Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Feast of Weeks

Shavuot, which we begin celebrating next Tuesday night (June 7th), is the only holiday in the Torah not listed 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 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.

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 our 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 © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Shavuot Plans

Plan ahead for the festival of Shavuot, which begins at sunset on Tuesday, June 7th.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day - Francis Slanger

Not many Jewish women have had ships named in their memory, but it is an honor that Lieutenant Frances Slanger earned without question. One of four nurses who braved the waves and the Germans to come ashore on the Normandy Beachhead (D-Day, June 10, 1944), she later became the only nurse killed by the enemy in the European theater of war.

Frances Slanger (1913-1944, born Freidel Yachet Schlanger - her name was changed by U.S. immigration officials) was seven years old when she arrived in Roxbury, Massachusetts, with her family from Lodz, Poland. When Frances enrolled in the Boston Nursing School and then found work at Boston City Hospital, she was fulfilling a childhood dream. As news of the horrors facing Jews in Europe crossed the Atlantic, and with memories of her childhood during World War I in Europe, Frances knew what she had to do...she enlisted and demanded to be sent overseas.

As a war nurse, Frances was awed by the dedication and courage of the soldiers she treated. She saw how much they had sacrificed of their comfort and basic needs in order to fight the Nazis. On the morning of October 21, 1944, Frances wrote a beautiful letter to Stars and Stripes, the magazine of the U.S. Army, praising the bravery that she witnessed daily:

“We have learned a great deal about our American boy and the stuff he is made of. The wounded do not cry. Their buddies come first. The patience and determination they show, the courage and fortitude they have is sometimes awesome to behold...” (For a full version of her article, click here.)

One hour after completing her letter, a German shell hit the nurses’ tent. Frances took shrapnel in the stomach, and even in those last few hours of her life, Frances’ first concern was for the other wounded.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

The Honor of Listening

If you know Jewish war veterans, honor them by listening to their stories.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Shabbat In The Spring

As spring takes hold of the northern hemisphere, and the hours between sunrise and sunset lengthen, people often spend the long Shabbat afternoon enjoying the outdoors. Even as one soaks in the sense of kedusha, holiness, on a restful Shabbat afternoon such as this, one must still remember to guard the Sabbath day. Almost all of the 39 m’la’chot, the creative works that are prohibited on Shabbat, are related to agriculture, and thus to nature. So here are a few quick tips for observing Shabbat while enjoying the outdoors:

1) Most people will easily conclude that mowing the lawn on Shabbat would be prohibited. The ma’la’cha of kotzair, cutting, however, also includes “plucking” at the grass, a habit most people develop in their childhood. Not only does refraining from this sort of “harvesting” of grass, flowers or even weeds uphold the observance of the Sabbath, but it encourages an environmentally friendly attitude towards plant life, if only for the day.

2) Every woman enjoys the sweet gesture of a bouquet of wildflowers, whether from a partner, child or friend. But, gathering wildflowers (assuming that they were already plucked, see above) falls into the category of m’amair, gathering things that grow.

3) A refreshing cup of lemonade or iced tea is perfect in the yard. But one should be careful not empty the cup in the rhododendron bush. People often casually spill their drinks on the ground. But this actually constitutes watering the plants...which is part of the ma’la’cha of zorey'ah, sowing.

4) Bugs are God’s creations too. On Shabbat one should avoid trapping and/or killing insects (an exception is made for dangerous insects such as bees and hornets, although one should not use a specially designed trap) as both acts are ma’la’chot (tzad and shochait).

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Shmooze In The Park

Spending time with friends in the park this Shabbat? Tell them something interesting you've learned through Jewish Treats.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Call Him Ishmael...Rabbi Ishmael

It may seem surprising that the Talmud quotes a sage named Rabbi Ishmael. Biblically, Ishmael the son of Abraham and Hagar, is portrayed as a wild trouble-maker sent away from Abraham’s home. But the Midrash maintains that the biblical Ishmael eventually did teshuva (repented) and returned and followed Abraham’s ways.

Rabbi Ishmael ben Elisha lived a few decades after the destruction of the Second Temple (70 C.E.), during a peak era of Roman persecution of the Jewish people for having rebelled. In fact, as a boy, Rabbi Ishmael was taken to Rome as a captive. Rabbi Joshua ben Chanania heard about him and called to the boy from in front of the jail: “Who delivered Jacob for a spoil and Israel to the robbers” (Isaiah 42:24). Ishmael called back the second half of the verse: “Was it not God, He against Whom we have sinned.” Rabbi Joshua paid a sizable ransom for the boy and then raised him to become a great scholar (Gittin 58a).

