Archive for the 'Jews' Category

20
Dec
11

Rekindling the Soul


Tonight Jews around the world will celebrate the first of the eight days of Chanukah. Does the celebration solely commemorate a miraculous military victory? Does the festival of lights merely reflect a historical re-enactment of the providential discovery of a tiny jug of consecrated oil which relit the Temple candelabra, and whose miraculous radiant flame lasted eight days instead of one?

After years of serving as a temple to some Greek idol, the Holy Temple’s service was reinstated in 167 BCE; why then, do we concentrate on the miracle of the Menorah instead of the renewal of proper worship to Hashem? What is so special about the Menorah?  As we read in Mishley – Proverbs (20:27): Ner Hashem nishmat adamHashem’s candle is the human soul; the candle is a representational symbol of that soul as  Hakadosh Baruch Hu shines His divine light upon us through the Menorah. The essence of that divine light is Torah!

"Chanuka gelt" - Chanuka chocolate "money"

It is customary, even praiseworthy, to use pure olive oil when lighting the Menorah. Why? Ve’atah tetzaveh et Bney Yisrael: Vayikchu elecha shemen zait zach… And you will command the Children of Israel thus: Take to yourself pure olive oil… (Shmot 27:20)”  ChaZa”L  likened learning Torah to olive oil;  they taught that living within those teachings makes us pure. Just as pure olive oil enhances the flavor of the food it is combined with, so too does the pure learning and living within the Torah’s teaching enhance our lives, enabling each and every one of us to reach his/her true potential.

In Ohev Yisrael, the Apter Rebbe – Avraham Yehoshu’a Heschel of Opatow, writes that the reason the word “elecha – to yourself”, is used instead of just saying “vayikchu shemen zait zach… – take pure olive oil…” is in order to stress that one must do more than just just follow a command. Hakadosh Baruch Hu wants us to go beyond simple obedience, He wants us to absorb His word until it totally melds into and becomes one with our being, therefore the individual is told “take to yourself,” even though vayikchu is plural!

The Boreh Olam, The Creator, stresses and reminds us, year after year, what is of  greatest intrinsic value to Him. It is the absorption, saturation, and reflection of His message within us. It is the purity and beauty with which we bring ourselves to and act out His guidelines without defiling ourselves amidst the galut of our own history making as we talk, walk and act out the roadways of our individual and collective lives. May this Chanukah rekindle in each of us His the brigh lights of Torah and re-establish our own internal worthiness and sense of purpose. May our hearts and spirits become again that pure consecrated olive oil empowered to light and return us to our former greatness meriting the rebuilding of His Holy Temple in Yerushalayim, bimherah biyamenu. Amen!!!

A freilachen Chanukah, Chag Chanukah same’ach, a happy Chanukah!

SYR & CS

07
Oct
11

Who will Live, Who will Die


On October 8, 2008, I posted the following on my political blog:

Fasting and praying at the Kotel on Yom Kippur. Photo from: http://www.independent.co.uk/

Who Will Live, Who Will Die

This evening starts the holiest, most solemn day in the Jewish calendar – Yom Kippur. Ten days earlier, the first of the two days of Rosh Hashana – the Hebrew New Year – marked the day, when according to the Jewish tradition everyone’s fate for the coming year is inscribed in the Heavenly ledgers. Yom Kippur is the day when whatever was written stays as is or is changed, but in either case fate becomes sealed.

In one of the most awe inspiring prayers of the day, Jews intone theses words: …mi ychie umi yamut (who will live and who will die)… mi bamayim umi ba’esh (who by water and who by fire… who will become impoverished and who will be rich… Many take these words literally and, as you can imagine, after hours of praying the tears often flow freely as these sentences are reached. But there is also an alternate interpretation. Based on what? At the end of this specific prayer, everyone announces at the top of their voice: uTshuvah, uTfilah, uTzdakah ma’avirin et ro’a hagzerah! (And Repentance, and Prayer, and Charity remove the negative Judgment!). The question then becomes, how is it possible that the Infinite, Almighty God allows Himself to be swayed by a mere mortal? If He is the beginning and the end (in other words, time in our human terms does not apply to Him as what we perceive as past, present and future all unfold simultaneously before Him), if He is the All-Knowing and understands that in spite of broken hearts and full sincere repentance, the next morning we find ourselves again doing the same deeds, having the same thoughts, feeling the same lusts and jealousies, how can He possibly allow our temporary repentance to change His mind?

The answer was given by the Sages of the Talmud when they taught that even with the sword at one’s throat, a person should not give up hope. It means that in these Days of Awe we are assigned a specific fate which, as a mark of Cain, shows what may become of us. It means that by truly mending our ways we become worthy of a different fate because we are longer the same person, it means that only our actions, our thoughts and the effort we expend to overcome our negative passions will remove the specific mark.

As we look around the world, between the current economic meltdown and the forces that wish to destroy the West… the horizon looks rather bleak. Evil seems to be ascendant, the western nations are plagued by the cancer within, wittingly or unwittingly, working for their destruction. Western politicians of every political stripe, are guilty of the current situation whether for personal gain, for personal glory or merely because of absolutely naive misguidance. The world, as we know it, is marked for a major conflagration, but we may not despair, we can not relax our stand against those who would destroy us. As we westerners bear the mark, so do our enemies! If we just sit back with folded arms groping our way in the shadows, confused by the darkness surrounding us, the mark will surely become our fate. If we rise above our confusion, if we recover our lost spiritual values and shed the cynicism, the dark shadows will dissipate. That new light will bring hope, hope will translate into resolve, resolve will become strength and raise us from this stupor. We will then, with renewed vigor, as new different people, rise up against the enemy within and without. The mark of Cain will dissipate and a new era of health, prosperity and general wellbeing will replace it. Is the West up to the task or will the mark of Cain become final?

