Humble Faith

“The universe is a pretty big place. If it’s just us, seems like an awful waste of space.”

– Carl Sagan (1934-1996)

For thousands of years, people thought of themselves as the center of the universe. People believed that they were the most sophisticated animal and assumed that Earth was the only planet to house life, let alone intelligent life.

Religions encouraged such beliefs. The story of Genesis made humans the pinnacle of God’s creation and center of His plan, as the master of all other life forms. As late as the early 17th century, when Galileo posited that the Earth rotated around the sun, not the other way ’round’, the Catholic Church called him a heretic, banned his books and sentenced him to prison.

Religion appeared vain, anchored in self-absorption, and in opposition to science.

Map of world with Jerusalem in the center by Heinrich Bunting (1581)

As science became widely accepted over the following hundreds of years, people came to appreciate how small the Earth is in a remote edge of the galaxy. Mankind shifted from writing mythology about Gods in the stars, to scripting stories of alien life traversing the universe. Man seemingly embraced science and eschewed religion.

But people remained equally as arrogant.

Beyond the wave of science fiction books and movies over the past sixty years, sci-“fact” shows like the new “UFO” documentary have considered that aliens from other planets have come to Earth. The guise of awe for the unidentified flying objects at first conveyed humbleness in considering that humans are neither alone nor the center of the universe. Yet that premise fell completely flat. What kind of unbridled arrogance must someone have to believe that in the vastness of space, an alien managed to find earth and visit that one special person. Such remarkable conceit!

A profound faith in either religion or science could mask the same egotism with a different veneer of humility.

Carl Sagan, an astronomer and popular author about space strongly believed in science and of life on other worlds, and also believed in religion. He once said that “Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality.” Despite the appreciation for both belief and science, he nevertheless acknowledged the issue with fundamentalism in his book ‘Contact‘ and how religion and science could be at odds for those with profound faith.

At its worst, profound religion acts as a cudgel, enabling those who believe they speak with divine authority to dictate demands. Deep faith facilitates massacres like the Christian and Muslim crusades as well as the Inquisition.

This stands in sharp contrast in humble faith. Humble religion serves as a guide for people to act towards one another with kindness. The belief in a powerful God who judges people’s seen and unseen actions is designed to shepherd society with humbleness as a check on power.

Faith can act as rein or a weapon. It depends on whether it is embraced with humility or conceit.

Jews have often been accused of arrogance as they believe that much of the bible is particular and not universal. Yet it is a unique monotheistic religion in believing that all people can ascend to heaven: Jews need to follow 613 commandments while non-Jews only need to follow the seven Noahide Laws related to universal morality. That is why Judaism does not try to convert people as their souls do not require “saving.”

Judaism encourages a humble faith in God and science, pursuing both knowledge and coexistence.

The notion that there is a dichotomy between religion and science is widely touted and deeply false. The divide is between profound faith and humble faith. The latter will serve to the betterment of all mankind.


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‘Her Unorthodox Brand’

The Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities are extremely upset about their depiction in the Netflix show “My Unorthodox Life.” People have accused the show’s star, Julia Haart, of maliciously slandering the lifestyle of thousands of women as outrageously “fundamentalist” in nature. One woman said in a local newspaper that “Monsey is home to thousands of women who are thriving religiously, professionally and personally. We are wise, we are proud and opportunities abound. We come in all different flavors. While some of us have chosen to be stay-at-home wives and mothers, many of us have pursued careers as CEOs, doctors, lawyers, nurses, authors, artists, business owners, computer techs, professors, therapists, accountants — and pretty much anything else out there.

While undoubtedly true, Haart’s story has its own message and it has so much less to do with Judaism than it does about the brand she is building and the money she hopes to make.

Julia Haart in Netflix’s “My Unorthodox Life”

Haart is the CEO of a modeling agency called Elite World Group and a clothing line named “e1972.” In the competitive world of modeling and apparel, brand message is everything and critical to success.

Haart elected to build her brands around the central theme of “giving women a voice,” and the entire “Unorthodox” show was developed to burnish that image.

The thrust of the “voice of women” message is found throughout. Haart specifically states that she is focused on helping models build their own personal brands as influencers on social media and elsewhere to extend their careers. In one episode, Julia spends time with a model helping her to launch her own line of sauces with flavors from her hometown and an image of herself on the label. One of Haart’s daughters builds her own social media presence, which she then tries to use on behalf of other models.

The underwriter of Julia’s modeling empire is her husband who built and sold a communications company years earlier. He is virtually invisible throughout the show, as his presence would undermine the message that this is a woman’s company showcasing women’s voices. The husband represents the “creepy old men from the fashion industry,” which Julia has promised to purge.

While marketed as a reality TV show, it is heavily crafted. That the women wake up in bed with an hour’s work of makeup on their faces and two-inch eyelashes in place, is but one tell-tale sign.

The storylines are all orchestrated with “the voice of women” message. Women – and Julia in particular – come off as assertive and powerful, while the men are feckless and timid. The women have successful or budding careers, while the men are faltering (there is deliberately no discussion of what Julia’s successful husband does). The women have active dating lives while the men cannot even talk to women without assistance of a female family member. There are repeated scenes of women keeping men waiting at restaurants or not showing up for appointments because the women are too busy, in a poor attempt to show the women as more important than those kept waiting, when it just made the women look rude and exposed the scriptwriters’ choreography too blatantly.

