Archive for the ‘Pesach’ Category

Jerusalem Day, the 28th of Iyar

May 11, 2010 Leave a comment

By Shoshana Bryen

Shoshana Bryen

WASHINGTON, D.C–The Jewish and Christian holy days of Passover and Easter have passed; Shavuot and Pentecost are coming. In between, the 28th of Iyar-corresponding to 7 June 1967 and 12 May 2010-marks the unification of Jerusalem in the hands of the State of Israel. The city has been occupied over time by the Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Ottoman and British Empires; occupied occasionally by Egyptians, Crusaders, Mamluks and Jordanians. But the holidays remind us that Jerusalem has, from the time of the Bible, been the capital of the Jewish people and of no other people. 
In 1947, the UN General Assembly partitioned the 23 percent of the British Mandate for Palestine that remained after the creation of the Kingdom of Transjordan into separate Palestinian Arab and Palestinian Jewish sectors, planning to create two new states. They took a pass on Jerusalem-voting to make it and Bethlehem corpus separatum, an area legally separate from its environs. “In view of its association with three world religions” it would be “accorded special and separate treatment from the rest of Palestine and should be placed under effective United Nations control.”
We will never know what “effective UN control” would have looked like.
In May 1948, the Jordanian Legion entered the UN zone, besieged the Jewish residents and annexed the eastern side of the city. Did you ever wonder why it is called “Arab East Jerusalem”? It is because they expelled the Jews and worked hard to erase the historic Jewish connection from the city. In the Ceasefire Agreement of 1949, Jordan promised to appoint a committee to discuss free access of Jews to the holy sites including (but not limited to) the Western Wall and the cemetery on the Mount of Olives. It never happened. Instead, Jordan cut roads through the cemetery and used the tombstones for paving and latrines in Jordanian army camps. More than 50 synagogues, libraries and Jewish schools were deliberately destroyed or defaced. The Cave of Shimon the Just was used as a horse stable.
Appeals to the UN for “effective control” were not effective. 
The wall that split Jerusalem, cutting Jews-not only Israelis-off from their heritage, was as effective as the Berlin Wall. In 1967, the King of Jordan miscalculated, shelling the west side of the city from behind the UN barrier. In response, Israel made it whole again.
It is right and crucial that unified Jerusalem be the capital of the modern State of Israel, precisely because the city holds sites holy to people of the Jewish, Christian and, much later, the Muslim faiths. 
Only when the State of Israel has been the guardian of the unified city has it been-as the UN said it intended-a city open to all faiths. Today, the mosques are controlled by the Waqf, the Islamic religious society. Churches are maintained by various Christian denominations. The Western Wall, the Mount of Olives cemetery and the restored Hurva Synagogue are in Jewish hands. The Government of Israel ensures open access-and only the Government of Israel can be relied on to ensure open access to the Jewish people. 
Why, we ask, does the Obama Administration insist that Israel find a way for Jerusalem to serve as the capital of the Palestinians when it has never been an Arab political or religious seat? Religious Muslims should be glad the Jewish people regard the Muslim right to reach Muslim holy places as an obligation of the State of Israel-when no similar right accrued to the Jews. And the United States should regard the reunification of Jerusalem under a tolerant and democratic government to be praiseworthy.

Bryen is senior director of security policy of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.  Her column is sponsored by Waxie Sanitary Supply in memory of Morris Wax, longtime JINSA supporter and national board member.

San Diego celebrates Israel independence with Sunday festival

April 20, 2010 Leave a comment

SAN DIEGO (Press Release)–San Diego’s largest attended one-day Jewish community building event, Yom Ha’atzmaut takes place on Sunday, April 25 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the San Diego Jewish Academy, 11860 Carmel Creek Road, San Diego. Admission is free, and the event is open to the public. Parking is available for $5 at the Marriott Del Mar, 11966 El Camino Real, San Diego, CA 92130. Free shuttle service is provided.

