by Todd Juran
We are almost upon my least favorite Jewish holiday of the year. The sunset of April 6 brings the start of Passover—an eight day long holiday that really interferes with a majority of the food I enjoy eating. My conflict about Passover is that while not being able to eat real food is terrible, the Seder is one of the most fun and enjoyable family gatherings of any of the holidays. We get together with a huge group of people to recount the story of our ancestors’ exodus from Egypt and learn about the significance of the meal on our table. This may sound kind of boring to an outsider, but the Haggadah actually makes the Seder quite entertaining. Of course, it’s entertaining to make fun of your brother for fumbling over his words in the passage he is reading, but I’m referring to the actual ”activities” we encounter during the feast.
Dipping your finger into the wine: We do this to represent one drop of wine for each of the 10 plagues. I usually end up making a smiley face on my plate with the ten drops because I consider myself a food artist, and my plate looks cooler than everyone else’s. And what’s with not being able to lick my finger after it’s over? I’m left with stained skin, and eventually a stained shirt once I forget there’s wine on my finger and I have to fix my collar.
Reading a passage in one breath: I’m sure most families don’t do this, or they do it with different songs/verses, but our family has a tradition of reading the passage following Dayenu in one breath. (“He gave us manna, He gave us the Sabbath, He led us through the wilderness…”). Throughout many Seders in my lifetime, I’ve been lucky enough to have never had this reading land on me at the table. Why lucky? Because either your face turns bright red and you nearly pass out while trying to finish reading, or you completely mess up, come nowhere close to succeeding and have everyone laugh at you. It’s a lose-lose situation.
The Four Questions: The Passover Seder really gets the children involved. Maybe the most popular tradition during the meal is when the youngest child must recite the Four Questions. I was the youngest child at my Seder for seven straight years, and I will tell you it is kind of terrifying. Everyone gets really quiet and focused because it’s an important passage, and it just adds that much more pressure. All eyes are on you, and all you’re trying to do is not mess up. This is the youngest child at the table - shouldn’t we back off a little bit and not make him or her the main orator?! Of course, in the end, the youngest child gets through it and everyone goes on to say, “Great job! Fantastic job! You’re such a good reader!” And all the women kvell about how adorable he or she is.
Hiding the Afikomen: I obviously saved the best for last, because trying to find a hidden item in a house is fun, no matter what age you are—especially when the winner receives money. Which begs the question: how come only the kids get to play this game? Just because I’m 15 years older than someone else does not give me an edge in any way, shape or form. They have the ability to look in the exact same places I do. As a matter of fact, it may actually give them the advantage for being able to run faster than me and being able to crawl into smaller crevices than me. And if the game is being played on their home turf, then they know all about the secret spots that I would never guess to look in. Basically, it comes to down to who needs the prize more; I need money for gas, and they need money for the ice cream truck. I think I deserve a chance to find the Afikomen no matter my age. I want to be involved in this fun—some kids never grow up!
Now that I’ve deconstructed the actual Seder, I’d like to turn my attention to the real antagonist of the Passover holiday, matzah. Do you want to know what’s on my plate during nearly every meal I eat? Bread (yea, I know, I’m super healthy). I can deal with fasting for 24 hours pretty easily on Yom Kippur, but not being able to eat bread for eight days is quite a tall task. So now I’m stuck eating the driest, non-flavorful cracker ever invented on this planet. When chefs see this ingredient on TV, they make a scrunched up, confused face and ask, “What in the world am I going to do with this?” My dog won’t even clean up the crumbs off the floor. And don’t even get me started on how matzah breaks into pieces 93% of the time you try to spread something on it. Matzah only has five redeeming qualities—that’s it. They are:
Matzah Pizza – Put some marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese on matzah, stick into toaster oven and you have yourself a pretty solid meal.
Matzah PB&J – Peanut butter and jelly on matzah. You can put peanut butter on anything, and it will taste good.
Matzah Brei – It’s this weird mix of eggs and matzah, but damn, does it taste good with some (kosher?) syrup.
Matzah with cream cheese – I don’t know how this came about since no one really puts cream cheese on regular crackers, but it’s delicious. Oh riiight, we sorta love bagels and cream cheese. My advice? Buy whipped cream cheese to spread since the matzah is so brittle.
Matzah with butter and cinnamon – Like toast, but on matzah. You surprisingly do not lose a ton of flavor with the substitution of matzah.
