Monday, May 31, 2010

For The Soldiers

“Over there, over there,
Send the word, send the word over there...”

As American soldiers packed their duffels to fight on foreign soil in World War I, those who remained behind set to work not only maintaining the country’s economy, but supporting the troops.

A mere three days after America declared war on Germany, the National Jewish Welfare Board (JWB) was formed (April 9, 1917). This organization was a natural development, since numerous American Jewish organizations were already deeply involved in working for the victims of the war.

The JWB was active on many fronts. An article in the New York Tribune, dated November 10, 1918, noted that the JWB was conducting religious services on Friday evenings, on all holidays, and on other special occasions. It distributed prayer books, bibles and other religious supplies, and arranged concerts and other entertainment for the troops overseas. On the home front, the JWB established community centers for the soldiers and sailors and arranged home hospitality for servicemen on leave.

When World War I was over, the JWB merged with the Young Men's Hebrew and Kindred Associations. This organization created a social welfare support system for returning Jewish soldiers, fostered the religious and social well being of young Jewish men and women and developed Jewish community organizations.

During the second World War, and throughout its history, the JWB continued to support Jewish troops as it had during World War I. At the same time, it focused on the further development of Jewish Community Centers. In time, the JWB became the support network for numerous social welfare programs within the Jewish community, and, in 1990, it changed its name to the Jewish Community Centers Association of North America, to more accurately reflect its current mission.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.


Support your local veterans organization.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Judah, Son of Jacob

When Judah, the fourth son of Leah and Jacob, was born, Leah said, “This time let me gratefully praise God” (based on the Hebrew infinitive, l’hodot, “to praise”).

Judah first demonstrated leadership when he suggested that his brothers sell Joseph to a caravan of Ishmaelites (rather than leave him in a pit to die). But the cover-up story that his brothers then told Jacob (that Joseph was dead) so upset Judah that the Torah says, “And it was in that time, and Judah went away from his brothers...” (Genesis 38:1)

Judah married a Canaanite woman and had three sons: Er, Onan and Shaylah. When his first 2 sons unexpectedly died (having successively wed Tamar), Judah promised Tamar that she would wed Shaylah when he came of age. Later, when Tamar realized that Shaylah would never be given to her, she dressed like a harlot and seduced Judah. He gave her his staff, cord and signet as collateral for payment. Tamar became pregnant, and when Judah found out, he demanded that she be burned for harlotry. When she displayed his collateral (proving the paternity), Judah publicly admitted his guilt. He then married Tamar and she gave birth to twins, Peretz and Zerach. By acknowledging his responsibility, Judah finally became a true leader.

Years later, when the brothers needed to return to Egypt for food, it was Judah who convinced Jacob to allow Benjamin to go as Joseph had demanded. Judah offered Jacob his solemn pledge that he would bring Benjamin home safely. And when Benjamin was framed with the crime of stealing the royal goblet, Judah stepped forward and offered himself up as a bondsman instead of Benjamin.

Before his death, Jacob gave each of his sons a blessing reflecting their personalities and their futures. To Judah, Jacob said: “Judah, your brothers shall praise you ... The scepter shall not depart from Judah...and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples...” While much of Judah’s blessing (not included due to length) is understood by the sages to be an allusion to the time of the Messiah, Jacob clearly conferred the role of leadership upon Judah and his descendants (the Davidic dynasty).

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Garden Time

Beautify the world -- plant some flowers.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Herman Wouk

Jews, called by many the “People of the Book,” have left a distinguished mark on the literary world. In the field of American literature, few Jewish authors have been as prolific, and successful, as Herman Wouk (b. May 27, 1915)--who released his latest book last month (The Language God Talks: On Science and Religion).

Wouk was one of the first of the post-World War II generation of Jewish writers (including Norman Mailer, Joseph Heller). Unlike many of their predecessors, these Jewish writers were born and raised in America. Like their predecessors, their Jewish heritage had a significant influence on their writing.

