Monday, February 26, 2007

My Pesach Problem

A long time ago, during a kinder and gentler era, I began to eat as a vegetarian. I was not trying to make a radical environmental statement, I just wished to eat in a more healthy way and consume a little lower on the food chain. Over the years and decades my body adapted to my new diet and for most of the year my family and I consume no meat,…except for Pesach.

There are those that will argue that you are required to eat meat on Shabbas, because the Gemara states that meat brings joy to the heart. I find that a well-prepared vegetarian meal can cause plenty of joy, especially when followed by a really rich dairy dessert (something you can’t have if you just ate the fleishig meal) ((because let’s be honest here, dairy substitutes taste like cardboard and have an unpleasant chalky consistency)).

Yes, there is a whole range of vegetables, grains, and spices that can be eaten once you get beyond the Ashkenaz idea, and my apologies to you if you are a big cholent fan, that the only vegetables to cook with are, carrots, potatoes, and cabbage, and the way to prepare them is to boil them for six or more hours until they all have the same flavor and texture.

Plenty of variety to choose from…except for Pesach. Because if you follow Ashkenaz minhag then about the only thing that you actually can eat on Pesach is meat. Sephard minhag permits rice and beans, and the Gemara actually states in accordance with this. But somewhere in time the Ashkenaz rabbis decided that during Pesach someone might get so crazed for dinner rolls that they would take some beans, but them through a grain mill, knead a dough of the resulting bean flour, leaven it, bake it, and eat some bean bread during Pesach. Believe me when I tell you, someone who would go to all that trouble is just going to head down to the gentile bakery and buy some warm, fluffy, wheat bread, fresh from the oven.

Since beans, rice, corn, peanuts, mustard??, and their derivatives are all forbidden, that leaves us with meat, and every Pesach we place an on-line order for several freezer chests full of meat, and since we live way out in the country the air freight costs are so high that it would probably be cheaper to buy an entire cow from the local farmers and shecht it myself.

After eating only vegetables for the previous 50 or so weeks introducing meat as the main dietary staple necessitates some digestive adjustment. And every year I feel each and every inch of the entire 26 feet of my intestines being readjusted...slowly.

So if any nice Sephardic family out there would like to adopt us before Pesach…

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


I couldn't take the anticipation anymore, I just couldn't wait, the pressure was too much, I couldn't wait until after Purim.

Yes, it's true....I have started cleaning for Pesach.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

From the Nahe to the Rio Grande

A while back Mrs. Jude put up a post on her own blog about being a Jewish pioneer, being Jewish way out in the country, and some of the joys and hardships involved. Last week The Forward had an article The Joys of Cedar Rapids by Mitchell Levin. Below is an edited version.

