May 24th, 2013 by Shana Goldberg
I know that Memorial Day is about American veterans, but this being the Intermountain Jewish News, and me having just visited three World War I battlefields, I was inspired me to expand the definition slightly to include all Jewish soldiers, no matter their national origin.
It is inevitable — and the nature of history — that later events eclipse earlier ones, especially if the more recent event is particularly horrific. We’ve discussed this previously with regards to Kristallnacht and the Holocaust, and I experienced a similar feeling when I traveled to France last week to visit the WWI battlefields of Verdun, Somme and St. Mihiel, where the Americans fought under JJ Pershing.
In the Jewish community, our focus is so strong on the Second World War that we tend to forget how deadly the first was. I have never visited the concentration camps, but now, having visited the sights of other, earlier, blood baths, I can actually imagine how difficult it would be to step foot on Auschwitz, Treblinka, Buchenwald. In fact it’s for this very reason that I’ve avoided visiting the camps; when it comes to the Holocaust, I personally don’t feel that I need the same reality check. I’ve grown up hearing firsthand the stories of survivors, knowing of the many relatives that perished in the camps, and later even studied Nazi Germany at university.
With the First World War, a conflict to which I have no personal connection, visiting the battlefields brought to life an era that was far removed from my life.
I learned an incredible amount over those few days, and in my preparation for the trip. I learned about the horrific first day of the Somme Battle, on July 1, 1916, when almost 20,000 British soldiers died; the battle itself lasted five months. I learned about the hellhole of Verdun, the French fortress city, where nearly one million people died in a ten-month long battle, and from where the phrase “They shall not pass” originates. I walked through German trenches, and even found shrapnel on recently plowed fields. Farmers here continue to find shells, bombs and grenades from those years — that’s how many ballistics were employed during the war. I learned about the more than 100,000 soldiers, from both sides, who to this day have no known grave.
I learned about the massive human sacrifices made for the smallest of gains.
And I visited cemeteries. Those overwhelming war cemeteries, with row upon row upon row of headstones, usually crosses, but dotted with Stars of David. And it made me — for the first time in my life — really think about the Jewish soldiers who gave their lives in a conflict prior to the Second World War.
I was especially rattled by the Jewish headstones in the German cemetery near the Somme. These souls gave their lives for the same ‘Fatherland’ that two decades later recognized their sacrifice by disowning them as German. It made their deaths feel especially tragic, for in hindsight, they gave themselves for naught. Despite some reprieve for World War I veterans during the early days of Nazism, ultimately, service to the Kaiser didn’t merit Jewish veterans from the same treatment as all other Jews.
In all of the cemeteries — German, Commonwealth, American — small stones were carefully piled on Jewish headstones. I had never given much thought to this custom, but here, in these cemeteries far from home, I experienced how this ritual illuminates an epitaph associated with the First World War: “Gone but not forgotten.” For me, the lasting nature of the stones symbolized remembrance, both of the individuals and their sacrifice. It was humbling to place a stone upon these graves, no matter the nationality of the cemetery.
The American memorial in Montsec, near the ground where so many ‘Doughboys’ gave their lives, bears the following inscription: “Their devotion, their valor, and their sacrifices will live forever in the hearts to their grateful countrymen.” For an American visiting the site nearly 100 years later, the sentiment of gratitude was extremely powerful.
May 17th, 2013 by Rocky Mountain Jew
The idea of Torah learning may not be the original concept behind the holiday of Shavuot, but over the centuries, it has become central to celebrating the holiday. On our Community Calendar, we had nine Tikkun Leil Shavuot events listed. The tradition of the Tikkun — or staying up all night learning Torah —originates with the sixteenth-century kabbalists of Safed, so let’s say a more ‘recent’ custom in the bigger picture of Jewish history.
Like with the Passover seder, we realized that we would possibly have more to say about after the holiday than before; one of the discussions we heard stuck with us: Ruth and the concept of being a stranger/foreigner/outsider. Tradition has it that we read the story of Ruth on Shavuot because her voluntary acceptance of Judaism is analogous to the Israelites’ acceptance of the Torah at Sinai.
But Ruth’s story is transcendent of a particular time and place. Her story of being an outsider within a close-knit community with a unique set of rules, and carries twofold inspiration. The first applies to the outsider himself, with Ruth being the example of a person evolving past his outsider status to become the cornerstone of the community — as Ruth does when she marries Boaz, the community leader, and ultimately mothers the grandfather of the future Israelite king.