Sponsored by the Israel Center of United Jewish Federation of San Diego County, Yom Ha’atzmaut this year will feature 60 shops, Jewish community organizations and kosher foods, and fun and educational activities for children, teens and families not to be missed. The annual celebration of Israel’s Independence Day provides a festive conclusion to a month of holidays: Passover, which focuses on freedom, Yom Hashoah, commemorating all who died in the Holocaust, and Yom Hazikaron, honoring those who died fighting for the State of Israel and terror victims.  This year’s event is designed to help participants connect with Jewish community in celebrating Israel.

Children can ride on the “Middle East Peace Train” from “Jerusalem” to “Cairo”, play on a climbing wall and bounce house, relive history as they dig up ancient coins, tiles and other artifacts in an archeological dig presented by the Agency for Jewish Education, or get balloon creations of their choice as part of the festivities. Adults may practice their Hebrew, Spanish and French in a series of “Cafés” offered by Kef Li – Tarbuton, appropriate for this holiday because Israel exemplifies diversity as the largest immigrant-absorbing nation on earth. Attendees also may wish to hear Israeli Deputy Counsel Gil Arzieli present the latest news on U.S – Israel relations or learn about “Gifts Israel Gave the World,” from J.J. Surbeck, Executive Director of T.E.A.M, Training and Education About the Middle East.

Teens and adults can initiate their travel plans at “Experience Israel – Just Go,” co-sponsored by MASA and the UJF Israel Center. MASA, the Hebrew word for journey, consists of 150 programs in Israel for those ages 18 to 30, from 5 months to one year. The UJF Teen Trip to Israel is San Diego Jewish community’s annual summer trip, connecting teens to Israel and their local Jewish community through travel and post-trip volunteer activities. This one-stop center for journeys to Israel can save travel enthusiasts many hours preparing for their dream trip.

Young adults also can experience “Bedouin Hospitality” enjoying complimentary tea in Birthright NEXT’s Bedouin tent, while learning more about Birthright trips and ongoing social connections. New to Yom Ha’atzmaut this year also is a quiet area for those who observe Sefirat Ha’Omer, the 49-day period between Passover and the beginning of Shavuot (May 19-20) which counts the days from physical redemption/physical slavery to spiritual redemption when the Torah was presented at Mt. Sinai.

Israeli music and dancing at the main stage will be led by Kolot, a band comprised of former Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldiers. For more information on this day of fun, celebration and learning, please contact the Israel Center at 858.571.3444 or

Preceding provided by United Jewish Federation of San Diego County

Is ‘Hermione’ part of J.K. Rowling’s secret code in the Harry Potter series?

April 7, 2010 2 comments

By Donald H. Harrison

Donald H. Harrison

SAN DIEGO – For a moment, my daughter and grandson looked at me as if I were Dan Brown revealing not the secrets of the Da Vinci Code, but the hidden messages in the Harry Potter code.

I had told them that author J.K. Rowling had put herself into the Harry Potter novels, that Harry’s school friend Hermione clearly was Rowling’s alter-ego.

“What makes you say so?” asked Shor, 8, a dyed-in-the-wool Harry Potter fan.

“Sometimes authors like to send messages with the names that they give to their characters,” I suggested.  “Rowling picked simple names for her boy heroes—‘Harry’ and ‘Ron’—but a complex name for her girl heroine, ‘Hermione’” I said, adding for good measure: “look how similar the words ‘heroine’ and ‘Hermione’ are.”

“Yes, so?” asked my daughter, Sandi, suspiciously.

“Well look at how Hermione is spelled,” I said. ‘Her-mi-one.’  Pronounce ‘mi’ like the musical note and it is ‘me.’  Separate the name into its component parts and it means “Her” and “me” are “one.”

“Way cool!” Shor exclaimed.  You can’t help but love that boy!

“Not so fast,” demanded Sandi, who you’ve got to love despite her tendency to distrust some of her father’s stories.  “That sounds like the same kind of faulty reasoning that convinced Beatles fans that Paul was dead.   You know, he was wearing different clothes than the other Beatles on an album cover, so clearly he was no longer like them—he was dead—and all sorts of nonsense like that.”

