Harissa and more Morocco

Harissa

My Jewish-centric trip to Morocco began and ended in Casablanca, a sprawling coastal mega-city that is choked with traffic and filled with endless buildings of peeling white paint.  The city is home to 1,000 Jews and an incredible 20 active synagogues, plus a cemetery and museum of Jewish history.   I quickly felt comfortable in the city when I walked into the apartment building lobby of my Airbnb. I noticed a huge mezuzah affixed to an apartment near the entrance. With impeccable timing, the apartment door opened and two women walked out, saw my friend and me pointing at the mezuzah and warmly greeted us. Immediate Moroccan hospitality. Continue reading

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Shevat: Fruit Tree Jams

Shevat Jams: bottom-apple, left-kumquat orange, right-fig

Shevat Jams: bottom-apple, left-kumquat orange, right-fig

The month of Shevat begins in a few days. The holiday of Tu B’shevat is a New Year celebration for trees. It’s definitely the locavore and environmental holiday of the Jewish calendar that marks the age of trees for tithing. It is customary to eat a new fruits and/or one of the seven species of Israel: barley, wheat, grapes, pomegrantes, olives, figs and date (or date syrup) on the holiday. Inspired by a Kabbalistic tradition, it has become commonplace to celebrate the holiday with a seder–guests enjoy an array of tree grown nuts and fruits as well as discussions about environmental issues we face today. While enjoying fruits this month, consider planting a tree or donating to a tree fund.  the US. Also, check out Fallen Fruit, which maps and harvests fruits in public urban spaces.

I prepared three jams with fruits purchased from the farmers market at the Tel Aviv port and from trees in my neighborhood. Unlike most jam recipes that call for large quantities of sugar, these recipes are fairly low in sugar. Enjoy with fresh, warm bread. Continue reading

Shoftim: Pursuing Justice for the Environment

FullSizeRender(175)(1)In this week’s Torah portion, Shoftim, Moses demands of the Jewish people,  צֶדֶק צֶדֶק תִּרְדֹּף, Justice, justice shall you pursue” (16:20).

It also includes the following. “When you besiege a city for many days to wage war against it to capture it, you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an ax against them, for you may eat from them, but you shall not cut them down.” (20:19)

This injunction to protect fruit trees is a foundation of bal tashchit (do not destroy) and  “is the halakhic basis of an ethic of environmental responsibility,” writes Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Chabad.org explains that bal tashchit, “underscores the Divine imperative for us to take matters concerning the preservation of our environment very seriously.”

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Vayikra: Modern Sacrifices

Vaykira: lemon salt

Vaykira: lemon salt

As a vegetarian since the age of nine and an on-again, off-again vegan, I wrestled with this week’s parsha, Vayikra, which offers detailed instructions for animal sacrifices.  How do I understand sacrifices (and those who argue that these practices will return during the Messianic period) with my commitment to not eating or harming animals?

Rabbi Brad Artson puts the ancient practice into context. He writes in The Bedside Torah, “Our ancestors turned to animal sacrifice because they saw in it a way to express deep rage, feelings of inadequacy, and guilt. They could, through sacrifice of animals, see their own frailty, their own mortality, and their own bloodiness” (p. 169).

And, sacrifices still offer meaning to us in the 21st century. He explains, “in our age, a period of sanitized religion and everyday violence, the practice of our ancestors has something to teach. And so we read Sefer Va-Yikra, and learn to see our fears in the eyes of an animal going to the slaughter, in the cries of the victim of sacrifice” (p. 169). Continue reading