Oven Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Jill Aronovitz
Oven Roasted Sweet Potatoes
August 23, 2010

A few weeks ago, I visited my good friend Tila – another staff member of Gather The Jews – in Washington, D.C.  We had a lovely Shabbos and had an amazing meal with great friends.  One of the dishes Tila made was roasted sweet potatoes.  I’ve never seen anyone make a simpler dish that tasted to good.  The amount of sweet potatoes used depends on how many people you are cooking for.  The averages is one sweet potato for every two people.

Ingredients:

Sweet Potatoes
Olive Oil
Salt/Pepper

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Wash sweet potatoes and cut lengthwise into two halves.
Cut each half into bite size pieces so that they look like half circles.
Place the cut potatoes on a baking sheet.
Drizzle with olive oil / sprinkle salt and pepper.
Toss to coat.
Cover the tray with tinfoil.
Place in oven and cook for about 35 minutes.

Jill Aronovitz is a staff writer for Gather The Jews.

A Maiden Journey From Israel To The Arab world

Michael Lipin
A Maiden Journey From Israel To The Arab world
August 20, 2010

It is July 2010. After years of flying long distances to Israel and exploring it from top to bottom, I feel a growing urge to satisfy my curiosity about what lies on the “other” side of the Jewish homeland. I decide it is time to make my first foray into an Arab country.

I know exactly where I want to go. On a visit to Israel, I catch a one-hour flight from Tel Aviv’s Sde Dov airport to the Red Sea port of Eilat for a one-night stay at a motel. At 7:30am, a tour company representative picks me up for a short ride to a crossing on the Israeli-Jordanian border.

At the terminal, I meet a Mexican family of five that will join me for a one-day tour of an ancient city recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

We clear an Israeli security checkpoint and begin the walk toward the Jordanian side of the terminal, a distance of about 100 meters.

I find myself on a stretch of road lined by fences that crosses a no-man’s land between the two countries. I look for a border line, but can’t see one.

Jordanian Border Crossing

At the other end of the road, two Jordanian soldiers greet us under a sign reading “Welcome to Jordan” with a portrait of King Abdullah alongside his late father, King Hussein. I feel a familiar buzz that comes with visiting a new country and a growing anticipation about where the tour will take us.

We enter the Jordanian border checkpoint and meet our Jordanian guide and his driver for the three-hour ride to the site. It is 9am.

Our route takes us north through the Arabah rift valley, a lowland situated in between gold-colored mountain ranges in Jordan and Israel. The road, known as the King’s Highway, lies on an ancient path leading from Jordan’s southern port of Aqaba all the way to Damascus, the Syrian capital.

We pass a few Bedouin communities en route and stop briefly at a roadside Bedouin market to get some fresh air. This is a sparsely populated region.

By around noon, we reach the central Jordanian town of Wadi Musa, where we pick up our tickets to a nearby archaeological park containing the ruins of an ancient civilization. Petra.

Temperatures are hot – around 35 degrees Celsius. With a big water bottle in hand and a camera around my neck, I enter the park.

Soon, we encounter structures in the rocks around us, remnants of the capital city established by the Nabataeans in Petra about 2,600 years ago.

The Nabataeans were prosperous traders who built an unconventional community of homes, temples and tombs carved into sandstone mountains. They also skillfully irrigated the dry land with a system of canals and reservoirs.

As we walk further along the path, we find ourselves deep within a gorge known as the Siq, which, at times, is only several meters wide.

After more twists and turns, we finally catch a glimpse of Petra’s most spectacular building, the Treasury, or Al Khazneh, which peeks at us through a small gap in the cliffs.

As a big fan of the 1989 film “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” I recognize the Treasury’s façade immediately. The film portrays it as the resting place of the Holy Grail. My quest for the cup of eternal life is cut short, though, when I see the Treasury’s entrance is off limits to visitors and guarded by two Jordanian soldiers.

But the building looks spectacular in the bright sun and I waste no time in putting my camera to work. Our guide tells us the Treasury gets its name from a Bedouin legend that pirates hid their loot within its walls. We hear that the building’s real purpose is unclear, but that just adds to its mystique.

A short walk from the Treasury is another impressive structure known as the Urn Tomb, thought to be the resting place of a Nabataean king. It is situated some distance above the ground and requires a short hike to reach it. Entering the tomb’s chamber, I am struck by the rich natural colors of its stone walls.

