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entries tagged with: Reconstructionist Temple Beth Israel


Maywood’s Temple Beth Israel plans medieval feast

A plate from the Golden Haggadah, a Spanish Hebrew manuscript from about 1420.

Few synagogue events are truly unique.

However, it would not be surprising to learn that the Nov. 14 event planned by Reconstructionist Temple Beth Israel in Maywood is one of a kind.

Taking up a proposal from its fund-raising chair, Jenne Heise, the synagogue is inviting community members to a medieval Judaic Spanish feast.

“Jenne’s very involved with the Society for Creative Anachronism,” said Caryn Starr- Gates, RTBI president and one of the chefs.

Heise and fellow congregant Sarah Fiedler, both Fair Lawn residents, have been part of the SCA for more than 10 years. The two belong to the local chapter, Shire of Rusted Woodlands, which encompasses Rockland County in New York as well as Bergen, Sussex, and Passaic counties in New Jersey.

According to the website of SCA’s East Kingdom, the international group is a nonprofit educational organization that studies the Middle Ages by re-creating the pastimes and crafts of the period.

“They love all things medieval,” said Starr-Gates. “[The congregation] thought it would be fun,” she added, citing the publicity flier for the dinner that invites would-be attendees to “eat like our medieval Sephardic ancestors.” The evening’s activities will center on La Convivencia, the “the golden age” of Iberian medieval culture, when Jews, Moors, and Christians coexisted in mutual tolerance.

Heise — web manager/reference librarian at Drew University in Madison — noted that she had coordinated a similar feast in Lancaster, Pa. That meal, however, had included Jewish, Christian, and Islamic elements.

“Sarah said it would be fun to cook a feast for the synagogue. I agreed and said I had already done some research” and could organize a meal around Jewish foods, she said.

Heise subsequently pitched the idea at an RTBI board meeting “and they were very enthusiastic.” Indeed, she said, “a number of people have come to help with the cooking.”

Heise said the SCA member who conceived the program was interested in La Convivencia because “it was a period of balance between Jews, Christians, and Muslims, which is extremely rare in European history and especially in medieval history. It’s a fascinating time period.”

In addition, she said, Jewish history during that time is fairly well documented, although there is less material about food “for reasons that are not clear. We have only six recipes that are documented as Jewish that have been located in recipe books from this period.”

As a result, the Maywood dinner will be based on recipes “that have some compatibility with Jewish practice from a slightly later time.”

For example, she said, information has been obtained from “A Drizzle of Honey” (St. Martin’s Press; 1999), by David M. Gitlitz and Dr. Linda Kay Davidson. Called by Publishers Weekly “a cookbook of medieval recipes that is, more significantly, a document of religious persecution during the Spanish Inquisition,” the book contends that crypto-Jews who secretly struggled to maintain their Jewish identity “were betrayed by what they ate, what they wouldn’t eat, and how their food was prepared.”

According to Heise, the authors of that book did a lot of research into Inquisition reports, “looking for things indicative of a Jewish diet.”

The Maywood dinner will be both delicious and educational, said Starr-Gates, noting that Rabbi Jarah Greenfield, religious leader of RTBI, will kick off the event with a study session on Jewish life in medieval times. In addition, a speaker from the SCA will talk about the cuisine of the period.

Attendees will have a chance to sample many dishes, and children have been invited to dress up in costume and help serve.

The three-course meal will be based on 14th-, 15th-, and 16th-century recipes — adapted, where necessary, for kashrut, said Heise. Among the offerings will be clarea de agua, a spiced honey drink; figs in the French style, stewed in wine; mustard sauce with red grapes; chickpeas with onion and honey; and quince paste.

While the event is open to the public, seating is limited and reservations are due by Nov. 10. For further information, e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


Mirror, mirror on the Wall: Striving for pluralism at home and at the Kotel


North Jersey to mark Human Rights Shabbat

Rabbis for Human Rights’ third annual event largest yet

The United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Dec. 10, 1948, and beginning tonight and continuing through the month, synagogues across the country will mark the 62nd anniversary of that decision with a Human Rights Shabbat. The New York-based organization Rabbis for Human Rights is spearheading the program, now in its third year.

“For the Jewish community especially, we really have to stand up and acknowledge that it is a universal value that we’re all created in the image of God,” said Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster, a Teaneck resident and director of education and outreach for the organization.

More than 105 synagogues around the country and seven in North Jersey have signed up with the group to observe Human Rights Shabbat this month.

For more information or to sign up your synagogue for Human Rights Shabbat, visit The following North Jersey synagogues are marking Human Rights Shabbat this month:

Dec. 3
Lakeland Hills Jewish Center, Wanaque

Dec. 4
Temple Emeth, Teaneck

Dec. 10
Shomrei Torah, Wayne
Avodat Shalom, River Edge
Cong. Beth Sholom, Teaneck

Dec. 18
Reconstructionist Temple Beth Israel, Maywood
Kol Haneshama, Englewood

The number of synagogues has increased each year from the 60 that first participated in 2008, which Kahn-Troster said demonstrates a growing interest in human rights in the Jewish community. While RHR will provide sample sermons, text commentaries, and program ideas to synagogues, Kahn-Troster said, the organization wants synagogues to take ownership of their own commemorations.

That the program coincides with Chanukah, which began Wednesday night, is welcome, because synagogues are already looking at the struggle for freedom, according to Kahn-Troster.

“Around Chanukah time, when we celebrate religious freedom, people are also thinking of other freedoms,” she said. “It’s nice for communities to know they’re part of a bigger effort, to know they’re connecting with congregations across the country.”

Human rights are foundational to Jewish thinking, said Rabbi Jarah Greenfield, religious leader of Reconstructionist Temple Beth Israel in Maywood and co-chair of the Rabbis for Human Rights conference, which begins on Sunday in Manhattan. It will feature panels on human rights in Israel and North America, a discussion on the Park 51 Islamic center controversy, and worldwide slavery and human-trafficking issues. (See related story, Naomi Graetz to speak on human trafficking.)

RHR has provided Greenfield with “an incredible rabbinic chevra,” she said. “Talking about anything political from the pulpit is always an area of controversy. It’s really helpful to be able to have an organization that helps Jewish leaders and rabbis deal with the conflicts that arise when talking about controversial issues, rather than just ignoring them.”

The Lakeland Hills Jewish Center in Wanaque will hold its first Human Rights Shabbat this weekend, said Rabbi David Saltzman, who said the participation of more than 100 congregations was encouraging.

“Hopefully all countries will be dedicated to recognizing the principles of human rights and the dignity of individuals and have people be able to fulfill their destinies and live fully with their rights being observed,” Saltzman said.

Dec. 10 coincides with another commemoration: Shabbat Gilad, the bar mitzvah project of Bergenfield’s Ari Hagler who wants to create a focus on the captured Israel Defense Forces soldier, held hostage in Gaza for five years. Rabbi Randall Mark at Cong. Shomrei Torah in Wayne hopes to combine the two events with next week’s Torah portion, Vayigash, in which Yehuda stands up for his brother Benjamin, who has been imprisoned in Egypt, while their brother Joseph tries to figure out what kind of men his brothers have become.

The American Jewish community has often been at the forefront of the human-rights movement, Mark said, pointing to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement.

“What we’re all about is the idea of trying to make a difference in the world,” Mark said. “Judaism has always been a religion that encourages people to engage in tikkun olam and to try to make a difference. The idea of having a Human Rights Shabbat is certainly in line with the rabbinic tradition.”

To read the 1948 U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, visit
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