Purim Review: Noah and the Ark

I know I only recently posted about Passover, but I’m obviously pretty behind the times for this blog. That said, Noah and I had pretty (in-my-humble-opinion) GREAT Purim costumes this year, so I didn’t want the opportunity to show a few pics of them to pass.

Purim is a holiday of “turning things upside down,” so silliness, unusual outfits, and general ridiculous are encouraged. Something I love about Purim as opposed to Halloween is that everyone is expected to get in on the fun – adults are more likely to get a look if they’re not dressed up than if they are! A couple weeks before Purim, Noah and I started talking about what we should dress up as for the holiday. We came up with the idea that it would be funny if one of us were *Noah* and one of us were the ark (pun intended). I would be Noah, obviously. The grand vision for the project required a couple trips to Michael’s to get the necessary supplies, and then the crafting began…

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Noah’s outfit was definitely the more labor intensive one, and it came out great!

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And just like that, we were showing our costumes off at the KI Megillah reading…TADA!:

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Like any good holiday, we also made time for some good eats. The weekend before Purim, we had some friends over to make hamantaschen (traditional Purim cookies shaped like Haman’s – BOOO! – hat) and mishloach manot (lit: sending portions – one of the four mitzvot of Purim). It’s customary to give mishloach manot to friends and neighbors as a way to build community and the holiday spirit – essentially they’re little snack/gift bags with at least two types of food in them. We got a mishloach manot delivered to our apartment by the religious school kids at our synagogue – it was extremely cute. Anyway…for our party we had lots of snack foods, fruit, candies, and – of course – the freshly baked hamantaschen for people to use as materials inside their mishloach manot.

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Some folks even got into decorating the bags….

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It was a lot of fun to bake and pack bags with everyone. And there was, of course, the added bonus of having all the mishloach manot made, and then we only had to give them out the rest of the week.

It was a great holiday and a lot of fun to celebrate with friends – I’m already wondering what my costume might be next year…!

 

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Pesach is over…and now PIZZA!

Hello dear friends and family – surely the only folks who are still reading this blog after such a long hiatus. I really love blogging and sharing life’s adventures in this format, but my time for advertur-ing (not to mention recounting those adventures) has been so low during this first year of grad school – it’s been a real challenge to find time to write. You know what they say, “all work and no play makes Mollie bad at blogging” – or something like that.

Anyway, I am back with a vengeance and feeling eager to give recaps of everything that’s happened since…sheepishly looks at old postsJanuary.

Pesach (Passover) has recently ended, and as Jews everywhere have metaphorically left Egypt, we now get to celebrate freedom by eating chametz (leavened wheat/spelt/barley/oats/rye products – forbidden during Passover) again. Noah and I marked the joyous return of bread with pizza tonight.

And if you are thinking we went out for pizza, think again! Because Noah’s pizza-making hobby is stronger than ever and I am reaping all the benefits.

 

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He is the greatest.

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I don’t want to complain about Pesach though – it’s actually one of my favorite holidays. In large part, probably, because of the two seders involved. Seder literally means order, and the seder is a ritual dinner held on each of the first two nights of Pesach (one night in Israel). The traditional text (preserved in the haggadah) as well as many of the seder rituals derive from thousands of years ago. How cool is that?! The seder is an important family/community/educational tool, and many find it to be so impactful and joyous that contemporary Jewish population studies show that even families who are uninvolved with other Jewish activities/events during the year still often participate in a seder (and light Chanukah candles).

…can you tell I’m studying Jewish community for a living grad school?!

Anyway, we had the chance to host Noah’s parents, some of his extended family, my brother, and a couple friends from Minneapolis at our house for the first seder. The table was set to impress:

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Cooking consumed the 48 hours before (huge efforts put in also by Noah’s mom who made a ton of the food and provided the classic family recipes!):

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And one of the seder plates we used was something I painted myself! I’ll hopefully recount that painting adventure in an upcoming post. Spoiler: it was part of a date night.

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Noah and his dad worked hard to determine the perfect seating arrangement:

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Overall, great holiday. And now, great pizza. 🙂

Tu B’shvat – birthday for the trees!

