Book Review: “Start Without Me”

Start Without Me is a highly readable novel by Joshua Max Feldman. The protagonists, Adam, a recovering alcoholic musician, and Marissa, a married, one-nighter-mistake, flight attendant, both learn that living with their poor choices in life can be easier than coping with the decisions they inevitably must make going forward.

It is a story of love, but not of lovers, strangers whose chance meeting in an airport lounge finds Adam and Marissa supportive of each other’s need to shore up the courage to return home to family on a fateful Thanksgiving morning. In often colorful and graphic prose Feldman carves out a tale of self-effacement, good intentions, failure, and hope. With Thanksgiving dinner looming for both Adam and Marissa, it’s not about turkey and pumpkin pie; it’s about a slice of life they must learn to swallow without it consuming them.

If you dread looming family reunions at Thanksgiving, or any other time for that matter, this book will help shepherd you through the valley of anxieties that may be churning in the pit of your stomach. It will renew your faith in the strength and resilience of the human spirit and the inherent compassion that defines our humanity.


Glazed Almonds: a Love Potion for Tu B’Av

— by Ronit Treatman

From the depths of despair experienced on Tisha B’Av, we are elevated by the pursuit of love on Tu B’Av (July 22 this year). According to the Talmud (Ta’anit 30b), on the fifteenth day of Av, “the daughters of Jerusalem would go dance in the vineyards,” and “whoever did not have a wife would go there,” to find a bride. Those maidens would wear white dresses, and dance under a full moon. If you were searching for your bashert, how could you ignite the passions of the person you desire? Maybe you could prepare a Biblical “love potion.”  

Since ancient times, almonds have been used as an aphrodisiac. Samson courted Delilah with fragrant almond blossoms. It is believed that their perfume arouses women’s passions. The omega-3 fatty acids in almonds boost the production of testosterone in men, enhancing their virility. Perhaps as a result of this, candy-coated almonds are traditional in many Jewish weddings. To entice your love interest, cook up a batch of glazed almonds.

Recipe after the jump.
Glazed Almonds

  • 1 cup raw almonds
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup rose or orange blossom water
  • 1/4 cup water
  1. Place the water, sugar, and rose/orange blossom water in a pan.
  2. Bring to a boil.
  3. Boil for about 15 minutes, to make the liquid into a syrup.  
  4. Heat a heavy skillet.
  5. Roast the almonds, stirring constantly.
  6. Pour in the syrup and mix it in to coat the almonds.  
  7. Place the glazed almonds on a piece of parchment paper and allow them to cool.  
  8. Break apart the almonds that are stuck together.

The old-fashioned way of presenting these roasted almonds is to place them in a small paper bag. If your love interest likes his or her snacks crunchy and sweet, with a hint of floral essence, this “love potion” may cast a spell on them.  

A Soul is Like a Play: New Jerusalem at the Lantern Theatre

  • All we get is the poetry of a Jewish fruit peddler and a heap of vanishing figs.  — Baruch Spinoza
  • You will be greater than all of us, but not as a Jew. — Rabbi Mortera

Reminiscent of intellectual dramas like Copenhagen, New Jerusalem: The Interrogation of Baruch de Spinoza at Talmud Torah Congregation: Amsterdam, July 27, 1656 is an ambitious new drama by David Ives, known for his evenings of one act comedies called All in the Timing and Time Flies.  Playing through November 6th at the Lantern Theater Company, this heady play directed by Lantern’s Artistic Director Charles McMahon is based on true events in the life of the philosopher Baruch de Spinoza.  This recent off-Broadway hit challenges traditional political and religious thinking with passion and wit.  

