Archive | October, 2019

Yapchik: oven-cooked ‘Hungarian cholent’

Yapchik: oven-cooked ‘Hungarian cholent’

Posted on 31 October 2019 by admin

Photo: Emanuelle Lee
Yapchik is the ultimate comfort food.

By Emanuelle Lee
Yapchik is made up of two layers of golden, crispy potato cake — very similar to a kugel — that sandwich a layer of meat. As the fall days get colder, it will welcome you and your guests home like a hug, and warm you up from the inside out. Yapchik has been referred to as a “Hungarian cholent” because it is traditionally cooked in the oven overnight and, while my recipe is a faster version, I have included instructions below for how to do this.
Developing this recipe made me feel closer to the Hungarian grandfather I never knew and brought back memories of the cooking my paternal grandmother spoiled me with as a kid. She celebrated family by always making sure each family member’s favorite dish was available to them — it’s amazing to think of how much work she put into every family meal.
Her cooking methods were unorthodox. Like most Jewish grandmothers, she had an innate sense of what her food needed, despite having no recipe or measurement in sight. I like the idea that my two grandparents came from different sides of the world — from Hungary and Britain — who would have dined on much different cuisines and would have been able to connect over the flavors of this hybrid dish. I think of them both as the yapchik bubbles and crisps, filling the air of my little apartment with its hearty aroma.
Ingredients:
2 medium white onions, very finely chopped
8 large russet potatoes
1 pound flanken steak, cut into small cubes
6 eggs
¾ cup plus 3 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup water
1 tablespoon Telma onion soup powder (optional)
Salt
Black pepper
Directions:

  1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Season the meat with a pinch of salt and pepper. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large pan and sear the meat on all sides. Set aside and leave to cool slightly. This stage is optional but adds a lot of flavor to the dish.
  3. Peel the potatoes and shred them with the larger side of a grater or on the grate blade of a food processor.
  4. In a large mixing bowl, combine the eggs, ¾ cup olive oil, water and a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Add the grated potato, finely chopped onions, onion soup powder and seared meat. Mix well.
  5. Pour the mixture into an oval or rectangular baking dish (approximately 9 by 12 inches).
  6. Bake for 3 hours uncovered.
  7. For the overnight version: Repeat steps 1-5. Bake at 400 degrees for 40 minutes uncovered, then reduce the temperature to 190 degrees and tightly cover the dish with aluminum foil. Bake for another 6-8 hours. If you want the top to be crispy, bake uncovered for the last hour of baking.
    This recipe originally appeared on The Nosher.

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Why you should cook chicken soup in the oven

Why you should cook chicken soup in the oven

Posted on 31 October 2019 by admin

Photo: Rachel Myerson
Matzo ball soup, fresh from the oven.

By Rachel Myerson
My mom serves matzo ball soup every Friday night (#momgoals), and she’s always made it in the oven. When I left home and found myself without my weekly fix, I called her for the recipe and followed suit. I didn’t realize that this was unusual until I was well into my 20s — sure, I’d never heard of anyone doing the same, but the soup was so great I didn’t stop to question it.
As I began research for this article, I understood just how unusual our method is. While there are numerous recipes that call for roasting the chicken before adding it to the stock and boiling on the stove, there are very few that cook the entire soup in the oven. In fact, my mom doesn’t even know the original source of this method — only that my grandma did the same. The recipe has never been written down, just passed down the generations by word-of-mouth, so its inception will always remain a mystery.
If this is your first time coming across oven-cooked chicken soup, allow me to introduce you. It is superior for four main reasons:
It gives the soup a rounded, distinct depth of flavor, a sort of stew-like back note that is oh so comforting.
It gives the soup an incredible bronze color that looks so tempting and reflects the complexity of its taste.
It’s so easy! You just stick it in the oven and forget about it until it’s done.
The oven ensures even cooking at a constant temperature, and because it’s so low (300 degrees) the chicken won’t get dry — even the breast, as it essentially poaches.
Also, the vegetables in the soup (specifically carrots and rutabaga) make for great baby food when cooked this way — they’re soft enough to mush and infused with all that Jewish penicillin goodness. I’m convinced that this is the reason I rarely got sick as a kid.
This method will undoubtedly add something new to your go-to chicken soup but, of course, the results will only be as good as your recipe. To ensure success, make sure you follow these tips:
Begin the recipe on the stove — just until the soup has come to a boil and you’ve had a chance to skim off any scum that floats to the top (about 30 minutes).
Cook at 300 degrees for five hours. Don’t skimp — it needs time to develop the flavor.
If serving matzo balls, cook them in the soup at a simmer just before serving.
Note: A crockpot is NOT an oven substitute — I tried it once and it was nowhere near as good.
If you want to recreate my soup exactly (which is basically my mom’s recipe simplified slightly to accommodate for my lazier cooking habits), follow the recipe below.
Ingredients:
2 large leeks
7 carrots, peeled
2 onions (leave skins on if you’re lazy, though my mother never would)
2 sticks of celery
1 rutabaga, peeled
1 chicken (skin off if you don’t like fat floating on top of your soup – though I personally love it)
2 cartons of chicken stock plus 1+ quart water
Salt, according to how salty your stock is
Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
  2. Place all ingredients into a large heavy-bottomed pan or Dutch oven. Ensure there’s enough liquid to cover — top with more water if necessary.
  3. Bring to a boil uncovered on the stove, skimming any scum off the top. After 30 minutes, cover and place into oven. Cook for five hours.
  4. Once cooled, strain the soup. Discard the celery. Shred the chicken breast and cut the carrots into thick slices, then add back into the soup. Either add the leeks and rutabaga back into the soup or squeeze them through a fine strainer to release their juice, then discard the remaining pulp.
    Note: If you refrigerate the soup overnight, the fat will solidify on top, which makes it easy to remove — if you choose to. I usually do, then use it to make matzo balls. Serves 10.
    This recipe originally appeared on The Nosher.

