Foto Friday – Peaceful Vistas

Tumultuous doesn’t begin to describe the week’s events. The Boston Marathon Bombing, the explosion of the chemical plant in Texas, and now the (still ongoing) manhunt after the bombers have pushed North Korea and Iranian nuclear threats off the headlines… for the moment. These are crazy days.

Time to take a break with some beautiful panoramic images of places we love.

1980_ Panorama Tel aviv_norm.jpgTel Aviv Coast. Photo by Dana Friedlander.

Panorama1 The wailing wall and Temple Mount_normWailing Wall and Temple Mount. Photo by Noam Chen.

IMG_2795_Itamar Grinberg the Sea of Galilee_normSea of Galilee. Photo by Itamar Grinberg.

Negev - Ramon Crater 4. Dafna Tal.jpg_normRamon Crater at Sunrise. Photo by ​Dafna Tal.

Acre - Akko 11-  St. John church_normAcre (Akko); St. John church. Uncredited.

NormalHaifa 001Night view from Mt. Carmel, Haifa. Uncredited.

All photographs courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism.

Nostalgia Sunday – Warsaw Ghetto Testimonies

Tonight Israel will mark Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day. The central theme for this year is Defiance and Rebellion during the Holocaust: 70 Years Since the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. At 10:00 on Monday morning, there will be siren and 2 minutes of silence.

My personal connection to the Warsaw Ghetto is twofold. First is my Israeli mother, who came from Polish family stock, including cousin Estherka who was one of those children that survived by hiding in the sewage tunnels and came to the pre-State Land of Israel after the war.

Second is my own work as the translator of Itamar Levin’s book Walls Around: The Plunder of Warsaw Jewry during World War II and Its Aftermath. The author’s argument is that the plunder of Jews in the Holocaust was not only a product of murder, but also a tool of murder.

What was striking about this plunder was the methodical way in which Jews were initially forced into the Ghetto, (a walled off area that did not exist prior to the Nazi occupation), and then systematically stripped of their possessions, from large items (real estate, cash holdings) to medium-sized (furniture, furs, etc.), and then — once the ghetto inhabitants had been transported to Treblinka and other extermination camps and killed — the small: clothes, shoes, glasses, teeth and hair.

Yad Vashem – The Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority has prepared a new online exhibition, Voices from the Inferno. This exhibition presents video testimonies given by the survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto and former combatants in the uprising. This unique oral documentation sheds new light on the fate of the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto, with a special focus on the uprising in which 13,000 Jews were killed (some 6,000 among them were burnt alive or died from smoke inhalation). Of the remaining 50,000 residents, most were captured and shipped to concentration and extermination camps.

In the new Yad Vashem video series, the speakers describe the atmosphere in the Warsaw Ghetto following the Great Deportation of the summer of 1942: continuing aktions, certainty of death, preparing bunkers for the rebellion and storing food. Below is the first video in the series and more videos can be viewed here.

The official Opening Ceremony for Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day will take place on Sunday, April 7, 2013 at 20:00, in Warsaw Ghetto Square, Yad Vashem, Mount of Remembrance, Jerusalem.

The ceremony will be broadcast live on television on Channels 1, 2, 10 and 33, and channel 9 in Russian, and for the first time on JLTV in the United States, and by radio on Kol Israel and Galei Zahal. It will last about one hour and a quarter.

There will also be a national gathering at the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum at Kibbutz Lohamei Haghetaot.

Yad Vashem calls on the public to fill in Pages of Testimony to commemorate the names of Jews murdered in the Holocaust. Volunteers are available to help Holocaust survivors fill out Pages of Testimony (Call: +972 2 644 3111).

At the same time, Yad Vashem is continuing the Gathering the Fragments campaign in an effort to rescue Holocaust-related documents, artifacts, photographs and art. To donate material: or call (from outside Israel) +972-2-6443888 or (in Israel) 1-800-25-7777).

