“I don’t like getting pushed around for being a Jew, and I don’t think Christians like getting pushed around for being Christians… [W]here did the idea come from that… we aren’t allowed to worship God?”
— Ben Stein, from CBS Sunday Morning, Dec. 18, 2005
It’s not uncommon for me to ask my youngest son Izzy a relatively simple question, such as “Would you like to eat something?” or “Do you need a ride later today to hang out with friends?” and for the response to be, “I don’t know.” On such occasions, I am in the habit of saying, “I’ll ask the other Izzy.”
The implication is there is a parallel universe that contains a parallel Izzy who does know whether he’s hungry or needs a ride somewhere. However, it’s just a little private joke of mine. In reality, there is only one Izzy: The version who can earn straight A’s in school but seems incapable of taking a definitive stand on whether or not he’d like a sandwich.
Our family, including our inscrutable son, lives in Bellevue, home to an ethnically, religiously and culturally diverse population. Within a 10-minute drive of our home are dozens of religious institutions. I can find churches of numerous denominations — Baptist, Catholic, Christian Reformed, Foursquare, Episcopal, Jehovah’s Witness, Lutheran, Mormon, Seventh Day Adventist, and several others — services available in multiple languages — English, Spanish, Korean, Chinese — as well the Jewish Day School, three synagogues, a Chabad House, a mosque, and two Bahai centers. Broaden the radius to 20 miles, and the number of houses of worship mushrooms literally into the hundreds. It’s difficult to drive three blocks around here without passing at least one church.
A common theme of the December holiday season is the complaint that religion in our society is under attack, as reflected in the quote above by Ben Stein. The idea that in America Jews and Christians get “pushed around” and aren’t allowed to “worship God” isn’t merely wrong, it’s laughably, absurdly and ludicrously wrong. Ben Stein must believe in a parallel America, one that forbids religious worship, like the Soviet Union did under Communism. Sadly, many countries around the globe still experience a suppression of their freedom of religion, such as China and Saudi Arabia.
What Stein seems to either not understand, or deliberately obfuscate, is that the U.S. is not a theocracy — there is no official government religion. As the First Amendment of the Constitution states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”
Note the two powerful ideas of the founding fathers contained in this passage. The American government won’t establish any single religion, but at the same time it shall not prohibit the exercise of any faith. Could there be a more perfect expression of religious freedom? The government doesn’t seek to impose an official, state-sanctioned form of belief, and every citizen can choose to worship — or choose not to — according to his or her heart’s desire.
Religion is dynamic, vibrant and deeply woven into the fabric of American life. Arguing that Americans are not allowed to worship God is like making the claim we are forbidden to play baseball, eat popcorn or wear sunscreen. A search for books under the topic “Religion” on Amazon.com yields over one million choices, which sounds about right, given the incredible religious diversity in America. To maintain that religious expression is prohibited is preposterous and proven false by simply driving a couple of miles down any busy street in any town in our nation and taking note of all the churches.
One might rephrase the quote above, and ask of Ben Stein where he got the idea that Americans aren’t allowed to worship God. While we’re at it, perhaps in his parallel universe, which contains an America that is utterly unrecognizable to the rest of us, we can ask him if he knows whether Izzy would like a snack.
Ed Harris, the author of “Fifty Shades of Schwarz” and several other books, was born in the Bronx and lives in Bellevue with his family. His long-suffering wife bears silent testimony to the saying that behind every successful man is a surprised woman.
I’m not sure how to approach this issue. I don’t mean to overdramatize; however, a major family battle is brewing over — believe it or not — gefilte fish. My family is very traditional and serves gefilte fish at every major Jewish holiday. My mother puts in a full day in the kitchen to prepare it and serves it with immense pride. It was her mother’s recipe and before that her grandmother’s and so on. It is almost sacrosanct.
Here’s the problem: My wife did not grow up eating gefilte fish. She despises it — the smell, the taste, everything about it. And she does not hide her feelings. She refuses to even taste it. Every time it comes up she is sure to let everyone know that she never intends to make it.
Family get-togethers are becoming unpleasant on account of the gefilte fish. Even as I write this, I can’t believe it. Any suggestions on solving this tempest in a fish pot?
Not that I’m fishing for compliments, but I think some solutions are certainly possible. First, time to fish or cut bait. Let’s solve this one fast — after all, there just may be bigger fish to fry in this world of ours. And, frankly, your wife should not have to feel like a fish out of water.
First things first. Keep in mind that the Jewish value of shalom bayit, a home of peace, comes before anything, even gefilte fish. That said, I feel your pain. I was not always a gefilte fan, myself. Your question, though, has ignited a lyrical chord. If the Jewish-born Heinrich Heine, one of the most significant German poets of the 19th century, could write a poem about cholent, then why not a poem about gefilte fish? I believe its time has come!
Ode to Gefilte Fish
On Mother’s table Friday night,
Gefilte fish, it’s quite a sight.
The pot set long before we wake,
Friday morning, as the challahs bake.
Later, as Shabbat candles burn,
With subtle probing, to me they’d turn,
“No fish daughter dear, why heavens not?”
“It’s not my thing — not by a long shot!”
Not till married, that very first year
Did gefilte fish upon my table appear.
I took that very first tentative nibble,
Whoa, this is okay! Not a crumb of a quibble!
From then, till now, I chop and I mix,
Boil and bake and lovingly fix.
Ode to gefilte
It’s quite the fish.
Oh, dear gefilte
You’re quite the dish.
Have you been brave? Taken a morsel?
The jar with the gel? – Hmmm, quite awful!
But homemade? With carp and maybe some pike?