Born in New York City, Herman Wouk wrote his first novel, Aurora Dawn (published 1947), while serving in the US Navy in the Pacific. He went on to write such well-known works as The Caine Mutiny (1952-for which he won a Pulitzer Prize), The Winds of War and War and Remembrance. Wouk has written novels with distinctive Jewish overtones and characters (Marjorie Morningstar, Inside/Outside), military novels (The Caine Mutiny), and novels with a wide range of characters (Don’t Stop the Carnival). In 2008, Wouk was the first recipient of the Library of Congress Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Writing of Fiction.

In addition to his novels, Wouk made a unique contribution to American Jewish life with This Is My God, a non-fiction work describing the world of traditional Judaism and explaining why he chose to live a traditional lifestyle. His later books, The Will To Live On and The Language God Talks, continue this theme.

Today, Jewish Treats wishes Herman Wouk a happy 95th birthday.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Read It

If you want to find out more about traditional Judaism, check out This Is My God.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Reward and Punishment

While the existence of Divine reward and punishment is one of the primary tenets of Jewish faith, the question always arises: Why do the righteous suffer and the wicked appear to flourish? It is a question that theologians and philosophers have devoted many lifetimes seeking to answer.

The challenge for most people is the expectation of cause and effect within a noticeable period of time. A lawyer who takes a week-long job, is paid at the end of the week. A thief who is caught breaking the law, is arrested. (Legal statutes of limitations are an excellent example of the human perspective on time limits for reward and punishment.)

The sages, however, were certain of reward and punishment–but from a different perspective. Looking at the Torah and at history, they recognized that God repays people’s actions on the basis of mida k’neged mida, “tit for tat,” but in His own time. In the Talmud (Sotah 9b), the sages list numerous such examples, both of punishments (“Samson went after [the desire of his eyes], therefore the Philistines put out his eyes...”) and of reward (“Miriam waited a short while for Moses, as it says (Exodus 2:4): ‘And his sister stood afar off,’ therefore Israel was delayed for her seven days in the wilderness, as it is says (Numbers 12:15): ‘the people journeyed not until Miriam was brought in again.’”).

Did Samson recognize that the Philistines blinded him because he had been enticed by a beautiful Philistine woman (Delilah)? Did Miriam realize that the Israelites waited for her, just as she had waited for her baby brother?

Perhaps, but most people don’t look at the global picture. Most people want an immediate and tangible reward (money, a promotion, etc) and want to see evil-doers punished quickly. And as long as humanity maintains these expectations, theologians and philosophers will have much to ponder.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Not For The Reward

Be kind to others simply because it will make them feel good, not because for any benefit to yourself.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Chmielnicki Pogroms

Unfortunately, no one can argue with the statement that Jewish history is filled with tragedy. Few of these tragedies, excluding the Holocaust, were as devastating and catastrophic for Eastern European Jewry as the Chmielnicki Pogroms (1648-1649).

Bogdan Chmielnicki was a Ukrainian Hetman (nobility/military leader) who led his fellow Cossacks in an uprising against the Polish rulers of the Ukraine. Chmielnicki’s initial agitation against the government was due to a property dispute with a neighboring (Polish) nobleman who tried to steal Chmielnicki’s estate. When the government did not respond as Chmielnicki hoped, his role in the Ukrainian national movement took a dramatic turn. When the Cossacks revolted against Poland, Chmielicki's political and military know-how was critical to its success. (The independent Cossack state that resulted was absorbed by Russia within a few years of its creation.)

During the uprising, the Jews were easy targets for the Cossacks. Since the Jews were usually well educated, knew mathematics and how to read and write, a substantial number of Jews served as representatives of the Polish nobility and ran their estates. However, the entire Jewish population, not just those employed by the Polish nobility, were targeted by Chmielnicki, and tens of thousands of Jews were brutally and viciously murdered. More than three hundred Jewish communities were destroyed.