Rabbi Ishmael is noted for the exceptional lengths he went to help others, especially girls having trouble finding proper mates. His scholarship touched all topics, and his knowledge astounded even his peers. He is best known, however, for his 13 hermeneutic rules for deriving halacha from the Torah--a system that is still in use today.

The death of Rabbi Ishmael is included in Ayleh Ezkerah,* ("These I Will Remember") the liturgical poem read on Yom Kippur, which describes the horrible deaths of ten martyred sages, including Rabbi Akiva. While Rabbi Ishmael weeps over the death of Rabbi Simon ben Gamliel, the emperor’s daughter covets Rabbi Ishmael’s physical beauty. She begs her father to spare Rabbi Ishmael’s life, but, when her request is rejected, she requests that Rabbi Ishmael’s flesh be removed from his face in order to preserve his beauty.

*The historical accuracy of this document is subject to debate.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Think Again

Many people believe that the Talmud is a dry or confusing legal text. Actually, it's full of fascinating stories, interesting personalities and strange facts. Take a look!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

An American Artist

Born in 1881, in Bialystok, Russia, Max Weber* eventually became a leading artist in the American art scene.

Weber began his career with formal training at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, with the practical goal of becoming an art teacher. By the end of 1905, however, he had given up teaching to move to Paris and immerse himself in the European world of art. Paris at the turn of the century was a hotbed of artistic activity, and Weber associated with artist such as Henri Matisse, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso and George Braque. The last two of these artists had the greatest impact on Weber’s work, as they introduced him to the newest movement in the art world (which they had started): Cubism.

Returning to America in 1909, Weber brought the modernist movements to the American art scene. Although he is noted as one of the foremost Cubists in American art, when he finally settled into a style that would be called his own, his paintings were personal, expressionistic but with elements of the earlier experimental work he had done. In 1930, a retrospective of Weber’s work, the first of an American artist, was held at the Museum of Modern Art.

There are many world-class artists in the world who are Jewish, but their Jewishness isn’t primary to their lives. In the later part of his career, however, Max Weber returned to his roots...artistically speaking. He used his paints to portray the world of the Chasidic Jews in paintings such as "Students of the Torah" (1940) and “Adoration of the Moon” (1944).

Max Weber died in October 1961.

In honor of Jewish American Heritage Month (May), Jewish Treats will be highlighting and celebrating exemplary Jewish Americans and exploring interesting points of Jewish American history.

*Not to be confused with Max Weber (1864-1920), the German sociologist and political economist.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Artist Inside

Use Jewish themes as inspiration for your artistic hobbies.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Make Me the High Priest

The Talmud (Shabbat 31a) relates the strange story of a non-Jewish man who wished to convert to Judaism in order to ultimately become the High Priest of Israel. He believed that, in this way, he would attain a position of prestige, power and wealth. The man first went to the sage Shammai, who, upon hearing his plan, summarily turned the man away. Undaunted, the man then went to the sage Hillel and asked Hillel to convert him on condition that he then be appointed High Priest. Rather than turn the man down, Hillel sent the man to study the Torah, explaining that a man cannot be king unless he knows the laws of the land. When the man read Numbers 1:51, “and the common man that comes close (to the holy parts of the Tabernacle) shall be put to death,” he questioned Hillel as to whom this law applied. Informed that even King David himself could not enter the Tabernacle, the man was humbled and retracted his request to be High Priest. He nevertheless completed his conversion and, it is assumed, lived a long and happy Jewish life.

This selection is actually one of a series of three stories relating to converts who were turned away by Shammai but accepted and taught by Hillel. Each one presented the sages with a strange ultimatum (teach me Torah while standing on one foot, teach me only the Written Torah without the Oral Law). While Shammai questioned their motives, Hillel embraced their minds and souls.

From these stories, one might appreciate the validity of the old saying “There is no such thing as a stupid question.” To Shammai it was obvious that one could not convert and become the High Priest (priesthood being an inherited status). Hillel, on the other hand, realized that through the recognition of why the man could not be High Priest, the man would see the beauty of the Torah itself.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Honest Answers

If someone asks you a question about Jewish life, answer them to the best of your ability or tell them you will get back to them with an answer. (You can always ask Jewish Treats!)

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Jewish Prime Minister?

