Jewgrass. A combination of American folk bluegrass and Jewish liturgical music.

I have to admit I was really quite skeptical about this combination but Matt Check and his band plays the most incredibly gorgeous and authentic folk music I have heard in years and years.

Jewgrass logo

Joyous and vibrant, simultaneously multi-layered and elegantly simple. The music takes you on a coherent journey of prayer, history, thought and experience. This was a very moving melodious experience with some incredible musicians including the stunning voice of cantor Rachel Brook.

There is a fundraising effort currently underway to make a professional recording of the Bluegrass Kabbalat Shabbat. Go to the Kickstarter campaign for more details and be a part of making this wonderful music more widely available.


Jewish films in Ithaca

All movies buffs and anybody who enjoys cinema can be very excited about the Jewish and Israeli Film festival coming up with some wonderful, sublime movies and documentaries. This is a combination of two festivals, one with a general Jewish theme hosted at Cornell’s Willard Straight cinema, and one with a contemporary Israeli theme hosted at Ithaca college. The Ithaca college Israeli film festival also features panel discussions exploring the themes of the movies.

I’m particularly excited about the Israeli film festival as this festival is showing the two fictional movies of the entire series, “The Ballad of the Weeping Spring”  and “Mabul“. Using the power of fiction to explore Israeli cultural issues is an opportunity that young people in this country encounter less often than documentary and historical approaches.

For practical, logistical purposes I list the movies by calendar date:

Wednesday, February 26, 7:00PM The Last of the Unjust” documentary by Claude Lanzmann. Location Cornell Cinema Willard Straight Theatre.

Lst of the unjust

Saturday, March 1, 2014, 7:15PM “The Ballad of the Weeping Spring Location Ithaca College Park Auditorium.

Ballad Weeping Spring

Sunday March 2, 11:00AM   “Sukkah City” (documentary). Location Cornell Cinema Willard Straight Theatre. Hosted by the TBE Arts Committee, with free bagels and coffee.

sukkah city

Sunday, March 2, 2014, 2:00PM Mabul (Flood). Location Ithaca College Park Auditorium.


Sunday, March 2, 2014, 5:00PM “The Garden of Eden”. Location Ithaca College Park Auditorium.

Garden of Eden

Saturday March 8, 7:00PM Ilya & Emilia Kabakov: Enter Here (documentary). Location Cornell Cinema Willard Straight Theatre.  Note this movie is also shown Sunday March 9th.

Sunday March 9, 11:00AM  Ilya & Emilia Kabakov: Enter Here”. Location Cornell Cinema Willard Straight Theatre. Hosted by the TBE Arts Committee, with free bagels and coffee.


Sunday March 16, 11:00AM Beautifully Broken: The Life and Work of Rafael Goldchain(documentary). Location Cornell Cinema Willard Straight Theatre. Hosted by the TBE Arts Committee, with free bagels and coffee. Rafael Goldchain, the subject of the documentary, will be present.

beautifully broken picture

For more information go to: and

I haven’t seen any of these movies and they all look amazing. Does anyone have a personal recommendations?

Local event: Israel and academic freedom

IC Hilllel

William Jacobson will be speaking at an event sponsored by Ithaca College Hillel next Tuesday February 25th. A recent commentary article in the Ithacan showcases how necessary these types of events are to help students understand the complex realities of Israelis and Palestinians.

This past weekend at Limmud NY I had the pleasure of hearing a talk from Ari Shavit, journalist and author of the New York Times bestseller My Promised Land. He is nearing the end of a book tour of the US and mentioned how his encounters on campuses had left him with a profound sense of the disconnect of the average secular American-Jewish student to the Jewish state and his/her understanding of the issues facing Israel. I have no idea why this is the case but I am a firm believer in the value of education to help young people understand the issues and empower the next generation to be strong leaders.

Report on Standing up for Israel

We were immensely fortunate to hear Professor Jacobson last Friday night, hosted by Chabad of Ithaca. The place was absolutely packed, late arrivals literally did have to stand!

I had read Professor Jacobson’s writing on the LegalInsurrection website and listened to his interviews so I knew he had very interesting points to make about this important topic and I was intensely curious as to if and how he would be able to tame this vast issue into a short talk suitable for young people. Wow, what a phenomenal talk, superlatives escape me. His talk was clear and logical, it was concise, it was incredibly engaging and the audience, a lively group of students on a Friday night, was wrapt and attentive. His talk covered some of the development behind the BDS movement setting it in a global historical context; he included some of his personal experience in combating the various manifestations of these ideas and ran through some practical tips and advice for ordinary citizens.

