Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Emergency Relief

In honor of the final day of Jewish American Heritage Month, today’s Jewish Treat looks at the evolution of Jewish emergency relief.

On May 31, 1889, after two days of ferocious downpours, the dam on the Little Conemaugh River in Western Pennsylvania burst. Twenty million tons of water were let lose. As the water raged, it destroyed everything in its path until it finally smashed into Johnstown, a small but flourishing town. Over 2,200 people were killed.

Johnstown had only been founded in 1800 and had only begun to industrialize and prosper after the completion of Pennsylvania’s Main Line of Public Works canal and railroad system that connected Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. As the town industrialized, it attracted an increasingly immigrant population, including not a few Jews who had recently immigrated from Germany.

The 1889 Johnstown Flood is noted as the first disaster relief action of the newly formed American Red Cross. This organization brought food, clean water, clothing and medical supplies   to the area, and set up shelters as well. And while disaster relief funds were collected around the country, the Pittsburgh Jewish community took special note of their own brethren. Enoch Rauh (1857 - 1919), a successful businessman turned politician, kept hold of the recorded notes of a meeting in which the distribution of relief funds was discussed specifically for the “Johnstown Israelites.”

Despite the terrible flooding and the loss of precious lives,  the city rebuilt and a Jewish community did flourish. At its peak, in the 1940s, there were over 1,300 Jews in town. They had three synagogues. But, as was the situation in so many developing areas, the Jewish population was difficult to maintain.

Having been built at the intersection of two rivers (Little Conemaugh and the Stony Creek Rivers), Johnstown continued to be plagued by periodic floods. The flood of 1977, which led to 84 deaths, made national headlines. The 1977 flood was far less devastating than the 1889 flood, but the reaction was much more organized. According to the JTA, over $100,000 was raised by the Jewish community for aid, and many organized packages were dispatched to the rest of the community.


Participate in efforts to help those in emergency situations.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day Museum

Washington, DC, is a city of museums. Beyond the vast assortment of divisions and galleries at the Smithsonian Institute and the many political memorials, there are also smaller museums throughout the city. For instance, if you head up to Dupont Circle, you can visit the National Museum of American Jewish Military History (NMAJMH).

First suggested by the Jewish War Veterans (JWV) Association, NMAJMH's creation was part of the organization’s move to Washington, DC, from New York.

The Museum opened in 1954 at the JWV’s new building on New Hampshire Avenue. At that time, it was known as the National Shrine to the Jewish War Dead, and it was mostly a repository for documents and memorabilia. Four years later, the Shrine became a full-fledged museum when it was granted a Congressional charter. In 1983, the museum and the JWV moved to their current location on R Street (NW), a dignified brick edifice that houses two floors of permanent and special exhibit space.

NMAJMH does more than just house and display Jewish military memorabilia, it is also an excellent research resource.

Permanent exhibits include displays on known Jewish war heroes, such as Major General Julius Klein, who served in both World Wars. Special exhibits focus on important matters for Jews in the military, tributes to the supporting family members of those in the military and on specific historical figures like Uriah Levy.

In addition to their exhibits, the museum reaches out over the internet to educate people about the role of Jews in the military, to fight anti-Semitism and to advocate for veterans in general. The online undertaking is known as the American Jewish Military Heritage Project.

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Friday, May 27, 2016

What's With The Salt

At every Shabbat meal, the blessing of Ha'mo'tzee (the blessing over bread) is recited over two complete loaves of bread. This 'bread' is usually the braided loaves known as challot, but any type of bread is acceptable as long as it is uncut and unbroken.

There are actually several steps involved in this formal 'breaking of bread.' The challah is covered by a cloth until everyone is ready (see Jewish Treats: Covering The Challah). The person making the blessing over the challah then makes a gentle knife mark on the challah that will be cut first, raises both challot and recites the blessing. The marked challah is then cut, dipped in or sprinkled with salt (just a pinch) and distributed to everyone at the table.

The challah is dipped into salt to commemorate the sacrifices offered in the Temple in Jerusalem, which always contained salt. Although the Temple no longer stands, the salt reminds us that our table is like the altar of old, as the sages attest in Berachot 55a: '...as long as the Temple stood, the altar atoned for Israel, but now a man's table atones for him.' With every offering brought to the Temple, a salt offering was also prepared (Leviticus 2:13: And you will season every meal-offering with salt; neither shall you suffer the salt of the covenant of your God to be lacking from your meal-offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt.) to commemorate the eternal covenant with God, which, like salt, never spoils.