Benjamin Disraeli has been called the first (and only) Jewish Prime Minister of England. The truth of this claim is...complicated. According to Jewish law, he was Jewish. His political detractors never hesitated to bring up his Jewish background. But at the age of 13--at the behest of his father Isaac, who had had a falling out with the Bevis Marks synagogue (the main Sephardi synagogue in London)--Benjamin Disraeli was baptized. He remained a member of the Anglican church for the rest of his life.

From a political perspective, Benjamin Disraeli was a fascinating figure. He was first elected to Parliament, as a Tory (conservative), in 1837, the year Victoria ascended the throne. In time, he became one of the Queen’s intimates. She granted him the title of Earl of Beaconsfield in 1876, and, upon his death in 1881, sent a wreath "from his grateful and affectionate Sovereign and friend, Victoria R.I." He first assumed the office of Prime Minister in February 1868, when his predecessor, Lord Derby died in office. He left office in December of that same year, returned to office in 1874, and remained Prime Minister until 1880. Disraeli’s second term was preceded and succeeded by William Gladstone, Disraeli’s life-long political rival.

A well-known novelist in addition to being a politician, Disraeli wrote 17 novels (and had started his 18th when he died). His works have been praised for their use of language, but, at the same time, criticized for their lack of subtlety. Political messages and characterizations of Disraeli’s associates were often only thinly veiled. At least one of his novels, Alroy, had a blatantly pro-Jewish and pre-Zionistic tone.

Disraeli’s most famous pro-Jewish statement, however, was in response to a disparaging remark about his ancestry: “Yes, I am a Jew, and when the ancestors of the right honorable gentleman were brutal savages in an unknown island, mine were priests in the Temple of Solomon.”

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Fresh Fruit

Enjoy the delights of the spring (watermelon, strawberries) with a proper blessing, ha’adama.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Lag Ba'Omer

The period of mourning* (for the 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva who died of plague) associated with Sefirat Ha’omer ends on the 33rd day of the Omer, a day known as Lag Ba’omer. In Hebrew, every letter has a numerical value. ”Lamed” equals 30, and "Gimmel" equals 3, thus Lag (spelled "Lamed Gimmel") Ba'omer, literally means 33 (days) in the Omer.

Because the mourning period is now over, Lag Ba’omer is a popular date for weddings (which are not held during Sefirat Ha’omer) and haircuts.** Many have the custom not to cut a boy's hair until he is three years old, the age at which the child first begins to learn Torah. Since haircuts are delayed until after the period of mourning, and because there is Kabbalistic significance to hair, many put off the hair-cutting ceremony, called an Upsherin, until Lag Ba'Omer.

Lag Ba’Omer is also the anniversary of the death of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the famed Talmudic Kabbalist whose teachings are revealed in the Zohar. In Israel, tens of thousands of people travel to Mount Meron (near Safed) to observe his yahrtzeit near the cave in which he was buried. As per his deathbed request, his death is celebrated rather than mourned.

It is also common for families and friends to gather together for a bonfire and/or picnic on Lag Ba'omer, often on Mount Meron. There are several reasons given for this custom. One is that the word Zohar translates to “shining light,” and bonfires bring light to the world.

*Some people observe 33 days of mourning starting from the beginning of the month of Iyar until Shavuot. In such cases, however, Lag Ba'omer is excluded from the mourning customs.

**When Lag Ba'omer falls on Sunday, as it does this year, it is customary to have one's hair cut on Friday in honor of Shabbat.

This Treat was originally posted on Monday, May 11, 2009.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Fire Power

If you can't build a bonfire on Lag Ba'Omer, invite some friends over for a barbeque.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

What’s in the Book: The Twelve Prophets - Hosea

The prophet Hosea lived during the reign of King Jeroboam II over the Northern Kingdom of Israel. He was also a contemporary of the prophet Isaiah.

God instructed Hosea to marry the harlot Gomer. Together they had three children, whom God instructed Hosea to name Jezreel (meaning "God sows," indicating that God will soon punish the house of Jehu, Jeroboam II’s father, for bloody deeds at the Jezreel Valley.), Lo-Ruhama, (meaning “the unpitied one,” indicating that God will have no pity on the Northern Kingdom) and Lo-Ammi (meaning “Not My People,” again indicating God’s rejection of the Northern Kingdom of Israel).

Despite fulfilling the foreboding instructions of God, Hosea announced that God would ultimately renew the covenant in the future, at which time, Lo-Ruhama and Lo-Ammi will be called Ruhama (I will have pity) and Ammi (My People), respectively.

