Category Archives: Chronicle

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Capital Pride 2018 Recap

On June 10, 2018, Congregation Etz Hayim proudly participated in Capital Pride 2018 with an information booth and CEH giveaways. We met a wonderful array of individuals and families interested in our welcoming Conservative synagogue, and we made important connections with the local community. The Communications & Membership Committee followed up with each person interested in CEH, and we look forward to welcoming these folks through our doors soon!

Many thanks to Cheryl Whitehead for making this event possible and for doing so much hard work at the Festival! Thanks also to the volunteers who staffed the table: Sophie Whitehead-Thomas & Naomi McQuaid, Naomi Harris, Stacey & Dagny Viera, Alan Savada & Sam Savada-Stevenson.

Be sure to join us for Shabbat services and your Fiscal Year 2018-2019 Board of Directors Installation this Saturday, June 16, 2018.

Torah Dedication Remarks from Shavuot 5778 by Jerry Jacobs

The following remarks were presented by Jerry Jacobs at the Shavuot Torah Dedication on Sunday, May 20, 2018. 

Dear Friends:  On behalf of the entire Jacobs family, greetings on this first day of Shavuot. We are thankful to all of you for sharing this very special occasion with us. This year, Laura and I are celebrating 50 years of membership in this congregation. In that time, there have been only two Torah dedications at our shul, and the last one occurred some 40 years ago. We felt it was “chai” time to fulfill one of the shul’s longstanding needs by commissioning a newly scribed Torah to add to the Aron.

We honor today my mother’s father, Mayer Quain, Meir ben Simantov HaCohen, who died in 1944 when I was one year old. I never really knew my grandfather, but my mother told me many stories about him, and I will relate some of them today. He was “true” Sephardic—that is, of Spanish/Portuguese ancestry (my mother called that “true” Sephardic)—and was born in Bulgaria in 1883, when it was part of the Ottoman Empire. Mayer’s father was a Ko-hen, pronounced Quain in Ladino, hence his English name, Quain.

Mayer sailed to New York as an unaccompanied teenager around 1900 and became a successful business entrepreneur, culminating in his 1935 purchase of an exclusive boutique hotel in midtown Manhattan called the Hotel Elysee. The Hotel, still in business today, also had a well-known nightclub called The Monkey Bar, and remained in our family for 80 years.

Over the years, many celebrities stayed at or lived in the Hotel, including Lillian and Dorothy Gish, Tallulah Bankhead, Ava Gardner, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Harold Robbins, and perhaps most famously, Tennessee Williams, only because he lived and died there.

My grandfather took the Kahuna priesthood seriously, and he was also a 32nd degree Mason and a Shriner, as were his two sons. Indeed, Mayer was a kind of Sephardic “godfather,” dispensing advice, loans, gifts, and even some jobs to his Sephardic friends, acquaintances, and relatives Monday mornings when they visited him at home — which he believed to be part of his priestly and Masonic responsibilities. Please do not stop by my house tomorrow: I am not a Cohen or a Mason, and it’s yom tov.  🙂

Mayer did not live to see his six grandchildren grow up or his great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren attend Jewish day schools.  But I know that he would be very proud to see the way they are continuing their Jewish heritage, as we have seen this morning. The donation of a Sefer Torah in his memory is part of our pay-back to him and pay-forward to future generations. The tribute to Mayer Quain, our patriarch, is richly deserved. When one passes, we traditionally say, “May his or her memory be for a blessing.” With this new Torah, we pass this blessing on to the shul.

After services, you are invited to a Kiddush lunch in our downstairs Social Hall. It will feature several Sephardic food delicacies in honor of my grandfather. A very special thank-you to my dear wife Laura and to Sonya Okin who were the chief caterers for this event, and to all those who helped in the kitchen. Also, much appreciation to Edgar Rendon, Marni Corsaro, and Marcy Burka who worked so hard on the arrangements for this larger than usual gathering. Very special thanks too to Laura Naide and Alexis Joyce and their staffs for preparing the children who added so much to this event. Last, and most, we thank Rabbi Bass for helping to organize all that occurred today, for the beautiful Torah mantle and yad which adorn our new addition, and for her unending friendship and spiritual leadership.

