Main Line’s Thirst for Books Quenched at Last


Cathy Fiebach outside the store

— by Hannah Lee

I and other residents of the Main Line have been in lack of books since the bankruptcy of the Borders bookstore chain in July 2011, and the renovations of the Ludington and Bala Cynwyd branch libraries, the latter closing in December 2011. For a few months, we were bereft of all three resources, until Ludington reopened last September, and Bala Cynwyd reopened last month. Another pleasure awaits us at the newly opened Main Point Books, an independent bookstore in Bryn Mawr, run by local resident Cathy Fiebach.

Main Point Books stocks a broad range of books, with a particular emphasis on literary fiction. Fiebach is eager to hear from customers about the kinds of books they like, and especially about books they do not, because it helps her develop her inventory. (When was the last time you had fun chatting books with the staff at a chain store?)

One of the charming books available in the store is My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop, a collection of essays by writers on their favorite bookstores. Some of those stores are in the writers’ communities, and others are their stops along a book tour. I have my own copy, and I told Fiebach that it is “armchair traveling” for me to read about lovely bookstores across the country. Her store could easily join their ranks.

More after the jump.
Main Point Books has comfortable armchairs, round tables and 17,000 square feet of space. The bookcases in the middle are on wheels, and are able to be moved out for an audience. Events with authors will begin in the fall. Interested customers may get alerts on Facebook or Twitter, or by email. (Visitors could satisfy any hunger pangs with the dairy selection from the *ndulge Cupcake Boutique located next door, in the former Medley Music building, with kosher supervision from Rabbi Dov Lerner of Traditional Kosher Supervision.)  

Main Point Books, located at 1041 W. Lancaster Avenue in Bryn Mawr, is open seven days a week, with hours Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday 10 am to 6 pm; Thursday and Friday 10 am to 8 pm; and Sunday noon to 4 pm. Phone: 610-525-1480; email: [email protected].

The Congressional SNAP Challenge: What Rep. Barbara Lee Forgot


Rep. Barbara Lee

Once in a while, a politician or two tries living on the budget of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for a day, or maybe a week. This week, 26 members of the Congress will do it, in reaction to the Senate’s Farm Bill, that would once again cut the SNAP recipient budgets. The current amount that the average recipient can eat on is $4.50 a day.

I was struck by Congresswoman Barbara Lee's (D-CA) blog post on her shopping trip:

Getting your budget down to $4.50 a day is complicated. You need to try to make sure you have enough protein, limit your sodium, and find good vegetables. If you have special dietary needs, like diabetes or an allergy, there's even more to think about.

Congresswoman Lee’s heart (and those of the other 25 members of Congress who took on the challenge) is in the right place, but she forgot something: She made a tuna noodle casserole part of her week's meal plan. She noted that she found a box that only required water, since milk and butter were not on her budget. Some SNAP recipients also don’t have electricity or gas. Therefore, they can not cook.

More after the jump.

In addition, food tends to cost more in poorer neighborhoods. I am not saying that only "the poor" are on SNAP — there are many people living in middle-class neighborhoods who have lost their job, and are eking out from unemployment compensation and SNAP. But if your only food source is a bodega, it is likely that a can of tuna will cost more than if you can compare prices at multiple markets from the flyers that get delivered weekly, and choose the best location. 

Having said all that, I applaud the members of Congress taking on this challenge. I wish that at least one of the members of Congress voting for the cut to SNAP would take it on also, and see how expensive it is to buy food.

Every time I write an article about SNAP, I look  at my log and see what I ate the day before, and how much it cost. Yesterday, I had three cups of coffee (58¢/cup), about a half pound of grapes ($1.50), a yogurt (79¢) and a salad from a fast food restaurant, plus dressing. I hit $4 before even figuring out the cost of the salad. I am a tiny eater, and I know that "regular" people wouldn't be able live on what I eat. Some people have no choice.

If you want to help, you could try eating on $4.50 a day, or just add up what you spent on food yesterday. And then call your Congress member. If they are participating, thank them. If not, ask why.

We have money for weapons, money for corporate welfare, tax cuts for the rich, but no money for kids who will be very hungry this summer, when they will not get school lunches. I called my Representative’s office. They wrote down my questions, but I doubt that I will get an answer. Maybe you will do better.

