Sweet & Savory

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Photos by David Stuck

It happened so fast. Who pressed the fast-forward button on summer? It felt as if Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur got the bum’s rush from the Jewish calendar. I went from the hot sweat of August to the cold sweat of preparing my Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur menus. Now, just as I take a deep breath, here comes Sukkot. This year, the joyous holiday starts at sunset on Sept. 18 and runs through sunset
on Sept. 25.

Sukkot 101: It is a celebration of history and agriculture.

Historically, it recalls the time during which the children of Israel wandered in the desert and lived in temporary shelters for more than 40 years. Agriculturally, it commemorates an ample harvest. If you need to know more on the basics of Sukkot, there is a cornucopia of information on the Internet. You can even find a How to Celebrate Sukkot page on wikiHow.

Your sukkah can be purchased or become a do-it-yourself project. Some actually live in the sukkah for seven days; some only eat meals there. For children, decorating a sukkah can be a fantastic experience. Again, on the Internet, you can get a range of ideas from formal chandeliers to more artsy-craftsy homemade decorations. But for me, it’s all about the food.

Fortunately, Sukkot has a more relaxed food vibe than the High Holidays, which are tied to a list of traditional foods, such as apples, honey and round challah. Even though food is key to this holiday, Sukkot does not have a list of specific and/or traditional dishes. Sukkot has a real anything-goes tradition when it comes to what you eat. For me, Sukkot is a foodie’s free-for-all. Many scholars believe the Pilgrims adapted Sukkot for Thanksgiving. Since it is a harvest festival, it seems natural to focus on fresh fruit and vegetables.

At this time of year, Maryland offers a wide selection of locally grown items. You can find fall fruits and veggies in supermarkets, farmers’ markets and at local farms that have stands or pick-your-own fields. I recently discovered a terrific website from the University of Maryland to help guide those of us who want true farm-fresh. Go to marylandagriculture.com for descriptions, locations, days and operating hours of more than 100 markets and farms all over the state. Again, local supermarkets have plenty, too, including dried fruits, which are terrific for sukkah snacks and desserts.

On Sukkot, we are often reminded to include figs, dates, pomegranates and grapes. But don’t let that hem you in. Be bold. There are green grapes, red grapes and tiny champagne grapes. Pomegranates, especially, have come out of the closet lately. You can enhance salads with pomegranate seeds that can be bought in containers. Pomegranate juice, widely available, is wonderful for drinking over ice or mixing with other juices, making salad dressings and more. There are Medjool dates and Deglet Noor dates, and some specialty markets have other varieties. Don’t forget rambutans and figs.

The ABCs of local fruits and veggies? Here’s a list of some of the items now available: apples, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cantaloupes, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chard, cucumbers, eggplant, grapes, green beans, kale, melons, mushrooms, nectarines, okra, peaches, pears, peppers, plums and pluots, raspberries, scallions, squash, tomatoes, turnips, watermelons and zucchini.

Stuffed foods remind us of a bountiful harvest, which often means stuffed cabbage or other stuffed vegetable dishes, such as stuffed tomatoes or zucchini.

Locally prepared foods are abundant, too. Gourmet Again sells sliced smoked brisket with a side of barbeque sauce and onions. The brisket is so tasty, you don’t even need the sides, and they sell out whenever they have it. With a great sliced challah or challah rolls, you can create a smoked Baltimore brisket bar in your sukkah. I am a great fan of food bars that feature a main course and an array of condiments for personalizing your plate. My family is partial to my homemade mandel bread, and I intend to have a mandel bread bar. Right next to my coffee and tea station, I place a tray of mandel bread with little dishes of toppings for dipping. (No double dipping allowed!)

Challah is always welcome, but here is a way to really ratchet up the yum factor. If you make your own challahs, try adding some flavors, sweet or savory, such as caramelized chopped onions, chopped apples and cinnamon, chocolate or berries. If you like this idea but aren’t up to baking it yourself, try going to shopchallywood.com. Challywood is a kosher pareve bakery in Queens, N.Y., that has all the flavors I mentioned and more. It delivers, often overnight. The prices are super reasonable, with free shipping for a minimum order. Challywood bakes luscious flavors: choco-cherry, choco-coconut, blueberry pull-apart and more. I have had them, and they are scrumptious. And like all challahs, you can freeze them if you need to. Yes, you can have a Sukkot challah bar, too. I know I will.

Continue the harvest theme in your table décor. No fancy flowered centerpieces for me on Sukkot. I use mason jars, shallow trays, glasses and other containers to create a tablescape of dried and fresh fruits and veggies. I admit that I sometimes use Pinterest to look at table décor and to borrow ideas. I searched Pinterest for Sukkah décor and found photos of unique, easy-to-make candle holders for evening in the Sukkah. Slice off the tops of apples and/or colorful gourds, and hollow them out far enough to set a tea light inside each one.

Here are some more kitchen tips and recipes. Enjoy the bounty and the leeway that allow you to make new creations and traditions for your sweet and savory Sukkot.

