Thursday, April 17, 2014

"What could be bad" Food Post 1

היום שלשים ימים בעמר
Today is three days of the omer
תפארת שבחסד
A day of compassion in a week of loving kindness

So many bloggers go through some version of a food phase in their writing series--recipe based, restaurant based, or a combination of the two. Often there's an overlay of health or decadence; regionally centered or a global journey. I am no exception to this rule.

I consider myself a good, rustic cook. My techniques may not be polished, but for the most part I get the taste right. I often work on the theory learned from my mother--"What could be bad?" While this has lead to the occasional odd pairing that doesn't work, it's held me in pretty good stead. I love cookbooks, but I've never felt restrained by recipes, often using them for a starting off point for my own creations--for better or worse :)

I do try to keep the majority of the ingredients that I buy natural and seasonal. I try to keep most processed foods off of my shopping list. I do like to use jarred tomato sauces and I have a weakness for mayonnaise (I grew up with Hellman's--Best Foods for the West Coasters--but I have transferred my allegiance to Trader's Joes, with no additives or sugar.) The amount of sodium in so many packaged foods--even those marked "natural"-- seems really high without getting the benefit of a nice, salty taste.

So learning how easy it is to make vegetable broth and then store it for use in all sorts of dishes was transforming for me. Kudos go to my friend Dorene Hyman for teaching this to me and now I will share this with you.

Now, this assumes that you are someone who cooks, since the basis for the broth is produce that you are using to make other dishes. While you cook, take all the ends and bits that you are not using--stems, roots, peels and instead of putting them in the garbage or compost, throw them all in a pot. Onions, garlic, chard stalks, carrot ends, ginger peel, cilantro stems, squash skins, mushroom stems--there's very little you can't use.

Fill the pot with water and when your prep time is done, you can start the broth. Bring it to a boil, lower the heat underneath to simmer, cover and cook for about an hour or so--basically just keep it there during your meal. Alternately, you can put all the bits in a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator if you'd like to make the broth later in the week.

Cool the mixture before you strain the broth to store it for later use. I have found that it's fine to leave the broth covered on the stove and package it the next day in containers of your preference. I like to make a couple of trays of vegetable broth ice cubes. Once they're frozen I pop them all in a bag for easy storage. Lately I've also been using a silicone muffin pan. The bigger size is more in keeping with the amount I'm likely to use. But another advantage of this is that I don't have to open a big container when I'm just using a cup or less.

You can't get much more simple than that. But what a difference it can make in your cooking. When making curries or stews, you get to use a tasty liquid without adding any extra salt. The cubes are great for deglazing a pan or adding a flavor to sautéed greens. And it's easy enough to always have around to use whenever you jump into a creative cook mode, this recipe supports all those "What could be bad" moments.

Feel free to share any tips or cooking ideas in the comments. And look for more food recipes and tips mingled among the posts for the next 46 days.


Teaching is the Guide

היום שני ימים בעמר
Today is two days of the omer
גבורה שבחסד
A day of strength in a week of loving kindness

The seders are over, fulfilling the mitzvah of teaching the story and its meaning to our children, which is what the haggadah, the telling, is all about. We've made the point that we were slaves, and now we're free. We've escaped from Egypt, from Mitzrayim, from the narrow place. The sea was parted for us, allowing us to walk on solid, dry ground. But the story does not end there. The journey has just begun.

We know the journey our ancestors will take--at least, we know what is chronicled in the Torah and the other biblical writings. What lies ahead for each of us is unknown. But we need to continually teach our children--as we say each day in the Shema, when we are home and when we are away; when we lie down, and when we rise. Because it is the teachings and the act of teaching with strength and loving kindness, that will guide us all on our way.






Wednesday, April 16, 2014

An Accounting of the Count

היום יום אחד בעמר
Today is the first day of the omer
חסד שבחסד
A day of loving kindness in a week of loving kindness

Today starts the period of the omer--a 49 day period of counting each day from the second day of Passover to the day before Shavuot. For those unfamiliar with this Jewish ritual, I recommend this article by Rabbi Jill Jacobs on MyJewishLearning.com for a good nuts-and-bolts overview of the ritual. As you will notice in the header to this post, which will occur in all subsequent omer posts, I use the kabbalistic method of marking each day, using 7 of the 10 of the Sephirot, the emanations, forces, emotions which, according to those mystics, are connections between us and God. Each week has a sephira; each day has a sephira. In the 49 days we get every pair combination. Explanations of the Sephirot can be found here and here; here you will find an overview of using them for the omer count. Feel free to search around for other sources but please, as with all internet searches, be mindful of who is putting out the information.

