Savory Treats in the Samaritan Sukkah

A Samaritan sukkah. Photo: Ben Sedaka

— by Ronit Treatman

In Exodus (23:16), we are commanded to keep the harvest festival.  The harvest festival referred to is sukkot.  To this day, many of us build temporary booths outside, decorate them, and eat or even sleep in them. There also exists an ancient Samaritan tradition of building indoor sukkot. The Samaritans serve their guests unique treats, that hearken back to ancient Israel, during the time before the Babylonian captivity.

Samaritans believe that they are the descendants of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh.  They believe that are the offspring of the Jews who remained in Israel during the Babylonian Exile (597 BCE).  When the Judean exiles returned to Jerusalem from Babylonia (538 BCE), they rejected the Samaritans, out of concern that their practices and beliefs had diverged during the decades of separation.  The Samaritans built their temple on Mount Gerizim.  They have a Samaritan Torah, and do not accept the Talmud, Mishnah, and Gemara.  The Samaritans call themselves “Bnei Israel,” “the children of Israel.” According to the Talmud (tractate Kutim) Samaritans are to be treated as Jews when they practice the same customs as Jews, and as non-Jews when their practice differs.  Since the 19th century, the Samaritans have been considered a Jewish sect, and referred to as Samaritan Jews.   Today there remain two small communities of Samaritans, one in Holon and one on Mount Gerizim near Nablus.

Sesame Cookies recipe after the jump.
The custom of building sukkot indoors is a vestige of the persecution that the Samaritans endured under the Byzantines. In order to be able to preserve their traditions, they moved their sukkot indoors. They decorate their sukkot in a very exquisite way, with a ceiling that is a mosaic of fresh fruit. Guests who are lucky enough to experience this beauty are also treated to Samaritan hospitality: The Samaritans serve fragrant, savory cookies called Mekamar. They are a wonderful treat with hot mint tea.

Mekamar: Savory Sesame Cookies (Adapted from “The Wonders of the Israelite Samaritan Kitchen” by Benjamin Sedaka)

  • 7 cups of unbleached flour
  • 3 1/2 cups of semolina flour
  • 6 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3 1/4 cups vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups toasted sesame seeds
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons sea salt
  • 3 tablespoons ground fennel
  • 2 tablespoons ground turmeric
  • 1 3/4 cups water
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Knead all the ingredients together in a bowl.  
  3. Pinch off walnut size pieces of dough.
  4. Roll each piece of dough into a ball, and then flatten onto a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper.
  5. Bake for approximately 20 minutes. Then, check to see if they are baked through, and bake for a few more minutes if necessary.

An Etrog Tree Grows in Lower Merion

— by Hannah Lee

It’s hard to grow fruit organically in Pennsylvania, because we’re fortunate to get plenty of rain.  So, farmers have to resort to using pesticides at less-sensitive times (such as before the flowers bloom) or Integrated Pest Management (IPM, which involves the judicious application of cooperative bugs). The beautiful etrogim (citron fruit) that Jews buy for the celebration of Sukkot are often laced with pesticides, so caveat emptor! You should not use them blithely in food preparation afterwards. Therefore, I was delighted to learn of a local man who’s been dedicated to growing etrog trees, and, after about seven years of experimentation, he’s succeeded in nurturing trees that bear fruit.

More after the jump.
Last year, Tablet published an article about a Presbyterian man, John Kirkpatrick, in California who is the only large-scale farmer of etrogim in the United States. Last month, the Jewish Telegraph Agency published an article on Matt Bycer, a Jew in Arizona who now raises about 200 trees. Working independently, Stephen Asbel of Lower Merion has been raising etrog trees for his own pleasure.

Stephen Asbel works as a lawyer (and has written for the Philadelphia Jewish Voice), but he has a passion and a green thumb for the etrog. After much experimentation, he now germinates them on the radiator in the dining room. Once the sprouts poke through the soil, he moves them to the sunny windowsill in the kitchen. He used to use grow lights in the basement — so many, says his wife, Lenore, that she worried that the police would raid them on suspicion of illegal horticulture!

