Five Things that Happen After the Afikomen

The afikomen ends the meal portion of the Passover seder and ushers in the prayerful part of the holiday gathering. ( Armonn)

The afikomen ends the meal portion of the Passover seder and ushers in the prayerful part of the holiday gathering. ( Armonn)

For many Jews, the Passover seder ends at the afikomen. But the broken piece of matzoh simply marks the transition from the meal to the prayerful part of the seder.

“So much of what people know of a seder happens before the meal, but really so much does happen after the afikomen, or the dessert,” explained Elizabeth Kurtz, author of  the new book “Celebrate” that includes many kosher-for-Passover recipes.

Robert Kopman, author of the “30 Minute Seder,” said his book is geared toward the  Reform audience, which he finds doesn’t generally stick around after the afikomen.

“After the akifomen you’re finished. You eat dinner, and that’s it,” said Kopman. “I have yet to meet anybody who is able to get anybody to come back to finish the seder after dinner. That’s just the reality of it. People just won’t come back.”

Here are five things that happen at the seder table after the afikomen:

–Birkat hamazon, blessing over the meal, is recited over the third glass of wine, before hallel is sung.

–Hallel, or praise, is recited from Psalms 113-118. The hallel is sung over the fourth cup of wine, according to Kopman. The Kiddush is recited over the first cup, the Exodus story from the haggadah is told over the second cup.

“We eat the afikomen, of course, and then we go on to do the final parts of the seder. For us, that’s hallel, the praising,” said Kurtz.

The fifth and final cup is called Kos shel Eliyahu ha-Navi, or cup of Elijah the prophet. In many traditions, the front door is opened. Some seders set out a cup for the prophet Miriam as well.

Beginning at the second seder, sefirat haomer, or counting of the omer, begins. According to Leviticus 23:15, Jews are commanded to count the days from Passover to Shavuot.

Nirtzah, or the conclusion, of the seder involves joyously exclaiming L’shana haba’a b’Yerushalayim, Next Year in Jerusalem!

“We sing these amazing songs, and we sing them as a family, and so much of the singing is just joyous,” said Kurtz. “We sing and we dance, and we really celebrate that as Jews we were able to leave the enslavement of Egypt and live free.”

Rabbi Aaron Miller of Washington Hebrew Congregation said his favorite part of Passover is when the seder turns from the meal and haggadah reading to the prayerful spirituality after the afikomen.

“It is not enough to read our ancestors’ story of redemption, especially as we look at the brokenness of our world and realize that healing is so far away,” said Miller. “When we pray for Elijah’s arrival to announce the world to come, we are declaring with no small measure of chutzpah that we still hold tight to our hope of  redemption.”

Continued Miller, “This  redemption is not some faraway wish. Peace, both for us and the world, is something we demand as the seder comes to a close. L’shana haba’a b’Yerushalayim — this very year, we pray, will be when we transform the world into what God always intended it to be.”

CSAs for Veggie Lovers

Vegan chopped liver (Provided)

Vegan chopped liver (Provided)

For thrifty, veggie-loving cooks, signing up for a  CSA (community-supported agriculture) share is the way to go. Sure, it can be a daunting investment up front, but it’s often the best deal you’ll find locally for fresh produce. And there’s always unanticipated surplus along the way.

Some weeks, there’s tons of pears; other weeks, it’s parsley. (Hello, freezer full of parsley pesto!) Last week, I found myself particularly lucky. There were cremini mushrooms that needed a home, and I was up for the task.

For one blissful week, I was in mushroom heaven, and even after mushroom quiche and tarragon mushroom stir-fry,  I still had about a pound  of mushrooms left. For the next dish, I wanted something festive and kind of classy. Spreadable, perhaps?

And so, inspired by a  rich and flavorful vegan “faux gras” that I sampled at Brooklyn, N.Y.’s Smorgasburg, an open-air market for serious foodies, I tried my hand at lentil, walnut and mushroom pâté .

It was perfect for the dinner party I hosted and for noshing throughout the week. Some said it was as good as any chicken liver pâté or chopped liver they had ever had.

  • Vegan  chopped liver
    1 cup French lentils, cooked (you’ll need  1⁄2 cup raw lentils)
    4 cups cremini or button  mushrooms (or a mix of your  favorites), washed, stems and caps sliced
    1⁄2 yellow onion, sliced
    2 cloves of garlic, chopped
    2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, more as needed
    1 teaspoon dried thyme
    1 teaspoon dried tarragon
    1 tablespoon golden miso paste
    2 tablespoons boiling water
    1 cup walnuts
    2 tablespoons Tamari or soy sauce, or more to taste
    juice of 1⁄2 lemon
    1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar
    several twists of fresh black  pepper
    fresh parsley, for garnish

Cook lentils ahead of time: Cover 1⁄2 cup dry lentils with a few inches of water and bring to a boil. Cover and let simmer for 15-20 minutes or until tender. Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a cast-iron skillet or deep-dish frying pan. Add onions and cook until translucent and golden. Add garlic and mushrooms and  another 2 tablespoons of oil (try coconut if you have). Sauté for 1 minute. In a small bowl, whisk with a fork the boiling water and miso paste. Add this mixture to the pan. Add herbs. Continue stir-frying 4 or 5 more minutes or until mushrooms are well-coated and tender. If you find that the mushrooms need more moisture, add a few dashes of soy sauce or more water. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. Heat another frying pan over medium heat and add walnuts, stirring frequently. Cook for 2 minutes or until fragrant and golden. Remove immediately from the pan and let cool. Add lentils, toasted nuts and mushroom mixture (slightly cooled by now) to a food processor or blender. Add soy sauce, lemon juice, vinegar and black pepper to taste. Blend until you’ve reached your desired consistency — I prefer it slightly chunky. You might prefer it smoother. You might find  that your mixture needs more liquid, in which case add more soy sauce or vinegar. If you have a salt tooth like me, you’ll want to add a pinch or two  of salt. Scoop into a serving bowl and garnish with fresh parsley. Enjoy with crudité or crackers.