I’m not first to say, “What’s not to like?”
Way over the pond they fry it up —
Quite the feat for a Britishe kup!
Go get a loaf, you can shake it and bake it
Throw on some red sauce — no need to fake it.
This GF squabble is so, so sad,
Especially since it’s become quite the fad!
On websites order yours organic,
Or go for the local, no need to panic.
This dish has got some history —
Plus passion and some mystery.
The French make quenelles and others do croquette,
For we Jews it’s not that at all, you can bet.
Invented to stop us from picking out bones
On Shabbat that’s a no-no in all of our zones.
There are recipes galore from salty to sweet,
The horseradish made red with some added beet
Tops it all off with a pop and a punch.
If any is left, serve it for brunch!
So, give it a shot! That’s my advice.
Go home and cook it, then take a slice.
You may be surprised, like I was back then,
You’ll thank me, I tell you — amen and amen!
GF on the dish is part of our story.
So hurry it up and share in the glory!
Rabbi Haninah, the son of Papa, says (in the Talmud, Tractate Berachot, page 35b): “Anyone who enjoys anything from this world without a blessing, it is as if they have stolen from God and the community of Israel.”
What a statement — to be guilty for just eating the delicious piece of fruit I bought at the farmer’s market, or perhaps picked from my very own garden, or delivered to me by my neighbor. And guilty of stealing not only from God, but also the community of Israel.
And if one is guilty for stealing if you don’t say a blessing, what is involved in saying a blessing that is so transformative as to make that same act (that same eating of the piece of fruit) no longer theft? What is a blessing all about?
I often use the metaphor of quotation and plagiarism for explaining the mechanics of blessings. Similar to how citations work when we intellectually benefit from the wisdom of someone else and are allowed to do so by citing the source, when we acknowledge the source (through the act of blessing), we then have permission to use and enjoy this item.
Alternatively, through the act of blessing, we may be transforming ourselves, seeing the world through sacred lenses, somehow transporting ourselves to the divine realm, and are thereby fit to enjoy God’s bounty.
The rabbis suggest one should say 100 blessings a day. If one sleeps between seven and eight hours a day, an equal distribution of reciting blessings has one saying a blessing approximately once every 10 minutes of one’s waking time. (The rabbis assumed one would be saying a greater number of blessings during the three daily services, so the expressing of blessings is not necessarily evenly distributed every ten minutes throughout the day.) What an incredible way to interact with the world — to pause frequently to be mindful of one’s surroundings, to acknowledge one’s blessings, to show gratitude and express a sacred connection with the Divine and the world around you. How differently would you perceive the world, how much more grateful and mindful, patient and appreciative would you be if you interacted with the world with regular pauses, mindfulness and appreciation? I know, from the couple experiments I have done with trying to fit in my hundred daily blessings, that this practice helps radically shift my perspective and energy. I see the world and those around me as a constant source of awe and potential.
For me, the hardest part to understand about Rabbi Hanina’s statement is how we can steal from other human beings when we don’t offer a blessing. One possibility, as suggested by the commentator Rashi, is in how we behave as role models: When we don’t bless, others will think it is acceptable to not bless. I want to suggest another possibility, based on another passage in this same tractate of the Talmud, offered in the name of Ben Zoma (Berachot 58a). Ben Zoma is recounted as including in part of his blessings, after thanking the Creator, a list and acknowledgment of all the different people involved in the supply chain of producing a piece of food or creating a piece of clothing, and how fortunate he was to have others who help with the various stages of production. Ben Zoma would contrast himself to the biblical Adam and say: “How many labors did primordial Adam have to work at before he found bread to eat? He plowed, planted, harvested and stacked the sheaves. He threshed, winnowed, sorted, ground and sifted, kneaded, baked, and after all this he ate. And I wake up and find all these done before me.”
Perhaps blessings, in addition to reminding us of the Divine, can also play a key role in helping us be mindful of the large number of people involved in helping us source our food, manufacture our electronics, produce our clothing, transport all our goodies, and source the fuel for transportation — people both locally and internationally. And perhaps from this place of awareness of all those who have helped us along the way, we will be motivated to help create and uphold conditions for fair treatment and compensation for everyone along the supply chain, acknowledging the large number of people, all created in God’s image, from whom we benefit every day.
May our lives be filled with many blessings and the blessing of awareness and gratitude for our blessings.
Dee Endelman, left, sitting at the gates of Auschwitz with Genjo Marinello Osho, Abbot of Seattle’s Dai Bai Zan Cho Bo Zen Ji, Plum Mountain Zen Buddhist Temple. (Courtesy Dee Endelman)
When the head of her temple announced he was going on a reconciliation journey to Auschwitz, Dee Endelman found herself saying, “‘I’ll go with you’…although at the moment I wasn’t sure why.”
The temple in question is Dai Bai Zan Cho Bo Zen Ji, or Plum Mountain Temple, Seattle’s Rinzai Zen Buddhist congregation. A practicing Buddhist for more than 14 years, Dee was born Catholic and says she’s been “part of a Jewish family for 40 years.”
The trip was sponsored by Zen Peacemakers (www.zenpeacemakers.org). The international and multi-faith group of 95 included a gentile Polish woman who had been a child prisoner, and two Palestinians involved in peace work. They learned about Nazi atrocities, held meaningful dialogues, then gathered at the tracks each day to read victims’ names aloud and meditate. At a special ceremony on the last day, yahrzeit candles were lit.
The trip began in Cracow, Poland, with a vegetarian Shabbat dinner and service that included young people from the local Jewish community, part of “a small revival of Judaism,” there, says Dee. Over the weekend they toured the Jewish quarter and ghetto, and on Monday bused to Oświęcim, the town outside of Auschwitz, where they stayed.
