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This Sukkot help us spread the word that the sukkah and the state of Massachusetts should both be safe places for trans Jews, and for every member of our communities. Download a poster for your Sukkah here.
Once a year we leave the safety and privilege of our homes and assume a posture of fragility by dwelling in a temporary, exposed, and vulnerable structure – the sukkah. We do this to remember what it was like to live that way. But every day, trans folks throughout the country are faced with this kind of vulnerability as their daily reality in locations without state legal protections.
In Massachusetts, there is a referendum on this November’s ballot that could roll back essential legal protections. In 2016 Massachusetts passed non-discrimination protections for transgender people in public spaces—any place we are when not at home, work, or school. Anyone voting in Massachusetts this November should VOTE YES to uphold these protections and ensure everyone is treated fairly.
The Torah explains the reason for sitting in a sukkah is: “So that your generations will know that I provided booths to dwell in when I took them from the land of Egypt.” (Leviticus 23:43.) Although we don’t all live in Massachusetts, this passage and the holiday of Sukkot remind us all that we were discriminated against in Egypt, that we were provided for, and as a people are obligated to fight against discrimination everywhere.
The Torah instructs us to dwell in a sukkah. The talmud understands that the verse (23:42) states it in the singular in order to teach us that one sukkah is enough for everyone. It implies that a sukkah that is not inclusive for all of us is a sukkah that is not fit for any of us.
There are three statements in the Torah that speak to a biblical expectation to sit in a sukkah (23: 42-43.) The Vilna Gaon points out that these represent three stages in conscious inclusivity and reference Abraham’s fulfillment of them, “to sit,” “to dwell,” and “to know”.
A sukkah also has three options for the construction of its walls. It can have 4 full walls, 3 full walls, or 2 full and part of another. This is alluded to in the Hebrew word for sukkah “סכה”, whose letters are formed with 4, 3, and 2.5 lines. It demonstrates that a holy space is one that is made out of different paths. A holy space is not made of just parallel lines, but of a connection with others, going in different directions. It is an open, inclusive, and inviting space like the letter “ה”, hey, itself.
The Talmud teaches that this world was created with the letter “hey,” which is open on the bottom and on one side. It shows that we have the freedom of movement and no one is meant to be denied entry.
The proof text is offered from Genesis 2:4 where the word for “creating” [earth], “,בהבראם” is parsed as ב – with , ה -the letter “hey”, בראם – [was] created. It is also the same letters as the phrase “for Abraham,” meaning that this world was created for Abraham, whose tent was open on all sides to make sure that everyone felt invited and welcomed, regardless of from where they were coming. The letter “hey” in the Torah here is small, an allusion to the tradition that the “hey” was added later by G-d.
One can “sit” in a sukkah, “feel comfortable there,” or reach a level to “know,” that just as G-d protected us when we were threatened in the desert, so too must we recognize our responsibility to fight for the protection of those being dehumanized now.
So this November, please join us in voting YES on 3 in order to uphold dignity and respect for transgender people – in Massachusetts and beyond.
Rabbi Mike Moskowitz is the Scholar-in-Residence for Trans and Queer Jewish Studies at Congregation Beth Simchat Torah.
Seth M. Marnin is a New York City based attorney, who served most recently as the Vice President for Civil Rights at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). He serves on the board of Keshet.
Download a poster for your Sukkah here, to help us spread the word that the sukkah and the state of Massachusetts should both be safe places for trans Jews, and for every member of our communities.
I have seen all too many blanket apologies posted on social media- “If I have hurt you, knowingly or unknowingly, intentionally or otherwise, please accept my apology.” Guess what? If this is your attempt at an apology, you’ve missed the mark. You haven’t actually acknowledged who you have hurt or how you have hurt them. This is like throwing up a Hail Mary pass in a football game, hoping someone will catch it. There is no real intended receiver.
If I have hurt you, I hope you’ve told me. I hope I acknowledged it. I hope we’ve had a conversation. I hope I have said to you, directly, “I’m sorry for what I did or said.” That’s an apology.
