Volume 11, Number 3 Passover 2021
Serving the Local New Orleans, Northshore, and Baton Rouge Jewish Communities
New Orleans JCC March 22/29, 2021 & April 5/12/19/26, 2021 11:00 am - 12:00 pm ACE - MUSIC MONDAYS WITH ARMAND Location: Virtual J Contact: Rachel Ruth Phone: 504-897-0143 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org March 22, 2021 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm JTOURS: STAR OF DAVID ON THE SANTA FE TRAIL JEWISH NEW MEXICO WITH NAOMI SANDWEISS Location: Virtual J The Santa Fe Trail, celebrating its bicentennial in 2021, has also been called the “Trail of Commerce and Conquest.” During this illustrated PowerPoint presentation, Naomi will share the sometimes challenging, dangerous and profitable experiences of Jewish individuals navigating the nearly 900 miles of the Santa Fe Trail, where many eventually made their homes in communities along the way.
Naomi Sandweiss, M.A., is a native of New Mexico who is passionate about Jewish history. She is past president of the New Mexico Jewish Historical Society and author of Jewish Albuquerque 1860-1960, as well as numerous articles in publications including Tablet Magazine. Naomi is executive director of the non-profit Parents Reaching Out. In 2018, she traveled 500 miles of the Santa Fe Trail, exploring Jewish history throughout the journey. Join the JCC Chicago for this fascinating program. No charge members and nonmembers Contact: Rachel Ruth Phone: 504-897-0143 Email: email@example.com March 26, 2021 1:00 pm - 2:15 pm SONGS OF FREEDOM: A MULTI-GENRE MUSICAL CELEBRATION OF PASSOVER Location: Virtual J Commemorate the Exodus from Egypt and celebrate the Jewish people being led to freedom! Journey with popular San Francisco Bay Area instructor James Sokol
Table of Contents Around the Town Chai Lights Israel Global Holiday Features Education Alma Bookshelf Sports Arts & Culture Entertainment Jewish Life The Nosher Opinion Lifestyle Travel Focus on Issues THE
3 4 6 12 14 16 19 21 23 25 29 30 31 33 34 36 38
through diverse music–Broadway, pop, opera, country and more– exploring the theme of freedom. Audio and video clips bring the beauty of music into the discussion! The Osher Marin JCC and its partner organizations in the National JCC Adult & Senior Alliance, which includes the New Orleans JCC, are delighted to provide this event for free with advance registration! RESERVE TICKETS No charge members and nonmembers Contact: Rachel Ruth Phone: 504-897-0143 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org April 8, 2021 6:30 pm - 7:30 pm YOM HA'SHOAH - VIRTUAL HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL PROGRAM Location: Virtual J Remembering and Honoring New Orleans Holocaust Survivors A Call to Remember is the remarkable, life-affirming story of Miami Holocaust survivor David Schaecter. Born in a small village in Czechoslovakia, Schaecter was a small boy when the Nazis rose to power and is the only member of his family to survive the Holocaust. In this powerful documentary, Schaecter takes us on a journey—from his bucolic childhood, to the struggle for survival he and his brother faced in Auschwitz, and finally his dramatic escape as the Allies invaded. As David pieced his life together following the war, he became a founding member of the Holocaust Memorial Miami Beach. Through his powerful story, we learn about the cruelty of intolerance and the strength of the human spirit. This program is proudly supported by the Israel Engagement Fund: A JCC Association of North America Program Accelerator, made possible by the generosity of several committed donors. Free and open to the community Virtual event
April 13, 2021 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm BOOK TALK - NOBODY WILL TELL YOU THIS BUT ME. A TRUE (AS TOLD TO ME) STORY. Location: Virtual J Bess Kalb, Emmy-nominated TV writer and The New Yorker contributor, saved every voicemail her grandmother, Bobby Bell, ever left her. Bobby was a force-irrepressible glamorous unapologetically opinionated. Bobby doted on Bess; Bess adored Bobby. Then at ninety, Bobby died. But in this debut memoir, Bobby is speaking to Bess once more in a voice as passionate as it ever was in life. Recounting both family lore and family secrets, Bobby brings us four generations of indomitable women and the men who loved them. JOIN EVENT Contact: Judy Yaillen Phone: 504-897-0143 Email: email@example.com April 28, 2021 11:00 am - 12:00 pm MORRIS BART, SR. LECTURE SERIES: WHY GOOD PEOPLE DO BAD THINGS Location: Virtual J ZOOM MEETING Drawing on her book, The Billionaire's Apprentice: The Rise of the Indian-American Elite and the Fall of the Galleon Hedge Fund, which chronicles the rise and fall of Rajat K. Gupta, the former managing director of consulting giant McKinsey who was convicted of giving inside corporate secrets to a New York money manager, veteran journalist and former Wall Street Journal reporter Anita Raghavan talks about the way well-regarded and successful individuals so often slide into criminal behavior. REGISTER IN ADVANCE After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting. No charge members and nonmembers Contact: Rachel Ruth Phone: 504-897-0143 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Best Wishes to my friends in the Jewish Community! Thomas J. Capella Jefferson Parish Assessor Passover 2021
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ChaiLights features announcements of births, B'nai Mitzvahs, engagements, weddings, and honors. To request your special event be published in The Jewish Light send your material to United Media Corp., P.O. Box 3270, Covington, LA 70435 or e-mail email@example.com. Events are published on a first come, first served basis, as space permits. Photographs are welcom; professional ones preferred. The must be clear and in focus. ì
Mazel Tov! Reina Evans (Confirmation Class of 2011) earned her PhD in Psychology this Spring after defending and submitting her dissertation on “Examining the influence of sexual health interventions on the sexual cognitions and behaviors of youth” and will graduate from North Carolina State University. She will be continuing her research on effective health media messaging/interventions in her new position at innovation Research & Training (iRT) in Durham. Dr. Reina is also getting married in May. Jules & Faith Weiss are the proud grandparents to Savannah Grace Weiss. Joseph (Jules and Faith’s son) and Laura welcomed Savannah on December 25, 2020. Carol Lise Rosen is now a great grandmother, with the birth of her great grandchild, Kate Elizabeth Crosby. Proud grandparents are Beth and Ellis Murov, Katie and Howell Crosby, and Brian and Catherine Frilot. Beaming parents are Tac and Caroline Crosby. Jennifer & Jonathan Nierman on the birth of their son, Judah Aron Nierman. Proud grandparents Stanley & Jane Cohn and Ron & Jackie Nierman; great grandparents Ina Lee Sear & Ruth Nierman; and a plethora of cousins, aunts and uncles. Lee Adler & Robert Marks, who were married on February 16, 2021. Rachel Chamness & Silas Eames, who were married on February 21, 2021.
If you have a condolence that you would like for us to include in Life Cycle please e-mail the information to firstname.lastname@example.org. All submissions are subject to acceptance of the Editor. ì
The Departed Whom We Now Remember - May Their Memory Be For A Blessing IRVING GOLDSTEIN: Widower of the late Joyce Brener Goldstein, Father of Carolyn Loewenthal & Sidney Goldstein. EMILY HART ROSEN: Widow of the late Dr. Noah Leon Hart and the late Charles Rosen II, Mother of Marilyn Hart, Jon Hart Carter, Janet Hart Wilson, Max Hart, and Haas Hart Wallace
Jewish Roots Jubilee: Celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the Modern-Day JCRS Jewish Children’s Regional Service (JCRS) will (virtually) present Jewish Roots Jubilee Gala on Sunday, April 11, 2021 at 6:00pm (CST). This will be the 10th JCRS Jewish Roots gala. The annual event has been the signature Jewish gathering in New Orleans with patrons in attendance (and on-line this year) from across the MidSouth. The 2021 Jewish Roots Jubilee will celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the modern-day Jewish Children’s Regional Service which was born after the closing of the original Jewish Children’s Home orphanage, that dates back to 1855. The virtual event will feature New Orleans native, Marlene Trestman, and her soon-to-be-published book from LSU Press, Most Fortu-
nate Unfortunates: New Orleans’s round out the evening. Jewish Orphans’ Home, 1855-1946. Tickets are available by calling Marlene has received numerous the office at (800) 729-5277. The public and academic awards and event is open to all. recognitions for her accomplishments as the former Maryland Assistant Attorney General and for her first book, Fair Labor Lawyer: The Remarkable Life of New Deal Attorney and Supreme Court Advocate Bessie Margolin. Marlene is a graduate of Isidore Newman School and a JCRS “success story,” having received assistance from JCRS after the untimely deaths of both of her parents. The gala will also feature music performed by the JCRS “Success Story Ensemble” – educational scholarship recipients who are currently pursuing advanced degrees in musical performance. An online auction focused on once-in-a-lifetime vacations and experiences will
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IHow srael To Move To Israel While Working Remotely For A THE
US Employer By Renee Ghert-Zand
Some immigrants to Israel with U.S.-based employers find places outside the home to work, including a co-working space run by Nefesh B'Nefesh in Tel Aviv. Before the pandemic hit, the co-working hub operated without social distancing restrictions. (Nefesh B'Nefesh)
It turns out the coronavirus pandemic has had an unexpected silver lining for Americans contemplating making aliyah: the normalization of working remotely. To be sure, the technology that makes it possible in certain instances to work an American job while living in Israel has existed for years. But for many U.S. employers, the idea of allowing someone to move their job overseas for personal reasons was a nonstarter. Then came the COVID era and with it the massive shift to remote work.
“With so many people working from home, no one is even thinking about where you are,” said David Gardner, an attorney who immigrated to Israel from Los Angeles in 2020. That has opened up opportunities for Americans who wish to move their U.S.-based jobs to Israel. “We’ve seen an increasing trend of people bringing their jobs with them to Israel, and it picked up a lot since COVID,” said Rachel Berger, vice president of employment at Nefesh B’Nefesh, the organization that assists with immigration to Israel from North America in partnership with Israel’s Ministry of Aliyah and Integration, the Jewish Agency, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael and JNF-USA. “With American offices emptying out and people working from home, employers are more open to remote work.” The change has opened up new possibilities for some business owners, too. “With people working from different parts of the world, we can spread our searches more broadly
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and seek out the best talent,” said Azi (Alan) Cutter, CEO of a New York-based digital recruiting firm, AC Lion, that he runs from Israel. Cutter immigrated in 2018. The “distributed workforce” model is here to stay, he said. There are myriad benefits for immigrants who move to Israel while keeping their U.S. jobs. Among them, it eliminates the stress of finding a job upon arrival or securing one beforehand, and the immigrants can keep their U.S. salaries and preserve seniority in their current firm. But working from Israel does require planning. If you’re thinking about making the move, here are a few key tips to make the transition to working abroad as seamless as possible. Managing your finances When earning dollars in a shekel economy, you’ll need to set up your finances wisely to maximize benefits and limit costs and risk. Exchange Rate: Currency fluctuations mean your spending power will rise and fall with the fate of the U.S. dollar, which recently hit a 24-year low against the shekel. If possible, address the exchange rate during salary negotiations before leaving the U.S., perhaps securing an agreement from your boss to revisit your salary level when the exchange rate changes to your detriment or locking in a salary floor below which it cannot go. “I didn’t do either of those things and I wish I had,” said Rivka Tauber, a consultant who immigrated to Jerusalem from New York in October. Banking: Will your salary be deposited in your U.S. bank account or your Israeli account? The Israelbased payroll company Route 38 can arrange for automatic conversion of your salary, or a portion thereof, into shekels, and deposit it into your Israeli bank account. But you may lose a chunk of money on fees. If your salary goes into your U.S. account, you’ll need to figure out a regular way to turn that into shekels while minimizing fees. Chances are your U.S. bank can do it, but you might get an unfavorable exchange rate or have to pay fees. Whichever U.S. bank you use, make sure it can actually perform transfers to Israel. “Not all U.S. banks, such as
small credit unions, are willing to do online transfers to Israel. And things can vary from branch to branch at a bank,” said Doron Seitz, CEO of IsraTransfer, a Jerusalembased currency transfer company that guarantees security and offers better rates than most banks. For everyday expenses, Charles Schwab offers a no-fee ATM card that can be used overseas to draw shekels from a dollar account without conversion fees. However, the daily maximum withdrawal limit of $1,000 means you probably won’t be able to use it to buy a car or an apartment. Capital One also offers a no-fee ATM card for use overseas.
Azi Cutter, right, CEO of a New Yorkbased digital recruiting firm, runs his business from Israel, where he immigrated in 2018. Working in Israel for a U.S. company has enabled Cutter to spend more leisure time during the day with his family, including his son Cobi. (Courtesy of Azi Cutter)
Credit cards: You’ll definitely need an Israeli credit card because foreign credit cards don’t work with certain Israeli vendors. But using a U.S. credit card with no overseas transaction fees is a smart way to draw on U.S. funds for spending in shekels, and U.S. credit cards tend to have better rewards programs than Israeli ones. If you don’t want to pay an annual fee, Capital One and Bank of America both offer decent rewards cards. If you’re a big spender, you might want to go with a card from Chase Sapphire or Citi Premier, which charge annual fees but have more aggressive rewards programs and sign-up bonuses. Credit card companies are constantly changing their offerings, so make sure to do some research before making your choice. Taxation: Because you’ll be living in Israel but earning from a U.S. employer, you’ll have tax obligations in both countries. Assuming you spend most of your time in Israel, you’ll have to pay your Israeli tax See REMOTELY on Page THE
REMOTELY Continued from Page 6 obligations ahead of any U.S. ones. There is a U.S.-Israel tax treaty to prevent double taxation on your earned income, but you’ll have to keep track of the work you do while in Israel and outside the country. Be sure to find a good accountant for both your Israeli and U.S. tax obligations, even if it means working with two different accountants. Philip Stein, CEO of Philip Stein & Associates, an accounting firm that assists individuals and companies in Israel with U.S. tax compliance, recommends discussing “permanent establishment” with your employer. This is a taxation concept whereby the profits of a U.S.-based company with an employee who is in Israel for over six months could be subject to Israeli taxation. “There are legal ways to deal with this, but you don’t want your company to be surprised by it,” Stein said. Be aware that there is double taxation on U.S. Social Security and Israeli National Insurance (Bituach Leumi). This might mean it makes more sense for you to convert your U.S. payroll employment to contractor status, if possible. With this and all other matters, it’s crucial to plan ahead and consult with a professional to help you figure out how to lower your tax exposure overall. “Have these conversations before you get on the plane,” Stein said. Facebook groups like Nefesh B’Nefesh Community and Living Financially Smarter in Israel are good places to crowdsource answers to any questions that might come up. Staying connected Phone: Keeping your U.S. phone number may be crucial to running your business. Fortunately there are various ways you can keep it in Israel without continuing to pay hefty fees to a U.S. carrier. Israeli companies such as TCS Telecom and Annatel offer plans that let your U.S. number ring to your Israeli phone. You can also port your number to Google Voice and have that forward to your Israeli phone. Calling the United States from Israel is usually pretty inexpensive, or you can do it for free from your desktop using Gmail’s phone function. Gardner, the attorney who recently moved to Israel from L.A., has clients book phone appointments with him during his work hours via an answering service or the free THE
Setmore scheduling app. Mail: While you should reduce your U.S. mail clutter as much as possible, shifting all your statements to online delivery, chances are you’ll still need a U.S. address to receive mail. Ideally, find a trusted friend or family member to agree to receive and handle any incoming mail so they can alert you about anything important. You can also sign up through the U.S. Postal Service for free electronic preview of the exterior of all incoming mail to see what you’re getting.
Dan Cohen runs a PR business based in Oakland, Calif., from his home in Raanana, a suburb of Tel Aviv. (Courtesy of Cohen)
Be prepared to work U.S. hours Israel is seven hours ahead of the East Coast and 10 ahead of the Pacific time zone. That means you’re likely to work a lot of late nights. So pace yourself. Think about shifting some of your family time to daylight hours. Try to carve out a no-call window in the evening so you can have dinner with your family and do bedtime with young children. Many employees work out a plan with their bosses for specific times when they are or are not available. “We call being available during specific windows of time ‘overlapping,'” said Yehuda Freilich, CEO of Outsourcing to Israel, a firm that finds remote staffing solutions in Israel for U.S. companies. If you’re Sabbath observant, reserve Thursday nights for work: Given the onset of Shabbat on Fridays, Thursday night may be your last chance to conduct business with the U.S. until the following Monday evening, when the U.S. workweek resumes. On the plus side, you’ll have your mornings free to devote time to personal hobbies or fitness, do household chores, socialize or just catch up on work. And your Sundays will be wide open. When negotiating with your boss, don’t forget to work out a plan for the differences between Israeli and U.S. holidays. Set up an appropriate work space Wherever you choose to live in Israel, make sure you have a good
work setup: either a dedicated room at home or an office you rent outside home. When on video calls, some people are careful not to let anything in the background indicate they’re in Israel — like a glimpse of Jerusalem stone or a window that will show darkness when it’s daytime in America. “Where I am is a distraction, so I don’t bring it up if it is not necessary when speaking with clients,” said Gardner, the lawyer. “And as far as working with colleagues, I see no difference between calling or Zooming in than popping into the office next door.” Even if you don’t want to advertise the fact that you’re in Israel, never lie about it — either to your employer or a client. Perhaps most importantly when working remotely from Israel, don’t
forget to get out and interact with people (safely, of course, given COVID) and find ways to enjoy your new home! Take a hike, sign up for a Hebrew ulpan language class, try out your local hummus joint. The Jewish people waited millennia for their homeland. Make it your own. This article was sponsored by and produced in partnership with Nefesh B’Nefesh, which in cooperation with Israel’s Ministry of Aliyah, The Jewish Agency, KKL and JNF-USA is minimizing the professional, logistical and social obstacles of aliyah, and has brought over 65,000 olim from North America and the United Kingdom for nearly two decades. This article was produced by JTA’s native content team.
