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Born Jewish or Not, You Matter

Elle Shayna Wisnicki, My Jewish Learning, June 8, 2015

 



 

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I'm a convert. I converted. I wasn't "BORN" Jewish, whatever the heck that means.


The way I look - my golden complexion and the abundance of ringlet curls on my head - combined with the difference in my upbringing have always challenged my place in society and even in the Jewish community. It brings me joy to say that actually, I feel more accepted today than ever before, but that's not how it always was.


It's hard being a little girl. Being born with a vagina isn't always the easiest, especially being of color in a "non-traditional" family. I was raised with a single mom in Hollywood. I attended a private school in Los Angeles' infamous valley but lived a very urban life with my filmmaker mom. I lived between black and white and didn't really have any sense of grounded identity, which created a lot of self-doubt and issues that manifested particularly in middle school and probably still have effects today. I continually faced people who told me, "You're not Jewish because your mom's not Jewish," which angered me because it denied me of my own identification and reminded me that my parents aren’t together, and that many viewed my existence as illegitimate.


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Seamlessly Chinese and Jewish

Davi Yael-Cheng, My Jewish Learning, June 1, 2015

 



 

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Recently at work, one of my co-workers, who is a Chinese originally from Taiwan, stopped by my desk to ask me a question. He spotted the calendar on my desk.


"You have a Jewish calendar," he said.


"Yes?" I replied.


"A Jewish calendar?" he asked again.


"I am Jewish," I said.


He looked at me and smiled, "You are? Really?"


"Yes, I am Jewish"


"Really? You are Jewish?"


"Yes."


"Really?" he asked again.


This has been my normal experience, people Jews and non-Jews alike would ask me exactly three times if I am really Jewish when I tell them that I am Jewish.


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Jewish Pirates and Other Treasures

Marcella White Campbell, My Jewish Learning, May 27, 2015

 



 

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It's the end of the summer, and my children are educating me about Jewish pirates.


"They lived in the Caribbean in the 16th and 17th centuries," my teenage daughter insists. "Hebrew was their secret language, because no one else around them spoke it."


"And," my ten-year-old son adds, "they never raided on Shabbat.


The kids go off to draw pictures of Jewish pirates. I may have trouble wrapping my mind around the concept, but it doesn't occur to me to ask where the children learned about Sabbath-observing buccaneers. I can already guess: camp.


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How to Welcome the Stranger: A Modern Midrash

Rabbi Juan Mejia, My Jewish Learning, May 18, 2015

 



 

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1 in 6 contemporary Jews are new to Judaism. How are we supposed to welcome these converts? Rabbi Juan Mejia, a convert himself, provides a modern reading of the biblical story of Ruth to find some guidance.

An uneasy minyan stands at the gates of Bethlehem. The sun gilds the fields covered in grain, and every one of them eagerly wants to return to his harvest. The case at hand: the redemption of Elimelech's field. Elimelech had left many years ago, during a famine, to live across the Dead Sea in the land of Moab. Tragically, Elimelech died without leaving an heir, his sons having perished as well without having children, and his land must be redeemed by his closest relatives. Someone from the family must take care of the land and purchase it from the widow.


The closest kin is offered the land. He gladly accepts to buy it. Then Boaz reveals the catch: "When you acquire the property from Naomi and from Ruth the Moabite, you must also acquire the wife of the deceased, so as to perpetuate the name of the deceased upon his state." (Ruth 4:5) The man freezes where he stands. Me? Marry THAT woman? A Moabite?! Stuttering, he backs down: "Then I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I impair my own estate. You, Boaz, take over my right of redemption." (4:6)


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A Real Cuban Mojito

Jennifer Stempel, My Jewish Learning, May 11, 2015

 



 

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The first time I tasted a mojito, and I mean really tasted a mojito, I was in Havana with my family, and my dad had whisked me away to a local hotspot after a long, sweaty day of delivering humanitarian aid to those in need. That night was particularly warm, and the cool drink refreshed me from the trials of the day. I remember the salsa music playing in the air and watching through the open windows as the locals danced til their hearts content. This was the taste of Cuba I had heard so much about from my mother's stories.

These days, my volunteer work includes a more local approach with my participation in the Los Angeles Jewish community as the leader of the young adult group at my synagogue, Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills. When our new rabbi approached me about an idea for a Cuban-themed Shabbat dinner, I knew exactly which elements would help bring authenticity to the table. Rum, music, and dancing, of course!


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My Jewish Mother the Hero

Alyssa Bracha McMillan, My Jewish Learning, May 5, 2015

 



 

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My family has always been the foundation of my life. I have very strong bonds with both my parents. Over the years, I have come to appreciate how my parents raised me based on their life experiences. My parents have been married for 33 years, and I always look to them for guidance and support. I think of them as my heroes. Although I think of my dad as a hero as well, since it is Mother's Day, I'd like to highlight the reasons that I think my mother is a hero.


My mom is my hero because she has the strength to accomplish the seemingly impossible. In 1975, as one of the top students in the state, she was forced to drop out of college to make ends meet. She was sleeping from couch to couch when finally someone took her in. Around this time, she got a job working for GM on the production line. After being laid off for a few years, she said that enough was enough and went back to working as an apprentice electrician. However, on the day she was supposed to take her tests for her journeyman certification, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She told the doctor, "Hold that thought. I don't have time for this right now. I have two finals that I must take, and I'll deal with this diagnosis after I take my final." My mom ended up scoring the highest grade on the test and earned the right to call herself a journeyman electrician. She was then transferred to a factory called Pontiac Truck and Bus, also known as Pontiac Assembly Center, where she was subject to extreme racist and sexist attacks and threats of violence (I don't want to get started about the years of lawsuits my family went through). Due to these conditions, my mom was forced to retire, after almost 30 years with GM. Furthermore, due to the stress from work, her MS was exacerbated and she was forced to use mobility aids to move around.


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My Chinese Daughter's Jewish Roots

Cantor Jodi Schechtman, My Jewish Learning, April 28, 2015

 



 

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This is the final in a short series on adoption in Jewish families. Enjoy!

In 1988, I had my entire life completely worked out. I was ordained as a cantor, married the love of my life and moved from New York to a community just west of Boston. We would live in Massachusetts for a couple of years as I got my career going; then we would have a couple of babies and move back to NY and raise our kids near our families. We plan. God laughs.


By 1994, my husband and I had gone through thousands of dollars of fertility treatments and had experienced the physical and emotional devastation of five miscarriages. My sixth time expecting turned out to be an ectopic pregnancy which ruptured and resulted into being rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery. When I awoke from the surgery, I was ready to find out when we could begin trying again. But my husband was at my bedside and said the following words, "That's it. No more. I'm not losing you over this. Now we're going to look into adoption."


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Uncovering Awe and Joy in Israel

Ruth Abusch Magder, My Jewish Learning, April 23, 2015

 



 

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"Ima, I'm eating breakfast. It tastes like home. I want to live here forever."

The simplicity and joy of my daughter's phone call from her first morning in Israel keeps replaying in my head. It is a balm on my soul and a window into the blessing that is the State of Israel.


Today, Israel celebrates 67 years since its founding. For many, the initial thrill that a Jewish state could possibly come into existence has given way to the complex realities of nation building, security, economic growth and world politics. And these complexities have opened up nuances and ambivalences.


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Eating Bacon?

Janaki Kuruppu, My Jewish Learning, April 21, 2015

 



 

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"Did you like bacon before you were Jewish?"

This question from one or both of my sons comes up periodically, at the dinner table, or in the car. There often seems no clear context to the question. It just pops up, now and then.

I generally answer "Yes, I did, but I don't really want to eat bacon now. There are other things that I used to eat that aren't kosher, that I really do miss."

"Like what?", the questioner will ask.

"Well, like crab cake (a specialty of the state I have resided in for most of my Jewish life), or eel sushi, or blue cheese on hamburgers." I usually reply.

"What about pepperoni pizza?", asks our younger son, who is currently fascinated with pepperoni pizza, and feels that this restriction is the ultimate deprivation of kashrut.

"No, I never really liked pepperoni pizza." I usually neglect to mention that a favorite of my childhood was a Hawaiian pizza - ham and pineapple on a bed of cheese. Yum!


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A Letter to My Son

Gal Adam Spinrad, My Jewish Learning, April 15, 2015

 


 

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To My Beautiful Son,


Two years ago today we met for the first time. You were two days old, and we had known about you for just one day, since the adoption agency director had come to find me the day before to tell me that a baby had been born whom she believed was meant to be our son


Two years ago today I met your father in the hospital lobby - I was coming from work and he was coming from school. We walked into the same hospital we had walked out of together just two years before - after I delivered the twins who had stopped growing inside me - heavy with grief in spite of how hollow I felt, into the grey cold snow of Midwestern winter. In the moment we walked back in to meet you - hopeful, excited, curious, nervous - the wound from that day two years before healed more completely. Because of the gift of you.


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My Daughter is as Beautiful as a Doll

Rabbi Tziona Szajman, My Jewish Learning, April 8, 2015

 



 

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As a child I was pretty dissatisfied with my hair. It was neither straight nor curly. It was neither blond nor brown. It didn't look like the hair of the women I saw on TV or in magazines. It didn't swish in a ponytail and bits always stuck up on picture day.

Years later, a friend told me that her biracial daughter hated her African hair. The child wanted her hair to look like Barbie. Perhaps it was my own hair issues at play but I felt compelled to search high and low for a Barbie with natural African American hair, found a collector's version, and paid an exorbitant price to buy it. Alas, the child didn't like the doll. She said it was ugly.


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Passover and the Need for Wiser Questions

Ruth Abusch Magder, My Jewish Learning, March 24, 2015

 



 

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In college, David Abusch-Magder (then David Abusch) decided to take a class in African dance. Over the years he had watched every semester as the class was often held outside. People seemed to be having fun and the movement was so easy and fluid.


His experience comes to mind each year at Passover when we read in the Haggadah (Passover prayer book) that there are four children, the wise, the wicked, the simple, and the one that cannot even ask. My husband David, of the aforementioned story, who is now a Jewish educator, often teaches about these differences to help remind us about the different types of learners we need to be able to reach to be successful in Jewish education.


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Passover, 70 Years After the Liberation

Ruth Abusch Magder, My Jewish Learning, March 24, 2015

 



 

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"It was the day before Passover, and our Division Chaplain, of the 42nd Rainbow Division sent out a notice that we were going to have Passover Services. I got two other Jewish GIs and went, joining about 100 other GIs, and to my amazement out came dozens of Jewish civilians who had been in hiding and were crying with joy. For the first time in a few years to be free to have Passover, it really touched me and made me feel I was very sad and yet happy that we were helping. Fellow Jewish GIs back at our base continued to celebrate our own Passover with some Kosher Salami and Matzos that my wife Sophie sent to me the day before Passover started. Plus very delicious French wine I had learned to acquire."


This was the story that Isaac S. Morhaime, would tell every Passover. He did not need to live Passover "as though" he had come out of Egypt. He had seen liberation with his own eyes. 70 years ago, as part of the 42nd Rainbow Division, Morhaime had helped to liberate Dachau outside of Munich just a month after the celebration of that modest but poignant Seder.


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Celebrating Passover Around the World

Maya Resnikoff , My Jewish Learning, March 16, 2015

 



 

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According to legend, at Passover Elijah the Prophet visits ever Seder table around the world. As he travels he must marvel at the diversity of traditions that can be found in different communities and regions. These global traditions provide wonderful ways to prompt new questions and interest at any Seder.


While many communities use a special Seder plate to hold the edible and visual supplies for their Seder, Persian and Yemenite Jews place the different items directly on the table, or in small bowls in front of each person, so that they surround the participants, creating a truly immersive environment. Others use a basket covered with a decorated cloth to hold all the different ritual items, as do the Jews of Tunisia, so that they are ready to take them off the table and leave Egypt right away-it adds to the feeling of reenacting the Exodus.


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Colombia: Encountering the Other, Finding Ourselves

Vanderbilt Hillel, My Jewish Learning, March 11, 2015

 



 

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Pining for adventure? Missing the warmth and the sun? The Bechol Lashon/Vanderbilt Hillel Student Trip to Colombia combined both together with some incredible life lessons.

Day 1: "Bienvenidos a Bogotá" the capital of Colombia, the thriving heartbeat of a vibrant nation, a city full of exciting people, and traffic. We met our Be'chol Lashon guide, Aryeh. Then it was off to visit Monserrate, the towering peak that overlooks Bogotá like a watchful sentinel. We were rewarded with spectacular views of the entire city sprawled out before us. At the Bogotá Chabad house, we experienced Shabbat services before digging in to a mouthwatering feast, complete with plenty of Hebrew songs and "l'chaims." For many of us, it was a welcome reminder of the type of uniquely Jewish revelry we'd all enjoyed as children. (Gideon Ticho)


Day 2: The experience we shared at the Conservative synagogue, Asociación Israelita Montefiore, opened our eyes to a completely new Jewish perspective. We spoke to Adriano who taught us about what it is like to not only be a Colombian Jew, but also what it is like to be a "converso," someone who converted to Judaism, in Bogotá. We also learned about new Jewish communities that are forming in other Colombian cities! Once Shabbat was officially over, we went out with Colombian Jewish students! We learned not only what it is like to be a Colombian Jew, but also what it is like to be a young Jewish person in Colombia! (Erika Slepian)


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This Passover Choose Judaism

Alex Barnett, My Jewish Learning, March 10, 2015

 



 

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My wife and I are an interracial couple. I am a White, Ashkenazi Jewish man from New York. She is a Black woman from Detroit, raised in the Lutheran faith, who converted (to Jewish, not to White. She's still Black). Our 3 year old Biracial son is Jewish.

When I talk about my wife's conversion, rather than saying she converted I like to say that she's Jewish by choice. I do this because conversion sounds like the process by which a sofa becomes an uncomfortable bed. Or it sounds like something that happens by magic. I wave my magic wand and "poof" you're Jewish. Whereas being a Jewish person by choice requires a conscious affirmative decision.


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At Purim, We Shall Overcome

Isaiah Rothstein, My Jewish Learning, March 3, 2015

 



 

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This past week I had the pleasure of attending the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference. With inspiring speakers, expressions of hope and dreams for a better world, and an unflinching defense for the State of Israel, I felt a deep pride to be a Jew during the only time since Alexander the Great, that Jewish community in the Diaspora was able to partner with the foreign governments-this is historical. Last night though, as I walked out of the convention center, dozens of people with their anti-Israel sentiments, signs, and slurs called me a murderer, called me a Nazi, called me a an animal. As I walked through the groups, some I tried to speak too, but my words had no voice, and my reasoning was beyond the possible, and so, myself along with a just five of my Jewish brothers and sisters (including Rabbi Shmuely Boteach) started to sing.

We stood with each other in solidarity in a sea of peering hatred. We stood in prayer, we stood for the thousands of years that our people were killed before they could even utter a breath-we stand, because we can, we stand because in every generation we are commanded to. Our Freedom Song, our story to tell is a story of every generation, and this time, it will be heard. It is a story that speaks not only to the heart of the Jewish nation, but to all nations, all peoples.


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Purim in Paradise, from Nashville to the Caribbean

Rabbi Juan Mejia, My Jewish Learning, March 2, 2015

 



 

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Imagine Purim crystal clear and warm waters of the Caribbean Sea. No need for warm costumes or shoveling out the entrance to the synagogue. This week not one but two Jewish communities will have the opportunity to do just that, in a modern and multicultural celebration of an ancient Jewish holiday.

The blue sea is the only backdrop the Jews of Santa Marta Colombia have ever known to Purim and other Jewish holidays. They are an emerging community made up exclusively of Caribbean converts who, in the past decade, have built a small but strong chavurah, prayer community. Generally they are on their own when it comes to Jewish life. But this week, students from Vanderbilt University Hillel are joining them.


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But Can You Pick Your Family?

Lindsey Newman, My Jewish Learning, February 25, 2015

 



 

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"Usually I would say I want to go to camp to see all my old friends, but to be honest they are not friends. They are FAMILY! Every summer I count down the days until I go to camp because it's that exciting. Every year I learn something new about myself. Camp Be'chol Lashon is my second home, and I can't wait to go back this summer. I am always making new friends that I will probably know for a lifetime."
-Kenya Edelhart, age 12 Camp Be'chol Lashon

"You can pick your nose, you can pick your friends, but you can't pick your family." - My father


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How Kosher is "Kosher Soul?"

Robin Washington, My Jewish Learning, February 2, 2015

 


©2015 A&E Television Networks, LLC. All rights reserved.
Photo Credit: Richard Knapp


 

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What could be funnier than a black man marrying a white woman?

Before you say "Loving v. Virginia," hold on, there's more: Make that a white Jewish woman. Isn't that a stitch?


If same-sex marriage in Alabama hasn't convinced you we might actually be in 2015, the premiere of the Lifetime reality show, Kosher Soul, arrives Feb. 25 to dutifully turn back the clock.


"Opposites attract," the show's promos blare, suggesting the protagonists might just be different species. A freelance stylist, Miriam Sternoff, 38, grew up Jewish in Seattle. O'Neal McKnight, 39, her stand-up comedian fiancé, is African American from Lynchburg, S.C. With cameras following their every antic, the pair slapstick their cultures together on the way to their wedding day.



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The King's Gate

Isaiah Rothstein, My Jewish Learning, February 19, 2015

 



 

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"Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way." -Viktor E. Frankl

This idea came from a Holocaust survivor, no less, who decided in the death camps that he can determine the fate of his inner world, and later suggested in his book Man's Search for Meaning that your identity does not need to depend on what is going on around you, and that you can control the spirit's choice as how to respond to any given the situation. Indeed, also under the harshest realities of the African slave-trade, what did many of them do? They stood above their oppressors by singing soul songs, Spirituals, to channel their souls cry of inner yearning. Yes, while in the net of captivity, the heart soared with the eagle's eyes protecting the soul, but what about the lions kinship to protect their physical freedoms? Would the spirituals freedoms be enough?



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Welcoming the Bride Modern Style

Lior Ben-Hur, My Jewish Learning, February 17, 2015



 



 

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Since I released my latest music video, "Boee Kala", many friends, fellow musicians, and community members have asked me questions regarding to the meaning of the song, its title, the choice of location for shooting the video as well as my personal connection to the text.

The song title relates to my own Jewish roots. While 'L'cha Dodi' is the common Jewish title used for this old liturgical Piyut (written by the well-known 16th century poet, Rabbi Shlomo HaLevi Alkabetz, I discovered that Iraqi Jews used the title 'Boee Kala' for the poem. Therefore, I chose to use the traditional, Iraqi song title to be true and highlight to my Iraqi-Jewish heritage.



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The Rabbi, The Pastor and the Torah of Mankind

Isaiah Rothstein, My Jewish Learning, February 12, 2015

 



 

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The baggage claim at the airport in Gondar, Ethiopia is still by far the most humorous way I have yet to collect my luggage after flying. A massive crate is hauled from the plane and dumped into a heaping pile of blues, blacks and greys, with all the creative markings to let each person know which bag belonged to them. As we all pushed and pulled bags aside looking for our own, I noticed other farengie-Amharic for light skinned people, claim their belongings. Though a few glared at my kippah and Tzizit in perplexity, I was used to it, and smiled in return. Later that night, as I walked from my hotel-room for dinner I passed by an open room and looked inside while passing. I noticed some of the same people from the airport! Before I was even a meter away from their door, one calls out "execuse me, man from the airport!" I turn back and stand at their doorway and begin interacting with them around global service.

It turned out they were on service trip as a part of their church from New Orleans, and the room that I was neighboring was the pastor herself! She exclaimed "I didn't know that Jews like yourself do work like this!" I told her all about the organization my cohort was representing, the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), and how this organization has been honored by many high ranking officials for their work in the region, she was delighted. We exchanged words of Torah, discussed the power of religious values in helping the underserved populations around the world. Before leaving, I shook her hand and kissed my own. When asking me why I kissed my hand, I asked her: "what does one do when they drop the Bible on the floor?" she quickly responded with a smile and thanked me. I said the Bible has God in it, and so do you, to that I turned to leave and said "we are in this together."


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Does Selma Deserve an Oscar? Ask Butch and Sundance

Robin Washington, My Jewish Learning, February 9, 2015

 



 

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With the Wild West fading and the railway men closing in, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid head for the untamed terrain of Bolivia to continue a string of bank and payroll robberies, (spoiler alert) only to meet their end when an entire army descends on them.

Except it didn't happen that way. It was Argentina, not Bolivia, where they lived as comfortable ranchers for a few years until Pinkerton's finally caught up with them, leading to a single, less-than-successful jaunt to Bolivia for a holdup that culminated in a murder-suicide at their own hands.


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Created In G-d's Image

Paige Jones DeYoung, My Jewish Learning, February 4, 2015

 



 

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L'chaim - to life, but to celebrate without knowing, would merely divert those from seeing my true being. You see, what you see is nothing short of brilliance, of strength, of success and triumph. But that is something that took decades to discover.

My entire life has been surrounded by the question, what are you? Rather than who are you? And though they say your past makes your present it was never a present hearing that question.


My personal favorite, are you like actually Jewish? Because we were just wondering what you are because I mean, obviously you don't look Jewish.


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Balanced Like the Trees

Isaiah Rothstein, My Jewish Learning, January 28, 2015

 



 

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"He (Moses) said: "If you will listen diligently to the voice of HaShem, your God, and you will do what is just in His eyes, and you will give ear to His commandments and observe all His statues, then any of the diseases that I placed upon Egypt, I will not place upon you, for I am HaShem your Healer (Exodus 16:26)."

When God originally created the world, there was neither order nor disorder, it simply just was. Darkness and light shared the same time and space, the world was filled with chaos, and the physical realm was void of all order (Genesis 1:2). It was then that the Holy One spent the week ahead, a busy workweek it was! defining the boundaries of the universe, creating balance, creating Shabbat.


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For Afro-Yiddish Performer, the Past is not Past

Anthony Mordechai Tzvi Russell, My Jewish Learning, January 27, 2015

 



 

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"The past is never dead. It's not even past…"

When William Faulkner wrote these words in Requiem for a Nun, I'm pretty certain he didn't have a formerly opera-singing African-American performer of Yiddish in mind. Nonetheless, for me Faulkner's words still manage to apply.


I spend most of my time dealing with one past or another. There's my ethnic past and present as an African-American. There's my acquired past as a convert to Judaism and a Jewish educator. And finally, there's the past in my work as artist: previously as an opera singer and presently as a performer of Yiddish. In my professional life, I've impersonated everything from an 18th-century Spanish peasant to a Union soldier to a shtetl shames calling Jews to prayer. My future seems firmly rooted in the past, and I thoroughly enjoy it.


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The World of Jewish Music

Cantor Rachel Stock Spilker, My Jewish Learning, January 22, 2015

 



 

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There is a myth that Jewish music is "always in a minor key," and often echoes themes of pieces like "Hava Nagila" and "Kol Nidrei." So last spring when I met with Judi Lamble, the coordinator and Michael Olsen, the conductor of the Twin Cities Jewish Choral, we knew that a global Jewish music concert was the best way to debunk the myth!

Because Jews have settled in countries around the world throughout history and have adopted the sounds, tastes and customs of their host countries, our music has often taken on the styles of the countries we have lived in. So it is not unusual to have a Jewish folk song that sounds like a Yugoslavian dance, a "L'cha Dodi" that rocks to an African beat, or a love song written in Ladino, which grew out of Medieval Spanish.


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My Big Happy Greek-Ashkenazi Family

Adam Kofinas, My Jewish Learning, January 20, 2015

 



 

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When I was in Israel this fall, I ended up going to a Sephardic synagogue one Shabbat morning, and served as the impromptu teacher for the rest of my group who very clearly had never been to a non-Ahskenazic Synagogue and were unfamiliar with the unique and different customs, tunes, and liturgical readings that came along with the shul. The following shabbat, I found myself in a traditional Ashkenazi shul, like any you would find here in the US, and was fully able to participate in the davening. I was able to successfully pass in both communities.

In reflecting on my experiences, I was reminded of a line that I heard from time to time growing up, "so your dad is Greek and your mom's Jewish," an assumption that was wholly incorrect. I am the product of an intermarriage of sorts, but not the kind you're probably thinking of. My mother's family hails from various parts of Eastern Europe, and my dad's family comes from Greece, and all sides of my family are historically Jewish. When I explain this, I usually get the line, "so then that makes you Sephardic right?" Not exactly. The Greek Jews that I descend from are called Romaniote, with a history in Greece dating back to Roman times. According to the legend, when the Romans were sending slave ships back to Rome after the destruction of the Second Temple (so around 70-80 CE), one of the ships hit some sort of rock and was sinking. The captain of the ship let the slaves free, saying if they could swim to shore, they were free to go. They ended up coming ashore on the coast of Greece, and thus followed thousands of years of history, unique liturgy, tunes, and foods.


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A Lesson from Moses to Martin Luther King Jr.

Isaiah Rothstein, My Jewish Learning, January 14, 2015

 



 

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During my childhood, I never understood why I found myself needing to adapt differently depending on which parent I was walking with: my black mother, or my white father. But then the stares grew longer, the presumptuous comments and questions never seemed to fall-short of an insult, and well, as a family we learned to know when to guard, deflect or just turn around and walk out the door.

It's one thing when an individual discriminates against you, but it's whole other thing when it's a group or community. When a community, organization or country perpetuate distant values of discrimination, it sticks, and becomes a part of who you are, your DNA.


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'Selma' A Jewish Take

Ruth Abusch Magder, My Jewish Learning, January 8, 2015

 



 

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This week I had the privilege of viewing an early showing of 'Selma,' a movie about the historical events that took place in Alabama during the summer of 1965. The bombing of the 16th St. Church, in which 4 young girls were killed in 1963 and the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 were not far from the public consciousness then. And the battle between hate and rights that unfolded that summer in Selma changed the course of American history in profound and essential ways.


There are those who will and have already begun to quibble with the historicity of "Selma" but as a white rabbi who trained as a historian and has devoted the last five years to civil right in the Jewish community through my work at Be'chol Lashon, it is my hope that ALL Americans, no matter race or religion go to see the film.


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We Need More than a Sneeze

Isaiah Rothstein, My Jewish Learning, December 31, 2014

 



 

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Before attaining my Master of Social Work, I had the honor of helping many sick people live out their final months comfortable in hospice. Clients passed away, loved ones wailed as the coffin is lowered, and me, the social work intern, was left to support, love, guide, facilitate. Out of all of the things I have learned (so far) in this capacity, the most compelling is that the fragility of life calls to the healthy to breathe deeply, laugh loudly. Let the sobriety of personal grit and ambition keep you sensitive to what life has in store for you.

Easier said than done.


Regardless of age, the thought that lays at the base and forefront of most human consciousness is the uncertainty as to what will become of our existence. A person may be an established teacher, CEO or other sorts of professionals, and may have eloquent and intellectual capacities, and even have the riches of a king but no matter what they achieve, each and every person carries an unknown fate - we do not know when we will die. The billions of eulogies throughout world history cause the same emotional response in the listeners. As the deceased is lowered in the ground, we wonder, "what will become of me?"


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My Magen David, My Identity

Beth Leibson, My Jewish Learning, December 30, 2014

 



 

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My daughter Maya and I had been walking along 125th Street in Harlem, past the larger-than-life statue of Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., pastor, politician, and Civil Rights activist; the Studio Museum of contemporary African art; and the landmark Apollo Theater that launched so many careers. Somewhere along the way, we saw an enormous American flag, all in red, green, and black, the African American colors.

"Hey wouldn't it be cool if the stars were six-point stars?" my biracial daughter said as she fingered the silver Jewish Star pendant she always wore."That would be me."


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Lighting to be Seen

Isaiah Rothstein , My Jewish Learning, December 22, 2014

 



 

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"He was a tall man with broad shoulders, the type we used to call 'a real goliath,' powerful and with an unusual personality to boot. Unlike most of the Jews, he had no problem walking to his work, upright and with confidence. Instead of leading the line from the barracks, he insisted on bringing up the rear, and the whole way he would support the backs of those who had trouble walking. Avrum deh pusher (Avram the pusher), Avram deh Shtipper (Avram the booster), they used to call him in Yiddish. With his right hand, he picked up the weak, with his left he straightened the bent, and with his chest he pushed them forward. If he saw one of fellow Jews sway and fall, he would grab him quickly and give him a push so that the man could continue walking on his own. Everyone thought of him as a remarkable figure."