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Q&A with Thomasin McKenzie

Q&A with Thomasin McKenzie

Posted on 31 October 2019 by admin

By Susan Kandell Wilkofsky

I was fortunate to meet with Thomasin McKenzie, who plays Elsa, the Jewish girl hidden in the wall of JoJo’s house. A native of Wellington, New Zealand, she has a lovely lilting accent and is quite articulate for a girl of 19. We met met briefly the evening of “JoJo Rabbit’s” press screening at the Angelika/Dallas and then in a more formal setting the next day. Below is a modified transcript of my interview with Thomasin.

Susan Kandell Wilkofsky: So good to see you again Thomasin! This interview today is for the Texas Jewish Post and because of the subject matter of the film, you know that means I have a lot of questions to ask you.

TM: Yes, I’m sure!

SKW: When you initially read the script, was it something you absolutely wanted to do or did you have some apprehension about playing Elsa?

Thomasin McKenzie: From the very beginning, it was something that I really, really wanted to do, not just because of the opportunity to work with Taika and the whole cast, but also because it is such an important story and a story we should never stop telling. But at the same time I was very nervous because it’s a role that represents many people. So I always knew that if I did get the opportunity to play Elsa, I would take the preparation very seriously and I wanted to be informed about her background.

SKW: Talking about preparation, what research did you do? Did you read the book that it was based upon?

TM: Taika did get inspiration from the book (“Caging Skies”) but he made it his own. And because the stories are different, I didn’t want to get confused, so instead of reading the book, I did a lot of research. I gathered as much information as possible on World War II and the Holocaust, as much as I could. I wanted to go into filming, knowing my stuff, knowing what I was talking about and to feel like I had a bit of confidence to play the character.

SKW: Yesterday we talked about Anne Frank’s diary. Was it part of the curriculum when you went school in New Zealand?

TM: I definitely learned about World War II and the Holocaust in school. I did read Anne Frank’s diary, and a lot of books with similar stories. I felt like those were compulsory research for me — that I had to do it if I was to take on this role. I wouldn’t have felt comfortable had I not read those books. I also spent a lot of time in the Jewish quarter in Prague and in synagogues and we went to Theresienstadt (concentration camp). Taking on a role like this, you have to approach it with sensitivity and take it seriously. Even though it’s a comedy is still a very real story.

SKW: I thought you portrayed Elsa with a great deal of sensitivity. I read that your mother is an actress, did she give you any advice?

TM: No. I’m not someone who has the best memory for that kind of stuff! So I think just being around her and my dad and grandmother, I learned a lot through osmosis!

SKW: Do you have any younger siblings?

TM: Yes! A younger sister.

SKW: Did that help you relate to Jojo?

TM: Yes, it did. My sister is the same age as Roman (JoJo) and she was with me for the first week in Prague. When she went back to New Zealand, I missed her a lot. So I kind of transferred that missing onto Roman and claimed him as my little brother.