I close with my grandfather’s farewell blessing:  “Saludozo y hechos buenos” — “May you have good health, good business, and successful good deeds.”

Election of 2018-2019 Board of Directors

Mazal tov to the fiscal year 2018-2019 Congregation Etz Hayim Board of Directors and Executive Officers who were elected at the spring State of the Membership meeting on May 6, 2018.

President: Scott Burka
1st Vice President: Mike Stein
VP, Religious Affairs: Naomi Halpern
VP, Youth & Education: Deb Cohen
VP, Membership: Naomi Harris
VP, Fundraising: Jerry Jacobs
VP, Operations: Jonathan Golner
Treasurer: Jeremy Bronheim
Secretary: Stacey Viera
Board Member: Jeanne Briskin
Board Member: Jill Clark-Foulkes
Board Member: Jordan Fried
Board Member: Leslee Friedman
Board Member: Barry Ginsberg
Board Member: Jeanne Howard
Board Member: Mike Jacobs
Board Member: Ron Rosenberg
Board Member: Stephen Schwartz
Board Member: Jill Shenk

Please join us to install the new Board during Shabbat services on Saturday, June 16, 2018. Stay afterwards for kiddush and kibbitz.

Thank you to everyone who served on the Board this past year.

Studying Abroad in Israel by Jenna Alcorn

Hello all! As I wrap up my four and a half months studying abroad in Israel, I thought I’d share some of my experiences! I’ve been living, studying and traveling at Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI) in the Israel Spring Semester 2018 program.

Living in Israel is a fantastic experience for me as a Jewish teen who has never been here before. I get to live on a campus where I have to manage my time, live with roommates, and of course still focus on school, even if we are traveling two or three times a week.

Of course, a lot is the same here as in the US — everyone is addicted to their phones, there are still McDonald’s and malls everywhere. But, there’s also fresh falafel and shawarma on every corner. Parents give a lot of trust to their children, as we usually see young kids and their friends out by themselves in the evening. One of the biggest differences is the language! Although most people here do speak English, Hebrew is all you hear in the streets. I take a Hebrew class here which has helped me learn the basics for conversation, which is great to use when ordering food or shopping! Another contrast to the US is simply seeing soldiers everywhere. Here in Israel, all citizens are required to serve in the IDF, both women and men. We see teenagers, not even a year older than us, walking through the streets in uniform with M-16 rifles strapped across them. I got a taste of the army life at a mini basic training at Gadna, a base in the Negev.

Shabbat in Israel is a really special thing. Even the secular majority here in Israel values Shabbat to spend time with family and friends. We have been in Jerusalem for Shabbat twice, where life completely halts. We walk in the middle of the street with no fears of cars, and every restaurant and shop is closed for 24 hours. We have also been in Tel Aviv on Shabbat, where about half of the city shuts down. Tel Aviv is the metropolitan center of Israel and a large secular tourist destination, so many of the establishments there don’t abide by traditional religious customs (some places even have bacon cheeseburgers!). We also spent a Shabbat in Tzfat, which is one of the four spiritual cities in Eretz Yisrael. It’s a religious community, even more so than Jerusalem, and Shabbat in Tzfat brings a mysticism over the city. It’s situated on the mountains of the North, so the beauty of the sunset and the winding streets of blue and white are fantastic there. Life completely stands still on Shabbat, not to mention that us girls had to cover every inch of our bodies.