This story is the eyewitness account of Rabbi Yisroel Meir Lau, former Chief Rabbi of Israel, and the youngest survivor of the Buchenwald Concentration Camp. It was he, like Judah the Macabbee in ancient time, who helped save lives in the camp with courage and love. During one of the darkest moments in Jewish history, Avram helped those along the way by instilling belief and hope that light can not only be found, but created, in the darkest of times.


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BlackLivesMatter, A Jewish View

Diane Tobin, My Jewish Learning, December 17, 2014

 



 

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Black Lives Matter, on the first night of Hanukkah and also on the second night, the third night and every other night and day of the year.

On the first light of Hanukkah, some in the Jewish community are taking the opportunity to express the sentiment that "Black Lives Matter." We at Be'chol Lashon could not agree more. We dedicate ourselves to making the Jewish commitment to racial equality part of the everyday fabric of American Jewish life.


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Sephardic Hanukkah Traditions

Adam Eilath, My Jewish Learning, December 16, 2014

 



 

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As a Jew with North African roots, I have always felt that my culture's rich and diverse traditions set me apart from my peers and classmates. On Pesach, I have always felt grateful that rice and hummus found their way into every meal and felt sympathy for my Ashkenazi friends who tried to feel satiated on potatoes. Mizrahi seder tables included hitting one another with leeks or green onions and rotating a plate of matza around someone's head while singing "Ha Lachma Anya." While most of my classmates celebrated Rosh HaShanah with only apples and honey, Mizrahi Jews also celebrate the New Year with dates, beets, and fish's or lamb's head. However, on Hannukah, there was nothing that separated me from my Ashkenazi friends. My mom fried latkes, we stuffed ourselves with jelly-filled donuts, played with dreidels and lit the Hannukiah. Much to my dismay, the only thing that set me apart from my peers was that I didn"t receive eight nights of gifts. According to my mom, "that isn't our custom."

When I moved to Israel after college, I intentionally sought out as much information as I could about my Mizrahi heritage. Yet, even in Israel, it felt like Middle Eastern and North African Jews preferred to celebrate Hannukah with only the customs that were consistent across the country, rather than those they brought with them from their communities. During my first year in Israel, I wasn't able to learn more than a few Sephardic songs about Hannukah and that some North African Jews preferred calling sufganyot "spanj."


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Hanukkah Light for Women in Uganda

Rabbi Gershom Sizomu, My Jewish Learning, December 15, 2014

 



 

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More than anything Nalugya Rehema wanted to be a mother. She was very happy when she got pregnant, but she lost the baby. She became pregnant again, but again she lost the baby. Five times she became pregnant, five times she lost the baby. She went to the local herbalist. She sold her cow to pay for treatments that did not help. Her husband threatened to leave her. Her life seemed hopeless.

The miracle of Hanukkah is bringing light to places of darkness. Unlike most parts of the world, the winter is not a dark time in Uganda. Because we are at the Equator, there are 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness all year round. We do not crave sunlight. But like people everywhere, we crave spiritual light. We crave hope. We crave possibilities. Hanukkah represents the possibilities. When we light the Hanukkah candles we remember that there is hope. And we are supposed to share this hope. This is called pirsum haness, publicizing the miracle. This is why we put our Hanukkiyah with our lit candles in a public place so everyone, no matter their religion, can share in the hope and light of the holiday.

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Throw a Global Hanukkah Party

Ruth Abusch Magder, My Jewish Learning, December 11, 2014

 



 

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Who doesn't love a holiday party? Adding a global theme to this year's celebrations can both to add to the festivities and the educational elements of the holiday, bringing in new elements that both surprise and challenge accepted ideas of the holiday. A global theme allows for as much or as little guest participation as you might like. It can be extravagant or relatively simple depending on your approach to entertaining. Either way, a global approach to Hanukkah reminds us that the light of the holiday reaches Jews in every corner of the world.

Serve a global fried food feast. The small jug of oil, that instead of burning for one night miraculously burned for 8 nights has inspired generations of fried foods. The latkes with which are most commonly associated with Hanukkah highlight the many years during which Jewish life flourished in cold European climates where the winter months were often a steady diet of potatoes. But Jewish life extends far beyond that historic reality. There is not a region in the world where Jews have not lived, and so, any fried food is fair game for Hanukkah fare. Try these Cuban Frituras de Malanga or these Colombian Patacones or these Moroccan Sfenj.

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Achieving Shalom

Isaiah Rothstein, My Jewish Learning, December 10, 2014

 



 

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Commonly defined as peace, hello and goodbye, Shalom cannot simply be translated and then understood by its English description. In Western society peace of mind, is often described as a getaway to the Bahamas where you are never to be concerned with anything. In this week's Torah portion we see the absence of Shalom as the greatest recipe for destruction.

Joseph the Dreamer, blessed with such beauty and charisma, and yet is still the source of strife and disharmony among the remaining tribes, and consequently the Nation of Israel. His brothers angered by his very existence, Shalom, in its most true definition was impossible to attain.

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From Ferguson Child, to Cop, to Criminal Attorney

Victoria Washington, My Jewish Learning, December 9, 2014

 



 

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When I think about Ferguson, Missouri I think about the Star Wars Trilogy. I spent every summer between the ages of 10 and 25 in Ferguson; and, I also spent a few weeks over the winter holiday there as well. So, I always waited with baited breath for summer, and the next movie in the trilogy. Every Saturday during those times, we ate Faraci's pizza. When the riots first happened, I remember thinking, "I hope they leave Faraci's alone because I really want some when I go back"…and I was grateful to see Faraci's still standing when I went back to Ferguson for my mother's 85 birthday party.

I also remember trudging to Schnucks grocery store during the "great blizzard" and I got my very first job bagging groceries at that same store. The summer I turned 24, I spent jogging the streets of Ferguson as I prepared for the physical agility part of the police application process.

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Defusing the Racial Timebomb

Diane Tobin, My Jewish Learning, December 4, 2014

 



 

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Over the last few weeks, as America waited for the Grand Jury decisions in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, we have been touring with our documentary, Little White Lie, encouraging proactive, positive conversations about race and identity with Americans of all backgrounds. The outrage expressed at the grand jury decisions tells us two things. One, race remains a volatile and potentially dangerous third rail in American society and two, so long as we continue to wait for moments of crisis to talk about race, it will remain so. It is difficult for us as Americans to talk about race, and even harder to do so when we do not have to. As the mother of a Black teenager, I know that in the current racial climate, no matter how much my son individualizes, he will be forced to deal with the harsh reality of toxic racial dynamics.

When I adopted my son Jonah in 1997, one of my primary concerns was that he would not see himself reflected in the American Jewish community–that his Jewish identity and his Black identity would be in conflict. I am gratified that after attending Jewish day school and growing up participating in Be'chol Lashon programs, he knows many other racially diverse Jews and takes his Jewish identity for granted. Now that Jonah is 17, I am aware that my concern has shifted and that in everyday life, the unique identity Jonah has developed will often be disregarded in favor of assumptions about his skin color.

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Mis Abuelos and the No Dilemma December

Jennifer Stempel, My Jewish Learning, December 3, 2014

 



 

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Most of the Jewish kids I knew growing up partook in a handful of familiar traditions during the holiday season. They would light their menorahs, eat latkes and jelly doughnuts, and squeal in delight of the gelt they'd win from a few festive rounds of dreidel before bedtime. In my house, the traditions were very similar, except we sometimes swapped Cuban–style malanga fritters for potato pancakes. Despite the fact that my extended family represents many different religions, my parents made it clear from the start that in our Jewish home, we celebrate Hanukkah.

Conversely, my abuelos, or grandparents, native Cubans and devout Catholics, hosted an annual Christmas party. As it was the one time in the year where every single member of my large extended family would be in attendance, my parents felt strongly that we accept the invitation, as well. These parties boasted beautiful decorations ornamenting the entire house, piles of colorful gifts for the grandkids under the tree, and echoes of laughter and warmth from family members reuniting. Of course, these elements were certainly a big draw, but the main event was always the food. Oh, the food! My abuela, the original culinary matriarch of the family, made sure nobody left hungry, and always had enough food for everyone to take home leftovers of the scrumptious Cuban feast she'd make. Her Christmas parties offered the all'star dishes from her culinary arsenal: succulent roasts, creamy black beans spooned over white rice, a variety of seasonal vegetables, and just like our Hanukkah dinners, Abuela's Christmas parties would not be complete without malanga fritters.

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Why Are We Called the "Children of Israel?" and Not Jacob?

Isaiah Rothstein, My Jewish Learning, December 1, 2014

 



 

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As a Jew, do I respond to the needs of the stranger as I am repeatedly commanded to do so? As a Jew, have I fought to recruit a jury and politicians that stands for equality and justice? As Jew, should my voice be raised high, discontented and repetitive until justice is met?

For me, as I recall the anti–Semitic struggle of my European ancestors, and as I seek to understand how my grandfather's grandmother, Lucille Mcgruder, was born enslaved in West Virginia during a segment of America's darkest times, these questions burn in my mind. But as we learn from the story of how Jacob became Israel, these questions are fundamental to all Jews.

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A Year of Stories and Thanks

Ruth Abusch Magder, My Jewish Learning, November 24, 2014

 



 

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The big action this week is focused on turkey, pie and football - as it should be. At Be'chol Lashon we are quietly and joyfully marking a year since the launch of Jewish&. On the one hand this anniversary feels like no big deal because in many ways these stories have always been there, the blog has just given them a different form. Sharing stories is one of the best ways we know about how to celebrate diversity and the richness of both the historic and contemporary Jewish experience. On the other hand, it has been a fabulous year with so many wonderful stories, contributors, readers and conversation. And for this and all that is to come, we are thankful.

We have learned much this past year.

Jews love to cook. Together we have cooked our way across the array of Jewish identities, from traditional Moroccan and Indian dishes to modern Chinese inspired challah and soup, Kosher Soul and Jewban soon to be classics. And we know we will have to do a reprise of global haroset round up again for Passover this year!


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Embracing the Contradictions

Isaiah Rothstein, My Jewish Learning, November 20, 2014

 



 

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And the boys ran about inside her, and she [Rebecca] said, If this is so, then why am I? and she went to seek God. And God said to her ‘two nations are in your womb, and two are in your insides, and one nation will be stronger than the other and the older shall serve the younger (26:27).

Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (France, 12th century) notes that Rebecca expected to mother just the Jewish people and have a singleton birth from which would come the Jewish people. Instead two separate entities grew within her, two powers, two forms of kingship.


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My Christian Great-Grandmother, My Jewish Inspiration

Michael J. DeYoung, My Jewish Learning, November 18, 2014

 



 

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Beatrice W. Hudson, known to me as Be Be, was my great-grandmother. She was one of the strongest, and most caring people I have ever met. Born May 10, 1918 in Suffolk, Virginia, she was the oldest of 13, and played a major part in raising her many siblings. Being a Black woman in the racially divided South presented many obstacles. Everyday, the Black minority experienced segregation and daily oppression by the White majority, yet my great-grandmother never strayed from her religion. She attended church every Sunday, celebrated every holiday, and said a prayer before going to bed each night.

Growing up as a bi-racial Jew, I struggle(d) with my identity on a daily basis. I was raised in a predominantly white town, and attended a Jewish day school and synagogue with little diversity. "Are you Jewish," and "what are you?" were questions I was asked far too often. People's doubts and confusion about my religious identity made it hard to feel accepted in the Jewish community. Knowing that my great-grandmother was able to live through times where being Black resulted in beatings and deaths, yet still maintain such strong religious beliefs inspired me to be proud of my Jewish heritage. Though the puzzled glares and questions still persist, my doubts have been extinguished. Judaism is an important part of who I am, and my great-grandmother understood and respected that. She knew who I was: her great-grandson.


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Seeing Double

Isaiah Rothstein , My Jewish Learning, November 13, 2014

 



 

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Diversity is like a pizza pie. When I get my slice of pizza, I may feel as if no one is about to take part in this mouth watering experience, this mushroom-onion slice is mine, and mine alone. But as I finish, pay and make my way towards the door, I notice others, with a slice almost identical to my own. I pause, and I realize I am seeing double. And as I look at the pizza tray behind the closed glass, I take note, at times against my will, that the pizza others eat comes from the same place mine did. My experience is my own but is it also connected to theirs.

Parashat Chayei Sarah, is a portion of doubles and seeming contradictions, distancing and connecting: While Abraham claims his identity as a "resident" during his negotiation process of Sarah's burial plot, he also identifies himself as a "stranger" amongst them. Similarly, Rebecca, our second matriarch, was a righteous woman, who carried the weight of living with "Laban the Deceitful," but was able to remain true to herself. A conflict for some, possible for Rebecca. Finally, Isaac too brings together two things that often are seen as opposite. When he standardizes the afternoon, Mincha prayer, he connects day and night.


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Shul Shopping for Diversity

Beth Leibson, My Jewish Learning, November 11, 2014

 



 

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Some people want to find the nearest fresh fruit and veggie stand. Other people seek out good, fast take-out Chinese. When my family showed up in New York City-a white woman, an African American man, and two biracial children-we went shul shopping.

I was looking for diversity, though fully aware that most American Jews are white. Most of us are, like me, Ashkenazi, immigrants from Eastern and Central Europe. Yet according to Be'chol Lashon's numbers, about 20% of Jews in America are non-White or non-Ashkenazi. Less than ten percent of American People of the Book are non-white (which is actually more than I'd thought before I looked it up). Some are historically Jewish, other joined the Jewish people from international adoptions, and there is a small but growing group of biracial marriages and mixed-race children.


So I tried to temper my expectations. After all, this may have been NYC, but it was still the USA. And, in fact, we saw diversity in terms of congregation size, clothing fashion, and number of women wrapped in talitot, but we were pretty much looking at white faces.


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Sarah and the Struggle of the Barren Identity

Isaiah Rothstein, My Jewish Learning, November 6, 2014

 



 

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This week, I'd like to focus on the self, not as the observer, but as the observed. Not when we felt comfortable enough to notice the difference in the other, but more the moment my insides pinch from when realizing everything we believe ourselves to be, is called into question. It is because in those moments that my identity has been threatened that I not only retreat inwardly, but fend off all potential opposition-losing not only myself, but connection to a community and lifestyle.

Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, teaches us that in order to reach the goal of the self-actualization, a person must feel comfortable in their environment and develop a sense of identity. This need, or the "esteem need" is bedrock of the human experience. In his work, A Theory of Human Motivation, Maslow explores this need, and what happens when it goes unmet:


"All people in our society (with a few pathological exceptions) have a need or desire for a stable, firmly based, (usually) high evaluation of themselves, for self respect, or self-esteem, and from the esteem of others...the desire for strength, for achievement, for adequacy, for confidence in the face of the world, for independence for freedom."

We need people to see us in a positive light, and we do things constantly in order to be perceived the way in which seems fitting in our own eyes for their eyes.


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African-Born Rabbi and Activist Dies

Team Be'chol Lashon , My Jewish Learning, November 3, 2014

 

photos credit Chester Higgins


 

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Be'chol Lashon mourns the passing of Rabbi Hailu Paris, a native of Ethiopia who lived most of his life in the United States but never lost his connection to his native land.

Hailu Paris was born in 1933 in Addis Ababa. He spent his early years in an orphanage before being adopted by American Eudora Paris who had migrated to Ethiopia with Israelite leader, Rabbi Arnold Josiah Ford. However, the arrival of Mussolini's fascist forces in Ethiopia forced them to flee in 1936. When Nazis looking for Jewish passengers stopped their ship in Germany, they did not suspect that the Black passengers with the Ethiopian child and a tightly wrapped bundle containing a Torah scroll were, in fact, Jews. According to Rabbi Shlomo Levy, when Rabbi Paris related this story he joked, "This was one time when we didn't complain when people assumed we could not be Jewish because of the color of our skin."


He matriculated from Yeshiva University in New York with a BA in Jewish Studies and a MA in Jewish education. His passion for education knew no bounds and he taught in the public schools for many years. Eventually he pursued rabbinic ordination. He served as the spiritual leader of Mount Horeb Congregation, was a founding member of the Israelite Academy and was a teacher to many. A consummate bridge builder, Rabbi Paris was honored with the Brooklyn Jewish Heritage Committee esteemed Kiruv Award in 2010 with keynote speaker Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, Executive Vice President of the New York Board of Rabbis.


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Lot, the Subjective Stranger: A Call for Diversity

Isaiah Rothstein, My Jewish Learning, October 30, 2014

 



 

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"Is she converting?"

"Clearly, she is not from around here, I wonder if she is even Jewish."


"She must be someone's nanny..."


These were not just the petty thoughts of those who saw me with my mother, but also at times the actual words spoken. Did these people aim to offend and to distance us? I pray not, but somehow and sometimes, the natural tendency of those who experience something foreign is to immediately cause distance for the sake retaining his/her individual comfort.


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A Jewish Jewel in the World's #1 City

Dan Lessner, My Jewish Learning, October 28, 2014

 



 

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Recently, über-quaint San Miguel de Allende - named a UNESCO World Heritage city in 2008 - was picked as the #1 City in the World by Condé Nast's Traveler magazine. Yes, we beat out Paris, Prague, New York, Budapest, and Florence. But one overlooked jewel in this city is its Jewish community.

According to some estimates, there are perhaps 10,000 "gringos" living in San Miguel de Allende, (SMA) Mexico, which would mean Americans and Canadians make up a little less than 10% of the population of this small colonial city in the geographic center of the country. North Americans have been settling here since right after WWII, lured initially by the GI Bill /SMA's art schools and its colonial charm, friendly locals, temperate climate, and relatively inexpensive cost of living (well, if you live on US dollars, that is). Artists, writers, and the "bohemian bourgeois" have flocked here in the past few decades, as well has hordes of tourists, both foreign and national.


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A Call for Diversity: The Tower of Babel

Isaiah Rothstein, My Jewish Learning, October 23, 2014

 



 

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While driving down Route 95 on the East Coast, one has the ability to survey hundreds of billboards along the way. They aim to tell the passerby that life without their product is a life that is incomplete. Without that specific phone, insurance plan, TV show or washing machine, one may run the risk of being an outcast, unaffiliated, and simply on the wrong train. All too often, the sole intent of the advertisement company is to draw one away from their current status of living and suggest that uniting with their agenda is the best way to succeed in the world, denying diversity, for the sake of uniformity.

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Our Dreams of Home

Sarah Aroeste, My Jewish Learning, October 21th, 2014

 



 

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When I think of home, I imagine the physical space I return to at night, the one with the white-washed façade, the apple trees in the backyard, and of course my daughter's contagious toothy grin waiting for me inside. But I also feel home, that indescribable sense of peace, safety and grounding.

I suspect that I am not the only one who has felt a little ungrounded lately. In a world that has been marked recently by so much violence and insecurity, and one in which so many people have been physically displaced, it is no wonder that many of us are feeling that lack of "home."

The times in my life when I have most often struggled to retain that feeling of being grounded, I have turned to music. It is not coincidence that the first song I ever wrote is about a young girl trying to find her way home. The song, "Chika Morena" is about the iconic Sephardic girl who has been kicked out from her homeland, and has been searching the world over to return home. Along the way, she simply longs to be guided by her ancestors to return to the comfort of her roots.

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Gluten–Free Indian Treats Sweeten Torah Celebration

Noreen Daniel, My Jewish Learning, October 12th, 2014

 



 

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I was born and raised in a traditional Jewish family in India. My father Dr. Samuel Solomon was a professor in the College of Agriculture, Pune where I spent the first 16 years of my life. On Simchat Torah morning, the gardener used to bring a basket of jasmine buds and roses as a gift. I would spend the morning making garlands of jasmine and roses for our living room doors and windows. By evening, our rooms were full of fragrance of the jasmine blossoms. I made a special thick Veni–traditional Indian garlands–of jasmine buds for my long braids.

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Eating Ashkenazi-Sephardi Style at Sukkot

Natasha Cooper-Benisty, My Jewish Learning, October 7th, 2014

 



 

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Sukkot appears to be one holiday in which the Moroccan and Ashkenazic customs and rituals are fairly similar. We both use the lulav and etrog and we both build a sukkah. I imagine that the sukkah building materials might have differed in Morocco than the materials my family used in London, England and before that in Russia and Poland.

One thing that do I know was different was the temperature outside when sitting or sleeping in the sukkah. My husband, Motti, is not sure about whether families slept in their sukkot during the holiday back in Morocco though the average temperatures in Casablanca during the months of September and October range from 66 - 73 degrees Fahrenheit (I checked!) so it does seem possible. He does, however, remember once sleeping in the sukkah as a kid in Beersheva, but it did not seem to be a family tradition.

My paternal great grandfather, on the other hand, did sleep in the sukkah and had an ingenious way of dealing with the London rain. He had a retractable roof which he used when the weather was not cooperating. Apparently he always slept outside during the holiday which is remarkable when you consider the rain and the chilly temperatures (55-61 Fahrenheit on average - yeah I checked that out too!).

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Finding Jewish Camelot

Ruth Abusch Magder, My Jewish Learning, October 5th, 2014

 


Artist Siona Benjamin teaching art in the Sukkah


 

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Celebrating Sukkot on the Canadian shores of Lake Ontario, as I did as a child, was fraught with complications. Evening temperatures often necessitated hats and heaters and our hot soup cooled before it had a chance to warm our insides. But the thrill of the holiday, the opportunity to sit out on nights it did not rain, under the green and the stars made it worthwhile. We lived in a middle-sized city with a small Jewish population but on our block there were two other families who sat in Sukkot. Our differing approaches to religion meant that we rarely shared meals but sitting out in the back yard we could hear each other repeat the same blessings and sing the same tunes and with that, our community felt expansive, our medley of practice seamless, and being Jewish was perfect.

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Confronting Murderers and Finding Forgiveness

Victoria Washington, My Jewish Learning, September 30, 2014

 


 

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I think about the nature and concept of forgiveness literally on a daily basis. As a lawyer, my practice consists solely of defending persons facing the death penalty; my clients are either facing the death penalty at trial or they have already been convicted and are in the state appeals process. Persons on the outside would be astonished to learn how much justice, forgiveness and peace color the many decisions my clients make that impact their future.

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Prayer for Diversity

Maya Resnikoff, My Jewish Learning, September 22, 2014

 


 

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Change is difficult. It can only happen when we reflect on the present and imagine different possibilities for going forward. In the ten days between the welcoming of the New Year, Rosh Hashanah and the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, Jewish tradition encourages to do just that. There are many prayers that serve as meditations on change. What follows is an adaptation of a traditional prayer meant to help focus our minds on the ways in which we might work to make the world a more tolerate of "others" and engage in the positive celebration of diversity. It wrote this piece with the assistance of Rabbi Ruth Abusch–Magder and hope you will print out a copy and bring it with you to synagogue or share it as a conversation starter with friends. May we all be inspired to create a better and more inclusive world.

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Honoring Dad, Forgiving Myself for Rosh Hashanah

Victoria Washington, My Jewish Learning, September 16, 2014

 


 

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My parents divorced when I was six and my mother remarried the man who would raise me. I consider this man my father in every single sense of the word. My biological father was still very much a part of my life, but he did not raise me per se. He died of complications from Multiple Sclerosis when I was 25.

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Amazing and Improbable Transformations
for the New Year

Rabbi Juan Mejia, My Jewish Learning, September 11, 2014

 


 

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Change is an inevitable part of our lives. Most changes, however, happen to us from the outside: we age, we move, the world changes around us regardless of our desires to frame it in a moment. And yet, the most meaningful changes are often those that we set in motion on our own: our voluntary transformations. In the Jewish tradition, the New Year is a time for collective soul–searching and metamorphosis geared towards a positive transformation of ourselves and the world around us.

Central to the liturgy of the New Year is a recurrent Medieval poem which describes God as "a King sitting in a throne of Mercy" (Melekh yoshev 'al kisse Rachamim). But there is something awkward about "a throne of Mercy". Throughout the Bible and Midrash, the idea of a throne is associated with judgment and power. Kings, including the King of King of Kings (God), sit in high and lofty thrones that separate them from the ground. It is from this high and separate place where they dispense justice to the people below. The throne is a symbol of the power possessed by one party and not possessed by the other. Power and judgment seem to depend on differences, on distances and on separation; ideas we seldom associate with mercy, which we imagine thriving in contact and intimacy. As any playground kid knows, forgiveness (mercy´s delicious byproduct) is never really true unless sealed by that handshake or, better yet, a hug. And yet it is incredibly difficult to shake or hug someone who is sitting high above you in a throne.

Thus, the idea of a throne of mercy seems strange, even oxymoronic.

However, it precisely because of this contradictory nature, this image seems to be a perfect metaphor for the time of the High Holidays and the possibilities it encapsulates. The Jewish idea of repentance, teshuvah, is connected to the view of our own free will and our power to create— a power we share exclusively with God. Although we are constrained by limitations set by our physical, social and behavioral surroundings, there is a component in us that is absolutely free and, at any moment, can choose to act in a completely unexpected way. In the same way that a throne does not seem a fitting tool of mercy but rather just the opposite, the power of repentance is such that it can alter the expected shape and function of an object into something that it did not seem it had the power to be.

This wondrous act of transformation is made so much more powerful when it goes viral and the entire Jewish people does it together. That is the true power of the High Holidays: focusing the entire attention and energy of a people into the sole purpose of betterment and transformation. When we, collectively as well as individually, choose to do something unexpected and seek for unity instead of division, for connection instead of hierarchy, for closeness instead of judgment, our true potential as a people and as Jews becomes unlocked.

My personal blessing for these powerful days, pregnant with possibilities, is that we look into those things that we think as unchangeable and set in our lives: our surroundings and ethnicity, our situation and our language. And like the throne of Judgement, see ourselves transformed into an improbable but amazing new people with less hangups, less distance between us and other Jews, between us and our fellow human beings.

Originally published here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/blog/jewish-and/2014/09/11/amazing-and-improbable-transformations-for-the-new-year/


An Afro–Ashkefardi Recipe For Rosh Hashanah

Michael W. Twitty, My Jewish Learning, September 9, 2014

 


 

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From black–eyed pea hummus spiked with homemade horseradish harissa to matzoh–meal fried chicken cooked in shmaltz, to peach noodle kugels touched with garam masala, Afro–Ashkefardi is my way of cooking Jewish. While some of my DNA goes back to old Jewish genes, I converted to Judaism in 2002. For 14 years I've been working on creating a working Jewish identity grounded in my love of being African American and the African Diaspora melded with my love and appreciation for the Jewish people, my other Jewish family. Around my table, only kashrut fences me in. On my plates there are no limits!

Front and center is sorghum. I love sorghum, it's a gluten–free grain that can be crushed to produce a sweet syrup that doesn't crystallize. Domesticated in Africa thousands of years ago, it was once grown across the South and Midwest as a cheap sweetening agent. Today in the new Southern cooking based on local ingredients and traditional flavors, sorghum has made a comeback.

In honor of Rosh Hoshanah and in hopes for a sweet year to come, I offer these geshmakht sorghum chicken wings, so good your Ima, Umi, or Mameleh will have to run for cover (to avoid the obligatory mama–smacking). As I begin writing my forthcoming food and family memoir, The Cooking Gene, I hope for more discoveries linking my table with the past and stories to share that will inspire us all to nourish our stomachs and family trees.

Wishing you all a Shannah Tovah U'mitukah, a sweet New Year and a tasty one too!

Ingredients:

Chicken:

5 pounds chicken wings, separated at the joints into drummettes and flats, (wing tips reserved for other use such as soup)
1 tablespoon Kosher powdered chicken broth or bullion
2 tablespoons of vegetable or canola oil
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

Sorghum Glaze:

1 clove of minced garlic
2 tablespoons of minced onion–yellow or red
1 tablespoon of vegetable or canola oil
1/4 cup of water seasoned with 1 1/2 teaspoons of powdered kosher chicken broth
2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons of prepared chrain or red horseradish
1/4 cup of sorghum molasses

Directions:

In a large bowl, season the chicken wings with the broth powder, oil and black pepper, tossing to coat well. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and line two baking sheets with 1–inch sides with aluminum foil. Place cooking racks on foiled sheets and spread chicken and roast for 45 minutes.

While the wings are baking, in a medium pot, saute the garlic and onion in the oil. Add the broth–water, vinegar, chrain and sorghum molasses. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to a low simmer, stirring frequently for about 7–10 minutes or until the sauce reduces significantly or coats the back of a spoon. Remove from heat, and allow it to thicken for 20 minutes. Remove the roasted wings from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F.