Her first day in Auschwitz, Dee viewed the museum there with its display of human hair and discarded glasses. Describing it to me, she began to cry, although says at the time, “I was so overwhelmed I couldn’t feel anything.” It was the visit to the women’s barracks later that week “that really cracked my heart open” as participants imagined the normal life activities those prisoners were denied.
“You really begin to feel the human suffering that occurred there,” Dee says, calling her grief “a blessing on so many levels… [It brings] a little deeper understanding...both in order to honor the dead and to understand what it means for today,” and influencing, “how I have to live now.”
Zen Peacemakers, founded by Bernie Glassman, encourages “practice and action for personal and social transformation,” according to its website.
“Before I left,” Dee says, “I didn’t want to put myself in the spotlight,” but is now ready to share her experience as “part of the loving action that arises from bearing witness to suffering.”
Asked her opinion of the “Jew-Bu” phenomenon — the many Jews drawn to Buddhism — Dee says Buddhism draws adherents from many Western religions, which often create “a spiritual hunger,” but fail to feed it. Buddhism is “not an exclusive religion,” she notes, so it could be “compatible…to recite the Shema and go sit Zazen (meditate).
“There is a contemplative practice in almost every religion…I don’t see any reason why contemplative practice and Judaism wouldn’t work.” Although, she jokes, “in Buddhism you’re not supposed to be attached to your opinions.”
• • •
He might have just bought The Fearey Group (www.feareygroup.com) — one of the leading independent public relations and public affairs firms in the Pacific Northwest — but Aaron Blank is equally dedicated to being the dad of three.
Aaron grew up in Holbrook, on New York’s Long Island. His mother is Israeli, so “I’m first generation,” on her side, he notes. It also meant he got to have two Bar Mitzvahs, one at his synagogue and a second at the Western Wall.
At Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn., Aaron met “my girlfriend, now wife,” Mercer Island High School alumnus Lacey Yantis. He was a reporter for CBS radio when the two came to Seattle for a 10-day August trip, which featured “unbelievable weather,” and eventually returned to settle. An employee of The Fearey Group since 2006, he became an expert in healthcare communications who worked on the launch of the Allen Institute of Brain Science.
Aaron has two daughters, 7 and 4, and a 1-year-old son recently adopted from Ethiopia. The adoption led to additional work with Children’s HopeChest, raising money to support basic needs for 150 other children in Wolisso, Ethiopia, where their son was born.
“We are also doing some foundational support there,” around clean water and toilets, he told me (www.hopechest.org/community/woliso/sponsor).
The whole family visited Wolisso in April.
“My life is forever changed…[by] what we saw,” says Aaron. “It’s mind boggling” that simple things like water are unavailable. He adds it was important that his kids be “aware that there is a larger reason for us [to be] here.”
Aaron admits to a lack of activity in the local Jewish community, but looks forward to adding that to his family’s activities, which includes being “huge football fans” and attending local sports events. Members of YMCA’s Adventure Guides, they do a lot of outdoor activities, and January will find Aaron camping in the snow with his daughters.
Photo: Torben Bjørn Hansen/Creative Commons
When it comes to finding a cure or even understanding why someone develops multiple sclerosis, scientists in Israel, who in 1964 were among the first in the world to identify the therapeutic effects of compounds in marijuana, could transform the face of the disease for many — including patients in Washington.
Washington State is known globally for its high levels of incidences of multiple sclerosis, a neurodegenerative disease where the immune system attacks the nervous system. Researchers really don’t know who is at risk for developing the disease or why certain people become affected by it.
But researchers at Israel’s Tel Aviv University and Weizmann Institute of Science recently completed a second round of successful research using cannabidiol or CBD, a non-psychotropic extract from cannabis, the “high-inducing” substance in marijuana. It reduces, and in some cases stopped, cell inflammation, the condition now known to be the cause of the debilitating effects of MS.
Both the 2011 study and the latest 2013 study were published in the Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology.
“Our study looks at how compounds isolated from marijuana can be used to regulate inflammation to protect the nervous system and its functions,” said Dr. Ewa Kozela of Tel Aviv University’s Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Center for the Biology of Addictive Diseases and the Sackler Faculty of Medicine. “Inflammation is part of the body’s natural immune response, but in cases like MS it gets out of hand.”
Doctors from the immunology department and the neurobiology department at Weizmann co-authored the study report.
Several compounds in marijuana can reduce the inflammation in a patient’s brain and spinal cord, thereby retarding the effects and the progress of MS’s most debilitating symptoms — its attack on a person’s motor skills, mental faculties, and body functions.
In the 2011 study, scientists followed a commonly used MS-inducing research model, experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis or EAE, and injected 30 male mice twice in eight days with MOG 35-55 fragments, a protective nerve sheath glycoprotein, while the control group of mice did not receive the MOG 35-55.
Those mice treated with the CBD during the onset of the disease showed much less severe effects of MS symptoms than those that weren’t. The injections also protected against the development of the disease’s symptoms.
In addition, the mice treated with CBD showed significantly less inflammation in the spinal cord than the mice not treated with CBD.
In 2013, the researchers focused on the immune system to see if the CBD compound could have an anti-inflammatory effect on the immune system — the initiator of the inflammation.
They found that by treating the immune cells of MS-induced mice with CBD, these cells were much less likely to become inflamed and then less likely to trigger inflamed molecules that could reach the brain and spinal cord of a potential MS sufferer.
Not only did the immune cells produce less inflamed molecules, they also showed a dramatic reduction in the development of a particular one, interleukin 17, which is known as the molecule most commonly associated with cell damage in MS patients.