 

G’mar Chatima Tova!

 

CS

28
Sep
11

Some Thoughts for Rosh Hashana


Rosh Hashana starts this evening, and as I look at the news, as I tremble over my personal flaws, shortcomings and misdeeds of the past year I can only hope that my repentance will hold and shield me from repeating the same things, from having the same thoughts again, and that the world will change for the better starting with each one of us…

On September 29th, 2008, I posted the following on my political blog:

The world is embroiled in war, tyrants walk around arrogant and defiant, massacres in almost every continent are mostly ignored by the world community. The UN Human Rights Council, seems to concern itself with anything except the trampling of human rights around the globe. Women’s rights are of little concern to a world that prides itself of its extreme liberalness and unheard of freedoms, while rape is used as a political weapon in the Congo, in Sudan, etc… and women are merely chattel to husbands, fathers, sons and brothers in a major portion of this planet. To say the least, it is obvious that in spite of an enlightened 21st century we have never really evolved from the atrocities of the Barbarian Age even as our weapons and rhetoric are more sophisticated, more intellectual, ostensibly more enlightened in our attitudes

While the situation in Sudan has changed for the better, while the Arab Spring has brought about the downfall of various Arab despots, the aftermath has so far not seen any of the sought after freedoms but merely replaced old dictators with a new set… Yet, the UN Human Rights Council has not found the time to condemn repression, the denial of human rights, or to defend freedom of religion anywhere where it may be ignored in the world…

Frankly, the world – at this moment – with all its freedoms and all its horrors is far from ideal. Political ideologies, masquerading as religion, pose new threats to the free world as they aim to destroy all the hard fought for rights and freedoms of the Western world. Meanwhile the West seems to have lost its soul and wonders around like a drunkard in its search for meaning, coexistence and peace…

Tonight, gentle reader, Jews around the world begin the celebration of Rosh Hashana – the Jewish New Year. No, it is not a time filled with drunken parties and silly noise-making but rather a time when one searches in the most recondite crevices, the most hidden places of one’s existence and asks oneself why, how, when, what? Why did I fail to do all that I set out to do? How could I be so lazy, so complacent and not try harder… or at least just try? When will I rise from this lethargy and do my duty as a human, to my Lord, to my fellow humans, to myself? What will it take for me to wake up, while I still am capable of waking up?

The answers are often shameful, sometimes gut wrenching. Nevertheless they afford every Jew a chance to reach out of his/her comfortable shell and do that which he or she is capable of doing, of reaching one’s potential if the individual truly wants it. But sometimes, even if in our prayers we take firm resolve to make a difference, even when the tears of repentance stream from the deepest recesses of the heart, in a few days we settle back in the comfort of emptiness and inaction. More often than not, the answers are too hard, too strenuous on our pampered selves, for us to truly rise above the comfort of merely being discomforted by the world around us or take any action to change it.

In the Rosh Hashama prayers, there is one I must particularly single out as I pronounce it with heavy trepidation in my heart as the clarion call of the Shofar is sounded:

Attah ZocherYou remember – the deeds done in the Universe and You recall all the creatures fashioned since the earliest times. Before You all hidden things are revealed and the multitude of mysteries since the beginning of Creation, for there is no forgetfulness before Your Throne of Glory and nothing is hidden before Your eyes. You remember everything ever done and not a single creature is hidden from you. Everything is revealed and known before You, Lord our God, Who keeps watch and sees to the very end of all generations, when You bring about a decreed time of remembrance for every spirit and soul to be recalled, for abundant deeds and a multitude of creatures withoutt limit to be remembered….

[...] Regarding countries, it is said on this day which is destined for the sword and which for peace, which for hunger and which for abundance; and creatures are recalled on it to remember them for life or death. Who is not recalled on this day? For the remembrance of everything fashioned comes before You: everyone’s deed and mission, the accomplishments of man’s activity, man’s thoughts and schemes, and the motives behind man’s deeds.

May this coming year, 5769 in the Jewish calendar, bring about that very elusive, very prayed for, long hoped for, universally expected peace. May each one of us walking this earth, know no more strife, no more hunger, no more pain. KTIVAH VECHATIMA TOVAH – MAY [WE ALL] BE INSCRIBED AND SEALED FOR GOODNESS, may abundance and health break rampant, may universal peace bathe this earth and the realization of one’s fondest dreams bring sweetness and the total banishment of sorrow to every one on this lowly plane of existence.

Chicken Marinated with pomegranate molasses, honey and spices, stuffed with brown rice, on a bed of rice. Photo from: Los Angeles Times

The year is now 5772 and hardly anything of substance has changed, tramplers of human rights are afforded what once an honored pulpit at the United Nations, a place where they freely spew their lies, where they proudly show off the perversion of their minds, their utter disregard for any human values and yet are applauded for such. The United Nations, founded on the noble principles of safeguarding human rights and ensuring peace around the world, has degenerated into what Bibi Netanyahu just described as “theater of the absurd,” as it shows itself totally unwilling, totally unable to live up to its mandate.

