Seder at the USDA underscores hunger

Rabbi Jack Moline of Alexandria, Virginia (left) and Empire Kosher CEO Greg Rosenbaum attend a Passover seder at the Department of Agriculture on Wednesday. The seder, a traditional Jewish meal to commemorate Jews' freedom from slavery in Egypt, was held as a forum at the USDA to bring food and hunger issues in contemporary America to the table.

WASHINGTON – Recognizing the increased difficulty millions of Americans have putting food on the table, Jewish Funds for Justice (JFSJ) and the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) hosted a Passover seder at the U.S. Department of Agriculture to highlight how food and justice intersect.

The Food & Justice Passover Seder brought a Jewish perspective to the issues of hunger and food access, labor conditions for food workers, sustainable production and consumption, and individual and communal responsibilities.

“While we don’t see bread lines like we did during the Great Depression, the truth is that more than 50 million Americans today don’t always know where their next meal is coming from, despite the valiant efforts of the USDA and of thousands of faith-based and community organizations to ensure that no one goes hungry,” said Simon Greer, president of Jewish Funds for Justice.  “The solution is obvious: support for good jobs that pay a living wage so that all Americans can provide healthy food for their families year-round without forgoing other essentials.”

“The story of Passover ends with the Jewish people wandering into the desert for 40 years on their way to a land of redemption and opportunity,” said Elissa Barrett, executive director of the Progressive Jewish Alliance.  “Tonight, we think of millions of Americans who live in a desert of a different variety: a food desert.  Residents in wide swaths of some American cities have severely limited access to the fresh and healthy food widely available in other neighborhoods.  Instead, their options are reduced to fast food restaurants, liquor stores and convenience stores where it is far easier to find apple soda than an apple.”

Created by JFSJ and PJA, the seder was officiated by Rabbi Jack Moline, director of public policy at the Rabbinical Assembly, and Rabbi Dara Frimmer of Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles.   Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack participated in the seder.

High school students behind antisemitic graffiti

The LA County Sheriff’s Department says students were responsible for antisemitic graffiti discovered over the weekend at Calabasas High School.

The sheriff’s department says the vandalism was discovered by school maintenance workers Saturday morning. They found graffiti spray painted on the school’s doors, walls, sidewalks and a stop sign, deputies say.

Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station deputies say the graffiti included Nazi swastikas, words and symbols related to antisemitism and teachers names.

The school has repaired the damage, which included the need to sand blast a section of damaged wall.

Famous Klimt painting, stolen by Nazis, returning to Jewish heir

Salzburg Museum of Modern Art photo

The c. 1915 painting “Litzlberg am Attersee” by Gustav Klimt (oil on canvas, 110 x 110 cm) is one of the most famous and arguably most valuable masterpieces of the collection of the Salzburg Museum of Modern Art.

The painting, now valued at over 20 million euros, was stolen from a Jewish woman by the Nazis during the Holocaust, ultimately making its way to the museum. But now, a decision to return it to the only living heir of the owner.

Georges Jorisch of Montreal is the grandson and sole heir of Amalie Redlich, the original owner of the painting. She was deported by the Nazis in 1941 and killed.

The museum says the decision to return the painting is in accordance with Austria’s policy of restoring works of art to heirs of their original owners.

Remembering the psychiatrist who destigmatized homosexuality

NY Medical College photo


The courageous and ground-breaking psychiatrist most directly responsible for removing homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSMV) died this week at 94.

Elected to the presidency of the American Psychological Association in 1973, Dr. Alfred Freedman, who was elected with  a plurality of just three votes out of 9,000 cast,  immediately decided to help destigmatize homosexuality.

It may seem incongruous now, but in 1973, the APA was thoroughly and bitterly divided over the designation of homosexuality as a disorder. It was an issue that a lesser person could have tried to ignore or have tabled.

All of us who value intellectual honesty, decency, and freedom, should take a moment to celebrate this life.

New Alzheimer’s guidelines provide hope for future

By Alyssa L. Miller


New guidelines just released which, for the first time in years, strive to identify bio markers as precursors for potential onset of Alzheimer’s before a person shows symptoms of dementia may, researchers say, lead to preventative treatments of the disease, something that’s not possible today.

Dr. Marc L. Gordon, an Alzheimer’s researcher at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research at the North Shore – Long Island Jewish Health System, says the problem ’til now is that it’s been impossible to identify someone before it’s already too late to really help them.

:Clearly when people have reached the stage of dementia something has been going on a long time,  certainly years,” Gordon, who has been researching Alzheimer’s for 20 years now, says.

“That’s late in the game. You’d like to identify peole earlier on,” possibly, he says, to intervene.

How they’d intervene, though, is really still a matter of conjecture. For the simple reason that, it’s not clear what is the underlying cause of the disease.

