Jewish Girl – Jill

Jewish Girl - Jill
(Jewish Girl of the Year Voting Page)

What flavor would your manna be?
There is only one thing I would want my manna to taste like and that is my Mother’s luxion kugal. I’m still not sure what exactly is in it, but it’s amazing and one of the reasons I love Rosh Hashanah.

What is your favorite Shabbat dish to make? And will you share the recipe with us?
I wouldn’t necessarily call my favorite thing to make for Shabbat a dish, but it is definitely a vital component of the meal. Every Friday for the past year I have made challah. The challah flavors vary from cinnamon raisin to chocolate chip, milk dud, or the crowd pleaser, rollo challah. I use the same basic recipe and just add whatever I want to it. It’s so much fun to play with food. I will definitely share my recipe, (along with the kugal) and everyone can view it when I start a blog on GTJ about Shabbat meals and cooking in general.

What song is stuck in your head right now?
Recently, I’ve been listening to a mix my friend gave me and “My Boo-Usher featuring Alicia Keys” has been stuck in my head ever since. I haven’t heard the song since high school … so good!

List your three favorite places in DC:
1. Steps of the Lincoln memorial. It’s the best feeling finishing up a run and sitting at the top of the steps looking out onto the Reflecting Pool, Washington Monument, and the Capital. Every time I’m there I realize how lucky I am to live in such a wonderful city that offers so much.

2. Sitting by the fountains in Dupont Circle. I have yet to find a better people watching area. Going there with friends after a nice Shabbos meal at the Dupont Chabad is the perfect lazy afternoon activity. I have had such funny, random experiences there, and you never know whom you’ll run into. Plus the park is full of dogs.

3. Mr. Smith’s in Georgetown. It’s a fun chill bar to go and hang out with friends. You can talk and get to know people while singing along to classic songs. It was also one of the stops when I turned 21, and it wasn’t so bad when everyone there sang happy birthday to me!

If you could meet any biblical character, who would it be, and what would you say to him/her?
I would want to meet G-D. I would thank him for surrounding me with amazing family and friends and I would also thank him for all the life changing experiences I’ve had so far.

Hungry for Challah?

During the fall semester of my junior year at GW, I studied abroad in London. I tried to immerse myself in the Jewish community, and by doing so, I met many wonderful people with whom I still keep in touch–including an amazing cook. She prepared the most delicious meals and made it all look so easy. Dancing in the kitchen with grace and ease, she would make gourmet Shabbat meals that always pleased her guests. I was inspired! When I returned to school the following semester I started cooking more often, especially for friends on Shabbat. I often use family recipes passed on from great grandmothers, and everyone knows you cannot go wrong with recipes like that. Also, as cheesy as it may sound, I get some of my best dishes from Martha Stewart. But wherever I get the recipes from, I love to entertain and see the joy in peoples faces as they sit together eating good food and enjoying the company of others.

My goal for this blog is to post a recipe every week that is simple and tastes good. I am open to suggestions and I hope you will share some of your favorite dishes with everyone. I learned to cook through trial and error. If you’re not afraid to make some mistakes in the kitchen, cooking could be your new favorite hobby.

Challah

• 4 ½ cups flour (I mix between wheat (2 cups) and white (2 ½ cups)
• ¾ oz packet of rapid rise yeast
• ¼ cup of sugar (I use splenda for baking)
• ½ tablespoon cinnamon
• 1 tablespoon salt
• 3 tablespoons honey
• ¼ cup vegetable oil
• 1 cup water (room temperature)
• 8 eggs (I use only the egg whites, but if you want the classic yellow challah then use only the yolks)

It’s so easy! Preheat oven to 365. In one large bowl combine all the ingredients together. If the dough is too sticky, add more flour; if it’s too tough, add more water. Take dough out of the bowl and begin to knead. Form the dough into large ball and place it back into the bowl. Spray paper towel with oil and cover the dough. Let rise for one hour. Take the dough out of the bowl and knead once more. This recipe makes 2 challahs so cut the dough into two halves. Cut each half into 3 pieces. Once you have six pieces roll each piece so its about one foot in length. Pinch 3 pieces together at the top and begin to braid down. Pinch at the bottom and you have a challah! Repeat with the other 3 rolls. Place the challahs on a greased baking sheet. In a separate bowl whisk an egg with some water and brush the challahs with the egg wash. Place in an oven and cook for approximately a half hour to 40 minutes. Check the challahs occasionally, and you should know by touch if it is done.