The Chmielnicki Pogroms are significant beyond the horrific number of deaths. They had a marked effect on the psyche of European Jewry. Many Jews came to believe that these severe and catastrophic pogroms could only be the wars that herald in the era of the Messiah (called the War of Gog U’Magog/ “Armageddon”) as discussed in the prophetic writings. This intense anticipation of the imminent arrival of the Messiah became the basis for the success of the infamous false messiah Shabbetai Zvi.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Walk It Out

Enjoy the spring weather with a nature walk, it’s healthy and inspiring.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Sunday Brunch Special

In honor of Jewish American Heritage Month, Jewish Treats has chosen to feature the food that many feel epitomizes Jewish culture: the bagel!

The actual Jewish origin of this food is, to be honest, debatable. One story claims that the bagel was first shaped like a stirrup to honor Poland’s King Jan Sobieski. However, there are references to the bagel predating King Jan, such as a note from Krakow, Poland, stating that bagels should be given to pregnant women.

So how did the bagel become Jewish? Some postulate that the bagel became popular among Jews because the dough could be prepared on Friday, allowed to slow-rise over Shabbat, and be quickly and easily boiled and baked on Saturday night.

The fame of the New York Bagel is, perhaps, a byproduct of the labor movement. In the early 1900s, 300 Jewish bagel makers established the Bagel Bakers Local 338, which contracted agreements with 36 bakeries in New York City. Membership in the union was passed down from father to son, as were the secrets of bagel production. This monopoly on bagel production lasted until the 1960s, when Daniel Thompson invented a bagel making machine and sold it to Lender's Bagel Bakery, who specialized in flash-frozen bagels.

It should be noted here that a distinctive style of bagel--smaller, sweeter and denser--hails from Montreal, and a true rivalry exists between serious bagel die-hards.

No discussion of the Jewish bagel can be complete without mentioning cream cheese and lox. Like the bagel, lox, which is a brined salmon filet, is an import of Eastern European Jews. “Cream cheese,” however is more American--it was created in New York in 1872, but was named Philadelphia Cream Cheese a few years later as Philadelphia was known as a “foodie” town at the time.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

After Brunch

Don’t forget to recite the Grace After Meals (Birkat Hamazon/Bentching) after your tasty bagel brunch.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Conflicting Torah Laws

What should one do when two Torah laws seem to be in conflict? One of the most common examples of such a situation is in the commandment to honor one’s mother and father.

This law includes taking care of parents (when needed) and fulfilling their requests. For instance, if a parent asks a child to prepare a sandwich for him/her, it would be disrespectful to refuse (unless there is a legitimate reason why the child cannot ).

But what happens when a parent requests that their child do something that violates another Torah command...let’s say Shabbat. Today, this might not be considered an unusual question. After all, there is a significant segment of the Jewish population known as Baalei Teshuva (usually referring to formerly non-observant Jews who have accepted a lifestyle of religious observance) whose parents are not familiar with Shabbat observance. But, even in the days of the Talmudic sages, this very question of whether one can violate Shabbat in order to fulfill the mitzvah of honoring one’s mother and father (both of which are in the “big ten”), was already discussed.

“One might have assumed that the honoring of one's father and mother should supercede Shabbat, therefore it was explicitly written, ‘Every person shall fear his father and his mother, and you shall keep My Shabbats’ (Leviticus 19:3). All of you [child and parents] are required to honor Me...the case in point must be one where the parent said to him [the child], 'Slaughter for me', or 'Cook for me'; and the reason [why the parent must not be obeyed is] because the God has written [in that very sentence], 'You shall keep my Shabbats.' [letting us know that honoring God’s commandment takes precedence].” (Talmud Yevamot 5b).

Respectful Overtones

Always use a respectful tone of voice when talking to, or even about, your parents.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The First Ten

If the children of Israel received the Torah at Mount Sinai, why did Moses come down bearing only “the two tablets of the testimony” luchot ha’aidoot (Exodus 32:15), rather than a complete scroll of law?