Some of my favorite places we have visited in Israel include the Golan Heights, the Old City of Jerusalem, and the neighborhood Neve Tzedek in Tel Aviv. The Golan is the most northern area of Israel, with stunning mountains and vegetation. We stood feet away from Syrian mine fields and the Lebanese border. We did a beautiful hike leading to a luscious waterfall where we splashed around for a little. The Old City in Jerusalem is just unbelievable, with the cobblestone corridors and so much history right under my feet. We did a 30-minute-long walk through Warrens Shaft, an old water tunnel in Ir David (City of David). It was pitch black inside and so small we had to go single file and duck! Neve Tzedek was one of the first neighborhoods established in Tel Aviv. The old houses and colorful streets have such a different vibe than downtown Tel Aviv. I am a huge lover of street art, which is all over Tel Aviv!

Halfway through our program, right before Holocaust Remembrance Day, we took a week-long trip to Poland. We visited sites where the Jewish community in Poland once flourished, like Krakow, and saw old synagogues and graveyards. We also toured the devastating grounds of Nazi camps, including Auschwitz, Birkenau, Plaszow, and Majdanek. It was a powerful trip for all of us, and being able to march through these places of terror and death with Israeli flags on our backs is one of the most meaningful things I have ever done. It was sad at times, but it was happy at others, as we explored the city centers of a few bustling European cities. For many students it was their first time in Europe, so our night out in Krakow was a blast. The mix of good, bad, sad (and cold) in Poland shaped our experience at AMHSI and has left us with countless memories.

I will be boarding my flight back to JFK Airport in only three weeks, and then back to life in Arlington. I hope to return to Israel soon in my future, either in college or after. Learning about Israel in Sunday school for years all became a reality when I landed here. I feel so connected to this country, its people and my history. It’s so important for Jews to visit Israel if they have the chance, because being here has completely changed my perspective on my religion.

AMHSI has given me a chance to explore Israel while giving me lifelong friends from all over the US. It has prepared me for college life, independent living, and responsibility. If anyone is interested in this program or any that AMHSI has to offer, I am always open to talking about my experiences and showing off all of my amazing photos from the trip.

L’hitreot!

–Jenna Alcorn

How to Use the Etz Hayim Kitchen

The following guide addresses how to properly use the Etz Hayim kitchen, as well as food rules for the building and for events held off-site. The complete guide can be downloaded from our Links/Resources page.

Welcome

This Guide is addressed to all people who work or volunteer in the food services at Congregation Etz Hayim. Its purpose is to acquaint everyone with how the laws of kashrut are interpreted at Congregation Etz Hayim to provide our congregation with a kosher food service that the entire Jewish community will feel comfortable using. Only persons who are appointed by the Rabbi are approved to supervise Kashrut at Congregation Etz Hayim. Therefore this Guide is not intended to be a comprehensive or exhaustive study of kashrut, but a reference manual for maintaining a high standard of kashrut in our synagogue. As with every matter of Jewish law in the synagogue, the rabbi is our Marei d’Atra (halakhic authority) for all questions involving kashrut.

The Rabbi shall have sole authority for appointing mashgichim, other authorized supervisors or those allowed to work in the kitchen independently.

KASHRUT SUPERVISION AT CONGREGATION ETZ HAYIM

The rabbi is the ultimate halachic authority to rule on any issue that arises in kashrut supervision. In general, Congregation Etz Hayim follows the kashrut guidelines of the Conservative Movement. However, not all of the leniencies of the Movement are permitted in the synagogue kitchen, in order to ensure that more traditional members of the community will feel comfortable attending functions held at Congregation Etz Hayim.

Mashgichim and Authorized Users

Kashrut for the synagogue is supervised by mashgichim, or authorized supervisors, appointed by and under the authority of the rabbi. These supervisors are the only persons authorized to work without direct supervision in the kitchens. However, if an authorized supervisor is engaged in food preparation, it is desirable to have another mashgiach functioning as supervisor. Whenever possible the mashgiach should not supervise her/himself. A mashgiach must be present for all phases of food preparation in the synagogue, including (1) bringing food into the synagogue, (2) all food preparation and cleanup in the synagogue, and (3) all cleaning activities that occur for the purpose of kashering kitchen equipment.

