Verses Against Violence: A Jerusalem Gathering

by Amy Oppenheimer

Cross-posted at
Jerusalem.  The city of gold.  The city of peace.  And sometimes the city of violence.  But not the type of violence that you might expect.

Today marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and just last night 40 women and men gathered in a local Jerusalem cafe for Verses Against Violence, an evening of poetry to raise awareness about the plight of domestic violence in Israel.  The evening featured twelve readers and a live music performance, and raised funds for Bat Melech, the only kosher and Sabbath-observant shelter for victims of domestic violence in Israel.

According to WIZO, there are 200,000 victims of domestic violence in Israel, but not nearly enough services to meet demand.  There are 14 shelters in all of Israel – 10 for secular Israelis, 2 for Arab Israelis and only 2 that cater to the religious Jewish population, both operated by Bat Melech. More »

A Still, Small Voice for Suicide Prevention: Elijah’s Journey

by Gabe Kretzmer Seed

Gabe Kretzmer Seed is a rabbinical student at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and graduate fellow at Elijah’s Journey.

I’ve had the honor of serving as the inaugural graduate fellow for Elijah’s Journey, a wonderful organization which helps to serve as a voice regarding suicide awareness and prevention in the Jewish community.  This Shabbat we will read the haftarah (prophetic portion) from which the organization gets its name.  Though read rarely, due to quirks in the Jewish calendar related to 17th of Tammuz fast day, it is considered the “regular” addition to Parashat Pinchas.

There, in I Kings 18:46-19:20, Elijah has just performed a miracle and proved God’s power over the prophets of Baal. Yet he is pursued by the evil, idolatrous Queen Jezebel, and dejected, asks God to take his life. God instructs Elijah to eat and drink and take a 40 day journey in order to re-assess the situation. Elijah eventually hears God’s voice in a still, small voice, and decides to continue his calling and mission. Elijah’s desire to stop living, lonely period of reconsideration, and reception of a line of hope from a barely audible source, can strike a strong chord with those who have considered ending their lives.  In the United States alone, over one million contemplate suicide each year and over 40,000 do take their own lives. We can all walk in God’s ways and serve as a listening ear and source of encouragement for those around of us who may feel down, dejected or unsupported. More »

Mimi Arbeit: “Say that none of the words feel quite right, and commit to speaking and listening anyway.”

 Mimi Arbeit is a Ph.D. student at Tufts in Child Development, where she studies adolescent sexuality, sexual health, and sexual violence prevention. She is a freelance sexuality educator and also works locally to promote and strengthen sexuality education in public schools.

The Debrief, Mimi’s column on sex, dating, and relationships, comes out every Wednesday on She loves dancing, taking walks around the city, and listening to people share their stories. Email or tweet @MimiArbeit.

Jewschool: What’s the intersection of progressive values, sex ed and Jewish identity for you?

Mimi Arbeit: Progressive values, sex ed, and promoting healthy relationships is at the core of my Jewish involvement. My commitment to feminist and queer values is central to who I am as a person and the work I try to do in the world. I became involved with Judaism as a teenager, but departed from Jewish spaces in college when I realized how much the tradition clung to harmful gender norms and patriarchal practices. For years, I didn’t know what to do. Jewish community can be beautiful and powerful, but I needed a Jewish community in which I could bring all of my passions, and in which my own desire for personhood and my commitment to building a better world would not be eclipsed by a reification of problematic Jewish traditions. The communities I found in Boston allowed me to be a part of exploring the kinds of Judaism that hold more possibility for me – especially the Moishe Kavod House, Keshet, and

JS: Before writing at The Debrief, you wrote a blog called Sex Ed Transforms. What can we find there? 