– If you want to add anything to the challahs like raisins, chocolate chips, or other candies, do so the second time the dough is kneaded, after it has risen.

The Company It Keeps

Ayin Tove
The Company It Keeps
5/27/2010

The second mishnah in Avot states “on three things the world stands: on torah, on service, and on acts of lovingkindness. We can use one of the classic rabbinic methods of analysis (a “gezarah shava”) to say that “torah,” “service,” and “lovingkindness” are defined for us by the rest of the sentence. In other words, service is a form of torah, acts of lovingkindness are a form of torah, and service is a act of lovingkindness. This hearkens back to the debate as to which is greater: study or action, and the talmudic answer that study leads to action. I would say that we learn from action, such that action is a form of study. So I would say that they are equal. Aside from the role of rabbis, the privilege of study over action is that it ensures that action is the right kind of action. And that is why both are necessary.

We learn the above (i.e., what the world stands on) from Simon the righteous (“hatzadik”). This is consistent with the idea that the world exists because of the righteous (as G-d explained to Abraham the importance of 10 righteous men). It’s not turtles all the way down. And it’s not Anteus or Icarus and Dedalus who must have their feet planted on the earth to survive. No, the world exists/draws its strength from the word of its Creator and the actions of men.

We return to the idea of Ecclesiastes that for everything there is a season (including study, service, and action). We are taught that the blessing at the holidays ends with “Blessed is G-d who blesses Israel and the seasons” (m’kadesh yisrael v’hazmanim) because Israel determines the seasons by recognizing them (really by recognizing the new moon which is the beginning of the calendar month). The Earth depends upon us to recognize it and keep it. And even at the darkest periods it is our ultimate task to spot the first hopeful glint of the new moon and to spread the word. The seasons depend upon it. This requires study, service, and action. It’s all tikkun olam.

All Israel Has a Share

Will Gotkin
All Israel Has a Share
May 25, 2010

Since Gaonic times, Jews have had the custom of studying the Mishna of Pirkei Avos, also known as Ethics of the Fathers, during the long Shabbos afternoons between Pesach and Shavuos. Many others continue to study it throughout the summer months until Rosh Hashanah. It is interesting to note that each of the six chapters of Avos begins with the statement: “All Israel has a share in the World to Come.” This is an important message that each Jew need understand and internalize. Let’s probe its meaning a little more deeply.

What are the ramifications of saying that every Jew has a share in the World to Come? According to Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888), every Jew that hasn’t “utterly divorced” themselves from the “lofty spiritual and ethical destiny” of Judaism will get a portion in the World to Come. However, one’s portion will vary according to one’s merit.

Growing up in a predominantly Christian country, this came as a surprise to me. It often seems that the singular focus of many religions is to attain the goal of Heaven. Here, an authoritative Jewish text tells us that just by being born Jewish (and for men, undergoing a circumcision) we have a parking space reserved for us in the next world – whatever that means. I’m not going to get into the Jewish view of the afterlife. Rather, I want to explore what we as Jews should do with this information.

First we must recognize that while we are guaranteed a portion in the World to Come, the size (anthropomorphically speaking) of that portion depends on our actions in this world. I think an easy way to look at it is to compare this world to the stock market. In the beginning, Hashem created Wall Street…and it was eh, let’s not get into it. Every path one may go down in life can be viewed as a stock in which one may invest. Hashem brings us onto the trading floor amidst all the confusion of people yelling at us to buy or sell. We go through life with people trying to pull us this way and that way, but ultimately each of us invests in something.

However, not to accuse the Almighty of unethical business practices (G-d forbid!), in a Divine act of spiritual insider trading, Hashem offered all of the nations of the world to invest in Torah with the guarantee that its shares would pay off in large returns.To potential investors he promised eternal life – Not bad! Remarkably, the Jews, known for their keen business savvy, were the only ones to take Hashem up on this offer of a lifetime (no pun intended). Perhaps this is why Jews have often been accused of controlling the world’s finances.

