Tuesday, April 30, 2013

An American Poet

As a young man, the poet Karl Shapiro (born 1913, Baltimore - died 2000, New York City) contemplated changing his name to Karl Camden. It was a reaction to the attitude of disregard he experienced while studying at the University of Virginia, about which he later wrote: “To hurt the Negro and avoid the Jew / Is the curriculum” (“University” 1940). Shapiro did not go through with his plan, but he did change the spelling of his first name to the more Germanic “Karl.”  He himself stated that the “decision [to write under the name Shapiro] made me ‘Jewish,” and since I had made the decision, I wrote poems about Jewishness.”

Although Shapiro began publishing his poems while still in university (University of Virginia, Johns Hopkins, Enoch Pratt Library School - however, he never finished school), it was the poetry that he wrote while serving in the Army (he was drafted in 1941) that gained him critical attention. During the war, he published four volumes of poetry. In fact, his 1944 V-Letter and Other Poems, which was written while he served as a Medical Corps clerk, earned him a Pulitzer Prize.

Shapiro published a total of 22 volumes of poetry (including one titled “Poems of a Jew”), two autobiographies, one novel and several essay collections. He served as the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress (1947-1948), editor of the literary journals Poetry (1950-1956) and The Prairie Schooner (1956-1966), and held teaching positions at numerous universities.

Shapiro was highly critical of modern poets such as T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, and Ezra Pound. In fact, Shapiro was one of only two acclaimed poets who voted against Ezra Pound receiving the first Bollingen Prize in Poetry (1948). His stand against Pound drew the attention and accolades of numerous Jewish organizations, as Ezra Pound was a rabid anti-Semite.

To read more about Karl Shapiro, click here.

To read a sample of Karl Shapiro’s poetry, click here.

The month of April is national poetry month.

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Express Yourself


Use verse or art to express your Jewish pride.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Who Was Rabbi Akiva?

Akiva ben Yosef was once an ignorant and illiterate shepherd. So poor and downtrodden a figure was Akiva that his extremely wealthy father-in-law disinherited Akiva’s wife, Rachel, for marrying him.

At the age of forty, Akiva's life changed. According to legend, while tending his flocks, Akiva noticed a rock with a hole going straight through it. This hole was created by constantly dripping water. Akiva decided then and there to go and study Torah. If dripping water could bore a hole into solid rock, then even he, a forty year old man, could learn Torah through constant effort. He had to start from scratch, for Akiva ben Yosef did not even know the aleph-bet!

Strongly encouraged by Rachel, he went to study Torah for 12 years. When he returned he overheard his wife saying that she would gladly let him learn for another 12 years. And he did. When he finally returned, he had become Rabbi Akiva, the great sage, and had acquired 24,000 students. (The majority of whom died of plague during the period of Sefirat Ha'omer.)

Sadly, Rabbi Akiva was one of 10 sages whom the Romans brutally executed for teaching Judaism. They tortured him by scraping his flesh with a large iron comb. Yet, Rabbi Akiva called out joyfully: "All my life I've been waiting to fulfill the concept, 'You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your resources.' Now I finally have the chance to fulfill those words.” With his last breath, he cried out the words of Shema (Talmud Brachot 61b).

Like Moses, Rabbi Akiva started as a shepherd. He became one of the greatest sages of the Jewish people with enough wisdom to unravel the intricacies of the law, guide the populace and inspire future generations.

This Treat was last posted on May 5, 2009.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved

Related Treats


Follow Your Passion

Don't let your fears keep you from following your passion.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Bows and Arrows

Lag Ba'omer, the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer, is a minor holiday on the Jewish calendar. Its observance commemorates the end of a tragic plague that took the lives of nearly all of Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 students. It is also the yahrtzeit (anniversary of death) of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the great Kabbalist and presumed author of the Zohar.

While Lag Ba’omer is most commonly associated with the lighting of bonfires, another popular Lag Ba’omer activity is archery. One does not usually associate a hunting tool/weapon of war with a Jewish holiday. The bow and arrow, however, remind us that Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai lived under the oppressive rule of the Romans after the destruction of the Holy Temple. In this era, these great Torah scholars were outlaws, since teaching Torah was forbidden under penalty of death. In fact, Rabbi Akiva lived during the famous Bar Kochba Rebellion, around 135 C.E.

Bar Kochba was a talented military leader, and he even managed to capture and rule a portion of Judea. So highly was he regarded that many, including great sages such as Rabbi Akiva, believed him to be the Messiah. The hope was shattered, however, when Bar Kochba was killed by the Romans during the capture of Betar. The association of Rabbi Akiva with Bar Kochba is one possible reason for the bows and arrows on Lag Ba’omer.

This Treat was last posted on April 29, 2010.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved

Dinner Fire

Make a barbeque for dinner in lieu of a bonfire.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Rabbi Shimon’s Favorite Tree

On Lag Ba’omer, Jews around the world honor the memory of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, a student of Rabbi Akiva who delved into the esoteric meaning of the Torah.  He taught what is today called “Kabbalah” (Jewish mysticism) to his fellow Jews, and his teachings were written in a book called the Zohar, which means “shining light” or “splendor.”

