Living Bridges

As our peaceful Shabbat ended last weekend, the Jewish community of Pittsburgh was enduring hell on earth. A deranged gunman was bent on murdering as many Jews as he could at the Etz Chaim Synagogue. It’s unfortunately an age old history that my people share.

Yesterday evening my husband and I attended a memorial service for the victims here in Karmi’el. For over 20 years Pittsburgh has been a sister city to our community and the surrounding Misgav Regional Council under the Partners 2Gether program. In addition to the hundreds of local population, we were privileged to have in attendance, over 30 members of Beth Shalom and Etz Chaim Synagogues from Pittsburgh. Theirs was a pre-planned visit, the beginning of a weeklong tour of Israel. We were able to mourn and pray together side by side. Several of our own Olim were originally from Pittsburgh, making it all the more poignant.

The communities of Misgav and Karmi’el have connected through a close partnership and deep bonds have been forged over decades with the Jewish people of Pittsburgh. It is now a family relationship. Through the years, Pittsburgh has helped our Northern Israel communities, with donations to our local synagogues and in times of our crisis- when we were under a barrage of missiles launched from Lebanon in 2006- they provided much needed prayers and support.

Rabbi Amy Levin of Misgav who served as interim rabbi in Pittsburgh before moving back to her home in Israel in 2016, led the Kaddish. The El Malei Rachamim (G-d of Mercy) prayer was recited by Rabbi Gil Nativ, rabbi emeritus of the Kehillat HaKerem Conservative Synagogue in Karmi’el. Our mayor, Adi Eldar gave a moving speech emphasizing the need for Jewish unity. As his last act as sitting mayor, commissioned a memorial statue to be erected in Karmi’el.

As the eleven memorial candles were lit by members of Beth Shalom and Etz Chaim, a choir softly sang. Everyone was thinking of friends and family, sharing pictures. The couple sitting next to us showed us pictures of Daniel Stein (of blessed memory) dancing at their daughter’s wedding just three months prior. “Squirrel Hill was such a safe neighborhood. Everyone knew their neighbor. We left our doors unlocked. We walked the streets at night without fear. Anyone was welcome in our shul….”

We had a live stream video link with two members of the Etz Chaim community thanking us for their support. Rabbi Seth Adelson was officiating funerals, but is expected to join the Pennsylvania group later today in Israel. A video montage put together by our community – schoolchildren, soldiers, workers, family, government officials- was played for us. It will be taken back to Pittsburgh.

After the service, the busload of our “extended family” was taken to Kehillat HaKerem/Spitzer Center where the Conservative Congregation hosted a dinner in their honor. It was bittersweet as president of the Beth Shalom Congregation, Deborah Firestone, recounted the day’s events- “We were in shul saying our morning prayers when we heard the sirens. Our security officer, a retired FBI agent called for us to go into lockdown. Etz Chaim down the street was under attack. We usually don’t use our phones on Shabbat, but all at once everyones’ phones started buzzing, and we knew immediately something aweful was happening. We stationed guards at all our doors (they are glass) and tried to pray. Three separate congregations were housed at Tree of Life on separate floors. By 11:30, we received the all clear.”

Both Don Jacobson and Julie Landau of Kehillat HaKerem gave updates of all events at the Conservative Synagogue and a pledge of continued mutual support. “We reach out to you. If there is anything we can do- help you enhance your security, fight anti-Semitism, anything at all… let’s start a conversation of what we can further do together.”

Emails or notes of sympathy, support or encouragement can be sent directly to jewishpgh.org

Making the Connection

IMG_0862The United States today is facing a time of the erasure of its history; “cultural misappropriation” and confusion; fractioned families; identity confusion. Colleges and universities have been taken over by waves of anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism, and Boycott, Divest and Sanction programs against Israel. There has been an ongoing bias in the UN and in the media against Israel.  Also, there has been a growing shift towards secularism and away from any and all religion. How then to connect the Jewish young adult to his/her heritage? How does one foster a connection to Judaism, to the land of Israel, to awaken a dormant spirituality, to create a sense of heritage, belonging, and identity?