While many people know and are familiar with the rules of dipping one's bread in salt on Shabbat, the law actually applies to any time one has a meal with bread.

This Treat was last posted on February 12, 2010.

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Challah Time

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Thursday, May 26, 2016

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 28, 2013.

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Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (Rashbi), whose yahrtzeit is on Lag Ba’omer, was one the five students who began studying with Rabbi Akiva after the horrible plague that took the lives of 24,000 of his students.. Rashbi was a fiery and fascinating personality.

Like his teacher Rabbi Akiva, Rashbi was considered a fierce enemy of the Romans. He and his son, Rabbi Elazar, hid in a cave on Mount Meron in the Galilee for 13 years. (According to tradition, they sustained themselves with the fruit of a carob tree, hence the custom to eat bokser - Hebrew for carob - on Lag Ba’omer.) When the Roman throne changed hands, the pair of scholars were able to come out of hiding, but reintegrating into the world was not easy. The Talmud notes:

Seeing a man ploughing and sowing, they exclaimed, ‘They [the Jewish farmers] forsake life eternal and engage in life temporal!’ Whatever they [Rashbi and Elazar] cast their eyes upon was immediately burnt up. Thereupon a Heavenly Echo came forth and cried out, ‘Have you emerged to destroy My world: Return to your cave!’ So they returned and dwelt there twelve months, saying, ‘The punishment of the wicked in Gehinnom ("Hell") is [limited to] twelve months.’ A Heavenly Echo then came forth and said, ‘Go forth from your cave!’ (Shabbat 33b).

Rashbi’s intense study of Torah revealed the deeper, esoteric meanings of the Torah. With the approval of his teachers, Rashbi set out to share the hidden secrets of the Torah, what is today called Kabbalah, with his fellow Jews. His teachings were written in a book called the Zohar, which means “shining light.”

According to tradition, Rashbi requested that his death be marked by rejoicing as the soul takes its proper place with G-d. The great sage was buried in a cave on Mount Meron, where, each year, tens of thousands of people gather on Lag Ba’omer to joyously celebrate the anniversary of his death.

This Treat was last posted on May 18, 2014.

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For Your Fellow

Do something nice for someone with whom you have had a hard time getting along.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

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 last published on May 7, 2015.

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Celebrate Locally

Find out if there is a Lag Ba'omer celebration in your town and make plans to attend.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Pleasing with People

In a book of Jewish wisdom, one might expect the text to be solely focused on a person’s relationship with God. However, since Judaism places as much if not more emphasis on interpersonal relationships, it is not at all surprising that a great portion of Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers is primarily focused on basic human self-improvement.

One excellent example of Pirkei Avot’s prioritization of interpersonal relationships over Divine relationship is a quote from Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa, who said: "One who is pleasing to his fellows is pleasing to God. But one who is not pleasing to his fellows is not pleasing to God” (3:13).

A person could be the most “religious” person in the world, but if that person is mean, dour and offensive to others, then that person has missed the point of religious observance.

While Rabbi Chanina does not give direct advice on how to be pleasing to others, his preceding quote in the Mishna is significant. “One whose deeds exceed his wisdom, his wisdom endures. But one whose wisdom exceeds his deeds, his wisdom does not endure” (3:12). One who constantly studies but never helps other people makes all the acquired knowledge pointless. The laws of the Torah are meant to be lived, not just studied, and those laws, when lived correctly, make one pleasing to one’s fellows.

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Active in Deeds

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Monday, May 23, 2016

Land Balance

When Joshua led the Children of Israel in to the Promised Land, each tribe received a distinct territory that would be their tribal land. The area of their tribe was not randomly designated. Rather, in many cases, the territory matched their tribal character. The members of the tribe of Zebulun, who were mostly merchants and sailors, were on the coast; while Asher was apportioned land that was ideal for the rich crop of olives.

In the normal course of life, people often travel and move. The likelihood was that the ancient Israelites were not limited to their tribal territories. As people moved, they would, perhaps, choose to settle down and purchase land and build a home in areas other than their allotted tribal territories. The question might arise regarding the maintenance of the integrity of tribal territories when people from different tribes moved freely throughout the Promised Land.

