The Yiddish particle

Today I am sharing with you an except from a paper published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature by distinguished scientist and friend Reuven Opher. To my knowledge, this is the first elementary particle with a Jewish name.

Dybbuk particle

Reuven is hosting a group at his house, the “Big Bang Discussion” to examine the nexus between science, religion and the origins of the universe.

Here is the agenda:

  1. The Earth is not the center of the Universe: Copernicus and Galileo
  2. Is the Big Bang Theory and the existence of a superior being compatible?
  3. The origin of the Big Bang Theory.
  4. Common questions concerning the Big Bang Theory.
  5. Primary evidence for the Big Bang Theory.

The discussion is open to all who are interested. Message Reuven or myself if you are interested in further details, the first meeting will take place this Sunday June 1st.

purple shabbat shalom


Making a difference

We are incredibly fortunate to have Professor William Jacobson here in Ithaca.

Professor Jacobson is an inspiring speaker, educator and all-round mensch.  I have previously written about his talk on “Standing up for Israel”, and his ability to engage young people here.

On campuses around the country, the anti-Israel narrative on campus is fueled by professors who dishonestly and divisively promote a biased agenda. Sadly, it is possible to spend all day every day fisking such fraudulent academics. But simple demonstration of facts are not sufficient if the academic and his/her audience refuse to acknowledge and correct the errors. One general characteristic of such academics is a refusal to engage in discussion. An example of this is Prof. Jacobson’s recent talk at Vassar. NOT A SINGLE ONE of the 39 Vassar professors who had signed a letter containing egregious slurs against Israel agreed to meet Professor Jacobson in debate.

So it is great to see an opinion piece in the local newspaper, the Ithaca Journal, that is an excellent rebuttal to one such nebulous academic. Here is the article (click on picture for larger version):

guest viewpoint

For additional background on Cornell campus and around Ithaca, see these links:

Cornell Student Assembly rejects BDS motion

The case for Israel and academic freedom – watch the video of Prof. Jacobson’s talk

Kudos to the fantastic work of Prof. Jacobson and his efforts to expose and rebut BDS. I think that these assaults on truth, freedom and justice are matters that should concern us all, across the political spectrum.

And again, as has been pointed out by Prof. Jacobson and others, happiness is the best response to the haters.

State of the Union

We’ve all heard and read about the Pew Report, although it has been surprising how little debate it has stimulated in the liberal secular Jewish community. Apparently there is a Yiddish saying “The house is on fire, and grandma is sitting calmly, knitting a sweater” which certainly seems applicable from my vantage point.

Another document that I feel is very illuminating in regard to current thinking in the secular US Jewish community is this email exchange between Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren and David Rothkopf, CEO and editor of Foreign Policy, a Washington publication that is influential in Democratic policy making circles.

What makes the exchange so incredibly fascinating is that Michael Oren and David Rothkopf were college room mates with similar backgrounds who made very different choices in their lives; choices that come to the fore in this remarkable discussion.

Kudos to both individuals for sharing their discussion. Read the exchange here.

One of the issues this exchange brings up is how even a trip to Israel may not have an impact when a person has a huge investment in a different reality. For a dramatic example of this read an account of the Guardian’s editor Alan Rusbridger’s trip to Israel.

In the case of David Rothkopf, I’d recommend three additional trips. The first would be to France. This would be a true holiday where he could plan his own itinerary, the only requirement would be that he would have to walk around wearing a kippah. The second trip would be to Houston Texas to take a workshop at the Institue for the Study of Modern Israel. For the third trip he can just take a day off and go down the street to the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy to discuss current Palestinian and Arab politics with Jonathan Schnazer, author of Hamas versus Fatah, the Struggle for Palestine.

I’d love to know how his conversation with Ambassador Oren would go after those trips. And of course, if he met these guys in Paris (click on picture for link), we’d let him take off his kippah (as French Jews probably would).


Many thanks to Israel Matzav for pointing out this publication.

On a lighter note, Shabbat Shalom everybody!


shabbat shalom


Dealing with the consequences

From story teller Peninnah Schram’s book “Tales of Elijah the Prophet” comes this incredible story entitled “The Agunah, the Rabbi, and the ‘Sheep'”.

agunahpage1It’s such a powerful story. The main protagonist is somebody who doesn’t even enter the tale until the halfway point, not the childless Rabbi at the start but a different Rabbi who makes an extremely controversial decision.

Our protagonist has to deal with the consequences of his decision, he is cursed, physically assaulted, shunned, unable to go to the synagogue even for prayers. At the same time the Rabbi has no way of really knowing if he has truly made a correct decision or not. The uncertainty together with the agonizing societal opprobrium utterly upends his life.