Hakadosh baruch Hu is warning us, urging us to return to Him and yet in spite of the warnings, in spite of all the evidence in front of our eyes, we refuse to heed the call, as we’ve been seduced by a seemingly liberal world plunging head on into a global tyranny where lies are the new truth, where falsehoods replace true values… May it be His will, that we wake up this coming year and with renewed vigor we embark in an era filled with goodness and wholesome values, an era where evil will be defeated and war will disappear…

May we all be inscribed in the Sefer Hachaim – the Book of Life and may we only know health, prosperity and happiness and at peace within and without.

KTIVA VECHATIMA TOVA!!!!

CS

21
Sep
11

Judaica at Sotheby’s – Valmadonna Trust Library


This past Sunday, I went to Sotheby’s to see the current exhibits. On the first flight up, they were showing Mid 20th Century Furnishings, and a collection spanning the over 4 decades’ career of 20th century American painter Sam Francis. In the Furnishings area, there was a small glass enclosed alcove where a tiny sampling of the more than 11,000 sfarim of the Valmadonna Trust Library was on show.

The entire collection had already been exhibited in 2009, occupying the whole of Sotheby’s 10th floor gallery. Sotheby’s press release, at the time, described it thus:

New York, NY; February 9, 2009 – Sotheby’s announced today that it would display in its entirety, for the first time ever, the Valmadonna Trust Library, the finest private library of Hebrew books and manuscripts in the world. Assembled over the past century, this extensive group of over 11,000 works is monumental in its significance as a primary source on both world history and Jewish life and culture. The collection boasts rarities dating from the 10th century to the early 20th century from Italy, Holland, England, Greece, Eastern Europe, the Ottoman Empire, North Africa, India, and China, documenting the spread of the Hebrew press and the dissemination of Jewish culture around the globe. Among the treasures in the collection are: the only surviving manuscript written in England before the expulsion of the Jews in 1290; arguably the finest copy of the Babylonian Talmud produced between 1519 and 1523 by famed printer Daniel Bomberg, which was previously in the collection of Westminster Abbey; as well as the preeminent group of Hebrew books in existence from the dawn of printing (15th century). The entire collection will be exhibited in Sotheby’s 10th floor galleries from February 9-19, 2009, with the exception of February 14th.

A small sampling of this rare sfarim collection

This superb collection is comprised of books and manuscripts including Bibles and Talmuds, kabbalistic texts, siddurim, and Passover haggadot. Among the Library’s other holdings are Hebrew grammatical and legal texts; medical, philosophical and literary treatises; as well as periodicals, broadsheets, and wall calendars—particularly rare items on account of their ephemeral nature.

Printed by Daniel Bomberg, Maseches Me'ilah, around 1519-1523

Many medieval texts are here, dating from as early as the 10th century and including the first printed sfarim from the late 15th century. Among the collection’s jewels is a ktav yad of the earliest known Ashkenazic script, a Franco-German Chumash, dating from the 10th or 11th century. The crown jewel, however, is the Codex Valmadonna I. This is the only dated Hebrew text in existence from medieval England, before King Edward I’s 1290 edict expelling the Jews. The year following this manuscript’s creation, in 1190, mobs in York attacked the Jewish community living there, massacring the population, and looting their property.

Other opulent manuscripts in the collection include a Yemenite Chumash from the early 15th century, replete with characteristic Oriental illuminations. Of the original 29,000  titles – incunables [books printed on Gutenberg's original presses] – only 140 were done in lashon kodesh. This collections has almost half of them!

A superb collection, Sotheby’s is hoping to sell as one, perfect for an institution of Jewish learning!

CS

14
Apr
11

Passover’s Relevance Today


In the Hebrew calendar year of 2448 (currently, the year is 5771) the Hebrew slaves in Egypt, exited that land under Moses’ leadership. Passover – the Festival of Freedom – has ever since been one of the highlights of the Jewish calendar. With its lengthy preparations, its rituals and the joy expressed at being free, it is unlike any other Jewish Holy Day. Jewish slavery in Egypt ended three thousand three hundred and twenty three years ago, but Jewish history is unfortunately rich in attempt after attempt by various powerful empires (who have since disappeared!) to convert or enslave those accursed, stiff necked, Jews.

In spite of every such try – right through modern times – the stubborn Jew refuses to go away, refuses to convert, refuses to die. Historians are perplexed! The Jew is a total anomaly! Forces far superior have tried their best to destroy him, in vain, only to became themselves little more than the equivalent of a few chapters in learned history tomes. Arnold Toynbee, the late British historian, in his Study of History refers to the Jew as “the fossil of history,” but he is hopelessly wrong… A fossil has been dead for thousands of years while the Jews are and will still be here long after Professor Toynbee will be forgotten, long after the learned Professor ceases to be even a footnote in some book of historical curiosities.

The message of Passover, the longing for freedom, the two thousand years of exile, the praying and crying to return home have paid off. In 1948 (63 years ago!), the State of Israel was officially established by the United Nations. Interestingly enough, Abraham (whom Jews and Arabs descend from) was born in the Hebrew year of… 1948! Was this just a mere coincidence?!?!?

The Jew’s dream of living – once again – in an independent Jewish country may have come to fruition, but the danger to Jewish survival is far from over. The same enemy that threatens to change the face and lifestyle of the West first wants to destroy the Jew, as an appetizer to his final goal of total conquest of the planet. Europe – especially – and the US, have long mislaid their will to fight for their Western values. Europe, the enlightened, has lost its spirituality and with it any reason to defend its lifestyle which has morphed into a search for instant gratification rather than for something of lasting value. Europe, at one time produced great civilizations and empires, it produced immortal works of art, literature and music. But it lost its inner qualities along the way and instead replaced them with emptiness. Its current philosophers, authors, composers do not compare with the masters of yore and – unlike the classics – are unlikely to be remembered within a few centuries from now.

