Archive for the 'Judaism' Category

24
Jun
13

Jewish Ceremonial Art – The Soul of a People: Part 2


In many an auction there have often been unexpected surprises, such as an item that was estimated as a high seller failing to reach even the lowest threshold of its estimated value or an item selling for an amount far above the expected. Last Thursday’s auction, at Kestenbaum and Company, was no exception. While some lots may not have sold at the expected price, others indeed went for higher sums.

Kestenb12Just as art reveals the artist’s soul, and ceremonial art reveals the soul of a people, how and why later generations value that art speaks volumes of that particular people’s past. Last Thursday, quite a few items exceeded their estimates but two of them – in particular – demonstrate to me what we, as Jews, still treasure today.

UKRANIAN/POLISH SILVER SPICE TOWER. Single tier tower, engraved on four sides with animals representing the adage from Ethics of the Fathers: Bold as a Leopard, Swift as an Eagle, Fleet as a Deer, Strong as a Lion (Chapter 5:23). Set on knop stem and matching square base. Marked. Height: 7 inches.

Circa 1820: $6,000-$8,000

The above item sold for $15,000. Frankly, from a strictly artistic point of view, there were more beautiful, more intricately designed spice towers for havdala, even in this very auction; the particular lot, however, stood out for its inscriptions telling a Jew that he must IsiKaufwdalways be ready to act with alacrity, and defy every obstacle on his way to perform any one of Hakodosh Boruch Hu‘s commandments. While the esthetics of an item are important, its message and its function are – obviously – of greater value to us as a people…  even in the 21st century!

The second item I find worthy of mentioning is a mixed media work…

(Kaufman, Isidor. After). Studying the Talmud. Wood and mixed media (intarsia-style). Framed. 23.5 x 19.5 inches

Mid 20 century: $100-$150

Based on the Isidor Kaufman painting ‘Studying the Talmud’

The above item sold for $1500, ten times the highest estimated amount! Why? Because not only do we Jews value tradition, not only do we value books, we treasure learning and scholarship. Again the personal values of the buyer far outshine the artistic value of the work.

Attending this auction of Jewish Ceremonial Art showed me an important part of our character as a people. It reinforced the knowledge that no matter how far down the rungs of spiritual height our generation has descended, no matter how jaded we’ve become in the surroundings of the present day world, the values and beliefs our ancestors held are still engraved in our hearts. The flames of yahadut are indeed eternal and will forever warm our collective soul.

CS

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Jewish Ceremonial Art – The Soul of a People

02
Jan
13

Jew in the City, A conversation with Allison Josephs


This show was postponed to next Tuesday, January 8, at 10:00 pm (Eastern Time).

AlliJosephsOur guest, this evening at 10:00pm (Eastern Time), will be Allison Josephs, founder and director of Jew in the City. Who is Allison Josephs?

Allison has been involved in the field of Jewish Outreach for over a dozen years, teaching and lecturing, working at Partners in Torah, Sinai Retreats, and NCSY. She is, also, the spiritual mentor to actress Mayim Bialik.  She was named one of NJOP‘s Top Ten Jewish Influencers in 2012 and has been quoted or written about in numerous publications, including The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Beast, Huffington Post, and Yahoo News.

Allison has been interviewed on television and radio, including programs such as “What Not To Wear,” Associate Press TV, and NPR;  her articles have appeared in numerous publications including the newly released anthology Like Water on a Rock, The Washington Times, The Jewish Press, and The Forward. She has also written many articles, directed and produced videos for Aish.com and lectures around the country and on WebYeshiva. She received her Bachelor in Arts from Columbia University in Philosophy and lives with her husband and four children minutes from the George Washington Bridge.

We will be talking about her recent video as well as future plans for her website and blog.

Meanwhile, in case you missed it, please listen to last week’s fascinating discussion with abstract painter Igal Fedida about his life’s journey towards becoming an Orthodox Jew and the connection between his art and Sefer Breshit.

Don’t forget to tune us in this evening at Blogtalkradio.com/kosherscene for an interesting talk, with Allison Joseph of Jew in the City at 10:00pm (Eastern Time). We’ll be wait’n for ya!

CS

This show was postponed to next Tuesday, January 8, at 10:00 pm (Eastern Time).

07
Dec
12

Sufganyot! – Part 2


Chanukah may be a minor festival, but the concepts it embodies are major. Jews, that stiff-necked people, were living under the control of Seleucide Greeks. While the conquerors were generally tolerant of other religions, provided the conquered people accepted the ostensibly superior culture, the Jews – for the most part – refused to bend, to compromise, to accept “progress.” They stuck to their beliefs, even when threatened with death. What prompted these people to follow an invisible God, a God they were proscribed from making statutes of, a God who placed so many positive and negative commandments upon them?