Judaism requires that we seek out each person we have wronged or hurt in some way to seek their forgiveness. We learn, “One who says, ‘I will sin, and then repent, I will sin [again], and then repent,’ will not receive an opportunity to repent; [for one who says] ‘I will sin, and Yom Kippur will atone,’ Yom Kippur will not atone. Yom Kippur atones for transgressions between a person and God, but for a transgression against one’s neighbor, Yom Kippur cannot atone, until he appeases his neighbor (Mishnah Yoma 8:9).”
We must acknowledge the people we have hurt. We must acknowledge their feelings and their pain. We must take ownership of our mistakes. Then, we can say I’m sorry. Once we have shown true remorse, the real work begins. The High Holy Days are a time for self-growth. Evaluating our words and actions and recognizing our failings allows us to right our paths. Once we apologize, we need to change our habits so that we don’t make the same mistakes again. Only then, can we truly be forgiven. This is how we transform ourselves and do the work for which the High Holy Days were intended. This is how we become better versions of ourselves. And, once we have made our amends with others, God, too, will grant us forgiveness.
The real work of teshuva (repentance) is hard. But, we prove that we truly value another person when we focus our attention on them and validate their feelings and needs. If you have hurt someone and you haven’t taken these steps, your work is not yet finished, but there is still time.
Before the gates close, offer a real apology. Mend your ways. And, just as you seek forgiveness, may you find it in your heart to return that gift to those who seek the same from you.
We know you love bagels (and we do too), so we thought it was high time to really explore the history of bagels in America, and why they are so Jewish.
So let’s start from the beginning: A bagel is round, has a hole (no, it’s not a donut), and is made from a yeasted dough which is boiled and then baked in a very hot oven. It can be covered with sesame seeds, poppy seeds, all the seeds, or nothing at all. Some people even claim blueberry bagels are a legitimate flavor, but obviously, those people are wrong.
The bagel arrived in the United States with Jewish immigrants from Poland in the late 19th century. Long before it was schmeared with cream cheese and topped with lox, capers, tomatoes, and thinly sliced red onions, it was sold on the streets of New York City’s Lower East Side stacked up on poles or hung from strings — that’s why they have a hole — for people to buy and enjoy on the street. It was simple, comforting peasant food.
The yiddish word for bagel is actually beigel, and it is also theorized that the bagel is a descendent of the German pretzel, which is another yeasted dough bread that is boiled then baked. The boiling and baking process actually means that bagels stay fresher longer, which for poor Jews, was really important.
As Jews immigrated from Europe to North America, many settled in Toronto and Montreal, Canada, which created their own style of bagels distinct from the New York style. Meanwhile in New York City, there were so many bagel makers that Local 338, a bagel makers trade union, was created in 1915.
We can thank the invention of cream cheese in the 1930s, Lender’s Bagels, and 1950s housewives for marrying the bagel with cream cheese and lox, which was first suggested to serve as an appetizer at cocktail parties in Family Circle Magazine:
Split these tender little triumphs in halves and then quarters. Spread with sweet butter and place a small slice of smoked salmon on each. For variations, spread with cream cheese, anchovies or red caviar. (They’re also delicious served as breakfast rolls.)
Eventually the bagel, cream cheese, and lox became a quintessential Sunday morning staple as we know it today. One of the things we love most about bagels is that they are an iconic New York-ish, Jewish, mash-up food that tells an immigrant story through one simple food.
Watch our short video below to learn more. We dare you not to crave a good bagel and schmear after this.
Yom Kippur is one of the most, if not the most, important day in the Jewish calendar. And for many Jews, fasting and being in synagogue is the focus of the day.
Fasting is not easy, nor is it for everyone — some people cannot fast because they are pregnant, breastfeeding, or have a medical condition. Or they simple do not function well abstaining from water and food for a 25-hour period.
But for those who do choose to fast as a meaningful way to engage in Yom Kippur, there are actually foods that can set you up for a more successful, less onerous fast.
As I researched for this post, I found that most people stick to a menu that is classic and delicious but not too crazy or spicy: chicken soup, chicken, rice or pasta, a vegetable, some challah, and water.
For more tips on staying healthy during a fast read this.
1. Avoid Foods That Are Hard to Digest
Now this might be different for everyone, but in general stay away from heavy meat dishes, fried foods, or lots of dairy. Because you know, Jewish stomachs.
