When I began spending just a few minutes a day on myself and filling up my reserves, I was able to bring a more joyful, centered, and energized version of myself to my family and the world.
Q: How did you get into meditation?
A: The best way I can explain it is that the Universe pushed me into it. It was part of my journey and path, only I didn’t know it yet!
I was at an event at my synagogue that truthfully I didn’t feel like going to, but my dear friend was chairing it and I wanted to support her. There was a young rabbi speaking, and my friend leaned over during his talk and told me that his sister was a famous medium. I had never thought about mediums before so I probably said something like “cool,” and didn’t give it a second thought.
Two weeks later I was having dinner with a camp friend in Los Angeles whom I hadn’t seen in years. She told me that she had recently had an incredible reading with a medium, and it was the very same one I had recently heard about. I still wasn’t really putting anything together, I only thought it was a funny coincidence.
The next week I was speaking with a friend who said her mother had just had a reading with a medium, and wouldn’t you know it….it was the same one I kept hearing about!
I literally put my hands in the air, and said, “Universe, I have probably missed every sign you have ever given me until now, but I will talk to this woman!”
I had to wait six months to get an appointment, but my reading was a life-changing experience in many ways. The very last thing that she said to me was that I should meditate. I had never thought about meditation before, but I am excellent at following directions so I decided to give it a try. It was the beginning of the most incredible journey ever.
Q: You talk about your “hot mess” phase. What was that like?
A: Before self-care became a staple in my life, I had what I call “martyr syndrome.” I thought that if I put everyone’s needs before my own, and I was last on my list, it meant I was doing things right. I thought I was proving my love to my family. The problem was, my family got an overwhelmed, exhausted, and depleted version of me. That Ali is not fun at all!
When I began spending just a few minutes a day on myself and filling up my reserves, I was able to bring a more joyful, centered, and energized version of myself to my family and the world.
Q: How has your life changed with meditation?
A: This article would be ten pages long if I got into all of it, so I will highlight a few things that were the most life-changing. I definitely became less reactive and more responsive. This means that I stopped yelling so much and then feeling horrible for hours afterward. Instead I learned how to pause, breathe, and move forward in a situation. Since I am human though, I am not perfect at this one hundred percent of the time! Self-compassion and compassion for others has become a huge part of my life. I realize now that every situation and experience, good or bad, is helping me to become the best version of myself. I have to learn the lessons I am supposed to from the hard ones, and celebrate the good ones.
Meditation helped me to feel more confident and connected to my intuition. My sleep improved, and my feeling of overall wellbeing. I tell people that meditation is the best thing that ever happened to me! This is why I became so passionate about sharing and teaching this incredible self-care and self-help tool. When I saw the transformation in my own life and family, I knew these tools were too good to keep to myself. I had a burning desire to share them so I became a certified meditation teacher.
Q: In your newest book “One Minute to Zen” you talk a lot about one-minute meditations. What are they exactly?
A: Life is never going to stop being stressful. It doesn’t matter if you are a stay-at-home mom, a working mom, or a meditation teacher. Life never stops. It is impossible to never feel stressed or overwhelmed, and putting that expectation on ourselves is pointless, and, frankly, not fair. The most important thing is how quickly you can recover from stress. Does it send you into a tailspin for hours, or can you quickly come back to center?
I like to say that all hell can break loose in one minute, so we need tools to come back to center as quickly as possible. That is where one minute meditations come in. We can have a few tools in our back pocket to use anytime we feel stressed, anxious. overwhelmed, depleted, angry or frustrated that can help us come back to center quickly. My new book “One Minute to Zen” has thirty-five one-minute meditation tools so there is something for everyone.
One-minute meditations are the glue that bind my days together. I use them whenever I feel stressed, if my kids are fighting, someone cuts me off on the freeway, or I pick the slowest line at the grocery store. I use them all the time because they work! They help you to recalibrate body, mind and spirit, and to bring your attention back to the present moment.
Q: How do these tools help parents looking to be more present in their day-to-day life?
A: With practice, one-minute meditations become second nature. The more you use them, the faster you can pull them out of your toolbox when you need them. Here’s an example - I used to quickly yell a consequence when my kids were acting up, without thinking if it made sense. I was so reactive, and then I felt like I was stuck with whatever I said. I almost always regretted my choice!
Now, if I occasionally need to give my kids a consequence, I will tell them I need a minute. I will do a one-minute meditation to calm my body down, in order to think more clearly. I can then choose a meaningful consequence that actually makes sense.
There are times, even as a teacher and practitioner of all of these tools, that I find my mind wandering when my kids are telling me a story, or we are playing a game. It happens to all of us! I will immediately use a tool to come back to center quickly so I can be as engaged as possible. In a few years my kids may not care about sharing every detail of their day with me, so I want to soak up every single second now. In these situations I use the mantra “this moment.” On the inhale I silently repeat “this” and on the exhale “moment” a few times. It reminds me to be here now and to truly enjoy this moment.