Like most of the rabbis who lived under Roman rule, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was considered a criminal for studying and teaching Torah. Along with his son, Rabbi Elazar, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai went into hiding, and, according to tradition, they sustained themselves for 13 years by eating the fruit of a carob tree  that God miraculously caused to grow in their cave (Talmud Shabbat 33b), hence the custom to eat carob (also known by the Yiddish name, bokser) on Lag Ba’omer.

Is it realistic to believe that grown men could survive on a diet of carob beans and water for 13 years? Perhaps. After all, the carob tree is actually part of the pea family, and the carob beans are packed with protein. In fact, the carob has a less well-known name, “Saint John’s Bread,” which reflects carob’s properties of sustenance. In fact, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and Rabbi Elazar are not the only people mentioned in the Talmud as having lived off the fruit of the carob tree. “Rab Judah said in the name of Rab: Every day a Heavenly voice is heard declaring, The whole world draws its sustenance because [of the merit] of Hanina my son, and Hanina my son suffices himself with a kab (measurement) carobs from one Sabbath eve to another” (Taanit 24b). This statement, which seems to be in praise of Hanina’s austerity, confirms that the carob can be considered a valuable food source. (As an interesting side note, the word carat, the weight in which we measure gems and precious metals, is actually derived from the word carob.)

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved

Lag Ba'omer


The period of mourning* (for the 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva who died of plague) associated with Sefirat Ha’omer is not observed 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 or suspended for the day, Lag Ba’omer is a popular date for weddings (which are not held during most of Sefirat Ha’omer) and haircuts.* Some 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 three days prior to Shavuot. In such cases, however, Lag Ba'omer is excluded from the mourning customs.

This Treat was originally posted on Monday, May 10, 2012.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved

In Your Town

Find out what Lag Ba'Omer celebrations are taking place in your community this Saturday night/Sunday.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Which Tree Was It?


Why is the Adam's Apple called the "Adam's Apple"? Many people surmise, not without some justification, that the term is a reference to a piece of fruit stuck in Adam's throat. Although apples may be one of the most common fruits, the Hebrew word used in the Torah for the food that Eve offered Adam is "pree." Pree is a generic term for fruit, whereas an apple is specifically a tapuach.

While artists have frequently used their brilliant imaginations to try to depict the landscape of the Garden of Eden, no one really knows what the garden looked like nor exactly what type of fruit grew on the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. In fact, the different opinions of what type of fruit it might have been are recorded both in the Talmud (Brachot 40a) and in the Midrash (Genesis Rabbah 15:7).

Rabbi Nechemia and Rabbi Jose are both of the opinion that the Tree of Knowledge was a fig tree. Their reasoning, as stated by Rabbi Nechemia, is the same: "They (Adam and Eve) repaired their misdeed with the instrument of it [the sin], as it says (Genesis 3:7), 'And they sewed fig leaves together'" (Brachot) to cover their nakedness.

Rabbi Abba of Acco believed that the pree referred to was the etrog (citron). "Consider: Go forth and see, what tree is it whose wood can be eaten just like its fruit, and you find none but the etrog" (Genesis Rabbah).

According to the Talmud, Rabbi Meir* defines the Tree of Knowledge as the vine, meaning the grape, noting "since the thing that most causes wailing to a man is wine" (Brachot).

According to Genesis Rabbah, Rabbi Meir** suggested wheat, "for when a person lacks knowledge, people say, 'that man has never eaten bread of wheat'" (Genesis Rabbah). To explain how wheat could be mistaken for a tree, the Midrash notes that the wheat of the Tree of Knowledge "grew lofty like the cedars of Lebanon."

Thus, according the Jewish tradition, the fruit of the forbidden tree was a fig, an etrog, some grapes, or, perhaps, wheat...but not an apple.

*According to the Midrash, grapes was the opinion of Rabbi Judah ben Illai.
**The Talmud credits the idea of wheat to Rabbi Judah.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved

Produce Explorations

Try some new fruits and be amazed at the diversity of flavors that were created within nature. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

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” (Second Passover) had to 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 last posted on May 4, 2012.


Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved

Enjoy It

Enjoy a piece of matzah in honor of Pesach Shaynee.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Alas Poor Yorick

William Shakespeare used the imagery of the skull of Yorick as a means for Prince Hamlet to wax poetic about the futility of life. While Yorick’s may be the most famous skull in literature, his was not the first skull to inspire philosophical musings. One of the more fascinating and esoteric portion of the Mishna in Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers states: “[Hillel] saw a skull floating on the surface of the water and he said to it: Because you drowned others, they drowned you; and those who drowned you will eventually be drowned” (Pirkei Avot 2:7).




Hillel was not acting as a forensic anthropologist, noting that a skull separated from its body is generally indicative of a less than peaceful death. Nor was he plotting a mystery novel and seeking to uncover what type of unsavory character ends up drowned and beheaded in the river.

If Hillel were simply conveying the fact that violence often begets violence, then his statements would probably not have been included in the Mishna. Rather, Hillel’s musing, as explained by Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, is that “even though a murder may be, in fact, an execution of a Divinely ordained death sentence, the murderer is still subject to God’s judgment for his crime. ‘The great Master of the Universe has all things at His service, even folly and crime.’” (Proverbs 26:10).