America the mighty, where a strong work ethic and spirituality once propelled it to the undisputed leadership of the free world,  the America that brought to fruition the dreams and longings of everyone thirsting for freedom and a better chance for a happy life, that America, like Europe,  is also badly afflicted with horrible diseases. As a result of a mislabeled, misnamed, liberalism and its associated maladies (all aggravated by an acute case self hating anti-Americanism), that America suddenly moves around like a confused giant, faltering in its way, unfocused in the present, unsure of its future course.

Just as there were some Jews who preferred to stay in Egypt at the time of the Exodus (only 20% of the Jews actually left with Moses), just as there were those who could not imagine the Hebrew tribes would ever form their own independent kingdom, so there are today those who doubt the viability of a Jewish country on Jewish land. Not only are there self -hating “enlightened” Jews inside and outside of Israel, but there are also the doubters and fools who run its government.

The leadership of a country at war, has to do everything in its power to protect its denizens in the most forceful, most efficient manner possible. World opinion be damned, they never have, nor will they ever come to the aid of us Jews at the moment of peril. Looking at Israel’s governments, over the last 20 plus years, one must wonder how pervasive is the horrible malaise that is so prevalent in Europe and other places. Israel was given to the Jewish tribes by Hakodosh Boruch Hu, as promised to Abraham. Instead of vigorously defending their patrimony, instead of vigorously and unequivocally defending the Jewish rights to their own land, today’s leaders bend to the will, to the opinion of the same Europeans who live on soil soaked with centuries of innocent Jewish blood. When in history has appeasement ever worked?!?!? Remember WWII and British PM Neville Chamberlain’s dangerous, foolish, “Peace in our Time” act of appeasement towards Hitler?

When in history has anyone in Christian Europe ever turned the other cheek? Yet that same Europe who never followed its own dogma demands that the Jew turn the other cheek, isn’t that hypocritical? Isn’t that little more than pathological hatred of that stiff necked Jew who refuses to die, who refuses to become a fossil? And yet, Israeli governments – some further than others (I admit!) – are more intent in pleasing the Europeans and liberal Americans than in defending their own people?!?!?

Food symbols of Freedom...

As long as these governments have greater fear of world opinion tha they have regard for their duties as Jews, then perhaps Israel’s hour of redemption has not yet arrived. If Israel is to be no more than a mere Western enclave in the Levant, rather than a proud nation living in its own land of thousands of years, then it may yet again (chas vesholom, sholom vechas, God forbid!!!!) be spit out of its land.

Israel was historically entrusted with a mission, the mission was to become a light unto the nations, a mission that meant fearless pursuit of our values as commanded in the Torah and explained by our Sages. Alas, what we have instead is a country run by political eunuchs with no belief, with no gumption to fulfill their Divine mission. We are about to celebrate Pessach, to commemorate the time the Almighty, Himself, liberated us from slavery and yet… over 3300 years later, in our own country, we still live emotionally enslaved to those who would gladly celebrate our demise.

Yes, we too suffer a serious malaise; we are deficient – as a nation – in our spirituality, in our belief in the Almighty and ourselves. Adapting the mores of other nations, living life in the manner of other nations never worked for the Jew – on the contrary –  it has only led to his getting ruthlessly decimated. Let’s face up to the truth and our responsibilities; we are different, we have a Divine mission! Let us hope that this Pessach we break the chains of spiritual, emotional and intellectual slavery and become truly liberated from our self imposed indenture to others’ bankrupt values. If we do, then and only then, will the West wake up from its complacency and vigorously stand up to those who would take today’s world back to the barbarism of the seventh century of the Current Era.

CS

12
Jan
11

Darkness, Jewelry, and the Brit Beyn HaBetarim


[Rafi Farber, a friend and faithful blog reader, is a director at zoara.com. In this, his third post on these pages, he continues to expound on the connection between the TaNa"CH and jewelry. CS]

There are always previously un-thought of connections to be made and the map of the Torah never ceases to reveal new patterns as one generation builds upon the preceding one. So here is the connection between the plague of darkness, Egyptian jewelry, and Hashem‘s covenant with Abraham 430 years before the Exodus took place.

The plague of darkness was rather setting the ground for the death of the firstborn and the imminent Exodus from Egypt than it was a plague in and of itself. It was one day before the darkness – the tenth of Nissan – when Moses relayed the Divine command to tie a sheep to the bedpost, in preparation for its sacrifice and the death of the Egyptian first born. The Israelites were commanded to tie up the sheep before the darkness set in, so that the Egyptians could clearly see what they were doing.

Further, our sages say that during the plague of darkness, four fifths of the Jewish people actually died – those that did not intend on leaving. They couldn’t be allowed to simply stay behind and cause a desecration of the Almighty’s name, nor could they be allowed to die in sight of the Egyptians and lead to the same. Hakadosh Baruch Hu had other plans in bringing the darkness upon Egypt – to prepare the ground and to take care of some back-issues, so to speak, with Israel.

Ancient Egyptian jewelry - rings, earrings, bracelets pendants and more

But there was one other thing the darkness was made to do, as emphasized by Rabbi S.R. Hirsch in the 19th century. During the plague of darkness, no Egyptian moved an inch. The darkness was so thick it was tangible. If a front door was open, it stayed open. If a gate was unlocked, it stayed unlocked. Everything – every Egyptian possession, treasure, valuable, was available for the taking. And yet, when the darkness cleared and the light of night began to “shine,” relatively speaking (the darkness ended at night), nothing had moved. All valuables were still there, nothing was stolen, and everything was where it should have been. The Israelites didn’t steal a single Egyptian penny.