Aly Miller was born and raised in  Milwaukee and has been living in Brooklyn, N.Y., for the past three years. While studying at the University of  Wisconsin-Madison, she lived in a vegan Jewish co-op. The Nosher food blog,, offers new and classic Jewish recipes and food news.

Beets, Almond Bark are New Natural Passover Options



As environmental awareness increases, local supermarkets are stocking their shelves with more natural and organic Passover products. The latest buzz word is biodynamic, as in Kedem’s new biodynamic grape juice, available this season for the first time at Whole Foods Market.

So what is biodynamic?

“Biodynamic farming is something that’s probably well under the radar but rising fast. Biodynamic is actually the next level of organic,” said Harold Weiss, executive vice president of Kayco, a kosher food company based in Bayonne, N.J., that is a merger of Kedem Foods, Kenover Marketing and B&W Foods. “The ground is actually certified in which the grapes are grown.”

Other new Kayco-Kedem items for the socially conscious Pesach consumer include the first-ever kosher-for-Passover fair-trade coffee, The Chosen Bean, Yehuda gluten-free  organic matzoh and Gefen  organic beets, a product that Weiss said has unexpectedly taken off.


Twenty or 30 years ago, kosher  food was basically made up of a very traditional limited variety of  products. Now you have a much wider variety. It’s a generational shift.”
— Harold Weiss, executive vice president of Kayco

“The organic beets are probably one of our most successful new items this year,” said Weiss. “It is a clean, ready- to-use beet in a sealed bag.”

Elsewhere, Pereg Natural Foods has introduced new kosher-for-Passover gluten-free flours in three varieties: coconut, almond and quinoa. According to Pereg, the new products are 100 percent natural, nondairy, approved by the Non-GMO Project and certified kosher by the Orthodox Union.

Other new natural food items include Lieber’s quinoa with mushroom and herbs and Bodek Brussels sprouts.

According to Jamie Miller, manager for public and community relations at Giant Food, the supermarket chain has added between 80 and 100 new items to the shelves for customers celebrating Passover.

Natural products at Giant include Gefen almond bark and Manischewitz gluten-free matzoh.

“Twenty or 30 years ago, kosher food was basically made up of a very traditional limited variety of products,” said Weiss. “Now you have  a much wider variety. It’s a generational shift.”

Four Questions Notions of Passover through a contemporary lens

coverRotatorThemes of oppression, affliction, soul-searching and liberation hold great importance in the Passover story, one that recounts the Jewish people’s escape from bondage, their exodus from Egypt and their eventual freedom.

As we prepare to revisit and recount that story of Passover — a time during which, among many observances, we’re encouraged to question the present and learn from the past — the JT staff crafted four questions that delve into some contemporary implications of the holiday.


(Abstract technology:©


How does OPPRESSION manifest itself today?

At first blush, one might think it’s humans who are slaves to our electronic devices, whether by constantly checking email on a phone, updating a Facebook status or sending a text.

Amy Webb, author, futurist and founder of the Future Today Institute, which researches emerging technologies for companies and organizations around the world, claims just the opposite is true. And that truth comes with a warning.

“There is no question. We are the masters and the devices are our slaves. But you can’t have that conversation without having some context and also talk about artificial intelligence,” she said, citing “smart houses” with programmable lights, thermostats, dishwashers, coffeemakers and more. In some cases, “this is technology that we’ve humanized [even in] the way that it looks and responds to us and even the names we’ve given it.”

For a ubiquitous example, think Siri — the friendly voice that responds to requests when spoken into an iPhone.

“A lot of the newer technologies have artificial intelligence, and we’re training the AI as we use it,” Webb explained. “[Devices] must have huge data sets and be in use in order for them to learn” and serve more accurately and efficiently.

Case in point, Webb said, is Amazon’s Echo, also called Alexa, a speech-recognition driven module that can be commanded to play music, retrieve weather reports, read audiobooks and even provide a sports score. Alexa, according to its description, is “always getting smarter and adding new features and skills — over 100 added since its launch, including [calling upon] Domino’s Pizza and Uber.”

But the outcome of Microsoft’s recently released chat bot named Tay, a computer program designed to simulate conversation with humans, especially over the internet, is where the warning comes in.

“It took less than [24] hours for the chat bot to start making incredibly anti-Semitic (and racist and sexist) remarks and saying things about Hitler,” said Webb. “It was because these bots are programmed to [repeat and] respond to us. And as it turns out, humans can be pretty horrible teachers. We can say some pretty horrible things.”

Tay has since been silenced.

“The challenge is when the algorithms a machine is learning uses that data and incorporates it into its overall learning,” Webb said, who employs technology, including a telepresence robot (a screen on wheels that can be controlled remotely to allow interaction with humans) to streamline her life.

“The truly terrifying thing is that as our devices become smarter and more capable of servicing our needs, they will necessarily have to start making decisions without us, supposedly in our best interests,” she said. “But what happens when the machines decide we’re not treating them well? Suddenly — and I’m not exaggerating when I say this — you could many years from now be facing a crisis that really is of the proportions that were described in the Bible.”

