Surviving the Seder – Guide to the [Very] Perplexed

Surviving the Seder – Guide to the [Very] Perplexed

Years ago, Maxwell House Coffees used to give out free Haggadahs at all the grocery stores, a nice way of reminding people that Maxwell House Coffees are Kosher for Passover. Those Haggadahs were actually quite nice (with charming illustrations) and were really helpful, with clear translations, a picture of the Seder plate layout, and easy instructions in English. In addition, if you had a couple dozen of these free Haggadahs, everyone at the Seder table could literally be on the same page.

OK, you can survive preparing for, and undergoing, the Pesach Seder even without the help of those good folks at Maxwell House. Bring some common sense, sanity and a lot of organization and you too can Do It Right on the Seder Night.

Kaarah shel Pesach (Seder Plate): Most seder plates have labeled spots where each item goes. Beytzah, Maror, Zroa, Karpas, Chazeres, Charoses. Beytzah (Roasted Eggs): Hardboil a lot of eggs in your Pesach pot (you’ll eat most of them later in salt water as a first course of the festive meal). Take one hard boiled egg, hold an end of it gently into the flame of the gas stove to get a dark spot. Use this slightly browned egg for the seder plate (keep it in the fridge to use again on the second night). If you prepare the egg on Yom Tov itself, eat the egg the next morning and then the second night prepare a new roasted egg (refer to the halachos of not preparing food on one day of Yom Tov for the next day, which starts evening before).

Zroa: I like to use a turkey wing just for this purpose, but really a chicken wing or any meat bone will do. I wrap the turkey wing in foil and place it right on top of the stove top gas burner flame. This could get a little messy, as the turkey fat melts and sputters. I have an old metal Pesach flat grater that I don’t use anymore for grating, so I put the foil wrapped packet containing the turkey wing on it, that holds some of the grease. I leave the turkey wing on the flame until it’s actually roasted and edible and browned (if anyone wants to eat it later following the Seder night they could if they wished). Again, as with the roasted egg, follow the halachos of cooking on Yom Tov if preparing the Zroa after Yom Tov begins (might need to eat it the next morning and prepare a new Zroa the next night for the second seder).

Charoses: There are a zillion Charoses recipes out there. If you want to make it easy on yourself, buy a package of ground walnuts. Peel and core an apple, cut into very tiny pieces (some people use a chopper or food processor). Mix the chopped bits of apple with the ground walnuts and some red wine. Add cinnamon and a speck of ginger if on hand. The exact proportions are disputed, make it as thick or as runny as you want. You don’t really need quarts of this stuff, we use just a large dollop on the seder plate and that’s good enough. People aren’t generally eating the stuff, it’s only a dip for the maror (and you shake it off, too). We used to be even lazier and use the dried Charoses mix that one yeshiva used to send us every year (they stopped doing that a few years ago). Those who want to keep kids busy might prefer buying whole walnuts, distributing nutcrackers and ordering kids to crack the nuts. Without kids to do it, don’t bother, use the packaged ground walnuts.

Maror and Chazeres: If you plan on using the eye-watering, throat-clearing stuff, be aware of the halachos about grating the horseradish root less than 24 hours before you use it (meaning grate it on Erev Pesach to be used the first Seder night) but then leaving it uncovered so that some of its strength lessens (the Pesach guidebooks by Rabbi Blumenkrantz zatzal and Rabbi Eider zatzal discuss proper preparation if you are using horseradish root). Also buy a clean new jigger glass (one fluid ounce) since the shiur or required measurement for fresh grated horseradish root is quite small (check with your own Posaik or local Orthodox rabbi).

My family gave up on fresh grated horseradish years ago (my husband used to turn purple after ingesting) and now we use romaine lettuce for maror. The shiur (minimum size) differs if you are using the leaves, the stalks or the solid centers of the romaine lettuce. Also romaine lettuce is extremely bug-infested and difficult to clean properly. We use the more expensive pre-checked pre-washed romaine lettuce (that used to be a specialty of Gush Katif before the expulsion, the Aleh Katif romaine lettuce). Again, the Pesach books have charts to measure the correct sizes when distributing the romaine lettuce for achilas maror and again for the Korech (combination).
On the Seder plate itself, some people use a little bit of the ground horseradish as Maror and a little bit of romaine lettuce for the Chazeres. We like to use a solid center from the romaine lettuce on the Kaarah as Maror, and a little piece of leaf for Chazeret.

Karpas: Everyone’s going to get a tiny bit, less than a Kazayis, so I simply boil a potato (we have tons) and use that for Karpas. Celery is OK too. This will be dipped into a small bowl of salt water (simply add some salt to water) and distributed to all participants in the Seder.

Matzah: If you use the hand baked shmurah matzohs for the Seder, follow what the R. Blumenkrantz and R. Eider guidebooks say and use approx 1/3 of a hand matzoh for a Kazayis (volume of an olive) and twice that or 2/3 of a hand matzoh for a K’beitzah (twice that or the volume of an egg). So everyone should get 2/3 of a matzoh for Motzi Matzoh, 1/3 of a matzoh for Korech, and 2/3 of a matzoh for the Afikoman. That works out to 5/3 of a hand matzoh for each person. Eleven hand shmurah matzohs are in a two-pound box, which is enough matzohs for six people at one seder. Obviously the three shmurah matzohs on the table for display won’t be enough to feed the crowd, so you give out little bits of those matzohs along with all of the extra matzohs you need to make up the minimum shiur. If somebody really can’t eat all of that matzoh I believe that in those cases just managing a total of one Kazayis or 1/3 of a hand matzo is enough, but ask your Poseik or Rav.

There is a nine-minute time period for eating the matzoh, this seems to include chewing but not swallowing, so your Seder participants sit with bulging cheeks chewing away at the round hand matzohs.

Wine or Grape Juice: Don’t be daunted by the requirement for four cups. We use small size cups, actually five ounce juice glasses, much easier than using regular size wine bechers which can be six or eight ounces. We also use very light wines for those who have trouble with heavy or high alcohol wines. Kedem has some very drinkable light wines such as Matuk Rouge Soft and Matuk Rouge Kal. The Pesach guides have a discussion here also about the minimum shiur. The first Kos has to be at least 4.42 ounces for Kadesh if the first Seder falls on Friday night and it is also Kiddush for Layl Shabbos, otherwise the shiur is even smaller for each of the arba kosos. Since for two of the kosos you must drink the whole kos and for two of the kosos at least half of the kos, it is easiest to use small glasses or cups for the kosos (measure in advance).

