misleading.

In a recent groundbreaking policy ruling, CHOP took most dietary supplements off its formulary, its list of approved medications. It is the first hospital to no longer administer dietary supplements unless the manufacturer provides a third-party written guarantee that the product is made under the F.D.A.’s “good manufacturing practice” conditions, as well as a Certificate of Analysis assuring that what is written on the label is what’s in the bottle. Parents can sign a waiver, which states “Use of an agent for which there are no reliable data on toxicity and drug interactions makes it impossible to adequately monitor the patient’s acute condition or safely administer medications.”  
Dr. Paul Offit, chief of the division of infectious diseases at CHOP and chair of the Therapeutic Standards Committee which approved the new policy, said that they found a few vitamins and other supplements which meet this standard. One is melatonin which has been shown to affect sleep cycles and has a record of safety, and they have identified a product that met manufacturing and labeling standards. Around 90 percent of the companies they contacted for verification never responded.

People seeking supplements on their own are advised to look for the label, “USP-verified,” meaning they meet standards set by the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention for ensuring the strength, quality, and purity of a product. One such brand is Nature Made and it’s readily available in local stores.

In his new book, “Do You Believe in Magic?  The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine,” Offit writes about man’s quest for therapeutic cures and the chicanery of individuals who fool the public with sham remedies. The term, quack, comes from the sixteenth-century Dutch term, kwakzalver, which means one who quacks like a duck while promoting salves and ointments. This became the English quacksilver, later shortened to quack. While the term implies intent, it is not necessarily so. We may laugh at the popularity of erstwhile products such as Wendell’s Ambition Pills, Hamlin’s Wizard Oil, or Becket’s Sovereign Restorative Drops for Barrenness, but we are not immune to new and contemporary marketing.

One chapter is on Linus Pauling and how he upended his stellar scientific career, including a Nobel Prize in Chemistry (and a Nobel Peace Prize for his activism leading to the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty), in his dogged endorsement of massive doses of vitamin C: 3,000 mg or about 50 times the U.S. government’s Recommended Dietary Allowance. Pauling initially proposed the use of vitamin C to treat the common cold, then as a cure for cancer, and later in conjunction with massive doses of vitamin A, vitamin E, and other “antioxidant” supplements which neutralize DNA-damaging free radicals could treat virtually every disease known to man. Since 1994, multiple large studies conducted at the National Cancer Institute, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, and elsewhere have found that people taking such large doses of vitamins and supplements, in fact, had higher rates of death.  However, studies have not affected sales.  In 2010, the vitamin industry grossed $28 billion in sales.

Other chapters report on the success of Suzanne Somers (touting biodentical hormones for menopause and an extensive anti-aging regimen), Rashid Buttar (anti-autism cream), Deepak Chopra, and Mehmet Oz.  The latter two are especially prolific and vocal in advocating for alternative remedies that have not been tested in scientific trials.

A riveting chapter is on the placebo effect and the powerful ways that it is manifested, such as for acupuncture and pain relief.  The book reads easily and the 36 pages of notes and extensive bibliography allow the committed reader to learn further.

Offit cites the Hippocratic oath of physicians to first do no harm.  When a prominent individual endorses faith healing, how many children would come to harm because their parents choose to rely solely on prayer instead of antibiotics, insulin, or chemotherapy? Steve Jobs was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, but it was a rare neuroendocrine tumor that was amenable to early treatment; surgery offered a good prognosis.  Jobs eschewed standard therapy in favor of herbal remedies, bowel cleansings, and diet. By the time he had surgery nine months later, the cancer had spread. Ultimately, Offit writes, Jobs died of a treatable disease.

Magical thinking, writes Offit, is how alternative healers cross the line into quackery.  “Encouragement of scientific illiteracy- or, beyond that, scientific denialism- can have a corrosive effect on patients’ perceptions of disease, leaving them susceptible to the worst kinds of quackery.”

For New Year’s Resolutions: “The Power of Habit” New Edition

— by Hannah Lee

Do you make New Year’s resolutions, and they are “piecrust promises” — as Mary Poppins says — and easily broken? If so, you should know that the paperback edition of The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by the New York Times reporter, Charles Duhigg, will be released on January 7.

In the book, Duhigg teaches techniques to free oneself from damaging habits, whether with health, diet, or finances.