SKW: Was Taika open to improv? What was it like to take directions from someone in a Hitler suit?

TM: Taika had a very specific kind of idea of what he wanted the film to be and how he wanted to make it. I mean, he had a blueprint and he had the script. The script is perfect from the beginning. And with my role and Roman’s role and maybe some of the more grounded roles, we stuck to the script and didn’t change it much. But I think with the more comedic roles, they definitely did a lot of improv. I remember even if I didn’t have a scene to film, sometimes I would just be on set watching every single take they did. They always came up with something new, something different to say, which was so cool to watch! They were very quick on their feet and witty. Kind of genius, comedy gold, which was really kind of inspiring to me. What I mostly remember of Taika directing as Hitler, was what he was wearing while directing. It was so hot while we were filming in Prague in the studio, he would take off the top layer of his ugly, Hitler uniform and underneath was his fat suit.

SKW: That must have been interesting! (We both laugh). Many Jews feel that it is never OK to laugh at such a serious subject. Certainly other filmmakers have attempted that — with success. How did you feel about that?

TM: I understand why they feel that way; their families, their ancestors, their people have been through so many hardships. of course. And so I understand that for them, this is obviously going to be very sensitive. I know that this film is never meant to make fun of or insult them in any way. Taika is Jewish himself and this is a story that’s very close to his heart. It means a lot to him.

SKW: Thank you so much Thomasin. I enjoyed meeting you — twice. Good luck to you.

TM: Nice meeting you as well!

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‘Jojo Rabbit:’ brazen, serious and very, very funny

‘Jojo Rabbit:’ brazen, serious and very, very funny

Posted on 31 October 2019 by admin

First still from the set of WW2 satire, JOJO RABIT. (From L-R): Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) has dinner with his imaginary friend Adolf (Writer/Director Taika Waititi), and his mother, Rosie (Scarlet Johansson). Photo by Kimberley French. © 2018 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

By Susan Kandell Wilkofsky

“Jojo Rabbit,” which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2019 (where it won the People’s Choice Award), is the highly controversial comedy/satire from the brilliant mind of New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi (“Hunt for the Wilderpeople,” “Thor: Ragnarok”). The story revolves around Jojo Betzler (marvelous newcomer Roman Griffin Davis), a 10-year-old boy living in Nazi Germany during World War II. He is in training to be a soldier at a Nazi Youth Camp led by the inept Captain Klenzendorf (the always fabulous Sam Rockwell). After being ridiculed by his superiors for not being able to kill a rabbit, which is then followed by an unfortunate accident, Jojo is forced to spend more time at home, where he makes a startling discovery. Hidden behind the walls of a room upstairs is Elsa (a lovely Thomasin McKenzie), a Jewish teenager aided by Jojo’s mother Rosie (a radiant Scarlett Johansson). Needing advice and a surrogate father, Jojo turns to his imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler. Taika Waititi has not only adapted the book and directed the film, he turns in a zany performance as Adolf Hitler. Preposterous, you say? No, just very Waititi.
Did you read that right? A comedy about the Nazis, written by, directed by and starring a Jew? This is hardly the first time politically incorrect humor has been brought to the screen. In the documentary “The Last Laugh,” director Ferne Pearlstein explored whether the Holocaust can ever be an appropriate topic for humor. Speaking with survivors and well-respected comedians, each was asked if it was ever acceptable to make jokes about the Nazi death camps. Three conclusions were drawn; 1. That the Holocaust was probably still off-limits, but making fun of Nazis is perfectly admissible (as in “Springtime for Hitler”). 2. If you do make a joke about a dark subject, it better be exceedingly witty. 3. Only Jews can actually deliver the jokes. Remember the “Yada Yada” Seinfeld episode? It specifically dealt with that concept. When Jerry’s dentist (Bryan Cranston) converted to Judaism, Jerry suspected he did it only “for the jokes.”
Using the above metrics, screenplay writer and director Taika Waititi has all his bases covered in “Jojo Rabbit.” He mercilessly skewers Nazis; the humor is unabashedly funny and he’s Jewish! Although his father is Maori, his mother is of Russian Jewish heritage. Even his tweets are humorous. He took to Twitter to share, “What better way to insult Hitler than having him portrayed by a Polynesian Jew?”
“Jojo Rabbit” was inspired by the novel “Caging Skies,” written by Christine Leunens in 2008. Waititi’s mother, a New Zealand native whose Russian Jewish family immigrated to New Zealand in the early 1900s, read the book and recapped the story for Taika. According to producer Carthew Neal, “When Taika read it, he realized it was more serious than he’d imagined, but had the heart and gravity required in this kind of story. He was then able to springboard from this, adding his special touches and bring it into his comic and tonal universe.” Waititi, recognizing that the book was essentially more of a drama, felt that if he was to tackle this delicate subject, he had to infuse his own personality and style into it. “That meant more fantastical elements and obviously more humor, creating a kind of dance between drama and satire.”
“Jojo Rabbit,” which bills itself as an “anti-hate satire,” may not be everyone’s idea of what is funny. Humor is a markedly personal subject. But I adhere to the concept that every book, every film — just about all methods of communication have the potential to teach us something. Taika Waititi, through his unique comedic style, has seized a very difficult episode in history and transformed it into an uplifting, positive story. He does not overlook the horrors of the war, but does remind us that the future is hopeful. As a master manipulator of emotions, Waititi will have you laughing one moment and crying the next.

