Israeli Salad

Jill Aronovitz
Israeli Salad
June 29, 2010

Due to the heat of the summer, I’ve made a lot of light salads in the past few weeks. Fortunately, the produce and fresh vegetables at the grocery story have looked so amazing that the trend has been easy to continue.

This week I made I made an Israeli salad. The base consisted of tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions. Other than that, really any other ingredients can be added. I decided to add pickles to the first batch I made, and for the second batch, I used avocados. All that I needed was a cutting board, a sharp knife, a large bowl, and fresh vegetables. The following ingredients served 6 people.

6 medium beefsteak tomatoes
2 large cucumbers
1 large white onion
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 bunch parsley
3 garlic cloves

Optional additions (as much as you like):

Wash all vegetables with cold water.
Dice the tomatoes with a sharp knife.
Place in large bowl.
Do the same for both the cucumbers and onion.
Finely chop the parsley and garlic cloves. Add to bowl.
Pour in the white wine vinegar.
Season with salt and pepper.
Add any other ingredients to the mix.
Stir together and you should have a beautiful tasty salad.

Serve this with some grilled chicken or stuff into a pita with hummus. Either way you will love every bite of it!

Jill Aronovitz is a staff writer for Gather The Jews.

Societal Education

Stephen Richer
Societal Education
Numbers 22:2 — 25:9
June 25, 2010

Everybody’s doin’ a brand new dance now
(C’mon baby do the loco-motion)
I know you’ll get to like it
If you give it a chance now
(C’mon baby do the loco-motion)
My little baby sister can do it with ease
It’s easier than learning your a b c’s
So come on, come on,
Do the loco-motion with me

Peer pressure—termed social influence in this essay—is commonly held to be a bad thing. Drug and alcohol abuse are the most oft cited negative examples of peer pressure, but modern society is generally averse to anything termed “group think.” Students are taught to resist making appeals to authorities; people who choose their politics to correspond with those of their family or church are derided, and Julia Roberts in Runaway Bride is portrayed as pathetic because she orders her the eggs the same way as whichever man she is currently with.

I generally agree with this assessment, but societal influence—or societal education—should not always be considered a bad thing. Much of what we learn for right or wrong has not been derived from a scientific process, but simply because somebody (usually a Mom) and what she is substantiated by conventional wisdom. We know from an early age that lying is generally wrong. But we know this not because we’ve applied some principle of Kantian universality, a cost-benefit analysis on lying, or because we’ve uncovered some simple truth, but simply because everyone says so. Some of these commonly held beliefs have made it into law, some are unwritten laws, taboos, or mores, and some simply make up our consciousness.

The power of the consciousness is demonstrated in this week’s Torah Portion. The prophet Balaam is summoned to curse the Israelites. He tries three times, but each time he fails, instead blessing the people of Israel. Why? Literally, it’s because God controls his voice. But if we abstract this a bit, we can see that it is God’s laws, rules, and the world that he has set that has founded the consciousness of Balaam. Deep down, from his socially learned wisdom, he knows it is wrong to curse the Israelites. He doesn’t have a specific reason for feeling this way; he hasn’t interviewed all 600,000 plus Israelites and determined them to be, collectively, a good people. Rather, his consciousness has been formed by the world around him, and it prevents him from cursing the Israelites.

And this is the power of religion. The Judeo-Christian tradition is the cornerstone of Western Civilization. That which hasn’t been inscribed in our laws has been inscribed in our consciousness by the moral code that pervades society. Through our peers we are pressured into adopting the Judeo-Christian value system.

Tithing: Not Less, Not More

Ayin Tove
June 24, 2010
Tithing: Not Less, Not More

Rabban Gamliel taught:

“Make for yourself a teacher, remove yourself from doubt, and do not tithe more through estimation.” Avot 1:16.

In other words, Rabbi Gamliel is saying that tithing (giving a one tenth portion, e.g., of certain foods) as a charitable offering is an exact duty, and one should not estimate even if one is errs on the side of giving more.

This is strange – why shouldn’t one give more? Isn’t more charity better? But it seems that this is not a free will offering of the heart, but an obligation, and is therefore best done with precision. Perhaps Gamliel is concerned that if one gives too much for a required giving, he will come to resent the requirement, and resent G-d.