Green Golan

091313_green_golan1Israel is renowned for creating innovative solutions for dealing with a scarcity of natural resources from seawater desalination to drip irrigation. Indeed, these technologies have been sold internationally and are aiding the solution of dire water and food shortages in the developing world. Israel has now begun to focus on a new challenge, that of moving toward a greener economy. The Golan Heights region is one such area that, despite its pastoral serenity, has seen tremendous economic growth and in turn faces detrimental effects on its picturesque landscape.

The Golan Heights is a welcome island of green in a predominantly arid country. The green hills, peppered with vineyards and orc-hards, the bubbling streams and the snow-capped Hermon Mountain, are all gems in Israel’s geography. Likewise, they are all at risk of increased environmental pollution and the negative consequences of climate change. In a report released last year, the Ministry of Environmental Protection declared that “Israel recognizes the necessity to decouple the destructive link between economic growth and environmental degradation and is forging forward with a new green growth agenda.”

Towering over the Golan Heights region lies the wind farm at Tel Asania. While solar energy provisions are costly and space intensive, wind farms produce energy efficiently on significantly less land space. The reg-ion’s gusty plateau is the perfect location for Israel’s first-ever wind farm, which provides electricity for one of its largest employers, the Golan Heights Winery, other regional ind-ustries and a proportion of the area’s residents. It was announced earlier this year that a new wind farm containing 50 turbines, the height of the Azrielli centers in Tel Aviv, will be built in the region at a cost of $332 million. It is predicted that by 2015, the new 120-megawatt wind farm will begin producing electricity and that the farm will become the largest in the entire Middle East region.

The Golan Heights Winery is committed to increasing its positive impact on the area.

The Golan Heights Winery is committed to increasing its positive impact on the area.

The Golan Heights’ businesses and industries have gone on board outlining new strategies to minimize their carbon footprints and develop policies to protect the region for the generations to come. Katzrin, the capital of the region, is home to one of the region’s greatest prides, the Golan Heights Winery. As one of the region’s largest employers and the country’s leading wine producer, it takes responsibility for leading the way in environmental responsibility.

“The Golan Heights Winery is totally indebted to the incredible natural offerings of the region,” said Yael Gai, head of International Marketing for the Golan Heights Winery. “The mineral-rich basalt soil and the perfect weather conditions enable us to grow the fantastic grapes that are produced year after year. For that reason, one of our main goals is to increase the positive impact that we have on the environment.”

“There is a growing trend in the wine world to move toward organic farming and sustainable agriculture,” noted Golan Chief Winemaker Victor Schoenfeld. “We work on a system of biodynamic agriculture, which aims to strengthen the connection between man, nature, animal and plants.”

To this end, the Golan Heights Winery has made strides to paint the Golan green in more ways than one.

For the past 15 years, the Golan Heights Winery has been cultivating its unique Odem organic vineyard.

“Organic wine growing not only expresses, to the fullest extent possible, the unique terroir (soil and climate) of the Odem Vineyard, but it also positively influences its quality,” said Schoenfeld, “In light of our successful experience with organic wine growing in the Odem Vineyard, and following extensive study of the topic, we implemented organic methodologies in additional vineyards across the Golan Heights, thus reducing the use of environment damaging chemicals in the whole region.”

Without using powerful chemicals to deter unwanted guests, the Golan Heights Winery went back to basics employing a parliament of barn owls to guard the vines and using pheromones to confuse pests and preclude breeding. Any grape waste from these vineyards is then turned into organic compost and there-after used in over 40 percent of the winery’s vineyards.

In addition to the use of wind turbine-produced energy, the winery invests heavily in reducing water usage through an innovative drip-irrigation and advanced water-measurement system. This enables the winey use the absolute minimum amount of water required to water the vines. The large quantity of water used in winemaking and cleaning the vast vats is rerouted through a unique purification device enabling the efficient recycling of waste water. The organic waste is then broken down into gases by anaerobic bacteria, which in turn power an electricity-producing turbine. Finally, the winery has ceased to use non-recyclable plastic bags and in its place uses eco-friendly, biodegradable packaging.

“We still have a long way to go to ensure that our environmental sustainability remains in line with our expansion,” said Schoenfeld. “But we are making real headway and setting an example to the whole region.”

In addition to high-tech solutions and innovative energy conservation devices, the Golan Heights also relies on a team of volunteers to maintain its lush green habitat. The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) has launched a number of programs to try to combat the deterioration of the Golan’s natural water sources including the many streams, rivers, springs and wetlands in the region.

“Israel’s rivers are in a state of crisis,” reads SPNI’s report on the current situation. “Israel’s rivers and wetlands have changed beyond recognition. Rivers and wetlands have become dumping grounds for sewage, industrial and agricultural runoff.”

In part due to the increased usage of desalinated water for urban water consumption, SPNI has taken the opportunity to launch the Longing for the Streams campaign to improve the way natural water sources are managed. In addition to rehabilitation programs and new legislation, it runs a River Guardian program for school-age children to learn what they can do to protect the area’s water sources.

Keeping the Golan green is a combined effort. Together with the leading businesses in the area, such as the Golan Heights Winery, Israel’s governmental, charitable and CleanTech organizations are all playing their part in protecting one of Israel’s most beautiful regions. While the Golan Heights is now blooming with flora and fauna, the area’s residents are acutely aware that they bear responsibility for its preservation for the generations to come.