After the telling of the tale of Hosea and Gomer, the prophet laments the iniquitous behavior of the Northern Kingdom, the idolatry and injustice that were to be the cause of Israel’s suffering, as well as God’s great despair at having to punish them. The Book of Hosea concludes with words of encouragement that the Children of Israel should seek forgiveness and remain faithful to God.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

A Chapter A Night

Get to know the Books of the Torah by reading one chapter each night.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Second Passover

On the first anniversary of the Exodus from Egypt, the Children of Israel prepared to celebrate their first Passover as free people. God decreed that they should eat matzah and maror (bitter herbs) in commemoration of the great event, and, most importantly, that the Israelites should all partake of the Passover sacrifice (lamb).

On the eve of the second Passover, Moses was approached by a group of distraught men. “We are unclean because of the dead body of a man; why are we being held back so that we cannot bring the offering to God in its appointed time among the children of Israel” (Numbers 9:7)?

Contact with the dead rendered a person tamei, spiritually impure, and any person who was tamei was forbidden to partake of the Pascal lamb.

In response to their plea, Moses sought instruction from God. God responded that anyone who was tamei due to contact with death or who was on a far-away journey at the time of the Passover offering (14th of Nisan), would then offer the Pascal lamb one month later, on the 14th of Iyar. Those celebrating “Pesach Shaynee” (the Second Passover) must eat the meat of the sacrifice together with matzah and maror, exactly as on a regular Passover.

Today, without a Temple, no one is able to bring a Passover sacrifice. Thus the laws of Pesach Shaynee have little practical effect in day to day Jewish life. However, there is a custom to eat some matzah on the 14th of Iyar to mark the date of Pesach Shaynee for ourselves and for future generations.

This Treat was originally posted on Thursday, May 7, 2009.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.


Enjoy some matzah today in honor of Pesach Shaynee.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Removal Office

In the annals of American history, there are few immigrant stories that are as successful as that of the Jews. Generally, it only took two or three generations for immigrant families to become financially secure, if not successful, in America. Aside from uncommon devotion to education, one of the important factors in the success of Jewish immigration was the tradition of helping other Jews.

Numerous Jewish organizations were formed to help immigrants succeed. Most often these organizations were focused on caring for those in their local areas. But, some, like the "Industrial Removal Office," managed to accomplish their efforts on a national scale.

In 1901, a large wave of Romanian Jews arrived in New York (fleeing Romanian anti-Semitism). The emergency “Romanian Committee,” which was formed by the Jewish Agricultural Society to help these Jews find work outside of the city, developed into the "Industrial Removal Office" (IRO), perhaps called so because it “removed” immigrants from the overcrowded city). The IRO worked as a network: local committees and traveling agents found employers seeking employees. They then informed the head office in New York, which would then match immigrant applicants with available positions. In 1901, nearly 2,000 immigrants were placed in jobs in 250 different towns. And the jobs were not always traditional “Jewish jobs.” The IRO sent Jewish immigrants to be shoemakers, blacksmiths, clerks, furriers, and wood carvers (to name just a few).

Job placement was not always easy. The economic crisis of 1907 forced the IRO to open offices along the West Coast, where the economic crisis had had little effect. This expansion allowed the IRO to continue its work through World War I.

The work of the IRO came to an end after Congress passed the 1921 Immigration Quota Act, which stifled the influx of Jewish immigration. The IRO formally dissolved in 1922, after having found employment for approximately 79,000 immigrants during its 20 year history.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Know Of A Job?

The economic recovery is moving slowly...if you know of any job openings, inform your friends and neighbors.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Sanctify Thyself

In the 21st century, how does one understand a Talmudic statement praising a man for “restricting his eyes” when he has no choice but “to go to a place where there will be immodest women” (Baba Batra 57b)? (Click here to learn about modest dress in Judaism.) The Talmud isn’t being “sexist” and it isn’t belittling women...it is presenting one path of living a “holy” lifestyle.

Throughout the Torah, God commands the Israelites to sanctify themselves and to be a holy nation. The role that God wishes the Jewish people to assume in the world is that of a “kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:6).

Let’s face it, being holy isn’t an easy task. To be holy is to be sanctified, and sanctified is defined as something set apart for a special purpose. The Torah was given to the Jewish people as a guideline for how to live a holy life. Still, even from the very beginning, people had different opinions on how to fulfill the spirit of the commandment to be holy.