A German Menorah, from the late 19th or early 20th century.Photo from the LA Times.

A German Menorah, from the late 19th or early 20th century.
Photo from the LA Times.

For generations, the Jews were witnesses to the Almighty’s open and not so open miracles, they had no need of wood, stone or metal statutes to feel His presence. His presence surrounded them constantly! Their ragtag army, now fought the world’s mightiest power and won. Was that not enough of a miracle? Yet we do not celebrate Chanukah as a merely nationalistic day of independence. No, we celebrate instead the rekindling of the Temple Menorah, the rebirth of our faith.

We celebrate the fact that the Temple in Jerusalem had been purified of foreign idolatrous contamination. We celebrate the fact that just as it seemed that we would have to wait eight days for new consecrated olive oil to be prepared, miraculously a small flask just enough for one day’s kindling was found and yet it lasted a full eight days. The Greeks had combed through the Temple to loot its treasures, to take away anything that could be used by the stubborn Jews to worship that God, and yet throughout the years this small flask had gone unnoticed until truly committed Jews found it. Was it merely that they looked harder, or was that itself a miracle?

As a result of olive oil’s power in restoring us a nation, His nation, we traditionally eat fried foods on Chanukah, here is a recipe for traditional “Sufganyot,” jelly filled donuts:

Sufganyot

(Adapted from Perfect Jewish, page 241)

Traditional sufganyot. - jelly filled doughnuts,

Traditional sufganyot. – jelly filled doughnuts. — Photo from: Perfect Jewish, page 240

Makes 24 doughnuts

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon easy-blend dry yeast
  • 3 1/2 cups all purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar, plus extra for rolling
  • 1 1/4 cup warm milk
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 3 tablespoons very soft margarine or vegetable oil (for a dairy version you may use sour cream)
  • vegetable oil for frying
  • plum, apricot, red currants or black currant jelly
  • 1/2 cup sugar

Directions

  1. Stir the yeast, flour, salt and sugar together in the bowl of a standard electric, mixer fitted with a dough hook. Make a well in the center. Add the milk, egg, yolk, and margarine (or sour cream for dairy sufganyot). Beat on low speed for 2 minutes, or until combined. Beat on medium speed for 5 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic and leaves the side of the bowl. Cover with a dish towel and leave in a warm place for 1 1/2 – 2 hours until doubled in volume.
  2. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead lightly to deflate adding a little more flour if the dough is sticky. Divide the dough in half and roll out each piece to 3/4″ thick.
  3. Working with one dough half at a time, using a 2″ cutter, stamp out as many rounds as pssible. Knead the scraps together, reroll and stamp out more rounds, you should form at lease 24. Cover with the dish towel and leave for 20 minutes, or until puffed and slightly risen.
  4. Heat at least 3″ of oil in a deep-fat fryer, wok or large pan to 375 F. or until a cube of bread browns in 30 seconds. Working in batches, fry the doughnits, covered for 3 – 4 minutes, or until golden. Turn and fry on the other side for 3 minutes or until well colored. Using a skimmer, or slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain.
  5. Fit a small pastry bag, with a 1/2″ plain tip, and fill with jelly. Put the sugar into a bowl. When the doughnuts are cool enough to handle, make a small slit in the side of each, insert the tip into the center, and squeeze about 1 teaspoon of jelly. Drop each filled doughnut into the sugar and turn to coat completely. Transfer to a wire rack.

Enjoy, gentle reader, Enjoy!

CS

 

Chag Chanukah same’ach!!

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25
Sep
12

Reflexions on Erev Yom Kippur…


Often, the most mundane occurrences, even small (or major) annoyances, can trigger a moment of introspection, can bring on a time for thought on how we interact with others, on how we truly relate to Hakadosh Baruch Hu

Granted, timing could have been better, but tight scheduling compelled me to shop mid-morning Erev Shabbat (before Rosh Hashana) for essentials I needed for the Chag. I found parking close to the discount supermarket, a minor miracle in post summer Brooklyn. I hadn’t been there since their recent renovations; surrounded by cases of merchandise and vegetable stands, I had to ask for guidance to the new entryway. The store looked bigger, but as chaotic as ever. I hope that they still plan to reorganize the space, but were just too busy getting ready for the holiday crowds to implement a more shopper friendly environment.

