Ethics & Eating:
THE DIET GREATEST JEWISH MYTHS, PART II TRAP
A Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) Publication
Smart Strategies for
TEEN BARBRA ENGAGEMENT STREISAND
S+R=BW When we combine the wisdom of SCIENCE & RELIGION, we can improve our lives & create a BETTER WORLD.
“Sc without ience is Lame Religion without , Religion Sc is Blindience .” –Albert Ein stein
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What does it mean to be a Woman of Reform Judaism? It means a one hundred year journey of advocating for critical issues, standing side-by-side with Israel, and supporting youth and education programs internationally. It means celebrating women’s rights, inspiring generations of families, and making real and lasting changes. It means having a respected voice in the Jewish community and in the greater world. As WRJ reﬂects proudly on our past accomplishments, we are poised to build an even stronger future, one ﬁlled with vibrant and meaningful cultural, religious and social opportunities. This century milestone stands as a reminder of everything we can do together, and all that still awaits. Join us on this journey. Stand stronger together, as a Woman of Reform Judaism.
Donate now: www.wrj.org Celebrate WRJ’s one hundredth birthday at the 49th Assembly, Dec. 11-15 in San Diego, CA For more information: www.wrj.org/Assembly2013
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A BENEFIT OF YOUR MEMBERSHIP IN A URJ CONGREGATION IN THE BEGINNING 2 Dear Reader: A Little Miracle Happened There / Rick Jacobs 4 Letters 6 Through the Lens: Mural, Temple Isaiah, LA JEWISH LIFE 8 Holidays: Hanukkah: A Miracle of Trust / Alan Morinis 11 Journeys: Abraham, Great-Great Grandma Mary, & Me / Vered Harris 13 Community: Matzo Balls in the Land of Magnolias / Carol Antman 14 History: Barbara Goodman, Unheralded Hero / Jonathan D. Sarna 17 Teen Talk: The Power of Faith / Gabe Snyder 18 Judaica: Jewish Antiques Appraisal Show / Jonathan Greenstein
FOCUS—GREATEST JEWISH MYTHS, PART II 37 Was the Emancipation Good for the Jews? / Salo Baron 43 Did Jews Go Like Sheep to the Slaughter? / Nechama Tec 45 Did Adam and Eve Eat an Apple? / Rifat Sonsino
Cover Einstein photo: © Pictorial Press / A lamy; Above Photo by Becky Smith, photosbybecky.net
20 Science + Religion = Better World by Geoffrey Mitelman / There is mounting evidence that “religion” and “science” are not adversaries but potential allies which, working together, can improve our lives and our world.
NEWS & VIEWS OF REFORM JEWS 51 Feature Story: Re-imagining the Post-B’nai Mitzvah Experience— Innovative ways congregations are exciting teens about Judaism Also 50 Chairman’s Perspective: Why I Volunteer / Stephen M. Sacks 50 Quotable 53 Noteworthy 55 My Idea: Let the Mourners Saying Kaddish Stand Alone / Rosalind A. Gold 56 Farewell: Trials & Triumphs / David Ellenson
26 The Diet Trap by Penina Eilberg-Schwartz / I believed that eating less and less would help repair the world. But depriving ourselves of food keeps us from realizing our full potential—and almost cost me my life.