Last Monday was Tu B’shvat – a Jewish holiday that is considered the “birthday for the trees.” The holiday has become symbolic for many different things such as:

  • a time to think about the ways in which Judaism and modern times call on us to be more “eco” and “green”
  • connecting to the land by eating different types of fruit, planting trees, or taking action to contribute to the ecosystem in positive ways
  • Kabbalistic (Jewish mysticism’s) teachings about how the four seasons and cycle of the trees represent our own layers as people
  • we, like trees, must always be continually searching and seeking personal and spiritual re-growth

There is also a custom (for some) to hold a seder on Tu B’shvat. Like the Passover seder, there are 4 cups of wine, but – unlike the Passover seder – there is not a fixed liturgy or script for the meal. A friend of mine and I collaborated (although she did most of the hard work!) to put together a seder for a meal with friends last Sunday night (at the beginning of the holiday). Given Tu B’shvat’s connection to trees, it is traditional to eat all the different kinds of fruit and tree foodstuffs at the meal: edible insides with inedible outer shells (nuts, oranges, etc), edible outside with inedible inner pit (plums, peaches, etc), and edible inside and outside (grapes, berries, etc). Each of these three categories of fruit are paired with the first three cups of wine. The fourth cup doesn’t have a particular type of fruit to eat with it, but we smell a fragrant fruit (fresh tart apples, lemon, etc). The fragrance – rather than the taste – of this last level of fruit recognizes the ultimate intangibility of the gifts we receive through food we eat as well as our inability to access the deepest levels of the spiritual world. We may not be able to *taste* complete divinity, but we can still *smell* it. Ah…I love Jewish symbolism. 🙂

Anyway, this fruit-filled meal was quite impressive.

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Food for a crowd:

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Complete with small seder plates at each seat featuring the seven species (the native “fruits” of the land of Israel – mentioned in Dvarim 8:8):

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I hope everyone gets to eat some fruit today. 🙂

Experiencing the Yamim in Jerusalem

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, experiencing the Jewish calendar in Israel is definitely one of the most fun/special/meaningful parts of living in Jerusalem this year. The last few weeks included three important holidays: Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron, and Yom HaAtzmaut. Unlike the rest of the holidays I’ve been experiencing here, these are not Jewish holidays from the Torah (or, as is the case with Hanukkah, the Mishnaic period). Rather, these are new holidays, established in the last 50-65 years. The period of the three holidays lasts 10 days, starting with Yom HaShoah and ending with Yom HaAtzmaut, and the climate of the holidays is one that goes from tragedy and sadness to joy and celebration. Collectively, the time period of the three days is called the Yamim (literally, Days). Interestingly, the 10 days of the Yamim are easily compared with the 10 days of the High Holidays (Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur), and many view and understand the Yamim as the ‘High Holidays’ of secular Israel.

Here’s the breakdown…

Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day)

Yom HaShoah was instituted in 1951 and was established as a national holiday at that time. It is an Israeli law that all shops and businesses must close the night that Yom HaShoah begins (all Jewish holidays – and days in general – begin in the evening and conclude at sunset the following day). Having been in Israel all year, I can definitely say that I felt a different mood in the city on Yom HaShoah. The feeling was serious, and even when stores and businesses opened during the day, the holiday was recognized everywhere. For example, most stores have signs recognizing the day as well as yahrzeit (memorial) candles in front:
Note: the full name of the holiday – although it is rarely called as such except on signage – is Yom HaZikaron la’Shoah  u’le’Gevurah (Remembrance Day for the Holocaust and its heroes). 

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At Pardes, we had a special schedule where we had discussions and learning options related to the Holocaust, concluding the day with a student-led memorial ceremony. The most significant part of programming for me was to hear from a Holocaust survivor, Rina:

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Rina was a child during the Holocaust, and she survived living in a ghetto as well as multiple concentration camps. She was liberated by Russian soldiers from Bergen-Belsen. Her story was heartbreaking and miraculous and yet another reminder that there are fewer and fewer survivors left to tell their stories. I believe it is so important for every person to hear as many survivors as they can before it is too late. As I heard one survivor say, “you will be the eyewitnesses to the eyewitnesses.”

The most impactful part of the day for me was hearing the siren. At 10am, across the entire country, a siren sounds (a steady wail, as opposed to the in-and-out wail used to indicate a rocket alert) for a solid minute. The moment the siren wails, everyone stands in silence in honor and memory of those who died. For me, it was an incredible moment to see the affect of the siren. I was standing by a busy road, and at the siren’s first sound, cars pulled to an immediate halt and drivers opened their doors and stood at attention next to the vehicle, pedestrians stopped where they were on the sidewalk – nothing moved. In a country that so often seems incredibly chaotic and passionate and lively, the vision was striking. Also, it was very powerful to know that across the entire country of Israel, people were doing the same thing.

I wanted to fully participate in the moment of silence with the siren, so I didn’t take any photos, but prior to the siren starting I took a photo of many people standing on the roof of a building in anticipation of seeing the great communal halt take place below:

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Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day):

A week after Yom HaShoah is Yom HaZikaron. Yom HaZikaron is the Israeli Memorial Day to commemorate fallen soldiers and victims of terror in Israel. The day was enacted into law in 1963. As I said above, when Yom HaShoah happened, I felt a noticeable degree of sadness around the city. That feeling, however, was incomparable to the feeling of  Yom HaZikaron. The unfortunate reality of the current Jewish state is that essentially no one who lives here hasn’t lost someone they know to war or terror. That reality is on full display on Yom HaZikaron. Unlike Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron has a very particular way of being observed in Israeli society. The hallmarks of Yom HaZikaron commemoration are tekesim (ceremonies). Three tekesim take place related to Yom HaZikaron: one to begin the holiday (done in the evening), one during the day (in the late morning), and one to transition to Yom HaAtzmaut (done around sundown). While Yom HaShoah only has one siren, Yom HaZikaron has two, and the sirens are used as the introduction to the erev (evening) tekes on the first night as well as the morning tekes during the day.