I grinned shamefacedly.  When it comes to Harry Potter, I’ve decided that my daughter can do no wrong.  She turned Shor onto the series, transforming a boy who had to be coaxed into reading into one who now gobbles up books, even spurning programs on the Disney Channel and the Cartoon Network to read about Harry and the gang at the Hogwarts school.

Sandi is to Harry Potter books as I am to Star Trek movies and television episodes, I bragged to myself.  Some years ago, I got Shor interested in Star Trek, winning his attention with the original series, featuring Captain Kirk played by William Shatner.  Shor’s favorite character was Mr. Spock,the Vulcan portrayed by Leonard Nimoy.  Then it was onto Star Trek: The Next Generation, in which Patrick Stewart played Captain Jean Luc Picard.  Shor’s favorite character was Data, the android portrayed by Brent Spiner. 

Now we are almost finished watching all the episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine over which  Captain  Benjamin Sisko, played by Avery Brooks, reigns.  Shor’s favorite character is Odo, the shapeshifter played by Rene Auberjonois, although Quark, portrayed by Armin Shimerman, runs a close second because Shor met Shimerman in San Diego during the run of The Seafarer at the San Diego Rep. 

 My wife Nancy already has purchased for her “boys” Star Trek: Voyager, in which Voyager will be captained by Captain Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew).  I can’t wait to learn who Shor’s favorite character will be in that one.

I had never read the Harry Potter novels until Shor asked me to follow him into them, even as he had followed me into the Star Trek world.  His reasoning was both endearing and compelling: “It will give us more to talk about, grandpa.”

Star Trek DVD’s have the advantage of ‘pausability’’ Shor and I can stop action anywhere we want in an episode to discuss the questions being raised.   One of my favorite episodes came during the ‘Next Generation’ series when the only Klingon in Star Fleet, Worf  (Michael Dorn), was asked by a man from his world to join the Klingon cause and to forsake the Federation.   Shor and I talked about concepts of loyalty.  Here, said I, was Worf being asked to change his loyalty –in essence to switch sides from the Federation to the Klingon Empire.

Shor , a student at Soille San Diego Hebrew Day School, responded that Moses has switched his loyalties—from being an Egyptian prince to being a leader of the downtrodden Hebrews.

Besides Star Trek and Harry Potter, the stories of the Torah are among Shor’s favorite  literary reference points.

This most recent Passover, he had the opportunity to help his one-year-old cousin, Brian, search for the afikomen during a seder at our house.   Later in the week, visiting his great-grandfather Sam at the sprawling senior complex at the Ocean Hills Country Club, Shor and his brother, Sky, along with Brian, got to see what Christian kids do, participating with excitement in an Easter egg hunt.

Of course, the similarity between searching for the afikomen to later ransom and searching for an Easter egg to win a prize did not escape Shor.  Nor did he fail to note that in both Passover and Easter an egg symbolizes the renewal of life.

Whether in The Da Vinci Code, Pesach, Easter, Star Trek or Harry Potter, symbols are an important part of story telling.  I give Shor a thumb’s up for catching on.

Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World

Israel seeking to substitute personalities for foreign policy initiatives

April 6, 2010 Leave a comment

By Rabbi Dow Marmur 

Rabbi Dow Marmur

JERUSALEM — Mimouna is a colorful tradition that North African Jews brought to Israel. It celebrates the end of the festival of Passover. Activities include much public jollification and eating of post-Pesach dishes made from recipes from the old country. It has also become an occasion for Israeli right-wing politicians (who traditionally have courted Oriental Jews in contrast to the Socialist founders of the state who tended to ignore them) to make speeches of the kind Mimouna audiences would want to hear.

Early media reports this year had much to say about the celebrations in the fast growing West Bank town of Ma’aleh Adumim, situated close to Jerusalem on the way to Jericho and the Dead Sea. The event was used by several government ministers to assure the local population that Ma’aleh Adumim was there to stay, irrespective of what the United States administration and the rest of the world may say about settlements.

