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Everything For and About the Jewish Community in Greater Boston and Beyond
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Did You Know Archives

The current Did You Know? is listed first, followed by previous items listed in reverse chronological order.

Did you know that Taglit-Birthright Israel provides free trips to Israel for young adults who have never been to Israel on a peer-group program?

Taglit-Birthright Israel is a partnership of Israel, local Jewish communities and federations, and leading Jewish philanthropists. The program provides a gift of a first-time, peer-group, educational trip to Israel for Jewish young adults ages 18 to 26 from around the world. Taglit-Birthright Israel, or just Birthright, as it is commonly called in the United States, accredits individual trip organizers to run approved programs and sets the basic guidelines, standards, and security policies for all. There are many organizations, usually over 20, that run Birthright programs during the summer and winter trip periods. Organizations range from the religious to the secular, with different goals and agendas, and include such groups as Hillel: The Foundation for Campus Life, Aish HaTorah, Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, March of the Living, Sephardic Educational Center, Reform Movement – URJ Kesher, National Conference of Synagogue Youth, JCC Maccabi Israel, and National Jewish Council for the Disabled/Yachad/Our Way.

According to the Taglit-Birthright Israel website, the mission of the program is "to send tens of thousands of young Jewish adults from all over the world to Israel as a gift in order to diminish the growing division between Israel and Jewish communities around the world; to strengthen the sense of solidarity between Israeli youth and Jewish communities throughout the world; and to promote the idea of a trip to Israel for all Diaspora Jews as a critical part of Jewish life outside of Israel."

This summer, the 100,000th participant in the Birthright program will travel to Israel. There is presently a wait list for Birthright, so if you are a young adult interested in taking advantage of this gift, visit the web site at www.birthrightisrael.org and sign up now for an upcoming trip.

Did you know how the date for Holocaust Remembrance Day was set?

After the official founding of the State of Israel in 1948, discussions began to take place about the setting aside of a day once a year to commemorate the tragedy of the Holocaust, memorialize the victims, and remember the bravery of those who fought back. Various days were suggested and there was great bickering back and forth. The allies of the ghetto fighters proposed the date on which the Warsaw Ghetto uprising began, April 19, 1943. But on the Hebrew calendar, this was the 15th of Nissan, corresponding to the beginning of Passover. The Orthodox block resisted this day and any day in the month of Nissan, as Nissan is halachically considered a month of joy.

The debate raged for several years, until serious attempts at compromise began. The 27th of Nissan was ultimately chosen, as it fell within the time span of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising but after Passover was over. Orthodox Jews were still dissatisfied with this date, as it introduced a day of mourning into Nissan. One more concession to the Orthodox stated that if the 27th of Nissan fell on a Friday or Saturday, thus affecting Shabbat, it would be moved to the following Sunday. Despite all the compromising, no group was totally happy with the date, and some Orthodox groups have never accepted it.

On April 12, 1951, the Knesset, Israel's Parliament, proclaimed the 27th of Nissan to be officially called Yom HaShoah u'Mered HaGetaot – Holocaust and Ghetto Revolt Remembrance Day. The name later became known as Yom HaShoah v'HaGevurah – Holocaust and Heroism Day, now generally shortened to Yom HaShoah and referred to in English as Holocaust Remembrance Day. Through most of the fifties, the day was largely ignored, but in 1959, the Knesset made Yom HaShoah a national public holiday.

There are no set rules or rituals for this day, although it is often observed with memorial services, the lighting of candles, speakers, and the recital of poems. In 1961, a law was passed by the Knesset that prohibited public entertainment on Yom HaShoah. In addition, at a specific hour in the morning, a siren is sounded throughout Israel and everyone stops what they are doing and stands in silence for a few moments of remembrance. Perhaps reflecting the fundamental relationship between the Holocaust and the State of Israel, Yom HaShoah is followed, approximately one week later on the 5th of Iyyar, by Yom Ha'Atzmaut, Israel Independence Day.

Did you know the true story behind the new custom in some liberal-minded homes of placing an orange on the Passover seder plate?

One commonly accepted version of the story begins with a speech by a prominent Jewish feminist that included a reference to female rabbis. As the story goes, a well-known orthodox man responded that "a woman belongs in the rabbinate as much as an orange belongs on a seder plate." Other versions are more general, with the supposed quote being "a woman belongs on the bimah as much as an orange belongs on a seder plate."

Here is the true history behind the orange on the seder plate, described by the Jewish feminist herself who was the originator of the custom. The woman is Susannah Heschel, Eli Black Professor of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College and the daughter of the great scholar and philosopher Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel z"l.

In the early 1980s, when Professor Heschel was invited to speak at the Hillel Foundation at Oberlin College, she came across a Passover haggada that had been written by some Oberlin students to express feminist concerns. This haggada suggested placing a crust of bread on the seder plate as a sign of solidarity with Jewish lesbians. This symbolized, according to the students, that "there's as much room for a lesbian in Judaism as there is for a crust of bread on the seder plate." On the following Passover, Professor Heschel placed an orange on her family's seder plate, instead of a crust of bread. The bread on the seder plate would, according to halacha, render everything chametz and bring an end to Pesach. Professor Heschel preferred a symbol that did not label being gay as something violating Judaism, but rather a symbol of the fruitfulness for all Jews when gay individuals are accepted and active members of the Jewish community.

For more on the true origin and meaning of the orange on the seder plate, see Susannah Heschel's own account on the web site Miriam's Cup.

Did you know that the Book of Esther is the only book in the Bible in which the name of G-d does not appear?

Of the 39 books in the Bible, only the Book of Esther has no mention of the name of G-d. Why? Since the story was originally written in the form of a scroll and sent as a letter to all the outlying districts of Persia, the name of G-d was intentionally omitted to prevent the holy letters from being desecrated or otherwise handled improperly.

It is still the custom to read the story of Purim from a scroll, called in Hebrew Megillat Esther or the Scroll of Esther. Although there are five books in the Bible that are called megillot (Esther, Lamentations, Song of Songs, Ruth, and Ecclesiastes), the use of the Hebrew word megillah alone refers to the Scroll of Esther. In modern English vernacular, the word megilla refers to a story repeated in great detail.