— Melissa Gerr



What PLAGUES the Jewish community?

The Jewish people are a demonstrably resilient group, in part due to  overcoming such obstacles as oppression in  ancient Egypt and Nazi Germany.

But there are still challenges that both the Baltimore Jewish community and Jews around the world must work to overcome on a daily basis.

“We must never forget the Holocaust and what happened to us,” said Arthur Abramson,  departing executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council. “But our strength lies in what we are now, not what we were then.”

Abramson said victimization is one of a handful of issues plaguing the Jewish community. He emphasized that Jews and the State of Israel are not the same as they were 10, 15 or 50 years ago. To the extent that “we try to fall back on that [mentality], it diminishes our effectiveness” when trying to overcome problems.

In a similar vein, he said the Jewish experience should teach us how crucial it is to stand up for “the other.”

“We are often forgetting where we come from,” said Abramson. “We must very clearly be involved when Muslims are attacked and other groups are attacked. We cannot afford to simply ignore it when it’s someone else.”

Ashley Pressman, executive director of Jewish Volunteer Connection, is concerned about a trend toward isolation among senior citizens in Baltimore’s Jewish community. It’s a problem that happens gradually, she said, and isn’t always obvious. She added it requires proactive responses to prevent it from happening.

Pressman also cited “indifference” as a current societal problem.

“We’re so busy with our own lives and the stimuli that we get that we no longer see the other,” she said. “[It’s important] for each of us to recognize our neighbors and see our neighbors in all of their complexity and nuance, not just [think it’s] us and them.”

Though not solely a Jewish or Baltimore issue, Pressman said that “the world as a whole benefits when people come into conversation with each other.”

— Justin Katz


(Ebony Brown)

(Ebony Brown)

What are you SEARCHING for?

Jewish teenagers who consider themselves “too old” for the custom of the afikomen hunt find themselves searching for something much deeper as they transition into the next chapter of their lives.

“As a Jewish teenager,” said Lea Glazer, a senior at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, “I am searching for my role in Jewish society … for my own personal way to impact the world at large … for what I was meant to do and [for] how to use everything I’ve learned from my Jewish education to better the world.”

Referencing tikkun olam, repairing the world, Glazer also expressed her hope of “finding a way to personally fulfill this mitzvah and to make a difference in the world, no matter how large or small it is.”

Whereas Glazer aspires to find her place in Jewish society, Mia Kaufman, a Franklin High School senior and an active member of United Synagogue Youth, strives to become more globally aware.

“I am searching for a greater connection with people that are not just in the Baltimore area,” she said. “Being involved in many Jewish organizations such as USY has helped me to do just that and has given me those connections around the world.”

During Kaufman’s quest to understand the global community, she encountered some opposition to her viewpoints that have exposed her to the world outside the Jewish Baltimore bubble.

“I often run into news about Israel, which hits closer to home as a Jew,” she said. “I am constantly hit with the reality that the global community is not as big of an Israel fanatic as I am.”

Though Glazer and Kaufman are currently involved in the Jewish community, as graduation approaches, both students have begun to consider how they will continue their search without built-in Judaism being a “given.”

“When I go to college next year, I will be faced with the challenge of maintaining my Judaism in a new, diverse environment,” Glazer said. “I will have to actively seek out events and organizations that will allow me to stay connected with my religion.”

Glazer also plans to do this by participating in the University of Maryland College Park’s Hillel, joining a pro-Israel club on campus and visiting Israel on a Birthright trip.

Kaufman, who will attend the University of Maryland, College Park, plans to be involved with organized Jewish activities on campus and also hopes “to live in Israel for an extended period of time and definitely do some form of Israel advocacy, working or volunteering” throughout life.

— Meital Abraham




What does liberation mean?

For Rabbi Geoff Basik of Kol HaLev Synagogue, the idea of exodus or liberation in 2016 is a more universal concept rather than one focused on the individual. “The community silos we [keep ourselves] in are all interconnected,” he argued, citing the late Jewish American poet Emma Lazarus: “Until we are all free, we are none of us free.”

“Rather than tell the tale about our particular success vis-à-vis other people, winners and losers, us versus them, friends and enemies, I think we’re all caught in the systemic oppressions,” he explained.

He looks at recent events as examples, locally and globally, in how the situation in Syria affected Brussels and the world at large and how what happens in Baltimore City affects the suburbs.

There’s a debate in the Talmud, Basik said, about the Ten Plagues, where some rabbis say there were 50 or even 200 to “really stick it” to the Egyptians.

“[But] our joy is diminished because Egyptians were suffering, so you [take] the drop out of your wine glass. So these [concepts] represent these two polarities with human beings, the personal versus the public,” he said. “So the ‘pour out thy wrath upon thine enemies’ at the end of the seder is not a message for today. It’s more, I think, about universal healing as opposed to one people’s liberation alone.”

For Nancy Aiken, executive director of CHANA, the universality of the Passover story hits home with what her clients go through. The organization offers support for victims of physical, psychological, sexual and financial abuse.

After the Israelites leave Egypt — and are free from slavery — they actually consider going back because of uncertainty about the future. Similarly, some of CHANA’s clients consider returning — and some do — to awful, sometimes life-threatening situations because of fears and ambiguity associated with the future.

“The story of Exodus really teaches us that it’s almost normal, it’s natural to consider an awful situation as an alternative because at least you knew it, it was familiar. … When you leave and go forward, you’re scared,” she said. “The Israelites kept going because God gave them manna and took care of the hunger at least. I’d like to say CHANA is that manna.”