The dilemma continues today, and, in many ways, it is far more contentious than it was in the past, as societal norms have changed drastically in the last 100 years (e.g. modest dress or wearing a hat for both men and women).

Some segments of the Jewish people believe that the only way to deal with the modern world is to isolate themselves from society. Others strive to live a Torah lifestyle that incorporates the modern world.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Be Accepting

Always judge others favorably, even if you don't understand their life point of view.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Angelic Praises

During the morning and afternoon prayer services (Shacharit and Mincha), when prayers are recited in the presence of a minyan (quorum of ten), the Amidah (the central standing prayer, also known as Sh'moneh Esrei) is repeated aloud by the prayer leader. The Amidah is also repeated during Musaf, the additional prayer service that is recited on Shabbat and holidays following Shacharit, detailing the additional offerings that were brought in the Temple in Jerusalem.

This repetition allows all members of the congregation, including those unable to read the original Hebrew prayers, to participate in the service by simply responding “amen” to each of the blessings of the Amidah. The congregational practice of everyone listening to the repetition alleviates the possibility of embarrassing those who do not know how to recite the prayers properly.

The repetition of the Amidah also includes the Kedusha, a special expansion of the blessing of the sanctification of God’s name that can only be recited in the presence of a minyan. This recitation is a fulfillment of the message conveyed by the verse in Leviticus 22:32: “...and I will be sanctified among the children of Israel...”

The crux of the Kedusha prayer, which is recited responsively between the prayer leader and the congregation, are the following three Biblical verses:

“Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh, Ah’doh’nai Tz’va’ot, m’loh chol ha’aretz k’vodo” Holy, holy, holy, the Lord of Hosts, the whole world is filled with His glory (Isaiah 6:3).

“Baruch k’vod Ah’doh’nai mim’komo” Blessed is the honor of God from His place (Ezekiel 3:12).

“Yim’loch Ah’doh’nai l’oh’lahm, Eh’lohai’ich Tzion, l’dohr va’dohr, halleluyah” God shall reign forever, Your God O’ Zion, from generation to generation, hallelujah (Psalms 146:10).

According to the prophets, these first two lines are the songs of praise recited daily by the angels in the heavens. In imitation of the angels, during the recitation of the Kedusha, one stands with his/her feet together. There is also a custom of lifting one’s heels each time the word Kadosh (Holy) is pronounced in the first verse.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.


Attend Shabbat services.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Thank You Nurses

Today, May 12, is International Nurses Day, and so, today, Jewish Treats honors a woman who made a tremendous impact on the world of public health.

Lillian D. Wald (1867 – 1940) was born to middle-class, German-Jewish immigrants. In 1889, Lillian enrolled at New York Hospital's School of Nursing. When Lillian began teaching basic nursing to immigrant families on the Lower East Side of New York four years later, she was shocked at the living conditions she discovered. But Lillian Wald had found her calling. She took up residence on Henry Street and began what she termed “public health nursing.” The Henry Street Settlement (as it came to be known) became an open resource for the community. The nurses charged on a sliding scale according to need, kept patient records and offered educational classes. By 1905 there were 18 similar centers under the Henry Street Settlement auspices. In addition to actual health care, the Henry Street Settlement also provided social activities for youth (to keep them off the street and to educate them), vocational training, and other activities that today would be provided by municipal or private social work agencies.

Lillian Wald’s other accomplishments include the initiation of the first American public school nursing program, the development of a department of nursing and health at Teachers College of Columbia University, and assuming the first presidency of the National Organization for Public Health Nursing. Wald also spoke out in defense of immigrants and raised funds from the wealthy German-Jewish community of New York to help the needy immigrants.

Lillian’s work brought worldwide recognition of the need for reforms in public health and other areas of social policy. In 1912, she received a gold medal from the National Institute of Social Sciences, and two colleges granted her honorary doctorates. A public gathering was held in honor of her 70th birthday.

Lillian Wald died in 1940.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

A Simple Statement

When visiting someone in the hospital, thank the nurses for their hard work.

Philanthropy from a Catalogue

Much has been made of those successful businessmen who have put their talents to work for philanthropy. Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Oprah Winfrey, and Michael Dell are just a handful of examples of famous and successful people who have worked hard to give their money away.

Of course, corporate philanthropists are not a new phenomenon (e.g. Andrew Carnegie,1835-1919; John D. Rockefeller, 1839-1937; and Cornelius Vander Starr, 1892-1968).