One of the speakers this year was Israeli Ashkenazi chief rabbi Yona Metzger, presumably trying to make nice to the Orientals as a way of compensation for the ill treatment to which the Ashkenazi establishment, including the rabbinate, subjected the arrivals from North Africa in the earlier days of the state.

Metzger isn’t known for his talents for political analysis (or for many other talents for that matter). This time he couldn’t resist the temptation to support the government position by an original historic observation. He’s reported to have said that long before Columbus discovered America, King David discovered/founded Jerusalem. The inference is obvious: in the same way as the United States is to remain the one indivisible super-power in the world, so Jerusalem will remain the one and indivisible capital of Israel – with much greater seniority in making its case and challenging the US president.

All this would be quite irrelevant hadn’t these speeches appeared to seek to replace Israeli diplomacy. Instead of trying to find a way of coming to an understanding with President Obama and his administration, Israel’s government seems to believe that by rousing the crowds back home at jolly Mimouna celebrations it’s really responding to the diplomatic challenges that it’s currently facing.

The country’s most popular daily, Yediot Achronot, reported another diplomatic initiative of the same ilk. Prime Minister Netanyahu is said to have asked Elie Wiesel, the best known Jew of our time, to use his alleged friendship with President Obama to persuade the latter to be nice to Israel. For many centuries the ghetto used shtadlanim, go-betweens who were highly regarded by the Jews and useful to the local squire, to intervene on behalf of their coreligionists with the authorities.

If the newspaper report is correct, the prime minister of the sovereign Jewish state is resorting to a similar method instead of formulating a policy and showing diplomatic acumen to meet the new challenge. This is a far cry from the way Abba Eban made Israel’s case before the community of nations.

Trying to make sense of what seem to be reactions by the government to the demands of the United States to curb settlement expansion and building in Jerusalem, it’s difficult not to conclude that they reflect embarrassing ineptitude. Perhaps King Abdullah of Jordan wasn’t as wrong as we’d like him to be when he told the Wall Street Journal on the eve of his US visit that Israel is isolating itself in the way of North Korea.

Rabbi Marmur is spiritual leader emeritus of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto.  He now divides his time between Canada and Israel.

Remembering the true meaning of Passover

April 2, 2010 Leave a comment

By Rabbi Leonard Rosenthal

SAN DIEGO — On Passover some Jews obsess about chametz. They spend so much time worrying about Passover Kashrut that they forget what the holiday is all about.

One such Jew was Rabbi Yechiel of Kozmir. He was fixated on observing every single law of the holiday and ridding his house of any and all chametz. A few days before Passover he would draw water from a well far from the city and guard it in his home, lest any grains accidentally fall into the water he would drink during the holiday. Even after he scoured his floor, he would not put a sealed bottle of wine on it lest it becomes “contaminated.” On Yom Kippur he would be worrying about Pesach. When he put on his kittel he made sure that no bread crumbs fell on it after the fast.

To insure that the wheat for his matza did not become chametz before the holiday, he would put it in a sack, then put the sack in a barrel, then hoist and hang the entire assembly from a rope attached to his ceiling. In this way he made sure that not a drop of water might touch it and spoil it for the holiday.

One year he called in a mill worker to help him take down the sack so that the wheat could be baked into matzot. The worker reached into his pocket and took out a knife to cut the rope from which the wheat hung from the ceiling.

As soon as he saw the knife, Rabbi Yechiel began yelling at the worker: “You’re using a regular knife! You should use a Passover knife instead!”*

Someone standing nearby shook his head at all of Rabbi Yechiel’s stringencies. “Everyone needs to observe Pesach and rid their houses of chametz,” he said, “but adding restriction after restriction diminishes the joy of the holiday.” (Sipurei Chasidim II, p. 287)

I agree with this bystander. Keeping Kosher for Passover is important but should never become an end in itself. It is rather a means to an end. Ridding our homes of chametz and eating matza and the special foods of the holiday are the ways we are reminding ourselves that God redeemed our ancestors from slavery. In the words of the Haggadah, “now some are still enslaved, next year may all be free,” and that we must work toward the day when all human beings will be free from all that still enslaves them and reduces the quality of their lives today.