Of course, everyone comes to Julia for advice and she’s always the one with the right answers to solve each problem. She is the mascot of the brand and her voice and message must be the strongest.

It is through that lens that one has to consider the depiction of Ultra-Orthodox Judaism in the show.

Religion is just a tool in the script. To be a true inspiration to others, Julia must have broken away from a terrible past that had suppressed her. The darker and more fundamentalist her background, the greater her star shines in her new brand. In the past she was just a baby machine and unable to wear what she wanted; now she stops her children from having kids and walks around showing as much cleavage as she can while keeping the show PG. She had been limited to kosher and now enjoys shrimp and non-kosher restaurants. She had lived in her husband’s shadow in a male-dominated cloistered society, while now she is the star and bread-winner in the world, supporting the entire family.

The Orthodox community watches the Haart show from their particular vantage point, rightly insulted by the commentary on their lifestyle but cannot fathom that despite the show’s title, it has nothing to do with Judaism. “Unorthodox” is just a multi-hour long EWG “voice of women” infomercial, and the various over-the-top portrayals are simply gimmicks to keep everyone talking to burnish the brand.


Related First One Through articles:

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Shtisel, The Poem Without an End, Continues

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‘The Maiming of the Jew’

Joseph Borgen, a 29-year old Jewish New Yorker, was walking on his hometown’s streets on a sunny May day, when a gang of Arabs surrounded him, beat him to the ground and sprayed his face with mace for a minute. The police apprehended one of the assailants, Waseem Awawdeh, 23, from Brooklyn who saidIf I could do it again, I would do it again.

Palestinian supporters call for violence against the Jewish State amid days of conflict between Israel and HAMAS, in Brooklyn, New York, US, May 15, 2021. (photo credit: RASHID UMAR ABBASI / REUTERS)

The unprovoked hate crime happened amid various pro-Israel and pro-HAMAS protests in New York City in the aftermath of a 10-day fight between the two forces. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted after the attack on Borgen “Anti-semitism has NO place in our city.

But it very much does. Attacking Jews because of Israel is celebrated on the stages of New York’s opera house and loudly defended in the liberal New York media.

In October 2014, the Metropolitan Opera House put on “The Death of Klinghoffer,” an opera that explored the killing of an elderly wheelchair-bound Jew vacationing on an anniversary cruise around Greece, by Palestinian terrorists. The New York Times wrote that the general manager of the Met, Peter Gelb, noted that the composer “John Adams said that in composing ‘The Death of Klinghoffer’ he tried to understand the hijackers and their motivations, and to look for humanity in the terrorists.” The Times editorial on June 19, 2014 offered its disapproval that “bowing to the wishes of Leon Klinghoffer’s daughters and other Jewish critics,” the Met cancelled the global telecast of the show so the whole world could not watch the spectacle. The New Yorker magazine wrote that “when Adams walked onstage, during the curtain calls, he received a huge ovation. I imagine that a similar roar would have greeted Gelb had he appeared,” and added “the opera is not anti-Semitic, nor does it glorify terrorism.

If Jews would only read the local progressive rags, they would know not to be offended and let the masses enjoy their re-education that Palestinian terrorists have rightful grievances to attack Jews – ambulatory or otherwise – around the world.

Alas, those powerful Jews ignored their enlightened teachers and tried to stop a production that explored “the humanity of the terrorists” in killing an American Jew who had absolutely nothing to do with Palestinians. This became another reason to hate Jews, again of their own making: because of Israel and because of their powerful control on society. Don’t take the progressive press’ word for it: ask New York Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo about their oversized clout.

For the past decade, the liberal media has systematically ignored, minimized and excused anti-Semitism. For example, when their champion President Barack Obama said in February 2015 that “vicious zealots… randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris,” not one liberal media outlet challenged the absurd assertion that the attack was not rooted in anti-Semitism and that the killer was not targeting Jews.

In March 2016, the New York-based United Nations passed resolutions to ban the usage of religion when tied to terrorism in an effort to curb “Islamophobia.” Yet less than a week later, it called out “Jewish extremists.” The Arab and Muslim-dominated global agency acted to “protect” the honor of 1.8 billion Muslims but had no concern about vilifying a few million Jews at the same time.

In early 2019, the leaders of the U.S. Congress could similarly not condemn Ilhan Omar (D-MN), a freshman member who repeatedly spouted anti-Semitic bile, and instead called out generic hatred (which Omar called a victory for Muslims). Some months later, the same members of Congress – including New York Senator Chuck Schumer – knelt on the floor wearing African Kente cloth to specify that Black Lives Matter in a moment of solidarity he could not find for fellow Jews earlier.

In September 2019, New York’s only Ivy League school, Columbia University, invited Malaysian Prime Minster Mahathir Mohamad to speak on campus, even though it was widely known that he referred to Jews as “hooked nosed” and was “glad to be labeled an anti-Semite.” Shortly thereafter, the Columbia Alumni for Campus Fairness produced a report documenting 100 anti-Jewish incidents at Columbia and Barnard over the prior three years including a swastika painted on a Jewish professor’s office and various faculty members who promote Holocaust denial.

Perhaps not wanting to be outdone, New York University awarded the President’s Service Award to Students for Justice in Palestine, an anti-Israel and anti-Jewish group.

The reality is that Jews have always been the most targeted victims of hate crimes in the United States – more than Blacks, Muslims or the LGBT community. They’ve been attacked when there have been fights in Israel and when it has been calm, when the Democrats ruled as well as when Republicans were in charge. The anti-Semitism is a disgraceful constant.