2. Eat Foods that Have Fiber and Water
Foods with lots of fiber will keep you fuller longer, and foods with water Ilike fruits and vegetables) will keep you hydrated. Chickpeas or lentils are a great vegetarian protein source to eat, especially a dish like mujaderra. A hearty chicken soup with noodles or rice and lots of veggies is another safe bet.
3. Avoid salt
Salty foods like olives, pickles, chips, canned soup, or dishes made with those bouillon cubes will bloat you and make you even more thirsty. So stick to something a little blander for that pre-fast meal.
4. Avoid Sugar
Too much dessert before fasting may cause your blood sugar to spike up and then come crashing down, which can be unpleasant at its least and cause a headache or moodiness at its worst. Too much sugar will also make you thirsty, like salt, and will have you craving more sweets during your fast.
5. Drink Water
This is pretty obvious, but make sure to drink plenty of water, not only at the meal right before the fast begins, but the days preceeding as well.
6. Avoid Eating Too Much
Eat a moderate sized meal that leaves you satsified, but not unbuttoning your pants. You will feel uncomfortable and it will be more difficult to digest a monstrous-sized meal.
Believe it or not, I always look forward to Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. Although I appreciate attending services and being among my friends and family during the holiday, the principal reason I enjoy Yom Kippur is partaking in the ritual fast.
To be clear, I love eating. I love to prepare food, search for colorful produce at farmer’s markets, and consume festive meals. My father continues to remind me at the dinner table that “I am a growing boy.” But I’m no longer a child, and as a Jewish adult, as much as I love food, I truly value abstaining from food and drink on the Day of Atonement.
When I was younger, my parents reasonably recommended that I refrain from the traditional fast until I reached my bar mitzvah. I happily complied; after celebrating the taste of honey and the opening shofar blasts on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur’s somber traditions seemed unappealing. I struggled to comprehend why Jewish people willingly davened on empty stomachs.
Eventually, though, I was curious about my older siblings’ experience on Yom Kippur. I began fasting each successive holiday for gradually longer intervals in the day. While initially unpleasant, I enjoyed feeling included in a community. I often looked around the prayer space and sensed a familiarity to the other congregants based on our shared circumstance. Despite this note of solidarity, not eating still posed an uncomfortable challenge, and I was sometimes a little too eager for the holiday to conclude.
Over time, my interpretation of the Yom Kippur fast evolved as I engaged more closely with Judaism.
The idea of fasting arises throughout the Bible as a process related to mourning, repentance, and organizing for significant events. In the Book of Jonah, which many congregations study during Yom Kippur, the city of Nineveh recognized the words and commandments of God by fasting.
Jews participate in the ritual as a sacred exercise: to evaluate their faith. In the period that leads up to the High Holidays, Jewish communities spend the month of Elul reflecting on the previous year, blessing strong relationships, and renewing the passion to live and learn. Yom Kippur signifies the final chapter that is read before stepping into a new year. Those that fast hope to deepen their bonds to spirituality as they move forward.
So, why do I choose to fast? The ritual allows me to break out of a routine and embrace my thoughts fully. Moving from one activity to the next, from work to home, from eating to cleaning up, it is difficult to slow down. Fasting obstructs these daily patterns.
Without the energy to accelerate through a tightly-pressed schedule, I turn inward and meditate on issues that I typically disregard. I am never able to completely resolve the questions that confound my mind on Yom Kippur. Rather, during the holiday, I take time and take a sincere look at the ways I make decisions and the concern I grant toward specific people and causes.
Yom Kippur is perhaps one of the hardest days in the Jewish year as we are instructed to confront our errors in judgement, conformity to societal ills, and ignorance towards others. Facing this daunting task of atonement, I notice that fasting advances my intentionality over the holiday. I listen and assess my character more thoughtfully when I feel physically bare. When the fast does conclude hours later, I am called to be more cognizant of how I progress through my life. I hope to cherish the moments in which I can pause, deliberate, and maintain the integrity of my values.
Whether or not you elect to fast on Yom Kippur, I hope the holiday gives you a chance to reflect and bring more purpose and beauty into the rest of the year.