Q: What are one or two one-minute meditations that can really help parents?
A: You really can’t go wrong with any of them in the book. It’s really so personal which you gravitate toward, but I’ll share two of my favorites, one for parents, and one to use with your kiddos.
For parents: Do a quick body scan
When I feel stress, I immediately feel my shoulders tense. You too? You may also feel your tummy tighten or your hands clench. This is our body talking to us.
When I feel stress in my body, I know it’s a perfect time to do a body scan. Focusing on each part of my body helps me to release tension and come back to center rather quickly.
You can do this at a traffic light, as a stressful meeting is kicking off, or before bed, to release any tension that has built up in your body during the day.
Doing a body scan is simple—start at your head and work your way toward your toes. As you run through each body part, you simply focus on relaxing that part of you. You will spend approximately three seconds on each major body part, allowing you to relax your whole body in about one minute.
4. Take a nice deep breath in and out, and if your eyes are closed, open them.
The great thing about a body scan is that you cannot mess up. If you miss a body part, it’s no big deal. This is a low pressure tool. It’s always interesting to see where you are holding tension. I never thought of my cheeks as I place I would need to relax, but it’s amazing how much tension I am always holding there. Keep an open mind, and let your body do its thing.
For kids: Balloon in the Belly
I instruct my clients, during parts of meditation, to really breathe into their belly, or to take “belly breaths.” The easiest way to understand how to do this is to imagine you are blowing up a balloon in your belly on the inhale, and then let all the air out of the balloon on the exhale. This ensures that you are taking a full, deep breath.
Kids love balloons so it’s a great visualization for them. They can pick their favorite color balloon, or pick a color based on their feelings in the moment. They can simply practice blowing up and releasing the balloon for a minute, or you can guide them to extend this practice two ways.
Let go of a worry
If they have something weighing on their mind, or they are feeling anxious, frustrated, overwhelmed, or stressed in any way, on the last inhale of the practice they can imagine putting their worry inside of the balloon. On the exhale they can imagine their balloon floating into the blue sky with their worry inside, carrying it far, far way. This can feel like a great release.
Make a wish
They can also imagine a wish filling their balloon on their last inhale, and on their last exhale the balloon can carry their wish up into the sky.
Everyone can benefit from bringing more mindful pauses into their day, and using one-minute meditations as a way to come back to center in the face of stress.
I hope everyone gets a copy of “One Minute to Zen” so that they can live their very best, most joyful life!
Ali Katz is a best-selling author, motivational speaker, self-care and mindful parenting coach, and a meditation expert.
Her mission is to inspire mothers across the globe to leave overwhelm, stress and guilt behind, and to embrace a life full of balance, presence, and joy.
Ali's latest book, One Minute to Zen: Go From Hot Mess to Mindful Mom in One Minute or Less, comes out November 4th. Grab your copy to get Ali's tip for dealing with stress in one minute, the same amount of time it can take for all hell to break loose!
To learn more visit hotmesstomindfulmom.com
Sure, some of it might be a little exaggerated - most teenagers I know have at least a few close friends and are able to have a civil conversation with our parents - but none of it feels contrived or otherwise outside of the norm.
Sadie Bograd, KY, Sophomore
Don’t get me wrong - I love high school movies. From Mean Girls to Clueless, High School Musical to The Breakfast Club, I’m always ready to curl up with my laptop or at a sleepover and fall into the story of a popular (or “interestingly quirky”) girl finding her one true love at the tender age of sixteen. But no matter how beloved, I’ve never been able to fully immerse myself in these films, because they’ve always felt fake. As a high schooler myself, I know I look nothing like a 25-year-old Rachel McAdams or even a 17-year-old Vanessa Hudgens with a perfectly curated outfit and carefully styled haircut. I don’t have a boyfriend at all, much less one as dreamy as Zac Efron, and I’ve never had the kind of whirlwind romance that goes from introduction to passionately making out in the course of a single detention. Although my occasional pimples and perpetual singleness are not uncommon among my peers, they’d be completely out of place in the average movie about “teenagers.” Of course, movies aren’t expected to totally reflect reality. We watch them for an escape from our daily lives, a reminder that the world can turn out all right. But in a story where even the biggest outcasts are capable of constant witty repartee and no one ends the story alone, the heartwarming sensation I get watching a film can quickly transform into a sense of loss and confusion when I reflect on my own comparatively miserable life. Perhaps surprisingly for a girl my age, I actually enjoy my life, my friends, and my school. A constant barrage of high school movies can create an unhealthy standard for comparison that leaves me ultimately feeling worse off.