Book Chat: Get Real, Get Married

— by Hannah Lee

Aleeza Ben Shalom has always happily served as a networker or a “connector,” bringing together people whether it was about housing, cars or furniture. Her successful connections, made through her Shabbat hospitality at her family’s table and her volunteer work for the SawYouAtSinai dating website, have led her to launch her business, “Marriage Minded Mentor,” in February 2012. To date, she has brought 14 clients to the wedding chuppah and another eight are engaged.

Her 132-page book, Get Real Get Married, hit the stores today (Tuesday). With clients from the observant community, her shortest match took four months from introduction to marriage (Those two really knew what they wanted!), while the longest match took about nine months. Her clients in the general public need more time.

More after the jump.
Raised Conservative and formerly known as Lisa Caplan, Ben Shalom studied Jewish studies, children’s literature, and environmental studies at the University of Pittsburgh. While attending a retreat with IsraLight, a kiruv (outreach) organization founded by Rabbi David Aaron, she found both meaning and purpose in a life structured by Torah and mitzvot (commandments). Overnight, she began to observe Shabbat, swapped out her trendy wardrobe for modest clothing covering her collarbones, shoulders and elbows, and already a vegan, she started keeping kosher.

Also attending the same retreat was Gershom Ben Shalom, although they were both dating other people. They dated for three weeks, got engaged, and were wed in four months. This is not what she recommends for anyone else, but as her mother noted to her, “You’re not flaky, but this [rapid transformation] is flaky.” Her parents nonetheless supported her decision and they are delighted in their four grandchildren (and another on the way). The Ben-Shaloms have been married for 10 years.

Ben Shalom says a matchmaker has to work in three levels: in fact, in act, and intact. The first goal is the one that’s most familiar to us, but a successful matchmaker has to also walk the client through the process — “in act,” as well as support the client through the inevitable ups and downs of relationships — “intact,” to keep them together. Even after the wedding, she fields calls from former clients asking if some particular issue or conflict is typical to other marriages. She is even planning a sequel to be titled “Stay Real, Stay Married,” for a society where 50% of marriages end in divorce, as do 20% of Orthodox Jewish commitments.

Recently, Ben Shalom spoke at a non-Jewish event attended by women aged 18-65, and she saw that her message, that you have to be marriage-minded to get married and stay married, resonated with the audience. She realized that her message is universal: that marriage is a lifelong process of growth and connection.

She offers her clients a pithy lesson of one, five, and ten. One: you have to pick one goal to focus on. If marriage is your goal, then choose no more than five mentors to assist you. Who qualifies as a mentor? Ben Shalom advises to choose someone who has been married for more than five years and who has shown wisdom and a history of good decisions. Then, choose ten or fewer people to date until you pick your spouse. This directs dating in a healthier way, so that one thinks carefully about whether a person is worthy of dating for marriage.

Older singles can be particularly fragile, but they usually hide their vulnerability: They present themselves as accomplished, financially stable, and able to live independently. How do we, who are not matchmakers, help these people?  “Engage in open dialogue,” counsels Ben Shalom, “and ask what does the person need at that moment.” Check back each time, because the emotional terrain is very volatile and someone who’s ready to meet people one month may be exhausted emotionally the next one, so that person may wish to simply join your family for a Shabbat or Yom Tov meal, with no expectations for a shidduch.

Successful clients are stable: physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Some clients have met with Ben Shalom’s refusal to arrange meetings during a period of transition. She also readily refers clients to other professionals for therapy, diet counseling, or personal organization (clutter management).

What does she think of speed dating (a phenomenon that’s not so popular in the Philadelphia area, where singles have the opportunity to sit and engage with each other individually in a focused, limited time — usually several minutes)? This may work for some people, but Ben Shalom finds it emotionally challenging, and it is not amongst her top techniques. She is more a proponent of “inspect what you expect,” and her clients do not go on blind dates without evaluating the particulars of a prospective date.

The dating scene in Philadelphia is unlike those of New York and Los Angeles, where there are so many singles, that they don’t feel the need to get married. “They are practicing to be single,” said Ben Shalom, “not practicing to get married.” Moreover, people tend to leave New York once they do get married for more affordable communities, in order to be able to raise children.

Are the rabbis doing enough for singles? The times are changing fast, so while individual rabbis may be helpful, they are not unified in their efforts. In earlier times, all Jews in any particular area knew each other, and so it was easier to facilitate with matches. In our times, Ben Shalom advocates the use of a “dating resume,” or dating profile. In addition to personal statistics and biographical data, she asks her clients to reflect on who they are and what they are looking for.