What is also undeniable, is that physical attacks on Jews have skyrocketed as politicians call Jews both powerful and dangerous while the liberal press anoints Victims of Preference which cannot be Jews. The daily headlines and editorials in The New York Times serve as propaganda material for HAMAS, inverting cause-and-effect, by repeating lies about “ethnic cleansing” and refusing to mention the anti-Semitic genocidal foundation of HAMAS. To cleanse any appearance of anti-Jewish animus, it allows Jews to join the fray.

New York’s cultural and educational scene had welcomed anti-Semites to the stage, and liberal politicians and press took box seats. As the world democratized content, the play moved outside. It’s called ‘The Maiming of the Jew,’ and features real New Yorkers.


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Prayer of The Common Man, From Ancient Egypt to Modern Israel

In general, the world knows little about the desires and prayers of the common man who lived a few thousand years ago. While archeologists piece together how people lived, the prayers and thoughts of only the most powerful leaders and religious figures have been captured in ancient bas reliefs and religious texts.

There are exceptions. Roughly 3,000 years ago, a group of artisans who decorated the tombs of the kings of Egypt prepared their own modest burial chambers about a kilometer away from the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, in Deir el-Medina.

Sennedjem, the owner of what became known as “tomb 19”, was ensconced for three millennia with his wife, children and grandchildren in that tomb until it was discovered at the end of the 19th century. Unlike the government officials who featured artwork related to their government functions in their tombs, Sennedjem and the other artisans of Deir el-Medina had painted scenes of their family and idealized world.

Sennedjem’s tomb walls and arched ceiling were completely covered in ornate paintings which reflected scenes from the Book of the Dead. The yellow background paint gave the walls the feel of papyrus, the ancient Egyptian paper, and allowed the strong colors of the painted subjects to stand out.

The western wall of the tomb painting included two jackals which guarded the road to eternity along with Sennedjem and his wife, Iyneferty, and several gods. The southern wall featured a banquet with the parents and children of Sennedjem and Iyneferty, while the northern wall showed the mummification process together with text from the Book of the Dead, and an appeal to the god Osiris that the deceased, who led a good life, should be granted passage to paradise.

The eastern wall is the last wall to be “read” in the tomb. On top, two baboons surround the falcon-headed god Horus with a sun and protective cobra over his head, depicting the god of the rising sun. It is meant to convey a prayer for a successful journey to paradise and the beginning of a peaceful eternal life.

Below the tympanum are five rows which highlight that view of paradise.

The East Wall of the tomb of Sennedjem, Deir el-Medina, Egypt

The top register, read from left to right, includes the couple kneeling before five Egyptian gods followed by one of the couple’s sons facing them in a bark (boat) who escorts them to paradise. Another son is seen opening the mouth of the mummified Sennedjem, an important action to help the body survive and enjoy food and drink in the afterlife.

The following four registers show scenes of paradise. First they arrive in the Field of A’aru, the Field of Reeds. Egyptians believed that it is there that all of one’s possessions and family which were lost are returned (think of the death scene in the movie Gladiator). In this after-world, harvesting is as easy as pulling the grains from the ground or using animals to work the land. Blue water envelopes the entire scene (much like the Nile and canals during life), feeding plants, fields and trees. The bottom row features poppies and mandrakes, showcasing plants used in making drugs for sleep and aphrodisiac for love-making (see Genesis 30:14).

Paradise in ancient Egypt was an idealized version of life on Earth, focused on physical pleasures together with one’s spouse.

Shalom of Safed

Shalom Moskovitz (1896-1980) was commonly known as Shalom of Safed. He was an artisan for most of his life, including in watch-making and silver, and took up painting at the age of 55. He mostly painted scenes which were important and close to his heart such as the events of Jewish history, the Bible and the Talmud.

Shalom’s painting “Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem,” is a classic example. Like the Egyptian painting described above, Shalom used a muted old paper-like yellowish background for a story with multiple scenes. The registers were not neatly aligned in rows, and show a number of locations from around Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The borders showcase grains and fruit trees, bringing to mind the sheva mi’nim, the seven species native to Israel: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates.

“Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem” by Shalom of Safed

Shalom replaced the semi-circular Egyptian tympanum which had been used because of the arched ceiling of the burial tomb (and later copied by churches in Europe above their portals) with a few of the notable monuments in Jerusalem’s skyline: the Tomb of Absalom, the Mosque of Omar (Dome of the Rock) and Tower of David. Further down are two gates of the Old City of Jerusalem with the Kotel, the Western Wall in between. To the left is Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem. Other churches, mosques, homes and fields give the painting a calm feeling.

The painting highlights diversity in sharp contrast to the Egyptian tomb which focused on the deceased couple. The people in the painting are assembled in two groups with one in the lower left ascending a hill (and holiness metaphorically) passing graves and the tomb of the Jewish matriarch, Rachel, and the second group to the right praying at the Kotel. All of the men are wearing different hats showing their different backgrounds, but stand together in their prayers. Similarly, the Jewish, Muslim and Christian sites are shown coexisting in harmony. They dwarf the people as opposed to the Egyptian tomb in which the people dominate the scenes.

The people of ancient Egypt worshiped idols and their art showcased those many gods to whom they prayed for an afterlife of physical enjoyment. The Jews of modern Israel pray to an invisible God, and their art reveals an inconsequential physical man before dominant religious monuments with prayers for abstract harmony.