The production’s action takes place in the Amsterdam synagogue where the 23 year old stands trial for his revolutionary thoughts about God, nature and human life.  Sam Henderson’s Spinoza, donning a black leather bomber jacket, (costumes beautifully designed by Maggie Baker with lighting by Shon Causer) is arrogant but humble, witty and rakish.   The favorite son of the rabbi’s heir apparent, (played by David Bardeen) Spinoza refuses to remain silent about his revolutionary thoughts, and is accused by political leader and Calvinist Abraham van Valkenburgh ( played by Seth Reichgott) of heresy.   The audience becomes part of this trial as we witness Spinoza refuse to silence his radical beliefs, denying the divine origin of the Torah which sits in the Ark of the Covenant, that provides the effective and sparsely designed backdrop for the action (designed by Nick Embree).

More after the jump.
Accused of atheism, Spinoza protests, “I know a few things about God no one else does.”    Accused of loving a Christian woman, Clara van den Eden (played beautifully by Mary Tuomanen) Spinoza insists she tell the truth when she is questioned, for her “essence will not allow her to lie.”  His petty and vengeful half-sister Rebekah de Spinoza, (played by Kittson O’Neill) who early in the play betrays her brother, marks one of the weaker plot points as later in the play she professes great loyalty.  Her kvetching (from the audience where she glares at her accused brother on trial to be excommunicated) while intended to provide some comic relief, strikes one of the few false notes of the evening.  

The most convincing and moving relationship we witness is that between the Head Rabbi of Amsterdam, Mortera, and Spinoza, whom he considers like a grandson.    While Spinoza is intoxicated “by God and mathematics”, the rabbi must think about the community of faithful Jews whose religious freedom is being threatened.   Will the Rabbi remain faithful to his most gifted student or will he turn his back on him for the sake of the Jewish community’s survival?  

Ives manages to write an engaging courtroom drama full of complex philosophical ideas from Descartes’ dualism to the Mishneh Torah.   If questions like: is there immortality, is there a God, what are the moral implications of a world without God, interest you — you will spend two riveting hours at the Lantern Theater Company.   Remember, when Albert Einstein was asked about his belief in God, he responded, “I believe in Spinoza’s God.”   To find out what he means by this go see New Jerusalem at the Lantern Theater Company.

On Saturday, October 22nd at 2 pm there will be a Panel Discussion on the Lantern Main Stage called Out of Order! Courtrooms as Theatre, Courtrooms in Theatre featuring Vince Regan, Assistant Chief District Attorney of Philadelphia, Philadelphia playwright Bruce Graham.  

New Jerusalem runs through November 6th.

  • Lantern Theater Company at St. Stephen’s Theater
  • 10th and Ludlow Streets, Philadelphia, PA 19107
  • Adults: $20 – $36, Students: $10 – $26, $10 student rush tickets available 10 minutes before curtain with valid ID; cash only. Special discounts are available for seniors and groups of 10 or more.
  • Phone: (215) 829-0395

What Do You Know about Love?

— by Goldie Milgram

The setting is Sheila Gogol’s Amsterdam salon, in preparation for Tu b’Av, the Jewish holiday of love.  I always feel so fortunate to teach here, knowing the loving curiosity and wisdom those present will contribute. We begin with  the Tikkunei Zohar approach – a soul needs two wings to fly. In Europe, one wing – yira, is readily accessible – respect for the awe/fearsome nature of the Godfield. To fly, in the balanced way to which Jewish tradition would have us aspire, we need the other wing – ahava, love.  

More after the jump.
     Sheila has convened many cultural creatives – artists, authors, poets, musicians, scholars, healers… Skillfully guiding us in sacred chant is one of the first women cantors of the Netherlands, now further ordained as Rabbi Nava Tehila. Our host has brought in a young filmmaker too, who recorded the salon for a possible bit of televised documentary. There is some chutzpah to having love as our topic, because it will likely first evoke for some the holes in love caused by the murder of over 100,000 Dutch Jews — their parents, siblings, partners, children and more — by the Nazis and some Dutch collaborators. Among those attending the salon, I knew to be those who, as toddlers, had seen their parents shot before their eyes, hidden Jews fostered as children among gentiles, and more. Present also are American, Canadian, South African and other ex-pats and some who are not Jewish and are drawn to the topic, and also those who sense they are born with Jewish souls because not enough Jewish women survived the war to bear all the returning souls, as well as loving partners