After descending from the tomb, I retrace my steps through the Siq to return to the Wadi Musa visitors’ center. I join my five companions for one last photo in the park before we board our van for the ride to the south.

We say goodbye to our Jordanian hosts at the border terminal and walk back to the Israeli side. It is almost 6pm, and the end of a brief but memorable visit to Jordan that leaves me wanting to see much, much more.

Michael Lipin is a staff member of Gather The Jews.

Tevye And The Jewish Spirit

Tevye And The Jewish Spirit
Will Gotkin
August 19, 2010

Sholem Aleichem’s character, Tevye, from his classic work Tevye the Dairyman, is a beloved figure in Jewish literature. This novel was originally written in Yiddish. It has since been translated into numerous languages and adapted into several theatrical productions and films, the most famous of which is the American play, Fiddler on the Roof. Each version of the Aleichem’s story is told slightly differently. As a result Tevye is portrayed in a slightly different light in each adaptation. However, he is universally known as a man staunchly committed to Jewish tradition. Through analyzing this character in Tevye the Dairyman one can see that Tevye is committed to certain Jewish values. From studying Tevye’s actions and words we can learn a few things about Jewish values and see how he embodies some of them.

Like the Jewish people as a nation, Tevye is the epitome of a survivor. Tevye is a poor man who suffers much hardship. His tzaaros includes suffering financial set-backs, being duped by a con-artist, losing one daughter to intermarriage, another daughter to the communist revolution in Russia, and losing his home to an anti-Semitic Czarist decree. However, through all of this he retains his youthful optimism, faith, and sense of humor.

It is noteworthy that throughout the book Tevye has spontaneous talks with G-d. In Judaism, the term for casually conversing with Hashem in personal prayer is called hisbodedus. Private communication with Hashem in addition to the thrice daily prescribed prayer services is a great way to build bitachon (trust) and emunah (faith) in Hashem. As one friend pointed out to me, Tevye’s running dialogue with Hashem actually made Hashem a character in the narrative. When we talk to Hashem from our hearts, we make Him more a part of the daily narrative of our everyday life. Many people feel uncomfortable speaking with Hashem or asking Hashem for things. Many feel they are unworthy, but in reality when we speak to Hashem we help to make ourselves vessels to receive the brachos He wishes to bestow upon each and every one of us. That is why taking a little time each day to praise and thank Hashem and to engage in self reflection and teshuva (repentance) each day is so important. It also leads to inner peace and happiness.

There are more ways that Tevey personifies Jewish values. Tevye is a man of modest means, he is forced to labor during almost all of his waking hours delivering dairy products to wealthy Jews who lead lives of leisure of which he can only dream. However, his fantasy is not to become wealthy so he can show off, but so that he can give his children a better life, devote more time to studying his precious Torah books, and give back to the community in the form of tzedeka.

Tevye also expresses a sense of humor that enables him to get through the toughest of situations. He responds to his troubles with sayings like “Who can know the mind of G-d?” and “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.” He has strong emunah and recognizes that everything in his life comes from Hashem – his lows as well as his highs. This unshakable faith in Hashem enables him face life’s challenges with vigor. The stories in the book take place over the course of many years. In the book Tevye ages considerably, but his youthful optimism, sense of humor, and faith in Hashem never wavers. Tevye is not perfect, but neither are we. However, the character of Tevye is a testament to the Jewish spirit. Like Tevye, we should all learn to trust in Hashem and involve Him in all of our daily acts. In the true spirit of Judaism, this will assist us increasing our awareness of Hashem’s involvement in the world.

Will Gotkin is a contributing writer for Gather The Jews.

What It Means To Be The Chosen People

Will Gotkin
What It Means To Be The Chosen People
August 6, 2010

This week’s Parsha instructs the Jewish people: “For you are a holy people to Hashem, your G-d, and Hashem has chosen you for Himself to be a treasured people, from among all the peoples on the face of the earth” (Devarim 14:2). Elsewhere in the Torah the Jewish people are likened to “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Shemos 19:6). Last week we were reminded that we were chosen not because we were “more numerous than all the peoples,” (in fact we were the fewest of all the peoples), but because of Hashem’s love for us “and because He observes the oath that He swore to” the Patriarchs, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov” (Devarim 7:7-8). In Rabbinic literature the Jews are often referred to as “the Chosen people.”  But for what purpose were the Jews chosen?