32 Becoming Barbra by David Kaufman / Barbara Streisand, a self-described “ugly duckling,” became a glamorous superstar without ever compromising her Jewishness. reform judaism
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d e a r
Official Publication of the Union for Reform Judaism
A Little Miracle Happened There
Winter 2013, Vol. 42, No. 2
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re all Hanukkah tales true? Of course. Because a narrative can contain truth even if it defies belief. In that spirit, let me share one of my own Hanukkah stories. Early in my rabbinate, when I served as a rabbi in Brooklyn Heights, New York, my phone would keep ringing with invitations to speak at schools about the “winter Jewish holiday.” One year a call came from the headmaster of a venerable all-boys prep school in Manhattan where Hanukkah had never before been officially acknowledged. A 13-year-old with whom I had worked in advance of his bar mitzvah decided it wasn’t right that only Christmas was celebrated at his school each year and lobbied for a Hanukkah assembly too. Faced with this persistent modern-day Maccabee, the headmaster finally relented and invited me to speak. “But be brief,” he instructed me. “After all, Hanukkah is a minor holiday….And one more thing: Try to make the material interesting to our intellectually discerning young men.” This was going to be a challenge. I was slated to speak 10 minutes before school began at 8:00AM in a cold, dank, drafty basement auditorium. In contrast, the school’s annual Christmas program was an elaborately planned, festive celebration with choirs and costumes. I prepared what I thought would be an engaging presentation of our “minor holiday” to 250 or so young men in blazers. It consisted of eight points about Hanukkah, and as I would make each point, I would light another candle until all eight were burning. On the morning of the presentation, I lit the shamash candle and surveyed the audience: half-asleep, disinterested young men. Not wanting to let my bar mitzvah student down, I prayed for Divine help. Then I turned to light the first candle and explain Hanukkah’s message of religious tolerance…but before I could pick up the shamash, its flame jumped to the first candle, igniting it without my assistance! Now, as I prepared to make my second point—about how the few prevailed over the many—I had a captive audience. Then, suddenly, before I could kindle the second candle, the flame ignited it spontaneously once again. This mysterious phenomenon recurred six more times! The reluctant headmaster and previously uninterested young men were spellbound. And for years afterward, the headmaster begged me to reprise my “miraculous” Hanukkah talk. I demurred, however, heeding the talmudic admonition (in Kiddushin 39b): Believe in miracles, but do not rely on them.
Rabbi Rick Jacobs President, Union for Reform Judaism ➢Your thoughts and ideas are welcomed. Contact Rabbi Jacobs: email@example.com and/or send a letter-to-the-editor: firstname.lastname@example.org. reform judaism
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wish your article “Divorce Etiquette” (Fall 2013) had been available when I divorced. Our older son became a bar mitzvah two years later, and it was the bar mitzvah from hell for me. My former wife worked for the congregation and was very good friends with the rabbi. During the ceremony, as she and I sat on the bimah in front of the entire congregation, the rabbi continually commented on how proud my wife was of our son—and made no mention of me. There were other indignities, too. Nonetheless, recognizing that it was our son’s bar mitzvah, not mine, I did everything I could to make it a great experience for him—and I succeeded. Years later, hearing him tell his fiancé how much he had enjoyed his bar mitzvah gave me great pleasure. Anonymous
abbi Mencher and attorney Elser offer many good ideas in response to the challenges faced by divorced couples and families. Here are two more. First, family reorganization must be taken out of the courtroom, where the legal system is adversarial and the objective is to win at any cost. Even during divorce, the Jewish value of shalom bayit, or peace in the home, should be the operative principle, motivating divorcing couples to seek conciliation through mediation, and their rabbis to encourage mediation as well. Second, as Rabbi Sanford Seltzer suggests in When There Is No Other Alternative (URJ Press), congregations should promote a divorce service such as Seder Preidah (“Ritual of Release”), both to mark the transition from marriage to singleness and to publicly welcome and reintegrate divorcing couples into the synagogue community. This, too, can help
mitigate the acrimony that is in no one’s best interest, especially the children. Robert Ferrer Urbana, Illinois
Wrestling with Abraham
he 10 explanations Rabbi Stephen Pearce offers for Abraham’s near sacrifice of his son Isaac (“Wrestling with Abraham,” Fall 2013) do not satisfy me, so I offer an 11th: Remembering God’s earlier promise that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars of the heavens, Abraham realizes that Isaac cannot die. Abraham therefore follows God’s instructions without hesitation. Is it possible that Abraham was testing God’s commitment to a promise? This argument may be circular and difficult to accept, but isn’t that what faith is all about? Marc Zeloof Rockville Centre, New York
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A detail of “Hava Nashira—Come Let Us Sing,” the 6' x 21' tile mural, hand-painted by international ceramic artist Karen Koblitz and installed in the garden entryway of Temple Isaiah, Los Angeles. “The mural honors our creative, fun-loving, and beloved Cantor Evan Kent for 25 years of service,” says Jean Abarbanel, a member of the temple’s Art Committee, “Images such as Evan’s guitar; gazelles— Evan’s favorite animal; and birds—who also have a song to sing—now serve as an endearing and enduring part of our sacred space and collective memory of the many gifts he brought to our lives.”