I had imagined that a talk on this subject would by necessity contain a little hand-wringing and bemoaning. But Professor Jacobson completely rewrote the rules on that with an approach that was so sensible and level-headed, and so comprehensive that he swept up the audience with an overall message that was empowering and positive; as he put it, there is no need for “doom and gloom”. While the BDS movement and it supporters have been hoping to destroy Israel, they have been forgoing the opportunity to build the Palestinian economy. In contrast, Israel has focused on the positive, creating a strong, diverse and vibrant society and economy.

This got me thinking about extrapolating the topic to a personal level. We’ve all been “boycotted” at some point in our lives. When you’re a kid, you’re devastated when you get irrationally “boycotted” by a peer. When you experience this as an adult, you know intellectually that it’s the person refusing to speak to you or engage with you that has the problem, not you. But it’s painful all the same. Be like the Israelis. Keep on offering that olive branch and hope that one day it’s gonna get accepted. But in the meantime, don’t get discouraged. If you put your effort into constructive and productive projects you’ll be creating a tangibly improved world and not is this just the best response, it is the only option because the target of irrational hatred alone, in the absence of other factors, cannot change the hater. So I found the talk inspirational and motivating in a whole other dimension which I think is a testament to the effectiveness of the speaker in teasing out general themes from the thicket of the daily political realities.

Judging from the questions, this talk hit a nerve with young people who hear anti-Israel lies and find it difficult to have a ready response. My teenager, who hasn’t dealt with these issues directly, found it interesting to hear about the background and history of the subject. From my perspective I would also add that it is also powerfully morale boosting to listen to somebody who calmly states the facts, pursues the arguments all the way to their logical conclusions, for reminding us that making the argument that “Israel is a state like any other state, doesn’t need to be one of the top five responses”.

We are so incredibly fortunate to have a person of this stature in our community and it is very generous of him to take the time to share his perspectives. Professor Jacobson is a first-rate thinker and and an inspiring speaker. If you get a chance to hear him talk I strongly recommend you do so.

Thank you very much Professor Jacobson and thank you very much to Rabbi Eli and Chana Silberstein and Rabbi Dovid and Miri Birk for the opportunity to hear this speaker who is doing so much to support rationality (and Israel) and whose leadership is energizing.

Being of course Shabbat, I couldn’t get a photo of the speaker in action so I am including this cartoon on the topic which is taken from the LegalInsurrection website.


A. F. Branco
Image from

Kosher fish fillets . . . or not

Everyone knows that the process by which our food arrives at the grocery store is incredibly complicated. A huge variety of fruits and vegetables are trans-seasonal. And that’s just for unprocessed food. Throw in processed food and there is an exponential increase in complexity.

Planet Money did an excellent series tracking of making and sourcing a T-shirt recently and I can only imagine that a can of baked beans might have an analogous backstory.

There’s no doubt that, for many considerations, locally sourced food is preferable. Living in Ithaca, we are lucky to have ready access to wonderful local produce. Yet we are also grateful for the privilege of being able to acquire many different types of food at the grocery store.

For example, if I had to slaughter an animal myself, I would be strictly vegetarian. I appreciate being able to go to Wegmans and purchase meat ( I realize that there is an inherent contradiction in this but it is one I’m comfortable with).

Same goes for fish. If the fish is filleted and cleaned, ready to cook, I am grateful that I can just get on with the process of cooking.

So it was that I was in the aisles of BJs where I saw they had big bags of very reasonably priced frozen fish fillets. The fish in question was flounder, an unquestionably kosher fish.


I used to go with my grandmother to the fish stalls in Leeds market which boasted an incredibly array of aqua species and I knew that it is perfectly permissible to buy fish from a place that also sells non-kosher seafood. However, there’s a catch. All the fish we bought in “those days” was very recognizable as to what species of fish it was.

Not so for our current day dilemma. In order to accurately know what we are purchasing when the fish is no longer readily identifiable we need to have confidence in the supplier.

Even if supplier is reputable, this is not a sufficient guarantee because the chain of custody for even the simplest foods has multiple entities that can span across the globe. Neither can the consumer rely on accuracy in food labeling, even when there is a legal mandate to do so. For a good example of why legislation doesn’t adequately protect the consumer, see the recent debacle of  beef products containing up to 60% horsemeat in the E.U., supposedly a bastion of food regulation.

The only way to rely that the chain of custody of the fish fillet being from the same fish that originally had its fins and scales is certification from an independent third party, aka a hechsher.

Unfortunately the flounder fillets from the Orca seafood company had no scales remaining on the pristine fillets, so were not recognizably from a kosher fish regardless of labeling, and the package did not have a rabbinical supervision symbol.

Bummer. On the off chance, I contacted the company. They were kind enough to reply and this was the message:

Orca letter

A bit disappointing. I thanked them and requested that they consider the market for the kosher consumer. Here is the URL to contact Orca Bay Seafoods if you would like to let the company know your thoughts.

Now I just have to figure out how to offload the pack of fish fillets sitting in the freezer (yes I did buy them foolishly optimistically hoping they would be OK to eat!).