The Biblical narrative states that God brought the Israelites to Mount Sinai and spoke the Ten Commandments, beginning with “I am the Lord your God!” Some commentators argue that the people were so intimidated by God’s voice, that they could only tolerate hearing the first two commandments as they rang out from the heavens. The people then beseeched Moses to intercede and deliver the remaining eight commandments. Moses then ascended Mount Sinai and did not return to the Israelites for 40 days.

Ten Commandments...forty days? Obviously, something more than Moses reviewing Ten Commandments was happening on that mountaintop. Tradition tells us that during the time Moses remained on Mount Sinai he received all of the written and oral Torah.

Moses was uniquely endowed and capable of learning all of halacha (Jewish law), as well as the methods of deriving halacha, in just over a month. However, it was not possible to teach what he learned to the entire nation in less than 40 years

God therefore began with the Ten Commandments, which could be understood and followed on a simple as well as a complex level. For example, honoring one’s mother and father (#5), on the simple level, means giving respect to one’s parents. When studied further, however, one discovers that this commandment is also about gratitude to God, the ultimate Creator.

Thus, the Ten Commandments are seen as the cornerstone of the Torah, containing both the religious (“I am the Lord your God”) and legal elements (“Do not steal”) of the Torah.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Review The Ten

During the holiday of Shavuot (beginning tonight at sunset and concluding after nightfall on Thursday, May 20th), discuss the Ten Commandments with your family.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Green Cheesecake at Midnight?

The holiday of Shavuot has three well-known, and well-loved, customs:

Decorating our homes and synagogues with plants and flowers: According to the Midrash, at the time of the giving of the Torah, Mount Sinai burst forth in blossoms of verdant greenery, covered with plants and flowers. This is the basis for the custom of decorating our homes and synagogues with plants and flowers on Shavuot.

Dairy Foods: On Shavuot, it is customary to eat dairy foods – cheesecake and blintzes are particular favorites.

Among the reasons given for this custom are:

Once the Torah was given, the Israelites refrained from eating meat because they needed to learn the laws of kosher slaughter and to make their utensils kosher. They specifically chose to eat dairy and give themselves the time necessary to learn the laws.

On a more mystical level, the gematria (numeric value of the Hebrew letters) of the word chalav, milk, is 40. Forty, of course, corresponds to the forty days and nights that Moses spent on Mount Sinai learning the Torah.

All-Night Learning: To demonstrate our love for Torah and our appreciation for God's revelation on Mount Sinai, it is customary to stay up all night on the first night of Shavuot either studying Torah, listening to lectures on Torah topics, or simply discussing Jewish ideas.

Another reason given for the custom of learning all night is to atone for the apathy of the Israelites, who actually overslept on the morning that they were to receive the Torah, rather than being wide awake in excited anticipation.

For further explanations of these customs, please visit the National Jewish Outreach Program’s Shavuot website. (The customs are at the bottom of the page.)

*This Treat was originally published on May 28, 2009. It is being re-Treated to help us better understand the holiday of Shavuot.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Tempting Treat

Get ready for Shavuot by baking or purchasing a cheesecake.

Friday, May 14, 2010


The seventh and final week of Sefirat Ha’Omer, the counting of the days between Passover and Shavuot, is dedicated to the Sephirah of Malchut - Kingship. (For an explanation of the sephirot, please click here).

If one envisions the world as ringed by the sephirot, then the sephirah of malchut is the one closest to the earth, because it is the one that channels and connects all the other sephirot between the human and the Divine. Without question, God is the King of kings. As the Creator of the world, He controls all aspects of life and utilizes all of the powers of the sephirot. Humanity’s job is to emulate God.

Each person must be the king/queen of his/her own world. People must treat their neighbors with compassion while at the same time maintain their own dignity. There are rules to be made and kindnesses to be performed. Even on the human level, a good king is one who is neither too strict nor too gentle. A good king strives to transform his dreams and goals into reality, while at the same time acknowledging the work of those around him and endeavoring to create a good world for future generations.