Did you know the Zamir Chorale of Boston has been invited by the United Nations to participate in its first International Day to Commemorate the Victims of the Holocaust? The ceremony will take place on Friday, January 27, 2006 in the General Assembly Hall of UN Headquarters in New York City. This honor was extended to Zamir of Boston because the Chorale has a unique connection to the music of the Holocaust.

Joshua Jacobson, the Artistic Director and Conductor of Zamir, began his research into this music as part of his endowed professorship in Jewish Studies at Northeastern University and was determined to give voice to those who were silenced. Zamir made the recording Hear Our Voices which the UN cited as the reason for their choice. Jacobson notes, "When I first researched the music of the Holocaust, I was overwhelmed by the sadness and horror. Then, I learned how prisoners composed ballads to tell the world of the unspeakable crimes they had witnessed and endured. I heard songs that expressed anguish and heartache. And I saw how music sustained hope; how music was the ultimate protest, in some cases the only means of maintaining one's humanity." In inviting the Chorale to perform some of the songs from their recording, Hear Our Voices, the UN has chosen to "give voice to those who were silenced. Theirs is a message that must be shared."

The ceremony at the UN, to take place on Friday, January 27th, from 10:30 am until noon, will feature statements from the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, President of the General Assembly Jan Eliasson, and Holocaust survivor Gerda Klein; the performance by the Zamir Chorale of Boston; and a keynote address by Professor Yehuda Bauer of Hebrew University. A lecture series titled "Remembrance and Beyond" will also be announced. Pre-registration is now closed, as more than 1400 Holocaust survivors will be attending. However, the event will be webcast at www.un.org.

Did you know that Boston has its own new rabbinical school?

Hebrew College launched New England's first rabbinical school in September 2003, when it welcomed its inaugural class of 17 students to its Newton Centre campus. Founded on the College's 83-year legacy of transdenominational advanced Jewish studies, the Rabbinical School offers a rigorous five-year full-time course of study within a k'lal Yisrael (pluralistic) community of learners. Major components of the program include formal academic study, supervised hevruta learning, communal worship, social action and celebration. Students successfully completing the program will receive ordination, as well as a Master of Arts degree in Jewish Studies, and may find placement in a wide range of congregational, educational, or social service agencies. Students may choose to train for service in a specific denomination. Dr. Arthur Green, Professor of Jewish Thought at Brandeis University, is Dean of the Hebrew College Rabbinical School. Dr. Green served previously as Dean and President of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia. For more information, visit the Hebrew College web site.

Did you know that it is customary to eat chick peas and poppy seeds on Purim?

Queen Esther was a pious Jew who followed the rules of kashrut. While in the court of King Ahasuerus, she was thus limited to a vegetarian diet, said to have consisted largely of peas, beans, and seeds. In observance of the Purim holiday, Jews include foods with these items in their celebrations. Chick peas and fava beans are two favorites. Hamantaschen, the pastries that remind us of, depending on your custom, the villain Haman's pocket, hat, or ear, are often prepared with a sweetened poppy seed filling. Another explanation of the use of poppy seeds is that its Yiddish name, mohn, sounds like the second part of Haman's name. Whatever the reasons, we indulge in special foods and alcohol, as Purim calls on us to celebrate in enthusiastic fashion!

For Purim recipes, including Nahit (Chick Peas), Mohn Cookies, Poppy-Seed Chocolate-Chip Cake, and Hamantaschen, see the ShalomBoston.com Food Page. For another Did You Know item on Purim – on the imbibing of alcohol and the meaning of the term "adloyada" – go to the Did You Know Archives

Did you know that the Kraft family has been instrumental in promoting women's football in Israel?

Robert Kraft, owner of our champion New England Patriots football team, and his wife Myra have combined their love of Israel and passion for football in a unique way. According to a recent article in The Forward, The Kraft Family Stadium has been a center for sports in Jerusalem for four years, hosting youth soccer, softball, baseball, and a very successful men's flag football league. Now the Krafts are giving their support to Israel's first women's football team. The team consists of fourteen women, ages 15 to 23, with different levels of experience and Jewish observance. Overcoming these challenges with the help of a coach from the men's league, the team plans to compete in the international flag football championships in the Dominican Republic in March. For the full article from The Forward as available on the web site Israel21c, click here.

Did you know that a New England synagogue was the first religious structure designated by the U.S. government as a national historic site?

During the mid-1600s, Jews of Spanish and Portuguese origin arrived in Newport, Rhode Island, seeking religious freedom and opportunities for social and economic advancement. Soon after, Congregation Jeshuat Yisrael was organized. In 1760, Isaac Touro arrived from Amsterdam to be the spiritual leader of the small, but growing congregation. On December 2, 1763, members dedicated a new synagogue building, designed in the Georgian style by Peter Harrison, a prominent architect of the colonial era. The dedication of a new synagogue is especially appropriate during Chanukah, as this is the festival on which Jews celebrate the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after its defilement by the Syrians and Greeks. The Hebrew root of the word Chanukah means dedication or consecration.

Newport's trade economy suffered after the Revolutionary War and many of its residents moved away. The synagogue was essentially closed by the 1820s, but the building and cemetery were maintained with funds raised by Touro's sons, financiers Abraham and Judah. By the beginning of the 20th century, the Jewish community in Newport was experiencing a rebirth and the synagogue was reopened. In 1946, the U.S. government designated Touro Synagogue a national historic site. In 2001, the synagogue was named one of only 21 (now 23) properties in the collection of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Touro Synagogue is still home to Congregation Jeshuat Israel and religious services are held on Shabbat and holidays under the direction of Rabbi Mordechai Eskovitz. The synagogue is orthodox and uses Sephardic liturgy. Guided tours and educational programs are also offered. For more information on Touro Synagogue, visit its web site at www.tourosynagogue.org.

Did you know that most beers and many other alcoholic beverages are considered kosher without certification?