There were more workers than usual, mostly busy restocking shelves. The nearly empty meat department, I carted to first, was a big disappointment. Prices were definitely higher; no more family packs of chicken breasts for $3.99 per pound, and none of the usual sales I used to count on. Chaval!  I bought what I needed and headed to check out. I had a case of 7oz cups, a case of baking tins and about a dozen other items.

Every aisle was packed with anxious ‘got to get home to cook’ shoppers lined with overloaded carts (May Hashem miraculously continue to provide!) all the way down to the fridge section waiting to check-out.  With not nearly enough check-out stations and a poor configuration afoot, tempers were a little testy. I went to the back of the long express checkout – 12 items or less – line with my 2 cases and close to 12 items, and was assaulted with variations on a theme chorusing:  “This is the ‘express’ line, you’re on the wrong line!!!!” With a smile and a promise of checking out no more than the allowed twelve items and finally got a consensus that a case, though internally many, constitutes no more than1 big item and I was graciously permitted to stay.

Every new person arriving to stand on line however, began a fresh verbal barrage on my apparently over- filled cart. One petite fire-brand of a woman arrived with two items declaring that she would not go to the back of the line, because no one was following the rules and she was justifiably going to cut the line before her turn with her two puny little items in tow.  I said nothing, but the chorus certainly did, and the woman became more passionately entrenched in her position to cut the line of food carting transgressors  justifying her position of entitlement with the sins of others and the general theory that when mayhem abounds counter-bedlam is sanctioned.

Meanwhile, feeling the burning heat of guilt for the three extra items,  I laid them quietly to rest in an abandoned cart. I was planning to not include them at check-out, but felt the preemptive move wise under the circumstances. The diminutive, now ferocious, harridan pitched herself before the crowd demanding a supervisor, and the volley of accusations began anew. A woman in the next check-out aisle felt sorry for me, and started putting my items on the belt.  I’ve had this idea floating in my head as a precursor to Rosh Hashana and the Asseret Yimey Tshuvah; how some of us have gone beyond rationalizing to ourselves and others about our behaviors and actions and have moved toward the more intransigent reasoning that resembles Jean Paul Sartre’s existentialist notion of bad faith.

We have convinced ourselves so thoroughly of our own righteousness, that we not only believe the lie, but will fight to the death to protect its integrity; leaving little room for change or subsequent good action. The most difficult people I know are so clear that their positions are ‘right’ even heroic, it would take an act of G-d to move them from their prideful entrenchment.

How can we claim to worship, to honor the Bore Olam when we are so disdainful of His betzelem Elokim? How can an individual believe to be a betzelem Elokim if one doesn’t honor and respect his/her fellow humans first? Thank G-d for Rosh Hashana, for the Asseret yimey tshuvah, for Yom Kippur, and the opportunities to right the real wrongs we have done to ourselves and to others.  As we face a world bent on our demise, may we conquer the sinat chinam extant within our midst, may we learn more tolerance, may we recognize our own bad faith and find ways to love and embrace Klal Yisroel blev echad. Should one resolve to and actually make this changes in one’s heart, inone’s attitudes, inone’s behavior, then next year – as the individual clinically examines the past year’s deeds, he/she will realize that – for a change – one did not have overspetd on the good will from fellow humans and that individual will truly merit a healthy portion of Hashem‘s endless bounty.

SYR

G’mar Chatima Tova!!!

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22
Jul
12

This Evening’s Kosher Scene’s Internet Radio Show


Our guest for this evening’s special show at 8:00pm (Eastern Time) is Avi Gantz, the General Manager at Pomegranate Supermarket (1507 Coney Island Avenue – corner of Avenue L – Brooklyn, New York 11230; Tel: 718.951.7112). We will be discussing Pomegranate‘s special offerings for the Nine Days.

With many new items and some items specially made for these Nine Days, meals need neither be drab nor boring. Avi will tell us how we can avoid meat and still have delicious, healthy, meals.

Partial views of the Salad department (above) and the Sushi Department (bottom)

Meanwhile in case you missed it, please listen to our show with Naomi Sugar, ice cream confectioner extraordinaire, blogger at 365scoops.com.

Don’t forget to tune us in this evening, at 8:00pm (Eastern Time), when our guest will be Avi Gantz, the General Manager at Pomegranate Supermarket (1507 Coney Island Avenue – corner of Avenue L – Brooklyn, New York 11230; Tel: 718.951.7112).