Maggid – With daylight savings time, the Seder doesn’t start until after the guys get back from davening Maariv, which means not even beginning until 9 PM. Pretty late. Our family takes about 2-1/2 hours on Maggid, we don’t get to the Matzah and Marror eating until about 11:30 PM and the dinner itself until close to 11:50 PM. Since chatzos is at 1 AM that gives us just one hour for the meal itself (we do it quickly by leaving out the fish and salad courses, just hardboiled egg in salt water, soup, main course, dessert), getting to the Afikoman at about 12:58. We try to allow everyone to say something during Maggid even though we want to move the Seder along. I think we strike a good balance. Benching then Nirtzah, we finish by 2 AM, hopefully the adults are awake enough to drink the last two Kosos and sing Hallel plus the famous Seder songs Chad Gadya and Echod Mi Yodaya.

You too can survive the Seder. Try to take a nap Erev Pesach, easiest when Erev Pesach is Shabbos, more difficult on a weekday. Help to get the table and the Seder Plate ready so that the Seder can begin right away after the men get back from Maariv. Everyone should start off with a Haggadah and a Kos on a small plate or saucer. The dish of three matzohs with a cover should be near the person leading the Seder, also the bowl of salt water and some utensil for dipping the bits of Karpas. Plenty of different strengths of wine and grape juice should be ready for pouring on the table. There should be a washing cup and towel near the sink for Urechatz and Rachtzah. People should have cushions or pillows ready on their chairs so they can lean (“recline”) when they drink the Arba Kosos. As mentioned above, it helps for everyone to use the same Haggadahs, however some people have their favorite Haggadahs and there are kid-friendly Haggadahs (aside from kid-made Haggadahs from school). Dig in the closet to get out the white Kittel that was cleaned and put away after Yom Kippur.

As long as you fulfill the halachic requirements of the Seder, there is room for some creativity and even humor. There are families who toss around stuffed frogs at the Esser Makkos – Ten Plagues point of the seder. My kids still sing songs from an old Pesach tape they heard about twenty years ago. I know that there are people who conduct a very serious Seder; we are a little more lighthearted. It’s very important for the children at the Seder table to be involved in the telling of the Haggadah; after all, that’s one of the mitzvos of the night, teaching your children about yetzias Mitzrayim. It’s interesting to think about how the sages of two thousand years ago designed the Haggadah and the Seder in a way to keep children interested and awake, millennia before anyone dreamed up the phrase, “multi media presentation.”

Chag Kasher v’Sameach to all!

A Potpourri of Pesach Resources

Here is the Beyond BT Guide to the Seder which goes through the basic halachos of each step of the seder.

While getting ready for Pesach, you might want to give Rabbi Welcher’s Preparing for Pesach a listen.

The Absolut Haggadah, a refreshing blend of humor and commentary trying to uncover the pshat (basic meaning) of the Haggadah has been updated. You can distribute it to anyone who might be interested.

The Haggadah relates that:

In every generation a person is obligated to regard himself as if he had come out of Mitzrayim, as it is says: “You shall tell your child on that day, it is because of this that The Haggadah relates that:

In every generation a person is obligated to regard himself as if he had come out of Mitzrayim, as it is says: “You shall tell your child on that day, it is because of this that Hashem did for me when I left Mitzrayim.”

In this mp3, Rabbi Moshe Gordon explores some of the classical approaches to understanding and fulfilling this Mitzvah. You can download it here.

By the way, Rabbi Gordon is opening his own Yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel in Elul Zman. Here’s the link http://www.yishrei.org/faculty/

And here is an amazing series of Shiurim by Rabbi Gordon on the Seder and the Haggadah which covers the major Rishonim, Achronim and Poskim on the mitzvos of Pesach night and the Hagaddah.

Seder
Kadesh and Arba Kosos
Urchatz Karpas Yachatz
Hallel Rachtza Matza Heseiba
Maror Korech Shulchan Orech
Afikomen Barech End of Hallel Nirtza after Seder

Haggadagh
Intro to Sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim
HaLachma Anya Akiras HaShulchan Intro to Ma Nishtana
Ma Nishtana
Avadim Hayeinu Arami Oved Avi
Arami Oved Avi 2
Makos End of Magid

TEN WAYS to help you and YOUR CHILDREN have a more Meaningful and Inspiring PESACH SEDER

Use these suggestions to infuse new meaning and excitement into your seder and create a lasting experience for you and your family.

1.Make the most of your Seder and best fulfill the mitzvah of V’higadita L’vincha by staying focused on telling the actual story of Yetzias Mitzrayim; concentrate on the events and their lessons.

2. Transform Yetzias Mitzrayim from a story into a reality by celebrating the Seder like you celebrate a Simcha in your own family. Speak about it vividly, personally and enthusiastically…you’ll inspire yourself and your children.

3. Prepare for the Seder! Spend time studying books and Midrashim that elaborate specifically on the details of each miracle to help your children appreciate the extent of Hashem’s kindness.

4. Make Pesach personal and relevant to your children. Use your discussion about the amazing miracles of Yetzias Mitzrayim as a means of opening their eyes to the miracles Hashem performs for us every day.

5. Show your children how so much of the Pesach Seder revolves around them, demonstrating how much Hashem cares about every child and values each one as an essential member of Klal Yisroel.

6. Involve your children in the Pesach Seder. Prepare stimulating and challenging questions that will guide them to understand the lessons of the Haggadah and be an active participant in the Seder.

7. Practice the lesson of the Four Sons during your Seder by making a particular effort to involve each child (and adult!) in a way that best suits his or her unique personality, style and level.

8. Take the time to patiently answer your children’s questions. If you don’t know the answer, create a powerful Chinuch experience by asking a rabbi and exploring the issue… together with your child.

9. Reinforce their Emunah through the Pesach Seder by explaining that the miracles of Yetzias Mitzrayim irrefutably demonstrated Hashem’s complete control over the world to millions of eyewitnesses. We attest to this truth every year on the Seder night.

10. Inspire yourself by remembering that tonight Jewish parents around the world are passing on a glorious 3,320 year old legacy to their children as their parents and ancestors have done before them. Realize that the Seder that you create for your children will inspire them for the rest of their lives and shape the future Seder that they will make for their children.