A crucial advice by Ben Shalom is not to look for what the mentors want instead of what you want, because that could lead to shaky relationships. As for highly-specific documented demands such as the dress size of the kallah (or mother-in-law!) or the color of the tablecloths, Ben Shalom asks, “are their head and heart in line? The color of the tablecloth may be a surrogate for family minhagim (customs), but is the person marriage-minded? Can he or she stay married?”

Ben Shalom hosts a weekly radio show at Jewish Talk Radio, and blogs at the Marriage Minded Mentor website.

Book Chat: Ballots, Babies, and Banners of Peace

— by Hannah Lee

Judging from the titles in the general and academic press, you would surmise that American Jewish women were not active in the biggest social movements of the 20th century. And you would be wrong. The paucity of scholarship in this area led Melissa Klapper, a historian at Rowan University, to a six-year odyssey that culminated with her latest book, Ballots, Babies, and Banners of Peace: American Jewish Women’s Activism, 1890-1940 which highlights the role of American Jewish women in three social movements for suffrage, birth control, and peace.

More after the jump.
The women’s rights movement was launched at a convention in Seneca Falls, NY in 1848. It was held in a church, and no Jewish women were in attendance. (There were only about 50,000 Jews — 0.22% of the total population — in the United States at the time.) In fact, there had been tremendous anti-Semitism in the early years of the movement. After Colorado gave women the vote in 1893, women became newly energized. Then, the American Jewish community itself expanded, with immigrants arriving from Eastern Europe that were already politicized with experience in the labor Bund political party, Zionism, or social reform.

The National Council of Jewish Women never did take an official stance on women’s suffrage, but most of its members were in support. One prominent Jewish activist was Maud Nathan, who leveraged her fluency in French and German to serve as translator in international conferences. She helped spread the movement by writing articles and the lecture circuit, with 10-12 engagements a week. However, her sister, Annie Nathan Meyer, was a vocal anti-suffragist, which may be surprising considering that she founded Barnard College.

The successes of suffrage depended in part on votes of Jewish men, but anti-Semitism re-surfaced with the defeats in referenda in New York, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts in 1915. Jews realized that they couldn’t change the movement. Jewish women also lobbied for increased power in the Jewish community and synagogues. After 1920, when the Nineteenth Amendment for women’s vote was ratified, synagogues across the spectrum opened their boards to women.

With the achievement of the women’s vote, some women were looking for another social cause. They found it in the nascent birth-control movement. Margaret Sanger, a Catholic whose first husband was a Jew, opened the first birth-control clinic in 1916 in Brownsville, Brooklyn, which had a huge immigrant population of Italians and Eastern Europeans. These women did not care about religious prohibitions; they wanted control over the size of their families. The reality of childbirth in the early 20th century was grim: 20% of the children died before the age of five, and 1% of live births caused a maternal death.

The women lined up for blocks near Sanger’s clinic, waiting with their baby carriages. Before the clinic was closed — after ten days — because of federal laws on “obscenity”, the women left with contraceptives and knowledge to pass onto their sisters and neighbors.

Sanger had left for the Netherlands, where birth control was legal, and the next clinic would not appear in the United States until 1923. Jewish women were early adopters across the classes; their birthrate dropped by 2.8 children per woman in 30 years. Jewish women were also distributers of birth control as clinic staff and physicians. Dr. Klapper attributed this to the Jewish value of tikkun olam (repairing the world) as well as to the prevailing anti-Semitism, when qualified Jews often found it hard to obtain employment. Jewish women were also activists across the class lines and at all levels of involvement.

All major rabbinical groups discussed birth control. The first and most influential opinion published was issued by the Reform movement: Rabbi Jacob Lauterbach, who’d studied in a traditional yeshiva in Berlin, whose scholarship on this subject — and allowance for contraceptives — was so rigorous that his opinion was accepted by the Conservative movement. Dr. Klapper showed Lauterbach’s writing to Orthodox rabbis during her research, and they confirmed to its validity. The Orthodox Union was pressured by the Catholic Church to condemn contraception, but it allowed congregants to consult their local rabbis. Before the 1930s, all press writings about contraceptives were in code, referring to “family well-being” or using words for the materials used in birth control.