Now that we know the returns on our investments are guaranteed, all that is left to be done is to invest as much as we can in Torah. Perhaps the most beautiful thing about it is we don’t even have to wait until the World to Come to see a pay-off on our investments. Mind you, our returns will be modest, but they will be steady. Torah is kind of a Blue Chip—the more we invest, the greater our share in Torah in this world and the next. There are many suited, shiny haired, smooth talkers who constantly ask us to invest in other things – things that may give us a quicker and lucrative return on our investments. “Come on!” they urge. “Being Jewish is great and all, but why do all of these mitzvos?” All we have to do is laugh at them. We know our ability to experience the rewards of Torah is limited only by how much we wish to invest.

When compared to financial matters, this is an easy concept to understand. Spiritual rewards are much harder to grasp than material, but are infinitely greater. We experience a sample taste of them in this world, but in the next we get to eternally savor their sweetness. We never have to worry about them dipping in value. Our shares in Torah only appreciate. Other stocks have to be sold quickly before they crash painfully into the ground leaving us with nothing. By contrast, the gains on our shares in Torah are eternal.

Will Gotkin is a contributing writer for Gather The Jews.

Naso — You Must Be Ready And Set Before You Go

Stephen Richer
You Must Be Ready And Set Before You Go
Naso
Numbers 4:21 – 7:89
5/21/2010

Arthur Brooks, the president of The American Enterprise Institute, once told me that for gifted students, the real challenge lies not in accomplishing objectives, but in defining these objectives with confidence—once their minds are set, gifted students can move forward with relative ease.

This principle—the importance of a resolute mind—is the focus of the fourth Aliya of Parshas Naso. The section explicitly addresses concerns of female infidelity: it outlines the initial suspicions of the man; how the infidelity is to be proven, and the punishment should the woman be found guilty.

“Speak to the children of Israel and say to them: Should any man’s wife go astray and deal treacherously with him…” (Num 5:12)

But it doesn’t require too much syntactical flexibility to transcend the literal meaning and read the passage as a need for a clear mind.

When thoughts of infidelity first plague the husband—“But a spirit of jealousy had come upon him and he became jealous of his wife” (Num 5:14)—the husband is told to bring his wife to the kohen in the very next verse. Both the immediacy of the action and the involvement of the kohanim suggest that the problem of misgiving, of doubt, is very important. If the husband continues to wonder, continues to question, the relationship cannot be successful.

But not only should the problem be addressed; it should be resolved. The Portion offers a foolproof way for clearing any doubt of the woman’s infidelity:

“Then the kohen shall stand the woman up before the Lord and expose the [hair on the] head of the woman; he shall place into her hands the remembrance meal offering, which is a meal offering of jealousies, while the bitter curse bearing waters are in the kohen’s hand.” (Num 5:18)

In a sense, part of this Aliya boils down to the maxim “fish or cut bait” or, more simply, “make up your mind.” Productivity and happiness are impossible without a committed mind. To return to the statement from Arthur Brooks, it’s very difficult to successfully move forward in law school if simultaneously longing for, or preferring, a doctorate in political science. Similarly, many college freshmen learn that it’s challenging to develop a new life on campus when both heart and brain are fixated on a high school sweetheart more than 500 miles away. And perhaps most commonly, it’s difficult to function at a high capacity in the workplace if uncommitted the job—specifically, in the think tank world to which I belong, it’s hard to raise money if uncommitted to the cause.

But more plainly, the Portion speaks to relationships. Without trust, a marriage/relationship can’t be successful. So if there are issues of trust, issues of mental unease, they need to be resolved immediately.

God has confidence in the skills and ability of the Jewish people to accomplish great things. But before greatness can be achieved, we must remove doubt from our minds and move forward with confidence.

In The Image of G-d — Pikrei Avot series

Ayin Tove
In The Image of G-d
3/18/2010

We learn in the Talmud:

Beloved is man (literally “Adam”) for he was created in the Image.
Even more beloved is man that it was made known to him that he was created in the Image.

Pirkei Avot 3:18 (quoting Rabbi Akiva).

Descartes attempted to prove the existence of G-d based on the fact that we have an idea of G-d.  Specifically, he reasoned that our idea of G-d is like the signature with which a sculptor signs his work.  Meditations 3:38.  Whereas Descartes started with man, and tried to prove the existence of G-d, Rabbi Akiva in the above passage starts with G-d and explains the effect on man.  Rabbi Akiva follows the first Biblical creation story:

And G-d said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.  They shall have dominion over the fish of the sea and the bird of the heaven and all the earth and all the creepy things that creep on the earth.  And G-d created man in His Image, in His Image G-d created him, male and female created them.”