As an immigrant to America, I propose to give undocumented migrant workers staYour Choice tus which would allow them for 15 years to care for their families, after which For Leadership they should be granted the ability to seek In Congress! residency. It is important to offer a path to allow immigrants to legally contribute to our economy without being a burden to our citizens. Many are hard-working and just want an opportunity to earn an honest living. Almost 40% of us in District 02 live in poverty. Education is the best hope out of poverty and I propose After School Programs such as art, music, dance, history, world geography, and teaching trades (carpentry, electrical, plumbing, etc.) To help I propose $3600 per student per year to pick any after school program. Paid for by donations that are counted as a 100% tax credit to support all kids between 6 and 17, living in zip codes where the median income is 35% of national median income ($40,259.00). The median income of District 02 is $44,124.00. We are told that what our community needs is jobs, but what we need are skills. All the job openings in the world will not matter if we are not armed with the skills to do the job. The trades are being ignored at a time when there is a shortage of carpenters, electricians, plumbers, and so on. Where is our computer hub teaching coding and soft skills? Where are our mentors and our management programs? We need to go back to the basics and teach the importance of hard work before we can focus on jobs.
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Orthodox And Secular Israelis Are Fighting Over Jewish Conversion. Why? By Ben Sales
Aryeh Deri, right, leader of the Sephardi haredi Orthodox Shas party, seen in Jerusalem, December 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
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(JTA) — In Israel, a Supreme Court ruling liberalizing Jewish conversion standards is sparking a political crisis just three weeks before the country holds a national election. A chief haredi Orthodox ally of Benjamin Netanyahu called the decision “misguided [and] very troubling.” One of the prime minister’s top deputies went further, predicting that the ruling would “bring disaster upon us.” The country’s haredi, or ultra-Orthodox, chief rabbis also condemned it. Netanyahu’s liberal rivals, meanwhile, celebrated it as a first step toward broader reform. Religious freedom activists called it a historic breakthrough. In fact, the ruling is pretty small in scope: It says that non-Jews who already live in Israel, then convert under non-Orthodox auspices, are eligible for Israeli citizenship. In other words, the ruling applies only to a vanishingly small demographic: those who live in Israel, are not citizens, are not Jewish, then decide to become Jewish through Reform or Conservative conversion. Official figures are hard to come by, but that’s not many people at all. The ruling does not apply to Jewish Americans (or non-Jews) seeking to move to Israel. It does not apply to the millions of non-Jews in Israel who already are citizens. It does not apply to anyone in Israel who converts under Orthodox authority. So why is the ruling causing such consternation among haredi Israelis and their allies? Why do Orthodox leaders want to limit who the state recognizes as Jewish? Here are answers to those questions and more about the latest religious conflict to roil Israel. Why are Israeli politicians fighting over Jewish conversion? For decades, Israel has sought to
answer a difficult question: Who is a Jew? It’s a question that has divided Jewish communities for centuries, and for the Jewish state it has become critical for a few reasons. Israel offers automatic citizenship to any Jew around the world, which of course requires the state to determine who is and isn’t a Jew. Israel has traditionally given citizenship to any applicant with one Jewish grandparent — the same definition Adolf Hitler used in the Holocaust. That doesn’t address Jewish converts, who often have no Jewish ancestry but choose to become Jewish. Israel’s government has generally defaulted to Orthodox Jewish requirements regarding religion because of a policy set by Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, who intended to preserve what he thought was a shrinking haredi minority after the Holocaust. In its earliest years, Israel granted citizenship to Orthodox converts only. In recent decades, however, American Jewish leaders, who represent communities that are mostly not Orthodox, have obtained Israeli recognition for Conservative and Reform converts as well. Since the 1980s, thanks to earlier Supreme Court decisions, Israel has granted citizenship to most Conservative and Reform converts from outside the country, though they still have to jump over a series of bureaucratic hurdles to prove their Judaism. New immigrants from North America arrive in Israel on a flight arranged by the Nefesh B’Nefesh organization at Ben Gurion Airport, Aug. 14, 2019. (Flash90) If Israel encourages Jewish immigration, why would any of its leaders want to stop any Jews from becoming citizens? For Israeli leaders who seek to maintain a Jewish majority in the country, expanded Jewish immigration might sound like a good thing: More eligible Jews means more potential immigrants and, theoretically, more Jewish citizens. But while haredi Orthodox leaders See CONVERSION on Page THE
CONVERSION Continued from Page 8
New immigrants from North America arrive in Israel on a flight arranged by the Nefesh B’Nefesh organization at Ben Gurion Airport, Aug. 14, 2019. (Flash90)
may care about how many Jews are in Israel, they care more about what kind of Jews are in the country and who gets to control Jewish ritual. In other words, if masses of non-Orthodox Jews were to become Israeli citizens,, haredi Israelis would see it as a threat to their way of life, not a benefit to Israel as a whole. The haredim also generally believe that traditional religious observance is necessary for the continued survival of the Jewish people. They don’t believe Reform and Conservative Judaism are authentic forms of Judaism, thus don’t believe Reform or Conservative converts are real Jews, or that a marriage officiated by a Reform or Conservative rabbi is a legally Jewish marriage. So, if a woman converted with a Reform rabbi, married in a Reform ceremony and had kids, for example, most haredi Israelis wouldn’t consider those kids Jewish. Were something like that to happen time and again, ultra-Orthodox Israelis worry that it would eventually become impossible to know who is and is not a Jew, according to Orthodox standards, in Israel. Do haredi politicians also fight the influence of Reform and Conservative Judaism within Israel? Yes. Because Israel doesn’t have separation of religion and state, certain Orthodox religious observances are required by law. Buses and trains don’t run on Shabbat. Synagogues and religious seminaries receive state funding. And a government-funded Orthodox body called the Chief Rabbinate administers marriage licenses, divorce, kosher certification and other aspects of religious life. In practice, that means that interfaith, non-Orthodox and same-sex marriages performed in Israel aren’t recognized by the government, and that independent kosher certifiers face opposition to their work. Maintaining that system — Israel’s religious status quo — is the THE
top priority of Israel’s haredi political parties and their voters. This is partly because the system benefits Orthodox Israelis directly, giving funding to their schools and affording primacy to their observances in the public square. That’s also why haredi politicians see Reform Jews as an acute threat. Until recent years, secular Israelis haven’t cared about Orthodox control of certain aspects of government. Non-Orthodox rabbis, by contrast, are actively pushing an alternative form of Judaism that haredi rabbis see as heretical. How have Reform Jews and their allies reacted to haredi attacks? And what might happen next? Haredi denigration, of course, is tremendously insulting to nonOrthodox Jews and their rabbis, who feel that their form of Jewish belief and practice is no less legitimate than any other. Yair Lapid, who heads the centrist Yesh Atid party, called a recent haredi political ad comparing Reform Jews to dogs anti-Semitic and “disgusting.” Successive polls have shown that most Israelis support a liberalization of Israeli religious law, including allowing civil marriage and running public transit on Shabbat. Haredim make up only a small part of Israel. But because haredi parties have almost always been part of Israeli governing coalitions, they have succeeded in stymieing most attempts to reform the religious status quo, even though their voters are only a fraction of the electorate. In 2014 and 2015, for example, Israel’s governing coalition passed a raft of secularizing legislation. But the next coalition included haredi parties and they promptly reversed all of the previous government’s decisions on religion. Haredi Israelis understand that they’re in the minority, and that a growing number of secular Jews have become fed up with the Orthodox monopoly on religious issues. Advocates for religious freedom know it, too. That reality raises the stakes of every battle over religion and state — even court decisions like Monday’s that affect only a handful of religious converts already in the country. Secular activists hope that such decisions will snowball into bigger victories against the haredi establishment. And haredi Israelis worry that if they give in on the small battles, they could lose the larger war.
Suspected Oil Spill May Be Worst In Israel’s History By Ron Kampeas
A worker at the Israeli Sea Turtle Rescue Center cleans a sea turtle at their center in the Israeli coastal moshav of Mikhmoret, north of Tel Aviv on Feb. 21, 2021. Powerful winds and unusually high waves pummelled Israel's entire Mediterranean coastline earlier in the week, with tons of tar staining beaches from Rosh Hanikra, just south of Lebanon, to Ashkelon just north of Gaza. (Menahem Kahana//AFP via Getty Images)
(JTA) — Israel closed its Mediterranean beaches to deal with what its officials say may be the worst oil spill in the country’s history. The Israel Nature and Parks Authority on Sunday called the suspected spill one of the “greatest ecological disasters to afflict Israel since the founding of the state.” It said that 170 out of 190 kilometers of coastline, or 105 out of 118 miles, have been affected by the spill. The consequences will be felt for years, its statement said. Thousands of volunteers are clean-
ing tar off the beaches and animals, including birds and turtles, have been found covered with tar. The Israeli army said it would also send soldiers to help with the cleanup. It’s not clear what ship is responsible for the spill, which is believed to have occurred around Feb. 11 some 20 miles from shore. “We are making every effort to find those responsible for the disaster,” Gila Gamliel, Israel’s environment minister, said on Twitter.
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Israel To Spend $50M Compensating Families Of Children Who Disappeared In State’s Early Years By Asaf Shalev
A view of Yemenite Jews who were flown into Israel in 1950 under "Operation Magic Carpet." (Bettmann/ Getty Images)
(JTA) — The Israeli government approved a plan Monday to provide compensation of up to $60,000 to some of the families of children who went missing while in state care in the 1950s. But advocacy groups and several of the families have already rejected the plan, calling it a cynical move designed to silence their larger demands for accountability. They are demanding an official apology, an expansion of the eligibility criteria, and further access to state records that might shed light on the fate of their relatives. The compensation plan — amounting to roughly $50 million — represents a new phase for what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week said was “among the most painful affairs in the history of the state of Israel.” Over the years, hundreds and perhaps thousands of Jewish families from Middle Eastern countries, chiefly Yemen, reported that their babies and small children disappeared in the decades following Israel’s establishment. Many suspected that hospital and social work officials abducted their children and gave them away to Ashkenazi families in Israel and the United States, who were thought to be better caretakers and, in some
cases, had lost their own children during the Holocaust. A full inquiry into the allegations has never been carried out, but several state commissions concluded that most of the missing children must have simply died and were hastily buried. The commissions dismissed claims of any conspiracy to abduct the children. Still, Netanyahu said, “The time has come for the families whose infants were taken from them to receive recognition by the state and government of Israel, and financial compensation as well.” Roughly a million Jews from Middle Eastern countries arrived in Israel after the country’s founding in 1948. Many of these Mizrahi immigrants were relegated to poor and crowded housing conditions or to tent dwellings in the country’s periphery while Ashkenazi immigrants from Europe received preferential treatment in employment, education, and other areas. This painful period contributed to an ethnic divide that persists in
Israel to this day, as seen in voting patterns, for example. Netanyahu’s Likud party found a formula for electoral success by appealing to the historic wounds of Mizrahi Jews. Among Yemenite Jews in Israel today, it is common to hear stories of relatives who died mysteriously at a young age or went missing without explanation. Some in government and academia have suggested that whatever happened was not malicious but rather the tragic result of the chaos of Israel’s early years, when the country was poor, war-torn and overwhelmed by the influx of immigrants. Many believe, however, that some officials took advantage of the chaos and the linguistic barriers of those days to systematically kidnap children from hospitals and clinics and deliver them to Ashkenazi families. Families were told their missing children died from illness but most were never shown a burial site. Suspicions were inflamed in the 1960s as many families received
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mailed military enlistment orders ahead when the children would have come of age for service. Three government-appointed commissions that looked at the claims said they found no evidence of collusion to disappear the children. Journalists and independent researchers have since repeatedly surfaced evidence that pokes holes in the commissions’ findings. To be qualified for the new payments, a family must be among the 1,000 or so who have previously reported their case to authorities. The window to apply for money runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, and applicants must sign a waiver releasing the government of any further liability. In cases where it is clear that a child died and the family was not notified, families are eligible for about $45,000. In other situations, where the child’s fate is unknown, the payment is about $60,000. The statement announcing the decision said the government “regrets” what happened and “recognizes the suffering” of families. “It is not in the power of a financial plan to provide a remedy to the suffering caused to families,” the statement said. “However, the State of Israel hopes that it will be able to assist in the process of rehabilitation and healing of the social wound that this affair has created in Israeli society.” Advocates who have been campaigning for years on this issue said the plan falls short. Amram, a group that has collected accounts from some 800 families, said the compensation plan was inadequate because it was drafted without direction from the families and without acceptance of responsibility or apology. “Without this component, a process of correction and healing isn’t possible,” the group said. “Amram repeatedly demands that the state of Israel take responsibility for the severe injustice.” Activist Rafi Shubeli, whose Forum Achai represents some of the families, also said the proposed resolution is a unilateral action by the government and will not lead to reconciliation. “Our struggle will continue,” he was quoted as saying by the Associated Press. “This affair isn’t going away.” THE
As Most Israeli Adults Get Vaccinated From Covid, Some Wonder When Life Will Go Back To Normal By Linda Gradstein
Israeli police officers inspect a mall in the city of Bat Yam that opened in violation of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, Feb. 11, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90) JERUSALEM (JTA) — After receiving his first dose of the COVID vaccine in December, Jonathan Livny, 77, assumed life would at last return to normal for Israelis like him. Livny, who lives in Jerusalem, was among the first Israelis to take the shot, and became fully vaccinated in January. He received his “green passport” — an official certification that he was immune to the disease. But nearly one month later, the passport hasn’t done him much good. Even though he’s now at much lower risk, Livny still must obey the country’s strict lockdown measures, which bar everyone from a wide range of leisure activities whether or not they’ve been vaccinated. The restrictions hit home for Livny a couple weeks ago. He and his wife, a plastic surgeon, travel frequently, and had planned a trip to Dubai late last month for a medical conference. Their trip was canceled, however, when Israel shut down its airport to limit the virus’ spread. “I thought it would be a passport to health and a passport to freedom,” Livny said. “Now they say they’re not sure the vaccine works against the British variant or the South African variant. Then I thought it would be a passport for travel. But now if I want to travel, I need to do a test 72 hours before I leave and then when I come back I need to do it again. So, what good does it do me?” Israel’s aggressive vaccination drive has become a national source of pride, but it has not yet heralded the return to pre-pandemic times that many had expected. Even as more than 40% of Israelis have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine, far outpacing the rest of the world, COVID rates remain stubbornly high, and the vaccination campaign has slowed. Now, as Israel is emerging from a six-week lockdown, its third since the pandemic began, businesses and their patrons are rebelling against a reopening that they feel has been too sluggish. Three large shopping malls – in the cities of Bat Yam, Karmiel and Petach Tivkah – opened Thursday in violation of government regulations. It was part of a revolt instigated by a forum that represents 400 mall owners, restaurant owners and chain stores. The group made their own rules dictating THE