In many countries, CBD is prescribed for the management of MS symptoms, but it is not necessarily legal. According to Pain Management of America, a medical marijuana online information hub, the use of medical marijuana helps patients with a variety of symptoms including “chronic pain, depression, fatigue, numbness, spasticity, ataxia, emotional changes, and sexual dysfunction.”
The PMA cited survey results that were presented at the 10th World Congress on Pain, which showed that “most medical marijuana patients with multiple sclerosis reported relief from spasms and pain.”
In the U.S, 10 drugs are currently approved for use in treating its symptoms, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. It does not endorse the use of marijuana to manage the disease, saying that “early studies showed mixed results and some side effects.”
Twenty states, including Washington, and the District of Columbia, have legalized the use of medical marijuana.
Following the public comment period that closed in early November, the Washington State Liquor Control Board is currently developing medical marijuana sales guidelines, due next year, that will regulate, authorize and tax healthcare dispensaries and providers.
TAU’s Kozela looks forward to more research with CBD and its compounds and MS, citing that many countries already allow it to be prescribed as a treatment.
“When used wisely, cannabis has huge potential,” said Kozela. “We’re just beginning to
understand how it works.”
Longtime JTNews correspondent and freelance journalist Janis Siegel has covered international health research for SELF magazine and campaigns for Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
Jack Fleischmann plays Oliver Twist in alternating performances of “Oliver” at the 5th Avenue Theatre. (Photo: Mark Kitaoka)
“This is the first time I’ve been the main, lead part,” notes Jack Fleischmann, 12, one of the two boys playing of Oliver in The 5th Avenue Theatre production of “Oliver!” which opened in Seattle last week.
Speaking to him a few hours before opening night, Jack showed all the enthusiasm you’d expect for such a momentous occasion. His family, including grandparents, had been there for the final preview the night before and his mom and sister would be attending opening night.
“A lot of people are coming,” he said.
Jack demanded to start acting at the age of 3. His sister Hannah was appearing in a Broadway Bound drama school production and he insisted on the same. At age 4 he debuted in “How to Eat Like a Child” and “Jungle Book” and credits the program’s director, Jimmy Nixon, for encouraging him and getting him a successful audition for the movie “Switchmas.”
That “got me wanting to be in more professional things in theater,” he says.
After appearing in the chorus of “Elf: The Musical” at the 5th Avenue last year, he learned the theater was presenting “Oliver!” this year. He went into study mode, watching the movie, learning the music.
Oliver and Fagin’s gang are double-cast, and Jack shares the role with Mark Jeffrey James Weber. Divided into two teams, they perform three days on and three days off. Jack performed opening night and Jeffrey will perform closing night.
Having just started as a 6th grader at Seattle Academy this year, Jack says keeping up with schoolwork has been “a bit tougher than I imagined.” He’s keeping up with most classes, but will have much make-up work when the show ends on Dec. 31. The school has been supportive and even featured a notice about his role on its website.
When time permits, Jack enjoys playing soccer and basketball, “my favorite sport.”
The Jewish community is well represented among this kid-heavy cast, including Jasmine Harrick (featured in this column on Feb. 8, 2013 for her role in “Music Man”) and Eliana Harrick, Boaz Malakoff, Amalya Benhaim, Eliana Coe, and Sophie Poole. For more information on the show, visit the theater’s website at www.5thavenue.org.
• • •
Uncle Bonsai bandmembers Arni Adler, left, Andrew Ratshin, center, and Patrice O’Neill. (Photo: Maria Camillo)
Meanwhile, on a stage on another shore, Seattle’s unique folk band Uncle Bonsai has begun its annual holiday tour. Starting in Framingham, Mass., and finishing in Tacoma on New Year’s Eve, the band is touring with Christine Lavin and singing songs from their “Just One Angel” and “Just One Angel v2.0” CDs.
Band leader Andrew Ratshin, originally from Tarrytown, N.Y., describes the two albums’ selections as “alternative” and “songs you wouldn’t hear on an elevator.” They include Uncle Bonsai originals, such as the sardonic “Doug’s Greatest Christmas Ever,” and other artists’ work. (“Doug,” the fictional subject of an ongoing series of songs and an album of that name, is Jewish.)
Uncle Bonsai formed in Seattle in the mid-1980s when three Bennington College grads — Andrew, Arni Adler and Ashley O’Keeffe — got together to sing Irish music. They busked outside the gates of Bumbershoot, Andrew recalls, made enough to get in, and the next year they were a featured act, opening for Fireside Theater.
After a few years, the band took a break and Andrew went solo as the Electric Bonsai Band (“it’s not electric, and it’s not a band”), and formed another singing group, The Mel Cooleys. In 1998 Uncle Bonsai reunited for a “one-off reunion concert.” The new songs Andrew wrote for that concert turned “into an album called ‘Apology,’” he says, which led to more reunion concerts. The band started touring regularly again about six years ago with Patrice O’Neill, replacing Ashley, who had moved away.
Uncle Bonsai’s unique sound blends Andrew’s high tenor with the two female vocalists. Their quirky, clever and sometimes poignant original songs are written primarily by Andrew, who sometimes collaborates with Arni on lyrics. A concert a couple of years ago at Salem, Oregon’s Temple Beth Sholom let them trot out all their Jewish-themed songs for an audience who got all of their jokes. They have even written a bedtime storybook for grownups, “The Monster in the Closet” (www.unclebonsai.com).
Andrew is married to classical guitarist Hilary Field. They live in Maple Leaf with their daughter Emma. When not writing, producing or performing music, Andrew says, “I wait to pick up my daughter and drive her someplace else.”
