Jewish Holidays and Practices
A Guide for Newcomers
Click here for more »
Basic Holiday Info
Click here for more »
Think Pieces and Sermons
Click here for more »
I spent this past weekend in San Francisco. I traveled not for the hills or the Golden Gate Bridgeâ€¦but for the matzah! Yes, itâ€™s true, I visited three â€śPassover in the Aislesâ€ť programs throughout the Bay Area. Those three events, however, are just a sampling of the many Passover in the Aisles programs taking place nationwide this year , from Ottawa to Syracuse to New Jersey to Columbus to Pittsburgh to Tampa to Wisconsin.
The first Bay Area event was sponsored by JGATE, an â€śindependent, grassroots group that reaches out to all who seek greater connection to Jewish life and community.â€ť JGateâ€™s Rabbi Bridget Wynne and administrator Bon Singer set up set up a beautiful table in the Passover aisle of an urban supermarket in Berkeley. Offering plentiful and appealing materials full of Passover information, including recipes and referrals for local communal Seders, JGate also gave passers-by the opportunity to enter an exciting raffle for a beautiful gift basket which included delicious chocolates, wine, and a Jewish cookbook. When working with organizations to help them run Passover in the Aisles, we always suggest that they engage shoppers with an appealing and interactive activity. Along these lines, Rabbi Bridget and Bon offered Charoset tasting, with both Ashkenazic and Sephardic Charoset varieties to choose from, ensuring they were able to attract the most discerning of palettes.
Heading south, I visited Albertsons supermarkets in both Los Altos and San Jose, where Congregation Beth David of Saratoga ran Passover in the Aisles. Synagogue volunteers engaged shoppers with a variety of macaroon tastings, free Passover-themed CDs, giveaways, cute plastic frogs (in reference to one of the 10 plagues), and a gamut of helpful information about Passover customs and foods. On hand to help engage shoppers further was Rabbi Aaron Schonbrun, Beth Davidâ€™s veteran Passover in the Aisles rabbi and member of JOIâ€™s board of professional advisors. Both organizations will be running one more Passover in the Aisles before Passover begins this Monday nightâ€¦
One of the ideas we here at JOI try to stress is the importance of family activities creating positive â€śJewish memoriesâ€ť for children of intermarriage when they are still youngâ€”and a prime opportunity begins this Monday evening with the Passover Seder. Involving young children in the Seder instills not only a sense of Jewish identity from an early age, but also sets them on a path of more frequent engagement with the community as they grow up. In the same way that an enjoyable mid-summer trip to the ballpark with mom or dad can produce a lifelong baseball fan, fun memories of Jewish holidays as a child can lead to further celebrations decades down the road.
For children, Passover should not feel like theyâ€™re caught in an extended school day. There are many opportunities to make the Seder fun and educational. For example, the Creative Seder Initiative (CSI) has assembled a 10 plagues kit for the younger members of your Passover celebration. Additionally, Suzette Cohen, JOIâ€™s Mothers Circle Atlanta Professional Affiliate, recommends this Childrenâ€™s Haggadah to read during the Seder. Incorporating such child-friendly elements is really an early way to introduce them to the way low-barrier activities can enhance oneâ€™s experiences interacting with the Jewish community. By making children feel welcome at this important time of the year, not only do you begin to help them assemble a cache of positive Jewish memories, but you also teach them the value of reaching out to and including those who may feel marginalized.
This is the time of year when â€śkosher wine tastingsâ€ť seem to abound, especially when they are connected to fundraising efforts to sell Kosher for Passover wine. As kosher wines have become more tasty and Israeli wines more fashionable, these activities have increased. As I survey the various Jewish newspapers advertising these programs (to an insider core who presumably reads these newspapers), I wonder what it would take to transform these programs into outreach efforts. I wonder aloud, especially because I am mindful that when we make program suggestions to institutions and communities, they are concerned about adding yet another program or responsibility to their already overwhelmed staff or lay leadership. What would happen if the event were to take place in a local wine or liquor store? What would happen if there were no admission prices charged? Or the event was free to non-members and members were charged a nominal fee?
Others may also be concerned about what it takes to implement a full-scale Public Space JudaismSM program, especially in a small community. By taking a program that is already planned for inside a synagogue or JCC and moving it out, you are able to take your insiders (members) with you. By linking it to Passover, it already has some measure of appeal, because of the large numbers who observe/celebrate Passover in one way or another. And by appealing to wine lovers, rather than those who intend to observe Passover per se, you are able to broaden the appeal to those on the periphery.
A recent Jewish Telegraphic Agency article chronicled the difficulty some overseas students have finding a place to celebrate Passover in a foreign land. With their expatriate status already making them feel like outsiders, several students lamented the fact that they had not been contacted proactively by anyone in the local Jewish community. “If somebody here invited me, I would go to a seder,” one student commented.
While the experience of American students abroad will always be fraught with similar problems, the UJC is taking steps to ensure that no-one in the United States, at least, feels like an outsider this Passover. Anyone struggling to find a place to celebrate Passover this year now has an additional helpful resource, thanks to a recent UJC initiative. Each year, thousands of people find themselves in a strange city either due to work, school, or another outside influence, making a traditional family-driven Seder celebration all but impossible. To prevent anyone from having to forego a Seder entirely, however, the UJC has compiled a database of community Seders and home hospitalities.