First, it must be noted that the reference above to the Jewish people as a nation of priests does not refer to Kohanim who are descendents of Aharon and serve in the Beis Hamikdash (Holy Temple). Rather, like the Kohanim who served a priestly function in the Temple, the purpose of every Jew is to bring G-d to the world and the world closer to G-d.[1] It is our job to be what the prophet Yeshya dubbed a “light unto the nations.”

Our tradition explains that everything in this world has a purpose. The same principal applies to each and every individual and group of people. The Jewish people have the unique task of spreading the ideas of ethical monotheism, morality, and knowledge of Hashem throughout the world – in Israel and throughout the Diaspora. It is not an easy task. It is well-known that generations of Jews have suffered and sacrificed for this sacred mission. By studying Torah – Hashem’s guide to living – and applying it to his or her life the Jew elevates the surrounding environment. Each mitzvah performed brings out more of the holiness hidden within our world and makes our world a dwelling place for Hashem. In this way, the Jew has the unique ability to draw down Hashem’s presence into the world as well as elevating it. When the world is finally a place worthy of hosting Hashem’s Divine presence, we will have achieved the goal of Creation. It is the Jewish people’s collective responsibility to usher in an age of peace and intense awareness of Hashem’s presence which we refer to as the era of Moshiach, may it come speedily and in our days.

Originally the mitzvos of the Torah were meant for all peoples. However, our Midrash teaches that the other peoples of the world rejected its lofty teachings and did not wish to live according to its rules. Clearly most of the world was not yet ready for the Torah. Understandably most people were not comfortable with having to handle so much responsibility. It was surely a daunting task to agree to uphold all of Hashem’s sacred laws in a world so driven by immediate, physical gratification. But the Jewish people, whom we are taught were the fewest in number and prestige at the time, answered Hashem’s call to adopt the Torah: “na’eseh v’nishma,” meaning “we will do and then we will hear.” The Jewish people are meant to be a nation of teachers guiding the rest of humanity to a higher, more ethical standard of living. In fact while non-Jews are not obligated to keep the mitzvos of the Torah, they are obliged to observe the Seven Laws of Noach. These laws are concerned with the basic areas of morality that every human being is expected to uphold.  For more information on this: http://www.noahide.org/.

A Jew who feels overwhelmed by the thought of having been assigned such an important mission may ask: “Isn’t it enough for a Jew to simply follow the 7 laws of Noach?” The answer is no, because everything in this world has its own unique and special purpose. For example, in an orchestra each instrument plays a different note. However, when the musicians play in harmony the different notes produce a beautiful symphony. In this way the world can be likened to a song and everything in it must play its respective note in order to create a universal harmony. For this reason, it is the obligation of each and every Jew to fulfill his or her mission by studying Torah and observing the mitzvos.

If the Jewish people abdicate their holy responsibility and choose to disappear into the mass of humanity then there will be no one to guide the nations in perfecting the world. Every Jew must make an effort to live up to his or her potential. A Jew need not be afraid to fail. Hashem only gives us tasks we are able to perform. In fact, every Jew is outfitted with a special soul called a neshama that enables us to carry out our mission.

Our Torah promises great rewards in this world and the next to the Jew that makes this mission the bedrock of his or her life. It even says that when we observe the laws of the Torah – even the seemingly insignificant ones above the understanding of human reason – the nations of the world will increase in their admiration and respect for us. Unlike a contract, a covenant is one that is unconditionally binding. Hashem has never strayed from the covenant He made with our forefathers, even in times when we mistakenly believed He did just that. Therefore it is our duty to uphold our end of the agreement. We owe it to ourselves and to the rest of humanity to do our best in living up to our exalted title of chosen people.

Will Gotkin is a contributing writer for Gather The Jews


[1]Dubov, Rabbi Nissan Dovid. Key Jewish F.A.Q.’s

Roasted Broccoli With Garlic

Jill Aronovitz
Roasted Broccoli With Garlic
July 19, 2010

Few side dishes are as simple and quick as roasted broccoli with garlic.

After being away for a week, I had to rush through my refrigerator on Friday afternoon to find something to quickly prepare for that night.  The broccoli heads in the vegetable bin saved me.

