Archive for the 'Shir Hashirim' Category

11
Sep
11

Elul Reflections, 9/11- Despair and Hope


Usually when Elul – the month signifying the beginning of Jewish New Year – cycles round I find myself absorbed with feelings of contriteness for all the things I could have/should have improved upon during the year. My bucket list includes everything from switching the early childhood imprinted critical j’ accuse confrontational rules of engagement with saner problem solving language and mannerisms, to not giving in to anger, to doing more for those I love and those I don’t, to praying better, to all the ways I could/should have been a better parent, child, sister, friend, person, etc.  This year however, my whole being feels beyond inconsolable…

The familiar paths toward repentance feel distant, out of my reach; I am like a devastated body transfigured by unrelenting pain and shame from which there is no easy peace or solace. I feel partly to blame Leiby’s heinous death. I feel that even though so many of us joined together to look for him, if only I had been better, if only we were a better klal- group – this could never would never have happened. I feel that somehow, collectively, we’ve reached an all-time low that facilitated someone from our own midst perpetrating such a horrendously inhuman deed. I cannot help but feel that somehow we all are answerable for the actions of this one individual, and that we are obligated to repair the sickness within us that enabled such monstrous measures in our midst.

I try to bite back other thoughts that race at train wreck speeds with increasing velocity propelled by unaskable questions. You steer the world, nothing happens lest You allow it! There were so many moments when You could have saved Leiby, made a good hearted pedestrian appear that would steer him back on path to his waiting mom, a self-correcting moment in time that would have taken a happier turn, or a change of choice or happenstance while waiting for the predator – disguised as one of us – as he descended deeper and deeper into unspeakable depravity.
You, who changed Pharaoh’s thoughts, could You not have changed this dark malicious abducting heart, to contritely return the child? So many moments of possibilities to choose life especially once the predator saw the posters and all-out campaign to locate our lost child? The whys don’t stop! And  once you take the lid off of the vaulted why thought-bank, the outpouring of unanswerables becomes a flood gate incapable of resealing. The essence of my Elul endeavor to become closer to Him, is falling apart. The whole Elul concept of Ani leDodi veDodi liI am for my Beloved and my Beloved is for me (Song of Songs 6:3) –  is slipping from my grasp as I find myself sinking into the rabbit hole of despair.

Down the rabbit hole of despair... Photo from: http://lucasknisely.blogspot.com/2011/02/despair.html

Childhood memories filled with stories of death, survival, Hashem‘s seeming absence, His miracles, Divine Providence, good and bad, return with a sickening familiar spewing. Any child of Holocaust survivors, will tell you how powerless,  unfixably frustrated and burdened they feel with the historical back-pack they are obliged to carry forward as a living testament to our Diaspora’s deepest  abyss.  And if that were not enough for a midsummer’s night nighmare, then Irene stormed in with two more stories. The story of a brave Monsey rabbi who lost his life saving a young boy from electrocution and got electrocuted himself; or the one of the 90 year old vacationing survivor swept away and drowned in her cabin during the storm. Why? Why?!?!?

Couldn’t You have made that Rabbi a living hero? We certainly could use more present day heroes in Klal Yisrael. And this poor woman, who merited survival from the fires of Hitler’s WWII gehinnom only to be drowned in a vacation box terminating her old age? Where were Your waters back then when You could have extinguished the raging fires that ashed a million, nay two, nay three, nay four, nay five, nay six million of Your beloved ones?  All actions, we are taught, are clearly Yad-Hashem, His role, His actions, His will, perfect; no consolation to be drawn from the evil actions of man versus G-d argument.
The bile of injustice rising within me this year was compelling and not so good for the state of my desolate, inconsolable, soul.  There were the countless stories of miraculous moments where we felt touched by Hakadosh Baruch Hu, assisted by angels watching over us or our loved ones, where Divine Providence - hashgacha pratit - was palpable, (I fully acknowledge them, I don’t want Hashem to strike me down for not appreciating each and every one of those moments of celebration and victory over defeat). And then… and then… as my mind uncontrollably, feverishly, delved upon all these heart searing whys, I chanced upon the 9/11 story of stairway B that put me back on track somewhat, with its powerful implications.