Even as a murderer seems about to fulfill a Divine plan for another life to end, the murderer still has a choice (free will) not to be the instrument of that murder. Once the murder is committed, even though it was part of a Divine plan, the murderer is culpable for choosing to allow him/herself to be the instrument through which the destiny was fulfilled.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved

Related Treats


Character Building

When feeling upset or angry, make an effort to perform an act of kindness.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Conservationist First

In the early 1900s, those who are now called “environmentalists,” would have been known as “conservationists.” Of the great conservationists of the era, New York State benefited from the dedication of the legendary Syracuse native, Louis Marshall (1856 - 1929).

The son of German Jewish immigrants who encouraged their children's secular and Judaic educations, Marshall was a well-regarded constitutional lawyer and public activist. His behind-the-scenes efforts were critical in the creation of the New York State College of Forestry, which opened in partnership with Syracuse University in 1911. (It is now known as the State University of N.Y. College of Environmental Science and Forestry.) Marshall then served as the president of the Board of Trustees and encouraged the creation of the college's adjunct Rangers School to train park rangers.

Additionally, Marshall was instrumental in creating protected areas in the Adirondack Mountains, and, later, in successfully adding the "Forever Wild" clause of the New York State Constitution that mandated the maintenance of wilderness areas in the Adirondacks and Catskill Mountains.

Beyond his renown as a conservationist, Marshall was an extremely dedicated member of the Jewish community. He served on the Board of Directors of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTS) and as president of New York City's Congregation Temple Emanu-El. In one of his most famous advocacies,  Marshall took on Henry Ford in an attempt to close Ford's anti-Semitic Dearborn Independent newspaper. Most notably, along with Jacob Schiff and Cyrus Adler, he helped found the American Jewish Committee (AJC), a political advocacy organization. In his role of President of the AJC (1912-1929), Marshall attended the Paris Peace Conference at Versailles (1919).

Marshall, who was not a supporter of Zionism, passed away on September 11, 1929, while attending a Zionist Conference in Zurich as part of his AJC duties. He and his wife, Florence, had four children, two of whom (Bob and George) also became noted conservationists.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved

Precious Creation

While there are many appropriate themes with which the Torah could have begun (Abraham, Mt. Sinai, etc.), it begins instead with a day-by-day description of the creation of the world, commencing with the creation of heaven and earth on Day One and concluding with the creation of humankind on Day Six.

In fact, the description of creation is lengthened by extensive repetition, as much of the action is first declared by God and then described as it happens. For instance: “And God said: 'Let the earth put forth grass, herb yielding seed, and fruit-tree bearing fruit after its kind, wherein is the seed thereof, upon the earth' And it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, herb yielding seed after its kind, and tree bearing fruit, wherein is the seed thereof, after its kind; and God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:11-12).

Why the repetition?

"When God created the first human, He showed him all the trees in the Garden of Eden..and said to him, 'See My handiwork, how beautiful and choice they are... be careful not to ruin and destroy my world, for if you do, there is no one to repair it'" (Midrash Rabba - Ecclesiastes 7:13). God began the Torah with a thorough description of creation to indicate not only the work that went into the world’s creation, but the love and care as well. 

Alas, it was not until the late twentieth century that a significant portion of humanity took the time to take stock of how carelessly humanity was performing its job as the earth’s guardian. 

As people around the world today observe Earth Day (April 22), the opening chapter of the Book of Genesis is an excellent reminder that we must view every part of this world as a precious gift to be fervently treasured and protected.

This Treat was last posted on April 22, 2010.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved

Your Concern

Try planting in your yard or starting a window garden to add more green to the world. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

Shabbat Elevator

In the days when the Talmud was compiled (and certainly in the times of Moses), there were no high rise apartment buildings. Families lived on farms or in small villages, and those who lived in cities, lived in dwellings that were rarely more than a few stories high. With modern architecture and the invention of the electric elevator at the end of the 19th century, urban Jews who were shomer Shabbat (Sabbath observant) were faced with a new halachic (Jewish legal) dilemma. May one use an elevator on Shabbat?

The question of the elevator seems simple: Pressing a button to either call an elevator or designate the desired floor necessitates the use of electricity, which was deemed to be an aspect of several m'lach'ot (prohibited creative labors), including of  Boneh (building) and Makeh B’patish (the final hammer blow).  However, if one did not press the button, but merely followed a non-Jew into an elevator and took it to the same floor as the other passenger (and then took the stairs the rest of the way), one would not seemingly have any contact with the usage of electricity.

Those aware of the technology, however, became concerned that the additional weight of even one person increased the electrical currents and affected the operation of the elevator. Where technology appeared to be in conflict with halacha, great minds persevered to find ways to alter the technology to comply with halacha. From such a process was born the "Shabbat elevator."

A Shabbat elevator is preset to stop and open on every floor (or every other), has had its non-emergency manual controls disabled, and its weighting mechanisms neutralized. Appropriate safety concerns, such as a warning buzzer before the door closes, are also part of the system.

*There are many opinions regarding the use of Shabbat elevators. If possible one should ask one's rabbi before using one.

Going Up

Elevate your soul and celebrate Shabbat tonight.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Work of Love

“Shemayah said: Love work; scorn public office [positions of prominence] and seek not undue intimacy with the authorities” (Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers 1:10).

