I took a whirlwind trip to Morocco just before Pesach that focused on visits to historic Jewish sites and spending time with remaining Jewish communities. The 2,000 year history of Jews in Morocco is evident everywhere–from Jewish areas of towns (mellahs), to cemeteries to synagogues–and I grappled with the simultaneous historical nature of the trip along with immersing myself in dwindling communities. I traveled with a friend who is fluent in French (a bonus since I last spoke French my first year of college and rarely anyone speaks English). It was a chaotic start to our trip with missed flights, lost luggage and a bad hotel. But, we set out to track down these people and places without a proper guide, which was not always an easy feat. Through a contact my friend had in Israel along with some rabbis she met on her flight, our paper trail began to unfold. Most importantly, we planned to spend Shabbat in Fes (Fassis is what people in Fes are called) and a connection to “the butcher” there ensured we were with the community. Continue reading
I spent a good chunk of last year in India. While there are still tiny remaining Indian Jewish communities (read my Fort Cochin post), there is now a transient Jewish population of tens of thousands of mostly post-army Israelis who generally travel through the country generally along a route known as the “Hummus Trail”. The trail is easy to figure out because in each location there are Chabads and other Jewish outreach organizations. For Passover, I joined the Hummus Trail community and went to Rishikesh. Continue reading
I’d previously created this Tu B’Shevat recipe and post for the Borough Market website.
Tu B’shevat, the Jewish “New Year for Trees” (Rosh HaShana L’Ilanot), begins Tuesday evening. It has become the Jewish “Earth Day” and it is increasingly common for people to host a Tu B’shevat seder. I relish this holiday because it is the ultimate farm-to-table holiday and an opportunity to plant trees, enjoy local produce, and get involved with environmental groups.
When I joined the Slow Food USA delegation trip to Terra Madre in Turin, Italy a few years ago, I added on a few bonus days in Rome. I couldn’t get enough out of the city, racing from one farmers market to the next, going on dizzying adventures to track down obscure shops and restaurants (not always successfully), walking miles in expansive city gardens and just soaking in the stunning ancient city’s incredible vibrant energy. And, I opted to crazily bike everywhere possible, braving the city’s notoriously chaotic traffic-clogged boulevards and narrow roads. By the time Shabbat arrived, I was exhausted. Continue reading
I spent some time following in the footsteps of Kabbalists who lived in Catalonia, an area that straddles parts of the coastal and southern mountain areas of now Spain and France, and includes the beautiful, eclectic city of Barcelona. The strong sense of Catalan pride and identity and the excitement over the then- impending vote for independence from Spain was very much evident in my conversations with people, as were all of the “Si” graffiti and banners everywhere I visited.
In the backdrop of the current political situation, much of my time there was spent wandering the slippery, winding stone streets of former Jewish ghettos in medieval towns to visit mikvahs and synagogues, trying to piece together what life was like for Jews who had a flourishing society there until their expulsion in 1492. The small city of Girona was the epicenter of Kabbalists and the home of Rabbi Moses ben Nachman (the Ramban) who eventually was the chief rabbi of Catalonia.
This is a recipe that I originally wrote for the Borough Market blog and wanted to share with you. Enjoying seasonal foods at meals in a sukkah makes Sukkot the ultimate “farm to table” holiday. The holiday foods are frequently stuffed, to symbolize the harvest bounty. The dish I prepared is quinoa stuffed zucchinis, sweetened with dates, figs and honey, a few of the “seven species” of Israel.
Chag Sameach! Continue reading
Lag b’Omer begins tonight at sundown tonight. It is the date of the passing of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, a Jewish scholar and mystic who lived from 100-160CE. His commentaries and teachings are part of important Jewish texts about law, ethics and mysticism. He wrote the Zohar, the foundational text of the Jewish mystical tradition known as Kabbalah.
He defied the Roman Emperor Hadrian who persecuted Jews, closed all Jewish schools and forbade the study of holy texts. To avoid execution by the Romans because of his disobedience, Rabbi Shimon and his son, Elazar, hid in a cave for 13 years in the village of Meron, northern Israel.
Iyar-the second month in the Jewish calendar–is a connector month, between Nisan (Pesach–the exodus and establishment of the nation of Israelites) and Sivan (Shavuot–the receiving of the Torah). Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz writes that Pesach “asks us to stop walking the old, familiar paths, and to create change within ourselves and in our relationship with others and with the world.”
Such a process of introspection and healing doesn’t end at Pesach but rather begins. Iyar is a time to sow the seeds of our personal and communal transformations that were planted at Pesach through our liberation from slavery and to prepare for receiving the Torah in Sivan. It “is the month of introspection for the sake of self improvement.” Liberation does not mean one’s journey is complete. And, such a journey is not done alone. Iyar is known as a healing month. The acronym of Iyar is represented by the phrase, “I am G-d your healer” (Exodus 15:26). (The manna the Israelites received from G-d during their time in the wilderness first appeared in Iyar, solidifying their reliance on G-d to survive.) Continue reading
This week, before Rosh Hashana, we read Nitzavim during which all of the Israelites establish a covenant with God. Entering into the covenant is stepping into a concrete process in this world. “For the mitzvah which I command you this day, it is not beyond you, nor is it remote from you. “It is not in heaven . . . It is not across the sea . . . Rather, it is very close to you, in your mouth, in your heart, that you may do it” (30:12-14).
This is not about just accepting “I am Jewish” but embracing and living Jewish beliefs and values. While we are a few thousand years removed from the Israelites at Mount Sinai, their journey and experience is as relevant today to each of us. Rabbi Shai Held explains, “One of Judaism’s central projects is to maintain a living connection to our foundational moments: to remember that no matter how much time has passed, Exodus and Sinai have always only just taken place.”
This week’s Torah portion, Ki Teitzei, contains several teachings about the treatment of animals. It includes the prohibition against taking eggs or baby chicks from a nest while the mother is there, which has become the basis for the prohibition of cruelty against animals (tzaar baalei chayim). Indeed, for the person who does this, it is written “it should be good for you, and you should lengthen your days.”
Indeed, the notion of preventing cruelty to animals was, until recently, unheard of, except in Torah. “‘Until the nineteenth century,’ wrote historian Cecil Roth, ‘cruelty to animals was nowhere illegal, except in Jewish law'”. (The Jewish Contribution to Civilization, pp. 343f). Rabbi Gershon Winkler, in commenting about the mother hen and baby chicks passage, argues, “The Torah is not interested in teaching you to feel compassion, but rather how to live compassionately.”
Rabbi Jill Jacobs writes, “Beyond simply prohibiting cruelty to animals, Jewish tradition associates care for animals with righteousness.” She cites (Proverbs 12:10): “A righteous person knows the needs of his beast, but the compassion of the wicked is cruelty.”