Should My Husband’s Text Messages Be Private?

— by Aron Moss, rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and a frequent contributor to Chabad.org. Reprinted with permission of Chabad.org, the Judaism website.

Question: Are text messages private? My husband and I have a major disagreement over this. He gets furious when I look at his phone, saying I have no business reading his private messages. I feel that as a married couple we should have nothing to hide from each other. I am not saying I am at all suspicious of him, I completely trust him. But should his inbox be totally out of bounds to me?

Answer: The answer to your quandary is right there in front of you — on your finger. Just look at your wedding ring.

[Read more…]

Venetian Passover Dishes: A Taste Of Multiculturalism From The Past

Venice Grand Canal— by Ronit Treatman

Visiting Venice is an incredible adventure!  Architecturally, it is one of the most sumptuous cities in the world.  Its Jewish history goes back to the tenth century, when Jewish traders first came to Venice to engage in commerce.  By the 1500s, Venice had the world’s first ghetto, in which Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and German Jews coexisted.  The community practically disappeared after World War II.  Currently, only about 500 Jews live in Venice.  It is possible to sample some Jewish Italian specialties in Venice’s only kosher restaurant, which is run by the CHABAD in the Ghetto Nuovo.  In order to really savor Venetian Jewish specialties, I turned to Alessandra Rovati, one of the few Jews who is originally from Venice.  She shares her family’s Venetian Jewish recipes on her Dinner in Venice website.

More after the jump.
Trying to find kosher food in Italy can be daunting.  When we visited Venice, I confidently asked our waiter in Italian about the ingredients in a sauce.  “Does it have pork?” “A porco?” I queried.  He threw his napkin down angrily and stomped off in a huff!  I had no idea why this question would have insulted him, until another waiter explained that “porco” is a slang word with many off color connotations.  I should have said “maiale.”  Trying to find authentic Jewish Italian food is just as hard.  It is possible to find Jewish artichokes, or “carciofi alla giudia” in any Jewish neighborhood in Italy.  We sampled these crispy, lemony artichokes in the Gam Gam kosher restaurant.  If you would like to taste genuine Jewish Venetian recipes, there is nothing better than getting yourself invited to a Jewish Venetian family’s home.  

In her site, Ms. Rovati invites us into her virtual home to share some unique Jewish recipes from Venice.  These recipes have been passed down in her family.  They are healthy, colorful, and full of Mediterranean vegetables.  Here is an adaptation of her Venetian spinach frittata.  Its ingredients reveal that it came to Venice with the Jews of Turkey and Catalonia.  This frittata is pareve, and kosher for Passover.

Venetian Passover Spinach Frittata
Adapted from Alessandra Rovati

  • 1 lb. baby spinach leaves, pre-washed, in a microwavable bag
  • 1 Spanish onion
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/4 cup of matza meal (you may substitute
  • ground almonds to make this gluten-free)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Cinnamon
  • Granulated sugar
  • Confectioner’s sugar
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons of pine nuts
  • 4 tablespoons of raisins
  1. Place the raisins in a bowl and pour boiling water over them. Cover the bowl, and allow the raisins to absorb the water.
  2. Cut the onion in half, and chop up one half of it.  Reserve the other half for another dish.
  3. Pierce the bag in three spots, and microwave the baby spinach for three minutes.
  4. Heat the olive oil in a pan.  
  5. Sauté the chopped onion for about five minutes.
  6. Add the steamed spinach to the onion and stir well.
  7. Season with salt, pepper, and cinnamon to taste.
  8. Set the spinach aside and allow it to cool.
  9. Drain the raisins.
  10. In a bowl, blend the four, eggs, matza meal (or ground almonds), one tablespoon of granulated sugar, a pinch of salt, a pinch of cinnamon, raisins, and pine nuts.
  11. Mix the spinach into this batter.
  12. Take a large frying pan, and heat some olive oil in it.
  13. Pour the spinach batter into the frying pan.  Lower the flame to medium, and allow it to cook for a few minutes.  You can check the bottom to see when it turns brown.  When the bottom is brown, flip the frittata over.  
  14. Place the spinach frittata on a serving platter, and sprinkle it with some confectioner’s sugar.