The Pesach Seder:
A Unique Opportunity to Instill Emunah in Our Children

The Mitvah of telling the story of Yetzias Mitzrayim is primarily focused on our children and family. Its main purpose is to instill in their hearts the full knowledge of Hashem’s sovereignty and the magnitude of His strength and miracles. One should explain the story to them in the language that they understand to make them aware of the extent of the wonders that Hashem performs. It is not sufficient to explain just the main points of Yetzias Mitzrayim written in the Haggadah. Instead, we should describe all of the miracles vividly as they are depicted in the Gemara, Midrashim and other Seforim. (Based on Yesod V’Shoresh Ha’avoda 9:6)

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The Empty Chairs

First published in Mishpacha Family First, Pesach, 2010

I remember my surprise, the first time, 17 years ago, that I learned that there were TWO Sederim for Pesach. And the seder isn’t twenty minutes long? And what’s this about eating no chometz for 8 days, and separate dishes, pots, and pans, and you can’t start the seder until 9 P.M.? This was not the Passover of my upbringing!

My secular family held on to two Jewish rituals – my brothers were circumcised with a mohel, and we always gathered for the Passover seder. I had no idea, growing up, that the twenty minute – dunk the parsley, break open the one box of Manischewitz Matzoh bought for the occasion, and then sing “dayeinu” – seder of my youth was a poor substitute for the real deal. In my family, Passover lasted as long as the seder, and we came from the “is it over yet, when can we eat the meal?” perspective. I will never forget my first frum seder, and oh, why didn’t anyone warn me? I arrived hungry, had no clue that we wouldn’t be starting the matzoh ball soup until way past 10 P.M. and couldn’t fathom that this was the same Passover seder I had supposedly participated in all of my life.

The Passovers of my youth are now long gone. My husband and I became frum, are raising our children frum from birth, and it’s been 16 years since we’ve spent Pesach with our families of origin. We went through the painful and necessary separation from our families, and came to peace with the reality that it is entirely impossible for us to spend Pesach in their homes, or to join them for their version of the Passover seder. We invite them to our seder every year, and every year they politely decline. Some BT families manage to find some form of compromise to allow for family togetherness on Passover. In our family, we stick to Thanksgiving and the summer time share vacation as those opportunities, and when it comes to Pesach, the secular families stay far away, and we can’t convince them otherwise.

When you’ve been ba’al teshuvah for as long as we have, there are certain realities you get used to – certain holidays come around every year, with the same result. Every year my children feel sad when they hear of their friends who are looking forward to Pesach at Bubbe’s, or hanging out with the cousins at the Pesach hotel, or Zayde leading the seder. It is the annual reminder for our children that as frum as they are, their seder table will be absent, once again, any grandparents, cousins, aunts, or uncles. It will be a stark reminder to them that we are the only religious family in our entire extended clan.

I say the words out loud to them every year, and I mean them, even more so, now that my children are now teenagers: “Very soon, Tatty and Mommy will be Bubbe and Zayde and you’ll be here with your children, who will have frum cousins to play with, and grandparents at their seder, you’ll see. . .. “

B’ezras Hashem, it will be. It is this vision that my husband and I cling to when the BT journey is arduous. And still, although I try to be upbeat in front of my children, I also feel sad. I, too, miss a generational seder, with my parents, their grandparents, present, and with frum cousins making a ruckus. As I am starting to feel a bit melancholy, I make myself think about it in a whole new light:

I am writing family-commissioned holocaust memoirs; my mind travels to the five survivors whose life stories I’ve written thus far. I think about their first Pesach after liberation. Parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, gone. Ripped away from the annual Pesach seder, murdered, with no warning that the last seder enjoyed together before Nazi terror would be the last.

Empty chairs at the seder.

The pain, unimaginable, impossible to accept.

Every one of the five survivors I’ve come to know are now, Baruch Hashem, leading Sederim with children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren squeezing into the seder table, and Bubbe and Zayde, survivors, brimming with Yiddish nachas.

There are no more empty chairs at their seder tables. Their beloved, lost relatives live on in their namesakes. Sweet revenge.

My children escaped from the holocaust of our generation – assimilation. The empty chairs at our seder table will be filled in one more generation, B’ezras Hashem!

What Are the Basic Priorities at the Seder?

What are the basic priorities at the Seder?

1) Strengthing Emunah in Hashem.

2) Expressing thanks to Hashem for giving us freedom, nationhood and the Torah.

3) Carefully performing the mitzvos of the night.

4) Passing on the story of the Jewish People to children and others not familiar with our heritage.

5) An opportunity to spend spiritual quality time with the family and extended family.

Clueless in Chometz – Preparing for Pesach

This will be my 35th Pesach, having been married 34 years and making my first Pesach one month later. Yet every March I feel like a new bride who never made Pesach before. The thought of scrubbing down my refrigerator and moving the beds upstairs makes me queasy. At 53 I simply don’t have the kochos, the strength, that I had twenty-five years ago to do the job by myself. Pesach programs at hotels are simply out of my financial range, plus family members look forward all year to coming to Bubby & Zayde’s house (that’s me and my husband) for the chag. And what would the Seder be like without cute grandchildren to say the Mah Nishtanah? Luckily nowadays I have adult children who can volunteer their own elbow grease to the project, plus enough funds this year to hire a cleaning service to help.

Still Pesach can be daunting, especially for Baalei Teshuvah and Geirim who have never seen a house get ready for Pesach before. There may be some comfort knowing that there are FFB’s who have never made Pesach either, having gone every year to their parents or their inlaws for the entire eight days. These FFB’s now facing a first Pesach at home are as clueless about where to start with the whole Pesach process as the newest BT or Geir.

I have learned the hard wary to prioritize the time before Pesach. Don’t go crazy and spend three days scrubbing toys. What’s most important is of course thoroughly cleaning and kashering the kitchen for Pesach. Rabbi Shimon Eider zatzal had a series of books on getting ready for Pesach, which have been collected into one or two hardcover volumes. Basically the best timesaver is to buy new for Pesach, which most people do rather than spend time before Pesach kashering silverware in a large vat of bubbling hot water (some communities such as Baltimore make this available as a service for the entire community).

