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29th Jan, 2007

shoah, Wallenberg, judaism

One man can make a difference: Raoul Wallenberg

As I've already said, I am a teacher and teach English in a high school. Our school has an exchange with another high school in Sweden, about an hour's drive from Gothemburg. This exchange has been going on for at least 8 years and as a result I have taught myself some Swedish and I have learnt a little about the culture of this tiny northern country.

Two weeks ago, a famous Swede was honoured for what he did during WWII to save some of Budapest's Jews from the death camps. This date was chosen because January, 17 1947 was the last time he was officially seen alive sixty years ago. As an educator and a Jew myself I wanted to pay tribute to this man for what he did. In this day and age I find it difficult to find inspiring role models for our youths and at a time when the Holocaust is still denied by so many people I find his behaviour worth mentioning and remembering. This man was not predestined to save lives and yet he did and it cost him his own life in the end. In 1996, Wallenberg was honored at Israel's Yad Vashem memorial as one of the Righteous Among the Nations.

Here is a few lines about him found on Wikipedia:

Raoul Gustav Wallenberg (August 4, 1912 – July 16, 1947?) was a Swedish diplomat. In the later stages of World War II, he worked at great personal risk to save thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Holocaust. He was later arrested by the Soviets who suspected him of being an American spy; the circumstances of his death while in their custody are still a matter of controversy.

Wallenberg was assigned as first secretary to the Swedish legation in Budapest, Hungary, on July 9, 1944. Working with Per Anger (1914-2002), he used his diplomatic status to save many Hungarian Jews by issuing them Swedish "protective passports" (German: Schutz-Pass), which identified the bearers as Swedish subjects awaiting repatriation. Although not legally valid, these documents looked official and were generally accepted by German and Hungarian authorities, who sometimes were also bribed. Wallenberg also rented houses for Jewish refugees with embassy funds and put up signs such as "The Swedish Library" and "The Swedish Research Institute" on their doors. He also housed refugees in the Swedish legation in Budapest. Wallenberg negotiated with Nazi officials Adolf Eichmann; and General Gerhard Schmidthuber, the commander of the German Army in Hungary, and convinced them to cancel deportations to German concentration camps. He had his fascist ally, Pál Szalay, deliver a note in which Wallenberg threatened to have them prosecuted for war crimes. This was just two days before the Russians arrived. Yad Vashem credits him with saving the lives of "tens of thousands" of Hungarian Jews.

25th Jan, 2007


Getting ready for Shabbat

Whoever has ever tried to live a traditional Jewish life will know what I am talking about. Since we are not allowed to do any work on the Shabbat (starting about an hour before sunset), everything has to be ready by then.

This means that the preceding days can be hectic with quite a lot of shopping and cooking involved. I usually start on Wednesday with the planning and shopping. Then on Thursday, I start cooking and sometimes have to do more shopping, funny how I always seem to have forgotten a capital ingredient. Another reason for doing somme shopping on Thursday is that my favourite grocer is closed on Thursdays so if I want fresh fruit and vegetables I have to shop on Thursday.

This week it is even more important for me to get everything ready tonight. The reason is somewhat unususal. I teach in a high school and since the beginning of december students and teachers have developped all sorts of disorders such as rash, burning eyes, difficult breathing... Analysis were made in december but were inconclusive. Since school resumed in january, more people have been concerned by the symptoms and more analysis were made last week and again this week. Some people have mentioned the "sick building syndrom" but this theory is not "official" yet. The results will be out tomorrow. As a member of the school board I have been invited to attend the meeting during which they will be presented to the staff, parents, students and the press. The meeting is at 3 p.m. Now since Shabbat starts a little after 5 p.m. here, I have the time to go to the meeting and come back home but obviously not to cook.

I can't mention Shabbat without talking about Challah, the soft braided bread we make and bake especially for Shabbat. So here is my favourite recipe:


By Claudia Roden

Reprinted with permission from The Book of Jewish Food: An Odyssey from Samarkand to New York, published by Knopf.

Makes 4 Loaves

· 2 tablespoons dry yeast
· 2¼ cups (500 ml) lukewarm water
· ½ cup (100g) sugar
· 4 eggs, beaten, plus 2 yolks or 1 whole egg for glazing
· 1 tablespoon salt
· ½ cup (125 ml) vegetable oil
· About 9 ¼ cups (1 1/3 kg) flour
· Poppy or sesame seeds (optional)

Dissolve the yeast in the water with 1 teaspoon of the sugar. Beat well and leave 10 minutes, until it froths.

In a very large bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Then add the salt, sugar, and oil and beat again. Add the frothy yeast mixture and beat well. Now add the flour gradually, and just enough to make a soft dough that holds together, mixing well, first with a large spoon, then working it in with your hands. Knead vigorously for about 15 minutes, until it is very smooth and elastic, adding flour if the dough is too sticky. Pour a little oil in the bowl and turn the dough, so that it is greased all over. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and put it in a warm place to rise for 2‑3 hours, or until it has doubled in bulk. Punch the dough down and knead again, then divide into four pieces to make 4 loaves.

First post ever.

This is my first attempt at blogging. I regularly read a number of blogs, whose links can be found at the bottom of this page, and now I feel like trying myself.

I am a Conservative Jew with Modern Orthodox leanings, hence the subtitle of this blog. I admire these two trends of Judaism for their courage in attempting to tackle the issues of today. We often refer to the Torah as the "tree of life" and thus I believe that Hashem gave it to us to live with in our time. Yet as I feel committed to Halakhah (Jewish law) I also consider that these answers ought to be given within the framework of the Torah. I sometimes disagree or even feel angry with the answers but I enjoy the challenge and honesty.

The name of the blog itself is a tribute to Chaim Potok, of blessed memory, who is my favourite Jewish writer. I just love his books and his characters. My favourite is "The Chosen". If you have never read anything by Potok, this is a good one to begin with. A close second is "Davita's Harp" where the heroine is a young Jewish girl who discovers her Jewish roots and heritage and comes to challenge the laws of the community she belongs to.
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