One More Passover Roundup Post

I think it was Jewschool that tipped me off to the Idelsohn Society Passover Mix Tape. It’s not a tape, really, it’s a sound file with all kinds of music on it. It has Socalled on it and I really love that stuff. (It’s a little hipster-ish, but we like to be hip, right?)

If you feel hip to using the web for your seder, you will love My Haggadah Made It Myself. Our board chair, who is very web-savvy, found this one for us  in a blog post on coolhunting.com. I love the look of these illustrations!

Of course our CEO Ed Case is going to use the latest Velveteen Rabbi Haggadah.

When I tweeted yesterday’s Passover roundup post, I really won the jackpot–Esther Kustanowitz invited me to be a beta tester at haggadot.com, a project her roommate Eileen Levinson,  an artist and graphic designer, is masterminding. If you are the kind of person who knows what beta testing means, write to Eileen at info@haggadot.com.  For a lot of interfaith families, the Passover seder is best when you put together your own service. There are a lot of great resources out there to do this, but this one seems to put the emphasis on the pretty. I’m hoping that next year, this site will be available to everyone to make really personal haggadot that fit your family.

Freedom

Julia Gutman wrote two articles about her intercultural relationship for InterfaithFamily.com, Does OK Really Mean OK? and Momo and Matzoh: Our Tibetan-Jewish Marriage. She sent me a press release that begins:

FREE TIBET WORLD TOUR: MAN PLUS BIKE TO SAVE TIBET IN 8 MONTHS
A Tibetan American Goes Solo, Leaves Job, Family, to Alert World of his People’s Plight
At 40, Lhakpa has never been to Tibet. As he brushes his teeth, photos of escaped prisoners, their flesh rotten, race through his mind. Despite protests over human rights, China was awarded the honor of hosting the Olympics. It is sports, many said, not politics. Remind you of 1936 Olympics in Germany, anyone? So he left his job and family to ride his motorcycle from the UN in New York on March 10, around the world on a shoestring, modern nomad style to talk about Tibet, hoping pressure changes China’s behavior. He plans to return by 2011.

I spoke with Julia on the phone. First she explained: Lhakpa is her husband! She said she was surprised at how supportive her Russian Jewish relatives were of his quest to publicize the plight of Tibetans. They saw a parallel between his people’s situation and what had happened to their families in the Second World War.

This is a good interfaith story for Passover, when Jews celebrate emerging from slavery to freedom. In this case, the 40 years in the desert are going to be eight months on a motorcycle.

If you would like to follow Lhakpa’s ride around the world, you can read his blog, freetibetworldtour.com, or follow him on Twitter, Youtube, or Facebook.

Good Things for Passover Roundup

We are gearing up for the holidays here at IFF, planning travel for Passover and Easter, and doing a little last-minute brainstorming about how to make our seders more accessible. At home, my family is getting stressed out (about the cleaning) and excited (about the seder.)

I’ve been following TweetTheExodus on Twitter. My husband found it last night and shared it with my 7-year-old  son, who was fascinated that @TheTenPlagues have their own account. If you want to see the story of the Exodus acted out in 140-character tweets, get over there and watch it!

Yesterday, I shared with my son an album I found in our house–Benjamin Lapidus on Herencia Judia. I wanted him to hear the rhumba version of the Four Questions. Most of the album is Caribbean musical settings of Ashekenazi tunes, except the first track is Sephardi, half in Ladino. I cannot believe how much fun it is to hear these tunes that are so familiar to me in this setting.

I wrote a short piece for Boston’s Combined Jewish Philanthropies CJP Family Connections newsletter, Passover for Children, with some tips I’ve used with my family, including the books we used last year for our second-night, kid-focused seder. Not that all seders aren’t focused on teaching our children–no matter how old the children are.

This is probably the last possible minute for you to buy a variety of awesome seder-enhancers from haggadahsrus.com. You might have the bag of plagues or the Sedra Scenes (little plays you can use to act out the Passover story) at your local Judaica shop, but if you don’t–you can get them shipped directly from the land of my forefathers, Cleveland. Come comment here if you have a favorite hagaddah you want to recommend, or a Passover picture book you love. 

Oooh look, one more thing! our favorite food blogger smitten kitchen has posted< a Passover cookie recipe! OK, that had to go in this post, because that is a bona fide good thing for Passover.