I never expected to find myself celebrating the end of Shabbat on a crowded strip of park between the Han River and the posh Gangnam neighborhood of Soeul. Yet this summer as the sun set, the familiar words and tunes of the Havdallah service made me feel at home in a place that was vastly different than any I had ever been.
I traveled to South Korea at the invitation of Souks Soukhaseum, a Loatian American who spent Shabbat with the local Jewish community, Hakehillah Korea. In my work for Be’chol Lashon, I often teach that there are Jews on every continent and this was my first chance to see Asian Jewish life in action. We were there to participate in a special Shabbat gathering and to consult and support this fledgling community.
It is estimated that among the over 51 million people in South Korea, there are no more than 1,000 Jews. Most of these Jews are immigrants to or sojourners in South Korea. There is no permanent synagogue or kosher market. Yet, it is here that a group of Jews have sought each other out.
Anna Yun originally came to South Korea in 2009 to teach English. She grew up in Minnesota, and her interfaith family “was an original observer of Chrismukkah long before it was cool.” Tamar Godel also came to South Korea to teach English. Abraham Kanter is one of the many Americans working for the American government in South Korea. Like Yun and Godel, he came without any intention of looking for Jewish community.
Yun attended a Christian college, and her sister is a Christian theologian, but as she grew into adulthood she found herself identifying more and more with her Jewish heritage. As she explains, “There is something powerful about the stories we tell that get passed down from generation to generation and how they are not set in stone. We can continually analyze these stories as we go. We are not bound by national boundaries, race, or gender either. Whether or not some would like to admit it, we are so incredibly diverse even among ourselves, and this gives us the power to adapt and evolve with time.”
For Yun, who has made a permanent home in Korea, assimilating into Korean society has changed her relationship to Judaism. As she explains, “Koreans have a strong sense of shared history and culture, and that has definitely caused me to feel more strongly that I need to understand what Judaism means to my own identity. Fully assimilating as a white person in Korea is impossible, but there is a lot of my identity that has changed during this journey so that I can fit in better. As parts of my American identity have faded away, I realized that my Jewish identity is something that I valued deeply and couldn’t just let go of for convenience.”
Godel comes from a deeply connected Jewish family. Her grandfather was a rabbi, and much of her youth and young adult life was spent in Philadelphia in deep connection with the institutions and rhythms of Jewish life. By contrast, she says there is very little understanding of what Judaism is or what it means to be Jewish in Korea. “Many of my students don’t really understand what a religion is at all, let alone one that isn’t church-based,” Godel explains. She is hoping that Hakehillah Korea will allow her to access some of the elements of Jewish life she misses from home, such as “shabbat dinner, Hanukkah parties, and Passover seders, etc.”
As a child, Kanter attended a traditional yeshiva day school. He is no longer religious today but became involved with Hakehillah Korea because he “enjoys the others in the group, especially because they don’t take the religion way too seriously.”
Like the havdalah service, most of Hakehilla Korea’s gatherings have been social in focus with elements of tradition thrown in. Food is a big draw. It is hard to find western style bread in Korea, so the promise of challah always brings people together. At Hanukkah, the latkes were a big hit. Even the high holy days focus more on food than prayer, a picnic for Rosh Hashanah and a meal in the sukkah for Sukkot.
Starting small but dreaming big, Hakehillah Korea is selling Jewish Korean calendars that will help fund activities and get the word out about Jewish life in Soeul. Yun says she hopes to be able to overcome some of the obstacles to living a rich Jewish life by coming together and being able to be “in community with other Jews when it comes to holidays and Shabbat.” After all, as she explains, there are some strong similarities between the Korean and Jewish cultures: “The obsession with food and meals, a history of surviving despite great obstacles, the oddly similar literary traditions and themes, and the large diaspora communities.”
Though the gathering I attended this past summer was small, the vibrancy and passion of those involved was impressive and provided a bridge between cultures. Without a kosher market, vegan foods were provided for those who keep kosher -including a fully vegan kimchi and homemade challah. Over the weekend we visited the palace, learned about Korean history and got to try on traditional Korean outfits. We saw the traditional historic neighborhoods as well as the ultra modern skyscrapers that fill the skyline. On Shabbat morning, we improvised a Torah reading. Drawing on his Talmud Torah days, Kanter was able to sight chant the weekly reading using a chopstick for a yad. Given the enthusiasm which which his toddler daughter to followed along, there is every reason to believe that a Korean Judaism can find a way to thrive.