This eggy, spinachy dish is a little bit sweet, and a little bit savory.  It is very satisfying, and works well as a vegetarian main course or a side dish.

All of Ms. Rovati’s recipes are straightforward, without too much fuss.  The featured ingredients are healthy, and the resulting dishes are both delicious and exotic.  This year, add a historic Venetian accent to your Passover Seder.  If you visit Ms. Rovati’s Facebook page, you will note that there are many discussions in Italian about different recipes.  Fortunately for us, her website is in English.  This will help us avoid both pork and vulgar affronts!

A Persian Purim Feast From The Non-Persian Bride

— by Ronit Treatman

Have you ever wondered how Persian Jews celebrate Purim?  What do they serve to rejoice over their salvation from Haman?  After all, their ancestors were directly affected.  Up to this point, I could only wonder, because the Persian Jewish community is very insular, and recipes are a closely guarded family secret.  Now, it is possible to learn about these Jewish Persian customs from Persian Food from the Non-persian Bride: And Other Sephardic Kosher Recipes You Will Love, whose author, Reyna Simnegar, has a lot in common with Queen Esther.

More after the jump.
Reyna Simnegar, whose first name means “queen,” was born in Venezuela to a Catholic family.  She attended Catholic school, and thought she was like every other Venezuelan Catholic she grew up with.  But there were hints in her family that they were different.  For example, there were paintings of Saint Esther in the family home.  Saint Esther carries special symbolism for families of anusim (forced converts).  Esther represents a Jew who hid her identity until it was safe to reemerge.  The anusim transformed her into a Catholic saint.   This was a covert way for them to keep her as a beacon of hope that some day they could return to being openly Jewish.  At about age fifteen, Reyna’s Aunt Sarah whispered the truth to her.  “Our family if of Jewish origin,” she was told.  

Reyna Simnegar decided to return to her roots.  She underwent an orthodox conversion.  She then proceeded to marry a Jewish Persian man.  Her mother in law, Mrs. Shahla Simnegar, invited Reyna into the kitchen, and taught her all about the family’s secret recipes and customs.  Reyna has published these in a sumptuous new cookbook.  This book is not just about Persian food and recipes, but also about Jewish Persian customs.  On page 343, Reyna maps out the menu of a Persian Purim feast, from appetizers to desserts.  On this menu are such exotic dishes as Chelo (Persian rice) on page 186, and Persian Halvah on page 299.

My family had a lot of fun discovering something completely different to prepare for Purim in this book.  We call it Queen Esther’s Ice Cream.  On page 301, Reyna Simnegar has a recipe for Bastani, or Saffron Ice Cream.  We transformed this recipe into an activity.

Queen Esther’s Ice Cream

  • 3 scoops vanilla ice cream (dairy or pareve)
  • Rose water
  • Saffron threads
  • Pistachio nuts

Each person was served three scoops of vanilla ice cream.  We went with premium dairy ice cream.  

When Rosa Damascena rose petals are steamed to extract rose oil (used for perfume), what is left behind is called rose water.   Rose water has been used in Persian cuisine since ancient times.  It imparts a distinctive flavor and aroma to the food.  It contains no alcohol.  We passed the bottle of rose water around for everyone to smell. We each put a little bit of rose water in our ice cream.

Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world!  Saffron spice is made from the stigmas (or threads) of the Crocus sativus flower, which are individually handpicked and then dried.  Saffron gives a golden hue to foods, a special aroma, and sweet flavor.  We purchased a small sachet of saffron threads.  Every family member crumbled a little bit of the beautiful, scarlet dried crocus threads into our ice cream.

Pistachio nuts originated in Persia.  They are widely used in Persian recipes.  We peeled some unsalted, roasted pistachios (tasting some as we worked of course!).  All of us added some to our bowl.  Reyna Simnegar’s recipe calls for slivered pistachios, but we were not so refined!  We just threw them in whole.

We mixed all the ingredients together, and tasted the ice cream.  I wasn’t sure that my children would like the rose water flavor.  This is a condiment I never cook with.  The resulting ice cream was creamy and crunchy.  The flavors of the rose water, vanilla, saffron, and pistachio perfectly balanced each other.  This truly felt like an exotic dish from a foreign place to us.  It is so delicious; it is genuinely worthy of a queen’s banquet!

