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The Lilith Blog

December 6, 2019 by

Lesléa Newman: What Happened When I Was Uninvited to a Yeshiva

Originally posted on the Nerdy Book Club.

I have been invited to hundreds of schools as a visiting author over the last several decades. And there are hundreds (thousands!) of schools who haven’t invited me. But I have never been uninvited to a school. Until now.

Here’s what happened: my publisher set up several days worth of school visits at a few yeshivas (Jewish day schools) in Brooklyn, the city of my birth. I was excited to discuss with students my newest picture book, Gittel’s Journey: An Ellis Island Story. Based on my own family history, the book tells how nine-year-old Gittel travels from Europe to America alone in the early 1900’s to escape pogroms and have a better life. It is a story infused with Jewish culture (Gittel’s mother gives Gittel her treasured Shabbos candlesticks to bring to the new world) and Jewish values (Gittel’s mother tells her, “This is God’s plan. God will take care of you.”) I imagined that the students might have their own family immigration stories to share and I was eager to hear them.

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The Lilith Blog

November 25, 2019 by

Fridays with Women: Shishi Nashim

by Diana Bletter

As a muezzin called worshippers to prayer from the minaret of the main mosque on Friday morning, November 15 in the old city of Akko, in Israel’s Western Galilee, at a small theatre space within the city’s ancient stone walls psychologist Dr. Fatina Khazen was speaking to a group of about 50 women – Jewish, Muslim, Christians and Druze – about creativity.

Shishi Nashim–“Friday Women”–is the joint initiative of two grassroots organizations in Akko: the Educators Kibbutz and Akko Women’s Vision. The project is also supported by the United Jewish Israel Appeal of the United Kingdom. The two organizations have been working to spark increased community involvement and a new creativity among the city’s 50,000 residents, who are one-third Arab and two-thirds Jewish.

Mirit Sulema, a member of the Educators Kibbutz, an urban kibbutz that is part of the Dror Israel Educational Movement, said the kibbutz members, who live within the city, sponsor events for residents so that they “don’t only exist side by side in a ‘mixed city’ but feel a part of a ‘shared city’ with a sense of community.”

Akko Women’s Vision was founded in 2003 by Dr. Janan Faraj Falah, the first Druze woman to receive her Ph.D. in Israel (if not in the entire Middle East). Faraj Falah is also the 2017 winner of the Jerusalem Unity Prize, its first non-Jewish recipient. She’s a senior lecturer at the Academic College of Education in Haifa and a researcher at the University of Haifa.

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The Lilith Blog

November 24, 2019 by

In the Image of God?

By Mica Maltzman

When I was younger, around the time of my consecration, my vision of God was simple. Questions like “Who is God?” and “Where is God?” seemed silly, because the answer was literally right in front of me every Friday night on the bimah as I sat in services. God was the man with a cap of white hair, a feathery beard, and wire-rimmed glasses known as Rabbi Reiner. But after years of feeling confident in my image of God, I was shocked when my mother informed me that our rabbi was, in fact, not the divine being that we sang to and about in every prayer.

With this revelation, I began a nearly ten year-long journey in search of what God meant to me. Coming from a family that would describe themselves as “culturally Jewish,” God has never played a pivotal role in my Jewish identity. I’ve always considered my Judaism to consist mostly of waking up at 7:30 am on Sunday mornings for religious school, dressing in whites and khakis for Shabbat at my sleep-away camp, and spending weekends interacting with other Jewish teens at NFTY events. But ever since my image of Rabbi Reiner as God was shattered, I’ve never been sure where God fit into the picture.

While my mother shocked me with this hard truth, she also handed me a clean canvas for my perception of God that left infinite directions for me to go in. The Jewish spaces I found myself in quickly filled that canvas with colors and shapes.

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The Lilith Blog

November 11, 2019 by

Why She Needed to Create the Jews of Color Torah Academy

By Arielle Korman

In October 2018, I sat alone in the rare book room in the library at Columbia University with a dusty pink notebook that had once belonged to a 17th-century Moroccan Yeshiva student. The script was challenging to read and yet, with focus and my ever-growing knowledge of Hebrew–and access to scholars of Jewish Studies to guide me–I found myself able to engage in an encounter with his writing and watch as his thoughts and educational life emerged from the page. Education could give me the tools to ignite histories and Torah simultaneously ancient and new.

I remember a time not long ago in which I could read Hebrew, chant it, recognize words, but not understand the text before me. I remember visiting Orthodox cousins and watching them davening, a flurry of words on their tongues. In contrast, my immediate family could not speak a word of Hebrew and, for a long time, Hebrew remained a mystery language to us.  