It is therefore interesting to note that Jewish law requires that with the arrival of the year of the Jubilee (50th year), all land is returned to the original family to which it belonged. “And you shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof; it shall be a jubilee unto you; and you shall return every man to his possession...” (Leviticus 25:10). This law applied to all property in the Land of Israel located outside of a walled city.

In addition to maintaining tribal lands, the law mandating the return of property at the Jubilee served to re-balance the economy. Over a period of 50 years, some individuals might come to own a great deal of land, whereas many other citizens might have suffered reversals and become landless. In the 50th year, all land reverted to its original owner.

“The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is Mine, for you are sojourners and residents with Me” (Leviticus 25:23). Whether one considers the law of returning land equitable or not, the Torah makes the land’s true ownership quite clear.

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Proper Property

Maintain your property, owned or rented, as it will be inherited by the next generation. 

Friday, May 20, 2016

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 renders a person tamei, spiritually impure, and any person who was tamei was forbidden to partake of the Paschal 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 year, the 14th of Iyar, Pesach Shaynee, is Sunday, May 22, 2016.

This Treat was last posted on May 1, 2015.

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Thursday, May 19, 2016

First You Then You

From a broad perspective, the opportunity for all members of a prayer service to participate in a Torah Reading Service is an important statement on Jewish inclusion. In reality, however, we find that the Torah Service itself contains a specific hierarchy, particularly when it comes to receiving the honor of an aliyah (being called to the Torah).

The Torah Reading Service takes place every Shabbat (seven aliyot and maftir), on holidays (five aliyot and maftir) on Shabbat afternoon and on Monday and Thursday mornings (three aliyahs). No matter which day the Torah is read, the first two aliyahs are always designated for a kohein (priest) and a Levi (Levite). The source for these priority honors is Leviticus 21:8, “And you shall sanctify him (meaning a kohein).” This same verse is cited in the Talmud where it instructs that the priests should be given precedence “in every matter involving sanctification, to open proceedings, to say grace first and to choose his [tithing] portion first” (Talmud Gittin 59b).

A kohein always receives the first aliyah, a Levi receives the second. If no Levi is present, a single kohein is given both the first and second aliyah. On the other hand, if no kohein is present, the standard order need not be followed. (Some communities will give the first aliyah to a Levi, while others will not.)

This hierarchy of honors is explained on the same page of the Talmud: “Because Scripture says, ‘And Moses wrote this law and gave it to the priests the sons of Levi’ (Deuteronomy 31:9). Now do we not know that the priests are the sons of Levi? What it means, therefore, is that the priests [are first] and then the sons of Levi” (ibid.)

In the course of this discussion, it is pointed out that while this rule derives “from the Torah...its object is to maintain peace” (ibid.), perhaps because it seeks to minimize arguing over who should receive the first aliyah.

*There are six aliyot on Yom Kippur and varying numbers of aliyot on other days, such as Rosh Chodesh.

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Accept opportunities to participate in services as an honor.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The First Jewish Museum

According to most internet calendars, May 18, 2016, is International Museum Day. Today’s Jewish Treat, therefore provides a brief history of the Jewish Museum of Vienna, which is believed to have been the very first Jewish museum.

Established in 1895, the idea behind the Jewish Museum was to promote interest in Jewish culture and history. It was supported and run by the Society for the Collection and Preservation of Artistic and Historical Memorials of Jewry. Originally, the museum focused in particular on the Jewish communities in Vienna and Galicia, but, following World War I, exhibits on Zionism and Palestine were added.

In 1913, the Jewish Museum moved to the Talmud Torah school in Leopoldstadt. At that time, the museum collection consisted of over 3,400 objects. It had several thousand more when the Nazis closed the museum in 1938 after the Anschluss (German take over of Austria).  The plundered artifacts were distributed among several museums, and the Natural History Museum in Vienna used the pieces for an anti-Semitic exhibition called “The Corporeal and Spiritual Properties of the Jews.”

Following World War II, as European communities rebuilt themselves, the original museum artifacts that had been distributed began to be returned to the museum. It was a process that continued into the 1990s, and even then, not all of the museum’s original possessions were restored. Many had been either destroyed or stolen.

