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Food for guidance in the New Year

Anat Hoffman raises the Torah near the Kotel.

SEPTEMBER 7, 2017 – JERUSALEM – Food glorious food is the centerpiece of every Jewish holiday (except Yom Kippur, where food is not at the center, only at the beginning and end). Sometimes discussing the coming holiday sounds more like a lengthy menu than anything else. The Jewish holidays use the dinner table as a means of seating our argumentative people in one spot and teaching them an important story or value. We eat what we believe, we digest what we are celebrating.

We are ending another year where progressive Jews in Israel continue to fight for the recognition that so many take for granted in North America. Our rabbis and institutions do not receive the same funding as their orthodox counterparts, and many Israelis who identify as something other than Orthodox are required to go abroad if they do not (or cannot) marry under the ultra-Orthodox rabbinate.

Israel is the custodian for many of the Jewish World’s shared treasures, such as the Western Wall, but that holy space continues to be ruled by one group that is determined to persecute pluralistic forms of worship.

The recent example of four female rabbinical students being strip-searched at the entrance to the Kotel for fear that they might be smuggling a Torah into Judaism’s holiest site is only the most recent example.

The government of Israel has frozen the Kotel compromise in a blatant display of contempt for both the wishes and needs of the Diaspora, as well as the rules of fair play and transparent negotiations. We worked for 18 months in good faith, and we went further than many in our ranks thought was appropriate. In the end, the government decided that the value of honesty was less important than keeping their word.

Rosh Hashanah is the annual opportunity to rid ourselves of the past year’s tzuros, or troubles, and ask for brachot (blessings) for the new year. It is customary, for example, to eat gezer (carrot) and bless that there will be no gzerot (harmful decrees) against us. How are carrots related to harmful decrees against the Jewish people? Simple: gezer sounds like gzera. In this vein, I would like to recommend new foods for the Rosh Hashanah table to remind us all about the Jewish values that define us as a people.

First, pita bread with salad and falafel with tahini sauce on top.  As we hold this colorful assortment, we will observe how snug and lovely all the ingredients fit inside the pocket of bread. It is not a mixture or emulsion; each part retains its individual texture and flavor.  It becomes tastier together. This is the food of tolerance.

We will eat this with hope that the Israeli government will have the wisdom to learn from our own national food and recognize that there is more than one way to be Jewish, to be a Rabbi, or to convert to Judaism.

The state, as the pita bread, should contain all streams of Judaism equally. Only then does Judaism become truly delicious.

Second, let’s add a medium cooked hardboiled egg. I have a nifty American gadget that is placed in the pot to measure exactly when the eggs are soft on the inside and hard on the outside. This perfectly packaged food is a reminder of how we must treat the stranger among us.

Our strength is measured by how we embrace those who are softer and weaker in our midst. The way the egg white holds the yolk, so should we uphold the rights of the Arab Israelis, Ethiopian Israelis, Russian Israelis, and the weakest of all, asylum seekers who are fleeing catastrophe. The egg is a symbol of mercy and justice and a reminder to take our statins against cholesterol.

Third, a traditional favorite: the pomegranate. It is visually served to symbolize 613 commandments. As one who counted the number of seeds in a pomegranate for years (a favorite Sukkot pastime), let me share with you that the number of seeds never runs over 400. The pomegranate is eaten with the blessing “sh’yirbu zehuyotenu,”  “may our credits be numbered like the seeds of a pomegranate.”

I would like us to focus on the physical properties of this beautiful fruit. Did you know a pomegranate can explode? If not handled carefully, it can explode, staining everyone in its vicinity red.

I would like us to carefully eat a pomegranate at our Rosh Hashanah table and focus our hearts on the Kotel. If we do not let our values guide us to an equitable solution, it may tear us apart.

May this year bring the courage and wisdom to implement the Western Wall agreement that brings peace to Judaism’s holiest site, and to our hearts.


Shana Tova!

Anat Hoffman is the executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC). IRAC is the legal and advocacy arm of the Reform Movement in Israel, and is the premier civil rights organization in Israel. Hoffman is also the chair of Women of the Wall.

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