Elsewhere, the Talmud teaches that there are other things that have no measure: leaving unharvested the corners of the field (and anything harvested that falls out of your hands) for the poor to harvest, the giving of the first-fruits, the pilgrimage, acts of kindness, and Torah study. Mishnah Peah 1:1. These are forms of giving that are unmeasured and unlimited.

Ayin Tove is a contributing writer for Gather The Jews and is an attorney for the federal government.

Tomato Eggplant and Mozzarella Salad

Jill Aronovitz
Tomato Eggplant and Mozzarella Salad
June 23, 2010

For Father’s Day this past Sunday, I made a dish that my Dad has always loved: Tomato Eggplant and Mozzarella Salad. The dish is light and refreshing, so it’s great for the summer. It’s also easy to make. There’s a minimum amount of cooking, and just three main ingredients are required. The beauty of the dish is that you can make as much or as little as you would like. Depending on how many people you plan on cooking for, you can make 1 serving or 5 servings. It’s up to you. The amount of ingredients below will serve four.

1 medium eggplant
4 beefsteak tomatoes
1lb package of mozzarella
1 package of basil leaves (you will end up using ¼ cup)
Olive oil
Balsamic Vinegar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Take eggplant and cut into slices about ¼ inch thick.
Grease two baking sheets with olive oil and place the slices on the sheets.
Season both sides with salt and pepper and drizzle a bit more olive oil on the eggplant before placing it in the oven.
Let eggplant cook until golden brown (about 20 minutes).
Take out of oven and let cool.
While it is cooling, start slicing the tomatoes.
These tomato slices should be the same thickness as the eggplant.
The same should be done for the mozzarella.
Once everything is cut, begin to arrange on a large serving plate.
First layer the eggplant slices on the bottom, then put the tomatoes on top of the eggplant, followed by the mozzarella.
Keep layering until you run out of ingredients.
Cut fresh basil into thin strips and sprinkle over the top of the dish.
Drizzle as much balsamic vinegar as you like and serve.

Not only will the dish look beautiful, but it’s delicious too!

Jill Aronovitz is a staff writer for Gather The Jews.

Kosher — A Diet For The Soul

Will Gotkin
Kosher — A Diet For The Soul
June 22, 2010

In English, the word kosher (derived from the word kashrut) literally means ‘fit.’ In contemporary American society many of us are focused on physical fitness. Perhaps more than ever before, people are encouraged to watch what they eat, exercise, and keep their bodies healthy. However, the diet of kosher is an entirely spiritual diet – one that keeps our Jewish souls, also known as neshamas, healthy and fit. Keeping kosher is compatible with many a healthy physical diet (including vegetarian and vegan). In fact, Judaism places much importance on keeping our bodies healthy (see Rambam’s Guide to the Perplexed). For today’s health conscious Jew it therefore makes sense to maintain a diet that keeps one both physically and spiritually healthy. Keeping kosher enables the latter.

The Torah is a manual for living a Jewish life. No aspect of life is left untouched. Hashem commanded the Jewish people to bring holiness and spirituality into the world through physical mitzvoth which manifest themselves in almost every aspect of life. One who is curious about Torah observance may at first view the Torah as overwhelming, but if a person studies its laws and slowly integrates its teachings into their life, they will have the pleasure of experiencing a life transformed into a one of beauty, serenity, and peace that can only be achieved through growing close to Hashem and the truth of His Torah. With all these mitzvoth – 613 to be exact – where is a Jew to begin? Should one begin by plunging into the depths of Jewish mysticism in order to catapult one into the highest heights of holiness? No. Most of our rabbis advise the Jewish spiritual seeker to begin with something much more mundane; something that affects everyday life. You want to become closer to Hashem? Start by watching what you eat! The Jewish soul is allergic to non-kosher foods. Just as certain foods harm our physical bodies, the Torah teaches that certain foods inhibit us from living up to our full potential in experiencing a sensitivity to spirituality and serving Hashem. Whereas non-kosher foods clog our spiritual arteries, kosher foods remove this blockage from our hearts. Keeping kosher enables us to become a vessel for holiness.

In fact, the entire reason Hashem put into the world foods that help our bodies and foods that harm our bodies is to teach us that there are also foods that harm our souls and foods that nourish them. The Jewish people are a collective soul. The more each of us does our part to keep our souls healthy, the stronger we will become as a nation. The stronger the Jewish nation becomes, the better we can help bring Hashem’s presence into the world. So by starting to keep the laws of kosher, one is creating a ripple effect that will reverberate through this world and through the many spiritual worlds and ultimately hasten in an era where Hashem is more revealed in the realm of the physical. In addition to eating a physically healthy diet, exercising, and brushing one’s teeth, a Jew can self actualize beyond their imagination by keeping kosher.