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The Descendants of Noah

The Journeys of Abraham and Ownership of the Holy Land

Chanukah and Fighting on Sabbath

Your Father’s Anti-Semitism

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Shtisel, The Poem Without an End, Continues

“Inside the brand-new museum
there’s an old synagogue.
Inside the synagogue
is me.
Inside me
my heart.
Inside my heart
a museum.
Inside the museum
a synagogue,
inside it
me,
inside me
my heart,
inside my heart
a museum…”

Poem Without an End
Yehuda Amichai (1924 – 2000)

So ends Shtisel‘s season 2 in 2015. An Ultra Orthodox Jewish artist is seemingly caught between two worlds: a world which dominates his family and community, and the passions which drive him beyond the realms of that world.

It is a classic formula used by authors and poets for generations, the story of forbidden love. While typically written about two secular people pulled together against a repelling backdrop, Shtisel is written about a religious Jew pursuing a banned profession.

The protagonist, Akiva Shtisel, lives in a secluded world in which tradition calls for men to learn Jewish texts and to be married with children. But Akiva cannot fit neatly in that prescribed paradigm. He not only has difficulties in his relationships but is pulled by his talents to pursue his love of art. He gets encouraged by the secular world to pursue his artistic gifts, making his already awkward pursuit of a spouse yet more complicated.

In the season finale, we find Akiva walking in a modern museum past his own exhibition to find the comfort of an exhibit of a reconstructed old synagogue. He sits in the more familiar environment where he is surprised to be joined by a love interest. Akiva’s loves are now all contained within one another like nested Russian dolls but the viewer recognizes that the perfect setting does not obviate the conflict.

Unlike a family member who allowed tradition and established roots with a wife to pull him back into the Ultra Orthodox world and forgo his love for singing, Akiva is unmarried and involved with a woman who might entertain Akiva’s life in two worlds. That situation is not one of nested dolls but a life of dynamic movement with a troubling feedback loop like an M.C. Escher drawing.

The show was enormously popular, well beyond Israel where it was filmed. Jews and non-Jews in various countries admired the universal message of dueling loves in which passion and commitment are set against each other. The cast was featured in various events around the world over the past few years in which the actors considered why the show had such broad appeal. They negated the notion that viewers wanted a peak into the life of Hassidim and described the universally understood personal/family/community tensions that exist in all cultures.

Shtisel program held at Temple Emanu-El in New York City, June 11, 2019

Shtisel, the short-lived popular show with the perfect poetic ending was called back by its fans for a third season. The competing forces of attraction of the show’s actors demanded as much from its viewers.


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The Last Sounds of “Son of Saul”

The Right Stuff, Then and Now

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The Last of the Mo’Kichels

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Brooklyn Chanukah Donut Crawl 2020

With the pandemic in its second full swing, the annual pilgrimage to try the great donuts and sufganiyot (filled donuts) in Brooklyn was not without controversy. Some people refused to join the outing due to fear so we decided to take a different approach:

  • only two people would make the trek- a parent and a teenager;
  • we would go in the early morning before the crowds;
  • only the teenager would enter the store in full hazmat attire;
  • all donuts would be brought back to base for consumption and ratings

The approach allowed for a wide sampling of bakeries, principally focused on Borough Park and Flatbush. The bakeries are listed in order of our route in case people want to replicate the tour:

  • Taam Eden Bakery, 4603 13th Ave
  • Weiss Kosher Bakery, 5011 13th Ave
  • Sesame – Boro Park, 5024 13th Ave
  • Gobo’s Cafe, 5421 New Utrecht Ave
  • Shloimy’s Bake Shoppe, 4712 16th Ave
  • Brooklyn Artisan Bakehouse, 1371 Coney Island Ave
  • Isaac’s Bake Shop, 1419 Avenue J
  • Ostrovitsky Bakery, 1124 Avenue J
  • Presser’s Kosher Bagels and Bakery, 1720 Ave. M
  • Patis Bakery, 1716 Ave. M
  • Schreiber’s Homestyle Bakery, 3008 Ave. M

Yes, that’s eleven bakeries. We’re that committed (in a bad mental health way).

We didn’t actually buy sufganiyot at the eleven stores. Gobo’s, the number one bakery of 2019, was closed both times we drove by, as was Brooklyn Artisan Bakehouse. Patis Bakery still had not received their shipment from New Jersey when we arrived around 10:00am. That still left eight bakeries to review for Chanukah. If one includes the free donut we got from Rachel Berger, the Kosher Dinner Lady (top score on presentation for the cookies and cream), we more than hit our calorie quota.

Taam Eden

In 2019, we got to Taam Eden last and the scores suffered due to our being well-sated and more than a tad over-sugared. We decided to start with that bakery in 2020 and hoped for a fresh assortment of interesting flavors. While they did have many unique flavors like Pina Colada, they weren’t always that good and the sugared toppings fell right off at first bite. Overall, they were also pretty flat and not puffy.

Taam Eden donuts. Blue flags denote dairy

Weiss Kosher Bakery

Weiss is an all around favorite bakery in our family. Yoely was nice enough to give us a free donut too. Unfortunately, the shelves were pretty bare when we arrived at 8:40am, so we missed out on their amazing chocolate horns. The chocolate sufganiyot were good but a bit too sweet. The custard was nice, especially for a pareve one.

Thanks Yoely!