During the warm months, he transplants them to moveable pots and brings them outdoors. However, the Pennsylvania winters are too harsh for the plant that hails from the Mediterranean (Greece, Israel, Italy, Morocco, and Yemen), so he brings them indoors. It’s important to not over-water the trees, so he lets the soil dry out between waterings. A successful strategy is the application of Dr. Earth’s Fruit Tree Fertilizer, about every three months.

A challenge for these trees growing indoors is the dryness of our homes, especially during the winter months when we use central heating.  The dry air renders the trees susceptible to spider mites. Stephen hoses down the plants when they’re outdoors and he routinely mists them when they’re indoors.

The Asbel home — perfect for their family — is not large enough to house all the healthy trees he’s been able to bring to maturity. To my delight, when I called them to ask about getting a tree for my family, he was agreeable. After all, just as the proud guardian of new puppies from a beloved family pet, he wanted just the right kind of caretaker for his arboreal babies. Lenore delivered my tree yesterday and I’m super excited about making etrog jam, if not etrog vodka, in the future.

I now want to name my tree, but I am stumped for a suitable name, as the species is botanically both male and female, which means it can pollinate itself. Stephen pointed out that the etrog is not mentioned as such in Tanach, only pri etz hadar (fruit of the majestic tree), so he suggests that I name my tree Hadar. I love it, but my husband says not to name it until the tree survives a month in our home.

Agricultural Gifts To The Poor: A Mitzvah For Sukkot

apple jewish cake i made.— by Ronit Treatman

It is a mitzvah to give gifts to the poor during Sukkot.  Which type of gift?  The farmers of Ancient Israel were required to give a tithe, ma’aser, of their harvest (Numbers 18:21-24) to the Levites.  This harvest consisted of wheat, barley, oat, spelt, and rye.  In addition, they had to give a tithe of their production of wine, olive oil, fruit, and cattle.  In modern times, most of us live in cities.  How can we fulfill this mitzvah?

More after the jump.
Those who garden, can choose to donate ten percent of their crops to their local food pantry. Those who don’t garden can go to a pick-your-own farm.  This is a really fun way to connect with nature and our Ancient Israelite past.  Participating in a harvest is a meaningful way to share fresh produce with the poor.  

In the Philadelphia area, there is a very efficient way to accomplish this.  You may select from several pick-your-own orchards. Sukkot is apple and pumpkin season in Pennsylvania. If you pick ten pounds of apples, you should donate one pound to the poor.  

Which organization can you trust to distribute your donations to the needy?  Philabundance has teamed up with the pick-your-own orchards to collect extra fruit for exactly this purpose. We went apple picking in Linvilla Orchards. Philabundance will accept donations right at the orchard, and distribute them directly to those who need them.  Alternatively, you may contact Philabundance to donate your fruit at your convenience. If you would like to help the needy in Israel, Leket is a wonderful organization that gleans the fields and distributes this harvest all over the county.

What can you prepare with the apples and pumpkins that you kept for yourself?  Here are some tasty suggestions you may serve to guests in your bread 002

Jewish Apple Cake
Adapted from Traci & Jeff Poole

  • 4 Large, freshly picked apples
  • ½ cup orange juice (squeeze your own for best flavor)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 ½ teaspoons vanilla
  • 4 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 3 cups unbleached flour
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • ½  teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 ½ cups sugar
  • 5 tablespoons sugar (do not add to the previous sugar)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Peel and core the apples.  Slice them.  Mix them in a bowl with 4 teaspoons of cinnamon and 5 tablespoons of sugar.
  3. Set the bowl aside.
  4. Mix all the other ingredients in a separate bowl.
  5. Oil a bundt pan.
  6. Pour some batter in.  Add a layer of the apple mixture.
  7. Keep alternating between layers of batter and apples.  
  8. The top layer should be the apple mixture.
  9. Bake the cake for 1 ½ hours to 1 ¾ hours.