Noah and I went to the opening tekes of Yom HaZikaron at Latrun. Latrun is located between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and it was the site of intense battle during Israel’s war for independence in 1948. Today, Latrun is a military museum and memorial. When we arrived to Latrun, there were booths set up for the event where people could look at (and sometimes hold) weapons used by the military:

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There are also over 100 tanks on display:

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There was a memorial wall listing names of fallen soldiers, and there were flowers available to be placed within the wall:

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The tekes was HUGE with a few thousand people. It took place in Latrun’s massive amphitheater:

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The tekes focused on the profiles of six individuals who had either been killed during army service or were victims of terror. For each profile, there was a video about the person, a commemorative song, and a testimony from a friend or family member. It was a very moving ceremony, and I thought the videos about the people were an interesting way to help the people attending the tekes feel somewhat more connected to that person.

Although the tekes began with a standing moment of silence in accord with the siren, the experience of this siren felt a bit less powerful to me than the one on Yom HaShoah because – since we were all already gathered for the tekes – it didn’t feel like the same sort of interruption to life.

During Yom HaZikaron day, shops once again indicated the event with signs and candles:

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The daytime morning tekesim are structured around schools, although most people who are not schoolage also attend a tekes by going to the school of their children or something that is nearby. Often, part of the tekesim focus on graduates of that school who have been killed during military service (an astounding thing when I try to imagine if every school in America would have fallen graduates to commemorate during Memorial Day). I attended a tekes at the elementary school near to my apartment. Once again, the tekes began with a siren (the second, and final siren of Yom HaZikaron and the Yamim). Seeing hundreds of elementary-age children and families be completely still and silent for the full duration of the siren was a reminder of the significance this symbol carries within Israel.

After the siren, the tekes was a collection of songs, dances, skits, and readings done by the 6th grade class. The tekes lasted about an hour – the first half was devoted to commemoration of Yom HaZikaron and the second half was festive and celebratory in line with Yom HaAtzmaut (which takes place the following day when schools are closed). The message of the transition is very clear: military lives lost enable Israel’s existence/independence.

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During the afternoon of Yom HaZikaron, I visited Har Herzl with Pardes. Har Herzl is the site of Israel’s national cemetery as well as the burial site of many important Israeli and Zionist political leaders and figures, including Theodor Herzl who is buried at the mountain’s peak and for whom the area is named. Har Herzl becomes a bit of a pilgrimage site on Yom HaZikaron when thousands of Israelis come to give their respects to fallen soldiers and sit at the gravesides of friends and family.

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We saw many people – sometimes in groups and sometimes alone – sitting by the side of a grave, appearing to be permanently there for the day. It was quite a powerful image to so vividly see this important site on memorial day. While at Har Herzl, I kept thinking (as I had also felt many times in the preceding days) that the experience of mourning for soldiers on memorial day is so different in Israel than it is in America. In Israel, where there is a compulsory draft and everyone (less the haredim and Israeli Arabs) serve in the military, there is no divide between the well-educated elite and those who serve in the military. When many Americans don’t have close relationships with army members, memorial day is often transformed into a good day to go to the mall and hit up the holiday sales. Here, where everyone knows people in the army – knows people who have died in the army – this is a day of incredible sadness. Something that highlighted this point for me was seeing Robert Aumann, an Israeli who won the Nobel Prize for Economics for his work in game theory, sitting with family at the graveside of his son who was killed during service. Given the class divide within the military that has resulted in America post-draft, it is hard for me to imagine many American Nobel Prize winners whose sons have been killed in action.

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Just as Yom HaZikaron in Israel commemorates victims of terror in addition to fallen soldiers, so does Har Herzl. A section of the cemetery is devoted to a memorial wall listing the names of all those who have died from terror attacks in Israel since 1860.

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It was frightening and sad to see the newest names recently etched into the rock – names from the time period in which I’ve been living here.

Originally, I was intending to include my Yom HaAtzmaut experience in this post as well…but this has turned into a very long post already and it feels somehow appropriate to leave the shift to celebration for a separate account and let these two somber days stand on their own.

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See my post on Yom HaAtzmaut here

Is this the fast I desire?

Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement – is considered to be the holiest day in the Jewish Year. It is a day for reflection and deep introspection. A day to devote yourself to thinking about how you have strayed over the last year, to repent for what you have done wrong, and to commit yourself to being a better person in the coming year. Interestingly, the prayers and meditations on Yom Kippur can only repair the relationship between you and God or you and yourself. To repair a relationship with another person, you must apologize directly to them. Making the day even more significant is the fact that tradition teaches it is on this day that the book of life is sealed, and within it is written who shall live and who shall die over the next year. One’s merit is determined by the sincerity with which they do teshuvah.

Teshuvah translates roughly as repentance, but the concept is much more complicated. It is not merely about regret and contemplating one’s actions. Teshuvah is a turning towards the right – a true change of heart and character. If presented with the same situation in the future, you would do differently. It is a painful and difficult task to truly change oneself, but this is what teshuvah demands. And this is the charge to the Jewish people during the month of Elul and the high holy days, culminating on Yom Kippur. We are to change ourselves, alter the core of our persons, to become better people. On the most holy day of Yom Kippur, we do this by attending services all day, engaging in continuous self reflection and contemplation, and taking the day off of school and work.

And we fast. No food. No water. Nothing.

And this is where the problem lies. For me and dozens hundreds thousands of Jewish girls and woman who are struggling, recovering, or recovered from eating disorders. For us, fasting is not a way to think more deeply about justice, repentance, and what is right. On the contrary, it is a direct reversion back to some of the behaviors that we most wish to change about ourselves. At best, fasting is a painful reminder of a troubled relationship with food. At worst, it is a triggering experience that brings with it a return or increase of negative thoughts/behaviors.

The acknowledgement that fasting on Yom Kippur is a troublesome demand for those with eating disorders is receiving more attention. In 2012, the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS), the central authority for Jewish law within Conservative Judaism, released a responsa (ruling regarding religious law) titled The Non-Fasting Shaliah Tzibbur on Yom KippurThe overall objective of this responsa was to determine if it is ever permissable for someone who is not fasting on Yom Kippur to be the service leader. Embedded within this larger question is a discussion about which people are excluded from the commandment to fast. In fact, some people are not only permitted to eat, but they are commanded to do so if abstaining from food could cause them harm. For example, if one is ill and fasting could put them at increased physical risk. Within the responsa, the Rabbis note the application to those with eating disorders, stating “it may be dangerous for those who are in treatment for and recovery from eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia to engage in restrictive practices around food consumption.” It seems, then, that there is a green light of sorts permitting those affected by eating disorders to not fast on Yom Kippur.

Unfortunately, the decision is not quite that easy. At least for me. The weight of the decision not to fast feels too monumental. I fear I would be letting down my community, friends, coworkers, family – all of whom are fasting. I worry I am taking the easy way out, making excuses, separating myself from thousands of years of tradition. I worry that I’m ‘too weak’ to handle hunger, that I’m missing an opportunity that would be good for me, that I will regret whatever food I eat during the day….and this is when the eating disorder voice slips in.

And I know I should not fast. I should not fast because in between the meaningful introspection and solemn prayers, I would be obsessing about my next meal, considering how many calories I can eat at dinner that night, if my fast is sufficient to offset the extra calories eaten the night before, and wondering which of the five sizes of pants in my closet (the result of years of weight loss/gain) will fit me tomorrow. Rather than being a day of turning away from those things I wish to rid myself of, it becomes, instead, an invitation for them to reenter my life.

The purpose of the fast on Yom Kippur is not simply food deprivation. In Isaiah 58:5-7, part of the Haftorah reading on Yom Kippur, we read,
is such the fast I desire, a day for men to starve their bodies?…No, this is the fast I desire: to unlock the fetters of wickedness, and untie the cords of the yoke. To let the oppressed go free; to break off every yoke. It is to share your bread with the hungry, and to take the wretched poor into your home; when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to ignore your own kin.”

To me, this is a reaffirmation that lack of food is not the real point. And if fasting makes it all about the food (as is a temptation for someone with my history), then I am, in fact, missing out on the holiday’s true significance. Choosing not to fast is not an ‘easy way out’ or excuse at avoiding the discomfort of hunger. Rather, it is a way for me to access the true meaning and intent of Yom Kippur.

If you are interested in additional reading about the connection between eating disorders and Yom Kippur and the broader Jewish community, check out some of these articles/posts:

Fasting From Affliction: Reflecting on my Eating Disorder on Yom Kippur – on TC JewFolk
When Fasting is Not Teshuvah: Yom Kippur with Eating Disorders – from RitualWell
Eating Disorders in the Jewish Community – from My Jewish Learning
Eating Disorders, A Problem Among Orthodox Jews – from the Huffington Post
Rabbis Sound an Alarm Over Eating Disorders – from the New York Times