MA: I started Sex Ed Transforms five years ago when I was working in a public school teaching health and sex ed. I used this space to give words to my dream, my work, and my analysis. I discussed my experience with sex ed in public school, my reflections on what I was reading, my own personal growth in activities such as body-positive challenge, and my sex ed for young adults work at the Moishe Kavod House. In the month before my wedding, I wrote extensively about my experience grappling with sexism, materialism, and interpersonal challenges throughout the planning process. Last year, I made it into the final round of the Feministing “So You Think You Can Blog” contest by submitting a post on queer identity and a post on 50 Shades of Grey. Although I did not become a regular contributor to Feministing, I soon after started writing The Debrief weekly at, and now I post on Sex Ed Transforms much more rarely.

JS:  What’s been the most difficult topic (you can name a few) you’ve handled at The Debrief? What’s your favorite? 

MA: The Debrief is a sex, dating, and relationships column posted every Wednesday at I love facilitating this space in which I can invite other community members to share their stories, questions, and reflections, either by name or anonymously. I am honored every time people choose to share their stories with me, and I am deeply moved by what they express.

I also write several pieces myself. The most difficult pieces to write have been the two addressing issues of trauma and violence. I wrote a post connecting the ritual of spilling wine at the Passover seder with the Steubenville rape trial, and soon after that I wrote a post about different kinds of trauma in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing. It was a difficult spring.

My favorite posts of the ones I wrote myself are the pieces that push boundaries. One of my earliest posts asked, “Can hookups be holy?,” and I wrote a post about National Masturbation Month in May. I also have enjoyed the opportunity to share some of my own process. Elul, the last month of the Jewish calendar, is a time set aside for reflection. I took the entire month to reflect on sex, dating, relationships, and building community, and continued this tone through Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I gained a lot, personally, from working on these posts and sharing them with my readers.

I am always looking for new story ideas and new contributions, so I encourage readers to email me at anytime.

JS: What do you think is the current state of the conversation about sex in Jewish communities? Why do you think it is what it is? What advice would you give to folks who want to change the status quo? 

MA: I can only hope to learn that a wide variety of dynamic, engaging, critical conversations about sex are currently taking place in Jewish communities worldwide. But I also know that many Jewish communities are not having such conversations. I think we are held back because we are nervous, embarrassed, ashamed, afraid, or we don’t know the words to use to express how we feel. We try to say what we think we are supposed to say, and we try to do what we think we are supposed to do, and when we say or do something different from what’s expected of us, we too often get told to stop.

If we want to change the status quo, and I certainly do, we need to start with deep sharing and listening. Really taking risks to hear each other, understand the complexity of our own and each other’s lived experiences, ask caring and probing questions of each other, and speak. Share. Try to explain even when none of the words we know feel quite right. Name that – say that none of the words feel quite right, and commit to speaking and listening anyway.

With the foundation of a community committed to listening and speaking, speaking and listening, we need to pursue conversations that are inclusive of all voices. Wait, not only inclusive, but structured through a model of equity. Working to merely include marginalized voices will still leave those voices marginalized. We need to find a way to actively structure a new conversation about sex and relationships with people who have previously been marginalized now at the center. As part of that process, we will need trauma-informed ways to talk about sex. So many members of our community are survivors of sexual trauma of different forms – more people than we even realize. When we talk about sex, it can be a wonderful and positive part of our lives, and it can also be a place of violence and violation. We need to find out how to talk about all of that.

JS: What, for you, is at stake in this work? 

MA: Acceptance. Humanity. Connection. The possibility of a life lived honestly and powerfully. World peace.

Bikur Cholim, Virtually or Otherwise

I grew up watching family and friends die. In a weird, meta-level way I suppose everyone does. But I was watching a grandfather die in his house across the street, his body riddled with cancer. I would watch grandmothers die of cancer. Some of my friends would die of leukemia before I was even out of junior high. My father is chronically ill, as am I. Illness has suffused my daily life for as long as I can remember.