In 1988, the (new) Jewish Museum Vienna was opened by the city, and the first museum’s collection was displayed in an installation at the Palais Eskeles in Dorothergasse in 1993. In October 2000, a second Jewish museum was opened in Vienna, Museum Judenplatz.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Buttonwood Jews

On the 17th of May, 1792, 24 businessmen met under a buttonwood (sycamore) tree and made an agreement to deal only with one another and to set a .25% commission rate on all transactions. The tree under which those brokers and merchants met was located on Wall Street in Manhattan and that agreement established what would become the New York Stock Exchange. In honor of Jewish American Heritage Month, Jewish Treats presents a quick look at the five Jews who signed the Buttonwood Agreement.

Isaac Moses Gomez (1768 - 1831) was a native of New York, as was his father Moses Gomez (1728 - 1789). Isaac actually wrote a detailed history tracing the Gomez family to a Spanish converso nobleman, also named Isaac Gomez, who lost everything fleeing the Spanish Inquisition. Luis Moses Gomez, the son of the Spanish Isaac, was raised in France but received permission in Great Britain to come to the colonies, where he built Gomez Mill House in what is now Marlboro, New York (“Oldest Jewish Dwelling in North America”). Isaac Gomez of Buttonwood fame married Abigail Lopez of Newport, Rhode Island, and raised 10 children to adulthood.

Bernard Hart (1763-1855) was born in London and emigrated around 1777. Married twice, the son of the only child of his first marriage was Bret (Francis Brett) Harte (1836 - 1902), a popular author and poet. Hart’s second wife was the daughter of Benjamin Seixas, and one of their sons, Emanuel Bernard Hart, served in the U.S. Congress from 1851 - 1853.

Ephraim Hart (1747 - 1825) was born in Furth, Germany, where his last name was Hirz. It is known that he was in America during the Revolutionary War because his tombstone lists him as a private in Captain Henry Graham’s Company. In the 18770s, Hart spent time in Philadelphia, where he joined Congregation Mikveh Israel. When he returned to New York, he became an active member Shearith Israel Congregation.

Benjamin Mendes Seixas (1747 - 1817) was born in Newport, Rhode Island and came from a band of famous brothers. Gershom Mendes Seixas was the spiritual head of Shearith Israel. Moses founded the Bank of Rhodes Island and wrote to George Washington, resulting in the famous presidential letter to the Jews of Newport (“to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance”).

Alexander Zuntz (1742 - 1819) has little recorded about him. Born in Westphalia (Germany), he came to America as a Hessian mercenary hired by the British. He defected and stayed in the U.S., where he became a successful businessman and active member of Shearith Israel.

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Basic Business

Always be honest in your business dealings.

Monday, May 16, 2016

What Happened in SHUM

While most people know about the horrors of the Crusades, many do not realize that there were, in fact, many Crusades over a period of four hundred years, and that most of these crusades did not directly affect the Jewish people.

The First Crusade, however, was such a time of terror for many of the Jews of Europe that it is referred to in some Jewish texts as Churban SHUM - Churban means destruction, SHUM is an acronym of the Hebrew names for Speyers, Worms and Mainz, the three cities that suffered the greatest devastation. These particularly horrific attacks were led by Count Emicho of Flonheim (also referred to as Emicho of Leiningen).

The first of these pogroms occurred in Speyer on Saturday, May 3 (8 Iyar), 1096, when Count Emicho led his recruited crusaders, who were joined by many eager locals, and attacked the synagogue. They then sought out individual Jews and tried to violently force them to convert. Twelve Jews died before the Bishop of Speyer (Johann vom Kraichgaul) managed to protect the community.

Emicho’s crusaders marched on and reached the city of Worms on May 18th, ready to continue their violence. The Jews fled to Bishop Adalbert’s palace, where they were offered protection. Eight days later, however, a mob of crusaders and locals broke in, leading to a massacre of 800 Jews.

When the Jews of Mainz heard that Count Emicho’s growing army was heading their way, they immediately went to Mainz’s Bishop Rothard (and paid him 400 pieces of silver). When Emicho entered the city by force, the Jews tried to fight back. The death toll was close to 1,000, many of whom took their own lives (ahl kiddush Hashem) rather than convert o Christianity.

While these pogroms were the largest, there were many other pogroms during the First Crusade. Most of the Crusade pogroms, like Churban Shum, were instigated by individuals who led wild, often drunken, mobs. These attacks, however, were not condoned by either the nobility or the church hierarchy.  

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Read On It

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Friday, May 13, 2016

The Jewish National Council

In the early twentieth century, the land of Israel went from being part of the Ottoman Empire to being a holding of the British. As immigration was continuing to increase and strengthen the existing Jewish community, the Jews of Mandate Palestine decided to organize.