whom to allow into stores — finally allowing Israelis to make use of their “green passports.” Entrance was restricted to those older than 60 with two vaccine doses, or anyone younger who had either received at least one shot, recovered from COVID or tested negative in the past 72 hours. Children 16 and under also were allowed in. Police officers visited the stores and ordered them to close but did not issue fines. “There is no difference between malls, which are closed, and supermarkets or drugstores, which are open,” said Yaakov Kantrowitz, 26, the branch manager of a housewares chain in a strip mall in the central city of Rishon Lezion. He complained that the government “said that people were getting corona in malls, but they’ve been closed for the past six weeks and the infection rates haven’t gone down. That proves we are not the reason for infections.” Kantrowitz hasn’t fully reopened but found an innovative workaround: His store began offering “take-away” shopping on Sunday. “We have a table up front at the entrance with a catalogue, people choose what they want, and [employees] bring it to them,” he said. “Restaurants are allowed to do take-away, so why aren’t stores as well?” Police have not visited his store, Kantrowitz said, and he is careful not to allow anyone inside even though it is spacious, measuring 10,000 square feet. The store has been closed for a total of four months over the past year, and all 30 workers were put on furlough. Now Kantrowitz has hired back five workers and hopes that stores and malls will reopen soon. The government is considering a series of regulations that will limit entry to places like gyms, concerts and museums — and eventually cafes and restaurants — to those with either “green passports” or a negative COVID test from within 72 hours. Some schools also reopened on Thursday after six weeks of remote learning — the most recent in a series of school closures in Israel that have spanned months. The government may require all teachers to either vaccinate or be tested every two days. Israel is also considering an agreement with Greece to allow tourism between the countries for those who are vaccinated. But a segment of Israelis remains reluctant to get the shot. While Israel’s vaccine rollout had ramped up to 200,000 people vaccinated daily, the pace has slowed significantly in the past week. According to government data, while more than 90% of Israelis older than 60 have been vaccinated, the equivalent figure is 70% for haredi, or ultra-Orthodox, Jews and 64% for Arab Israelis. With some vaccination centers half empty, local municipalities are trying to find incentives to get rates back up. In the haredi city of Bnei Brak, where vaccination rates are among the lowest in the country, first responders told resiwww.thejewishlight.org
dents that if they got vaccinated on Thursday night, they’d get a free serving of cholent, a meat stew popular with Orthodox Jews. “We welcome the initiative by Bnei Brak to give out bags of cholent to those who are vaccinated tomorrow,” Zaka, an Orthodox emergency medical service, posted on Twitter. “We’ve already been putting non-vaccinated people in [body] bags for more than a year. Go vaccinate!” Haredi Israelis tend to vaccinate at lower rates even as the percentage of deaths in their community has been especially high. A recent investigation found that 1 in 73 haredi Israelis over the age of 65 had died from COVID, about four times the rate of the general population. Despite the lockdown, some haredi Israelis have defied restrictions and reopened schools, in addition to gathering in large crowds for funerals. Vaccine skepticism extends beyond the haredi community. While most older and high-risk Israelis have rushed to be vaccinated, some younger Israelis are more torn about taking the vaccine. Adina Arazi, 47, who lives in the southern city of Netivot and teaches hydrotherapy, said she is not an anti-vaxxer. Her two children, a 20-yearSee VACCINATED on Page
Why The Anti-Putin Protest Movement Divides Russian Jews By Cnaan Liphshiz
men” living a life full of “drugs and techno.” On ultranationalist forums, anonymous users called her a “Jewish whore” and posted pictures of Auschwitz with her name as a hashtag. Opposition political leader Alexey Navalny's supporters seen marching in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, Jan. 31, 2021. (Aleksey Fokin/SOPA Images/ LightRocket via Getty Images)
(JTA) — Lucy Shteyn is only 24 years old, but she already has firsthand knowledge of what awaits vocal critics of President Vladimir Putin in her native Russia. In 2018, a year after Shteyn, a Jewish gay rights activist and a prominent opposition activist, was elected to Moscow’s city council, hackers got into her cellphone and computer. They released many of her personal pictures and correspondence online. One of the pictures was of a wellknown film critic, who is married, sleeping in her bed. Moskovskaya Gazeta, a tabloid that ran the pictures, labeled Shteyn “a hunter of married
Lucy Shteyn wears an electronic bracelet under house arrest at her home in Moscow, Russia, Feb. 14, 2021. (Courtesy of Shteyn)
The hack against Shteyn, a former journalist for Radio Liberty, was not the first of its kind, or the most dangerous. In 2019, gay rights activist Yelena Grigoriyeva was murdered in St. Petersburg shortly after her personal details were leaked and she appeared on a homophobic group’s hit list. But this has done little to subdue Shteyn. She has infuriated supporters of Putin’s anti-gay policies by posting pictures of herself kissing another woman. In a tribute to the
punk protest band Pussy Riot, Shteyn has also made plaster mold castings of her breasts and affixed them to historic buildings. On Jan. 23, Shteyn was arrested in Moscow during a rally in support of Alexey Navalny, the former businessman turned politician who has presented the most serious challenge thus far to Putin’s 20-year hold on power. After Navalny was poisoned in Russia with nerve gas last year, he was treated in Germany before returning last month to Russia to face a trial he has said was rigged. He was arrested upon his return and sentenced to 2.5 years in prison for corruption charges that he says are fake. In response, thousands of Russians have taken to the streets to protest Putin’s government since late January in the largest such movement since 2019. Authorities have arrested hundreds of the protesters, and Shteyn’s relatively high profile may have marked her for further legal action. On Jan. 27, police broke into her home and confiscated her computer,
the news site 24SMI reported. Based on information gathered from it, the Basmanny District Court of Moscow on Monday placed Shteyn under house arrest until March 23, pending a trial for incitement to violation of sanitary and epidemiological rules. She could spend years in jail if convicted. Shteyn is far from the only Jew in Navalny’s corner. Leonid Volkov and Maksim Kats, two tech-savvy individuals from Jewish homes, had key roles in Navalny’s unsuccessful 2013 bid to be elected mayor of Moscow. “Russians today are living in an Orwellian society, where an enormous propaganda machine teaches people that two plus two equals five, and you have to be very brave to contradict this,” Volkov, who left Russia in 2014, told Mishpacha magazine last month. But Russia’s two main Jewish communal organizations — the Chabad-affiliated Federation of Jewish Communities in Russia, or See ANTI-PUTIN on Page
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Alexei Navalny stands inside a glass cell during a court hearing at the Babushkinsky district court in Moscow, Feb. 20, 2021. (Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
the non-Chabad Russian Jewish Congress — have remained silent about the unrest. They see Putin as a friendly force for Russian Jews, a leader who has allowed their communities to thrive. They argue that he has facilitated their growth through governmentgifted land for synagogues and consistent enforcement of Russia’s anti-discrimination laws against perpetrators of anti-Semitic hate crimes. In 2015, a leader of FJCR, Alexander Boroda, spoke candidly about the reasons for his group’s support for Putin. “The Jews of Russia must realize the dangers inherent in the possible collapse of the Putin government,
understand the rules of the game and be aware of the limitations,” he said at a conference of the Limmud FSU Jewish learning group. “In Russia, there is virtually unlimited freedom of religion and the Jewish community must ensure this situation continues,” Boroda added. “The support for religious institutions is wider than in the United States and defense of Jews against manifestations of anti-Semitism is greater than in other European countries. We do not have the privilege of losing what we have
A police officer escorts Lucy Shteyn to court from house arrest at her home in Moscow, Russia, Feb. 15, 2021. (Courtesy of Shteyn)`
achieved and the support of the government for the community.” The Putin government’s treatment of the LGBTQ and Muslim communities has been decidedly different. In 2013, Russia outlawed “gay propaganda among minors” amid a wave of homophobic rhetoric on
state television that coincided with a rise in violent incidents, some of them deadly. Most of those crimes have remained unsolved, according to the SOVA human rights watchdog. The Russian government has also furthered its longtime crackdown on what it calls radical Islam, jailing clerics suspected of extremist incitement, denying them legal recourse and allegedly torturing some of them. When it comes to tolerance of minorities, Navalny’s own record is not without blemish. In 2007 he was expelled from the liberal Yabloko party, which was founded by the Jewish economist Grigory Yavlinsky, for attending a far-right event called the “Russian March.” It was one of many expressions of xenophobia sparked by the immigration to Moscow of millions of Muslims from parts of Russian Central Asia. In a YouTube video from that year meant to bolster Navalny’s political career, Navalny portrays a pest control specialist dispensing tips on how to exterminate immigrants from Central Asia, whom he calls flies and cockroaches. The skit ends with him shooting a man wearing Muslim traditional garb, includ-
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ing a black robe and keffiyeh. While seeking to broaden his base, Navalny gradually moved away from such jingoism, but his flirtation with it has not helped him gain the trust of leaders of ethnic minorities in Russia, which is home to about 200,000 Jews. As Putin tightens his grip on Russian media, the courts and what little remains of freedom of expression online, tens of thousands of Russian Jews are leaving. In addition to Putin’s assault on democracy, a recession is ravaging the Russian economy. Following a crash in its oil prices, the Russian ruble is now worth half its 2014 value against the dollar. Since 2015, about 60,000 Russian citizens have immigrated to Israel alone under its Law of Return for Jews and their relatives. In the entire decade prior to 2015, only 36,784 Russian Jews had come. “Ninety percent of Russians really love Putin. They admire him, they think he’s doing the right thing, focusing on hating minorities and gay people,” one of the newcomers, a marketing specialist named Dima Eygenson, told JTA in 2019. “The other 10 percent, to which I belong, don’t feel free to say what we think about this.”
9 Things You Didn’t Know About Passover By My Jewish Learning
Passover celebrates the ancient Exodus of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt. Here are nine things you might not have known about the major Jewish festival. 1. In Gibraltar, there’s dust in the charoset. The traditional charoset is a sweet Passover paste whose texture is meant as a reminder of the mortar the enslaved Jews used to build in ancient Egypt. The name itself is related to the Hebrew word for clay. In Ashkenazi tradition, it is made from crushed nuts, apples and sweet red wine, while Sephardi Jews use figs or dates. But the tiny Jewish community of this small British territory at the tip of the Iberian Peninsula takes the brick symbolism to another level, using the dust of actual bricks in their recipe. 2. Abraham Lincoln died during Passover. The 16th American president was shot at Ford’s Theatre on a Friday, April 14, 1865, which coincided with the fourth night of Passover. The next morning, Jews who wouldn’t normally have attended services on the holiday were so moved by Lincoln’s passing they made their way to synagogues, where the normally celebratory Passover services were instead marked by acts of mourning and the singing of Yom Kippur hymns. American Jews were so affected by the president’s death that Congregation Shearith Israel in New York recited the prayer for the dead — usually said only for Jews — on Lincoln’s behalf. 3. Arizona Is a hub for matzah wheat. Hasidic Jews from Brooklyn have been increasingly sourcing wheat for their Passover matzah from farmers in Arizona. Excessive moisture in wheat kernels can result
in fermentation, rendering the harvest unsuitable for Passover use. But rain is scarce in Arizona, which allows for a stricter standard of matzah production. Rabbis from New York travel to Arizona in the days leading up to the harvest, where they inspect the grains meticulously to ensure they are cut at the precise moisture levels. 4. At the Seder, Persian Jews whip each other with scallions. Many of the Passover Seder rituals are intended to re-create the sensory experience of Egyptian slavery, from the eating of bitter herbs and matzah to the dipping of greenery in saltwater, which symbolizes the tears shed by the oppressed Israelites. Some Jews from Iran and Afghanistan have the tradition of whipping each other with green onions before the singing of “Dayenu.” 5. Karaite Jews skip the wine. Karaite Jews reject rabbinic Judaism, observing only laws detailed in the Torah. That’s why they don’t drink the traditional four cups of wine at the Seder. Wine is fermented, and fermented foods are prohibited on Passover, so they drink fruit juice instead. (Mainstream Jews hold that only fermented grains are prohibited.) The Karaites also eschew other staples of the traditional Seder, including the Seder plate, the afikomen and charoset. Their maror (bitter herbs) are a mixture of lemon peel, bitter lettuce and an assortment of other herbs. 6. Israeli Jews have only one seder.
That’s unlike everywhere else, where traditionally a Seder is held on each of the first two nights of the holiday. Known as “yom tov sheni shel galuyot” — literally “the second festival day of the Diaspora” — the practice was begun 2,000 years ago when Jews were informed of the start of a new lunar month only after it had been confirmed by witnesses in Jerusalem. Because Jewish communities outside of Israel were often delayed in learning the news, they consequently couldn’t be sure precisely which day festivals were meant to be observed. As a result, the practice of observing two Seder days was instituted just to be sure. 7. You’re wrong about the orange on the Seder plate. Some progressive Jews have adopted the practice of including an orange on the Seder plate as a symbol of inclusion of gays, lesbians and other groups marginalized in the Jewish community. The story goes that the practice was instituted by the feminist scholar Susannah Heschel after she was told that a woman belongs on the synagogue bimah, or prayer podium, like an orange belongs on a Seder plate. But according to Heschel, that story is false. In that apocryphal version, she said, “a woman’s words are attributed to a man, and the affirmation of lesbians and gay men is erased. Isn’t that precisely what’s happened over the centuries to women’s ideas?” 8. “Afikomen” isn’t Hebrew. For many Seder attendees, the
highlight of the meal is the afikomen — a broken piece of matzah that the Seder leader hides and the children seek; the person who finds the afikomen usually gets a small reward. Most scholars believe the word “afikomen” derives from the Greek word for dessert. Others say it refers to a kind of post-meal revelry common among the Greeks. Either theory would explain why the afikomen is traditionally the last thing eaten at the Seder. 9. For North African Jews, after Passover comes Mimouna. Most people are eager for a break from holiday meals when the eightday Passover holiday concludes. But for the Jews of North Africa, the holiday’s end is the perfect time for another feast, Mimouna, marking the beginning of spring. Celebrated after nightfall on the last day of Passover, Mimouna is marked by a large spread of foods and the opening of homes to guests. The celebration is often laden with symbolism, including fish for fertility and golden rings for wealth.
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These 7 Us Bakeries Will Ship Hamantaschen Directly To You Hamantaschen (The Nosher) By Shannon Sarna
This piece originally appeared on The Nosher. It’s always great to bake hamantaschen and share them with friends and family. But this isn’t a normal year, of course, and it may be harder to find the time to bake hamantaschen because your kids are home doing remote school; or you’re worried about getting the packages out in time; or maybe you just want to share a little extra sweet cookie deliciousness with the people you love who are far away. Whatever the reason, here are a bunch of wonderful bakeries from around the United States that will ship hamantaschen for you. Bonus: Your kitchen will remain mess-free. Win, win. Three Brothers Bakery Three Brothers Bakery is an absolute gem and makes the best hamantaschen I’ve ever tasted. The Houston-based business is family run and dates back to before the Holocaust (read more about the family history here). You can order a package of traditional hamantaschen or try their s’mores hamantaschen. You might want to order some extra goodies while you’re on their site. To order, visit the Three Brothers Bakery website. Breads Bakery Breads Bakery, based in New York City, comes up with new hamantaschen flavors every year to keep us excited. This year is no different: Their apple pie hamantaschen is a bite of heaven. They also have chocolate, poppy, halva and pizza. And new this year will be their weekly rotating flavors, which include matcha, coconutlime and chai, just to name a few. You can order pick up or delivery if you’re in New York City, or you can have them delivered anywhere in the U.S. via Goldbelly. To order, visit Goldbelly. Ricki’s Cookies Based in Memphis, this family THE
bakery is beloved by the Tennessee locals. In fact, I have been hearing about Ricki’s Cookies for nearly 15 years from a friend who was raised in Memphis. You can order a mixed assortment of fruit hamantaschen or choose a whole package of just one jam. This bakery is kosher. To order, visit the Ricki’s Cookies website. William Greenberg Desserts You can order hamantaschen — and a slew of other treats — from this iconic New York bakery via Goldbelly. They’re kosher, a New York favorite and you can send them anywhere in the U.S.! To order, visit Goldbelly. OhNuts.com OhNuts.com doesn’t just have kosher hamantaschen, and you can have them shipped anywhere. They have beautiful, drool-worthy chocolate-dipped hamamtaschen packages with rainbow chips and peppermint, among other festive flavors. For the purists, they also have all the standards, like apricot, raspberry and poppy seed. To order, visit the OhNuts website. Sunflower Bakery This Maryland-based nonprofit bakery isn’t just making delicious kosher sweets shipped straight to your door: They are also doing important community work. Their mission is to provide training and job skills to adults 18 and older who have learning differences. And since tzedekah is also an important part of Purim, you can give some hamantaschen that have a little
extra meaning. They have a huge selection of hamantaschen flavors, including cookie dough and cococaramel, and even gluten-free hamantaschen! To order, visit the Sunflower Bakery website. Zingerman’s
Everyone’s favorite Michigan bakery will send you a package of mixed hamantaschen including vanilla bean, poppy and apricot. Want to boo Haman? For a little extra, you can get some groggers, too. To order, visit the Zingerman’s website.
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Avoiding The Trap Of The ‘Sticky Floor’: Women In STEM Share Their Secrets To Success By Kevin Hattori
Anne Kitzmiller, right, who grew up in the United States and made aliyah with her husband, Adam Cohen, left, is studying for a second master’s in the Technion Aerospace Faculty. Outside of academics, Kitzmiller fosters Hope, a guide dog puppy-intraining from the organization Seeing Eyes for the Blind in Israel. (Courtesy of Ann Kitzmiller)
Even 20 years later, the words ring loud and clear in Hila Rubenstein’s ears. “You got in? But you’re not good at math!” As a sixth-grader, Rubenstein studied hard to test into a prestigious private school. She was elated when she learned she passed the tests and was accepted. But that joy quickly faded when she told her math teacher.