Photo by Susan Einstein
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of choice, commitment, and Jewish meaning rather than a cold, monetary obligation. They love “donating to” rather than “paying” the shul. Our congregation has a “range” from which members choose their terumah, e.g. families pay $1,000 - $2500. Often they top-up or increase their terumah as a direct result of feeling they are doing something honorable in joining us. We find, by the way, that many people choose their terumah in
the middle of the spectrum. When given the choice, people seem to choose well! Now that I am sensitized to the word “member,” I’ll ask our congregants to consider the use of “chaver/chaverah.” Rabbi Elyse Goldstein Toronto, Ontario
abbi John Moskowitz’s name was misspelled. Our apologies.
Reform Judaism Magazine Update: A Torah of Their Own
Ofer R ibak Photography
ast June, I realized a dream I’ve congregation in Jerusalem which uses had for nearly a decade. the bomb shelter of an apartment buildIt all began about ing as their synaeight years ago, when gogue. Between their I read in Reform physical space and Judaism magazine their lack of a sefer about Temple Ohabei Torah, this group of Shalom in Brookline, people who had sacMassachusetts donatrificed their entire ing one of its Torah way of life to come to scrolls so that its sisIsrael and practice ter congregation in their Judaism freely Russia could have were feeling discourParading with the one. Having grown aged. What a mitzvah up in an affluent com- Torah donated from it would be to give munity as a member Temple Beth El and a second them a Torah they borrowed from a local congreof a synagogue could call their own. gation. Inset: Tracey Grossman blessed enough to On June 18, 46 of care for many scrolls, addresses the group. our temple members I was shocked to arrived, Torah scroll learn that there are congregations within hand, at the WIZO Helena Kagan out even one. Community Center. Nearly 100 EthioWhen my husband and I joined pian congregants and dignitaries from Temple Beth El in Boca Raton in 2006, throughout Israel greeted us with open we asked Senior Rabbi Daniel Levin if arms and treated us to a delicious, we could alleviate such a hindrance to home cooked Ethiopian meal, dances, worship by replicating Ohabei Shalom’s skits, and speeches. All of us then mitzvah. paraded the sefer Torah from their cenRabbi Levin loved our idea. He had ter to their shul, the men and teenage his own dream: to engage a sofer to boys from both communities dancing write a lighter scroll that would be more excitedly together under the mobile manageable for the b’nai mitzvah. We chuppah as the women encircled the could do both: commission a new scroll chuppah also dancing and celebrating. and then donate one of our current The joy was so contagious, most scrolls to a congregation in need. onlookers joined in the parade. And To find that congregation, we reached when we arrived at the shul, a man was out to the North American Coalition for there selling cotton candy—the perfect Ethiopian Jewry, which our temple had metaphor for an incredibly sweet worked with for many years in supportdream come true. ing the rescue and assimilation of EthioTracey Grossman pian Jews in Israel. With their help, we Temple Beth El of Boca Raton built a partnership with an Ethiopian Boca Raton, Florida reform judaism
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Hanukkah: A Miracle of Trust What is the real reason we celebrate Hanukkah? There are really two answers. We commemorate the rededication of the Jerusalem Temple after the Maccabees defeated the Syrian Greeks and we celebrate a miracle. As the letters on the four sides of the dreidel—Nun, gimmel, hey, and shin—announce: Nes gadol haya sham, “A great miracle happened there.” What was this miracle? Was it the military victory of a rebel band against a wellarmed occupying power—or something else? When the rabbis established the Hanukkah festival just one year after the rededication of the Temple in 165 B.C.E., they acknowledged that the weak overcoming the strong was a very important historical event (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 21b). But the Maccabees’ victorious military strategy and prowess in battle alone did not merit a religious holiday, because their success was entirely due to human action, without any aid from the Divine. Only if God’s intervention had turned the tide of battle in favor of the outnumbered Jewish fighters would there have been a miracle worthy of celebrating with a Jewish holiday. Moreover, the rabbis did not view this battle as a war of ultimate necessity. In contrast to Purim, which celebrates a victory over tyranny when the existence of all the Jews in the kingdom was threatened by royal decree, the Maccabean revolt was not in response to a dire Alan Morinis, author of Climbing Jacob’s Ladder and Everyday Holiness, is founder and dean of The Mussar Institute, which provides courses on developing and improving inner life traits as spiritual practice; and a member of the URJ Faculty of expert practitioners.