An old Jewish folk tale tells of two travelers who meet on the road while fleeing Tsarist Russia. The first traveler asks, “Where are you going?” The second traveler responds, “To America. And where are you going?” “I am going to Madagascar,” replies the first traveler. “But Madagascar is so far away,” exclaims the second traveler. “Far away?” says the first traveler, as he resumes his journey. “Far away from where?”
I never tire of telling this tale, because for more than four decades, Madagascar has been my home. Actually, home is in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. But as far as most of my brethren are concerned, I may as well be from Madagascar. You see, I come from a place all but beyond the comprehension of most American Jews.
When I went to enroll my son in the Montessori school in Kerrville, Texas — Jewish population: zero — the teacher had a hard time controlling her excitement. She had studied in New York. She had met Jews there. Having Michael in her school would be “a cultural experience” for the other students. “Surely,” she asked in that questioning yet demanding tone so common to school teachers, “you will come and show the youngsters how you celebrate each of your holidays. It will be so good for them to hear Hebrew songs.”
Out here in small-town America, non-Jews assume that we know everything there is to know about Judaism and that whatever we say is “The Jewish Answer.” They cling to this notion, no matter how many times we tell them that if you ask two Jews the same question you will get at least three answers.
Observing the dietary laws, even in a limited fashion, is a challenge. Yet it is almost more imperative here than elsewhere, because it is a way of maintaining identity. If you run out of something, you can’t just run to the local store and pick it up. This is not Chicago, where the Jewel grocery stores sell fresh kosher meat, or Washington, where the Giant stocks items aimed at thousands of Jewish customers. This is Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
To be fair, while we still need to plan ahead, things are not as challenging as they used to be. Thanks to mass marketing, even in places with only a few hundred Jewish families you would be surprised at how many kosher products are available. And say what you will about Wal-Mart, but most of the cookies and crackers bearing their “house brand” are kosher. They even sell kosher bread at the discounter’s famed low prices.
When I came back to Cedar Rapids from my sister’s funeral, everybody in town — everybody Jewish, that is — knew that I would need a minyan for six out of the next seven days. This was no small challenge in a town with maybe 150 Jewish families and only one temple. On top of that, it was January, a time of ice and snow in Iowa.
Yet without fail, each and every night our little living room filled with people — men, women, traditional, Reform, it didn’t matter. One night the rabbi brought the confirmation class. And on more than one evening Jews drove up from Iowa City — a 60-mile round trip — just to make sure we hit the magic number.
Sure, it would have been so much easier in a big city. But there is a certain warmth and comfort that comes from community, that sense that out here in Madagascar we set aside what in a large city would be insurmountable differences in order to meet the human needs of our brethren.
When people ask, “How can you be Jewish in a small town?,” I remind them that Rashi lived in Troyes, a French town with a minuscule Jewish population. We may not be Rashis, but he certainly is an inspiration and a role model for what small-town Jewry can accomplish.

When people ask me now I can live out in the country, I point out that the communities such as Postville and Monsey started out with just a few individuals and grew from there. It just takes one person to start a community and G-d willing more will arrive. An example from my own family history.
Between 1860 and 1900 many of the Jewish families in the Nahe valley of Germany emigrated to England and America. Some of these were already related to my own immediate family, and would intermarry again after settling in America. One family, the Senders would settle first in Rockport, Missouri and then after traveling back to New York to marry a member of my own family would move to Trinidad, Colorado.

Temple Aaron, Trinidad, Colorado

There they would help build Temple Aaron, the oldest synagogue still in use in Colorado, and there they would be joined by cousins and others that had left the Nahe valley, and then as the community grew other individuals and families joined them. See, if you build it they will come.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Story Behind this Picture

One of the Little Rebbetzin’s favorite stories is the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit. I read these to her, in character, similar to the B.B.C.’s radio productions. She enjoys acting out the story. After accessorizing we usually have the following conversation.

L.R.: Do you know who I am?

Me: (the Little Rebbetzin’s actual name)??

L.R.: No! I’m Pippin. You be everybody else.

Me: I don’t want to be...everybody.

L.R.: (sulkily) O.K., then you be all the orcs.

Me: O.K.

This is followed by about 30 minutes of my being stabbed, slashed, and poked by the L.R.’s sword.

Recently she has been listening to a series of story tapes about the Tzaddikim. These are really well done. There is also a certain similarity in plot line.

Lord of the Rings is a story about a small group of good individuals who, through great faith and perseverance, manage to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles and vanquish the forces of evil that oppose them.

Tales of the Tzaddikim are stories about a small group of righteous Jews who, through great faith in Hashem, manage to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles and vanquish the gentiles that oppose them.

Naturally they can be combined.

L.R.: Daddy can I put on your hat?

Me: Yes you may.

Some time later. See photo.

L.R.: Guess who I am!

Me: Legolas???

L.R.: No! I’m the good Rebbe from the Shire. You be the evil christian orcs.


Monday, February 12, 2007

Just One Word

The next item from R. Breiter’s list is to study a portion of the Shulchan Aruch every day. This is actually a practice that I had kept previously but had discontinued after a few repetitions. Picking it up again I was surprised how much easier it was to understand some of the laws and their explanations and how much more interested I was in them. It could be that I am working with a greater knowledge base now. Alternatively, my level of observance is so much greater than it was, and now I am more familiar with some of the halachic intricacies and perhaps don’t have the mental opposition to learning and doing them that I may have had previously. The result is that I am enjoying my daily portions instead of just ticking off the required number of pages.