KOSHER FOODS AND BRINGING THEM INTO CONGREGATION ETZ HAYIM

Congregation Etz Hayim allows only kosher food to be brought into the synagogue (with the exception of foods brought in for personal use by the non-Jewish synagogue staff, and which may only be eaten in designated areas of the office). All packaged food must bear a heksher. All food and kitchen equipment that enters the synagogue must be inspected by an authorized mashgiach. Call the synagogue office at (703) 979-4466 to arrange for a mashgiach to be present when bringing food into the synagogue. Hekshered foods must be sealed when brought to Congregation Etz Hayim. Kosher packaging may not be opened before inspection by the mashgiach in the synagogue. All food served at Congregation Etz Hayim must be prepared at Congregation Etz Hayim or at another kosher facility. Food cooked at other kosher sites should be sealed under the supervision of a recognized mashgiach, marked, and then inspected by our mashgiach when brought into Congregation Etz Hayim.

Because we cannot be certain of the level of kashrut at an individual’s house, no food cooked in a private home may be brought into the Congregation Etz Hayim kitchen or used at any Congregation Etz Hayim function. Only foods made in the kitchen may be stored in the kitchen, refrigerator, freezer or stove.

Potluck

The sole exception is for Potluck night, the first Friday of every month. At this event, food may be brought from individuals’ homes but may not be brought into the kitchen. This food must be dairy or vegetarian and come in a disposable container. Specifically designated serving utensils will be used and will be taken home by a designee to be washed after the event. These utensils are then returned to the custodian for storage.

Foods Allowed without Heksher

Fresh foods that have not been processed in any way may be brought in without a heksher. Fruits and vegetables brought into the kitchen must be whole and not pre-cut; only whole fruits and vegetables are allowed into the kitchen. This rule includes packages of frozen vegetables and fruit with no added ingredients: frozen fruits and veggies must be whole, or have a heksher mark on the packaging if they are cut or pre-prepared. Check with the mashgiach if there is any doubt.

Most soft drinks are kosher. All Coca-Cola products, all Pepsi products, Canada Dry Ginger Ale, Dr. Pepper, and all 7-Up products other than Cherry 7-Up are certified kosher. Any flavored waters or iced teas need to have a visible heksher.

Prepackaged cheeses which do not contain meat, which are made in the United States and served cold do not need to be hekshered.

KITCHEN USE AND FOOD PREPARATION

In order to ensure strict adherence to our standards of kashrut, the Congregation Etz Hayim kitchen cannot be used without prior permission from the synagogue office or rabbi under any circumstances. All food preparation in the Congregation Etz Hayim kitchen must conform to the practices outlined in this manual. The mashgiach may stop any or all kitchen operations to prevent a violation. A big part of keeping our synagogue food services kosher is the proper use of the kitchen and careful food preparation.

A mashgiach must be present for all food preparation in the kitchen. If necessary, the synagogue office can assist in providing for the presence of a mashgiach. Congregation Etz Hayim’s kitchen is provided with separate dishes, pots, pans, utensils, serving trays, preparation areas, and sinks for meat and dairy. Mixing of meat and dairy kitchen equipment is absolutely forbidden. Meat and dairy foods are not to be prepared at the same time in the kitchen facilities. To avoid setting off the sprinkler system, fans in the hoods over the stoves must be turned on before using the stoves. Nothing can be reheated in the microwave, stove or oven unless it complies with the above rules.

The only parve materials are the challah board, knife, Kiddush cups, and handwashing cups/bowls. They may not be washed with, or stored with any other items.

Congregation Etz Hayim does not have any parve cooking utensils or cookware. Everything prepared in the kitchen becomes meat or dairy.

Common Hazards:

There are several common hazards that should be avoided to maintain the integrity of the Congregation Etz Hayim kitchen.