Place the roasted wings in a large metal or ceramic bowl. Drizzle half the prepared sauce over the wings, reserving the other half for dipping, and stir several times to coat well. Place the wings on a new set of racks with and allow them to glaze in the oven for another 15 minutes.


Originally published here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/blog/jewish-and/2014/09/09/an-afro-ashkefardi-recipe-for-rosh-hashana/


Lessons from Catholic Mass for Rosh Hashanah

Robin Washington, My Jewish Learning, September 4, 2014

 


 

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Growing up in a very Reform household, I was never completely comfortable at the prospect of being called to the bima for an honor.

Until I attended Mass. Most every Sunday, for more than a year.

The reason wasn't religious, but journalistic; as part of the Boston Herald's "God Squad" a dozen years ago, covering the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal. I was initially hesitant, not wanting to encroach on the sacred space of the then–archbishop, Bernard Cardinal Law, regardless of his misdeeds. But I soon became familiar with the liturgy, including parts that might yield news—such as when he failed to annunciate "the victims of clergy sexual abuse" among those for whom he offered intentions.

I established my own rhythm for the flow of the service, determining when appropriate to sit or stand (but never kneeling.) One instance was comical: Law had just said something interesting before the Eucharistic Prayer and I hurriedly completed my notes while sitting, then jumped up. The press gallery, by that point used to following my lead, all rose with me.

And then there was the time when a TV reporter who shared my first name took the pew next to me. We were two Robins watching a cardinal.

Most extraordinary was the Sunday that Law departed from what I would presume to be Catholic orthodoxy to articulate a very familiar passage: That for transgressions against God, the gates of repentance are always open, but for sins against your fellow human, you must seek forgiveness from that person.

Huh? I thought—that's straight out of the High Holiday prayer book, and not quite consistent with the concept of priestly confession.

Abuse victims who regularly protested outside the cathedral heard word of it too, some immediately getting in line to be served the Eucharist by Law. "Forgive me," he said as he recognized each.

It was a moving moment, though not enough to undo the years of pain and trauma, nor keep it from continuing throughout the church today.

If Law had gone rogue religiously, it wasn't the only time the service went off–script. I noticed minor differences on occasion, including once when chimes didn't sound as the wafer was broken.

"Does that mean transubstantiation didn't occur?" I asked a priest friend afterward, not at all in jest or meant to insult.

"It's just for show," he said with a wink–referring to the chimes, I assume, not the transformation.

In that spirit I began to notice we too made mistakes in shul. Despite being in one of the colder places on Earth, Duluth's Temple Israel is the warmest I've ever been a part of, and its small congregation is quite willing to inform the rabbi—lovingly so—if he's on the wrong page, or if the gabbai has passed someone by.


So it's easy to stand on the bima now, knowing any worship is anything but perfect. What matters is not how beautifully you say words or prayers, but how real you make them in the rest of your life; through actions to repair the world, for love and peace, justice and life.

My honor this year is calling the shofar sounds, and I'll be thinking of those aspirations as I say tekiah, shevarim, teruah, tekiah gedolah, even if there are other, more accurate interpretations.

I'll try to pronounce them right. But if not, it's no cardinal sin.

Originally published here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/blog/jewish-and/2014/09/04/lessons-from-catholic-mass-for-rosh-hashana/


Iron Chef Rosh Hashanah: Be Fruitful and Multiply

Diane Tobin, My Jewish Learning, September 2, 2014

 


 

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My daughter Mia often watches Iron Chef, a cooking show on TV in which they designate a secret ingredient that is required to be in every dish. For Rosh Hashanah we wish for a New Year bright and full of possibilities. And so we knew the secret ingredient needed to be, pomegranates! Red and bursting with seeds they are a wonderful way to symbolically capture those hopes. Coming into season just as Rosh Hashanah is celebrated, the pomegranate's ancient beginnings are referenced in the Torah, describing Israel as "a land of wheat and barley, and vines and fig–trees and pomegranates; a land of olive–trees and honey." (Deuteronomy 8:8). It is reported that pomegranates were one of the fruits that the scouts brought back to Moses to show that the "promised land" was fertile. And they are a traditional New Year's treat.

Not surprisingly, our ancestors were on to something. In addition to the current popularity of pomegranate flavored soda and candy, pomegranates have long been used in Indian and Chinese medicine. Western scientists are conducting clinical trials looking at pomegranates for a variety of health benefits. Apparently eating pomegranates does have the potential to make the year a good one.

In addition to health benefits, the spiritual side of the pomegranate should not be overlooked. I have never counted but legend has it that there are 613 seeds. This coincidentally is the same number of mitzvot or good deeds we should strive to observe. Among the many mitzvot, the commandment to "be fruitful and multiply" is particularly pertinent to modern Jews. Growing the Jewish people is a wonderful and important part of modern Jewish life. Seeds bring to mind birth, but, the Jewish people can "increase like the seeds of a pomegranate" through adoption, intermarriage, and conversion. And the from the outside the pomegranate is a solitary piece of fruit, but like the Jewish people, its diversity and complexity as well as its sweetness are only revealed when you take time to open it up and explore inside. Which is what we at Be'chol Lashon do all year round.

We found the perfect source, a lovely little book called Pomegranates by Ann Kleinberg which has inspired some of our cooking. Pomegranate molasses, a thick concentrate of pomegranate juice, can be found in Middle Eastern markets or online.

Blessing:

This is the blessing for a new fruit at Rosh Hashanah, said after the blessing over the wine and before washing hands for the blessing over the bread.

First, the Shehechiyanu blessing thank God for keeping us alive and bringing us to this season:

You are blessed, Adonai our God, Ruler of the world, Who has kept us alive and sustained us and enabled us to reach this season.

Then the blessing for the fruit: You are blessed, Adonai our God, Ruler of the world, Who creates fruit from the trees.

After the fruit is passed out for everyone to eat, the food's symbolism is explained:

May it be Your will, Lord our God and God of our forbearers, that our merits increase like the seeds of a pomegranate.

Quinoa Salad with Herbs and Pomegranate

We like this salad because it is so colorful and gets its flavors from the many different ingredients. Like the Jewish people it relies on the parts to make the whole outstanding!
(Serves 4)


1 cup quinoa
2 cups water or clear vegetable stock
1 cup baby peas or cooked edamame
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese (if making for a meat meal cheese can be left out)
1/2 red onion, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 orange pepper, diced
1/2 cup mixed chopped fresh basil, flat–leaf parsley, and cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon leaves
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
1/4 cup pomegranate juice
2 tablespoons fresh squeezed orange juice + zest from one orange rind
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Clean and rinse the quinoa in a sieve to remove dust and natural coating.

In a saucepan over high heat, bring water or vegetable stock to a boil, stir in the quinoa, and return to a boil. Decrease the heat to low, cover, and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until all the liquid is absorbed. The quinoa should be tender but not mushy. Remove from the heat and fluff up the quinoa with a fork. Transfer to a serving bowl and let cool.

If peas or edamame are not cooked, then place the peas and enough water to cover them in a saucepan. Bring the water to a boil, then decrease the heat to low and simmer for about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and rinse with cold water until they are cool to touch.

Add the cooled peas, feta, onion, bell peppers, mixed herbs, tarragon, and pomegranate seeds to the cooled quinoa. Toss to mix well.

In a small bowl, whisk together the pomegranate juice, orange juice and zest, vinegar, lemon juice, and olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Just before serving, whisk the dressing again, pour over the salad, and toss.


Chicken and Fall Vegetables, Pomegranate and Fruit Sauce
(Serves 6 to 8)

This sweet and tangy chicken dish brings together the best of the fall harvest with the traditional flavors.

Preheat the oven to 400°F
1/4 cup pomegranate molasses
Tbsp honey or date honey (optional)
2 tbsp olive oil
6 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
12 chicken thighs, drumsticks or 6 breasts

Sauce

2 tbsp olive oil
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 yellow onion, chopped
6 shallots, peeled
1 carrot, peeled and cubed
1 celery root, peeled and cubed
1 parsnip, peeled and cubed
3/4 dried apricots
1/4 cup raisins
3/4 cup dried cranberries
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup water
grated zest of 1 lemon
1 1/3 cup pomegranate molasses
2 tbsp chopped fresh basil leaves
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves

Garnish

1/4 cup chopped fresh flat–leaf parsley leaves, for garnish
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds, for garnish

Directions

Baking Chicken

Combine the pomegranate molasses, olive oil, honey/date syrup (if using), garlic, and red pepper flakes in a plastic bag. Place the chicken pieces in the mixture, and massage to ensure all pieces are well coated. Leave for 1/2 an hour. Transfer the chicken to a roasting pan and bake for 30 minutes. Decrease temperature to 350°F and bake for 10 minutes longer.

Making sauce

Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic, onion, shallots, carrot, parsnip and celery root and sauté for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the mixture starts to brown. Stir in the apricots, cranberries and raisins, season to taste with salt and black pepper, and cook for 5 minutes longer. Add the water, lemon zest, pomegranate syrup, basil, and thyme. Stir while brining to a boil, then decrease the heat to low and cook for 30 minutes longer, or until all the vegetables have softened.

Serving

Arrange the baked chicken pieces on a serving platter.
Pour the sauce over the chicken and sprinkle with the parsley and pomegranate seeds.

Originally published here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/blog/jewish-and/2014/09/02/iron-chef-rosh-hashanah-be-fruitful-and-multiply/


Maimonides' Home and My Grandmother's Song

Talya G. A Sloan , My Jewish Learning, August 26, 2014

 


 

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Ladino first cast its magic spell on me in childhood. It always struck me as a graceful, rolling language, one of emotion and longing, filled with desire. It was a secret language that my mother spoke with her mother, my grandmother, of blessed memory. My grandmother immigrated to Israel from Bulgaria, arriving as Ladino-speaking Tanya and eventually becoming Hebrew–speaking Shoshana. But when my mother and grandmother wanted to speak without us girls understanding, they spoke Ladino. And so Ladino took root for me as the language of women.

In 2004 I founded the Israeli Ethnic Ensemble, which appears around the world with a rich and fascinating program of Sephardic music. Sephardic musical culture has been preserved for hundreds of years. Ladino songs originated in the 9th–13th centuries, when Jewish life flourished in Spain. It continued to develop after the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492. And it is this music that inspires me and my ensemble.

As a professional, delving into magical musical materials preserved in Ladino, I discovered that the preservation of this tradition by women was not unique to my family. When the Jews were expelled from Spain and spread across Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Morocco, etc., it was the men who worked outside the home, mingling with the locals and the language of the place. By contrast women rarely left their homes, did not integrate into the local population and continued to exclusively or dominantly speak Ladino. Women continued to create songs and melodies in Ladino expressing their feelings, difficulties, joys and grief. The vast majority of Ladino songs are songs "feminine;" wedding songs, lullabies, love songs, etc. Through women, the language has been preserved as it was spoken centuries ago.

One of the historic Jewish centers in Spain was in Cordoba. Moses Maimonides, one of the most influential Jewish thinkers of all time, was born there circa 1135. But he left, as Muslim rule made Jewish life difficult. Later Christians ruled the city and in the 15th century the Jews of Cordoba were expelled or forced to convert along with their fellow co–religionists. So it was particularly meaningful when the Israeli Ethnic Ensemble was invited by the City of Cordoba to appear in the 13th International Sephardic Jewish Music Festival in Spain.

We arrived in Cordoba late at night. Our group of passionate Israeli musicians includes Gilad Ephrat on double bass, Idan Toledano on guitar and oud, the violinist Chen Shenhar and myself singing the vocals. We woke in the morning and set out to discover this warm, sleepy town. We went to the Old City in search of the statue of Maimonides. We had heard about the blessing and good fortune that befalls those who touch the feet of the statue and pay tribute to the great scholar. A short tour of the alleys of Cordoba's Old City taught us that the current vibrancy of the modern municipality is tied to the ancient culture and heritage left by our ancestors when they were expelled. It was amazing to see intense tourist activity in the Old City. The statue of Maimonides is a focal point of an attractive tourist center. The municipality of Cordoba has already embarked on an extensive public relations campaign and refurbishment of the Jewish synagogue to be completed in 2015 on the 700th anniversary of its founding.

The International Sephardic Festival which takes place every year in June is one of the city's main music events. For the last 13 years, Spain has hosted musicians from around the world. This year, the beautiful botanical gardens were the site for six days of performances from Spain, Poland, Portugal and Israel. After visiting the Old City and the dark, horrifying museum of the Holy Inquisition, we headed towards the botanical gardens where the festival was to be held. There was a wine tasting workshop, followed by the opening act of the festival. The transition to the pastoral calm of the setting and the beautiful music was jarring, but we had come for a short visit to a city with a glorious but troubled past and it could not have been otherwise.

Originally published here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/blog/jewish-and/2014/08/26/1073/


Cross–Cultural Parenting: Materialism vs Relationship

Rabbi Tziona Szajman , My Jewish Learning, August 19, 2014

 


 

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My daughter is wise beyond her years. She teaches me. Recently a family with older children handed down to us a plastic toy kitchen set. My 15–month–old was delighted. As she happily played, I "Facetimed" my parents so they could join me in watching her fun. However as soon as Bubie and Zada's faces appeared on the iPhone screen, my daughter lost all interest in her toys. She had eyes only for the grandparents she loves and engaged them in a rousing game of peek–a–boo.

Watching Eliyana's developmental leaps is wonderful. Just yesterday she was grabbing the iPad and looking behind it for the people. Today she understood she could interact with the people on the screen, that she could initiate play with them. I learned too. I learned that she values relationship far more than "things."

When my husband and I first arrived in Ethiopia to meet our beautiful child, I was appalled by the starkness of her orphanage. There were no colors to brighten the walls. There were less than half a dozen toys, and no books. Our daughter was happy and thriving, perhaps because of her inner strength and love of life, perhaps because the nannies there carried the babies in their arms as much as possible. The gifts of board books and games I brought on my second trip were received politely but with puzzlement. "Of what use could these possibly be to a baby?" I read on the faces of the nannies.

When we brought our daughter home, we filled it with love, toys, and many many books. We made the rounds of doctors, each marveling at Eliyana's sociability and her easy smile. "This child has been loved" they each said to us. We would discuss this concern or worry and the doctors would repeat "She has received love and attention. That is the most important ingredient to her development." We settled into becoming a family and Eliyana thrived.

Many of my fellow Ethiopian adoption parents tell me their children did beautifully in daycare, having been socialized to being around other children and waiting their turn already in the orphanage. My daughter was miserable. No one would play with her. At first I wondered if there was racism involved. Finally I realized it was culture. The room was filled to the brim with every kind of wonderful toy and the expectation was that the children would play independently with the toys. My child wanted relationship but was instead offered Western materialism. With help and support I came to understand I was allowed to listen to the needs my daughter was broadcasting loudly for me on all frequencies. She wanted people, not things. We found a way to provide this while I work. Happiness has been restored.

Martin Buber wrote, counter to the psychology of his time, that identity begins in relationship, not in individuality. In Ethiopia, this was understood. I wonder now at my Western arrogance, my shock at an Ethiopian orphanage's lack of toys and books. Here in the West, where we have everything, we have much to learn about what is important. I am learning every day.

Originally published here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/blog/jewish-and/2014/08/19/cross-cultural-parenting-materialism-vs-relationship/


The Risks of Being an Interracial Family

Alina Adams, My Jewish Learning, August 12, 2014

 


 

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Less than a year ago, two blond children in Ireland were taken from their Roma parents because the police decided they didn't look related, even though legal documents, including passports, were produced. Meanwhile, the same thing happened to a blond girl in Greece. Even though her DNA didn't match anything on record in the Missing Child database, and even though her biological mother was found and insisted she had voluntarily left her daughter with a Roma couple, the State decided that little Maria should not be returned to her foster parents, but placed in an orphanage, instead.

I followed both cases closely because, in our house, my three kids are darker than I am, but lighter than my African–American husband. I've been asked in the past if I were their babysitter. And so has he. Even when I'm with them. The idea that the police or other authorities could just swoop in and take them away because, for instance, my oldest son has blue eyes and his father doesn't, or my middle child is coffee–colored and I, according to my aforementioned blue–eyed son, am the color of chalk, was not a comfortable one.

I comforted myself with the thought that this was a European problem. Prejudice against the Roma and their lifestyle runs deep there, to the point where official country websites urge tourists to stay away, and local children are told to behave, lest they be kidnapped by Gypsies. (Because, you know, people living in poverty just love stealing other mouths to feed.)

Then, last week came the news that just across the state line from me, in Nyack, New Jersey, a white father shopping at Home Depot with his African–American daughter was followed into the parking lot by a security guard taking photos of his car's license plate—just before four squad cars arrived. And this was after the dad had addressed his daughter by name, and the 4–year–old child herself identified the woman waiting in the car for them as her mommy. (My husband's response was, "A little black girl? Good. Usually nobody cares about them.")

But he's a lot more sanguine than I am. As he says, he's used to policemen stopping him just because he's running to catch a bus, and a black man running has obviously committed a crime. It's all still relatively new to me.

Meanwhile, in Kansas, a Walmart greeter called 911 on an Asian dad leaving the store with his (white–looking) biracial daughter. This time, the police actually came to the couple's house, despite the little girl in question also confirming to the greeter that she was with her dad.

I suppose this shouldn't come as a surprise. In the last few weeks, the media has been inundated with stories of "Good Samaritans" calling the police on children playing by themselves in parks or walking unaccompanied by an adult.

While anyone who has read my previous accounts of leaving my 6–year–old home alone and letting my fourth grader navigate his way through a blizzard can probably guess how I feel about this latest nanny–state trend, I can, at least, offer the benefit of the doubt to those whistle–blowers who genuinely believed the children in question were in some sort of danger.

But for those who'd like to hide behind the shield of "better safe than sorry" (i.e. what if that poor child really were being abducted, and I'd done nothing to stop it?), your logic is flawed.

About 800,000 children under the age of 18 were reported missing in 2013. Roughly half of them were runaways, and 200,000 on top of that were abducted by their own family members. The rest are either temporarily lost and returned home shortly, or taken by someone they know. Only 115 were victims of so–called "stereotypical" kidnappings by a stranger.

So, statistically speaking, instead of calling the police when you see a child with an adult who doesn't look like them, you should call them when you see a child who does. They're much more likely to be the victim of a kidnapping. Especially if the child is throwing a tantrum, or being fussy, or refusing to go somewhere with the adult. (No child would ever behave like that with a parent, right? Better safe than sorry, after all!)

Am I being flip? Yes, I am. But A) I'm pissed off, and B) a good way to demonstrate just how ridiculous something is, is to take it to its ridiculous extreme. If people feel justified suspecting a multiracial family because "you never know," then logic and basic math says they should be about 7000 times more suspicious of a homogeneous family.

Yesterday, it was calling the cops on parents who don't meet your own personal standards, be they cultural, religious, financial, or social. Today, it's calling the cops on families who don't look the way you expect them to.

And the bigger problem isn't so much people sanctimoniously thinking they have every right to call. It's the fact that cops—and courts—are taking these calls seriously. Four squad cars in the NJ Home Depot case? Really?

To paraphrase Martin Niemöller's infamous, "First they came for the....And I didn't speak up because I wasn'..." rest assured, they're coming for you next.

Originally published here: http://www.kveller.com/blog/parenting/the-risks-of-being-an-interracial-family/


World Traveller Becomes World Musician

Lior Ben-Hur, My Jewish Learning, August 7, 2014

 


 

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What makes a secular Israeli connect to his Jewish identity, roots and spirituality? What makes secular Jew from Jerusalem become a Jewish educator in San Francisco? The answers are music, spirituality and the relationship between the two.

If someone had told me ten years ago that I would become a Jewish educator, I would never have believed it. Moreover, if someone had told me that I would write Jewish music, I would most likely laugh in his or her face. The world of Judaism was never a motivation in my life until I left Israel and arrived in San Francisco.

My parents originally came from Greece and Iraq but I was born in Jerusalem. Raised as a secular Israeli, my Jewish identity was always a given fact. Meaning, I am Jewish because I was born to this nation and religion, because of my family's history, because Hebrew is my language, etc. Aside from reading from the Torah at my Bar Mitzvah and celebrating Jewish holidays, Judaism was not something I practiced. Coming to the US, particularly to the Bay Area, and connecting with local Jewish communities and their definitions of being "Jewish", I gained a new understanding of my Jewish identity and spirituality.

People relate to spirituality in different ways. It's not something that's just given to you. It's not only something you practice or learn, but something you feel. Spirituality doesn't exclude anyone. It includes Jewish ideals, but it does not stand exclusively on Jewish beliefs. Spirituality involves global ideals, thoughts and understandings. Most importantly for me, music is the medium, guide and driving force in my own spiritual path.

I emphasize the importance of music not only because it is my love, my passion, my profession and in many ways, the essence of my being, but because music is an incredible educational tool that builds bridges reaching people's hearts and souls. In fact, it is the reason I became involved with the Jewish community in the US from the first place.

When I arrived in San Francisco ten years ago, I worked as a song leader at Congregation Sherith Israel. While taking these first steps in the world of American Judaism, I learned many songs commonly taught to Jewish children in the US. Many of these songs were outdated and not surprisingly, that my students didn't relate to them. These songs don't represent or resemble anything close to the music young American Jews are listening to in their secular lives. Moreover, I felt that most of these Folk/Rock genre Jewish–American songs didn't represent the story of the whole Jewish diaspora. So I decided to write new Jewish music that speaks to the hearts of the Jewish youth, represents a variety of Jewish communities from around the globe and connects the souls of the listeners with their Jewish identity on a spiritual level.

In 2011, I formed Sol Tevél, a band that focuses on connecting Hebrew roots while engaging world cultures. A year later, we released our debut album, ‘World Light’, which aims provide a contemporary interpretation on traditional Jewish texts, ideals and mysticism.

How can we learn more about spirituality? The truth is that it's not my intention to teach nor preach spirituality, but to share my personal journey into this realm. Teaching for the past 10 years showed me that my students were my best teachers and could (often unintentionally) answer many of the questions we struggle with. And as for "God" or "spirituality," Austin Branner, one of my 3rd grade students expressed it best with the words that would become the title song for my album ‘World Light’:


See the wind flowing by

See the stars up high

See the sand on the ground

See the rocks all around

My God, your God, One God.





Originally published here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/blog/jewish-and/2014/08/03/learning-from-little-white-lies/


Learning from Little White Lies

Lindsey Newman, My Jewish Learning, August 3, 2014

 


 

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Growing up biracial in white Jewish family means that you don't often see others who have your experience/look like you. It is always special to be in Jewish spaces that celebrate diversity and reflect my experience. It is nice to able to connect to others that understand the complexity of my story without extensive explanation, as well as the ordinariness of it.

Which is why I was so interested in seeing Lacey Schwartz's documentary Little White Lies, which will be premiering at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival on Sunday August 3rd. It is exciting to see someone who looks like me on the big screen. I've known Lacey for a few years and know her story. I know it is different than my own, but there is a fundamental overlap when it comes to mixed race Jewish identity. Having seen a preview as part of an educational evening at Camp Be'chol Lashon, there were parts of Lacey's story that reminded me of my own story. After discussing it with the staff and older campers, it seemed that everyone who watched the film could find a part of Lacey's story that they connected with.

One of the things that struck me about Lacey's experience was that her identity wasn't fully complete until she could express it. Lacey's experience illustrates that a central part of navigating one's identity is communicating it and sharing it with your friends, family and community. Because identity is not only how you see yourself, but the agency in making sure that how you see yourself is synonymous with the way that others see you. It is a difficult balancing act to make sure that we learn to stack the building blocks of identity into a supportive foundation, without letting them box you in.

We don't often overtly talk about race in religious spaces, although in my opinion it is impossible to separate the two. My blackness and my Jewishness are equally central to who I am and how I experience the world.

Identity and race is something we all need to be able to talk about—even as Jews.

I'm looking forward to people of all races and ethnicities and religions seeing this movie. I'm curious to hear from all of you about how you relate to Lacey's story.

Originally published here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/blog/jewish-and/2014/08/03/learning-from-little-white-lies/


How Did the Jews Become a Global People?

Ruth Abusch Magder, My Jewish Learning, July 23, 2014

 


 

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"How did the Jews become a global people?".

"They got pushed around a bunch."

"They had to go to different places."

Indeed. Looking at the diversity of faces in the room the global nature of the Jewish community was not in dispute but the process of migration, the economic opportunities, the persecution, the trade that is at the root of Jewish experience needed to be unpacked and understood. And thus began our conversations about the global nature of Jewish life and our adventures at the 2014 session of Camp Be'chol Lashon.

Jews have always been a people on the move. The word Ivri, Hebrew for a Hebrew person, comes from the word to cross, because the very first words uttered by God to the first Jews, Abraham were "Go forth." And so migration is the starting point for our exploration of Jewish communities around the world. India, Yemen, Uganda, Spain, Italy, Poland, Bazil and Mexico each of these countries has a unique Jewish experience that adds texture and complexity to the collective Jewish experience. For modern Jewish kids, who have friends of all ethnicities and live in a connected world where travel and news make the distances seem small, the international nature of Jewish life is something they relate to.

Talking will only take them so far, so once we set up the framework, we began exploring the music, food, dance and culture of different Jewish communities. The taste of homemade hummus brings to mind the falafel stands of Jerusalem, while the quickly fried chapatti calls forth the tastes of Jewish life in Uganda. The fine metal work of our curiously small menorahs opens up the craftsmanship of Yemenite Jews. The modern Ladino music of Sarah Aroeste reminds us of the value of the many Jewish languages that have been spoken through the years. Making mosaics helps us piece together the complex culture that was Jewish life in the Golden Era of Spain. An exploration of Italian Jewish history brings to life not only the words on the page of Talmud but they way the debates got laid out on the page. Our global activities and crafts help bridge the divide between past and present and across geography. Encountering the other we learn to appreciate the diversity of our community even as we explore points of connection. This is the basis for camp and for the global Jewish curriculum we are developing at Be'chol Lashon.

And after we ran through the timeline of Jewish history from the ancient past to the present, all the campers, counselors and specialists added their own important dates to the chart on the wall. Because ultimately that is what it is all about, writing ourselves into the ongoing history of a storied people. That and of course a swim at the lake!

Originally published here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/blog/jewish-and/2014/07/23/how-did-the-jews-become-a-global-people/


Not My Mother's Matza Balls: My Moroccan Kitchen

Natahsa Cooper-Benisty, My Jewish Learning, July 17, 2014

 


 

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I have often joked that I am the only woman in America who doesn't cook anything that she grew up eating. Now this is not a reflection on my mother's cooking abilities, but rather a result of my marriage to a Moroccan Israeli with very different ideas of what constitutes good food.

My husband was born in Marrakech and moved as an infant to Beersheva, Israel where much of his family still reside. There amidst the trials and tribulations of raising a family in the "ma'aborot" or tent cities, my heroic mother in law cared for her large family. Her main occupation in life was clearly feeding her family and in their home this meant the daily preparation of good Moroccan food translating into hours of daily cooking each day.

The food and spices she used were completely different than those that constituted my Ashkenazic upbringing. Couscous was a staple and always made properly (no instant Osem for her) and could be combined with vegetables with chicken on the side for a meat meal or could be made dairy and eaten with leben, a yogurt like cheese quite popular in Israel. Shabbat would include Moroccan Fish and would always feature the Moroccan version of cholent called skhina (meaning "hot" in Arabic) or hamin (like the Hebrew word for hot, "cham") which would include foods like eggs in their shells and chickpeas. Other popular dishes were chicken with olives and different vegetable soups including chickpea pumpkin soup, traditionally served on Rosh Hashanah and my son's favorite

Moroccan cooks are also famous for their many salads which make their appearance primarily on Friday nights (carrot, beets, anise, pepper, eggplant etc). My mother in law was also busy pickling olives, peppers and carrots.

Of course one cannot discuss Moroccan food without emphasizing the spices. Onion powder and garlic powder perhaps the staples of Ashkenazic cooking, have no place here. Instead saffron, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, paprika and allspice rule. Moroccan cooks also create their own blended spice called "mashia" which is great on ground beef. Lemons and olive oil are also staples with preserved lemons often used to flavor various dishes.

Then there are the exquisite foods made for special occasions which I won't go into here since they merit their own blog post!

I often kid that my husband will only eat food if it is from somewhere between Spain and Iraq (excluding Eastern Europe of course!). Having grown up eating exclusively Moroccan and some Israeli/Middle Eastern food at home, he is not interested in anything else. In fact, when we first started dating he wouldn't eat anything at my parent's home not due to any kashrut concerns, but just because everything was so foreign to him. Eventually he tried my mother's chicken soup, but he prides himself on never having tasted a matzah ball nor gefilte fish.