According to rabbinic experts on this topic, there is nothing inherently problematic from a kashrut standpoint in either the ingredients or the production process for beer and most non-flavored, non-grape alcoholic beverages. The ingredients are natural, derived from grains, fruits, vegetables, or plants. The three main production processes – fermentation, distillation, and aging – are free from kashrut concerns except for the possibility of aging in sherry or port casks. This particular exception is due to the unique religious status of all wine and juice products made with grapes. These must be produced by Torah-observant Jews throughout the entire production and bottling process in order to be kosher. Thus, all grape-based wines and juices, brandies, and vermouth require certification. Liqueurs, cordials, and flavored spirits and beers also require certification, due to the addition of ingredients which must be certified.

According to our research, the following are generally considered kosher if unflavored: gin, all domestic and some imported vodkas, rum, tequila (without a worm), all domestic whiskeys (including bourbon and rye), Canadian whiskeys, Scotch and Irish whiskeys unless specifically stated that they have been aged in sherry casks, all domestic and Canadian beers, all imported ales, lagers, and pilsners, and German dark beers.

For a more in-depth review of this subject, see the articles on beer and other alcoholic beverages that are found on www.kashrut.com.

Did you know that Humanistic Judaism is sometimes referred to as the fifth denomination?

Most of us are familiar with four denominations of Judaism that are currently practiced in the United States – Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist. But there is another movement, small but growing, known as Humanistic Judaism.

Forty years ago, Rabbi Sherwin Wine created Humanistic Judaism and started a congregation called the Birmingham Temple in a suburb of Detroit, Michigan. The congregation and the movement have been dedicated to celebrating Judaism as a culture, rather than a religion, where faith is placed in people rather than in a supreme being. Rabbi Wine utilized the concepts of congregations, rabbis, and services to create a structure for the practice of a secular ideology. The Society for Humanistic Judaism, an organization he founded in 1969, has been committed to helping establish new HJ communities. As Rabbi Wine retires from the Birmingham Temple at the end of June, Humanistic Judaism has expanded to 40 communities worldwide, claiming 40,000 members. Programming at HJ congregations generally includes services on Shabbat and Jewish holidays, classes for children and adults, preparation for becoming a bar or bat mitzvah, youth activities, and more.

In the Greater Boston area, there is one congregation adhering to the philosophy and practices of Humanistic Judaism. Kahal Braira is a cooperative congregation that has been meeting since 1975. For more information on Kahal Braira, or any of the approximately 200 synagogues and congregations in Massachusetts, go to the ShalomBoston.com Synagogues and Congregations Directory. For more information on Humanistic Judaism, visit the web site of the Society for Humanistic Judaism.

Much of the information above is from an article in the June 20, 2003 issue of the Forward, entitled "Creator of Humanistic Judaism Set to Leave Pulpit."

Did you know that there is an eruv in the Cambridge/Somerville area?

In our previous Did You Know feature, we explained the concept of an eruv and mentioned several local eruvim – in the Brookline/Brighton/Newton area, in the Nonantum section of Newton, and in Sharon.

We have since learned that there is a relatively new eruv operating in sections of Cambridge and Somerville. The North Charles Community Eruv, Inc. is a non-profit organization that was incorporated in 1992. The eruv district it maintains was completed in September 2003. For information on the covered area, eruv status for the upcoming Shabbat, and membership, go to the North Charles Community Eruv Web Site.

For phone numbers and web sites of all the eruvim, as well as an explanation of the term "eruv," see the ShalomBoston.com Religion Page.

Did you know that there are several eruvim in the Greater Boston area? Did you know that one eruv has recently been expanded? What is an eruv anyway?

An eruv is a symbolic act that allows Jews to legally do on Sabbath and festivals activities that are otherwise forbidden by Jewish law. There are eruvim (plural for the Hebrew word "eruv") for three types of activities: cooking on a Jewish festival for the next day's Shabbat, walking long distances from one's own home town on Shabbat or festivals, and carrying objects between private and public domains on Shabbat. When the term eruv is used, it typically refers to this last category, although the exact Hebrew designation is eruv hatzerot (domain eruv). The eruv legally allows halachically observant Jews to carry such items as keys, handbags, and diaper bags on Shabbat, and to push baby carriages and wheelchairs.

The symbolic act required to establish an eruv hatzerot is the extending of a wire or nylon cord around the perimeter of a community. The wire must be supported by poles of a specified minimum height; other physical requirements may apply as well. The practice today is that the wires are connected to telephone or utility poles. Establishing an eruv is therefore a complicated process involving municipal legislative bodies, utility companies, and religious groups. Jewish law requires that each section of the eruv be checked before Shabbat to make sure the wire is intact.

In the Greater Boston area, there are three eruvim. The first eruv, completed in 1993 after 10 years of planning, encompasses large areas of Brookline, Brighton, and Newton. This eruv was expanded in December 2002 to include areas of South Newton and is one of the largest eruvim in the United States. A second eruv is located in a section of Newton called Nonantum. The third eruv serves the Jewish population of Sharon.

For more information on Greater Boston's eruvim, including web site links and telephone numbers for checking eruv status for the upcoming Shabbat, go to the ShalomBoston.com Religion Page.

Did you know that the "Letter to an Anti-Zionist Friend" attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr. is a hoax? Excerpts from the alleged letter have been widely available and disseminated on the Internet and were previously reprinted in part in this space.

We at ShalomBoston.com had attempted to verify the authenticity of the King letter prior to putting it on our web site, but obviously we did not do a thorough enough job. We were alerted to the hoax by a visitor to ShalomBoston.com and then better informed ourselves of the facts so that we could correct our misinformation. Upon closer review, we found that the letter does not exist in the publication routinely quoted as its source, Saturday Review (August 1967), and we could find no evidence of the existence of the second citation, a book titled This I Believe: Selections from the Writings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (New York, 1971).

The sentiments expressed in the supposed letter – support of Israel and equating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism – may indeed have been those of King. There is at least anecdotal evidence of his articulating these sentiments on more than one occasion. According to the media watchdog organization CAMERA, it has been confirmed that King, during a 1968 appearance at Harvard University, did say "When people criticize Zionists they mean Jews, you are talking anti-Semitism." For the complete explanation of the investigation conducted by CAMERA on this topic and its conclusion, click here.

The quote that we included in this space on King's belief in Israel's right to exist in security was part of a speech delivered by King to the Rabbinical Assembly on March 25, 1968, shortly before his death. We have not found anything to cast doubt on the authenticity of these remarks.