Did you buy your brisket from Trader Joe’s for Rosh Hashanah? Maybe your apples and honey, too? Well, the Jewish New Year isn’t the only holiday that TJ’s can cover — the always-anticipated Yom Kippur break-fast where dairy and carbs thrive is a particular strength for our favorite discount supermarket.
Here’s how to cater your entire break-fast from Trader Joe’s.
First thing’s first: If you have been abstaining from coffee for the last 25 hours, then coffee is TOP PRIORITY. I have always loved TJ’s variety of ground and whole bean coffees. But when getting that caffeine into your blood stream is of the utmost importance, try their cold brew cans doused with half and half and sugar. You’ll feel like yourself again. Fast.
Well, obviously you need bagels, and they’ve got all the classic flavors you could want: plain, everything, cinnamon raisin, and sesame. They also carry gluten-free bagels.
From plain to whipped to seasonal flavors like pumpkin spice, don’t forget the schmear.
TJ’s carries several varieties of traditional lox and they also carry smoked trout! It’s a fact that you can never have too much smoked fish when serving bagels and cream cheese.
Yom Kippur break-fast is the perfect occasion to bring out the big laminated pastry guns for your spread. Have you tried Trader Joe’s frozen croissants? They are heavenly and incredibly easy to prepare with just a bit of planning — leave them on a baking sheet overnight, bake in the morning, and voila! You can find the chocolate, plain, and almond croissants in the frozen section. They also carry cinnamon rolls in the refrigerated section for something a little quicker.
Making the oh-so-traditional and delicious blintz souffle for your break-fast? Trader Joe’s even has their own brand of frozen cheese blintzes. You’re welcome.
You may not know this, but TJ’s actually carries some high quality medjool dates, which are the perfect sweet bite to wake you up and restore your blood sugar after a fast.
Babka and Sweets
We all know that TJ’s Brooklyn Chocolate Babka is pretty divine. They’ve also got rugelach, apple slab pie, and those fabulous seasonal pumpkin kringles that will disappear in about two seconds.
They’ve got orange juice! Pineapple juice! Sparkling pink lemonade! But my personal favorite is to combine their fresh squeezed orange juice with fresh carrot juice a la the Israelis. So refreshing and you feel kinda healthy, too.
Fruits and Veggies
You need tomatoes, cucumber, and red onion to go with that bagel and lox, not to mention some fresh fruit to round out all those carbs you just ate.
2018 is the year of the Women in politics. The last time this title of distinction was granted was 1992. And it was because of you. In 1992, I was too young to understand you, who you are and what you would mean to the world.
In 1992, there were two women in the US Senate; Nancy Kassebaum of Kansas and Barbara Mikulski of Maryland. There were 29 women holding seats in the house of representatives. In that year, 222 women ran for house seats. 52 women ran for Senate seats. Four additional Senate seats were won by Barbara Boxer, Patty Murray, Carol Mosely Braun, and Diane Feinstein and the number of women in the house of representatives increased by one.
But of the two women in the Senate before the ’92 election, neither sat on the judiciary committee before whom you stood as you shared your incredible testimony about your abuser, Supreme Court Justice nominee, Clarence Thomas. I was fifteen. I remember you, the lone African-American woman against a sea of white-haired, white men. I remember being proud we were putting an African American man on the Supreme Court. I did not then realize he was replacing Thurgood Marshall, also an African American man. In my young mind, I thought I was witnessing a first. And I remember thinking all the terrible things we were taught to think then-about a woman who cried “misconduct” and “got in the way” of the progress of a man’s career. I thought you were jealous or spiteful or lying or just plain wrong. I am so sorry. I remember as the hearings progressed, as the details, the painful, embarrassing, debasing details emerged that I wondered and I questioned and rejected my original biases. I remember thinking, they will never believe her so why even try?
