Save Darfur!

I was going to write about the French elections but my feelings are too ruffled and mixed up to think straight so far. To put it in a nutshell, my fear is that even if the cake gets bigger it will only make the fat cats get fatter and this is not my idea of what politics should be about.

Yet I hope to be proved wrong and maybe I will.

So I decided to write about Darfur instead. Like most people I had heard about Darfur but the whole problem was a bit vague to me before I came across this interesting article on aish website. I am not too fond of aish, in fact I much prefer the OU website, but this is not the point.

The fact is that I was moved and felt I had to be more involved when I read Ruth Wessinger's piece of writing. When Hitler assassinated our people, more than sixty years ago, the world did not move. When the Shoah was over, we cried 'never again' and we were right to do so. The situation is obviously not the same as it was then. However another people is being massacred and since we live in a global village, we all know about it.

So far we have been far too silent and have done far too little. We can get informed very easily, we can make donations to prevent the people of Darfur from dying of starvation and finally we should pressurize our politicians into taking action on Darfur. It is high time the UN took effective resolutions against the Sudanese regime. Action and sanctions do work, as Jews we have a duty to speak out.
Amos Oz

Tale(s) of Love and Darkness

I started reading Amos Oz's novel A Tale of Love and Darkness last night and have read about 50 pages so far. Even though I have not read much of it yet, I have the feeling that I picked a masterpiece when I chose it in the public library a couple of days ago.

This book is about national history (Oz's Zionist parents arrived in Israel before World War II), personal stories, stories written by others, memories and telling stories but above all it is a tale that questions the way you remember things and weave them so that they become your own inner and/or public story.

Shabbat Shalom!

Reading spree 2

It's the spring break here which means I have more than two weeks' holidays and therefore more time to read than I usually do. This is great as reading must be my favourite past time. I also love coking and reading cookery books but this is another story.

Since I had used Marge Piercy enlightening book (Pesach for the rest of us) to prepare myself for Pesach, I decided to re-read one of her novels which I had particularly enjoyed a few years ago, The Longings of Women. Having 'aged' since then I found it even more captivating than the first time. She has a way of portraying real people that are so much like the rest of us (to paraphrase Marge herself) that we feel fame has not turned her head.

I then switched on to Batya Gur who had been recommended to me by a fellow blogger. I had in fact never even heard of her and was therefore sorry to learn that she had died of cancer two years ago, aged only 57. She was was an Israeli writer, specializing in detective fiction but also a literature critic and essayist for the newspaper Haaretz.

I read two of her novels within a few days ( The Saturday Morning Murder: A Psychoanalytic Case and Bethlehem Road Murder: A Michael Ohayon Mystery) and am looking forward to reading the other four she wrote.

Her main character is Chief Inspector Michael Ohayon of the Jerusalem police. This appealing character is a 38-year-old Moroccan-born Israeli - at least he is 38 in the first novel of the series - a former Cambridge scholar with an unfinished doctoral paper on guilds during the Middle Ages, a divorced father juggling a hopeless love affair, and a shrewd observer of the human condition.

No flat characters there, the most engaging ones have their flaws and the least agreeable have redeeming features. In addition, I appreciated the fact that her novels are set in Israel, a most-welcomed change for me.

Support Israel!

Like a few other Jewish bloggers, I was going to write about the end of the eight days of Passover but a number of people have done it far better than I could so after my weekly shopping I thought I would write about something else.

For those of us who are religious but do not live there, helping Israel is a mitzvah (something we are requested to do by law - whether explicitely or implicitely).

There are quite a number of ways we can help: by going there, fighting the media bias whenever Israel is misrepresented in the news, making donations to charities and causes there, etc.

One of my favorites is to buy Israeli products. There are products of the land we remember every day in our prayers; they also seem to be a link between those who live there and those (like me) who still live in exile.

If you live in a small French town with no kosher shops around this might seem quite awesome. Yet if you start paying attention to the labels while shopping, you soon realize that it is not an impossible challenge. You can easily buy Israeli fruit juice, sweet potatoes, fresh herbs, green grapefruit, avocadoes, etc. You can even order Israeli wine on the web via an online supermarket I use for kosher products and that delivers it on your doorstep within 24 hours.

Now funnily enough at this time of year, new potatoes here are not French potatoes but Israeli potatoes. So this morning I bought my pound of new potatoes and tomorrow night an egg and potato salad will feature on the Shabbat menu contributing in its own way to what this weekly day of rest means for us.

Gearing up for Pesach 2

In my previous post, I mentioned that I had ordered Marge Piercy's book about Pesach. I eventually received it last Tuesday and started reading it straight away. Now I highly recommend it, whether you are a traditional Jew or a less conventional one.

Marge Piercy beautifully combines tradition and more contemporary thoughts, highlighting how the different aspects of Pesach are still relevant for us today. Obviously, this is not something I ever doubted, on the contrary I marvel on the relevance of our tradition (almost) daily. However, Marge Piercy is a writer and she has obviously spent a lot of time investigating Jewish commentaries on Pesach. Thus she manages to convey the wealth contained in each detail of the seder night in a way I could never dream of achieving.