The oral history department continues to film survivor testimonies. Yad Vashem personnel travel to interview and film survivors in their own homes; the testimonies are housed in the Yad Vashem Archives. To coordinate a visit: or call (in Israel) +972 2 644 3752/3.

Nostalgia Sunday – Mimouna photo opportunity

mimounaMimouna, the traditional North African Jewish celebration held the day after Passover, marks the start of spring. Israelis of Moroccan and Algerian Jewish origin open their homes to visitors and offer guests special holiday cakes and sweets containing the leavening that had been off-limits throughout the Passover week.

One of the holiday specialties is mofletta (also spelled mufleta, mofleta, moufleta, etc.), a thin crepe made of water, flour and oil, and eaten warm with honey or jam.

Wikipedia describes Mimouna in Israel as “[having] become a popular annual happening featuring outdoor parties, picnics and BBQs” while politely omitting the locations of said picnics, which can take place on any open patch of grass, be it a park, nature preserve or highway median strip.

In 1966, Mimouna was introduced as a national holiday and — in an extension of an already overly-long spring break — yet another day off from school. It has been adopted by other ethnic groups, mainly in the Mizrahi sector.

And therefore, Mimouna also marks the traditional photo opportunity for Israeli politicians to cozy up to the Maghreb communities in towns like Sderot that are known for their large concentrations of North African Jews.

Tradition also requires that the photos be characterized by uncomfortable “East meets West” encounters between suited Asheknazi pols trying to fit in by wearing a red tarbush, sitting on floor cushions, dancing awkwardly and, of course, eating mofletta as if they’d never tasted a pancake before.

But over the generations, this divide has become less pronounced, the photo opp has become a well-oiled machine and Mimouna has been mainstreamed to the point where it’s everyone’s holiday. At least for schoolchildren, if not for their parents who must go back to work.

The Israel Revealed to the Eye family album project, spearheaded by Yad Ben Zvi, has some wonderful photos from Mimouna in Sderot.

And for an excellent slide show of Israeli politicians getting their mofletta on, visit this post on Maariv NRG.

Freeform Seder

March 28, 2013 by · 4 Comments
Filed under: Religion 
Did they skip around at Barack Obama's Seder (photo credit: Pete Souza White House Flickr Account, Wikimedia Commons

Did they skip around at Barack Obama’s Seder (photo credit: Pete Souza White House Flickr Account, Wikimedia Commons

The run up to this year’s Pesach Seder included a remarkable – and decidedly disturbing – discovery: no one in our family really likes Pesach. No, it was worse. Some of us really hate Pesach. The preparation, the cleaning, even the Seder itself doesn’t rank highly on our list of peak Jewish experiences.

How could this be? Everyone likes Passover, right? After all, it’s the holiday that nearly every Jew observes, in one way or another. In Israel, 82 percent of Jews who self-identify as secular still attend a Seder. And, of course, 100 percent of self-identified religious Jews find themselves reciting the Haggadah. Were we alone in doing, but disliking, the holiday? Or are there closet Seder haters like us?

The truth is, this is not the kind of news you want to blurt out. It’s like saying “I know you’ve been eating in my kosher home for years but I forgot to tell you we serve bacon on our milk dishes.” (That was an example only, OK?)  So I didn’t do any kind of anecdotal surveying of friends and family.

Still, given the sensitivity and timeliness of the topic, we had to do something to address our apparently pent up holiday frustration. So I sat down with the head of the other family we had plans with this year for Seder and I shared our story. While their situation wasn’t as dire (their kids are both under three; they haven’t had time to move past the wonder of getting through the first verse of Ma Nishtanah to the cynicism of “you can stop at the wicked child”), he admitted something I’d never considered.

“You know,” he said without blinking, “we don’t actually say all the words. We skip most of the Magid.” (The Magid is the meat of the Haggadah, which is recited on Pesach; it tells the story of the Exodus from Egypt and is full of one-upping rabbinical scholars explaining why it wasn’t 10 plagues, it was 50, no it was 250!)