So, I have a lot of thoughts about the mitzvah bikur cholim. Visiting the ill among us,  that’s something that’s meaningful if it’s done right. And as much as wading through regulations sometimes makes me want to pull my hair out, I appreciate the guidelines that are set out around the mitzvah. Giving people a template makes it no less hard to embark on the mitzvah, but those guidelines keep us from being lost in the moment. If you visit the sick, you are helping relieve them of some small portion of the misery of being ill. By waiting to visit the ill by a few days, you avoid being part of the initial system-shock of being sick, and all the procedures surrounding an illness. By not being a burden on their caretakers, you don’t add to the stress being experienced by someone who is ill, or that of their family.

I’m not affiliated with a synagogue right now, so my experiences with bikur cholim are centered on family and friends, and those who are ill in their lives who I may not know myself. And I think that it’s important to consider how to integrate this mitzvot into your life when you’re not in a community with a bikur cholim committee. Same goes for congregations where the Rabbi is expected to shoulder much of the energy and thought of the mitzvot for the community at large. More »

Filed under Health, Ritual

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Bikur Cholim and Mental Illness

I will do amazing things in 5774. I will turn 30. I will get married to the love of my life, the person I am immeasurably excited to grow old with. And I’ll continue to pursue a life filled with words. I wouldn’t be alive for those milestones without medication and cognitive therapy. Without help and support, I would have died because of my mental illness. When I attempted suicide, my family and closest friends were a web of support that kept me going. But I never mentioned what had happened to my Rabbi. To any Rabbi. I’ve made friends in the years since then with their own mental health struggles, some of them fellow members of the Tribe.

Having the knowledge that there are other mentally ill Jews out there is at best, an academic comfort. I know so few ‘out’ mentally ill Jews that I still feel out of step with my community. While I was working as a Morah I refused to tell anyone from my temple, because I was afraid I would never be allowed to be a teacher again if the administration and students’ parents knew I had been struggling with depression and other issues for most of my life. To talk about it now means that I am taking that risk, even if my mental health has greatly improved in the last few years.

Medication has helped me immeasurably, by clearing my head, and keeping most of the depression at bay. It’s left me space inside myself to start slowly filling with prayer again. With energy for one of the cornerstones of Reform Judaism: social justice. It has given me a reprieve from drowning under my darkest emotions. Every night and every morning I say the Sh’ma, because my pain has lessened just enough to let G-d in again.

There are still nights where I am crushingly depressed, struggling and crying. But the promise of the next Rosh Hashanah keeps me going, as does the knowledge that when I wake up in the morning, that depression might be gone again. Mornings like that are perfect for the Shehecheyanu. Thanking G-d for my survival has taken on a certain poignancy, in these final days of Elul.

The High Holy days are times of great joy, and repentance.For redemption. I am joyful I am alive. That every day I make the choice to stay alive, and see the many years awaiting me.  But at the close of 5773, I feel the need to confess and repent for not being more open about being mentally ill. For not bringing the social justice I work for, for people like me, into temple, into my religious community. I have no good excuse, and there is no reason not to reach out to my fellow Jews, caretakers and fellow patients alike. There is no reason not to put light onto our often silent suffering, and to ask others to apply Bikur cholim to the mentally ill as well. To ask ourselves to apply the mitzvah to the aid and support of the mentally ill in our communities. To extend the mitzvah even to ourselves.

5774 is as good a time as any to help others find help, but to find help ourselves. Among G-d’s Thirteen Attributes of Mercy, G-d is said to be the abundant in kindness, and a preserver of kindness for generations. To embrace Bikur cholim for the mentally ill is to embrace more of G-d’s attributes of mercy into us, and our lives.

L’shanah tovah.

Why “Silver Linings Playbook” Matters

The following is a guest post by Efrem L. Epstein.  Efrem is the founder of Elijah’s Journey, an organization focusing on the issues of suicide awareness and prevention in the Jewish community.