I also use this time as a writing practice, adding a blog post each day. As I need to remind myself each year on this first day of chesed she b'chesed--a double day of loving kindness, the practice is simply to write. It doesn't have to be award-winning or incredibly insightful--it just has to be. That is why it's called a practice. Like the counting itself, performing the ritual is its own reward. And like much of Jewish practice, fulfillment will come from the doing of the action--even if it takes a while to become evident.

I have one more thought to end this 5774/2014 inaugural post. It's something that now seems so obvious but just occurred to me as I began to think about this year's writings. This blog is an account of my thoughts with some stories of my life. An account --- a (c) count. A reckoning in words rather than numbers. And of course, that is its origin, from Old French to Anglo-French to Middle English to today.

So it seems that my adding this writing element is not just an overlay to the ritual, but emanates from within. 

Saturday, June 29, 2013

The 21st Century Daughters of Zelophchad


Pinchas is a parasha that is close to my heart—it is my birth parsha. There are so many ways it speaks to me personally. But this year, this week in particular, this parasha speaks to us all.
During the school year, I teach Torah to 7th graders. I constantly impress upon them what I call “the magic” of the Torah—that these ancient teachings, these stories, these precepts, have managed to speak to each generation with relevancy for its time. And this week is one of the moments when the Torah’s teaching come to life.
In this parasha, there is mention, by name, of nine women—nine  women. So often in the Torah we to have look between the lines to find the stories of women in a document written in a time of strong patriarchy, yet here, out front, nine are named, giving them a true presence in our heritage.
We have Cozbi bat Tzur, daughter of a Midianite chieftain, killed by Pinchas. Now, granted, she is certainly not one to be emulated but still, she gets a name, unlike Potiphar’s wife in the Joseph story or even Pharaoh’s daughter, who plucked Moshe from the water.
During the counting and the listing of the genealogies, we hear "ושם בת אשר שרח – v’shaim bat Asher, Sarach” – The name of Asher’s daughter was Sarach. It is a name we have heard only once before, in Genesis (46:17). Sarach is listed there as one of the 70 souls who go to Egypt with Jacob, once Joseph’s true identity is revealed. She is the only granddaughter of Jacob listed. We never learn anything else about her—yet the mention of her name must note something of importance. One story is that she is the one who told Jacob of Joseph’s survival, and lived long enough to tell Moshe where to find Joseph’s grave in Egypt so that his remains could be returned to the land of Israel, as he requested on his deathbed.
When counting the clans of the Levites, we hear for the first time, the names of Moshe’s parents—not just his father, Amram, but also his mother, Yocheved. Yocheved is not just described as a wife or a mother, but as a Bat Levi—given that honor in her own right. Miriam, his sister, is also named.
And then there are the daughters of Zelophchad, whom I have dubbed “Women with Chutzpah” It is the story of these women that comes to the forefront today, in this monumental week.
We first meet the five sisters, Machlah, Noa, Chauglah, Milcah, and Tirzah, in the list of genealogy (Num 26:33). There, we learn only that their father, Zelophchad, son of Hepher, son of Gilead, son of Machir, son of Manasseh son of Joseph—had these five daughters; he had no sons. But unlike Asher’s daughter Sarach, we do learn more about them. After all the tribes are counted and named, including the tribe of the Levites, their story is told.
Our story begins (Num 27) with these five daughters of Zelophchad, once again mentioned by name—Machlah, Noa, Chauglah, Milcah, and Tirzah, who come forward. They stand before Moshe, before Elazar HaCohen, before the Nese’im—the chieftains, and before the entire Ai-dah—the entire community. They stand at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting and state their case:
Our father died in the wilderness. He was not part of the rebellion of Korach. And he left no sons. למה—LAMA––WHY should his holding in the Land of Israel be lost because of this—give us a place among our tribe. Moshe brings their case to God.
And God says, the words of these women are right, you should give them their place in their tribe—transfer their father’s share of land to them. And so, God relays these new laws of succession for the Israelites. The first of these laws—if a man dies with no sons, his property will transfer to his daughter.
Before the daughters of Zelophchad spoke up, Jewish law dictated that only sons were in line to inherit from their father—any sisters were excluded from the inheritance. The daughters of Zelophchad stood up to this injustice. Some commentators note that in a time when so many of the Israelites were pining and whining to go back to Mitzriyim, to Egypt, these women were looking forward, wanting their portion of the Promised Land. Rashi notes that as the reason their genealogy, going back to Joseph, was mentioned once again at this time. Just as Joseph cherished the land, wanting his remains to rest there (Gen 50:22), these daughters of Zelphchad were imperative in their request for their portion –“תנה לנו אחזה בתוך אחי אבינו – t’nah lanu achuzah betoch achai avinu" - Give us a possession as part of our family inheritance.”(Num 27:4)