Did you know that Martin Luther King Jr. was a great supporter of the State of Israel and that he spoke and wrote eloquently against anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism?

King consistently articulated his belief that Israel's right to exist in security is uncontestable. On March 25, 1968, less than two weeks before his tragic death, he again reiterated his position in a speech, stating that "peace for Israel means security, and we must stand with all our might to protect its right to exist, its territorial integrity. I see Israel as one of the great outposts of democracy in the world, and a marvelous example of what can be done, how desert land can be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy. Peace for Israel means security and that security must be a reality."

King explained at length his strong-held beliefs on anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism in a letter to an anti-Zionist friend, reprinted later in Saturday Review (August 1967) and again in King's book This I Believe: Selections from the Writings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (New York, 1971). Here is an excerpt:

"You declare, my friend, that you do not hate the Jews, you are merely 'anti-Zionist.' And I say, let the truth ring forth from the high mountain tops, let it echo through the valleys of God's green earth: When people criticize Zionism, they mean Jews--this is God's own truth.

"Antisemitism, the hatred of the Jewish people, has been and remains a blot on the soul of mankind. In this we are in full agreement. So know also this: anti-Zionist is inherently antisemitic, and ever will be so.

"Why is this? You know that Zionism is nothing less than the dream and ideal of the Jewish people returning to live in their own land. The Jewish people, the Scriptures tell us, once enjoyed a flourishing Commonwealth in the Holy Land. From this they were expelled by the Roman tyrant, the same Romans who cruelly murdered Our Lord. Driven from their homeland, their nation in ashes, forced to wander the globe, the Jewish people time and again suffered the lash of whichever tyrant happened to rule over them."

To see the continuation of this excerpt, click here.

Did you know that the books of three local authors were recently recognized with National Jewish Book Awards?

Two educators associated with Hebrew College in Newton and a free-lance journalist from Manchester were honored on October 30 by the Jewish Book Council at the 2002 awards ceremony that took place in New York City at the Center for Jewish History. The Jewish Book Council, founded in 1947, reviewed over 400 entries in the past year and honored works in 15 categories. These awards are considered the most prestigious in the field of Jewish literature. The local winners are:

Dr. Nehemia Polen, The Rebbe's Daughter: Memoir of a Hasidic Childhood (Jewish Publication Society, 2002)
This book was the winner in the category of Autobiography and Memoir. It is an edited and annotated translation of an original memoir by Malkah Shapiro, who grew up in early 20th-century Poland as the daughter of the Rebbe of Kozienice. Dr. Polen is Professor of Jewish Thought at Hebrew College and Director of its new Hasidic Text Institute.

Norman Finkelstein, Forged in Freedom: Shaping the Jewish-American Experience (Jewish Publication Society, 2002)
This book was the winner in the category of Children's Literature. It chronicles in words and photographs the growth of the Jewish community in the United States and its contributions to American life in the 20th century. Mr. Finkelstein has been on the faculty of the Prozdor (high school division) of Hebrew College for 22 years and is also a librarian and prolific author. His book Heeding the Call: Jewish Voices in America's Civil Rights Struggle won the National Jewish Book Award in 1999.

Miriam Weinstein, Yiddish: A Nation of Words (Steerforth Press, 2002)
This book was the winner in the category of Yiddish Language and Literature. It is a well-researched and entertaining chronicle of the 1,000-year history of Yiddish. Ms. Weinstein is an award-winning freelance journalist who grew up in the Bronx and now lives in Manchester, Massachusetts.

Did you know that a local high school student won fourth place in the 2002 OlympiYeda: International Science Competition sponsored by the Israel National Museum of Science?

Raviv Murciano-Goroff of Cambridge, a student at the Maimonides School in Brookline, won a partial scholarship to the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, along with a cash prize. He received this award after qualifying as one of the top 25 North American participants who traveled to Israel this past summer to compete with 25 of their Israeli counterparts. Eight finalists were chosen to appear in a nationally televised final. Other participants in the competition included Adin Shuchatowitz of Brighton and Hagit BenDaat of Sharon.

Hundreds of aspiring 8th and 9th-grade young scientists from across North America competed in the year-long, four-stage OlympiYeda–Science Olympics, all vying for a chance to travel to Israel and participate in a ten-day science camp with their Israeli peers and an additional ten days of touring. While in Israel, the semifinalists had to give a presentation on a topic of their choice relating to this year's theme, Science in the Service of Police Investigations.

The theme of the 2003 OlympiYeda is Cryptography and Information System Security. Any student who is in grade 8 or 9 during the 2002-2003 academic year is invited to participate. For further information, students, parents, teachers, and educational groups may contact the American Friends of the Israel National Museum of Science at 617-964-5025 or israelscience@attbi.com. The registration deadline is December 2, 2002.

Did you know why the secular dates of Jewish holidays vary from year to year?

The secular calendar is based on the sun, whereas the Jewish calendar is based on the moon. Jewish months have 29 or 30 days each, as it takes 29 1/2 days for the moon to make one revolution around the earth. Secular months have 30 or 31 days in each month. The difference between a solar calendar and a lunar calendar results in an 11-day discrepancy every year.

In order to keep the Jewish holidays in their proper season, an extra month is added every two or three years and this is called a leap year. As Nissan is the first month of the Jewish calendar year (when the first crops were harvested in the spring and in the season of the Exodus from Egypt), Adar is thus the last month of the year. The month added during leap years is therefore called Adar II, and it appears seven times in every nineteen years.

Rosh Hashanah, literally "the head of the year," is celebrated as the Jewish New Year, even though it occurs on the first day of Tishrei, the seventh calendar month. Rosh Hashanah may fall as early as September 5th or as late as October 5th, depending on where we are in the calendar cycle. This year Rosh Hashanah is early, on September 7, as it falls after the second of two consecutive non-leap years. The coming Jewish year of 5763 is the 6th year of the 19-year cycle and is therefore a leap year. That is why Rosh Hashanah in 2003 will be observed relatively late, on September 27.

Did you know that Tisha B'Av, the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, is the most important fast day of the Jewish year after Yom Kippur?