Continued after the jump.
In an interview, he recommended the three-step habit loop: “First, there is a cue that tells your brain to go into automatic mode. Then, there is the routine. And finally, a reward, which helps your brain learn to crave the behavior.”

For instance, studies indicate that if you want to develop a running habit in 2014, you should choose a cue, like putting your running shoes next to your bed. And then, give yourself a reward, like a piece of chocolate, when you get home from jogging. That way, the cue and the reward become neurologically intertwined.

Eventually, when your brain sees the sneakers, it starts craving the chocolate, and that makes it easier to hit the pavement each day. And in a couple of weeks, you won’t need the treat any more — your brain will come to see the workout as a reward itself.

Book Review: One Egg Is a Fortune

miso marinated Atlantic salmon with shiitake mushrooms, grilled scallions and a miso glaze— by Rabbi Goldie Milgram

One Egg is a Fortune, edited by Pnina Jacobson and Judy Kempler, is three books in one: a high quality gourmet Jewish cookbook, a table book of magnificent food photographs, and an anthology of fascinating narratives from fifty contributing authors from around the world.

The editors put ten years into developing this beautiful volume, and it is perfect as a gift.

Taste test? The closest to that that we can do is to offer a section from the narrative of the former United States ambassador, Dennis Ross, and his excellent recipe as well. B’tayavon!

Ross’ narrative and salmon fillet recipe follow the jump.

I was sent as ambassador of the United states to meet with Arafat in Tunis in 1993. This was to be the first of many meetings. Arafat liked to play the host, insisting on serving our delegation lunch.

We were about ten people around the table, four from the United States. A meal of roast chicken and potatoes had been prepared. Arafat was determined to not only serve the meal, but also to carve the chicken.

Banter lightened the situation with words to the effect of, “Are you actually going to cut my food for me as well?” with a reply of, “If you like,” and my response of, “No, thank you. The last person to cut my food was my mother.”

Dessert followed and Arafat passed around an assortment of Arabic sweets such as baklava and kanafi, a Middle Eastern dessert made from cheese and brown sugar. The meal was, in fact, good and just what both parties needed to continue.

From then on food became part of the negotiation process. Dennis fish is a variety of bream found in the Red Sea, so when I walked into a meeting, I would ask, “Let me guess what we are eating today — Dennis fish?” Arafat would laugh and at least in this context, he had a sense of humour.

This repartee continued every time we met. I heard that even in my absence Arafat would mention this wordplay just to irritate the Israeli delegation. (Page 197)

All of the vignettes bring personal stories from very interesting lives to our attention. The contributing authors come from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Israel, Ukraine, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, England, Canada and the United States.

Salmon Fillets with Green peppercorn, Mushroom & Macadamia Nut Sauce

  • 6 × 180g (6.5 ounces) salmon fillets
  • garlic salt
  • 2 lemons, juiced
  • 15 macadamia nuts, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chives, finely chopped

Sauce:

  • 50g (2 ounces) butter
  • 250g (9 ounces) mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1 tablespoon bottled green peppercorns, vinegar strained
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  1. Sprinkle the salmon fillets with garlic salt. Pour over lemon juice and marinate for 30 minutes.
  2. Grill or BBQ salmon, skin side down until almost cooked through. Turn and cook the other side for a minute or two.
  3. Make sauce: Prepare while fish is cooking. Melt butter in a non-stick fry pan. Add mushrooms, lemon juice, peppercorns, garlic salt and pepper and cook until mushrooms wilt and just begin to turn in color.
  4. Spoon sauce over fish and sprinkle with nuts and herbs.

(Serves 6)

Book Review: Crossing Cairo

— by Rabbi Goldie Milgram

Crossing Cairo is a fascinating and useful read for potential travelers to the region, armchair adventurers and also for those who contemplate the lessons of personal experience and history.

The book is a memoir of the 2006 six-month stay in Egypt of a Jewish couple and their children, aged 12 and 17.

As the author, Rabbi Ruth Sohn, pointed out in her prologue, 80,000 Jews lived in Egypt in the early 1940s, and today, there are barely any remaining Jewish Egyptian citizens. She finds them though, and introduces us to their story and takes us to what remains of Jewish sacred spaces.

She also makes interesting connections with local Muslims and other groups, and so is able to give us a window into the daily lives of those with cultural norms quite different to those of the West.