For several months now I’ve joked about the potential lawsuit I could file against Matthew Quick, author of the novel “Silver Linings Playbook” from which the film nominated for eight 2013 Oscars is adapted. On first glance, Pat Peoples (renamed “Pat Solitano” in the film) could only be based on me. We’re both die-hard Philadelphia Eagles fans, who took up dancing as a hobby, spent time living in Baltimore, wrestled with issues of life’s purpose and idealized love and battled the demons of depression and won (K’eyn Ayin Hara). In reality, I am hardly the only person in the world who can relate to Pat. Depression affects 350 Million globally and, in the U.S. alone, there are 1,000,000 suicide attempts annually. Many are surprised to learn that reported suicides outnumber homicides by more than a 2:1 ratio (and if one were to account for unreported/unconfirmed suicides the ratio would likely be closer to 3:1). In thanking David O. Russell after her SAG-AFTRA Best Female Actor win, Jennifer Lawrence proclaimed, “You made a movie for your son so that he wouldn’t feel alone, and so that he could feel understood. And I think I can speak on behalf of most of us and say that you helped more than your son. You’ve helped so many sons and daughters, husbands, wives, everybody.”

The positive lessons that can be learned from Silver Linings Playbook are so numerous that at times it feels like an entire social justice curriculum…and a good one at that! Not only does the movie enlighten us about tolerance and acceptance but it also offers some fresh and rich insight on how we as a society can move past many of our stubborn stigmas regarding depression, mental illness and emotional disorders (three cheers for Pat’s character being portrayed as both desirable and dateable even with his demons and flaws). And let’s not forget the lesson about how so many of our personal relationships (romantic, platonic and family) can be improved through more open and honest lines of communication. Silver Linings Playbook has also been a wonderful conversation-starter that has prompted many public figures to further share their own stories. I strongly recommend reading former Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy’s piece from The Daily Beast.

But the movie is especially poignant in my eyes for offering up a “playbook” of sorts for handling life’s curves. Life is, and should be, full of dreams but the dark side of dreams is that they often get shattered! Six months before Pat Solitano appeared on movie screens, Vice President Joe Biden gave many of us in the suicide awareness/prevention movement our own “Jackie Robinson moment.” Recalling the tragic accident which claimed the lives of his daughter and first wife, he recounted, “”For the first time in my life, I understood how someone could consciously decide to commit suicide…because they had been to the top of the mountain and they just knew in their heart they’d never get there again.” As we watch Pat move on from his old dreams to build new ones, we realize a truth of life: Bad things do happen to us and sometimes REALLY bad things happen to us, but even amongst our most shattered dreams there is always a road back to happiness. “Folks, it can and will get better,” Biden told the audience later in his speech.
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You’re Welcome, People Who Might Get Sexually Assaulted.

In  the world of Israel advocacy, there’s a popular campaign aimed at halting people’s criticism of Israel’s policies by listing all the excellent and innovative technologies Israel has invented (and/or talking about it’s worse to be a woman/queer person in a place that’s not Israel and usually rhymes with Schmalestine).

To add to the list of things Israel has invented (in addition to cell phones, instant messenger, radiation free breast cancer diagnostics) is the Anti Date Rape straw. The straw can detect  two most widely-used date rape drugs: ketamine and gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB) in a drink and the change of color alerts the person drinking of the presence of those drugs.

Let’s hope that distributing this straw doesn’t become a substitute for not having conversations about consent, power, rape and communication. And if it’s going to become a  staple of the kind of Israel advocacy that I mentioned above, let’s also take the opportunity to talk about the current position of women in Israeli society (shitty), and MAYBE EVEN that rape and sexual assault happen in the Jewish community. It would be a great opportunity to elevate the sad state of Israel advocacy (on campus and otherwise) and talk about something hard that we don’t like to talk about, as a community or otherwise.

Of course, the existence of said straw is  good regardless of whether or not nuanced conversations about it happen. But you know, not better than just  not raping people.