The fact is that I have never made these foods. Honestly, I prefer my adopted Moroccan and Middle Eastern cuisine. My "mixed" kids get their fix at their grandparent's home if they need it. Otherwise, we are all happy embracing our Moroccan heritage.

Moroccan Chickpea/Pumpkin Soup

Ingredients
1 1/4 cups yellow split peas or chickpeas (if using chickpeas, soak for at least 1/2 hour)
1 large onion, chopped
2 3/4 quarts chicken stock (you can use Osem chicken mix as an option)
Salt and pepper
4 tablespoons sunflower oil (I normally use Canola)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon saffron
1 pound orange pumpkin, cubed (I use calabazzo pumpkin or a butternut squash will work. I usually use about 2 pounds though the original recipe suggests 1 pound)
3 tablespoons finely chopped flat–leafed parsley


Directions

Put the yellow split peas and the onion in a pot with the stock.
Add salt and pepper to taste, the oil, cinnamon, ginger and saffron and put in the pumpkin.
Simmer until the pumpkin falls apart
Use an immersion blender or a masher to make the soup smoother.
Sprinkle with flat–leafed parsley before serving.

note that when using chicken powder I omit the salt. Also the soup can get very thick so feel free to add water to it if it feels too thick.


Moroccan Carrot Salad

Ingredients

2 lbs carrots
2 garlic cloves
2 lemons
1 tablespoon cumin
2 tablespoons paprika
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
Flat leaf parsley or coriander
Peel and clean carrots.

Directions

Peel and clean carrots.
Boil carrots until a fork easily pierces the thickest carrot.
Rinse carrots with cold water and then slice them about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick.
Crush or finely chop the garlic.
Mix the garlic with the juice of two lemons, all the spices and the olive oil.
Toss the carrots with the mixture.
Sprinkle chopped coriander of flat leaf parsley on the top of the carrots and toss.

Originally published here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/blog/jewish-and/2014/07/17/not-my-mothers-matza-balls-my-moroccan-kitchen/


What's YOUR Jewish&

Team Be'chol Lashon, My Jewish Learning, July 7, 2014

 


 

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"I'm Jewish& Black"

"I'm Jewish& Environmental Activist/writer"

"I'm Jewish& a Rabbinical Student"

"I'm Jewish& part Chinese part Catholic"

"I'm Jewish& Indian & a businessman"

"I'm Jewish& Australian, Japanese and American."

"I'm Jewish& very into rock climbing"


"I'm Jewish& a mom, a lawyer, and too often a chauffeur"

"I'm Jewish& adopted & multiracial"

"I'm Jewish& Irish American and Gay"

"I' Jewish& Arab".

"I'm Jewish& white and a Zayde".

"I'm Jewish& Proud of it!"

Jewish& is as open-ended as the Jewish people themselves. There is not now, nor has there ever been a single way to be, look or act Jewish. Jews are the original multicultural people, imbued with the varied influences of a history of migration that has taken us to every corner of the earth and back. The faces on this page are just some of the many many way Jews look Jewish. This blog exists to give voice the variety of Jewish identity. It highlights the ways in which Judaism not only coexists, but thrives with complementary identities. This blog explores the ways in which Jews have built and continue to build complex identities. It is a forum that celebrates the ways in which all Jews are Jewish&.

So tell us, what is your Jewish&?

Originally published here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/blog/jewish-and/2014/07/07/whats-your-jewish/


¿Cómo te llamas?...How do Latino Jews identify?

Graciela Berger Wegsman , My Jewish Learning, July 1, 2014

 


 

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I'm a Latina Jew. I live in New York City, famous for the diversity of its population; after all, 37 percent of the city is foreign born. But still now in 2014, the fact that I identify myself as Latina and Jewish, creates a bit of wonder among some Jews and Latinos.

First of all, people ask me what is the difference between Hispanic and Latino. The two words are often used interchangeable nowadays. While this article is from my own perspective, I use the definition of "Hispanic or Latino" stated in the 2010 United States Census: "Hispanic or Latino refers to a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race."

The truth is that Latino or Hispanic are words used mainly in the United States. In Argentina, I'm Argentinian. If you ask a Colombian he will say he is Colombian. If you ask a Mexican he will say is Mexican. We only are "Latinos" in United States.

According to the 2010 Census, 50.5 million people (or 16 percent) were of Hispanic or Latino origin. In New York City near a third of the population (28.6 %) are Hispanic.

I have encountered some Jews who are used to identifying Latinos with people from Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic. For them, I'm not Latina. I'm from Argentina. That happens because most Jews in New York City know that Argentina has a big Jewish population, and they are aware that I can be Jewish and Argentinian.

In fact, "There are about 14 million Jews around the world, representing 0.2% of the global population. Jews make up roughly 2% of the total population in North America. More than four–fifths of all Jews live in just two countries, the United States (41%) and Israel (41%). The largest remaining shares of the global Jewish population are in Canada (about 3%), France (2%), the United Kingdom (2%), Germany (2%), Russia (2%) and Argentina (between 1% and 2%)", according to data from a report produced by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life.

So, although Jews in Argentina are only 1 to 2 % of the population, it is still one of the largest Jewish communities in the world.

What do American Jews know about Argentina? Many Jews also know about the Nazis who fled to Argentina after the Second World War, and that there were two suicide bombings against the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires and the Jewish community (AMIA). Sometimes I'm asked if I know Rabbi Marshall Meyer, who founded the Seminario Rabínico Latinoamericano.

How many people identify as Latino Jews? According to The Pew Research Center's 2013 National Survey of Latinos and Religion, "a majority (55%) of the nation's estimated 35.4 million Latino adults identify as Catholic today". About 22% are Protestant and 18% are religiously unaffiliated. Around 1 percent belongs to other religions. So Latino Jews are less than 1 per cent of Latinos.

It is hard to talk about issues of race and religion. I'm white. My family came from the former Soviet Union. My dear Bobe came from Kishinev. So some people would tell me "you don't look Latina." They are confusing being Latino with race. Let's go back to the US Census definition that clearly states, "Hispanic or Latino refers to a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race."

Jews sometimes assume I'm Sephardi. Here the confusion comes because I speak Spanish and I'm from Argentina. Well, first of all, Sephardim spoke Ladino, which is different than Spanish. But, in fact most of the Jewish community in Argentina arrived from Germany and Eastern Europe and are Ashkenazi.

I think it is very important for Jews to learn more about Latinos and for Latinos to learn more about Jews. We work together. We live in the same cities. As the Hispanic population in the United States keeps growing fast, Jews will need to interact more with Hispanics. The Jewish population also keeps changing and is time to accept each other's differences. Education is the best defense against prejudice and intolerance.

Originally published here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/blog/jewish-and/2014/07/01/como-te-llamas-how-do-latino-jews-identify/


Breaking Barriers to Create Community

Kenny Kahn, My Jewish Learning, June 24, 2014

 


 

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As summer approaches and we gear up for another terrific session of Camp Be'chol Lashon, I keep thinking about all the kids who —regardless of the camp they are heading to— are worried they might not feel like they ‘belong.’ I relate. My own commitment to Jewish camping comes in part from my childhood experience where I was usually the only Black camper at a variety of Jewish camps. As a camp director, I am committed to making sure that all those in my charge feel connected. And recently, I got a real life reminder of just how important reaching out and connecting can be.

This winter I was honored to attend the Jewish Camp Leaders Assembly in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Attending ‘Leaders’ opened my eyes to the vast world of Jewish camping, meeting and greeting numerous Jewish camp professionals invested in the varying interests and needs of our Jewish youth. As exciting as this was, I once again had that familiar feeling of being on the outside looking in. I am a fairly new West Coast camp director of a small camp with a strong but still budding reputation. I was out on the East Coast by myself and knew only a handful of people heading into this largely regional powerhouse of Jewish camp staff. And, of course, the most superficial reason of all being that I am a man of color who, among his Jewish peers, looks out of place or invites inquiry as to the validity of my Jewish roots.

As exciting as this was, I once again had that familiar feeling of being on the outside looking in. I am a fairly new West Coast camp director of a small camp with a strong but still budding reputation. I was out on the East Coast by myself and knew only a handful of people heading into this largely regional powerhouse of Jewish camp staff. And, of course, the most superficial reason of all being that I am a man of color who, among his Jewish peers, looks out of place or invites inquiry as to the validity of my Jewish roots.

After our welcome dinner and schmooze time, like many of the participants I headed toward the hotel watering hole for some group reminiscing. Being new, after a round of small talk, I found myself with a tumbler of whiskey on the rocks playing a game of ’one–on–none’ at the pool table behind the bar.

A gentleman whom I recognized from dinner approached the table.

He had spoken to the entire group in attendance regarding ‘Leaders,’ touching on the overarching theme of the conference; one field, moving forward. He spoke about his previous work with Campbell Soups and how transitioning to the Jewish camp community allowed him to invest in a community that provided so much, not only to him but also to his loved ones. I had shed my name tag but he approached me and with familiarity said "Kenny, it's great to have you out here from the West Coast. I get your monthly newsletter and enjoy reading it from top to bottom. I love the work you and your organization and camp are doing collectively." He hung back and played with me for a bit before heading out. As I placed my empty glass on the counter, as newcomers I got the feeling that we shared a sense of being on the outside. Maybe not, but by coming over he had made me feel so welcome.

I finished my second round of libations and billiards on the solo and made my way to my sleeping quarters. I soon realized I forgot to pay for my drink, and to remove any potential stigma of the Jew of color not covering his bill, I headed back only to find that my tab was covered. I suspected my new friend had something to do with this and went to find him in the program.

It turned out that the same gentlemen who went out of his way to check in and give kudos for the work I do is none other than Jeremy Fingerman, chief executive officer of the Foundation for Jewish Camping. He is one of the greater movers and shakers in the field of Jewish camping

The following morning at breakfast I sat with one of my former campers who now directs Camp Kee Tov in Berkeley, California. As Zach and I sat among a few familiar faces, I felt a gentle pat on my shoulder followed by "Morning Ken, it was great talking with you last night!" from Jeremy as he headed to his table up front. Zach's look of bewilderment, as he questioned how on earth the Foundation for Jewish Camping CEO and I were on a first name basis so quickly, if at all made me realize that now I was an insider. Even though they say it's lonely at the top, one could argue the same on the side or down through to the bottom

Experiences like this remind me that in today's Jewish community we each have a responsibility to advocate for one another, take interest in happenings beyond our initial scope, and welcome the idea of making new connections. Diversity and inclusion was more than a topic of conversation or presentation. It is at the heart of what we build as programmers, lay–leaders, directors, staff and campers. We build life–long memories and experiences, where each member leaves camp eager to return the following year and often with companions eager to engage and become members too.

Originally published here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/blog/jewish-and/2014/06/24/breaking-barriers-to-create-community/


Tikkun Olam on Juneteenth

Robin Washington, My Jewish Learning, June 16, 2014

 


 

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Despite the fact that it's a celebration, I have bittersweet feelings about Juneteenth.

Its origins are traced to Union troops arriving in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, bringing the news of freedom to that region's slaves–months after the South's surrender and 2–1/2 years past the Emancipation Proclamation.

That our ancestors were freed from slavery is wonderful. But that they toiled and lived, if they were lucky enough to, a bonus round in bondage because no one got around to telling them the news is horrible. Cynical. Sad.

We're there because we want to be, the value of our volunteering made ever clear by the heart–rending encounters–especially when the day is marred by rain or unseasonable cold–of those who wait in line a half–hour or more, who are there because they have to be, to eat.

For me, another part of Juneteenth is planning of the event—should we do chicken this year or burgers and brats?7—and when the day comes, the priceless faces of preschoolers when asked if they want baked beans or corn. The thank–yous we get in return are payment enough.

Add in singing groups and family activities and a bouncy castle, how could you not have fun? Still, what tinges the day with sadness for me is not its commemoration but its origin, best summed up in two words of black vernacular guaranteed to give any wannabe Chris Rock a field day:

"We free?"

It's not the embarrassment of the language but the concept of its truth that depresses me. It wasn't the first time slaves were deceived about their freedom, and not just in the South. Here in Minnesota, as far North as you can get, Dred Scott summered with his so–called master, only to be told by others after returning to Missouri: "Hey—did you know you were free when you were up there?"

That's what the whole case was about. Look it up.

We free yet, boss?

Maybe I'm just a stick in the mud, or over–internalizing long–ago oppression. Of course freedom is worth celebrating, even if slavery ended with a whimper instead of a bang. That, after all, is what Passover is about, and there's no question that holiday is a celebration and should be.

Originally published here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/blog/jewish-and/2014/06/16/tikkun-olam-on-juneteenth/


Praying for Dad

Jennifer Stempel, My Jewish Learning, June 10, 2014

 


 

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For many, Father's Day is a time to honor our fathers, and this year, it has particular significance to my family. After my dad, Alan Skobin, survived an emotional battle with a rare form of pancreatic cancer, I am thrilled we get another opportunity to celebrate such an extraordinary man.

When life gives my dad lemons, he isn't the type to make the tried–and–true lemonade you can get anywhere. He's the one who turns them into world–class lemon meringue pie. He's always reaching for the next level, his motto being, "Above and beyond." He began his involvement with law enforcement as a teenager in the police explorers program, and continued to show his commitment to protecting and serving our community by ultimately finishing as police commissioner. My dad takes this philosophy when it comes to parenting, too. When I attended Northwestern University, he nearly bought out every Northwestern retailer, so he could sport purple pride from every inch of his body, every corner of his office, and every crevice of our home. That's how proud he was.

This is why he has so many friends. In fact, my dad is a professional friend collector. Everywhere we go, he either makes new friends or runs into old ones. Once, while walking down the streets of Amsterdam, my dad heard someone in the distance shouting, "Hey, Alan!" Even clear across the world, people look for opportunities to call him out as a friend. His old friends, like my father–in–law, Larry, know that he does anything to bring them joy. Since Larry loves all things Chicago Cubs, my dad once arranged for Larry's favorite ballplayer, Ernie Banks, to come for dinner, just to see the grin on Larry's face.

I am never more thankful for my dad's army of friends than when he is sick, because they play a significant role in his recovery. I remember one of the earlier times we dealt with a medical obstacle. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and if he survived, we were to expect a completely different man than we knew and loved. Before surgery, the phone rang off the hook and the doorbell chimed endlessly, as all his friends shared their prayers for a speedy recovery. Regardless of differing religious beliefs, "We're praying for you, Alan" replaced good–bye as the normal send off. I'm not certain that G–d heard these prayers, but my dad did, and at recovery's toughest moments, they reminded him that he was important to many. Miraculously, he recovered with minimal side effects. This year, as my dad fought pancreatic cancer, my brother and I used social media to update his community. With every post, the support was astounding. As my dad awakened from surgery, amazed that he had survived, he groggily exclaimed to my mom, "Can you imagine the power of prayer?" Afterwards, while he rested in bed, we read him the online responses, and his spirits lifted as he drifted to sleep.

It takes a village to battle serious health issues, and sometimes those of us who acutely support the sick need lifting, too. My mother's devotion to my dad never waned, and she stayed with him in the hospital even when it was unclear how long his stay would be. She never left his side, and would advocate for him when he wasn't able to do so for himself. This type of support takes both physical and emotional strength, and as my dad found his through the prayers of his supporters, so did my mom. Stoically, I comforted my family, voicing confidence in our doctors, as we remained publicly optimistic, but privately feared the worst. I learned quickly that the way to excellent post–operative care was through the stomachs of the nursing staff, and I stopped at our favorite Cuban bakery for some treats.

I also prayed. Seeking comfort in the traditions of Judaism, I never missed a Shabbat service. One of the most poignant moments of Shabbat for me is when the rabbi circles the room during the mi shebeirach, or prayer for healing, and the congregants voice the names of the ill. At one particular service, I was ready to say my dad's name, but before the rabbi reached me, I heard his name called by someone across the room. I felt the power of the prayers reaching me, and for the first time, I cried.

Because of my dad's army, I understand that his significance goes above and beyond his role as father to my brother and me. He is also a loving husband, a wise grandfather, a giving mentor, and most of all, a good friend. This father's day, as I reflect on the lives my dad has touched, I will include the other men who have influenced me, and send them a meaningful prayer. After all, you never know who's listening.

Originally published here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/blog/jewish-and/2014/06/10/praying-for-dad/


A Recipe for Judaism — The Creolizing quality of our Jewish past and present

Jane Gordon, My Jewish Learning, June 2, 2014

 


 

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What makes a fish taste Jewish?

For some, the immediate answer will be pickling and a former home in freshwater. For others, the fish must be salmon–colored and, of course, smoked. For others still, Jewish fish is carp–poached, sweet, and served cold. For Jews in Jamaica, however, the fish will be whole and therefore small. Lightly fried, it will then soak in vinegar with thin slices of white onion and habanero peppers, grated carrot, sprigs of thyme, whole coriander seeds, and allspice balls. For the Jewish Colombians, add lemon.

What accounts for the range?

When describing how Jewish communities have embraced or resisted being changed when making homes in new and different circumstances, commentators typically turn to the metaphor of the bubble or the sponge.

In the first, a fragile and transparent but definite outer boundary insulates the (singular) Jewish community. It can see out and be seen but moves intact through a range of times and places. The bubble would burst if it actually landed and so Jewish people remain Jewish by avoiding becoming like others in their midst.

In the second model, we Jews are defined by our porousness, by unqualifiedly absorbing whatever is in proximity to us. The absence of any outer boundary amounts to an essential orientation of assimilation and openness. Who we are, in terms of any specific content, necessarily shifts with the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

Called creolization, it offers a more accurate account of how Jewish communities have remained distinctively Jewish as they have become local to a variety of different parts of the globe. As my husband, Lewis Gordon, often emphasizes: for non–Eastern European Jews, Eastern European Jews seem very Eastern European. For non–Indian Jews, Cochim appear very Indian. But these ways of being local are salient precisely because we also recognize the Jewishness of and in each.

For those who understand Jewish strength as purity and any break from how things were done as dilution or pollution, the historical range of ways of being Jewish is a liability. For them, to be Jewish is to carry on the one, most familiar branch of a far vaster Jewish genealogical tree–to taste Jewish, the fish will be poached and served cold.

But there is also a way of being who we are in and through our relations with others. We might best express core Jewish values by adopting symbols and elements of ritual local to Istanbul, Albuquerque, or Kaifeng, Prague, Mbale, or Santiago. These might offer us the possibility of continuing who we have been through what is new.

Products of creolization typically pose a fundamental challenge to our previous self–understandings. They unsettle us because while they implicate us as Jews–they too are expressions of who we are–they take forms and suggest future trajectories that our standard conceptions of our people's past and present would not have anticipated.

That Judaism is thoroughly creolized is not new. What, after all, were the Roman Judaism of Josephus, the Andalusian Judaism of Moses Maimonides, and the American Judaism of Abraham Joshua Heschel?

What is novel is the opportunity to look into the refracted mirror of our 21st century community and to grapple with what it means for who we want to become. We would do well to add to the models of the bubble and sponge, the creolizing quality of our Jewish past and present.

Originally published here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/blog/jewish-and/2014/06/02/a-recipe-for-judaism/


The 70 Faces of Shavuot

Maya Resnikoff , My Jewish Learning, May 27, 2014

 


 

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According to Jewish tradition, the Torah has seventy "faces," but is still one, unified Torah. On Shavuot, we celebrate the giving of Torah at Mount Sinai with customs that celebrate the gift of Torah, and show the same diverse presentation of a few unifying core ideas. Each Jewish culture is unique, and at the same time, integrated with the worldwide Jewish community.

There are many special foods for Shavuot, in different Jewish cultures. Dairy is popular because, when the Israelites in the desert received the Torah, including the kosher laws, there was no kosher meat yet available. Torah is compared to honey, so many traditional Shavuot foods are sweet, as well. Persian Jews make "Polao mastin" a dish made of rice and milk, and "koltcha shiri," a dairy cake, while in Greece there is a special dairy porridge made with cinnamon called "sutlag." In Poland, cheesecake is the traditional Shavuot dessert. Libyan Jews make necklaces strung with cookies or pretzels in symbolic shapes for their children. Iraqi Jews make "sambusak," a savory pastry filled with cheese. The exact details of the menu are fluid–any interpretation of a dairy meal and dessert would be appropriate. This is an excellent opportunity to try out a new recipe, symbolic of our renewed relationship with Torah, or to take the time for an old family favorite, to celebrate your roots.

It is common for communities to prepare their synagogues for Shavuot with natural decorations. Greek Jews historically decorated their synagogues with green branches and a variety of flowers. Even today Bukharan Jews use red roses. In Poland, synagogues were decorated with flowers, branches, and paper cuttings called "reizelach," or roses, in Yiddish. German Jews would place two flowering branches on either side of the Ark, as a symbol that Torah is our Tree of Life. Consider decorating your synagogue or home with local, in season, flowers and greenery.

Traditional communities hold a "Tikkun Leil Shavuot," a nighttime Torah study session which can last anywhere from a couple of hours to all night long. In some communities this is held in the synagogue, while in others, it is located private homes. People may recite specific passages from different traditional texts, while others prepare different topics, which change from year to year. Study is a potent way of renewing our understanding of Torah.

Shavuot is full of opportunities for communal gatherings and fun. Libyan and Moroccan Jews spray water onto passersby, because the Torah is compared to water, and our reconnection to Torah is a source of blessing. Ethiopian Jews gather together, bringing bread and other grains for the Kes, their religious leader, to bless, after which the entire community eats together. On some Israeli Kibbutzim, people have revived the agrarian side of Shavuot and have a parade with baskets of the first produce of the season. Whether you want to make a meal with seasonal produce, or have a picnic and water balloon fight, you will be in good company among the global Jewish community.

Around the world, Jews celebrate Shavuot in a variety of ways—but at their root, they come back to the same sources and the same ideas. It celebrates the diverse ways in which we relate to Torah, all of which are true, just as we have diverse ways of celebrating, all of which are the real Jewish way to do things. One thing is for certain–whichever way you choose to celebrate Shavuot this year, you will meet one of Torah's seventy faces.

Originally published here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/blog/jewish-and/2014/05/27/the-70-faces-of-shavuot/


The Gift of Generations: A Mother's Song

Sarah Aroeste, My Jewish Learning, May 20, 2014

 


 

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Mom. Mommy. Ima. Madre. Mother. No matter how many ways I say it, the concept still catches me by surprise sometimes. I am a mother now. Up until 7 months ago when someone would ask me a defining attribute of myself, I would have said I'm a Ladino singer. That's what I do; that's what I am.

Being a Ladino singer has always been more than an occupation for me—it's the fabric of my identity. Its roots run deeply through me—it's a responsibility I have to my Sephardic ancestors to keep their traditions and stories alive and to make sure they get passed on to future generations. And now I am responsible for a member of that future generation. I am a Ladino singer, and a mother.

As I look at my beautiful daughter now, I have been asking myself how I want to transmit my family tradition to her. What part of my Sephardic heritage do I want to pass down? Do I try to speak to her in Ladino, aware that she will have few people to speak it with as she grows older? Do I sing her Ladino songs each night so they get planted into her subconscious?

There is no doubt being a mother has already changed my performance repertoire. Although I pride myself on writing original music in Ladino, I have recently added a song into my sets that hails from the traditional canon. "Durme, Durme" is a song about how your heart actually aches when you watch over a loved one as (s)he sleep, because all you want now is to protect him/her from ever feeling sorrow.

Sleep, sleep beautiful one
Sleep without worry or sorrow.
Here is your slave whose only desire is
To watch over your sleep with the greatest of love
As time goes by my heart aches
With the love I have for you
Listen, listen my love
Listen to the song of my heartache.





Originally published here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/blog/jewish-and/2014/05/20/the-gift-of-generations-a-mothers-song/


Samurai Yenta

Francesca Biller, My Jewish Learning, May 13, 2014

 


 

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It is hard to kvetch about being a Japanese Jew when you're being spoiled by ladles of chicken schmaltz spoon–fed to you by your father, while your mother asks if you would like some more teriyaki sauce on your beef yakitori.

And did I mention my parents arguing about whether both challah and rice should be served at every meal?

Let's just say they both usually got their way, which was a good thing. What's not to love about a dinner table with both borsht soup "and" miso soup, alongside beef brisket, sashimi and some latkes just for good measure?

While that may sound like an overly-exotic combination for some, the sharing of cultural recipes passed down from both cultural sides is what brought us closer together as a family.

As a kid, I assumed everyone had parents who debated whether lox or sautéed salmon was the healthier choice well before ‘Omega 3 Fatty acids’ was ever a religion, while I enjoyed both macaroons and mochi balls for dessert.

And the generation of food–love didn't end with my parents. My Jewish grandfather "Booby" made a hearty feast of sweet and sour cabbage stew. And my Japanese grandma "Hatsuyo" was known for her Sukiyaki, also known as ‘steamboat cooking’, made with beef, vegetables, soy sauce, sugar and sake.

Not so shabby.

You can bet my house was popular in my all-Jewish neighborhood. And I thought kids liked me for me. Who was I kidding? They just wanted to get closer to my mom's home–cooking.

Word got around alright, and I couldn't blame friends for wanting charoset and mandelbrodt served alongside chicken gyoza and udon noodles. And to make things brighter, my father was the resident stand–up comic with his borsht–belt humor and one–liners we awaited each night.

Dinnertime was "the time" we felt most connected; a moment when we could forget about the angst we often felt as a culturally blended family, in the days when interfaith families were far from being accepted.

Comedian Milton Berle once observed, "Any time a person goes into a delicatessen and orders a pastrami on white bread, somewhere a Jew dies."

Uncle Milty, perhaps that once "seemed" to be the case, but today there are Jews who enjoy a much more diverse palette. For example, at a Japanese restaurant last week, there were more Jewish patrons who knew varieties of California rolls than I did.

Soy Veh, this is a great thing.

Today, I am blessed with daughters of my own who I can lavish with tasty dishes that have been passed down from both sides of my food–obsessed family.

And yes, I will admit that I have officially become both my mother and my father, which used to be my greatest fear.

I recently guilted my older daughter when she wouldn't eat my larger than usual matzah balls. Under my breath I muttered, "Is it too much to ask that you should want to eat your own mother's food I spent all day cooking?"

And I channeled my father today when I asked my younger shayna maidel to tell jokes for people at the market, bribing her with some tasty knishes..

"Oh, don't be such a nudge," she said to me as she gave me a quick hug and prepared to deliver a joke that could rival my father's.

This is bashert, I thought. Each generation carrying on traditions that can only be described as poignant and even sweeter than my famous babkas.

Below you will find two favorite family recipes. May you serve and enjoy eating them with your family and friends.

And if you don't, well...no worries. I'll just sit here in my kimono in the dark, eating a knish or two.

Recipes

Grandfather Booby's Sweet and Sour Cabbage Stew

Ingredients:

1–quart water
2 pounds beef brisket
2 onions, chopped fine
1–quart broth (beef)
2 cups tomatoes
1–cup tomato sauce
1 1/2 – 2 pounds cabbage, shredded fine
1 teaspoon salt
1–teaspoon ground pepper
2 tablespoons sugar

Extra ingredients such as potatoes, peas, and other vegetables can be added as well for variety.

Combine water, broth, and brisket in a large pot and bring to a boil, watching over carefully. Simmer and add other ingredients, stir as needed and simmer with cover for 2 and a half to three hours until meat is tender and soft.

Happily sample the stew and add additional seasoning to taste. The stew is best when accompanied by bread, potatoes, rice, and sides of horseradish and salads.

Grandmother Hatsuyo's Easy & Delicious Sukiyaki

Ingredients:

1 cup water
2 pounds tender stew meat
1/4–cup sugar
1–teaspoon salt
1/4–cup soy sauce
1/2–pound baby carrots
1/2–cup Japanese sake
3 potatoes, peeled and chopped

Extra ingredients such as peas, cabbage, and fish are delicious too!

Simply put all ingredients into crock–pot on high for 4–6 hours or on low for 10–12. Can also be cooked on low heat in a large pot or skillet on stove.

Great for freezing and reheating for all hungry family members and guests for both lunch and dinner.

Originally published here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/blog/jewish-and/2014/05/13/samurai-yenta/


Jewish Mother; Universal Mother

Lewis Gordon, My Jewish Learning, May 7, 2014

 

Patricia Gordon


 

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I am remembering a Jewish Universal mother. This woman was small in stature yet grand in her effect. A mother of three boys, she was an extraordinarily beautiful, dark–skin Black Jewish woman who left the island of Jamaica in the late 1960s. She had only $5 in her pocket, but she was rich with perseverance. After spending some time with relatives, she found work and then secured a modest one–bedroom apartment in the Bronx, where she managed to reunite with her boys, and over the years, in several other apartments and then a small two-bedroom townhouse, the only home she ever owned, took care of many relatives, friends, and their children.

Always facing the brutality from those who saw a young black woman as there for the taking, she fought hard to maintain her dignity and that of others. She became a union representative at her job; an organizer for the Democratic Party; a fighter for community resources here and there; and so much more for so many. She was so proud the day she became a U.S. citizen. She was well aware of the nation's racial and class contradictions. But she saw the best of what the country promised as something worth fighting for. She was not only a mother of three boys and then eventually a boy and girl whom she adopted but also a community's mother. As Sinead O'Connor would say: a universal mother.

Author Lewis Gordon and his mother, Patricia

So many people reached to her in times of need. Her closest friend, who I also consider to be a universal mother, twenty years ago faced every mother's greatest fear: Her son on his deathbed. He held on because he wanted to see his mother's best friend, whom he called his aunt, before he passed. It was in the midst of a snowstorm, and although his aunt was afraid of flying and most flights were grounded, she managed to secure a chartered flight that took her to him a thousand miles away. He died in her arms within an hour of her arrival.

We could think of such mothers all across the globe who held together otherwise devastated communities. They embrace so many in arms that although comforting and empowering are also fragile and mortal. The woman to whom I dedicate this mother's day died in an automobile accident en route to a birthday celebration for her eldest grandson. She received a funeral audience of nearly 2,000 people on short notice. Every one of them had a story of how she uniquely affected their life. Many called her their mother. Yet I knew this universal mother in a special way; I am one of the children from her womb.

There is no explanation for the loss of someone so spiritually powerful that we expected her to live forever. It shakes the soul to lose someone who seemed invulnerable. To my mother, Yvonne Patricia Solomon, I love you. I miss you. A thousand years with you would have still been too short. I thank G–d, in spite of my anger and sorrow at my family's loss, for all you gave to so many in the little under 61 years you spent in this world.

Originally published here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/blog/jewish-and/2014/05/07/jewish-mother-universal-mother/


Katy Perry is no Sasha Baron Cohen

Aryeh Weinberg, My Jewish Learning, May 6, 2014

 




 

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So Katy Perry thinks she's Sasha Baron Cohen, in possession of that subtle talent that turns offense into parody. Problem is, she is missing one very crucial element to her "shtick." She's not funny.

A video circulating on the interwebs features Ms. Perry dressed up in a variety of intentionally ridiculous getups, from an aged Las Vegas showgirl to an animal farm operator, each character ranging from odd to creepy. This is fine for abstract characters, but her depiction of a Jewish Bar Mitzvah DJ willing to do anything for money among her cast of characters raises a host of questions, not just about the diva herself, but about prejudice and power in America today.

Katy is no Sacha. She displayed all of the base offensive aspects of risky humor without any of the brilliant subtext that can make racially, ethnically and religiously oriented humor funny and, at times, poignant. In fact, Perry's Jewish stereotype was so devoid of any redeeming quality, it makes one question whether she even understands the difference between ridiculing a rodeo clown and a Jew. Maybe she doesn't.

This is not Katy Perry's first foray into racial politics. She was widely lambasted for a video that many argued used offensive stereotypes about Asians. One might have expected that the backlash would have made Katy and her handlers a tad more careful. The introduction of "Yosef Shulem," (who doesn't do funeral's...but will for the right price) seems to indicate otherwise.

So what's the deal? Is Katy Perry a bigot? Does she feel similarly free to caricature other races, ethnicities and religions? Or does she feel uniquely emboldened vis–à–vis Jews and Asians? The truth is that we don't know for sure what Perry's personal views are, there is something else going on here.

Jews and Asians share a precarious place in American society. They are the "model minorities," still differentiated from general American society by their racial, ethnic and cultural attributes, but simultaneously regarded as having "made it." The politics of prejudice in America are closely tied to perceptions of power and barriers against bigotry diminish for groups that are seen as privileged. In a sense, minority success brings with it a decreasing ability for the minority group in question to dictate what is or is not offensive.

No matter Perry's true personal views of Jews or Asians, it is very unlikely that these two groups were selected by happenstance. Katy is cultivating, like her contemporaries, a risqué reputation. Instead of wagging her tongue and twerking like Miley Cyrus, she is playing with cultural taboos. Unfortunately for her, she does not have the cultural bandwidth to intelligently, and humorously, riff off of racial and ethnic stereotypes. We do not see her bravely representing anti–Black, anti–Latino, anti–Muslim or anti–LGBTQ characters for a reason. She can't do it in a way that would not simply be offensive. Instead we see her picking the low hanging fruit, dabbling in anti–Semitism and Orientalism without much thought about what it means, either in the context of general society, or in her shows. But given her cultural influence, such disregard has broad implications. We have every right to expect better.

Originally published here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/blog/jewish-and/2014/05/06/katy-perry-is-no-sasha-baron-cohen/


Tarnished Sterling: The Moral of the Story

Diane Tobin, My Jewish Learning, May 2, 2014

 




 

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Donald Sterling's conversation with his former girlfriend is a veritable cornucopia of dysfunction. Bubbling to the top is the obvious racism, no doubt bolstered by a long history of discrimination in his real estate holdings. But intermixed with his bigotry, Sterling displays a host of other character flaws, from elitism to vanity to hypocrisy. It takes a special type of racist to tell his half–Latino half–black, less–than–half–his–age girlfriend not to be photographed with black men. But what many overlook is the near crippling fear that Sterling is operating under.

For the purposes of National Basketball Association, or most of American society for that matter, it is not particularly important why Sterling holds the views he does, only that he be reprimanded. In the Jewish community, however, it matters a great deal. You see Sterling is not simply expressing hatred toward black people. He is doing that, undoubtedly. But what seems to be motivating him is his fear of what association with black people could mean for his girlfriend and by extension, himself. He is operating according to a worldview in which racial or ethnic identity is the determinant factor in whether one succeeds or fails in life, and it seems very much as if he is afraid of being ousted as a fraud.

Why would a man who arguably faces no barriers to entry in all walks of life, with enough money to do as he wishes, be afraid of what others think of him? Enter the complex dynamics of a once pitiful and oppressed minority operating within the racial construct of the United States. Jews came to America for opportunity, as did many. Jews were not alone in seeking legitimacy in America, but perhaps differently than other peoples who were differentiated by the color of their skin, Jews were able to attain acceptance, in part, by passing as, and eventually, becoming white.

American Jews owe no apologies for embracing their dominant European identity. The security to choose how we want to live our lives regardless of the social realities around us is a newly found luxury. However, this does not absolve us of recognizing the ways in which the transition to "whiteness" in America has impacts our community. Part of becoming white in America has meant becoming embroiled in the racial politics, and while Jews have often been on the right side of the fight against racism, pretending that racism hasn't crept in would be folly. Racism is not dead yet, neither in general American society, nor within the Jewish community.

It is dying, however—at least in its current incarnation. The changing demographics of the American population make it all but a foregone conclusion that the America that Donald Sterling lives in will end as a more multicultural America takes its place. As people of color become the majority of the country's population over the next few decades, a transition that's already happened among the nation's youngest residents, it is important for the Jewish community to understand what this means for us.

The Jewish community, tragically, risks irrelevancy if it remains stuck in a past where whiteness is perceived as necessary for survival. Tragic, because whiteness, or any form of mono–culturalism is foreign to the long history of Jewish identity. The American future portends a dramatic reversal, where groups stuck in a racialized past, unable to embrace multiculturalism in America, and more importantly, within their own communities, become relics. The good news is that multiculturalism is natural to Judaism. Jews represent perhaps the most culturally, ethnically, and racially mixed people on the planet. It is this narrative of the Jewish people that the American Jewish community must embrace while sloughing off the fear–based perspective clung to by the Donald Sterlings of the world.

Originally published here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/blog/jewish-and/2014/05/02/tarnished-sterling-the-moral-of-the-story/


For Cryin' Out Loud, It's A Culture, Not A Race!

Deborah Jiang-Stein, My Jewish Learning, April 29, 2014

 




 

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There's not a "look" to Jewish, you just are. This is what I was raised to believe in the Jewish family that adopted me. So why is being Jewish equated with race, with a skin color and ethnicity? I am multiracial. While I'm still in the midst of DNA testing, so far I've learned I'm part Taiwanese, Greek, a possible thread from East Africa, and more. I check the "Other" box on forms.

When my parents took our family to temple every year for the High Holidays, all I wanted to do was crawl under the chair in the sanctuary and hide. When my brother had his bar mitzvah, I wanted to hide, too. When my mother sent me to Sunday school and Hebrew class while she volunteered, I wanted to hide. And throughout my early adulthood, I actually did hide that fact that I was raised in a Jewish home.

Why do people stare I wondered? "You're exotic," my parents told me in their desire to help. It didn't though. Nothing helped my non–Jewish features and caramel skin color look more Jewish. But wait. What is that look? Is Muslim a color, or does Christianity have a skin color? Israelis have olive skin, and some even look like they could be from Latin America, or India. Some of my friends are atheist Jews, which is something I adore about the religion. One can be atheist and still considered Jewish. Judaism is as much a cultural practice as it is a religion, and culture is important in shaping identity.

When I entered motherhood began to raise my daughters, I reconnected with Judaism. As with else, "I take what I like, and leave the rest." I sought out the meditations and music and beliefs of Judaism that I felt would support our family in a spiritual journey.

"So how did you come to Judaism?" a teacher in my oldest daughter's Jewish school once asked. I knew the implication: she'd assumed I married into the faith, or I converted. I identify as Jewish even though people don't see it. We are a mixed Asian Jewish family, and the values of Judaism teach us to include everyone. "There is not one face of Judaism, but many," one of my daughters once said when she was in grade school.

Before my adoption, I was in foster care, and before that, I was born in a prison. While I no longer hold any shame or stigma about my roots, there's an unspoken aspect of secrecy I sense in the Jewish culture, a sense of a need for secrecy and shrouding of the wounds and pain of the past. I've seen it in the hesitancy of the offspring of holocaust survivors to hide the deep pain of those inhumane atrocities. Yet, as the younger generation, we need to witness the pain and share it so that we can tell the stories and make sure we triumph over future anti Semitism, racism, and other persecutions and cultural malfunctions and viciousness.

This topic of secrecy can hit a raw nerve in the Jewish community. It's also reflected in other cultures that come out of persecution, to keep the in–talk "amongst ourselves." Why is that? Is it out of a history of persecution, where safety is threatened if "outsiders" know "insider info?" But I think raising our voices will strengthen us, not weaken us.

When a (most likely) Eastern European Jew casts an inquisitive look in my direction, I bear any off–putting look by keeping in mind the history: Jews were once slaves in Egypt and strangers in another land. You'd think the web of acceptance would cast wide for The Other. I–m raising my children to include the stranger, to reach out to those who may feel the outsider. And we are not strangers, as the Torah makes clear–all are invited and we are obligated to be inclusive.


A wave of Jews of color is flooding mainstream Judaism and, I hope, raising awareness in communities of all colors and religions, non–Jews and Jews alike. These days when I encounter the comment, "But you don't look Jewish" I use it as a teaching moment, to look that person in the eye and voice the truth: "But this is what a Jew looks like."

Deborah Jiang–Stein is a national speaker and founder of The unPrison Project (www.unprisonproject.org) a 501(c)3 nonprofit working to empower incarcerated women and girls with life skills and mentoring to prepare for a successful life after prison. Deborah is the author of the memoir, Prison Baby, published by Beacon Press, described as "One woman's struggles–beginning with her birth in prison–to find self–acceptance, proving that redemption and healing are possible, even from the darkest corners."

Originally published here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/blog/jewish-and/2014/04/29/for-cryin-out-loud-its-a-culture-not-a-race/


Our Jewish African Roots

Isaiah Rothstein, My Jewish Learning, April 14, 2014

 




 

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Though the Ethiopian sun beat down on our necks as we layed mortar and brick for the school's foundation in Gondar, Ethiopia, no suntan lotion could prevent the mark our ancient discovery would bring us as we made our way through buried past of our Jewish family, the Jews of Ethiopia...

Last winter I had the distinct pleasure of joining the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) cohort of twenty–five young professionals on a journey to Ethiopia. Charged with passion for social justice, and a commitment to peoples in need, each of us brought a unique perspective on Judaism, Ethiopians and the world of poverty. Each of us came with stories; each longed to heal the fractured world, but none shared the perspective of being an Orthodox Jewish rabbinical student who is empowered by his dual heritage of both African and European descent; who proudly identifies as a Jew of Color. None, that is, except me.

I was captured in a state of knowing that a part of my family once originated just west of Ethiopia, I was entangled in a state of feeling that I was among the few who were lucky enough to explore the story of the African Jews of yesteryear, and I was saddened by the living conditions of the "Third World," and wondered how it got this way.

After an entire day of supplying medication to dozens of shifts of schoolchildren who get repeatedly sick because of the disease infested water, our JDC cohort began a new and uncharted journey through the tall grass on the outskirts of the Gondar village. Soon we saw a large enclosed area in the middle of the field. We hopped in. Dan, a member of the JDC year–long fellowship was the first one in, I was the second. "I'm pretty sure this is the Jewish cemetery," he murmured as we took our first steps. Dumbstruck, I stammered "wh–where?..." He turned around to look at me, and then at the ground, then back at me and said sharply "right. here." I felt lost for a moment, and then notice a rectangular formation of rocks and realized we were walking over graves.

After coming to my senses, I called for the group to go around the enclosed field and meet us at the other side. Dan, myself, and the few others plowed through until we were at the peripheral area. As we reached the end of the field, there were four tombstones standing strong with Amharic chalked onto the stone. Maybe they were wealthy Jews? A rabbinic family? Recent deaths (within the last 200 years)? we had no idea. Like Jacob in the Torah (Genesis 28:17), we did not know the greatness of this place...it struck me.

Standing around these graves we looked to one another. I realized no matter how far the cultural and religious ties from the reality of most of our current communities, as a future rabbi, as the only clergy on the trip, I knew words must be shared, and the silence had to be broken.

"One of the most vicious ways to go to war against a people is through destroying their culture and way of life. Many cultures would bury total cities to erase their opponents from history, and yet, the very fact that there is knowledge that there is a Jewish cemetery shows the intense commitment of our ancestors before us. Despite religious practice, wealth or pressures from the outside world, these Jews in their hundreds, stuck together. Child after child, parent after parent joined in life and as we see, in death with their Jewish roots.

"In a world of so much fragmentation, we must not mistake that brokenness will not find itself in the strongest of families. As we the Jewish people engage in the struggle unify our communities, let this experience remind us that if our ancestors died together, through all the troubles of exile, then we, the living, must live together despite all that challenges to do otherwise."


We recited King David's Pslams 23 "The Lord is my Shepherd I shall lack nothing..." and we began our walk back to the center where our Jeeps and JDC personnel took us back to civilization. As the cohort was in the distance, I walked slowly and I took one last glance at the graves of my people, and said "thank you, thank you, thank you."

So the sun may wane, and the mark may fade, but the blessing in the Amidah to "gather the exiles from the four corners of the earth," will forever include not just those close to my community, but also our Jewish brothers and sisters in Ethiopia, thousands of years old.

Originally published here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/blog/jewish-and/2014/04/24/our-jewish-african-roots/


How Much is Dayenu? $35

Robin Washington, My Jewish Learning, April 14, 2014

 




 

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It was at his older brother's bar mitzvah that 9–year–old Josh Levy gave the answer to a question we all wanted to know:

How much money is enough?

"$35," he said from the front–row pews of Adath Jeshurun Congregation in suburban Minneapolis.

Although I had been encouraging call-and-response in my Dvar Torah in January, I didn't quite understand what he meant (which I'll get to it in a bit) and went on talking about the concept of Dayenu. The impetus was the Parshat Beshalach, which deals with the liberation from Egypt and the crossing into Sinai, though Dayenu isn't in it.

"It's a much later poem first appearing in the 9th century," Rabbi David Steinberg of Temple Israel in Duluth told me.

However it got into the liturgy, would it really have been dayenu — good enough — to have been freed from slavery only to die in the desert?

It also conflicts with a passage that says the children of Israel celebrated their liberation with a song — Shirat HaYam — before kvetching to Moses about life in the desert. And a concept that seems almost sacrilegious to me are the verses stating it would have been good enough to have been fed on manna for 40 years and led to the Promised Land but not to have gotten the Torah.

What kind of religion is that — where you get tons of good stuff but don't have any obligations in return? That's even better than getting permission from a Bet Din to have a beer at Target Field on Pesach.

None of this is to say I don't appreciate the fundamental value of liberation, which the late James Brown explained as cogently as the rabbis who stayed up all night:

"We'd rather die on our feet than live on our knees," he sang in "Say it Loud!" (rhyming the line with "the birds and the bees.")

That too was call and response, and a key word in both his song and Dayenu is "we" — a personalization of affliction, past and today.

So I get it, though to truly understand good enough, you also have to deconstruct "good" and "enough." Was manna good? It's described as being tasty, though interpretations suggest it could have been anything from mushrooms to bird droppings. Regardless, the passage says the people tired of it after a while. Maybe it was more than enough of a good thing.

As for "enough," exactly how much is enough — especially when it comes to money?

Fortunately, Josh was paying attention, and gave the $35 answer to the $64,000 question. The amount, his grandmother explained afterward, was the remaining cash he needed to buy an iPod.

Good answer. And enough said.

Originally published here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/blog/jewish-and/2014/04/14/how-much-is-dayenu-35/


 

7 Charoset Recipes to Give Passover an International Flair

Ruth Abusch Magder, My Jewish Learning, April 1, 2014

 




 

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Charoset is the star of the seder plate. Amidst the parsley leafs and lamb shanks, this sweet sticky treat teases and tantalizes as we make our way through the story telling. Charoset recalls the mortar used by the Israelites when they were slaves. Jews, spread over the four corner of the earth, and brought the story of the Exodus and the celebration of Passover to every land.

With time, the recipes for Charoset reflected local ingredients and tastes. Whether you make one, two or all of the seven classic and modern recipes we have collected, we doubt that you will be able to wait until the seder to taste these outstanding Charoset!

Uganda: Tziporah Sizomu's Charoset Recipe

Tziporah Sizomu is a leader in the Abayudaya community in Uganda. Passover is an especially meaningful holiday for the Abayudaya. Her husband Gershom is the community rabbi and Tziporah is responsible for the Shabbat and holiday meals that are eaten together by the Abayudaya as a community. Apples are expensive, as they must be imported from South Africa, while peanuts, known as groundnuts, are local to Uganda. This Charoset makes a fabulous spread for Matzah all week long! (Note: peanuts are legumes and there are some Jews who do not eat them during Passover. They can be replaced them with cashews.)

Ingredients

4 cups roasted peanuts
3 apples, chopped fine
2 bananas, chopped into small pieces
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup sweet wine

Directions

Grind the peanuts in a blender and place them in a medium–sized bowl. Rural Ugandans use a mortar and pestle. They don't have blenders as very few have electricity.
Mix with the chopped apples and bananas.
Add the wine and stir.
Add the honey and mix everything together. (If it isn't thick enough, add more peanuts)


Syria: Meil Family Recipe, Charoset Halebieh

Originally from Philadelphia, Heather and Jason Meil have been living in the Bay Area for the past 10 years and are active members at Oakland's Temple Sinai. This recipe was passed down from Jason's great–grandmother, Jammila Dweck Marcus who was born in Allepo, Syria to his grandmother, Leah (born in the Sudan) to his mother, Joan. It has been in the family for generations and makes an appearance yearly at the Meil seder.

Ingredients

3 pounds pitted dates
1 cup sweet red wine
1 t ground cinnamon (optional)
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Directions

Put the dates in a medium saucepan with enough water to cover.
Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer.
Stir frequently, until the dates are soft.
Pass the date mixture through a strainer or a rotary grader. A food processor may also be used. Before serving, add the wine, cinnamon and walnuts and mix thoroughly.


Greece: Traditional Greek Recipe

Sarah Aroeste's familial roots in Greece trace all the way back to the expulsion of Jews from Spain. A vocal artist, she has dedicated her career to modernizing Ladino classics and creating new music that captures the vibrancy of the Sephardic experience. For Passover, she draws on traditional Greek customs and makes this fruity recipe that gets its punch from a variety of spices.

Ingredients

1 cup black currants, finely chopped
1 cup raisins, finely chopped
1 cup dates, finely chopped and then mashed (if they are very dry soak them in boiling water for 10 minutes)
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
Pinch of grated orange rind
Cinnamon, allspice, cloves, nutmeg to taste
Sweet red wine

Directions

Chop all the ingredients as fine as possible.
Mash them into a paste in a mortar and pestle. Or briefly process in food processor.
Moisten as necessary with the red wine.
Makes 3 cups


Guatemala, Two Ways: Modern Twist

The members of Adat Shalom, Guatemala's only Reform community have created a unique take on Charoset. It was a big hit at last year's seder in Guatemala City and it will be at yours too.

Ingredients

4 apples, peeled, cored, and finely chopped
1 cup raisins, finely chopped
1/2 cup sweet red wine (such as Manischewitz)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 tablespoon maple syrup
5 oz of refried red beans
4 oz of chopped almonds

Directions

Chop the apples by hand as finely as possible and press them with a fork.
Add the rest of the ingredients. mixing everything well.
Beans should be added at the end, depending on how juicy the apple is so that the charoset thicken.
After plating, add a little of the almonds as decoration.

Brenda Rosenbaum's Charoset

Brenda Rosenbaum, is the founder of Mayan Hands. She grew up in Guatemala and left as a young adult due to the civil war. Her family is half Ashkenazi and half Sephardic. Her mother lives in Guatemala City and this is her recipe. This recipe came via Ilana Schatz of Fair Trade Judaica.

Ingredients

1 pound dates
2 granny smith apples
Cinnamon
Sweet wine
1 cup chopped nuts (macadamia nuts are native to Guatemala)

Directions

Soak dates in hot water for a few hours.
Drain the dates but put them in the food processor but don’t process them completely, leave some chunks in it.
Peal and cut apples into one inch chunks.
Put apple pieces in pan, and bring to boil with a bit of water. Simmer until they become puree.
Mix dates and apples.
Add cinnamon to taste, sweet wine.
Just prior to serving add chopped nuts.


Cuba: Mango and Pineapple Charoset Balls

For Jennifer "The Cuban Reuben" Stempel blogging about food allows her to explore her twin Jewish and Cuban heritages. This Cuban Charoset is her own invention inspired by the island flavors that influence so much of her cooking. While most Charoset is served as a paste, Stempel drew on the Sephardic tradition of making Charoset into small balls for this unique take on a classic dish.

Ingredients

5oz dried unsweetened mango, coarsely chopped
8oz dried unsweetened pineapple, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup almond slivers, toasted
2 cups shredded coconut, toasted and separated

Directions

In a small bowl, soak the mango in hot water for 1/2 hour.
Drain well, and add to a food processor. Add pineapple, almonds, and 1 cup of the coconut to the mango in the food processor, and pulse only until the mixture starts to form a ball. There should still be some visible chunks.
Form the mixture into bite–sized balls, and set atop a pan lined with wax paper.
In a small bowl, add the last cup of shredded coconut. Roll the balls in the coconut until they are lightly coated, and return them to the wax paper.
Refrigerate the balls for 1 hour or until set.


United States: Rabbi Ruth's Charoset Recipe


One of the joys of Jewish life in America is the diversity not only of the community but also of the ingredients from around the world that are at our fingertips. This recipe draws on traditional as well as exotic flavors. Sweet with a touch of the sour with a red tinge which reminds us of the mixed emotions with which we greet our freedom, always recalling the hard work and suffering that preceded the Exodus.

Ingredients

1 cup dried figs
1 cup dried apricots
1 cup roasted hazelnuts
1 large or 2 small whole blood oranges
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses (available at Middle Eastern markets)
Additional orange juice as needed

Directions

Cut blood oranges into quarters or chunks depending on size.
Place all the ingredients except the orange juice in food processor
Pulse until mixture resembles a paste.
If mixture is too dry add a tablespoon of additional orange juice and pulse again.
Repeat until the mixture is moist.

Originally published here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/blog/jewish-and/2014/04/01/7-charoset-recipes-to-give-passover-an-international-flair/


 

A Modern Passover Miracle

Rabbi Gershom Sizomu, My Jewish Learning, March 25, 2014

 


(Seated left to right). Rabbi Yonadav Keki (Rabbi Sizomu's father), Rabbi Samson Mugombe (Rabbi Sizomu's Grandfather), Rabbi Zakayo Mumbya, Rabbi Yaakov Were. (Standing left to right, Gabbaim) Solomon Ndu, Yechu Wetege, Eliyahu usamba, Yaakov Kasakya, Peter Mubbale, Yechoas Kaweke)


 

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This modern Passover Miracle story is perfect for sharing with friends and family at your Seder.

At Passover, every person is supposed to feel as though he himself left Egypt. For me and the Jewish community of Uganda, we do not need to imagine. In our lifetime, we were rescued from ‘slavery’ and saved by divine intervention in order to celebrate.

When Field Marshal Iddi Amin Dada took power in Uganda by way of the gun in 1971, he outlawed Judaism and confiscated our synagogues and most of the Hebrew books. Practice of Judaism was punishable by death. He was a modern day Pharaoh. He gave the community two alternatives, either to convert to Islam or Christianity, or remain unaffiliated. He murdered anyone suspected of opposing his rule and judicial executions were the order of the time. Many Abayudaya feared for their lives and converted to the two majority religions, Islam and Christianity. However, things did not go well for the Christians either. The Archbishop of the Church of Uganda was run over by army trucks in a stage–managed accident; and the chief Justice, who was also Christian, was shot dead on Amin's orders.

Growing up during this era was a hard pill to swallow. Adults and children would shout insults at Jews and no one did anything to stop them. We were not permitted to wear any Jewish symbols including kippot. Nor were we allowed to appear anywhere near the synagogue premises. We dared only to pray and learn under the cover of the night in our bedrooms. My father, Rabbi Yondav Keki, was caught studying Torah in the Sukkah that he had built in the back yard of our house and only survived after the arresting officer demanded a bribe. Three leaders of the community, including Yaakov Were and Yaakov Kasakya, were arrested and tortured for collecting iron sheets that had been blown off the roof of the Moses Synagogue in Nabugoya.

In that same year when a hijacked plane full of Jews was held at Entebbe by Palestinian terrorists with the permission of Amin, a fast was secretly declared and silent prayers were conducted, each family praying in their bedrooms. The daring rescue of the hostages gave hope to community members that soon or later Amin would go.

This came to pass on Wednesday 11, April 1979, corresponding to 14 Nisan, 5739, Erev Pesach when the new Government, comprised of Ugandan rebels and Tanzanian troupes, declared freedom of worship. This was considered a miracle from above and was celebrated in a special style. More than four cups of 80% proof Uganda banana wine were served making everyone excessively happy by the end of the Seder. No more than 300 of the nearly 3,000 earlier members remained steadfast and loyal to Judaism, which makes me think that had Amin's regime continued for another five years, the community would not have survived.

Passover remains a special moment for all us. I will always remember my first Seder ever. It is amazing that the reign of terror ended and that freedom of worship was reinstated at the season of freedom. Each year as the community grows, Passover is the moment that we celebrate both our ancient and modern freedom. With the help of Jews from around the world the synagogue that was destroyed is being rebuilt to be better and stronger than ever and the numbers of our community have nearly returned to their earlier size. That Uganda would have been a Jewish state had Herzl's proposal been successful, that the hijackers chose Entebbe airport as their final resting place, and that Amin like Pharoah was humiliated on the Eve of Pesach could not have simply been a mere coincidence. It was our Passover miracle.

If you would like Rabbi Gershom Sizomu to visit your community please contact Danielle@bechollashon.org



Originally published here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/blog/jewish-and/2014/03/25/a-modern-passover-miracle/


 

My Interracial Marriage Isn't That Exotic

Alex Barnett, My Jewish Learning, March 18, 2014

 




 

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Those of you who follow my comedy know that my wife is a Black woman who converted to Judaism. What you also know is that we have a young son who is Biracial and Jewish. As a result, I can tell you that Black–Jewish relations in our family are at an all–time high.

But, we are not an anomaly. Since time immemorial, there has been a connection, a bond, between Black and Jewish people. Perhaps it's our respective histories of oppression. Perhaps it's because of our mothers, who are overbearing, intrusive and force us to eat. Perhaps it's because without us, there would be no music industry. Whatever the reason, the simple fact is that there is a bond between Blacks and Jews.

My wife and I are not the first mixed–race couple ever. Far from it. Nor will we be the last. Our union is not even particularly ground–breaking. Neither of our families threatened to disown us if we got married. Crazy people in sheets didn–t commit violence against us. Racist law enforcement officials didn't threaten us with jail–time if we, in fact, got married.

No, we just got married one Sunday morning. Then, we went home from the synagogue, and, as our honeymoon, we took a nap. The world kept spinning on its axis. The Sun rose and set that day, and everyone more or less went about their business. No one had a conniption fit (except for our families because we didn't invite any family members to the ceremony).

Like I said, uneventful.

But, in retrospect, I realize it was not so uneventful. While the number of mixed–race families (and, indeed, mixed–race people) is growing all the time, mixed–race couples still are not so common as to be the norm. Admit it, when you see a Black person with a White person, you notice. How can you not? It's different. It's Black skin juxtaposed with White skin. There is a contrast. It is not, as my fashion designer wife would say, "so matchy–matchy."

So, being in a mixed–race couple still is different. It still engenders looks, still raises eyebrows, still causes people to stop, look, point, stare and/or comment. And, by the way, I'm not simply accusing others. I do it myself. If I see a mixed–race couple when I'm walking around, I notice them too. (Then, I usually offer them a subtle head nod, as if to say, "yep, me too. Peace.").

And I'm okay with that. I'm okay with being noticed. Who wants to be the same as everyone else? That's so Scandinavian.

So, yes, it's fine that people look. But, while they are noticing that we may look a little different than an "average" or "normal" couple (whatever that may mean), they shouldn't assume that we are any different. But, they do. People are convinced there's something afoot. They cannot believe it's possible that we could just love each other. Surely, there must be a story. Surely something must be up. Surely I must be trying to rebel against my parents. Rebel against my parents?! I waited until I was 44 years old to get married. That was the rebellion, and I won. At this point, the only way left for me to rebel would be to steal their Social Security checks.

Or people think we got married because we find each other exotic. My wife is not exotic. Exotic is a woman, whose father is a wealthy, French diplomat and whose mother is an artist from a Third World Country. Exotic is a woman who is a beauty pageant winner turned political dissident who's in the U.S. because she's seeking political asylum. Exotic is a woman who speaks three languages besides English. Exotic is a woman who gives up the fame and riches of her modeling career to work in an orphanage in a place where the median wage is 50 cents a day. My wife is not those things. My wife is just a person. She just happens to be a Black person. Don't get me wrong. My wife is beautiful, intelligent and independent, but she's not exotic. Her favorite outfit to wear around the house is jeans and a sweatshirt or sweatpants and a hand–knitted cardigan sweater. In short, my wife is a special person (especially to our son and me), but she's not a Ninja–slash–runway model.

Oprah is more exotic than my wife because Oprah is a Black, female billionaire, and there's only about 1 of those in the whole World. If I were married to Oprah, then, yeah, you could say I'm looking for something exotic. You could also say I'm incredibly lucky because I just became a billionaire by marriage. But, I'm not married to Oprah. I'm married to my wife, who I love, but who is about as exotic as the oatmeal that she eats for breakfast everyday.

And, I'm only exotic if you're a home–schooled, evangelical Christian from Kansas who's never met a neurotic Jewish hypochondriac before. I'm only exotic if you've never seen an episode of Seinfeld.

Point is, what my wife and I have done by getting married is not yet commonplace, but it's not otherworldly. We are an interracial couple, not inter–species. Neither of us has a tail or a ridged forehead. She's a Black woman, not a Klingon. And, I'm White. I'm not Casper. Not transparent. Not see–through.

So the next time you see us (or a couple like us, by which I mean a couple where the partners have different skin colors but who are otherwise remarkably human in their appearance), feel free to wave and say "hi" or just ignore us like you ignore everyone else while you're busy with your day. Because remember, we're just like you . . . except much, much cooler.

Originally published here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/blog/jewish-and/2014/03/18/not-quite-oprah-like-you-only-a-bit-cooler/


 

Esther's Secret Identity

Robin Washington, My Jewish Learning, March 11, 2014

 




 

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Several years ago, I started a new job in a new city and wanted to check out a local synagogue. A co–worker, Francine, also Jewish though less practicing than me, came along for the ride.

"One thing," I told her before we went in. "Don't tell them we're Jewish."

She agreed. Then promptly blew it.

"Hi. We're both Jewish and my friend just moved to town, and..."

What I had wanted to know was how they would perceive me: bi–racial and not easily ethnically identifiable, and with a surname rapidly becoming recognized as the blackest in America. (I also thought a covert operation might help in finding out if new members were to be socked with a building fund.)

Jews have been traveling incognito centuries, though not necessarily undercover from other Jews. From Crypto–Jews to escapees from the pogroms and the Holocaust, it's a story of survival that encompasses every permutation of identity, secret or otherwise. Clark Kent may not have been Jewish, but who can say about Superman?

And then there's Esther, whose beauty so strikes King Ahasuerus of Persia that he marries her without even asking what religion she is (who performed that ceremony?) Though her cousin and legal guardian Mordecai seems to be the most public Jew in Persia, the king never connects those dots, and Mordecai instructs her to stay mum. Full disclosure comes only after Haman plots to kill all Jews, including, he learns too late, the king's beloved wife.

I've never been sure what to make of the Purim story. It and the Song of Songs are the only two books in the Torah in which God doesn't make an appearance. Maybe it's something about kings falling in love with beautiful women.

More likely the message is "don't be prejudiced," with which I agree, and "or else," which I find more troubling: The hanging of Haman, his 10 sons, and the slaying of 75,000 others is more than a little excessive. Sounding a noisemaker is one thing. Decimating a population the size of Evanston, Ill., is another.

All this, and the Jews' subsequent good fortune under Ahasuerus, is made possible by Esther's timing in outing herself. Had she made that revelation earlier, Haman – if he had exercised more opportunism than racism – could have done away with Mordecai and not the rest of the Jews. But because she waited we saw his true colors.

I've experienced something like that: white people saying the n–word in front of me, and Jews using schwartze, not knowing I'm black; blacks speaking derisively of Jews unaware of that part of my heritage. I'm happy to say it happens infrequently these days, but maybe less because of improved racial understanding than the way I pre–empt it by introducing myself: "Hi, I'm Robin Washington. I'm a Black Jew."

Still, there are other times when it's best to let my ethnic ambiguity speak for itself. Not to hide anything, just not volunteering; and with race an illusion created by humans, letting people draw whatever conclusion they want.

That also works with my name, by the way. A surefire sign that someone doesn't know me is when I get a letter or email addressed to "Ms. Robin Washington."

She sounds lovely, but I doubt as beautiful as Esther.

Originally published here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/blog/jewish-and/2014/03/11/esthers-secret-identity/


 

Beyond Hamantaschen: Purim Celebrates Diversity

Ruth Abusch Magder, My Jewish Learning, March 4, 2014

 



Join us for Purim Unmasked at the JCCSF on March 16th!


 

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Despite its air of frivolity, or perhaps because of it, the upcoming Jewish holiday of Purim offers the opportunity to explore the challenges we face when it comes to identity inclusion and race. Both the story of Purim and the rituals of the holiday speak directly to a contemporary sensibility and provide us with some important lessons for living in a diverse multicultural world.

The king of the story of Purim, Achashverosh lived in the city of Shusan in ancient Persia. But his kingdom was vast, stretching over 70 nations from India to Africa. People of many backgrounds and religions came under his rule, including Jews and he was glad to host all at his palace. According to the legends of the Indian and Ethiopian Jewish communities, Jews had lived in those lands even before the Purim story era. The king had a Jewish advisor, named Mordechai (Esther's uncle and guardian) but that did not mean he was aware of the value of the Jews as part of his multicultural empire. The king allowed Haman to threaten to destroy the Jews.

Ultimately redemption of the Jews serves not only as an omen of Jewish good fortune but also as a reminder of the folly of any society that does not value all its people. Among the many nations, the Jews as a group were singled out because of one element of their identity. By contrast, we need to be able to see people for who they are and not judge them negatively for being different; otherwise we will be no better than Haman.

Esther, the heroine for whom the biblical story is named, is a complex character. Born to a prominent Jewish family, she hides her Jewish identity to become queen. There is no record of what she looked like but her look must not have stood out as distinctly Jewish to others, allowing her to ‘pass’ undetected as a Jew. All of us have elements of our identities that are immediately visible to others and elements of our identities that are hidden. Esther's ability to conceal her Judaism allowed her to navigate the politics of the palace community.

Every one of us, to greater and lesser degrees, learns to navigate different social and cultural settings, putting forward or concealing elements of who we are. At the same time, we often are seen as who we are on the surface, which can be misleading or not tell the full story. Haman, might have been more strategic about his approach to the Jews had he understood that one of the king's favorite wives was a Jew. Living in a diverse society demands both the capacity to navigate elements of our own identity as well as be aware of our biases and assumptions about others.

And as everyone knows, the customary costumes provide a real life opportunity kids and adults alike to try on different identities. But even the foods, hamantaschen cookies filled with sweets, the raviolis that Italian Jews eat, or the kreplach of Eastern European Purim tradition, all have a hidden element, challenging us to look beyond the surface.

Purim is a festive holiday with much fun and good food. But concealed in the story and in the rituals of the day are a series of complex and meaningful issues that demand our attention in an increasingly global world.

Originally published here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/blog/jewish-and/2014/03/04/beyond-hamantaschen-purim-celebrates-diversity/


 

A Jewban Family Tradition: Ropa Vieja

Jennifer Stempel, My Jewish Learning, February 25, 2014

 



 

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I am often asked whether I feel more Cuban–American than Jewish, or vice versa, and it has always struck me as an odd question. That's like asking whether I like my right eye better than my left. Sure, if you close one eye, you can still see, but the world looks so much better with both eyes open. That is sort of how I feel about my two cultures. On the surface, it may seem like my Cuban culture is in direct conflict with my Jewish one, particularly when it comes to the pork–friendly nature of Cuban cuisine and the dietary laws of the Jewish faith, but just like seeing the world with both eyes open, I feel most comfortable when my cultures work in conjunction with each other.

Fortunately, there is plenty of common ground between the two. Given the fact that both place a high priority on family and tradition, and get–togethers almost always revolve around food, my family has been blurring the cultural dividing lines for decades. This melting pot approach jumps into high gear around the holidays and other family gatherings. My "Jewban" family has been known to serve a creamy flan during Shavuot, a citrus and garlic–infused Cuban–style chicken for Shabbat, and minty Mojito–scented quinoa during Passover. These incredible dishes aside, nothing holds a candle to my family's recipe for Ropa Vieja, Cuban comfort food at its very best.

Ropa Vieja, which literally translates to "old clothes," or as my paternal grandmother would call them, "shmatas," is the Cuban answer to a traditional Jewish brisket. Both use inexpensive cuts of meat that are slow–roasted until tender and falling apart, but Ropa Vieja takes it a step further, and actually calls for the chunks of meat to be shredded to resemble rags. This may seem like it would diminish the allure of the dish, but as Jewish brisket is usually reserved for the holiday table, a good Ropa Vieja is truly cause for celebration. Additionally, as it is important in the Jewish culture to pass our traditions from generation to generation, most Cuban families have had a recipe for Ropa Vieja for ages.

The recipe I feature originated with my Abuela (maternal grandmother), but was passed to me by my Tia Pipa (Aunt Felipa), both seriously tough culinary acts to follow. And while I have the added benefit of modern kitchen electrics like the slow–cooker, the spirit of the recipe remains the same. The perfume of a traditionally Cuban sofrito, made from garlic, onions, and sweet bell peppers, marries beautifully with the warm smokiness from the cumin. And while the brine–y capers that adorn the meat and add a splash of color may seem like a distinctly Mediterranean choice, they act as a nod to the migration of Spaniards that made their way to Cuba and the other Caribbean islands in days of old.

One bite may make you want to close your eyes and savor the moment, but I challenge you to resist the urge. See the world with both eyes open, and celebrate the diversity that makes Cuban–Jewish families unique.


Ropa Vieja, by Jennifer Stempel of TheCubanReuben.com

Serves: 6-8

Ingredients

5-7 lbs. Brisket, trimmed of most visible fat

2 onions, divided

6 cloves of garlic, divided

2 large red bell peppers, divided

2 bay leaves, divided

4 cups beef stock

3 tsp. Olive oil

1 Tbs dried oregano

1 Tbs ground cumin

1 14 oz can diced tomatoes

1 8 oz can tomato sauce

10 stuffed green olives, sliced in thin rounds

2 Tbs capers, plus 1 Tbs. of the brine.

Salt and Pepper to taste


Instructions


1. Cut your brisket into 2–inch wide strips.

2. The night before you want to serve, add the brisket, 1 onion, roughly chopped, 2 whole cloves of garlic, half a bell pepper, 1 bay leaf, and beef stock to a slow–cooker, and set to cook on low for 6–7 hours.

3. Remove the beef and set aside. Once the beef is cool enough to be handled, use 2 forks to shred the beef.

4. Strain the cooking liquid, and reserve for later use in a medium bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerate long enough for the fat to solidify on top (about 20–30 minutes). Skim the fat from the liquid.

5. Discard the rest of the contents from the slow cooker.

6. Meanwhile, finely dice the remainder of the onions and half of the remaining bell pepper. The rest of the bell pepper should be sliced in short, thin slices.

7. Mince the remaining garlic.

8. Heat a large pot (dutch oven style) over medium–high heat. Add olive oil.

9. Add the diced onions and both diced and sliced bell peppers, and cook for 5–10 minutes, or until onions become translucent. Add the garlic, and cook for 2 more minutes.

10. Add the shredded beef to the pot, as well as half of the now–skimmed stock, the oregano, the cumin, the diced tomatoes, and the tomato sauce. Stir to combine.

11. Lower the heat, cover the pot, and simmer for 30 minutes, or until liquid reduces and thickens a bit.

12. Add the olives, brine, and capers, and cook for 15 more minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

13. Leave simmering on low on the stove until ready to serve.

14. Serve with white rice.

Originally published here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/blog/jewish-and/2014/02/25/a-jewban-family-tradition-ropa-vieja/


 

My People, My Birthright

Lindsey Newman, My Jewish Learning, February 19, 2014

 



Register now for the Be'chol Lashon Taglit–Birthright Israel Trip! Space is limited!


 

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This summer Lindsey Newman and Josh Rothstein are going to be leading the first free Taglit–Birthright Israel trip with a focus on diversity. We asked Lindsey what draws her to Israel.

Israel is a place where I learned about diversity—before I could articulate what diversity meant, I was able to see it and live it. As a Jew of color growing up in a mostly white community in New York City, it was sometimes hard to find diversity and diverse role models to look up to. But when I first arrived in Israel at age 7, my sense of what Jewish looked like expanded immediately.

My family returned to Israel the next summer, when I was 8, this time staying for two months and living in Jerusalem. I was among an international contingent of American, Israeli and Israeli Arab children all enjoying the best that summer camp has to offer. Most of what I knew of Israel at that time was watermelon ice pops, flying kites on the Jerusalem promenade, and Bisli. For a Jew of color, from a mixed race background and multiracial family, it was one of the first times in my life that I felt I fully belong among the rich tapestry of Jewish life.

Later I returned as a teen, for a summer program that brought together participants from all across the US and Israel, I became friends with Jews whose parents and/or grandparents were born in Yemen, Ethiopia, Iran, Russia, France, Greece and elsewhere. While I still have a soft spot for brisket, the traditional meal I had at my friend's Iraqi–Algerian home is still the best Rosh Hashanah meal I've ever had. (Although I must admit, I passed when the fish head was offered to me even though it's good luck.)

Through art, travel, study and just getting to know each other, we wrestled with what it means to be Jewish, what it means to us personally to be a Jew, and what it means to live with other Jews. We tested each other, and we learned from each other. We were reminded that Judaism is not a singular experience— we are a diverse global people with different customs, complexions and experiences.

Israel was one of my first positive experiences with Jewish diversity in all its iterations. Of course, with diversity comes complexity, and exploring Israel meant coming face to face with its triumphs and its challenges. But facing this complexity can be incredibly valuable, for out of struggle can come strength.

These Israel experiences inspired me to create a Birthright trip with a focus on diversity. Diversity is a universal issue but it is also a Jewish issue and in my experience there is no better place to experience it than Israel. I'm looking forward to sharing the many flavors, sounds, and customs of Israel's many multicultural communities and individuals. I'm looking forward to discussing and debating the challenges of diversity and identity—in a setting that deals with these issues all the time. I'm looking forward to getting to know a bus filled with Jews from all over the United States who represent the many ethnic, racial and cultural heritages that are the contemporary community. And of course I'm looking forward to Bisli and just hanging out by the pool.

Originally published here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/blog/jewish-and/2014/02/19/my-people-my-birthright/


 

Diversity and Pride at My Jewish Summer Camp

Aviva Davis, My Jewish Learning, February 12, 2014

 


Carrying the Torah at Camp Be'chol Lashon

Learn more about Camp Be'chol Lashon


 

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Judaism has been a part of my life since I was born. My mother snuck Shabbat candles into the hospital in preparation for my birth and I was born on Shabbos afternoon surrounded by my family and future friends, all welcoming Shabbat and my existence. As a child, I was raised primarily by my Jewish, African–American mother, Denise. I am honored to say that she converted to this amazing religion and that I am 100% Jewish.

As soon as I turned five, she signed me up for Hebrew school. For seven years, I studied the Hebrew alphabet and dozens of prayers. By the time my Bat Mitzvah rolled around last year, I had memorized every prayer I had studied, but I was nervous. So I used my Bat Mitzvah folder as a memory tool and looking down helped avoid the stares of the 200 guests!

For as long as both my mother and I can remember, I have been attending Be'chol Lashon; a place where I immediately feel at home, surrounded by my fellow Jews of all colors. At Be'chol Lashon, I am free to be who I am: an energetic, fun–loving, Black, White, and Jewish teenager. About five years ago, I, along with a few other young Be'chol Lashon regulars were asked by my mother, Denise Davis, and a co–founder of Camp Be'chol Lashon, Diane Tobin, whether we would enjoy a Judaism–based summer camp for us, the kids. We all replied "yes" immediately. The first year of Camp Be'chol Lashon in 2009 was a blast. It is amazing to see the intense diversity of our community. We explore this diversity by "traveling" to different countries where Jews live, and we examine the culture of those countries through art and cooking projects and dancing.

Camp Be'chol Lashon

My Jewish summer camp loyalties are divided. In 2011, I began attending a month–long Judaism–based overnight camp in Ojai called Ramah. Every day, teachers inform us campers about Israel and Judaism. Every morning, we participate in Shacharit services, the morning service, before breakfast. This is a challenge, but after services, food tastes even better. On Friday evening, everyone on the campgrounds cleanses themselves and changes their clothes to welcome Shabbat with songs, a service, and the best part; food.

However, Ramah and Be'chol Lashon are not the only places I stay connected to my Jewish heritage; I celebrate Shabbat every week with dinner on Friday nights and by attending services on Saturdays. I love celebrating Shabbat with my friends and family because it reminds me that I am surrounded by such a wonderful community. Though, with my busy schedule, I do not attend synagogue every week, I do my best to drag myself out of bed in time for the service. As I continue to grow and mature, Judaism will continue to be a large part of my identity and heritage.


Click here to learn more about Camp Be'chol Lashon

Originally published here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/blog/jewish-and/2014/02/12/from-the-root-to-the-fruit-growing-jewish-pride/


 

Jewish & Filipino

Christine Wedner, My Jewish Learning, February 4, 2014

 



 

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My husband, Grant and I have worked together to rear our children in the Jewish faith. We made a conscious effort to place our family in diverse cities: New York, Los Angeles and now the Bay Area – to expose them to a variety of cultures and ethnicities.

What challenges have I really faced? What have I done to remind our children that they aren't just Jewish but Filipino. What have I done to help them embrace the culture that I grew up in?

Filipino culture is rooted – for the most part – in three major areas: religion, family and food.

I grew up Catholic. Went to Catholic school from high school through college and even after graduating and living in San Francisco I would still attend mass every Sunday. Partly because I knew my Mom would ask if I went and I couldn't be dishonest with her.

I remember big dinners on Sundays or celebrations where everyone came together and there was always a table filled with almost every traditional Filipino dish you could imagine. Every get together had its share of both family drama and laughter.

So when I think about what I have done to make an effort to infuse my Filipino background with our family – I don't see challenges – if anything I see similarities.

We stress the importance of our Judaism, especially in a world where we try to explain to our children why we don't celebrate Christmas when one set of grandparents do, that the Easter bunny will never come hopping by our home, and that matzoh for a whole week can be rather tasty — you just have to know how to bring out the flavor.

We are doing our very best to give our children the strongest foundation we can. With that foundation we stress the importance of being true to who you are – embracing the beauty and traditions of our religion and the legacy of all the Jewish people before us.

We light the candles every Friday and have family Shabbat dinner. We spend time with family and friends over the Jewish holidays – surrounded by food and laughter – creating memories.

A perfect example of how we have effortlessly combined Filipino and Jewish tradition happened on the night of Yom Kippur. I asked the family what they would like for Shabbat dinner and the unanimous vote was chicken adobo – a traditional Filipino dish – with green beans and garlic, rice and of course, a challah.

One would immediately think, "What an interesting pairing..." but it showcases our family off perfectly.

This is who we are.

We are Jewish and Filipino. The integration of both cultures has been a seamless one because we have adopted the same value system from each one. We value our religion. We value our family. And. We love food.

We celebrate our diversity and feel so blessed that our children will grow up being proud of not only being Jewish but being Filipino.

Originally published here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/blog/jewish-and/2014/02/04/jewish-filipino/


 

Kung Hei Fat Choy from Our Jewish Home to Yours

Erica Cohen Lyons, My Jewish Learning, January 30, 2014

 



 

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Shabbat Dinner Menu for 15: Egg drop soup with crunchy noodles, Stir Fried Vegetables, Dan Dan Noodles, Roasted Chicken with Duck Sauce, Garlic Broccoli, Five-Spice Glazed Salmon, Mandarin Oranges and Almond Cookies.

This is not merely a Chinese-themed Shabbat for us. This is our Chinese-themed life.

It's a bit hectic here now. Tonight can best be described as essentially erev Chinese New Year. It's a half–day for work and school. Even the supermarkets will close early. And because it's the Lunar New Year, it of course is also Rosh Chodesh (and it's my turn to host). The rhythms of the two traditions seem to naturally fit together.

For Rosh Hashanah we make amends. For the Gregorian calendar New Year, we sometimes feel compelled to make resolutions. By Chinese New Year, we merely make plans and merriment.

In Hong Kong, as in other parts of China, Chinese New Year (referred to as the Lunar New Year) is the focal point of the season rather than Christmas and that is certainly a welcome change for us. This is a festival that we as Jews can fully participate in.

Children go to school in traditional Chinese dress before the festival, a custom that the Jewish Day School here fully embraces too and there is nothing cuter than a room full of toddlers in brightly colored silk Chinese costumes with kippot on too.

My children make colorful cards and decorations complete with Chinese calligraphy in class. We add the new ones to the growing pile of decorations which we take out annually to decorate our home. I even managed to buy a banner this year that carries wishes for honey and sweetness, one that I will now use on Rosh Hashanah as well.

Businesses all close and families gather together. A schedule–free four day weekend is much welcome in our hectic city lives. For the children it–s a full week off though. I make plans to bake traditional egg tarts (kosher, of course) one afternoon with a friend as an activity for our younger children. We will all run from one lion dance performance to another.

The Chinese festivals have many similarities to our own Jewish traditions. They too follow the moon and are deeply rooted in ancient tradition. Chinese New Year traditions such as sweeping and thereby casting away the bad, wearing new outfits in purposefully chosen symbolic colors, giving gifts of money in denominations that are lucky and abstaining from haircuts are all things we can certainly relate to.

While as Jews New Years is filled with apples and honey and pomegranates, for Chinese and now for us too it is also mandarins, candied dried fruit and lotus and melon seeds. Families gather and enjoy foods rich with symbolism and platters piled with tradition. This is something that just comes naturally.

Originally published here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/blog/jewish-and/2014/01/30/kung-hei-fat-choy-from-our-jewish-home-to-yours/


 

Drake & YOUR Multicultural Bar or Bat Mitzvah

Ruth Abusch Magder, My Jewish Learning, January 28, 2014

 



 

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Drake's recent SNL skit (see below), perhaps unwittingly but then again perhaps not, highlighted how a bar or bat mitzvah can deeply impact how a young person views his or her Jewish identity in the context of other identities. A bar or bat Mitzvah can be a defining moment in the development of one's Jewish identity, but it can also feel like prioritizing one identity over others. Especially for the growing population of Jews from mixed racial, ethnic, religious and other backgrounds, the bar or bat mitzvah may be the first setting where the varied familial and sometimes non–familial influences of a young Jew come together under Jewish auspices. It can be a valuable opportunity to celebrate and honor the multiple elements of a child's identity. One need not leave heritage at the door when stepping forward as a Jew. On the contrary, it is perhaps the best time to reassure young Jews that participation in Jewish life does not diminish any other aspects of one's self.

Below is a list of some general suggestions on how a family or community might create multicultural b'nai mitzvah celebrations. These are general in nature and we would love to hear from families, clergy and communities that have found their own ways to engage multiple heritages.

Jewish music from Ugandan Jews.

Music: Jewish services rely on music and even the Torah is chanted. Most American synagogues rely on music that is either American, or European in origin. However, there are multitude of rich Jewish musical traditions representing the myriad of places there have been or are currently Jewish communities. Ask about learning to chant Torah in a different nusach or tune, or bring in piyyutim or prayers that represent a different Jewish cultural heritage. There is a long tradition of adapting secular tunes to sacred words. This can similarly be done to connect the songs of one culture with the prayers of Judaism.

Sasha Lifsitz celebrates becoming a bar mitzvah wearing a Korean hanbok and a Jewish tallit

Torah Study: Bar and Bat Mitzvah students usually share some insights into the weekly Torah portion. If your family traces origins to Spain, for example, ask your rabbi if there are any sources he or she can recommend that are Spanish or descended from Spanish Jews. Indian? Then draw on the wisdom of Indian Jewish tradition. Throughout the generations, rabbis have learned from the wisdom that lies beyond the Jewish community. Not specifically Jewish sources of wisdom can also be consulted in helping to shape or answer questions that will be addressed by the child in question.

Dress: Nowhere is it written that one must wear a suit or a dress and heels on the bimah. Kimonos, saris, or kilts are all perfectly acceptable for the child and the family members. Kippot can be made from any kind of material and look great in tartan, African cloth or Thai Batik. Similarly, tallitot, prayer shawls, can be made from any cloth as long as there are four corners with proper tzitzit knotted on each.

Language: English is not a sacred Jewish language. American Jews use English because it helps us understand the Hebrew—which is a sacred language, which most of us don't know. So if your family speaks Korean, Amharic, or Flemish, send out multilingual invites or consider sharing some of the blessings in that language. Worried your guests won't understand? Don't be. Many don't get the Hebrew either but we know from experience that they can find that meaningful.

Syrian Pastries

Food: There is nothing holy about lox and cream cheese. Kimchi or Jerk chicken are just as appropriate for a Kiddush or for your party. If your caterer is unfamiliar with a dish that you hold dear, consider sharing some family recipes. Just check in with the synagogue that to be sure that what you are serving accords with                                                                  the dietary policies.

Artwork: Art from another culture can be incorporated into the celebration in a variety of ways, on the invitation, the insert in the prayer books, as decorations in the synagogue or celebration hall. I attended a celebration at an Orthodox synagogue recently to find Japanese origami garlands festooned in the sanctuary to honor the mother's culture. Let the creativity extend to flower or table arrangements as well.

Mitzvah Project: Many communities have made doing good works, Tikkun Olam, a part of the process of preparing for becoming bar or bat mitzvah. From collecting money for a project in a distant land to volunteering to help new immigrants from a familial country of origin, there are countless ways the bar or bat mitzvah can use their Mitzvah project to bridge the components of their identities.