The third social movement covered in the book was the peace movement, which initiated in the 19th century but did not grow strong until after World War I. As in any war, the first world war was devastating for Jewish communities. The international Jewish network that developed for the peace movement was later the model for the women’s peace movement. Jewish women were not naïve believers; they tried to arbitrate conflicts and worked for arms reduction. The League of Nations, which we now regard as a failed effort, was somewhat successful in the 1920s and 30s, particularly the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928, with over 100 countries signed on to renounce the use of war and called for the peaceful settlement of disputes.

The rise of Nazism in the 1930s posed a dilemma for the Jewish pacifists. How would the women respond? Some decided to fight the evil of Nazism, but some resolved to continue peace negotiations. In 1933, pacifists were amongst the first people rounded up by the Nazis in Germany. By the time World War II broke out, most Jewish groups had changed their position to against pacifism. Some women still couldn’t support the war efforts, such as volunteering for the Red Cross, and one woman, Rebecca Hourwich Reyher, moved to the Dominican Republic to help the Jewish refugees arriving to rural Sosúa.

The prevailing view of women’s activism is that it was dormant from 1920 to 1960. Dr. Klapper has shown with her meticulous scholarship that it was not so.

Book Chat: Kosher Nation

— by Hannah Lee

Kashrut, the kosher dietary laws, is the original practice of mindful eating, set within a holistic framework”, said Sue Fishkoff at the symposium “How Kosher is Kosher?,” held on April 15th as part of the What Is Your Food Worth? series, hosted by Temple University and coordinated by its Feinstein Center for American Jewish History.  

Fishkoff is the author of the 2010 book Kosher Nation: Why More and More of America’s Food Answers to a Higher Authority and editor of J., the Jewish news weekly of Northern California. For about ten years before she began research for her book, she said that Americans had expressed an interest in where and how we get our food. What galvanized her to write the book was that Jews were beginning the same conversation from a Jewish perspective. “Every Jewish household has a kosher story, even if the family does not follow kashrut.”

More after the jump.
In 2007, Fishkoff read a report stating that kosher food is the largest and fastest growing segment of the domestic food industry. “While there are at most a million kosher Jews,” she cited, “there are another 12-13 million Americans who buy kosher products. Who are they and why do they choose kosher items?”

In 1972, Hebrew National launched its historic campaign featuring the character of Uncle Sam biting into a hot dog with the slogan “We answer to a higher authority.” “This was at a time where Americans had a sense of fear of governmental authorities”, said Fishkoff, “coming after the civil rights protests, the publication of Rachel Carson’s environmental wake-up call, Silent Spring, and the Vietnam War. The ad portrayed kosher food as safer and healthier.”

In the book, Fishkoff cited that recent polls showed that 62% of Americans believe kosher food is better, 51% believe kosher food is healthier and 34% believe kosher food is safer. “In this country with the world’s highest numbers of believers in God and the most trust in religious authorities,” she said, “this translates into a $200 billion a year kosher certified food industry.

Who buys kosher? People who are lactose-intolerant (75% of African-Americans are deficient in lactase, as well as 90% of Asians) have learned to look for the pareve label, signifying the food’s dairy-free status. Fundamental Baptists and Seventh-Day Adventists who follow Old Testament prohibitions on “unclean animals” buy kosher meat. Many Muslims were given dispensation to buy kosher meat when their own halal meat was not readily available. Finally, non-kosher Jews buy kosher food for the holidays, so that the Jewish food companies earn 40-50% their annual revenue from their Passover inventory.

The rise of kosher certification is tied with the advancement of technology. In 1925, less than 5% of the food in a typical American Jewish kitchen was processed. As food technology expanded and the use of additives and preservatives increased, the Orthodox Union stepped in to regulate the food manufacturing process. In 1923, Heinz became the first company to put a kosher label on a food item — its vegetarian baked beans. To avoid scaring off its gentile customers, said Fishkoff, it used a symbol, the U inside a circle, that was easily recognizable by Jews. In the United States today, a kosher label is a sign of quality. That is not true in most of the world, including Great Britain, where lists of kosher products are prepared by their rabbinic authorities, and kosher-keeping visitors are advised to obtain those lists before shopping for groceries.

There are over 1,000 kosher symbols recognized in the United States today, with the “big four” — OU, OK, Star-K, and Kof-K — controlling 85% of the market. Supermarkets often stock only the big four, or even the “big one”, OU. The reach of the big four is global, with half of the food products exported from China being certified kosher.