Fireman Bill Butler - Photo by: The New York Times

Sixteen people – most of them firefighters carrying 100 pound packs on their backs – were trying to make it down stairway B of the north tower from the 22nd floor and doing so at a hopeful pace. The building’s shaking, debris flying everywhere, the south tower had just collapsed, the stairway itself buckling… On the 15nth floor they meet up with a 59 year old bookkeeper, Josephine Harris.  who had miraculously made it down 50 flights with an injured braced leg from a car accident sustained several months earlier.  She had stopped unable to go further without some help. The firefighters were faced with a dilemma; they were progressing well, and if they kept pace they might escape alive, should they stop and take her or not?  Survival adrenaline, waiting loved ones, a building collapsing over and around them… Jonas, a 43 year old firefighter didn’t hesitate. “Grab her, let’s go!” “If somebody needs help, we got to give it a shot. It wasn’t a difficult decision.” “We got to bring her with us,”  Butler, the fire company’s strongest man put her arm around his shoulder and helped carry her down; it was a slow process her legs were giving out; slowing the group’s progress significantly.  When they reached the fifth floor, the injured woman could not  go on, and she told the fire fighters to leave her. The clock was ticking away their deaths seemed imminent. Foreceful rushes of air hit the group, blowing some of them down to the first floor, the floors above them were collaspping like stacked dominos. Floor upon floor, upon floor, quickened to collapse on top of them and ten seconds later, the building gave fell. All were sure they were about to die. They hoped it would be fast. Instead, they were enclosed within a small pocket of debris, bubbled in a cavity of stairway B, all surviving to tell their stories.

Had Josephine not slowed him down, Lim later said, he’d have been dead. The consegrity of their righteous, courageous, choice and good action saved them. Obviously the Boreh Olam went along with the plan. There have been times, many have experienced, where they are so focused on the task of good  action that it feels like the universe and shamayim synchronically move in unison with their movements to achieve a good outcome.  This story resonated within me, it brought me back a hopeful sense of rhyme and reason to a world I so often don’t comprehend.

Sometimes we are not saved, it’s true.  We claw at shamayim’s gates with our cries, our protests, our prayers, knowing full well we are but lowly creatures unable to fathom His ways. Yet sometimes in the course of our hishtadlut, the wings of His nesharimsurround us and and carry us into the palms of His hands, rushing with us joyfully toward the accomplishments of our right and good actions.

Kotel at sunrise - Photo from: http://www.askabba.com/gen123.html

As we travel through this final leg of our millennia old galut, as we approach this holy time of the year, the grieving Shechina again pours out her heart right  beside us. This year her presence is almost palpable. We are a sister to her tears, her pain, her sense of loss for Yerushalayim, as never before, knowing that our tefilot, our actions, have the power to imprint the outcome of our fates. May all our tefilot be answered letova- for the good. G-d give us the strength to be the best that we can be, to make the right choices and hasten the bringing of Mashiach tzidkenu, bimhera beyamenu. Amen!

SYR
13
Jun
11

A Very Special Shabbat at the Manhattan Sephardic Congregation


Between family events, Shavuos and then Shabbat I was away all week in another state. I couldn’t wait, however, to share my experience of a very special Shabbat.

On the Shabbat prior to Shavuot (Parshat Nasso) I stayed by some good friends who are members of the Manhattan Sephardic Congregation (325 East 75th Street, New York, NY 10021). Having grown up in Uruguay with a lot of Sephardi cronies, attending a shul – here in Brooklyn – where we have quite a few Persian members, I was somewhat familiar with non-Ashkenazi rites, or so I thought…

A weekday Schacharis... Photo by: Irving Schild

On Friday eve – erev Shabbat, as everyone was reciting the Shir Hashirim together, there was a certain electricity in the air. The recitation wasn’t just a word mouthing exercise, the fervor was palpable! Each chapter was led by a different member of the kehilla, each picking up where the other left off, without skipping a beat. The tfilllot and their haunting, lilting melodies transported me to another era, to another place. Shabbat eve’s meal consisted of Moroccan and Latin American dishes, a delight for the eyes, the nose, the palate. For the first time in many a decade, a major part of the conversation was in Spanish, I loved it. All that, however, was just the appetizer for what was about to come. The tfillot on Shabbat day introduced me to even greater depths of feeling. Never since I returned to the US in 1977 – after 10 years in Eretz Yisroel – did I get to join other kohanim on a Shabbat for the birkat kohanim on a regular Shabbat, not once but twice! Though the melodies were far different from any I was used to, there was something indescribably beautiful in the voices, the words, the emotions. Many time I was left full of awe after the blessings, but never before, here in chutz la’aretz, have I felt so much like a true descendant of Aharon HaKohen.

Rabbi Benchimol, the Congregation’s Rav, gave an inspiring drasha (but even this was only a forerunner of things to come) weaving golden threads, from Sephardi and Ashkenazi sfarim, into a stunningly rich tapestry.

After Mussaf was over we had kiddush. The previous evening I’d been warned that this particular kiddush was rather a meager one… Meager? By what standards?!?!? Like most of the members, I had challah at the kiddush, there was no need for further lunch. They dare call this meager?!?

Before mincha Rabbi Benchimol gave a shiur, again the wealth and breadth of his lamdut reminded me of a large treasure chest bursting with precious stones, with gold, with silver. Not only does he know his mekorot but his way of meshing them together, his insights, had us all enthralled as we listened and eagerly picked up every pearl pouring forth..