This, more than anything else, showed the moral superiority of the Israelites. The Egyptians suddenly realized who they had been enslaving, who they had been brutally murdering for the past 210 years. A decent, moral people who wouldn’t steal even from their enemies.

At that point, God makes a request of Moses. He actually says please. “Please,” says God, “Tell the Israelites to ask their neighbors for their possessions, their riches, their jewelry, their clothing, please take it all.

No wonder the Egyptians immediately shoved everything they owned at the Jews. They didn’t take anything during the darkness, but now they were asking nicely? Take it! Take it all!

But why did God say “please?”

RaSH”I explains that Hashem said “please” because He didn’t want Abraham coming to Him accusing Him of reneging on the promise of the Brit Beyn HaBetarim – that the Jews would leave Egypt with great wealth. Therefore, He asked us to cover His back and finish the redemption process.

It’s the same with any redemption. We always have to take the last step. Otherwise nothing works. Without us completing the process, nothing even makes any sense. Ultimately, we’ll finish it, just like we did with the Paschal Lamb and the blood on the doorpost so God would pass over our houses; just like we did at the Red Sea when Nachshon ben Aminadav jumped in; just like we did with the Egyptians’ jewelry and just like we will do, eventually, in the State of Israel.

Rafi Farber

RELATED POSTS

Taba’at and Tov, The Meaning of a Good Ring

Food, Jewelry and the Torah

03
Jan
11

This Week’s Upcoming Internet Radio Show


Elizabeth Bland, photo from her website (cheesemistress.com/)

Last Wednesday we had a very interesting discussion on cheese and kosher cheese in particular with Elizabeth Bland (we will soon post, on these very pages, a supermarket trip with Mrs. Bland where we will look at various kosher cheeses. Meanwhile you can hear an .mp3 file of our radio show here.

This coming Wednesday – January 5, 2011 – our guest will be Gill Marks. Gill recently published the Encyclopedia of Jewish Food. What are Gill Marks credentials? What qualifies him to talk or write about food? As his website states:

Gill Marks, at The James Beard Foundation. Photo from gilmarks.com

An author, rabbi, historian, chef, and social worker, Gil Marks is a leading authority on culinary subjects in general and Jewish cuisine in particular. Among his published books are Encyclopedia of Jewish Food (Wiley: 2010), James Beard Award-winning Olive Trees and Honey: A Treasury of Vegetarian Recipes from Jewish Communities Around the World (Wiley 2004), and James Beard Award finalist The World of Jewish Cooking (Simon & Schuster, 1996). Marks was included in the Jewish Forward’s annual “Forward 50,” a list of the fifty most influential Jewish-Americans in the year 2010. http://www.forward.com/forward-50/

A self-taught chef, Marks entertained at his New York City home, earning a reputation as a gourmet cook. He began moonlighting for several caterers before branching out on his own. Some of his early jobs involved baking 150 apple pies for a cooking spray promotion, an all-dessert bat mitzvah, and a health food wedding. In 1986, Marks combined his interests in food, history, Judaism, and writing to become founding editor of Kosher Gourmet magazine, a position he held for six years. After leaving Kosher Gourmet, Marks turned his attention to writing fiction and biblical research as well as continuing his work on culinary subjects. His efforts include two plays, Therapist, and, in collaboration with Stanley Allan Sherman, The Golem of Gavah. His other books are The World of Jewish Desserts (Simon & Schuster, September 2000) and The World of Jewish Entertaining (Simon & Schuster, 1998) and he was also among the international team of contributors to the prestigious Meals in Science and Practice: Interdisciplinary Research and Business Applications (Woodhead Publishing, 2009).

Marks has also written articles for numerous magazines; served as a guest lecturer at the Culinary Institute of America,HazonKosherfest, and Drisha Institute; acted as consultant for various companies and organizations; and given presentations throughout the world, including the 92nd Street Y, Macy’s DeGustibus Cooking SchoolThe Learning Annex, the Kislak Adult Center, and the Fresh Start Program at New York’s Rikers Island. Marks continues to write, research, lecture, and perform cooking demonstrations for groups across the country and make appearances on various television and radio programs.

When I first contacted Mr. Marks to arrange the radio interview I thought it would be a short call, instead I was totally fascinated listening to his stories and the call was rather a long one. He is a captivating repository of anecdotes and history, this upcoming show promises to be a very interesting one!

Please, listen in on Wednesday at 8:00pm on Jewish Radio Network. Click on the red “here” under the white “Radio,” then wait about 90 to 180 seconds for the application to start streaming.

CS

18
Jul
10

Survival of the nicest? – The strange case of George R. Price.


As we abjure from physical pleasures for 25 hours this Tisha B’Av, fasting, mourning, deep in contemplative prayer, reading the Kinot and the Book of Lamentations (Eicha), commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temples and other calamities that befell the Jews, I give you the strange case of George R. Price.

Several weeks ago, I caught the tail end of an NPR (820 am on the radio dial) segment. The piece described George R. Price- physical chemist, population geneticist, science journalist, mathematical and theoretical biologist, a quirky eccentric genius.  He worked on the Manhattan Project, acted as consultant on graphic data processing for IBM, and even worked as a cancer research assistant.