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‘Race’ is a 4-letter word

Posted on 31 October 2019 by admin

Whoever we are and whatever we do in life, we are all being asked, many times over the years, to choose our race from a given list.
It may be a job application, health insurance or medical form, driver’s and marriage licenses, or school form; the list goes on and on.
No matter what justification is sometimes given, such as the need to identify individuals having a predisposition to certain diseases, the true purpose may lie elsewhere.
As recently reported in The New York Times marriage announcement section, a couple applying for a marriage license in Virginia refused to provide their race on the marriage license application, of which there were 200 choices including Aryan, Mulatto, Nubian and Octoroon (a person who is one-eighth black by descent).
The couple found the terms to be offensive and scientifically baseless.
They joined a class-action lawsuit which resulted in Virginia’s attorney general ordering court clerks to eliminate the “race” requirement.
Georgia and Louisiana, however, continue to require “racial information.”
We should never forget the use of racial profiling by Adolf Hitler and his attempt to create a superior Aryan race by eliminating those he deemed “inferior” such as Jews; Roma, also known as Gypsies; etc.
Who among the non-Jewish German population spoke up as their Jewish neighbors were disappearing during the Holocaust?
The “alt-right” White Nationalists, KKK, American Nazi Party and their ilk thrive on the concept of racial superiority. They even have referred to Jews as a race rather than a religion.
Renowned sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois, more than 100 years ago, expressed concern that race was being used as a biological term for what he felt were actually social and cultural differences.
The greater science community today agrees. Scientific scholars state that racial concepts in genetic research need to go.
Many people today, as they investigate their ancestry, are realizing for the first time that their family roots reveal a multiethnic heritage.
There has historically been tremendous assimilation through the centuries of various ethnic groups. There is no “pure” or unmixed group.
We should celebrate our ethnic heritage, whatever it may be, and bury the racial stereotypes forever.

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Feel adrift? Fight to reconnect with Judaism