Believe me, these are the keys to surviving the Passover holiday. If I can hold off eating bread and other non-kosher-for-Passover foods for eight days, then you can too. Eight days can be a long time, but just remember what our ancestors had to go through. Granted, they could have left us with a little something tastier than matzah…but I can work with it. I suggest you come up with a game plan to get your mind and body right when Pesach begins. After all, there is an obligation to drink four cups of wine at the Seder. That’s not a bad place to start.
by Lucy Bernholz and Conan Liu, eJewishphilanthropy.com
Every day we hear about new digital applications that make it easier to compare products, find news, animate books, and play games. We also hear from the creators of these tools that they want to do more than just build the next best shopping site; they want to do something that matters. At the same time, most organizations that serve our communities struggle to maintain working technology infrastructures, let alone to experiment and imagine how to achieve their missions in a digital world. Bridging this gap between media innovation and mission accomplishment was the core goal of the Jewish New Media Innovation Fund (the Fund), a pilot launched in 2010 by the Jim Joseph Foundation, the Righteous Persons Foundation, and the Schusterman Family Foundation. The funders introduced an online, open application process designed to identify and fund digitally based projects that “enriched and renewed Jewish traditions, revitalized Jewish institutions, and preserved Jewish history.”
More than 300 applications poured in from individuals, nonprofits, and commercial enterprises. Drawing from their networks, the funders quickly built a team of 75 volunteers to review and score these applications across a range of criteria. The 30 highest-scoring applications were advanced for review to an advisory panel consisting of six experts, and nine projects were ultimately chosen as winners, receiving a total of $500,000 from the Fund. The portfolio of winners included a wide range of innovative technology projects: virtual communities, mobile applications, a digital music platform, videos series, liturgy translators, and more.(1) These projects were designed to engage individuals in Jewish life by using digital tools to re-imagine Jewish history; strengthen Jewish identity through music and the arts; connect Jews with religious services and communities; and change the ways traditional Jewish education is delivered. The very act of establishing the Fund has already helped prompt conversations around technology and social innovation in organizations that may not have otherwise occurred. These conversations will only continue to grow and deepen as we watch and monitor the types of impact that these projects have on Jewish communities and individuals.
The ultimate outcome of the JNMIF will rest as much on what the community learns from this experiment as it does on the results of the individual projects. To spur discussion about the experiment, we reflect below on three questions:
What is the state of new media innovation in the organized Jewish community?
How can the JNMIF process be improved?
What might come next?
What is the state of new media innovation in the organized Jewish community?
The community could use a digital upgrade – or so the pool of applicants to the Fund suggests.
While the applicants to the Fund demonstrated clear excitement and enthusiasm for the potential that digital innovation could play in enriching Jewish life, the project also revealed a wealth of opportunities for funders to help build core digital capacity within the community. Naturally, many digitally strong organizations and individuals appeared in the applicant pool, but other applicants were not as well equipped for digital innovation: they need stronger technical capacities and deeper experience working with and integrating digital and social media tools into their practices.
Six months after the Fund selected its first round of winners, The Natan Fund ran a similar digital media application process that led to a similar realization. The applicants for that pool confirmed a strong need for digital media upgrades among Jewish organizations.
Individuals steeped in digital and social media may be best positioned to understand how these tools can radically transform education, community building, or art in the Jewish community. If these individuals are already inside community organizations, they will need support for experiments that, at their most innovative, challenge and ultimately improve upon existing operating practice.
How can the JNMIF process be improved?
The Fund may be able to identify even more innovative proposals and opportunities going forward by adjusting its criteria, expanding its outreach, and attracting more thinkers and makers.
We found that the applicants demonstrating highly innovative ideas were not always well-poised to implement them. The fact that these two criteria – innovation, and the ability to implement a project – were not always in sync suggests that we may have advanced only those proposals that scored well across both sets of criteria, potentially leaving some of the edgier proposals out of contention.
by Mike Sarason
Two weeks ago, I was able to attend an event called "Israel Up to the Minute." The program, the result of a partnership between the Israel Center and the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati and the Mayerson JCC, is part of a new, monthly series that features discussions on current issues affecting Israel, the U.S. and more. The discussions are led by Yair Cohen, Cincinnati's community shaliach (emissary) from Israel.
I wasn't totally sure what to expect, given that this was the first session of the series, but I was pleasantly surprised to walk into a full room of people. I had to struggle to find myself a seat and when I did, I was interested to see where the evening would take us. This month's "Up to the Minute" issue revolved around women in Israel, but more specifically women in the army. A few recent events in Israel have shoved this issue into the national and international spotlight.
On that night, we focused on a particular story that involved religious (male) soldiers in the IDF who, depending on where you read the story, either boycotted or simply removed themselves from an official IDF ceremony, against the commands of their supervising officer. The group of soldiers stood up and walked out upon hearing women singing at the event, something that is forbidden by haredi (ultra-Orthodox) law. Obviously, this version of what happened is slimmed down; there are many other slightly tangential factors and follow-up actions that could be mentioned but for the sake of this article and the discussion we had, we’ll focus on this incident and its implications.