Along with the profits comes abuse, sometimes benignly — as when Fuji placed a kosher symbol on its packages of film (without approval) because it was thought to promote sales. The biggest price differentiation is in kosher meat, so that’s where most scandals have occurred. “In 1914, Barnett Baff, who ran a wholesale poultry business in New York City, was said to be murdered by a cabal of 100 butchers who’d paid for his death,” reported Fishkoff.

In the 1920s, half of all poultry in New York City was sold as “kosher,” but it was estimated that about 60% of it was actually not kosher. In 1961, Rabbi Morris Katz published a scathing exposé of the kosher sausage houses in the Midwest, where he claimed that up to 80% of all “kosher” meat was treife (not kosher). This incurred the ire of the local rabbinical councils for making trouble and making a public scandal.

“Selective kashrus” was a term first used in the early 20th century, mostly by Reform Jews, to delineate the red line so they would eat what Gentiles ate while refraining from other forbidden foods such as pork. In Boston, this meant allowing lobster; on Long Island, it was oysters; in New Orleans, it was crayfish. In California, “kosher style” is now known as “New York,” as in New York delis.

As Jews became more assured of their status in America, they became more comfortable keeping kosher in public. Previously, it was rare for kosher food to be offered, even at large gatherings such as Jewish Federation’s General Assembly. The turning point was the Six-Day War that Israel waged in 1967, after which Jews began expressing pride of their religion. Nowadays, for many liberal Jews, eating kosher has become a symbol of “membership in the tribe” rather than an indicator of a fully observant lifestyle.  

Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz and Food Justice

— by Hannah Lee

“The first incidence of food justice occurred in the Garden of Eden,” said Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, “when Adam and Eve chose to defy divine prohibition and ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. This moral consciousness formed the basis of Jewish ethical system and it was a matter of food choice.”

Yanklowitz spoke on April 15 at a symposium titled “How Kosher is Kosher?,” as part of the “What Is Your Food Worth” series, hosted at Temple University and coordinated by its Feinstein Center for American Jewish History.

Rav Shmuly, as he’s known, burst onto the Jewish communal arena five years ago, after the scandal of Postville, Iowa, where federal agents conducted the largest immigration raid in United States’ history at the Agri-Processors kosher slaughterhouse. The agents rounded up illegal migrant workers who had been abused, threatened, and paid below-minimum wages. At the time, Agri-Processors slaughtered 60 percent of the nation’s kosher beef and 40 percent of the kosher chicken. Rabbinical students at the time, Shmuly and Ari Hart, had founded Uri L’Tzedek the year before, which then launched an international boycott, signed up 2,000 rabbis and community leaders, and demanded transparency in worker standards.

More after the jump.
Uri L’Tzedek’s major contribution to Jewish social justice has been Tav HaYosher, an ethical seal certifying fair and just labor condition. Relying solely on volunteers in order to assure compliance, 100 food establishments now display the certification, and thereby declare that they provide their workers with a minimum wage at least, overtime payment and time off. Rav Shmuly said that one of Judaism’s greatest gifts to the world is Shabbat, incorporating the concepts of worker justice and animal welfare (giving both human workers and animals a day of rest), but a gap remains.
 
While the British philosopher David Hume famously declared that we care more about the stubbing of our toe than someone dying around the world, Rabbi Shmuly claims that today we are more aware than ever of the suffering in the world and it is time to expand our understanding of kashrut, the Jewish dietary laws, to include social justice and animal welfare.

Kashrut, said Rabbi Shmuly, is a powerful vehicle for social change, because we control the kosher industry with our purchasing power. Unlike the Conservative Hechser Tzedek (renamed Magen Tzedek), Tav HaYosher does not work directly with the kosher supervising agencies, for several reasons: the mashgichim, kosher supervisors, might be biased, they are not trained to look for ethical practices, and they might not be sensitive to the issues.

However, Shmuly cites an incident involving Rav Israel Salanter, the founder of the Musar movement of ethical conduct: when Rav Salanter was invited to inspect a matzah factory, he noticed that the female workers did not get a single break in the entire time of the inspection. He concluded that they were over-worked and he resolved to not sign the kosher certification. Tav HaYosher focuses on highlighting the employers who abide by ethical worker standards, bestowing its seal of approval without demanding payment from their establishments.

Creating a new social movement is an uphill struggle to convince people to think beyond their wallet and how much their food costs. Rav Shmuly spoke about Primo Levi, who wrote about the worst day of Auschwitz being after the Nazis had left and before the Allies rescuers arrived. There were no rules and no one knew what would happen. Then, the inmates found some potatoes and they shared with one another. In this way, they regained their humanity, by not simply following a foreign sense of order.