When conjuring up images of the great rabbis listed in the Talmud, one might picture aged men who spent their entire lives in a study hall. In truth, however, many of the sages quoted in the Talmud had other occupations as well: Abba Shaul was a gravedigger, Rabbi Shimon P’kuli was a cotton dealer, Rabbi Yochanan HaSandlar was a shoemaker, Rabbi Abba ben Zavina was a tailor, Shmuel was a physician, etc.

Since work is a necessary part of life, Shemayah advised that one should “love work.” Ever since God cursed Adam that “By the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread, until you return to the ground...” (Genesis 3:19), humankind has had to labor and work. Loving work, however, not only makes one better at his or her job, but it makes one happier in life in general.

This seems like simple advice, hardly worthy of being recorded in the Mishnah, until one reads the admonishments that Shemayah includes in his statement: “scorn public office” [a position of prominence] “and seek not undue intimacy with the authorities.”  As much as one loves one’s work, people should not let themselves be driven by their unrestrained ambitions. In striving to achieve a prominent position, a person can easily rationalize acts that are ethically questionable (for instance, taking credit for someone else’s work, spreading hurtful rumors about those who stand in one’s way, etc.). That is not to say that if one achieves a position of prominence, one should forego it, but rather that such an achievement should not be one’s goal. After all, this advice came from a man who himself became the president of the Sanhedrin.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved

Apply Yourself

When at work, focus on the things you most enjoy about what you are doing.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Biblical Euphemisms

The Torah is not prudish. Nevertheless, the biblical stories in which sexual relations play a central role (e.g., Lot and his daughters - Genesis 19:30-38, Joseph and Potiphar’s wife - Genesis 39, etc) are all narrated with the utmost discretion. Subtle as they may be, the euphemisms in the Torah provide valuable lessons.

“And Adam knew Eve his wife, and she became pregnant...” (Genesis 4:1). The biblical term used for conjugal relations between husband and wife is the same as the word for knowledge. This is more than a modest way of referring to a private act. It is, in fact, a lesson about the full relationship that should exist between husband and wife. Marital relations are meant to be about more than procreation or physical pleasure, they should be an expression of the complete relationship between husband and wife. The use of the verb “to know” emphasizes the Divine description of marriage in Genesis: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh” (2:24).

Another prominent biblical euphemism is to be found in the expression “uncover the nakedness,” which is found over 30 times in Leviticus 18 and 20. The first statement is a general overview of the law: “None of you shall approach to any that is near of kin to him, to uncover their nakedness” (Leviticus 18:6). Almost every other use of the phrase specifies the term “near of kin” and records the Torah’s prohibition of incest. The phrase “uncover the nakedness” reveals a deeper concept: the importance of respecting the impact of the natural physical attractions between men and women, which Jewish life channels through its positive focus on modesty.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved

Modest Talk

Follow the Torah's example and let modesty guide how you discuss sensitive subjects. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Waves of Aliyah

Although the State of Israel was officially established in 1948, the beginning of the mass return of Jews to the Promised Land began in the 1880s. Each distinct wave of immigration is now referred to as an “Aliyah.”

The First Aliyah (1882–1903, approx. 35,000*) was composed mostly of Russian Jews belonging to Hovevei Zion (Lovers of Zion) and the Bilu movement, who fled the anti-Jewish violence that followed the 1881 assassination of Czar Alexander II. The Russian Jews of the First Aliyah created moshavot (plural of moshav, settlements of independent farmers) and the current towns of Rishon Letzion, Rosh Pina and Zichron Yaakov.

In addition to the Russian Jews, a number of Yemenites also arrived in Palestine, and settled in Jerusalem.

The Second Aliyah (1904–1914, approximately 40,000*) was dominated by Socialist Russian Jews. Jews of the Second Aliyah were responsible for establishing the Kibbutz movement, self-defence organizations such as Ha'shomer Hatza'eer, the revival of the Hebrew language and the settlement that would eventually become Tel Aviv.

The Third Aliyah (1919–1923, approximately 40,000) is often perceived as a continuation of the Second Aliyah, which came to a halt due to World War I. Several important political events, however, had transpired, including the October Revolution in Russia, the defeat of the Ottomons by the British and the Balfour Declaration. Many of the Russian and Eastern European Jews who came in this time period were halutzim, meaning that they were agriculturally trained and better prepared to settle the land. It was members of the Third Aliyah who famously drained the marshes of the Jezreel Valley. They also laid the political foundations for the future Jewish homeland.

The Fourth Aliyah (1924–1929, approximately 82,000) immigrants were mostly middle class families fleeing anti-Semitism in Poland and Hungry. Many of them might have preferred to go the United States, but they were prohibited by the recently imposed immigration quotas. The Fourth Aliyah immigrants helped develop the towns and economic infrastructure.

The Fifth Aliyah (1929–1939, approximately 250,000) may be seen as a direct reaction to the rise of the Nazis. It was not an easy process to reach Palestine, as the British severely restricted immigration.

