Happy Purim

Purim is on March 16, 2014.

I made this video a few years ago in a fit of creative insanity (which is pretty much what Purim is all about). It’s my explanation of the Purim story.

Please note that this video was made in the spirit of Purim – meaning, very tongue in cheek. But it’s pretty true to the text.


Six Things That Are Absorbed by Osmosis when you’re Jewish

With two Jewish holidays coming (blog posts pending!) I’m thinking generally about the ways that growing up as a Modern Orthodox Jew have shaped my thinking. Every culture teaches you certain implied beliefs about how the world works. Here are ones I identified about Judaism. To different extents, I embrace, reject, or struggle with them.

  1. Wasting food is a moral sin. They don’t tell you about the Eleventh Commandment, but I assure you that when Moses walked down Mount Sinai with those tablets in hand, God’s mother was running after him with a ladle of matza ball soup, upon which was engraved in burning letters: EAT ALL YOUR FOOD, LEST YOU PERISH IN AGONY. I once brought a boy home for dinner and my mother never forgave him for not having seconds.


    Image copyright Avi Katz:

  2. Alcoholism and Overeating are appropriate in context. And that context is mandated by tradition. There is a tradition on Purim to drink until you can no longer remember which guy was the “good guy” and which was the “bad guy” in the Purim story. You have to drink four glasses of wine on Passover – four full glasses. And God help you if you don’t have enough appetite for a proper Jewish meal (see #1).
  3. Gratitude is always appropriate. This isn’t just because you most likely have a Jewish Mother guilting you for every moment of your existence (I love you, Mum, and I promise this is NOT a statement about my childhood!). It’s because we have a blessing – for everything. For going to the bathroom; for eating bread; for washing our hands before eating bread; for new clothes; for waking up in the morning; for going to bed at night; etc, etc, etc.
  4. It’s us against them. Nearly every Jewish holiday has as its premise: They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat. There’s been an ongoing push-and-shove in the Jewish community since the Civil Rights Movement over how much we should redefine “us” and “them,” and it’s somewhat connected to the struggle to redefine and retain a Jewish identity in a world that is more and more fueled by ideals about equality and working-together-to-save-the-world.
  5. It’s Complicated. Because Jewish law is based in applying written tenets to individual situations, every law was argued over – in depth, extensively, and with numerous case examples. There are loopholes, and loopholes to loopholes, and then periodically the Rabbis would throw out the baby with the bathwater by inserting a story about how God wants humanity to make its own choices and interpretations even if they are wrong. In modern application, what this means is this: we know how to ask a Rabbi a question such that we’re not bound to follow their ruling if we disagree with it. We know how to find Rabbis who will give us the ruling we want to follow. Obviously this doesn’t apply to every situation – we aren’t going to find an Orthodox Rabbi who says, “Sure, go eat pork!” But it applies in quite a lot of other situations. We’ve learned how the Rabbis themselves, in setting down the laws, manipulated and pushed the questions around, and so we know how to do that with their answers too.
  6. We believe in happy endings. One way or another, we’re convinced that we’re heroes of a long, unfolding story. Either the world is going to get so terrible that God gets fed up, destroys everyone, and saves those who are worthy – or humanity as a whole somehow becomes so worthy that the Messianic era begins. Some say that this will be heralded by trumpets and Godly acts; others believe that feminism and the Civil Rights Movement and other examples of the growing equality in society are the beginning of the Messianic era, slowly evolving.

In summary, a Jewish world perspective can be summed up like this:

  1. Aren’t you going to eat that?
  2. I’m pretty sure you should eat that.
  3. Thank god you’re going to eat that.
  4. If you don’t eat that, someone else is going to walk over here and take it from you just like the last time.
  5. I’m pretty sure your doctor would approve of you eating that just this once – it’s a weekday!
  6. You might as well eat it and be happy.

Ideological Difference

I was talking with a friend at work the other day about humility and helping others. He was talking about turning past pain into experiences that better enable him to help people, and about humbling one’s self to be able to truly help people – to serve people, not just look down on them while offering them a hand. Our painful experiences being a vehicle of sorts – that both levels the playing field and gives each of us unique perspectives and strengths.

