Tag Archives: European Jewry

A Jewish synagogue in Munich

Guest Letter from Naomi: An American Jew in Munich

When I posted about my recent experience in Frankfurt, I got a response from an online friend of mine who is an American Jew living in Germany. She was sorry to hear about my impressions of Europe, because they didn’t reflect her own experiences. I was delighted when she offered to write a guest letter about it, because I have been focusing a lot on antisemitism in Europe and I’d like to provide a different, more optimistic perspective.

I met Naomi on an interfaith group on Facebook. As you will see in her letter, she and I share many interests! The rest, I will let her tell you. This letter, like the last few, is in the form of an interview. Enjoy!


Dear Josep,

I’m Naomi, born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area and currently living in Munich, Germany (with some time spent in between in New York, Prague, and Jerusalem). Over the years I studied creative writing, history, dance, and social work–I currently have a master’s degree in social work–and my passions and interests largely lie in the arts, working with people, culinary adventures, and being outdoors.

My cultural and religious background is somewhat multifaceted, as I was initially raised as a Reform/liberal Ashkenazi Jew, then my parents became more Jewishly observant and joined a Modern Orthodox synagogue. From preschool through high school, I attended Jewish day schools (and was in the first graduating class of two brand new ones) where I learned Hebrew, some Aramaic and a ton about Judaism.

Though I’d consider myself “just Jewish” these days, I feel quite well-versed in my religion. And growing up in the Bay Area I’d probably describe my cultural leanings as “liberal, curious and open.” I ended up in Germany as my husband was getting his PhD here. I initially worked as an au pair for a year prior to grad school, then returned after I finished my degree right before our weddings. (Yes, we had two weddings!1) I spent a lot of time here in between as well.

I [Daniella] posted recently about a negative experience I had in Germany and the discomfort I feel as a Jew in Europe. (Josep also shared, in the comments, about a negative experience he had in Berlin.) We also had a guest letter from a French Jew who loves France dearly, but feels very uncomfortable there as a Jew. Your experience, in contrast, has been largely positive. Can you tell us about that?

My experience as a Jew in Europe has been somewhat unique, particularly in the context of most German Jewry; I have some knowledge and experience of Jewish life in the Czech Republic as well. So I have to preface this by saying that I can’t really speak for all of Europe as a continent, as it’s very heterogenous and Jewish communities vary wildly throughout the region.

By “unique” I mean the fact that I am neither German nor from a former Soviet Republic, the two communities that make up the majority of Germany’s Jewry, so I’m a bit of an outsider in that regard being an American.

My husband, son, and I belong to the liberal Jewish synagogue in Munich, which in and of itself has been a positive experience. It’s a very warm and welcoming community with a diverse membership; we have Brazilian, Israeli, and Australian members, to name a few countries. I started becoming involved in an organization called Rent a Jew2, where Jewish community members go to schools and workplaces to put a human face on the Jewish community and share personal anecdotes and experiences about Judaism.

As one might imagine, Jews are rather a minority in Germany (there are quite a few in urban areas such as Munich, but don’t make up a significant part of the country’s population), so being Jewish is a different experience than in a place like New York City or London, where one can often assume that people have heard of holidays like Hanukkah or know that there is such a thing as kosher food. You really can’t assume any kind of basic knowledge, so people often have questions for me if they find out about my background–or, very interestingly, people will often mention that they themselves have some Jewish heritage–particularly in Prague, where the vast majority of our friends have at least one direct Jewish ancestor.

Despite this, I have never personally encountered any direct anti-Semitism or prejudice, just occasional curiosity. Sometimes there is a sense of being left out during the holidays, but this is honestly a similar experience anywhere outside of Israel. I think being Jewish here in Europe has strengthened my Judaism, as we have to make more of a conscious effort to be involved, unlike somewhere like New York City where you’re basically Jewish by default just living there (kidding, kidding). I imagine that for the few observant Jews living in Munich, you have to be particularly strong, as there is only one kosher restaurant and grocery store, and no eiruv around the community to allow for things like pushing a stroller on Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath.3

I also find, on a personal level, something emotionally significant about pursuing Jewish life in Europe after World War Two. I feel strongly that it’s important for Judaism to continue to thrive here. It’s almost like a full circle, as my ancestors had to flee from persecution and now I can come back and, in a way, help “rebuild” within the community.

Also, unlike back in the US, there are hundreds of years of Jewish history here4, and as someone passionate about history, that’s been a fascinating exploration since I’ve been living in Munich.

You are married to a non-Jewish Czech. How have you acculturated to each other’s different backgrounds?

I would say pretty well. My husband probably knows more about Judaism than many Jews! He has learned quite a bit of Torah, is currently studying biblical Hebrew and Yiddish. One of our weddings was also Jewish. So in terms of acclimating to my family’s Jewish background, I’d say he’s very well integrated and very involved.

Culturally speaking, Americans and Czechs have a few differences (from my perspective)–Americans are often perceived as overly effusive and sometimes insincerely friendly, and Czechs are often perceived as being withdrawn and sarcastic. However, these are stereotypes that one side often has of the other, an issue with every country’s culture. My husband has spent quite a lot of time in the US, including two stays as a student, so I think we are each in the position that we have had a lot of time and opportunity to integrate into one another’s communities. Sometimes there are funny differences, like my American family’s bewilderment that most Czechs–and Germans as well–don’t have a dryer. Apparently living without a dryer is very un-American!

When your son was born it was important to you to have him circumcised according to Jewish tradition. Can you tell us about that experience? How did your husband feel about it?

Both my husband and I did feel it was important to have a Brit Milah for our son, to have him connected to the Jewish community through a very tangible and powerful experience. It really is very powerful, as it’s obviously not easy to have such a tiny baby go through that, and as a mom you are just recovering yourself from childbirth and are totally out of it–so it’s an intense day for everyone involved. It felt especially significant to have him have his Brit Milah in a country where the ritual is extremely rare and occasionally under threat (one of the few things that unites Jews and Muslims on a regular basis in Europe). To be completely honest, if it wasn’t such an important facet of Judaism, I’m not sure I would do it of my own volition. But in the end, I am happy he is part of such a lineage, and I’m proud every day of my Jewish-American-Czech-Bavarian little guy (or however else he may choose to describe himself in the future). He is a part of so many cultures, naturally from birth, that I’m almost a bit jealous.

Naomi


Daniella’s notes:

1. That’s nothing! My grandparents had three! …Never mind. Carry on.

2. I gotta say, I hadn’t heard of this organization, and when I saw their name I laughed out loud. Can’t decide whether I find it more funny or disturbing…..

3. An “eiruv” is a sort of legal fiction that helps us get around the prohibition to carry objects in public areas during the Sabbath. It’s a string connected through a bunch of poles, that acts as a “gate,” which makes the area technically a private area in halakhic terms. Most Jewish neighborhoods and cities have an eiruv. Barcelona does not, Josep, which is why I found myself walking to the synagogue on Friday evening with no passport, key card, or wallet. In retrospect, that was not a very smart thing to do. But I was hungry and hoping to be invited for a meal, and it never occurred to me that anyone else would be interested in tagging along. I guess I didn’t know you well enough at that point! I could have been your ticket in!!! 😉 

4. Just to be precise–as I’m sure Naomi knows–there are hundreds of years of Jewish history in the USA, but obviously, far fewer than in Europe. The first American Jews were Sephardim fleeing Spanish persecution in the 16th century.


Are you a Jew living in an unusual place? Or any other person with something interesting to share? Please consider sending us a guest letter!

To view previous guest letters, click here.

Uncanny Overtones at the Frankfurt Airport

Dear Josep,

So, speaking of antisemitic a-holes…..

*sigh*

As you know, I’m in Denver visiting family now. We flew Lufthansa this time, with a connection through Frankfurt. I hate going through customs in NY and was glad to be able to skip that part of the procedure this time, and, well, I thought it would be nice to fly through Europe. I got to show my kids the Alps through the window of the plane. The last–and only–time I’d seen them myself was from the window of a plane from Barcelona to Zurich. We also happened to find ourselves on a plane with activist-turned-MK Yehuda Glick, an absolutely fascinating character and fellow stereotype-smasher who I greatly admire. He was on his way to Washington D.C. for the inauguration. We exchanged a few pleasant words with him.

Our few hours in Germany, though, proved a little more harrowing than I had anticipated.

Listen… I’m not hysterical about antisemitism and Holocaust associations. I know, intellectually, that the Holocaust was a long time ago, and that most Germans are perfectly decent people, and that Germany actually has one of the lowest rates of antisemitism in the world right now.

But… memory of the Holocaust is so deeply ingrained in my national and religious identity, it’s a trauma the reverberates through my subconscious. I’ve been to Poland, as you know, but I was going there for the express purpose of learning about the Holocaust, and I was surrounded by a warm, supportive cocoon of educators and friends.

Here, we were just passing through, a very “visibly Jewish” family. And there was no way around it. I couldn’t shake the associations. I imagine you’ve been in the airport in Frankfurt and know what I mean when I say that the decor didn’t help. The place has a gray, industrial, austere air to it that was less than comforting.