Posted on 31 October 2019 by admin

As any member of the clergy can attest, one of the greatest blessings of serving the community is the opportunity to be with families day after day, year after year, at key moments in their lives. Jewish tradition suggests that the joys of b’nei mitzvah, weddings, baby namings, b’rit milah and more offer us a sample of olam haba (the world to come). And even funerals, as difficult as they can be for all of us, often contain a certain sacred beauty as we experience the wisdom of people’s diverse lives. The repetition of facilitating these rituals not only teaches us about people, but also offers us a unique perspective on Jewish text and tradition. When you experience lifecycle moments over and over again, you begin to notice patterns in our tradition.
Often at key moments in life, Jewish tradition counsels us to respond in seemingly contradictory ways to how we naturally feel. At weddings, a time of immense joy, we break the glass to recall Jerusalem’s destruction; at funerals when perhaps we’re most upset at God we’re directed to praise: (Baruch Dayan HaEmet) Blessed is God, the true judge! This habit of contradiction nudges us toward gratitude when we could easily overindulge, or pulls us back toward our Creator and to life when we might slip into darkness. Jewish texts and rituals help us regain a sense of balance through life’s unpredictable ups and downs
Parashat Noah, one of the earliest texts of the Torah, what scholars call our primeval history, foreshadows this guidance. As we sadly can relate, major natural disasters change our lives and change us. The flood changed Noah and his relationship with God. After the flood we read in Genesis: “Noah removed the cover of the ark and saw that the face of the earth had dried.” (8:13) Noah looks out and sees that the flood is over, but he’s stunned by God’s destruction and doesn’t move. Only God’s call to Noah brings him back to action. “God spoke to Noah, saying: ‘Go out from the ark . . .’” (8:15–16)
Midrash Rabbah teaches that in this verse God says “go out,” meaning “Bring my soul out of captivity” (Psalm 142:8) — this means Noah, who was imprisoned in the ark for 12 months…. “Because You delivered me” (ibid.) — that You delivered me [says Noah] and said to me: Go out from the ark. (Genesis Rabbah 34:1). According to the rabbis, Noah became accustomed to life in prison [life in the ark] and he needed a nudge back to reality, and also that Noah became complacent because God was delivering him because of his grace — so God reminded Noah of his own responsibility for himself. In other words, Noah shouldn’t expect God to free him from the ark; he must get up and go himself.
Given that Noah witnessed God’s massive power — to bring floods, to destroy the earth, to select just one family to save among millions of people — it could be easy for Noah to throw up his hands and expect an all-powerful God to take him to his next step. But Torah says different. It’s up to Noah to begin rebuilding, to again become a partner with God in furthering creation. Noah affirms this relationship with God as well, as we read: “Then Noah built an altar to God, and took from among all the clean animals and from among all the pure birds, and offered burnt offerings on the altar.” (8:20)
Parashat Noah serves as a reminder for us to strive to rekindle our relationship with God and leverage that relationship to find a sense of balance in a world of extremes. At the times when it’s most likely for us to drift away from Jewish meaning, that’s when we should do our best to reconnect. Especially in the weeks ahead as we act to rebuild neighborhoods, we can look to each other, our neighbors and God for this exact guidance and perspective.
Rabbi Daniel Utley has served Temple Emanu-El since 2016 where he aspires to help millennials, teens, and interfaith families find joy, meaning, and connection through Jewish life. He is a member of the Rabbinic Association of Greater Dallas.

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Halacha: walking in step with the Torah

Posted on 31 October 2019 by admin

Dear Rabbi,
I have heard the term “halacha” as the Hebrew word for Jewish law. Does the word literally mean Jewish law, because I thought it means “to walk”?
Moe L., Plano
Dear Moe,
You are right, “halacha” literally means “to walk.” It also is the word the Sages use to refer to Jewish law. The Torah often refers to the fulfillment of God’s commandments as “walking” with His statutes. The fact that our Sages chose precisely that word to describe Jewish law carries a profound message about the nature of Jewish law and our relationship to it.
As we’ve said many times in these columns, the Torah is not a “religion” per se, rather a way of life. Judaism isn’t something you do in a synagogue, rather it’s a system which permeates every aspect of our lives. There are vast volumes of Torah laws, halacha, governing business and legal affairs and every area of public and private life — in addition to the rituals between man and God.
In this way Judaism teaches that wherever one “walks,” that arena can be fused with spirituality and holiness. In the “Shema,” we are exhorted to speak these words, “while sitting in your home, while walking along the way, when you lie down and rise up.”
There is a fascinating teaching which punctuates this idea. The words and letters of the Tablets given to Moses at Sinai were carved all the way through the stone. Naturally, the words should be backward if one would see them from the back of the Tablets. God, however, performed a miracle by which the carved words could be read from either side. Why did God need to perform this miracle? What is the message?
Rabbi S. R. Hirsch explains the message of this miracle was to teach us that a Jew needs to act as a Jew no matter which way he turns. One can’t be a Jew only in the synagogue. Whether in business or with the family, in the kitchen or the bedroom, we have halacha, which tells us how to “walk” and fuse our “walking” with the spirituality unique to our holy Torah.
I once read of an anti-Semite in czarist Russia who approached the local governor, seeking decrees against the Jews because they refuse to conform with society, teaching their people to be different. The governor instructed the man to go to the Jews’ cheder, children’s school, and see what they are teaching their children and to report back to him before deciding upon a decree. When this man spied on the cheder, he found the rebbe teaching his students the proper conduct of modesty in the bathroom and which blessing to recite upon leaving it. He smiled evilly, assured of success in his plot. Upon returning to the governor he exclaimed, “I really have those Jews now!” “What did you see?” asked the governor. “I saw their teacher talking about bathrooms!” “What? They have laws about bathrooms?” asked the governor, “Are you serious?” “Yes,” answered the man, “that’s exactly what he was teaching them!” he answered with a wicked smile. The governor retorted, “if they have laws even governing their conduct in a bathroom, this is truly a holy nation, and we must do what we can to protect them!”
Halacha is that which makes us holy and elevates us from among the other nations of the world!