On April 19, 1920, the first Assembly of Representatives was established. The elected Assembly gathered once a year and voted for an executive body to oversee the community’s relationship with the Arabs, its interactions with the British and various other communal functions. That executive body was known as the Jewish National Council (JNC) or, in Hebrew, the Va’ad Le’umi. In addition to its local work, the JNC also participated in meetings of the Zionist General Council. It is interesting to note that the JNC was recognized by the British High Commissioner and even received limited financial assistance from the British.

The Va’ad Le’umi worked for the benefit of the Jewish inhabitants, but it did not, at first, have the Jewish community’s unanimous support. Agudath Israel, which represented the non-Zionist religious community, did not join the Council until 1935, and certain Sephardic communities waited until 1946 to participate.

Not surprisingly, the JNC was in the thick of the political activity leading to the declaration of the State of Israel. In March 1948, they began setting up the specific infrastructure in preparation for the May 1948 scheduled withdrawal of the British. On May 14th, under the leadership of David Ben Gurion, the Va’ad Le’umi met at the Tel Aviv museum and approved a proclamation of independence.

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Relaxation Time

Use Shabbat as a time to relax and separate yourself from the age of constant information. 

Thursday, May 12, 2016

A Nurse in Israel

Shulamith Cantor, who was born Frieda Jedid Halevi in Beirut in 1894, had a passion for nursing that would have a significant impact on the history of healthcare in the land of Israel. Cantor came to British Mandate Palestine in 1919, against her family’s wishes. Since she had graduated with honors from the nursing department of the American University in Beirut, Cantor was accepted as a teacher at the recently opened nursing school of the American Zionist Medical Unit (AZMU, created by Hadassah).

In 1921, Cantor married Louis Cantor and resigned her position. She returned to nursing only after the sudden loss of her husband in 1933, when she became the sole provider for her four children. In October of 1934, Cantor became the director of the school of nursing and the head nurse at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. She handed over the latter position in 1939 to a successor and began to reorganize and reinvent the nursing school. Cantor updated the curriculum and created specialized courses for midwives and nurses working in operating rooms. After Israel became a state, Cantor worked for the new Ministry of Health until 1955. She then continued to teach and also served as an advisor to several medical care organizations.

Shulamith Cantor passed away in December 1979.

Today, May 12, 2016, is both International Nurses Day and Israel’s Independence Day.

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Thank the nurse as well as the doctor.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

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. 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 5th of Iyar begins on Thursday night, as it does this year, the observance of Yom Ha'zikaron is moved to the 3rd of Iyar and Yom Ha'atzma'ut is celebrated on the 4th. 

This Treat was lasted posted on April 22, 2015.

Copyright © 2016 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 5th of Iyar begins on Thursday night, as it does this year, the observation of Yom Ha'zikaron is moved to the 3rd of Iyar and Yom Ha'atzma'ut is celebrated on the 4th. 

This Treat was last posted on April 22, 2015.

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Proud Of

Express your pride in the successes of the Jewish state.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Precious Children

One of the cardinal commandments of Jewish life is the prohibition of worshiping false gods. In fact, idolatry is one of three commandments for which a person is supposed to sacrifice one’s life rather than violate. While the prohibition includes all forms of idolatry, it is interesting to note that the Torah specifically prohibits the worship of “Molech,” not once, but eight times.

Archeologically, there seems to be almost no record of a god named Molech. It is, however, interesting to note that the letters that form the word “molech” are the same as the root letters for Hebrew word for kingship (melech, malchut). It is quite possible, therefore, that this prohibition refers to a type of idolatry rather than a specific god by that name.

“You shall not let any of your seed (children) pass through the fire of Molech “ (Leviticus 18:21).

“Again, you shall say to the Children of Israel, whosoever of the Children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn in Israel, that gives any of his seed to Molech, he shall surely be put to death...and I will set my face against him and will cut him off from among his people because he has given of his seed to Molech” (ibid. 20:2-3).

These are just a few of the verses referring to Molech, and all of these verses, whether they refer to acts for which one is held liable or to the punishments, include the giving of a child over to idolatry. There are debates as to exactly what the worship of Molech entailed - walking between two flames or actual child sacrifice. In either case the child is sacrificed, either spiritually or physically, and this is abhorrent to Judaism.

Every child is a blessing, a fact accentuated by the lessons taught in the story of Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac.