What saves our hero is an animal, the ‘Sheep’. The non-human ‘Sheep’ reminds the reader that caring and kindness enables one to maintain humanity at those moments of unhappy isolation. And, of course, it is the ‘Sheep’ that is the agent of his redemption because this is no ordinary ‘Sheep’. Just as it takes all the moral strength of the Rabbi to make an unpopular decision in the first place, so it takes him all his moral strength to bring the ‘Sheep’ to a position where the ‘Sheep’ can demonstrate the correctness of the Rabbi’s original decision. This effort in fact is so great, it consumes the life of the Rabbi.

When we make decisions we use our best judgement, often we have no idea if we are correct or not. We all want to be in the right but how far do we need to go to validate our theories for others? Is it a duty we should to devote our lives to? Is it even possible to act in isolation, to communicate without interlocutors? How does one deal with the searing impact of social alienation without being dejected and depressed? There is a Yiddish phrase “May you be the only wise man in a world of fools” and it is indeed a curse.

this guyThis beautiful story throws all these difficult questions of character, leadership and community into relief.

I have copied the story for website readers to enjoy. Readers can click on each of the thumbnails in order to get an enlarged version of the text.


Post-modern Gefilte fish (or Gefilte fish in 30 mins)

Yes, you can indeed make delicious gefilte fish in 30 mins.

Yes, there are some shortcuts.

No, this is not your classical gefilte fish, more like the traditional gefilte fish recipe deconstructed.


Gary is famous for his gefilte fish, so notable that my relatives presented his willingness to grind raw fish as exhibit A; proof that he would be an excellent husband. In fact it was not until I had the pleasure of meeting Jeff Yoskowitz, the proprietor of the Gefilteria before I was aware of another man who was so passionate about gefilte fish.

But the making of authentic gefilte fish is a laborious process. First off, the designated fish, carp etc has to be special ordered (I remember when I realized that gefilte didn’t refer to a fish species!), the fish heads and bones have to be boiled to make the jellied stock, one has to be fastidious about picking out all the small bones, assembling the special contraption for grinding the fish and so forth.

With all the demands on our time, it is no surprise that making gefilte fish hasn’t happened too frequently. And yet, perish the thought that we would eat the type that comes in jars. So it was that one day I started thinking about how gefilte fish became such a classic and the rationale for using carp. My understanding is that the recipe is generally thought to be the result of enterprising Jewish women developing a Shabbat-friendly dish with a readily available local ingredient; aquaculture being in wide practice in Eastern Europe. I remember my grandpa telling me about how his mother complained at coming to the industrial Britain in the years before his birth in 1905 and how much she missed the farm life in Russia with her beautiful pond.

Today, the most widely available fish is farmed salmon. To stay true to the spirit of gefilte fish in the sense of a dish made with the cheapest available fish I decided to use salmon. I also incorporated a milder white fleshed fish which is traditional for gefilte fish. This was branzini, which happened to be available at Wegmans and they will fillet the fish for you (see my previous post regarding availability of kosher fish in Ithaca).

The features that make this recipe so quick are first the starting point of using fish fillets (no deboning), second using the food processor (makes quick work of chopping), and third eliminating the jellied stock (believe me, you won’t taste a difference). Let’s get to the recipe.

gefilte fish ingredients

Once the ingredients are assembled and the greens washed, the recipe goes super quick.

  1. Before starting prepare a large mixing bowl and a pan of salted boiling water.
  2. Process the dill, onion, green onions, parsley in the food processor until finely chopped. Keep an eye on this, just a few pulses should be sufficient, you don’t want the mixture to turn to paste. Remove from the food processor into the large mixing bowl and combine with the eggs.
  3. Process fish fillets in the food processor. Careful to not over process, you are looking for a minced texture, not mush. I did this in two batches.
  4. Mix the minced fish with the remaining ingredients. Make rounded balls with about one heaped tablespoon of the mixture and drop into the boiling water. Boil for 10-12 mins. The gefilte fish balls increase ~25% in volume during cooking, make sure your pan can accommodate this expansion.

Useful note: This recipe makes a large quantity and these gefilte fish freeze well.

fish dish

For the optimum gefilte fish experience, you cannot beat the authentic accompaniment and I highly recommend home-made chraine. I will go through this recipe in another post but there are no short-cuts to its production, home-made chraine takes longer to prepare than the gefilte fish. But it’s definitely worth it. In the meantime, בתיאבון!