Buying Reyna Simnegar’s book, Persian Food from the Non-persian Bridee, is not an exercise in self-indulgence.  All proceeds go to charity.  She has donated to Chabad houses, where she has been invited to give talks.  “My charity of choice is Tomchei Shabbat (feeding the poor for Shabbat) and I also want to support Achnasa Kallah (helping brides to start their life),” she writes in response to my query about her charitable giving.  So go ahead and treat yourself to this book.  It’s a mitzvah!
 

Money Matters: Jewish Business Ethics

“Wisdom of the Ages on Today’s Economic Crisis,” a new six-week course on Jewish Business Ethics from the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute, presents timeless Talmudic wisdom on real-world ethical quandaries. The six-session series is accredited for 9 CLE ethics credits and will commence during the week of January 22.

The course explores the Jewish perspective on the professional and personal ethics of money. Topics include: insider trading, living wages, personal bankruptcy, CEO compensation, and freeloading.

Rabbi Brennan the local JLI instructor in Penn Wynne explained:

The recent failures in the financial industry have drastically changed the way we think about business. At JLI, we deeply believe that business should be a force for good, and that’s why we’re presenting students with timeless Talmudic insights into real-world ethical dilemmas.

Spanning a wide range of intriguing subjects, Money Matters discusses the personal ethics of bankruptcy and freeloading asking questions such as: After purchasing a ticket for a ball game, can you move to an unoccupied, higher-priced seat? If you ever have the money are you morally obliged to repay discharged debt?  Questions regarding topics in social ethics such as living wages, insider trading, CEO compensation, and collective bargaining are also addressed.

More after the jump.
British Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks said:

“Markets need morals, and morals are not made by markets. They are made by schools, the media, custom, tradition, religious leaders, moral role models and the influence of people. Jewish ethics has a long past and a massive resource of wisdom. That is why courses such as JLI’s Money Matters: Jewish Business Ethics are so important.”

Like all JLI programs, Money Matters is designed to appeal to people at all levels of Jewish knowledge, including those without any prior experience or background in Jewish learning. All JLI courses are open to the public, and attendees need not be affiliated with a particular synagogue, temple, or other house of worship.

Sign up today for a truly remarkable experience.

Hanukkah Comes Early to the Obama White House

— by David Streeter

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama hosted the White House’s annual Chanukah party last night that was attended by many prominent Jewish leaders and activists. Vice President Joe Biden, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, several Jewish members of Congress, NJDC Chair Marc R. Stanley, NJDC President and CEO David A. Harris, and a number of other NJDC leaders were all among the event’s attendees. Before the party started, Obama remarked to the guests:

Welcome to the White House.  Thank you all for joining us tonight to celebrate Hanukkah-even if we’re doing it a little bit early.

I want to start by recognizing a few folks who are here. The ambassador to the United States from Israel, Michael Oren, is in the house.

We are honored to be joined by one of the justices of the Supreme Court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is here. We are thrilled to see her. She’s one of my favorites … I’ve got a soft spot for Justice Ginsburg.

And we’ve got more than a few members of Congress here and members of my administration in the house, including our new Director of Jewish Outreach, Jarrod Bernstein is here….

I also want to thank the West Point Jewish Chapel Cadet Choir-the Voice of Tradition-for their wonderful performance, but more importantly, for their extraordinary service to our country.

And I want to thank all the rabbis and lay leaders who have come far and wide to be here with us today.

Now, as I said, we’re jumping the gun just a little bit. The way I see it, we’re just extending the holiday spirit. We’re stretching it out. But we do have to be careful that your kids don’t start thinking Hanukkah lasts 20 nights instead of eight. That will cause some problems.

This Hanukkah season we remember a story so powerful that we all know it by heart-even us Gentiles. It’s a story of right over might, of faith over doubt. Of a band of believers who rose up and freed their people and discovered that the oil left in their desecrated temple-which should have lasted only one night-ended up lasting eight.

More after the jump.