While Yom Kippur is a holiday of personal introspection and repentance, Tisha B'Av is a day of mourning for the Jewish nation. On this day we remember the destruction of the first and second Temples in Jerusalem, which ultimately led to the loss of Jewish independence. Other calamities are said to have befallen the Jewish people throughout its history on this date as well.

Tisha B'Av is the last day in a three-week period of national mourning, beginning with another fast day, Shiva Asar B'Tammuz, the seventeenth day of the month of Tammuz. On this day in the year 586 B.C.E., the walls of Jerusalem were breached, leading up to the destruction of the First Temple. Those who observe traditional practices during this period do not shave or cut their hair, do not listen to music or take pleasure trips, do not wear new clothes (except on Shabbat), and do not participate in public celebrations. Jewish weddings are not held during these three weeks.

The nine days ending on Tisha B'Av are observed with even more intense mourning. Bathing is allowed only for medical or cleanliness reasons (not for pleasure) and in preparation for Shabbat. Strict observers also refrain from wearing newly washed clothing (except on Shabbat) or laundering any clothing, and abstain from eating meat and drinking wine (except on Shabbat).

Did you know that only 17 Jews have served as governors of U.S. states since 1801?

According to a report in The Forward (May 17, 2002), seventeen Jews have served as governors since 1801, and most of them have been in states with small Jewish populations, such as Alaska, Idaho, and Utah. This year there are seven Jewish candidates in the three dozen gubernatorial races throughout the United States.

Currently, Linda Lingle, the head of the Republican Party in Hawaii, is running for governor of that state and is doing well in the polls. To date, only one Jewish woman has served as a governor, Madeleine Kunin of Vermont (1985 to 1991). Besides Hawaii, the other states with Jewish candidates for governor are Pennsylvania, Oregon, Florida, Nevada, and Massachusetts. In our own home state, two candidates are Jewish, former Secretary of Labor and current Brandeis professor Robert Reich and former Democratic National Committee chairman and local businessman Steve Grossman.

Did you know why dairy products are traditionally eaten on the holiday of Shavuot?

There are several possible explanations for the custom of eating dairy products, especially those with cheese, on Shavuot. Today, Shavuot is most often associated with receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai. In the Biblical book Song of Songs, the Torah is compared to milk and honey. Thus, the eating of sweet dairy products emphasizes the sweetness of the Torah to the Jewish people. Cheese blintzes are a popular dish – see the new featured recipe on our Food Page.

One of the Biblical names for Shavuot is Yom HaBikkurim, the Day of the First Fruits. Some base the custom to eat dairy products on the verse in Exodus (23:19) that refers both to the law of the first fruits and a law concerning milk. Dairy dishes are also appropriate for a spring harvest festival, as this is the time of year when, around the world, large amounts of cheese are produced.

Jewish scholars have come up with other explanations, of course. In Psalm 68, Mount Sinai is referred to by six different names. One of these names, har gavnunim, has the same root as gevinah, the Hebrew word for cheese.

Two related explanations have to do with the return of the Israelites to their camp after receiving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. One explanation is that so much time had elapsed that their milk had turned sour, which is the first step in making cheese. The second explanation is that so much time had elapsed that the Israelites were famished. Instead of going through the longer process of preparing a meat meal, they satisfied their hunger quickly with a milk-based meal.

Did you know that the spirit of pluralism is alive and well in the Reform movement?

Next month, at its annual ordination of the new class of rabbis, the Reform movement's Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion will award honorary degrees to leaders of the Conservative and Orthodox movements of Judaism. The honorees are Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, Chancellor of The Jewish Theological Seminary, and Rabbi Emanuel Rackman, a former president of the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America. Both rabbis are focusing their participation on the need for Jewish unity and the importance of Jewish education. At a time when religious pluralism, conversion, and citizenship are controversial issues on Israel's domestic agenda, the coming together of high-profile leaders from the three major denominations of Judaism is both striking and a hopeful sign.

Did you know that there is a Ugandan sect that considers themselves Jewish and has converted to Judaism?

According to a story in the weekly Jewish newspaper Forward (February 22, 2002), there is a group of about 600 Ugandans, known as Abayudaya, whose ancestors embraced Judaism in 1919 and who themselves live according to many of the laws of the Torah. Living in a remote section of eastern Uganda, they observe Shabbat, family purity laws, and kashrut. They have a mikvah in the middle of a sugarcane field, and the 33-year-old religious leader of their community is also their school principal, kosher meat slaughterer, and mohel (ritual circumciser).

In February, a group of Conservative rabbis traveled to Uganda to meet with the Abayudaya community. The rabbis were part of a delegation organized by Kulanu, a Maryland-based group whose mission is to assist lost and dispersed Jewish communities. Although the rabbis said they were not formally representing the Conservative movement, there was a rabbinic court set up to oversee the conversion of more than 300 members of the Abayudaya community. Prior to their conversion, each individual was questioned on his or her views and commitments and the community's leader had to vouch for the candidate's observance of Shabbat and other Jewish practices. Not every candidate was approved for conversion and several older members declined the ceremony, saying that they had lived their entire lives as Jews without the formal recognition.

The founder of the Abayudaya was a Ugandan military hero who, after a break with the ruling British authorities, rejected their Christian religion and turned to Judaism. He circumcised himself and his male followers and the community grew to several thousands before virtually disappearing after Judaism was outlawed when Idi Amin gained power in 1971. When Amin was replaced in 1979, the Abayudaya began practicing Judaism again. The current leader of the sect is exploring the possibility of moving his community to Israel.

Did you know that John Adams, second President of the United States, born and bred in Massachusetts, considered the Jewish people to be the main contributors to the civilization of the world?

In a letter written to F.A. Van der Kemp, 1806 Pennsylvania Historical Society, John Adams wrote:

In spite of Bolingbroke and Voltaire, I will insist that the Hebrews have done more to civilize men than any other nation. If I were an atheist and believed in blind eternal fate, I should still believe that fate had ordained the Jews to be the most essential instrument for civilizing the nations. If I were an atheist of the other sect, who believe or pretend to believe that all is ordered by chance, I should believe that chance ordered the Jews to preserve and propogate to all mankind the doctrine of a supreme, intelligent, wise, almighty sovereign of the universe, which I believe to be the great essential principle of all morality, and consequently of all civilization.