 Other commentators are impressed with the manner with which the daughters of Zelophchad
made their request. They did not rebel, like those who stood with Korach. Reish Lakish, a 3rd century Amorah, Talmudic rabbi, says that the women went through the channels Moshe set up for these types of disputes on the advice of his father-in-law Yitro—first they went to the chiefs of tens, who judged that since it was a case concerning inheritance, it needed to go to a higher authority. They then went to the chiefs of fifties, then hundreds, then thousands, then the chieftains. All gave the same reply—this needs a higher authority. When the daughters went to Elazar, he told them to go to Moshe.
So, the daughters of Zelophchad—Machlah, Noa, Chauglah, Milcah, and Tirzah, stood in front of the whole community—including all the chieftains, Elazar HaCohen, and Moshe, in a place for all to see, and stated their case. And Moshe, seeing the deference shown both by and to these women, realized that this case needed to be taken to his “Supreme Court”, God. God ruled in favor of the daughters of Zelophchad, and the law was changed. And while, as we will see next week, there was some modification of the law, the women were granted their inheritance in the land as stated in Joshua (17:3-6), “Ten portions fell to Manashe…because the women of Manashe received a heritage among his sons.
These righteous women saw the injustice they were subjected to, the denial of their inheritance, and knew the time had come to stand up and be counted. Imagine the courage and the chutzpah they had to have to question the patriarchal rulings of the time. A group of five women making a claim for all to see in a time of strong patriarchy. They stated their case with respect, and were treated with respect. They wished to honor their father and their heritage. They showed their desire to move forward into the land of Israel when others wished to go backwards. Their righteousness was rewarded with an implementation of a change from an unjust system of inheritance to one of justice. Aviva Zornberg, a pre-eminent Torah scholar of our time, teaches that this is the first instance of oral Torah – these women were responsible for setting Jewish law.

Fast forward thousands of years-------

Starting in 1989, a group of righteous women, soon dubbed the Women of the Wall, women who simply wish to respectfully and fully pray at the Kotel, the remaining Western Wall of the Temple, are harassed each time they go to pray. Harassed not just with words, but with chairs thrown at them. There is a timeline available on their website showing how they, like the daughters of Zelophchad, go through the system, saying LAMA—WHY can we not, rightfully, partake of our heritage. And while that struggle continues, they, like Machlah, Noa, Tirtzah, Milcah, & Chaglah, are bringing changes to the laws.
And then there’s Edie Windsor & Thea Spyer—two more “Women with Chutzpah” who literally danced together through life. These two women met in 1965, and fell in love. In 1967, Thea actually proposed to Edie, presenting her with a diamond brooch instead of a ring to avoid attracting attention. In 1975, when Thea was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, they modified their dancing—whirling on crutches, then a wheelchair—and remained committed to each other. In 2007, they were finally legally married in Canada, this time with a very public announcement. Thea died in 2009. And that beautiful, vibrant, loving 44 year relationship was treated like it never happened.
But Edie, in the name of Thea and their love, stood up like the daughters of Zelophchad, went through the system from one court to another, and this week, the Supreme Court of our land said, “כן—YES” this women is right, this law is wrong and it must be changed.
It is my bond with the daughters of Zelophchad, that makes this parasha my parasha, but we are all a part of their inheritance. They stood up for their rights and for equal justice. They did so with respect and with strength. As do Anat Hoffman and the Women of the Wall. As did Edie Windsor and her lawyer, Roberta Kaplan. And as did Wendy Davis and Leticia Van De Putte in the Texas statehouse this week, literally standing up for women’s rights and access to the health care they need. And as did Kris Perry and Sandy Stier who, along with Paul Katami, Jeffrey Zarrillo and their lawyers, fought and won the right for marriage equality in our state of California—and hopefully soon, throughout our country.
Rabbi Arthur Green teaches that each generation leaves a bit of their oil on the Torah as it passes through their fingers. What happened in this country this week will become some of that oil, bringing light and relevance to the story of Chaglah, Machlah, Noa, Milcah, and Tirtzah—the righteous daughters of Zelophchad—and pass that on to the next generation of  “Women—and Men—with Chutzpah.”