  • Make sure non-dairy creamers are served for coffee with a meat meal. Check the heksher carefully; not all “non-dairy” creamers are truly hekshered as parve. When storing such creamers in the kitchen, make sure they are separate from the dairy creamers and clearly marked.
  • Butter is always dairy. Parve margarine may be used with any meat meal.
  • Pay attention to the dessert planned for a meat meal; many desserts and candy are dairy by nature.
  • Meat and Dairy cannot be cooked in the same oven at the same time. Drippings must be wiped up immediately to ensure that other materials don’t contaminate the cooking process.
  • Meat and Dairy cooking pots may not be on the stove top at the same time. Pots may not rest on the stove top or in the oven while something else is cooking.

Equipment and Storage

Kitchen equipment is color coded. Red and Black items are meat. Blue and White items are dairy. The Kiddush cups, challah bread board and knife, handwashing cups, and wine glasses are parve. Each category has corresponding shelves. Dairy shelves are denoted by blue painter’s tape on the shelf supports. Meat shelves are designated by red painters tape and parve shelves are designated by green painter’s tape.

Non-colored items, such as pots and pans, shall be clearly marked by paint, marker, tape or other indelible method. Look for these markings on the bottom, sides and/or handles.

Any new equipment brought into the kitchen must be inspected by the mashgiach, determined if it will be used for meat, or dairy, and marked appropriately.

Minimal food storage is available and is color coded. Food must be stored in containers corresponding to the meal for which it was prepared and may only be used for the same type of meal. For instance, food left over from a dairy meal must be stored in dairy (blue or white) storage containers and may be used with dairy meals only. Food stored in meat containers is to be used with meat only.

Eggs and Vegetables

Eggs that contain a drop of blood are considered treife (non-kosher). To keep a single egg from ruining an entire dish, each raw egg should be broken separately in a small cup or bowl, inspected for blood, and then added to the main dish. Eggs boiled in the shell are allowed without individual inspection.

Many leafy vegetables may contain insects, and insects are not kosher. To prepare these vegetables, they must be soaked in a vinegar/water solution and then rinsed with clear cold water. “Leafy vegetables” include (but are not limited to) asparagus, cauliflower, broccoli, parsley, lettuce, kale, scallions, and any other densely packed leafy vegetable. If you have any questions on a particular vegetable you are using, contact the mashgiach or rabbi.

When storing leftovers, clearly mark the container with any restrictions (e.g. meat, dairy, parve) and store the container in the appropriate kitchen area. Disposable gloves are provided in the kitchen and should be used during food preparation.

Dishwashing

Each side of the kitchen also contains its own dishwasher. However, care must be taken not to mix or confuse the racks. Blue racks belong to the dairy dishwasher and green racks belong to the meat dishwasher. The soap and rinse products used for dishwashing must bear a heksher.

REGARDING USE OF THE KITCHEN DURING SHABBAT

On Shabbat, we are not allowed to do any melachah. I purposely use the word melachah because not every kind of work is forbidden on Shabbat. Melachah is a very specific kind of work. The Rabbis in the Mishnah (Shabbat 7:2) enumerated 39 kinds of work, called Avot Melachah, which are not to be performed on Shabbat. These melachot (plural of melachah) are understood as the kinds of work needed to create the Tabernacle, the moving structure that was built by and accompanied the Israelites while they were in the desert for 40 years. From these categories the rabbis derived other kinds of work that are not to be performed on Shabbat. To this day, we continue to shape our modern lives by reinterpreting these melachot.

Part of the 39 melachot relate specifically to cooking. For example, sorting, grinding, sifting, kneading, baking, extinguishing a flame, lighting a flame, and carrying from one domain to the other are forbidden. From these melachot we derive the rules for our kitchen during Shabbat.

These rules are not exhaustive, and questions may arise about the use of our kitchen. Please do not hesitate to ask the Rabbi about any clarification you might need to be able to use our kitchen.

Carrying:  We are not allowed to bring in or take away anything from our Synagogue on Shabbat. That means that during Shabbat, no one is to bring in something they forgot to bring in before Shabbat for Kiddush, or alternatively, take home (or anywhere else) leftovers from Kiddush. Even if you plan to bring Kiddush leftovers to a shelter, that must be done after Shabbat is over.