I have read this last fall half a dozen volumes of this last wonderful Genius's Ribaldry against the Bible. How is it possible that this old fellow should represent the Hebrew in such contemptible light. They are the most glorious Nation that ever inhabited this Earth. The Romans and their Empire were but a bauble in comparison of the Jews. They have given religion to three-quarters of the Globe and have influenced the affairs of Mankind more, and more happily than any other Nation, ancient or modern.

Did you know that Boston is home to a new national Jewish organization called Jewish Major Leaguers, Inc., dedicated to "documenting American Jews in America’s Game?" Martin Abramowitz, in real life the Planning Director of Boston's Combined Jewish Philanthropies, has been researching, writing, and designing a commemorative set of baseball cards honoring the 140 American Jews who have played for major league baseball teams from 1871 to 2001. The set will officially be a product of the American Jewish Historical Society, produced for the society by Martin's non-profit corporation Jewish Major Leaguers, Inc., along with Larry Fritsch Cards. It will be marketed by AJHS, JML, Fritsch, and the Baseball Hall of Fame, which Martin says has been very supportive of this project. Profits (if any) will be used for not-for-profit purposes by AJHS and JML. According to Martin, thirty-two of the Jewish major leaguers never appeared on a baseball card and another eighteen had cards only as minor leaguers. Martin had to locate photos of all the players and in five cases he needed to identify descendants and search for college yearbooks. With his new set of cards, Martin hopes to make a contribution to baseball history, to the history of baseball cards, and to American Jewish history. A life-long collector of baseball cards, frustrated by the fact that so many Jewish ballplayers never had cards, he decided to launch this project when his then 12-year-old son said, "Why don't you make them yourself?" For more information, you can email Martin Abramowitz at jewishmajorleaguers@mediaone.net.
Did you know that there have been seven Jewish Supreme Court justices? Did you know that there are now two justices serving on the Supreme Court who are Jewish?

Here is the complete list:

Louis Brandeis (1856-1941) - nominated by President Woodrow Wilson, served 1916-1939

Benjamin Cardozo (1870-1938) - nominated by President Herbert Hoover, served 1932-1938

Felix Frankfurter (1882-1965) - nominated by President Franklin Roosevelt, served 1939-1962

Arthur J. Goldberg (1908-1990) - nominated by President John Kennedy, served 1962-1965

Abe Fortas (1910-1982) - nominated by President Lyndon Johnson, served 1965-1969

Ruth Bader Ginsburg (b. 1933) - nominated by President William Clinton, served 1993-ongoing

Stephen Breyer (b. 1938) - nominated by President William Clinton, served 1994-ongoing
Did you know that Magen David Adom is Israel's national emergency relief agency?

Magen David Adom (MDA) is Israel's equivalent to a Red Cross Society. ARMDI is the support arm in the United States for the MDA. ARMDI, organized in 1940, stands for American Red Magen David for Israel. (A magen David is a Jewish star - the Star of David.) ARMDI supports the MDA National Emergency Medical, Ambulance, Blood and Disaster Services, which benefit Israel's entire population.

The Magen David Adom has been in the news recently as a source of friction between the Board of Governors of the American Red Cross and its President, Dr. Bernadette Healy, who has announced her retirement as of the end of this calendar year. The American Red Cross had been withholding dues to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies since this group, supported by Arab relief agencies, has for years effectively blocked MDA from membership. The American Red Cross Board of Governors has been discussing reinstating the dues payments, angering Dr. Healy.

For more information on ARMDI, go to their web site at www.armdi.org.

Did you know that Israel has more fertility clinics per capita than any other country in the industrialized world?

Israel is considered an international center for the diagnosis and treatment of childlessness. Artificial insemination is widely accepted in Israel; this and other procedures, such as ovum donation and in-vitro fertilization, are subsidized by the country's national health insurance. Israel is also the first country in the world to legalize surrogate motherhood.

The overwhelming desire to create Jewish babies, combined with a sophisticated medical establishment, may be the guiding factors behind this reality. The traditional Jewish focus on family and children, reinforced by the implications of high Palestinian birth rates and memories of Holocaust losses, reinforces the pressures on Israeli women to reproduce. Artificial insemination is widely accepted in Israel and even some modern Orthodox women have followed this route, bolstered in their attempts at motherhood by both social and governmental support as well as rabbinical law, which designates a baby as being Jewish if the birth mother is Jewish.

In contrast to governmental support of assisted conception, there is little support of family planning programs. Neither contraception nor abortion, which is legal in Israel, is routinely covered under basic medical insurance plans.

The above information was summarized from a review by Regina Morantz-Sanchez of Reproducing Jews: A Cultural Account of Assisted Conception in Israel by Susan Kahn (Duke University Press), published in the Fall issue of Lilith, the independent Jewish women's magazine. See this home page's Trivia Question for more about the mystical figure Lilith.

Did you know that there is more than one New Year in the Jewish calendar?

According to the Talmud, there are four separate dates that correspond to a New Year.

  1. The first of Nisan is the New Year for royalty, marking the years of various kingdoms. It is also the New Year for the religious calendar, and Pesach (Passover), observed on the 15th of Nisan, is the first festival of the religious year.
  2. The first of Elul is the New Year for the tithing of cattle.
  3. The first of Tishri is the New Year for the civil calendar and the agricultural cycle (including the sabbatical and jubilee years). It also marks the number of years since Creation (coming up to year 5762).
  4. The first of Shvat (but according to the famous Rabbi Hillel, the fifteenth of Shvat, when Tu B'shvat is celebrated) is the New Year for trees.

Of these new years, only Rosh Hashanah is widely celebrated. Tu B'Shvat is considered a minor holiday and is most observed in Israel where the rainfall leads to significant new plant growth and the budding of trees by this date.

Did you know that there are over 200 Jewish synagogues, congregations, and chavurot in Massachusetts?

The ShalomBoston.com Directory of Synagogues and Congregations currently has 212 entries, which break down as follows:

  • Orthodox, 62
  • Conservative, 49
  • Unaffiliated, 49
  • Reform, 43
  • Reconstructionist, 5
  • Sephardic Orthodox, 4

A few groups identify themselves with a growing movement called Humanistic Judaism. We don’t yet have a separate category for this group, but we are currently examining all the categories in all of our directories and may include this in the near future.