Sesame

Sesame redoes the entire bakery just for Chanukah, and for good reason. The donuts are amazing. Full of rich flavor which is not too sweet with dough which has nice texture and flavor. I cannot believe how good the pistachio ones are. BTW, no masks in sight.

Shloimy’s Bake Shop

My teenage son was impressed by what he saw in Shloimy’s and came back with lots of choices. The taste varied. The salted caramel was simply not good while the cheese was very tasty and went perfectly with the texture and flavor of the dough.

A hazmat boy in a heimeshe bakery

Isaac’s Bake Shop

Isaac’s had the benefit of being the only bakery we visited where everything was fresh. We gobbled two onion bagels without any spread as we left the store – delicious. The sufganiyot we ate at home were non-complicated and tasty.

Ostrovitsky Bakery

If you want something a bit more ornate and shall I say… Hungarian? – try Ostrovitsky. The chocolate rosemarie are tops in the pareve category with great flavor. The chocolate mousse is very light – perhaps a bit too much relative to the texture of the dough. The Napolean flavor was also quite good.

Presser’s

Presser’s has a lot more appetizing in the store than donuts. We picked up a couple anyway which were pretty good.

Schreiber’s Homestyle

We always visit Schreiber’s to bring home a box of excellent lace cookies; hauling donuts is a plus. Skip the sufganiyot in the boxes in the front of the store and go to the back to select your own. This year we decided to try the dairy donuts – which run about $5 – quite a bit more than the pareve ones at around $2. There’s a reason. The dairy cheese and strawberry are remarkable. A must have.


Overall, none of the sufganiyot (other than Isaac’s) were fresh when we arrived. It felt like we were getting 6am baking at 9am. Sufganiyot don’t age well so we decided to try the other Sesame Bakery location in Flatbush to see if we could try one straight out of the oven. Unfortunately, it was packed at 11am and none of the baked goods were oven-fresh. We grabbed two and hit the road back home.

Below is a rating of the various spots. I would again put Sesame in the top category along with Schreiber’s dairy sufganiyot. Ostrovitsky’s got mixed reviews but I liked them.

We actually have a GoPro video of each store location. Subscribe to the blog and send a note and we’ll let you experience the shopping!


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Chanukah Donuts: Brooklyn 2019

Brooklyn’s Holiday Donuts

The Last of the Mo’Kichels

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Purim 2020, Jewish Haikus

While the format of a traditional haiku is seventeen syllables in a 5/7/5 format, for this Purim, I have decided to use the Jewish chai’ku which has 18 syllables in an escalating 5/6/7 format, with some license.


I don my costume
The latest from Disney.
Rabbi’s grandson wears the same.

Her name Hadassah
Later called Queen Esther
First of Her Name, Breaker of Chains.

We all hear “Haman”
The groggers fall silent
My stomach growls, loudly.

The good guys triumph!
How unusual. Ah,
Not written in Israel.

Megillah two times
Yet Chanukah has none!
Al Ha’nissim inequality.

Diaspora Purim
Large meal and much drinking
Why only a single day?

Mishloah Manot
Only need two items
But don’t want label “cheap friend.”

Stale Hamantashen
Clearly weak store-bought fare
I rummage to find homemade.

Yes, I like muhn
A single day a year
A sweeter poppy bagel.

Two weeks trapped inside
Called for “Calm” Purim shpiel.
What day is Purim Sheni?


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Purim 2019, The Progressive Megillah

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Chanukah Donuts: Brooklyn 2019

The annual Chanukah pilgrimage in search of great donuts went to Brooklyn again this year. Due to the horrible tragedy that struck the Satmar community in Jersey City, NJ a few weeks ago, the first leg of the trip was in Williamsburg where the Satmar community has a large presence. We set out to try the donuts of seven different bakeries of which two were standouts. Later we headed to Boro Park where we sampled four bakeries which were all very good.

Williamsburg

Oneg Bakery, 188 Lee Avenue

The best donuts of Williamsburg were at Oneg Heimishe Bakery.

The store is small and the selection of donuts is limited but that says nothing about the quality of the food. The caramel and custard filled donuts were outstanding. They were overflowing with delicious centers which were very tasty and not too sweet. The dough was light and the icing was very good. An overall rating of an 8. Considering that the donuts only cost $2.00, lower than many others, if felt like a 9.

Oneg also was the only bakery we visited that carried “frittle,” essentially small and light pieces of fried dough with sugar which are made only on Chaunkah. They were quite good. May I add that the babka from Oneg is among the very best in New York.

Black and White Bakery, 520 Park Ave

The Black and White Kosher Bakery is not that close to the other bakeries but worth the trip. There is a mix of dairy and pareve donuts, plain and fancy, with prices ranging from $1.75 to close to $5.

The donuts were heavily filled with the taste of the fillings getting a range of reviews from amazing to just OK. The dough was very good, perhaps not as good as Oneg due to the freshness of when we arrived (jelly donuts decline in value as rapidly as a BMW). Overall an 8.

Traditional Kosher Bakery, 123 Lee Ave.

A very simple store with a simple name. It serves a number of non-baked items as well as some other baked goods including a cinnamon stick (OK) and a nut/craisin/cinnamon loaf which was terrific. The plain jelly donut had a very tasty raspberry jam but the dough was tough, heavy and thick. Overall, a 6.

Steinberg’s 701 Bedford Ave.

Steinberg’s exterior has no signage whatsoever. The store is clean and decent size with a pretty good selection of donuts. Some of the jelly donuts were assembled in sandwich-format rather than center infused.

