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.

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?

Reconnect Jews Yearning for Connection

Fee For Service Judaism may hold us until we get our communal act together in a new way.

Judaism is changing, yet again.  Many feel it is changing for the wrong reasons or in a bad way, but the fact of the change is palpable.

Post Holocaust Judaism in North America was built on two major foundational lines of thinking.  The first was the cry “never again”, referring to the horrific destruction of Jewish life in Europe, and the second was the suburbanization of American Jewish communities.  The intersection of these two points created a Judaism that was based in fear, on the grand scale of the Holocaust, and on the smaller but not less significant scale of assimilation into American culture.  The role of rabbi 50 years ago was, in no small part, to constantly remind their congregations that affiliation with Jewish community and vigilance against mixing with those outside of the Jewish community would protect us from a second holocaust (small ‘h’ holocaust).

And here we are, over half a century later, and fear based Judaism is no longer holding sway in our communities.  Maybe it never did hold sway.

But there are bright spots in the future.  In a New York Times article about the clergy who serve the greatest number of wedding couples we find a Holocaust survivor who became a rabbi, later in her life, to serve the Jews for whom ‘fear based’ Judaism didn’t keep them attached to community.  These are the Jews who have found community in the larger world and have fallen in love with people outside the Jewish community. Continue reading

More Funky Internet Torah Study Opportunities

I love the internet. I know, I say that all the time. Look at this, G-dcast.com. It combines the trend for Torah study on the internet with the trends in Jewish creativity that I enjoy so much–Jewish music in diverse styles, like hip-hop, multi-vocality, and the use of animation. The creators of the site call it “low-commitment learning.” You can commit to it, though. It’s a podcast, so you can subscribe to it.

It’s true that this isn’t on the level of studying the portion of the week with Nechama Leibowitz, who used to ask very difficult questions. Leibowitz, one of the great Orthodox teachers of Torah, assumed that everyone, no matter what his or her education, could understand Torah in its own language and understand the major medieval commentaries. This podcast does give you access to many opinions, which is the part of Jewish study that makes it exciting.

The thing is, the first three of these seem a little simplistic to me, probably because it’s one opinion per portion, and usually Jewish commentaries include a lot of opinions per parashah. Rashi, the medieval rabbi who created the model for commentaries, gives more than one possible interpretation for practically everything. Still, this might be a good taste of Torah for a lot of web-savvy people, and I like the cartoons.

Take a look and see if this is your cup of tea. Below the cut, I’ve embedded the video for last week’s portion, Noah, Continue reading

We Have the Technology

Did you buy yourself an iPhone? Here’s a cool application for you–kosherme.com. You’ll need iTunes to get it. With this program, your iPhone can tell you which blessing to say over any meal or snack, in Hebrew, English and transliteration. They have omitted all blessings that one would say on the Jewish sabbath, because traditional observance dictates that you not use your iPhone on Shabbat.

stock photo of lightningWhy do Jews have so many blessings, anyway? Blessing before you eat, blessings after you eat, blessings on thunder and lightning, blessings on seeing people of learning–there sure are a lot of them. If you believe in God, it’s what they call in computer software jargon a feature. It’s like Jewish culture has built in opportunities for gratitude and mindfulness.

If you don’t believe in God, you could use that moment to be grateful and mindful of other the human beings who worked to create your food, to keep your body healthy and to provide the roof over your head that protects you from thunder and lightning. (Though perhaps then you won’t want to pay the seven bucks to buy the application for your iPhone!) Continue reading

A Jewish Children’s Museum

I’m a big advocate of Jewish-themed museums as a potentially potent tool for reaching unaffiliated intermarried and interdating Jews. They lack the religious baggage of synagogues and the political baggage of Israel Independence Day festivals. Unlike JCCs or synagogues, there is nothing clubby about them–they are essentially public spaces marked more by anonymity than community. And the less you know, the better–museums are fundamentally giant adult learning centers. Unlike almost all other Jewish institutions, museums make no assumption that visitors will come in with a pre-existing capital of Jewish knowledge.

A new addition to the Jewish museum scene is the Jewish Discovery Museum in Tampa, a temporary interactive exhibit where kids can learn about Judaism. The exhibit includes interactive components such as Noah’s Ark Theater, painting and weaving at Joseph’s Diverse Dreamcoat and Mr. Abraham’s Neighborhood, where children can learn to set a seder table.

Continue reading

The Singles Difference

Young unmarried Jews are just as interested in Judaism as their married peers, a surprising new study shows. What’s different, say co-authors Steven M. Cohen and Ari Y. Kelman, is that they avoid affiliating with synagogues, federations and JCCs in part because those institutions are so focused on the traditional family unit.

Uncoupled: How Our Singles Are Reshaping Jewish Engagement, conducted as part of the Jewish Identity Project of Reboot, with the support of Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, looked at more than 1,700 non-Orthodox Jews between the ages of 25 and 39 from the 2007 National Survey of American Jews. The authors compared their behaviors and attitudes to the behaviors and attitudes of inmarried non-Orthodox couples. Say Cohen and Kelman:

As many as 67% of these non-Orthodox singles agree, “I am proud to be a Jew,” slightly surpassing the 66% of in-married Jews who agree. More broadly, single Jews express Jewish pride in many different ways, they are widely and deeply connected to Jewish friends, and they express keen interest in self-directed ways of expressing and exploring their Jewish identities.

Continue reading

Why Jewish Summer Camp?

summer camp

Overnight summer camp is awesome. I don’t know if I’ve ever met a former camper who disagrees.

But why do parents send their kids to summer camp? More specifically, why do Jewish parents send their kids to Jewish summer camp?

In a terrific essay for the (Vancouver, B.C.) Jewish Independent, Kelley Korbin writes of her shock at hearing that “many Jewish parents send their kids to Jewish camps so they’ll meet a Jewish spouse.” So why does she send her children to Jewish camp? “It’s simple really,” she writes. “I chose Jewish summer camp for my kids because that’s where I went.”

Continue reading

Are Museums The Next Frontier of Outreach?

contempjewishmuseum250.jpg

On Sept. 30, several hundred people gathered at a construction site at Fifth and Market Streets in Philadelphia to celebrate the groundbreaking on a new $150 million museum devoted to American Jewish history, according to the (Philadelphia) Jewish Exponent.

The National Museum of American Jewish History is just one of several ambitious Jewish museum projects opening around the country in the next few years. In San Francisco, the Contemporary Jewish Museum is reopening this spring in a dramatic 63,000-square-foot structure marked by a giant glass cube pirouetted on one corner. In Boston, plans are afoot for a $40 million New Center for Arts and Culture on the greenway covering the central artery. While nothing in the New Center’s mission explicitly says the museum will be Jewish, all of its previous events have been Jewish-themed and the project was first proposed by the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston and the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Boston.
Continue reading