This aromatic cake is always popular, and may be served to guests in your sukkah at any time.pumpkin bread - art every day month 08 - day 29

Fresh Pumpkin Bread From A Pumpkin
Adapted from Laurie Bennet

  • One whole pumpkin
  • 1 ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3 cups sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon cloves
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 3 ½ cups unbleached flour
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 4 eggs
  1. Place the whole pumpkin in a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven.
  2. Bake it for one hour.
  3. Allow the pumpkin to cool.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  5. Slice the pumpkin in half.
  6. Reserve the seeds for roasting.
  7. Scoop out the flesh.
  8. Mix one cup of mashed pumpkin with the other ingredients.
  9. Oil three 7×3 inch loaf pans and distribute the batter equally between them.
  10. Bake for 50 minutes.

This moist, fragrant bread is a perfect treat for the sukkah.

Holiday Learning: Sukkot at the Klein JCC

— Stu Coren

Shari Beck-Nahman (center) pre-school director of the Klein JCC in Northeast Philadelphia, explains the meaning of the lulav and etrog, symbols of the seven-day Jewish festival of Sukkot to pre-school students Eden Bengera, 3, (left) and Jordyn Gomer, 2, (right) both also of Northeast, while seated in the JCC’s Sukkah. The Sukkah structure is symbolic of the 40-year period when the children of Israel wandered in the dessert in temporary shelters. Sukkot is a joyous fall festival also celebrating the bounty of the harvest and is usually accompanied by music, singing and dancing.
Now celebrating its 36th anniversary year, the non-profit Klein JCC provides social, educational and cultural programs, as well as vital social services for people living in Northeast Philadelphia and its surrounding communities. It is the largest senior center in the Philadelphia area and provides support to more than 4,500 seniors annually through a diverse array of programs. It offers outstanding services and innovative programs for area residents who range in age from early childhood through adult and senior years. The Klein JCC additionally delivers vital services and programs employing cutting edge practices and strategies. More than 30,000 children, adults and senior citizens are served annually in a warm and friendly comprehensive community center environment delivering a broad spectrum of high quality services to area communities that otherwise would not be served. The Klein JCC is located at 10100 Jamison Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19116 and may be reached at 215-698-7300 or on the web at  

Celebratory Fall Harvest Soups for Sukkot

–by Ronit Treatman

Other than bread, we are not instructed to serve any specific dishes during Sukkot.  The point of this festival is to celebrate the fall harvest.  A wonderful way to connect to nature is to cook with what is in season locally.  In Pennsylvania we are blessed with a bountiful fall harvest.  Hearty homemade vegetable soups accompanied by an assortment of breads are a wonderful way for your family and guests to warm up during the chilly fall evenings in the sukkah.

You can source your local vegetables by gathering your own crops from your garden, picking vegetables yourself at a farm, being a member of a Community Supported Agriculture group, or shopping at your local farmer’s market, coop, or supermarket.  Fresh seasonal produce will result in the most flavorful soups.  

Soup and bread recipes after the jump.
Some fruits and vegetables that are harvested in Pennsylvania in the fall are broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, lima beans, peppers, pumpkins, and apples.  Here is a recipe for a pareve harvest soup that incorporates some of these fresh vegetables adapted from Casey’s Café.

Spicy Fall Harvest Soup

  • 2 or 3 of any kind of squash such as butternut squash, pumpkin, acorn squash, spaghetti squash, or hubbard.
  • 2 large onions
  • 2 sweet potatoes
  • 2 rutabagas
  • green onions
  • cilantro
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • black pepper
  • 2 cups of vegetable broth
  • 3 cups of coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons fresh grated ginger
  • 1 cup sweet chili sauce
  • 1 tablespoon red Thai curry
  • 2 tablespoons Garam Masala
  • 1 tablespoons Ground coriander
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Cut the squash in half.  Remove the seeds and rub the inside with olive oil.  Place on a cookie sheet.
  2. Place the onion, sweet potatoes, rutabags, and turnips in a porcelain baking dish.  Add ½ cup of water, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Cover with aluminum foil.
  3. Bake all of these vegetables for 60 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.  Peel the squash.
  4. Puree all the vegetables in a food processor.  
  5. Place the puree in a stockpot with 4 cups of water, the vegetable broth, and coconut milk.
  6. Add ginger, chili sauce, coriander, curry, and garam masala to taste.