The best part about this recipe is that you can easily personalize it.  Make as much or little as you like.  There’s also room to add other ingredients such as pepper flakes for those spice lovers.  Or you could or incorporate it into your favorite pasta or rice recipe.

The following recipe serves four:

2 Heads of Broccoli
6 Large Garlic Cloves
4 Tbsp Olive Oil
Salt/ Pepper

  • Preheat oven to 450.
  • Take out baking sheet, line with tinfoil, and set aside.
  • Wash the heads of Broccoli and start chopping them into bite size pieces (I personally don’t like the stalks so I don’t use them, but its up to you to use them or not).
  • Once chopped, place pieces on baking sheet.
  • Finely chop the garlic cloves and sprinkle them over the broccoli.
  • Drizzle the olive oil, add salt and pepper and mix everything together on the baking sheet.
  • Everything should be evenly coated and spread out, ready to place in the oven.
  • Cook for 15-20 minutes and you will have a delicious side dish!

Jill Aronovitz is a staff writer for Gather The Jews.

A Perfectly Imperfect World

Will Gotkin
A Perfectly Imperfect World
July 13, 2010

Have you ever wondered why we live in such an imperfect world? As wonderful as it is, life can be full of hardship and confusion. Hashem, the Creator of the universe is absolutely perfect. How do we reconcile this with the fact the world is not?

The first Mishna of the fifth chapter of Pirkei Avos states:

“The world was created with ten [Divine] utterances. What does this come to teach us? Surely it could have been created with one utterance! It was to exact payment from the wicked who destroy the world created by ten utterances, and to bestow ample reward upon the righteous who sustain the world created by ten utterances.”[1]

“What does this come to teach us?” According to the Midrash, the question the Mishna is asking is two-fold. It is asking: a) Why was the world was created with ten utterances? And b) For what purpose does the Torah let us know that the world was created with ten utterances?[2]

According to the Arizal’s commentary on the Midrash, a world created with one utterance would have reflected the oneness and unity of its Creator. In such a world spirituality would have been more easily and more powerfully perceived. In such a reality, suffering, challenges, triumphs, character deficiencies, and failings would be far less likely. At first glance such a world may seem appealing. However, an existence that hardly allows for any ability to fail and achieve, experience suffering and redemption, or joy and pain – all things that define life as we know it – would be a boring existence indeed! It should be noted that in the times of Moshiach (the future redemption we are all waiting for, may it come speedily in our days), we will be content to live in such a world. However, the reason we will appreciate the oneness of Hashem and the unity of Creation being so apparent is likely because we have endured many years of goles or spiritual exile.

As the Arizal states, Hashem created the world with ten utterances instead of one in order to create a very material world, thereby providing for the possibility of human challenge and achievement as well as reward and punishment. A person cannot experience the joy of self-actualization if a person is born perfect from the start. A person cannot experience meaning if they cannot pursue growth. Nor can a person experience fulfillment from improving the world if the world is in no need of improvement. The whole reason Hashem created this world in the first place is so that He could create an entity (human beings) who could actualize their potential and experience the sweetness of enjoying the fruits of their own labor. We all cherish and enjoy the things that we earn for ourselves far more than the things we are simply given. Therefore, the ability to fall down and get up again is in essence the point of life. Humanity’s ability to fail and to succeed is something we should all embrace rather than lament.

Our mishna states that the world was created by ten utterances in order “to exact payment from the wicked who destroy the world…and to bestow ample reward upon the righteous who sustain the world.” The Mishna uses the phrase, “to exact payment” rather than “to punish.” The Midrash explains that this is meant to teach us that Hashem does not punish human beings for the sake of revenge. Rather Hashem only punishes in order to set a person on the path of teshuva or return (usually wrongly translated as repentance), so that the person will thereby be given an opportunity to repay their debt and redeem themselves. Interestingly many wicked people prosper, because Hashem realizes that such people will not be aroused to teshuva through punishment. If such people fail to atone for their sins in this lifetime, ‘payment’ is then extracted from them in the next. In life, such wicked people become Hashem’s tools in providing good people with their needed soul corrections (For more on this, please read The Garden of Emunah by Rabbi Shalom Arush).

However, a question remains. Would Hashem, who is an infinite well-spring of kindness, create the world in a way that increases the punishment of the wicked? Furthermore, why does the Mishna list this as Hashem’s primary reason and the reward of the righteous as a secondary reason?