My dream is to one day have a Pesach kitchen in my home. No it does not have to be a designer kitchen 50K Architectural Digest spectacular, it could just be one corner of my living/dining area set aside for a separate fridge, dedicated Pesach freestanding cabinet and an electric stove (I’m not sure what I would do about a sink, though, needing water pipes). Not having a separate Pesach kitchen, the turnover of the chometzdike kitchen is difficult. I (and whatever sons and their teenage muscled friends I can round up) generally accomplish this by taking all chometzdike pots and implements out of the shelves and cabinets, boxing them and storing them in the attic, until the kitchen is completely empty. Then we scrub down completely the entire kitchen, every inch of the counters and the shelves. We move the stove and the fridge and wash the floors. Hopefully this year the cleaning service will do that for us, but we still will have to empty out, put into boxes and store away in the attic all of the chometzdike dishes and pots. Of course, other people who are more sane don’t empty out the entire kitchen: they store the chometzdike dishes and pots into cabinets that are roped off or taped shut with “CHOMETZ” labels during Pesach. Last year, my sons loaded up the dishwasher (not used at all by us during Pesach) with the chometzdike pots and pans, plus they taped shut the lower cabinets under the sink, so that I did not have to schlep everything into the attic (this made the after-Pesach recovery period a little easier also, less stuff to bring back down from the attic).

Once all of the chometzdike utensils are put away, we then have to cut and tape down shelving paper on all of the clean shelves (I detest this part but sons and I have to do it). We scrub the stove top completely with St Moritz or soft scrub or whatever does the job of cleaning without removing the enamel. Then we load up the oven with the top of stove burners and grates, plus all wire racks, and turn the oven to two cycles of three-hour self clean. Not all rabbonim approve of self-cleaning an oven to use it for Pesach, check with your own Poseik. This works for a gas oven, I do not know if it works for an electric oven or a continuous cleaning oven, again check with your own Poseik or local Orthodox rabbi. I would also suggest disabling your smoke or heat alarm before “gleein der kecht,” as burning out the oven is known in Yiddish. We once got some very unhappy firefighters at our door, complete with the firetruck and all firefighting gear, since our alarm sensed the heat of the self cleaning oven and automatically phoned the fire department. Once the stove has been kashered through self-cleaning we cover everything with extra heavy duty foil, allowing room for ventilation and for the dials (which we replace with Pesachdike dials but you could just cover with foil) and for seeing and pressing the oven controls on the hood (using a piece of clear plastic as sort of an insert in the foil for where we have to see and press buttons). The oven door is also carefully and completely covered with extra heavy duty foil.

When the stove is clean I boil a full Pesach kettle of water. This leads to some interesting discussion about “what goes first.” (The sink must be kashered by using boiling water, but the water being put into the Pesach kettle is from the chometzdike sink. I generally resolve this by filling the Pesach kettle from the bathroom or laundry room sink). The kettle of boiling water is for kashering the metal sink and around the base of the faucet. The kettle is wielded like a paintbrush, I or an adult son move the kettle of boiling water across the sink, hitting every spot of the metal sink with the pour of the poured stream of boiling water. The arm of the faucet being plastic rather than metal can’t be kashered for Pesach this way so I wrap it with heavy aluminum foil. An enamel or porcelain (white) sink cannot be kashered like a metal sink, most rabbonim recommend using a special sink insert. I hate sink inserts like a passion, because all of the junk and food scraps and grease yecch collects in the dirty water under the insert and floods the sink then you have to pick up the insert and clean underneath it, once again yecch. Also with a kashered sink I do not have to worry if the Pesach forks clatter into the sink, no problem.

The counters are thoroughly cleaned and then covered. Variety stores in Jewish neighborhoods sell cuttable plastic sheets and washable Contact paper for countertops, or there is the old fallback, heavy duty aluminum foil. The dining table is scrubbed and then covered. I generally cover it with a large rectangle of cardboard, then I tape down a large size rectangle of heavy plastic over the cardboard, covering the table surface completely. Over that I throw another plastic tablecloth, then goes the cloth Pesach tablecloth, with another plastic tablecloth on top (the last is actually more to protect the cloth tablecloth from grape juice stains than for Pesach kashrus). The chairs are scrubbed (we have plastic not wooden chairs; wooden chairs should be cleaned with wood cleaner and checked for any obvious places where crumbs might have gotten caught).

The fridge is not kashered but simply scrubbed out. I use pieces of cardboard to line the bottom of the fridge because sometimes I store Pesach pots of cooked food when cooled down right into the refrigerator. I don’t like covering the wire racks because then air cannot circulate throughout the fridge. If you do cover the refrigerator racks for Pesach, be sure to punch enough ventilation holes in the foil or plastic rack covers or your fridge will not keep cold properly.

I do not use my microwave for Pesach, as it cannot be kashered. It is too large to pack away, so I wrap it into a black plastic garbage bag and tape it up securely, it continues to sit on top of my refrigerator but is neither seen nor accessed during the eight days. It is not sold to the non-Jew with the chometz. I also do not use my dishwasher, which is taped up securely so it will not turn on accidentally, and sealed with chometzdike dishes inside. I do use my china cabinet for the Pesach china and the gleaming Seder plate and the Kos Eliyahu, so I have to clean it thoroughly and line the shelves with taped down shelving paper. Because I plop boxes of matzos on top of the china cabinet, I even have to clean the top (I don’t scrub it, though). I move the china cabinet to sweep underneath just in case a stray slice of challah is sitting there.

While the kitchen is being turned over, the house is an absolute mess. I have always envied those fantastic housewives who can get ready for Pesach without a fork out of place. During the two or three days we are in-between still Chometzdike and wholly Pesachdike, we rely on that old standby, eating out at the pizza place or the shwarma place. Sometimes we rely on the outdoor picnic table. The takeout pizzas and chometz occupy the picnic table outside, so we dine alfresco until the kitchen is ready.

This year presents a challenge of making Shabbos two days before Sunday night’s Bedikas Chometz and three days before the Seder night on Monday night. We plan on turning over the kitchen to Pesachdike before Shabbos and making a “neutral” Shabbos (food cooked in Pesachdike pots, the kitchen and dining area all ready for Pesach, throwaway foam plates with plastic forks and knives, a Pesach stew rather than ordinary Chometzdike barley and bean cholent for Shabbos lunch, challah or some other less crumbly lechem served at the outside picnic table rather than in the cleaned dining area). This way I can cook and bake for Pesach on Motzaei Shabbos, all day Sunday and Monday if the kitchen is all ready before Erev Shabbos.