You can chop up green onion and cilantro to garnish.

Serve with whole grain corn bread for a gluten-free feast.  Here is a recipe adapted from The Fresh Loaf.

Whole Grain Corn Bread

  • 2 cups ground corn meal
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 ¾ cups of soymilk
  • 1 ¾ tablespoons of vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons raw honey
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  
  2. Mix all the ingredients in a bowl.  
  3. Oil an 8X8 inch porcelain baking dish.  
  4. Pour the batter into the dish.  
  5. Bake for 30 minutes.

Pennsylvania is one of the largest growers of mushrooms in the world.  The rich variety of mushrooms we can get in Kennet Square is not to be overlooked.  Phillips Mushroom Farms grow White, Portobello, Baby Bella, Crimini, Shiitake, Oyster, Maitake, Beech, Enoki, Royal Trumpet, and Pom Pom mushrooms.  Below is an adaptation of Ina Garten’s mushroom soup recipe.

Mushroom Medley Soup

  • 2 cups thinly sliced assorted fresh mushrooms
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 2 leeks, diced
  • 1 cup minced cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon minced thyme
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup white wine
  • salt
  • black pepper
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup half and half
  1. In a large stockpot, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Sautee the onion, one cup of mushrooms, and carrot.  Season with salt, pepper, and thyme.  When the vegetables have softened, after about 15 minutes, add 6 cups of water.  Bring the mixture to a boil, and then allow to simmer for 30 minutes.
  2. Take another stockpot, and heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Add the leeks.  Let them soften slowly over low heat.  After 20 minutes, add the remaining mushrooms and cook for 10 minutes.  Stir in the flour, and then add the wine.  Pour in the mushroom stock from the other pot and stir.  
  3. Simmer for 15 minutes.  Add the heavy cream and half and half.  Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Serve hot, with a crusty baguette.  Here is a recipe adapted from

Fresh Baguette

  • 4 1/2 cups unbleached flour
  • 1 packet active dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water
  1. Mix water, sugar, and yeast together.  Allow to foam, and then add flour and salt.  Knead well.  Place in an oiled bowl and cover with a kitchen towel.  Allow to rise for 1 1/2 hours.  
  2. Preheat oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.  
  3. Form loaf on a cookie sheet.
  4. Prepare an ovenproof bowl with water.
  5. Place cookie sheet with loaf and bowl of water in the oven.
  6. Bake for 30 minutes.

A warming, sweet, cinnamony fall fruit soup is the perfect end to the Sukkah feast.  

You may use freshly harvested Pennsylvania heirloom apples that are good for cooking such as:

  • Red Gravenstein:  An apple variety that was brought to Pennsylvania from Germany in the 1600s.
  • Grimes Golden:  This apple variety is believed to have been planted in West Virginia by Johnny Appleseed in 1795.  
  • Cox Orange Pippin:  This apple was brought from England in the 1830s.  It matures to a beautiful red color, and is excellent for cooking.
  • Calville Blanc:  A French apple grown for King Louis XIII, it has a tart flavor.
  • Newtown Pippin:  This variety was grown for export by Benjamin Franklin in the 1700s.

You can order these apples from #1 Farm, at [email protected].  

Fall Fruit Harvest Soup

  • 1 apple, diced
  • 1 pear, diced
  • 1 cup fresh cranberries, diced
  • 3 plums, diced
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • Raw honey to taste (optional)
  1. Place the apple, pear, plums, and cranberries in a pan.  
  2. Cover with water and bring to a boil.  
  3. Add the cinnamon stick.  
  4. Lower the heat and allow to simmer for about 30 minutes.