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The Lilith Blog

November 1, 2019 by

What Jews Don’t Talk About When They Talk About Jews. And Who Does the Talking.

By Diana Bletter

The same morning that the “Judaism, Israel and Diaspora” Conference was set to begin at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem on Wednesday, October 31 – with a roster of speakers about to examine diverging definitions of Judaism, world Jewry and Jewish identity – Israeli police stopped women from bringing into the Kotel, or Western Wall, Torah scrolls to pray with at Rosh Hodesh services for the start of the Jewish month of Heshvan.

The two events happened almost simultaneously, almost as if there were two sets of people replying to the same question about who owns Judaism, who gets to authorize it, and who serves as its gatekeepers. One set of people was exploring these queries in an academic forum sponsored by Haaretz newspaper, The Jewish Agency for Israel, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Ruderman Family Foundation; the other set was comprised of more than two hundred women trying to claim the right to their own interpretation of Judaism, attempting to change the facts on the ground, in real time. 

Nashot haKotel, or Women of the Wall, has worked since 1988 to enable women to be allowed to pray together (out loud) and read from a Torah scroll at the Kotel while the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, the Orthodox Israeli group recognized by the government as the Kotel’s guardians, prevented the women from practicing their vision of Judaism, saying that the women with the Torah scrolls were behaving in a “provocative and political” way. 

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The Lilith Blog

October 31, 2019 by

So You Have a Yetzer HaRa! A Training Guide for Primitive Breeds

by Jessica Jacobs

When writing about the yetzer hara, the “evil inclination,” rabbis have grappled with the exalted algebra that if God created everything, then God must have also created this inclination. Thus, even this “evil” part of us must have some essence of the divine. Through Midrash and Mishnah (the oral tradition of Jewish law and commentaries on Jewish foundational texts), rabbis traded advice on the best techniques for dealing with the yetzer hara, which have been boiled down to this convenient training guide—because who doesn’t need a little help when attempting to housebreak this pesky propensity?

Your yetzer hara is both the seed of your physical needs and desires—those urges that drive you toward pleasure and productivity—and the MiracleGro that can get those urges sprouting like kudzu, climbing, coiling, and overtaking every other part of your life, smothering everything it covers.

But as it says in the Talmud (that training guide of all training guides), how you respond to your yetzer hara is up to you: “At first, the yetzer hara—the evil inclination—is called a ‘wayfarer’, then a ‘guest’, then finally ‘master’.” Though your yetzer hara may be cute as a puppy when young, you must assert yourself early on as pack leader. A puppy who knows it can win against its human will become a dangerous dog, an owner of its owner.

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The Lilith Blog

October 17, 2019 by

The One Thing More Useful Than Marching for Climate Change

By Victoria Gagliardo-Silver   

I attended the Climate March in New York City two weeks ago, and I’ve been thinking about it often. People came out in droves to call for a more environmentally conscious world, and that should be celebrated. It should be exciting to see a mass mobilization for such an important issue. That’s why I am sad to say that I found myself severely disappointed.

I expected to be inspired to see so many people, particularly teenagers, turning out to protect the environment. I wanted to be moved by entire generations of people carrying signs and chanting. Instead, I was faced with the realization that most of the protestors were active contributors to climate change, telling themselves they were taking real action by marching and using metal straws. Almost all of the marchers had paper or cardboard signs drawn on with permanent marker. Some used carried single use water bottles. Many carried leather purses. But the real disappointment? Most of the protesters eat meat, eggs, and dairy.

What people––many of whom want to protect the environment––do not realize is that animal agriculture is one of the largest drains on the earth’s natural resources. It is both the second leading cause of ozone-depleting greenhouse gases and the first of deforestation, it wastes grain and water, it is killing for pleasure.

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The Lilith Blog

October 13, 2019 by

Trash to Treasure

by Anna Sacks

In my dreams, I’m constantly sorting trash. “Waste” is my inescapable obsession and addiction. 

Three years ago, I left my job at an investment bank in Manhattan for a Jewish farming fellowship in rural Connecticut. Burned out, I found in the fellowship what my job lacked: time outdoors, spirituality, intentional community, and physical labor.

Adamah

Adamah

One of The Adamah Fellowship’s chores, which I loved in theory but hated in practice, was to pull wheelbarrows filled with food scraps up a hill to the chickens’ enclosure. There, our chickens feasted on our scraps, then laid eggs for our consumption. Whatever scraps they didn’t eat would–by the invisible magic of fungi, bacteria, and invertebrates (FBI for short)–turn into compost, which is like Redbull for soil, but healthier. We’d then use the compost, as opposed to commercial fertilizer, on our regenerative farm to grow more food. 