“Drugs that are on the market now are really targeted at trying to compensate at abonormalities … they don’t really treat the underlying disease process,” Dr. Gordon says.

Once the bio-markers, and the person at potential risk of becoming a patient is identified, it may be possible, Gordon says, to develop therapies that stave off the onset of dementia. But not in all patients.

“Some risk factors are not really modifyable,” Gordon says. Like one’s genetic makeup.

But there are things that can be done – even without drug therapy – to, hopefully, minimize the risk.

“Physical exercise may have some protective effect,” Gordon says.

“Treating vasiular risk factors like high bolood pressure or obesity,” may also, he says, reduce one’s risk of developing symptoms. And, he says, there’s evidence that staying involved in activities that stimulate the brain, may help too. Even quitting smoking, which is identified as another risk factor.

But aren’t these things we should be doing anyway? Absolutely, Dr. Gordon says.

“The bottom line  is your mother is right. You should eat well and exercise.”

Gary Baumgarten is editor of The Jewish Reporter.


Jews for Palin: Not even enough for a minyan


A year ago, the group Jewish Americans for Palin was formed to whip up support for the former governor of Alaska and possible GOP presidential candidate. thought, that since Palin is running around with a Mogen David around her neck, and in honor of Pesach, it would be interesting to check out the organization’s vitality and viability. What the progressive news site found out is that her apparent support among the Jewish community is minimal at best.

This despite her public pronouncements in support of, and her recent photo opportunity trip to, Israel.


Returning Holocaust gold coins to rightful heirs

Portable Antiquities Scheme photo


LONDON –  When thousand of Jews fled Nazi Germany they smuggled out all they could to make their new lives easier. Many had to leave valuables behind, unable to carry them out, especially as they had to move quickly.

Martin Sulzbacher was luckier than most. He was able to sell all the family’s possessions and buy gold coins, “double eagle” gold dollars minted between 1854 and 1913, and smuggle them to England.

When war broke out, Sulzbacher was sent to Canada, but the ship he was on, the Arandora Star, was torpedoed and sunk so he was sent to Australia. His wife and four children, including a son, Max, were interned on the Isle of Man, a Crown Dependency in the Irish Sea.

Other members of his family, his parents, brother, sister and sister-in-law remained in London and buried the coins in the garden. Sadly they were killed by a German bomb.

At the end of the war Sulzbacher came to London and searched the garden for the coins but was unable to find them, though in 1952 some identical coins were found at the property and claimed by him.

It seemed the coins were lost forever. Sulzbacher ran a bookshop in Golders Green, north London, and died in 1981.

Then in the summer of 2007, Terrence Castle of Stoke Newington in north-east London was digging a frog pond with three other people on the property when they found the coins wrapped in greaseproof paper and handed them in to the authorities.

Using Sulzbacher”s details from 1952 the British Museum, the Museum of London and the coroner’s office were able to trace his son Max, now 81 and a retired chartered accountant living in Jerusalem. The coroner for Inner London North, Andrew Scott Reid, ruled the coins were treasure and that Max, as an heir, was entitled to them.

The coins are expected to fetch £80,000 at auction, Max will use the proceeds of the sale to reward the finders and to restore his family’s gravestones at Enfield cemetery, north London.

The coins are on display at the British Museum until the end of the week and one will be donated to the Hackney Museum.

British Museum’s head of the department of portable antiquities and treasure, Dr Roger Bland, said the find contributed to the story of Jewish immigration to Britain.

“The case of the Hackney gold coins is one of the most unique and compelling stories that we have been involved with,” he said.

“There is an incredibly human element to this story that is absent from many archaeological finds and we are pleased to see the coins reunited with their original owners after so many years.”

Curtis Sliwa, voice for Israel temporarily silenced


Curtis Sliwa, the founder of the Guardian Angels Safety Patrol, best known for patrolling New York City’s subways but now in scores of communities across the United States and around the world, and an indefatigable supporter of the state of Israel, is making public his battle against prostate cancer – a battle that will take him off the airwaves for at least a week, perhaps a month.

Sliwa reveals in a letter that he was diagnosed with prostate cancer a year ago, and tried, unsuccessfully, to use alternative treatments to abate the threat. Unfortunately, these have not worked. And so, to Mt. Sinai Medical Center he goes.

First attempt will be at a less-invasive surgery. If that’s unsuccessful, a full prostate removal may be necessary.

Sliwa’s condition is exacerbated by the shooting he suffered in 1992, an attempt on his life as he climbed into a cab for the pre-dawn trip from his apartment on Manhattan’s Lower East Side to WABC’s studios – where he’d been hammering away at mob boss John Gotti and his cohorts. The shooting, which was so severe that it should have left him dead, an attempt to silence him.

Now, all these years later, that attack may complicate his recovery. So he’ll be taking a break from the microphones at The Apple 970, where he holds forth during mornings and afternoons and on Saturday as well.