Extinguishing and lighting a flame:  For the purposes of our kitchen, no one should be lighting or turning off the ovens. Foods may be warmed in our kitchen for Shabbat, in an oven that has been kept at a low temperature, lit before Shabbat started. The temperature of the oven should not exceed 200 degrees Fahrenheit during Shabbat. There is a Jewish legal fiction that allows a person of another faith to turn on and off an oven, if it is for their own benefit. In our Congregation, only our custodian is allowed to light or extinguish a fire, since we believe that this action will be done solely for their benefit and enjoyment. To be clear, no person other than our custodian may turn on or off the ovens during Shabbat.

Sorting, grinding, sifting, kneading, baking:  All of these activities transform grain into baked goods and are forbidden on Shabbat. For this reason, any activity in the kitchen that changes a food from inedible to edible through the use of heat is not acceptable on Shabbat. In other words, we cannot cook pasta, or bake, or even finish off a dish that is not at least ¾ ready on Shabbat. We can, however, cut vegetables, plate food that was previously prepared, and open packages and cans on Shabbat. Those activities are not considered melachot, and they can be performed on Shabbat without a question.

Other considerations regarding the use of the kitchen on Shabbat:  We are not allowed to write or erase on Shabbat, or to permanently glue things on Shabbat. For this reason, we cannot write labels to be put on leftovers during Shabbat, or write an explanation of the food to be served. Pre-written sticky labels may be used, as long as they do not permanently seal any package.

PERSONAL FOOD AND OTHER TOPICS

Food Brought In for Personal Use

The only non-kosher food that may be brought into the synagogue is the food intended for the personal use of non-Jewish synagogue personnel. Such food may only be eaten in the designated area of the office. Any food brought into the synagogue for personal use of Jewish staff or congregants must be dairy or parve, in new unopened packages with acceptable kosher certification or directly from approved vendors. No meat prepared in one’s home or any non-kosher facility may be brought to the synagogue. No food brought into the synagogue for personal use may be carried into the kitchen of the synagogue. Utensils from the kitchen are not to be used with such food.

Nothing can be reheated in the microwave, stove or oven unless it complies with the above rules.

Other Kosher activities in the Synagogue Family

The laws of Kashrut are observed in all activities of the congregation that are held outside the building. So, for example, if Congregation Etz Hayim holds a picnic, or a Shabbat service at a congregant’s home, the food provided would follow the rules outlined in this manual. See the mashgiach or rabbi for exact details on any situation that you may encounter.

APPENDIX: ALLOWABLE HEKSHER MARKS

There are well over 800 different heksher marks used worldwide, and it is impossible to list them all here. There are also changes going on at any given time; not all hekshers are trusted at all times. If you are in any doubt, contact Rabbi Bass. A list of acceptable hekshers is available in the full guide (download here).

The mark of a simple “K” is not considered a trustworthy heksher. Because there is no trademark on a “K” (a single letter cannot be trademarked) there is no way of knowing what authority stands behind this mark. Products marked only with a K cannot be brought into Congregation Etz Hayim unless the specific product has been verified by the rabbi as kosher. (Such verification cannot be done at the last minute, so in general the use of such products should be discouraged.)

Kitah Chet (8 & 9th) Takes Over NYC!

On April 8, Kitah Chet (8th & 9th Grade) traveled to New York City for 48 hours of Jewish drama, history and food. We hopped on a bus at Union Station in DC and were dropped off later that morning in mid-town Manhattan. Our first stop was Maoz, a kosher fast-casual falafel restaurant. The food was delicious, but the restaurant was tiny so we ate our lunch al fresco on a cold breezy day! After dropping our bags off at our hotel some of us walked around the Times Square area and others chose to chill out at a local Starbucks.

Our first event was attending the show “The Band’s Visit” at Barrymore Theatre. In this show, a mix-up sends a group of Egyptian musicians to a remote Israeli town. When the locals take them in for the night, their lives intertwine in the most unexpected ways. For some students, this was their first Broadway show. The singing and acting was wonderful and we all appreciated the experience. We spent the rest of the evening eating – first at John’s Pizza, which is located in a renovated church and still retains a beautiful stained-glass ceiling. We stopped for dessert at Magnolia Bakery, renowned for banana pudding and enormous cake slices.