For my Pesach shopping, I work from a “master list” that I put away from year to year (not in an inaccessible spot, but rather where I can access it before Pesach when I do the shopping). The list is flexible to accommodate more or fewer people spending the chag with us. It’s sort of funny to compare with an ordinary shopping list, you might ask if the Israeli Army is joining us: fifteen dozen eggs, fifty pounds of potatoes, twenty pounds of onions, twenty pounds of apples….The expense is no joke, however. I find it more helpful and affordable to split the Pesach shopping into three sections: the nonperishable canned and boxed goods, such as tomato sauce, potato starch and bags of sugar, to buy two weeks ahead; then the meats, fish, frozen food, vegetables, fruit and eggs, to purchase one week ahead (when the refrigerator and freezer are cleaned and ready); finally, right before Erev Pesach, the most perishable items, such as fresh milk, bags of green salad, yogurts, cottage cheese and sour cream. Pesach shopping really “breaks the bank.” You can keep expenses down if you forego those exotic processed items like Pesach pizza in favor of fresh vegetables and fruits (or potatoes and eggs, more potatoes and eggs). Sometimes it is possible to order matzos and wine and grape juice from an Orthodox shul, it helps raise money for the shul and can be cheaper than retail at your local supermarket or kosher grocery. Those Pesach booklets that come out every year are good for references to medicine and other products for Pesach (it may not be necessary to buy that inferior and overpriced Pesach toothpaste if a cheaper national brand is acceptable for Pesach).

Good luck to everyone, a Chag Kasher v’Sameyach to all at Beyond BT (and to all two good and fulfilling and meaningful Seder Nights).

Of One Thing You Can Be Certain

You may have seen this story:

In the mid-nineties, a Jewish advertising executive wondered: what if the New York Times – the “Paper of Record” – printed the Shabbos candle lighting time each week? Imagine the Jewish awareness and pride that might result from such a prominent mention of Shabbos each week. He contacted a Jewish philanthropist and sold him on the idea. It cost nearly two thousand dollars a week but he agreed to fund it. For the next five years, every Friday, Jews around the world would see ‘Jewish Women: Shabbat candle lighting time this Friday is _____”

Eventually the philanthropist had to reduce the number of projects he had been funding. And, so, in June 1999, the little Shabbos candle lighting notice made its last appearance in the New York Times. At least that’s what people thought.

On January 1, 2000, the NY Times ran a Millennium edition commemorating the paper’s 100th anniversary. It was a special issue that featured three front pages. One contained the news from January 1, 1900. The second contained the actual news of the day, January 1, 2000. And the third front page, featured projected headlines of January 1, 2100. It included such stories as a welcome to the fifty-first state: Cuba and a debate over the issue of whether robots should be allowed to vote. And so on. And, in addition to the creative articles, there was one extra piece. Down on the bottom of the Year 2100 front page, was the candle lighting time in New York for January 1, 2100. Nobody asked for it. Nobody paid for it. It was just put in by the Times. The production manager of the New York Times – an Irish Catholic – was asked about this curious entry. His answer speaks to the eternity of our people and to the power of Jewish ritual.”We don’t know what will happen in the year 2100. It is impossible to predict the future. But of one thing you can be certain. That in the year 2100 Jewish women will be lighting Shabbos candles.”

What lessons can be learned from such a story?

Advice for the Seder Guest

Pesach is around the corner and many people will be guests at other people’s sedarim, which raises a number of questions.

1) Since there is great variance in sedarim and some of them might include tens of Divrei Torah from grade-schoolers, is it proper to probe and get a sense of what the seder will be like before accepting an invitation?

2) Is it proper to offer your own Divrei Torah or should you wait until asked?

3) How do you check on the level of Kashrus since some people are more careful on Pesach because of the stringencies regarding Chametz?

4) If the hosts aren’t careful giving out the shiurim for the various mitzvos of the evening, how can you tactfully ask – “please sir, can I have some more?”

What are some of the problems and solutions that you’ve come across?

Just Another Link in the Chain: Genealogy Anyone?

“If we’re lost, then this is a strange place to be asking for directions,” remarked my date nervously, as we drove up the long entrance of Mt. Judah Memorial Park.

“Well, no, we’re not lost. We’re actually here,” I slowly answered. Long pause.

“Here? Here where?” she whispered. I just stared ahead. “You’re taking me on a date to a cemetery?

“I…er…thought you would want to meet some of my family. Don’t worry,” I added with a grin, “it’s not a commitment.” I saw the joke was going flat.

I tried to explain to her how I was interested in knowing about my roots, and how I had finally discovered where my great grandfather was buried. “And since we’re in the neighborhood anyway (I really hope there’s a mini-golf course around here somewhere), I thought I could just pop in and get more information.” My words trailed off, as I saw the adventure of it was lost on her.

“Well,” she finally said,” At least you could’ve warned me.”

All of my grandparents were born in America, and none of my immigrant great grandparents were religious at all. In fact, I don’t even know where religious observance ended on any sides of my family. When I was younger, it certainly never occurred to me to ask questions, and when I became older, it was too late. Even though my grandmother lived into her 90s, she didn’t recall much, and remarked about her own parents, “They just never spoke about their families.” After I became frum, I decided to learn more about my elusive background, especially about my father’s side. But it wasn’t easy. Information came slowly, and crossing the ocean to know what happened in the old country was almost impossible.

As the years went by, I picked up names like Shloims, and Beinish and Feivel, and I learned we came from a chassidish town in Galicia. I learned to utilize online sources like stevemorse.org and jewishgen.org, and I discovered you could even use ancestry.com completely for free if your local library has its own subscription. For a few bucks I was able to obtain my great grandfather’s naturalization records from a certain county court, which told me how he came to America (finally). On the ships manifests, you can see who they left behind, which sometimes adds more names. But included in this is much time and frustration.

To me personally, it makes a difference. I know I’m a link in some unbroken chain, but it means something to me to actually be able to trace back to anyone who was shomer Torah u’mitzvos like myself. Not everyone feels this way, and I myself go through stages when I just drop the idea of finding ancestors, and think, I’ll meet them all after I’m 120 anyway.” And I have my own children with whom the chain will continue, and I hear the side to say that the chain will continue with them, and don’t worry about the past. But deep down, I would like to know. Are there baalei tschuva who have just more than simple curiosity of knowing also? It’s a feeling that so many can’t really relate to. Little by little I still hope to chip away at it, and one day pass down to my own sons information about their illustrious background.

“Tell me it’s not true,” begged the shadchan over the phone the next day. “Please.”

“I figured she was bored with hotels,” I said. “The scenery was nice.”