One of the less well-known philanthropists was Julius Rosenwald (1862-1932), whose name is not nearly as famous as that of his partner, Richard Sears. But, in 1895, he became a partner in Sears, Roebuck and Co. Sears, as the company was, and is, known, issued its first mail order catalogue in 1893, offering only watches. Within two years of the new partnership, the Sears mail order catalogue offered clothing, agricultural tools, athletic equipment and table furnishings. In 1908, when Richard Sears retired, Rosenwald became president of the company. He retired in 1924, and was named chairman of the board, a position he held until his death in 1932.

Around 1908, Rosenwald was introduced to William H. Baldwin and Booker T. Washington, two prominent proponents of African-American education. In 1912, he began what was to become a lifetime position on the Board of Directors of the Tuskegee Institute, one of the first educational institutions for African Americans. In addition to endowing Tuskegee, Rosenwald built over 5,000 schools, shops and homes (for teachers) specifically for African-Americans throughout the south. These came to be known as Rosenwald Schools.

When Rosenwald passed away, his philanthropic efforts were continued by his daughter Edith Stern, whose Stern Family Fund was a major contributor to civil right efforts.

In honor of Jewish American Heritage Month (May) Jewish Treats will be highlighting and celebrating exemplary Jewish Americans and exploring interesting points of Jewish American history.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Start Small

You don't have to be a millionaire to be a philanthropist. Giving tzedakah is a mitzvah whether you give $1 or $50,000.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

David Ben Gurion, An Introduction

David Ben-Gurion is best known as the first Prime Minister of Israel. But, his role in the creation of the State was far greater than can be reflected in any single title.

Born in 1886, in Plonsk, Poland, David Gruen (Green)’s father was a dedicated Zionist who founded the Hebrew school that his son attended. In his late teens, as an activist member of Poalei Zion, a Socialist-Zionist group, David Green found himself frequently at odds with the Polish authorities, and in 1906, at the age of 20, he moved to Palestine. He immediately turned his dreams into action and labored with his fellow Zionists on an agricultural settlement. During this time period, he also helped to found the Jewish self-defense organization, Hashomer.

After six years in Palestine, David now called Ben-Gurion (a Hebrew name meaning lion cub) traveled to Salonika and Istanbul to study Turkish and Ottoman law. In 1914, with the outbreak of World War I, he was deported by the Ottoman authorities. He spent three years in the United States, where he met and married Paula Monbesz. Ben-Gurion subsequently returned to Palestine as a member of the Jewish Legion, a unit of the British Army established by Ze'ev Jabotinsky.

During the British Mandate years, Ben-Gurion helped found the Histadrut, the National Federation of Jewish Laborers, and served as its Secretary General from 1921-1935. In 1935, Ben-Gurion was named Chairman of the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency, a position he held until the founding of the State.

This list of Ben-Gurion’s activities before May 1948 is staggering, even more so when it is noted that this is hardly a complete list. What becomes clear upon reading about this first part of Ben-Gurion’s life (he died in 1973) is his genuine passion for the Land of Israel and his uncommon talent for leadership.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Stick A Flag On It!

In honor of Yom Ha'Atzmaut, Israel Independence Day, put an Israeli flag on your desk.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Battle of Kibbutz Yad Mordechai

At the time of the Declaration of the State of Israel (May 14, 1948), Kibbutz Yad Mordechai was a five year old settlement, ten kilometers south of Ashkelon, just north of the Gaza border. Its 250 or so members, most originally from Poland, had been part of an earlier settlement that had been relocated to a larger parcel of land. They named their new kibbutz after Mordechai Anielewicz, the leader of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

On May 16th, an Egyptian force of over 1,000 troops, armed with artillery, tanks and aircraft, approached from the south. The only resistence point between the Egyptians and the city of Tel Aviv was Yad Mordechai.

The Haganah, the pre-State defense force, was aware of Yad Mordechai’s strategic importance. In the months before independence, the kibbutz was armed and prepared for defense (communication trenches, fortified firing posts, etc.). However, the kibbutz defenders were vastly outnumbered.

The attack began at dawn of May 19th, the morning after the children and most women were secretly evacuated. The first battle lasted through the next day. Overnight, however, a platoon of reinforcements snuck into Yad Mordechai.