Anna Harwood writes for IMP Media Group.

Say No To Sukkot Weight Gain

Rosh Hashanah has its shofar, apples and honey. Yom Kippur has its tefillot (prayers) and fasting. Chanukah has its menorah and draidel. Pesach has its Seders. Shavuot has its Torah.

Sukkot, except for several symbols, is really about the joy of eating in the sukkah and enjoying the friends and family you have invited.

This year, it’s a three-day holiday, with Shabbat following right after, and we will be eating six meals in the sukkah, one after another. There are many challenges related to a three-day holiday, a schedule that comes every so often in the Jewish calendar. These challenges include having enough food available, especially if entertaining many family members and friends, and having a variety of foods to keep it fresh and inviting. There’s also the stress of avoiding significant weight gain.

When you think about it, this year, the month of September, spanning from Rosh Hashanah through Sukkot, mimics Thanksgiving to New Year’s, when average weight gain could be three to five pounds. Also, since the holidays are a month earlier, we light the candles later, and we are eating our meals at a later hour.

What are the reasons for weight gain during these marathon holidays?

Eating a large amount of food during mealtime.
Especially if the weather is nice, it is enjoyable to sit out in the sukkah, sharing with friends and family and consuming wonderful food. Some dishes are made especially for the holiday. In addition, the food is likely to remain on the table, encouraging second helpings and nibbling, rather than being taken off the table and into the house.

Eating much later at night.
Consuming a large meal and then going to sleep, after spending most of the evening in the sukkah, soaking up great conversation and singing, causes weight gain.

Lack of exercise.
During the holidays, when one is grocery shopping, cooking and eating and then grocery shopping, cooking and eating some more, there is much less time for regimented exercise or taking time out for a walk, let alone a trip to the gym.

So how do we avoid excessive weight gain and keep it reasonable and manageable so that we can lose it quickly when the holiday is over? Here are some easy tips:

Pace, pace, pace yourself.
Realize that if you don’t taste a delicacy at one meal, it will probably show up at another of the meals. At dinnertime, when we are probably eating at 8 p.m., don’t forget the importance of monitoring portion sizes.

Try to avoid excess fat and sodium while putting together your menus.
Include lots of dishes that are baked, broiled and grilled instead of fried, or include items with lots and lots of sauces. There is nothing more wonderful than a platter of perfectly grilled carrots, onions, sweet potatoes and turnips.

Consider mindful eating.
It is important to really experience your food, using all five of your senses. No time is more critical to be mindful than during a three-day holiday spent with friends and family, catching up on a whole year of events and happenings. Do not go into autopilot and lose yourself in spirited conversation, while consuming way more calories than necessary. Enjoy those you love and haven’t seen for a year, but be mindful of every bite of food at the same time.

Do yoga, meditation or deep breathing.
These exercises will help to keep you centered and mindful and help get you through what could be a stressful time. Even taking a walk after meals with a family member can have wonderful benefits.

Adriane Stein Kozlovsky, M.S., R.D., L.D., is a licensed registered dietitian in private practice, working with individuals, groups, corporations and nonprofits. She recently completed a 200-hour yoga teacher-training course at the University of Maryland School of Medicine Center for Integrative Medicine and is teaching individual and group yoga classes. Visit ChaiLifeNutritionForU.com.

At Sukkot, Turning Oy Into The Season Of Joy

In open opposition to Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), which tells us on Sukkot “there is nothing new under the sun,” I decided to build a solar sukkah this fall. To energize my plan, I went to the 99 Cent Store to buy some solar yard lights to adapt for use on the roof.

However, while driving home and accessing the construction work required for the upcoming holiday, I realized that my sukkah was not the only thing that was low energy.

I had put up our sukkah umpteen years in a row, and this year I was thinking about giving the shack building a rest. The solar idea was nice, but in the end it wasn’t enough — just an artificial way of rekindling my interest in what had become an annual task.

Couldn’t we just manage an invite from a couple of the families we had invited into our sukkah in previous years?

Not an option: Among our friends there was a sukkah shortage. Over time, it seems, people get so used to visiting your sukkah that they lose touch with building their own.

Sukkot is supposed to be “the season of our joy,” but after the chest pounding, shofar blowing and pleading for my life, the joy this year was hard to find. Was there a way to reset my spiritual clock and get my sukkah built?

Psychology tells us that motivation comes in two forms: “intrinsic,” an internal desire to perform a particular task that gives us pleasure, such as knowing that putting up a sukkah is a mitzvah; and “extrinsic,” factors external and unrelated to a particular task but a kind of reward, such as praise from friends for putting up a sukkah.

Searching for motivation, I read where a college rabbi at Duke had run a program called “Sex and the Sukkah.” It certainly piqued my interest (although I was confused as to whether the motivation was extrinsic or intrinsic). Apparently sex is part of the mitzvah of dwelling in the sukkah. But we don’t even sleep out there, and my wife wondered nervously about the neighbors.

With our children in their 20s, the motivation of putting up the sukkah for them was missing, too. Balancing on a ladder in our shaky shack just so we could hang the decorations they made in school was no longer a starter.