Historical Amnesia

About a year ago I was watching a young Israeli physician examine an Eritrean boy at the Physicians for Human Rights clinic. The boy sat looking at the ground as his cousin explained that he wasn’t sleeping at night, often waking up sweating in terror. He said the boy was wetting the bed and that he couldn’t keep his food down. When he was asked to get up and walk to the examination table, he wrapped both his hands around his thin right thigh and lifted- left, lift, right, left, lift, right. Only 13, he was thin and weak because of his trek across the Sinai desert. Along the way he was kidnapped and held captive for three months by a Bedouin criminal organization where he was tortured, deprived of food and water and forced to wait as his family in Eritrea was extorted of thousands of dollars. That day in the clinic, wearing donated clothes that hung off his frame, was his second day in Tel Aviv.
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My Debate with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

guest post by Eli Ungar-Sargon

A few weeks ago, my good friend Mordechai Levovitz mentioned on Facebook that he would like to see a debate between myself and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach on the subject of circumcision. I was aware of the fact that following a brief back and forth on CNN, Rabbi Boteach had challenged Lloyd Schofield, the man behind the ballot initiative in San Francisco, to a longer form debate. I was also aware that Schofield had declined the challenge. I wrote to Rabbi Boteach suggesting that he debate me instead. Much to my surprise, I received an email a few days later saying that Rabbi Boteach was interested. The terms we agreed upon were that there would be 10 minute opening statements followed by 5 minute rebuttals, and an hour and a half of Q&A. We also agreed that I would be provided with an unedited copy of their video in addition to which I would be able to shoot my own video of the event. The debate was scheduled to take place at the Manhattan Jewish Experience on July 18th. I prepared for the debate and flew out to NY with my camera and tripod in tow.

A few hours before the event, I was having lunch with my mother and sister on 72nd street when I got an email from Boteach’s people requesting that I call them urgently. They informed me that I would not be allowed to shoot video of the debate and that no cameras other than the MJE’s official camera would be allowed in the room. No explanation for this change was forthcoming and I had to take it or leave it. Despite advice from close family and friends to pull out on account of this blatant breach of terms, I went ahead with the debate and at the last minute, set up an audio recorder. The debate itself was spirited and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience despite the glaring absence of a moderator. But my absolute favorite moment of the evening came just after the debate was over. Rabbi Boteach came up to me and by way of apology for all of the drama said “You have to understand. No offense, but I just didn’t know who you were.”

Upon returning home, I asked Boteach’s people for an unedited copy of the video as per our original agreement. They refused. Luckily, I had my audio recording which I posted on the Cut website and on YouTube. It was not long before Boteach’s people posted their video, which turned out to be the first 40 minutes of the debate shot from a bizarre dutch angle at knee height and compressed to within an inch of its life. Here are the two versions of the debate:

I Fracking Love Camp

dcc seen at 10 years old. Extra points if you can pick me out.

dcc seen at 10 years old.

My first year at camp as a kid was great: Sports, Arts and Crafts, Lake Front, Advanced Swimming and, of course, the coveted first dance with a girl.  All of this was set against the bucolic setting of the NJ-YMHA-YWHA Jr. camp, Camp Nah-Jee-Wah.  Two years later I would be off to California with my family but Camp Nah-Jee-Wah has always held a special place in my heart and so did that dance with Rachel Cohen-Stien-Berg-Steen (clearly it was much more important at the time).

All kidding aside, Jewish summer camp changed my life for the better.  I learned more in five years as a camper at Camp Alonim than I did in more than a decade of religious school.  I met my wife and a number of our lifelong friends at Greene Family Camp.  I went into Jewish Community Work all because of the things that happened to me at camps.

The most important thing I learned at these camps besides being one of the best sports players at a Jewish summer camp really isn’t so impressive when you come back home, was that our traditions teach us to respect ourselves, our bunkmates and camp, to stick by our bunkmates when they sneak out at night and get caught and that if you kill it you fill it.  Take these concepts to a more mature conclusion and you get respect for sanctity of life and environment and the importance of sticking to our values in the face of hardship (and really if you kill it you better fill it, I love the tater tots).