For more on the worship of Molech, read Rabbi Buchwald’s “The Unfathomable Practice of Molech Worship.”  

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Giving Knowledge

Teach the children in your life about the beauty of Judaism.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Helping Others

How well do you know your neighbors? One of the most common comments about society today is how much more isolated people are from one another than they were in the days of a more agricultural society. Whether this is true or not, it can be agreed that our ways of connecting and communicating are different from how they were in the past. Nevertheless, the words of Jossie ben Jochanan reminds us all of the importance of social interaction in bettering the world:

“Jossie ben Jochanan of Jerusalem said: Let your house be wide open and let the poor be members of your household” (Ethics of the Fathers/Pirkei Avot 1:5).

This does not mean that one should leave one’s doors unlocked and invite in every vagrant who passes, but rather promotes the helpful attitude that one should have toward  others. The current temperament of society leans toward protectiveness and security, and sadly there is good reason for that. However, building a community requires that people reach out to each other, both to ask when in need and to give -- even when not asked.

The idea of letting the poor be like members of one’s household has within it a warning against viewing oneself as better than the people one is helping. When a child is in need of help, help is usually given without hesitation or condescension. This should be how people help those outside their own families as well.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved

Good Attitude

Remember that one's attitude when helping others can be just as important as the help being given.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Fear Your Mother

"Honor your father and your mother" (Exodus 20:12) is the fifth of the Ten Commandments. It is at the very heart of Judaism and is a mitzvah that straddles the twin aspects of Judaism: “bein adam la’makom” (between human and God) and "bein adam l’chavero” (between human and human). Honoring parents recognizes the process of creation and enables us to appreciate God’s role in the creation of life.

A lesser known mitzvah, however, is "Every person shall revere/fear his/her mother and his/her father" (Leviticus 19:3). To honor one’s parents requires providing for their personal needs (food, clothing, shelter, etc.). To revere/fear one’s parents is to make certain never to undermine their dignity (not contradicting one’s parents, not sitting in their specific seats, etc.).

Note that when the Torah speaks of reverence/fear of one’s parents, “mother” precedes the word “father,” yet "father" precedes "mother" when the Torah commands us to honor our parents. The word sequence reveals a strikingly accurate understanding of family dynamics. In many homes, the nurturing role of the mother makes her more beloved to her children than the father. It is easy to want to honor her, to take care of her. But, the Torah places the word “father” first, with respect to honor, as a reminder that the father deserves an equal measure of honor. So too, it is often the father, who may be more distant from child-rearing (and who is often the disciplinarian), who is naturally revered/feared by the child. The Torah, therefore, uses the word “mother” first, in order to uphold their equality with respect to fear/reverence. Hence, children must revere/fear and honor both their mother and father equally.

This Treat was originally posted on May 12, 2013.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved

For the Moms

Wish the mothers in your life a Happy Mothers' Day.

Friday, May 6, 2016

A Turn in History

While many people know that Cinco de Mayo is a Mexican holiday, a fair number would struggle to tell you why the day is significant. On May 5, 1862, the Mexican Army was unexpectedly victorious over French forces at the Battle of Puebla. Although the French did conquer Mexico the next year, the victory had a profound effect on the morale of the Mexican people. From a Jewish perspective, the war between France and Mexico marked a turning point in the history of Jews in Mexico.

Until the 1860s, Mexico’s deep connection to the Catholic Church meant that few Jews settled there. However, it is believed that many of the original Spanish settlers were conversos (secret Jews hiding from the Inquisition, many of whom are said to have settled in the Puebla region), but time has made it difficult to affirm this identification. However, when the French conquered Mexico, they installed Emperor Maximilian I, who not only issued an edict of religious tolerance, but specifically invited Jews from Germany and Belgium to settle in the country.

Maximilian was deposed (and executed) in 1867, but the Nationalist President who succeeded him, Benito Juarez, continued to maintain laws of religious tolerance. This allowed for the three main waves of Jewish immigration to Mexico: from Russia and Eastern Europe in the 1880s, from the Ottoman Empire in the 1910s and from Russia again after World War I.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Experiment with different types of food for Shabbat - maybe try something Mexican this week.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

What Happened in North Africa

During the Holocaust, European Jewry was almost completely decimated, and the importance of sharing that history is becoming even more important as the last surviving witnesses of the horrors of World War II pass away. One of the lesser known facts about the Holocaust is that the Jews of North Africa (Morocco, Algeria, and particularly Tunisia) were also affected by the Nazis.

