Archive - October 2017
by Rabbi Dr Elliot Salo Schoenberg
September 29, 2017
Alfred Nobel was a Swedish chemist who held 355 patents, owned gold mines, and is best known as the inventor of dynamite. He was an excellent business man who manufactured armaments in 90 factories around the world. He was one of the wealthiest men of the 19th century when he died. In 1888, eight years before his actual death, he read a premature obituary that summarized his life. The newspaper had mistaken the death of his brother and business partner Ludvig for Alfred’s own death. The French newspaper obituary declared “Le marchand de la mort est mort” (“The merchant of death is dead”). It went on to say that “Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.” Alfred Nobel was shocked. He grew deeply concerned about how he would be remembered. What would his legacy be?
He wrote a will that turned his assets into a foundation that became the Noble Institute so he would be remembered as a philanthropist, pacifist, and the creator of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Alfred Nobel asked, zochranu lechayim (“remember us for life”). How do I want to be remembered for this life?
The liturgy of the High Holiday demands from us zochranu lechayim; how do we wish to be remembered for this life?
How does this story resonate with you? For me it is important and it is moving. This man embarked on a deep, personal refection process on his own and turned his life around.
I applaud Nobel for his teshuva and yet on another level, it does not satisfy me personally. We are ordinary people, not men and women of great wealth; not heroes but ordinary people. This tale of legacy leaves me asking, “without great wealth, without great achievement, what legacy will I leave?” What legacy will you leave to others? It is hard to imagine one dramatic moment or one dramatic act that I will do that will leave a lasting impression or change the world.
Here is where the liturgy of High Holidays helps us. In the Amidah, zochranu lechayim is followed by the verse cotvanu besefer hachayim. Our rabbis understood zochranu lechayim (remember us for life”), to be ordinary acts like eating, drinking, or earning a living. They understood cotvanu besefer hachayim (“write us into the book of life”) to mean extraordinary acts that merited entry into beolam habah (“the world to come”), like leaving a million dollars to charity, changing careers, writing a best seller, or rushing into a burning building to save someone. Zochranu is this world, cotvanu is the world to come. Two distinct verses, two distinct notions, ordinary and extraordinary, that inhabit two parallel universes.
Yet other commentators suggest there is another way to read this High Holyday interpolation. Cotvanu is a commentary; modifying zochranu. The first verse asks how will you be remembered? The second verse answers by teaching that one must imbue everyday ordinary events with extra ordinary strength, courage or hope. How are we to be written into the book of life? How do we want to be remembered? I suggest it is with everyday events that have eternal significance.
A 1732 book called Kav HaYashar tells the story of a tailor in the Lithuanian city of Brisk:
The tailor left instructions for the Chevra Kadisha, the Burial Society. They were to construct his casket from his workbench. Into the casket, the Society was to place his tape measure he used for measuring clothing. When they asked the tailor why he had left these instructions, he answered that he wanted his workbench and his tape measure to be two faithful witnesses to testify before God that he was always honest and that he never cheated a customer in all his years of work.
How did this simple ordinary Jew wish to be remembered? Zochranu lechayim, for his daily acts of honesty. He had a true understanding of his legacy, in which our ordinary deeds create an enduring reputation. Greatness is not reserved for the famous; immortality does not demand dramatic achievement or front-page headlines.
Every time we drink a cup of Fair Trade coffee we can start the day with an act of righteousness. When we drink Fair Trade coffee, we can taste the hint of plum or cherry because it is good quality coffee. More importantly, it builds a school in Uganda and empowers women in Ecuador. When we drink Fair Trade coffee, we are also fighting human trafficking. When we drink Fair Trade coffee, we are being good stewards of the earth reducing the amount of pesticides being planted in our environment.
This world has massive problems including the lack of safe and healthy working conditions, problems of child labor, and problems of abusing the environment. These issues are huge, worldwide, and can feel overwhelming and beyond our reach for solutions.