That’s where Eighth Grade comes in. Unlike legitimately every other movie I have ever seen before, not a single moment of the film felt fake or forced. Protagonist Kayla (played by the remarkable Elsie Fisher) is awkward and silent in a way that resonates with the uncomfortable conversations I’ve had many a time, so notably absent from typical high school movies. It’s reassuring to know that I’m not the only one who doesn’t make friends instantaneously, or who can’t (or won’t) rattle off hilariously biting insults at a moment’s notice. Kayla’s dad is dorky without being farcical, her emotions are intense without being constantly on display, and her friendships (or lack thereof) were utterly relatable. Sure, some of it might be a little exaggerated - most teenagers I know have at least a few close friends and are able to have a civil conversation with our parents - but none of it feels contrived or otherwise outside of the norm. Kayla is the most accurate representation of an adolescent I’ve seen on-screen to date, and if that makes her conversation a little less intellectually stimulating, it’s all the more endearing to watch. Combined with Bo Burnham’s masterful directing, Eighth Grade is a movie that proves you don’t have to become a popular, perfect princess to get your own happy ending.
Ava Rowse, MD, Sophmore
Eighth Grade, written and directed by Bo Burnham is a heart-warming and relatable coming of age story. Kayla Day, the eighth grader struggling to fit in and be confidence becomes a motivational hero for anyone who’s experienced embarrassment, anxiety or frankly, middle school, whether or not you came out unscathed. Middle school is a social marathon, when it seems every clique is altered on the hour. In eighth grade, the fear of high school adds onto the stress of just surviving these years. Throughout the movie Kayla shows two sides of herself; the quiet, self conscious, outsider who merely wants school to end, and the empowered and selfless champion making videos for others struggling. It is easier to watch Kayla overcome her personal battles, yet the fact that Eighth Grade validates the awkwardness that accompanies any adolescent's success is exactly what distinguishes it from other teenage tales. Although timid, lonely Kayla appears more often, when she emerges from her shell, she a powerhouse in her own right and serves as an inspiration for fans. Elsie Fisher, the actress playing Kayla never stepped out of character, giving the viewers an opportunity to genuinely feel the emotions she’s portraying. There wasn’t a moment when I doubted her concerns were valid or when I didn’t feel empathy for Kayla. The feelings that were emanated were raw and true, so I occasionally cringed from looking back on my own eighth grade days. The movie was still relatable, yet I may have appreciated it more watching it as a sophomore than I would have if I were in eighth grade because I don’t have the same pressures as I did and I’ve grown from experiences since. Watching, I was struck by the pride I felt in Kayla, even though I am just few years older. The videography had an unprofessional, vlog type feel. I enjoyed the shakily filmed scenes, making me feel as if I was just another Suffern Middle student, fully integrated in the movie. Not only do I admire and empathize with Kayla, I truly understand her.
Thank you to jGirls Magazine for contributing this content.
jGirls Magazine is an online community and magazine written by and for self-identifying Jewish girls ages 13-19. Content is created by teens, and curated by a teen Editorial Board.
In providing this forum for expression and exploration, jGirls contributes to long-term social change in the Jewish community by cultivating the next generation of bold, committed Jewish female leaders.
To learn more, visit jgirlsmagazine.org
Rosh Hashanah, which starts this year on the evening of September 9th and ends on Tuesday September 11th, is perhaps the most important holiday in the Jewish religion. The two-day holiday, the only one that’s celebrated as two days both in Israel and the Diaspora, is a celebration of the Jewish New Year, during which we recognize the day that G-d created Adam and Eve. In addition to being a celebration of our creation, it is also a time for accounting and judgment of our actions. And, as with most Jewish holidays and customs, we celebrate and mark the occasion with food.
On the Jewish New Year we greet one another with the words Shanah Tovah or Shana Tova u'Metukah, Hebrew for “a good year" or "a good and sweet new year!” As a result, our table is deliberately filled with foods that symbolize sweetness, blessings, and abundance and reflect a hope for happy, prosperous days to come.
If your family is anything like mine, you’ve been discussing, or at least contemplating, the menu for weeks now.
Here are a few of our favorite ingredients to include in your feast, along with JEW-ishly-approved recipes that should impress even the most critical of Jewish mothers or mothers in law.
The Challah is round on Rosh Hashanah, symbolizing the circle of life. It is also symbolic of a crown, alluding to the desire to crown G-d as king. The challah is then dipped in honey instead of salt, our typical Shabbat tradition.
We battled with our parents yearly to find, or bake, raisin-less challah for the holiday. Now that we're in charge, we're team Sans-Raisin-Challah! Challah at us if you agree.
Here is the sweet and salty challah from Smitten Kitchen: it's got figs AND salt, and will make for a fantastic french toast if there are any leftovers.
Apples dipped in honey
One of the most well-known traditions of the Jewish New Year that's been passed down for centuries is eating apples dipped in honey.
The sweet treat symbolizes more than just the sweet new year Jews hope to be blessed with. The apple also represents Gan Eden, or the Garden of Eden, as we celebrate the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve.