19
Jun
12

You Have Taught Me Since My Youth – A Judaica Auction – Part 1


Elokim, limadtani mine’uray ve’ad henah agid nifla’otecha – True God, You have taught me since my youth and until now, I will say your wonders. Thus opens up Lot 101 (Menachem Azariah Da Fano‘s Yonath Elem) in the upcoming Judaica auction at Kestenbaum & Company – this coming Thursday; June 21st, 2012 at 3:00pm. The opening phrase above best sums up the treasured first or early editions of learned books, of awe inspiring manuscripts, and of the ceremonial art that – starting this past Sunday afternoon – are on display at the auctioneers’ offices (242 West 30th, 12th floor; New York, NY 10001- Tel: 212.366.1197 – Fax: 212.366.1368).

Kabbalistic works mingle freely with less esoteric commentaries of the TaNa”CH, chassidic tomes share space with the writings of fierce opponents to the fledgling movement. What is remarkable to me, what fills me with emotion as I peruse these old books, these fragile manuscripts from the hands of some of the greatest figures in our history (past and just passed), is that though the ideas seem divergent, the disagreements often lie more in the semantics than in the actual contents. Yes, historically we have witnessed very bitter arguments between rationalists and kabbalists, between chassidim and misnagdim, but there is little doubt these disagreements between the leaders were not for the sake of personal honor but about how we could best serve Him, speak of, sing about or praise His wonders. All these various ideas, all these disparate ways, are nothing more and nothing less than multiple roads leading to the same eternal truth…

Menachem Azariah MeFano‘s  Asarah Ma’amaroth was first printed – partially – in Venice in 1597. Lot 101, Yonath Elem, is the first printed edition of one of the individual ma’amarot on kabbalistic subjects.

FANO, MENACHEM AZARIAH DA. Yonath Elem [kabbalah] FIRST SEPARATE EDITION ff38. Lightly worn, some worming (mostly marginal but touching some letters in final leaves). Contemporary calf, needs rebinding, 4to. Vinograd, Amsterdam 150; Fuks, Amsterdam 254.

Amsterdam, Judah ben Mordechai and Partners, 1648 $500 – 700

One of ten Kabbalistic treatises, collectively entitled Asarah Ma’amaroth. R. Menachem Azariah (1548-1620), of a well-to-do banking family in Bologna, Italy, was first a follower of the Cordoveran system of kabbalah but afterward, under the influence of an elusive figure, R. Israel Sarug, switched his allegiance to the Lurianic school. The propagation of kabbalah emanating from Safed in Europe was largely due to his prolific efforts. The title cites the words of the “Shelah HaKadosh” R. Isaiah Horowitz, who advisded a colleague to attach himself to attach himself to this work, which is “pleasing to the eyes of God and man”.

Another work that is sure to inspire deep feelings of awe is Lot 75:

Seder Tephilah miKol haShanah im Kavanoth HaAri”zal. Prepared by Asher ben Solomon Zalman Margoliuth. FIRST EDITION. Lengthy contemporary ownership inscription on opening blank. ff398. Stained, couple of neat paper repairs. Modern calf. Thick 8vo. Vinograd, Lemberg 45.

Lemberg, Solomon Yaros Rapaport, 1787 $10,000-15,000

THE HIGHLY IMPORTANT SIDDUR OF R. ASHER – A RARE COMPLETE COPY

Chassidim hold in the very highest esteem this particular prayerbook that contains many Lurianic Kavanoth. R. Asher was a disciple of R. Chaim of Sanz the famed Chassidic-group known as the Broder-Kloyz.” In the same year, 1788, the printer Rapaport produced this Reb-Asher Siddur, he also issued the famed first edition of the Noam Elimelech.

Now we turn from the chassidim to the misnagdim… Lot 99:

(ELIJAH, GAON OF VILNA). Perush al Yona [Commentary on the Book of Jonah]. Introduction by R. Chaim of Volozhin, the Gaon’s principle disciple. FIRST EDITION. ff. (I). 6 Some light staining , corners rounded. Modern marbled boards. 4to. Vinograd, Vilna 14; Vinigrad, Gra 50

Vilna, Wielmoznega Kanonika, 1800. $600-800

With approbations from the Dayanim of Vilna who bear witness that this work is among the very earliest authentic texts written in the Gaon’s own hand.

I also found Lot 57 and Lot 58 very worthy of being mentioned here…

ASHKENAZI, ELIEZER BEN ELIJAH HAROPHÈ. Yosef Lekach {commentary to the Book of Esther, with text] FIRST EDITION. Title within historiated woodcut architectural arch. Wide margins. The Valmadonna copy. ff.83 (I-blank). Some staining, censor’s signature and inscriptions. on recto and verso of final leaf, ff 6 and 7 misbound upside down. Recent blind-tooled morocco boards. Sm 4to. Vinograd, Cremona47; Benayahu , Cremona 44; Adams B-1335.