May 21st and 22nd were not days of battle. The Egyptians continued to shell the kibbutz, flattening its buildings, but outright warfare was at a standstill. The battle, however, resumed on the 23rd. With many injured and many dead, the kibbutzniks could not hold out any longer. That night, in secret, they withdrew. On the 24th, the Egyptians resumed shelling Yad Mordechai, and only realized several hours later that the kibbutz was empty.

The five days that the heroes of Yad Mordechai held off the Egyptians was long enough for the newly created IDF to complete the plans for the defense of Tel Aviv.

Today, May 9, 2011, is Yom Ha'Zikaron, Israel Memorial Day for the fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Honor Their Memory

Take a moment and remember the sacrifices made by Israeli soldiers to keep the Jewish people safe.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

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 today, or send her flowers or a card. For those very, very out of the loop, Today 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 © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Give A Call

In addition to wishing you mom a Happy Mother's Day, send such greetings to the other mothers in your life.

Friday, May 6, 2011

For Your Jewish Mother

If one were to believe the jokes, Jewish mothers enjoy nothing more than nagging their children to eat, encouraging grown children to get married, and bragging about the children’s professions. Are Jewish mothers more protective of their children than other parents? Probably not. But the reputation for the tight bond between Jewish mothers and their children might stem from the Bible’s emphasis on what a blessing it is to be a mother.

Sarah, Rebecca and Rachel, three of the four matriarchs, had difficulty conceiving a child. Both Sarah and Rebecca conceived only once (Sarah bore Isaac, Rebecca bore Esau and Jacob). Rachel waited many years before the birth of Joseph and then another eight years until Benjamin was born. On the other hand, Leah had four children one after another, and then another three. Indeed, the Midrash explains that Pharaoh’s fear of the Jewish people was due to the fact that they had greatly increased in numbers over a few generations.

Another famous stereotype of the Jewish mother is that she is ever-sacrificing. “No, no, honey, you take the last piece, I’ll just starve.” Of course this is an exaggeration, but it too has its sources in the Torah. Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel, was barren for many years. When she finally had a son, she raised him for three years and then brought him to the High Priest Eli to spend his life in the service of God. This fulfilled the promise that she made to God when she prayed to conceive.

As we celebrate Mother’s Day this Sunday, let us rejoice in the many ways that Jewish mothers in our lives both fulfill and challenge those old stereotypes.

Now, would you like something to eat?

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Honor Thy

It is ALWAYS a mitzvah to honor your mother (and your father). This Mother's Day, show your mother how much she means to you.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Appreciate The Teacher

“No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers’ dirty looks...”

It’s an old childhood rhyme that reflects every child’s longing for the freedom of summer. It is also an excellent example of the negative attitude of children in our modern western civilization to education, and, more importantly, to teachers. School is often presented as a “bother” that children have to bear, making teachers the “bad-guy.”

The Jewish attitude toward education and teachers, however, is the exact opposite. Judaism places great importance on showing absolute respect to one’s teachers. As with parents, it is considered a mitzvah to stand when a teacher enters a room. In fact, the sages question whether one should recline at the Passover seder in the presence of one’s teacher, lest it show disrespect for the teacher (Pesachim 108a).

“Rabbi Hiyya bar Abba stated in the name of Rabbi Yochanan. ‘A man who prevents his student from serving him [showing him proper honor] it is as if he deprives him of [an act of] kindness...’ Rabbi Nachman ben Isaac said: ‘He also deprives him of the fear of Heaven’” (Ketuvot 96a). Many modern teachers struggle to find a balance between gaining the children’s respect and being liked by their students. The sages of the Talmud, however, were quite clear that a teacher who relinquishes his/her honor is actually doing a disservice to the students.

In the United States, the first full week of May is recognized as “National Teacher Appreciation Week.” Teaching the children in our lives to appreciate their teachers (year round) is the first step in helping our children understand the important Jewish value of honoring one’s teacher.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Teachers In Your Life

Let the teachers in your life (either your own or your children’s) know how much they are appreciated.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

May His Name Be Erased

When a righteous person passes away, it is customary to add the following laudatory phrase after mentioning the deceased’s name: “zecher tzaddik liv'racha” (May the memory of this righteous person be a blessing). So too, when referring to an indisputably evil person, it is customary to say “yimach sh’mo” (May his name be erased) after his/her name. In some cases, the term “yimach sh’mo v’zichro” (May his name and memory be erased) is added.

