Reprinted courtesy of Yaakov (Dry Bones) Kirschen www.DryBonesBlog.blogspot.com.
Leonard Gontarek’s Spiritual Poetry at the Public Library
A week before both Passover, when we commemorate both freedom and slavery, remembering always, that as long as anyone is oppressed we are all still slaves in Egypt, I had the pleasure to begin the week at the Philadelphia Public Library Monday Poets Reading Series, now in its 16th year. Run for fifteen years by Michelle Belluomini, the new director of the series, Kay Wisniesskik, explained that “Philadelphia has a lot of creative people. This venture is special as we feature local poets who have published books and have often won prizes. We want to expose people to the excellence of the Philadelphia poetry scene.”
More after the jump.
On April 2nd, at 6:30 pm in the stunning Skyline Room of the Parkway Central Library, poet Leonard Gontarek read from new work for about 40 minutes that held the audience, comprised of about 40 people, captivated. Gontarek’s poems are filled with both praise and melancholy, both images of rebirth and death. “Truth is very subtle like a thief in the night.” In poems that sampled from the Bible and Bruce Springsteen, from Gilgamesh and Zen Buddhism, Gontarek writes, “everyone steals a glimpse, because it is spring.”
Gontarek is the author of four collections. His poetry collections include Déjà Vu Diner (2006) and St. Genevieve Watching Over Paris (1984). His poems have also been featured in Joyful Noise: An Anthology of American Spiritual Poetry (2006) and in Best American Poetry (2005). Gontarek’s honors include several Pushcart Prize nominations and two fellowships from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. His new work is written in numbered sections, often consisting of one line of verse, which draws attention to the poetic line. In an incantatory poem about masks and identity in a fragmented, post-modern world, Gontarek writes: “it’s all shadow and we wore many masks.”
Where many modern and post-modern poets shy away from the word God or any hint at spirituality or transendence, in Gontarek’s lyrical, erotic, playful poems the physical and metaphysical are inextricably connected: To praise Buddha without belief “is cereal without milk” he writes. From a poem about a $69 hotdog, that is a sensuous celebration of the physical world, to melancholic poems about “the math of sadness” Gontarek’s poetry provides a precise questioning of the world, never reducing its complexity but paying close attention to its paradoxes.
The evening ended with Gontarek paying homage to the poet Adrienne Rich, a Jewish lesbian poet, who died last week at the age of 82. He read her poem “Perspective Immigrants Please Note” an apt selection. Rich writes: “If you go through/ there is always the risk/ of remembering your name.” Gontarek welcomed us to go through many doors with him on this Monday night in April.
A 20 minute Q & A followed with the audience asking questions about craft and composition. This was the last in the 2011-2012 series which will resume its Monday Poets Reading Series in the Fall. There will be an open mike at the end of the readings “so local poets can get over stage fright” Wisniesskik explained.
Monday Night Poetry Series. 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in the Skyline Room of the Parkway Central Library, 1901 Vine Street. Copies of the Featured Poets’ books may be purchased at the readings. For additional information, please call the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Literature Department at 215-686-5402.
Let all who are hungry come and eat.
With 1 in 6 Americans struggling to put nutritious food on the table every day, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) and MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger hosted Members of Congress, Administration officials, and national faith and anti-poverty leaders at the National Hunger Seder at the U.S. Capitol Visitor’s Center. Seder participants made the case for protecting and strengthening funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) as legislators begin to negotiate the 2012 Farm Bill Reauthorization.
SNAP and MAZON have also developed a version of the 2012 Hunger Seder you can using in your own home to promote “hunger awareness and activism.
Similarly, the Jewish Social Policy Action Network develops issue oriented material each year you can use to enrich your seder. Supplements to the traditional Haggadah relate the biblical story of the Exodus to current events and issues.
- The 2012 Freedom Supplement, comprised of 16 pages with illustrations, is now available without charge. The Freedom Seder Supplement celebrates emerging freedom movements around the world with poems, texts and prayers. Editors Stephen C. Sussman Esq. and Kenneth R. Myers Esq. have drawn from far-ranging sources, from Lord Byron to Tibet. Each of the readings includes suggestions keying it into the traditional Seder service.
- In 2010 JSPAN released its first Supplement, entitled We were strangers, on the theme of immigration in history and in the United States.
- In 2011 the JSPAN Supplement, This is the bread of poverty, brought the focus to hunger here and around the world. The 2012 “Freedom Seder” takes up the human longing for freedom that is spreading around the globe, and concludes with four resolutions that we as American Jews can meaningfully adopt.
More about the National Hunger Seder after the jump.