This is the true message of Passover.

*The knife used to cut the rope comes nowhere near the wheat, and so does not have to be kosher at all.


Rabbi Rosenthal is spiritual leader of Tifereth Israel Synagogue in San Diego

Obama watchers compare him to each of the four sons at a seder

April 1, 2010 Leave a comment

By Rabbi Dow Marmur

JERUSALEM– According to Israeli media commenting on the by now annual PR gimmick called The White House Seder, President Obama suffers from multiple personality disorder. He has been cast in the role of each of the four sons of the Hagadah.

He’s wise. By putting pressure on Israel he’s winning the hearts and minds of the Muslim world, which is essential for winning the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions. As extra reward he’ll help to bring about peace in the Middle East that in turn will bring prosperity to the whole region with Israel at the center.

He’s wicked. His middle name isn’t Hussein for nothing. He has abandoned the traditional American commitment to Israel and decided to side with our enemies. The “self-hating” Jews in his entourage have helped him to encourage the Palestinian Authority to refuse to talk to Israel and probably also justified the resumption of terrorism against the Jewish state and its citizens.

He’s simple. His hope of bringing Israelis and Palestinians together is naïve because the latter neither want nor can come to the negotiating table. Victimhood has become the stance of choice for all Palestinians, coupled with the myth of conquering the whole country and sending the Jews packing. Moreover, they’re so divided among themselves that, as the often used phrase has it, “there’s no partner.”

He doesn’t know how to ask. He’s inexperienced in matters of international politics and ignorant of the history of the Middle East. He confuses rhetoric with political savvy and therefore is likely to fail also in Iran – to the detriment of the United States and the great risk to Israel. To endure its pain Israel has to rally Diaspora Jewry and hold tight for the next three years until another administration takes over in Washington.  

Which of the four images you come to stress will depend on your political orientation. The wise son belongs to Meretz, the only left-wing Zionist party in the Knesset. But it has only three seats, which may partly account for Obama’s extremely low approval rate among Israelis.

The wicked son is the sworn enemy of a number of right-wing parties in Israel’s coalition government. One way of responding to his evil machinations is to appeal directly to the American people, particularly to the evangelicals among them, for they’re Israel’s most faithful allies.

The simple son is favored by the political center. No, Obama is no enemy of Israel and he means well, but he got it all wrong. With careful handling and better lobbying in Washington it may be possible to make him see the light and realize that the status quo in Israeli-Palestinian relations is the best we can hope for until the Palestinians put their house in order and has responsible and amenable leaders.

 The son who doesn’t know how to ask has to be enlightened and patiently tutored. Once again, effective lobbying coupled with skillful public relations should do the trick.

 For most Israelis Obama seems to be all four sons at the same time. Each of the versions is flawed so that the total picture isn’t creatively complex but just confused. Not being able to stem the current flood known as American foreign policy, Israel must learn to live under water and hold its breath until it can surface again. But no need to panic! We’ve been there before and survived; we’ll do so again. Pesach celebrates redemption.

Marmur is spiritual leader emeritus of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto.  He now divides his time btween Canada and Israel.

Something of a holiday lull descends over Israel

April 1, 2010 Leave a comment
By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–This is the season sacred to both Jews and Christians.

Passover and Easter are arguably the formative events of both communities. To this skeptic, there is no chance that the Easter story of resurrection is historically accurate. There may have been some historical incidents behind the biblical story of the Exodus, but no archaeologist has yet uncovered any sign of them. The parting of the Red Sea looked great on the silver screen, but there were no cameras to record the original. The giving of the Torah to Moses is as significant for Judaism as is the resurrection for Christianity, and about as doubtful.