The next morning, we took the subway to the Lower East Side for a visit to the Tenement Museum. Our tour took place in a building originally constructed in 1863 and home to many Jewish immigrants over the years. We saw renovated-to-the-era apartments and learned about the garment work that many Jewish families did to survive (giving rise to the infamous term “sweat shop”). The students had many questions about how families survived, if children went to school, and what life was like within these cramped and dark apartments.

We finished our NYC experience with a kosher Chinese vegetarian lunch at Buddha Bodai, followed by a stop for knishes at Yonah Schimmel’s famous restaurant (tip: try the broccoli and potato knish). There was lots of napping on the bus ride home.

Kitah Chet will take an annual trip to experience living Judaism in other cities. Stay tuned for next year’s trip to Philadelphia!

Laura Naide,

Chaperone and Knish Lover

 

Ask the Rabbi: What is the soul?

Q: In the second line of the Shemah we read, “And you shall love the Eternal your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might.” Got any ideas on what the soul is?

A: According to our tradition, there are many ideas about what the soul is. Nefesh, which is the Hebrew word used in the Shemah, refers to the soul as it connects with the physical body. Everything in the world that has a corporeal nature has a nefesh. The uses in the Hebrew Bible of the word nefesh are many, and they all relate to the idea of a physical being. Our nefesh is our embodied presence in this world. In the Shemah, it makes a powerful statement; since this assertion of love for God comes right after we affirm the oneness of God, I believe the Torah is telling us that in order to connect with God we must be present, completely — our hearts (which in the biblical mindset meant our ability to reason), our being (embodied soul, or nefesh), and our God-given abilities.

Nefesh alone is not the complete picture of what our souls are. In Judaism we also have a ruach, which is translated as either spirit or wind. Like the meteorological wind, we can’t see our ruach or detail its existence, we can only experience its effects. Our ruach is the part of our soul that relates to emotional expression. It is the way in which we influence the world around us, the part of us that has the potential to sow love and spread the seeds of understanding.

We have a neshamah, which is the breath that God breathed into us. In the book of Genesis, chapter 2, verse 7, we read that God fashioned the human being from the dust of the earth, and then breathed into the nostrils the breath of life (nishmat hayim). The neshamah is the part that was breathed into us by God and reflects our character. It is the breath that we inhale and exhale, bringing in purity and letting go of what doesn’t work for us anymore. The neshamah reflects our awareness, our loftier desires to make the world a better place, and is the element of our soul that needs to be nurtured so it can nurture the world around us.

Together these three aspects create the Jewish vision for defining the soul in our tradition. Therefore, the soul of a human being is their embodied presence, the way in which they relate to the world around them, and their purest desire to change the world for the better. The soul is that part of us that relates to the world, with the capacity for creativity, love, growth, and the ability to improve our shared universe.

Book Review by Barry Altman: “Under My Bubbe’s Wings”

The following excerpt is taken from Barry Altman’s blog post, “A Very Special Book.”

“Under My Bubbe’s Wings” is a biographical account of the lives of Holocaust survivors David and Ruth Flaum, written by their son, my friend Iser Flaum.  Iser uses the clever technique of telling his folks’ stories in his father’s voice; i.e. as though David was doing the writing. This creates an even more intimate sense that you are right there with him during those terrible times.

Iser tells his father’s story based on stories he had heard since he was a little boy. David Flaum was a strong, willful person who survived on that strength along with a good dose of guile, common sense, and the ability to learn quickly, and thus be of use where perhaps others would not be.

Click here to read the full article by Barry Altman about this Holocaust memoir.  Altman is a frequent attendee at events and services, is the father of CEH member Elisa Rosman, and is the grandpa of Hannah, Emma, David & Jonah Rosman.