Perhaps you knew the reason to try. I knew then, at fifteen, what the world was and wasn’t for women. And you changed that. And I am grateful. History credits you, your bravery and your courage, and the way that you, with great dignity, faced down the racism and the sexism in that room, for inspiring those 273 women who ran for office in the US Senate and the US House of Representatives in 1992. The behavior by those men was shameful and embarrassing. In listening now to your hearing then, they were not investigating you. They were teasing, mocking and harassing you anew. Not only did you need to relive the grotesque events you endured with Mr. Thomas, you then also had to face the onslaught of additional attacks from your elected officials.
I owe you an apology for not having stood up and said no, that this is wrong. We all do. In December of 2017, Joe Biden the chair of the judiciary committee you stood before, said he owed you an apology. So do all the rest of those men on the Senate Judiciary committee that year: Hank Brown (Colorado) Dennis DeConcini (Arizona), Charles Grassley (Iowa), Orrin Hatch (Utah), Howell Heflin (Alabama), Edward Kennedy (Massachusetts), Herbert Kohi (Wisconsin), Patrick Leahy (Vermont), Paul Simon (Illinois), Alan Simpson (Wyoming), Arlen Specter (Pennsylvania), and Strom Thurmond (South Carolina).
I hope the sense of shock I have now will motivate me, and all of us, to do it differently this time. This is “The Year of the Women.” This time, it is the plural, Women, not Woman. Currently, 19% of our congress is made up of people who are women. And that is the same percentage of women in the Senate in Afghanistan. Afghanistan. This year, 468 women are running for Congressional seats. Fifty-one women are running for Senate seats. I think the MeToo movement, the open misogyny seen in government, a sense of acute horror at the way people in our own country are treated in our name, the sense that so many of our systems are failing so many of us are all factors inspiring people, especially people who are women, to come out in droves to exercise more control over our government. Already we are seeing a slew of firsts, like eighteen-year veteran New York State Representative and Democratic Caucus chair, Joe Crowley defeated by a first-time candidate, Latina, woman, and Democratic-Socialist, Alexandria Occasia Cortez. This fall promises to be an exciting season politically.
And this matters. Our governance matters not just because of how it dictates our lives, but how it represents who we are. Rabbi David Ellenson, the president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, describes this point beautifully in his description of Jewish legalist, feminist and pioneer Rachel Adler:
He writes, “Yale University law professor Robert Cover…argued that law itself functioned in two modes, one “imperialistic” and the other “jurisgenerative.” The former approach was marked by an emphasis upon authority and the application and enforcement of rules…However, Adler herself embraced the latter mode that Cover had adumbrated [outlined] as more promising for her own enterprise. In this mode, the law is viewed as embodying a paidea—the highest ideal of the community—that is embedded in a master narrative of the community; the ongoing enactment of legislation and the rendering of judgments attempt to give this ideal ever more exact and just application over time. So perceived, the empire of law is a vital element of any healthy culture and the task of the legist or judge is a constructive one. Law constitutes a ‘bridge to a better world.’” We want our legislative system to lead us to a better world.
I remember sitting in a meeting with Georgia’s four state senators who are women in 2012, as part of a training for women learning to create legislation. Twenty years after you sat before a different legislative body, these four women shared their wisdom. And then they looked at each other and looked at this room full of 20 or so women and they talked about the comments, the inappropriate touching, the condescension, and the bitter pill of smiling in the face of men who mocked them for the sake of jurisgeneration.
Harvey Weinstein, Roy Moore, John Travolta, Jeffrey Tambor, George Bush, Garrison Keillor, Bill Cosby, and in the Jewish world, Steven Cohen among so many others. The change is happening. And you were a critical early domino that fell for the sake of the rest of us.
It is happening because these new candidates, according to The New York Times’ “The Daily” Podcast with Michael Barbaro on this issue, “[are] speaking more personally, about drugs, guns, student debt, freedom, and hope; Things women have been told to stay away from.” These women are fearless because what could they possibly lose There is no one story, it is diverse and universal at the same time. And it is making a difference and it is getting attention.
In this same podcast, California Senator Diane Feinstein, who attributes to you her bid to be a US Senator, says that what happened to you would never happen now. “We in the Senate will not tolerate the abuse.” Before she could answer if that is the legacy of 1992, she had to leave the interview for a vote on the Senate floor.