Fish head (yes fish head!)
Since Rosh Hashanah means “head of the year” in Hebrew, many Sephardic Jews will feast on the head of a fish. In Jewish culture, fish represents fertility and abundance, and metaphorically the head represents being a leader and not a follower.
The pomegranate, or rimon, is special for several reasons. The Torah consists of 613 mitzvot. It is also said that the pomegranate consists of 613 seeds, which is why we eat it on Rosh Hashanah. But there's another link between pomegranates and the Jewish New Year -- just as the fruits are full of seeds, we hope we'll be similarly full of merits in the coming year.
We love Yotam Ottolenghi’s “Jerusalem” cookbook for many reasons, and this delicious Roasted cauliflower, hazelnut and pomegranate seed salad is no exception.
The Hebrew word for beet is Selek, to remove, and is eaten to express that we hope our enemies are removed.
This beets and carmelized onion recipe can serve as your base: you can add sauteed mushrooms and anything else you like to dial it up or down. Feel free to take out the feta and pine nuts if you don’t like those. And you can, of course, use fresh beets, rather than canned. Many grocery stores now sell cooked beets in the produce section for lazy people, like me.
The date, tamar, shares sounds with the verb “finish” (tam) in Hebrew and comes with the wish that there come an end to our enemies, haters and those who wish evil upon us.
Though mentioned often in the Bible, figs are probably most famously associated with the story of Creation. When Adam and Eve have to leave the Garden of Eden, they cover themselves with fig leaves. Some have even argued that the forbidden fruit was actually a fig, not an apple.
I love figs! they're one of my favorite foods to eat on their own or with cheese, when in season. They're sweet and full of flavor and make a perfect sweet addition to your feast. They also look beautiful and can serve a dual purpose as a centerpiece.
In our family, no one skips dessert! This Honey Cake, also from Smitten Kitchen is a perfect combination of sweet and spicy, not your mother’s dry, barely edible honey cake.
Wishing you, and yours, Shanah Tovah u’Metukah. May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life, and may we be blessed with many simchas in the coming year.
Every year on my anniversary, Netta says I should write down my thoughts on what makes a successful marriage and I always roll my eyes and chuckle to myself. What would I know? We’ve only been married now for 17 years. We were mere children when we got married, and even when we had our kids. We can fight like cats and dogs. Who am I to provide advice to others on a successful marriage?
And so, I won’t. I won’t tell you steps you must undertake or give you the secret sauce. Because I don’t think there is an easy way to have a successful marriage. Or a single path. Guy and I have fun together. Not all the time, certainly (did I mention the fighting like cats and dogs?). But most days we can still make each other laugh. When something good, or bad, happens, there are only a handful of people I think of calling, and he’s always at the top of that list. Ok...sometimes he’s near the top. A girl needs her sisters and her mom! Perhaps most importantly, I never question his motives. I know he always has my, our children’s, and our family’s best interests at heart. Our goals are aligned and we’re true partners.
That final statement is an interesting one. I don’t always consider us 50/50 partners. This isn’t something we ever discussed, but I consider Guy’s main job to provide for the family and handle the finances, and I consider my main role to keep the home and the children in order. We both work full time, there have been times when we’ve made the same salaries, but I’ve never considered my role to be the breadwinner. We’ve never been in competition, and that’s what I mean by true partners. Guy supports my career, nurtures my relationships with my family, and even (begrudgingly, at times) contributes to JEWishly’s success. In return, I let him ball boy at the US Open and ignore his sneaker addiction.
The other night, Michal asked if I had a modem interpretation of the Sheva Brachot, the Seven Blessings. The Seven Blessings are traditionally shared at Jewish wedding ceremonies and are adapted from ancient rabbinic teachings, beginning with the blessing over the wine and ending with a communal expression of joy. The blessings are about the creation of the world, the creation of humankind, the unity of loving people, and the joy of marriage. With the Internet, there is now abundant opportunity to make the blessings personalized, so rather than sharing the Hebrew and translation, I’ll simply share the categories I shared with her.
A loving home.
Humor and play.
Art, beauty, creativity.
If you and your partner can thrive in these areas, you will have a successful marriage. But how you get there should be your own journey, paved with your partner, family, and community by
Enjoy the path ❤
My sister Meirav recently called me from a business trip and announced she was getting a tattoo. I, of course, gave her all the reasons this was not a good idea, to quickly realize it was not my decision to make. Meirav did listen THIS TIME, but it also had me wondering whether or not a tattoo can be kosher in today's Judaism.
My sisters and I were always told that tattoos were not allowed. Not only frowned upon by our Iraqi father, like short skirts and revealing tops, but by Judaism. We believed Jews with tattoos on their bodies would be denied burial in a Jewish cemetery. One modern reason cited by many is the holocaust and its close association with branding, which I fully understand and respect, but if that were true did it mean that those who have survived the holocaust could not be buried in a Jewish cemetery? That couldn't be true and needed some more research.