How do you feel about this?

We received an email from a company that is selling Hebrew prayer flags. I’ve seen prayer flags in my neighborhood–they are a Buddhist spiritual practice that originated in Tibetan culture.

One reason I feel uncomfortable about this tradition is that I think it’s cultural appropriation. How is it that we have the right to take for ourselves, out of context, another culture’s spiritual practice? Like all examples of cultural appropriation, you could see this in a positive or a negative light. Is it an expression of our shrinking world, that we know and love each other’s cultures and feel connected to one another? Or is this just more of the culturally (and economically, and every other way) hegemonic West grabbing up and using other people’s things for their “authenticity”?

I mean, I guess I’m happy that we can use Jewish texts to display proudly in the yard, if we’re noshing at the smorgasbord of world spirituality. There is another problem, though. In Tibetan culture, the flags are supposed to deteriorate, in order to allow the prayers to distribute the blessing of the words to the world. (Wow, I find that image compelling and beautiful.)

In Jewish tradition, we treat the physical words of Torah with respect. Like Muslims, Jews kiss holy books that fall to the ground. We bury books in which God’s name is written when they deteriorate–is that consonant with prayer flags that are intentionally ephermal?

What do you think about this kind of thing? Are you more open than I am to syncretistic expressions of spirituality? Would you like brachot, blessings, from Jewish tradition to extend to all sentient beings? Would you put a sutra in a mezuzah?  I’m interested in your point of view.

Challah Day

I baked challah last night. I’m sorry I don’t have a photo–I did some cool braiding. I made the first recipe in the wonderful A Blessing of Bread, by Maggie Glezer. Glezer collected recipes, mainly from Jewish grandmothers, for holiday and festival breads. I’ve learned a lot since I started baking from it. I wanted to bake again to try to use up the rest of the flour in our house. I also made cake, and I’m planning to make pasta. The carb-a-thon is due to my need to clean out my cupboards of non-Passover food before cleaning the house for Passover.

I was thinking about how I would like to have more guests just this morning, as I was mulling over the resource guide to Jewish spirituality that I’m writing for IFF. I wanted to make the case that Jewish spirituality was mundane, something in which everyone could participate, Jewish or not. I thought of the mitzvah of hospitality in Judaism. I hadn’t known until I looked it up that it trumps prayer or study–it’s one of the most important mitzvot of all. Great for interfaith families, too, because there are lots of hospitable people who don’t realize that they are doing something spiritual. I have a great impression of the people who read and write for our site–they love to cook and invite people. When we do that, we’re in imitation of God, of whom we say in Psalms 145:16, “You open your hand and satisfy all the living.” That’s how we should be, too.

That’s why I am planning to spring Global Hunger Shabbat on my havurah this Shabbat, when I lead services on Saturday morning. (Now I’ll find out who is reading my blog posts, eh?) I’m going to use some of their educational materials–I also have some selections from Psalms in mind to sing. The Global Hunger Shabbat is part of a project from the American Jewish World Service. I also want to give a shout out to Project Mazon, A Jewish Response to Hunger, which makes grants to local hunger-relief agencies. In my area we have the Greater Boston Food Bank. We also have organizations that give to Jews in need–Passover food is extra expensive–like Jewish Family and Children’s Service Family Table.

Before Passover is a great time to think about people who are hungry, as we gear up for the seder when we say, “All who are hungry, let them come and eat.”

London Jewish Museum reopens

The Jewish community of Great Britain is a cultural powerhouse, I can’t even summarize all the great stuff that has come out of it. It’s the Jewish community responsible for the first Limmud, Aviva Zornberg, Neil Gaiman, Claudia Roden, Harold Pinter, Julian Sinclair, Martyn Poliakoff, Susan Edni, and so many other amazing people in arts, entertainment, science, politics, literature and Jewish life. (Yes, I am aware that list was a little random–give me yours!)

Two of those people, the food writer Nigella Lawson and creative director of the BBC Alan Yentob, re-opened the Jewish Museum in London this past week. The Jewish Museum in London has a slightly different model than some of the ones in the US. It seems poised to use the Jewish experience as “one of Britain’s oldest minorities” to bring other immigrant and minority experiences to the foreground. Cara Nissman reported for us last year on how Jewish museums might provide neutral territory for interfaith families. You don’t need to be Jewish to go to a museum, and in fact the exhibits in a Jewish museum may provide an opening to discuss the non-Jewish partner’s history and culture.