She said the story also speaks to the emotional, not just the physical, side of enslavement and abuse in that the Israelites went on their journey even when it meant food and water might be scarce and shelter wouldn’t be ideal.

“Sometimes our clients, like the Israelites, their exodus is to get away from the emotional, psychological abuse even if it means they’re going to be homeless or hungry or unsettled for a while,” she said. “They willingly accept those challenges in order to have emotional, spiritual, psychological peace of mind.”

— Marc Shapiro


These are just a few interpretations of contemporary themes, of course. And since questioning, discussion and debate are so integral to our Passover observance and who we are as Jews, please let us know what subjects arise during the conversations around your seder table.,,

Happy Fun Purim! A Real Favorite

Hamantaschen (By Photo by David Stuck)

Hamantaschen (By Photo by David Stuck)

A group of Jewish women were recently asked what their favorite holiday was.  The majority answered, “Purim!”  Why?  Because it is fun, can be participated in by all ages and, oh those delicious hamantaschen. All of the princess gear available make the holiday a standout for girls with beautiful costumes to become Queen Esther. And super-hero costumes are definitely boy favorites.

For me, stuffed cabbage and hamantaschen are the staples of Purim.  I always look for easy-to-cook, shortcut recipes of the traditional dishes but with the same flavors intact. Conveniences such as frozen puff pastry and advance no-cook cabbage — detailed in Tips — leave time for more groggin’ and Purim play.

Thank you to the Joy of Kosher Internet site for pointing out that Queen Esther was a vegetarian, eating only plant foods. Check out the site for a myriad of hamantaschen recipes, even a vegan one!

Easy Internet Hamantaschen (Dairy/Pareve)

Unstuffed Cabbage (Pracas) (Meat)

Easy Sweet & Sour Stuffed Cabbage (Meat)

Puff Pastry Hamantaschen


• Don’t bother cooking cabbage in advance. Simply freeze the whole head of cabbage overnight in a plastic bag.  Defrost it at room temp or in a microwave, core and use the leaves to easily wrap meat. No fuss or mess.

• Have a box of frozen puff pastry sheets on hand.  Prepare according to the accompanying recipe, sweet or savory.

• Get some good store-bought bakery chocolate hamantaschen and drizzle with your own from-scratch easy chocolate or vanilla frosting. It is then considered “homemade.”


Ilene Spector is a local freelance writer.

HoCo to Host Annual Purim Palooza

Purim Palooza is known as the one event that brings the Howard County Jewish community together, including Federation president Richard Schreibstein and executive director Michelle Ostroff. (Provided)

Purim Palooza is known as the one event that brings the Howard County Jewish community together, including Federation president Richard Schreibstein and executive director Michelle Ostroff. (Provided)

Few things bring Howard County’s Jewish community together like Purim Palooza and the Kids Activity Expo, and the 24th annual holiday event is expected to attract 1,500 people.

“I think that Purim Palooza [draws] so many families because it’s really the one time of the year that the whole county [can get together] regardless of religious affiliation, observance or synagogue membership,” said Randi Leshin, co-chair of the event and a Columbia native. The event, which takes place at Reservoir High School on March 20, is organized by the Jewish Federation of Howard County and sponsored by Camps Airy and Louise, DJ Doug, Window Nation and Sir Speedy as well as other synagogues, businesses, organizations and families.

Exhibitors and volunteers will provide food and activities such as photo novelties, airbrush hats and shirts, games, arts and crafts, face painting and — it wouldn’t be Purim without them — hamantaschen.

“I’ve watched Purim Palooza grow from a small community outreach program to this epic event,” said Doug Sandler, also known as DJ Doug, who has attended the event for more than 15 years.

Sandler, who recently moved to Rockville but was a longtime Howard County resident, became involved with the Federation initially as a way to network — he emcees for bar and bat mitzvah receptions — but said as he volunteered more, he began feeling like “a family member of the Federation.”

Being a DJ, his job requires him to stay up to date on popular trends among his audience; he brings that experience to the table when helping plan Purim Palooza.

“I’m a 51-year-old big kid,” said Sandler. “When we have seven or eight people around the table, my experience in the kid market has enabled me to make some proper decisions about entertainment, games and the flow of the event.”

Sandler added that although his kids are older, they have stayed involved in the event by helping him set up and run different booths. He joked that while he doesn’t profess to be a “hip or cool guy” himself, he knows what kids see as “hip and cool.”

Marty Rochlin, director of Camp Airy, sees the event as being similar to Jewish summer camp.

“We think what makes the Purim Palooza event appealing is that it’s a chance to do something Jewish with friends and family,” said Rochlin. “If [kids] aren’t involved in day school, they don’t have access [to that] on a regular basis. Going to an event like Purim Palooza lets you dive in and play for the day. That’s what camp is all about as well.”

Sara Magden, co-chair of the event alongside Leshin, stays involved with Purim Palooza and the Federation as a way of “setting the example for my daughter and husband.”

“Giving back to the community is important to me, and it has always been a strong value growing up,” said Magden.

While the Howard County Jewish community can sometimes be dwarfed by the neighboring community in Baltimore, Rochlin said he sees this event as a time for it to shine.

“I think for a lot of people, there is a misnomer that the Jewish community is centered around Pikesville or Baltimore County,” said Rochlin. “When there’s an event like this in Howard County, it sheds a real positive light that there are thriving Jewish communities in other places.”