Hanging signs of their more recent achievements — term papers, pay stubs and renderings (one of them is studying to be an architect) — was an interesting updating of the tradition, but I didn’t think the public display would be appreciated.

Since with each day the pile of weathered boards and rolls of bamboo seemed to be receding farther and farther into the depths of my garage, and wondering if others might be having a similar problem, I sat down to interview a psychologist.

“A lack of motivation and apathy could be a sign of depression,” said Rae Freed, a clinical social worker in private practice in Los Angeles who sees patients of all ages. Depression could show itself through “a lack of energy, fatigue, in difficulty in making a decision or lack of focus.”

As we talked about the social component of the sukkah — inviting over guests — Freed suggested that potential sukkah builders might think the effort requires “too much energy to participate in a social interaction.”

“That sounded about right,” I thought, thinking also of the effort it took in past years to call people to negotiate the “right” night.

Freed also spoke about seasonal depression that comes with the shortening of days from a Jewish point of view.

“You build up to the High Holy Days, spending time with family, and afterwards feel the loss,” she said.

“Especially when they live on the other side of the county or have passed away,” I thought.

Over time, “age and strength” become factors as well, Freed said.

“Yeah, that too,” I thought, then asked, “How do you get over it?”

For Freed, simply pretending and putting on a “mask of joy” was not going to cover it. She countered my question with questions: “Ask yourself, ‘How did you feel in the past when you did that? Was it positive?’”

“Having guests over did make me feel good,” I thought.

Explaining further, Freed suggested that even if you don’t feel like doing something, it might be motivating to remember the pleasure the activity brought, especially the communal associations.

Recall the “memories of earlier Sukkots,” said Freed, who pleasantly recalled that she had spent her teen years living in an art deco hotel run by her father that catered to vacationing Jews in south Miami Beach, Fla.

I remembered hosting several groups of people the previous year. It was kind of like running a sukkah hotel — tons of work, yet they sang, played instruments and filled our evenings with camaraderie.

“People feel alone and isolated if they are not surrounded by family,” Freed said, suggesting the sukkah is a way of “bringing together a temporary family.”

“A temporary structure for a temporary family,” I thought.

Later, thinking over Freed’s words, my low-energy thoughts dissipated. Going into the recesses of my garage, I found what it would take to build my sukkah.

Edmon J. Rodman writes for JTA Wire Service.

Fish Farming

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Ellen Perlman, owner of Chesapeake Aquaponics in Reisterstown, has
increased lettuce production and is now growing about 30 varieties.

When Ellen Perlman heard about aquaponics through a chance meeting, it perked up the environmentalist in her.

“I am very interested in saving the planet and sustainability,” she said. “I never in my wildest dreams imagined I’d be farming fish.”

After taking a course in Florida taught by James Rakocy, the father of modern aquaponics, Perlman decided to start Chesapeake Aquaponics in 2011. The sustainable food production system combines aquaculture and hydroponics, a method of growing plants in water without soil.

In a nutshell, fish expel their waste into water, the plants absorb the nutrients from the water after solid waste is removed, and the clean water at the end of the process is pumped back into the fish tanks.

“We like their poop,” Perlman said of the fish. “They make great poop.”

The plants don’t need to be watered, and many in the aquaponics world say the plants grow faster this way.

“It’s sort of like a fish farm with an add-on produce business,” said Stuart Fink, Perlman’s business partner.

Chesapeake Aquaponics has four tanks — three with about 500 tilapia each and one with about 30 adult coy — that have helped grow sage, purple basil, mint, Swiss chard, chives, string beans, lavender and lettuce. As summer turns to fall, Perlman and Fink are moving their focus to 30 varieties of lettuce. They hope to install plumbing in a third greenhouse before the winter.

In operation since spring 2012, the company already has made a name for itself locally, selling its products to The Grill at Harryman House in Reisterstown, Linwoods in Owings Mills, Suburban Club and Gourmet Again in Pikesville, and at the Reisterstown farmers’ market.

Andy Hoffman, owner of Gourmet Again, said his company is selling Chesapeake Aquaponics’ herbs and lettuce and using the lettuce in its salad bar. Hoffman said it was a no-brainer to bring the products in.

“It allowed us to really tell people we’re selling an organic product that’s grown right up the road,” he said, adding that some customers need to be educated about organic products, but that most can taste the difference.

Chesapeake Aquaponics also attracted the attention of Jessica Normington, executive director of the Pikesville Chamber of Commerce. The chamber’s farmers’ market didn’t have anyone selling fresh herbs, and customers were asking for organic products.

“It’s the hot topic of conversation,” Normington said.

Earlier this month, Chesapeake Aquaponics became the first aquaponics farm to be certified under the Good Agricultural Practices program by the Maryland Department of Agriculture.

In addition to the sustainable and organic aspects, aquaponics has the advantage that it works anywhere and requires very little water be added to the system. Sylvia Bernstein, founder of The Aquaponic Source in Colorado, said aquaponics is taking off in warm and water-challenged environments in the U.S., such as Florida and Texas. Internationally, aquaponics is used in Australia, Israel and throughout the Middle East.