Genesis 1:26-27.

Rabbi Akiva’s insight is that man is beloved because of this genesis.  Whereas Descartes was interested in the facts of existence (I think therefore I am; I think of G-d therefore G-d is), Rabbi Akiva is interested in what it means to be created by G-d, and specifically created in the divine image.

This is the same Rabbi Akiva who said that the most important verse in the Bible is “Love your neighbor as yourself.  I am the Lord.”  Lev. 19-18.  For Rabbi Akiva, we have an obligation to love ourselves and our fellow humans, because we are all created in the Image of G-d.

This is the basis for much modern thought.  Rabbi David Hartman and others have described “creational ethics.”  The basic idea is that people deserve to be treated well because they exist and they’re people too, just like you and me.

We could have a good discussion about what is the Image of G-d and what it means to be created in the Image of G-d, i.e., what man has in common with G-d.  Maimonedes (Rabbi Moses ben Maimon or the Rambam) explains in his Guide to the Perplexed that, for Jews, the Image of G-d is not physical or corporeal, and may be hard to define because G-d is beyond definition.

In any case, we are beloved by being created in the divine Image, and we are beloved because we can do something with this knowledge.

Ayin Tove is the pen name for a lawyer working for the federal government in Washington, D.C.

Bamidbar — Out of Chaos, Order

Stephen Richer
Out of Chaos, Order
Bamidbar
Numbers 1:1 – 4:20
5/17/2010

As befits the title, Numbers is begun by counting. Counting what?  Counting Jews. Not directly though.  As Rashi said, “According to their head count: They gave a half shekel and the coins were counted since it is forbidden to count them literally by head.”  But it amounts to a similar effect; by the end of the portion we are given an exact number of non-Levite Jewish males over the age of 20 (603,550).

The Portion then assigns the tribes their positions within the camp, and their positions while traveling:

“The legions under the divisions of the camp of Ephraim were to the west … Next to him, the tribe of Manasseh.” (Num 2:18 – 2:20)

At first glance then, the Portion seems to exist for historians and census-takers rather than moralists and life coaches.  But Maimonides offers three explanations for the presence of this seemingly-mundane Portion in Judaism’s central text.  First, by counting the Jews, credit and thanks are given implicitly to God.  Prior to escaping Egypt, the Jewish people were relatively few.  In only a matter of years, the Jews doubled and then doubled again—witness and acknowledge the miracle of God!

Second, Maimonides reminds us that though the Torah is the birthplace of our grand moral postulates, the text also served a practical purpose.  In preparation for entering the Holy Land, the Jews had to assemble an army, the prerequisite for which was counting the number of fighting-age males.[1]

Third, and lastly, Maimonides draws an important leadership lesson from the counting exercise: An effective leader must know his people.  The Portion mandates that Moses and Aaron do the counting; this ensures that the leaders individually interact with each person that they could potentially send off to battle.

But in addition to the principles outlined by Maimonides, the Portion also reads as an endorsement of order over chaos.  After a wild and crazy Exodus, God figures out who is still alive; he puts them in tribes, and he puts the tribes into positions.[2] The once scattered Jewish escapees now more closely resemble an ordered army.

According to most Jewish theologians, the behaviors of God should be read as large-scale representations of how to conduct an individual life.  Looking around my apartment, it’s not terribly difficult to see how this endorsement of order could have practical consequences.  True, keeping a neat room and an ordered life is something we’ve all heard from our parents, but it’s worth hearing again, and besides, where did our parents got it from?

Interestingly, the ordering of the Jewish people was a necessary precursor for entering the Holy Land, for achieving a heightened spiritual, moral, intellectual, and physical plane.  Perhaps the ordering of our thoughts, notes, or apartment can’t promise as grand a reward, but order is seen as a step for moving forward: you have to order your notes before you can start typing; you have to clean your dishes before you can start cooking (or so I’m told…my cooking experience is limited to microwaving…).

In this sense, organization is also empowering.  The Jewish people scattered and disbanded are easily targeted by Amolek, but organized, they are a force that can take over the Holy Land.  Similarly, scattered notes serve little use for a term paper.  Only when they are accessible and manageable do they become powerful.