Not surprisingly, I found out that the views differ widely, as is true with so many other things in Judaism. Different rabbis hold different opinions, and the old adage about tattoos in a Jewish cemetery also appears to be not so true. So, what's a Jew to do?
Like many other practices and customs, the prohibition is rooted in the text. Leviticus 19:28 states, “You shall not make gashes in your flesh for the dead nor incise any marks on yourself: I am the Lord.” Clear as day, right? There is widespread discussion on whether this is simply a prohibition of tattoos that refer to G-d or all tattoos. In addition, back when the text was written, tattooing was done to mark slaves, often the name of a slave’s owner would be tattooed or branded on his hand or forehead. Some now argue that as tattooing has evolved, Leviticus is no longer valid.
And what about the Jewish symbols, Hebrew words, and other Jew-ish tattoos that one could argue help tie Jews together as a community? in recent years, the tattoo has emerged as a tool for younger Jews to connect to their past and express their personal identify, and many very talented tattoo artists have dedicated their work to do just that.
Some Jews have even begun to tattoo themselves with the Auschwitz numbers of relatives so that the world remembers the atrocities done to their loved ones. Because Holocaust survivors are now dying, the descendants who memorialize them do so because they want to make sure that the world never forgets the suffering their family endured.
Once again, as is often the case, we, as Jews, have the opportunity to adopt the halachic interpretation that most relates to our family and lifestyle. Most who know me well know I'm very much a traditionalist, but I'm also a realist: we live in a world where some of the rules for Judaism, especially non-Orthodox Judaism, have evolved, and will continue to evolve. If we want to be seen as a modern religion where all Jews feel welcome, we need to continue to ask questions, rethink, read between the lines, and try our best to include, not exclude, others.
Hannah, Zach, and Mia, if you're interpreting this as an invitation to go and get inked, read again. But I'm happy to discuss and debate it with you around the dinner table if and when you're ready to do so.
I was sitting in a Broadway show this week for my son’s 5th grade field trip and staring into space when he asked me if I was okay. It is that time of year—finals! Elementary graduation! Camp Packing! All good and wonderful things, but trying to balance them with work and life and all the emotions that come along, is taxing and my eyes were closing during School of Rock. Sorry, School of Rock. I blinked away the sleep and told him I was fine. Just tired. He took my hand in his and held it for the rest of the show. I teared up and held on tight. In a week, he and my daughter will be at sleep away camp for 7 weeks.
They will decorate their area with all of the vital bunk-bed accoutrements we’ve collected over the years, and a collage I almost forgot to make. They will yawn through morning prayers, sing and dance over breakfast, and walk around linked arm in arm with their favorite people in the world, painting their faces and cheering with great ruach as they stumble—their legs tied together as three, their hearts tied together as one. They will work on their Hebrew, folding words like agam and kikar into their vocabulary and they will wear white and look out at the lake on Shabbat and I will count the minutes until Sunday when I will—G-D willing—discover a picture of them in their Shabbat smiles and wet hair, fresh off a camp week steeped in sunshine and sweat and lake water.
They will make new friends but keep the old.
I will cry at the first traffic light I hit after their bus leaves. I will remember that I cried when my mom left me at the top of the hilltop at my own beloved camp, after making my bed just right and hugging me tight and shmushing my face in her hands, squinting back her own tears. I will remember that I got over it the minute a counselor took me to back to the bunk for more unpacking and a dance party.
I will make loads of doctor appointments and I will run and write and eat dinner outside by the water in my town, which I appreciate and breathe in more in the summer. I will take evening walks with my husband and we will go on long weekend hikes and maybe check out a city we’ve never visited, have a conversation we’ve been meaning to have.
Summer camp is a collage in its own right. Snapshots taped up in my memory of best friends and enemies and girl drama and crushes and color war and heat stroke and homesickness and carnivals and bobbing for apples. It was a camp out of time where we would gather under a giant oak tree after Saturday morning services, and sing a resounding When the Saints Go Marching In, played by cute counselors in tie-dye and guitars, and a folksy camp director wielding an acoustic guitar, too, and a hankering for the simple pleasures of summers past. There were wreck hall dances to the soundtrack of 80’s pop and a raucous Born to Run would leave us dripping with sweat and euphoria. We would part ways afterwards, maybe with a quick kiss at the end of a bridge—girls to the left and boys to the right. It would all culminate in a last night of camp bonfire set to Leaving on a Jetplane and the wails of teenage girls afraid of what would come next.
I loved it and I hated it. Some of your kids will love it and some will hate it, too.