physical threat. True, the Syrian Greek occupiers prohibited Jews from offering sacrifices at the Temple or studying Torah, but the people were not imperiled by annihilation. What, then, was the miracle that warranted the creation of a new Jewish festival? A miracle of the spirit. As it is told in the Talmud (Shabbat 21b), when Judah Maccabee entered the desecrated Temple, he discovered only a small vial of oil which had the seal of the Kohen Gadol (the High Priest) certifying it was sanctified for ritual use. There was only enough oil for one night, and yet it burned for eight. And that is why, three times daily during Hanukkah, we add the Al Hanisim—for the miracles—prayer to the Amidah, which begins by speaking of the military victory but ends by saying: “…Your children came to Your holy abode and…purified Your Temple and… kindled lights in the courtyards of Your holy place. And they established these eight days of Hanukkah in order to give thanks and praise to Your great name.” In short, this prayer makes a distinction between the means and the end. The military victory was the means, which we do not celebrate, because the means are not the point. Instead the reform judaism
prayer explains what the military victory is pointing to—and the answer is spiritual renewal. How can we approach Hanukkah—or any of the Jewish holidays— as a means to experience spiritual renewal? Embedded in each of our holidays are the messages they hold for us. Purim, for example, is telling us “It’s time to be joyful!” Tisha B’av, in contrast, is saying “This is a time of great sadness.” If you are a person who is always or often sad, then Purim comes to help you usher in some happiness. Or perhaps you live your live experiencing great joy, and here comes Tisha B’av, saying “You should learn how to know sorrow, too.” From the perspective of Mussar, an ancient Jewish tradition that teaches us to develop ideal inner traits as a path to holiness, approaching our holidays in this way enables us to cultivate emotions and/or undertake practices we might otherwise never experience. Sometimes our inner traits can impede our spiritual insight and growth; when we recalibrate them, we can approach the world with greater spiritual awareness, with a more open heart. In short, when we bring awareness and intention to the Jewish holidays, they offer us an opportunity to educate and open our hearts. So, what is the middah (inner spiritual trait) that best embodies Hanukkah? What opportunity might we experience by deepening our connection to this holiday that speaks of spiritual miracles and bringing light into our homes and lives? The middah in the Hanukkah story I find the most powerful is bitachon, trust.