Purim Palooza and Kids Activity Expo

Reservoir High School
11550 Scaggsville Road, Fulton

March 20, 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

$7 per person; $20 per family (includes 10 tickets; family package with extras, $72

Contact Meghann Schwartz for more information, 410-730-4976, ext. 106

Stumbling Blocks to Repentance Difficulties abound when making a return

Most of us have heard the pillow parable. A Jewish man goes around town, talking smack about the rabbi. Later, the man feels guilty and approaches the sage, asking if there was anything he could do to make it up to him.

The rabbi tells him to cut open a pillow and let the feathers fly across town, which the man does. “Now go gather them up,” the rabbi says.

“That’s impossible,” the man says. “The feathers are everywhere.”

“And so are the words you spoke about me,” the rabbi says.

The moral is clear. For gossip, known in Jewish tradition as lashon hara, or evil speech, the gossiper can’t expect forgiveness from the victim, no matter how bad he or she feels. The words, so freely spread, take on a life of their own.

Chaya Deitsch: “We do forgive each other.” (Provided)

Chaya Deitsch: “We do forgive each other.” (Provided)

The 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are prime time for teshuvah, often translated as “repentance” but is closer in meaning to “turning” or “returning.” Jewish tradition has separate requirements for repenting for misdeeds against God (praying at the Yom Kippur service, for one) and for wrongs committed against other people.

Just as in the case of gossiping, there are wrongs for which you just can’t gather the feathers again.

“You do something in public and things spread,” says Rabbi Avis Miller, president of the Open Dor Foundation in Chevy Chase. “With social media it amplifies the results.”

Teshuvah is not a single act. It is more often described as a process that takes the penitent through the stages of realization and regret, stopping the harmful action, articulating the wrong and asking for forgiveness and resolving never to commit the act again.

Rambam, the medieval scholar, explained how someone knows if he or she has truly done teshuvah, Miller says. “It’s when you’re put in the same position and you do the right thing. That’s the test.”

Asking and receiving forgiveness is often key to clearing one’s conscience. “The emotional well-being of the person who has done wrong — that’s what Yom Kippur is all about,” she says.

But sometimes that’s not possible. A parent who has lapsed into senility or who has died, for example. Or when the person you wronged has disappeared.

“When I was growing up, there was a girl I was not nice to,” says writer Chaya Deitsch. “It still eats at me at what it must have felt like to her. Her family moved away, and I wonder if it was because of me.”

In cases when it’s impossible to do teshuvah, Miller offers this adage, “If you can’t fix what’s broken, fix something else. If you can’t reconcile with that person, if they had a particular value, say, helping the homeless, you do that.”

According to tradition, if one sincerely repents, the victim must forgive him. Forgiveness may not be immediate, but if the penitent asks for forgiveness three times and is refused each time, he or she is considered forgiven. The unforgiving person is now guilty of bearing a grudge.

Certainly the stage where the richest stories of wrongs and forgiveness are played out is the family.

Deitsch’s new memoir, “Here and There: Leaving Hasidism, Keeping My Family,” to be published next month by Schocken, is the latest in the mini-genre of books by authors who grew up in Haredi homes but left religion behind.

In cases when it’s impossible to do teshuvah, Rabbi Avis Miller offers this adage, “If you can’t fix what’s broken, fix something else.”

It joins a small bookshelf containing Leah Vincent’s “Cut Me Loose: Sin and Salvation After My Ultra-Orthodox Girlhood,” Shulem Deen’s “All Who Go Do Not Return,” Deborah Feldman’s “Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots” and “Foreskin’s Lament: A Memoir” by Shalom Auslander.

Like the other memoirists, Deitsch became attracted to secular culture. Unlike them, no scandal surrounded her actions, and she was not written off by her family.

The difference, she says, is “they came from communities where it was just not tolerated.”

Because the family did not break up, it was able to improvise ways to ask forgiveness. “We do forgive each other,” she says.

Despite their confusion and disappointment, Deitsch’s parents decided that family — not social standing in their Chasidic community or strict adherence to ritual observance — came first, she says. “At the heart of it, you stick to family, no matter what.”

When it comes to the question of forgiveness in these memoirs of turning away and rupture, Deitsch wonders, “Who needs to forgive who? It’s a two-way street. Whose cautionary tales are these for?”

Ultimately, teshuvah  is a two-way street.

Navigating Through The Holidays Many Jews are taking time off into next month to contemplate, repent and celebrate

Last Sunday marked the beginning of Rosh Hashanah and the start of the High Holidays. But in broader terms, it marked the beginning of an annual three-week period lasting through Simchat Torah that is virtually consumed by Jewish holidays. In Baltimore, this equates to a steady stream of Jews who will temporarily withdraw from daily life by missing school or work to repent and reflect on the past year, as well as celebrate the new.

The abundance of holidays sometimes can create pragmatic challenges for Jews observing them, as it does for Doni Mayer, a sophomore at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Mayer estimates he will be absent from 20 classes over a total of seven days in observance of the holidays.

Holiday Calendar (Created Ebony Brown)

Holiday Calendar (Created Ebony Brown)

“I have to email all my professors to make sure I’m not missing anything important and that they’re not going to take off points from those assignments,” he said.

Mayer said this year is more challenging due to both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur falling on weekdays, whereas last year, Yom Kippur was on a Saturday. He anticipates a number of other students at UMBC missing the same amount of class time.

“The professors are very understanding, so most of them understand the religious holidays, and they know the school policy,” he said.

Mayer grew up in Pikesville and attended Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, where he became accustomed to not having school on any of these holidays. He said the transition to college was “pretty intense,” but that dealing with makeup work is a small price to pay for the spiritual experience of the holidays.