Item #12 on the list is Hitbodedut. R. Breiter says keep at least an hour a day. I try to have hitbodedut every day, although it’s something I find easy to slack on, because the whole confessional part is just very uncomfortable, because….well….I always have a lot, you know… confess, and who wants to go on every day about how big a screw-up they are. Thanking Hashem, making requests for my needs, that’s easy enough, but I really get waylaid by the viduy. Also, I don’t like to talk that much, given the opportunity I could go for days without engaging anyone in conversation, so it’s tough keeping up a one-sided conversation for an hour straight, picture a really, really terrible blind date. Fortunately Rabbenu has foreseen that there are people like me.

A Day in the Life of a Breslover Chassid, pg. 49:
Even if you can’t open your mouth at all, just the fact that you stand there and put your hope in G-d, lifting your eyes upwards and forcing yourself to speak, even if you only say a single word the whole hour – all this endures forever.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Stand and Deliver

My previous post got me thinking about assimilation, and people drifting away from the way of Torah, and what could be done. A little inspiration was directed my way.
Expounding on the verse: Do not shame (her), although your mother be old..

From the Schottenstein edition, Talmud Yerushalmi, Berachos, 94A:

….T’ Zeira said: If your nation has become old, i.e. enfeebled in the performance of mitzvos, stand up and repair (the breach)! If they are lackadaisical regarding a certain mitzvah, invigorate them, just as Elkanah did…

and from 94B:

it is time to act for Hashem; they have nullified your law……R’Shimon Ben Yochai says: If you see that the people’s hands have despaired of clinging to the Torah, - stand and strengthen your hold on it exceedingly, and you will receive the reward of all of them.

Enough said.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Who by Fire?

About a month ago A Simple Jew put up a post entitled conflicting emotions which dealt with his experiences and emotions while attending the funeral of a member of his family. In the post and the comments that followed there was discussion regarding cremation. This is a touchy subject with me. 60 years ago the majority of my family was lost to the flames. My grandparents and my parents wished to be and were cremated. This was their decision. Whether these two things are related, I cannot say for certain, but based upon the way I was raised I suspect that the general feeling was that G-d exists but maybe He was not so much Jewish. This is my opinion on the subject.
If you detect a note of hostility in some of my comments let me first say:
a) I do not deal well with people getting in my face about anything. Whether for my own good or not.
b) I get a little testy if anyone messes with my mispacha.

All things decay. Bones because of their composition can take thousands of years or more to decay. The heavier and denser the bone, the longer it will last. If you want to call the densest bone in the body the “luz” bone, that’s fine with me.

The heavier bones survive cremation and then are run through a crushing machine and the resulting fragments given to the family. If you believe that the “luz” bone is impervious to decay, then it is obviously one of the bones that survives cremation.

The idea that Hashem, Who is all powerful, is incapable of resurrecting a person unless there is a “luz” bone, is an absurd limitation upon His power.

I can not conceive that G-d, who sustains the wicked so that they have the opportunity to repent, would condemn the good to nonresurrection because they exercised the free will they were given and made a, perhaps misguided, decision as to whether their remains should be buried intact or after being reduced to ashes.

In the current Aish HaTorah newsletter there was an article about the first crematorium to be opened in Israel. The following is an excerpt from that article.

Burning, in Judaism, is a declaration of utter abandon and nullification. Jews burn leaven and bread before Passover, when the Torah insists no vestige of such material may be in their possession. The proper means of disposing of an idol is to pulverize or burn it.
Needless to say, God is capable of bringing even ashes to life again. But actually choosing to have one's body incinerated is an act that, so intended or not, expresses denial of the fact that the body is still valuable, that it retains worth, indeed potential life.

Perhaps if someone had taken the time to explain things to my relatives, and myself, in these terms, instead of the shrieking and hand flapping from the shtetl crowd, which drove them to the cold rationalism of the assimilated, different decisions would have been made.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Chag Sameach und Gut Shabbos

The Little Rebbetzin says: "I love Tuberschplat!"

Me Too!!!!

Thursday, February 01, 2007

A Collection of Fruits and Nuts

Preparing for Tu B'Shevat