On being inclusive

Rabbi Brad Artson:

“Perhaps, then, the wholeness to which the Torah alludes is a willingness to stand in our entirety–blemishes, defects, imperfections, and all–and offer our complete self to G-d as a sacred service. Might the Torah be insisting on a community that includes ALL its members, that makes NONE of them INVISIBLE, that asks none of them to step outside?”

Might only the community that is inclusive of all be the community listened to by the divine?  It is so easy for community leaders to ignore individuals in the community, especially if they are different or think differently. It is all too human to prefer the voices of the epigones instead of the questioners. But it is the job of the questioners to resist and not to become invisible, a job they must find the courage to deliver on for the benefit of the community as a whole.


Food, food and food

Attended a very nice Parent’s shmooze session last Sunday organized by Rabbi Brody. We were challenged to think about our favorite Jewish traditions and for most people, of course there is some type of food involved! There was lots of food for thought in the interesting conversation that followed, although I sometimes wonder if we use food as ritual rather than as one component of ritual. For instance making and eating a challah bread alone is not a Jewish act. It is the baking challah including taking challah and eating the challah as part of making kiddush or hamoetzi that makes the activity Jewish (as oppose to Jewish-style I guess).

Check out the The Kosher Cooking Carnival – a monthly blog carnival about kosher food, kosher cooking, anything to do with kosher food. My original Etrog jam recipe “Etrog Marmalade with Myrtle Leaf Infusion” is included this month. Interestingly, the Etrog marmalade recipe is the most popular post on this site (by far).

Etrog jam jar

Here is another recipe, a rustic homemade pita bread with an international flair. The flour is locally sourced, the pitas were drizzled with Californian olive oil and a sprinkle of Palestinian za’atar.


  • 3 1/2 cup flour
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp instant yeast
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tblsp olive oil
  • 1 1/4 cup warm water
  1. Mix all ingredients well.
  2. Let the dough rise for a minimum of 30 min.
  3. Roll into balls and flatten into round shape (not too thin, not too fat).
  4. Let the dough rest and rise another 20 min.
  5. Heat up a frying pan (no oil!). Place 1 pita at a time into pan. Cover (I used a pan lid) and cook for 2-3 min on each side. When turning for the second side, flatten with a spatula for even cooking. The way the pocket just puffs open is pretty magic.

pita breadUPDATE: Hope to see you at the next parent shmooze. Please mark your calendars for Jan 11th 2015!


The challenge for Conservative Judaism

Right now there’s a war going on where Israel is defending herself against an awful terror threat from the genocidal theocratic regime in Gaza and from unremitting hostile lawfare on the diplomatic front.

Worldwide, anti-Semitism of all stripes is surging. The demographics of the Conservative US Jewish community challenge its viable future.

And now, at this sensitive moment, Mr Arnold Eisen, the head of Conservative Judaism’s flagship institution JTS, shares his thoughts with the world; an OpEd in a flagship institution of the US media, the WSJ.

His subject?

“Efforts to discourage intermarriage have failed. It’s time to bring more non-Jews into the faith”


What an argument! The bottom line is that Conservative Judaism is, by and large, failing to engage young people and retain their commitment. Why would non-Jews be interested in a Judaism that cannot even retain Jews?

Of course, there is also the elephant in the room. There is a branch of Judaism that doesn’t have a problem with intermarriage. Maybe the Conservative movement could learn a few things from the Orthodox?

I support conversion. The barrier for conversion in Conservative Judaism is already minimal. And yet we have many young Jews married to non-Jewish partners for whom even this minimal level is too much.

I understand the dynamic of liberalism that lead to such modes of thought in the Conservative Jewish community. But the reality is that Conservative Judaism faces more serious problems and deserves leaders with more courageous and creative visions.

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.


Reminding ourselves of the future Pesach 5774

A very Happy Pesach to US Navy Junior Officer Jeremy Ball, 27 on board the U.S.S. New Mexico.

The U.S.S. New Mexico. Picture credit The New York Times

The U.S.S. New Mexico.
Picture credit The New York Times

Sir, thank you for defending our freedom especially at this time as we celebrate the Jewish people’s freedom from slavery.

I learned of Jeremy Ball from Thomas Friedman’s article in the NYT “Parallel Parking in the Arctic“.

About Jeremy Ball he writes:

Remind me again what we’re doing in Washington these days to deserve such young people?


Another inspiring example from our next generation of leaders is Justin Hayet, an undergraduate at Binghamton University. Read his eloquent and passionate open letter to Foreign Minister Liberman.


And also the group of Cornell University students who showed such exceptional leadership in combating BDS on the University campus. Read about their effort at Legal Insurrection.

To all these terrific young people who are showing so much inspiring leadership and promise – may your Pesach be extra specially wonderful.