• • • •
Today, Rubenstein is completing her doctorate at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology after earning a bachelor’s and master’s degree at the Technion and serving in the Israeli Defense Forces’ Intelligence Elite Unit 8200. Yet it was clear that her sixth-grade teacher’s surprise and derision stings to this day. Rubenstein shared her story as a Steve and Ilene Berger Visiting Fellow, a speaking series that highlights the soul of the Technion: its students. Half of this year’s inaugural class of fellows are women pursuing careers in aerospace engineering, chemistry, and biotechnology. Their visit provides an inspiring glimpse into the lives and minds of those who will help shape the future of Israel and the world. Yet the stories of Rubenstein and her female colleagues also highlight the challenges women still face in pursuing STEM careers — as well as the inspiring ways that women are overcoming the barriers to pursue
those dreams. While more women than ever are pursuing careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), less than 30% of the world’s researchers are women, according to a World Economic Forum study. Financial considerations, professional ambitions, and family obligations no doubt play a part. But for too many women, it’s subtle or not-so-subtle bias and discrimination, like Rubenstein’s skeptical math teacher, that can be the biggest hurdle between them and a STEM career. The Technion knows that education is the best way to prepare the next generation of global leaders and innovators — and that generation must include women’s voices. To ensure that women pursuing STEM careers are supported at every stage of their career, the Technion provides scholarships and wraparound support for women at every stage of their education. Some of that support happens in
more formalized programs, like Prowoman, the brainchild of Technion students. Prowoman offers support, guidance, networking, and training for female students at the Technion. It’s supported with funding directly from the Office of the President, as well as from Microsoft. But support often happens in more informal ways. Anne Kitzmiller is currently completing her second master’s degree in the Technion Aerospace Faculty and writing software and flight algorithms for a rocket project. Kitzmiller notes that the aerospace industry, like many STEM fields, is very hierarchical and competitive. Often her presentations to professors would get ripped apart. “That’s OK, though, because it encouraged me to think about what I was going to get asked and make bulletproof presentations,” she says. “People who didn’t believe in See STICKY FLOOR on Page
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Here’s A (Jewish) Way To Redirect Your Pandemic Despair Into Purposeful Living By Alan Kadish and Michael Shmidman
When life sometimes can seem like one long slog, the Jewish intellectual tradition offers an alternative that can bring with it happiness and a sense of accomplishment. (PaulCalbar/Getty)
This last year of pandemic living has not been easy. Over 500,000 Americans have died, including countless members of our own Jewish communities, and a return to normalcy still feels distant. In these difficult times, we would like to propose an alternative to despair and suggest a path forward that offers not just hope for the distant future, but strength and a sense of purpose for today and tomorrow. This plague is hardly the first time we have been challenged as a people. Consider this story from the period of expulsions of Jews from the Iberian Peninsula between 1492 and 1497. Rabbi Abraham Saba, a scholar and preacher who lived in Spain’s Castilian region, was among those forced to leave his lifelong home. He fled on foot to neighboring Portugal, where he continued writing his rabbinic and biblical commentaries. But several years later Portugal’s Jews were subject to an expulsion decree. Saba again attempted to flee. Nearing Lisbon, he became aware of the decree issued against possession of Hebrew books. Saba buried his trove of manuscripts, but he was thrown into prison and never recovered them. Eventually Saba escaped to Morocco, where after struggling with an illness he resumed his life’s work, rewriting his lost manuscripts from memory. His commentaries on the Pentateuch and the books of Ruth and Esther are still studied today, five centuries later. Determination and dedication had defeated disruption and despair. Saba’s dogged persistence in studying and writing despite the obstacles he faced was remarkable. But in the annals of Jewish history, it was not extraordinary. Jewish history is filled with figures, from Maimonides to Albert Einstein, who achieved outstanding levels of intellectual accomplishment despite THE
challenging circumstances, from plagues and expulsions to pogroms and Nazi persecution. The challenge of our current period is different, but trying in its own ways. We are isolated from other people, stalked by an invisible threat that has sapped our energy and many of the joys of daily life. We struggle to find purpose and motivation. This is where the Jewish intellectual tradition can serve as an invaluable guide. For centuries, Jews have clung to a few basic principles that have helped us lead purposeful lives even in times of political, social and economic distress. This tradition of learning and achievement initially was derived from Torah study, but it has become more universal. Transmitted overtly or inadvertently by a system of education and by a cultural milieu, it has been effective at fostering achievement and offers guidance to Jews and non-Jews alike. Especially these days, when life sometimes can seem like one long slog — each day bleeding into the other, with real life replaced by a simulacrum of screens and social media and endless binge-watching that somehow never seems to satisfy — the Jewish intellectual tradition offers an alternative that can bring with it happiness and a sense of accomplishment. In our study of some 3,000 years of Jewish history, we have discerned a few guiding principles, which we outline in our new book, “The Jewish Intellectual Tradition: A History of Learning and Achievement.” These principles include respect for tradition combined with creativity and innovation; the primacy of education for young and old; logic and intellectual honesty in pursuit of truth; and living a purposeful life. We extracted from these principles specific recommendations for the circumstances of our age. Surround yourself with the written word. Reading is enriching like no other medium. Just because you’re no longer in school doesn’t mean you should stop learning. Self-development through learning should be a lifelong pursuit. Set goals for yourself and don’t
be distracted from your determination to accomplish those goals — whether it’s learning something new, mastering a particular skill, creating something in the woodshop or at the writing table, helping your children achieve their goals, or tackling Shakespeare, the Talmud or quantum physics. Assume that impediments, major or minor, will crop up along the way. Push through. Find a mentor who can help you toward your goal. Seek out experts as your companions, whether online, in person or in books. One silver lining of the pandemic has been the unprecedented access to learning opportunities. It’s possible to log onto Zoom classes happening anywhere around the world, to find a study partner through any one of a number of matching services, to connect remotely to Jewish events and services.
values you exemplify. Don’t just leave their education to school. Show them what’s important in life by modeling that behavior. Learn collaboratively. Find peers who share your goals with whom you can consult, partner and even argue. This is the classic Jewish mode of “chavruta” learning: oneon-one study and argumentation with a friend. Studies have shown that cooperative learning not only advances educational achievement but promotes self-esteem, healthy relationships and more positive attitudes toward learning. And don’t be afraid of argument or intellectual challenges, so long as your argumentation is conducted in good faith, with respect and in pursuit of truth. Judaism embraces analytical and even disruptive thinking. The unique feature of Jewish intellectual achievement is that it continues even at times of great challenge. That’s because striving for a higher purpose actually helps us overcome day-to-day stresses rather than adding to them. Our salvation won’t come from mindless activities but from determined pursuit of our goals. Just because you’re no longer in A life lived daily with a sense of school doesn’t mean you should stop learning. Self-development through purpose, with the firm belief that learning should be a lifelong pursuit. your actions and the values you (Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images) exemplify and transmit make a difBring your family along for the ference, can ennoble and elevate ride. Talk to them about your goals you and those around you. and why they’re important. See DESPAIR 18 Your children will pick up the on Page
985-445-1270 Happy Passover to my friends and supporters in the Jewish Community. It has been an honor to serve as your judge for 25 years, and I sincerely appreciate your prayers, and your support.
Judge Ethel Simms Julien Civil District Court Division N
what it’s like to work for industry.” For women pursuing STEM degrees, such experience can be a me made me who I am.” game-changer, providing the expeMentorship gave Kitzmiller the rience and connections necessary to support she needed to nail her pre- flourish in their chosen career path. sentations — and excel at the Technion. Today, amid her master’s studies and designing software for rockets, she serves as a mentor for undergraduate students. “I tell students to find what they’re passionate about and give it everything you’ve got,” Kitzmiller Hila Rubinstein is working on her says. doctorate in chemistry at the Technion, The opportunity for formal and where she is developing air-quality testing technologies, among other informal mentorship and networkprojects. (Courtesy of Rubinstein) ing is one of the reasons Kitzmiller was drawn to the Technion. Kitzmiller received her first masRubenstein is also paying it forter’s degree from Washington Uni- ward as a teaching assistant in her versity in St. Louis. When thinking lab. about where to study for her second “I majored in chemistry because degree, she chose the Technion I loved my high school chemistry because of its deep ties with the teacher, but I wasn’t very good,” aerospace industry. she admits. “I had to work very “Industry advisers help with hard to get good grades. By the projects, and students work while time I graduated high school, I studying for their degrees,” she loved chemistry because I had to go recounts. “There’s a stronger con- so in depth to understand things. nection between students and indus“So I know how stressful it can try, which is really important and be. I’m really trying to help Techexciting. In undergraduate pro- nion students as much as I can grams, students don’t always know because you never know what’s
STICKY FLOOR Continued from Page 16
going on in their lives.” DESPAIR Continued from Page 17 As Professor Ayelet Fishman, Dean of Students at the Technion It is this persistence that has and head of the Laboratory of made the Jewish contribution to the Molecular and Applied Biocatalysis world so significant, in fields from in the Faculty of Biotechnology and science and law to philosophy and Food Engineering, notes, the prob- social justice. Now, particularly lem is not so much a glass ceiling when times are tough, our role in for women in STEM, but what she helping improve society must not calls a “sticky floor.” be neglected. Whatever the circum“We can’t listen too much to stances, we can proudly uphold that sixth-year teachers like the one Hila tradition. Dr. Alan Kadish is the president had that tells her she’s not good enough,” she says before sharing of the Touro College and University some of her own doubts as she rose System. Dr. Michael Shmidman is through her career at the Technion. the dean of Touro’s Graduate Ignoring those doubts is key to School of Jewish Studies. The views and opinions expressed avoiding the “sticky floor” and purin this article are those of the author suing a successful career. and do not necessarily reflect the “I believe anytime you are given views of JTA or its parent company, an opportunity you have to take it,” 70 Faces Media. Fishman says. “Women can do anyThis story was sponsored by the thing — but we must be deter- Touro College and University Sysmined.” tem, which supports Jewish contiThis is a paid post. JTA’s edito- nuity and community while serving rial team had no role in its produc- a diverse population of over 19,000 tion. students across 30 schools. This Visit ats.org to learn more about article was produced by JTA’s the American Technion Society and native content team. how the Technion is powering IsraMore from Touro College and el and changing the world. University System
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Meet The Yemeni-Jewish Musician Singing Soulful Jewish R&B By Sam Shepherd This story originally appeared on Alma.
Erez Zobary (Gia Ochoa)
When you think of Jewish music, what comes to mind? Maybe it’s an epic Hebrew prayer chanted by a group of congregants in a synagogue, or the sound of a somber, minor-key klezmer band. Or perhaps you think of a poetic (if not slightly racy) Leonard Cohen lyric. You probably wouldn’t consider jazzy, soulful R&B to fall under the umbrella of “Jewish music,” but Jewish-Canadian singer-songwriter Erez Zobary is here to shatter that assumption. Born and raised in the Greater Toronto area, Erez has been singing since she was a toddler. After a bout of vocal nodules in her teens (ouch!), she has since embraced a low, vocal register reminiscent of the late Amy Winehouse. Yet the half-Yemenite musician’s style tends to veer more on the side of uplifting and joyous than sultry and secretive. “July Clouds” is an acoustic love song reminiscent of a lazy midsummer day back before life became inundated with Zoom meetings and endless commitments. In “Before I Knew You,” Erez sings about a transformative relationship in her life with contagious enthusiasm. Oh, and this rising R&B musician wears her Judaism as a badge of pride. In fact, the music video to “Love Me” includes several snippets of a Shabbat dinner, as well as some gorgeous, scenic shots of the Canadian outdoors. Amid soulful riffs and impressive key changes, Erez’s music overflows with a sense of warmth that transports you back to those large, communal fires at Jewish overnight camp. When not producing earwormy hits, Erez juggles multiple jobs as a high school teacher and social justice educator. Her work often addresses racism within the Jewish THE
community, and she has also been involved in some inspiring volunteering initiatives. I recently had the chance to talk with the rising singer-songwriter to discuss music, Judaism and social justice. First off, I just want to say that I love your music. I listen to it as I study, as I drive, as I work out. I’m totally obsessed. You merge R&B and pop together in a way that is smooth, fun and totally danceable. Who are your musical inspirations? It’s interesting because there’s always been a lot of music in my house all the time; my parents are very fun, but different, people. I was born in New York. When I was there, we were going to shows all the time, listening to live music. When we went to Toronto, it didn’t have the same live music scene, but there were always records playing at home. With my dad, it was always Earth, Wind & Fire, Stevie Wonder, and he also fell in love with disco in Israel when he was living there as a teenager. With my mom, it was a lot of Joni Mitchell, a lot of Amy Winehouse. I can hear the Joni Mitchell in your album “July Clouds.” Your music has that same buoyant energy that’s also not afraid to get raw and emotional. Plus, you’re both Canadian. Thank you! My mom loves Joni Mitchell. We both grew up in a vibrant, developed Jewish community in Canada. How do you feel that the Jewish institutions of your upbringing shaped your love for music? The camp I went to, Gesher, is the most colorful group of human beings I have ever met. I never felt like I quite fit in during private Jewish day school. I never really felt like I could be me. But camp was that place where I could be me a lot more. There was always music going on, whether it was staff playing guitar or us singing Jewish melodies around a fire. We mentioned your family earlier. I know you told me that you’re half-Yemenite. What’s that culture like compared to
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Ashkenazi culture? I love being Yemenite. I am Ashkenazi and I am Yemenite, but I feel so connected to my Yemenite culture. I love the energy, the dancing, the food. Yemenite Jews are known for their singing. I don’t know if every Yemenite-Ashkenazi Jew feels that [sense of connection to their Yemenite heritage], but I do. How has that sense of connection to your heritage informed your career as a musician? Growing up, I always felt different. I wished I looked like everyone else. I had curly hair and darker skin tones than a lot of my classmates in Jewish day school. I even think that insecurity can sometimes show in my music. I wrote a song called “Gold, Blonde,” which is all about a sense of not fitting into the narrow mold of Eurocentric beauty standards. Sometimes I feel like I’m in between — not fully Ashkenazi, not fully Mizrahi. But at the same time, my heritage is also a unique
gift because it doesn’t make me uncomfortable to have those difficult conversations about whiteness in Judaism. I actually think it allows me to come to conversations in a different and interesting way. In day school, I remember my education on Jewish history was strong, but it was Ashkenormative. We touched upon Sephardic history a little bit, but I don’t think I ever learned anything about the Mizrahim until my history degree at McGill. I don’t even think I realized how Ashkenazi my Jewish education was until I went to university. In second year, I had this existential crisis learning about a lot of genocides I had never studied in the Jewish day school system. I didn’t even learn about the Residential school system in Canada until university. I think [overall] Jewish day See JEWISH R&B on Page
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schools are getting so much better when it comes to teaching both secular North American history and non-Ashkenazi Jewish history, but that omission really disappointed me. [In second year], I started speaking with my dad and he told me all about the racism and discrimination my grandparents faced in Israel, and I learned some crazy histories. There was the Yemenite Jewish Children’s Affair, where Yemenite children in Israel were kidnapped and sent around the world for illegal adoption. Some of the children were even adopted by childless Holocaust survivors living in Israel. It’s a difficult, messy history, not something to be proud of. My hope is that Jewish day schools can bring that history in, and in a safe and brave way learn to interrogate how our communities work. I hope we can acknowledge how racism exists within Judaism. In order to do the work [of combating anti-Semitism] outside our community, we need to do the work inside as well. Right. And that’s so tricky because we live in a world where anti-Semitism is still a legitimate danger for all Jews, especially after the pro-Trump raid on the U.S. Capitol. Yet there can also be these ugly inequities within our communities. Both these forces exist at the same time, which can be difficult to address without coming across as antagonistic. What do you think that delicate, sensitive work of tackling intracommunity racism looks like? Just as a teacher, education is everything to me. The Jewish community has taken so many steps to improve equitable education and address issues such as racism, classism and homophobia head on.
There’s a group within the Canadian Jewish community that is working on an initiative called No Silence on Race that aims to address how racism still plagues Jewish spaces in Canada. The team — Sara Yacobi-Harris, Akilah Allen-Silverstein and Yoni Belete — is working with Jewish institutions to create spaces for dialogue and necessary change. I think it’s about listening, sitting down together, making space for Jews of color, and then absorbing all that knowledge to take concrete steps to change our communities for the better. I also think my Yemenite Jewish upbringing informs a lot of the work I do within the Jewish community because I am committed to shedding light on my grandparents’ experience with racism after immigrating to Israel in 1948. I challenge attendants in my workshops to consider the continuing, contemporary impacts of racism within our Jewish communities, such as the treatment of Ethiopian Jews both in Israel and in North America. I love being Jewish and I am proud to be part of this community, but there’s a lot of work that still needs to be done so we can envision and pave a more inclusive path forward. Erez Zobary is streaming on Spotify, YouTube and wherever else you get your feminist, Jewish R&Bindie-pop music. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JTA or its parent company, 70 Faces Media.