Following the High Holidays is Sukkot on Sept. 28 and 29, Shmini Atzeret on Oct. 5 and Simchat Torah on Oct. 6.

Rabbi Debbie Pine, the executive director of Johns Hopkins Hillel, said the holidays are a “wonderful and exciting time on campus” and that the timing of the High Holidays works out nicely with the beginning of the academic year.

“What’s really meaningful about this work is for the first time in our students’ lives, they are making a decision about how to celebrate,” she said.

Pine said there are about 600 students total in Hillel and half to one-third of them typically show up for Erev Rosh Hashanah services. Beyond that, she said, students do other activities such as gracing nursing homes with the sound of the shofar, building a sukkah outside the school dining hall and handing out apples and honey.

“It’s never just about services or just about a meal,” she said. “It’s really very broad.”

Pine said she recognizes the difficulties of observing the holidays as a full-time student.

“In a religious academic environment like Hopkins it’s very difficult to miss class,” she said.

At Towson University’s Hillel, many students stay on campus and attend services offered there, said the executive director, Noam Bentov, who is pursuing a master’s degree in Leadership in Jewish Education & Communal Service and said the class will be canceled during Yom Kippur.

“The university’s very understanding and very supportive of students wanting to celebrate their identity,” he said.


Holiday Calendar (Created Ebony Brown)

Holiday Calendar (Created Ebony Brown)

The High Holidays often have an effect on universities that is felt across more than simply the Jewish student body. In UMBC’s Judaic Studies program, a number of faculty members take timeoff to observe the High Holidays themselves in addition to canceling class. Chairwoman Michele Osherow said professors who do this must make up the hours lost by having their students engage in an alternative learning experience. She said this year, an instructor who is teaching a course on modern Jewish history will cancel class for the holidays but take the students on a field trip to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., on a Sunday in October.

“There are ways of learning beyond the classroom,” she said. “The student is also engaging in instruction and engaging in learning.”

Osherow, in her 13th year at UMBC, said the provost’s office issues a memo at the beginning of the year alerting all faculty to the High Holidays. She said students generally do a good job letting her know of their absences through email.

“I have never required a student to prove to me if they are going to be in synagogue observing a holiday,” she said.

Osherow said this year most faculty will observe the High Holidays, but this is not the case with the students.

“Most of the students in my Judaic studies courses are not Jewish,” she said.

Grade schools vary in their observance of the Jewish holidays, with many Jewish day schools canceling class for Sukkot. Baltimore County Public Schools were closed Monday and will close for Yom Kippur this Wednesday. But Baltimore City Public Schools remain open for the High Holidays. Spokeswoman Arezo Rahmani said students who miss class for a religious observance will be excused, but the system has never closed for the High Holidays.

“We’ve never really seen an indication to need to,” she said. “Our attendance rates haven’t been a concern.”

Just as the public schools are prepared to accommodate observant Jews, large employers such as the University of Maryland Medical System also take this into account, said spokeswoman Karen Lancaster.

“While we don’t specifically track those statistics, as with any religious holiday, we encourage flexibility among our managers to allow employees time off to observe the holidays of their faith,” she said. “Of course, hospitals provide patient care 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Our clinicians and other staff collaborate in creating schedules for the whole year to accommodate holiday time off.”

One downtown spot that will observe the holidays is the Jewish Museum of Maryland, which will be closed for all of the Jewish holidays, including Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. It will be open during the intervening days. Deputy Director Deborah Cardin said because the museum is an agency of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, it maintains a highly observant schedule. She added that the majority of the museum’s employees are Jewish.

Cardin said these holidays typically coincide with the opening of their fall exhibit and that planning must begin early.

“We really have to build in the time and take into account the holiday schedule,” she said.

The museum’s upcoming exhibit on Paul Simon will open Oct. 11, giving staff members a short amount of time to prepare.

“It puts a lot of pressure on our staff to do all the work that needs to be done on a compressed schedule,” she said.

People like to bifurcate things but the truth of the matter is the weight of the High Holidays is really just a reflection of what I believe being a spiritual personal is all about.

Much of Baltimore’s Jewish community lies in the county, and this includes some of its most influential leaders like County Executive Kevin Kamenetz. Fronda Cohen, his spokeswoman, said Kamenetz will attend services at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation during the High Holidays but his office will remain open.

“Observant Jews will take the day off, but there really would be no impact to county services,” she said. “It would be no different than if a Christian were taking off Good Friday.”

One alteration this year will be a temporary halt to roadwork on Old Court Road, where a resurfacing project has led to lane closures and flagging operations. County Councilwoman Vicki Almond made this request “out of respect to the community she represents and the fact that her staff will be at services,” said her spokesman, Jonathan Schwartz. David Peake, an engineer with the Maryland State Highway Administration, responded to her in an email, assuring her they would comply with the request.

“Our maintenance managers for this area wide project have asked the contractor to suspend lane closures at this location on 9/14, 9/15, 9/22, and 9/23,” he wrote. “This project is scheduled to be complete late November.”

Peake also wrote that there will be no planned construction during these days at the I-695 interchanges with Park Heights Avenue and Stevenson Road, but that the Park Heights interchange would remain in its current construction pattern with one lane in each direction.

The temporary changes to society brought on by the holidays may be seen as an obstacle to some, but Rabbi Etan Mintz of B’nai Israel Congregation cautions people not to overlook the importance of this time.

“From a rabbinical perspective, it’s a very powerful thing to have so much time to focus and be in synagogue and be with family,” he said.

Mintz said the work of becoming a better person during the High Holidays requires commitment and compared it to training for a marathon.