Through malchut, a person can begin to see in him/herself the reflections of the Divine and, at the same time, reflect that divinity into the world.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

The Royal Feast

Tonight, celebrate your royal spirit with a Shabbat feast.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

On Account of the President’s Feet

How did President Abraham Lincoln’s foot problems affect both the Civil War and the Jewish population of the United States? In honor of Jewish American Heritage Month, Jewish Treats presents the unusual history of Isachar Zacharie (1827-1900), podiatrist and diplomat.

Born in England, Zacharie came to America in the 1840s and set up shop in New York, where his successful chiropody (podiatry) practice served such clients as Henry Clay and William Cullen Bryant. It was Zacharie’s treatment of Edwin Stanton, the Secretary of War, however, that brought him to the White House in September of 1862.

In the course of the President’s foot treatments, a friendship developed. In 1863, Lincoln sent Zacharie on a special mission to report on the state of affairs in New Orleans, where Union General Nathaniel P. Banks had just assumed the command of the Department of the Gulf. While there, Zacharie offered his professional skills and treated nearly 15,000 Union soldiers. His 1872 petition for payment for these services (he sought $45,000) was dismissed by Congress.

Lincoln also sent Zacharie as a special envoy to Richmond, VA (the Confederate capital), to try to negotiate peace. Although it is said that he had a special rapport with the Confederacy’s Secretary of State, Judah P. Benjamin (also Jewish), his mission was unsuccessful. Lincoln’s cabinet rejected the plan with which he returned (of which no recorded details remain).

Zacharie’s unique relationship with President Lincoln allowed him to influence the White House’s view on Jewish affairs as well. When General Ulysses S. Grant ordered the Jews expelled from Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi, Zacharie advised the President to rescind the order.

In 1874, Zacharie returned to his native England, where he lived out the rest of his life.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Secret Tzedakah

If you have a friend or family member in need, find a discreet way to help, such as dropping a $20 bill in the person's home or giving food you "over-bought."

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

If I Forget Thee

“If I forget thee O’ Jerusalem, let my right hand wither” (Psalms 137:5 - Im esh’kachech Yerushalayim, tishkach y’meenee)...poignantly expresses the Jewish people’s longing for Jerusalem. The Bible predicts that the land of Israel is destined to have one specific site that will be holy beyond all others and refers to this site as “the place which God shall choose to cause His name to dwell there” (Deuteronomy 16). The place God chose was Jerusalem.

The old question of “the chicken and the egg” (which came first?) can be applied to the holiness of Jerusalem. Was the location of Jerusalem holy before the Temple was built or did Jerusalem become holy because the Temple was built there?

According to the sages, Jerusalem is built upon Mount Moriah, the place where Abraham brought Isaac to be sacrificed (Genesis 22:14), indicating clearly that, beyond its role as the Temple location, the spot had integral spiritual significance. It is traditionally assumed that King David had prophetic knowledge of this holiness when he selected Jerusalem to be the national and spiritual capital of the Jewish nation.

In Jewish law, objects used for sacred purposes may not simply be discarded or destroyed but must be disposed of in a respectful manner (“Rava said: ‘Covers of single books of the Torah and cases of Torah scrolls, are accessories of sacred items [that are no longer usable] and must be hidden” -- Megillah 26b.) One can therefore readily understand that the city of Jerusalem, the place where the Temple stood, remains eternally holy.

For nearly two thousand years the Jewish people could only be guests in their holy city (and sometimes not even that). On the 28th of Iyar in 1967, however, Israeli troops captured the Old City, unifying Jerusalem and allowing Jews to live and pray in the city that lives in our hearts.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

A View From Jerusalem

Check out Jerusalem on one of the several Western Wall webcams available on the web, such as
the Kotel Cam or Window on the Wall

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Feast of Weeks

Shavuot is the only holiday not listed in the Torah by the date on which it is to be observed. Rather, the Torah teaches that this festival takes place on the day following the 49th day after the first day of Passover (see Counting of the Omer), the day on which the Omer Sacrifice was offered. The name Shavuot, therefore, reflects the fact that this holiday occurs seven complete weeks (shavuot) after Passover. In mystical terms, the number 7 represents the natural order of things, and so, a complete, natural cycle has occurred.