So it was timely that a Facebook friend posted this today, quoting Rabbi M. M. Schneerson:

“There is compassion that feeds the ego and there is compassion that humbles it.

Compassion that feeds the ego is a sense of pity for those who stand beneath you.

Compassion that humbles is born of a deeper understanding of the order of things:

When you understand that your fellow man is suffering in order that you may be privileged to help him —then you are truly humbled.”

The Rebbe almost gets it, in my opinion. Maybe it’s his wording that strikes me wrong, but when you really get to the core of what he’s saying and the way he says it, we have two slightly different ideas:

  • “I have suffered and that enables me to help others who suffer.” (my friend)
  • “Suffering exists in the world so that I have the opportunity to grow as a person [or earn merit] by helping others.” (the Rebbe)

Personally, I find my friend’s approach to be the less egotistical, and more compassionate, one.

I have to admit, it’s not the first place I’ve encountered this egotistical fallacy in religious thought – “the poor exist so that we get to give charity,” “suffering is in the world so that the person can earn merit,” etc. Having worked with families who suffer terribly, I refuse to believe that all suffering is good or given by a higher power for reasons individual to the sufferer. Not all suffering is equal to our ability to handle it; not all suffering will be individually significant in the history of the world.

But I agree with my friend at work. Suffering can give us unique strengths and perspective to help the next person we meet who is suffering as well. Suffering offers us a choice in what we make of it.


I just got back from grocery shopping and I am SO psyched. It’s cold,wet, and the sale prices were amazing. There’s gonna be hot food galore, baby. There’s gonna be zucchini soup, pumpkin chili, stuffed peppers, sweet potato biscuits, herbed fennel and onion, baked squash, sauteed spinach, grilled eggplant sandwiches. And then maybe I’ll think about dinner :-p

Just kidding. What I’m actually going to do, given the bounty of produce, is make a lot of food, put much of it (specifically most of the chili and the soup) in my growing collection of jars, take it to work on Wednesday and freeze it there. There’s no room in sister’s freezer; it’ll save me the angst and shoulder pain from carrying it through bus and subway on my commute; and it’s generally an all-around awesome idea.

Another all-around awesome idea was the project that’s absorbed most of my evenings lately!

Sukkot is a week-long holiday when we build temporary “huts” outside. We eat our meals in the sukkah and some people even sleep in theirs. I pulled some traditional and some unique decorations 🙂

Pretty typical to have fake fruit hanging – I made my own with beads!

This one is sewn:

This one used glue:

There are three altogether in my sukkah.

More fruit, this time on the wall:

I wanted to put a chalk surface in my sukkah next to the fruit, but it turns out writing with chalk is prohibited during the holiday-days, so I went with the more traditional posters. Still, for years I’ve wanted to have a chalk-paint area in my home someday.

One of the major themes of Sukkot is prosperity, which is connected to our beginning to pray for a rainy winter (hence the fruit).

There will never be prosperity without peace. So I went ahead and got subtly political with my poster choices. Then, going with the theme of Israel and prosperity, I picked through the photos from my trip 2 years ago and pulled some of my favorite shuk (market) and flower photos from Israel – way to fill another dream for my someday home and print my own photos :-)!

On top of the sukkah is the schach – you have to be able to see the stars through it – hence, they can’t be spaced perfectly next to one another (mine also drooped – oops!):

I also made chains and a flower quilt:

(you don’t see it in the first photo because the chain hangs right over the entryway)

Sukkot is the end of the mad dash of holidays – it’ll be quiet til Chanukah now. I should probably start figuring out vegan latkes 🙂

I think I’ll take my sukkah into work on Wednesday to live there for a while.

ps. I made sweet potato biscuits last night and had leftover sweet potato puree. So I added sweet potato AND pumpkin to my pancakes this morning, and used homemade cashew butter in my “syrup” (nutbutter, maple syrup, and banana mashed together) – it was amazing! You should definitely try it.