It’s a timeless story. And for 2,000 years, it has given hope to Jews everywhere who are struggling. And today, it reminds us that miracles come in all shapes and sizes. Because to most people, the miracle of Hanukkah would have looked like nothing more than a simple flame, but the believers in the temple knew it was something else. They knew it was something special.

This year, we have to recognize the miracles in our own lives. Let’s honor the sacrifices our ancestors made so that we might be here today. Let’s think about those who are spending this holiday far away from home-including members of our military who guard our freedom around the world. Let’s extend a hand to those who are in need, and allow the value of tikkun olam to guide our work this holiday season.

This is also a time to be grateful for our friendships, both with each other and between our nations. And that includes, of course, our unshakeable support and commitment to the security of the nation of Israel.

So while it is not yet Hanukkah, let’s give thanks for our blessings, for being together to celebrate this wonderful holiday season. And we never need an excuse for a good party….

So as I look around, I see a whole bunch of good friends. We can’t wait to give you a hug and a kiss and wish you a happy holiday. The guys with whiskers, I won’t give you a kiss.

Thank you very much, everybody.

Haaretz’s Natasha Mozgovaya noted that the party’s traditional kosher Chanukah foods were accompanied by “sushi rolls, caramelized pearl onions, shitake mushrooms, [and] pine nut herb crusted lamb chops.”

White House Pool Report by C. J. Ciaramella

The foyer was adorned in festive winter decorations. President Obama gave his remarks at a podium, next to a menorah with all eight candles lit.

Obama spoke for about four minutes to the group of approximately 550 guests, including many American Jewish community leaders, about the meaning of the Hannukah story.

“This Hannukah season, we remember a story so powerful that we know it by heart … even us gentiles,” Obama said. “A story of right over might, faith over doubt, a story about a band of believers who rose up and freed their people.”

President Obama said the Hannukah story is a reminder that “miracles come in all sizes,” and the holiday season is a time to “recognize the miracles in our own lives.”

“This is also time to be grateful for our friendships, both with each other and between our nations, and that of course includes our unshakable support and commitment to the security of the nation of Israel,” Obama said to applause.

After speaking, Obama left to meet with guests in the Map Room of the White House.

Notable guests included Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren, White House Director of Jewish Outreach Jarrod Bernstein and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, for whom President Obama said he had a “soft spot.”

Many members of Congress were also present, as was the West Point Jewish Chapel Cadet Choir.

Guests were treated to an all-kosher menu including dill and vodka Scottish smoked salmon and roulade of chicken breast. All food was prepared under the strict rabbinical supervision of Rabbi Levi Shemtov, Lubavitch Center of Washington (Chabad), in cooperation with the Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington.

The menorah for this year’s ceremony was lent by The Jewish Museum, New York and is dedicated to General Joseph T. McNarney, who served as the Commander in Chief of United States Forces in the European Theatre from November 1945 to March 1947.

Creating Community, Part 3: The Chabad Connection

By Hannah Lee

This series explores some of the ways that Jews have created a sense of kehillah (community), both traditional and modern.  Previous articles have focused on a contemporary approach on the Internet and the traditional method of hospitality.

Jews who travel know to contact the local Chabad rabbi in whatever city they find themselves to seek help about kosher food and Shabbat accommodations.  The local Chabad website would have that week’s Shabbat candle lighting time and parshah (Bible portion), even when the traveller’s  own congregation’s website may not be as current.  This free service is extended to all Jews, regardless of religious background, but sometimes, the Chabad connection goes beyond the normal call of duty.

In Senator Joe Lieberman‘s new book, The Gift of Rest, he wrote about one memorable visit to Munich with Senator John McCain in February 2004, a time of massive anti-Iraq war demonstrations that targeted the international security conference attended by “almost all defense ministers and many foreign ministers of NATO countries.”  Lieberman was greeted by the American military attaché who reported thus:

As you have seen, Senator, the streets around the hotel are sealed off with riot control vehicles and police cars.  A few hours ago, I was called to come out and meet someone.  I went out, watched the police vehicles separate, and through them walked a young rabbi with a beard, a black suit, and black hat, carrying a large shopping bag.  When we met, he said he had brought the bag for Senator Lieberman for the Sabbath, and here it is.  