Yair Cohen did a masterful job of framing the issue in terms of its context within Israeli society. He explained how Israel has been set up as a country that is both “Jewish and Democratic,” two ideas that mean different things to different people. After this, he opened up the topic for discussion and made sure to give as many people as possible a chance to speak….and that’s where things got interesting.
Throughout the course of the night I was encouraged to see many different people pitching in their thoughts and questions about why this happened and how Israel moves forward. Participants for the night included community members young and old and their comments ranged from, “How can Israel maintain its army if soldiers regularly disregard the orders of their officers?” to “we need to be able to maintain a way for oberservant Jews to serve in the army, even if it means separate brigades."
Another surprising aspect of the conversation was the sheer diversity of backgrounds and opinions people brought to the table. If the attendees at this event were a representative micro-sample of our larger community, we must have one of the most diverse Jewish communities in the country, at least in terms of how people think.
Members of our Orthodox community offered up their thoughts on the IDF’s handling (or mishandling) of the touchy issue and brought up some good points about dati (observant) brigades that have been crucial in maintaining Israel’s safety. A younger woman who is a Jewish song leader in the community voiced her frustrations over the fact that she and others like her would lose out on opportunities to sing publicly at Jewish events simply because of their gender. An older gentleman, as a veteran of the U.S. armed forces, mentioned that something like this would be unacceptable in our country. A younger rabbi explained where the laws of modesty for women (and men) come from in Jewish tradition and why they are in place. A young woman who just moved to Cincinnati gave her opinions about her own experience serving in the Israeli army, noting that it works much differently than things in the U.S.
One of the chaverim M’Israel (friends from Israel), Danielle Flicker, spoke beautifully about how this conflict is just one of the many things Israelis learn to deal with every day. Each day there are new and different problems to address, many with increasingly serious implications for the country. Despite this, Danielle lovingly spoke about her country as one that she knows is doing the very best it can. She explained that part of the reason for the conflicts in Israel is that there are so many intelligent leaders with strong, differing opinions on how Israel can best move forward. However, she made sure to note that what each of these leaders wants more than anything else is to see Israel succeed as a Democratic, forward-thinking Jewish state.
I made a few comments here and there, but for me, as interesting as it was to think about the issue itself and its implications for the state of Israel, it was just as fascinating to sit back and marvel at the unique mixture of ideas coming from all of the different people who were there.
The next “Israel Up to the Minute” program is Tuesday, March 20th at the Mayerson JCC, I hope to see you there.
by J Shifman
The other day while at work, my cell phone buzzed. It was my brother, who now goes to school in New Orleans but, like me, grew up in the Cincinnati suburbs. He was texting me to tell me that Over-the-Rhine, the neighborhood in which I live, had recently been named the most dangerous neighborhood in America, according to DailyFinance.com. “Don’t get dead,” he said, only half kidding. I laughed, but his concern was obvious, and this saddened me.
Why does Over-The-Rhine (OTR) get such a bad rap? It is one of Cincinnati’s oldest neighborhoods with a history as interesting as any area in the city. For many tourists, the area is a major draw—American Legacy Tours guides thousands of people through the area each year on one of their many tours. Yet certain tour manuals still list OTR as a place to avoid. The DailyFinance.com article I mentioned above states that data has shown that one in four residents of OTR will be a victim of a violent crime. I searched their website for details on how they came up with these figures, but none were available (Editor’s Note: The study also only concentrated on a small segment of the OTR area between Central Parkway and McMicken Avenue, north of Liberty street). Yet my brother, studying as far away as New Orleans, was shown this article in a university classroom, where it was presented as undeniable fact. Articles like this only serve to perpetuate the stereotype that OTR is nothing more than a violent, drug-filled ghetto. This distorted view fails to tell you an entire side of the story. It does not include the boom of rebirth happening in the very same neighborhood. Let me show you the OTR I know.
Living in OTR has made me rediscover the joy of being in a dense, urban environment. My roommates and I walk everywhere. During the fall, Friday and Saturday night would find our house filled with people, as the short walk to the bustling bars of Main St., Vine St. and Downtown would act as a beacon to anyone looking for a fun place to start the night. No one feared for their safety as we made the short walk to establishments like Japp's, The Drinkery, Neon's Unplugged or one of the many other popular OTR bars. Rarely would we stay in one spot for too long, as there is so much to do, see, hear, drink and eat. The nightlife food in OTR is not your typical bar food. Wood-fire pizzas, quesadillas, burritos and gourmet hot dogs are just a few of the delicious, late-night meals one can buy from traveling carts or trucks, not to mention the bright neon lights of Joe’s Diner, which attract late night partiers with the munchies like a moth to an unguarded light bulb. As the weather gets warmer, two things have begun to draw my anticipation: Reds baseball and the opportunity to enjoy the neighborhood.