“There’s very little human interaction beyond feeding the fish, basic plant care and some monitoring,” Bernstein said.

Bernstein, whose company sells systems, supplies and educational materials and teaches courses, said aquaponics maintains the benefits of its parent disciplines — aquaculture and hydroponics — but subtracts some of the environmental costs. Hydroponics is chemical-intensive, and aquaculture does not recycle the water and the waste the way aquaponics does.

“An aquaponics system doesn’t get out of balance,” Bernstein said. “You don’t ever have to dump that water.”

While they do add a few nutrients to the water at Chesapeake Aquaponics, they are constantly trying to get the operation closer to sustainability.

“Our goal is to demonstrate that we can make this work,” Fink said.

And the operation has to be green. Adding chemicals to the water would hurt the plants, and spraying pesticides on the plants would hurt the fish. To get other insects off of the plants, they bring in lady bugs. Solid waste is composted, and they even hope to add solar panels so they can be less reliant on propane, at least in the warmer months.

“I’m really impressed with their operation, and it’s great to have a commercial operator in the area that we can point to as a model for how to take the farm to the next level,” said Dave Love, assistant scientist at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, which has its own aquaponics project.

As Chesapeake Aquaponics hones its lettuce operation, its local customers will have lettuce tastings so they can make their own seed mixes. Fink said each lettuce tastes different.

“Our kids, they won’t eat regular lettuce when they go out to restaurants,” said Fink. “They’ve become lettuce snobs.”

Although they are divorced, Fink joined Perlman in September to help take the business to the next level.

Much like the seed mixes they’ll be making in the near future, running an aquaponics farm requires careful attention and constant innovation.

Perlman and Fink work every day, and only recently hired some help. There’s never a dull moment, as they are constantly learning new things and tweaking the system, having recently added heat to the fish tanks after noticing a slowdown in winter production.

“It’s hasn’t gotten routine,” Fink said. “It’s always something new and exciting.”

Although Perlman never thought she’d be farming fish, a chance meeting with someone interested in aquaponics led her to take the course that inspired her. As the system gets tweaked and more efficient over time, she and Fink hope to continue to grow the business.

“I’m just your average soccer mom, and I learned how to do something complicated,” Perlman said.

At Yom Kippur, A Heads-Up On Chest Thumping

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On Yom Kippur, by tapping on your chest, the door of your heart flies open.
(Edmon J. Rodman)

On Yom Kippur, when we beat our chests during the confession, maybe we should be knocking instead on our heads. After all, isn’t that where all the trouble starts?

On this most physically demanding of Jewish days, Jewish tradition has us beat the heart side of our chests, as if to say this is the source of our falling short.

During the Viddui — the confessional portion of the service composed of the Ashamnu and Al Chait — some of us tap, some of us rap, some of us pound really hard. Many do nothing, perhaps wondering if this is some kind of Jewish self-flagellation.

Those who tap are reminded, without leaving marks, of the connection between spirituality and physicality. But are we choosing the right body part to make our confession meaningful?

In the Bible, it is widely accepted that the heart — in Hebrew, lev — is the seat of emotion. Maimonides even linked the heart with the intellect.

However, in the brave new science-guy world today, while we’re standing in shul tapping our hearts, our focus could easily turn from confession to hypertension.

So what about lightly tapping the side of our heads instead with a why-did-I-do-that kind of knock? Isn’t the head the place where, working in discord, our mouths and minds create the tsouris we confess?

Beginning with Rosh Hashanah — literally head of the year — our heads are in our rituals. We put tefillin on our bicep, next to the heart — unless you’re left-handed, like me — but we also wear tefillin on our head, before our eyes. On Friday nights when parents bless their kids, their hands are placed on the heads of their children.

Confusing head and heart even more, in Psalm 90, an ideal is held up of obtaining a “heart of wisdom.”

So which to tap, heart or head?

To Rabbi Goldie Milgram — the founder of Reclaiming Judaism, an organization seeking Jewish innovation and “maximal involvement,” and author and publisher of a number of books on creating a meaningful Jewish life — striking one’s chest on Yom Kippur is an acknowledgment that “I am out of alignment.” Tapping on the chest is a way to realign, Milgram said from the Alliance for Jewish Renewal Aleph Kallah in New Hampshire, where she was teaching.

Milgram, who has master’s degrees in social work and Hebrew letters, says that Judaism can be approached from the point of view of a gestalt psychologist. “People want to get things integrated into their bodies,” she said.

When I asked Rabbi Milgram about my idea of tapping on one’s head, she wondered why I would want to do that.

“What would you get from it?” asked Milgram.

“It would remind me of the source,” I responded, seeing yet again that my ideas were getting me in trouble.

“In Judaism, the heart is the seat,” she reminded me. “Your awareness of ahavat Hashem [love of God] starts in the heart,” the rabbi added, explaining that seeing the head as the center is a Western tradition.

Milgram also interprets tapping on the heart as a kind of drumming. “The body is the instrument,” she said, making a connection between drumbeat and heartbeat and suggesting that while we are tapping, to “listen to both your head and your heart.”