Let’s just say I was a little on edge.

It was with this unease that I approached the security checkpoint. The man behind the X-ray conveyor belt rattled off instructions in an eerie robot-like, monotonous voice. He wasn’t talking to us like we were humans. “Everything in a box,” he repeated over and over before we understood that he meant our bags needed to go into boxes too. Flustered with his strangely hostile manner (and its uncanny historical overtones), I remembered to remove my laptop from my carry-on, but forgot about the kids’ tablets in their bags. We went through the full-body scanner–an apparatus that makes me profoundly uncomfortable–and both Eitan and R1 got a pat-down. When we went to collect our bags and coats, we found that some of them had been set aside, and the robot-voices man asked Eitan to open them.

At this point H was getting pretty upset. We’d been through a similar (less rigid) security procedure at Ben-Gurion, and no matter how I tried to explain to him that they were just being extra careful to keep everyone safe, he just got more and more upset. I took him aside and tried to calm him.

Then the robot guy called a couple of police officers over to look at one of the bags with Eitan, apparently concerned about the fact that we’d left a tablet in there.

I can’t help it, Josep. Watching a pair of German policeman approach my husband when I knew we’d done nothing wrong… I have nothing else to call it but “triggering.” I was starting to freak out a little myself. I breathed and tried to focus on calming H down. The policeman were much nicer than the robot guy and seemed pretty bewildered as to why he’d called them over.

Eitan and I were both harboring a niggling suspicion at this point.

The policemen left and we started trying to collect all our stuff. And then, out of the blue, the robot guy threw out the following comment: “You know, 25 years ago, we had a wall here, too.”

“Seriously?” I blurted.

Let me stop here and explain the context of that comment for the sake of any blog readers who need it.

The robot guy was making an inappropriate and ignorant reference to the security barrier in the West Bank. It was built during the Second Intifada as a deterrent to keep out the suicide bombers blowing up Israelis every other week–and it was very effective. It’s controversial for reasons I won’t get into here, but comparing it to the Berlin Wall (as the comment implied) is nothing short of idiotic. As I’m sure you are aware, it’s a common tactic among anti-Israel morons to throw around emotionally manipulative, wildly irrelevant historical comparisons. (Palestinians like to refer to it as the “racial segregation” or “apartheid” wall. Comparing the situation in Israel to apartheid is utterly ridiculous, and an insult to South Africans who suffered under actual apartheid.)

It was not an antisemitic comment. It was a stupid anti-Israel comment. But as Eitan pointed out to me later, only Israelis get those kinds of remarks. If we’d been from Iran, would he have said, “Hey, nice centrifuges you’ve got there”? If we’d been from Russia, would he have said something about the Crimea, or the slaughter in Aleppo? If we’d have been from China, or Turkey, or any number of other countries committing severe human rights abuses on a regular basis, would be have made a snide political remark? Of course not. Residents of those countries are seen as victims. Only Israelis are held in contempt for the actions of our government. Holding Jews collectively responsible for the actions of other Jews is a classic manifestation of antisemitism. The content of the remark wasn’t antisemitic, but there’s a good argument that its context was.

Eitan was livid. He told the man to keep his political opinions to himself.

“I didn’t state a political opinion,” was the breezy response.

All I wanted to do right then was get the hell out of there. Out of the room, out of the airport, and out of the country.

Of course, the perfect, equally below-the-belt comeback hit me a few minutes later, and I posted it bitterly on Facebook using the airport wifi:

Every other German employee we encountered was somewhere along the spectrum from “pleasant” to “wonderfully helpful and sweet.” The Lufthansa stewardesses especially were really lovely to our kids. But sadly, it’s the little incident at the security checkpoint that will remain burned into our memories from our few hours in Germany.

When I visited Paris as a teenager, I wandered along the Champs-Élysées with a group of friends, one of whom was a French speaker (having lived in France until she was eight years old). She got into conversation with a friendly vendor, and when he asked us where we were from, there was this long, tense pause. We had been specifically warned not to tell anyone where we’re from. So I stepped forward and took advantage of my American accent to say we were from America. The rest of the group stayed very silent as my friend made up an elaborate story about why she spoke French and lived in the US while looking Moroccan.

Every time I’ve been abroad, I’ve had a moment like that where one of the locals asks me where I’m from, and I pause, wondering what kind of a turn the conversation is going to take when I tell them the truth. I actually had that moment with you, in the first conversation we ever had. It’s scarier when I’m in Europe.

If you’ve ever wondered why I sound less than enthusiastic about traveling to Europe with my family… this is a major factor. It’s not much of a vacation when you feel on guard all the time, worried that someone might be cruel or unfriendly to you just because of where you’re from.