I don’t know my habits will change instantaneously, but it does force me to further recognize the benefits of organizational skill.  Maybe an upcoming New Year’s resolution?


[1] It seems bizarre that the fighting age has gone down from the Biblical age of 20 to 18 in most countries despite the fact that we now are slower to develop.

[2] Interestingly, this is the exact methodology preached by Testmasters for LSAT games that involve grouping and sequencing.  First you get your group, then you sequence them.  The best way to think of it is if you have 5 baseball tickets, you’d first choose five friends, then you would sequence them in different seats.  You wouldn’t start by sequencing all of your friends, then choosing five.

Chapters of the Fathers — new series.

Ayin Tov
Introduction to New Series
5/11/2010

**Editor’s Note** – This is the introductory post for a new series at Gather The Jews.  A new post for this series will come out every Tuesday.

It is traditional to study the Chapters of the Fathers (“Pirkei Avot” or “Avot”) at this time of year.  Indeed, we learn from there the importance of studying Torah for its own sake:

RABBI MEIR said,

Whoever engages in Torah for its own sake merits many things; and it doesn’t end there, but it is as if the the whole world is created for this: he is called friend, beloved: loves God, loves mankind: pleases God, pleases mankind. … And they enjoy from him counsel, and sound wisdom, understanding, and strength, for it is said, Counsel is mine, and sound wisdom: I am understanding; I have strength (Prov, viii. 14). And it gives him kingdom, and dominion, and faculty of judgment. And they reveal to him the secrets of Torah; and he is made, as it were, a spring that ceases not, and as a river that flows on increasing. …

In this blog, we examine one teaching every weekday (hopefully).

Ayin Tov is the pen name for a lawyer working for the federal government in Washington, D.C.

Jewish Girl – Philippa

Jewish Girl - Philippa
(Jewish Girl of the Year Voting Page)

Interesting name, how did you get it?
My father is South African, my name is a a fairly common name in South Africa and my parents wanted something classic. Also, I am named after my grandfather, since his name was Philip. I do love to ride horses though, which is true to my name.

Since you moved here not too long ago from South Africa, what do you miss most about it?
Wine, noise and chaos, five roses tea (I’m a big tea drinker), family, and the Jewish guys in pink glittery shirts.

Umm, could you expand on the Jewish guys in pink glittery shirts?
Well, the Jewish men in South Africa are slightly more feminine than the ones in the US.
This specific type of man is usually called a bagel, and the South African equivalent of a JAP is called a Kugel.

If you could go on a roadtrip with any Jew (dead or alive), who would you chose and where would you go?
Hmm, not Amy Winehouse. I’d chose my sister because we’ve always tried to be Thelma and Louise, so we love road trippin. We’ll be good going anywhere as long as we don’t kill each other (because that’s what happened to Thelma and Louise).

What’s your favorite metro station and why?
Anyone where the escalator works

What’s your best memory of Hebrew summer camp?
So, first I should say Hebrew summer camp in South Africa is different than it is here. After a 25 hour train ride (from Johannesburg to Hermanus), we had to de-weed the camp site and then set up a tent. We also had to shower in cold water with garbage bags as shower curtains!

Hey, haven’t I seen you somewhere before? Like on some other cool website or something?
Oh… you mean here:
http://philippalevenberg.com/

Jewish Guy – Adam

Jewish Guy - Adam

So, I heard you just moved from Boston to DC (good choice!), tell us what’s better about DC.
Hot Jewish girls! (one in particular…) That definitely trumps the Sam Adam’s Brewery.

What’s the funniest thing that happened at the last wedding you went to?
It was before the wedding actually, when the sister of the groom got him a “How to Control Your Woman” gag gift.

Do you have any hidden talents?
I can make a mean Kosher hot dog!

What do you miss most about being a kid?
Legos are important…and setting fire to the carpet…and getting the recipe for gunpowder from my Grandpa.

What’s your favorite Jewish holiday and why?
Pesach, because it’s the biggest Jewish family holiday of the year. Everyone is together. It’s like the Jewish Christmas… only not.

What’s the best costume you’ve ever worn for Purim?
Let’s just say I put to use the Ghostbuster Proton Pack I got for Hanukkah one year!