So when I read in the Forward this week that New Jersey’s YMHA-YWHA Camps have leased their land for hydraulic fracturing a little piece of my childhood became filled with carcinogenic waste, naturally occurring radioactive materials and devastated shale. More »

Twilight of the Gold’s Borscht?

I’ve long agreed with the sentiment of this Wall Street Journal article- that Borscht is an underrated, under-appreciated food among the under 40 set. Though I know Russians my age who enjoy a bowl now and then, most of my generation has never heard of it let alone tried it. It is a low calorie, no-fat food but it somehow never has caught on as an item either among hipsters, health-niks or beet-niks (couldn’t help myself..). The Borscht Diet! Borscht-tinis! Hey, did you hear that new eastern european brass band, Borscht!

Somehow, outside of pockets of immigrants, this delicious cold soup has never made it to the culinary heights of other foods. Its interesting to read the inner workings of the Gold family struggling with the flagging sales of their flagship product. With all the Jewish foodies out there, I’m wondering if maybe they’ve missed something or if any has some sage advice for Borscht producers (hey- sage in Borscht?).

Abstinence, OU Style

So the House has voted to defund Planned Parenthood, a source of free/low cost birth control, HIV, cancer screenings, and sex positive education. And now, we have NCSY Say K(No)w: The First Abstinence Website for Jewish Teens. It must be Erode Access to Important Information Week.

If we’re going to talk about sex, we have to make sure it’s more complicated and honest than simply “don’t do it.” What are you waiting, or not waiting for? What information are you basing your decision on? Is it about pressure from your partner, your parents, or your community? Shame, confusion, or fear of your sexuality? “Facts” about sex that are actually wrong?

You can find all this (and more) on the‘s website. First of all, condoms are bad. They don’t protect you from everything, so don’t even bother. Neither does the Pill, or Depo, or the patch. Of course, because the goal of the website is abstinence, there’s no suggestion that using two forms of birth control might actually be a great option. In case you’ve sought out this website as a guide to protecting yourself from pregnancy and STI’s…good luck. There’s no practical  information for you here. We hope you don’t get pregnant!

Also noteworthy-suicide! According to the study credited (“Adolescent Depression and Suicide Risk Association with Sex and Drug Behaviors.” American Journal of Preventative Medicine, vol. 27 no. 3.), “sexually active boys are therefore EIGHT TIMES more likely to attempt suicide!” Girls who are sexually active are three times as likely. I’m going out on a limb here, but maybe it’s because they’ve gotten false/bad information about sex, STI’s, pregnancy prevention and might find themselves in a horrible situation beyond their control? Maybe because they feel ashamed,  alienated from their communities,  like they can’t tell anyone and have no resources?

If this all weren’t disconcerting enough, there’s gender policing going on. In the section on Messing Around,  it’s spelled out for us: Girls are vulnerable. Girls think sex means love, it’s how we get boys to love us.  It’s not about pleasure, or exploring sexuality. Boys want sex. All boys, all the time, and they’ll do anything to get it. At least both girls and boys are vulnerable to the “non-physical effects of sexual activity.Guilt, worry, regret, shame, depression and other emotional consequences remain the same, regardless of any contraceptives that may be used.”

I know I’m asking for something that I’m not going to get, which is for the  OU to behave as if it were an entirely different organization-one which is sex positive and inclusive. So I’ll set the bar even lower and ask that it be a responsible organization, and give young folks accurate  information about sex, as opposed to ignoring reality in exchange for scaring them into abstinence.

Two lawyers, a drug counselor and a rabbi walk into a synagogue…

…to discuss the legal, medical and ethical ins and outs of Proposition 19–California’s ballot measure to
legalize the recreational use of marijuana. And it was pretty fascinating.