Striking the chest is “a form of dancing one’s prayer,” Milgram said.

Offering perhaps a new dance step, she suggested I try moving my finger in a circular motion slowly over my heart. I tried, it was definitely soothing, and I could see how the continuity of motion might help me through the more personally applicable “we have sinned against you’s” — but wondered if it would look weird.

“People are doing it,” she offered, pointing out that in her work she has encountered a diversity of customs.

“What should I think about while I’m doing it?” I asked, recalling that while reading the lines of Ashamnu, instead of focusing on the individual lines, I would sometimes get caught up in the acrostic of shortcomings, wondering what the machzor would use for “X.”

“Ask, ‘What is my resistance to aligning with the mitzvah of caring for myself?’” Milgram said, also suggesting that I make a list, noting aspects of body, family and Judaism, where I would like to be more in alignment with the mitzvot. She also advised “to forgive myself,” pointing out that just striking my chest was not enough, “one has to engage afterwards.”

“Tapping on your chest, the door of your heart flies open. That’s the beginning of teshuvah,” she said, mentioning the Jewish concept of returning, or asking forgiveness, that beats through the Yom Kippur liturgy.

The Viddui, she said, is written in the we. “We take responsibility.”

For that I would need both heart and head.

Edmon J. Rodman is a JTA columnist.

What Is Jewish Unity?

This year, the Torah portions Nitzavim and Vayelech were read together on Aug. 30. However, Nitzavim is considered to be related to Rosh Hashanah and Vayelech to Yom Kippur. Both parshiot have similar messages — they speak about Jewish unity. According to Torah commentators, on Rosh Hashanah (in Nitzavim), the Jewish unity referred to is unity above, in Heaven. Yom Kippur, in contrast, is about unity below, on Earth.

Vayelech begins by saying that “Moshe went and spoke the following words to all Israel,” meaning he spoke to all Jews in the same way. The portion concludes with Moshe addressing “the entire assembly of Israel” — all Jews, together, in a united manner. (In that portion, we learn about the mitzvah of hakhel, the commandment to gather the people; the term is translated as “congregation.”)

One major Yom Kippur Jewish law and tradition is reuniting with those from which you are estranged — a coming together, a reconciliation and rejuvenation. In this spirit, the JT approached a diverse cohort of Jews and asked them for their perceptions, possible misperceptions and nagging questions about Jews who they see as different from themselves. Then, the JT asked area rabbinic figures for clarification and answers. (See “Myth or Fact?”)

The not-unexpected revelation: The Jewish world is not black and white. However, neither is it gray. The Jewish people are many colors.

Finally, five local rabbis — one mainstream Orthodox, one Modern Orthodox, one Conservative, one Reform and one Reconstructionist — were asked the following questions: “What is Jewish unity? Despite our differences, can we get along?”

The answers: Yes, no and maybe.

Herein lies the debate: Is Jewish unity the uniting of disparate levels of Jews or is it that all Jews are entirely equal?

The answer is inconclusive; we welcome your feedback.

The JT team wishes you an easy and meaningful fast.

— Maayan Jaffe

 

Myth Or Fact?

Assumptions About The Orthodox

By Maayan Jaffe
All Orthodox women shave their heads
“Absolutely not,” said Rabbi Chayim Lando, director of the Learning Institute for Torah Empowerment.

Rabbi Yitzchok Lowenbraun, director of the Association for Jewish Outreach Programs, seconded that statement, explaining that this is something many Chasidic women do. He noted that in the areas of modesty and intimacy, many women strive to go above and beyond what is required by the Torah. He also conjectured that it might derive from the practice of ritual immersion; a woman cannot have any tangles in her hair when she dunks in the mikvah (ritual bath).

Rabbi Lando surmised that the source of the tradition might be a story in the Talmud, which notes that one man, Pinchas, had “a whole bunch of sons who were Kohanim Gedolim. The Gomorra says that Pinchas was rewarded because the beams of the house never saw [his wife’s] hair.”

All observant Jews are Republican
“On any number of ethical, moral and political issues, the Orthodox community is naturally going to be more on the conservative side,” said Rabbi Yaakov Menken of Torah.org. “But that is by no means monolithic.”
Rabbi Menken cited several local Jewish leaders who are registered Democrats and said this is a personal decision.

So, too, did Rabbi Lowenbraun, who noted that “people should vote their conscience and for their ideas and values. You vote for people, not parties.”

Rabbi Lando said with regards to some major issues, the Republicans’ viewpoints tend to better jibe with those of the Orthodox community, especially those concerning pro-family values and Israel.

“Take abortion,” said Rabbi Lando. “I would not agree with the way the Christian right approaches abortion. It is a misnomer to think the views of Orthodox Jews on a lot of issues necessarily correlate with the Christian right. There are some similarities, but this is not across the board.”

Orthodox parents don’t want their children to associate with non-Orthodox children
“Yes, no and maybe,” said Rabbi Lowenbraun.

The rabbi explained that while his children have played with children from many different backgrounds, there are “some people who are afraid of being involved with something they are not exactly sure of. What do you do when your children go into the home of someone who doesn’t keep kosher? What if you go in [to someone’s house] and they have the TV on, and it’s Shabbos. … It is a complex issue.”