Happy Passover to all of my many friends in the Jewish Community! Thank you for your continued support! Good luck and kindest regards,
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In Newest Passover Children's Books, A Bespectaled Lion Reads The Haggadah And A Depression-Era Mitzvah By Penny Schwartz
BOSTON (JTA) -- On the eve of Passover during the Depression, a juggler in ragged clothes is invited into the home of a poor family that has a bare Seder table. It's a poignant scene in “The Passover Guest,” the captivating debut picture book by author Susan Kusel, a longtime Judaica librarian who was inspired by a classic Yiddish tale, “The Magician,” by I.L. Peretz. A different Seder table takes center stage in “The Four Questions,” where a bespectacled lion reads from a Haggadah at a lavish ceremonial meal with guests that include a zebra, a young monkey and other whimsical animals. The gloriously illustrated book is a new edition of the 1989 classic by the late artist Ori Sherman with text by the acclaimed novelist and poet Lynne Sharon Schwartz. The pair are standouts in this spring's crop of eight new engaging children's books for Passover, the eight-day Festival of Freedom that begins this year on the evening of March 27. Other titles feature lighthearted humorous stories and a lively interactive family Hagaddah with tips for this COVID-19 era, when many Seder guests may be joining remotely. “Baby Moses in a Basket” Caryn Yacowitz; illustrated by Julie Downing Candlewick; ages 3 to 7 In simple rhyming verse, Yacowitz reimagines the biblical story of baby Moses as his mother sets him adrift in a basket on the Nile to save him from harm from the Egyptian Pharaoh. The river's creatures protect baby Moses until he is discovered by Pharaoh's daughter. Downing's beautifully colored double-page illustrations of a wide-winged ibis, a hippo, crocodile and an escort of butterflies bring the story to life. “Seder in Motion: A Haggadah to Move Body and Soul”
Here’s a lively family Haggadah that encourages Seder participants of any age to feel a personal connection to the Passover story. The engaging style follows the traditional order of the Seder and features Jewish customs from around the world along with thought-provoking questions There are plenty of tips for remote guests. “Meet the Matzah: A Passover Story” Alan Silberberg Viking; ages 3 to 5 In this playful and zany story, the award-winning cartoonist Silberberg sets the humorous action in an imaginary classroom where the “students” are types of breads. Alfie Koman, a shy matzah, tries to retell the story of Passover, but the school sourdough, Loaf, takes over and stirs trouble. Alfie must decide whether to leave his hiding place to confront the mean-spirited Loaf. Expect lots of laughs from Loaf's made-up version of the Ten Plagues (among them no WiFi and broccoli for dessert). “Matzah Craze” Jamie KiffelAlcheh; illustrated by Lauren Gallegos Kar-Ben; ages 4-9 At Noa's multicultural school, the kids like to swap what's in their lunch boxes. But during Passover, when Noa has an unusual looking cracker – her matzah – she explains to her friends that she can't swap. In KiffelAlcheh's delightful rhyming story, the spunky Noa, with copper-toned skin and frizzy red hair, figures out how to share her favorite ways to eat matzah. “The Great Passover Escape” Pamela Moritz; illustrated by Florence Weiser Rabbi Ron Isaacs Kar-Ben; ages and Dr. Leora 4-9 Isaacs; illustratIt's the eve of ed by Martin Passover at the Biblical Zoo in JeruWickstrom salem, and Elle the elephant and Behrman House; all ages THE
Kang the kangaroo are eager to find a way to escape and find a Seder. Their friend Chimp answers their Passover questions and joins the adventure. Will the trio get past the locked zoo gate and find a ritual meal? Pamela Moritz's humor-filled story is embellished with Florence Weiser's brightly colored illustrations. “The Passover Guest” Susan Kusel; illustrated by Sean Rubin Neal Porter Books/Holiday House; ages 4 to 8 Set in Washington, D.C., in 1933, during the Depression, Kusel's warmhearted story takes its inspiration from Uri Shulevitz's version of Peretz's Yiddish tale “The Magician,” which she loved as a child. On the eve of Passover, a young girl named Muriel wanders around her favorite sites in the nation's capital. She's in no hurry to go home because her family does not have enough money for a Seder. At the Lincoln Memorial, Muriel is enchanted by a juggling magician dressed in rags. When the stranger turns up at her family's door and is invited in for Passover, their bare table miraculously fills with an abundance of food for the Seder. Could the mysterious guest have been Elijah? Sean Rubin's vibrant, expressive illustrations pay tribute to Marc Chagall, Rubin writes in an artist's note. “Moses Could Have Been Selfish” MJ Wexler MJ Wexler Books; ages 3 to 7 In this simply told rhyming story, Wexler retells the story of Moses and the Exodus from Egypt in an accessible style for young kids, emphasizing standing up against injustice. Questions at the end encourage discussion. “The Four Questions” Levine Querido; ages 8 and up In this exquisite pairing of text and art, Sherman and Schwartz captivate readers – kids and adults – with the Four Questions tradition-
ally recited by the youngest child at the beginning of the Seder. The lavishly illustrated book is a new printing of the original first published in 1989. Like the Seder itself, the book has the air of mystery and intrigue. Schwartz answers the Four Questions with a lyrical narrative of the Passover story and its rituals. Sherman fills the bordered pages with gloriously colored illustrations of whimsical elephants, monkeys, fish, goats and birds. Turn the book upside down for a view of the Four Questions written in Hebrew calligraphy and other illustrations. A back page note by Ori Z. Soltes, a scholar of Jewish art, explains that Sherman's dazzling art carries forth traditions from hieroglyphics to illuminated Jewish manuscripts and the centuries-old painted murals of Eastern Europe's wooden synagogues.
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Top Children’s Books Feature A Passover Tale And 2 Coming-Of-Age Debut Novels By Penny Schwartz
The awards, given by the Association of Jewish Libraries, were announced Monday at the American Library Association’s midwinter meeting as part of the ALA’s Youth Media Awards ceremony.
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The ALA conference was held remotely due to the pandemic. In “Welcoming Elijah: A Passover Tale with a Tail,” by Leslea Newman and illustrated by Susan Gal, a young boy celebrating a Passover Seder with his family is united with a lonely kitten shivering at his doorstep on a cold, windy night. The lyrically written story, echoing with the holiday’s theme of welcoming strangers, won in the picture-book category. Newman is the award-winning author of more than 70 books, including the trailblazing “Heather Has Two Mommies” and “Gittel’s Journey.” “Turtle Boy,” by M. Evan Wolkenstein, won in the category for middle grades. In this stirring work, seventh-grader Will Levine is a shy loner paired for his bar mitzvah project with a terminally ill hospitalized teen longing for adventure. Kveller, a sister site of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, described the book as a “marvelous coming-of-age story about bravery and the redemptive power of friendship,” and finding meaning in Jewish ritual.
Illustrated by Ori Sherman; text by Lynne Sharon Schwartz
In the young adult category, the top prize went to “Dancing to the Pity Party,” by Tyler Feder. The critically acclaimed graphic-style memoir explores the loss and grief following the death of Feder’s mother. It’s funny and sad, according to Rebecca Levitan, chair of the Sydney Taylor Award Committee, who in a news release described the book as a “singular achievement.” Six silver medalists and 11 notable books were recognized. The full list is available here. The Sydney Taylor Book Awards honor books for children and teens that exemplify “high literary standards while authentically portraying the Jewish experience.” They are named in memory of the author of the mid-20th century series “All-of-a-Kind-Family.” The winners will receive their awards at the Association of Jewish Libraries’ annual conference, which this year will be held remotely at the end of June.
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‘The Ways Of Torah Are Peaceful’: Why Football Presents A Dilemma For American Jews By Gabe Friedman
(Getty Images; photo illustration by Grace Yagel)
(JTA) — Rabbi Josh Feigelson remembers the moment that football lost its magic for him. It was Oct. 20, 2013, and Feigelson was eating dinner with his family at Ken’s Diner, a kosher restaurant in Skokie, the Chicago suburb where they live. A TV was playing a football game between the Green Bay Packers and the Cleveland Browns. Feigelson, who grew up in the football-crazed college town of Ann Arbor, Michigan, was a longtime fan of the sport, and his then preteen kids had taken up the mantle, participating in fantasy football leagues and following news about the NFL’s 32 different teams. So they were watching closely when the Packers’ Jermichael Finley, a 6-foot-5 tight end weighing close to 250 pounds, was hit so hard by an opposing player that he dropped limply to the turf. While the others around him picked up the fumbled ball and finished the play, Finley lay on his side, unable to move. He was eventually taken off the field on a stretcher, and doctors diagnosed his injury as a spinal cord contusion stemming from a hit to the head and neck — essentially, a few of his vertebrae had jammed too close together. He has since mostly recovered, but he never played in another NFL game. To Feigelson’s surprise, Finley’s injury didn’t register with his kids. “They were like, ‘Whoa, that was an amazing hit!’ And it’s like, this guy just potentially lost his life. I mean, he certainly ended his career, and he’s got kids,” said Feigelson, the executive director of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality. “I thought, ‘No, I can’t say that, there’s nothing to marvel at here.’ And I could feel it… something woke up for me.” Feigelson added, “It’s a beautiful game. But what we’ve all become THE
more aware of, as in so many other areas of our lives, is that there’s all this stuff that we haven’t allowed ourselves to see. And I think it is a Jewish value to allow ourselves to be conscious of that and to reckon with — is this a price we’re willing to pay? And can we really suffer that level of cognitive dissonance, that this is such a violent sport?” Feigelson is not alone in the struggle to reconcile his Jewish values with his football fandom amid multiple ongoing crises for the sport, over the danger it presents for players and the NFL’s handling of both players’ misconduct and racial justice protests. Now, even as the country gears up for a pretty Jewish Super Bowl — Sunday’s game features Jewish players, a rarity, on both teams — American Jews are wrestling with just how closely to tune in. While the love affair between Jews and baseball is firmly established, many American Jews are also avid football fans. Statistically, in terms of TV and in person viewership and personal preference, football is by far the most popular sport in the country, and many of those interviewed by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency compared the activity of getting together with family or friends (in person or virtually, even in the pandemic era) every Sunday for their teams’ once-a-week games to a regular religious ritual. Sometimes the sport even interacts with religion. “I think there was one year where a football game fell on Rosh Hashanah, so [my family] went to services in the morning, and then had the big Rosh Hashanah dinner, and then, you know, watched the football game,” said Philadelphia Eagles fan Amy Schiowitz, who watches her team every week without fail. Being a football fan has grown more complicated for many in recent years. First came the mounting evidence that the sport is dangerous: Many players experience a dangerous amount of concussions, and studies have found that they are at risk of traumatic brain injuries, especially one called chronic traumatic encephalopathy. In addition to pain, CTE causes
mood swings, memory loss and even suicidal tendencies. Several former players, including the Pro Bowlers Junior Seau and Dave Duerson, have killed themselves in recent decades. More recently, the NFL has drawn criticism for its handling of two sensitive issues: racial justice protests and domestic violence by its players. In the eyes of many observers and fans, the NFL penalized too lightly several players convicted of physical domestic abuse against their spouses and children, including Tyreek Hill, the star wide receiver of the Kansas City Chiefs, playing in the Super Bowl against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Then there is Colin Kaepernick. After kneeling during the national anthem before games in the 2016 season to protest police brutality against Black men, the star quarterback was effectively blacklisted by the league’s owners, prematurely ending his career. He and a teammate sued the NFL for unfairly colluding to keep them from playing (they settled the case in 2019 under undisclosed terms). Kaepernick became a symbol of anti-patriotic sentiment for some — including
Donald Trump — and almost a prophet for others who see his protest as predicting the wave of racial justice protests that swept America in 2020.
Colin Kaepernick, No. 7, kneels with his teammate Eric Reid during the national anthem prior to a game on Sept. 1, 2016. (Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)
NBA agent Danielle Cantor Jeweler said the difference between how the NFL and the NBA, the basketball league, handled racial justice protests was one factor that undercut her love for football. In the wake of the killing of George Floyd last year, the NBA encouraged its players to speak out and allowed them to wear Black Lives Matter slogans on their jerseys. Jeweler, who is one of few women in her field and says her Jewish values guide her career See FOOTBALL on Page
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FOOTBALL Continued from Page 23 choices, grew up a self-proclaimed “diehard” Washington Redskins fan in the D.C. area (the team is now temporarily called Washington Football Team as it works toward changing its name after decades of criticism for using a racial epithet). Her family had season tickets and went to “every home game my whole life,” often tailgating before games. She knew the players’ individual statistics. But these days, she finds herself watching football much less. “I still watch somewhat, although way less than I used to, and there’s sort of this dissonance when I watch. And I’ve talked to a bunch of people and gotten sort of a range of views on that,” Jeweler said. “Is there a higher Jewish value system that we can hold ourselves to?” For Rabbanit Leah Sarna, an education director at Drisha, a center for Jewish learning in New York City, the solution to these anxieties is clear-cut: fully stop watching and supporting the sport. “I would like to see the Jewish community completely divest from football,” she said. “Sport gives us a way to relax and helps us to feel
pride in our localities… But the minute you have people getting permanently injured, for my pleasure, that just stops making sense. And the minute it stops making sense, it doesn’t just become, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t do this.’ It becomes, in my opinion, prohibited by Jewish law.” In Judaism, the concept of pikuach nefesh prohibits actions that endangers a human life. Sarna said that abandoning football can fall into that category. Feigelson brought up the analogy of hunting for sport, saying that rabbis have written that that concept connotes senseless violence. “A sport centered around violence, is really — there’s something that doesn’t sit right about that. It’s not peaceful, it’s not in keeping with the notion that the ways of Torah are peaceful,” he said. But not everyone feels that way. After Sarna recently posted on Facebook that she considers tackle football “assur,” the Hebrew word for forbidden, she garnered nearly 200 responses, many of them to counter her assertion. Some argued that other sports are just as dangerous and also cause concussions; others argued that she doesn’t understand the game or its fans.
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One commenter wrote: “it’s important to acknowledge that there is also a lot of beautiful skill and strategy in the sport. I don’t think many people who love the sport would agree with you that it’s centrally about enjoying violence.” Rabbi Stephen Slater is one of those who sees football as beautiful. He leads the Conservative Temple Beth-El synagogue in Birmingham, Alabama, where many locals end conversations with the phrase “Roll Tide,” an indication of support for the University of Alabama’s Crimson Tide football team. (Slater said he was advised to end his Beth-El interview that way if he wanted to get the job.) In his community, there are two choices, and it’s not watching football or not watching — it’s rooting for either the University of Alabama or its in-state rival, Auburn University. Seeing Tyreek Hill play is like watching the “most unbelievable feats of dance,” Slater said, arguing that football is a beautiful display of physical skill. “The feats of athleticism are just stunning. The sort of total physical engagement it requires. You know, speed, strength, skill, teamwork… I think we see many of the very best athletes in America are attracted to it,” he said. Slater added that he thinks the sport’s intensity — and the intensity with which fans watch it — is actually a useful outlet. “American football really looks like a battle, you draw lines, and then you know, charge at each other… And I think that feeds something in a peaceful way that’s really crucial for society,” he said. “I was captain of my soccer team and that was this massive outlet for all this youthful energy that we had. It was a place to kind of try out our contest of the ego in a sustainable, healthy way.”