Aaron Botzer, who immigrated to Israel in the late 1970s has done exactly that. From humble beginnings in the scenic mountain town of ancient Tsfat in the Upper Galilee, Aaron has cobbled together an amazing program for Jewish young adults. Livnot U’Lehibanot, Build and Be Built, is a program like no other in Israel. It is a holistic, physically and spiritually challenging Jewish experience that connects the participants to their heritage and community in an open environment. Combining hiking through the beautiful countryside while learning about the history, the land, the ecological balance, and the flora and fauna is only one experience to feed the soul. Through nature, hands-on experiences, seminars, connection to the local community, field trips, and unique cultural opportunities, the soul is elevated and can make connections not otherwise drawn.

Situated in the mystical city of old Tsfat, which is literally built atop layers and layers of history provides another advantage. Not only are the youth able to enjoy the artsy and spiritual vibes of this unique place, but the Livnot Center itself, is built on a most amazing archaeological site, the Kahal. Located on a 700 square meter site, in the heart of Tsfat’s ancient, Jewish quarter, are underground stone passageways and tunnels leading to rooms, structures, ritual bathing pools (mikvaot), synagogues, and homes from the 16th century, Tsfat’s Golden Age. The participants in this program spend time actually working on the ongoing excavations and renovations of the site. It provides a unique hands-on opportunity to connect with the past as well as to enjoy all that it offers in the present. There is a large communal hall that has been unearthed and restored. It contains wood-burning ovens from the 1500s, where today, pizza is made and challah is baked. The carved-out stone seating area along the walls of this spacious stone room is lined with richly colored Middle Eastern pillows and cushions – a perfect place for seminars, musical concerts and just hanging out.

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Livnot U’Lehibanot is not only concerned with the past, but community service programs and opportunities to volunteer within the local communities provide a link to present-day Israel. There are seminars and group discussions led by leading experts in different fields. Also, there are interactive workshops, in art and music, challah making, cooking, folk dance, ecology and sustainability, and spirituality. Fantastically fun and spirit-filled Shabbat celebrations are another highlight of the program. There are classes in leadership training as well, as the future leaders of society make up the different groups.

This life-changing program is not affiliated with any particular denomination of Judaism, which is very unique here in Israel. The philosophy behind this is that all denominations have the ability to influence one another for the good of all. There is no pressure on the youth to go one way or another, just to enjoy and grow from the experience. There are many different paths of Jewish spirituality that vary from individual to individual. It is quite open-minded in its holistic approach, which helps bridge many gaps. Ultimately, to form a bond with the Almighty, with Judaism, and with the land of Israel is the ultimate goal. Here, the young adult will meet many different people from all over the world – not just the States, but Europe, South Africa, Canada, Australia and South America. Trained mentors oversee the activities in a safe and fun environment.

The Livnot programs consist of short term 1 week, 2 weeks, and 6 weeks intensives. Each group consists of no more than 24 youth. The intensives are highly subsidized by generous patrons, making it very affordable indeed (a full week including room and board is only $195/ a six week course runs $500). It is perfect for the person who has made a Birthright trip and wants something more – to take that adventure to a higher level.  There are winter programs, running from December through February; summer programs from May through August; and special holiday programs. Perfect for the university student as well as the post graduate, who is looking for a different kind of spiritual experience. To date, over 1000 alumni of Livnot have completed the program and have gone on to become active young professionals and lay leaders in their own communities back home.

“In retrospect, there has probably been no single life experience                     that has had such a profound effect on my life. I was able to discover what a gold mine was out there for Jewish souls. Shabbat evening, with its candles and sensual setting, was a profound experience of peace and belonging, connection and fulfillment. My life has been forever transformed.”   Avi R., Program T25

” I am reminded of how one week in Tsfat set me on the path of personal legacy. Livnot has been the catalyst of my Jewish journey…my program showed me that being Jewish isn’t about scrambling to save people from being washed out by modern society, but rather that we are privileged to be part of something bigger than ourselves. We are connected to a thriving, growing family and culture that is infused with thousands of years of spirituality and wisdom.”  Abigail C., Program 256

“Life altering is an understatement!”   David B., Program 126

For more information, as a potential participant, or to donate – contact www.livnot.org

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Recipes & Ideas for the Fall Feasts

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It’s a few days after the observance of Rosh HaShannah, the Jewish New Year – and I’m finally beginning to catch my breath. John & I had just returned from two weeks in Europe, and I was having five extra guests plus my son (on army leave) over for dinner. I wanted a really pretty table and menu with a minimum amount of hardship. Plus, we would be celebrating a traditional New Year Seder here in Israel.