George R. Price

George Price was also a man obsessed with the apparent altruism found in nature (a term coined by August Comte) and its negation drawn from the Darwinian Theory of natural selection and the survival of the fittest. (Don’t leave just yet, there is a point drawn from the reference.) Unlike reciprocal symbiotic relationships typified by the primate behavior of ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’, biological altruism refers to cases in nature where life forms as divergent as bacteria and dolphins exhibit behaviors analogous to kindness and sacrifice for the greater good. The honey bee, for example, may perform 100 times or more a ‘waggle dance’ -a pin-pointing signal for beehive members to spot food and new nesting sites. Essential for the colony’s survival, it does not directly benefit the waggle dancer worker bee. There are cooperative behaviors found in social insects like bees, wasps and ants; for example, sterile females in the colonies assist reproducing females with their offspring.  The loud squawk of the ‘watchman’ bird alerts other birds to the approach of predators like hawks, giving the flock time to fly off, while drawing the attention of the prey to itself. Wolves, lions and other animals risk their lives hunting prey, bringing back food for other members of their pack. The pelican will provide fish for blind pelicans within their flock. “The Arabian babblers (small birds) dance and take baths together, offer themselves gifts, clean themselves, and sometimes enter into conflict with each other for the privilege of helping another babbler. They may also feed their counterparts” (wiki) Dogs and other ‘sympathetic’ creatures often adopt strays or orphaned animals outside their species. Dolphins support sick or injured animals, swimming under them for hours at a time, pushing them to the surface so they can breathe. Darwin knew of these altruistic behaviors and it is said to have vexed him. Others came up with game theories (see John von Neumann, Oskar Morgenstern, John Maynard Smith) that mathematically tried to quantify, rationalize and find equilibrium (see Nash equilibrium) to behaviors in humans and in animals in which one individual benefits at another’s expense.

George Price, expanded on game theory, and spent years trying to come up with a mathematical equation to express altruistic behavior in nature and how such traits are genetically passed on. Eventually he did, and it became known as the Price Equation. The ability to quantify such an equation actually depressed George Price, for it meant that altruism was now a quantifiable, pre-determined, not chance or willed action, but rather inevitable. He abandoned his deep-seated atheism, coming to believe that it was beyond coincidence, but rather an act of Divine intervention, that led him to such a highly improbable equation.  He obsessively spent his remaining days trying to prove that the human spirit was greater than any random probability or equation; helping the poor, giving all his possessions to street beggars and drunks.  The depletion of his funds to aid the needy, the cruel actions of others, along with his physical/emotional deterioration, resulted in the tragic taking of his own life in 1975.

What struck me so strongly in all of this, was how a heretofore atheist came to see the ‘spirit’ of man to have the powers to dominate above all scientific reason or postulate. That in spite of the pre-programmed altruism in nature, such a brilliant mind could come to cherish the notion of a human spirit capable of willful good and selfless kindness toward others as such a strong driver that man can free himself from his animalistic, limited, determined nature and spirit the cause of something higher than himself.

The Jewish concept of sympathetic altruism whether reciprocal in nature or not is one of the cornerstones of the Jewish people.  The reward system and reciprocal benefits of the world to come is secondary to the obligation of each Jew to act for the well-being of his fellow Jew.  “Kol Yisroel arevim ze laze”.  We are intertwined, arms and legs of the same tree trunk rooted to His will and divine Torah. What affects one affects us all. We are responsible for one another and are obligated in demonstrating kindness and sympathy toward our fellow man, even at the expense of ourselves or possessions.  If altruism is evident in animal behaviors, what can the collective conscious collaboration of man accomplish if his actions and goals are acclimatized for the greater good?

Absorbed in the minutia of our lives and practices, we may become misdirected; missing emotional, physical, spiritual cues of others in our midst or beyond our normal perimeters. The jig of quantifiable causes, ‘meaningful’ actions, or pursuit of golden idols and placards often distracts us. Our ‘on loan’ possessions, tools and talents are by our choosing capable of manifesting sweet harmonics of creation of the highest human endeavors. May we never lose sight of our altruistic capabilities and may we collectively rebuild a binyan adei ad bimhera biyamenu.

SYR

08
Jul
10

Jew-ish


As we are in the midst of the Three Weeks, it is a perfect time to open our hearts and minds to reflect upon what we are commemorating and the lessons to be learned. One of the main reasons the Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed was the unwarranted enmity among the Jews of the times. The uncalled for dissension, the fights, the hatred among them, utterly weakened a people which as long as they were one – as long as they were of one mind, one heart – remained invincible.

Not everyone identifying as a Jew is observant, often one might think that the reasons these non-observant ones may give for being Jewish are not strong enough, just not good enough, too tenuous perhaps. Should one think that way, he or she would be boorishly elitist and has learned little in spite of all the years spent in yeshiva, or in Beis Yaakov. Such a person absorbed almost nothing regardless of all the Tosefos, all the Rashi he can repeat, all the brilliant pilpullim he can come up with, or all the tremendous, selfless chassodim she performs… for her own kind.

Knowledge is far more than just a bookish thing. What made our Sages so great, above all, was their understanding of human nature; only when that understanding was coupled with their devotion to Hakodosh Boruch Hu AND His commandments, when it was coupled with their teaching – the loving spreading of their message – did they rise to a level where we can look back at them and their writings while standing in awe with humbled hearts.

To many the message and teachings of the Sages are mostly unknown and will remain woefully unexplored, a great number regard religion as an outmoded superstitious, too strict discipline that would interfere with their lifestyle… Ah, yes, the reasons for division, distrust and enmity among us Jews are seemingly many and no doubt you, gentle reader, can come up with quite a few more I never thought of.