This development shows that there are certainly those who take the concept of â€śwelcoming the strangerâ€ť to heart. It is beneficial to have resources such as the UJCâ€™s database so that those who are actively seeking a place to engage with the Jewish community can find welcoming sites to participate in their religion. Ideally, community organizations and others will take this welcoming even further, to proactively seek out and invite the unengaged to join in celebrations such as the Passover Seder, instead of waiting for potential participants to take the first step. The seder phrase “Let all who are hungry come and eat” is important to remember, but perhaps just as important is the concept of going out and finding those who are seeking (spiritual) nourishment and community.
With the growing prevalence of intermarriage making it increasingly likely that large traditionally Jewish families will include at least one (if not more) person of a different religious heritage, the issue of inclusion in rites such as the Passover Seder is bound to arise. As the Canadian Jewish News describes, though, this shift from an insular to a more inclusive community is not without complications.
To some, the inclusion of people of other religious backgrounds at a Seder is troubling, and brings up a number of pressing questions. In a positive development, however, the president of the Conservative movementâ€™s Ontario Rabbinical Assembly, Rabbi Wayne Allen, attempted to answer all of those questions in a way that welcomed outsiders. After addressing several of the questions surrounding the issue , Rabbi Allen came to the conclusion, “We are left with no serious objections [to having non-Jewish guests at the seder].â€ť He then went on to say, “But what about positive statements?” Not only can the inclusion of people of other faith backgrounds be justified, but Rabbi Allen is taking it a step further and encouraging the Jewish community to look at the ways their celebration can be enhanced by the presence of these new guests.
This line of thinking matches up perfectly with what we believe at JOI, and is a real-world example of outreach best practices. Also noteworthy was an endorsement of inclusion issued by an Orthodox author, Rabbi Maurice Lamm. Having guests of other religious denominations at a Seder, Lamm says, â€śenhances the integrity of the Jewish people. One of the fine things [guests] will learn is the important values for which we stand.â€ť Rabbi Allen and Rabbi Lamm both focus solely on accentuating positive aspects and celebrating what new guests can add to the proceedings â€“ they â€śwelcome the strangerâ€ť rather than excluding them.
Like Cecelia Nealon-Shapiro, I chose to serve kosher Chinese food at my bat mitzvah party. My culinary choice was based purely on my taste buds. Ceceliaâ€™s had to do with her identity.
The New York Times chronicled Ceceliaâ€™s unique (Yin Yang yarmulkes) and not-so-unique (reading the torah) bat mitzvah experience that, like many other bat mitzvah days, came to be partially out of a sense of obligation.
But when Cecelia announced that â€śwe have all been, or will be strangers at some point in our livesâ€ť during her bat mitzvah day speech from the front of her New York City synagogue, it couldnâ€™t have been more true for Cecelia herself. Cecelia was born in China and adopted by Mary Nealon and Vivian Shapiro when she was three months old. While Cecelia feels fully Jewish, she also embraces her Chinese heritage.
The Nealon-Shapiro family exemplifies the modern Jewish family. We look different, come from different backgrounds and are part of all types of domestic situations. Still, we are all Jewish and can and should feel equally comfortable participating in the Jewish community. Kudos to Rodeph Sholom for being an open and welcoming synagogueâ€”because like Rabbi Robert Levine shared with the congregation at Ceceliaâ€™s bat mitzvah, â€śLet the stranger in your midst be to you as the native, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.â€ť
While itâ€™s well-known that Purim this year fell on March 3rd at sundown, a lesser-known holiday also occurred on the same day: of course, I speak of the all-important festival known as â€śRolling Rock Beer Day.â€ť
In reference to the â€ś33â€ť that appears on each bottle of Rolling Rock, the company, appropriately, dubbed the third of March the brandâ€™s official day, and planned a number of promotions, giveaways, and other forms of publicity around this synthetic â€śevent.â€ť
The reason why the number 33 appears on Rolling Rock bottles, however, is still hotly debated (though perhaps not in scholarly circles). Apocryphal stories abound, while Rolling Rock remains mum on the issue. In truth, the company has more to gain by guarding its secret than by revealing anything. The real reason is more than likely unexciting; itâ€™s far more interesting (and lucrative) to let people imagine and talk about the hidden meaning behind the number, since that generates publicity and the highly-sought element of â€śbuzzâ€ť that marketers aim for.
Asking hypothetical questions, no matter how peculiar, can always lead to some interesting discussions. In light of that, Iâ€™m going to ask this question: is it more than just a coincidence that Rolling Rock Beer Day occurs close to Purim every year? After all, as MyJewishLearning.com has explained, many people consider it nearly obligatory to drink on Purim, even finding references in the Talmud to support the idea. Could the tradition of imbibing on Purim have led to the companyâ€™s choice of a day in March?
Probably not, but Rolling Rockâ€™s strategy of conjuring an ersatz holiday and then using that day to try to attract customers is something we could possibly learn from as we think about outreach best practices. We are even more fortunate because we already have an actual holiday to work with! Purim, unlike Rolling Rock Beer day, isnâ€™t some two-year-old marketing scheme but in fact a centuries-old cultural celebration. With that advantage in hand, why not try something like a wine tasting event in the foyer of a public building during the week leading up to Purim? In the spirit of Public Space Judaism, not only will the event be accessible to all, but marketing can be done secularly as well. Though the list of event sponsors may include JCCs and synagogues, they may also include local wineries or vineyards, creating a perfect low-barrier mix of Manishewitz wine, local products, and perhaps if it exists, maybe even a bottle of vintage Rolling Rock, with a cryptic â€ś33â€ť branded onto the cork.