The laws of kashrut are detailed and complex, but the basics include: avoiding pork and shellfish, only eating in kosher restaurants, not mixing meat and milk, and eating products with kosher certification printed on the package. Ask a rabbi for more information about the details of keeping kosher and reliable kosher certifications. I suggest starting with some of our wise, knowledgeable, and friendly rabbis here in Washington DC! Just to name a few: Rabbi Zvi Teitelbaum, Rabbi Yudi Steiner, and Rabbi Levi Shemtov. If you are looking for kosher products, I would suggest patronizing some great Jewish kosher establishments in the DC area such as Shalom Kosher Market in Wheaton or Kosher Mart in Rockville. Can’t make it out to suburban Maryland? No problem! Trader Joe’s carries plenty of items with kosher certification. And if you’re simply looking to go out and eat a good kosher meal there is always the famous Eli’s on the corner of 20th and N.

Thank G-d, today we live in an era where kosher food is readily available. For one who keeps kosher, one can eat a diet of much variety (one can find kosher products and restaurants of almost any ethnic cuisine). In fact, the market for kosher is one of the fastest growing food markets in the world today! As more consumers opt to spend a little more money and time obtaining organic and healthy foods, more Jews are realizing that keeping kosher enables one to become fully healthy and fulfilled.

The mitzvah of kosher belongs to the category of laws called chukim. These laws have no rational basis that is comprehensible to the human mind. Jews began keeping these laws when they were revealed to them by Hashem at Mount Sinai and in the desert. For those of us today who are a little further away from the giving of the Torah, one can only witness the benefits of keeping kosher through actually doing the mitzvah. One will find that when one keeps kosher Torah is more easily digested. I only speak from experience, but many others can confirm this truth.

For one who is interested in keeping kosher, but does not know where to begin I have included a list of the steps one can take. One who wishes to go kosher does not have to proceed in the order I have provided. In fact, one does not even have to pick up this mitzvah in gradual steps if they are more comfortable doing it all at once. However, I would personally advise not biting off more than you can chew. Best of luck!

1) Not eating overtly unkosher foods like shellfish and pork.
2) Not mixing meat with dairy.
3) Waiting 6 hours between meat and milk and an hour between milk and meat (Customs may differ. One should ask a local rabbi for more information).
4) Eating only kosher meat.
5) Only eating fruits and vegetables that have been checked for bugs.
6) Only eating sea creatures with fins and scales.
7) Only eating in kosher restaurants and only buying food with reliable kosher certification.
8) Making one’s kitchen kosher.
9) Only consuming alcoholic beverages that are kosher (Most are, but please consult a rabbi before you make that l’chaim).
10) Invite some friends over for dinner.

Will Gotkin is a contributing writer for Gather The Jews.

Visting History

We had visited the historic Declaration hall where on May 14, 1948 David Ben Gurion announced the state of Israel. The room was smaller than imagined, but you could sense the thickness of history like a molasses that wafted in the air.

The bust of Ben Gurion simply shows how big this man’s vision as a leader and statesman was. Big brain, big heart.

Jewish Guy – Eddie

Jewish Guy - Eddie

If you were the eighth dwarf, what would your name be and why?
Worldly. I love to travel and I enjoy exploring new places locally and internationally. My last trip was to Armenia which was amazing – it’s a beautiful country with an extremely rich history.

What do you miss most about California?
The beach and a good burrito. Overall, DC is a great place to live, but this oceanless city is lacking in the Mexican food department.

What’s the biggest misconception about lawyers?
Where do I even begin….Lawyers are often portrayed as greedy, sneaky, or self-serving. But the truth is that a vast majority of lawyers are individuals committed to the furtherance of justice. The lawyers I know joined the profession not only because it was a good career path but also because it is a way to help others and make a difference. 

What do you like most about being a member of the AJC?
The American Jewish Committee (AJC) is an extremely dynamic organization. Amongst other things, AJC promotes pluralism and works to create bridges of understanding between Jewish communities and other religious and ethnic communities in the United States and abroad. AJC has been a tireless advocate for the Jewish people and has been at the forefront of the fight against anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry and intolerance.

What is your favorite memory of Hanukkahs past?
Homemade latkes and jelly donuts. What’s better than deep fried potatoes and donuts? 