Rabbi Lowenbraun said that people who don’t allow their children to mix with less observant kids do so to help protect them from “negative influences or values they don’t want their children exposed to.”

Rabbi Menken said that it is less challenging for an adult than a child, who may be tempted by what he sees and have a harder time saying no. He did say that he has encouraged his own children to have relationships with his less Orthodox neighbors, and those have been mutually rewarding.

In traditional Judaism, women have a lesser status than men
All of the rabbis who commented on this statement quickly noted that this is a question best asked of women, but they also all felt confident that this is certainly not the case — “not better or worse, just different,” said Rabbi Lando.

“Women are more likely to become Orthodox — and less likely to leave it — than men,” explained Rabbi Menken. “So if Orthodoxy is really that stacked against women, then Jewish women [who choose to be Orthodox] are mentally limited or are more spiritually attuned with what is important; I would assume the latter.”

Rabbi Lowenbraun said that what is often perceived as inequality is Judaism’s way of protecting and elevating women. He cited several laws that work to ensure women are treated fairly and noted that women command respect. For example, women cannot testify in Jewish court, something considered disrespectful to the subject (King David was not allowed to testify in court for this reason). He said that in his estimation modern society puts women in competition with men and squelches the importance of family and the home.

“If a woman’s role in the home is looked down upon [in secular society], we have the opposite value [in Judaism],” said Rabbi Lowenbraun. “The family is the most important thing.”

Rabbi Lowenbraun noted that mothers influence the next generation of Jewish leaders by instilling Jewish values in the children. He also noted that modesty does not degrade women but “just the opposite.”

Orthodox Jews do not watch or read anything not Jewish
According to Rabbi Lando, like with all of the above, here you “find a continuum.”

“There are those Orthodox Jews who have absolutely no problem being influenced by secular culture — books, movies, television, sports — all the way to your most right-wing Chasidim who try to keep out such influences.”

The goal, said Rabbi Lowenbraun, is to be close to God.

“We keep Shabbos to be close to God. We learn Torah to be close to God. Based on that goal, everything falls into place. If it helps me be closer to God, it is a good thing,” he said, noting that Jews in America read English and that there are secular books and programs that are of “great value.”

Rabbi Menken said that there is nothing that says Jews should not be aware of the world around them (the news, etc.). He cautioned, though, that Orthodox Jews should use prudence in selecting which secular
influences to be involved with and bring into their home.

Said Rabbi Lowenbraun: “Torah includes everything, everything around us.”

One Big Conversation

090613_Rabbi_Geoff_Basik“We are One,” say the United Jewish Appeal campaign signs. A friend and colleague remarks, “Really? Isn’t it God that is ‘One’?” So I wonder, is there a connection between the oneness of God and achdut Yisrael, the unity of the Jewish people?

Evidence of our disunity abounds; achdut Yisrael is apparently not descriptive. We have no consensus, let alone unity, of belief or behavior. “She’ma” is not a unifying mantra, nor do we share in behavioral norms, observances and customs — religious, cultural and lifestyle choices that often reflect divergent values.

Perhaps achdut may be found in the realm of belonging. We belong to something extraordinary: one big conversation across time and place, encounters over the same texts, material culture and customs and the ultimate questions about life, what is good and true, important and meaningful, and especially how to live. We have inherited and belong to that conversation and exploration.

Or perhaps we belong to the same narrative (our master story from Lech l’cha to Egypt to Mount Sinai to Jerusalem and continuing on to a not-yet-achieved land of promise/Israel). We share a story, an identity and, for some, even a trajectory and purpose that helps locate us in history and in the world.

We affirm our belonging in the opening blessing of the Amidah: we belong (either biologically and/or by choice) to the family of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah (and all the rest). We continue the living they started, their questions, struggles, yearnings and attempts. They provide the steppingstones for us to live more fully in covenantal relationships with others and the world, happier and wiser, more connected.

Another friend and colleague suggests that the overarching value of “unity,” if understood as unanimous voice and action, has served its purpose, and we are now strong and secure enough to revel in diversity and pluralism, to relish the variety of practices and beliefs and expressions, interpretations and opinions. We now can understand our diversity not as weakness on the part of a vulnerable people, or straying from covenant or as something less than legitimate or authentic, but as a strength, a positive virtue.

Which leads us back to God or Godliness. Connecting with Godliness through one of 70 faces of God, or 70 languages of Revelation, we are diverse and may embrace that diversity, l’shem Shamayim, “for the sake of Heaven.” As long as we have respect and mutuality, we may differ and disagree yet stay in the same conversation, enriching ourselves and our inherited traditions, advancing holiness in the world. “One” does not mean “same.” Uniformity is impractical, unnecessary, and stultifying.

Achdut must be prescriptive: When we love each other as ourselves, when we are responsible one for another, when we are mutually respectful of everyone’s place at the table, then we may reflect the connectedness, the oneness, which we associate with God. Achdut is a potentiality, an aspiration, an ideal. The learning here is less about what we do or think and more about remembering who we are and how to be together. Then might we merit, and experience, achdut.