Whether historically true or not, both holidays provide us with thrilling stories that touch eternal values. Freedom is the essence of Passover; rebirth and salvation the message of Easter. There are spiritual overlaps in those messages, and Easter depends on Passover. The Last Supper may have been a Seder, and it was on account of creating a disturbance in Jerusalem and at the Temple amidst the crowds coming for holiday sacrifices that Jesus got into his final troubles.

This year the holidays are providing a bit of quiet. The Jewish government is on leave for family vacations and avoiding a response to the most recent demands of its American nemesis, and the Americans are allowing the holidays to pass without public reprimands for tardiness.

We should not expect complete peace until the end of days, but that is more a Christian notion than a Jewish one.

The Russians have been reminded of terror. I have not heard of Israeli officials offering help on this occasion. Perhaps that will come when the Jews go back to work, or they may remember the last time they offered assistance, and were rebuffed. The Russians insist that their terror is not like Israel’s, caused by unjust occupation. They should listen to my friend Igor, who said this morning that the Caucasus is as occupied as the West Bank, and its people deserve freedom every bit as much as the Palestinians.

There is also commotion closer to these fingers. Some of takes the form of traffic jams as Israelis clog the roads to Jerusalem for their sacred purposes, and to the Galilee for family holidays.

Think of what it was like driving home from a Seder, when the roads were crowded by drivers filled with at least four glasses of wine.

There continues an uptick in Palestinian demonstrations. They focus on the security barrier, the more general theme of occupation, fantasies that Israelis are about to destroy al-Aqsa mosque and expel Arabs from East Jerusalem, or protests about injuries and deaths suffered at earlier demonstrations that got out of hand.

The ostensible leaders of the West Bank have embarked on what they call legitimate, peaceful demonstrations against Israeli occupation, asserting that they are employing refurbished Palestinian security forces to keep the protests within bounds.

There has been a lot of stone throwing, but so far no suicide bombing.

Land Day is an annual event marking a protest in 1976 over land expropriation, which resulted in the killing of six Palestinians and the wounding of many more by the Israeli army and police. This year the march through the Galilee town of Sakhnin attracted an estimated 10,000 participants, including Arab and some Jewish Members of Knesset. The many Palestinian flags were not a reason for police intervention. The crowd was peaceful until a few individuals, with heads covered in the style of terrorists, waved pictures of Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and Imad Mughniyeh. Mughniyeh was assassinated in Damascus in 2008, perhaps by Israeli operatives. That produced a televised beating of the picture wavers by other participants in the march.

Next week we return to normalcy, but then comes a two week period that includes Israel’s day to commemorate the Holocaust, a Memorial Day to honor security personnel and civilians killed in wars or terror attacks, and Israel Independence Day. We’ll be noticing if the holiday quiet so far honored on the Washington front continues through an extended hiatus, and if Palestinian efforts to demonstrate peacefully stay within their designated format.

May your holidays be peaceful as well as inspiring.

Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University

President Obama continues new White House seder tradition

March 30, 2010 Leave a comment

By Gary Rotto

SAN DIEGO–I picked up my brisket for my Seder and little didn’t realize that I would be in good company.  While the White House chef was not in the Kosher section at Ralphs, apparently the First Cook had a brisket ordered for the first night of Passover.  According to the White House, brisket will be the main course for the now annual Seder.

This is the third year in a row that the Obamas have hosted or participated in a seder.  As widely reported, the tradition began in 2008 in the basement of a Pennsylvania hotel, during the time of the Democratic Primary election.  As the story goes, after the “Next Year in Jerusalem” phrase was said, Senator Obama added, “Next Year in the White House!”  And while not a true promise, now President Obama kept this wish by hosting the first White House Seder on record.