The natural cycle that has been completed is agricultural. Therefore the holiday is also called Chag Ha'bikurim, The Holiday of the First Fruits, and is the time when the offering of the First Fruit of the harvest was brought to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem as a gesture of thanksgiving for the successful crop.

Seven times seven days, the count of 49, expresses the natural cycle, but Shavuot takes place one day after the seven weeks--one step beyond the natural cycle. It is, therefore, also representative of an event beyond nature as well.

When the Israelites left Egypt, the people acted as though they were merely cousins bonded by mutual misery. By the end of seven weeks, however, at the base of Mount Sinai, the former slaves rose above their human limitations and, by accepting the Torah, took upon themselves a total commitment to God, the final step in becoming the Nation of Israel. Shavuot is therefore also known as Z'man Matan Torateinu, the time of the giving of the Torah.

Like all holidays on the Jewish calendar, Shavuot celebrates both the “mundane” and the holy, and, in this way, reminds us that nothing in life is mundane.

*This Treat was originally published on May 21, 2009. It is being re-Treated to help us better understand the holiday of Shavuot.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Shavuot Plans

Plan ahead for the festival of Shavuot, which begins at sunset on Tuesday, May 18th.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Mother Sarah

Sarah was 90 years old when her son Isaac was born. He was the answer to all her prayers, for she now knew for certain that the great work that she and Abraham had been doing would be carried on in future generations.

As Isaac grew, both Sarah and Abraham watched the child carefully, knowing that he was the next spiritual link of the Jewish people. As she watched the Isaac play with Ishmael, his half-brother, Sarah was concerned that Ishmael was a negative influence on Isaac and would lead him down a path of violence and immorality. She went to Abraham and insisted that Hagar and Ishmael leave. But Abraham hesitated about sending his son away. God, however, told Abraham not to be concerned, for He would make the boy (Ishmael) into a nation (indeed, he is the progenitor of the many Arab nations), and that “everything Sarah tells [him], he should heed her words” (Genesis 21:12). From this our Sages understand that Sarah was, in fact, a greater prophet than Abraham.

After she secured Isaac’s future, little more is written about Sarah’s life. When her only child was 37 years old, Sarah died (at age 127). Abraham immediately went to Hebron, where he knew there was the cave in which Adam and Eve were buried. Despite the goodwill of the local people who were willing to give Abraham burial rights in the cave, Abraham insisted that he purchase the cave and own the burial site in perpetuity. He therefore successfully negotiated the sale of the site, Ma’arat HaMachpela (the Tomb of the Patriarchs), for 400 silver shekel, and buried Sarah there.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Thanks Mom

Even if you spoke to her yesterday (Mother's Day), call your mother this evening and thank her just for being mom.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Thank You, Mom

In honor of all our favorite Jewish Mothers, we've decided to re-Treat this special Mother's Day edition of Jewish Treats!

Don’t forget to call your mother on Sunday, or send her flowers or a card. For those very, very out of the loop, Sunday is Mother’s Day. Mother’s Day is a day set aside to show the moms in our lives how much we appreciate them. It’s a sweet and wonderful idea...but according to the Torah, every day is Mother’s Day.

The very first commandment that God gave to Adam was to “be fruitful and multiply.” Traditionally, this mitzvah is only considered obligatory upon men, not women.

This seems strange. After all, women are the ones who carry the children in the womb, nourish the infants from their breasts, and, traditionally, take the brunt of the child-rearing responsibility. If anything, “peru oo’revu,” be fruitful and multiply, should be a woman’s mitzvah!

According to the sages, however, the mitzvah of “peru oo’revu” is not obligatory on a woman because of the inherent dangers in childbirth. It has only been in the last 100 years or so that the number of fatalities during birth has become minimal, and Torah law does not command people to put themselves in life-threatening situations.