*Of the numbers cited, close to half the Jews of both the First and the Second Aliyah left the Promised Land due to hardship.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved

Yom Ha'atzma'ut - Israel's Independence Day

On the fifth day of the Hebrew month of Iyar, in the year 5708, corresponding to May 14, 1948, the State of Israel was born. On that day, the British Mandate was terminated and David Ben-Gurion declared:

“...This right is the natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign State.

Accordingly, we, members of the people's council, representatives of the Jewish community of Eretz-Israel and of the Zionist movement, are here assembled on the day of the termination of the British Mandate over Eretz-Israel and, by virtue of our natural and historic right and on the strength of the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly, hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel.”


Within minutes, U.S. President Harry Truman recognized the new Jewish state. The Soviet Union was the second nation to recognize Israel.

Within hours, five Arab countries (Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and Iraq) declared war and launched an attack. Thus began Israel’s War of Independence. Israel had no established army, no central command, no air force of which to speak and not enough weapons to arm its fighting force, which was composed of both sabras (native born Israelis) and refugees.

Miraculously, the Israelis gained the upper-hand in battle and, in 1949, the attacking nations signed armistice agreements with Israel.

The celebration of Israel Independence Day, Yom Ha’atzma’ut, begins at sunset immediately following Yom Ha’zikaron (Memorial Day). Yom Ha’atzma’ut is marked in Israel by a special ceremony on Mount Herzl, a general atmosphere of celebration, and the bestowal of the Israel Prize upon Israeli citizens or organizations that have demonstrated excellence in their field(s) or have made vital contributions to Israeli culture.


*When the 4th of Iyar begins on Saturday night, as it does this year, the observation of Yom Ha'zikaron is delayed until the 5th and the celebration of Yom Ha'atzma'ut  occurs on the 6th.

This Treat was last posted on April 28, 2009.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved

In The Spirit


In honor of Israel's 65th anniversary, put on something blue and white.  

Monday, April 15, 2013

Heroine of the Old City

When the official U.N. Partition Plan went into effect in May 1948, the 1,700 residents of the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City were cut off from the rest of Jewish Jerusalem. Their defense was placed in the hands of a small troop of barely trained members of Hagana, Etzel and Lehi fighters. Among them was a young woman whose dedication and courage was truly representative of the very special men and women who made the State of Israel possible.

Esther Cailengold was born in Whitechapel, England, in 1925. Raised in a traditional home that was ardently Zionist, it was not surprising that after she completed her degree in English at Goldsmiths College, University of London, Esther applied for a teaching position at the Evelina de Rothschild school in Jerusalem.

Esther arrived in Jerusalem in December 1946, and joined the Hagana less than a year later. Shortly thereafter, she quit her teaching position to serve in the army full time. In the spring of 1948, the British were told that Esther was going to the Old City to teach the children. Instead, she acted as a military liaison between the many outposts in the city.

After the declaration of the State on May 14, 1948, the Jordanian army attacked the Jewish Quarter. The Jews of the Old City held out under siege for nearly two weeks under siege. As the Jordanians moved in, they began destroying Jewish houses and buildings. Esther was injured by a falling building, her spine broken. There was no medical aid available and no pain medication.

Two days after she was injured, the Jewish Quarter surrendered. Esther, along with the other injured, was moved to the Armenian School. Even in a situation of pain and danger, Esther was faithful in her observance of Shabbat, even refusing a cigarette that would have helped ease the pain. That Shabbat afternoon, Esther passed away.

Esther Cailengold, and the other fallen heroes of Jerusalem, were given posthumous commendations.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved

Israel's Memorial Day

The State of Israel's independence*, as well as its continued survival, is a modern day miracle. But, it has come at great cost in human lives to its citizens. (There have been over 24,293 fallen soldiers since the State of Israel was founded.) Therefore, before Israel celebrates its independence, Israel honors the memory of those who gave their lives for their country. On the 4th of Iyar*Yom Ha'zikaron, Memorial Day is observed.

Memorial Day in Israel is not a day of picnics, fairs and fireworks. To honor the fallen soldiers, sirens are sounded simultaneously throughout the entire country for one minute, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. As the alarm pierces the air, all traffic comes to a halt and everyone stands for a moment of silence in honor of those who have fallen.

What is the purpose of silence? Speech is one of humankind’s most powerful tools and is one of the traits that humanity “shares” with God. It was with the power of speech that God created the world. (“And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”) People use their power of speech to connect with each other. Observing a minute of silence forces us to disconnect from those around us and to reflect on both the void created by these great losses, and the miracle of our own survival.

*When the 4th of Iyar begins on Saturday night, as it does this year, the observation of Yom Ha'zikaron is delayed until the 5th. 

This Treat was last posted on April 27, 2009.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved

In Their Honor


Give charity today in the merit of all those who perished to create a safe home for Jews. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Story of Degania


The story of Kibbutz Degania is a testament to the fortitude of the early immigrant pioneers who settled the land of Israel prior to statehood. In honor of Yom Ha’zikaron and Yom Ha’atzma'ut (Israeli Memorial Day and Israel Independence Day), Jewish Treats presents a brief history of the heroism of the first kibbutz.