The kids will come home and they will maybe even put their laundry in the hamper without being asked and clear their dishes and ask to do Birkat after our first Shabbat reunited. And then summer will fade away with the beginning of a new school year and we will be propelled forward through algebra and lunchroom shenanigans and bat mitzvahs and hopefully, fingers crossed for us all, more good things than bad. Somehow, my son will not be in elementary school anymore and my daughter will be finishing off middle school, and heading in the direction of high school and I will carpool a lot and we will angst a little over book reports and tennis tryouts and lunch packing and it will be hard to get in some writing or even a quick run.
But I will make time for holding their hands tight when I can. I will stifle my yawns when I can, grateful that they lived somewhere without me in a screen-free cocoon of Judaism and song, and that they came back to me—stronger and taller and bronze with memories, and let us say Amen.
When I am scrolling through cable channels late on a sleepless night, there are some movies that I simply cannot pass by. Whether they’ve just started or the final scene is about to start, I HAVE to watch them.
Some movies fall into this category simply because they are excellent – The Godfather, Shawshank Redemption and Cry Freedom come to mind immediately. I immediately get sucked in by the cinematography, the music, the acting or the message. These movies really make me think. They transport me to some other place and time. They inspire me. They give me something that I can truly appreciate. So, it makes sense that I always stop to watch them when I can.
A second group of movies that I cannot pass by all just make me laugh. Ferris Beuller’s Day Off, Trading Places and History of the World, Part I all fall into this category. I immediately start reciting my favorite lines along with the cast. I understand my attraction to these movies. They distract me from whatever else is going on in life and make me feel better.
My hunch is that the movies I’ve mentioned so far make sense. However, there’s a third category that I’m a little reluctant to mention. You see – some of the movies on my must-watch list are simply God-awful. I considered not listing any of the movies that fall into this category out of shame, but here are three for your consideration: Waterworld, Rambo and Road House. Really.
I’ve thought long and hard about why these movies have a hold on me. At first, I thought it was the “car-crash” phenomenon. Just as I can’t look away from an accident on the side of the road, my eyes are drawn to a horrible movie. There may be some truth to that, but I think there’s something more at play. These films take me back to the time I first saw them. They return me to an earlier stage of my own life regardless of what’s on the screen. I feel like a kid again when I watch these terrible movies.
If you’ve stuck with me so far, you might very well be asking yourself, “What does all of this have to do with Shavuot?”
Well, the Festival of Shavuot has no menorahs. It has no booths, no matzahs and no greggers. As a result, we might flip right by it as we are scrolling through the channels of Jewish life. But that would be a mistake, because Shavuot has all the elements of a “must-watch” movie.
First of all, it has a compelling story. On Shavuot, we celebrate the giving – and receiving! – of the Torah. It defies logic that a collection of stories, laws and customs from centuries ago has been passed down through the generations so that it lives on today in the form of Judaism. While the Torah has been interpreted and reinterpreted many times to ensure that it continues to speak truth in every generation, it is the same text that our ancestors received and studied many centuries ago.
In addition, the Festival of Shavuot can distract us and make us feel better. After all, there’s cheesecake – need I say more? All joking aside, when we take time out of our busy lives to turn off our phones, tune out our outside obligations and focus on our families and our traditions, we are doing ourselves a BIG favor. Whether we participate in a traditional late-night study session – called a “Tikkun” – or pick up a book with a Jewish theme, we are taking a short break from the craziness of our lives. Delicious dairy foods – blintzes, ice cream and more! – are just a bonus.
Finally, the Festival of Shavuot can transport us to a different time and place. We can imagine ourselves as part of the generation that first received the Torah. Or we can imagine ourselves like Ruth (it is customary to read the Book of Ruth on Shavuot). Often considered the first Jew by choice, she declared that she was going to accept God and be part of our people even though it was not the community into which she was born. Or we can try to place ourselves in any other time or place in Jewish history. Sometimes it takes that kind of thought exercise for those of us born in the community to fully appreciate our Jewishness.
So, let me make you an offer that you can’t refuse: come celebrate the giving of the Fifteen, er, Ten Commandments by studying some Torah, by eating some fun foods and by imagining yourself someplace on the long chain of Jewish history. Happy Shavuot!
~ Rabbi Avi Friedman.
At the center of every Jewish celebration is food and most certainly, when family is involved, wine. And nothing says Jewish holidays and celebrations more than a good old Manischewitz bottle. But if you're anything like me (not Meirav, she loves Manischewitz) you are looking for something slightly better. So, what's a girl to do on Passover, when the seder is slightly too long, or during the week that follows?
*A caveat: I'm not a big drinker, but when I do drink, I want it to be good. Can you really blame me?*
Your safest bet of course is always wine. Traditionally, you are expected to drink four cups during the Passover seder. Because wine is made from fermented grapes, not grains, it's usually fine. To be 100% sure make sure the bottle has a kosher for Passover label.