She sighed. “Let me suggest something. The next time you wish to take a girl somewhere…uh…different, try maybe an amusement park, or a boat ride. Much less morbid, you see?” Click. I never heard from her again.

From Skinhead to Orthodox Jew

After the Iron Curtain was lifted in Europe twenty years ago, a surprising thing occurred – thousands of people who had been raised as gentiles came to the startling realization that they were actually Jews. Poland is home to thousands of such stories. During the Holocaust and under Communist rule, many Jews there hid their identities and continued to conceal them even after the fall of Communism. On their deathbeds, some of them have revealed their true identities to their children or grandchildren. Other people found out from old family records or through other means.

Once they discover their roots, people often turn to Rabbi Michael Schudrich, an American who has been the Chief Rabbi of Poland since 2004. Rabbi Schudrich has been the guide for multitudes of Jews to return to Torah Judaism. They turn to him for guidance and direction, and he tries to help them to reclaim their proud heritage that had been hidden for so many years.
Several years ago, Zbiszek, a 52 year-old man from Bialystock, came to Rabbi Schudrich’s office in Warsaw. Zbiszek told him that his mother had passed away four months earlier. Following the funeral, Zbiszek was approached by several neighbors who told him astonishing news – this woman who had raised him, whom he knew to be his mother, was not his actual biological mother.

They told Zbiszek that he had been born Jewish. In 1942, as Jews throughout Poland were being exterminated, Zbiszek’s Jewish parents gave him to the woman for adoption in case they were killed. His biological parents did not survive the Holocaust, and so the woman raised Zbiszek as her own son.

She had risked her life to save him during the war, and so she never wanted him to know the truth. She swore her neighbors to secrecy, and they dutifully remained silent for five decades. Now that she had passed away, they decided it was time to reveal the secret.

Zbiszek trembled when he first heard the news and didn’t know what to do. He spent a long time in deep introspection. Should he continue living his comfortable life as a Christian, as he had been raised, or should he embrace his newfound religion, of which he knew nothing?

Zbiszek decided he wanted to live proudly as a Jew, but didn’t know how. So here he was in Rabbi Schudrich’s office, looking for answers. Zbiszek told the rabbi that he felt most guilty that he never had a “Jewish baptism.”
Rabbi Schudrich calmed his fears and taught him the basics of Judaism. Zbiszek spent the next few years studying together with Rabbi Schudrich and attending classes in the community. Today he goes by Zecharya Asher, and is an active member of the Polish Jewish community.

Another unique story is that of Pawel Bramson. He was raised in an observant Catholic family. As a teenager, he joined a skinhead gang. He was virulently anti-Jewish, anti-black and anti-Gypsy.

Pawel married his Catholic high school sweetheart. They had two children, and at the age of twenty, Pawel’s wife found out that she was really Jewish! The news shook Pawel. However over time he was able to reconcile his previous hatred of Jews with the knowledge of his wife’s religion.

Several years later, Pawel’s wife decided to bring some Jewish traditions into their home. She began making Shabbat meals and Pawel consented to her desires. When he told his parents about the meals, they reacted with anger. They tried to pressure Pawel to make his wife sweep her Judaism back under the rug.

Pawel continued to support his wife, despite his parents objections. One day, his parents revealed the source of their anger – they were both Jews themselves! Pawel’s parents had hid their Judaism out of fear of anti-Semitism in Poland. The religious life that Pawel’s wife was beginning to explore represented everything they had tried to run away from.

The news stunned Pawel, and it took him a long time to accept it. The same Jews that he had hated as a teenager were now his own people. But Pawel slowly accepted the discovery, and he and his wife began bringing more traditions into their home. They are now fully observant.

Pawel has three brothers, one who is his twin. The twin still believed in many of the anti-Semitic myths that Pawel had rejected. And yet he has been influenced by Pawel’s religious growth in some small ways.

One Friday night, Pawel’s twin brother tried calling him on his cell phone but could not reach him. The twin went to the synagogue to try to find him, but Pawel was not there. That Friday night the synagogue had only nine men in attendance, just one short of a minyan. So when Pawel’s brother walked in, Rabbi Schudrich asked him if he could stay in the synagogue to be the tenth man. He said yes.

Such is the rebirth of Jews in Poland. Even Jews far removed from Judaism, with seemingly no connection, still have a tiny spark of Judaism deep inside them. With the right impetus, that spark can ignite into the beautiful fire of a proud Jewish soul.

————————————————————–
Michael Gros is the former Chief Operating Officer of the outreach organization The Atlanta Scholars Kollel. He writes from Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel. The Teshuva Journey column chronicles uplifting teshuva journeys and inspiring kiruv tales. Send comments to michaelgros@gmail.com
Published in The Jewish Press in December, 2009

How to Deal With a Rabbi with Issues?

How would you handle or react to your Rabbi who is often rude and has weak people interacting skills. He suggested that I need to give more to charity (the shul) after he asked you how much my wife and I make together and I told him we are giving what we can. When I ask a question, he always has an attitude when answering.

I am not the only one who has witnessed this and who feels this way. I am told that this is how it is and I should just overlook it.

I want to continue to go to shul but he is rude and his shuirs are dry, but the members there are very friendly and warm.

This is the only orthodox Rabbi in the area.

I know what I should do and confront him of this, but it is nice to hear from an outside source. I am sure you have heard or seen this before.

Thanks in Advance,
Jeff

Building a Better Teacher

Issues in Schooling

One of the challenges that parents face is the schooling of our children. Among the many issues in schooling, three stand out:

1) Lots of material to master in a full dual curriculum day.

2) Many schools have insufficient resources.

3) A lack of truly great teachers.

Lack of Great Teachers is a Recognized Problem

Well it seems that a lack of great teachers is a problem shared across all American schools as discussed in a worth-reading article in the NY Times on Sunday titled Building a Better Teacher:

Eric Hanushek, a Stanford economist, found that while the top 5 percent of teachers were able to impart a year and a half’s worth of learning to students in one school year, as judged by standardized tests, the weakest 5 percent advanced their students only half a year of material each year.

You Can Build a Better Teacher

Creating incentives for good teachers and firing bad teachers is being tried across the country but it is not producing better learning in students. Doug Lemov a teacher and education consultant thinks the smarter path to boosting student performance is to improve the quality of the teachers who are already teaching.

Lemov decided to seek out the best teachers he could find — as defined partly by their students’ test scores — and learn from them. This five-year project produced a 357-page treatise known among its hundreds of underground fans as Lemov’s Taxonomy. (The official title, attached to a book version being released in April, is “Teach Like a Champion: The 49 Techniques That Put Students on the Path to College.”)