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by Alan Morinis
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The Maccabbees knew they had only enough sanctified oil to light for one day. They could have said, “It’s not enough. We need oil for eight days. Why bother? It’s over. We lost.” They didn’t do that. Having in their hands only an eighth of what was needed for the task, they nonetheless lit the oil. They put their trust in God’s providence and took the first brave step. From the rabbis’ point of view, that very moment when the Maccabbees suspended doubt, strengthened their faith, and took action despite the odds is when the miracle of spirit happened. There is an important lesson here that offers a lens through which to approach the personal challenges we face. Sometimes we can be too cautious. There is something we need to do, and instead of doing it, we get caught in the backdrafts of “what if.” Scientific evidence shows that being overly cautious with certain types of food fed to a young child can have the unintended consequence of stimulating allergies, just as ensuring that the child lives in a highly sanitized environment
RJ Digital Edition Read and share Reform Judaism magazine digitally on computer or smartphone. Visit reformjudaismmag.org. can deprive his/her body of exposure to microbes needed to develop a healthy immune system. If we live in fear of possible outcomes, or feel we have to have at least 60% of the ducks in place before we’re going to take that next step, then the Hanukkah story comes to remind us, “Look what the Maccabbees did! They knew they had only 12.5% of what was needed, but nevertheless they lit the first wick.” Cultivating trust does not mean becoming reckless or choosing not to exercise good judgment. It is about recognizing that sometimes, even when we cannot see the whole picture and appear to lack what’s needed to complete the mission, we still need to take a step forward in the direction we know to be right. As the midrash Exodus Rabbah
13 teaches, when the Jews reached the Red Sea, it wasn’t until one man, Nachshon ben Aminadav, walked into the water right up to his nose that the sea finally split. It took an act of trust to cause the sea to divide, and the result was salvation. Trust, then, empowers action. Cultivating trust helps the heart to open to the challenge of taking calculated risks. And cultivating that trust within our families and in our communities can help us transcend even greater obstacles together. The eternal lesson of Hanukkah is that we must trust and never lose hope. The odds may be against us, the obstacles daunting, the winds in our face, but the Maccabees inspire us to hold fast to our goals. Every night that we light a Hanukkah candle, we are reminded that it has happened that the mighty fell into the hands of the few, the weak defeated the strong, one day’s oil lasted eight days. Doubt and fear hover over life like dark clouds, whereas trust and hope usher in light. We light our Hanukkah candles at the darkest time of year as a ritual reminder: When we kindle trust and hope in our hearts, we dispel the shadows of apprehension and welcome in spiritual renewal. This point was the focus of a talmudic debate about the way to light the menorah (Shabbat 21a). One sage, Shammai, contended that we should light eight candles on the first night and then reduce the number of candles by one each night until there is no more light. Another sage, Hillel, proposed that we should add one candle each night until all eight candles are burning brightly. Today we follow Hillel’s way; Hanukkah now embodies the idea of growing more light amid darkness. The Hanukkah story shows us that when our pursuits are ethical and just, we should be prepared to take action in trust that we are aligning with a force beyond ourselves that will help us. Trust does not mean that the results we want are guaranteed. Trust means not letting ourselves be defeated by worry, calculation, doubt, and fear. The Maccabbees teach us that even though the goal might seem impossible, we should still reach for that star, because a miracle just might be waiting to happen.
9/16/13 7:50 PM
Abraham, Great-Great Grandma Mary, & Me By Vered Harris
can trace my family lineage to 1700s Europe. All of my ancestors were Jewish. Some were secular, not synagogue-goers. Some were religious, and would not understand a woman rabbi. But my ancestry really dates back 4000 years ago, when Abraham had an idea he passed along to his son Isaac, and his son Jacob, and his son Joseph, and so on down the line until my GreatGreat Grandma Mary, whose observance looked almost nothing like Abraham and Sarah’s, passed it down to her daughter Great Grandma Rose, after whom I am named, who stopped keeping kosher in her generation, who passed it down to my Grandpa Bernie, who was born in the United States and led our family seders, who passed it down to my mother, who lit candles for the Sabbath and gave us a present on each night of Hanukkah, who passed it down to me, who, along with my husband, am passing it down to our daughters, who may not know the rituals of 100 or 1,500 years ago, but who do know that because we are Jews we must speak and act out against violence, hunger, and injustice in the world. I represent the continuing development of Judaism. This I believe: My essence is not as an individual, autonomous human being living an isolated existence. My essence is a soul fashioned as a part of God’s creative expression. My soul is woven from the threads of the stories of all the people who came before me. I am a thread in the tapestry of the Jewish people, and the Jewish people is a panel in the tapestry of humanity. How we treat each other affects the vibrancy of this tapestry. So Judaism teaches me to treat you with kindness and respect. Sometimes I fail. Then it teaches me how to repent and seek forRabbi Vered Harris is spiritual leader of Temple B’nai Israel in Oklahoma City, OK.