And there it was, thanks to Rabbi Yisroel Diskin, the Chabad rabbi in Munich- a bag full of all I needed to make and enjoy Shabbat in Munich.  How did the rabbi know I was there?  My mother, in Stamford, CT, told her Chabad rabbi, Yisroel Deren, that I was going to be in Munich that Shabbat, and Rabbi Deren immediately e-mailed Rabbi Diskin who took it from there.

My daughter got through her college years with the help of her Chabad rabbi, another venue where Jewish connection is maintained  by these dedicated rabbis and their wives.  When she graduated at the end of the winter quarter, it was the day before Purim, so we celebrated Shabbat and Purim with Chabad and we had a fabulous time.   I was Cleopatra, complete with headdress, gladiator sandals, blingy garb, and the fatal asp too!  My daughter channeled her inner geek, by re-purposing her graduation gown as the English school uniform for Hermione.

When my family was in Aspen for its annual music festival one year, we celebrated Shabbat with Chabad there.  Rabbi Mendel Mintz has created a lively Jewish community center in the Colorado mountains, which he, Brooklyn-born and bred, has learned to ski.  His beautiful wife, Lieba, is director of their Hebrew school — as is usual in the Chabad outposts —  and they’re assisted by a rotation of young women who come out from Brooklyn to help the family care for their children as well as serve as teachers in the Hebrew school.  They give their all, with zeal and passion, because their mission is to bring all Jews closer to their tradition.


So, why can Jews travel all over the world and get consistent aid from the local Chabad websites?  It’s because it’s all centrally maintained at 770 Eastern Parkway in Boro Park, New York.  The staff at the headquarters helps new shluchim (emissaries) with websites, data bases, and tax forms.  It’s maybe as old as the shluchim program.  And for the Reader, if you feel inadequate about your knowledge of Jewish heritage, their newest educational project is Fascinating Facts: Exploring the Myths and Mysteries of Judaism and it’s available at your local Chabad center.

Home Baked Challah For Shabbat

Ronit Treatman

Olive oil lamps and tabun-baked flatbreads were the centerpieces of the first Shabbat tables.  As Jews dispersed around the world, candles replaced oil lamps, and the loaves used for the blessing over the bread sometimes changed as well.  In the fifteenth century, Jews settled along the Rhine River, and were inspired by the local braided egg breads to bake challah.  At that time, every challah was artisanal!  The woman of the house mixed her own dough, shaped it by hand, and baked it fresh for Shabbat. With the arrival of commercial baking, for many families the art of preparing a homemade challah was lost.  Now, many people are reclaiming the skill of baking their own challah for Shabbat.  They are rediscovering the serenity that comes from feeling the flour on their hands, kneading the dough, and filling their home with the sweet smell of fresh challah being baked.

More after the jump.
Currently, there are 216,000 recipes for challah online, 219 challah-baking demonstrations on You Tube, and 14,700 challah related facebook pages. There are spaces in message boards dedicated to discussing the challenges of getting the challah to turn out just the way the baker wants it. Men, women, amateur and professional bakers, and foodies from everywhere are happy to share their experiences.  This interactive world of the Internet has become our new shtetl marketplace.  We can just casually complain that our dough failed to rise, and anyone who hears us can pitch in with a suggestion.

Some of the best challah recipes have been compiled in a book called The Secret of Challah, by Shira Wiener and Ayelet Yifrach.  

In The Secret of Challah, we learn how to perform the mitzvah of Hafrashat challah, or “separating challah.”  This custom takes us back to the 10th century BCE, to the First Temple in Jerusalem.  We separate the prescribed amount of dough before we start braiding our challah.  The blessing which we say over this piece of dough is

Baruch ata Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha’olam, asher kidshanu bemitzvotav vetzivanu l’hafrish challah.

Praised are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the Universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and has commanded us to separate challah (from the dough).

We then hold the piece of dough and say

Harei zoh challah.

This is the challah.

This piece of dough is burned, to remind us of the portion of grain every family gave to the Kohanim serving in the temple (Numbers 15:17-21).    This is what is meant by “challah is taken” on packages of kosher bread or matzah.  