So named for the little bit of coffee added to a greater quantity of milk, turning the norm on its head, or perhaps for the order in which the ingredients are combined, Cafe Hafuch, upside-down coffee, is the Israeli answer to cappuccino. Though pleasant tasting and popular, these hollow calories are often the first to go when a diet is in order. Birthright Israel is increasingly showing signs of becoming the upside-down answer to promoting Jewish life and a much-needed paradigm shift cannot come soon enough.
Take young Jews, 18-26, on a free trip to Israel and they will return rededicated to Jewish life, says the conventional wisdom. They will develop a connection to Israel. As funder Sheldon Adelson expressed to an auditorium full of Birthright participants, they will engage in some “hanky-panky.” They will overcome the forces of assimilation and affiliate with the established Jewish community.
This wisdom, promoted by a philanthropic, well-intentioned, and above-all-else different generation, has proven itself outdated.
It isn’t working.
A 2009 study by Brandeis University, the first to comprehensively look at participants’ engagement five years following their trip, reported that “Participants...were not more likely to report feeling connected to Jewish customs and traditions or their local Jewish community” and that any increase in involvement was “only marginally statistically significant.” A 2012 update revealed that “Taglit [Birthright] participants and nonparticipants who are intermarried are equally likely to be raising their oldest children Jewish” and that while Birthright participants are more likely to belong to a Jewish congregation, to have a special meal on Shabbat, or to celebrate Jewish holidays, “the effects were small.” (http://www.brandeis.edu/cmjs/researchareas/taglit-publications.html)
This is not to take away from the “life-changing” experience that some Birthright participants have had, and indeed there are other ways to measure the success of these trips. Many participants report significantly elevated feelings toward Israel and the Jewish community upon their return, and many say they feel positive about being Jewish. True, yet with more than 330,000 young adults having participated in this trip at a cost of $3,000 per participant, the time to ask the now-billion-dollar question has come: Is feeling positive about being Jewish — without translating those feelings into action — worth such a significant expenditure of resources?
This model would have worked a generation ago. Jewish identity for the baby boomers — those funding Birthright — was built around memories of the Holocaust and a visceral defense of the State of Israel against the enemies seeking its destruction. Supporting Israel was a way to show, and in fact to be, Jewish. For too many millennials, though, and particularly those on the margins of Jewish life, the Holocaust is ancient history and Israel is seen as the aggressor rather than the underdog. These core elements, which once drove Jews toward Jewish life, are no longer the predominant reasons to be Jewish. Motivations are fundamentally different than they were just one generation ago, and our models of engagement need to change accordingly.
If we want to ensure vibrant Jewish life, and with it strong American Jewish support for Israel from among my generation, we need to invest more philanthropic dollars domestically in programs that reach the hearts of our 20-somethings: Social justice. Meaningful relationships taken offline. A moral existence beyond concern for the self. Judaism that can experienced and lived in the here and now rather than while on vacation, confined within the borders of the State of Israel.
This winter, the Jewish community in North America, Israel, and around the world will reach the $1 billion dollar mark in our support of Birthright Israel. Are the positive feelings that have been generated about being Jewish — without translating those feelings into action — worth such a significant expenditure of resources? Let’s try spending the same money domestically and see what happens. What won’t happen is an erosion of support for Israel — to the contrary: support for the Jewish State in my generation comes more often from a strong Jewish identity than Jewish identity comes from supporting the State of Israel.
When young Jews are engaged Jewishly, they will pay us to visit the Jewish homeland, and the dynamic will again be right-side up.
Though Michael Natkin says the soup won’t win any beauty contests, it still looks quite good. (Photo: Michael Natkin)
Things this soup will not do: Win any beauty contests.
Things this soup will do: Warm you to your core on a cold day. Nourish you. Fill your belly. Leave you with an abiding sense of contentment. Possibly wash and fold your clothes.
This is a tradeoff I can live with.
I haven’t been completely sold on the farro revolution. I like the flavor, but I find that the chewy texture becomes bothersome after a while when served as a basic grain side dish or in a risotto-style presentation.
In soup it is a different story.
It doesn’t fall apart in the broth. It makes the soup feel substantial, bordering on a stew that can be a one-pot meal.
The farro I use is grown in Eastern Washington by a family farmer, Lena Lentz Hardt, who was able to jump off the treadmill of industrial crop pricing for commodity wheat by growing this very special, organic grain. You can find this wonderful grain at ChefShop.com, online or at their Elliott Ave. location in Seattle.
You can vary this soup by switching in a different bean for the chickpeas (cannellini would be very Italian), or a different green for the mustard greens. Any kind of kale would be very appropriate. I probably wouldn’t use spinach, as the more delicate texture might not hold up to the farro.
Farro and Chickpea Soup
Vegetarian, vegan, and kosher
2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
1/2 white onion, diced
1 rib celery, diced
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
Pinch crushed red pepper
1-1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 bunch mustard greens, stems removed and cut into 1″ ribbons
1 cup uncooked farro
1 cup fully cooked chickpeas
Juice of 1 lemon
Fresh ground black pepper
Flaky sea salt
In a large pot with a li, or a pressure cooker, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. When it shimmers, add the onion, celery, garlic, crushed red pepper, and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion has softened, about 3 minutes.
Add the mustard greens and cook for a couple of minutes until they have begun to soften. Add the farro and 4 cups water. Cover and simmer until the farro is tender but still a bit chewy, about 50 minutes (or if using a pressure cooker, 32 minutes at high pressure followed by a quick pressure release.)