The donuts had a very nice amount of filling, but unfortunately, not that tasty. The icing fell apart and onto the floor on first bite and the dough was not that fluffy. Overall rating of 5.5.

Kaff’s, 73 Lee Ave.

Kaff’s was one of the largest bakeries we visited in Williamsburg and they had a nice selection including two fancy choices with elaborate toppings. Regrettably, the dough was too heavy and the filling, while plentiful, was not on par with the presentation. Overall score of a 5.

G’shmak 164 Wallabout Ave.

G’Shmak was a real disappointment. While thrilled to have a halavah donut which had great flavor, everything else was lacking: The donuts had very little filling and the dough was very heavy. Huge piles of garbage near the entrance did not add to the experience. Overall rating 3.

Sanders 159 Lee Ave.

We stopped into this nice store – twice. Each time we were told that donuts were about to be ready, and each time kept waiting. On the second visit, the person at the store said that he had three small donuts in the back which he could give us, and after five minutes he confessed he had none and that we should return yet again. Nope. Gets a 0. The gluten-free cookies were also not great.

Boro Park

Boro Park bakeries had a much better consistency of high quality donuts than Williamsburg. I would recommend any of the four we visited. Here they are in rank order:

Gobo’s, 1524 New Utrecht Ave.

Gobo’s is a new addition to the Boro Park donut crawl and it did not disappoint. They have a different kind of jelly donut which is based on a churro, a cinnamon fried dessert. It was magnificent, with a slightly crunchy exterior, light and flaky dough, with a light creamy inside. An incredible treat and different than every other donut on the crawl.

The more traditional donuts were also very good with excellent dough, heavily filled. Toppings and icings remained on the donut. Overall rating of a 9.0.

Sesame, 5024 13th Ave

We typically go to the Sesame in Flatbush, but decided to try the location in Boro Park due to the proximity of our other stops. The bakery was a knock-out, just like the Flatbush location.

There are dozens of flavors to choose from, including unusual ones like pistachio. The donuts score at the top of the charts in every category: delicious and plentiful fillings, light and tasty dough, flavorful icing that is not overly sweet that stays atop the donut. An incredible treat, whatever flavor one tries. Scores a 9.0.

Taam Eden, 4603 13th Ave.

Ta’am Eden has long been a subtle favorite, a great counter-balance to Sesame. Both have fantastic dough and tasty fillings, but Ta’am seems to not want to overwhelm. The donuts seem smaller than Sesame and the filling doesn’t ooze out all over the place. But such amazing flavor, with new options like Passion Fruit and Pina Colada (seems like you can get some vitamins in donuts these days). The toppings were perfect in that they were very flavorful and remained in place. Overall an 8.5.

Weiss Bakery, 5011 13th Ave.

Weiss is simply an all-around great bakery. Compared to the other stores like Sesame which basically only serve donuts on Chanukah, Weiss adds donuts to its delicious repertoire, but doesn’t try to redefine its store.

The donut fillings are full and very tasty as were the toppings. The dough was not on par with Ta’am Eden or Sesame, and therefore got an overall score of 7.5. However, the store was handing out donuts to children who participated in a Boro Park scavenger hunt, worth an extra point for being a great member of the community!


Here is a chart summarizing the ratings for the 2019 Donut Crawl. Feel free to share the article and peruse and share the other articles on First.One.Through which focus on Jews, Judaism and Israel.

Happy Chanukah!


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The Tikkun Olam Brigade and the Taped Banana

The fancy Art Basel art fair in Miami sold a remarkable item for $120,000 in December 2019: an actual ripe banana duct taped to a wall.


“Comedian” by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan

The “work of art” called “Comedian” was produced by a famous Italian artist. The Perrotin gallery which featured the work stated that the work “offers insight [into] how we assign worth and what kind of objects we value.

For the thinking individual, the insight is clear: in modern times, we defer to “experts” who put significant money behind ideas, regardless how patently foolish. The fact that an artist represented by an art dealer would feature a work at a large art fair and have someone pay a tremendous sum to purchase the work, seals the deal that this must be serious art. Any individual who would observe the stupidity of the scene would be mocked rather than the other way around as the experts and market have spoken.

Perhaps when this concept was broached by Marcel Duchamp one hundred years ago, the notion of challenging our idea of “art” was novel and thought-provoking. But we’ve already done that. Does this work cover any new ground?

Is this work “Comedian” a joke on society which doesn’t get the opportunity to either ponder or laugh at the exhibition as it cannot fathom stripping the experts of their anointed titles? Is it the masochism we must endure to belong to the elite club? “I want to be in this community of the sophisticated, so will nod as a dutiful supplicant. Yes, we can see that art can take different forms. Yes, we can see that people value items differently. Yes, everything can be art, everything can be beautiful, everything can be valuable. Shame on me for being judgmental to view art as art and beauty as beauty. I hope that I didn’t say any of that aloud as thinking in such manner would exclude me from the very club I wish to join.”

OR… perhaps it’s the exact opposite: the experts are telling us – begging us – to no longer believe them. The masses will spend money as pleases them; the art dealers will feed the masses as they need to make a living too. And the artist, well he’s in on the joke. He named the artwork “Comedian” because he knows that people slipping on a banana peel is low brow humor, just as the work is a cheap poke at the art world and all of us that want to be a part of it.

Either way, pondering art and value is two sides of the same auction paddle. It’s a discussion that the art world has already rehashed for one hundred years.

