The Bread of Affliction

Passover has two critical teachings. The first is that in every generation, l’dor vador, we retell the story. But it’s not just enough to recite the words—we need to help the listener understand, reinventing and reimagining the story of the Exodus for this generation in a way that resonates. you have to tell it effectively. Like any good story, it has to have drama and meaning, heroes and heroines. The Haggadah has it all: Who could argue that the story isn’t dramatic? It also has meaning—after all, our identity as a people grows out of this experience. Moses and Miriam also emerge as leaders for the ages.

The Passover seder is filled with symbols of both oppression and freedom that help us tell this story—for instance, the parsley connotes springtime, the egg reminds us of the possibility of rebirth, and the maror (bitter herbs) give us a literal taste of the bitterness of slavery.

The second lesson lies in the ultimate symbol of the Passover seder, the matza. Sometimes referred to as the Bread of Affliction, it is a sobering reminder of our experiences as slaves. As we hold up the matza we say, “This is the bread of affliction, the poor bread, which our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry come and eat. Let all who are in want, share the hope of Passover.” (URJ Haggadah)

The Haggadah’s statement “This is the bread of affliction,” Ha Lahma Anya, contains one of the most significant lessons of the Passover story. In my own childhood, we had seders of thirty-five or more people, and yet my mother always found room for anyone who found themselves in need of a seder. Here at the DCJCC, Passover is not the only time we think about Ha Lahma Anya. There are hungry people in our community every day. The drama and the lessons of Passover remind us to reach out and help those whose basic needs aren’t being met on a daily basis.

My mother’s example helps me guide the mission of the Center, as we continue to go into our community and take notice and action on behalf of those in need.  As you celebrate Passover, take a look around and reach a hand out to those in your community and beyond.

Carole R. Zawatsky is the CEO of the Washington DCJCC

Cheat Sheet for Tu B’Shvat

For some reason Tu B’Shvat, the Jewish new year for trees, doesn’t get as much attention as some of the more well known Jewish holidays. Perhaps it’s due to the lack of a central image and/or salient theme that might make it more memorable. Hanukkah’s got the timeless menorah, Purim has the hamantashen and grogger, and Passover’s chock full of matzah and red wine. Not the case with Tu B’Shvat. This holiday is defined by trees–a broad, universal signifier that is in no way inherently Jewish.

Tu B’Shvat is, however, a classically Jewish holiday with its own characteristics and customs that in many ways are as traditionally Jewish as dipping the apple in the honey (plus it’s got one of the most hummable songs in the Jewish holiday canon). Below are several of the well known (and less well known) ways of celebrating the 24-hour holiday (which occurs on the fifteenth day of the Jewish month of Shvat, February 8, 2012, AKA today).

1) The Tu B’Shvat seder deviates from the Passover seder with its abundance of exotic fruits, fruits juices, and wine to the exclusion of all other foods. Imagine a meal comprised almost entirely of fruit sampling. A Tu B’Shvat seder is a great excuse to try ambarella, mamoncillo, santol and a bunch of other kinds of fruit you never knew existed.

2)  I have a distinct memory from our Tu B’Shvat seder in yeshiva of a rabbi tracing back this tradition to the mystical enclave of Tzfat in the 1500s. The kabbalists held that eating fruit on Tu B’Shvat serves as a tikkun (a way of repairing) the sin of Adam and Eve. So according to that esoteric strain of thought, munching on unusual fruit is as good as ignoring a loquacious serpent!

3) Tu B’Shvat  is also a festival rooting the Jews to their land. It’s not unusual for schools in Israel to host tree-plantings on the festival,  and for schools in America to host fundraisers to plant trees in Israel. At the very least, Tu B’Shvat serves as the most ecologically-aware date on the Jewish calendar.

So whether you’re planting cedars, consuming date wine, or “repairing” a millenia-old sin, Tu B’Shvat is a day to take a step back and admire our world’s marvelous fruit and trees!

Alternative for Passover: The Spinning Seder

spinningseder-003-webLove Passover Seder but hate how matzoh, kugel and brisket can pack on those pounds?

Like the story of the Exodus, but struggle with the sedentary feeling of your traditional Seder?

Then join us for the Washington DCJCC’s first annual Spinning Seder: Pedal Out of Egypt. Come together with our qualified fitness staff as they take you on a challenging course of hills, sprints and four cups of wine as we retell the Passover story.  Best of all, the whole thing’s done-with in 45 cardio-health-enhancing minutes.  Our Johnny G Spinning Bikes all come equipped with cup holders to keep that Manischewitz Concord Grape within easy reach, as well as convenient access to the cycling seder plate — complete with roasted egg, parsley, charoset, shankbone and exclusive kosher-for-passover Bitter Herb Cliff Bar.