Central to Lemov’s argument is a belief that students can’t learn unless the teacher succeeds in capturing their attention and getting them to follow instructions. Educators refer to this art, sometimes derisively, as “classroom management.”

All Lemov’s techniques depend on his close reading of the students’ point of view, which he is constantly imagining. In Boston, he declared himself on a personal quest to eliminate the saying of “shh” in classrooms, citing what he called “the fundamental ambiguity of ‘shh.’ Are you asking the kids not to talk, or are you asking kids to talk more quietly?” A teacher’s control, he said repeatedly, should be “an exercise in purpose, not in power.” So there is Warm/Strict, technique No. 45, in which a correction comes with a smile and an explanation for its cause — “Sweetheart, we don’t do that in this classroom because it keeps us from making the most of our learning time.”

After discussing Lemov and his techniques, the article goes further and asks: Is good classroom management enough to ensure good instruction? It discusses teachers who are focused on reaching every student such a Katie Bellucci, who had been teaching for only two months, yet her fifth-grade math class was both completely focused on her and completely quiet.

Lately Bellucci and her mentor teacher, Eli Kramer, a dean of curriculum and instruction at Troy who also splits fifth-grade math responsibilities with Bellucci, have advanced to a technique called No Opt Out. The concept is deceptively simple: A teacher should never allow her students to avoid answering a question, however tough. “If I’m asking my students a question, and I call on somebody, and they get it wrong, I need to work on how to address that,” Bellucci explained in February. “It’s easy to be like, ‘No,’ and move on to the next person. But the hard part is to be like: ‘O.K., well, that’s your thought. Does anybody disagree? . . . I have to work on going from the student who gets it wrong to students who get it right, then back to the student who gets it wrong and ask a follow-up question to make sure they understand why they got it wrong and understood why the right answer is right.”

Please read the whole article here.

What Can We Do?

What can we do to help our teachers become better? I think for starters we can start the conversation by sending the NY Times article to the principals and the teachers we know. When Lemov’s book comes out in April, buy a copy, read it and lend it to as many teachers as you can. Our schools want to be the best they can be and my experience has been they are receptive to constructive suggestions.

Guess Whose Not Coming to Dinner?

Ever since making aliya decades ago, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I’ve been visited by collateral relatives. So it was with great excitement that I learned that cousin Adele her daughter Jan and Jan’s two young daughters would be in the Holy Land and that they wanted meet for dinner. Immediately, I extended an invitation and Adele accepted for them all.

Right away, I marked the date on my calendar and began counting down. What a fun it would be to see Adele. Thirty years my senior, Adele was a member of my family’s rapidly dying older generation and she was a great talker, funny and full of life and chock full of stories from the old days, precious recollections, I longed—living apart from any relations, I longed for her to share. As to Jan, I didn’t know her very well., but given my warm feelings to her Mom, I saw her as a potential friend.
As much as I was excited, I my stomach was in a knot. I was aware that both Norma and Jan were intermarried and their spouses would be coming along
Could I host them? What we would do about wine, washing , benching and yarmulke wearing?

When a prominent kiruv rabbi assured me that that having the entire gang, was a mitzvah—especially since Jan’s kids who were halachic Jews, my stomach unknotted. And when the rabbi added that the non Jews could wash and bench a broad smile settled on my face.

This was going to be a wonderful evening I told myself. I would be a modern day Sara Imenu bringing the strangers into the tent and winning them over with my Glatt Kosher Martha Stewart hospitality.

When Adele told me that she was salt free and Jan a vegetarian, I scoured cookbooks and cooking blogs to find the best recipes and I even bought new table linens to make everything look pretty.

I had high hopes for this evening, sky high. As I saw it, Adele who had initiated the trip and was picking up the tab was ripe for Teshuva.. Now nearly eighty, she was reeling from a devastating personal tragedy—the kind of event leads to a spiritual search. Adele loved chulent and kishka and used expressions like nishtugedach in her everyday conversation. Tom her third husband was a half Jew, from the wrong side but he shared Adele’s Judeophilia.

As to Jan, though I harbored less hope Her husband was a 100 per cent goy–Polish, but her kids were full fledged seedlings of Avraham Avinu. Who knew how high they could climb, especially after dinner at my house?

But as the date grew near, my stomach knotted again. The spiritual futures of six souls and so much could go wrong. The meal could flop or it could simply not hit the spot for people accustomed to Cordon Bleu.Adele or Jan or one of the grandkids could appeared dressed in something outrageous. Was I to preempt that potential disaster with a cautionary phone call or would that strategy be off putting?

Even if the food worked and everyone’s clothing was okay, the conversation could hit a snag.. One of my kids could say something rude—or one of theirs or one of the adults could say something outrageous.

But before I could devise a coping strategy , Adele left a long message on my voice mail. She was cancelling, pulling. The family was just too busy; their guide was wearing them down. She was so sorry and she hoped that we’d meet the next time I was in Coral Gables, Florida—which would most likely be never.

Maybe Adele sensed my overly high expections and attendant anxiety or maybe she or Jan or the kids or the husbands were freaked by the prospect an evening in a hareidi home or maybe Adele was telling the truth, that they were simply too pooped out to visit their only blood relations in the entire middle east.

I will never know that true reason why the dinner didn’t happen.

What I do know that this is all for the best. Rejection is Hashem’s form of protection. This family reunion was not meant to be. Our paths were not meant to cross at this time. Perhaps because neither I nor my family were up for this challenge or perhaps because of problems on the other side.

But that doesn’t eliminate the sadness. I’m sad, full of regrets, mourning the evening’s unfulfilled promise, just as the Shehina mourns for the millions of estranged Jews who never visit the relatives at all.

The Neshamah Project

The Neshamah Project is a wonderful and meaningful new organization.

You may have seen the book we are distributing: The Neshamah Should Have an Aliyah – What you can do in memory of a departed loved one. This new book stands at the forefront of our mission, which is both simple and profound: To help people perform mitzvos in memory of loved ones or friends who have passed away.

Very often, family and friends wish they could do something, anything, when someone passes away – something that would help keep their memory of that person fresh, something that would keep his legacy alive. Yet all too often these goals are not realized because they simply do not know where to start or what to do. When a loved one passes away, many people are inspired to do good deeds – perhaps more than at any other time in their lives.