Rav Shmuly declares, “We can build a community that cares about the environment, the workers, and the animals.” His newer Shamayim V’Aretz Institute promotes animal welfare and Jewish veganism.

In 2008, The Jewish Week recognized Rav Shmuly as one of the 36 most influential Jewish leaders under the age of 36. In 2009, the United Jewish Communities named Rav Shmuly one of five “Jewish Community Heroes.” Having earned two master’s and a doctorate degree (in Moral Development and Epistemology from Columbia), Rav Shmuly is now Senior Rabbi at Kehilath Israel in Kansas and he is the author of the 2012 book Jewish Ethics & Social Justice.

Readers who wish to become Tav HaYosher compliance officers, contact Uri L’Tzedek.

Food Chat: How Jewish Food Became Jewish


Ariella Werden-Greenfield

— by Hannah Lee

What makes food Jewish? “The iconic comfort foods of American Jews connect us with our heritage, but most of the items are not innately Jewish”, says Ariella Werden-Greenfield, a PhD. candidate in religion at Temple University. She spoke last week at the Gershman Y as part of the series on What Is Your Food Worth? coordinated by Temple’s Feinstein Center for American Jewish History. Some exceptions are bulkie rolls and matzo balls, which derive from challah and matzah, both prominent in Jewish rituals.

Jews have adapted recipes to the kosher ingredients available to them in whatever land they’ve landed. Pastrami, from the Turkish word, pastirma, we know as spiced, dried beef, but it originated in Romania where pork or mutton were instead used. The Romanian recipe arrived with the Jewish immigrants in the second half of the 19th century. In Israel, it’s made with chicken or turkey. Corned beef, a salt-cured beef, is actually Irish, but the Jewish butchers sold cuts of brisket to the Irish, so they also offered it to their brethren.

More after the jump.
Fish was not sold together with meat products and it was not easily accessible to Jews in the Old Country. The advent of the canning industry expanded the dietary options for all Americans. Jews gravitated to herring, which was familiar and cheap; whitefish, a colonial novelty from the Great Lakes; and lox and nova, from the salmon which was previously unaffordable to Jews.

Most Jewish immigrants started life in America as peddlers. Historian Hasia Diner has written (in Hungering for America: Italian, Irish, and Jewish Foodways in the Age of Migration) about how these Jews kept kosher during their rounds. Known as “orange eaters” or “egg eaters,” they ate these items, which were kosher because they had peels, while staying at the homes of their mostly non-Jewish clients. Other Jews, as they became successful, could afford new foods and they nurtured an interest in other people’s culinary worlds.

The Settlement Cookbook, first published in 1901, introduced American recipes to new immigrants. The major food companies took notice of the spending prowess of the Jews. In 1919, Crisco introduced its vegetable shortening and single-handedly revolutionized Jewish cooking, freeing it from a reliance on chicken fat, schmaltz. Maxwell House introduced its Passover Haggadah in 1934 and Heinz offered a kosher version of its baked beans in 1923. An audience member noted that the Heinz factories are cleaned and kashered on the weekends, so the kosher line is processed on Mondays, transitioning to the rest of the company’s products later in the week. In 1965, when Hebrew National launched its slogan, “We answer to a higher authority,” in reference to Jewish dietary laws, it was both a marketing strategy and a testament that the Jews have become established members of American society.

The infamous Trefa Banquet of July 1883 that served clams, shrimp, and frog’s legs to the first graduating class of rabbis from the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati was a clarion call by the Reform movement that they were not beholden to traditional Jewish dietary laws. An audience member suggested that Reform Jews would not be so audacious these days.

The process of assimilation also led to the delicatessen, the “temple of Jewish culture,” according to Werden-Greenfield. In “The Deli Man,” a documentary project by Erik Greenberg Anjou, the filmmaker claims that whereas 1500 Jewish delis used to be in existence, there are now only about 150 of them. This is also the message of David Sax’s 2009 book, Save the Deli: In Search of Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye, and the Heart of Jewish Delicatessen. Werden-Greenfield disagrees with their dire predictions and their low estimates.