More after the jump.
Both the author and her husband are rabbis. Rabbi Sohn’s husband specializes in “explaining Islam to Jews and Jewish communities,” so the trip comes about through his needs and contacts.

While the children attend the American International School, we primarily hear Rabbi Ruth Sohn’s own adventures in the neighborhood and shops, and benefit from her open ways of getting to know the locals and appreciate the cultural differences between Egypt and America.

Honest, well-written reporting prevails in the book. We learn of her fears, friendships, mishaps and cultural missteps and discoveries.

This approach affords legitimate reader anticipation: Will Sohn’s fears, or her hopes, about Egyptian life and culture prove true? Will her natural openness prove sustainable? Will it be safe to tell people that the family is Jewish — let alone with two rabbis? What major cultural differences will emerge? What will healthcare be like? Transportation? Food? Employer-employee relationships? Will they be welcome? Might they leave prematurely?  

“It’s all about relationships, here in Egypt.” Kathy had commented the first time we got together…

There was even a culture around extending greetings to people. Anyone you passed on the street or saw in a shop, if you saw them on a semi-regular basis, you were expected to acknowledge with a greeting, even if you did not know their name. This was a real greeting, not just a nod, or a smile, or a casual hello…

when I asked someone on the street for directions, the person would start to explain  and then pause and say, “Come, I will show you.” And then walk me to my destination…

As I was soon to discover, the culture of helpfulness also had its downside. That is, the obligation to be helpful is so strong in Arab culture that one is expected to never respond to a request for help by saying no, or even “I don’t know.” It was considered far better to try to help, than not to try at all.”

Open discussion by locals about government corruption in front of Sohn is taken as a sign of acceptance, and a warning of what she might expect.

After 1000 people drown in a ferry incident, she notes that “when it became clear the ship was going to sink, it was the captain who was the first to leave and the crew ‘jumped ship’ in the lifeboats, leaving the passengers to fend for themselves.”

We get to meet many local characters through Sohn’s ability to cultivate close relationships and confidences, including Musheera, a Muslim who grew up in Tunisia and is married to a Jew.

They were bringing up their two children as Jews, they said, although they celebrated the holidays of both religions at home…

Musheera explained how she had really looked forward to moving to Cairo… but she was deeply disappointed. “Egypt is a far cry from a cosmopolitan society,” she said, shaking her head. “It may have been once, but it is the opposite today…

People here are very close-minded and inflexible, even though they are warm and friendly when you first meet them…

You don’t know what they really think… [Musheera] recalled an incident where someone actually stabbed a man and woman who were kissing in public. I am really scared sometimes that as a Muslim woman married to a Jew, I could end up the victim of such an attack…

Rabbi Sohn gives a vibrant accounting of the history of the Jews of Egypt within only a few pages:

The downturn in prospects for Egyptian Jews seems to begin when the Muslim Brotherhood is founded in Egypt in 1928. Anti-Zionist demonstrations are held in Cairo and Alexandria then, in April and May of 1938, with marchers shouting, “Throw the Jews out of Egypt and Palestine.”

By the late 1930s, the leaders of the Brotherhood and the nationalist group, “Young Egypt,” had adopted the antisemitic rhetoric of Hitler and his followers, claiming, for example, that the major political and social problems of the Muslim world were the result of a Jewish conspiracy.

Despite the intent of Egypt’s Jews to remain, it increasingly became impossible due to arrests, freezing of Jewish assets, expulsions with documents marked in Arabic “one way-no return,” blacklisting of Jewish businesses and accusations of espionage, torture, and two Jews condemned to execution, and others to long prison terms.

Then we learn that:

Legislation was passed in 1956 that enabled the government to deny Egyptian citizenship to people classified as Zionists; by 1958, the language of the new laws and speeches of government officials no longer distinguished between “Zionist” and “Jew”… within a few months, 14,000 Jews left Egypt.

Rabbi Sohn honestly reveals how easily she came to off-base assumptions about locals when in early arrival, or tourist, mode. Her shifts in perspective are sometimes in appreciation and sometimes in distress of what the probable truth of local views on matters economic, American, Israeli, Jewish, and governmental might be.

Sohn does some very inspiring acts to help those she meets along the way, without regard to religion, race, creed, gender or color. She also uses humor to good effect.

In Crossing Cairo, Sohn demonstrates how extended exposure to the people and practices of a culture may lead to significantly different interpretations of their comments and behaviors.