Because Morocco and Algeria were already territories controlled by the French, they came under the control of the Nazi-allied Vichy government. In these countries, the Jewish population were confronted by restrictive laws, property confiscation, the requirement of wearing a yellow Star of David and, for several thousand Jews, forced labor. (It should be noted that there was important opposition to this anti-Semitism by the King of Morocco, who said “There are no Jews in Morocco. There are only subjects.”) Similar harassment took place in Libya, which was then under the control of the fascist Italians.

The Jews of Tunisia, however, were faced with actual Nazi occupation. In November 1942, the Germans entered Tunisia and immediately began implementing their usual anti-Semitic laws. In addition to the restrictions placed on Jews in other North African communities, the Jews of Tunisia (and those of Tunis in particular) were required to create a Judenrat (a Jewish self-governing committee). The Judenrat was responsible for choosing the Jews to be sent to labor camps. According to Yad Vashem, almost 5,000 Jewish men were sent to areas of forced labor. Many North African Jews were sent to work on the Trans-Sahara railway and faced extremely difficult living and working conditions.

Thankfully, the German stay in North Africa was quite short. In November of 1942, the Allied forces landed in Morocco and Algeria, and in May 1943, the Germans retreated.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved

Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Memorial Day

Today, the 27th of Nissan, 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.

This Treat was last posted on April 8, 2013.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved

Fewer and Fewer

Listen to the story of a Holocaust survivor in your town, as the opportunities to hear their experience first-hand are shrinking.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Einstein’s Jewish Life

Albert Einstein, whose yahrzeit is the 26th of Nissan (today), is one of the most admired men in history. His name and his face are almost universally recognized, and his scientific theories changed the way the universe is perceived.

Einstein’s connection to Jewish life was complicated. His German-Jewish family was assimilated, but he is said to have pushed them to maintain a kosher home in his youth. He was immersed in a world of science, but did not hesitate to affirm his basic belief in God, Creator of the world. He was opposed to nationalism but supported Zionism because the anti-Semitism of Europe (which may have hindered him obtaining a teaching position when he completed his studies) was ceaseless. 

Einstein’s early Zionist activity included being a founder of The Hebrew University, which opened in 1918 in Jerusalem. A member of the Board of Governors and chairman of its Academic Community, Einstein presented the school’s first scientific lecture in 1923, the first and only time he traveled to the Middle East. Einstein’s support for Israel was so appreciated that in 1952, after the death of President Chaim Weizmann, Einstein was asked to become Israel’s second president. He regretfully declined.

Even though Einstein, who was born in Ulm and raised in Munich, had witnessed German anti-Semitism, he was surprised by the brutality of his fellow countrymen. As the Nazis gained power, Einstein’s scientific work, which had been recognized as groundbreaking since 1905 and for which he received the Nobel Prize in 1921, was discredited by the Nazis as being infected by foreign ideas. 

When Hitler came to power in 1933, Einstein was in America serving as a visiting professor. It became clear that he could never return home, a fact made all the clearer when he learned that the Nazis had raided his cottage, confiscated his sailboat and put a price on his head. As his fellow Jewish scientists were cast out of their universities (without protest from their colleagues), Einstein went to England to seek the help of the British in trying to lead them to safety. 

Einstein returned to America from England that same year and accepted what would become a permanent position at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study. 

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Involve yourself in your local Jewish community.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Occident

In honor of World Press Freedom Day, May 3rd as declared by the United Nations General Assembly, Jewish Treats takes a quick glance at the first* general Jewish periodical in the United States: The Occident and American Jewish Advocate.

Founded in 1843, The Occident was created by Reverend Isaac Leeser. A native of Westphalia (Germany) who had emigrated to the U.S. at the age of 17 (1824), Leeser served as the spiritual leader of Philadelphia’s Congregation Mikveh Israel from 1829 until 1850. Also an accomplished writer, his first book, The Jews and the Mosaic Law, was published in 1829.

According to his own introduction to The Occident, his intention for the publication was “the spread of whatever can advance the cause of our religion and of promoting the true interest of that people...” Leeser was inspired to begin his periodical by the success he saw in other religious periodicals. He also noted that Jewish periodicals were gaining popularity in Europe. The Occident was usually published monthly, although from April 1859 until March 1861, it was published weekly. By the time the paper closed in 1869 (a year after Leeser’s death, during which time it was run by Mayer Sulzberger), there were numerous Jewish periodicals being published in America.