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that through repentance one surpasses the level of a tzaddik (a righteous person) who has never sinned. One who experiences spiritual darkness returns to Hashem with an intensity much greater than that of a tzaddik. Such a person thereby elevates the negative acts they have committed, since their misdeeds become fuel for their return. However, tzaddik, however great, serves Hashem only within the permitted.[3]

Through teshuva, one’s aveiras, or sins, are retroactively transformed into mitzvos! It is for this reason that the Talmud states that in the place of a baal teshuva (a Jew who has returned to Hashem through performing mitzvos), one who has been perfectly righteous one’s whole life cannot stand.

Says the Rebbe, Hashem creates the world with ten utterances, a world of disparity and challenge, to “exact payment from the wicked,” i.e., for the return of those who have fallen and secondarily, for the straightforward service of the tzaddikim.

The tzaddikim also have a holy purpose. According to the Sfas Emes, the Hebrew word for sustain, kiyum, in the context of Jewish law means ‘confirm.’ Homielitically, he renders that the Mishna is insinuating that through their G-dly ways the righteous confirm and testify that the world was created by G-d and that it is continuously sustained through the energy of His ten utterances.[4]

The entire purpose of Creation is for us to grow as people, learn and teach Torah, and do acts of kindness. Chassidus explains that Hashem is constantly speaking the world into existence. May we continue to elevate the world around us and see through its fragmentation. May we enhance our awareness of Hashem’s Divine hand in Creation and may we soon experience a unified world in which His presence and glory are fully revealed in our physical reality!

Will Gotkin is a contributing writer for Gather The Jews.


[1] Pirkei Avot. Kehot Publication Society, page 158

[2] Ibid.

[3]Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

A Poem

Sheryl Burstein
July 7, 2010

This morning I sat outside
For the sole reason
Of hearing my thoughts
Loudly echo between my ears

I watched the sunrise
As the morning sky was filled with gold and pink
They were the most brilliant colors
The ones that dreams are made of

And as I watched the sun appear
I realized I was a bottle sitting in this burning light
About to explode from so much inspiration
It’s been so many thousands of minutes now
Since I’ve seen that same sun rise in the Holy Land
And I feel like it was all a sweet dream
Spent in a foreign place, that was never really foreign
So I thought about life, about death, about love,
And I thought about what being Jewish means to me

It is everything grandpa fought for
Everything grandma was afraid of
Everything mom tried to hide
Everything dad was proud of
And it’s come to be everything I stand for

My religion used to be nothing more than a title placed upon me at birth
But, now if you could see into me, you would see so much more
I used to think it would be easier to just walk away
But now I have promised myself that I will be proud
Because there is no longer any choice for me
My brothers and sisters
Were pushed down
But still they fought for freedom
For life
For truth
So many times
And I will not abandon what they have given me

And after all this time,
Now I know
God has always lived in my dreams
He lives in my thoughts
And in my actions
And in my words
So be kind
To me
And others like me
Because I will respect you
If you will respect me

I’ve learned that being Jewish means
Everything that is future
Everything that is past
And it has spirit that is never ending
Hope is the sunlight we continue to pass on
And I pray you will all be part of that brilliant glow

Sheryl Burstein is the Director of Events for Gather The Jews and a former Jewish Girl of The Week.

Nighttime Prayer — All Is In Order

Ayin Tove
Nighttime Prayer — All Is In Order
July 2, 2010

In the evening, we recognize in the first blessing of the Shma that G-d has given order to the universe: “umsader et hacochavim b’mishmorotahem” (and has ordered the stars in their watches). Literally, G-d’s act of creation has created order. A priori, this comes from G-d’s existence. You can go to sleep knowing that everything is in its place, and all is right with the universe, G-d is in heaven, and the stars are in their watch. We learn from the Talmud in B’rachot that G-d roars like a lion during the three watches of the night: when the dog barks, when the donkey brays, and when a woman nurses her child or speaks to her husband. B’rachot 3a. G-d is watching like a lion over the world, as all of this happens on earth. One might think about the barking dog, the braying donkey, and the crying child as a cacophony, but they are part of a larger constellation given an order by G-d who set it in motion, and whose Presence transcends. The stars are in their place.
And this is even before the other blessings of the evening Shmah where we learn about love, law, redemption, shelter, and peace.

Ayin Tove is a contributing writer for GatherTheJews.com and is a lawyer for the federal government.