The panel discussion was held at a Reform Synagogue in Beverly Hills and involved a distinguished and well-informed group of experts including former LA County Prosector Sheldon Lodmer (who was involved in landmark cases such as the Manson murder trials and was the prosecutor in the Deep Throat case), Allison Margolin (an LA attorney who focuses her legal work on defending clients in marijuana related cases), Bernadine Fried (the founder and manager of two LA sober living facilities) and Rabbi Elliot Dorff (the rector of the American Jewish University and world renowned ethicist and theologian, and the chair of Committee on Laws and Standards of the Conservative Movement).

Many topics were discussed directly related to Prop 19 and some under the general category of drug use/abuse, civil society and the Jewish perspective on healthy living. Mr. Lodmer was the only panelist who was outspoken in his opposition to Prop 19 not only because of its implications, but also because of what he referred to as the fact that it is “written poorly.” Since this is a Jewish blog, I want to focus on Rabbi Dorff’s perspectives and open the comment field to our reader’s responses (especially those who may be voting next week in CA).
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Guest Post: Planting Jewish Gardens in Chicago

Hey everyone, this awesomeness is brought to you by the Gan Project.

Ever wonder why New York and California seem to have so many exciting and fresh, lefty and liberal, progressive and oatmeally Judaism and Jewish community events while the Midwest gets the short change of traditional, conventional, Vanilla flavors of Judaism? Three Chicago Jewish women are hoping to improve the assortment of Jewish expression here in the Midwest by way of Jewish action oriented environmental and agricultural programming, cycling workshops, and gardening.  The Gan Project is in its first year of operations. It is a board run organization composed of three founding members Jill Zenoff, Anne LaForti, and Suzanne Nathan.  Their inaugural workshop season is underway and includes a fermentation and food preservation series, DIY natural bath and body products, urban gardening, and more.

Their first workshop, Food Preservation 101: Strawberry U-pick, Picnic, and Making Jam was a huge success with 11 participants and 34 jars of strawberry preserves and was featured on Chicago Public Radio’s website. The Gan Project’s website,, explains that their mission is “to create a vibrant, sustainable, and healthy Chicago Jewish community. Through working the land as our ancestors did before us, Jews from all walks of life can revitalize their connection to some of the most basic principles of Judaism. By providing positive experiences in nature we can breathe life into old traditions, explore the foundation of our faith, and foster a greater understanding of Torah.”  While it might sound like it is geared for the Shomer Mitzvot, it is really pan-denominational, and open to non-Jews as well.

The Gan Project has been fortunate to be able to tap into the much-needed but undeserved “greening” of Chicago’s Jewish communities.  The Chicago JCC has generously donated office space and Chicago’s Birthright NEXT has agreed to co-sponsor some of the summer workshop series.  Also, Hazon has been instrumental in helping the new non-profit take off.

Their next workshop is set for July 11, at a community kitchen space, to teach and learn how to make lacto-fermented pickles out of season-fresh, local cucumbers.  Crunch, crunch, crunchy time!

Filed under Chicago, Food, Health


The Vort: Nasso – Biblical Waterboarding

If you are a facebook user, you’ve likely received some sort of hack invitation recently to join or ‘like’ a page entitled Fact, all girls tell these 10 lies to men when they are cheating. (Note: the males are men while the females are girls.)  Even if you have not seen this page on the internet, you still have an opportunity to engage in cultural myth-making vis-à-vis women’s chastity with this week’s Torah portion.

In biblical times, there was a different kind of over-the-top forum for humiliating public disclosure, equally intrusive, but with much higher stakes: the Temple in Jerusalem.  Indeed, if you skip ahead to Chapter 5 of Numbers, you can read first-hand of the kind invasive intimidation tactics routinely used to “deal with” women whose husband’s suspected them of marital infidelity.

Because such a spectacle is better seen than described, I have taken the liberty to sketch out this rather involved procedure (see below).  Interestingly, the text does not include any kind of formal questioning about the suspected woman’s partner(s).  Considering how terrifying and demeaning this whole ritual must have been to the accused woman, one can rather safely assume that the desired effect was that she buckled under pressure and disclosed her tawdry secrets, if, indeed, such secrets existed.