“Jewish people all over the world begin their Passover Seders by inviting ‘all who are hungry [to] come and eat,'” said Abby J. Leibman, MAZON’s President & CEO. “While we know we cannot include 50 million Americans in our individual Seders, these words remind us that, as a society, we are responsible for them – a powerful and timely message as Congress considers the Farm Bill and the fate of our nutrition safety net.”
The National Hunger Seder adapts the traditional Passover Seder, telling the story of the Exodus with an emphasis on the moral imperative to end hunger in America. The National Hunger Seder is part of the 4th annual MAZON/JCPA Hunger Seder mobilization, which includes more than 45 Hunger Seder events taking place in communities across the country around the Passover holiday.
“At a time of such startlingly high food insecurity, it is unconscionable to consider limiting access to a program like SNAP that not only keeps millions out of hunger and poverty, but does so with incredible efficiency and success,” said JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow. “The enormity of hunger in our country belies our wealth and abundance, but can be stemmed. That will be the message in communities across the country as part of this unique mobilization. Over the past four years, Hunger Seders have brought together not only Jews, but hunger advocates, faith and political leaders to build awareness and support for the tools available to end hunger in America.”
Participants in the National Hunger Seder included USDA Under Secretary Kevin Concannon, Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), as well as representatives from the White House. Also attending were delegates from Bread for the World, Half in Ten, Alliance to End Hunger, National Council of Churches, American Jewish World Service, Progressive Jewish Alliance & Jewish Funds for Justice, National Council of Jewish Women, The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, JCPA, MAZON, Jewish Primary Day School and others.
In addition to the National Hunger Seder and Hunger Seder mobilization led by the JCPA and MAZON, other Jewish social justice organizations are hosting Passover Seders to raise awareness about food and justice issues, including a Food and Justice Seder being hosted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in partnership with the Progressive Jewish Alliance & Jewish Funds for Justice and in cooperation with JCPA and MAZON.
— by Max Samis
In preparation for the upcoming Passover holiday, President Barack Obama invited members of the Jewish community to the White House for a special cooking demonstration and discussion. Sponsored by the White House Office of Public Engagement and the National Endowment for the Humanities, White House chef Bill Yosses worked with Jewish chef Joan Nathan to demonstrate how to make, among other dishes, apple and pear charoset and matzo chremsel.
Haaretz writer Vered Guttman was one of the guests invited to the event. Guttman wrote:
Before the seder each year, guests are asked to send Bill and White House executive chef Cris Comerford their own family’s Passover recipes. The chefs then design a menu for the seder and prepare the dishes according to the guests’ recipes.
In previous years they served the classics: haroset and brisket. When we met Wednesday. Bill said they were still working on this year’s menu. He did know, however, which desserts would be served: A flourless chocolate cake (which he promises will be on the White House website before the holiday) and a delicious sounding apricot roll cake, that he was kind enough to share the recipe with me. Bill gets extra points for a dessert that is not only fabulous, but also inspired by Middle Eastern cuisine. Does the president eat Jewish or Israeli food during the year? I asked.
‘The president LOVES Israeli couscous!’ Bill didn’t have to think much before he answered. Since Israeli couscous is one of the most popular foods imported from Israel, it is often the target of boycott threats by anti-Israeli groups.
More after the jump.
Joan Nathan and Bill Yosses preparing haroset together at the White House. Photo by Vered Guttman
Obama keeps a very open mind about food and likes to try new dishes, Bill told me. He added that the Israeli produce imported to the U.S. is known at the White House kitchen to be of highest quality and the chefs like to use Israeli vegetables and fruit. He could not tell me where they get their produce, as the White House chefs are instructed not to reveal their suppliers for security reasons.
As Joan began her demonstration, she told us that the Passover seder is the holiday most-observed by American Jews. Joan herself will host 44 guests at her house in Washington next week. ‘Nowhere in the world, except for Israel and the U.S., do Jews feel that comfortable,’ Joan said as she started her cooking demonstration.
It has been a tradition since the 2008 presidential campaign for the Obama family to host a private seder for their Jewish staffers. In a 2010 article in the New York Times, Jodi Kantor wrote about the seder’s roots in Pennsylvania and how it has grown. Kantor wrote:
One evening in April 2008, three low-level staff members from the Obama presidential campaign — a baggage handler, a videographer and an advance man — gathered in the windowless basement of a Pennsylvania hotel for an improvised Passover Seder.
Suddenly they heard a familiar voice. ‘Hey, is this the Seder?’ Barack Obama asked, entering the room.
So begins the story of the Obama Seder, now one of the newest, most intimate and least likely of White House traditions. When Passover begins at sunset on Monday evening, Mr. Obama and about 20 others will gather for a ritual that neither the rabbinic sages nor the founding fathers would recognize.