Don’t get me wrong—my friends and I have still frequented OTR’s nightlife during this mild winter we’ve experienced thus far, but it is just a different story when the nights are warm. Walking back from a night out can be a surreal experience as certain buildings, illuminated by moonlight, make one want to pause and breathe in the history that we so frequently take for granted. Many of my friends who live in other parts of the city have joined me on OTR walks to take pictures or just enjoy the sights. The eye-popping colors of the building-side artwork in OTR cause many to stop and gaze in amazement.
With that said, OTR is definitely not a neighborhood free of crime or shady business by any means. Like any downtown-adjacent neighborhood, Over-the-Rhine has some rough spots. Sure, there are certain streets I wouldn’t walk down at three AM, but that is definitely not unique to Over-the-Rhine. It just takes a little bit of common sense and vigilance if you want to be an OTR resident, much the same as similar areas around the country. But this doesn’t have to be a bad thing. For a guy who grew up in Amberley Village, where the only crime you will witness is an old woman refusing to pick up after her poodle, moving to OTR has been a learning experience for me. I too used to think of OTR as dangerous, a neighborhood filled with drug addicts. Then I moved here, and discovered a neighborhood that was seemingly forgotten until recently, left behind in the land of “used-to-be”s and bad information. Don’t let these misconceptions steer you away from Cincinnati’s best neighborhood. And if you want someone to give you a tour, give me a call. I am proud to be an Over-the-Rhine resident.
by David Bratslavsky
The cover of the latest Economist reads “Iran” in ominous black letters peppered with nuclear emblems, most of which, like Iran’s nuclear facilities, are depicted deep underground. Being dropped from above are two bombs, one emblazoned with Old Glory and the other with the Star of David. The imagery suggesting an American or Israeli pre-emptive strike could not be clearer. Neither could The Economist’s take on such prospects: “Why an attack will not eradicate the nuclear threat”.
The magazine sums up the views of many, particularly in Europe, who agree that Iran’s nuclear program must be halted but not through military means. While this is a reasonable stance, it must also be supported as such. And here, The Economist falls short, relying on weak assumptions and citing evidence that belie their own conclusions.
“If Iran is intent on getting a bomb…” starts one paragraph. If? Let’s consider, in November of last year the IAEA released a report asserting that Iran is carrying out “activities that are relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device,” including “the acquisition of nuclear weapons development information and documentation from a clandestine nuclear supply network.” Does The Economist believe that Iran is willing to withstand ever crippling sanctions and international isolation for a theoretical research project, an academic exercise?
Even the Iranians have dropped this pretense. A high level strategic analysis published by the Iranian Defense Ministry in 2010 contends that in the event of an unconventional attack, “Iran needs to respond with a nuclear strategy.” In other words, it’s not if they want the bomb, it’s if they can attain one.
Even so, warns the Economist, military force against Iran’s nuclear facilities would be ill advised because “using Western bombs as a tool to prevent nuclear proliferation risks making Iran only more determined to build a weapon.” Essentially, don’t try to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons, otherwise Iran will want to develop nuclear weapons.
An attack will also prompt Iran to stop cooperating with the IAEA and move its nuclear production underground, warns the magazine. Except, this is already happening, and the authors acknowledge as much in the same issue. “In 2006 [Iran] restarted its centrifuge programme, ended compliance with the additional protocol and turned a deaf ear to the IAEA’s questions about weaponisation. It continues to allow inspectors in, but, as this week, refuses them access to the things they demand to see.”
The suggested solution? Ratchet up sanctions and hope for a new government to forswear the bomb. But which government is The Economist waiting for? Nuclear development started under the pro-Western and secular shah of Iran, continued under the mullahs since 1979, supported by the former reformist President Rafsanjani, paraded by President Ahmadinejad, and duly blessed by his opponent from the Green Movement, Mir-Hossein Mousavi. Iranians of all backgrounds see nuclear development as a matter of national pride and every major political leader has reflected this sentiment.
All this is not to say that bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities is the right move. The magazine does raise important considerations as well, such as the probability of success in striking nuclear facilities and the pace at which Iran can rebuild their program.
In the end, it may well be that the benefits of military strike on Iranian nuclear facilities do not outweigh the potential costs. But in making this analysis, let’s be frank about the reality of the situation. Iran wants the bomb, they’re actively developing one, and sanctions are unlikely to stop them. Now what? We will find out soon enough.
Read more of David Bratslavsky's pieces online at Street Smart Politics