Why is this night different from all other nights? Because we’re going to get your heartrate up AND tell the story as if we had personally come out of Egypt. If Elijah wants to come to this seder he’s gonna have to pedal hard and keep up. You’ll experience our specially composed Four Questions — written for the Fit Son, the Couch Potato Son, the Training Wheel Son and the Son-Who-Thinks-Nintendo-Wii-is-Exercise. The afikomen will be awarded to the best interval time during the hills course. We won’t say “Dayyenu” until the Grace After Meals has been said, Had-Gad-Ya has been sung, and an appropriate cool-down session along with post-exercise stretching is complete.

When it’s all done, we’ll say as Jews have been saying for years, “L’shana habaya b’Yerushalayim al’Ofnayim.”

Register Today!

The Locavore Seder: Because Kosher for Passover Doesn’t Have To Be Gross (not to mention environmentally hostile)

From Wendy Fergusson, not only our director of the Ann Loeb Bronfman Gallery, but also the organizer of this year’s Community Second Night Locavore Seder.

Why does “kosher for Passover” automatically send shivers down my spine? Well, I guess it all started in my days in an ultra-orthodox seminary in Jerusalem. That year, instead of covering the kitchen from floor to ceiling in tin-foil, I threw my hands in the air and begrudgingly ate at the seminary’s cafeteria. I was sick for a week- no, make that 8 days. The cafeteria’s version of “kosher for Passover” was overly processed and packaged foods, soup mix with MSG over everything, and food cooked days in advance (sometimes weeks, folks). Ugh. I found myself eating strange cakes three meals a day and my stomach ultimately hated me.

Two things struck me as very odd. First, plain ol’ fruits and vegetables are kosher for Passover! So, why then during Passover, do we try to make everything we are used-to out of sub-par ingredients?!? It’s just 8 days! Would it kill us to just eat healthy meals for 8 days? Do we need all these funky cakes, matza-lasagna, and other crazy Passover inventions? You know what? A dinner of tilapia, broccoli, and mashed-potatoes is kosher for Passover.  A chicken breast, asparagus, and honey-glazed carrots dinner is kosher for Passover too! Those packaged, overly processed Passover foods are disgusting and an embarrassment to Jews everywhere.

Why as Jews, who love to eat, do we settle for this crap?

Second, as Jews we have the responsibility (and sometimes burden) of honoring our environment (Rambam’s baal tashchit) and too many people completely convert to excess aluminum, plastic ware, and other disposable items on Passover. Forget Passover, this often happens every week on Shabbat! With minimal effort, we can easily cut down on the amount of disposables used at Shabbat and holiday meals. Every little bit helps!

This was the inspiration for our 2009 Community Second Night Locavore Seder. We are inviting you to join us for a celebration of the second night of Passover on April 9, using ingredients found within a 250 mile radius of Washington. As we celebrate the freedom of the Israelites let us also take a step forward towards sustainable, local produce! We’re asking you to help us reduce the amount of waste at the Seder by bringing your own cup or glass to avoid the need for additional disposables. The actual Seder will be led by Cantor Maurice Singer in the traditional style with lots of singing and participation. Our private chef for the Seder has created a fabulous menu which showcases a variety of local flavors while recreating some of the traditional tastes of Passover like matzo balls and tzimmes.

To learn more about the Seder, view the entire menu, and register online, go to:

Shabbat Surfing–Can I Get a Pizza Yet?

Answer: Not yet. Sunday night. But relax, it could be worse, you could be stuck in a city known for its amazing pastries during Passover. Perhaps we should consider making it shorter?

Tastes great with latkesWhile we’re on the topic, ever wonder which imaginary animals are kosher? Looking forward to a little Aigi Kampoi (fish-tailed goat) the next time the frum Dungeons and Dragons club gets together. Perhaps with a little mint jelly.

Are you running low on matzah? One blogger made a special appeal to those not commanded to eat the bread of affliction.

Not one, but two alternative seders organized by the Washington DCJCC are featured in a Washington Post article about the same. To see pictures from the GLOE Stonewall Seder, become a fan on Facebook.

There was a little kerfuffle (don’t you just love that word?) over Ami Eden’s post on his JTA blog about a Q&A feature that ran in the Boston Globe with a Jewish doctor who specializes in treating transgendered children. Cole Krawitz, blogging at JVoices objected to Eden’s inclusion of a response quote to the Q&A from an conservative activist which was pulled from a Christian news service and which he framed as a Jew vs. Jew conflict. Eden has also revised his post to clarify. My take? Krawitz may have come down a little hard on Eden’s post, which, as in all good news coverage, likes a good conflict. His larger point that the “Jewish angle” in this case creates a false parity of expertise between a medical professional and an anti-LGBT activist is well taken.


Jewish Ids in the News: Norman Mailer’s mistress has sold papers describing the graphic details of their sex life to, wait for it…Harvard University.

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