As the White House seder grows in scope and tradition, American Jews can be proud that the President of the United States will once again be observing Passover in the White House.
Over 400 guests enjoyed this year’s Golden Slipper Club Seder.
The Golden Slipper Club of Philadelphia‘s tradition of holding a Passover Seder for the senior Jewish community continued in 2012. This year’s Seder took place at Har Zion Temple in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania on Monday, March 19, a short time before this year’s actual Passover holiday on April 6-12, 2012. Passover is a holiday in which Jews celebrate their liberation from slavery to freedom.
This year’s Seder committee members, along with events coordinator, Ann Hilferty and executive director, Paul Geller, worked hard coordinating the various entities to make the Seder run smoothly. The 2012 committee includes co-chair Jackie Gilberg and Michael Simon, as well as members Chuck Barsh, David Biloon, Jeffrey Brenner, Robin Cohen, Bob Gilberg, Jessica Gomel, Charlie Hoffmann, Roy Kardon, Howard Levin, Linda Ostach, Barry Sacks, Dan Singer, Shelby Simmons, Lee Tabas, and Scott Wechsler. Stephen H. Frishberg is Club president.
More after the jump.
Golden Slipper Club President Stephen H. Frishberg addresses the Seder guests. (L-R) Golden Slipper Club member Cantor Sherman Leis, Frishberg, Club member Rabbi Fred Kazan, and guest Cantor Lisa Litman.
The Golden Slipper Seder may be the only one that these appreciative guests attend each year. The seniors look forward to seeing friends from other centers, dancing to the music of Hal Martin, singing with Lisa Litman and Sherman Leis, hearing prayers, enjoying stories by Rabbi Kazan’s and, of course, a delicious meal provided by Betty the Caterer. Over 400 seniors enjoyed the Seder, as thousands of others have over Golden Slipper’s 90 year history.
Each year, approximately 40 Golden Slipper members volunteer and/or attend the Seder. They organize
transportation of the seniors from various centers including the Golden Slipper Center for Seniors, Klein JCC, Tabas House, and Ner Zedek-Ezreth in Northeast Philadelphia and as far away as Saltzman-Dubin House in New Jersey. They ride buses with the guests, escort them from their buses to the tables, set up, clean up, and generously sponsor tables and donate goods and services. Golden Slipper Club extends is thanks to all those who volunteered or donated services.
Golden Slipper Club & Charities, celebrating 90 years in 2012, has taken a hands-on approach to support programs and services for the Greater Philadelphia area’s youth, needy and elderly, with some 600 active men and women who volunteer their time to serve people in need. Golden Slipper’s motto is charity, good fellowship and loyalty, first and foremost, in all its endeavors. It provides charitable services to those in need in the community. Golden Slipper Camp sends approximately 600 children to overnight camp in the beautiful Pocono Mountains. Golden Slipper Center for Seniors provides a daytime activities facility which offers social and recreational activities and meals for over 300 senior citizens. Other programs offered to help the community include HUNAS (Human Needs and Services) which gives emergency grants to those in need and the Slipper Scholarship Program, which provides college scholarships to deserving and promising young students.
I, with my wonderful congregation Leyv Ha-Ir, celebrated Purim, the wild and crazy Jewish holiday celebrating the downfall of Haman (boo!), who as vizier to the Persian King tried to massacre all the Jews in the realm; but his plan was foiled by Mordechai (yay!) entering his beautiful cousin Esther (woo hoo!) into a beauty pageant to be the queen, and Haman’s plot was foiled.
It’s the celebration of the downfall of a tyrant; the world has been full of them, people who have become legends in their own minds, such as Mubarak in Egypt, Ghadaffi in Libya, and Assad in Syria. There are also mental Hamans as well, within our psyches, such as low self-esteem and self-doubts, which we daily must overthrow; I know, I deal with them as well.
More after the jump.
Now coming up is the holiday of Passover, the liberating of the Jews from Pharaoh’s slavery in Egypt. The traditional word for Egypt in Hebrew is Mitzrayim, “the narrow place,” the place of limitation. There are Pharaohs in the word today-political dictators for one thing, also abusive relationships-as well as internal Pharaohs, like the voice inside you that says, “I’m not good enough, I’m not smart enough, I can’t do it.” Those dictators and tyrants, inside and around you, also need to be vanquished.
One issue I have dealt with is allowing myself downtime, time of rest and recreation and plain ol’ fun, however you define it; I have often felt guilty about not doing something “productive.” But when we went to school and studied, we twice daily had recess, so it’s not an either-or situation. Having fun and recreation can be a great revolt against the inner and outer Hamans and Pharaohs in the world, you can in effect say to them, “Screw you, I’m not your damn pack mule!”