The seudah shlishit, was a veritable feast again, but by this time I expected it to be… and it didn’t disappoint. The warmth of the predominantly Moroccan congregation, the depth of the feelings evoked, tfillot that left me feeling feeling humbled but inspired, made this a Shabbat I will long treasure. One Ashkenazi member of MSC told me – in response to my question as to what brought him to a Sephardic bet knesset - “I find myself emotionally drawn to this minyan!” Frankly, I’m starting to feel the same way…

CS

31
May
11

Shavuos’ Minhagim: Morocco


A good friend emailed me a link yesterday with some Moroccan Shavuos‘ customs and explanations. I found them fascinating. I believe you will too, gentle reader, especially after master photographer – former Chairman of Fashion Institute of Technology’s Photo Department – Irving Schild, graciously allowed us to use two of his photos, taken during a recent trip to Morocco with the Manhattan Sephardic Congregation:

The magic, the enchantment, of Jewish life in Morocco - as seen through Irving Schild's camera lens...

Darké Aboténou 

26 Iyar 5771 – May 30, 2011 – Perashat Naso

Netibot Hama’arab – e”H Ribi Eliyahou Bitton s”t

Traditions of Shabu’ot

20) We have the minhag to save masot from Pesah, and on Shabu’ot they would crush them and mix them with milk and honey and after Shaharit of Shabu’ot they would eat this. We use milk and honey because they are compared to the Tora as Hazal say (Shir haShirim 4:11)  “Debash vehalab tahat leshonekh” – “Honey and Milk under your tongue.” So as milk and honey linger in your mouth, so too the Tora should constantly linger on your tongue. See more in Midrash Shir haShirim 11, Noheg beHokhma p.202, Nahagu ha’Am p.106, Yahadut haMaghreb (Shabu’ot), and Shemo Yosef Siman 143 by Ribi Yosef Benoualid zs”l, 1907.

21) On Shabu’ot we make a special dish called in Arabic “lhrabel” made from masa meal, sugar and mint, and they would form this mixture into long ovals to eat after Shaharit (see below for an example and the recipe found on www.dafina.net). This also corresponds to what is written “debash vehalab tahat leshonekh,” – “Honey and milk under your tongue” and this is why we eat more sweet foods than normal on Shabu’ot, in honour of the Tora and its misvot. See Osrot haMaghreb (Shabu’ot).

22) Many have the tradition to prepare a cooked food from the intestines of a cow [T.N. they would use it as casing for a sort of sausage called in Arabic 'Lkrisa] in honour of Shabu’ot. It was known that this was one of the tastiest meals, so they made it in honour of theHag. Also, Hazal tell us that half of the hag should be dedicated to Hashem (i.e. Tefila and studying Tora) while the other half to ourselves, (i.e. eating and singing) so they ate this dish for ‘oneg – enjoyment of the hag. See Osrot haMaghreb (Shabu’ot).

[On the first day of Shabu'ot some, especially those from Mogador, have the custom of making l'Ada - Lintria (wide pasta, tagliatelle) with pieces of lamb and fried onions with raisins.]

Courtyard, in Morocco - photo by: Irving Schild

We’d love to hear about your Shavuos minhagim. We also want to remind you about our Shavuos Recipe Contest, you can a nice package of cholov Yisroel cheese selections. Email us at:

kosherscene@gmail.com

CS

07
May
10

Cheese Cake Contest


We are excited! We are soooo excited!! Shavuos is a time when men stay up all night learning or reciting the Tikkun Leil Shavuos as arranged by the ARIZa”L in the 16th Century. Ashkenazim read Akdomos, Sephardim sing Azharot and both recite Megillas Ruth. It is a time when we celebrate our having said “Na’aseh venishma – We will do and we will listen!” as Hakodosh Boruch Hu offered and gave us the Torah. But it is also a time when we eat lots of dairy foods: blintzes, cheesecake, and more! Some say we adapted this custom because of Shlomo Hamelech‘s portrayal of the Torah as “devash vechalav tachat leshonech – like honey and milk it lies under your tongue (Shir Hashirim 4:11)”

All the above should be enough to get us excited but there is more…

Contest! Contest! Contest!

Photo by: Good Food

We are proud to announce The Kosher Scene’s First Annual Shavuot Cheese Cake Contest. Please send your entries with detailed recipe and pictures (if possible, close ups preferred), no later than this coming Thursday, the 13th of May, by 5:00 Eastern Daylight Time. Entries will be judged on texture, crust, creative topping, recipe details and of course the overall taste. Don’t forget to include your full name and address, so we can let you know immediately if you win and send out the prize so that you receive it in time for Shavuos.

Please note that CS and I are considered world experts in cheese cake consumption, so your recipe better be really good!!! Send your recipes to:

KosherScene@gmail.com

Winner will receive a beautiful assortment of Cholov Yisroel NK (Natural & Kosher) cheeses. We’ve reviewed them on this very pages.

You may also send in any of your favorite Shavuos recipes, the best ones will be featured, right here, on The Kosher Scene.

SYR




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