Stir in honey if desired.  Enjoy hot.

This soup goes well with fresh, hot pumpkin bread.  It is a pareve recipe adapted from Simply Recipes.

Pumpkin Bread

  • 1 cup pureed pumpkin
  • ¼ cup water
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon allspice
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 ½ cups unbleached flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts
  • ½ cup roasted pumpkin seeds
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Mix all the ingredients except the roasted pumpkin seeds in a bowl.
  3. Pour into a 9X5X3 inch loaf pan which has been coated with olive oil.  
  4. Decorate the top with roasted pumpkin seeds.
  5. Bake for 60 minutes.

As the fall days grow shorter and cooler, the yearly ritual is upon us.  We celebrate the fall harvest together in our sukkot.  Whether you are hosting or visiting, offering a delicious, homemade warming soup and a fresh loaf of fragrant bread is the perfect way to bond with friends and family.

Ten Years Later: The Sukkah & the World Trade Center

The past, as William Faulkner said, is not even past.

— by Rabbi Arthur Waskow

At about 11 o’clock on 9/11 ten years ago, I casually phoned New York to talk with my beloved life-partner, Rabbi Phyllis Berman. Phyllis founded and directs an intensive English-language school for newly arrived immigrants and refugees. The school is housed in Riverside Church on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and every weekday Phyllis commutes back and forth from/ to Philadelphia.  

But that morning, my telephone gave back only a frantic bzz-bzz-bzz, a super-busy signal. After trying for 30 minutes, I called the Operator. “There’s a glitch in the phone system to New York,” I said.

“Haven’t you heard?” she answered — and explained.

I knew that once a  month or so, Phyllis had a business breakfast in the World Trade Centers. So now my call was not a casual “How you doing?” I finally got through to learn that she was safe at Riverside, shepherding her  frightened non-English-speaking students  to walk their ways home through a frantic, fearful city  — with no means of public transportation.

In 2001, September 11 came three weeks before Sukkot,  the Jewish harvest festival whose major symbol is a thatched hut, a sukkah, utterly open to the wind and rain.  
Through that day and night, I was haunted by two images: the proud, massive, sky-penetrating Twin Towers on Manhattan’s edge, and the  utterly vulnerable sukkah we were soon to build.

During the next weeks, as we move toward 9/11/11, I will share with you some prayers and liturgies that might help us build new sukkahs in our souls.

On September 12, I wrote the meditation that follows the jump.

The Sukkah & the World Trade Center

When the Jewish community celebrates the harvest festival, we build sukkot.

What is a sukkah? Just a fragile hut with a leafy roof, the most vulnerable of houses. Vulnerable in time, where it lasts for only a week each year. Vulnerable in space, where its roof must be not only leafy but leaky — letting in the starlight, and gusts of wind and rain.

In every evening prayer, we plead with God – Ufros alenu sukkat shlomekha – “Spread over all of us Your sukkah of shalom.”

Why a sukkah?- Why does the prayer plead to God for a “sukkah of shalom” rather than God’s “tent” or “house” or “palace” of peace?

Precisely because the sukkah is so vulnerable.

For much of our lives we try to achieve peace and safety by building with steel and concrete and toughness:

  • Pyramids,
  • air raid shelters,
  • Pentagons,
  • World Trade Centers.

Hardening what might be targets and, like Pharaoh, hardening our hearts against what is foreign to us.

But the sukkah comes to remind us: We are in truth all vulnerable. If “a hard rain gonna fall,” it will fall on all of us.

Americans have felt invulnerable. The oceans, our wealth, our military power have made up what seemed an invulnerable shield. We may have begun feeling uncomfortable in the nuclear age, but no harm came to us. Yet yesterday the ancient truth came home: We all live in a sukkah.

Not only the targets of attack but also the instruments of attack were among our proudest possessions: the sleek transcontinental airliners. They availed us nothing. Worse than nothing.