In my family, the fun of Passover begins long before the Seder. It starts with perusing all of our cookbooks and discussing which recipes will be prepared. It continues with the shopping expeditions for all the specialty Passover supplies. The celebration begins with the cooking. In many homes, children are excluded from this step. I believe that it is important to welcome the little ones into the kitchen, and to encourage them to prepare something that is kosher for Passover. By cooking with us, children absorb treasured family recipes, and the laws of kashrut for Passover in a hands-on way. This is a very special bonding time.
More after the jump.
The important thing is the process, not the end product. Homemade dishes have a charm to them that professionally prepared foods cannot compete with. Your child’s offering for the Seder will be sure to delight your family and friends. Here are some suggested recipes.
Chocolate Covered Fruit
- Pareve or dairy chocolate chips
- Wooden toothpicks
- Fresh strawberries, mango, bananas, raspberries, kiwi, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, pineapple, or any other fruit of your choice.
- Wash the fruit. If using banana, mango, or pineapple, the fruit should be cut up (with adult help if necessary).
- Insert a toothpick in each piece of fruit.
- Place the chocolate chips in a microwave-safe bowl. Heat in the microwave for about one minute. Stir the chocolate well.
- Dip the fruit into the melted chocolate. Place it on a plate covered with a piece of parchment paper. When the chocolate has hardened, transfer the fruit to a serving platter.
- Pareve or dairy chocolate chips.
- Dried cranberries, cherries, figs, dates, mango, pears, or apricots. Large dried fruits should be cut up.
- Pecans, almonds, hazelnuts, shredded coconut, or any other nut of your choice.
- Place the chocolate chips in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for one minute. Stir well.
- Dip the matza in the melted chocolate. Strew the dried fruits and nuts of your choice over the chocolate.
- Place the matza bark on a plate covered with parchment paper.
- When the chocolate has hardened, transfer to a serving platter.
Almond Macaroons (Amaretti)
- 3 cups ground almonds
- 3 eggs
- 1 teaspoon of almond extract
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Prepare a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper.
- Separate the yolks from the egg whites. Reserve the yolks for another use.
- Mix the ground almonds, sugar, egg whites, and vanilla extract in a bowl.
- Drop a teaspoon of dough at a time onto the parchment paper.
- Bake for about 15 minutes.
You can vary this recipe by combining the ground almonds with shredded coconut and/or chocolate chips.
When the macaroons emerge, they will be very soft. As they cool, they will harden.
- One cup of ground walnuts
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 6 eggs
- 1/4 teaspoon of salt
- 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Oil a 9-inch pan with olive oil.
- Separate the eggs, placing the yolks in one bowl, and the whites in another.
- Mix the yolks with 6 tablespoons of sugar in a mixer.
- Whip the egg whites with the salt and 6 tablespoons of sugar.
- Combine the yolk mixture with the whipped egg whites and the ground walnuts.
- Pour the batter into the oiled pan.
- Place in the oven and lower the temperature to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Bake for 50 minutes.
- After this cake has cooled completely, it may be garnished with any of the following:
- Powdered sugar
- Whipped cream: Whip together 1 cup heavy cream, 1/4 cup granulated sugar, and 1 tablespoon pure vanilla or brandy.
- Fresh Berries
- Chocolate Sauce: Heat one cup of heavy cream in a small saucepan, over low heat. Add 1/4 cup of pure vanilla or Sabra Liqueur and mix well. Pour in 1 cup of chocolate chips. Combine until smooth.
- Warm Apricot Preserves
As we begin the frenzy of preparing for the Passover Seder, we can benefit in many ways by availing ourselves of the help of our children. This will be fun for them, and time saving for us. When they present their creations at the Seder, the sweetest reward of all will be the look of pride in their shining eyes!
Jonathan Kremer has designed a new Omer calendar for us this year.
Begin counting at the second seder and continue counting each night preceding the next day. (Yom tov and Shabbat begin the evening before the graphic.) Before you know it, it’ll be time to celebrate Shavuot!
Rabbi Jonathan Kremer studied at Jewish Theological Seminar following in the footsteps of his daughter Rabbi Aviva Fellman. Jonathan currently serves as rabbi for Beth Israel Congregation in Lexington Park, Maryland while Aviva serves as assistant rabbi at Oceanside Jewish Center in Oceanside, New York. The Forward has named Aviva as one of America’s 28 most inspiring rabbis this year.
See more of Jonathan’s art at www.jonathankremer.com.