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In face of tornado tragedy, community shines, grows

Posted on 31 October 2019 by admin

Dear Families,
What can I write that will be especially comforting to all who were affected by the Dallas tornadoes (and we were all affected in so many ways)? Minutes after the tornado took our roof, I was outside with neighbors as we checked on each other. After comforting and helping those I could, I walked with a friend up to the J (we live a block away) and we were so amazed and relieved to see our “second home” with thankfully relatively minimal damage inside, but of course the outside was a mess!
However, we not only survived but also have grown stronger with community support! A week has gone by and we continue to assess and see and hear more stories so as the “Shabbat Lady,” I must give you two pieces of Jewish wisdom:
•Judaism teaches with stories and it is our peoples story that has kept us alive and together. During this period of cleaning and fixing and healing, take time to tell your story and, especially, to listen to others — sharing provides comfort!
•This week we read the story of Noah — very apropos! There is much to learn and here are some important messages (from an anonymous source) that can not only teach a few lessons but also give us a few laughs (and it is so important to laugh even now!).
Lessons From Noah’s Ark
Don’t miss the boat.
Build on high ground.
If you can’t fight or flee — float!!
For safety’s sake, travel in pairs.
Stay below deck during the storm.
Don’t forget that we’re all in the same boat.
Don’t listen to critics — do what has to be done.
If you have to start over, have a friend by your side.
Plan ahead … it wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark.
Take care of your animals as if they were the last ones on earth.
When things get really deep, don’t sit there and complain — shovel!!!
Remember the woodpeckers. An inside threat is often bigger than the one outside.
Speed isn’t always an advantage. The cheetahs were on board but … so were the snails.
Stay fit. When you’re 600 years old, someone might ask you to do something REALLY big.

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Living faith: apply old practices in new ways

Posted on 31 October 2019 by admin

I’ve always loved fast days. Maybe because feeling the dedication and mourning in my empty stomach makes my abstract faith feel suddenly very tangible, or maybe because I love breaking the fast at the end. Probably a little of both. And with two major and four minor fast days throughout the year, I’m given ample opportunity to practice this tradition. But several years ago I decided I was hungry for more fasting and I added to my calendar two new fast days, Holocaust Memorial Day and what I’ve termed the “Fast of Rabin,” based on the Fast of Gedaliah, when we commemorate the devastating sixth-century BCE political assassination of one Jewish leader by another zealous Jew.
Friends of mine, especially those who’ve seen me down a pint of Ben and Jerry’s in one sitting, sometimes dismiss my new fasts as just another eccentricity. However, for me, dealing with these modern atrocities through ancient mourning practices is one of the ways that I keep my Judaism alive.
For of the many things I was blessed to learn at Levine Academy (Go Stallions), one of the most important lessons was that Judaism is not an artifact on the shelf to be dusted off and looked at once a year during the High Holy Days. Rather, Judaism is a way of life; it informs what we wear and what we eat, where we live and how we treat one another. And like any other “lifestyle,” Judaism must adapt to the needs of the era.
Many progressive Jews are indeed quick to praise Judaism for its capacity to change with the times. And as a young, gay, religious man I certainly agree with the praise. However, a lot of the change that has been made to Judaism by our modern movements is “negative change” — or rather, the removal of practices, commandments, and texts that are deemed incompatible with modern life. And while negative change, when done with correct intentions and through proper channels, is important, it must be accompanied by even greater “positive change” — the addition of practices, commandments and texts that will keep Judaism compatible in the 21st century.
Luckily, our ancient faith is so complex and generative that rather than re-inventing the wheel, positive change can come about simply by applying Judaism is new ways.
Among its endless blessings, including ones for seeing the wonders of nature and for every type of food and drink, is the “Shehecheyanu” prayer. Traditionally recited on holidays, it’s meant for any and all momentous occasions in our lives. It’s one of my favorite prayers and I’ve said it upon graduating from high school, making aliyah, drafting to the army, and when my best friend Mitch finished — for the first time in his life — watching all 10 seasons of “Friends,” a masterpiece of American culture.
On Sukkot, as we gather in our decorated huts and commemorate our ancestors’ wandering through the desert, we are presented with an opportunity to also tell the stories of the millions of refugees, asylum seekers, and migrant workers who live without shelter every day. And it’s an opportunity to collect vital funds for those on our southern border who have fled violence in their countries of origin only to find that the gates of America are instead the bars of a prison. For what good is our sacred heritage if it does not inform our policy, if we do not live it every day of our lives?
Luckily, there is great evidence of positive change within mainstream Judaism. A favorite of mine is, rather than removing references to our forefathers thereby stripping Judaism of its essential familial character, we’ve added our matriarchs and their stories to our daily prayers. And in the wake of the modern re-establishment of the State of Israel, a blessing for it was written and added, too.
Calling for the institution of two new fast days might seem like a lot. But by using the same ritual to mourn the Holocaust and the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin as we do the destruction of the Temple, we affirm these tragedies and ensure that their commemoration lasts for eternity.
As a citizen in the modern State of Israel, I’m blessed to see Judaism come to life before my very eyes on a daily basis. This coming year, may the ways of our people enliven us and give us purpose. Shanah Tovah.
Dallas native Matan Rudner made aliyah in August 2017 and serves as a Lone Soldier in the IDF.