It has been noted that The Occident allowed for diverse opinion within its pages. As Leeser explained: “We shall not object to controversial articles, if written temperately and candidly...Although we profess a strict impartiality, we have opinions of our own which we shall not hesitate to avow with becoming firmness upon every proper occasion.” While The Occident definitely followed Leeser’s traditionalist opinions, it appears that he intended to follow the American ideal of a free press.

*Solomon Henry Jackson’s The Jew (1823-1825) was an anti-missionary publication rather than a periodical.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Subscribe to your local Jewish periodical.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Take Me Out To The Ballgame

In 2006, the month of May was officially designated as Jewish American Heritage Month. And what better way to celebrate Jews in America than with a little bit of baseball? Certainly Jewish Treats could present the biography of one of the sport’s greatest Jewish players, such as Hank Greenberg. Today’s Treat, however, focuses on a man who made baseball exciting even for those who don’t like baseball: Albert Von Tilzer, the composer of the popular baseball song,“Take Me Out To The Ball Game.”

Born Albert Gumm (original family name Gumbinsky) on March 29, 1878, in Indianapolis, Indiana, Von Tilzer came from a family of musicians. All five of the Gumm sons worked either in Tin Pan Alley or Vaudeville, and they all followed their eldest brother, Harry, in changing their surname to their mother’s maiden name (Tilzer) and adding the lofty sounding “Von.”  

In 1908, Von Tilzer was approached by Jack Norworth, who had just penned the verses that would become “Take Me Out To The Ball Game.” His inspiration was an advertisement for a game at the New York Polo Grounds. Von Tilzer immediately put the lyrics together with a waltz he had been composing. On May 2, 1908, the song was copyrighted by Von Tilzer’s York Music Company.

While the chorus to “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” is one of the best known songs in America (along with “The Star Spangled Banner” and “Happy Birthday”), most people don’t realize that there are also narrative verses telling the tale of a young lady who would prefer a date to the ball game rather than attend a show. The popular song became a part of game-time tradition in the 1970s when sportscaster Harry Caray would sing it during the seventh inning stretch.

While “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” is Von Tilzer’s best known work, he composed hundreds of tunes throughout the first half of the 20th century. He passed away on October 1, 1956.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Ethics of the Fathers

Ethics - it’s a big word in our day and age. Between political corruption and financial misdeeds, it is easy to wonder what ever happened to even the most basic ethical standards.

Although superficially it seems that the Torah’s primary focus is on civil, religious and ritual law, in actuality, the entire Torah is a blueprint for ethical living. The Mishnaic tractate of Avot (Fathers) is dedicated to the moral and practical teachings of the great sages. It is probably one of the best known and most widely studied sections of the Oral Law.

Pirkei Avot (literally, Chapter of the Fathers, but better known as Ethics of the Fathers) begins with a simple but important idea: “Moses received the Torah from Sinai and transmitted it to Joshua, Joshua to the elders, the elders to the prophets, the prophets transmitted it to the Men of the Great Assembly...” 
While, within the Mishna itself, different rabbis are given credit for their specific comments and thoughts about life, this opening statement delineates the flow of transmission to emphasize that these statements are very much part of Torah. One cannot pick and choose to observe only certain morals and ethics. It is all part of Torah, part of the “total package” that Jews must observe.

Since the time of the Gaonim (
the rabbis who followed the Talmudic sages, circa 8th-10th century, Babylon), Jews have studied one chapter of Pirkei Avot each Shabbat during the six Shabbatot between Passover and Shavuot. In many communities, this custom has been extended so that Pirkei Avot is studied from Passover until Rosh Hashana. Since many synagogues study Pirkei Avot communally each Shabbat after the afternoon service, the six chapters of Avot may be found in most Shabbat prayerbooks after the Mincha service.

This Treat was last posted on April 13, 2015.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved

Seek and Share

If you follow Jewish Treats on social media, keep an eye out for our Jewish Wisdom posters, then "like" and share them.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

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 rarely, if ever, occurs). The sale of chametz can be done for both individuals and businesses.

Since benefit from 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.

This Treat was last posted on April 12, 2015.

Chametz Yum

Enjoy eating chametz, but don't forget to make a proper blessing beforehand.