Yonah Rosenfield and friends watch football outside under a tarp. (Courtesy of Rosenfield)
Yonah Rosenfield, an 18-yearold high school senior, watches “NFL RedZone” — an NFL Network show designed for fantasy league players that rapidly switches between scoring plays of all the
league’s different games — every Sunday with his friends from the Orthodox SAR school in New York. It’s the main way he stays in close contact with those friends after switching schools, and even during the pandemic, they constructed outdoor setups with a projector so they could watch together in a socially distanced way. On Sundays, Rosenfield doesn’t think twice about his love for the game. But during the week, when he sees “completely degrading” comments about football players on online forums, he feels the weight of the game’s moral conundrum. “I want to preface my answer with — I am more morally and ideologically pure than my actual practice. But ideologically, I think that, you know, I would agree with the statement that it’s a brutal sport. And I think that is definitely intertwined with the racial component of the issues. Because the NFL is majority Black,” he said, “and you have a lot of fans who can kind of feel a disconnect from their humanity, in some ways, and can kind of root for them to be gladiators, and to put themselves in harm’s way and have a disconnect.” The tensions inherent in the sport will be very much on Schiowitz’s mind as she watches the Super Bowl. She remains a devoted football fan, last year participating in three different fantasy leagues and winning two of them. She said she likes drawing connections between the sport and her Jewishness in social media posts. In 2018, for example, she compared all of the players on the Eagles to Passover foods in an amusing Twitter thread. But the 31-year-old mental health therapist has been speaking out against what she sees as the NFL’s mistakes, especially on social media, where she interacts with a large community of fellow Eagles fans. She’s especially distressed by the fact that Hill is still playing despite admitting to assaulting his pregnant girlfriend in 2014. (He was also later accused of breaking his 3-year-old son’s arm, but police never amassed evidence to prove that.) “Certain events that have played out that just don’t align with what my values are as a Jewish person. So that has been a little bit difficult to reconcile,” she said. THE
Arts & Culture
Golden Globes: Sacha Baron Cohen Wins Big, And Other Fun Jewish Moments By Gabe Friedman
Sacha Baron Cohen smiles after winning one of his two Golden Globes via video stream, Feb. 28, 2021. (HFPA via Getty Images)
(JTA) — Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat character is going out on a high note. Cohen won best actor in a comedy or musical, and his “Borat” sequel upset the Disney+ adaptation of “Hamilton” by winning best film in the category at the Golden Globes on Sunday night. Like its predecessor, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” poked fun at the blatant anti-Semitism found in parts of Eastern Europe. It features a scene with Holocaust survivor Judith Dim Evans in a synagogue who helps Borat (almost) come to grips with his backward views about Jews. But just before the film’s release, Evans’ daughter sued Cohen, claiming that her mother (who passed away after filming) did not want to appear in a comedy. That was just one of the many lawsuits and obstacles that Cohen said he has had to endure as a result of his prank disguise method of making comedic films and shows, which beyond “Borat” include the Showtime series “Who is America?” And that’s why he said recently that his disguise days — the Borat character included — are over. In his acceptance speech for the best comedy actor award, Cohen thanked his bodyguard, who he said pro-
tected him from getting shot twice during the filming of the Borat sequel. Cohen also couldn’t help but poke fun at Donald Trump, whose presidency motivated Cohen to take formerly uncharacteristic public stands against hate speech and social media disinformation. “Hold on, Donald Trump is contesting the result,” he said after winning the actor award. “He’s claiming that a lot of dead people voted, which is a very rude thing to say about the HFPA,” the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Despite the historic nature of the Globes ceremony — hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler were featured in a split screen from opposite coasts, and small in-person audiences were made up only of essential workers who were all tested for COVID-19 — the show had its usual share of fun Jewish moments. Some Jewish stars won marquee awards, while others lost in major categories. Here’s what you might have missed: Dan Levy pushes inclusion The final season of “Schitt’s Creek,” the riches-to-rags comedy featuring the Jewish father-son team of Eugene and Dan Levy, finished its historic award show run with a couple of accolades: Golden Globes for best TV comedy series and best actress in the same category for Catherine O’Hara. Inclusion was the theme of the evening, as several presenters — including the show’s hosts — called out the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for not having a single Black member, and for snubbing acclaimed shows by Black creators,
including HBO’s “I May Destroy You.” Multiple Globe winners also used their acceptance speeches to push the film and TV industry to work harder at bringing diverse voices to the table. Dan Levy put the theme at the heart of his speech. “This acknowledgement is a lovely vote of confidence in the messages ‘Schitt’s Creek’ has come to stand for: the idea that inclusion can bring about growth and love to a community,” he said. “In the spirit of inclusion, I hope this time next year this ceremony reflects the true breadth and diversity of film
and television being made today because there is so much more to be celebrated.” Aaron Sorkin quotes Abbie Hoffman and condemns Jan. 6 Sorkin, the heralded Jewish screenwriter, won his third Globe for best screenplay for a drama film, for “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” which chronicled the backstory of the riotous protest at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Cohen was nominated as well for best actor in the drama category for See GOLDEN GLOBES on Page
Happy Passover to My Friends and Constituents in the Jewish Community Polly Thomas • Representative District 80
Shalom and Best Wishes to my many friends in the New Orleans Jewish community for a Happy Passover Thanks for your continued support
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Arts & Culture
GOLDEN GLOBES Continued from Page 25 his performance as Abbie Hoffman, a very Jewish icon of the anti-war movement of the 1960s and ’70s. (He was beaten out by the late Chadwick Boseman for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.”) In his acceptance speech, Sorkin said that Cohen emailed him a quote from Hoffman during each day of filming. (Cohen wrote his college thesis at Cambridge University on the American civil rights movement, so he’s pretty familiar with the era.) “None of them ever made it into the film, but I saved the emails,” Sorkin said. “I don’t always agree with everything that characters I write view or say, but here’s something Abbie said: ‘Democracy is not something you believe in or a place to hang your hat. But it’s something you do. You participate. If you stop doing it, democracy crumbles.’” He added: “I don’t need any more evidence beyond what happened on Jan. 6 to agree with this.” Norman Lear gets a “progressive” tribute Lear, the Jewish creator of several memorable TV shows, is still winning at 98. The Globes gave him the honorary Carol Burnett Award, which since 2019 has recognized “outstanding contributions to television
on or off the screen.” In narrating a video tribute to Lear, comedian Wanda Sykes called him the “most progressive” television producer in history for bringing uncomfortable issues around race and class into mainstream American TV screens through series such as “All in the Family” and “The Jeffersons.” Cynthia Nixon revives the Bernie Sanders meme Nixon — the actress, former New York gubernatorial candidate and Congregation Beit Simchat Torah member — was nominated for best supporting actress in a dramatic TV series for her role in the “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” spinoff “Ratched.” She didn’t win, but she made plenty of headlines for her appearance via video stream, which included a life-size cardboard cutout of Bernie Sanders in his now iconic Inauguration Day pose wearing a pair of homemade mittens. Ben Stiller shows off his baking skills Stiller presented the best actress in the musical or comedy category, but got everyone’s attention by bringing food to the stage. After lamenting a full year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Jewish actor said: “Like many of us, I’ve used that time to really look inward and grow. I’ve come to fully understand the nature of cryptocurrency.
I read a book. I finally got around to dying my hair gray. And like so many other resilient Americans, I learned to bake.” Then he revealed a banana bread in the shape of a Golden Globe trophy. Other Jewish winners and losers – Songwriter Diane Warren won her second Globe for best original song. Her tune “Io si” featured in “The Life Ahead,” in which the iconic actress Sophia Loren plays a Holocaust survivor. – The Pixar flick “Soul,” which one JTA writer argued borrows from an ancient Jewish idea, won
best animated film. – Shira Haas was nominated but didn’t win the best actress in a limited TV series category. She drew acclaim for her performance in “Unorthodox,” about a young Hasidic woman who leaves the community. – Jane Levy was nominated in the best actress in a comedy or musical category for her role in “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist,” but lost to O’Hara. – Al Pacino is not Jewish, but he played a Jewish Nazi hunter with a Yiddish accent in Amazon’s “Hunters.” He lost in the best TV drama series actor category.
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Best Wishes to my many Jewish Friends and constituents for a Happy Passover
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26 Passover 2021
Arts & Culture
The Jewish Muscleman Who Likely Inspired The Creators Of Superman By Tzvi Sinensky
Siegmund Breitbart, who could pull heavy weights with his teeth, was considered one of the strongest men in the world. (U.S. Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons)
(JTA) — With “Superman and Lois,” the newest TV series involving the character, premiering last week on the CW network, it’s a good time to recall that Superman was the 1938 brainchild of Jewish creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Many have suggested that the pair were inspired by their own Jewish backgrounds to create Superman as the paradigm of a hero who defended vulnerable populations from their enemies. But there is reason to suspect that a more specific encounter may have inspired them to craft the Superman persona. The years 1923 and 1924 saw a phenomenon in the United States: tours by Siegmund Breitbart, known as “The Jewish Superman,” across North America. Breitbart performed in Cleveland and Toronto, Siegel and Schuster’s respective hometowns. While it is nearly impossible to prove — there are no records of Siegel or Shuster mentioning Breitbart — there is reason to surmise that the strongman may have served as something of an inspiration. He wore a cape and was advertised as capable of stopping speeding locomotives. Who was this man Breitbart, lauded during his lifetime as the strongest man in the world, The Iron King, Jewish Hercules and a modern-day Samson? Siegmund “Zishe” Breitbart was born to a family of locksmiths in Lodz (now Poland, then Russia) in 1893. In his autobiography, he reports that his family discovered his unusual strength when, at age 3, he extricated himself from beneath an iron bar that had fallen on him in his father’s store. By 4 he was casting iron in his family shop. His early years were difficult. Expelled from a number of religious schools for using force against fellow students, Breitbart was capTHE
tured by the Germans while serving in the Russian army during World War I. After the war he remained in Germany, subsisting on the money he earned by performing feats of strength at local markets. It was at one such 1919 performance that the German Circus Busch, famed for featuring Harry Houdini and other top performers, spotted Breitbart and brought him on board to perform its opening act. Breitbart’s strongman routine, which had him dressed in hypermasculine costumes such as a Roman centurion, skyrocketed in popularity, and he quickly was moved from sideshow to main event. Notwithstanding the fast-rising tide of anti-Semitism in Germany and Austria, Breitbart, who often wore the Star of David while entering the circus ring, achieved a mass Jewish and non-Jewish following in Berlin, Vienna, Prague and Warsaw. Breitbart’s act was based on his early experience working with iron. He bent rods into horseshoes, bit
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through chains and pounded nails into boards with his fist. He could draw chariots with his teeth. And his image undercut racial stereotypes about Jews. As musclemen were seen as representing the proud, strong German male throughout the opening decades of the 20th century, Breitbart was in effect also embodying quintessential images of German masculinity. As Breitbart’s legend grew, he
increasingly became the talk of each town in which he performed. One reporter noted that “Not only do gymnasia students and high school girls talk about him; even first graders know how strong Breitbart is.” A tavern proprietor complained, “My tables are studded with holes because my customers test their See MUSCLEMAN on Page
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Arts & Culture
MUSCLEMAN Continued from Page 27 strength by hammering nails into them with their open hands. All Viennese women are in love with this new Samson. Racial hatred, pride or prudishness — all of it is useless here.” Capitalizing on his popularity in Europe, Breitbart spent much of 1923 touring the United States. Ultimately the Breitbart craze resulted in product endorsements, a starring role in the 1923 film “The Iron King” and a Breitbart physical health correspondence course in which subscribers received guides detailing Breitbart’s muscle-building and nutritional eating routines. Breitbart’s career came to an abrupt end in 1925 when a stage accident involving a rusty nail led to a fatal case of blood poisoning. He was buried in Berlin. Unfortunately, the Nazi destruction of Polish Jewry largely extinguished the rich oral legends that perpetuated Breitbart’s memory. But his legend has not fully disappeared. A 2001 movie, “Invincible,” featured a fictional account of his life. A children’s book titled “Zishe the Strongman” appeared in
2010. What do we make of this seeming paradox: a Jewish superhero who at a time of rising anti-Semitism, and during an era when Jewish men were derided as sissies, became a folk hero of able-bodied masculinity?
Breitbart performs a show of strength in 1921. (ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
Some saw Breitbart as a sort of vindication of the then-German and Austrian embrace of male bravado. In this view, that he was also Jewish rendered him something of a freak to the average German, making him all the more compelling as entertainment on the vaudeville circuit. Others saw Breitbart as a model for the new Zionist Muscular Judaism. A popular Yiddish saying went, “If a thousand Breitbarts were to arise among the Jews, the Jewish people would cease being perse-
cuted.” Breitbart himself was a proud Jew and often performed while flanked by the Zionist flag. He refused to return to a Warsaw restaurant that declined to play “Hatikvah” to greet him. He supported Zeev Jabotinsky’s idea of a Jewish army. Legend has it that Jabotinsky and Breitbart hatched a plan in which Breitbart would become the general of a one-day Jewish army in Palestine. But neither of these fully captures the story of Breitbart, who was more than just a proud Jewish strongman. He highly esteemed rabbis and Jewish intellectuals, and according to one report, he amassed a substantial personal library that contained 2,000 books on Roman history. He performed for a group of Yiddish thinkers and wrote a personal letter of support on their behalf. He met and performed personally on behalf of the Radzhiner Hasidic rebbe and donated 30 pounds of Passover flour to the rebbe’s followers following the meeting. Even more remarkable, “Zishe” (literally sweet) was eulogized by numerous individuals as exceptionally sweet, highly emotional and
filled with “edelkeit” (Yiddish for a sweet, caring person). One reporter who met with Breitbart expected a tough guy. Instead, he subsequently characterized The Iron King as “the embodiment of edelkeit.” Similarly, the chief rabbi of the Orthodox Jewish Community (Adass Yisroel) in Berlin, Dr. Esra Monk, saw Breitbart as a “modern Samson the hero” who also possessed a tender demeanor. “It is greatly symbolic,” Monk declared in his 1925 eulogy, “that for a man who broke chains, it was enough for one person’s good word to render his heart soft as butter.” Like Clark Kent, Breitbart’s persona was far richer and more wellrounded than his stage persona allowed. He was a mixture of elements — brains, brawn, a gentle nature and fierce Jewish pride. And he’s still inspiring nearly 100 years after his untimely death. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JTA or its parent company, 70 Faces Media.
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Unique Jewish Reality TV-Style Program Lets Artists, And Viewers, Show Off Their Artistic Talent By Larry Luxner
Artist Eli Kaplan-Wildmann, one of the artists in the Expedition Maker competition, at his Jerusalem studio. (Eli Kaplan-Wildmann)
Alix Kramer, 25, wants to be a pediatric gastroenterologist. To reach her goal, she’s working toward a degree at the University of Chicago while living at the Lincoln Park Moishe House, a communal residence for Jews in their 20s and 30s. But in her spare time, Kramer designs knitwear, building on a passion she has nurtured since age 7. “When I started designing patterns last year, I realized there were no patterns for Jewish holidays,” Kramer said. “It really bothered me because making a nice Hanukkah sweater is something I always wanted to do.” So, Kramer came up with her own creation: a hand-knit sweater featuring a menorah with snap-on flames, allowing its wearer to display the correct number of candles on any night of the holiday. Kramer began selling patterns online for the sweater, which takes 100 hours to make. Kramer is now one of 10 artist competitors in an unusual Jewish reality TV-style contest called Expedition Maker that’s being organized by Camp Nai Nai Nai, a Moishe House initiative. In normal times, Camp Nai Nai Nai runs Jewish weekend summer camp experiences for Jews in their 20s and 30s that aim to help them connect with each other, do Jewish activities and have fun. With inperson programming impossible due to the pandemic, Camp Nai Nai Nai has been experimenting with creative ways to share those Jewish experiences together online. “We had to switch gears and find new ways to create meaningful immersive experiences,” said Lisa Klig, director of Camp Nai Nai Nai. In this latest project, for four consecutive Sundays beginning Feb. 21, selected artists will lead an THE
interactive do-it-yourself class in their area of expertise via Zoom. Viewers will learn a new craft and work on it with a small group of fellow DIYers on a collaborative design project. Then there will be a watch party as contestants reveal their art pieces, and audience members will vote on their favorite maker. Each week one finalist will win and two will be eliminated. After four weeks, four finalists will remain. On the March 21 show, judges will select the “Grand Makher,” who will receive a $5,000 prize. Anyone may watch the contest online; registration is required to join in workshops or vote. (Click here to register.) “Our goal is to shed light on Jewish artists around the world and their diversity, especially in a time of pandemic when many of them are not working,” Klig said. Among the other virtual projects Camp Nai Nai Nai has created during the pandemic: a monthlong online color war called Expedition Nai in which 800 contestants competed in weekly challenges; a game called Expedition for a Cause in which participants played for a cash prize that went to charity; and a matchmaking game called Expedition Love in the Sukkah. Nearly 2,000 people participated in these virtual activities.
CEO of Moishe House. Yoshi Silverstein, the Clevelandbased founder and executive director of Mitsui Collective, designed Expedition Maker’s artistic challenges based on the Jewish calendar and is one of the competition’s three judges. He also helped select the 10 artists from among over 100 applicants. “We were looking at three criteria: the quality of their prior work, their screen presence, and their ability to talk about their Jewish identity and how that informed their art,” said Silverstein, whose background is in Jewish nature education. “Narrowing it to 10 was quite a challenge, but we were really impressed with the quality.” Eli Kaplan-Wildmann is one of the select 10. An artistic director living in Jerusalem who spent years working on Broadway and TV production sets after graduating from New York University, KaplanWildmann, 37, is working on a project to reimagine books as oneon-one theatrical experiences. “Today, everyone makes Instagram stories and curates their feeds.
Alix Kramer, 25, designing her first sweater in Paris, is one of 10 artists to lead creative workshops as part of Camp Nai Nai Nai’s Expedition Maker program. (Courtesy of Alix Kramer)
Camp Nai Nai Nai is one of the myriad Jewish programs to come out of Moishe House, the nonprofit organization that’s funding Expedition Maker and operates more than 100 Jewish residential homes in over 25 countries on six continents. “This is a very difficult time to be a freelance artist, so we wanted to be able to profile and highlight their work and show how creativity can be combined with Judaism,” said David Cygielman, founder and www.thejewishlight.org
But somehow Judaism hasn’t caught up with that,” he said. “People are thirsty for beautiful and contemporary aesthetic design in their Jewish observance, and we need to find artists who are going to give it to them.” He recently crafted several hundred hand-sewn Passover Haggadahs at $99 each. “This contest is really cool in that it’s bringing more art into Jewish practice,” Kaplan-Wildmann said. “That’s missing for a lot of people.” Ceramics maker Mia Schon is another artist participating from Israel (the other eight are U.S.based). A Bostonian who moved to Israel in 2014, Schon realized soon after immigrating that creating mosaics was a great way to turn drab, graffiti-covered walls in Tel Aviv into vibrant works of art. She obtains tiles, dishes and mirrors at the Jaffa flea market and uses them as elements in her variegated mosaics. See REALITY on Page
Best Wishes to all of my friends in the Jewish Community
Thank You For Your Support. Sheriff Tony MancuSo Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office 5400 East Broad St. • Lake Charles, LA 70615 (337) 491-3600
Happy Passover to all my friends in the Jewish Community! Thank you for your continued support! Judge Johnell Matthews Division C Baton Rouge City Court Best Wishes to my many Jewish friends and constituents for a happy Passover
Charlie Kerner Justice of the Peace
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Why Should We Go Back To Synagogue? By Rabbi Yosie Levine
A stack of High Holiday prayer books are left on a bench at Hebrew Tabernacle of Washington Heights in New York City, Sept. 17, 2020. (Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images)
Text Messages is a column sharing wisdom from the weekly Torah portion produced with The Jewish Week. (JTA) — In hushed voices, rabbis and lay leaders have begun asking a question that scares them: When this pandemic is past, will people come back to shul? It won’t be easy, they fear, to put the genie back in the bottle. Of course, there are those who can’t wait to get back to their synagogues. But many folks are also talking and writing about how they’ve become accustomed to the idea of the shul-less life. They can daven (pray) at their own pace, on their own schedule. They quite enjoy the limitless opportunities to attend services or classes on Zoom. And particularly for those who lean toward introversion, they quite prefer the quiet of Shabbat at home to the buzz of a crowded kiddush. So how do we respond to the implicit question: When it’s safe to return, why would we go back? From a pragmatic perspective, we can appreciate that there are many answers. Not everyone can
pray alone; communal services guide us. Zoom is perfectly adequate for sharing information, but there’s no empathy online. A virtual service can’t make us laugh or cry. Inspiration is harder to come by outside the walls of the synagogue. The list goes on: What about the kids? How do we model rich Jewish living when the only Jewish life they see is in the home? How many children get more attached to Jewish life by not going to shul? These practical considerations may be compelling enough, but I want to highlight three value propositions — three indispensable aspects of synagogue life — that derive from our parsha this week and the Torah’s first description of the mishkan, or tabernacle. The notion of community serves as the animating force behind the project of building the mishkan. In describing its construction, the Torah tells us that God said, “And they shall make for Me a sanctuary so that I may dwell within them” (Exodus 25:8). Rabbi Moshe Alshich (1508-1593) notes that, conspicuously, the verse does not read “and I shall dwell within it.” It’s not the edifice that brings holiness into this world. It’s the people. An institution absent its adherents is no institution at all. It’s by virtue of coming together as a community that we bring holiness into our lives. That’s why even the sage Hillel, who was tolerant of virtually everyone, had no tolerance for those who dissociated from the collective (Pirkei Avot 2:4).