Kibbutz Degania actually consists of two separate settlements: Degania Aleph and Degania Bet. The land for Degania Aleph, which is located just south of the Sea of Galilee, was purchased by Keren Kayemet Leyisra’el (the Jewish National Fund), and was settled by seven immigrants from Romny, Russia. This initial settlement unfortunately did not succeed, but a second group of pioneers, ten men and two women, arrived from Russia and took over the land in October 1910. They named their new settlement Degania after the five varieties of grain that would grow on the land.

Although Degania Aleph was a collective settlement, it was not actually a kibbutz, but rather a kvutzah  (same root, k-b-tz, which means gathering), due to its small size. Because the members of Kvutzah Degania wished to remain small, Kibbutz Degania Bet was established a few miles to the south in 1920, during the next wave of immigration. Degania Aleph is often referred to as the "Mother of the Kvutzot" and was often a model for the establishment of other collective settlements in Israel.

On May 20, 1948, only a few days after David Ben Gurion declared the existence of the State of Israel, Degania Aleph came under attack by a Syrian tank unit that wished to capture the nearby bridge over the Jordan River. The 70 residents of Degania Aleph fought valiantly and were able to keep the Syrians out of their settlement. (One tank did cross the perimeter and was then immobilized by a Molotov Cocktail.) The battle at Degania Bet was no less harrowing, but in the end the Syrians retreated.

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Related Treats:

Table Tip

In honor of the upcoming Israel Independence Day, talk about what Israel means to you at your Shabbat meal.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Hope

In November 2004, the Israeli Knesset formally adopted Hatikva as the national anthem of the State of Israel. The preceding 56 years since the founding Israel, Hatikva had only been the unofficial national anthem.

In the 1878, a young Galician Jew named Naphtali Herz Imber, wrote a poem about the land of Israel. He was inspired by the founding, that year, of the first modern Jewish agricultural settlement, Petach Tikvah. Imber’s poem, entitled Tikvateinu (Our Hope), was nine stanzas long. The poem was quite popular, and, in the early 1880s, it was set to music (a variation of “The Moldau” by Bedrich Smetana) by Samuel Cohen, an immigrant from Moldavia.

The song was renamed Hatikva (The Hope) and was sung at the Sixth Zionist Congress in 1903, the last congress attended by Theodor Herzl. The anthem was sung at all subsequent Zionist Congresses, and, in 1933 it was declared the official Zionist anthem.

Nine stanzas being a lot for a national anthem, only the first verse and the refrain are generally sung:

As long as in the heart, within/A Jewish soul still yearns/And onward, towards the ends of the east/An eye still gazes toward Zion;


Our hope is not yet lost/The hope of two thousand years/To be a free people in our land/ The land of Zion and Jerusalem.

Kol ‘od ba’lay’vav peh’neemah/Nefesh yehudi hoh’meeyah/Ul’fa’atei mizrach kadimah/‘Ah’yin l’tziyon tzofiyah;

‘Od lo avdah tikvateinu/Hatikvah bat shnot alpayim/Lee’yot ‘am chofshi b’artzeinu/Eretz-tziyon vee’rushalayim. 
DID YOU KNOW: The last line was actually changed after the establishment of the State of Israel. Originally it read: “To return to the land of our ancestors/to the city where David encamped (Jerusalem).” (Lashuv l’eretz ahvo'teinu/La’eer bah David chanah.)

This Treat was originally posted on April 29, 2009.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved

Go Beyond

Go beyond newspaper headlines to learn about the situation in Israel.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Rebuilding Jericho


The fall of Jericho is one of the best known narratives of the Books of the Prophets. One of the first cities conquered by the Israelites upon entering the Promised Land, its walls seemed impenetrable. Following God’s instructions, Joshua led the Israelite army in a parade around the walls of the city, circling it once each day for six days, and on the seventh day, they circled seven times before sounding the shofar. The walls of Jericho then miraculously collapsed, and the city was conquered.  (For more on the fall of Jericho, click here.)

Due to the fact that the story of the collapsing walls is such a compelling narrative, the fascinating conclusion is often forgotten. “And Joshua charged the people with an oath at that time, saying: ‘Cursed be the man before the Lord, who raises up and (re)builds this city, Jericho; with the loss of his first-born he shall lay the foundation thereof, and with the loss of his youngest son shall he set up its gates’” (Joshua 6:26). 

This is quite a powerful curse, and yet anyone who follows Middle East politics or who took a tour of Israel before 1994, knows that the small city of Jericho still exists today. So what happened to Joshua’s curse?

The Bible in I Kings 16:34 relates, that in the era of the two Hebrew kingdoms (Israel in the north, Judah in the south), several centuries after Joshua led the Israelite conquest of the Promised Land, Jericho was rebuilt. The territory of Jericho was part of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. During the reign of the wicked king Ahab, we are told that “Hiel the Bethelite built Jericho; with Abiram his first-born he laid the foundation thereof, and with his youngest son Segub he set up the gates thereof.” 

Hiel suffered the curse uttered by Joshua and lost his sons while rebuilding the city. After Hiel's rebuilding of the city, there are no further recordings of the effects of the curse.