Rabbi Geoff Basik is spiritual leader of Kol HaLev Synagogue, a Reconstructionist community.

Prescription Or Description?

090613_Rabbi_Andre_BuschA visit to a doctor may turn out with two kinds of statements: descriptions and prescriptions. The medical description is a diagnosis. The prescription might entail following a course of treatment or, for so many of us, being told simply to watch what we eat and exercise more. In a medical setting, we generally find it easy to differentiate between the description and the prescription. In other walks of life, we often confuse the terms.

Let’s apply this distinction to the concept of Jewish unity. Is it intended as a description or a prescription? In discussing Jewish unity, are we describing a current or past situation, or are we prescribing behaviors necessary to achieve a goal? If it is descriptive, then, possibly, we Jews are who we are. We are not monolithic in our practices, beliefs and backgrounds. This diversity may be hard to accept, but it is reality. Diversity will be found in any country or people, any religion or ethnic group. We value shalom bayit (peace in the home), yet the very need for the value concedes that our families are not always perfectly unified.

It takes work to keep a family, a community and a people together.

If Jewish unity is prescriptive, we are being reminded that this oneness is a goal. We must understand that communal life is not perfectly smooth but comes with divisions that sometimes appear deep and at other points are less troubling. The prescription of Jewish unity often appears to be raised by those who are troubled by the lack of full accord within Judaism. “Be mindful of Jewish unity” is the kind of response directed at those raising minority or unpopular opinions.

Rabbi Leo Baeck, the great 20th-century German Jewish thinker, taught: “The history of this people is also a history of boundaries, of eras that divided it deeply. … At times, there existed a tension between the parts, but the parts never broke apart. In the end, the tension had the strength to create strength.”

Rabbi Baeck was encouraging us to be mindful of Jewish unity, but to understand that connections among our people, are not simple. After thousands of years of history, living through highs and lows, and interacting with countless other languages, cultures, lands and historic eras, how could Jewish unity be simple?

Description? If we are willing to understand that unity doesn’t mean that we will agree on everything but that we do value our interconnections. Prescription? If we are encouraging our fellow Jews to remember their joint responsibilities and connections but are not trying to quiet the diverse and lively debates that have long been the hallmarks of Jewish life. May we draw strength from this millennia-old dilemma, even if the language and vocabulary have evolved over time. May we draw strength from the tensions involved in exploring Jewish unity.

Rabbi Andrew Busch is spiritual leader of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, a Reform temple.

From Strength To Strength

090613_Rabbi_Dana_SarokenConservative Judaism has always prided itself on being a big tent. There are inherent challenges that go along with this approach, as sometimes trying to be everything to everybody diminishes one’s ability to take a particular stance or to define a specific vision. And yet, our movement’s commitment to the greater klal Yisrael is both inspirational and aspirational in that it creates Jewish unity as a core value.

In the past when Jews have addressed the issue of Jewish unity, what we’ve really been exploring is the relationship between the different communities within the greater Jewish community. We’ve tried to gauge the strength of the connection that Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews feel toward one another as fellow Jews. Do we really feel as though we are a part of the same Jewish family?

On the best of days, we work together toward a common cause. We are particularly good about coming together in moments of crisis. We read about the accomplishments of other Jews (of any denomination) and feel pride, and we learn about a fellow Jew’s immoral, unethical or illegal actions and feel disappointed and ashamed. On these occasions, we know that our Jewish connection is strong and so is our shared loved for and commitment to God, the Torah and the Jewish people.

Yet, at other times, we can disagree on particular issues — both here and in Israel. When it comes to egalitarian prayer at the Kotel, the Tal laws that affect ultra-Orthodox service in the Israeli army or the
occasions that we pass by Naturi Karta Chasidim with posters protesting Israel’s existence on the way into the AIPAC convention, it’s impossible not to feel the divide.

In Baltimore, I am proud to say that at the leadership level we are able to join together as a united community. But the question of Jewish unity raises a whole new set of issues. The challenge is no longer the way that those within our movements feel about one another and the connection between us, but rather the new reality that the majority of American Jews today (yes, majority!) don’t define themselves by denominations at all.

According to recent census reports (and dating websites), the majority of American Jews today define themselves as “just Jewish.”

I would breathe a sigh of relief if the “just Jewish” Jews turned out to be post-denominational, but deep inside I know that mostly they are either unaffiliated, uninspired by what they have learned or unimpressed by what they see within the organized Jewish community.

My prayers for us — the united us — in 5774 are that we could learn from the great sages Hillel and Shammai; it is possible to disagree about our respective understandings of God’s will without diminishing the other. I pray that this year will be a year that the Jewish people can strive for an even higher standard of tolerance and civility toward one another and that those of us who live inspired by our Judaism will find meaningful ways to use the beauty, depth and wisdom of our Torah, traditions and peoplehood to reach out to those who haven’t yet experienced God’s presence in our communal midst. Just as we all stood together at Sinai, may we continue to be a part of a united Jewish people for thousands of years to come, and may we go from strength to strength together.

Rabbi Dana Saroken is a spiritual leader at Beth El Congregation, a Conservative synagogue.