giveness. When I live according to Judaism, I live as a better neighbor and citizen and friend and relative and stranger. The Judaism I observe continues to grow. It does not look like Abraham and Sarah’s. It does CONTINUING THE JEWISH JOURNEY. DIANE AND I (L.) ON MASADA not look like the DURING CONGREGATION BETH TORAH’S TRIP TO ISRAEL, DECEMBER 2005. religion of the INSET: PORTRAIT OF ME AT OR HADASH, HAIFA. rabbis of the first many religious traditions who guide our century or the Golden Age of Spain or the Enlightment. It does not look like world towards peace. My Judaism also changes when my the Judaism of Great-Great Grandma students learn something new. In 2005, Mary, who shaved her head and wore Diane, a congregant and fluent Spana wig according to the Hungarian ish speaker, came to me wanting to Orthodox practice of her day. It does learn to read Hebrew. She found the not look like the Judaism of my mother, task daunting, but through much effort, who eats pork and shellfish and travels learned some rudimentary Hebrew. to Israel once a year to see my sister I also taught her nuances of Israeli culand her children. My Judaism expands and contracts. ture as we toured Israel on a congregational trip, and she enthusiastically It changes when I learn something delved into the culture, using her newly new. When I first began living a conacquired Hebrew speaking and reading sciously Jewish life, for instance, the skills to order food and ask about official label of “kosher” was imporitems in local shops. Later, with my tant to me. But after almost 20 years encouragement, she embarked on as a vegetarian, when I decided to a medical mission to Guatemala as a begin eating meat again, I considered translator. I saw these two experiences not only traditional but also spiritual as interrelated—first she’d engaged teachings about kashrut—concluding with a new language as a first-timer in that I could not personally consider Israel; then she’d ventured abroad the slaughter of animals pumped full on a challenging assignment as a volof chemicals and treated cruelly unteer without a medical background. throughout their lives as “kosher,” All of this helped me buoy the courage regardless of how “humanely” they I myself needed to volunteer with were slaughtered. American Jewish World Service in My Judaism changes when my Muchucuxcah, a small village in teachers learn something new and I am Mexico, where I knew neither the lanchallenged to redefine my own thought guage nor the culture. Our group of and practice. Now I am reading Eboo Patel’s Acts of Faith, a reminder that my rabbis helped build fish tanks to serve as sustainable agricultural systems teachers are not limited to the Jewish in people’s backyards. We also spoke people, but encompass luminaries from reform judaism
9/16/13 7:55 PM
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with local villagers about their histories, concerns, and hopes. None of the rabbis spoke Mayan; a few conversed in Spanish, the villagers’ second language. My own reliance on translators limited the depth of my experience of global justice—and simultaneously renewed my appreciation for Diane, who learned Hebrew to deepen her experience of Judaism, as well as other adults like her. After our Hebrew studies and Israel trip, Diane gave me a piece of art with this quote from the Mishnah: “Provide for yourself a teacher, and acquire a friend” (Avot 1:6). She thought I was her teacher, but it is I who have learned from her in striving to be a courageous person. Our Judaism also changes when we allow ourselves to be renewed by our exploration of how-to-be-close-to-Godand-each-other-through-religion. This year, for the Pesach through Shavuot period of Counting the Omer, I asked congregants to commit to a mitzvah and consciously pursue it as a Jewish value. Just one day after accepting the challenge to engage in interfaith dialogue as an expression of v’ahavta l’rayacha kamocha (loving your neighbor as yourself), a recently widowed woman told me that her neighbor had brought her a meal from her family’s Easter dinner. The two women began to talk about their different faith backgrounds and what religion meant to each of them. At that moment the congregant became aware that through this conversation she was fulfilling a religious task. In reaching towards understanding someone with beliefs different from her own, she felt herself striving towards loving her neighbor as herself. Although this commandment has historically referred to Jews’ relationships with other Jews, for her, applying it to her neighbor heightened the meaning of the exchange. My religious choices and changes humble me. They remind me that I do not live just for myself. God wants us, as God’s partners, to create justice and mercy and beauty in the world. My ancestor Abraham discovered a relationship with God, and now that relationship is, by inheritance, mine to continue to develop and convey to the next generation. So I do.