Even the greatest oceans do not shield us; even the mightiest buildings do not shield us; even the wealthiest balance sheets and the most powerful weapons do not shield us.

There are only wispy walls and leaky roofs between us. The planet is in fact one interwoven web of life. The command to love my neighbor as I do myself is not an admonition to be nice: it is a statement of truth like the law of gravity. For my neighbor and myself are interwoven. If I pour contempt upon my neighbor, hatred will recoil upon me.

What is the lesson, when we learn that we – all of us – live in a sukkah? How do we make such a vulnerable house into a place of shalom, of peace and security and harmony and wholeness?

The lesson is that only a world where we all recognize our vulnerability can become a world where all communities feel responsible to all other communities. And only such a world can prevent such acts of rage and murder.

If I treat my neighbor’s pain and grief as foreign, I will end up suffering when my neighbor’s pain and grief curdle into rage.

But if I realize that in simple fact the walls between us are full of holes, I can reach through them in compassion and connection.

The perpetrators of this act of infamy seem to espouse a tortured version of Islam. Responding to them requires two different, though related, forms of action:

  1. Their violence must be halted. They must be found and brought to trial, without killing still more innocents and wrecking still more the fragile “sukkot” of lawfulness. There are in fact mechanisms of international law and politics that can bring them to justice.
  2. At the same time, America must open its heart and mind to the pain and grief of those in the Arab and Muslim worlds who feel excluded, denied, unheard, disempowered, defeated.

We must reach beyond the terrorists — to calm the rage that gave them birth by addressing the pain from which they sprouted.

From festering pools of pain and rage sprout the plague of terrorism. Some people think we must choose between addressing the plague or addressing the pools that give it birth. But we can do both — if we focus our attention on these two distinct tasks.

To go to war against whole nations does neither. It will not apprehend the guilty for trial, and probably not even seriously damage their networks. It will not drain the pools of pain and rage; it is far more likely to add to them.

What would it mean, instead, to recognize that both the United States and Islam live in vulnerable sukkot?

What do we need to do to recover our knowledge of the history of two centuries of Western colonization and neo-colonial support for oppressive regimes in much of the Muslim world?

How do we keep remembering that in all religious communities and traditions — including Judaism and Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism, as well as Islam — there are streaks of blood? How do we work with the peaceful majority in each community to grow past those messages of violence toward embodying the vision of compassion?  

How do we welcome Muslim societies fully into the planetary community?

What does the United States need to do to encourage grass-roots support for those elements of Islam that seek to renew the tradition?

How do we encourage not top-down regimes that make alliances with our own global corporations to despoil the planet, but grass-roots religious and cultural and political communities that seek to control their own resources in ways that nurture the earth?

Of course not every demand put forward by the poor and desperate and disempowered becomes legitimate, just because it is an expression of pain. But we must open the ears of our hearts to ask: Have we ourselves had a hand in creating the pain? Can we act to lighten it without increasing the over-all amount of pain in the world?

Instead of entering upon a “war of civilizations,” we must pursue a planetary peace. We must spread over all of us the sukkah of shalom.

An Israeli Oleh’s Sukkot Festival Success

— Elana Frank

It was only 9 months ago that I decided to take the plunge and make Aliyah to Israel. Our family and friends thought we were daring and slightly nuts to move into a non Anglo-Saxon community like Karmiel where only 1% of the population speaks English.  Trust me there were (and are) moments when I too think we are crazy.

But my goal was clear.  If I was going to become a true Israeli, I wanted to not only reap the benefits of eating chumus and falafel while gazing at the beautiful Northern mountains but truly immerse myself in the real and challenging aspects of Israeli society.  Stuff I think the average American, and perhaps even a typical Israeli, might not even know.  

The same held true for my job aspirations.  My background is in diversity work and consensus building.  In the instant I visited Kfar Hassidim Youth Village and saw first hand their struggle to rejuvenate their campus and bring opportunities and joy into the lives of their Ethiopian, Bnei Menashe, Russian and at risk Israeli youth, I knew that this was the challenge for me.