If you would like to search for a synagogue or congregation, or just get a taste for the geographic diversity of Massachusetts’ religious community, visit the ShalomBoston.com Directory of Synagogues and Congregations.

If your congregation or chavurah is not yet listed in our directory, please Contact Us to send us your information.

Did you know why Jerusalem Day (Yom Yerushalyim) is observed as a holiday?

Jerusalem Day was established to commemorate the reunification of Jerusalem on June 7, 1967. On this day, the third day of the Six-Day War, corresponding to the 28th of Iyar, East and West Jerusalem were reunited as a result of the Israeli victory over the Arab armies. The Western Wall (previously known as the Wailing Wall) and the Temple Mount came under Jewish control for the first time since the year 70 C.E.

In Jerusalem, observance of the day begins with a thanksgiving service at the Wall. Torches are lit in memory of the approximately 180 Israeli soldiers who died in the three-day battle for Jerusalem.

This year Jerusalem Day is observed from sunset on May 20 to sunset on May 21.

For a page of links to 73 web sites on Jerusalem, go to Jerusalem sites.

Did you know that Hebrew was a required course at Harvard University in the mid 1700s?

According to The Jews of Boston (Jonathan Sarna and Ellen Smith, editors, Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, 1995), Judah Monis was the first noteworthy Jew to settle in the Boston area. A Jewish scholar and Hebraicist, Monis is thought to have been born in Italy. He arrived in Cambridge by 1720, after living in Amsterdam and New York City.

Monis presented his handwritten manual of Hebrew grammar to the officers of the Harvard Corporation and two years later, in 1722, was hired as the first instructor in the Hebrew language at Harvard College (tutors previously filled this role). One month before he began his assignment at Harvard, Monis converted to Christianity. Although there was some feeling that his conversion was perfunctory given the requirement by Harvard that its faculty be Christian, Monis did undertake a self-study of Christianity and for the rest of his life conducted himself as a practicing Christian.

Except for special exemptions, all Harvard undergraduates were required to take Monis' Hebrew course, which was taught four days per week. His manual, A Grammar of the Hebrew Tongue, was a required text for twenty-five years after it was published in 1735. Payments for the textbook were added automatically to the students' tuition bills.

Monis taught Hebrew at Harvard for thirty-eight years. In 1760, after his wife's death, Monis retired to a relative's home in Northboro, Massachusetts, where he died in 1764.

Did you know that a respected public figure who is now a member of President Bush' cabinet is passably fluent in the Yiddish language?

Though not Jewish, this individual was heavily influenced by a Jewish family that provided him with a job and moral and emotional support as a young man growing up in the Bronx. Mr. Sickser and his son-in-law Lou Kirshner ran a successful baby needs business serving the various immigrant populations of their 1950s Bronx neighborhood. They hired a young man off the street, and were impressed with his diligence, punctuality, and readiness to learn. He became a regular employee and worked at Sickser's from the age of thirteen until he was a sophomore at City College of New York. He also enjoyed meals, advice, and a special bond with the Sicksers and the Kirshners as a regular visitor to their home. While working at the store and dealing with Jewish customers, he learned to speak Yiddish. He maintained this command of the language and his comfort with Jewish customs as he continued his education through City College and George Washington University, and made a name for himself in the U.S. military.

The individual we are referring to is General Colin Powell. In 1993, in his position as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Powell visited Israel. When he was introduced to Yitzhak Shamir, then the Prime Minister, he greeted him with the words "Men kent reden Yiddish" - "We can speak Yiddish." Shamir was stunned as the General continued to chat in Yiddish. In 1995, General Powell was interviewed in Yiddish for Mendele, an Internet mailing list for Yiddish literature and language. As the new Secretary of State under President Bush, Colin Powell is no doubt too busy to indulge his interest in the Yiddish language, but who knows when it will come in useful again?

Did you know that drinking alcohol until you are (almost) drunk is one of the customs associated with the upcoming holiday of Purim?

Purim commemorates the deliverance of the Jews of Persia in the fifth century B.C.E. Haman, the second in command after King Ahasuerus, decreed that the Jews all be killed on the thirteenth day of the Hebrew month of Adar. Queen Esther, with the help of her cousin Mordechai, foiled Haman's plot and saved the Jewish people. Esther used her physical beauty and mental cunning to persuade the king to have the decree nullified. The Book of Esther (referred to as Megillat Esther, or the Scroll of Esther) tells the story of the events that led to the holiday and proclaims the fourteenth of Adar as a day of celebration.

Rejoicing is the order of the day, and wine or alcohol is considered part of the Purim feast. In fact, in the Talmud the great Babylonian teacher Rava stated that one is obligated to drink alcohol on Purim until one does not know the difference between "Blessed is Mordechai" and "Cursed is Haman." More puritan rabbis tried to interpret away this practice, yet the custom of imbibing alcohol on Purim remains. Of course, it must be done with the intent to praise God for the miracle of the Jews' salvation.

The phrase "until one does not know" is translated into the Hebrew as "ad lo yada." In Israel, the Adloyada Purim carnival is held annually in Tel Aviv, complete with decorated floats, music, and masquerading.

Purim is celebrated this year beginning on Thursday evening, March 8.

Did you know that a seder is associated with the holiday of Tu B'Shevat?

Tu B'Shevat, the Fifteenth Day of the Hebrew month of Shevat, is the New Year for Trees, or the Jewish Arbor Day. This year Tu B'Shevat falls on February 8. While it is still the middle of the winter in our part of the world, in Israel the rainy season is ending and the first buds are beginning to appear on trees and plants.

Tu B'Shevat is a minor holiday that was instituted by the rabbis during the first century of the Common Era. Its original purpose was to establish the beginning of the annual period for the tithing of fruits, but the holiday has evolved into a celebration of the Earth's annual rebirth and the fullness of its natural bounty. In Ashkenazic communities in Europe, it was a custom to eat fifteen different kinds of fruits on this day, especially fruits grown in the land of Israel. In modern Israel, the holiday is celebrated with outings to the fields and tree-planting ceremonies.