But are we right? Religious Jew, secular Jew… we are really one and the same. You don’t believe me? Ask any antisemite!!!! Why would one who sees no need to adhere to the tenets of our faith, insist on identifying as a Jew? It’s got to be more than just his/her Jewish nose or the obvious Jewish looks, or love of chopped liver. What is it then? It’s that tiny pintele yid that is still lit in every Jewish heart, in spite of all the tragedies that befell us – as a people – in the last two thousand years. No amount of might could crush it, no amount of killing could extinguish it. I am a devoutly religious Jew, but I recognize not everyone else is, yet I am humbled by the Jew-ishness, by the pintele yid within each of my brothers and sisters no matter how far they may have removed themselves from our most basic beliefs.

Judaism is more than gefilte fish and matzoh balls, it is more than davening three times a day and eating strictly kosher. For anyone whose pintele yid is still burning, being Jewish is life itself! But… how do different people show their Jew-ishness? There are many ways and, ultimately, whether the journey is long or short, whether there are many treacherous curves, or the road is straight, eventually they all lead us to the same destination. Not everyone can tell why he or she is a Jew, often it is merely an unexplained feeling, something stemming from within. Does that mean there are fundamental differences between one kind of Jew and another? The rituals may be different, the food habits may be different, the daily routine may be different, the mode of dress may be different, the interaction with others may be different… yet… we are Jews, ALL! The world at large sees little difference between us. Whether we like to be lumped together, or not, the fact is… we are!

The Jewish Federations of North America (JNFA) is currently running a campaign called “What’s Your #ish?” their #ish is to build a strong community. Isn’t the lesson of the Three Weeks precisely that, that we have to build a strong community that allows every Jew to reach his or her full JEWISH potential?

At the beginning of Pirkey Avot – Ehtics of the Fathers, right before the First Chapter begins, we are told: “Kol Israel yesh lahem chelek le’olam haba – All Jews have a portion in the world to come.” The first Gerer Rebbe, the Sfas Emes, emphasized KOL ISRAEL – ALL JEWS” Does that mean that the meticulous follower of every commandment may actually get the same reward as the Jew who doesn’t care?!?!? I will posit here that… yes… and even less!!!! How is that possible? How could I even think, let alone say, something so heretical, if not plainly illogical?!?!? Our Sages teach us that we are, every single one of us, responsible for one another; the world at large certainly thinks that… even if not all of us feel it. Unless we reach out, unless we talk, unless we help out, unless we teach and learn, our portions in the world to come may not be as full…

CS

25
Nov
09

Thanksgiving and the Jews


The first Jew to set foot in Colonial America, was Joachim Gans, who came here in 1584 having been recruited by Sir Walter Raleigh as he set out on an expedition to explore the Virginia territory. In 1654 a group of 23 Dutch  Jews arrived from Brazil, on the shores of New Amsterdam (New York), fleeing the Inquisition recently instituted in Portugal’s new colony. Like the Mayflower Pilgrims before them, this group came to the New World in search of opportunities and religious freedom. Life wasn’t easy; dreams could only be realized through an incredible amount of determination, hard work, sweat, tears and personal sacrifice.

I can just imagine these Dutch/Brazilian Jews in the new land celebrating Thanksgiving with a slowly cooked Moqueca Capixaba (a Brazilian dish consisting of: fish, onions, garlic, tomatoes, cilantro, chili pepper and additional ingredients). Fish was plentiful,  requiring no shechita.

As the years and centuries progressed, Jews realized unparalleled success in the New World, engaging in  fields of study and a variety of livelihoods unrivaled in our history… We educated ourselves and our children, excelling in areas in academia, maths and sciences, commerce, technology and the arts.  We suddenly had new freedoms and exploited unprecedented opportunities. 

In 1946, my dad, a teenager at the time, arrived to these shores,  on an orphan transport boat called the Ernie Pyle. In his hand was a shabby little suitcase that contained his Tefillin and a herring. Shortly after his arrival, speaking but a few words of English, he landed a job in a baby blanket factory, sewing & sweeping floors. His one meal a day was dinner at Ratner’s, one of the famous dairy eateries of its day, where he’d sit down to a bowl of soup and all the bread he could eat. The Hungarian wife ( and amazing cook) he married two years later, kept him happy and content in the kitchen and in life. May they continue together in health and happiness till 120!

Dad’s early days in the new land remind me of an old joke:

Abe Cohen goes to a restaurant every day for lunch. He always orders the soup du jour. One day the manager asks him how he liked his meal. Abe replies (with a Yiddish accent) “Vass goot, but you could give a lidle more bread.”

The next day, the manager tells the waitress to give him four slices of bread. “How was your meal, sir?” the manager asks. “Vass goot, but you could give a lidle more bread”.

Next day the manager tells the waitress to give him eight slices of bread. “How was your meal today, sir?” the manager asks. “Vass goot, but you could give a lidle more bread”.

The manager is now obsessed with seeing Abe say that he enjoyed his meal, so he goes to the bakery and orders a 6ft long French loaf. When Abe comes in – as usual – the next day, the waitress and the manager cut the loaf in half, butter the entire length of each half and lay it out along the counter, right next to his bowl of soup. Abe sits down, and devours both his bowl of soup and both halves of the 6ft loaf of bread. The manager now thinks he will get the answer he is looking for. When Abe comes up to pay for his meal, the manager asks in the usual way: “How was your meal TODAY, sir?” Abe replies “It vass goot, as usual, but I see you are back to giving only 2 slices of bread!”