Originally published here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/blog/jewish-and/2014/01/28/your-multicultural-bar-or-bat-mitzvah/


 

Challah with a Chinese Twist

Molly Yeh, My Jewish Learning, January 21, 2014

 



 

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There's a not–so–funny joke that goes, "A man walks into a Chinese restaurant and says to the waiter, ‘Excuse me sir, but are there any Chinese Jews?’ To which the waiter replies, ‘No, sir, we just have orange juice, apple juice, grapefruit juice...’"

It's slightly bearable if the delivery includes an awful impression of a Chinese accent. But there are apparently many people who do appreciate this joke, and they make sure that it makes its way through the grapevine to me, a Chinese Jew.

I enjoy being a Chinese Jew.

I eat plenty of matzo balls and potstickers, I celebrate three new years, and in high school I crushed my math classes.

I've often had to convince people that I'm Jewish, which is amusing and usually results in a new friend feeling like they can connect with me better due to a shared religion. Other than that, I can't say I really thought about what it meant to Chinese and Jewish while I was growing up.

The only time my Chinese Jewishness got me into trouble was during my dating days in New York. Jewish guys with "yellow fever" would take me on casual dates to casual places, but the second they discovered I was Jewish, things got weird. Suddenly I wasn't a casual date, suddenly I was the first Jewish girl that didn't remind them of their mother and do I want to get married.



Speaking of boys.

I recently followed a Norwegian one out to rural North Dakota, population six Jews and about 10,000 Scandinavian descendants. Things are quiet here, people are Midwestern nice, and the small town life is pretty darn wonderful.

For the first time in my life, I feel a bit like an oddball, in a sea of light–haired Lutherans, but people embrace me when I introduce them to challah. North Dakotans love challah! And I love their food too, like Lefse and dessert bars of all sorts.



All of my Challah here is homemade. As are my latkes, kugel, matzo balls...you get the picture. There's not a deli in sight. Not even a bagel. I do miss bopping down to Zabar's for babka and bagels, but on the other hand, with the necessity to make everything from scratch comes the opportunity to put my own spin on things and mash up my Chinese/Jewish/Midwesternness.

Brisket in my potstickers, ginger sugar beet latkes, egg rolls with home cured pastrami from a cow that I'll one day raise...

I'm getting carried away.

Here is an Asian twist on my all time favorite challah. It's inspired by the scallion pancake.



Asian Challah

Makes one large loaf

Basic Challah Dough

Based on Food 52's Recipe

1 tablespoon instant yeast

3/4 cups warm water

2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon sugar

3 cups flour, plus more for dusting

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons honey

1/3 cups vegetable or canola oil

1/3 cups vegetable or canola oil


Filling and Topping

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

2–3 stalks scallions or green onions, minced

salt, pepper, and red chili flakes to taste

Egg wash: 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon of water

A few pinches of toasted sesame seeds and black sesame seeds

Directions

In a small bowl, proof yeast in 1/2 cup warm water mixed with 1 teaspoon of sugar.

While yeast is proofing, mix flour, salt, and remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar in a large bowl.

In a medium bowl, mix remaining 1/4 cup of water, honey, oil, and eggs.

Once yeast has finished proofing, add it to the flour, followed by the wet ingredients. Mix with a large wooden spoon until dough becomes too thick to stir. Empty dough onto well–floured surface and knead by hand. Knead dough until smooth and no longer sticky, adding flour as needed.

Transfer to an oiled bowl and cover with a damp towel. Let rise for about two hours, or until doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 375.

Divide dough into three equal parts and then roll each part into a 1–foot log. Gently flatten each log so that it is about 3 inches wide.

Brush each with toasted sesame oil and then sprinkle with salt, pepper, chili flakes, and scallions. Roll them up length wise like a jellyroll, and then braid.

Place the loaf on a parchment lined baking sheet and then brush with egg wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds and black pepper.

Bake for 20–25 minutes until the top is golden brown and the challah is cooked through.

Originally published here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/blog/jewish-and/2014/01/21/challah-with-a-chinese-twist/


 

African American Jews on the Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King

Team Be'chol Lashon, My Jewish Learning, January 14, 2014

 



 

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Across the country next week, Americans of all faiths and ethnicities will remember and celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Be'chol Lashon asked seven African American Jewish leaders, of all ages, backgrounds, religious affiliations, geographic regions and sexual orientations, to share short impressions of what Dr. King's legacy means to them.

Dr. Lewis Gordon, an international scholar and teacher, is a professor of Africana philosophy, politics and religion at the University of Connecticut. His roots are in Jamaica and he is a frequent social commentator.

Twenty years ago my eldest son and I had a conversation on Martin Luther King Day. As I recounted Dr. King's many great deeds, I mentioned his incarceration in Birmingham where he wrote his famous letter, "Why We Can't Wait."

My son was shaken. "Wasn't Dr. King a good man?" he asked.

"Yes," I replied.

"Why, then, was he in jail?"

Forced to explain that unjust societies punish people who stand up for what is right, I found myself engaged in one of the great lessons of Torah continued through the ages and illuminated by the courage of Dr. King: the revolutionary idea that ethics is the face of G–d, and dignity demands commitment to that extraordinary responsibility.


Sandra Lawson, a military veteran and social activist, calls Atlanta home. She is currently a student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.

I grew up in a pretty typical black family in the 1980's, we had a picture of King on our wall and my parents had records of a few of his speeches. My parents were not activist, they grew up poor, as sharecroppers in the south, but they instilled in me a black pride that one could hear in the song from James Brown's "Say it Loud! I'm Black and I'm Proud." King helped my parents see a better future, not just for me and my brother but for themselves as well.

As a rabbinical student, and a child of southern sharecroppers, I see King as one of the most prophetic voices ever and he reminds me of why I want to be a rabbi which is to help to make the world a better place for all.


Rabbi Capers Funnye is the Rabbi of Shalom B'nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation in Chicago, Illinois.

In 1966 Dr. King came to the Marquette neighborhood where there was vitriolic expressions of hatred as African Americans moved in. Just four blocks from my synagogue was the headquarters of the Nazi Party. Dr. King said, "he had never seen anything so hostile and hateful," as he did in Chicago. The Rabbi of this shul, Rabbi Schultz, was only 5'3," but he stood up against the hatred. He let Dr. King know that if there was need to take sanctuary during a planned protest march, Rabbi Schultz would gladly welcome them and provide a safe haven. The violence stopped the march after two blocks. But the circumstance of this synagogue and this rabbi were some of the fantastic elements in the Jewish community that Martin Luther King touched and they reciprocated. I am proud to know men who worked with Dr. King and the representation they gave of Judaism enlivens me every day.


Dr. Denise Davis lives in the Bay Area where she practices medicine. She is a co–founder of Camp Be'chol Lashon.

Martin Luther King's birthday is yom tov, a holy day reminding me that a prophetic voice can change the world. It is day of awe, recalling both oppression and courage. As a girl I was barred from enrolling in a segregated ballet school, but King's transcendent oratories, and the principled commitment of Heschel made a change; these heroes are my heroes. I am an African American Jew. On MLK Day, I celebrate the power of transformation, and the resilience of human dignity. I celebrate a man and a movement close to the Divine.


Robin Washington is the editor of the Duluth News Tribune in Minnesota. Born in Chicago to a family of African American and Jewish civil rights activists, his journalism and activism are nationally acclaimed.

For me, King is an unfinished story; largely because the Civil Rights Movement was over–identified with him to the exclusion of unsung others equally significant. That focus nearly took the movement with him with the widespread belief that it died when he died.

Indeed, no true successor has ever emerged; even President Obama would claim to be more of an inheritor than an architect of social justice.

But I refuse to bury the movement, and maybe that's King's legacy: Because he didn't get there with us, the longing for his Promised Land remains, and his sacrifice demands we strive for it with all our being.


Lindsey Newman lives and works in New York. She is spearheading and leading Be'chol Lashon's first Birthright Israel trip.

I most admire Martin Luther King, Jr. as a seeker of justice and a lover of humanity. When King says that "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere," I am reminded that I am responsible for the world that I live in, whether I have caused harm or have merely witnessed it. Similarly, when the Torah insists "Justice, Justice You Shall Pursue," it is this pursuit of justice which is at the core of my identity as a Jew and a human being. King embodied this calling in his life and work, and his legacy is a reminder of this eternal struggle.


Michael "Kosher Soul" Twitty,is a world renown scholar of African American foodways and a Jewish educator living in Washington DC.

The most stunning moment of the Civil Rights era to me was Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marching with Dr. King in Alabama. That iconic image and conversation is part of my spiritual genealogy, they are my ideological ancestors. Their souls were the parchment, the electrifying oratory and moral suasion their ink, their living Torah was a new covenant with the American dream, without which my dreams would be impossible.


Originally published here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/blog/jewish-and/2014/01/14/african-american-jews-on-the-legacy-of-dr-martin-luther-king/


 

A Remarkable Journey from Ethiopia
to Israel to Petaluma, CA

Rabbi Ruth Abusch Magder, My Jewish Learning, January 7, 2014

 



 

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Israeli Maor Sanbata came to the United States this past summer to be a counselor at Camp Be'chol Lashon. Born in Ethiopia, his personal experience opens a new perspective on what it means to be Jewish.

Tell us a little about your childhood.

I was born in a small village in Ethiopia called Amder close to the provincial capital city of Gondar. Even though I was young, I worked as a shepherd. My family lived as Jews, observing Shabbat, celebrating holidays, and reading Torah.

My grandfather was a Holy Man, a Kes. He had a special way of talking to God. He could make miracles. I saw them with my own eyes. In our village the houses are built one next to each other in a line. And there is a fire for cooking in each house. Once, a young wild girl started a fire in her hut. There was no fire department and if it had spread it would have burned down the whole row of houses. My grandfather bowed down to God and prayed the fire would not spread. And it did not. Not to any other building. So strong was his connection to God.

How did you come to Israel?

I specifically remember the longing to go to Israel. I will never forget the stories my mother would tell me of a Holy Land flowing with milk and honey, and praying to go to Jerusalem one day. In 1991, my mother and father and three of my sisters and three of my brothers walked for a full month from Gondar to Addis Ababa. From there, we came to Israel.

When I came to Israel, I did not know one word of Hebrew. I had never been to school. Never. I did not know how to read or write. They sent me to school and for three years I did not understand anything. Anything. But I'm smart and hard–working. I became a commander in the Israel Defense Forces. After my release from the army, I decided that only through education could I play a key role in Israeli society. I studied law and now advocate for Ethiopians in Israel.

Despite academic achievement and integration, I sometimes feel like a stranger in my country and some of the Israeli public doubts my Judaism. I work towards a time when not a single person will be judged because of his or her skin color or outlook on life and that all human beings are treated equally before God that created us all.

Why did you come to Camp Be'chol Lashon?

I identify with the ideology of the camp, to accept who you are and where you are from and no matter what kind of family you come from — black, white purple — be proud of who you are and your identity. I connect with this approach. This is my approach.

What surprised you about coming to the United States and Camp Be'chol Lashon?

Well it is my first time in America so everything is surprising. It is also surprising that there is an organization like this, that wants to create unity between people but not be embarrassed of who you are.

What do you think that the campers learned from you?

Israel is a country for Jews of all colors. They also learned about my story and successes and struggles. It is not always easy to be Black, Ethiopian, Jewish or Israeli. Also they learned that wherever you are there are the same issues of acceptance.

Originally published here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/blog/jewish-and/2014/01/07/shepherd-turns-lawyer-community-activist/


 

The Jews of Uganda —
Leading by Example to Create Peace

Rabbi Gershom Sizomu, Kehilla, January 2014

 


Donate to the Abayudaya Synagogue & Community Center


 

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When I decided that I would follow my grandfather's footsteps and become the rabbi of my community, I knew I would be taking on an enormous challenge. My community, the Abayudaya, had suffered persecution since its early establishment. In 1919, there were 8,000 members, but when the Israeli Embassy opened in 1962, there were less than 2,000 Jews left. Many had converted to Christianity in pursuit of education and health care. The despotic rule of Idi Amin began, and Jewish practice was outlawed. We were not allowed to wear kippot, have a Bar Mitzvah or even step into the synagogue. When Idi Amin was defeated during Passover 1979, we were overjoyed and celebrated with banana wine during seder that year.

Rabbi Gershom Sizomu's graduation from the Zeigler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles.

At times, it is hard to imagine how far we have come since that seder. I recently returned from a trip to the United States where I was raising funds for the Abayudaya Synagogue & Community Center, a project that embodies the progress we have made as a community. The Center will help to realize the return on many of the investments we have made in my community over time, with a focus on increasing gender equality and alleviating chronic food shortages.

The death of Idi Amin meant that we were free, but the lifting of religious restrictions was only the first step toward the reinvigoration of my community. We faced a host of problems endemic to many African communities. Then, in 2002, I received an email that changed my life, but more importantly, it dramatically improved the collective prospects of the Abayudaya. I was awarded a Be'chol Lashon fellowship to attend the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles.

My time in America, the friendships I made and the comprehensive health and development plan we formed with Be'chol Lashon has positioned my community not simply to survive, but to thrive. We began by addressing the health risks draining the resources of the community and tragically ending lives much too early. We drilled wells, distributed mosquito nets and built the Tobin Health Center in Mbale. I am proud to say that there have been no deaths from malaria since 2010. It has been nothing short of a miracle born on the wings of modern medicine and community organization.

Most importantly, all of our services are provided to anyone, regardless of religion. In the name of tikkun olam, we are leading by example, working to create peace with our Christian and Muslim neighbors. In doing so, we are making great strides to combat anti–Semitism locally through cooperation and goodwill.

Economically, we have established a variety of small businesses in my community, from the community guesthouse to a taxi service. We are working to send our young people to university to return with the training needed to continue to grow our local economy. This includes women. After working with my female study partner at rabbinical school, who is now a rabbi in San Francisco, one of my first actions when I went back home was to make clear that we are going to have a fundamental change. I told them, "Women shall go to school, and shall lead services. Women will not kneel down for men." Women are taking an ever–increasing role in our community.

These successes have led us to our most recent and, for me, most meaningful project. The Synagogue & Community Center will be at the very center of spiritual and communal health. It will provide space for a Childcare Center, freeing up time for women to engage in our economy, marking a significant step in the growth of my community. Our successes benefit not only the Abayudaya, but provide hope for many other emerging Jewish communities across the globe. As we continue raising funds for the Synagogue & Community center, I look forward to returning next spring and growing the network of friends and colleagues working together toward an optimistic Jewish future.

Originally published here: http://pacsw.uscj.org/new/january-2014/pswr-and-the-jews-of-uganda-leading-by-example-to-create-peace


 

Camp for Jews of color gets a visit from
suddenly famous culinary star

Alix Wall, Jweekly, January 2, 2014

 



 

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Some people have an exact date or event when their lives were forever changed. Culinary historian Michael Twitty is one of those people.

Twitty, who lives in Rockville, Md., is an independent scholar studying the foodways of African American slaves in the South. He was a scholar–in–residence at a three–day Be'chol Lashon Family Camp — a retreat for Jews of color — held last month in Petaluma.

For years, Twitty, 36, who is a black convert to Judaism with some Jewish ancestry on his mother's side, was working in relative obscurity as a scholar, supplementing his income by teaching Hebrew school.

Last year, a June 25 post on Afroculinaria.com, his personal blog, changed all that.

Incensed by the controversy over Food Network star Paula Deen's use of the "N–word," Twitty posted an open letter to Deen in which he called Deen and the mainstream food establishment to task for constantly celebrating Southern cuisine without ever mentioning the fact that much of it was either first cooked by or was heavily influenced by slaves.

"There is so much press and so much activity around Southern food, and yet the diversity of people of color engaged in this art form and telling and teaching its history and giving it a future are often passed up or disregarded...," he wrote. "We are surrounded by culinary injustice where some Southerners take credit for things that enslaved Africans and their descendants played key roles in innovating."

He ended his letter by inviting Deen to cook with him at a fundraiser he was putting on at a former plantation, with food cooked with methods used by slaves. While Deen never answered him, other chefs did. Hugh Acheson, a James Beard–nominated Southern chef, ended up cooking with him at that event.

And perhaps most notably, René Redzepi, the chef at Noma — a two–star Michelin restaurant in Denmark that the British magazine Restaurant named best in the world for 2010, 2011 and 2012 — invited Twitty to a conference in Copenhagen he organizes with the movers and shakers of the food world.

All of a sudden, Twitty found himself rubbing elbows with celebrity chefs from around the globe, and being invited to speak at universities across the United States.

Considering he has spent much of his career bringing the voices of slaves to light, and speaking for the invisible, suddenly he had the ear of the food world's elite. "The ability to be exposed to that crowd and be among some of the greatest voices in food and cuisine that day was really astounding, and to be heard on that platform was really amazing to me," he said shortly after the Be'chol Lashon retreat.

Never could he have imagined what one blog post could do.

"I put it on my blog expecting maybe five people would read it," Twitty said. Before that post, the most visits one of his posts had gotten was 600. Once the Huffington Post picked up his letter and it went viral, some 300,000 people clicked on it within two days, and more than 500,000 by day three.

"It's weird to see things you've done take on a life of their own," he said.

Diane Tobin, founder and director of Be'chol Lashon, said that while she had known of Twitty for a while, it became harder to secure him for the Dec. 13–15 retreat once his popularity soared after the Deen incident.

At the retreat, Twitty was greatly moved to see so many children of color, most of whom have been adopted by white Jewish parents.

"Seeing all those kids together was really remarkable, and I was really impressed with how articulate they are," he said. "It was beautiful to see how they see themselves and how they're coming into their own."

Twitty led a discussion on Jewish and African American migrations and diasporas, and led a cooking workshop in which he made black–eyed pea hummus.

The theme of the retreat was "global cuisine" — Twitty presented on "meaning through food" and Turkey native Iris Aluf Medina, who lives in San Francisco, presented on "Jewish stories through food" and gave a Turkish–Jewish cooking lesson.

Twitty also led a session for teens, and got emotional about what he shared with them. In previous generations, he said, biracial Jews often fell to the margins because the community wasn't always adept at making them feel they belonged.

Twitty also led a session for teens, and got emotional about what he shared with them. In previous generations, he said, biracial Jews often fell to the margins because the community wasn't always adept at making them feel they belonged.

Originally published here: http://www.jweekly.com/article/full/70491/camp-for-jews-of-color-gets-a-visit-from-suddenly-famous-culinary-star


 

Becoming a Jewish Ethiopian American Family

Rabbi Tziona Szajman, December 31, 2013

 



 

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It is an incredible responsibility to raise a child. In choosing foreign adoption, we have become parents to a beautiful daughter and added a new culture to our family life.

Our daughter, Eliyana Bracha Nuhamin, became legally ours on Nov 18th, 2013. As part of our adoption hearing we promised to bring her up with pride in her Ethiopian heritage. This was a joyful promise to make as we have fallen in love with the beauty of our daughter's homeland. However, the reality of making it happen must go beyond clothing and food and reach the core of Ethiopian values and pride.

The first time we met our daughter at the Ethiopian orphanage the nanny told us what a good baby she was. She was polite. "Polite" is the highest praise for children in Ethiopian culture. It means they are not demanding. They are patient. They are accepting. Eliyana Nuhamin is a pretty happy and content baby. When she is not laughing, a quiet serenity emanates from her.

I have always prided myself on my Jewish inquisitiveness. Questioning is talmudic value. How will this mesh with the Ethiopian values of patience and quiet acceptance? We will have to keep our eyes open as we navigate these waters.

The depth of poverty in Ethiopia is truly shocking. In America, where we have so much: It is a blessing but it spoils us. If we are to be true to our daughter's roots, to the values of her country of birth, we will have to guard our daughter"s precious Ethiopian politeness and learn from her.

Love in Ethiopia is given to children with cuddles and caresses and layers upon layers of clothing. (Bundling children in clothing is a sign of love.) A school child often receives new clothing as a reward for school work. There are few toy varieties. Storytelling, singing, and dancing are the main entertainment and for children they always hold lessons of cultural value. The Jewish parallel here warms my heart.

Family togetherness is highly valued. Farm village children are still excused from school to help the harvest. Women wear their babies wrapped on their backs so that they are always together.

The Ethiopians are a beautiful people, very polite, usually smiling. Haggling in the market is just as often done with smiles and giggles as it is with serious concentration. Traditional meals are communal: Injera bread, coverered with stew is placed in the center of the group for all to enjoy. Time is taken every day to meet with neighbors and family over coffee and popcorn in the traditional coffee ceremony. Hospitality is important. These too are Jewish values.

These are a people of deep pride. Dinknesh, meaning "you are lovely," is the Ethiopian name given to the 4 million year old remains of the first human. (The English world calls her Lucy.) Seeing her tiny skeleton surrounded by the tremendous pride of the Ethiopian people was very moving. This is the country from which emanated humanity.

Ethiopia, birthplace of coffee, is the only African country never to have been colonized. The Italians tried in 1935 but were ousted by 1940. The royal family traced it's ancestry to King Solomon of Jerusalem and the Ethiopian church claims guardianship of the lost ark of the covenant. They are a people of deep pride and beauty. There are over 70 different Ethnic groups in the country each with their own distinct language. When I asked someone why the children of Ethiopia are so beautiful, he answered it was the blending of all that was best of these different groups...then he smile and said, but mostly it is God.

Beauty and dignity are everywhere in Ethiopia. A church holiday gave us the treat of watching lines of Ethiopians in traditional white robes walking along the road to church carrying colorful umbrellas. The farm homes may have been quiet mud huts but the churches and mosques were elegant colorful buildings announcing their congregations joy. I loved the many groups of animals we passed in the countryside: cattle with desert humps on their back, spotted goats and sheep and donkeys driving carts of farm produce behind them. Often it was the children moving the animals from one place to another.

I know it pains the Ethiopian people to see their children adopted out of country. These children lose the blessings of belonging wholly to this beautiful country. But I also know that our longing for a child is matched equally by the orphan's longing for parents. I pray that God's holiness rest in this match: a mother from Toronto, a father from Brooklyn, a baby from Addis Ababa. May our cultures of Ethiopia, Judaism, and American blend in love and Torah.

Originally published here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/blog/jewish-and/2013/12/31/becoming-a-jewish-ethiopian-american-family/


 

What Do You Call a Questioning Convert? Rabbi.

Rabbi Kari Tuling, December 24, 2013

 



 

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"Why did you convert?" I have been asked this question many times before, sometimes out of deep interest and sometimes out of polite curiosity. It is a question I am never quite sure how to answer.

It is, after all, a question that does not (and probably should not) have a completely rational, logical answer. Religion is not like algebra; it's not even some sort of complicated spiritual calculus. At the core of it, faith cannot be deduced from a set of rational principles; it requires a leap of the heart.

The problem was that I didn't feel religious, not for a long time. I had spent years envying my friends who were confident in their Christian belief; I only had doubt to console me. And yet, I was also driven by some need, a quiet longing buried deep, like a song I could not quite hear, a desire for something greater than myself. I wanted to pray and feel like it mattered that I did.

Of course, I felt ridiculous for wanting these things; I felt that it was irrational to think I had any concern for God, or that God had any concern for me.

Once when I was small, I left a plastic purse behind in a restaurant. My grandma patiently took me back, and we found the purse still sitting on the floor where I had left it. Happy to have it back, I told her how lucky I was to have found it. She shook her head: "No, God was watching out for you."

My grandma's response sounded reasonable at the time. But as I grew in experience, I slowly came to the realization that God doesn't rearrange his schedule around my convenience. God doesn't even let me choose at which times these things will work out to my advantage. And so I prayed: O God, I wouldn't mind losing now and then, if only I could choose when I win!

When I first started the process of conversion, I really didn't think that I would ever become a Jew. It was inconceivable to me. As a friend of mine once exclaimed when I told her I was converting "you can't become Jewish; that's like saying ‘I want to be Italian’ –– you can't just wake up one day and decide to become Italian." But the truth is, I didn't just wake up one day and decide to become Jewish. It was a gradual process that took several years.

I would have to say the day I first considered converting to Judaism was the first time I saw a page of the Talmud. I was talking with my boyfriend (now my ex–husband) about my reason for disliking religion (it's one of those conversations college students are bound to have) and I told him that I didn't like the emphasis in religion on having faith in a certain set of beliefs. I felt that my church had not let me have room to doubt or to argue or to disagree. He said that Judaism did not insist on a set of beliefs; in fact, arguing was part of the tradition. I didn't believe him, so he took me down to a bookstore, pulled out one of the volumes of the Talmud (the illustrated gift set, stored next to the presentation bibles). He was quite proud of himself: "See, this here in the middle is the text, and round the sides are the commentary. They're arguing about the meaning of the text." I was immediately intrigued. I could like a people who would write their arguments along the margins of the text.

That day, I started quietly reading about Judaism, hiding the books under my bed. Years later, my husband insisted that I buy just one Jewish book at a time. I was lucky, actually, because I was able to find what I was looking for: a warm religious community at Temple Beth El, and educational opportunities like an Introduction to Judaism, the Adult Bar/Bat Mitzvah class, and the weekly Torah study. Maybe my grandma was right after all: God was watching out for me.

The question is sometimes also asked: Could I have found what I was looking for if I had stayed a Christian? The answer probably would have been yes. But it's a moot point now. To paraphrase Robert Frost: I have taken the road less traveled, and for me that has made all the difference. Even so, I recognize that conversion is not the answer for everyone. It is a process a person goes through for their own reasons in their own time. It is, after all, a private choice, probably the most private choice of all. No one can make that decision for you.

So, to answer the question, why did I convert: I converted to Judaism because it provided me a way to answer the longing that I felt. Or to put it more poetically: I changed my name to Israel because I was wrestling with God.

Originally published here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/blog/jewish-and/2013/12/24/why-did-you-convert-a-rabbis-answer/


 

The Poetry of Jewish Black Identity

Aaron Samuels, December 17, 2013

 



 

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I became a Bar Mitzvah on April 20th, 2002, the 130th anniversary of Hitler's birth. My dad's side of the family wore West African dashikis. The only other time my temple had held that many Black people was Bingo night. We did not have the money to rent a hotel or hire a live band like many of my Jewish classmates, but the small venue where we hosted my after party happened to be directly across the street from Brown University's spring weekend concert. I became a man in my Jewish community while my family wore dashikis on Hitler's birthday and inhaled second–hand weed smoke while watching The Roots (arguably the best hip hop band of all time) play a concert 100 feet away.

Sixty years prior, the world watched as my mother's ancestors were shuffled into train cars and transported to their deaths. My father's great–grandmother was born a slave and died a free woman. My truth is that for as much of history as I know, people have been inventing ways to enslave, manipulate, and exterminate my family. And yet I am privileged to have lived a life of Bar Mitzvahs and rap concerts. I exist because of a series of improbable survivals and I believe that, as part of a legacy of both Black writers and Jewish writers, I am compelled to tell my story.

I am a poet. I am a story teller. I am part of a legacy of survivors. As a writer, I believe I am at its best when I am telling the truth. I think this is because when I express my own lived experience, it is so ridiculous and so specific that it reads as an untruth, a history so unfathomable it must be a lie. I think that is what it means to be Jewish; I think that is what it means to be black–to know the truth so well, even when the rest of the world denies its existence. And yet, we still find time to celebrate. We find time to dance, and drink, and love, even when we are surrounded by a vortex of impossible.

For me the processes of writing and identity exploration are inseparable, just as my journey to understand Blackness will always be inextricably tied to my journey to understand my Jewishness. Writing poetry is what helps me tell my story, to dive into the tangle of truth and untruth and suffering and magic and ridiculous improbability that is the bricolage of my history.



Originally published here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/blog/jewish-and/2013/12/17/the-poetry-of-jewish-black-identity/


 

"Kosher Soul" Shabbat

Michael W. Twitty, December 5, 2013

 



 

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If you could only cook three dishes for Shabbat dinner what would they be?

This was the question we posed to culinary historian Michael "Kosher Soul" Twitty, author of Afroculinaria, who will be the chef–in–residence at Be'chol Lashon's upcoming retreat.


The Shabbes table is reminiscent of the way my grandmother would frame occasional Sunday dinners and holiday meals, white tablecloths and candles. So that Jewish esthetic makes sense to me. It engenders respect and sacredness. I would polish candlesticks and set out tablecloths. I'm not great at setting the table but how the food looked was important to my mother and my grandmother. Julius Lester says, "the Shabbes Table is a banquet for God." The table becomes a crossroads between the divine and earth, a sacred circle. In both the African and Jewish Diasporas, the sacred circle, where multiple parts of ourselves meet, is an important theme. That is what helps make the table be a mizbeach, a holy alter. I find myself cooking for Shabbes with a great spirit of urgency and putting as much kedusha [holiness] as possible. People sometimes forget this — kedusha is the greatest spice.

If I could only cook three dishes it would have to be all the parts of who I am.

Number one would be Kasha Varnishkes. I make a mean kasha varnishkes in its pure form with onions browned and a little bit of garlic. Really earthy. I'm not a groats and seed feeder but there is something is very satisfying about a plate of kasha varnishkes. It is brothy, I use 3–4 kinds of onions. The whole garden goes in the broth. So simple and so pleasing.

In Jewish cooking you have foods dictated by text, food that the Torah talks about. Then you have foods that speak to the land of Israel and what grows there. Then you have foods that come from the places we have been, from our diaspora. And then there is identity cooking. The foods that are tied up with your sense of self and the place you are in, where you are and how you are connected to that place.

When I make kasha varnishkes, that is straight up s'htep food. When you can master traditions like that it is a way of saying I'm here. I've arrived here and I'm not going anywhere.

My second food would be barbecue beef ribs. Because you can't get Blacker than barbecue. That is our unique contribution to American cuisine above the rest. It is not a food you make just because you feel like it. You make it for a special occasion. It makes your clothes smell a certain way. Your hands smell a certain way. You plan for it, work for it. And I don't mean making it in the oven. You marinate it. You rub it. Out comes the hickory. It cooks for three to four hours and then you cut them up and there they go.

Barbecue connects me with my father and my grandfather. Very male food in terms of who made it. A patrilineal dish. We get it passed down to from our fathers, and from their fathers. I make two recipes, one more traditional; marinate forever, rub forever and smoke forever. And the other I call Yiddishe Ribbenes which takes all the flavors from all the parts of the Jewish Diaspora and makes the same flavor profile I grew up with. I like to do both.

For the third dish, I have to say Kosher Soul Rolls. Kosher soul rolls are Black Jewish egg rolls. Instead of cabbage, collard greens. Instead of ham or pork, I use pastrami. One thing Blacks and Jews have in common is loving Chinese food. Deep–fry them, of course.

Can I add a bread? My favorite challah recipe is the Beigel Family Challah from Joan Nathan's The Foods of Israel Today. It is best challah I've ever made or tasted so that's the one I make. And every time I make the challah the story comes with it. This was a family that survived the Shoah and made their way to Israel. Tribute challah.

Originally published here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/blog/jewish-and/2013/12/05/kosher-soul-shabbat-food/


 

From Hail Mary to Hail Miriam

Kenny Kahn, December 11, 2013

 



 

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At 6'2", 210–pound Avi Rosenblum has tattoos that reflect his religious faith and cultural heritage. He stands out. Some might be astounded that this typical African American football player is the adopted son of a Caucasian, Jewish couple that keep a kosher home and who have never allowed their son to slip through the cracks.

Avi is a new breed of Jew, and I am proud of the path he's walked. He has been my friend for more than a dozen years. We have been on the field together and in the pews. It's hard to say farewell, so instead                                                          I'll say "Welcome Home."

Avi just recently moved from his home in Albany, California and headed off to Jerusalem, Israel to play wide–receiver and defensive back for the Tel Aviv Sabres, a team within the Israeli Football League. I've watched Avi since his early childhood grow into the strong and charismatic young man he is today. Be'chol Lashon introduced to the two of us to one another in a space where we were looking for others with common identities. Hannukah Bazaars, where else would one find an East Bay Area, African'American, Jewish football player?

I've played with fellow Jews (Ben Liepman, I see you big guy!), coached them (yeah Jake Schnur, I'm talking about you!), but Avi is the first I've mentored and worked with within the confines of coaching, taking him under my wing as an assistant coach at El Cerito High. To see him teach, connect, and lead a group of young men the way he did was inspiring, and to the naked eye was a typical sketch in our football community.

A big shout–out, mazel–tov, and good luck goes out to my man Avi Rosenblum, a local kid pursuing his dream of playing professional football.

Originally published here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/blog/jewish-and/2013/12/12/from-hail-mary-to-hail-miriam/


 

"Kosher Soul" Shabbat

Michael W. Twitty, December 5, 2013

 



 

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If you could only cook three dishes for Shabbat dinner what would they be?

This was the question we posed to culinary historian Michael "Kosher Soul" Twitty, author of Afroculinaria, who will be the chef–in–residence at Be'chol Lashon's upcoming retreat.


The Shabbes table is reminiscent of the way my grandmother would frame occasional Sunday dinners and holiday meals, white tablecloths and candles. So that Jewish esthetic makes sense to me. It engenders respect and sacredness. I would polish candlesticks and set out tablecloths. I'm not great at setting the table but how the food looked was important to my mother and my grandmother. Julius Lester says, "the Shabbes Table is a banquet for God." The table becomes a crossroads between the divine and earth, a sacred circle. In both the African and Jewish Diasporas, the sacred circle, where multiple parts of ourselves meet, is an important theme. That is what helps make the table be a mizbeach, a holy alter. I find myself cooking for Shabbes with a great spirit of urgency and putting as much kedusha [holiness] as possible. People sometimes forget this — kedusha is the greatest spice.

If I could only cook three dishes it would have to be all the parts of who I am.

Number one would be Kasha Varnishkes. I make a mean kasha varnishkes in its pure form with onions browned and a little bit of garlic. Really earthy. I'm not a groats and seed feeder but there is something is very satisfying about a plate of kasha varnishkes. It is brothy, I use 3–4 kinds of onions. The whole garden goes in the broth. So simple and so pleasing.

In Jewish cooking you have foods dictated by text, food that the Torah talks about. Then you have foods that speak to the land of Israel and what grows there. Then you have foods that come from the places we have been, from our diaspora. And then there is identity cooking. The foods that are tied up with your sense of self and the place you are in, where you are and how you are connected to that place.

When I make kasha varnishkes, that is straight up s'htep food. When you can master traditions like that it is a way of saying I'm here. I've arrived here and I'm not going anywhere.

My second food would be barbecue beef ribs. Because you can't get Blacker than barbecue. That is our unique contribution to American cuisine above the rest. It is not a food you make just because you feel like it. You make it for a special occasion. It makes your clothes smell a certain way. Your hands smell a certain way. You plan for it, work for it. And I don't mean making it in the oven. You marinate it. You rub it. Out comes the hickory. It cooks for three to four hours and then you cut them up and there they go.

Barbecue connects me with my father and my grandfather. Very male food in terms of who made it. A patrilineal dish. We get it passed down to from our fathers, and from their fathers. I make two recipes, one more traditional; marinate forever, rub forever and smoke forever. And the other I call Yiddishe Ribbenes which takes all the flavors from all the parts of the Jewish Diaspora and makes the same flavor profile I grew up with. I like to do both.

For the third dish, I have to say Kosher Soul Rolls. Kosher soul rolls are Black Jewish egg rolls. Instead of cabbage, collard greens. Instead of ham or pork, I use pastrami. One thing Blacks and Jews have in common is loving Chinese food. Deep–fry them, of course.

Can I add a bread? My favorite challah recipe is the Beigel Family Challah from Joan Nathan's The Foods of Israel Today. It is best challah I've ever made or tasted so that's the one I make. And every time I make the challah the story comes with it. This was a family that survived the Shoah and made their way to Israel. Tribute challah.

Originally published here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/blog/jewish-and/2013/12/05/kosher-soul-shabbat-food/


 

The Sultan's Curse

Ruth Abusch Magder, November 26, 2013

 



 

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Iris Aluf Medina was born and raised in Turkey and now lives in San Francisco. We met up with this Be'chol Lashon board member ahead of our annual retreat where she will be teaching traditional Turkish Jewish cooking.

Is it true that the Sultan once courted your grandmother?

(Laughs) Yes and no. It was my great grandmother, my mother's mother. She was very striking, bright blond hair and blue eyes.

So you look like her?

That's what they say.

Her family dealt in gold and was very wealthy. The family made sure she was educated. She spoke Ladino, Turkish, English and French, which was very unusual. She could also play the piano. Very educated, very refined.

The Sultan came to visit her school and wanted a child to read a poem. The Sultan spoke Ottoman, which was its own language, which no one spoke, but he also spoke French and English so they had to find a kid who spoke one of those languages. They chose my great grandmother because she was 16 blond and pretty, old enough to marry young enough to go to high school. Apparently the Sultan liked what he saw so he sent her a broach as an invitation to his harem. You could not say no to the Sultan.


Iris Aluf Medina

So what did they do?

The only way out was if she was engaged. So her family got her engaged very quickly. They were wealthy so they made a good match.

At least it ended well.

Not really. Her father was transporting gold one day after the engagement when he was attacked. They took all his gold, beat him and put him in a pit. He was eventually found and rescued but he lost his mind and as a result his business. The engagement fell through. We suspect the Sultan had something to do with this but of course we could not prove it.

What did your great-grandmother do?

She did not marry until she was 26 which in those days was pretty old. She did not know how to cook or clean. She was educated in French and music but not in running a home. They found a French teacher for her to marry. It was the best match but it was a bad marriage.

We say it was the Sultan's curse, she was never happy again.

Originally published here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/blog/jewish-and/2013/11/26/the-sultans-curse/


 

Beyond Latkes: Hanukkah Around the World

Ruth Abusch Magder, November 21, 2013

 



 

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Hanukkah is observed with joy and celebration in Jewish communities around the world. There are 8 nights of lights and blessings the world over but there are also many ways different communities make the holiday uniquely their own. Here are 8 customs and ideas to help you make your celebration just a little more global.

1) In Alsace, a region of France, double–decker Hanukkah menorahs were common with space for 16 lights. The two levels, each with spots for 8 lights, allowed fathers and sons to join together as they each lit their own lights in one single menorah.

2) There is a custom of placing your menorah in a place where people will be able to view the lights burning and appreciate the miracle of the holiday. In some Jerusalem neighborhoods, there are spaces cut into the sides of buildings so people can display them outside. Historically in countries like Morroco and Algeria, and even some communities in India, it was customary to hang a menorah on a hook on a wall near the doorway on the side of the door across from the mezuzah.

3) In Yemenite and North African Jewish communities, the seventh night of Hanukkah is set aside as a particular women's holiday commemorating Hannah whose sacrificed seven sons rather than give in to the Greek pressure to abandon Jewish practice and in honor or Judith, whose seduction and assassination of Holofernes, the Assyrian emperor Nebuchadnezzar's top general, led to Jewish military victory.

4) Gift giving at Hannukah time is primarily a North American custom, but it is easy to make it global by gifting Jewish items made around the world like hand made necklaces from Uganda, challah covers from Ghana or kippot from China.

5) In Santa Marta, Columbia, Chavurah Shirat Hayyam a new Jewish community, has started their own traditional Chanukah recipe, instead of eating fried potato latkes, they eat Patacones, or fried plantains.

6) The Ethiopian and parts of Indian Jewish communities split off from the larger Jewish community in ancient time before Chanukah was established as a Jewish holiday. They only began celebrating Chanukah in modern times, when their communities were reunited with other Jewish communities.

7) In 1839, thousands of Jews fled Persia, where the Muslim authorities began forcibly converting them, and settled in Afghanistan. While some of them lived openly as Jews, others hid their Jewish identity. When Chanukah time came around they would not light a special menorah, for fear it would attract the notice of Muslim neighbors. Instead they would fill little plates with oil and set them near each other. If neighbors stopped by, they could simply make the menorah disappear by spreading the plates around the house.

8) The rich culinary traditions of the Moroccan Jewish community know not of potato latkes or jelly doughnuts. Rather they favor the citrusy flavors of the Sfenj doughnut, which was made with the juice, and zest of an orange. Notably, from the early days of nation building in Israel, the orange came to be associated with the holiday of Hanukkah as the famed Jaffa oranges came into season in time for the holiday celebrations.

Originally published here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/blog/jewish-and/2013/11/21/hannukah-around-the-world/


 

Psalms for the Phillippines

Rabbi Juan Mejia, November 19, 2013

 



 

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Oklahoma City, where I live, has an amazing Jewish community. And, unfortunately, this amazing Jewish community is an expert in dealing with disaster. From the Oklahoma City bombing to the relentless wave of deadly tornadoes that have hit the area, Okie Jews (as we proudly call ourselves) respond with generosity, gumption, and optimism. So when this week our rabbi told us that two relatives of members of the community were in the affected area of Typhoon Haiyan, the community sprung into action. Donations were requested, support for the concerned families was arranged and we decided to help with our prayers by reciting the entire book of Psalms in the coming month (5 Psalms a day covers it all).

In Jewish tradition, whenever disaster strikes it is customary to accompany our physical response together with a spiritual response: prayer, action, and tzedakah (charitable deeds) are the Jewish response to tragedy. Traditionally, prayer come from the book of Psalms with its evocative language of raw humanity and hope has been a preferred tool to raise our awareness of the suffering of those affected but also to inspire us to compassion and proactivity.

As part of my work with Be'chol Lashon, I teach Torah online to Spanish speaking Jews and Spanish speakers interested in Judaism. Inspired by the Okie response, that night I invited my Spanish language learning community on Facebook to join us in the recitation of Psalms for the victims.

"Why are you doing this?" some wanted to know. The answers came from the students themselves. A student from Honduras recalled the help they had received when Hurricane Mitch hit this country. A student from Colombia emphasized the responsibility he felt as a human being with any kind of human suffering. A Mexican student quoted the words of Hillel "If I am only for myself, what am I?" The support was overwhelming. Scores of people volunteered to connect with my brick and mortar community in Oklahoma to reach out in prayer and action for a community halfway across the world.

These feelings of altruism and generosity are not new but what is surprising is the way in which living in a wired world has expanded the breadth of the planet's capacity for empathy. In this world where no longer are we separated by six degrees (latest studies calculate it at four and plummeting) of separation. A synagogue in Oklahoma might be the vehicle for scores of Latin–Americans to connect with a tragedy halfway around the world and to do so in unmistakably Jewish ways. Tehilim are being said, and donations are being gathered by total strangers for total strangers. For all of its downsides, our global village has allowed the highest forms of tzedakah (in which both the donor and the recipient do so anonymously) to break the barriers of the pushke and the local synagogue and go global.

Originally published here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/blog/jewish-and/2013/11/19/a-global-jewish-response-to-disaster/


 

Ladino Pregnant Pop

Sarah Aroeste, November 15, 2013

 



 

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"Ensuenyo Te Vi"

Three words that normally don't go together:Ladino, Pop, Pregnant. But in my world they make a perfect fit. Ensuenyo Te Vi is a music track off my latest Ladino (Judeo–Spanish) album, Gracia, named after the 16th century Sephardic heroine,Dona Gracia Naci. She is one of the great women of Jewish history, and yet her story is little told. Born into a family of conversos, Jews who converted to Christianity to save themselves from the Inquisition, Dona Gracia always understood the importance of preserving her Jewish identity. Widowed at 28 as a single mother, she amassed a great fortune and became the richest woman in Europe of the time. And what did she do with the money? She used it to secure safe passage for other Jews escaping the Inquisition and led them to safety in Tiberias, Israel. She saved multitudes through her immense courage, commitment to culture, and her feminine wisdom. And yet, she is but a footnote in most history books.

I wanted to pay tribute to her through many of the songs on my album. I wanted to say gracias to her for leading the way–for serving as a light and role model to me and to so many others.

The choice to include Ensuenyo to Vi, a contemporary Ladino song, not a traditional one from ages past, was a conscious one. Much of what people know about Ladino music comes from a standard repertoire that has been circulating for the last 500+ years. One thing I admire so much about Dona Gracia, is that she was seldom looking backwards; instead she was looking ahead. That is one of my primary goals for preserving Ladino culture as well. In order to keep the culture alive, we need to be writing and performing new works in the language. We need to be reimagining how Ladino culture, in its universality, can appeal to a wide audience today.

I am also indebted to my own family, who came from Macedonia and Greece, for working so hard to preserve our Ladino heritage through hundreds of years and many displacements and wars. As the culture continues to fade, I feel compelled to do what I can to highlight the most beautiful, uplifting message of Ladino. So this song has the simplest of themes, love: I dreamed of kissing you in my sleep, and when I woke up you were right there next to me. When thinking about how to present this song, I decided to literally breathe new life into the accompanying video. I purposely filmed it while 6+ months pregnant!

While very few video examples exist of other pop–style contemporary Ladino songs, I'm proud of the fact that Ensuenyo Te Vi is probably the only Ladino pop video featuring a pregnant singer. Ladino culture is full of life and I hope that my message comes out clear–this is not a dying culture. Far from it. Ladino is pregnant with possibilities to continue and thrive for a new audience and generation to come. I hope Dona Gracia would be proud.

Sarah Aroeste is an international singer of contemporary Ladino music She can be booked for appearances. Her third album, ‘Gracia,’ a mix of feminist, experimental and original Ladino songs, was released last year.

For more information please visit: www.saraharoeste.com



Originally published here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/blog/jewish-and/


 

A Typical Jewish Mother...in Uganda

Danielle Meshorer, November 11, 2013

 


A nurse at work with her children.



 

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In my early 30s, I had exciting opportunities to visit and work with public health projects in Uganda several times. I was relatively young, dating and childless. It was pretty easy for me to pick up and oversee the work of Be'chol Lashon in Africa, to make my base with the Jewish Abayudaya community working to build infrastructure for Jews, Christians and Muslims. Six years after my last visit, I am married with a 4–year–old daughter, working full–time. So when I returned to Uganda for a 10–day visit to plan for a new community center, I was grateful for an egalitarian husband who'd take on more childcare responsibility during my absence, an excellent pre–school for working parents.

Feeling the full weight of the working mom's dilemma, I wanted to better understand the Abayudaya women and their Christian and Muslim neighbors, and the types of childcare and working assistance needs they have. As more Abayudaya women receive educational grants to attend college, they emerge seeking employment, empowered to become economic contributors to their families. However, we were seeing signs of stagnation after college, and often a return to traditional gender roles for women. Educational assistance is a successful trend – but something needs to be addressed in order to make economic sustainability for women a reality. While I did not want to make assumptions about what might help, I was left wondering if childcare would be part of the solution.

Spending time at the Tobin Health Center in Mbale, I was daily confronted by the all female nursing staff and their brood of kiddies running around the health clinic. Interviewing the mothers, I asked why they have their kids at work with them. Most said they have family members who can sometimes watch their children, but often have to pass them off at inconvenient times to attend to their own work or household needs.


A couple of the nurses have hired part–time help to stay at home with their kids and the kids are brought to them at different time during the day for nursing. These women have husbands who are also well–employed so they can afford that luxury. That option was rare – and definitely ideal. The nurses were in effect creating their own childcare center in order to meet their needs.

I admired their ingenuity and even the sense of "work family" similar to the one I enjoy at Be'chol Lashon, but when I stopped to look around at the environment the children were being exposed to, it gave me pause. Many of the patients in the clinic during my stay were critically ill. Healthy children watched on with apprehensive looks. While I understood their lack of options, I was not convinced that they could thrive at their job while also trying to take care of their own needy children. In addition, while bonding with mom is crucial to child development, didn't these kids deserve the same opportunity for stimulating and age–appropriate early childhood education that my daughter was receiving back home?

I wondered if a childcare center would be welcomed by these and other women in the community. Conducting interviews with women, both educated and uneducated, often with babes in arms, the overwhelming response was YES – we do need better and consistent childcare options while we pursue jobs, work in the fields, or in professional environments. The model for child care centers is not foreign to Ugandan women, but unfortunately it exists exclusively in the capital and not in their communities. Were it accessible to them, they would be glad not only for the opportunities it would open for them but for the education it would provide their children.

One of the main purposes of the trip was to help plan for the building of a new synagogue for the Abayudaya that will also serve as a community center; a gathering place for Jews, Christians and Muslims. As a result of my conversations with the women Uganda, we decided to put in a day care center as well. Building and staffing the center is a long term project, and I'll be blogging about it as it goes forward. Stay tuned, because I truly hope that it will be the game changer these women need.

Originally published here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/blog/jewish-and/


 

Chile Con Hebrew

Ben Parks, November 6, 2013

 




 

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As part of a gap year between high school and college, I spent six months in Santiago, Chile. I was there partly to improve my Spanish, and partly to study music. I wasn't expecting to meet any other Jews while in Santiago, Chile—the country is predominantly Catholic, and the Jewish population is vanishingly small compared to that of the US. Through a stroke of luck (and some of those Jewish connections that pop up where you least expect them), I ended up finding a home stay with a Jewish family in Santiago just a few weeks before arriving in Chile – and of course I immediately took the opportunity.

Just a few days after arriving in Chile, I went to my first Shabbat services with my host family, not really knowing what to expect. For Adon Olam the Rabbi sang a mariachi tune (complete with sombreros and guitars), which was by far the weirdest yet most entertaining rendition of Adon Olam that I've ever heard. I was fully prepared to accept this as Chilean Judaism, but, as I eventually figured out through my garbled Spanish, the mariachi was just a pre–Purim special. (In general services were much more similar to what I was used to from home, but now I'm starting to wish that home had a special pre–Purim Adon Olam performance too).

Chile does a great job of Purim! Author on bottom left.


Before going to Chile, I'd only ever been a part of the Jewish community that I grew up in, so I can only guess which parts of my experience were uniquely Chilean and which were just a part of Judaism I had yet to see. For example, I suspect that there are not very many Jewish wedding receptions with all–night dancing outside of Chile. (My host mom told me ahead of time that it would be rude to leave much earlier than 3 am). I may be wrong about that, though, since the only other Jewish weddings I've been to were as a little kid. It wouldn't be the first time I was wrong, since I already found out that Hashkiveinu is not in fact a lullaby unique to Chile. (Imagine my surprise showing up at the my first Shabbat in college only to hear them singing a Chilean melody!)

Having already found this unexpected connection between Judaism in Chile and at home, I'm hopeful I'll rediscover many of my Jewish experiences from Chile: meeting new friends at every Shabbat dinner; accompanying Shabbat melodies on my violin; celebrating Yom Ha'atzmaut el Estadio Israelita (think Chilean JCC); going to the spunky, 100% student–run Chilean branch of Hashomer Hatzair. It's a fantastic thing to have a thread of shared experience that connects me to others living in a country halfway across the globe, and I'm still discovering just how deep the connection goes.


Originally published here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/blog/jewish-and/


 

What is Jewish&?

Diane Tobin, November 5, 2013
 




 

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Young Jews today are growing up in a hyper–connected, globalized world. That means they must contend with challenging viewpoints, contrary experiences and differing values. They must not only deal with the multitude of identities to which they are exposed, they must deal with the fact that they, themselves, are developing multiple identities. No Jew is "Just Jewish." Jews sport all sorts of identities, the ways they express and identify are countless; all Jews are "Jewish&"— hyphenated identities are the norm.

But this is nothing new. The original multicultural people, Jews have lived around the world for millennia. The center of Jewish life has shifted through massive migrations—the Crusades, Inquisition, the Holocaust and other persecutions. Not only is Jewish practice compelling and relevant, Jews are also skilled at adapting to changing circumstances.

Today, Jewish communities are highly dispersed. Even in communities with significant Jewish populations, people are more likely to be scattered among the general population than in previous generations. Jews act like other Americans. And whether through birth, intermarriage, conversion or adoption, we are more diverse than many assume. Approximately 20% of American Jews identify as either non-white or non-Ashkenazi. Race and ethnicity are important elements in shaping Jewish identity and expression.


Diane Tobin, center, with her children.


My son Jonah is a high school student, the youngest of six siblings; he is an avid lacrosse player, who likes to skateboard and hang out with friends & he is African American. When my husband Gary Tobin, of blessed memory, and I adopted Jonah we wanted to find other African American Jewish role models for our son. What started as a research project became Be'chol Lashon, an internationally active growing organization dedicated to celebrating the historic and contemporary diversity that is the global Jewish community.

Young Jews develop and embrace global identities and diverse friendship circles. Diversity and inclusion are important components of the value system of most young people today, and a key lens through which they make choices about engagement in Jewish life. Cultural competence, the ability to interact with, learn from, navigate and incorporate different cultures, is no longer a luxury, but a necessity.

Like Jonah, many Jews simply do not fit into single categories. And this isn't new. Many of us never have. Peoplehood involves taking seriously the diversity of Jews and the complexity of our history. Jewish& provides an enriched understanding of the many rivers, as Langston Hughes put it, flowing through our veins and into our family's collective memory. My son Jonah has many elements to his identity, he is Jewish&. In launching this blog, Be'chol Lashon hopes to share some of the many stories and takes on what it means to be Jewish.

More than at any time in the past, we live in a global world. Judaism looks different in different places. We know that there are many Jewish tales to tell and in telling them we will learn and grow together. Stay tuned as we meet Jews who live around the corner and around the world. Join us as we explore the challenges of building an inclusive Jewish community. Take some time to get to know Be'chol Lashon and the work we do. Let us know if you have a story idea, an issue to cover, or a Jewish& experience to share.


Originally published here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/blog/jewish-and/


 

Pew to the Rescue: Saving Jewish Demography

Diane Tobin & Aryeh Weinberg, October 15, 2013
 




 

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They say that genius is often only revealed after death. The late Jewish demographer, Dr. Gary A. Tobin, was widely respected during life, however some of his most important insights are just beginning to be realized. Pew's recently released study on the American Jewish community is the most comprehensive since the 2000–01 National Jewish Population Survey (NJPS), which, Pew notes, "became the subject of heavy criticism on methodological grounds... and continuing academic controversy." Gary was at the center of this debate. His concern was not only that the Jewish population had been "systematically undercounted for decades," but also that the Jews who were being undercounted represent a critical segment of the Jewish community.

The near celebrity status of Malcolm Gladwell and his book Outliers is helping to highlight the importance of analyzing the periphery. However, Tobin's concern for the undercounted a decade ago stood in stark contrast to many of his contemporaries. Defenders of the NJPS argued that criticizing the study for undercounting the "less affiliated and the intermarried and the more marginal" –– read, less important Jews –– amounted to nothing more than a Pyrrhic victory, more harmful than helpful.

But those of us who were mentored by Gary learned, while pouring over binders of raw data, that American Jews change along with American culture. For example, Pew reports that the 22 percent of American Jews who claim no religion mirrors the roughly one–in–five Americans who claim no religious affiliation. We also learned that attempting to resist this reality is not only a fool's errand, but serves to weaken the community.


Citing a 2008 Pew study that showed that Americans were switching religions more than ever, Tobin cautioned, "No number of day schools or summer camps is going to turn back the clock on religious freedom and competition. It is time for Jews to join every other group in America and quit obsessing about who is being lost and start acting on who might come in." He advocated casting a wider net and letting the data show us the full spectrum of the Jewish community. Pew took Gary's concerns to heart.

J.J. Goldberg wrote in the Forward, "Above all, [Pew's study] vindicates a thesis championed by the late sociologist Gary Tobin. He argued that calling up a random stranger and asking right off the bat about their religion is a sure way to get a false reading." Pew's interviewers increased the overall response rate by establishing a rapport before inquiring about religion. Gary was concerned that new immigrants, among others, may feel accosted and decline to answer. But the potential impact extends much further. Young people, who embrace multiple identities, may feel pigeonholed by having to identify as Jewish first and foremost. Pew's methodological tweak helps to capture a wide array of Jews who do not see themselves as only Jewish, a segment of the population that Pew notes is rapidly growing.

The American Jewish community is just starting to come around to the notion that the point of surveys is not to track decline, but to understand where we as a community are going and to help direct it. A decade ago Goldberg opined that communal agendas seemed to dictate Jewish population surveys. Pew detached the scientific study of the Jewish community from the communal agenda and in doing so offers a more truthful and useful portrait of the Jewish community. As Brad Hirschfield noted in the Washington Post, "the greatest, and perhaps most troubling, part of the study is that the non–Jews who conducted it are more Jewish in their approach to Jewish identity than many of the custodians of Jewish culture who are commenting on the study and its results!"

Preconceived notions about who Jews are or how they should act perpetuate a narrow, sometimes self–defeating outlook on Jewish identity and the Jewish future. Our experience is that the Jewish community is incredibly diverse, resilient, and in a state of constant change. Tobin was an optimist and believed that adapting to change was a fundamental part of Jewish history and success––a belief upon which our work is based. This is an opportunity embrace the 94 percent who Pew found are proud of being Jewish. One can imagine Gary conjuring the psychoanalyst in Philip Roth's Portenoy's Complaint, "So. Now vee may perhaps to begin. Yes?"


Originally published here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/diane-tobin/pew-to-the-rescue-saving-_b_4099028.html




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