The tradition continues this year with what the New York Times calls, “one of the newest, most intimate and least likely of White House traditions”.  According to Shin Inouye with the White House Press Office, the President and the First Lady hosted the event for key staffers.   And the official menu included:

Gelfilte Fish


Chicken Soup with Matzo Balls

Braised Beef Brisket

Chicken Roast

Sweet Potato-Carrot Tzimmes

Carrot Soufflé


Spring Asparagus

Flourless Chocolate Cake

Golden Apricot Cake

Brown Sugar Macaroons

 It is impressive that heads of state, machers of the Jewish community or even Jewish congressional representatives were not on the guest list.  Rather, an intimate collection of the First Family and close staff – Jews and Gentiles, Anglos and African-Americans participated. Other than the fact that the Maxwell House Haggadah was the guide of choice and that the Seder took place in the Old Family Dining Room, the White House did not release very much information.  And that is because this was a private and very intimate function.   As much as a President’s life is very public, this private event has to have a public component – that being the confirmation of the event by the White House and the official photo.  Do the guests bring a special tradition from their own past Seders?  What about a unique prayer for freedom like those added during the age of the Soviet Refusnik movement?  We do not know.

There have been a few conservative critics who question Obama’s motives because the seder is not kosher.  But as I checked around town, I found many seders, such as the Urban Seder at the Urban Solace Restaurant that are kosher “style” rather than kosher.  Some have said that this insensitive, not serving a kosher meal.  But I don’t know that any of the guests kept kosher or wanted to do so.  Rather, they were delighted to continue their legitimate practice with close colleagues as a way to celebrate freedom as Jews and as Americans. 

Inasmuch as I do keep kosher, I guess I can wait until I’m invited to the seder at some future date to worry about the level of kashrut in the White House.  Oh, Mr. President, can you save one of those brown sugar macaroons for me? 

Rotto is a freelance writer and political activist in San Diego.

The reasons we don’t eat kitniot during Pesach

March 26, 2010 1 comment

SAN DIEGO — In the weeks before Pesach I am asked more questions about one topic more than anything else: kitniot. Kitniot are vegetables and grains that Ashkenazic Jews avoid eating during Pesach even though they are not chametz.

“Kitniot” are often erroneously translated as “legumes.” However, while most legumes are kitniot (i.e., beans and peas), there are also kitniot that are not legumes (i.e., rice and corn).

In general, kitniot are vegetables or grains (other than wheat, rye, barley, oats, or spelt) that were once ground into flour and used for baking. Ashkenazic rabbinic authorities forbade them lest someone using rice flour might think that it was also permitted to use wheat flour, which is chametz. It was kind of a guilt by association. Further complicating matters is that some oils from kitniot (such as peanut oil) are permitted by some authorities while the kitniot themselves (peanuts) are forbidden.
So strong was the prohibition that even New World foods, such as corn which was unknown to European Ashkenazic authorities, were forbidden, “lest an error be made.” In recent years Quinoa, a grain from Peru, was at first permitted but is increasingly being prohibited by Orthodox Ashkenazic authorities. Why? “Lest an error be made.”

It is clear that any and all prohibitions against eating Kitniot during Passover are customs and not law. This is made even clearer by the fact that most Sefardic Jews do eat kitniot during Pesach, and many of their menus include beans and rice. (Kosher l’Pesach humous, anyone?)

Further complicating the matter is that in recent years the Orthodox Ashkenazic Rabbinate in Israel has begun permitting kitniot during Passover, though American authorities continue to forbid them. If you shop at The Place or another kosher market you will often see Passover foods from Israel marked “Kosher for Pesach for those who eat kitniot.” Since this marking is often in Hebrew it is often not recognized by local Ashkenazic Jews who are still trying to avoid kitniot, who buy them and most likely enjoy them.

Does all of this kitniot business sound confusing? It is! I often squirm when explaining kitniot because not only are the customs of kitniot mystifying and inconsistent, but once people understand them, the reasons for the restrictions seem foolish!

Who in their right mind would ever confuse rice or corn with wheat?