“You have to be in it for the long haul,” he said.

Mintz said he understands the stress so much disruption can cause, but argues that slowing down the pace of one’s life ultimately leads to greater

“I think religion in general can become that, [a pain],” he said. “But because we are spending so much time and it matters, I really encourage people to acquire knowledge and become educated about the power of the holidays.”

Mintz said Judaism should not be viewed as a sector of someone’s life but rather a method by which a person lives his or her life.

“People like to bifurcate things but the truth of the matter is the weight of the High Holidays is really just a reflection of what I believe being a spiritual personal is all about,” he said.

Rochelle Kaplan, co-director of the Chabad Center and Lubavitch of Maryland, said the order of the holidays could be likened to the way in which the human body operates.

“Starting with Rosh Hashanah, the head of the year, the head is pretty much the main part of the body that incorporates all the other organs,” she said. “So the head is where we get all the steam for our engines. It helps when we get off to a good start, then everything follows the rest of the year.”

Technology and Tikkun Olam: In health and medicine, Israel paves the way

A new app — LifeCompass — records incidents and alerts nearby medics and guides them to the scene. (Provided)

A new app — LifeCompass — records incidents and alerts nearby medics and guides them to the scene. (Provided)

Decades have passed since Israelis invented a modernized drip irrigation to maximize limited water supply and make desert bloom, yet Israeli curiosity, drive and ingenuity toward excellence continues to thrive. Israelis are determined to lead in solving some of the most pressing humanitarian challenges. Working on the precepts of tikkun olam, Israel persists at the forefront of innovation, seeking to make life better for all. Just one avenue where Israel excels is health and medicine.

Nearly 1 billion people in developed countries consider emergency response expensive and delayed, while upward of 6 billion people in the developing world simply lack access to any sort of emergence response. In cases of accidents, terror attacks or other medical emergencies, people are likely to die or suffer serious injuries because of a lack of proper response. With its unfortunate and long history of facing terror attacks, Israel has honed in on effective emergency response techniques to save lives quicker.

In Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, as in most major cities, ambulances typically get stuck in traffic and cannot arrive fast enough.

Following the Second Intifada, a group of young ambulance medics watched too many people die because aid was unavailable. So they envisioned a solution, where medics could be notified according to their proximity to a reported incident. Equipped with medical supplies, they could rush over and stabilize victims within the minutes before the ambulance arrives.

This model, now called United Hatzalah, dropped response times to under three minutes.

“We took chutzpah and ran with it,” said Eli Beer, founder of United Hatzalah of Israel. Since officially formalized in 2006, United Hatzalah has recruited over 2,500 trained volunteer medics to join the movement of community-based lifesaving. To fuel the program, the organization worked with Israeli startup NowForce to develop the LifeCompass app, an integrated GPS-powered system that records incidents, alerts nearby medics and guides them to arrive to the scene quickly.

In addition to the app, United Hatzalah has crafted and deployed customized ambulance motorcycles to weave through traffic.

This “ambucycle” is stocked with medical equipment and works in tandem with LifeCompass.

By way of practical ingenuity, United Hatzalah’s community-based emergency response model has exceled in cutting response time and attending to more people who need critical care.

United Hatzalah dispatchers received 245,000 calls last year, nearly a quarter of which are considered life-threatening situations.

Hooked on their effective program, United Hatzalah representatives have traveled the globe sharing their knowledge and experience.” We have taken what we have learned in Israel and begun sharing it with others, because we know that we can help solve this world-wide challenge,” said Beer.

In July, Beer and Dov Maisel, vice president of international projects, traveled to Dubai to present the model to delegates from several developing countries. This model has been deployed in places such as India, Lithuania, Argentina and Panama, and recently made its debut in the United States, with Jersey City into the United Rescue initiative.

While sharing tools and techniques with the world has huge merit, teaching and inspiring others to better the world is even more valuable, as Jewish proverbs explain.  Israeli institutions are famed as major research centers and engaged in Israel’s role as the “Startup Nation.” At the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, innumerable cutting-edge research and innovation have been born in the halls of the Rappaport Faculty of Medicine.

“Ask any researcher or academic in medicine anywhere in the world and they will tell you that Israelis are world-class, first-class innovators,” said Dr. Debra Kiez, an emergency medicine clinician based in Toronto.

Kiez also lectures at the Technion’s American Medical School program (TEAMS) on how to bridge Israeli and American medical systems.

“Israel is doing a large amount in medicine and science with very little; as a small yet impressive country, Israelis have a huge ability to discover, learn, innovate, research and teach,” said Kiez, who has worked in Canada, the U.S. and Israel.

“Hospitals and medical schools in Israel are rich learning environments … because people in Israel have learned how to maximize what they can do with very little,” she said.

TEAMS educates America’s future doctors, giving them hands on experience in a rigorous clinical setting while studying under top Israeli physicians and researchers. Graduates land residencies at top programs across North America and go on to successful and impactful careers as physicians, educators and researchers.

Like most American alumni from the Technion medical school, Dr. Samantha Jagger, now a cardiologist at AdvantageCare Physicians in Brooklyn, studied under Nobel Prize winners and stays connected to Israel by following all the published medical research.

“When I was a student at the Technion, I saw the first PillCam being tested during my rotations,” said Jagger.

“Now it’s a routine practice everywhere!” Jagger added that there is a special ablation procedure used to solve rhythmic problems in the heart developed in Israel that she and her colleagues use frequently.