If you’re going to London, check the Jewish Museum’s events list–it looks like they have a lot of interesting events there.

New Passover Books and Web Stuff

It wasn’t one of the plagues of Egypt–they expected the Nile to flood, and relied on the alluvial mud for agriculture–but floods are hard on Bostonians. One of the roads I travel to work has been closed and commuters are wailing and gnashing their teeth. It’s a good thing most of my work is online!

I was really happy I came in to the office yesterday because there was a new book for me, The Lone and Level Sands– a graphic novel about the exodus from Egypt. I have to say, it’s a little weird that so much of the book is from the point of view of the Egyptians. It’s like the part of the seder when you spill drops of wine to acknowledge Egyptian suffering in the plagues–a whole book of that. I didn’t see much in the book about the suffering of the Israelites under slavery–and that bothers me now, because I think it shows the extent to which people in our society identify with the people oppressing rather than with the oppressed. Still, the book is gorgeous–the artwork and the design are just fantastic. It could be a good way for a person who is very visual to understand the Passover story, and it’s non-sectarian.  Check it out!

Another Passover-themed book I was lucky enough to get at work is Dara Horn’s All Other Nights which just came out in paperback. It deserves all the hype it received in Jewish publications. Following the career of a Jewish spy for the Union in the Civil War, this novel does a much better job of troubling the question, “who were the good guys,” without losing the moral absolute that slavery and racism are wrong. Horn plays deftly with Jewish cultural and religious symbols–it doesn’t feel, excuse the expression, ham-handed, and neither does her presentation of the history.

One of our favorite Passover resources to recommend to interfaith families is The Velveteen Rabbi’s Haggadah for Pesach–now available in a new version! Our CEO Ed Case uses this one every year. It’s free but do comment to let the editor know how much you love her work.

I also want to commend to you two books you can get through the web for Passover. One is my friend Debra Cash’s chapbook, Who Knows One–a book of poems with Passover images. You can see a sample poem in Rabbi Barry Dov Lerner’s supplementary seder readings. (You can find more of his Passover treasures at www.jewishfreeware.org.) The other online, sorry you do have to pay for it, book is A La Muestra! Recipes for a Rhodesli Passover by Janet Amateau.  Amateau is a scholar of Sephardi food whose grandparents were from the island of Rhodes.

I am excited to find a vegetarian Passover seder menu from Trinidad. The blogger is an amazing find–kosher Caribbean recipes! The seder recipes don’t seem particularly Trinidadian–but they are creative and mouth-watering, and I’m totally going to be following this blog from now on.

If you’re looking for plantains at the seder table, look to us at IFF–everyone should read Teresita Levy’s kosher-for-Passover Puerto Rican Easter dinner article. We have plenty of ideas, and we always want more. If you’re blending two cultures at your holiday table, we want to hear about it!

Passover Prep Lists–Lay Them On Us

I am editing the recipes we received for our Passover recipe contest and attempting to digest my lunch. See, I have this great plan–I’m going to try to use up all the non-Passover food, all the non-leavened food–all the hametz–before I make our house kosher-for-Passover. The problem is, that means eating a lot of mystery soupsicles. Every Saturday night after Shabbat, I try to remember to freeze the leftover soup in containers to take to work and eat, and now…I have to take it to work and eat it. Today I ate some…tofu matzah balls with leeks and carrots? I think.

One of my all-time favorite internet friends (one whom I’ve recruited to write for IFF and visited in person) asked me for help developing her Passover seder prep list, and I’ve been meaning to throw the question out to you folks. Now, if she’d asked me before she wrote her own list, my bare-bones list would have looked like this:

Matzah
wine or grape juice
copies of the Hagaddah for each person
eggs
ingredients for haroset
horseradish

But that’s because I go to either my mother, my mother-in-law, or my husband’s aunt every year for Passover, and they worry about all the stuff you really need and give me cooking assignments. Also, because I happen to own a lot of Passover dishes and cooking utensils. If you buy only one cooking implement per holiday but you keep the holiday in your own home for whatever, 20 years, you’re going to have the mini-food-processor, offset spatula, egg whisk, coffee grinder… plus the dishes my great-aunt Jane got from the bank one year and gave me because at the time I wasn’t married and needed good china. I’ve got born-in-an-observant-Jewish-family privilege here, and it’s not fair–I have to check that privilege if I’m going to give good advice! Help me.