For the centerpiece, I used my Rosh HaShannah seder plate which I got at Shalom House in Tarzana, California. Underneath I laid (silk) fall leaves with grapes and chestnuts (I picked off the ground in Geneva & will cook later) surrounding the plate. I decided to use my autumn colors tablecloth so I didn’t have to iron my good white damask one. Gold trimmed placemats, my autumn (meat dishes) china, and we were almost good to go. Hollowing out a few tiny acorn squash and inserting a tea light in each one was inexpensive, easy, and really lovely.  I put a hostess sized Tamar Gourmet Preserves or Chutney at each of the guests’ plates.

Now for the traditional foods and their meanings: the Seder Plate contains nine symbolic items, each associated with a blessing. The first is a pomegranate. I discussed the symbolism of the pomegranate in my last blog post. May the 613 arils remind us of the commandments in the Torah, so we  can have a holy year. Scallions or leeks are used to remind us of the whips of taskmasters and oppressors. May we never come under the rule of oppressive dictators and Pharaohs again. Amen! A gourd: may our good deeds in the coming year be as numerous as seeds of the pumpkin. The head of a fish (I use a paper one) so that we may always be the head and not the tail in the year ahead. A beet or carrot. Some of the words in Hebrew form the meanings or word play for the symbolism. They just don’t translate into English well. Also, each community has their own tradition – go with me on these. The beet (or carrot). May G-d in His mercy keep our enemies far away from us. A double Amen as we live in a very uncertain world these days. Black eyed peas: a few traditions on this food. One is that our enemies will be turned back; another is that the eyes of G-d, the angels and holy ones watch over us to guard us and guide us throughout the year. Dates. I discussed the significance of the date palm (tamar) last post, but may we bend under troubles and not break, as other less supple trees during storms.

I really love these sticky, sweet fruits for so many reasons. As an object lesson, think on the date palm. They bend: they give when pressure is applied. When an intense wind storm hits, they drop their fruits. I like to think of myself as being especially fruitful during a hard situation. Yes, sometimes I lash out and can be pretty miserable; but like the date palm, that’s when I want to be spreading the most help, the most cheer, the most optimism to others. Going with the flow, accepting what I have no control over, and being as positive as possible.

The next food, perhaps the most famous combo associated with Rosh HaShannah is apples and honey. May we have a sweet year. A year of health!!! A year of joy!!! A holy year. A year of prosperity. A year of peace!!! And lastly, the wine and the challah. From Rosh HaShannah through Simchat Torah we use a round bread, not the traditional braided one. The roundness is to remind us of many things – the cycle of the year and the cycle of life. The fact that G-d has no beginning or end. He was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Also, the rounded loaf looks like a crown. During this season we crown Him King of our Lives.

I love the new round challah cover I just bought for the holidays in Budapest last week. It was made by a 93 year old woman who somehow survived during the Holocaust and now works at the Dohany St. Synagogue. She’s a lively, chatty old soul – but has had to slow down over the years due to her failing eyesight. She now uses a machine instead of sewing by hand, but either way, this is a beautiful piece I’ll treasure always. It says in Hebrew “Sabbath Peace and Holiday Happiness.”

During, the holidays, I try to keep to a healthy diet, using as many of the fall fruits and veggies – Israel’s Seven Species, and incorporating as many of the symbolic foods as possible. Because there is so much cooking this time of year, I also try to make things as simple as possible. Hope you can try a few of these as well during your fall feasts.