“Skip the Magid,” I thought. Is he crazy? That would be in the same category as the aforementioned fictional bacon. Or…would it?

After all, we are a pick and choosing kind of people. Most of us in observant and quasi-observant communities might be loathe to admit it, but we don’t do everything as prescribed by Jewish Law (as if that were a universally agreed upon, non-moving target in the first place). And sometimes where we draw our lines has more to do with, gasp, convenience, than a higher purpose.

Who says that if you leave out a section or two (or three) of the Seder, you haven’t fulfilled the commandment of seeing yourself as if you personally left Egypt? Rabbi Aryeh Ben David, who runs Ayeka, an organization he calls a “Center for Soulful Education,” sent out a pre-Passover email. The headline of one section was Don’t Teach – Evoke.

“The Seder is not a learning event,” Ben David writes. “If the rabbis had wanted us to learn, they wouldn’t have asked us to drink four cups of wine (they weren’t talking about grape juice). We have 364 years of the year to learn about the Exodus. The Seder is an experience to evoke our hearts and souls.”

He gives further instruction to Seder leaders: “Please do not metamorphosize into the ‘Rabbinic Scholar’ for one night a year. Your job is not to preach and impress everyone with your erudition, but to create a safe space for others to share.”

Now, I know Aryeh Ben David and I’m sure he wasn’t suggesting we drop the text entirely, but with his implicit permission, we mixed it up more than a little bit. Moreover, we went with the flow.

When the 2.5-year-old at the table started signing Ma Nishtanah out of order, we just went with it. Ditto for Dayenu. We hadn’t even gotten to the 10 Plagues, but if it was time to say “That would have been enough!” so be it. Sometimes we circled back, making sure not to miss something we all found meaningful; other times we plowed ahead, picking and choosing our texts on the fly.

We talked about change and freedom and hit all the major topics. We staved off hunger by feasting on meaty artichokes instead of parsley for karpas, and the hard-boiled eggs arrived before we’d slathered maror on charoset in a Hillel sandwich. At one point we turned the floor to Safta to tell some corny Passover jokes. (If a doctor carries a black bag and a plumber carries a tool box, what does a mohel carry? A briskit!) And despite our jumping past chunks of the Haggadah, our Seder still ended at close to 1:00 AM.

Our freeform Seder was anything but traditional and yet it was probably more authentic than the rote recitation we’ve done for so many years. Because by opening up to being in the moment, as one text we used from our Jewish meditation teacher suggested, to not knowing exactly what was coming next, we felt truly liberated. And isn’t that the main message of Passover in the end?

Matza madness

March 24, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Food, Holidays, Israeliness, Religion 

My kids were very excited to eat matza at their kindergarten seders, mainly because the teachers slathered it with chocolate spread. I don’t mind matza but I can’t say I’m as eager as they are to crunch on this unleavened bread for the week of Passover.

Yet out there, across the oceans and on the other side of the world, it would seem matza consumption is on the rise.

Without million dollar advertisements and commercials espousing the crunchy blandness this product contains, matza exports from Israel in 2012 amounted to over $19 million. That’s a 21 percent increase from the previous year.

The Israel Export Institute reports that 53 countries import Israeli-made matza.

A whopping 60% (totaling $11 million) of the exported over-sized brittle cracker goes to the United States. While local matza production facilities once triumphed over the blue-and-white made matza varieties, today the trend has turned around. The Israel Export Institute says the US demand rose by 50% from the previous year.

Also asking for more Israeli matza was the European Union which recorded a 13% increase, totaling $4.5 million.

A few fun facts you should know: Each regular square of manufactured matza contains 800 holes and costs the eater 150 calories. On average, Israelis consume one kilogram of matza each – and we only celebrate seven days of the holiday!

The calorie count, of course, is before you slather liver/chocolate/jam/cream cheese/butter/honey on your matza. It’s before you turn your matza slice into matza pizza.

Passover is a holiday for gaining weight. Enjoy the good food!

Chag Sameach.

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