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Careful Words

The words one uses have great power, so be careful what words you choose.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Rabbi Joseph Ber Soleveitchik

Few personalities have done as much to define the Modern Orthodox Jewish community as Rabbi Joseph Ber Soleveitchik (1903-1993). Not only did “the Rav,” as he is referred to reverently by many of his students, ordain thousands of rabbis in his position as a senior Rosh Yeshiva at Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) of Yeshiva University (where he was the Lieb Merkin Distinguished Professor of Talmud and Jewish Philosophy), but he was an original scholar, author, rabbinic leader, supporter of religious Zionism and advocate for a path of religious “synthesis” known as Torah U’Madda (Torah and secular knowledge).

Born in Pruzhany (then Russia), the Rav’s paternal lineage included a number of renowned rabbinic personages (Beit Halevi, the Netziv, Rabbi Chaim Volozhin). As a young man, after a strong Torah education, he attended three semesters at the Free Polish University in Warsaw and then moved to Berlin where he was able to matriculate into the Friedrich Wilhelm University. He received his Ph.D. and, in 1932 (shortly after marrying Dr. Tonya Lewit), moved to Boston, Massachusetts, where he served as the city’s Chief Rabbi.

For the next decade, “the Soloveitchik of Boston,” as he referred to himself (there being many rabbinic uncles and cousins), helped build the Boston community. He established the city’s first Jewish day School (the Maimonides School) supervised kosher slaughtering and delivered lectures on Jewish subjects. 

When the Rav’s father, Rabbi Moses Soleveitchik, passed away in 1941, the Rav assumed his position as head of the RIETS rabbinic school, where he continued teaching until illness (Parkinsons Disease and, later, Alzheimers) made it impossible for him to continue (1986).

The Rav was a genuine and unique talmid chacham (great scholar) who inspired thousands of students. Outside of his teaching, he also authored several highly influential works that presented his underlying religious philosophy. The best known of these were The Lonely Man of Faith (1965) and Halakhic Man (1983). 

The Rav passed away during the Passover holiday on April 9, 1993 (18 Nisan). 

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Spring Cleaning


While doing your spring cleaning, set aside outgrown outerwear to donate to those in need.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Yad Vashem

Yad Vashem, The Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority, is one of Israel’s most famous destinations, visited by citizens, tourists and world leaders alike. To call Yad Vashem a museum minimizes the powerful impact that it has had on preserving the history of the Six Million Jews who perished during World War II. 

Plans for a venue to pay tribute to the victims of the Nazis began as early as 1942 by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), and the first organizational offices for such a memorial was opened in 1946, more than two years before the establishment of the State of Israel. Following the 1948 War of Independence and the establishment of the State of Israel, the Remembrance Authority formally became a national project. The 1953 Yad Vashem Law authorized the new organization to act as a Jerusalem based memorial authority to commemorate the victims (individuals, families and communities) and the heroism of those who fought to preserve Jewish life, as well as acknowledging the non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews (Avenue of the Righteous Among the Nations). 

Yad Vashem translates literally as “Hand and Name.” The name is derived from the verse in Isaiah 56:5: “And to them will I give in my house and within my walls a memorial (“hand”) and a name (a "yad vashem")... that shall not be cut off.”

Built on Har Hazikaron (Mount of Remembrance) in Jerusalem, Yad Vashem opened in 1957. The new Yad Vashem complex (redesign for renovations began in 1993) was completed in 2005. There are now 28 unique memorials on the grounds of Yad Vashem. The Hall of Remembrace (Ohel Yizkor - completed in 1961), one of the most recognizable spaces in the Yad Vashem complex, is a room that contains only an eternal flame that burns in a black fire pit at the back of a black basalt floor engraved with the names of 21 Nazi extermination camps, concentration camps and killing sites in central and eastern Europe. 

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Related Posts

Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Memorial Day

Today, the 28th* of Nisan, Jews around the world are marking Yom Ha’shoah (Officially Yom Ha’zikaron La’shoah V’la’g'vurah, which translates to The Day of Memorial for the Holocaust and the Heroism, generally shortened to Yom Ha’shoah). In Israel, the day is marked by official ceremonies, flags at half mast and, most famously, by a siren marking a moment of silence during which traffic comes to a standstill.

When World War II ended and the world was finally clearly aware of the incredible devastation wrought in Europe, there were no words. While mourning for their own nation’s soldiers, the world was faced with accepting the fact that the Nazis had purposefully and systematically murdered six million Jewish men, women and children as well as several million others whom they classified as lesser human beings.

The term “Holocaust” is a word of Greek origin used to describe massacres. As it came to be applied to the events in Europe in the 1940s, the term emerged as the name for this highly specific genocide. This was strengthened by the release of the 1978 NBC mini-series of the same title.

In Hebrew, the Holocaust is referred to as Ha’shoah. Shoah means calamity. Similar to the term Holocaust, the term shoah gained further usage after the release of the 1985 French documentary entitled“Shoah.” The film condensed over 300 hours worth of interviews into 9.5 hours and brought the hard-hitting facts of the Holocaust into reality.

In traditional communities, the events of the Holocaust are referred to as "Churban Europe" or "the Churban," a term which parallels the destruction of the Torah learning centers in Europe with the destruction of the Holy Temple. Many traditional communities also mark a day of mourning for the victims of the Holocaust on an already established day of universal mourning, either the Tenth of Tevet or the Ninth of Av.

*Although Yom Hashoah's official date is 27 Nisan, it is observed on the 28th when the 27th is a Sunday.