כן יהי רצון –  Ken y’hi ratzon – May it be so
Shabbat Shalom

Monday, April 29, 2013

Ed Feinstein on Abraham Joshua Heschel


היום ארבעה ושלשים יום שהם ארבעה שבועות וששה ימים בעמר
Today is thirty-four days, which is four weeks and six days of the omer
יסוד שבהוד
A day of foundation in a week of humility

(Yes, I know I skipped day 33--it was counted but not written. More on that another day :)

Thanks to Rabbi Noa Kushner, the guiding light of The Kitchen, a wonderful new Jewish community in San Francisco, this evening we were honored to have Rabbi Ed Feinstein teach on Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. This is a combination that cannot be beat. Ed Feinstein is an amazing teacher--engaging and entertaining, with the knack of bringing light into density, guiding us in.

I've read some Heschel--I don't think you can be a Jewish educator and not read The Sabbath. I even teach about him to the 7th & 8th graders in my classes. I show them the photo of Heschel on the Selma March in 1965 with Martin Luther King, Jr, about which Heschel said, "I felt my legs were praying." I talk about his description of Shabbat as a "Palace in Time." But like so many great philosophers, you really need a teacher to help unpack and understand their thoughts. I couldn't approach any understanding of Martin Buber's "I and Thou" until I studied it with Norman Fischer. I think now I have a chance to delve more deeply into Heschel writings having heard Ed Feinstein this evening.

I wish I could share tonight's teaching--but there's too much to process right now. I can say that it's nights like this that invigorate me. I get insights into Judaism that I can pass on to my students, hopefully giving them some inspiration. Tonight I got bits on prayer and religion that may help me answer some of the larger questions my students ask--why does religion matter; what is prayer about. I got an affirmation on the need for both kavannah and kevah in Jewish practice from yet another source. It's so great when I gain the language that helps me teach.

A master teacher sharing the thoughts and words of a master philosopher--no, it doesn't get much better than that.


Saturday, April 27, 2013

Accidents will happen



היום שנים ושלשים יום שהם ארבעה שבועות וארבעה ימים בעמר

Today is thirty-two days, which is four weeks and four days of the omer
נצח שבהוד
A day of perseverance in a week of humility

I knocked over a glass of wine tonight on the table where I was also doing some Torah study. On the table was my new book, From God to Verse, which I wrote about the other day. I caught the spill early and little damage was done to the book. But it's red wine, and the stains on the edges will always remain.

On one hand, I'm bummed. It's a brand new book, some would say a sacred book, as it is a translation of theTorah. I hate that it is, in some ways, marred so early in its life. But on the other hand (I have 5 fingers :), it shows that the book is used--not stuck on a shelf for show. It lives where I live, and real life is not a neat experience.

I love books, but I will not revere them to extent that they become separate from my life. I shouldn't willfully harm them, but stuff happens. I would rather hold my books near and deal with the accidents that may occur, than feel the need to treat them so gingerly that I can only use them in pristine conditions. Those that are expensive and/or in fragile condition need special care--I won't eat or drink near them, nor take them to a beach. And I will certainly be careful around books that are not my own.