For me, the legacy of 1992 is the knowledge that we all must do better and differently. In the Jewish world, we have just entered into the eseraiyameiteshuvah, the ten days of repentance between Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, and Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. During these days, we are called to make changes in real earnest in order to create for ourselves a better future. Within the liturgy of the holy days, we offer many confessions of sin. Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins writes “The group recitation of the confessional is intended to remind us that the failure of the individual is very often the result of the shortcomings of the society or community in which one lives.” This year I am thinking quite a bit about the nature of communal repentance, of communal change, of communal apology.
The whole point of this time of year is teshuvah which means turning or return or change or maybe even pivot slightly. Often, we think of it as changing behavior or even seeking out a pure state of being. The central root of the word, teshuvah, means turn or spin. I think, instead of the grand change, it has to do with slightly shifting one’s gaze. By moving just a few degrees, we can end up somewhere else.
And so I am thinking of you. Looking backward to see where we have come from and hoping it will move me, move all of us in a new direction, a new future. My hope for this time of year is a collective confession of our wrongdoing. In 1992, we missed the mark and I hope in the years ahead we will, for your sake, for our sake and for the sake of heaven, do better.
This summer, I had the pleasure of working with two exceptional summer history interns at the ISJL. In addition to helping me with research and writing for the forthcoming Florida section of the online Encyclopedia of Southern Jewish Communities, we each reflected on our work by answering the prompt “why study southern Jewish history?” for the Southern & Jewish blog. Margaret and Jacob published their pieces in August, and now it’s my turn.
Like Margaret, my interest in southern Jews began with a personal connection. Spending holidays with my mom’s parents at Temple Israel in Blytheville, Arkansas—an aging, small-town congregation—deeply influenced my Jewish identity. As a graduate student, my first foray into southern Jewish history was an oral history project with my grandparents and the remaining members of the Temple Israel community. That initial research was a salvage project, begun after my grandmother’s dementia diagnosis and several years after the closing of the synagogue.
As I continued to study southern Jewish history, first as the ISJL’s oral historian, then as a PhD student in American Studies, and now as the Director of History (back) at the ISJL, my interests became less obviously personal. The communities I study now are not, for the most part, ones that I have experienced first-hand.
The questions that drive my research remain personal, however. As I study Jewish communities and Jewish individuals in the South, I seek not so much to celebrate their successes as to explore their roles in the troubled histories of the region and the nation. How have Jews participated in or benefited from the worst aspects of these histories—displacement and removal, enslavement and exploitation? How have we critiqued, reformed, or resisted these systems, and under what circumstances? How has Jewishness, in whatever form, affected our actions and inactions? How might Jewishness prove useful now and in the future? These are also questions I ask about myself, of course.
I have two hopes for this line of questioning. The first is that I can make southern Jewish history matter within broader fields. One way of doing so is to use the particular interactions of religion, ethnicity, class, race, and gender that play out in southern Jewish history to demonstrate some general truths about southern history and U.S. culture.
The second hope, the personal one, is that the southern Jewish past, with all its successes, failures, and complexities, can become useful in the present, as we struggle to understand where we are, how we got here, and how to move forward.
This is one of those recipes that sounds super complicated but is actually so simple. Using store-bought babka will make this Babka French Toast Loaf as easy as 1-2-3, but if you happen to bake your own babka, definitely use it! Instead of serving the babka slices arranged on a serving platter, I transfer the slices into a loaf pan and line them up in a row, so they go back to forming the original “loaf shape.” When you serve the “loaf,” your guests will be pleasantly surprised to see that it is in fact already pre-sliced into crispy, thick slices of toasty, chewy babka French toast.
Make-Ahead Tip: Babka French toast loaf may be prepared up to 2 days in advance and stored, covered, in the refrigerator. If preparing ahead of time, do not bake in the oven before refrigerating (skip the last step in the recipe).
Can I Freeze It? Babka French toast loaf may be stored in the freezer for up to 1 month. If preparing ahead of time, do not bake in the oven before freezing (skip the last step in the recipe).
How to Reheat: Babka French toast loaf may be reheated, uncovered, in a 400°F (200°C) oven for 10 minutes just before serving. Frozen French toast loaf may be thawed in the fridge overnight and reheated as indicated in the recipe above.