Remove the lid and add the chickpeas and lemon juice. Stir and simmer for a few minutes to allow the flavors to meld, then taste and adjust seasoning.
To serve, divide among bowls, garnish with more good olive oil, fresh ground black pepper, parsley and sea salt.
Preparation time: 1 hour total (15 minutes active)
Local food writer and chef Michael Natkin’s 2012 cookbook “Herbivoracious, A Flavor Revolution with 150 Vibrant and Original Vegetarian Recipes,” was a finalist this year for a James Beard award. The recipes are based on his food blog, herbivoracious.com.
Stroum JCC personal trainer Lisa Kutzke with the recipient of one of her kidneys, Gary Kukes, at the Mayo Clinic in June. (Photo courtesy Thellea Leveque)
After her brother Mark Koller died from kidney cancer in 2011 at age 51, it set Lisa Kutzke on a quest “to do something in memory of him.”
One day the long-time Stroum Jewish Community Center fitness trainer spotted her client, Thellea Leveque, sitting on a bench at the Mercer Island facility. She was “visibly upset,” Lisa recalled. When Thellea revealed that her father’s kidneys were failing, Lisa offered on the spot, to donate one to him.
“Something came over me,” she says. “It was an amazing feeling.”
Remembering the moment, Thellea says, “It was like a light went on in her face.”
Thellea was “devastated” that day, having just learned she could not be her dad’s kidney donor. A carrier of the BRCA mutation, she had too high a risk of developing cancer.
Moved by Lisa’s offer, but wanting to be certain Lisa was not just reacting impulsively in the moment, Thellea says she contacted Lisa repeatedly to assure her she could change her mind.
“But the answer kept being ‘yes’,” says Thellea.
With her husband Jerry Kutzke’s blessing, Lisa proceeded with initial testing.
“Thellea is an opthalmologist,” says Lisa, and “her father is a retired pathologist, so we had tons of information.”
Lisa spoke to other doctors and donors, and began a correspondence with Thellea’s dad, Gary Kukes, in Long Beach, Calif.
After extensive physical and psychological testing at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., Lisa came home to wait.
“I should have been his sister, I matched so well,” she says. Emotionally, she was thrilled “to do this for my brother.”
Both women report a providential feeling surrounded the process. “I knew…everything was going to work out,” says Lisa. “I don’t even know how to explain it.”
For Thellea, Lisa’s offer was “a spiritual experience” the likes of which she’d never had “in regards to a human action before.” She’d been moved by “a sunset, or in synagogue,” but never by the actions of an individual.
“It was a miracle,” she says.
It was October 2012 when Lisa made her offer. In early November she spoke to Gary and later that month Mayo called with its approval. Lisa remembers the call vividly. “House of the Rising Sun” was playing on her car radio, “a song my brother played in his band…and it was even played at his funeral. I pulled over to the side,” she says, “and I just lost it.”
Finally, in December, Lisa and Gary met in person for a happy dinner with Thellea and all their spouses.
After a few postponements, the surgery was finally scheduled for June 18 this year, adding that significant number to Lisa’s sense that things would be okay.
Transplant recipients are allowed to help donors with certain costs, and Lisa is grateful that Gary was in a position to cover the cost of her and Jerry’s flights and their hotel expenses in Minnesota. Lisa’s parents came from Wisconsin, too. And while anonymous donors are kept completely separate from recipients, Gary and Lisa were on the same floor and saw each other after the surgery.
Originally from the small Wisconsin town of Spring Green, Lisa and Jerry came to Seattle in 1985 for a family wedding. The next year, after graduating from the University of Wisconsin, Lacrosse, they moved here. After working “odd jobs, teaching PE, gymnastics,” she says, Lisa applied in 1988 to be a fitness specialist at the JCC, and got the job. After three years she began seeing clients at her home. For part of the 1990s she only had her home business and had a lot of Jewish clients. Eventually she returned to the J and in 2006 became the health, fitness and wellness director, stepping down to “just fitness director” four years later. Now she’s back to being “just a personal exercise trainer.”
Lisa is not Jewish but calls the local Jewish community “amazing.” Recalling her first Hanukkah at the J, to which 600 people showed up, “it just blew me away.” She has always found “a helping hand there for me and my family,” she says, “so what a great way to give back.”
Fully recuperated, Lisa has returned to triathlons and gardening. And while she and Thellea had a long trainer-client relationship before, Thellea says “our friendship blossomed.”
Meanwhile, Gary is doing great with his “Lutheran kidney,” also known as the “Koller-Kutzke-Kukes kidney.” To say thank you, he set up a charitable annuity in Lisa’s hometown to benefit For Pete’s Sake (www.4Petesake.com), which helps sick or unemployed residents with expenses. It’s “an amazing gift,” says Lisa, bringing it “full circle.”
Let’s talk about those who are adamantly against Thanksgivukkah. Thanksgiving is Thanksgiving — it’s American and its celebration marks an adaptation into American society. Hanukkah is Hanukkah — it’s a festival that celebrates the distinction between Jews and the prevailing culture.
There has to be more than a “menurkey” — the menorah in the shape of a turkey — to this confluence of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah. Obviously, there are shared themes and values of both festivals. Both involve struggles for religious freedom. Both are gatherings of giving thanks and expressing gratitude, maybe even a similar derivation from the Biblical harvest holiday of Sukkot. Hanukkah, according to some, was a postponement of the celebration of Sukkot due to the war. And the American holiday of Thanksgiving, an autumnal harvest festival, itself has roots in the ancient holiday of Sukkot.
So what’s the “big idea” here? All of these notions seem superficial and exceedingly banal. A once-in-79,000-years phenomenon must have something a bit more to it, no?
