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.”
We enter the fifth and final book of the Torah, Devarim (Deuteronomy). In this week’s Torah portion, also called Devarim, the Israelites are on the precipice of entering the Promised Land. Moses begins to recount the laws, teachings and events of the Israelites 40 years in the wilderness.
We are–individually and collectively–on journeys to the Promised Land. It’s our spiritual journeys. And, it’s about our responsibilities to our world by pursuing tzedek (justice) and tikkun olam (repairing the world). And though, like Moses, we won’t necessarily reach the Promised Land, we are obligated to act for ourselves and future generations. It is taught, “It is not your responsibility to finish the work [of perfecting the world], but you are not free to desist from it either” (Ethics of the Fathers 2:16).
I received a basket of enormous, homegrown onions from a family friend. Layers of thick dirt muted the rich golden tones of the onions. Each one had just been picked and a mass of dried out, dusty stalks, like wild hair, was sprouting from the bulbs. I wasn’t sure what to do with so many onions until I read this week’s parsha, Matot-Massei. I prepared a simple roasted onions side dish. These concentric circles of onion are delicate, rich in flavor and easy to prepare. This week I offer many different thoughts about the onions and how the dish relates to themes in the parsha. Continue reading
And, in the middle of a description about the holiday of Shavuot, comes the following: “When you reap the harvest of your Land, you shall not completely remove the corner of your field during your harvesting, and you shall not gather up the gleanings of your harvest. [Rather,] you shall leave these for the poor person and for the stranger. I am the Lord, your God.” (23:22).
Both of the facial beard and field corners are called payot.