It is the second lesson, however, that really stuck. Ruth not only inspires outsiders, but she changes for the better the community she joins. Ruth brings with her vitality, freshness, commitment, charity and inspires the local community.
How often do we welcome newcomers — but only superficially? Are we truly open to their ideas? Do we stick too closely to our accepted practices because we believe them right, or because they are familiar? Ruth’s story demonstrates the importance of paying attention to newcomers. And Ruth’s case is even more stark, for she is a convert. Presumably her knowledge is far less than that of the locals’. Yet it is this ’stranger’ who inspires the community with her commitment to the Torah and her acts of loving kindness, or hesed.
The Torah instructs us 36 times to welcome the stranger; why so many times? Probably because it not an easy thing to do, yet if we avoid doing so we not only fail our humanity, but also potentially fail ourselves. Sometimes it’s exactly those fresh perspectives that inspire us to develop.
Share your Shavuot insights with us! Did you hear any divrei Torah that you found inspirational?
May 10th, 2013 by Rocky Mountain Jew
In terms of food, one of our favorite Jewish holidays is just around the corner: Shavuot. We love the indulgence in all things dairy, with decadent cheesecake at the apex. We’ve dedicated more than one post in the past to the Shavuot classic and thought it was time we revisited our past attempts.
- Ode to a cheesecake started off our quest: Here you’ll find a classic New York cheesecake from the source itself — Junior’s in Brooklyn. We opted for a crustless version, assuaging our guilt by swapping out carbs for calorific cream cheese.
- After the indulgence of 24 oz of full fat cream cheese, we decided to try out a slighlty less fattening version, a Sicilian cheesecake using a mix of ricotta and cream cheese, though truth be told we ended up substituting mascarpone for ricotta, so while we retained the Italian element, the low fat element was less present.
- Finally, after several years of cheesecake, we decided that perhaps it was time to move on and experiment with a new set of ingredients. We still kept dairy at the core, but with condensed milk instead of cream cheese taking center stage. For our Key Lime Pie we tried out a crust made not from graham crackers, but from gingersnaps. Together with the tartness of fresh lime juice and zest, the zing of ginger perfectly complemented the sweetness and creaminess of the chilled condensed milk.
You may be noticing a recurrent theme, which is that all of our Shavuot recipes are desserts. We noticed that proclivity too, so last year tested out an onion lovers’ pizza, courtesy of kosher cooking guru Jamie Geller. With all those onions, however, even this “savory” recipe had a touch of sweetness!
What type of cheesecake will you be preparing this Shavuot? Or are you one hunt for something different? Our Shavuot edition (out today), features a recipe for a raspberry flan, so like our key lime pie, dairy but not cheese-based.
Happy cooking and Chag Sameach!
May 9th, 2013 by Rocky Mountain Jew
The votes are in and the result is clear: The Kotel should be open to different interpretations and not be dominated by Orthodox Judaism. We’re talking about Women of the Wall (WoW), and our recent poll asking IJN users for their take on whether the current situation at the Kotel.
Let’s back up; first a quick overview. WoW is an Israeli organization that aims to secure the rights of women to pray aloud, read from the Torah and wear religious garments at the Western Wall; their actions have upset members of the Orthodox Jewish community, particularly those who operate the Kotel, and in several instances, women who are part of the group have been arrested at the Kotel for violating “local customs”.
The overwhelming majority (62.5%) of people who participated in our online poll are clearly in favor of the Kotel becoming more inclusive of different strains of Judaism. A smaller percentage (15.6%) say they support gender equality, but think retaining tradition is important, and an even smaller group of people (12.5%) say that WoW represent a small group of people and shouldn’t override prevailing tradition. The Kotel has always been run by Orthodox authorities and any sort of compromise with groups like WoW does present a sharp divergence from tradition.
But it is a divergence gaining support from both Diaspora Jewry and the Israeli government, which just ruled that women participating in WoW’s monthly service are not breaking the law. And Natan Sharansky has been hard at work on his Robinson Arch compromise, which entails expanding the area already set aside for egalitarian prayer.
The surprise of our survey, however, is that only 9.4% believed that Sharansky’s plan is a good one. So we’ve got a follow up question for the 62.5%, who would like to see a change at the Kotel:
What kind of change to you envision? What should prayer at the Kotel look like?