No. This work is new for the post-2015 world, in which social media reigns. The goal is no longer art, it is popularity. Something that can be liked, shared and retweeted is the essence of value.

Society no longer values beauty or talent or experience. It wants the joke. A quick hit of something to laugh at, to share.

Consider that the United States voted a complete political novice to the presidency in 2016. Americans decided that they had too many politicians named Bush and Clinton already. Out with experience and in with the brash entertainer. Society reached a point that the number of Twitter followers is a better proxy for what the country craves, more than policy. Kim Kardashian for VP in 2020.

The “Comedian” was neither art nor beautiful nor “inherently” worth $120,000; it was simply Tweet-worthy. The artist and the purchaser got value from the work because the masses shared the picture and story repeatedly. As such, the answer to Perrotin gallery’s proposition had a range of answers: the value ascribed to items in a capitalistic society is based on the one outlier who pays the highest price, but also factors the wide attention of the public.

In the search for popularity, experts abdicate their leadership roles. They are now mere “influencers” who peddle their brands and platforms.

The echo chamber becomes a perfectly designed loop where the tastes of the masses is endorsed by their “experts” which in turn make the masses feel wonderful. The platforms become elevated by these same Twits who Tweet, encouraging more of the same.

Why actually lead and educate, when the re-tweets come so fast and furious?

Tikkun Olam

The situation of experts abdicating their positions based on knowledge and experience is not confined to the art world. Today’s religious leadership is being led by the masses as well.

Religious leaders do not talk about religion, a subject in which they are theoretically theological experts. Instead, they focus on politics, as that is what their congregants (read audience) really want to hear.

Consider the Union of Reform Judaism which had its biennial in December 2019. A main focus of the multi-day affair was to discuss reparations for American slavery. The rabbi leading the charge did not quote Leviticus nor the Talmud nor any rabbinic sages like Rashi or Rambam. He quoted Ta-Nehisi Coates, a Black atheist, to make his point.

There is a wide swath of American Jews who relate to Judaism only through the prism of peoplehood and not through the orientation of reading of the bible. As many non-Orthodox streams of Judaism do not believe in God, they view the bible as merely a divinely-inspired text written with the patriarchal philosophy of thousands of years ago. They have therefore comfortably shifted their prayer books and devotion to modern liberal artists like Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan. Their values begin with political figures and opinions such as from Michelle Obama’s book, and then consider Judaism. Religion is redefined in their political image.

Like the provocateurs in the art world who questioned what makes art “art,” Reform Judaism of 100 years ago asked people to consider what makes Judaism “Judaism”?

Both questions have matured over one hundred-plus years, and like the art world, Judaism has its own “Comedian” for the world of social media and popularity: it’s called “Tikkun Olam.”

The leaders of the Reform movement are marketing Tikkun Olam, or repairing the world, to the rowdy receptive audience of liberals – Jews and non-Jews alike. These potential pew-sitters are highly engaged in politics – particularly since Donald Trump entered politics in 2015 – so they meet their congregants there on the political battlefield. The reformed rabbis know what the progressive crowd cherishes – “Social Justice” – and the clergy repeats back to the parishioners their own political credo with the blessing that it’s kosher. It’s an inversion of the old teacher-student model, where the teacher no longer educates the ill-informed student about Judaism, rather the teacher must learn and incorporate the students’ passions and find an anchor in the bible. Such is the activity of a movement trying to stop its rapidly declining numbers.


Both Value (as in art) and Values (from religion) as currently determined by the bold fringe and loud masses of a post-2015 politically-charged and social media-connected world are seemingly disconnected from historic teachings and knowledge.

Traditionalists are aghast and will have none of it, while the progressives welcome the change as they seize the day from the prior generation.

Traditionalists see the taped banana as an object of interest but not art, just as Tikkun Olam is an appealing notion but not Judaism. Being neither art nor religion does not mean they have no value, but are not characteristic.

Liberals see things in reverse, where value defines everything. For them, Tikkun Olam is the essence of Judaism; a taped banana is bold art.

Both the non-Orthodox progressive leaders and the Orthodox traditional leaders will give their targeted audience their want, so they can manage the chaos of a charged and changing world. But the traditionalists will be leading with the knowledge of experts over thousands of years, while the modernists will be leading with values of the masses at the moment.


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Is Columbia University Promoting Violence Against Israel and Jews?

Columbia University has claimed to be a champion of free speech. It was in that spirit that it invited the noted anti-Semite Malaysian Prime Minster Mahathir Mohamad to speak on campus in September 2019. Mohamad has called Jews “hook-nosed,” said they “rule the world by proxy” and questioned the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust. He has even said he is “glad to be labeled anti-Semitic.”

That same week, seemingly to make the Jewish students on campus feel particularly unwelcome, one of Columbia’s professors, Lis Harris, released her book “In Jerusalem.” The student-run Columbia Spectator magazine reviewed the book in its Winter 2019-20 edition.

The review was shocking in seemingly endorsing the author’s contentions that Israel is an oppressor of Palestinians without adding any facts or context.

The article is set up to inform the reader that the book will have a natural “pro-Israel” tenor, as the author Lis Harris “grew up in a secular Jewish family in the United States fully alert, she says, ‘to the wrongs done to the beleaguered Jews across the ocean,’ but with little sense of the ‘wrongs done to the Palestinian people.’” Ah, if someone with a pro-Israel bias can see how terrible Israel is, it certainly must be true. The birth of a woke anti-Zionist is a cause for a progressive party.