I like to buy books so I can treat them as my own. I underline many books for future reference, and some books will be around when accidents happen. But those marks will shown their importance in my life and in my thoughts. In some ways, they are badges of honor.




Friday, April 26, 2013

Invisible, Intangible


היום אחד ושלשים יום שהם ארבעה שבועות ושלשה ימים בעמר
Today is thirty-one days, which is four weeks and three days of the omer
תפארת שבהוד
A day of compassion in a week of humility

When words fail me, I turn to others. Ruth Brin is one of my go-to Jewish poets. I've used her poems in prayer services and as a way to transition from meditation. Here is one of my favorites:

Invisible, Intangible 
All the invisible things fill our days,
Music and love and laughter;
All the intangible things affect us,
Words and anger and prejudice 
You are invisible and intangible,
A God of moods and relationships.
Within us, you are the spirit of unity,
Beyond us, You are the guide to greatness. 
We pray to You with an invisible, intangible prayer.
You answer with a flaming sunset
And the touch of a baby's cheek.

Shabbat Shalom


Thursday, April 25, 2013

Moonlight and Darkness -- either can lead to freedom



היום שלשים יום שהם ארבעה שבועות ושני ימים בעמר

Today is thirty days, which is four weeks and two days of the omer
גבורה שבהוד
A day of strength in a week of humility

This week's Torah parasha, Emor, is one of those that lists the biblical holidays. While studying it  with the bright full moon of Pesach Sheni shining, I was reminded that the moonlight must have been comforting for the Israelites as they left Egypt, guiding them through the dark of the night.

Last night in my class on resistance during the Shoah, the Holocaust, I showed a short film about the Jewish Partisans who lived in the forests of Eastern Europe and did all they could to sabotage the Nazi war effort. One of the partisans described the need for the cover of darkness. The moon was the enemy--the fog, the snowfall, the dark was your friend.

Different paths to liberation . . .




Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Seder Redux


היום תשעה ועשרים יום שהם ארבעה שבועות ויום אחד בעמר
Today is twenty-nine days, which is four weeks and one day of the omer
חסד שבהוד
A day of loving-kindness in a week of humility

Today is a odd little mark in the Jewish sacred calendar - Pesah Sheni -- Second Chance Passover.  It's very specifically mentioned in the Torah that if you are "are defiled by a corpse or are on a long journey," while the first seder is going on, you celebrate exactly one month later.

I should ask one of my rabbi friends if there are accounts of anyone following this ritual. The only remnant of it I know is a minor change in the morning service (for those who care--no Tachanun). I always love the second-chance nature of this, as I've noted before here and here.

It also cements the importance of tribal memory. The Exodus story is the start of our birth story. No longer a large family--we are a nation. The period from Pesach to Shavuot to Sukkot defines us--Creation to Revelation to Redemption.


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Torah in Rhyme


היום שמונה ועשרים יום שהם ארבעה שבועות בעמר
Today is twenty-eight days, which is four weeks of the omer
מלכות שבנצח
A day of nobility in a week of perseverance



I have long felt that the Torah is one long epic poem. As someone who chants from the scrolls regularly, I am sensitive to the lyrical nature of the writings. So when I read somewhere--possibly from Rabbi Rachel Barenblat's blog, The Velveteen Rabbi, although I can't find the reference right now--that someone had translated the entire Torah into rhyme, I was intrigued, and ordered the book. It came today, and I am glad I followed my instinct.


This is not a book geared for children, although I can already see that there are times it is a bit Dr. Seuss-like. It's all there--the good, the bad, the ugly. Seth Brown has left nothing out. He explains in his introduction:
"So, there's this sacred text. This very large, very old, very sacred text. And I had the dual goals of making it as appealing as possible (for maximum enjoyment) while changing it as little as possible (for maximum sacredness). 
Now, either one of these things alone seems simple enough. To change it as little as possible, you just leave it as is, and read one of the fine standard translations already on the market. . . Or to make it as appealing as possible, you might cut out all the genealogies and legal codes, keep only the most action-packed stories, and make a movie out of it. 
To do both, thought, is a little trickier. If the Torah were a friend of mine (and at this point, we've spent enough time together that it's not too much of a stretch), I'd say, 'Hey Torah, put your best foot forward, but be yourself.' Because when you have a sacred text, it's not really kosher to go cutting out large parts of it just because you don't enjoy ark-building instructions as much as giant floods."