For the rest, let's start with the simple rule: if the alcohol is made of wheat, barley, spelt, rye, or oat, it's probably a no go. I know, I know, this sounds bad, but...there are some things you CAN drink so read on.
Any beer made with wheat, barley, spelt, rye, or oat is not kosher for Passover.
Bourbon is usually off the table during Passover as well.
Usually these are not recommended as well.
All domestic vodkas are kosher, some imported ones are as well: Ketel One, Absolut, Belvedere, Finlandia, Grey Goose. They are kosher for Passover if they are potato based instead of wheat.
Your only option with a pesach hekhsher is San Francisco’s Distillery No. 209, which produces a specialty seasonal sugar cane sprit based (different from its year round grain spirits) gin.
TEQUILA (my personal favorite)
Regular or white tequila is the recommended option for those keeping kosher.
Patrón Silver and Roca Patrón Silver are both now certified Kosher for Passover. Patrón has always been certified Kosher, and that certification has now been extended to include Kosher for Passover for Silver and Roca.
But beware: while all Patrón Silver and Roca Patrón Silver tequila is certified Kosher for Passover, some bottles currently on store shelves and online may not yet display the Kosher for Passover symbol.
Looking for some Passover cocktail ideas?
Fill champagne flutes halfway with concord grape Manischewitz. Fill to the top with grape or apple, or apple-grape sparkling cider. Add one lime wedge's worth of lime juice and 2-3 dashes of bitters to each flute.
Sparkling Paloma Cocktails
LOVE & LEMONS
Serves: 4 to 6 drinks
My favorite place to have a margarita in the summer is at bartaco: they truly have it down to a science, and nothing marks the arrival of Spring and Summer better than a good margarita.
Here is their official Margarita recipe, courtesy of Tasty Bev:
Zachlawi demonstrates how to make a Blackberry Mojito and Crushed Ice Mango Margarita that look incredible!
Looking for other ideas? The Sipping Seder has some creative Passover-inspired cocktails.
Passover (Pesach in Hebrew) commemorates our liberation from slavery in ancient Egypt. Each spring, Jews around the world recount Passover's story at a festive meal called the seder, surrounded by family and friends.
Passover without a seder is like a football game without a quarterback. And the MVP at the Passover table is the seder plate. Nothing on the seder table is randomly selected; the plate is rich with symbolism, meaning, and history. From Zeroa and Maror to Charoset and Chazeret, Passover foods reconnect the seder participants with historical events that happened more than 3,000 years ago.
So what exactly is a seder plate?
In theory a seder plate could be any plate on which you place the symbolic foods of the meal, but many people use a plate made specifically for the Passover seder.
If you have kids, get them involved by decorating a paper plate with pictures of the events or things the seder foods symbolize. If you’re not creative, don’t worry. They’ll probably bring at least one a year from Hebrew School.
Does it matter where the foods are placed on the plate?
Most seder plates label which food goes where, so most people just put each item in the designated spot on the plate.
So..what goes on the seder plate?
There are six traditional foods that go on the seder plate:
1. Zeroa or shank bone:
One of the most striking symbols of Passover is the roasted lamb shankbone (called zeroah), which commemorates the paschal (lamb) sacrifice made the night the ancient Hebrews fled Egypt. Some people say it symbolizes the outstretched arm of God (the Hebrew word zeroah can mean “arm”).
While a roasted lamb bone is traditionally used to represent the zeroa, any piece of roasted meat may be used. Some families use chicken or turkey neck. Growing up we only used the bone, there was no meat on it, so this really does depend on your upbringing and your family's traditions.
2. Beitzah or egg:
Like the zeroa, the egg (beitzah, in Hebrew) stands in for a holiday sacrifice once offered at the Holy Temple. The egg is also a universal symbol of springtime, new beginnings and rebirth -- all themes that are echoed in the story of the Exodus.
The egg is not eaten during the ritual part of the seder; however, many families preempt their main course with an appetizer of hard boiled eggs, which they serve with salt water. This first course reminds those who eat it of the hardships that brought them here.
3. Maror or bitter herbs
Maror, or bitter herbs, symbolizes the bitterness of slavery. Different families use different foods to represent the maror, but it is most typically horseradish or romaine lettuce. Like the Jews' time in Egypt, romaine lettuce is sweet at first, but becomes more and more bitter as time goes on.
4. Karpas or vegetable
Karpas is a green leafy vegetable, usually parsley, used to symbolize the initial flourishing of the Jews in Egypt. According to the Book of Genesis, Joseph and his family moved from the biblical land of Ca'anan down to Egypt during a drought. Once in Egypt, Joseph quickly rose to power as the Egyptian pharaoh's second-in-command -- a revered position that extended special protection to the Israelite people for several generations.
However, when a new pharaoh came to power, he was threatened by the growing size of the Israelite community and enslaved them. This turn of events is commemorated during the seder by dipping the karpas into bitter salt water, which represents the tears shed by the Israelites.
Karpas also symbolizes springtime — which is appropriate since Passover is called Hag Ha'Aviv or the holiday of spring. Some families use boiled spring potatoes, continuing a tradition from Eastern Europe where it was difficult to get fresh green vegetables.
There’s nothing further from maror than charoset (“kha-ROH-set”).
A paste-like mixture of fruits, nuts and sweet wine or honey, charoset (also spelled haroset) is symbolic of the mortar used by the Israelite slaves when they laid bricks for Pharaoh’s monuments. The word charoset is derived from the Hebrew word for clay, cheres.
Jews from Eastern European descent (Ashkenazi) make their charoset from apples, walnuts, sweet red wine and a generous dash of cinnamon. Families from Sephardic descent use dates, figs, almonds and honey to make charoset.
Similar to maror, chazeret is a bitter food (usually lettuce or a root vegetable). The sixth symbolic Passover food on the seder plate, chazeret is not used by all families. Chazeret is more commonly included on seder plates in Israel, where romaine lettuce typically stands for the chazeret and horseradish for the maror.
What else is on the seder table?
Salt water: Salt water symbolizes the tears and sweat of enslavement. Often a single bowl of salt water sits on the table into which each person dips their karpas during the seder. Then, it’s traditional to begin the actual seder meal with each person eating a hardboiled egg (not the roasted egg!) dipped in the bowl of salt water.
Matzah: Perhaps the most important symbol on the seder table is a plate that has a stack of three pieces of matzah (unleavened bread) on it. The matzot (that’s plural for matzah) are typically covered with a cloth. People have come up with numerous interpretations for the three matzot. Some say they represent the Kohen class (the Jewish priests in ancient times), the Levis (who supported the priests), and the Israelites (the rest of the Jews).
The top matzah is referred to as Kohen, for the Kohen takes precedence in all matters.
The middle matzah Levi is broken into two at the beginning of the seder. The smaller piece is left on the plate and is later eaten along with the Kohen matzah in fulfillment of the mitzvah of matzah; the larger piece is put away for use as the afikoman.
The bottom matzah, Yisrael is used for korech, so that every one of the matzot is used for the performance of a mitzvah.
Wine cups and wine (or grape juice): Everyone at the seder has a small cup or glass from which they drink four cups of wine. Traditionally, the four cups represent the four biblical promises of redemption: “I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you from their slavery, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm, and with great judgments. And I will take you to me for a people . . .” Others say the four cups represent the four letters in the unspeakable Name of God.
Chag Pesach Sameach.
Photo for Israel365 by Yehoshua Halevi
If you have young kids attending a secular school, then you know the rituals: make valentines for the whole class; attend a Heart Hop at school, or a party celebrating friendship with painted cookies and the like. Even I, whose children have always attended Jewish Day Schools, have always marked the day with chocolates and little tokens for my kids. But in the back of my mind I’ve often wondered, is Valentine’s Day in keeping with my Jew-ish roots?
Orthodox Judaism discourages us from celebrating Valentine’s Day, due to the Catholic or Pagan origins of the holiday. But, in truth, nothing regarding the modern traditions of Valentine’s Day is overtly religious.
Little is known regarding St. Valentine. It is widely believed that the traditions tying love themes to February 14th have little to do with the life of St. Valentine himself. Some believe that Valentine’s Day is a Christian reconstruction of the pagan fertility festival of Lupercalia. 20th-century literary scholar Jack B. Oruch attributes the themes of love and romance on Valentine’s Day to Geoffrey Chaucer in the late 14th-Century England. The oldest formal greeting can be traced to the 1500s.
So what’s a Jew-ish girl to do?? There are apparently Jewish laws to help me decide!
We first need to answer if the debated activity has a secular origin or value, and whether the ritual can be rationally explained outside of the event. In the case of Valentine’s Day, today’s rituals of gifting chocolates and corny Hallmark card are logical expression of love, friendship, and appreciation independent of the holiday. Also, the Church doesn’t recognize it as a Christian holiday, and there is plenty of evidence refuting its pagan origins. Next, we need to question if there are idolatrous origins that still exist and whether there are activities that contradict Jewish tradition. We answered the first part, as popular opinion is that Valentine’s Day does not have pagan roots. As for the final question, the desire to express love and offer tokens of love and affection are consistent with Jewish values. So much so, that there is a Valentine’s Day equivalent on the Jewish calendar! Tu B’Av (in 2018 on July 27th), which when said aloud is Tu-Av and very similar to Toe-Av, or the command love, is a day dedicated to matchmaking and fertility.
I’m convinced! I will shower my children and my husband with chocolates, silly cards, and tokens of affection that will make them roll their eyes. Because, after all, how can anyone be against a day that celebrates love?
Wishing you all, today and every day, love and gratitude.