How times and country have changed us all! America is still  a land of opportunity, if we can just get past the gauntlet of recorded voice messages that stand between us and our daily bread. Though the the ‘Goldeneh Land’ has lost some of it’s glitter, we have much to be grateful for.  We enjoy freedoms in this country that others less fortunate literally die for each and every day.  Though our health care system is in shambles, we have access to medical care, medication and vaccines that don’t even exist in other countries. We benefit  from technologies we never dreamed of; at our fingertips we have the power to transform the world or to destroy it.

In our tfilos we thank the Almighty each and every day, three times a day.  We acknowledge His mastery over Creation and bless His handiwork in everything we eat and partake of in His world. All our accomplishments are through His divine grace. Thanksgiving is a national holiday in the US, it brings families together from near and far, as collectively America remembers all we have to be thankful for.

Wishing those that celebrate this holiday a Happy Thanksgiving filled with good cheer, good conversation, good food, in the company of loved ones.

In the holiday spirit, I’ll leave you with a personal heimishe recipe for turkey stuffing and simple turkey baste. Enjoy!!

Challah Stuffing

(serves 10)

1 large challah, dried out (leave out overnight)
2 cups shredded carrots, sautéed
2 cup sautéed minced onions
2 cup sautéed finely diced celery
2 cups wild mushrooms
1/2 cup chopped water chestnuts (washed and drained)
1/2 cup toasted walnuts, optional
1/3 cup canola oil
2 cloves garlic, minced, and sautéed
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 tablespoons chopped dill
1 teaspoon rosemary
1 teaspoon thyme
2 cups chicken stock
2 eggs
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
Salt & pepper to taste
Directions:

Soak Challah in water, remove crust top when moistened, and squeeze out all water, break into small pieces. Add eggs, oil, stock and seasoning. Sautée vegetables; when cooled to room temperature, add into mix . Stuff inside turkey cavity, alongside turkey or bake in a separate casserole.

Turkey Baste

¾ c. oil
dried garlic powder
onion powder
sweet paprika
dried parsley, dried dill, salt and pepper.

Place sliced onions, celery, clove of garlic, (brussel sprouts-optional garnish) in bottom of roasting pan.  Add water.

Turkey

Place turkey in prepared roasting pan, tented with aluminum foil.  Bake at 325 degrees for about 30 minutes per pound.  Baste 4-5 times with oil/spice mixture. Bake uncovered for last 15 minutes.

Here is my simple, homemade turkey (the guests always love its finger lickin’ goodness!):

turkey

As a dessert, some may want it as a side dish with the turkey, you might make this simple to follow but delicious recipe:

Cranberry Crunch Mousse

2 Rich’s Rich whip 8 oz topping
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
¼ cup confectioner’s sugar

Whip up topping. When whip is formed add vanilla and confectioner’s sugar.

1 12 oz. package fresh cranberries
1 8 oz bag of mini marshmallows
8 oz honey glazed pecans chopped

Chop cranberries in food processor for about a minute, don’t pulverize. Fold cranberries, marshmallows and chopped pecans into whip mixture and serve chilled.

Prep time: 5 minutes
Serves: 8-10

SYR




Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 7,650 other followers

Calendar of Posts

July 2014
S M T W T F S
« May    
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
2728293031  

Archives

Visit our friends at the Kosher Wine Society

Noach: Stranded and Branded

Buy the book…

Category Cloud

18 Restaurant baking baking recipe baking recipes BlogTalkRadio cheese Chef David Kolotkin Chef Jeff Nathan Chef Lévana Chef Lévana Kirschenbaum chicken chicken recipes cookbook authors cookbooks dairy cuisine dairy recipes Esti Berkowitz fine dining fine kosher dining fine kosher dining in Manhattan fine kosher restaurants fine restaurants fish fish recipes Geila Hocherman Gotham Wines & Liquors Internet Radio Irving Schild Jack's Gourmet Jewish history kosher kosher baking kosher baking recipe kosher baking recipes kosher beef kosher beef recipes kosher cheese kosher chefs kosher chicken dishes kosher chicken recipes kosher cookbook authors kosher cookbooks kosher cookery Kosher cooking kosher cooking classes kosher cooking demos kosher cuisine kosher dairy kosher dairy cuisine kosher dairy recipes kosher desserts kosher dining kosher dining in Brooklyn kosher dining in Manhattan kosher dining in NY kosher fine dining kosher fine wines kosher fish kosher fish recipes Kosher food kosher Israeli wine kosher Italian cuisine kosher meat dishes kosher meat recipes kosher meat restaurants kosher meat restaurants in Manhattan kosher Mediterranean cuisine kosher parve recipes kosher poultry dishes kosher poultry recipes kosher recipes kosher restaurant review Kosher restaurants kosher restaurants in Brooklyn kosher restaurants in Manhattan kosher restaurants in New York City kosher restaurants in NY Kosher Revolution Kosher Scene kosher soup recipes kosher wine kosher wines Lévana Lévana Kirschenbaum meat recipes parve recipes Passover Pomegranate Supermarket poultry poultry recipes Prime Grill Royal Wine Corporation Shavuos Shavuos recipes Susie Fishbein The Kosher Scene The Kosher Scene Radio Show Uncategorized Wine

BlogTopSites


<a href="//www.blogtopsites.com/food-drink/" title="Food & Drink Blogs" target="_blank"><img style="border:none" src="//www.blogtopsites.com/v_158881.gif" alt="Food & Drink Blogs" />
<a target="_blank" href="//www.blogtopsites.com" style="font-size:10px;">blog sites


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 7,650 other followers

%d bloggers like this: