“Turn it over and over again.” Ecclesiastes
As I was flipping through My Farmer’s Almanac (a gift from the Boy’s Club and Boys Town, a most worthy charity I support personally), I was pleased that among the many worldwide New Year traditions was included Apples dipped in Honey. Yes, slipped in among other foods that promised prosperity in the coming secular New Year were others: India – rice, Switzerland – dollops of whipped cream, Holland – fritters called olie bollen, and last but not least below the Mason Dixon line are black eyed peas and pork, the latter one of which we have boycotted for some 3000 years.
As a student of religion and culture, I am interested in all the different ways of celebrating the New Year, be it Moslem, Persian, Thai, Hindu, or Chinese, this last culture for which we can give thanks for firecrackers. I am of course biased for our fall observances which are now more than 9 months away. Ours is a more sobering effort to ward off bad fortunes in the year to come. The citizens of Thailand who shoot off guns do so, it is argued, to ward off demons. As for me I am, knock on wood, not superstitious. I work hard to add to my knowledge of other traditions in an effort to walk a mile in their moccasins.
Still, one hurdle I on occasion fail to surmount is superstitions. I find myself in sympathy with Bill Maher, (but only on occasion) who disses religion at every turn. He never misses an opportunity to paint a wide brush noting how there are immoral excesses championed by almost every faith community; from abuse of children, to hedonistic conspicuous consumption of Lamborghini’s by one minister in the midst of poverty, from ultra-religious Jews who trafficked in body parts, oh the list goes on. In truth every endeavor of human kind can disappoint. I love science, but many a scientist is responsible for the hideous effects of napalm. Art, as Hitler proved, can be misused in degenerative ways to champion the idea of Aryanism.
Yet, religion is particularly prone to charges of hypocrisy for it does as the Hebrew national commercial celebrates “hold us to a higher standard.” In one of Chaucer’s acclaimed works, The Priory, one corrupt cleric is reprimanded by a denizen for his greed: “If gold rusts, what ought iron to do?” This of course brings me to Israel, a flawed state as is any state. Ben-Gurion once quipped somewhat crudely, “We will have state when a Jewish Judge sentences a lady of the evening (He was more descriptive) who was arrested by a Jewish policeman.” Well we certainly attained that with news of corruption, fanaticism, and more than that which comes from the Promised Land. Still, I am mindful of all that Israel is; building a thriving city by a hundred daring pioneers on a sandy beach 100 plus years ago, now called Tel Aviv where millions of Jews reside, an economic powerhouse fueled by great innovation in medicine and chemistry and more, and not to minimize a sanctuary for Jews when none existed is the 1930’s. All this while fighting some 7 existential wars in its defense.
There is a site I favor Israel 21C on the web. Get it! It balances some of the dire concerns that many rightly have. Just a week ago came this jewel of information: Israel ranks as world’s third most educated country Israel outranks US and South Korea for percentage of citizens aged 25 higher education, whether academic or vocational .64 holding a degree in Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) calculated the percentage of each country ’ and 64 who have completed a twoor fours population between the ages of 25 year degree beyond high school including both academic and vocational programs. 50.9 percent of Israelis in the target age bracket have a higher education degree.
The United States came in at No. 5, with only 46.4 percent (Ouch!). The most educated country in the world is Canada at 56.7 percent.I am buoyed by such news. It levels the negativity that mostly gets the attention of the press. (No, I am not saying such is fake news.) On the good front as well statistics reveal (Pew report) that the most educated group about religions of America are Jews, with atheists, believe it or not coming in a close second. (I guess they wish to “ know their enemy! ”) This of course leads to my closing New Year wish. Cultural Judaism is fine. But after 3,000 years of achievement and struggle I hate to think that we are best known for Bagels and Lox, and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Let ’ s make the New Year a more informed one. We have a wonderful library. Use it! Read a Jewish book from time to time!
Happy New Year!
Rabbi Yossi Liebowitz
A Message from Our President
Happy New Year to everyone!
My new year is starting out to be interesting, to say the least. I’ve been dog sitting Abner, my basset hound, who recently had spinal surgery. If you know anything about bassets, you know they don’t move around quickly, they aren’t highly motivated dogs, and they like to sit around and eat. The veterinarian told us that it may take Abner several weeks before he can walk again, due in part to his breed, so he is requiring a lot of attention. Abner is a sweet and loving dog and I enjoy his company; however, I’ve been starving for some people interaction!
Fortunately, Steve’s cousin and his wife have been visiting us for a few days. It’s been fun having family around to bring in the new year. We’ve been watching football, sharing stories, and of course eating good food. Family gatherings are the best! What’s even more exciting about Ron and Syd’s visit, is knowing that they plan to relocate from Charleston to the upstate in 2019!
As I stare into Abner’s big brown eyes, my mind wanders. I’m reminded that the new year brings cheer and gratitude. A very special thank you goes to Rabbi Liebowitz for his spiritual and educational guidance. I’m especially thankful to our Board members who give much time and effort to the Temple. Behind the scenes, they work diligently on behalf of Temple B’nai Israel. Board members are David Lyon, David Blumenfeld, Jon Lewson, Tina Lyon, Susan Abelkop, Mauro Wilk, Lisa Frye, Andrew Greene, Mark Packer, Rex Russell, Stan Hyman and Ira Greenfield. Elaine Hyman serves as the Sisterhood representative. Many thanks to outgoing Board member, Bob Britanisky, who served as the Ritual Committee Chair for many years and Jack Schoer, outgoing past President. There are others who support the Temple in so many ways whether in the kitchen, helping with maintenance issues, teaching Sunday School, serving on Temple committees, maintaining social media platforms, or assuming leadership roles with Hadassah and Sisterhood. Thanks again to all of you!
I encourage you to get involved if you aren’t already. Your ideas for educational and social programming are always welcomed and encouraged. Please reach out to any Board member or me with your suggestions and to volunteer your services.
Best wishes for a happy and healthy new year. Stay tuned for an update on Abner next month!
Warmest regards, Sandy
1/2 Lee Vogelstein
1/3 Lori Axelrod
1/5 Patty Bost
1/5 Mary Poliakoff
1/6 Gabrielle Orseck
1/7 Arthur Freedman
1/9 Robin Garrell
1/12 Cathy Lewson
1/12 Mike Minsky
1/14 Ilan Falcon
1/17 Michael Lyon
1/17 Marcia Tobin
1/18 Rebekah Smiley
1/19 Deede Cohen
1/22 Sheldon Lustgarten
1/24 Peggy Buchman
1/28 Lynn Strait
1/31 Jennifer Britanisky
1/3 Beatrice Berger
1/3 Edward Goldman
1/3 Masha Kirshman
1/5 Harry Yogman
1/6 Irving Litoff
1/7 Fred Bernanke
1/7 Eleanor Gerber
1/7 Israel Gilpin 1
1/7 Harry Leader
1/7 Martha Mortge
1/7 Eleanore Stern
1/8 Abraham M. Anderson
1/8 Mel Lichtig
1/9 Pearl B. Cohen
1/10 Kate Feinstein
1/10 Mayer Malinow
1/10 Alexander Schutz
1/11 Laura B. Krafchick
1/11 Emilia Revich
1/11 Geneva Spigel
1/12 Morris Small
1/13 Barbara Friedman
1/14 Daniel Axelrod
1/14 Jacob Steinberg
1/14 James C. Strait
1/14 Esther Tobochnik
1/15 Max Bretty
1/15 Molly Silver
1/19 Mae B. Belowsky
1/20 Irving Adler
1/20 Susan E. Portnoy
1/21 Jeannette Morris
1/22 Bess Blumenfeld
1/22 Mortimer Friedberg
1/22 Sroel Weisz
1/23 Betty Malinow
1/24 Donald Haughay
1/24 Fannie Lichtenstein
1/25 Louis Bruck
1/25 Louis Himber
1/25 Ethel Silver
1/25 Catherine Wasel
1/26 Max Berman
1/26 Isador Cohen
1/27 David Cohen
1/27 Ann D. Finkelstein
1/27 Isaac Malinow
1/27 Amelia Mann
1/28 Jonas H. Bernanke
1/29 Louise Smith
1/30 Lazorus Cohen
1/30 Bessie K. Gray
1/30 Rose Platt
1/30 Isaac Revich
1/31 Rose Perlman
Date palms are intrinsic to Sukkot, both for the use of their fronds in the lulav and for their fruits. Sunflowers and pomegranates are indigenous to the area where the Abayudaya reside, and domesticated goats provide milk and cheese. I created this salad with our Ugandan brethren in mind. It’s also an excellent recipe for celebrating Tu BiSh’vat!
- Rinse the Arugula and pat dry with paper towels. Place in a salad bowl.
- Lightly oil a cutting knife and then cut the dates in half lengthwise. Cut each half crosswise about 2 or 3 times. Set aside.
- Toss the Arugula with 1/4 cup of the dressing. Place on 4 or 5 individual plates. (Alternatively, see step 6.)
- Evenly distribute the dates, onions, goat-cheese crumbles, and sunflower seeds on each plate.
- Grind a little black pepper on and drizzle with the remaining dressing.
- You can also toss everything together in one large bowl and serve.
Pomegranate Vanilla Vinaigrette:
- Combine all of the ingredients in a screw-top jar and shake thoroughly until well blended.
How I Feel as a Jew During Christmas
We chose to raise our children in a home that celebrated Hanukkah – but sustaining a minority culture in the face of Christmas’s incessant commercial drumbeat was exhausting.
“No, Santa isn’t coming to our house.” “Yes, he’s going to your friends’ houses.” “Yes, it’s exciting that Santa brought your friend a tricycle.” “No, Santa still isn’t coming to our house.”
On the bright side, the situation provided an opportunity to teach my children that we live in a great country where people have many different religions and the government doesn’t favor one over another. In other times and places, people attacked us just for being Jews, but in our country today, we are safe and free to celebrate our holidays.
Our children attended a preschool located in the building that houses our state’s Supreme Court. Every morning we walked through the Great Hall, whose exhibits provided more opportunities to teach the children about the values and principles of our country, including the separation of church and state.
Things became more complicated in December. The stately hall erupted in evergreen swag and red bows, trees glittering with tinsel, and piles of gifts.
I explained to my children that even a great country doesn’t always live up to its ideals. It’s up to each of us to keep working to make those ideals real and help our country be the best version of itself. My son made a poster about Hanukkah, and we brought in dreidels and gelt (chocolate coins) to share. His classmates were curious and attentive. It felt good to be introducing the inquisitive preschoolers to Judaism.
When my son was in kindergarten, his teacher decided – to my dismay – to spend two weeks making Christmas crafts. When I gently expressed my discomfort with the plan, explaining that we are Jewish, she excitedly explained how much she loved Christmas and said that, for the first time, her entire class (except for my son) was Christian. It seemed like the perfect time to share her favorite crafts with them.
Sympathetic to my concern, she offered to send my son to the library alone while the other children made reindeer and built gingerbread houses. That isn’t how the separation of church and state is supposed to work! I discreetly brought the matter to the principal’s attention, but to no avail.
So I let my son participate in two weeks of Christmas crafts, and I offered to teach the children about Hanukkah. I fried up enough latkes for the entire class and served them with all the fixings. My son showed them our hanukkiyah (candle holder), and we shared a picture book about Hanukkah around the world.
The children were mesmerized. Everyone wanted to spin the dreidel, and every last latke was consumed. It felt wonderful to share our culture and to demystify Judaism for the children and their teacher.
That was years ago. My children are now old enough to negotiate the holidays without my help, but there is still work to be done.
This year, walking through the towering Christmas trees, festive wreaths, and profusion of poinsettias in the lobby on my way to work, I was reminded that, for all the ideals enshrined in our Constitution and our civil rights laws, the Christian winter holiday still dominates our public spaces to the exclusion of other religions.
As I talked with people about our building’s lobby, it dawned on me that a majority of my Jewish friends feel like outsiders in such spaces. One friend lamented, “It’s the only time of year when I feel like a foreigner in my own country.”
By contrast, my friends of Christian origin have a wide variety of thoughts and feelings about Christmas, but it never challenges their core sense of fully belonging in this country – and until we talked, most of them had never dreamed that Christmas pageantry might cause some Jews to feel estranged.
This situation calls for more than a dreidel poster and a plate of latkes. What’s needed is education – for grownups.
I decided that I wanted our next winter lobby display to be more welcoming, and not merely by adding a token hanukkiyah. I wanted the building managers, display designers, my co-workers, and others to join me in becoming aware that Christmas hegemony makes a significant number of people feel excluded.
That insight opens up a wonderful opportunity to steer closer to our national ideals by crafting our winter decor, from the ground up, to better reflect the religious pluralism we value.
How fortunate that so many religions share the values of hospitality and inclusion!
I wrote a petition to that effect, which my co-workers are circulating throughout the building. Maybe the lobby display will change next year or maybe it won’t, but I like to believe that some people will have started thinking about religious pluralism in a new way.
And perhaps a few will even start standing up for it.
Juliette Hirt lives in San Francisco, CA, and works in Oakland. She practices law, pottery, and parenting.
My kids are always watching me. Really. Sometimes I wake up with a start in the middle of the night, and my daughter is standing next to my bed in the dark, willing me awake. They watch me react – or not react – to all kinds of situations. I aspire to be a good role model. I also want to invite them to think about how we can live according to our values and engage in tikkun olam, being God’s partners in repairing our broken world.
A few years ago, we noticed an increase in the number of people standing on street corners and highway exit ramps asking for handouts. I have handed out granola bars for years, but it was time to do more. I want to engage them in thinking about how they can help people experiencing homelessness, in age appropriate ways. We began by talking about various categories of items that might help people feel cared for and that would actually be of use to someone who spends their days on a street corner. We can’t fix everything, but we can help with some things. We decided to create small bags of items to hand out the car window throughout the year.
My contributions are $100, a little research and some printer paper.* The number one recommendation is to donate socks. Wool socks would break our budget, and cotton would be of little use in the winter, so we’ve chosen other items, instead.
We go to the dollar store with our list, and my kids work together to select items for the bags and stay within their budget. It stretches their thinking and cooperation while also practicing their math skills. The contents vary slightly year to year, but usually include most of the following:
- Plastic zip top bag: 24-count
- Personal care products: small tissue packs, a couple of cough drops, a toothbrush and toothpaste kit, lip balm, a packet of analgesics, a couple of small bandages, and we prepare small packs of feminine hygiene products to add when appropriate
- Shelf-stable food items: a protein, a fruit or vegetable, a carbohydrate, something crunchy and salty, and a sugar-free peppermint
- Printed items: a coupon for a free hot meal at a local shelter, a list of local shelters and food pantries, and the address and phone number of a local agency that works to help connect people with social service organizations
- *Seasonal items: I also contribute one flat of small bottled waters to add in the summer, and a box of hand warmer packets to add in the winter.)
I no longer need to prompt my kids to notice people in need. They announce when we need to stop and roll down the window to hand out a Blessing Bag, and when we run out, they want to make more. It has become part of our Thanksgiving Day tradition each year to make them with our guests, but any time of year is the right time to share our blessings with others.
Visit the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism’s Economic Justice page to learn more about how to address the systemic issues that underly homelessness, food insecurity, and other crucial issues of economic injustice.
Stephanie Fink is the associate director, family engagement, of Engaging Families with Young Children, part of the Union for Reform Judaism‘s Strengthening Congregations initiative.
Susan (right) and her sister Linda Tanenbaum Photo Credit: Peggy Litoff
Susan in Hebrew is Shoshanah , meaning “precious flower.” In so many ways and on so many occasions , Susan has helped our congregation flower.
During the days I first attended Temple B’nai Israel, I was warmly greeted by the elders. One of the first comments I heard from each was, “You have to meet Susan Abelkop!” Susan tends to stay behind the scenes working away to make all functions as perfect as possible for the congregation, but meet her I did. Susan greet- ed me with a big smile and a hug. I felt as if I’d known Susan all of my life. During my 3 years of study for conversion, I observed Susan as one of, if not the driving force behind our congregation.
I considered myself Blessed that Susan was one of the three community leaders who served on my Beit Din. I respected the challenging questions she asked. She put me to the test! I cannot think of my love for Congregation B’nai Israel without Susan immediately coming to mind. When I moved back to Spartanburg from West Palm Beach, the first person I visited was Susan at her store. Of course, since she has retired in order to work 90+ hours a week at our synagogue. I will always look to Susan for leadership and friendship. We love Susan.
If you looked up the definition of Mensch, it would be Susan Abelkop. She has tirelessly worked for our community. She has done so much it is hard to begin to put into words. She served as VP and numerous board positions. She cares! She worries. She is a person who gives of her time and energy and never asks for notoriety or praise. She has cooked in our kitchen so many times it is almost impossible to think of anything taking place without Susan. Frankly, she is a backbone of our Temple and we would not be the same if not for her. We love Susan.
Susan is one of a kind. She’s a force of nature. I was privileged to have her as my vice president during my term as president. There was no chore or task that she would not undertake to completion, most often working behind the scenes. I could and would call on her, often, for her advice and expertise. She always greeted me with true joy and love. It’s a pleasure to know her. To call her the Mensch of the month is really an understatement. Susan is a Mensch every month.
Jack Schoer __________________________________________________________________
Among her many accomplishments within the synagogue, Susan is an avid bridge player. She was a member of Piedmont Junior Women’s Club for many years and has a community service award named after her.
Nancy Fleishman Yoffe
Susan is a warm, caring, principled, brilliant and selfless leader. She goes above and beyond in all her endeavors:
– volunteers where there is a need; does not need to be asked
– self starter
– ability to size up situations and offer resolution
– a friend to all in need
– good listener
– rises to challenges
I am honored to call her a friend.
It would be a serious understatement to describe Susan Abelkop merely as a pillar of the Jewish community. Susan is integral to its very foundation. As president of the temple, she guided the community through challenging times and difficult transitions. As a longtime member, her institutional memory and personal wisdom have been indispensable for the community’s continuity and growth. And as a superb cook and baker, she has enabled our congregants to do what Jews do best whenever we’re not talking or arguing. There is simply no way to say thanks for all this.