The assimilated generations of Jews have become “bagel-and-lox” Jews or gastronomic Jews who eat the foods of their ancestors as their sole connection to their heritage. The nostalgia for the Old Country have shifted to a nostalgia for the old neighborhoods of immigrants, said Werden-Greenfield, citing the ubiquitous display of photographs and memorabilia from the early 20th century in delicatessens and restaurants. As further illustration of their place in our Jewish consciousness, she recited this poem:

“By the rivers of Brooklyn, There we sat down, yea we ate hot pastrami, as we remembered Zion” by J. W. Savinar, in a play on Psalm 137:1.

Kosher became “kosher-style” where kashrut is negotiable. “How do we make sense of a young Jewish man opening restaurants [in Brooklyn] named Treife [non-kosher] and Shiksa [non-Jewish woman]?”, asked Werden-Greenfield.  “He’s still engaging with kosher laws. He’s being naughty while confirming his discomfort with his heritage.” Werden-Greenfield also asked: Which is more Jewish? Matzah that is not processed according to Jewish dietary laws, or kosher-for-Passover bread? “Jewish food,” she concluded, “is always changing, always evolving.”

Book Chat: The Secrets of Happy Families

— by Hannah Lee

Who doesn’t seek family harmony? What I found compelling about Bruce Feiler’s The Secrets of Happy Families was that the author did not seek out therapists, happiness researchers, or self-help gurus. Instead, he explored different disciplines, learning how to successfully apply their results to family management. I appreciate the affirmation from outside the social sciences.

The first chapter dealt with how to deal with stress points. Two of the techniques discussed were the use of a family flowchart/checklist (children love making checkmarks) and a weekly family meeting to discuss problems. These strategies were developed in the software industry and are now used in practically all forms of product development. Two startling strategies suggest involving the children, both in devising rewards and in assigning punishment, because they then become invested in the follow-through. The author wrote about the marvelous results that led to his sharing in his children’s emotional inner life, as our children often do not open up to us in this way.

More after the jump.
Another chapter discussed how to fight smart. Feiler writes that we spend about half our days negotiating — with our spouse, our boss, our clients — but most people do not understand its nature. Managing disagreements hinge on:

  • timing (6-8pm is usually the most stressful time);
  • language (“I” and “we” are signs of a healthier relationship than “you”);
  • length (the most important points are made in the opening three minutes); and
  • body language (eye-rolling, sighing, and shifting in the seat are signs of disrespect).

For this technique, Feiler went to the experts in negotiations: Bill Ury (co-author of Getting to Yes) and the Harvard Negotiation Project, which teaches people involved in the most difficult global issues of the day. Ury’s teachings involve a five-step process:

  1. isolate your emotions;
  2. go to the balcony (to see the big picture);
  3. step to their side (to understand their reasoning);
  4. don’t reject, re-frame; and
  5. build them a golden bridge.

This last point is especially important for families, as we live with our negotiating partners and we cannot leave anyone embittered.

When Feiler visited Joshua Weiss, cofounder of Harvard’s Global Negotiation Initiative and Ury’s business partner, he witnessed one family fight amongst the Weiss daughters (aged eleven, nine, and five). It was remarkable that the five-year-old was the one who stepped in as peace negotiator, asking each sister to state her case, without interruption. The middle sister had learned other techniques, such as “Stop, Think, Control” (a child’s equivalent of going to the balcony) and to consider the other person’s feelings. The eldest girl had already mastered some adult problem-solving strategies, demonstrated in separate incidents, for going to the balcony and trying to understand the other side.

Additional chapters in the book dealt with having difficult conversations with our families, improving marital relationships, and even how smart families share space. The final part of the book covers the fun-but-trying times of family vacations, sporting events, and reunions. You might not be ready to adopt all of the insights described, but it’s certainly eye-opening to learn about them.

Feiler had already published ten globetrotting books by the age of 43 when he was diagnosed with bone sarcoma. His twin daughters were only three, so he pondered how to maintain his connection with them in the event of his death. His novel solution was to create a Council of Dads, male friends from six different periods in his life who could serve to convey his values and perspectives to his daughters when they face milestones or difficult decisions. The resultant memoir of the same name is a lively account of how these men became important people in their lives, as their friends, not just friends of their father.
 
With the book The Council of Dads and now The Secrets of Happy Families (begun after his cure), Feiler is forging a new direction, one about relationships. I cautiously predict that his new career may reach even more readers than did his first bestseller, Walking the Bible, which inspired a television series. (Readers of The Council of Dads have created their own councils to deal with the pressures of different parenting situations.) The Bible is the greatest story ever told, but Feiler’s recent two books are his own stories and they shed a different light on our world.  