If you were in the “Mr. America” talent competition, what would your talent be?
I’ve got a few. I can easily jump onto a 54” box and do a standing front flip. I can put a whole chicken wing in my mouth and pull out only the bone. Oh, and I can also juggle three of almost anything you can hand me.

Hot N Cold

Stephen Richer
Hot N Cold
Numbers 19:1 – 22:1
June 18, 2010

“Fame’s A Fickle Friend.”

I first heard this maxim from Professor Lockhart of Harry Potter, a character so hopelessly inane and pompous that I discredited everything he said. Fortunately, this wasn’t my last chance to learn the lesson. In addition to appearing in Harry Potter (the second most printed book in the world); the lesson is also taught in The Bible (the most printed book in the world).

That fame, and judgment in general, is fleeting is apparent throughout the Torah, but the message is especially evident in this week’s Torah portion. God, creator of the world, wielder of the ten great plagues, distributor of manna, is hit or miss with the Jewish people. When He frees them from Egypt, He’s pretty great. But at other times, the Jewish people forget about Him and His commandments, or they openly scorn Him.

In this Portion, the Israelite’s “complaint de jour” is that they don’t have enough water,

“The congregation had no water; so they assembled against Moses and Aaron.

The people quarreled with Moses, and they said, ‘If only we had died with the death of our brothers before the Lord.

Why have you brought the congregation of the Lord to this desert so that we and our livestock should die there?

Why have you take us out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place; it is not a place for seeds, or for fig trees, grapevine, or pomegranate trees, and there is no water to drink.”

Yes. God’s fame with the Israelites fades quickly. Perhaps a better encapsulation of this wisdom is the oft-heard phrase, “What have you done for me lately?”

The Portion teaches that the status of giver or celebrant is momentary and that you can never rest on your laurels. But the Portion also gives an idea as to the relative merit of the recipients, one of whom is fickle, and one of whom is constant. It is obviously the Israelites who are fickle in this case. As suggested from the above passage, they seem like something out of Katy Perry’s “Hot N Cold” song,

“You change your mind
Like a girl changes clothes

‘Cause you’re hot then you’re cold
You’re yes than you’re no
You’re in then you’re out
You’re up then you’re down

You’re wrong when it’s right
It’s black and it’s white
We fight, we break up
We kiss, we make up.”

God’s periodic punishments of the Israelites make His distaste for such caprice obvious.

In contrast, there is Moses. He is the leader of the Israelites and the interlocutor of God because his devotion is constant. Even when it looks like the Israelites are neglected, he never abandons God; he remembers God’s past accomplishments and kindness. Similarly, when the Israelites forget the way of God, Moses does not run away from them; he remembers that they are generally a good people.

And for this constancy, Moses gains the trust of both God and the Israelites. When God is consumed by anger and wants to destroy the Israelites, he puts his trust in the level headedness of Moses. The Israelites often make mutinous complaints when in a spot of trouble, but in the end, they rely on Moses’ steady judgment.

As human beings, we’re susceptible to highs and lows, ups and downs. But to the extent that we can level these attitudinal fluctuations, to the extent that we can judge people by their complete histories, not single moments, we will become better leaders whose judgment will be trusted.

The Pitfalls of Pursuing Peace

Ayin Tove
The Pitfalls of Pursuing Peace
June 17, 2010

Hillel says something very puzzling in Avot:

“Be from the students of Aaron, love peace and pursue peace, love creatures [people] and bring them close to torah.” Avot 1:12.

This is problematic because Aaron literally committed idolatry in being a peacemaker. He forms the golden calf while Moses was up on Mount Sinai because the people wanted a golden calf. Exodus 32:4. Aaron prevented a rebellion but at what cost? Perhaps Hillel mentions Aaron precisely for this reason. To remind us that there can be costs to pursuing peace, and that sometimes people compromise core values in the pursuit of peace. So, to be a student of Aaron, perhaps we don’t have to follow him to learn from him. At the same time, Hillel is articulating that peace is an important goal. Interestingly, Hillel’s instruction to pursue peace parallels the torah’s commandment to pursue justice. Deuteronomy 16:20 (“Justice, justice, shalt thou pursue.”). Justice is tempered by peace but we are aware that the pursuit of peace can violate the core values that both peace and justice were trying to protect. So then what?

Ayin Tove is a contributing writer for Gather The Jews and is an attorney for the federal government.