I want to help people understand that youth villages do exist and need our help.  The Executive Director and I understood that in order to begin creating meaningful and substantial relationships we must bring public awareness to Kfar Hassidim Youth Village, the students, and their needs – what better way than through a festival created with direct involvement and participation of the students themselves.  And besides, who can honestly say no to cotton candy?!?

We aimed to convey the message that we are not just the “Kfar” built in 1937 with the sole mission of settling European immigrant children and youth in a new country. Today, Kfar Hassidim Youth Village has taken on even greater challenges, and expanded into a center for youth of many cultures and expanding needs. Today we take responsibility for a new diversity of Israeli immigrants which include over 600 Ethiopian, Bnei Menashe, Russian, and at risk Israeli youth.  Often, these kids come from unstable homes, or are borderline learning disabled and fall “between the cracks” in their local school system. Now, at the “Kfar” with the support of a growing and nurturing staff, these young people confidently and proudly aspire to obtain their high school diplomas, enter the army or a national service program, acquire higher education, secure jobs, and ultimately, establish their homes and families in Israel.

In the months that lead up to our big day, I got to know the students and learned all about their immigration experiences. I have to admit, I felt like one of them, without a solid grasp of the Hebrew language and a lack of understanding of Israeli cultural norms and expectations. I mean, is it acceptable for Israeli vendors to bargain their reservation price?  Or for a printing company to tell me “its ok” that he didn’t center a flyer properly on a page? I must have also sounded quite silly trying to negotiate with newspapers and websites in my broken Hebrew to place ads.  As an immigrant it took many more hours to convey my vision for the event to all involved.  But in the end, as I drove through the front gate and past the ‘welcome to the festival’ sign that the students painted, I knew that the day would be a success.

On Monday, September 27, 2010 Kfar Hassidim Youth Village’s first annual Sukkot Family Festival was indeed a hit. Over 1,000 people from all parts of Israel and 400 Olim Chadashim (like myself) were bused from various parts of the country with the help of Nefesh B’Nefesh.  Our attendees got a flavorful taste of what it is to live at the Kfar while keeping company with actual students and enjoying the festival atmosphere.  They bought beautiful items from local vendors, participated in high spirited drumming circles, watched their kids have fun with arts & crafts, made their own pita, took tractor rides, jumped in moon bounces and visited our on site Ethiopian Hut, dairy farm, and olive oil press.

Just as I, an immigrant from a privileged country was able to succeed at a daunting and challenging task, it’s now clear to me that our immigrant youth, once given the skills and tools that Kfar Hassidim Youth Village has to offer, will have all the opportunities in the world at their feet.

Keystone Hospice Observes Jewish Holidays

Rabbi Brian Nevins-Goldman, the Jewish chaplain at Keystone Hospice in Wyndmoor, began buliding the Sukkah on the grounds of the historically certified residence in Wyndmoor in preparation for the celebration of the holiday of Sukkot.  Gil Rosenthal and David Campbell, volunteers, designed and built the Sukkah, and volunteer Lois Blofstein  and Rabbi’s daughter Corianna assisted them with decorating the Sukkah.

Photo: Sukkah-building on the grounds of Keystone Hospice brought together volunteers and staff members, inclulding (left to right) David Campbell, of Elkins Park;  Gil Rosenthal, of Chestnut Hill;  Rabbi Brian Nevins-Goldman, Keystone Hospice Jewish chaplain, and his daughter Corianna; and volunteer Lois Blofstein, of Elkins Park. (Bonnie Squires)
Gail Inderwies, founder and CEO of Keystone Hospice, believes that celebrating all religious holidays from all ethnic groups, as well as all American holidays, lifts everyone’s spirits.

On Wednesday, September 22, following lunch, there was a program in the sukkah welcoming Sukkot, with prayers, songs, art and fresh fruits.  Sukkot began that evening and lasts 7-8 days.

Keystone Hospice residents, family members and staff members are invited to attend and participate in all the events.