Kitniot have long been a bone of contention in my home. Judy (who wishes she could convert to being a Sefardic Jew) thinks the ban on kitniot is ridiculous and wants to eat them on  Pesach. I agree that the ban on kitniot is ridiculous but I don’t want to eat them on Pesach. Why? Because it’s a tradition! I am so used to avoiding them that I can’t bring myself to eat them. It just wouldn’t seem right.

So far we are maintaining the status quo at home (no kitniot) but I can’t say that one day I will not be convinced to do otherwise…or move to Israel!

Rabbi Rosenthal is the spiritual leader of Tifereth Israel Synagogue in San Diego.

When a noted philanthropist went broke

March 25, 2010 Leave a comment

By Rabbi Baruch Lederman

Rabbi Baruch Lederman

SAN DIEGO–Rabbi Yosef Charif of Slonim was known for his sharpness and insight. Every year as Pesach approached, he received a multitude of queries concerning the intricate laws of the
holiday.  One year, he received a distressed looking woman on Erev Pesach morning, asking for an audience with the Rabbi. The Rabbi ushered her into his study.
The woman was none other than the wife of R’ Nota Hirsch.  R’ Nota was a successful businessman and a prominent active member of the Jewish community. He was one of the  biggest philanthropists in the entire region.
“Rabbi,” she began, “I am at my wits end. My husband has suffered severe business setbacks that have wiped him out. He has no money left – not a one cent.”
“I am so sorry to hear this,” responded Rabbi Charif, “I didn’t know a thing about it.”
“That’s just it,” she explained, “He is too humiliated to let anyone know. For years, we have always had the pleasure of contributing generously to the mitzvah of Maos Chittim  (Passover food for the needy), and now I do not even have the ability to provide for our own Pesach – and the first Seder is tonight. I do not know what to do, I cannot ask anyone for help – my husband’s pride would be devastated. I didn’t even tell him that I was coming here.”
The Rabbi mulled over the problem for a few moments and came up with an idea, “Tell your husband that tonight in shul, when he greets me after services, he should whisper in my ear.”
“Why should he do that?”
“You must trust me and do as I say. Make sure he whispers in my ear.”
That night, the synagogue was packed with people, all dressed in their YomTov (holiday) finery. Everyone was radiant with happiness and holiday spirit, looking forward to the  Seder they would enjoy at home with their families that evening. As was customary, each went up to the front to personally greet the Rabbi.
When R’ Nota Hirsch went up to greet the Rabbi, he followed his wife’s instructions (though neither he nor she had any idea why), and whispered into the Rabbi’s ear, “Gut YomTov  (happy holiday) Rabbi. Happy Pesach.”
Upon hearing this, the Rabbi jumped up and said in a loud voice, “Oy vey! I am so sorry to tell you this. It is all chometz (not kosher for Passover). It is all chometz!”
Everyone in the shul heard this and assumed that R’ Nota was describing some accidental occurrence that took place in their kitchen, and asking the Rabbi to rule whether or not it
was kosher. Immediately one of the onlookers said, “Don’t worry R’ Nota, I have extra matzo in my house, I will bring you over some so that at least you will have matzo for the  Seder.” Another piped up, “We have extra wine, I will bring some over so you can drink the Four Cups.” Another man chimed, “My wife made plenty of extra chicken soup, we will  bring you over some for the Seder meal.”
Word of the “kashrus accident” spread throughout the town. There was literally a stream of people coming throughout the night, each bringing a dish or two, from fish to salad to  soup to honey cake. By the time the night was over, they had enough food for a week. Thanks to the Rabbi’s wisdom and sensitivity, no one knew or even suspected anything about the family’s severe financial straits.
In the coming months, things turned around completely. By the next Pesach, R’ Nota Hirsch was restored to his original wealth – only now, he was even more grateful to Hashem  (G-d) and more philanthropic than ever.

Dedicated anonymously on the occasion of the 2nd Yahrtzeit of the Rosh Yeshiva ztl, Moreinu V’Rabbeinu HoRav Alter Chanoch Henoch HaKohain Leibowitz.

Rabbi Lederman is spiritual leader of Congregation Kehillas Torah in San Diego.