Dear friends, let us start small, with an everyday act that will have an enduring impact. Let’s start with not just coffee but a just cup of coffee.
My teacher and mentor, Rabbi Sam Chiel, of Temple Emanuel in Newton, MA, used to share this story:
Bernie Molish ran the elevator in an East Side co-op for 25 years in New York City. In the 1980’s the New York Times reported on his celebration. When tenants went away he watered their plants, he once saved a cat from a ledge, he tasted cooking to see if it was good enough for dinner guests. One tenant said, “the most amazing thing about Bernie is he always smiles.” Bernie responded, “you have to; a smile sets the tone for the whole elevator.” He shared their joys and their sorrows. Bernie visited the tenants in the hospital and attended their funerals. A woman who knew Bernie for all 25 years said, “an elevator man does not just run the elevator, he is the backbone of the community.”
Bernie understood that simple, everyday acts can have an enduring impact on the community.
Zochranu lechayim, this year may we be remembered for the ordinary tasks we carried out in extraordinar
Now that we’re in the month of Elul, I’m starting to plan my Rosh Hashanah meals – yummy round raisin challahs, some kind of fish dish, vegetable tsimmes, apple noodle kugel, several salads and vegetable dishes, and of course, ending with a delicious gluten free honey cake (see recipe below)!
Many of us are deeply concerned about the declining numbers of bee colonies around the world, partly because we love watching bees at work and also because they are the major pollinators for most of our food crops. Major contributing factors include widespread use of pesticides and fungicides and parasitic mites in beehives. One of the ways each of us can help is by supporting small and local beekeepers, especially those practicing organic farming, both near our communities and from beekeepers around the world.
Fair Trade Sweetens the Deal
In the US and Europe, a large percentage of the imported honey is produced by impoverished bee keepers in developing countries in Latin America and Asia. Most bee keeping families live in remote areas, with limited access to transport or market information. They often lack the infrastructure to store and transport the honey without negatively affecting quality, and haven’t received training that would help them identify the different types of honey, thus losing the opportunity to sell their product at a higher price.
As a result, many beekeepers are dependent on local middlemen to buy their honey. Given this weak bargaining position, they’re forced to sell it at fraction of its real market value, and are not able to make a sustainable livelihood. Fair Trade offers producers an agreed upon minimum price, independent of market rates. Bee keeper cooperatives are linked directly to Fair Trade buyers, cutting out the middlemen, and creating longer term sustainability.
Fair Trade standards for honey assure that:
– Producers are small family farms organized in cooperatives (or associations) which they own and govern democratically
– The minimum Fair Trade price is paid directly to the producer cooperatives, allowing producers to cover their production costs
– Environmental standards restrict the use of agrochemicals and ban genetically modified plants
– Pre-harvest lines of credit are provided to the cooperatives if requested, up to 60% of the purchase price
– No forced or child labor is involved
– A Fair Trade premium is included in the purchase price; the cooperatives choose how to use this additional support for social and economic investments, such as education, health services, processing equipment, and loans to members.
This Rosh Hashanah, sweeten the beekeepers’ lives as well by choosing one of these certified Fair Trade and Kosher honey products:
GloryBee produces a wide variety of OU Kosher Pareve certified Fair Trade organic honey products (raw, coffee blossom, organic). You can buy them on-line or find a local store that carries them.
Heavenly Organics gathers honey from naturally occurring wild beehives in India and the Himalayas. It is 100% raw organic, fair trade certified and OU Kosher certified. You can visit their store locator to identify where to purchase the honey near you.
Trader Joes’ Organic Raw Honey also comes from bee-keeping cooperatives in Mexico, and is simply the uncooked “unadulterated nectar” of jungle wildflowers. I t has Circle K (OK) Kosher certification and is available in all their stores.
Wholesome Sweetener’s Organic honeys (raw, amber, bottles/jars), certified kosher by the Orthodox Union, come from Fair Trade cooperatives in Mexico, so the farmers also receive a “sweet” and fair wage. You can now purchase their products online .
GLUTEN-FREE HONEY CAKE
Adapted from “elana’s pantry” by Elana Amsterdam
½ cup boiling water
2 tablespoons organic decaf ground coffee (not instant)
2 ½ cups blanched almond flour (not almond meal)
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
½ cup honey
¼ cup grapeseed oil
2 large eggs
½ cup raisins
½ cup walnuts or pecans (optional)
1. Pour ½ cup boiling water through a filter containing 2 tablespoons organic decaf coffee; discard grounds and cool liquid
2. In a large bowl combine almond flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, and cloves
3. In a separate bowl, combine honey, oil, eggs, and coffee
4. Mix wet ingredients into dry, then stir in raisins and nuts (optional)
5. Transfer batter to a greased and floured 9 inch cake pan
6. Bake at 350° for 30-35 minutes
7. Remove from oven and cool for 1 hour
We tried this recipe a few weeks ago when temperatures rose to the 90’s in the San Francisco Bay Area (we know it’s usually that hot on the east coast or in the south!), and we were refreshed immediately.
Only tastes good if you use Fair Trade chocolate, cocoa and sugar – no aftertaste of child labor.
- 6 oz. Fair Trade 70-72%% chocolate bar
- 2 c. nonfat or whole milk***
- ½ c. any type of milk***
- ¼ c. Fair Trade sugar
- 2 Tbsp. Fair Trade baking cocoa
- 2 tsp. vanilla
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
1. Break chocolate into pieces and put into a blender. In a saucepan, bring milk (and/or cream), sugar and cocoa to a low boil, then immediately remove from heat. Pour the milk mixture over the chocolate in the blender, add vanilla and salt and let sit for a few minutes until the chocolate is softened. Blend on a low speed until the mix has emulsified and is smooth.
2. Pour the mixture into ice pop molds. Let sit in the freezer for about 1 hour before inserting wooden sticks, if needed.
3. Freeze well for 24 hours. Enjoy!
*** For a richer version, use 2 cups whole milk and 1/2 cup cream
Yields 8 servings
Adapted from the New York Times and Equal Exchange
Deep appreciation to R. Bennett Miller for his eloquent weaving of our
experiences with Mayan artisans and our Shabbat morning davenning,
only a few weeks ago in Guatemala.
The Torah of Tapestry in Guatemala
By Rabbi Bennett F. Miller
Recently, I joined a group mission to Guatemala, sponsored by Maya Works and Fair Trade Judaica. The mission was a very powerful experience, meeting with the Jewish community and with some remarkable
Maya women who perform extraordinary work with the gift of their hands and hearts.
On Shabbat morning I was asked to deliver words of Torah in the small but young and energetic Reform Temple in Guatemala City known as Adat Yisrael. (a few weeks later they would receive a Torah scroll given to them by a congregation in Pine Bluff Arkansas that had closed its doors and wanted the Torah to be welcomed by a young congregation). My words preceded the chanting of the week’s Torah portion which happened to be parashat B’shalach, consisting of the powerful words of
the Song of Sea, the poetic words of Moses as he and the Israelites walked through the Red Sea to Freedom, to begin their journey to the Promised Land of Israel.
As I looked at the words inscribed on the Torah scroll I could not help but see each letter as part of a tapestry similar to that woven by the many women we had met earlier in the week. The letters of the Torah appeared to me like every line of yarn woven into the fabric that the women were creating.
Thinking about it I found myself deeply moved by each of the thousands of letters inscribed on the parchment of the Torah. As each letter is joined to others words are formed into sentences that describe a picture of a journey of the Jewish people. This story is the most profound story in the history of humankind, a story of a people and its encounter with the Divine, choosing and being chosen to carry out a mission of becoming “a light unto the nations.” As each stretch of yarn is applied to the loom it forms a connection to the one before it and the one that will be applied following it. Some of the yarn is colored and some is not. Somehow, the artisan who works the loom understands and sees the larger picture that will be completed after all of the yarn has been applied to the loom. Like the words of Torah, the yarn in the loom represents lines (words)
that drawn together will form a tapestry depicting a journey of its own, similar to the journey of the Jewish people. Each artisan that I met represented a village or a family or a Mayan group (they speak no less than 26 languages in Guatemala). And each piece created on the loom, or prepared lovingly by the hands of the women I met becomes part of a liberating experience. You see, the work of these amazing women provides food for their family’s table, funds for their children to attend school (even college), and helps them sustain a simple but noble life in central America.
You might say that the work of the hands of the Mayan women serves as a song of freedom just as the Torah’s words uttered by Moses and the Israelites was the song declaring freedom from Egyptian oppression, a song that we continue to sing, not just for the Jewish people but for all people who yearn to be free.
I concluded my words and then we chanted the words of Torah. As I looked out into the congregation I could feel the power of liberation, the same power that our ancestors felt. And I could see tears of joy, remembering the women we had met, sitting with the young people of the congregation who were thrilled to celebrate Jewish life, and recognizing that freedom is a dream for all, a dream that can become a reality if we put our minds and our hearts and our hands together to do so.
Thanks to Simon Stratford* at HUC-JIR who organized this amazing event, and introduced Fair Trade Judaica to 16 rabbinical students.
In November 2016, a group of fifteen Jewish college students from across the country – and one from Guatemala – arrived on the campus of Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in Cincinnati to celebrate Shabbat and explore Jewish culture. This weekend retreat was just one of many throughout the academic year, hosted by the National Office of Recruitment and Admissions of HUC-JIR. Our high school and college retreats afford Jewish students opportunities to engage with like-minded peers on topics of interest, learn about themselves and from others how Judaism can inform their decisions, all the while creating a welcoming and caring community with whom to celebrate Shabbat. The weekend was a success, and all participants reported having had an excellent time. One facet of the weekend that stuck out to many people, my self included, was the decision to incorporate Fair Trade Judaica into part of our college Retreat, Tapestry of Jewish Culture.
Students had the opportunity to explore the meaning of Jewish culture through the lens of art, music, food, television, humor and Jewish text. Not too long into the first night’s programming did the group realize, that the breadth of Jewish culture is immense. As a result, weekend programming was designed to highlight various forms of Jewish culture and avenues through which students could engage with Jewish culture. Our staff intentionally designed programs to be adopted by student participants and adapted to fit the needs of the community in which they lead. The highlight of the weekend’s programming came on Sunday morning when we introduced students to Fair Trade Judaica, its organizational mission, and products.
Including a learning piece about Fair Trade Judaica allowed participants to learn about a particular organization whose work embodies Jewish culture in more ways than one. More than promoting Jewish culture by offering artisan made ritual and holiday items such as, kippot, mezuzot, challah covers and Shabbat candle holders; Fair Trade Judaica enables us to embrace Jewish culture by supplying artisan made ritual and holiday items that emphasize fair value return, environmental sustainability, human and workers’ rights. The values and principles embedded within the fair-trade movement and the work of Fair Trade Judaica is inherently Jewish.
Participants of our college retreat were pleasantly surprised to have been given a Fair Trade Judaica product to take home. Moreover, each participant was eager to learn more about the organization and brainstorm when they could bring Fair Trade Judaica products to their college communities. Including Fair Trade Judaica to the content of programming on Jewish culture provided a unique perspective on how the fair trade movement complements Jewish culture.
* Simon Stratford is a fifth-year rabbinical student at HUC-JIR in Cincinnati and has served as a rabbinic intern at the National Office of Recruitment and Admissions for two years. He is an ally of the fair trade and sustainability movements and a strong proponent of experiential and values-based education. He works to incorporate these platforms in planning and facilitating high school and college retreats for the College-Institute.
For more information regarding HUC-JIR Leadership Retreats for high school, college students, or young professionals check out: www.huc.edu/explore or call our office at (513) 487-3200