Jewish tradition places great importance on a person being remembered after death. Parents name their children after their own parents and/or grandparents (in Sephardi tradition this occurs while they are still alive, in Ashkenazi tradition a child is named only after deceased relatives). The anniversary of a person’s death (yahrtzeit) is observed by the deceased’s children for the rest of the latter’s lives. According to tradition, positive actions done in the name of the deceased bring them honor in the afterlife.

Most often, the memory of a person is kept alive from parent to child (or by a young person upon whom the deceased had a meaningful influence, like a teacher-student or uncle-nephew). In fact, the word “toldot,” which appears frequently in the text of the Torah, is often translated both as generations and actions. A person is remembered in this world both by the generations that he/she produces and/or by the impact of his/her actions upon others.

In the history of humankind, there have been a number of people who could be considered utterly evil. On May 1st, the world learned of the death of one such thoroughly evil person, Osama bin Laden, “yimach sh’mo v’zichro,” who was killed by the U.S. armed forces. (Coincidentally, it was also on May 1st, in 1945, that it was confirmed that Hitler, “yimach sh’mo v’zichro,” had died.)

May we never see such evil again.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Toward A Better World

Remember, every kindness that we do helps build a better world!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Off With His Head

Capital punishment is one of the modern era’s great controversies. Does a judicial system have the right to sentence a person to death? Like most such controversial topics, similar questions and discussions may be found in the Talmud.

The best known Talmudic reference to capital punishment is found in Makot 7a: “A sanhedrin that effects an execution once in seven years is branded a 'destructive tribunal.' Rabbi Eliezer ben Azariah says once in seventy years. Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Akiva say, ‘Were we members of the sanhedrin, no person would ever be put to death.’”

The Mishnah cited is an excellent reflection of the Jewish attitude to the death penalty. Even though the written Torah calls for execution (“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man will his blood be shed - Genesis 9:6), the oral Torah regulated the process to the point where it became almost impossible to convict someone of murder.

Capital crimes, such as murder, incest or idolatry, were usually tried by a beit din (tribunal) of 23. Conviction required a majority of at least 13. If all 23 judges voted to convict, however, the accused was acquitted because of the implausibility that not a single judge doubted the witnesses (implying that there was a conspiracy). In capital cases, the witnesses were critical since no circumstantial evidence was accepted. Therefore, not only did the witnesses need to be upright, law (Torah) abiding citizens, but they must have definitively warned the accused that the intended act was a capital offense. The testimonies of both witnesses had to match, flawlessly, and lying was, itself, a capital offense.

If conviction was virtually impossible, why bother? The reverberations of the rare cases in which an execution did actually occur were enough to dissuade others from committing the same crime. Thus, said Rabbi Simon ben Gamliel, “If we never condemned anyone to death, we might be considered guilty of promoting violence and bloodshed...[and] multiply murderers in Israel” (Maakot 7a).

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Personal Execution

Embarrassing others is compared by the sages to murder. Refrain from embarrassing others.

Monday, May 2, 2011


The Jewish nation has a long historical memory. Jewish history is replete with accounts of those who attacked Jews and Jewish communities, and the records of countless victims. On the other hand, the Jewish calendar also records dates commemorating the defeat of those who sought to destroy the Jewish nation. There is even a Biblical commandment to remember how the nation of Amalek tried to destroy the Jews by attacking the weak and the stragglers as they marched in the wilderness. The mitzvah is known as Zachor, which means remember.

A generation of Jews is now coming of age that is, in truth, the first generation who will need to be educated and, in effect, commanded, to remember the Holocaust. Those who survived the Nazi horrors are all too quickly becoming part of history themselves...and those who wish to distort history have gained strength as the number of eyewitnesses rapidly diminishes.

Holocaust Memorial Day, known in Hebrew as Yom Hashoah, literally “The Day of the Conflagration” is observed on the 27th of Nisan. Yesterday, people around the world recalled those who perished and the world that was lost. It is vitally important that time be set aside for each and every Jew (indeed, each and every person) to stop and ponder...What if I had been there? What if it had been me?

Just two weeks ago, at the Passover seder, Jews read the following statement from the Haggadah: “In every generation, they rise up against us to destroy us. But, the Holy One, blessed be He, rescues us from their hands.”

Zachor, Remember! Each and every Jew must remember the uniqueness of the Jewish nation. Our remembrance of Jewish tragedies affirms our survival and victory. Hitler may have wanted to eradicate the Jews, but instead, the Jews stand tall and continue to REMEMBER.

This Treat was originally posted on April 21, 2009.

Time To Remember

Take two minutes and remember the Jews who perished in the Holocaust.