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The Lilith Blog

October 10, 2019 by

Turning Sukkot Inside Out

by Shoshana Lovett-Graff

When I first moved into my third-floor apartment, I lamented my lack of a backyard. The concept that I would not have access to the earth, even the crumbling, gravel-ridden soil of West Philly, seemed foreign to me, especially coming from Florida, where my former one-story home stubbornly squatted in the swampland surrounding it, dirt creeping up its walls and onto the window screens. I liked the idea of having a spot of land I could place a lawn chair on, where I could nestle beneath an elm tree and marvel at the shadows of buildings above me. The balcony sufficed, though the material beneath my feet was slightly corroded and paint chips occasionally floated down from the roof.

I sat on my balcony often, reading, eating, or talking with friends. The open sides kept me cool on warm nights and the roof, with a garland of lights wrapped around its interior frame, kept the rain and sun at bay. Though the balcony was connected to my apartment, it made me feel differentiated somehow. I felt more at ease, more pensive, when I sat on my folding chair and looked out on the street below.

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The Lilith Blog

October 8, 2019 by

Sweet Bites for the New Year

By Susan Barocas

One of my favorite sweets for as long as I can remember is baklava – flakey layers of buttery filo and crunchy nuts, all soaked through with a special honey-sugar syrup until each piece is heavy with gooey goodness. I think there must be some genetic imprinting from my Sephardic ancestors who spent centuries in the Ottoman Empire for me to love it as much as I do. 

I’ve tried baklava in bakeries and restaurants all over the world. For my sister’s bat mitzvah many years ago, I came home from college and in one very long night made enough for 200 people. Years later, while waiting for my now 23-year-old son to be born, I filled the freezer with the sweet diamonds, each in an individual paper cup ready to celebrate his birth and brit. 

Before, since and in between, I have made pans and pans of baklava, many of them for break-fasts because clearly syrup-soaked baklava is a perfect choice this meal. But, I have to admit that a few years ago I got tired of the baklava production. From working with the rapid-dry filo and the slow baking process to cutting the full pans of pastry without destroying the delicate layers and then the messiness of actually eating a piece, I was looking for a better way. 

MVIMG_20190930_222218I found my answer in baklava bites, filling pre-made mini-cups of filo with chopped nuts followed by a quick bake and then a syrup bath before serving the two-bite treat to…well, I’ve made bites for 200 in under an hour! It’s so easy that I now make baklava just because, no special occasion needed. And no butter or oil brushed on every filo layer either, which lowers the fat content considerably. 

This week I’ll be bringing plenty of baklava bites to my friend’s break-fast so we can all enjoy the sweetness of the new year together.


BAKLAVA BITES  

by Susan Barocas    

  • 1 cup walnuts, chopped
  • ½ cup pistachios or pecans, chopped
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 30 mini filo shells*

Syrup

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3/4 cup honey 
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a food processor, add nuts, sugar, cinnamon and cloves. Pulse until chopped into mostly small, but still pieces. The nuts won’t be even in size and that’s fine. Nuts can also be hand-chopped, then mixed in a bowl with the sugar, cinnamon and cloves until well blended. 

Place shells on a baking sheet. Spoon about 1 teaspoon of nut mixture into each shell, mounding the mixture slightly. Bake 10-12 minutes just until the shells start to turn golden brown. 

Make the syrup before making the bites or while they are baking. In a small saucepan over medium heat combine the water, sugar and honey and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer on low for about 15 minutes until the sauce thickens a bit. Stir in the lemon juice and remove the sauce from the heat. Either cool the syrup to room temperature and pour it over the hot bites, or let the bites cool while you make the syrup and pour the hot syrup over the cooled bites. Either way, pour at least a teaspoon of the syrup over the surface of each pastry, letting it soak down into the nuts. Serve immediately or within a couple hours.  

Without the syrup, the unbaked bites can also be refrigerated for 2 days or frozen for future use. Put the unbaked bites flat in a container and refrigerate or freeze. If frozen, thaw the shells for about 30 minutes. From the freezer or refrigerator, bake the shells 10-12 minutes in a 350 degree oven and proceed as directed above. The syrup can be made ahead and refrigerated for up to 3 weeks. Warm to room temperature before pouring over the hot pastries.

*Available at Middle Eastern markets, some gourmet shops and online. 

 

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