Sephardic Jews attached more importance to Tu B'Shevat. The Kabbalists, rabbis of sixteenth-century Safed who renewed the practices and beliefs of Jewish mysticism, established an order for a service, or a seder, revolving around special prayers, the drinking of wine, and the eating of fruits. The Tu B'Shevat seder is experiencing a surge in popularity in many congregations and homes today. Often celebrants drink four cups of wine, to represent the four seasons. Fruits are eaten to represent the seven species of the land of Israel mentioned in the Bible. Religious poems and relevant selections from the Bible are read.

See the ShalomBoston.com Calendar for listings of Tu B'Shevat seders open to the public.

Did you know that there are six fast days mentioned in the Bible?

The six fast days are:
1. Yom Kippur -- a day of atonement, the only fast day decreed in the Torah (the Five Books of Moses)
2. The 9th of Av -- a day of mourning for the destruction of the First and Second Temples and other calamities that befell the Jewish people on that day throughout the ages
3. The 17th of Tammuz -- in commemoration of the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia in the 6th century B.C.E., which eventually led to the destruction of the first Temple, and also other calamities that befell the Jewish people on that day throughout the ages
4. The 10th of Tevet -- in commemoration of the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, which lasted almost two years and ended in the destruction of the First Temple in 586 B.C.E.
5. The 3rd of Tishri -- known as the Fast of Gedaliah, in memory of the slaying of Gedaliah, the Governor of Judah appointed by Nebuchadnezzar, which led to reprisals by the Babylonian ruler against the Jewish people
6. The Fast of Esther -- observed on the 13th day of Adar, the day before Purim, to commemorate the gathering for public prayer and fasting referred to in the Book of Esther.

On Yom Kippur and the 9th of Av, fasting is observed from sunset to sunset; on the other days, fasting is observed only from before dawn until sunset of the same day. If Yom Kippur falls on a Sabbath, fasting is observed; if the other fast days fall on a Sabbath, they are observed on the following Sunday, except for the Fast of Esther, which is observed on the preceding Thursday.

This year, the 10th of Tevet of the Jewish year 5761 is observed on January 5, 2001.

Did you know the real reason we celebrate Chanukah for eight days?

Legend has it that when Judah Maccabee and his followers rededicated the altar in the Temple after defeating the Syrian-Greek army, a small amount of oil expected to burn for one day lasted for eight days. The real reason we celebrate Chanukah for eight days is described in the books relating the history of the times, Maccabees I and II. There it explains that the new altar Judah had built was consecrated with the renewal of sacrifices and services, prayer and song, and the playing of musical instruments. The celebration lasted for eight days and was modeled after Solomon's sanctification of the first Temple and after Moses' sanctification of the Tabernacle while wandering in the desert. Judah decreed that these eight days, beginning on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev, be observed by future generations.

Did you know that many Jewish and non-Jewish scholars believe Christopher Columbus had Jewish roots?

Although Italian historians insist that Columbus was born in Genoa, Italy, and was a faithful Catholic, many Spanish scholars believe Columbus was of Spanish-Jewish origin, with his parents fleeing Spain as refugees and joining the Marrano community (those living Jewish lives in secret). There are many facts, written reports, and documents that give weight to this hypothesis. The name Colon (or Columbus) was a familiar name among Italian Jews of the time. Columbus made references to the expulsion of Jews from Spain, the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, and many events and personalities in the Bible (the Old Testament). He expressed a lifelong dream of liberating Jerusalem. On his first voyage to the New World, Columbus' interpreter was Jewish and the nautical instruments and tables he relied upon were prepared by Jews.

Although no major scholars believe Columbus was a Marrano himself, there is enough evidence for some to argue that he was of Spanish-Jewish descent. For more information on this subject, read the book Christopher Columbus's Jewish Roots by Jane Frances Amler (Jason Aronson Inc., 1991).

Did you know that at the end of the 19th century and early part of the 20th century the West End section of Boston was the largest Jewish district in the city? The West End included the northeast slope of Beacon Hill, which had been home to a large African-American community. At this same time, many African-Americans were settling in the South End, which had been populated by Central European Jews. As the Jewish and African-American populations shifted, there came an exchanging of churches for synagogues and synagogues for churches.

The Jews moving in to the West End purchased several African-American churches for use as synagogues. The African Meeting House became Anshe Libavitz, the Twelfth Baptist Church was sold to the Vilna congregation, and the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church also became a synagogue.

As the populations shifted, the A.M.E. Zion Church and the Twelfth Baptist Church relocated to the South End, moving into two former synagogue buildings. In 1903 A.M.E Zion bought the building from Adath Israel. Twelfth Baptist bought its building from Congregation Mishkan Tefila in 1905.

Did you know that the best way to keep apple slices from turning brown while waiting to be dipped in honey is to use lemon juice? You may add a tablespoon of strained lemon juice to a bowl of apple slices or just squeeze a lemon over it. Then toss the apples to coat completely with the acidic liquid. The apples should stay white for at least half an hour, although edges that did not come in contact with the lemon juice may still turn brown. Alternately, you can soak apple slices in a bowl of cold water to which has been added several substantial squeezes of fresh lemon juice. Just toss quickly and let sit for up to an hour. When you are ready to serve the apples and honey at the beginning of your Rosh Hashanah meal, drain the slices from the water and lightly pat dry. The apples will remain white until they are all gone!
In response to complaints from Jewish groups and heavy online mail from the Jewish community, CNN (Cable News Network) decided to again include Jerusalem in its list of Israeli cities on the web site's weather page.

CNN had been listing Jerusalem in a category by itself, apart from other Israeli cities, apparently due to claims on the capital by Yassir Arafat and the PLO Authority. (Incidentally, Bethlehem is listed as a city in the West Bank.) A footnote on the Jerusalem weather page now states that "The status of Jerusalem, the seat of Israeli government, is the most contentious issue in the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Palestinian and Arab leaders consider part of Jerusalem the capital of the prospective Palestinian state."

Despite CNN's questionable decision initially, it's encouraging to know that CNN listened to and acted upon the comments it received from the Jewish community.