Bryn Mawr Vgë Café Gets Kosher Certification

— by Hannah Lee

I first wrote about the vegan Vgë Café in Bryn Mawr when it just opened last spring. On a visit some time later, the Brazilian proprietor, Fernando Peralta, expressed to me his interest in obtaining kosher certification because his customers were asking for it. I advised him to speak with the owners of other vegetarian establishments. Lo and behold, I was delighted to hear right before Pesach that he is indeed now certified kosher.

The kosher supervisors are Rabbis Eli Hirsch and Zev Schwarcz from the International Kosher Council, the same agency that certifies other local establishments such as Singapore Vegetarian Restaurant, Blackbird Pizzeria, and Sweet Freedom Bakery. The IKC is based in New York (it supervises the popular Blossom restaurants) and they’ve recently expanded to Mexico, Portugal, and Ukraine. It was Rachel Klein of Miss Rachel’s Pantry who led Peralta to IKC.

More after the jump.
“We are a vegan restaurant and already had proper procedures in place for cleaning vegetables, so the process was quite simple,” said Peralta. He only had to change the balsamic vinegar that he was using. The inspection covered all the ingredients and products used in his establishment. His café will be inspected on a biweekly basis, with no advance notice. Being non-Jewish, Peralta was not asked to close on Shabbat.

Vgë Café, located at 845B West Lancaster Avenue in Bryn Mawr, is open Mondays through Saturdays from 11:30 AM to 8:30 PM and Sundays, from 11:30 AM to 3:30 PM. Catering is available. Phone: (610) 527-3091.  

Gap Year Teens Change Lives in Children’s Home in Jerusalem


Belle Ginsburg in the arts studio. Photo: Miriam Braun

— by Hannah Lee

How do we inculcate a sense of empathy and compassion in our children? What brings them to give to others in need? A small program in Jerusalem has been chugging along, successfully matching young men and women doing their gap year in Israel after high school with the neediest of boys, damaged by neglect and abuse of all kinds, who’ve been referred by court order to the Sanhedria Children’s Home.

Local teens have been valued contributors, from Aaron Meller who taught the harmonica, Belle Ginsburg who led arts and crafts activities, and Shoshana Wasserman who served as Big Sister. They were the weekly volunteers who complemented the professionals in therapy, including music therapy and therapeutic carpentry. They have all been profoundly moved and changed by their interactions with the residents of Sanhedria.

More after the jump.
Founded in 1943 by Rav Eliyahu Chaim Shapiro z”l, a descendent of the renown Rosh Yeshiva of Volozin, Sanhedria welcomed the orphans and refugees of the Holocaust. The original building was bombed during the War of Independence and the facility moved to its present location in Katamon. Sixty boys, aged 6-15, are housed in five family units, grouped not by age, but to form a family unit.

After a decision by the Ministry of Welfare in 2009, Sanhedria established a separate teen unit in Ramot Bet and added a second teen wing in September 2012, also in Ramot Bet. While the Israeli government subsidizes rent, the non-profit charity provides for furniture, equipment, and services. Surrogate parents supervise their daily needs, supplemented by professionals who provide therapeutic and support services.

A former resident of Englewood, Miriam Braun created the chesed (loving-kindness) program after she walked into the facility, looking for a creative outlet after her family grew up. She is now the director of program development and I met her while she was in the United States. Lively and articulate, she was the recipient of an emotional testimony from former volunteer Belle Ginsburg, who spoke of Braun’s dedication to her “sons.”

Braun spoke about the chesed program and how we can support Sanhedria in its mission. She mentioned the Passover tzedakah projects, such for clothing and shoes. The boys get new dress shoes for Passover (and sports shoes several times a year) and since they buy in bulk, they do get a discount from the vendor, but 60 pairs of shoes add up quickly. The boys are not orphans and some do get to spend the holidays with their families, so maot chitim (Passover support) is provided in the form of food baskets that the parents can pick up at the supermarket, to protect their dignity and allow them to shop as other people do. However, once the boys turn 18, they can serve in the Israeli Defense Forces as chayalim bodedim (lone soldiers) because of their court-mandated status.

The niche that Sanhedria serves is not readily found in the United States, although the ABC House runs a facility in Ardmore where teen boys attend Lower Merion High School. The ABC (A Better Chance) model allows poor boys to get a quality education in a public school, far from their families, but Sanhedria focuses on the emotional and psychological needs of boys already damaged by their home environment.