At a time when individualism has become such a pervasive ethic, shul life was and remains one of the last bastions of communitarianism: a place where other people rely on us; where our participation matters; where we’re not in charge of the schedule; where we can’t predict whether you’ll feel comforted or inspired. It’s a place where we surrender a little piece of our autonomy in exchange for the opportunity to belong. Synagogues promote the culture of contribution that we need to combat the rampant sense of consumerism. Membership at the gym or the club is transactional and selfreferential. It’s about how much value I can derive from the institution. Membership at the shul is about how much value I can contribute to the institution. We join because we have something to add. Think of the Israelites in the wilderness. Here were former slaves so habituated to self-preservation that they could scarcely resist the temptation to hoard manna from heaven. And yet given the opportunity to contribute to a communal
project, they over-gave (Exodus 36:3-6). Left to their own devices, the Israelites fended for themselves. Given a communal purpose, they bounded forth with enthusiasm. Well-intentioned as we may be, we need prompts and reminders to grow our tzedakah (philanthropy) and chesed (benevolence) muscles. It’s in shul — surrounded by people with needs different than our own — that we have the opportunity to become Jews who give. Finally, synagogues argue for aspiration over contentedness. By its very nature, the tabernacle was meant to be a provisional sanctuary, a portable temple until such time as a permanent structure could be erected in Jerusalem. Just to see it was to be reminded that our destination had not yet been reached, our goal not yet achieved. Such is part of the very purpose of the contemporary synagogue. Membership makes demands of us and creates expectations. It insists that we have aspirations that are See SYNAGOGUE on Page
Best Wishes to my many Jewish friends and constituents for a happy Passover! Marlin Gusman Orleans Parish Sheriff
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Star Chef Alon Shaya Helped A Holocaust Survivor Recreate Recipes From His Prewar Youth
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Alon Shaya, right, helped Steven Fenves experience the taste of his preHolocaust childhood. (U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum; Rush Jagoe)
(JTA) — Visiting Yad Vashem a decade ago, Alon Shaya got to see some of the Jerusalem Holocaust museum’s culinary artifacts that aren’t always on display to the public. It was the James Beard Awardwinning chef’s introduction to the fact that concentration camp inmates distracted themselves by recalling and secretly writing recipes — on scraps of hidden paper and cloth — from their prewar lives. “Food is such a big part of everything I do. It really moved me that people who were trapped, who were facing almost certain death, were helped by these memories of food. It reminded me of the power of food,” Shaya said. “They would not have spent their last moments documenting this if they did not think this was important.” The Israel-born Shaya was raised in Philadelphia and now lives in New Orleans, where he and his wife, Emily, own Pomegranate Hospitality. The company runs several restaurants, including Safta in Denver and Saba in New Orleans. One will open soon at the Four Seasons Hotel, also in New Orleans. Over the years Shaya kept thinking about those recipes at Yad Vashem. “Is anyone cooking these recipes? Do the families know they exist?” he wondered. Seven years later, on a November 2018 visit to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., Shaya would explore its foodrelated artifacts. He learned about Steven Fenves, a Holocaust survivor and museum volunteer, and saw its collection of more than 140 Fenves family recipes. Fenves recalled that when he, his mother and older sister were forced from their home on the YugoslaviaHungary border in 1944 — his THE
father had already been taken away — there was a line of people on the staircase jeering while waiting to loot the place. Hidden in that crowd, unbeknownst to the Fenveses, was Maris, their former longtime cook. Maris wasn’t there to steal but to surreptitiously rescue items of sentimental value. After the war, she surprised the family by returning the recipe book, schoolwork, and lithographs and artwork by Fenves’ mother, who had perished in the Holocaust. Fenves was liberated in 1945, as was his sister and father, although his father died about four months later. Fenves, now 89, had memories of the family going to the market together, choosing seasonal vegetables, and coming home and pickling them together. He remembered potato circles, with yeasted bread and mashed potatoes, which he and his sister were not allowed to eat; those were the special occasion foods for guests.
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The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum digitized pages of the Fenves family’s recipe book. (U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum)
He and his sister loved a roast turkey dish that involved pulling the turkey off the bone, grinding the meat and then packing it back on before baking. The two would work their way through the ground meat to reach their favorite part, the bone. But Fenves never prepared those foods of his youth. And that’s where Shaya stepped in. The chef wanted to help Fenves experience again the tastes of the food made by his mother and grandmothers — food he hadn’t savored in 75 years. Fenves translated 13 recipes from Hungarian and the book’s table of contents working off a high-resoluSee ALON SHAYA on Page
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tion copy, as the original is quite fragile, said Edna Friedberg, a historian with the U.S. museum. While Fenves has an affinity for languages — even as a child he was trilingual — translating the “rescued recipes” was beyond entering them in Google translate. The recipes are handwritten, so he had to decipher 100-year-old script that may have regional differences of language. Some survivors’ recipes may be written in a combination of languages, such as Yiddish and Polish. And it’s an emotional process for survivors remembering their losses. (The museum is accepting donations to fund the translation and rescue of more recipes so that prewar food traditions can continue.)
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Shaya searched the translations for dishes he had never made and recipes to which Fenves had a connection. He chose the potato circles, the turkey, a walnut cake and semolina sticks, which Fenves identified as a delicacy he missed. Fenves told Shaya the snack — crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside — needed to look like fish sticks. So Shaya made a Cream of Wheat-type substance cooked down with milk, then lightly breaded and fried. The dish was perfection, according to Fenves. It’s also now in regular rotation at the Shaya home. “The semolina sticks and ground turkey exactly replicated what I remember,” Fenves told an audience in a live video presented by the museum. The recipes are largely lists of ingredients, without techniques and oven temperatures, so Shaya worked with Fenves to recreate them. Due to the pandemic, Shaya worked in New Orleans and shipped Fenves
food packed in dry ice. Fenves would heat and eat at home and provide Shaya with critiques. The process took the better part of a year. Videoconferencing made it possible for Shaya to see Fenves and his family, even if Shaya could not serve him in person, as he wished. “To send him food and have him be able to taste those things for the first time in 75 years, that was one of the most moving things I have ever done,” Shaya said. Friedberg, the museum historian, said Shaya brought an “incalculable” amount of joy to Fenves. “The importance of the recipes books is the way it makes vivid and real and visceral what was lost during the Holocaust,” Friedberg said. “We have to make sure that Jews are not flattened into victims. The partnership of Alon and Steve is one of the most powerful examples of how to appreciate prewar Jewish life.”
REALITY Continued from Page 29
block printing techniques. Instead of stripes, Mason’s shawls incorporate repeating lines that combine liturgical motifs with designs from the natural world. Fabric is colored using leaves, berries and roots in a process known as botanical dyeing. “This is a really great experience, and great exposure for everyone in the challenge,” said Mason, who has made everything from tefillin bags and challah covers to head scarves dyed with chestnuts and avocados. Klig said she hopes this competition will not just be a showcase, but a way for Jews to connect across geographical distances. “This is a new opportunity to connect with people in a way we would have never done previously,” Klig said. “Unlike a reality show where you just watch on TV, this is a chance to attend workshops with the artists, chat with them online and have a much more personal connection.” This article was sponsored by and produced in partnership with Camp Nai Nai Nai, the ultimate Jewish summer camp for adults in their 20s and 30s, powered by Moishe House. This article was produced by JTA’s native content team.
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Participants at a Camp Nai Nai Nai – West Coast program in 2018. Since the pandemic started, Camp Nai Nai Nai has shifted to online programming aimed at Jews in their 20s and 30s. (Katie Krauss)
“One day, I saw an advertisement on Facebook for Expedition Maker and thought it would be fun to participate, especially right now with the pandemic,” Schon said. “There was an interview process on Zoom, with questions like ‘How does your art fit into Judaic thought?’ I’m really excited about this.” Schon, 33, has completed 10 mosaics, most of them in Israel but also one in San Angelo, Texas. Noam Mason, 22, a textile artist, educator and self-described “Boston-centric genderqueer Jew” in Worcester, Massachusetts, is one of the competition’s younger artists. Mason’s company, Kol Atzmotai, produces the tallis, or Jewish prayer shawl, using linoleum-cut
We’re Running Out Of Time To Preserve Endangered Jewish Languages. Here’s How We Can Stop Them From Being Lost Forever. By Sarah Bunin Benor
A kippah and a pile of documents (Getty Images)
(JTA) — I can’t stop thinking about Flory Jagoda, Joseph Sassoon and Kitty Sassoon – three American Jews in their 90s who died last week. As an Ashkenazi Jew, I do not share their family backgrounds. But their deaths hit home for me, as they were among the last native speakers of endangered Jewish languages — languages I’m helping to document before it’s too late. Flory Jagoda devoted much of her life to preserving one of those languages. She grew up in Bosnia speaking Ladino, also known as Judeo-Spanish, which her ancestors had maintained since their expulsion from Spain in 1492. She survived the Holocaust in part through her musical skills, playing accordion and singing in Serbo-Croatian. For decades, she wrote and performed Ladino songs, maintaining the Sephardic folk traditions of her Nona (grandmother), innovating on them and bringing them to a wider audience. Jagoda’s music introduced me to Ladino and ignited my interest in Jewish languages. In my fifth-grade class at Jewish day school, my classmates and I learned her catchy tune “Ocho Kandelikas” (Eight Little Candles) along with Hebrew and English Hanukkah songs. As a teenager, I heard Jagoda perform at a Jewish Folk Life Festival — of which she was a founder — and purchased a cassette of hers, “La Nona Kanta” (The Grandmother Sings). I still listen to those songs and now share them — especially my favorite, “Laz Tiyas” (The Aunties) — with my students when I teach about Jewish languages. My students read an article about Jagoda’s work to promote Sephardic language and culture just a week before she died. While Jagoda is among the last generation of native Ladino speakTHE
ers, young people have continued her language preservation work, as we see in Devin Naar’s archive of Ladino letters, books and other historical treasures; Bryan Kirschen’s Ladino research and classes; and Sarah Aroeste’s contemporary Ladino music and children’s books. Due to these efforts, American Jews tend to know about the language. When I ask audiences which Jewish languages they have heard of, they generally mention Hebrew, Yiddish and Ladino. People are less familiar with other Jewish languages, including Judeo-Shirazi (from Iran), JudeoMalayalam (from India) and Jewish Neo-Aramaic (from the Kurdish region) — all critically endangered. The many endangered dialects of Judeo-Arabic have been documented to varying extents, from Egypt to Morocco, from Syria to Yemen. And some young people are keeping the music alive, such as Neta Elkayam, A-WA and Asher Shasho Levy for Moroccan, Yemenite and Syrian traditions. Even so, most American Jews have never heard of Judeo-Arabic. Whenever a speaker dies, we lose an opportunity to learn and teach more about the nuances of this rich language and culture. Joseph and Kitty Sassoon died of COVID-19 within 12 hours of each other, months after their 76th anniversary. Both were children of Baghdadi parents who spoke JudeoArabic natively. Growing up in Rangoon, Burma and Calcutta, India, Joseph and Kitty spoke multiple languages, but their parents spoke Judeo-Arabic when they didn’t want the children to understand. As many American-born children of immigrants know, this means they picked up snippets of the language. As adults, living most recently in Los Angeles, Joseph and Kitty spoke Hindi and English together and did not have much opportunity to use Judeo-Arabic, but their granddaughters remember them using some words and phrases. Kitty used pet names for grandchildren, like “abdalnuana” for boys and “abdalki” for girls (both literally meaning “penance” like the
Hebrew “kapara”) and frequently said “mashallah” (what God has willed) when expressing pride and joy. Joseph called his mother Umm Shalom (mother of Shalom, her first son), in line with Judeo-Arabic convention, and hurled joking insults at grandchildren, such as “harami” (thief) and “mamzerim” (bastards — a Hebrew word used in several Jewish languages). The Sassoons are characteristic of speakers of endangered languages. Unlike Jagoda, they did not devote their lives to cultural preservation. And they had varying degrees of knowledge of the language — Joseph grew up speaking more Judeo-Arabic than Kitty. While language documenters would prefer fluent speakers, even semispeakers can provide important information, particularly when the language is severely endangered. Every day, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, more speak-
ers of endangered languages die. If we don’t interview them now, we will lose our opportunity forever. Fortunately, several organizations have been doing this important work, including the Endangered Language Alliance, the Jewish Language Project and Wikitongues in the United States and the Mother Tongue Project in Israel. This is not just a Jewish issue. Of the 7,000 languages of the world, about half are now endangered. Organizations like these are our last hope to record them before the last speakers are gone. We can all get involved by donating funds, volunteering or connecting the projects with speakers of endangered languages. May the memories of Flory Jagoda and Joseph and Kitty Sassoon be a blessing — and a wakeup call: We must act now to preserve their languages and cultures while we still can.
Happy Passover to all of my friends in the Jewish Community.
Thank You for your continued support.
Judge Sidney H. Cates, IV
Civil District Court for the Parish of Orleans
Parshat Yitro: Want To Fight Injustice And Build Community? Start With Humility. By Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz
Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz (JTA montage)
Text Messages is a column sharing wisdom from the weekly Torah portion produced with The Jewish Week. (JTA) — America faces challenges we have not seen in generations. Deep elements of resentment and radicalism are set on tearing apart the fabric of the nation. Our ability to argue with humility is gone, crossing partisan divides is a dire proposition and violence is seen by too many as a necessary political remedy to return to basic principles. With all the uncertainties around us — climate change, public health crises, economic instability, political extremism and polarization, conspiracy theories and a breakdown of societal trust — we don’t always know how to engage or how to lead in any given moment. Of course, we don’t have to accept this. And indeed, Jewish tradition and wisdom can guide us in profoundly different directions that bring about healing and, most importantly, a sense of humility. We can live with humble uncertainty and yet also with fervent moral conviction. This week’s Torah portion, Parshat Yitro, provides us with a pro-
found question: Why do the Ten Commandments, which begin with the phrase “I am the Lord your God,” use the Hebrew word “Anochi” (which means “I”) instead of the more common “Ani” (which also means “I”)? For generations, this grammatical and philosophical question has intrigued Jewish scholars. To help create a foundation for this question, Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Leiner of Ishbitz, known as the Mei Ha’Shiloah, suggests that the extra letter in Anochi signifies the chasm between what we know and what we think we know. This is the central point of Jewish revelation: Even that which we know so deeply, we only partially know. More critically, getting to truly know God requires us to put aside our egos. The Reform teacher of Jewish mysticism Rabbi Lawrence Kushner writes about another place where Anochi is used rather than Ani: In Genesis 28:16, when Jacob awakens from his famous dream and says, “Surely there is God in this place and I [anochi] did not know”: This simple ‘extra I’ … leads R’ Pinhas Horowitz, the author of a Hasidic commentary on the Torah, ‘Panim Yafot,’ to an important insight. ‘It is only possible for a person to attain that high rung of being able to say, “Surely God is in this place,” when he or she has utterly eradicated all trace of ego from his or her per-
sonality, from his or her sense of self, and from his or her being. The space of prayer in which we connect with the most expansive spiritual consciousness is actually a tool for cultivating compassion and empathy. In focusing on divinity, we abandon our self-centeredness and find a new center in everyone and everything else beyond us. For another view, Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib (the Sefat Emet) writes: The simple meaning of this is that the land of Israel is the place where one surrenders one’s senses and desires (will) to God’s will … All externals must be abandoned for the sake of seeing God’s will. Only then is it revealed to a person … To this end we must continually surrender our knowledge … that which we understand with our minds. Shall we embrace the “I” of Anochi, or will we seek to embody the “I” of Ani? We know we must rescue religious fervor from fundamentalist fervor and epistemological arrogance and return to a place of awe and questioning if we hope to restore a Jewish worldview of humble allyship rather than arrogant supremacist ideologies. We are left humbled seeking to move from ego to a place of godliness. So must we be left alone and lost without any way to know, act or speak? The neo-Hasidic teacher and late leader of the Renewal movement, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, wrote in “Jour-
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ney Beyond Knowledge”: A real question comes from (admitting) ‘Eini yodea’ — I really don’t know. The admission of not knowing is the prelude to redemption and revelation. So, Moshe Rabbeinu himself said: ‘We won’t know with what we shall serve God until we get there.’ (Exodus 10:26) Instead, we are awakened to postmodern responsibility. We are called to act when we don’t know what is right. We are called to lead when we don’t have certainty. We are called to pray when we know not Who we pray to. We are called to community when we are uncertain about who we must stand with at the given time. We may know more later than we do now. And yet, we must still act and we must still respond, even with our uncertainty. Michael Fishbane writes in “Sacred Attunement” about what it means to be in a sacred covenant and to our ability to process obligation within new moments of uncertainty: We can accept it, or we can deny it. But nevertheless, we are expected to respond to it. And as we learn from Parshat Yitro, we don’t have to make all moral decisions and lead by ourselves. There is holiness in collaboration, in bringing people together and in building community rather than shunning it. As Moshe learns from his father-in-law, Yitro, we have an innate ability to build community, share leadership and walk together — and we’re not truly able to be our best selves when we try to do everything by ourselves. Including more voices in our work and conversations also enables us to expand our spiritual consciousness. Alone, at Sinai, we are struck down by lightning in our smallness. Together, at Sinai, we are humbled but united in a bold, albeit uncertain, holy mission to repair the world. The challenges we face are not insignificant, and the right path is not always clear. But let us reject the ego, cynicism and radical skepticism that move us away from courageous action. Let us reject fundamentalism that arrogantly offers us pure truth and certainty of conviction. Let us, together, choose a middle path that is modest and imprecise, yet morally robust. THE
VACCINATED Continued from Page 11 old son with special needs and a 16-year-old daughter, got all of their traditional childhood vaccines. But this time nobody in her family is being immunized from COVID. “I feel like we’ve moved a little too fast,” she said. “I think it will take a long time to see the longterm effects. They are basically doing a study on people, which I find really unethical.” With all swimming pools closed, Arazi has been out of work for the past year. She said she’s cut back on anything that isn’t a necessity, and her family in Canada is helping out. Arazi said will not get the vaccine even if it means she won’t be able to go back to work. Deborah, 44, who asked that her last name not be published because she doesn’t want some of her relatives to know she will not be getting the vaccine, feels even more
strongly that she and her family shouldn’t vaccinate. Despite assurances from doctors that the vaccine will not cause infertility, Deborah plans to wait until the end of the year before she and her four children take the shots. “There is a complete lack of evidence that the vaccine will have any effect on male or female infertility,” Dr. Hagai Levine, an epidemiologist at Hadassah Hospital, told a news conference Thursday. But for Deborah, who said she has read the entire Pfizer study online, those assurances are not enough. “Being a mother is a big responsibility for me, and my daughter just turned 16, so I started researching it,” she said. “They didn’t test the vaccine on 16-year-olds. No doctor can say there won’t be any side effects. “What if in a few years she can’t get pregnant? It would be the end of her life and I would feel responsible.”