9/16/13 7:55 PM
Matzo Balls in the Land of Magnolias by Carol Antman
Photographs by Beck y Smith, photosbybeck y.net
SCENES FROM THE “SHALOM Y’ALL” JEWISH FOOD FESTIVAL.
Every October for the past 24 years, Forsyth Park in Savannah is filled with the aroma of corned beef instead of wisteria, lines for “Sizzlin’ Sephardic Lamb” instead of carriage rides. This is “Shalom Y’all,” one of the largest Jewish food festivals in America and one of Savannah’s biggest events. In this most Southern of cities, fried chicken is temporarily overshadowed by brisket. Even Ms. Wilkes Kitchen, where every table is served the same 20 items and President Barack Obama clears his own plate, is outdone by the myriad of Jewish delicacies. Shalom Y’all turns the grandest of Savannah’s tree-lined squares into the South’s best delicatessen. “It’s my second favorite event in October after Alabama football,” says Savannah native Mollie Craven. “I come every year, can’t miss it even though I’m not Jewish.” Preparations for the one-day event start months ahead. On a hot August day, Sue Ruby and other exhausted volunteers Carol Antman is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Charleston Magazine, S.C. Wildlife Magazine, and on her blog peaks andpotholes.blogspot.com. The 25th annual “Shalom Y’all” will be held October 27, 2013. For more information: mickveisrael.org.
sat behind towering mountains of 200 freshly baked, braided loaves of challah in Temple Mickve Israel’s ample kitchen and wondered if they’d made enough. More than 10,000 people attend the festival, and challah is a crowd favorite. “Taste this!” Sue said, breaking off a still-warm hunk of a loaf they’d rejected because of sloppy braiding. It was, I assured them, an absolute taste of heaven. These dozen bakers are among the 200+ volunteers—about 85% of them Mickve Israel congregants—who do all the cooking and schlepping. The “mahjong mavens,” among others, oversee 12 sizzling frying pans that produce 1,700 blintzes, deftly slice 140 strudels and 80 noodle kugels, and heat up gargantuan vats of chicken matzo ball soup. They’re also the festival’s food mavens, explaining, for example, at the egg cream booth: “No, actually it has no egg and no cream.” The festival abounds in creatively reinvented Jewish food and drink, everything from Chicken Shalom’ein (a noodle and chicken stir-fry) to He’brew beer. Lines are long, especially for corned beef and potato latkes— which event chair Lori Taylor insists taste better when cooked outdoors. reform judaism
Other festival favorites are Jewish jazz, cantorial music from all over the country and Israel, folk dancers, ensembles from the Savannah Philharmonic, and sales of Judaica: books, t-shirts, and a popular “Baubles Boutique.” There’s even face painting for the kids. Among the 30 booths is “Advice from Bubbe,” aka Melinda Stein, who entreats festival-goers with the hand-painted sign “She’ll make you smile, she’ll make you qvell, if you ask her advice and buy what we sell.” Shalom Y’all is Temple Mickve Israel’s biggest yearly fundraiser, earning 75% of the synagogue’s budget for social action programming. “Yes,” Taylor says, “We do it to make money, but our real goal is to create good will.” When President George Washington wrote to Mikve Israel leaders in 1788, he said, “May the same wonder-working Deity who long since delivered the Hebrews from their Egyptian oppressors…still continue to water them with the dews of Heaven and make the inhabitants of every denomination partake in the temporal and spiritual blessings of that people,” he probably wasn’t referring to partaking in the blessings of corned beef on rye, but nowadays that’s how they do it in Savannah.