Yes, so much for keeping it simple, as Tamar Fox advises us all to do. Some go crazy cleaning, some cooking and some, acquiring educational materials. My friend is still looking for a poster of the order of the seder she saw at one point. Luckily, I know a good place to send people online to get enriching seder materials–my friend Joe Gelles sells a plagues bag if you don’t have a Judaica shop that’s local to you, and Modern Tribe has Passover gifts for children that might also make your seder fun.

Give my friend your list. What do you make sure to have on hand for Passover to make it yummy, fun for your kids, accessible to non-Jewish relatives and friends, simple enough so you don’t lose your mind?

Just say no

I’ve been working for weeks on a blog post to put all the conversion hysteria in the Jewish world into some kind of context. Yesterday I spent an hour trying to work the latest news from Israel into the whole complicated, world-wide, cross-denominational mess. I realized it’s taking too long and I just need to tell you this:

There’s a bill before the Knesset in Israel to change the Law of Return to bar converts from being integrated into Israeli society as Jews and we have to act now.

At the moment, any convert, no matter who has converted him or her, can make aliyah (immigrate to Israel) under the Law of Return–even people whom the Chief Rabbinate would deny the right to marry a Jew. Israeli law also dodges the problem of excluding people who are Jewish by patrilineal descent through a 1970 amendment that allows relatives of Jews to come on the same basis as Jews.

Now the right-wing secular party Yisrael Beiteinu has put forward a new bill to exclude converts to Judaism from the Law of Return–catering to the Chief Rabbinate, whose officials have declared hundreds of Orthodox conversions performed in the State of Israel invalid. (We’re not even talking about Reform or Conservative conversions done in the US or elsewhere.)

If you think this is pushing Israel toward theocracy, you are dead wrong. At least, if it is a theocracy, it’s not a Jewish one, because declaring converts to have a different status is not based on Judaism. Jewish religion says that a Jew is a Jew and there’s no distinction between converts and people who are born Jewish. This is a scary piece of legislation designed to cut off the rest of the Jewish people from the State of Israel. On JewsByChoice.Org (a fantastic web resource that seems to be back in business!) I found this plea from the Conservative movement to act immediately on the Knesset bill. The Reform movement, through its Zionist organization Arza, is also urging action. 

This is not the solution to the problems of interfaith families in Israel, as Yisrael Beiteinu seems to believe. Jewishness is not a racial category and we can’t resolve our communal differences over how to do conversion by taking from converts one of the major tokens of belonging to the Jewish people. The bizarre and anti-halachic campaign of the Chief Rabbinate to undermine conversions in Israel has had widespread impact here in the Diaspora. It’s time to tell them no.

Reform Movement Task Force on Intermarriage Reports

Our CEO Ed Case is attending the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) in San Francisco. The CCAR is the rabbinic association of the Reform movement. I look forward to his opinions on the presentation of the CCAR task force on intermarriage. News reports, including this one in the New York Times suggest a slight shift on the issue. The panel proposed that Reform rabbis work on encouraging interfaith couples to stay in the Jewish community instead of trying to prevent interfaith marriage.

The task force did not suggest any change on rabbinic officiation at interfaith weddings. Currently, Reform rabbis can choose to officiate at interfaith weddings according to their conscience, though the Reform movement formally opposes rabbinic officiation at interfaith weddings.

Since 1983, the Reform movement has recognized children of interfaith families as Jewish if their parents raise them as Jews–whether the Jewish parent is the mother or the father. This has brought many more interfaith families into Reform congregations, making it the largest of the Jewish denominations in the United States, which is the largest Jewish community in the world. Reform congregations have been working for years on integrating interfaith families and their children and finding ways to honor non-Jewish spouses who support Jewish family members’ practice of Judaism.

If you’re a member of a Reform congregation, what has your experience been? Does your rabbi make your whole family feel welcome? How about the rest of the community?