Perhaps, however, the danger inherent in motherhood is not just physical. Motherhood changes a person, restricts her and demands that she sacrifice many of the things she most values in life (sleep, independence, etc.). At the same time, through motherhood, a woman has the chance to not only experience the immense power of creation, but also to emulate God's endless ability to give.

Motherhood, therefore, is both a choice and an opportunity. And it is because of this choice, and the sacrifices inherent therein, that one must give his/her mother honor, respect and even gratitude, not just on Mother’s Day, but everyday.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

The Giving Gift

Give back to your mother in a special way by making a charitable donation in her honor (or memory). Jewish Treats/National Jewish Outreach Program is happy to help, of course:

Friday, May 7, 2010


The sixth week of Sefirat Ha’Omer, the counting of the days between Passover and Shavuot, is dedicated to the Sephirah of Yesod - Foundation. (For an explanation of the sephirot, please click here).

Build a house without a solid foundation, and it will fall. The purpose of a building’s foundation is to stabilize it on the ground and connect it to the earth. This basic truth of engineering is true for all aspects of life. Sometimes the foundation is physical, and sometimes it is spiritual. But, the end goal of all of our actions is connection. This is the lesson of yesod.

It is interesting to note that yesod is often associated with procreation. Each person’s relationship to his/her parents, grandparents and other ancestors is a foundation upon which they build their lives. It is very clear that many people make decisions based on the values they have inherited from their family. At the same time, becoming a parent (or even forming a solid relationship with the next generation) creates a new foundation in one’s life that directs a person’s focus away from him/herself.

According to some Torah commentators, at the time of creation, Adam was one creature, possessing both male and female attributes. This, however, led Adam to be totally self-absorbed (as he needed no one else). Therefore, God divided Adam into male and female. From this we learn that God does not want a person to be alone, but, rather, to connect to others and to use that connection to build a better world.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Foundation Light

Light candles to mark the beginning of Shabbat. Click here to find out what time Shabbat starts where you are.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Who Drinks The Water?

It’s a classic ethical dilemma: Two people are lost in the desert with only one water bottle. There is not enough water for both people to reach civilization. Who gets the water, or do they share it (and both die)?

Let’s be honest, most people run through all the answers in their head. The natural instinct of “Hey, it’s my water” is beaten down by every lesson on sharing and sacrificing for others. But the altruistic response of giving all of the water to the other person goes against basic survival instinct. Sharing the water seems to leave open the possibility that the two people might find more water or come across someone who will rescue them and transport them to civilization.

The sages (Talmud Baba Metzia 62a) were also divided regarding the correct response. Ben Petura believed that the correct solution was to share the water. His reasoning, however, was that sharing the water and both dying was better than either of them living and watching the other die. After all, doesn’t it say in Talmud Sanhedrin 74a: “Who says your blood is redder? Maybe your friend’s blood is redder?” Meaning, how can an ordinary human being choose who lives and who dies?

On the other hand, Rabbi Akiva, whose opinion is the accepted one, declared that the owner of the water is the one who should drink the water. As proof, he cited Leviticus 25:36, which states: “That your brother may live with you.” While this verse is actually part of a discussion on usury, Rabbi Akiva cited it to answer our question. He noted that the Torah said “with you,” to teach us that while in most instances you must help your brother. This is not so if it comes at the expense of your life! Therefore, the owner of the water gets to keep it.

Safety Tip

Guard your life by wearing a helmet when biking.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Unsung Hero

War heroes are not always soldiers in arms. Often they are the men and women who work behind the scenes. Such was the role of Haym Salomon, an unsung hero of the American Revolution.

Born in 1740 in Poland, Salomon immigrated to New York in the early 1770s, where he established himself as a financial broker for merchants engaged in overseas trade and became a member of the Sons of Liberty (a secret organization of American patriots).