But they just don’t know where to turn.

The Neshamah Project was created to fill this void. We help people accomplish personal Mitzvah projects – big or small – l’zecher nishmas those who have passed away.

Read a few pages of this remarkable book and we guarantee that you will be inspired – inspired to do a mitzvah yourself and inspired to give the book to someone else, so they too can start a mitzvah project on behalf of a loved one. As you will see, everyone who reads it is moved to give it to someone they know.

You can help spread this important message by telling anyone you know who may benefit from this valuable resource. Do you have a website or online newsletter? Please post information there as well.

You can see more about us online at www.NeshamahProject.org or email us for further information at info@neshamahproject.org.

Dealing With Clashes Between Orthodox and American Sensibilities

What are the issues that you find most difficult personally?

What issues do your non-observant friends and family seem to have?

What are the issues that you have trouble explaining to others?

Some issues:
– Equal Rights vs Segregation of the sexes
– Equal Rights vs Different roles for men and women
– Pluralism vs The Chosen People
– Pluralism vs Differing Halachic Treatment of Jews and Non-Jews
– Animal Rights vs Korbanos
– Human Rights vs Eradication of Amalek

In Scandals, a Wake-Up Call for Orthodoxy

By David Klinghoffer

For all its outward vigor, the Orthodox community, which is my own, appears to harbor a sickness. You don’t have to be an ideological critic of traditional Judaism to wonder if the cause should be sought in Orthodoxy itself.

The past year has brought what seems like a never-ending stream of financial or sexual scandals. Prominent rabbis have been charged with money-laundering. The scandal unleashed by accounts of mistreatment of workers and animals in a kosher meat facility continues to reverberate. An influential rabbi specializing in conversions allegedly conducted a squalid relationship with a woman wishing to convert. There have been repulsive accounts of molestation of boys in yeshivas. Most recently, a prominent rabbi and communal powerbroker was charged with trying to extort money from a hedge fund.

Of course, not every allegation turns out to be true (and you certainly cannot believe everything you read, especially on the Internet with its bias in favor of grudges and witch-hunts). Yet the pattern of accusations can’t be coincidental.

For a convert or a baal teshuvah, like me, the greatest stumbling block to faith may indeed be the Orthodox community itself. If Torah is true, why do Torah Jews not stand out as particularly impressive? Deuteronomy says of our Torah observance: “It is your wisdom and discernment in the eyes of the peoples, who shall hear all these decrees and who shall say, ‘Surely a wise and discerning people is this great nation’” (4:6). No one would say such a thing of us today. How can this be?

The answer, I think, lies in the nature of Torah that has allowed its adherents to persist for millennia. While liberal Jewish movements inevitably fade into the broader gentile society, traditional Judaism survives thanks to a hedge of religious laws that keep Jews somewhat separate from others: “Behold! It is a nation that will dwell in solitude and not be reckoned among the nations” (Numbers 23:9). Paradoxically, our ministering to and illuminating humanity as the “kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:6) that God calls us to be is conditioned on this apartness from other people.

But insularity also has its risks. For communities, as for individual human beings, there’s a madness that often goes with spending too much time by yourself. Reality becomes a little unreal. So too, alas, in our Orthodox world.

At times you feel you are on Planet Frum, where eccentricities and trivialities — “Orthodox” jargon and accents, minutely observed quirks of attire, tribal foods — loom large, as if reflected in a funhouse mirror. This is pronouncedly so on the East Coast (which is one reason I moved to Seattle). For example, not long ago I was talking with a young woman who grew up in a Hasidic community. I was trying to get clear what exactly distinguished her former community from other Hasidic groups. Her answer kept coming back not to beliefs but to styles of socks and hats.

I recall another conversation with a New York woman, Modern Orthodox, who was seeking to locate another woman along the spectrum of religiosity. “Basically, she wears pants and eats fish out,” was her summary statement that would sound insane to any outsider. (She meant the other woman doesn’t strictly observe rules regarding modesty in attire or not eating in non-kosher restaurants.)

In an insular community, Torah can easily be reduced to cosa nostra — merely “our thing,” a game of chess with arcane rules that bear no meaning outside a narrow context. The serious danger lies in Judaism becoming a hermetically sealed environment, irrelevant and indifferent to the world. The highest ethics and values to be found in the wider society — which Judaism praises as derech eretz — are then minimized or even discarded as somehow goyish.

The visionary spokesman of Modern Orthodoxy in 19th-century Germany, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, warned of the peril Jews face in living up to our calling. In his Torah commentary, Hirsch wrote, “The sanctification of certain persons, things, times or places can very easily result in the pernicious idea that holiness and sanctification are limited to these persons, things, times and places. With the giving over of these things to holiness, the tribute has been paid, and the demand of holiness for everything else has been bought off.”

If you have “bought off” the Torah’s call to be holy by sanctifying yourself and your community, while ignoring all else, it becomes easier to overlook behaviors that run the gamut from silly to grotesque or worse.

When I lived in New York, I saw countless instances of Orthodox Jews behaving in public with little refinement or dignity. Visit the Kiddush table on Shabbos morning at many a shul. Grown men and women push and grab for food with all the manners and elegance that I regularly observe in my 2-year-old twins. Isolation from outsiders has something to do with it. In our bubble floating undisturbed through the world, we forget how to behave.

With our childishness goes a naiveté that may also explain how abusers are able to get away with it. Rabbis are regarded with childlike reverence. There is a guileless, ingenuous failure to confront reality.

The picture of a tragedy is complete when you consider how our unimpressiveness, our mediocrity, assures that even if we suddenly decided to accept the priestly role that God commanded us to fill, the world would hardly take us seriously. The credibility we might have, we have squandered.

I note this in sadness and frustration, not because I have any immediate remedy to propose. However, we can at least put the matter into its proper spiritual context, understanding that God appears to have built directly into the Torah the dilemma in which we’re caught. There is a necessary separation between clergy and congregation — the Jews and other men and women. Without it, there can be no priesthood. But isolation carries with it a risk that must be vigilantly guarded against.

By our observing Shabbat or kashrut, the Torah intends to remind us of our high calling, not to dispense us from it. It’s hard to avoid the impression that this year has been, as a rabbi friend suggested to me, a wake-up call from God.

David Klinghoffer is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and the author of “The Lord Will Gather Me In: My Journey to Jewish Orthodoxy” (Free Press, 1998). He writes the Kingdom of Priests blog on Beliefnet.

Originally published in the Forward