Facts in the review and/or the book were seemingly few in the offering.

We are told that the book tries to look at the conflict through the lens of two families, a Jewish one living in “West Jerusalem” and a Palestinian one “living across the border wall in East Jerusalem.” This is fiction. There is no “border wall” between “West Jerusalem” and “East Jerusalem.” In 1967, Israel tore down the fence that divided the Jerusalem after Jordan illegally attacked Israel, and reunited the holy city. There is no West Jerusalem and East Jerusalem, and the fence which had existed from 1949 to 1967 was explicitly declared to NOT be a border by Israel and Jordan in their Armistice agreement. The “security barrier” which Israel began to erect in 2002 to stop the terrorism of Palestinian Arabs from the West Bank is to the east of unified Jerusalem.

Perhaps the facts make the author’s shuttle diplomacy seem less daring, but it’s a sad intro for a writer “who spent more than ten years gathering research and interviews for the book.” The book established zero credibility from the outset.

The review then moves from the gross inaccuracies to ignoring Jewish history and blessing Arab terrorists.

We are informed that the stories in the book are told by “accomplished women” and intelligent and respected family members who “want peace and a fair solution to the conflict.” The Jewish woman’s aunt escaped Nazi Germany who found asylum in Mandatory Palestine “as a refuge from violence.” There is no mention that Mandatory Palestine was designed to REESTABLISH the Jewish homeland years before Nazis came to power. Jews were not dumped into Mandatory Palestine in a reaction to the Holocaust; the land of Israel has been the Jewish homeland for 3,700 years. Modern Zionism pushed for Jewish sovereignty in that land decades before the State of Israel came into being. That’s why Jerusalem has had a Jewish majority since the 1860’s, all facts not covered in the review and presumably not in the book.

This Jewish aunt “is juxtaposed with the experience of Niveen’s [the Arab’s] aunt. At twenty-one, Rasema Odeh was accused of terrorism, illegally tortured, and served ten years at the Ramla prison… Rasmea’s story is shocking, but the chapter devoted to it is one of the book’s best.” The review made it sound like Odeh was a poor victim, unjustly “accused of terrorism.” It neglected to state that she was convicted of terrorism in which she placed a bomb at a supermarket killing two civilians (her accomplices openly admitted such on Palestinian TV). It failed to state that Odeh lied about the events in getting a visa into the United States in 1994 and was stripped of her citizenship in 2017 and deported. It failed to note that many countries – including Germany in 2019 – banned her from speaking in public and denied her a visa as she calls violence against Israel. The mayor of Berlin said about Odeh that “anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic resentments, wrapped up in liberation rhetoric, have no business here. I am glad that we have found a way to stop this propaganda.

This “juxtaposition” of a Holocaust survivor finding refuge at the expense of Palestinian Arabs seems to take a page out of the book of pathological liar U.S. Representative Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) who claimed she found comfort that her ancestors created a safe haven for Jews when they actually did everything they could to kill the Jews and/or keep them out of Palestine. It is called Seeing the Holocaust Through Nakba Eyes, which turns the Jews from victims to oppressors, and the Palestinians from participants in the Holocaust to victims themselves.

The article continues with more inanity such as “Harris is clear-sighted and firm in her own view that the Israeli government is more oppressor than victim. She does not condemn the Palestinian people fighting to live in their occupied home of East Jerusalem (but neither will she excuse the violence of Hamas).”  No commentary that the Arab population in the eastern part of Jerusalem has grown FOUR TIMES since 1967, a rate that surpasses the population growth of Arabs in any neighboring country. It also neglects to mention that Palestinian Arabs in Jerusalem have the option of becoming Israeli citizens and thousands have opted to do so. Palestinians aren’t “fighting to live;” they are fighting to evict the Jews and destroy the Jewish State.

The Spectator adds that “Harris was able to comment on President Trump’s rash recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.” Rash? Was President Truman’s recognition of Israel in 1948 also rash? The snide comment didn’t even attempt to hide the reviewer’s bias.

In summation, the review states that “through the people she comes to know in Israel and Palestine, Lis Harris sees hope, and this brave new book ultimately helps us see it too.” Palestine? The United States recognizes no such country. And to the extent that it recognizes “Palestinian Territories,” those are limited to Gaza and Areas A and B, and certainly not “in Jerusalem.”


Columbia University has chapters of anti-Israel hate groups like Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace as student-run groups on campus. Their voices seem to have penetrated not only the student-run paper and magazine but the University itself which includes a faculty with anti-Israel authors and promoters of boycotts of Israel, and enabled the invitation of proud anti-Semites like the Prime Minister of Malaysia onto its campus. Beyond the student agitators, maybe the university’s anti-Israel platform was purchased by foreign donors like Saudi Arabia who pumped more than $193 million into Columbia between 2011 and 2017.

In October 2019, a report entitled “A Hotbed for Hate” produced by the Alumni for Campus Fairness listed over 100 anti-Jewish incidents at Columbia and Barnard since the 2016/7 academic year. In addition to the on-campus activities like a swastika painted on a Jewish professor’s office, the report listed numerous faculty members who deny the history of Jews as well as peddle forms of Holocaust denial.

At the very moment when antisemitism is on the rise, the murder of Jews is becoming commonplace and the demonization of Israel is accepted, it is a travesty that New York City’s only Ivy League school gives credibility, honor and an open mic to such vile sentiments.


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