Gearing up for Pesach

About two years ago, on one of the Jewish Internet lists I belong to, someone reminded us that when Purim comes Pesach is only a month away. For the observant Jew, Pesach means plenty of work which entails a lot of cleaning, a lot of koshering and also a lot of eating to get rid of the Chametz (Chametz or Chometz (חמץ) is the Hebrew term for "leavened bread") in the house.

Since my observance is still fairly recent (it's not even four years since I started to follow Jewish laws seriously), I fear I might still get important things wrong. So each year I purchase new books on the holidays (something I love to do) and reread older ones to refresh my memory and get new insights into the holidays as they come along.

Here's my list for this year:

New books (new for me anyway)
- Pesach Passover - Its Observance, Laws and Significance. Artscroll Mesorah Series. I was given this book last year at the onset of the holiday so I only briefly looked at it then but I now intend to read it through. It is very classical (as most, if not all, Artscroll books) but I always feel one needs to know the basics before moving on to other perspectives.
- Pesach for the Rest of Us: Making the Passover Seder Your Own by Marge Piercy, the American poet, novelist, and social activist. I expect this one will be very different from the other one, with an emphasis on women since Piercy is a feminist but I am looking forward to the challenge and pleasure I am positive this book will provide.

Older book
- The chapter on Pesach in How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household by Blu Greenberg.

One I read last year and the year before last
- The Chief Rabbi's Haggadah for its beautiful essays and commentary and emphasis on ethics by Jonathan Sacks.
Naomi Ragen

Naomi Ragen's fight

I am a regular reader of the high quality English newspaper The Jewish Chronicle. This morning I got the latest issue and read an article by Naomi Ragen.

Naomi Ragen is a Jewish author. Sha was born and raised in the States before moving to Israel when she got married. She is also a committed Orthodox Jew. Even so she is involved in a court battle to put an end to gender segregation on Israeli buses after being verbally attacked by a religious fanatic when she refused to move to the rear of the bus on an unmarked ordinary bus.

This article she wrote for The Jewish Chronicle is convincing; there is no need in Judaism for segregated buses. Unsegregated buses do not violate the rules of modesty. Moreover they are distressing, humiliating and only contribute to oppressing women. In other words they are against Jewish law, which prohibits inflicting any form of humiliation and pain on a fellow human being.

For obvious copyright reason, I cannot reproduce the article but you can read about Naomi's abuse and fight on her site.

Winter break

We are lucky to get a long winter break here: two full weeks. So far I seem to have been quite busy: mock exams to mark, group work to mark, an aunt in hospital to visit and the usual things I do when I finally have some time, like tidying, cleaning, sorting papers, etc.

For me holidays also means cooking. I love reading cookery books and whenever I go to the hairdresser's I enjoy flipping through magazines trying to find new and exciting recipes. Obviously since I keep kosher I might have to adapt the recipes but it is not as hard as it may look to the outsider. In fact it is even challenging in a way but easy most of the time.

Here is a recipe I tried out this morning to use up leftover challah.

Slice one onion and mix it with some dill and one finely sliced celery stick.
Slice four thick slices of challah and soak them in water.
While they are soaking, add three beaten eggs, some worcester sauce, 2 tbsps of lemon, a little tabasco, salt and pepper to taste to the first mixture.
Add one tin of tuna and one of salmon (both in brine).
Finally add the squeezed challah, mix everything and put in an oven (200°) for about half an hour.

Enjoy hot or cold!
Blu Greenberg

Re-reading books and Blu Greenberg

I mentioned in a previous post how much I appreciate Rabbi Telushkin's works. I've just started re-reading "A Code of Jewish Ethics"; the main reason is that it is so hard to improve and change one's personality that I believe I need to go back to Rabbi Telushkin's insights to make them part of my outlook on life and integrate them in how I deal with people.

I was going to write about the books I enjoy re-reading at least once a year. However when I thought of the first one I realised it deserved a post of its own. This book is How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household by Blu Greenberg. It deals with religious observance from a Modern Orthodox point of view.

It is certainly one of the most inspiring books I have ever read. I only discovered it three years ago but have read it more than three times. It reads like a novel and is thought-provoking at the same time. Blu Greenberg's approach is extremely sensitive. This is a great book to encourage people to be more observant and at the same time realise that it is possible.

Blu Greenberg is the co-founder and first president of JOFA, The Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, and an outspoken woman on the position of women in Judaism.

I also have a special fondness for Blu Greenberg for a very personal reason. While I was reading How to Run a traditional Jewish Household, one of my brothers, aged 37, died in a car crash and I discovered that the Greenbergs (who are my parents' age) had also lost a son J.J who was hit by a car while riding a bicycle, he was also 37.

You can visit the website dedicated to the memory of J.J. Greenberg and created by his family and friends. It is a wonderful tribute to this young man and like another contributor on the site, it has encouraged me to donate organs and be more environmentally- friendly.