The isha sota (or ‘deviant woman’) episode is disturbing on so many counts; one barely knows where to start working through these issues.  If the woman proves innocent, she must resume her marital life with a man who has caused her such shame (if this is the case, the man is expected to give an offering as well—but this is only a gesture to God, not to his wife whom he falsely accused).  If she is guilty of the charges, her “stomach distends and her thighs sag.”

Fast-forwarding to the Haftorah (Judges 13:2-25) which accompanies this week’s Torah portion, where we read of Manoach who, interestingly, appears suspicious of his wife when she comes to him and reports that an unnamed man appeared before her when she was out in the field all by herself and announced that she would soon become pregnant.  While Manoah’s suspicions do not appear to reach the level of jealousy described in the Torah portion, he does insist on seeing the “man” himself.  Particularly interesting with regard to this tale is that the son born to this couple as a result of the aforementioned annunciation is a strapping young fellow whose thunderous passion for the wrong woman leads him to his undoing.

What is to be learned here? One should exercise restrain not only in one’s actions, but also in one’s judgments of others.

Click on thumbnails for full-sized images, a step-by-step instruction on testing your woman:

The Vort: Tazria & Metzora – Not a Question of If, But When

Upon setting out to write this dvar Torah, I had grand visions of talking about the halakhic status of coed toilets. If a woman is ritually unclean, how can other members of her family use the same toilet, for example?

There was going to be a blow-out Foucauldian analysis of the halakhic sources, followed by a lengthy exegesis on Melanie Klein’s partial object; Kohut’s narcissistic transference, and Freud’s paranoia “syllogism” as taken up by Lacan. And then the ground-breaking revelation that we have been/are currently/always will be sinning.

It was going to be fabulous.

Perhaps fortunately for you, Masechet Niddah, Masechet Khullin,  and Masechet Keilim (11:2) took me to school. Once again. We can use the same toilet as someone who is ritually unclean because the toilet is “מחובר לקרקע” (it is connected to the ground)—this is the loophole. (For those following at home, this is the same term used in reference to mikvaot, or ritual bath pools.)  Furthermore, I learned that in our times–i.e. post-Temple times–we are all tamei met already, and thus this is a non-issue.

Now that we’re all breathing comfortably…

I will tell you, instead, about how I first learned about sex. (What does this have to do with tazria metzorah, you ask? Just wait. You’ll see.) More »

Glenn Beck: Social justice? Not on my watch!

Glenn Beck’s latest cause is social justice.  Not that you should support it, but that it (like progressivism, black people, and the federal government) is actually the root of all evil:

I beg you, look for the words ‘social justice’ or ‘economic justice’ on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words.

What are they code words for, Professor Beck?  Please, enlighten us.

Communists are on the left, and the Nazis are on the right. That’s what people say. But they both subscribe to one philosophy, and they flew one banner. . . . But on each banner, read the words, here in America: ‘social justice.’ They talked about economic justice, rights of the workers, redistribution of wealth, and surprisingly, democracy.

Right.  Clearly, the heinous policies we associate with the Nazis were the result of their social justice programs.  Therefore, social justice leads to gas chambers.  QED. More »

Most Ashkenazi E-mail Subject Line Ever?

Think for a second about the e-mail subject line you’ve seen that is the most evocative of American Judaism. I wouldn’t want to presume that all American Jews are Ashkenazim so let’s refine the search to Ashkenazi-American culture.

I just got an e-mail over a Jewish listserv with this title:

health question – pickled herring during pregnancy?

From topic, to phrasing, to foods it has to be in the running for the most American-Ashkenazi Subject Line, Ever. What would the other contenders be?

Also, does anyone have an evidence-based answer? I am sure the original e-mailer would be interested to know.

Filed under Food, Health, Humor