Salomon was quite successful in business and put his business acumen to work for the colonials. He was arrested as a spy in 1776, but pardoned and put to work by the British as a translator for their Hessian mercenaries (whom he covertly encouraged to desert). When he was arrested again in 1778, he received a death sentence but managed to escape. Salomon fled to Philadelphia, penniless.

Re-establishing his brokerage business, Salomon resumed his work for the revolution. When George Washington found himself on the verge of victory but with an empty war chest, Haym Salomon managed to raise the $20,000 needed. Washington was thus able to complete the Yorktown campaign--and win independence for the United States. Salomon also negotiated with France and Holland for war aid and helped members of the Continental Congress support themselves in Philadelphia. His financial genius was also put in service to the new federal government, which lacked financial stability.

Unfortunately, Salomon also involved himself in considerable financial speculation. When he died in 1785, his unexpected debts left his family penniless.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.


During the month of May, celebrate Jewish American Heritage Month!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

No Cheeseburgers

Why don’t Jews eat meat and milk together? Because the Torah says: “Do not boil a kid in its mother’s milk” (Lo t'vashail g'di ba'cha'laiv eemo.) To the modern Jew, however, this phrase seems a far cry from mixing meat and milk.

It could be assumed that the Torah was merely teaching a law about demonstrating compassion for animals. However, since the exact phrase is repeated on three separate occasions in the Torah (Exodus 23:19, Exodus 34:26 and Deuteronomy 14:21), the rabbis interpreted the law to forbid cooking, eating and benefitting from any combination of meat and milk.

One might ask how this prohibition, which seems very specific, came to refer to all types of meat and any kind of combination. According to Rashi , the word g’di refers to all young domesticated animals (sheep, cows and goats). Only if the verse had said g’di eezim would it have been specific to a young goat. The reason that the prohibition applies to all meat (even that of an old cow) is possibly because, once butchered, one cannot distinguish the age of the animal. Similarly, if one has meat together with a piece of cheese, one cannot be certain that the cheese was not made from the milk of the already butchered mother. Therefore no combination of meat or milk can be allowed.

The Torah law applies specifically to meat, not poultry--since mother birds do not produce milk. However, in order to prevent confusion (since people commonly regard poultry as meat), the sages extended this law to poultry as well.

Why did God command this separation? Many have offered explanations but, in truth, the laws of mixing milk and meat are known as a chok, a statute that we follow because God said so, not because we understand its purpose.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

A Kosher Step

Be aware of all of the ingredients in the food you are eating.

Monday, May 3, 2010

For Jewish Youth

Do you know which international Jewish youth organization began in Omaha, Nebraska?

In the 1920s, Jewish youth were often excluded from local clubs and organizations. When a group of Jewish teens in Omaha decided to create their own fraternity, they mimicked the Greek fraternities that had excluded them by naming their group Aleph Zadik Aleph (AZA). It started as a simple club of 14 or so Jewish teenage boys who organized social events. Originally featuring speakers and became much more.

On May 3, 1924, AZA’s second advisor, Sam Beber formalized the group into an international fraternal organization (a second chapter in Kansas City had already been started by Nathan Mnookin, formerly of Omaha). Within a year, 8 more cities chartered chapters. In 1925, at Beber’s instigation, AZA was “adopted” by B’nai Brith, the Jewish service organization. B’nai Brith gave the boys financial support as well as a path into the adult Jewish social network.

While there were many attempts to create a parallel organization for girls, a similar network was not fully established until 1944, with the inauguration of B’nai Brith Girls (BBG). B’nai Brith then brought the two networks together to form the B’nai Brith Youth Organization (BBYO). The affiliation with B’nai Brith lasted until 2002, when BBYO became an independent, non-profit organization.

Over the years, BBYO has touched the lives of hundreds of thousands of Jewish youths around the world. Not only has it proven to be a popular social outlet, but has given many Jewish youths a sense of great pride in their heritage, inspiring an involvement with the Jewish community for the rest of their lives.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Take Charge

Volunteer to help a Jewish youth organization in your community.