BLACK-EYED PEA SALAD, ITALIAN STYLE                      parve, serves 8

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Ingredients:

  • 2 cups uncooked black-eyed peas or 1 large package frozen peas
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 orange bell pepper
  • 1 yellow bell pepper
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 2 large stalk celery (or 6 tiny Israeli stalks)
  • 6 large scallions (green onions)
  • 1 small bunch flat, Italian parsley, minced
  • salt & pepper to taste
  •  Italian dressing (I make my own using 4 Tbsp red wine vinegar; 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil; 1/4; 4 cloves smashed garlic; 1 tsp oregano; 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper; 1 tsp sea salt)

Soak the dried peas overnight, covering with boiling water. Drain, rinse, then cook in salted boiling water 15 minutes. Let simmer for 1-2 hours or until softened. Drain & rinse well. Drain again.                                        You can save yourself all the extra trouble by using defrosted frozen or drained & rinsed canned black eyed peas, if available.  Place peas in a large bowl. Cut up veggies into a small dice. Add to bowl. Pour the Italian dressing over top. Before serving, mix in the minced parsley leaves. Garnish with parsley leaf and the top of a pepper. Refrigerates and keeps well for leftovers. Can be served as a hearty salad lunch or as a side with either meat or dairy. Protein packed!!!

HARVEST QUINOA SALAD                                         parve   serves 6-8

I love quinoa. It’s gluten free and great for special needs diets; so versatile and easy to prepare!

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Ingredients:

  • 2 cups cooked, fluffed quinoa (cook according to package directions)
  • 1/3 cup dried sweet pitted cherries
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions (scallions)
  • 1’4 cup sliced almond pieces
  • 1/2 cup roasted butternut squash or pumpkin cubes
  • 1/2 cup dressing (if in US, Brianna’s Blush Wine Vinaigrette is amazing!!!!! If not, recipe follows…

Cook the quinoa according to package directions to yield 2 cups. Fluff and set aside to cool in large bowl. Halve and de-seed a butternut squash or small pumpkin. Place on baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, salt & pepper. In  220*C/450 *F oven, roast the gourd for about 15-20 minutes until tender. Let cool. Add dried fruits, sliced scallions and almonds to quinoa. Mix gently to incorporate. Cube the flesh of the squash/pumpkin into small bite sized chunks and add to quinoa bowl. Mix gently. Pour dressing over top, and mix in. Can be served room temp or refrigerated. This makes tasty leftovers – if there are any!!!

Dressing: Blend well-

  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/3 cup blush or rose wine
  • 2 Tbsp red onion juice (I use my garlic squeezer to juice my onion) and remaining pulp
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp honey or sugar
  • 1 tsp ginger juice (squeeze fresh) – optional
  • 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg -optional

 

              ROASTED FIGS ON BABY GREENS                    parve      serves 6

Another easy one, that is raving delicious! I cook the figs with all the other items I’m roasting that day, running the oven only once….

On a foil-lined cookie sheet, halve washed figs. Drizzle with small amount of olive oil, salt & pepper. You can also add a tiny bit of balsamic vinegar, but only if it’s sweet (3-5 coins on packaging). Roast at 220*C/450*F oven for 10 minutes.  In large bowl, put pre-washed mesclun or baby green salad mix. Lay the roasted figs on top SAVE THE JUICE!!!!!! Add a few thinly sliced purple onions to the top, and sprinkle on some candied pecans.

Dressing: pour the reserved fig juice into a small bowl. Add a bit of olive oil, salt & pepper. Squeeze in 2 Tbsp onion juice (I use my garlic press) and pulp. Blend well & pour over salad just prior to serving.

SHOESTRING VEGGIES SALAD

This is also quick and easy. It’s very colorful and oh so good for you. Can be served at any meal. The veggies can be bought pre-prepared and mixed or you can run the fresh veggies through a food processor. I use my mandoline slicer –

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  • 3 medium red beets, peeled, raw, and julienned
  • 2 large carrots, peeled, raw, julienned
  • 1 large kohlrabi or jicama, peeled, raw, juilienned
  • 1/3 cup Brianna’s Blush Wine Salad Dressing if in the US. If not see recipe for the dressing above in the Quinoa Salad.

Enjoy, my friends. I hope your Fall Feasts are sweet – filled with family, friends, good food & good music. And in this holy season of introspection before Yom Kippur, the Day of Atoning:

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