This book has beautiful photography, and can handily guide most people through the process of braiding six strands of dough into a splendid, golden challah for Shabbat.  There is a wonderful chapter about decorative traditions for the challah in different communities.

My family baked Chani’s Shabbat Challah from The Secret of Challah.  Here is an adaptation.


Chani’s Shabbat Challah

  • 2 tablespoons dry yeast
  • 2 cups warm water
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1-tablespoon salt
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 9 cups flour

Combine the warm water, sugar, and yeast in a large bowl.  Cover with a clean kitchen towel and put in a warm place.  After about ten minutes, the mixture should be foaming.  Add the eggs, flour, salt, and oil.  Knead the ingredients into dough and cover the bowl with the towel.  Let the dough rise for one hour.  

Remove the dough from the bowl.  Separate it into three pieces.  Roll each piece into a long rope.  Braid the challah and place in a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.

Allow the challah to rise for another forty minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Beat the yolk of two eggs, and brush the challah.

Sprinkle sesame seeds and poppy seeds over it.

Bake the challah for 30 to 40 minutes.

For some people, mixing the dough from scratch is too time consuming and messy.  This is no reason to miss out on all the fun!  For those who don’t want to knead their own dough, it is possible to order frozen Kosher challah dough online.  Wenner Bread Products is a family owned industrial bakery, which operates under the supervision of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.  If you order their kosher challah dough, you can go straight to braiding and baking.  Challah has already been taken at their facility.

For those who yearn for interpersonal interactions, Chabad hosts weekly challah baking workshops, charging only a nominal fee for materials.  About fifty years ago, the Rabbis’ wives started to invite women from their respective communities to bake challah for Shabbat and learn about Judaism.  These rebetzins preserved challah recipes from their grandmothers that otherwise would have been lost in the ashes of the Holocaust.  Chabad is not famous for its gourmet food, yet when it comes to challah baking no one can compete with them!  There is no one “Chabad challah recipe” that is used in all the Chabad centers around the world.  Their instructors are very adventurous!  Chabad collects recipes from everywhere and everyone.  Every challah baking session tries one or more different recipes.  Chabad wants as many people as possible to learn how to bake challah.  As a result, they have created a challah baking class for the deaf, taught in American Sign Language.

Chabad’s success has not gone unnoticed.  Many Jewish Federations and synagogues in the United States have added challah baking as fun hands-on way to build community.  It is one of the most popular activities created for Birthright alumni.  Hillels in colleges across the country are coordinating Challah for Hunger baking sessions.  These challahs are sold, and the money goes to charity.  In my community, my dear friend Rabbi Fredi Cooper has started a group named Kesher.  Kesher volunteers meet in the kitchen of our synagogue and bake fresh challahs.  These challahs are delivered to welcome every new baby in the community, to homebound seniors, and people in hospitals.  

Are you too busy or antisocial to participate in a challah-baking workshop?  That is no excuse not to bake your own challah!  You can follow step-by-step instructions in this video.  

I love baking challah with my children.  This activity is a way of turning Friday after school time into a special occasion leading up to Shabbat dinner.  My philosophy is that it is the process that matters, not the product.  Our challah would never win any sort of award for presentation or taste!  I love to play beautiful music for Shabbat on You Tube while we measure the ingredients and knead the dough.  One example is this video.  I set the Shabbat table while we let the dough rise.  We only have time to let it rise once, but we don’t let that stop us from enjoying ourselves!  The kids form their challahs.  It is possible to be so creative!  A challah doesn’t have to be in the form of a braid.  It can be shaped like a bunch of grapes, a key, and even a hamsa (hand shaped amulet).  Then, my magnum opi paint the challah with egg yolk, to give it a golden sheen.  The challas are sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds and poppy seeds.  We put the challahs in the oven one hour before dinner is scheduled to begin.  This gives them enough time to bake, and then cool off a little before they are served.