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SYNAGOGUE Continued from Page 30 larger than any one person. Stay-athome Jews risk coasting through Jewish life on autopilot. Synagogue Jews are marching toward a Promised Land. In the course of Jewish history, there may have been individuals who survived in isolation. But those who thrived did so under the shelter of Jewish communities and within the embrace of Jewish institutions. Of course, there are lessons to be learned from these past months. There’s no mitzvah to return to exactly the ways things were. But there’s surely a mitzvah to return. What a loss it would be if everyone just kept davening in their living rooms or even in their local backyard minyans. These were stopgap measures that served important
functions under expedient circumstances. But they don’t constitute the long-term future of the Jewish people. We may not be prophets. But as the Talmud reminds us, we are descended from prophets. We can’t say with any degree of certainty what post-COVID Jewish life will look like. But we can say that we will be infinitely poorer as a people if we neglect the institutions most central to our identities. Our synagogues have been there for us in our times of need. Let’s make sure we are there for them in theirs. Rabbi Yosie Levine holds a doctorate in Early Modern Jewish History from Yeshiva University and is the seventh rabbi of The Jewish Center on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JTA or its parent company, 70 Faces Media.
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On A Jewish Tour Of Northern Ontario, Small Spaces Convey Decades Of History By Robert Walker
A view of Lake Superior on Robert Walker's tour through northern Ontario. (Robert Walker)
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(JTA) — I was definitely lost, of that I was sure. I had turned off the main highway — if you could call a two-lane road a highway — and onto a dirt road, and after 10 minutes of driving, having seen nothing but lumber workers and a lone fox, there was no way that I was going to find what I was looking for. But I continued driving down the dirt road until I came to a small white sign that read “Hebrew cemetery” and knew I must be close, after all. But I still couldn’t find it anywhere. So I stopped the car on the side of the road and approached a small barn, where I asked a lone farmer if he knew where the Jewish cemetery was. “Right across the street,” he answered. I looked around, seeing nothing but forest and fields. “Where, exactly?” I asked. “There,” he said, pointing directly across the street. Perplexed, I crossed the road, through a small forest, and walked for hundreds of feet. I came to a small building, not much larger than a shed, with a modest sign that read “Northern Chevra KadishaKrugerdorf,” and a small clearing with about 60 graves, some of which dated back more than 110 years. The first grave and a number of others are the markers for the original Jewish inhabitants of the area, who died when their canoe overturned on the cold river rapids. They were buried almost two weeks later in an empty field donated by
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Simon Hanarousky, a Jewish farmer nearby. Knowing that this cemetery sees virtually no visitors, it seemed appropriate to offer the traditional Jewish prayer for the dead and leave some stones — a traditional Jewish practice upon visiting a graveyard — before heading on my way. The last burial in this cemetery hasn’t been for a year. Before long it will likely see its final Jewish burial, as very few Jews remain in the area. Here I was in the rugged barrenness of northern Ontario, six hours north of Toronto, saying Kaddish and reciting tehillim (psalms) knowing that but for a brief moment in time, there was Jewish life in this most isolated of locales. Ontario is the most populous of the Canadian provinces, with nearly 15 million people, including about 220,000 Jews. Although the province is nearly as large as Texas and California combined, most of its population lives in the Greater Toronto area, Ottawa and other midsize cities like Hamilton and London. I had been looking forward to a road trip of exploring northern Ontario for many weeks. Having grown up in Toronto, the vastness and mystery of the rest of the province was always intriguing. So I headed out in mid-October from my home in Toronto hoping to see the changing leaves, some natural beauty and, if I had time, the Jewish cemetery in Krugerdorf. I had no idea it would become a Jewish history tour. When the first Jewish immigrants came to Canada in significant numbers in the 19th century, larger cities like Toronto were largely inhospitable due to antiSemitism and poor job prospects. So they headed directly north to towns like Timmins, Sault Ste. Marie, North Bay and others, seeing work in lumber, mining and the construction of the Trans-Canada Railway. This is where small JewSee ONTARIO on Page THE
ONTARIO Continued from Page 36 ish communities were born. Continuing past the cemetery in Krugerdorf, I did not expect to see more relics of Jewish life. My next stop was Timmins, a town of 45,000 people about two hours northwest. In the Timmins Museum, a small but well-kept testament to the town’s history, visitors can learn the history of the mining industry and see photos of the trappers and miners from the past century. But gems of a different kind are also on display: A small wooden menorah sits on a shelf, the only vestige of the B’nai Israel Congregation, which closed nearly 50 years ago due to its declining Jewish population.
The only vestige of the B’nai Israel Congregation at the museum in Timmins, Canada. (Robert Walker)
I continued on to the town of Iroquois Falls, population 5,000, to see the Pioneer Museum, and was excited to learn more about the region’s heritage. Heading further north into town, just before reaching the museum, a small street sign caught my eye: Synagogue Avenue, the only existing relic of what once was a small but active Jewish community. Ansonville, now a part of Iroquois Falls, was founded as a papermill town and attracted Jewish immigrants from Russia and Eastern Europe. They came to the area to claim free acreage, granted by the federal government, to anyone who would clear and manage the land. A small Jewish community was born there in 1913, and the local Jews worked on the nascent Trans-Canada Railway or owned
small clothing stores in the area. Synagogue Avenue today is the only evidence of the community that existed until the early 1940s, when the draft sent young men overseas to fight. Those who returned soon moved south to settle in Toronto. Seven hours west of Iroquois Falls is Sault Ste. Marie, located near the shores of Lake Superior, the world’s largest freshwater lake, and across the border from the smaller town of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. With 75,000 residents, Sault Ste Marie — or “the Soo” as it’s locally known — once was primarily a gritty steel town, but has reinvented itself in recent years as a hub of technology and alternative energy. It was in Sault Ste. Marie that I met Jeff Arbus, the lay leader of the local Jewish community of nearly 100 people. He took me on a tour of Congregation Beth Jacob, a modest 75-year-old building downtown that acts as the synagogue and central hub for the local Jewish community. Before COVID-19, Beth Jacob held regular services, programs, celebrations and other gatherings, all without any paid staff member. There is no official membership roster; anyone in town who wants to be involved
The empty synagogue in Sault Ste. Marie, Canada. (Robert Walker)
can be, at no cost. But the pandemic has changed life for Jews in the Soo, as it has everywhere else. Services are now held online, and the synagogue president, who lives across the river in the Michigan namesake, cannot come into Canada without quarantining for two weeks. Walking through downtown, there are signs of the Jewish presence that once was, like time capsules out in the open. Jewish-owned businesses, some still bearing their original names, dot Queen Street, including Himmel’s Ready to Wear, a clothing store whose name is still clearly visible from the road. Most Jews initially came to Sault Ste. Marie as immigrants from Eastern Europe, primarily to work in the burgeoning natural resources industry, including mining and steel. But as the town’s population and economy begun to sputter in the 1980s, the next generation of young Jews moved to Toronto and its environs, and Jewish immigrants did the same. From a peak of 250 Jews in Sault Ste. Marie, fewer than half that number now live there. About two hours east of Sault Ste. Marie, halfway to the larger city of Sudbury, is the village of Massey, home to about 1,000 people. A twominute drive north of the village is Chutes Provincial Park, and nearby is a minuscule Jewish cemetery. With only eight graves, the Massey Hebrew Cemetery is one of the smallest of its kind in the world, and reading the epitaphs is a sobering experience. The oldest grave is more than 100 years old, and a number of them date back to around 1918, when the Spanish flu ravaged the world, killing tens of millions. Most of the dead in the Massey Hebrew Cemetery are children or infants likely killed by that pandemic. Jewish life continues to exist in other northern Ontario towns, with
One of the few graves in the Massey Hebrew Cemetery. (Robert Walker)
active synagogues in Sudbury, North Bay and Thunder Bay. Perhaps a thousand Jews live in the vast region, representing a tiny speck among a population of nearly 900,000. But the cemeteries and shuttered synagogues and storefronts are only half the story. The young Jews who grew up in these towns didn’t disappear, though they overwhelmingly moved to larger Jewish communities throughout Canada. When I shared photos of my journey on social media, I was inundated with friends telling me that they, their parents or their grandparents had been born in northern Ontario before moving to Toronto. Ontario, and indeed Canada, is home to one of the only growing Jewish populations in the Diaspora, fueled both by immigration and a relatively high rate of Jewish engagement. Jewish schools continue to expand throughout the province, and suburbs such as Thornhill have expanded from modest Jewish outposts to areas with tens of thousands of Jewish residents. And while northern Ontario never had a Jewish population of more than 2,500 at its peak, for many years it seemed stable and secure, often growing. But economic and demographic dynamics changed, and although the Jewish population there never recovered, the lesson for all Jewish communities is clear: While growth may not last forever, the Jewish future may be just a few hours down the road.
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A Muslim And A Jewish Woman Co-Wrote A Children’s Book About Standing Up To Prejudice By Talia Liben Yarmush
Laura Shovan, left, the cover of "A Place at the Table," and Saadia Faruqi (QZB Photography/Clarion Books/Laura Joy Burke)
This story originally appeared on Kveller, 70 Faces Media’s Jewish parenting site. “A Place at the Table” tells the story of two middle-school girls, Elizabeth and Sara — one Jewish and one Muslim — whose friendship begins in a South Asian cooking class taught by Sara’s mother. Elizabeth is a budding chef and Sara is the new kid in school. Both girls have mothers who are studying to become American citizens, and as the girls gravitate toward each other, they must learn to ask awkward questions, be open to honest answers and comfortable standing up for each other even at the expense of other relationships. While it seems, America is struggling with deep divides that appear insurmountable, this delightful book teaches that difference does not inherently mean discordance. What’s more, it provides a positive example for its readers on how to navigate the very differences that make each person unique. This timely middle-grade novel is co-written by Saadia Faruqi, an immigrant from Pakistan who has two kids, and Laura Shovan, also a mom of two and the daughter of a British immigrant. In a wide-ranging interview with Kveller, the authors discussed parenting, allyship, identity and more. This interview has been condensed and lightly edited. How did you decide to write this book together? Laura: I had a loose idea for a middle-grade novel called “Citizen Mom,” about a girl who wanted to help her mother through the citizenship process. But I realized that my view of being first-generation American didn’t include the experi38 Passover 2021
ence of someone not born in the U.S. Saadia was my first choice of authors to partner with on this story. Not only is she raising first-generation American kids, I admire her writing and activism. I pitched the idea to Saadia and we began to develop the characters and plot together. Saadia: Writing stories about first-generation kids and the citizenship experience was important to me, especially since it’s my own story. I became a U.S. citizen in 2016, a few months before the presidential election that year. It was a milestone for me and my family in many ways. Throughout the book, while grappling with the reality that there are those around her who are blatantly anti-Muslim, Sara herself exhibits some shame and embarrassment at being Muslim. Saadia, did you have a similar experience when you were her age? Saadia: I grew up in Pakistan, where almost everyone was Muslim. I never felt out of place or attacked in any way. It was only when I came to the U.S. as an adult that I saw the world with different eyes. I saw racism, Islamophobia, xenophobia and so much more all around me. I’m not saying it doesn’t exist elsewhere, but rather that I’d never been the brunt of it until then. Sara’s experiences in “A Place at the Table” are more reflective of my children’s lives than my own. What are some ways that someone who is a minority can feel pride in their heritage without feeling alienated by it? Laura: Sharing that heritage with friends or a community is important. Going to Hebrew school with a handful of school friends made me feel less alienated as a kid. Saadia: As an author, I make myself available for many school visits throughout the year, in person and virtual. This allows me to engage with my readers of all backgrounds, but in particular allows me to connect with readers who identify with me in terms of religion or culture. Muslim kids or immigrant kids can talk to me and feel a sense of pride, self-confidence and happiness.
There’s an intense scene in the book when a character says something racist. But another character, Stephanie, steps in and says, “You can’t say stuff like that.” This really struck me — it’s hard to stick up to bullies, especially ones you are friends with. What advice can you give kids who are in a similar situation? How can they find the courage to do what Stephanie did? Laura: The character of Stephanie is popular, well-liked and has all the privilege that comes with being of the dominant culture. Because Stephanie is a girl with social currency, she has the power to speak up and correct Elizabeth’s friend, Maddy. Without sharing any spoilers, it isn’t until Maddy begins to appreciate Sara’s mother — as a person, not a stereotype — that she begins to change. Saadia: It’s definitely hard to stick up for someone against a bully, whether they’re a child or an adult. That’s one of the reasons we wrote this book: to offer a roadmap to readers about allyship. It’s really important in this day and age to not stand by quietly when something terrible is being said because it escalates the situation and makes the bullying worse. My advice to kids is to talk about these issues with each other, have a plan about what you’re going to say and tell adults when bullying is happening. There are several occasions in the book in which well-meaning people say the wrong thing that ends up being insulting. How do you suggest kids address other kids, and even adults, in this kind of situation? Saadia: I think we can get a little more educated about what is hurtful or not, and that comes through reading, asking questions and learning from each other. It’s always OK to ask why something is offensive, as long as you do so in a respectful manner. Laura: We tried to model handling these unintentional microaggressions in a number of scenes. In today’s political climate, when xenophobia and anti-Semitism are on the rise, how do you suggest kids address their friends who parrot such beliefs from their own
parents? Laura: That’s a tough question. I had a friend in high school who, for religious reasons, believed I was going to hell. No matter how many conversations or arguments we had about it, he clung to that belief. So I’d say that kids can be very clear that hateful rhetoric like anti-Semitism is not only wrong, it’s also personally harmful. But I’d also say that it’s OK for kids to put up a boundary there if the other person continues to use hate speech. Saadia: I always suggest talking to your friends and explaining why something is harmful. If nothing else works, it may be time to remove yourself from a friendship. Sara and Elizabeth in the book offer a great way to do this tactfully in the way they treat Maddy. What advice do you have for parents reading this who want to raise thoughtful, kind and open-minded children? Saadia: Parents should first have that mindset themselves. Read about the issues that affect the world today, and work on yourselves first. If you’re trying to be thoughtful and kind yourself, your children will follow your footsteps without any preaching. I make it a daily practice to talk with my kids about important topics. We watch the news together, discuss politics and social topics, and much more. This allows my children to learn about what’s important to me and make up their minds about how they want to live their lives. Laura: My best advice is to model being thoughtful, kind and open-minded. But also to talk with your kids when you make a mistake and say or do something that’s hurtful to another person. Discuss what happened, how you attempted to fix it and what you learned from the experience.
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