Never Forget

Fulfill the promise of "Never Forget" by talking about the Holocaust, whether from a historical perspective or about relatives who perished.

Friday, April 5, 2013

There's A Key In My Challah

It's a fact that many people spend much time thinking and even worrying about par'nassah (livelihood).

Jewish tradition teaches that different seasons have different spiritual strengths. Certain times are regarded as propitious to pray for rain, while other times are considered appropriate to petition for forgiveness. (Of course, these things may also be prayed for at other times of the year!) So too, our spiritual leaders have noted that there are certain times on the Jewish calendar when it is propitious to focus on praying for par'nassah. One such time is the Shabbat that immediately follows Passover, when it is a custom in some Jewish communities to make what is known as shlissel (Yiddish for key) challah.

There are a number of reasons suggested for this custom. Due to space limitations, Jewish Treats will present only a few:

1) The Mishnah (Rosh Hashanah 2:2) states that on Passover the world is allocated its grain harvest for the coming year.

2) The Jews celebrated Passover just before entering the land of Canaan, at which point there was no more manna (the heavenly food of the wilderness). Henceforth, the Jewish nation needed to generate its own par'nassah.

3) A “key” serves as a symbol to remind us that our prayers have the power to open the Gates of Heaven.

There are different ways to perform this custom. Some people bake an actual key (scrubbed clean or wrapped in foil/parchment paper) into the challah, while others mold their challah into the shape of a key. One custom mentions using a key to knead the dough, and there are still other customs as well.

Whatever one’s custom, it is hoped that the symbolic message will reach its proper destination and have the desired beneficial effect on one’s livelihood.


This Treat was last posted on April 20, 2012.


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Challah For More


 Invite friends to join your Shabbat meal.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

All That Jazz

In honor of April being Jazz month, Jewish Treats presents a short biography of Artie Shaw, who often competed with Benny Goodman for the title of “The King of Swing.”

Born in New York City in 1910, Artie Shaw was originally named Arthur Jacob (Avraham ben Yitzchak) Arshawsky. When Shaw was a child, the family moved to New Haven, Connecticut, where, according to his own representations, Shaw faced a great deal of anti-Semitism during his childhood. His youth was made even more difficult when his father abandoned the family.

Shaw began playing the saxophone at age 13, and then switched to the clarinet, enabling his true musical brilliance to shine. At 16, Shaw began touring with a band. However, by 21, after a short career in New York’s music scene, Shaw left the city determined to become a writer instead.

By 1935, however, Shaw was back in the city. When he was asked to put together a small band to perform during orchestra changes on stage at a swing concert at New York’s Imperial Theater, Shaw introduced his composition “Interlude in B-flat,” which uniquely combined his clarinet with a string quartet and a rhythm section. The audience went wild. Shaw’s greatest hits were  "Begin the Beguine" and "Frenesi."

In 1941, Shaw enlisted in the U.S. Navy during World War II and, for 18 months,  played concerts for troops throughout the Pacific (sometimes several per day).

Shaw was a particularly difficult personality. He formed numerous bands that he then dissolved just as they became successful. In 1954, he stopped playing and took up the life of a writer.

Although his Jewish heritage did not seem to play a large role in his life, it is interesting to note that the piece he chose to be his signature song, was “Nightmare,” a Hassidic influenced piece written in 1938.

Artie Shaw passed away at age 94 on December 30, 2004. He left behind a diverse legacy of music and writing.


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Put Away

If you have leftover sealed Passover products, donate them to a food shelter or pack them away for next year.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

What Not To Buy

The joyous holiday of Passover is now over. While one’s instinct might be to immediately run out to the supermarket and restock the pantry shelves with bread, snacks and all the desserts that were missed over the holiday, it is important to be aware of the issues that apply to buying and selling chametz (leaven products) that might have been owned by a Jew over Passover.

The Torah’s instructions for the celebration of Passover state: “Seven days shall there be no leaven found in your houses” (Exodus 12:19), which is understood to mean that Jewish homes must be free of all chametz prior to the holiday. This can be achieved by either eating the chametz, destroying it, throwing it out or selling the chametz to a non-Jew. The sale of chametz is a specific process that is generally handled by a rabbi well-versed in these specific laws. After the holiday, the buyer sells the chametz back. The sale is completely legitimate and the non-Jew may, theoretically, take ownership of the purchased chametz on Passover or after the holiday by  paying the full value of the chametz (although this has rarely, if ever, occurs). The sale of chametz can be done for both individuals and businesses.

Since chametz owned by a Jew during Passover is prohibited by the Torah, buying chametz products after Passover becomes an issue. Small, Jewish-owned stores that cater to the Jewish community generally take care to properly sell their chametz. Large supermarkets, however, are often owned by larger corporations or conglomerates. If the ownership is at least 51% non-Jewish, there is no problem purchasing chametz immediately after Passover. However, if the majority ownership is Jewish, one is advised to wait for the average length of time it takes for the product inventory to turn-over (times may vary by product) and be restocked. Local rabbis can generally provide the necessary information for their communities.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved

Enjoy It Right

Enjoy your post-Passover chametz, but make certain to say the proper blessing first. For bread, recite Ha'mo'tzee. For cakes and cookies, recite M'zo'note.