Thanksgivukkah! Welcome to the 21st century’s most distinctive synergistic phenomenon. Cheers to our most favorite portmanteau neologism of the year. Agreed, there has to be more here than an opportunity for fusion cuisine such as sweet potato bourbon noodle kugel or roasted brussels sprouts with pastrami and pickled onions. Is there something here other than the much-too-professed platitudes? Something more substantial than the colossal spectacle of kitsch? More than the fine opportunities for spoof such as a giant dreidel in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, or the hysterically funny parody of a faux scary movie trailer, or the compelling anti-Thanksgivukkuh anthem now featured on YouTube? I think so.
In a word, the “big idea” here is, wait for it: Sanctuary. It links these seemingly disparate holidays. Let’s see what happens when we think “sanctuary” in response to Hanukkah and Thanksgiving.
First, a definition of sanctuary, our chosen “lens” into this Thanksgivikkuh exploration.
A sanctuary, in its original meaning, is a sacred place, such as a shrine. By the use of such places as a safe haven, by extension the term has come to be used for any place of safety.
First up? Hanukkah. After all, it does predate Thanksgiving by about 1,400 years. The Book of the Maccabees I and II both discuss the purification of the Temple after its desecration by the Greco-Syrians, as does this prayer “Al Hanisim.”
For Yourself you made a great and holy name in Your world, and for your people Israel you worked a great victory and salvation as this very day. Thereafter, Your children came to the Holy of Holies of Your House, cleansed Your Temple, purified the site of Your Holiness, and kindled lights in the courtyards of Your Sanctuary; and they established these eight days of Hanukkah to express thanks praise to Your great Name.
The temple of old, the Bet Hamikdash, is at the center of the Maccabean revolt. Its being defiled is a key impetus to the start of the struggle against the invaders.
What of this Temple and what of is its significance?
The initial command to the Israelites in the desert to construct a mishkan, sanctuary, is found in the Book of Shemoth: “And let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them.”
A lofty idea, indeed. The Temple is a potent symbol for our people. It reminds us that God can be drawn down to earth and that a people can unite and build a community with God at its center. This sanctuary is significant to our people. Though we live 1,944 years later, without the Temple we have rejiggered our ancient Jerusalemite Temple idea into the concept of many synagogues, and houses of worship, some even called temples.
In what way is this very Jewish notion of sanctuary connected to Thanksgiving? The key may be a passage tucked away in the Book of Kings I, which describes a scene shortly after the death of King David. His deathbed wish is that his son Solomon be the heir apparent. The pretender to the throne, his brother Adonijahu, grabs on to the horns of the altar to be protected from Solomon’s retribution. Ah, sanctuary in the sanctuary. This is a function of the Temple as sanctuary, as in protection or safe haven. It’s a precursor to the notion that refuge is often sought in churches and monasteries.
This idea of refuge leads us to the notion of America serving as a land that offers sanctuary — to the pilgrims, Puritans, and subsequent generations afterward, including my own family. America, for many of its citizens, is not only the land of opportunity, it is the land of refuge not unlike the Temple, which also offers refuge. This country that gave our families sanctuary.
Consider this from George Washington’s Thanksgiving proclamation:
Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.
Remarkably, these themes of sanctuary, freedom, and even Greece come together in the celebrated poem, “The New Colossus” by Jewish poet Emma Lazarus – read it again for the first time!
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Notice Lazarus’s images of light — they resonate in this particular conversation around Hanukkah. A fine reading for your Thanksgivukkah celebration.
Now back to the “big idea” of sanctuary and its relationship to our grappling with this rare, chance coming together of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving. Sanctuary is the idea of sacred protection. The physical structure imbued with the otherworldliness of the holy, provides mental, emotional and physical sanctuary to those seeking protection. It stands as a powerful symbol of God’s immanence; indeed, sanctuary.
This blessed country, for so many of our ancestors, has done something comparable for those seeking shelter from the terrors of other places and other times. Sanctuary and sanctuary. The sanctuary for the Maccabees was worth fighting for, as is the freedom America offers. Is life and identity complicated on these shores? Yes. But, on this particular day let us give thanks.
Rivy Poupko Kletenik is an internationally renowned educator and Head of School at the Seattle Hebrew Academy. If you have a question that’s been tickling your brain, send Rivy an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As you may have guessed from the incredibly close proximity of Labor Day and Rosh Hashanah this year, Hanukkah is also coming early — so early, in fact, that rather than coinciding with Christmas, its usual American holiday tango partner, this year it’s crashing Thanksgiving.
Yes, that’s right — as you may have heard, Thursday, November 28, 2013 is Thanksgivukkah 2013/5774 — the mash up of the first full day of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving! (You know a holiday is official when it has its own website.)
Thanksgivukkah is as rare as its name is funky: According to an article by Maggie Goldman, writing for the Combined Jewish Philanthropies’ Thanksgivukkahboston.com website in Boston, “the two holidays would’ve overlapped in 1861, but Thanksgiving wasn’t formally established until two years later, in 1863. That means Thanksgivukkah has never happened before — and it won’t happen again until 79811.”
This holiday being truly once in a lifetime, it’s certainly not an occasion to waste. Some bloggers have recommended taking full advantage of it by cooking fun Thanksgiving and Hanukkah mash-up dishes like cranberry sauce-filled sufganiyot or making your very own menurkey. There are even shirts for sale to commemorate the day.
But here’s a radical idea: This November 28, let us celebrate the serendipitous merging of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah by gathering together with family and friends to give thanks, and only thanks.