Cremona, Christopher Draconi, 1576. $400-600

Eliezer Ahkenazi’s Biblical exegesis is permeated with the contemporary rationalistic spirit of rabbinical scholarship. This edition of Yosef Lekach, was the last Hebrew book printed in Cremona, which for over twenty years was a center of Jewish learning and printing, amidst the rigid censorship of the Inquisition. See D. Amram, The Makers of Hebrew Books in Italy (1963) pp. 306-19

BACHIAH BEN JOSEPH IBN PAQUDA. Chovoth Halevavoth. Translated into Hebrew by Judah Ben Tibbon. Scholarly marginalia in an Italian hand especially on Sha’ar HaTeshuvah (ff. 66-68) ff. 103. Some staining in places, previous owners’ signature on title, censor’s signature on final leaf , closely shaved. Later calf-backed boards. Sm 4to. Vinograd, Mantua 62.

Mantua 1559. $700-800

An attractive copy of this classic work, with new corrections plus seven leaves of indices to Bible and Talmudim.

Throughout the ages, the book enjoyed wide popularity in a variety of circles, although in later centuries Eastern European Jews would shy away from the introductory Sha’ar HaYichud, which is of a decidedly philosophical nature. and focus instead on the remainder of the work, with its ethical guidance.

For those who prefer halachic works, the second sepher in Lot 1 should be truly appealing…

AARON IBN CHAIM. Lev Aaron [Commentary to the Books of Joshua and Judges, with text] . ff. 122, (2), 129, (3).

Bound With: Isaac Ben Abba Man of Marseilles. Sepher Ha’Itur. ff 110. Geometrical diagram on f. 101a. Two works bound in one volume. FIRST EDITION. Some staining and slight marginal repair to upper corner of title of first woork. Later calf-backed boards. spine worn. Folio. Vinograd, Venice 1052 and Venice 1041.

Venice, Giovanni di Gara, 1608 $1000-1500

The author of the first work, R. Aaaron ibn Chaim I (1545-1632) served as dayan in the court of Vidal HaTzarfati in Fez, Morocco. He is most famous for his study of the Siphra. The present commentary to Joshua and Judges excels in its command of Midrashic and Talmudic literature. See Ch.J.D. Azulai, Shem HaGedolim I, V-6; EJ. Vol VIII cols. 1179-1180 (inc. facs.)

The second work is a monumental halachic compendium discussing fiscal and marital laws, forbidden foods, festivals, etc. The work is a primary source of Gaonic responsa and is frequently cited by Joseph Karo in his Beth Yoseph.

It is utterly impossible in this brief space to do justice to this wondrous collection of sepharim, kithvey yad, letters and more. There are – in this assortment – some truly unique treasures on so many different aspects of Judaism, it is obvious there should never be a problem finding a way to learn and speak of His wonders.

CS

RELATED POSTS

A Journey Into History, Rare Judaica Auction – Part 1
A Journey Into History, Rare Judaica Auction – Part 2
A Journey Into History, Rare Judaica Auction – Part 3

14
Mar
12

This Evening’s Radio Show


Our guest at 8:00pm (Eastern Time) this evening on BlogTalkRadio.com, will be Alec Borenstein, Esq., Success Coach and powerful Motivational Speaker.

Who is Alec Borenstein? He’s an award winning speaker and coach who partners with clients to take massive action in their lives.  Alec’s mission is to ensure that every speech or coaching session is replete with practical strategies to ensure immediate change for both individuals and organizations.

Whether it’s the real estate broker who grew his business 40% in a down economy, or the teacher who discovered his greatest passion, or the woman who finally took control of her finances, Alec has the background, experience, and talent to help all of his clients create powerful goals and break through any barriers that might be in the way.

This evening, we will have the pleasure of learning from his wisdom we will hear what motivates him and how he can motivate others.

Meanwhile, in case you missed it, please listen to our archived special from this past Monday on Gotham Wines & Liquors 9th Annual Kosher Wine Extravaganza. We spoke with Gotham‘s resident wine connoisseur and walking encyclopedia, Costas Mouzouras, as well as various wine makers, food manufacturers, wine distributors, and attending wine lovers. You may may also want to watch our video, where Costas explains the fine art of wine tasting.

Please listen in this evening at 8:00pm (Eastern Time), for an interesting and inspirational show. We’ll be waiting for you!

CS

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




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