His resilience in fighting back from the shooting is an indication that, no matter how invasive the surgery, he will be back on the air. But prayers for this voice for Israel couldn’t hurt.

Sliwa doesn’t just rally support for Israel on his program, fact checking erroneous assertions in the news media about the Jewish state, but lends his support by participating in numerous rallies and events in the metro New York area for Israel.

Curtis, we will anxiously await your glorious return to the airwaves after your successful recovery from your surgery!

Gary Baumgarten is editor of The Jewish Reporter.

Rice and beans at the Passover seder

Preparing charoset. By JasonUnbound/Flickr


Most Jews around the world, especially those in the United States, had a lovely meal of haroset, gefilte fish, matzo ball soup, brisket and or lamb, roasted potatoes, cabbage, asparagus and maybe some dried fruit for dessert at Monday night’s first Passover seder. But rice and beans? At a seder?

While that may seem foreign and maybe even non-traditional, for those of us who are Sephardic, a Pesach without rice and beans would have Savta (grandmother) turning in her grave.

Just like Ashkenazi Jews, we sit around the seder table. But it’s the leader of the seder, not the wife, who brings the first plates. And he doesn’t just plop them in front of your face.

He holds a plate on the head of each person at the table for a second, a minhag, or custom, to remind us of the heavy burdens we had on our heads when we were slaves in Egypt.

Then a few pieces of matzo are tied up in a napkin and passed around the table, shoulder to shoulder. Each is asked, “Where are you from?” as the matzo is being passed. The traditional reply is, “I am from Egypt.” Then a second question: “Where are you going?” And the answer: “I am going to Yerushalaym.” Then a third question: “Will you come with me?” The answer, of course, is “yes.”

Of course, in all of our traditions, we serve unleavened bread. But who among us really likes to eat matzos? We of the Sephardic tradition have an answer. One you Eastern European Jews might want to adopt.

We serve an unleavened bread called pane azimo (pa-knee ah-zee-moe). It’s made with olive oil, flour, sea salt and matzo meal. Some Sephardic families also toss some corn meal in as well. Of course, there’s no yeast so, like matzo, it doesn’t rise. But unlike matzo, it doesn’t taste like cardboard!

Of course, we use a Haggadah, so the story of the 10 plagues and the softening of Pharaoh’s heart and the escape from bondage – the wandering the desert – all that is the same. But here’s something I bet you’ve never seen unless you’ve been to a Sephardic seder: the leader pours wine into, of all things, a tin can. The tin can is then taken into the yard and the wine is poured into the ground. Then the matriarch of the family says, “May this go to all of our enemies and haters. May they create no suffering for us or themselves. Amen.”

The matriarch then presents the patriarch with a bowl and glass of water. He recites the plagues one-by-one and pours a drop of wine from a special glass each time into the bowl. The matriarch chases the wine with a bit of water. All of this takes place below table level, because we’re not supposed to look at the plagues for the fear of being contaminated.

Without looking, the matriarch takes the bowl to the bathroom and flushes the plagues down the toilet.

The singing of Dayenu, of course, will be familiar to Jews no matter what traditions they otherwise hold. But as we are singing, we take green onions with long stems, which we use to whip the person next to us, and pass them on. The whipping reminds us of the miracle that we were freed from the lash of oppression.

Then charoset, a mixture of apples, dates, nuts, apricot, cinnamon and wine is served, to remind us that, when we were slaves, we had to mix mortar to make the bricks. Then, the traditional four cups of wine.

But here’s a uniquely Sephardic tradition. We all dress in white cotton, and the leader, in this case my rabbi, wears a white caftan, or robe, and a crown, because he plays Pharaoh.

On the eighth night, we close out Passover traditionally with the Mimouna celebration. The synagogue is opened at one minute after midnight. The Torah is then taken from the arch. The Song of Songs is read while everyone dances in the aisles. (Something, I might add, that one rarely does in an Ashkenazi shul!)

We eat pita bread dipped in honey, representing the gluing together of the Jewish nation so that we will never be separated by oppression and slavery again.

But what about the rice and beans, you ask? It’s called kitniyot: rice, legumes, string beans, green peas, lentils, split peas, chick peas, sesame and sunflower seeds. A traditional kosher for Pesach staple. It doesn’t have any specific religious significance, but I promise you one thing. It’s a tasty addition to the seder table that we anticipate eating every year.

Israel boycott motion fails

A contentious three-hour-long debate over a proposal to boycott Israel at the Marrickville, Australia Council ended with claims that the town lawmakers were cowards after they narrowly defeated the measure, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

Leaders of Marrickville’s Jewish community strongly condemned the measure. But among those supporting it was Father David Smith, who labeled a boycott, “a strategy of non-violent resistance to a military occupation.”