A Thanksgivukkah feast: Menorah meets mashed potatoes; sufganiyot alongside stuffing.
Yes, share a meal together. Yes, light Hanukkah candles and play dreidel. Yes, laugh about the overlap of the holidays and marvel at its rarity.
But rather than celebrating Thanksgivukkah by stuffing our bodies with crazy concoctions of turkey-infused latkes and showering our children with shtick-y presents, let us be inspired to take a moment to say the shehecheyanu for reaching this moment and just being together. As Stefanie Zelkind’s eloquent column on ejewishphilanthropy.com puts it, we can “move beyond the kitsch” that has inevitably accompanied this calendar coincidence, and instead “use Thanksgivukkah as a launch pad for learning, giving, and values-based family activities.”
For as Americans and as Jews, Thanksgivukkah represents the overlap of deeply held and shared cultural values: The importance of gratitude, fortitude, perseverance and blessing.
What greater honor can we afford the merging of these two holidays than a quiet moment, bathed in the light of our friends and family while the candles burn low, dedicated to the awe of our blessings?
Lauren Kurland received ordination and a Masters in Jewish Education from the Jewish Theological Seminary. Lauren has served as associate director for educational resources at American Jewish World Service, and presently writes curriculum for supplementary schools through the Davidson School of Education. She and her family live in Seattle. This article originally appeared on the University of Washington Stroum Center for Jewish Studies’ blog at jewishstudies.washington.edu.
Deemed acceptable on the Harris household’s Thanksgiving table. (Photo by plushoff/Creative Commons)
It’s time to celebrate Thanksgiving, and like all families, we have our own traditions, some inherited, some of our own creation.
Shortly after we moved to Seattle in 1990, my parents gave us a roasting pan as a gift. Before we had moved, my cousin Joan in West Caldwell, N.J. had always hosted the family Thanksgiving dinner (as well as the Passover seder).
Now it was my turn.
I was, at age 33, going to cook my first turkey. Demonstrating the value of advertising, I obediently bought a Butterball at the local supermarket. As any devotee of American industrial turkey farming knows, the name is apt, as the bird is indeed completely spherical. Faced with the prospect of cooking this bird for the first time, and completely by accident, I put the fowl into the pan upside down. Cooking turkey is a challenge, as anyone who has tried to prepare a Thanksgiving dinner knows, because it’s difficult to roast the entire bird thoroughly without drying out the white meat. Like the accidental discovery of penicillin from mold by Alexander Fleming in the 19th century, my confusion over which part of the turkey was the top resulted in the fortunate coincidence of allowing the breast to cook sitting in the juices at the bottom of the pan.
By sheer dumb beginner’s luck, my first attempt at preparing what Ben Franklin wanted to make the American national bird resulted in a delicious meal, and for the next few years, my signature dish was “upside down turkey.” (As a cook, I have a total repertoire of about four meals, one of which is pasta and another ordering takeout.)
One year, as we entertained friends for the holiday, before sitting down to eat I brought the freshly roasted turkey out to the living room to show off to our guests. I knew it would elicit oohs and aahs, which indeed it did. Unfortunately, my carving skills were not commensurate with my cooking. The mouth-watering bird, which resembled the one set down on the table in the famous Norman Rockwell painting that celebrated American prosperity, was transformed into a platter of hacked chunks. My wife Anne remarked that it looked like I’d put a hand grenade in the middle and pulled the pin.
Thanks. The great thing about wives is their ability to restore one’s ego to appropriately modest proportions; she once told me that a new haircut looked like “it had been done with a lawnmower.”
At another family Thanksgiving dinner, when our middle son Sam was 6 years old, he promptly got up and walked out of the kitchen the moment we put the turkey on the table. He simply refused to sit in a room with a dead bird and participate in a celebration while its carcass sat in front of us. He repeated his exit of protest again the following year, when he was 7.
Thinking about it from a child’s perspective, I realized that in his innocence he simply decided he did not want an animal to be killed so he could eat it. Sometimes there are moments of moral clarity that are so succinct they change your perspective forever, like Dr. Martin Luther King saying, “I have a dream.”
For years, I was surrounded by vegetarians. Anne had been one for most of our marriage, and ate meat only sparingly and with great reluctance, but I simply chalked it up to differences between husbands and wives. Some people like Garth Brooks while others like Bach.
But there is a power to wisdom of a child that cannot be rationalized away. Shortly after the second consecutive year Sam turned our Thanksgiving dinner into his own personal Vietnam protest, I became a card-carrying vegetarian. The presence of our beloved dog Max (may his memory be a blessing) just added to the strength of my conviction. How could I love some animals and eat others?
Not everyone has quietly gone along with the program, however. Our youngest, Izzy, is a dedicated carnivore who enjoys steak on the grill as much as your average ranch hand. And we’ve been keeping kosher for years, so there would be no more Butterballs regardless. Nowadays the Harris family Thanksgiving is a Tofurkey, along with some sliced turkey from the kosher deli at Albertsons, served on a paper plate for one particular individualist. This is the freedom we celebrate on Thanksgiving, although perhaps a little differently than envisioned by Norman Rockwell in his iconic painting of the holiday.
But our family also reflects the spirit of another particular individualist, Henry David Thoreau. If we appear to be a bit out of step, perhaps it’s because we march to the beat of a different drummer. One thing I know for sure: The kid with the turkey slices on his plate does. But I’ll pass him the gravy anyway.
Ed Harris, the author of “Fifty Shades of Schwarz” and several other books, was born in the Bronx and lives in Bellevue with his family. His long-suffering wife bears silent testimony to the saying that behind every successful man is a surprised woman.