9/16/13 7:01 PM
Barbara Goodman, Unheralded Hero By Jonathan D. Sarna
n the early 1900s, Barbara Solomon Goodman (1868–1948), the dynamo behind the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods’ (NFTS) Committee on Religion, helped pioneer many of the cultural, religious, and institutional practices taken for granted in Reform Judaism today. The daughter of a wealthy Germanborn merchant, Goodman saw how at her congregation, Temple Adath Israel in Louisville, Kentucky, women predominated among the attendees. She believed that women, far more than men, were “deeply interested in things religious.” And so she defined the work of her committee in a single goal: “Devising plans in which the sisterhoods can engage for the general purpose of deepening the Jewish religious consciousness.” Viewing the “religious consciousness” of the home as of particular importance, Goodman and her committee initiated a “Judaizing the home” campaign. As the first step, before Rosh Hashanah 5674 (1913), the committee issued the NFTS Art Calendar, an “artistic reminder of things Jewish” that illustrated the Jewish holidays. Goodman hoped “to place [it] in the home of every Sisterhood member.” The first three calendars won slow approval, but in the fourth year (1916), when the calendar was redesigned with higher quality art and greatly improved aesthetics, sales began to soar. To this day, the calendar serves as an NFTS (now WRJ) trademark. Next Goodman and her committee saw Hanukkah as an untapped opportunity “to introduce religious observances
Jonathan D. Sarna is the Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University and Chief Historian of the National Museum of American Jewish History. This article has been adapted from a chapter in Sisterhood: A Centennial History of Women of Reform Judaism, published by WRJ in honor of its 100th anniversary.
FIRST NFTS ART CALENDAR, 5674 (1913).
in the home.” At a time when Christmas was becoming increasingly commercialized, Goodman explained to the NFTS Executive board, a properly instructed Jewish child “will delight in lighting the Hanukkah candles and will not need the Christmas tree to stimulate his understanding.” In 1921 she sent a letter to every temple sisterhood recalling the meaning of Hanukkah and urging members to distribute “a menorah and candles” to each child in the religious school. During this period, Hanukkah was not widely observed in Reform Jewish homes; some rabbis complained that “the Christmas tree [had] taken the place of the Hanukkah lights.” In response, Goodman called upon NFTS women “to kindle the Hanukkah candles in your home, to give presents to the children at that time, and to make them feel the significance of our own holiday.” Three years after that, her committee created “Hanukkah greeting cards,” as a fundraiser and Jewish alternative to Christmas cards. In a report to the National Executive in 1927, she boasted of success: Sisterhoods “responded splendidly” to the Hanukkah cards, selling 11,182 of them, and Hanukkah candles were being lit in more and more homes. reform judaism
Indeed, according to a survey of Reform Judaism in large cities conducted in the late 1920s, “Hanukkah candles are lit regularly...in 40% of our homes,” and that number continued to grow. Goodman exclaimed: “It is with nothing short of delight that the chairman reports the lighting of Hanukkah lights in the homes of many members—women who never dreamed of kindling Hanukkah lights, until the Sisterhoods became active.” Recognizing the importance of women coming to temple to worship, Goodman also stressed attendance “at least once a week” and proposed that those sisterhoods who took attendance at services “telephone all absentees and urge upon them a more regular attendance.” She urged the “ladies of the Sisterhood” to create “a warm spirit of cordiality,” making their temples more inviting through “the exchange of ‘Gut Shabbes’ greetings and pleasant conversation.” She also promoted a “social hour after Friday evening services.” To her, the synagogue was not just a “house of prayer,” but also a place to meet friends and strengthen the bonds of community. Long before the oneg became a regular feature of synagogue life, she understood that the synagogue should encourage conviviality. Another bold initiative was Goodman’s urging, in 1916, that sisterhoods “co-operate with the rabbis in introducing congregational singing at the public services.” Decades earlier, many American synagogues had virtually abandoned communal singing, believing that enlightened Jews sought more solemn, decorous, and awe-inspiring services on the model of liberal Protestant worship. Favored traditional tunes had given way to choral music performed by a trained choir for congregants who listened in silence. Goodman believed that participatory worship and song would lure Jews back to the synagogue. By 1917, she reported happily that “many sister-
9/16/13 7:43 PM
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