Dr. Jason Brookman, a 2004 graduate of TEAMS currently working as a fellowship program director and assistant professor in anesthesia at Johns Hopkins University, said his experience in medical school was “a stepping stone for the rest of his “career.”

“Medical school is the foundation, like a background in a good painting, we paint as broadly as possible. With each additional training or residency, our medical careers get refined with smaller brush strokes. The nitty gritty details of medical practice rely on a solid foundation in medical school,” he explained.

Most of the benefits of studying in Israel is getting to learn from world-class experts while in a very diverse setting. As a small country with an extremely diverse population, Israeli doctors serve a wide range of people, with each population bringing unique diseases and cultural trends into the fold, said Kiez.

“My time at Technion and in Israel gave me a really deep cultural experience,” said Jagger.”I got a good understanding of how to deal with patients cross culturally, especially when you can’t necessarily communicate in their language.” Now working with Asian and Spanish speaking patients, she has implemented the skills and tools she garnered from working in Israeli hospitals teaching Russian, Arab and Ethiopian patients.

By combining top-class education and rich life experiences, Israeli medical school students are bridging the world, serving also as a light bringing positive healing into the world.

Daniela Berkowitz writes for The Jewish Press.

Here’s the Buzz! Bee population has been on steady decline for past decade

(Photo credit: ©

(Photo credit: ©

The taste of apples and honey at Rosh Hashanah may make the holiday a little bit sweeter, but a few not-so-sweet trends are endangering some of the world’s most efficient and important pollinators.

The bee population has been declining steadily since 2006, when the concept of Colony Collapse Disorder surfaced. CCD occurs when a colony’s worker bees disappear, leaving behind the queen and a few immature bees according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s website. Various factors have been linked to CCD including the introduction in the U.S. of the invasive species Varroa Mites and diseases such as Israeli Acute Paralysis virus in Israel. It can also be caused by changes to the environment of the hive.

Roger Williams, president of the Central Maryland Beekeepers Association, said there are between 1,500 and 2,000 commercial beekeepers in the United States and that the honeybees play a “major economic role.”

“Bees are responsible for pollinating one third of our food and the foods with the most vitamins and minerals,” he said.

Williams said this works out to about 170,000 people that each beekeeper helps to feed, and that one American has 400 honeybees working for him or her. He emphasized that not all bee die-offs are considered CCD, particularly those that occur as a result of commercial pesticides.

“If you find a bunch of dead bees in front of your hive, it’s most likely they were poisoned,” he said.

In May, President Barack Obama unveiled a plan to reduce the losses of bees and Monarch butterflies by phasing out some of the more toxic insecticides such as neonicotinoids. A White House report estimated that bees add $15 billion to the value of crops every year. Williams praised the federal government’s bee-saving initiative.

“He’s (Obama) understanding that there are four major aspects that have to be looked at: pesticides, habitat, management and genetics,” he said.

On the other hand, Williams said, on a state level there is basically “nothing that is changing the ways pesticides and bees interrelate” and that farmers are saying to beekeepers, “You are not of value to us, we need to spray.” He said the only suggestion he has heard in Maryland is a 48-hour notice farmers would need to give registered beekeepers before spraying anything.

“That has no teeth in it,” he said. “Where is [the bee] supposed to go when every farmer in X number of square miles is starting to spray?”

Williams said another problem has been a well-intentioned effort to reduce the presence of the Varroa Mite, which has hurt the bees.

“That mite has been very destructive to bees, so what do we do about it, we put poisons on the hive to try to kill the mite,” he said.

Williams got his first hive in 1972 and said he became enamored of bees because of their ability to talk to each other.

“I just found them rather amazing because of their communication capability,” he said. “There is a thing we easily refer to as the hive mind and the ability of bees to make decisions as a group is rather fascinating.”

CCD has not been as much of an issue lately, with the EPA reporting only a 23 percent hive loss rate last winter — down 5 percent from eight years before. Ashley Jones, an entomologist with the Maryland Department of Agriculture, said there have been no symptoms of CCD in the state for the last four years.

Jones said CCD is “like a 500-piece puzzle where several of the pieces are missing,” and that it usually occurs under a certain subset of living conditions. She said bees in Maryland help pollinate carrots, cucumbers and soybeans, but other states, such as those in the Midwest, use monoculture practices.

“When you’re limiting a bee’s resources to one type of crop you’re going to have some health problems with that,” she said.

Jones said the majority of beekeepers in Maryland are hobbyists as opposed to commercial beekeepers, so issues like colony collapse do not have a detrimental effect on the state’s economy.

Dennis Vanengelsdorp, a professor at the University of Maryland who heads up the Honey Bee Lab there, said climate change also plays a role in the loss of food production, but this occurs because plants are less resilient when it comes to changes in temperatures.

“Honey bees are probably a little bit more robust against extreme weather events,” he said.

Vanengelsdorp has been one of the leading voices in the national effort to save the bee population and gave a TED Talk in 2008 educating the public on the importance of bees. He admits beekeeping is not for everyone but says there is nothing like witnessing a miracle of nature.

“I think everyone owes it to themselves to open a colony because there’s nothing quite like it,” he said. “It’s an eye opening experience.”

Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin, the leader of the Baltimore Jewish Environmental Network, said the interconnectedness of all the earth’s creatures is essential for the survival of humans and bees are a part of this web.

“The loss of bees reminds us that all life on earth, all creation, is radically connected, fundamentally intertwined; not just poetically or metaphorically but physically, essentially,” she said. “What we do at our homes, businesses, tables affects all earth’s wildness, for good or bad; and what happens to earth’s wildness affects all of us, for good or bad.”