    In preparation for this session, Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi, whom I serve on shlichut (as his personal emissary), pointed me to The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis, indeed a good conceptual trans civilizational grounding. Our salon begins with the direction that if the Jewish mission is to live mitzvah-centered, rather than self-centered lives, (kedoshim tihiyu), then the healthy evolution and alignment of self is essential for our entelechy of avodah, sacred service in life, to be realized.

    Next level – (the complexity of) love within families. On the road over the years to come, b”H, many of you will hear the example story I shared at this point, true and newly minted for telling. For me, it was rather what Sheila shared that blew the Ruach HaKodesh through the room. She described a never- opened box of family pictures, from before the Shoah, in the bottom of a closet, I believe it was near a four-year old granddaughter’s doll house. A box that no family member’s soul could bear opening. I, and others, nodded; we, too, have such boxes at home. One day she entered the room to discover her granddaughter had found the box, opened it and arrayed the pictures within her play. “Look at my family!” with such love she yet includes them, marveled her grandmother. Gasps of joy resounded to this incredible, holy sharing. This, I believe, is what Rabbis David Wolfe-Blank, z’l and Elliot Ginsberg (in his essay in the volume Seeking and Soaring) would view as the ultimate expression of the miracle of lifsoakh, leaping over- the Pesach consciousness that releases parts of us once enslaved.

    Europe is so different this visit. Jewish grandchildren are being born here; young marrieds and singles identify and meet; new minyanim, programs, and synagogues are here. Alive! hah!! We Jews are soooo alive. I just had to write that out loud.

    The next level is based on a quote I first saw in a teaching of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, z’l: “When love of each other is practiced by the Jewish people, the heart of the Shechinah is healthy.” Here my Hubbatzin Barry offered a true story of how he shifted a ChaBaD tefillin ambush from an I-It to an I-Thou encounter. With every variety of Jew in the room, the respect necessary for emerging into Tu b’Av the next day from these levels of love was present already and heightened in this study of his story. Barry’s story will appear in the next Reclaiming Judaism Press book: Mitzvah Stories: Seeds for Inspiration and Learning (with 60 contributing authors and edited by yours truly and Ellen Frankel, with Peninnah Schram, Cherie Karo Schwartz, and Arthur Strimling). (Release date is Nov. 6, 2012).

    So from where is love derived? Ahavah and Yirah are, indeed, foundational mitzvot. Our dear friend, the profound healer, mashpi’ah, artist and author, Carola de Vries Robles now brought us to Rabbi Shefa’s Gold’s chant of the tefillin/ Jewish wedding verses from Hosea, the v’eirastich li. I loved her idea and so shifted to guide our study of how the seven core phrases of this prayer might be a pathway of love that leads us through relationship to “know God.”  

    Now we chanted Amar Rabbi Akiva which emphasizes the mitzvah of loving others… to “love one’s neighbor as one might best love oneself.” We were almost up to appreciations (among them a young man, Edgar, sketched our portraits brilliantly. I will forward his website when I can get into my Facebook page where he wrote to us). So we committed to walk the streets of Dutch life on Tu b’Av not as icy-hurting Jews, nor as dangerous fiery zealots, rather as “warm cubes, our souls flying with aware Yirah and radiant Ahavah – the kind that  within our body/mind/spirit such that Ahavah and Yirah meld beyond earthly struggles to where “Adonai echad u’shemo echad.”

Hopefully during our seven weeks here in Europe we will have time for more installments. Do write back if you wish, and feel free to forward this posting with proper attribution. With love and prayers for safety and healing in the wake of US storms, earthquakes and for all everywhere who face life’s many joys and challenges.