What I love the most about baking my own challah is that it is part of the process of turning my home into a cocoon for Shabbat.  No matter what else has happened during the week, this is a time to minimize all the bad things, and accentuate the special.  I focus on creating a festive environment, with the sounds of Shabbat music, the tactile pleasure of kneading the dough, the smells of yeast and baking bread, the sight of beautiful golden loaves emerging from the oven, and the taste of fresh, warm, sweet challah.  To me, the smell of a baking challah is the smell of love.      

Old City Jewish Art Center

   

John O. Mason

The Old City Jewish Art Center, located on 119 North Third Street, is a Jewish-themed art gallery in Old City which hosts Shabbat services, including services and a meal,  during the traditional First Friday exhibits among the galleries in the area.

Artists whose works have been exhibited include Rita Ackert, Steve Belkowitz, Linda Dubin Garfield, Liliana Life, Carla Goodstein, Peter Reich, and Mordechai Rosenstein, Mickie Rosen, Hinda Schuman, Susan Leonard, Kathryn Pannepacker, Else Wachs, Paulette Bensignor, Susan Forbes, Rachel Issac, B.Leah Palmer, and Barbara Rosenzweig.

More after the jump.
Rabbi Menachem Schmidt, founder of the gallery,  was born in Irvington, New Jersey,  and grew up near Highland Park, near Rutgers. “I grew up in a Conservative synagogue,” he says, “and I became involved with Lubavich (or Chabad Hasidism) when I was about twenty. I was a Television and Radio major at Syracuse University, and I (had) a dual major in Art History.” After graduating, Schmidt attained shmicha (rabbinical ordination) and he was asked by Rabbi Abraham Shemtov, regional director of Chabad activities, under the guidance of the Lubavicher Rebbi, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, to organize the Lubavich House at the University of Pennsylvania, where he is still Executive Director.

The gallery, says Schmidt, ” is a resultant project of a lot of (Lubavich) programs.” Of the center’s mission, he says, “Art is a very valuable expression of  Judaism, it’s a valuable expression in order to express ideas in Judaism, in order to bring people together. It also creates commonality between all kinds of different people.”

The artists featured in the gallery, Schmidt adds, “are al different in terms of their connection to Judaism, in their own personal observance, and to me that’s very exciting.”

As for the gallery’s First Friday programs, Schmidt says, “We live in Center City, and I’m involved in a lot of the projects in center City, and I always have my eye on First Friday. Before we opened, there was never anything Jewish happening on First Friday. It’s not only Jewish, it’s also something that brings people together besides commerce, it’s (also) something that’s creating a community, which is a message of Judaism. We didn’t really know if there would be any interest in it. My daughter lived close by and I asked her to see if she could find any empty art galleries or any empty spaces that we could squat in, and we’ll see how it goes. Yehudi Bork owned this space, and he was happy to let us use it.”

One of the people active with the center is Diane Litten, an artists whose makes jewelry, hats and scarves, which she calls “fine art accessories.” “They needed somebody here(at the center),” she adds, ” and I needed a studio, so we made an arrangement.” Litten takes part in setting up the center for shows; she calls that arrangement “excellent, wonderful.” Her work does not have a religious or Jewish theme, “but it’s an arty theme.”  

Cynthia Blackwood, a member of the Board of Directors of the center, speaks of the theme of the center’s October show, based on the 27th Psalm, which is said on Elul before Rosh Ha-Shona: “This is a show I wanted to put together. Rabbi Schmidt and I worked out a theme, and I called artists in to do a piece relating to the 27th Psalm, and they did, all thirteen artists. I did the calligraphy (with the Psalm in Hebrew), so you’re walking in and that’s the Psalm. I wanted you to feel like you’re wrapped in the Psalm.” The art works in the exhibit, adds Blackwood, “relate to the feelings that the artists have while reading the Psalm.”

Painter Barbara Rosin says of her works in the exhibit, “I’m a professional artist,  and Cynthia (Blackwood) is my framer, and she’s very familiar with my work. She invited me to participate, and she sent me material about the 27th Psalm and the month of Elul. It was extremely interesting, a lot of commentary, it was very interesting for me to work on.

“I’m a landscape painter,” Rosin adds, about her painting her work, “and the psalm made me think of very serene places, sanctuary, (being) free from harm.”