One thing I already like about the book is the summary, in verse as well, that he has for each chapter. I think this will be great to show my b'nei mitzvah students as they prepare to study their parshiot. While I don't expect them to write in rhyme, I think it's a good example of one way to give the context of the text in your own voice.

I won't give my opinion of Brown's treatment of the text and his translation until I have spent more time with the book. Looks like this may be my Shabbat companion for a while :)




Monday, April 22, 2013

Aviva Zornberg - Part 3


היום שבעה ועשרים יום שהם שלשה שבועות וששה ימים בעמר
Today is twenty-seven days, which is three weeks and six days of the omer
יסוד שבנצח
A day of foundation in a week of perseverance

Last night I attended my third Aviva Zornberg event in two days. This one was in Berkeley at the Graduate Theological Seminary. Once again, I have to synthesize it myself before I will attempt to share the full teaching. I'll just give you some bits to "chew" on.

This teaching centered around Yakov, his wife Rachel, and his mother Rifka. The spark was two small pieces of Torah. The vow that Yakov made after his dream of the ladder - Bereshit 28:20-21 "And Jacob vowed a vow, saying: 'If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, so that I come back to my father's house in peace." And one small piece of information that seems to stand alone - Bereshit 35:8 - "And Deborah, Rebekah's nurse died, and she was buried below Beth-el under the oak; and the name of it was called Allon-bacuth."

Rifka, the Torah tells us, loved Yakov and favored him over his brother, Esau. But she has her own identity issues, and those issues are carried out through her relationship with Yakov. Yakov has this special bond with his mother, but that is also complicated. He is not there when she dies, and is only able to mourn her through the death of her nurse, Deborah. She is buried at the place of his dream, at Beth-el. His is not as able to mourn is love, Rachel. She dies in childbirth and, feeling what is happening, wants to call her son "Ben-oni" - child of pain, child of mourning. But Yakov, in denial perhaps, calls his Benjamin - child of strength, child of long-life. Whose strength - whose long life.

There is much more, but I need to process first. I will not be able to reproduce the teaching, but I can find a way to take the learning and make it part of my Torah. And, as is our tradition, I will always give this teaching in the name of the teacher--the amazing Aviva Zornberg. And I will chew on this myself throughout the year. Then she will return to give me more food for thought.


Sunday, April 21, 2013

Aviva Zornberg, Part 2

היום ששה ועשרים יום שהם שלשה שבועות וחמשה ימים בעמר
Today is twenty-six days, which is three weeks and five days of the omer
הוד שבנצח
A day of humility in a week of perseverance

Still processing last night's Avivah Zornberg teaching on the spies--a bit easier than than the morning session because I have notes. There's no way I can give it any justice right now, but here are some bits . . .

There was a tie to the morning session, since there was an element of voice. It was in another Aviva Zornberg session some years ago that I got that Bamidbar/במדבר, in the wilderness - also has within it in the word for speak - debair/דבר. The wilderness is a place where the Israelites must learn to speak a new language--the language of free people, not slaves. The language of people looking forward to a new land, not the language of fear that stops us from moving ahead. And yet, we must be willing to hear both the fear and the freedom. The new generation is the extension of the older one--it's just that they can hear and acknowledge the hard stuff in the old language as well as the love the lives in the new.

I also loved the view that God would not let Moses into the land because God sees Moses wants to say "you see--I told you so--it IS a good land." But Moses doesn't get that he is the exception. He did not experience the same hardships that were put upon the Israelites. He could have a clearer vision than they could--he needed to appreciate the growth of the new generation, not play "I told you so."

And back to a play on the word "Bamidbar." Dr. Zornberg says that Bamidbar, the book of the wilderness, is also the book of "Bewilderments." It is a book of understanding, or, more accurately, misunderstandings of where the Israelites are in their place, in their faith, in their psyche. They need to go on the long route and then, when that is not enough, need to extend to the next generation who can confront both the tov/טוב - the good - and the rah/רע – the bad of what lies in front of us.