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Dr. Lieberman merits Bnai Zion honor

Posted on 31 October 2019 by admin

When Bnai Zion honors Zeck Lieberman next Monday evening, I’ll be leading the cheers! Here’s why: Thirty-five years ago, when the words “breast cancer” were still spoken in whispers and mastectomy was the treatment of choice, I found a lump in my own right breast. I hadn’t been in Dallas long enough to know much about its medical community, but several women in our Jewish community steered me toward Dr. Lieberman.
Forty-plus years ago, when I lived in a suburb south of Chicago, Illinois built its Governors State University near my home. A woman I knew from synagogue became its research and reference librarian, and when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she decided to speak out about it. In her professional position, Mimi Kaplan studied her own disease, found that some new and different ideas about treatment were beginning to emerge, and organized a community conference on the subject. I covered it for the newspaper I worked for then, and what I learned resurfaced for me when I needed it myself.
Our cutting-edge Dr. Lieberman first acknowledged that my tumor was very small, so small that he might not even have seen it on a mammogram. And then he said this: “Your lump didn’t grow in 10 days, so you can take 10 days to decide how to handle it.” He was one of that small, early cadre of oncologists who did not believe that immediate mastectomy was the only treatment for breast cancer. He offered alternatives, and as a result, my breast was saved.
Twelve years later: another health plan, another lump, this time in my left breast. This one showed clearly on the mammogram, but my physician did not propose an immediate mastectomy, instead asking me to first be part of a new study testing whether lumpectomy alone was sufficient treatment for my second type of breast cancer. Of course, I said yes, and of course I was sorry when it turned out that my cancer would need more than that one simple surgery. I was offered a tough choice: mastectomy, or five long years on the drug Tamoxifen.
My new oncologist was a woman, so I asked her what she would choose if she were in my position. Without hesitation, she said, “I’d have the mastectomy. Otherwise, I’d get up every morning, look at myself in the mirror while I was brushing my teeth, and wonder if the cancer was coming back.” But she had already gotten to know me well enough to follow up her initial statement with this: “That wouldn’t be the case with you, would it?”
I opted for the pills, one every day for 60 months. This regimen also required two gynecological exams each year instead of the usual one, the second for a uterine biopsy to determine if the drug was causing cell changes, which eventually it did. My fifth year of Tamoxifen treatment ended with a complete hysterectomy, which was OK: I was beyond child-bearing age, and that surgery was much simpler than any mastectomy.
My initial lumpectomy kept me hospitalized for days because there wasn’t yet any drain that could go home with the patient. My identical second was done in a day. I remembered Dr. Lieberman telling my husband during that first long stay, “Your wife doesn’t have to eat this hospital food! Go out and get her a corned beef sandwich!” After my same surgery the second time, Fred and I went immediately to Cindi’s and ate corned beef sandwiches together.
Oct. 26 of this year marked my 34th Komen Race for the Cure. I never ran; I no longer even walk the course. Now I sit in the survivors’ tent, cheering on the many young women who’ve been able to opt for minimal surgeries, thanks to today’s doctors routinely following the pioneering lead of a few, including our own Zeck Lieberman. I cheer for him now, and I cheer Bnai Zion for honoring him!

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