Love,

Daniella

Guest Letter from Aviv: A Jew in Paris

It always feels like Passover sets off this domino rally of significant days on the Jewish calendar. This coming Thursday is Holocaust Remembrance Day. But before we get into the tough stuff, I wanted to start us off with some general discussion of contemporary European Jewry by posting this fascinating guest letter.

France is home to the third-largest Jewish population in the world (after the USA and Israel)–some 475,000 people, with more than half of them living in Paris. Unfortunately, there has been a sharp rise in antisemitic incidents in Europe in recent years, and France has suffered some of the biggest and highest-profile of these incidents.

Largely as a result of this, as I’ve written before, Jews have been leaving France in droves. In 2014, for the first time in history, there were more olim (new immigrants to Israel) from France than from any other country in the world. The trend continued in 2015, with a further 10% increase. Jews are feeling less and less safe in Europe.

But it’s one thing to cite numbers, and another to talk to somebody who actually lives there. That’s why I was excited to make Aviv’s acquaintance. We connected online through mutual friends, and I interrogated him thoroughly on his experiences. (I have a habit of “interviewing” people from backgrounds that interest me. Josep is familiar with this. 😉 )

And then I thought, hey, why not interview him properly for a blog post? So this guest letter is a response to my questions (which I will include in their appropriate places). I hope you enjoy!


Hi Josep!

My name is Aviv and I am doing vocational guidance at the moment to find a good field to study. I live in Paris, France.

Now I will answer the questions.

We’ve been hearing a lot about the rise of antisemitism in Europe in general and France in particular lately. French Jews have been targeted in several horrific terror attacks in recent years, and there’s been a lot of talk on the news about Jews feeling more and more afraid and leaving Europe in large numbers. What is your experience of this as a religious Jew currently living in Paris?

Years ago, I didn’t feel a lot of antisemitism, but this is changing.

You know, there is a lot of antisemitism on the Internet, because of a lot of things. There’s an antisemitic comedian called “Dieudonné”; there are tensions between Jews and Muslims because of their positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; and there are antisemitic things we can easily find on the internet. Because of these, antisemitism is gaining more success in this country.

In 2012 we had an attack on a school in Toulouse, and in January 2015 we had the attack on the Hypercacher supermarket in Paris, and I live nearby so I could see everything.

Wreaths outside the Hypercacher kosher supermarket in homage to the four victims
Wreaths outside the Hypercacher kosher supermarket in homage to the four victims

Both attacks were carried out by terrorists and I think in every religious extremism there is antisemitism, so Jews are a a good target for the terrorism.

And that’s why, when I go to the synagogue during the week or for Shabbat, I see soldiers in front of the entrance and on every street corner to protect us. I don’t feel at ease when I see them because it means we are in danger without them. I am certain that if there were no soldiers, something like the Hypercacher could happen again…

I’ve been the target of antisemitic remarks from diverse people, from some people who believe in conspiracy theories etc., and from some Muslims, since there is a lot of tension between Jews and Muslims in France because of our positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Here is a video showing what happened in 2014 between extremist Jews and Muslims in Paris during the war in Gaza.

But I hope we will have peace one day.

I know that you plan to make aliyah in the relatively near future. Why do you want to emigrate to Israel?

I would like to make aliyah one day because it’s an ideal to be in the Holy Land and I have a particular feeling in Israel that I cannot describe. I call it “the feeling of being in Israel”, maybe a connection between me and this land.

I also feel at home in Israel. I feel at home in France, too, but in Israel it’s more so.

What are your three favorite things about being Jewish in France?

  1. French Jewish movies.
  2. Rue des Rosiers. [This is a street at the heart of the Jewish quarter in Paris. It used to be full of Jewish restaurants, bakeries, kosher butchers, delicatessens etc., but many of these have been replaced in recent years by high-end fashion shops which take advantage of the fact that shops are allowed to remain open on Sunday in the Jewish quarter.–DL]
  3. Liberté, égalité, fraternité. [This is the national motto of France–liberty, equality, fraternity.–DL]

I know that you are involved in an online community for dialogue and peace activism between Jews and Muslims and Palestinians and Israelis. What inspired you to join these efforts? Has this dialogue changed you or your views in any way? If so, how?

I think the peace between Jews and Muslims and between Israelis and Palestinians is very important for the future of the Jewish people, so that’s why I feel involved. Jews and Muslims have a lot in common but because of our positions in the conflict, our relations are difficult. And that’s why I feel involved in the conflict. One of my Israeli teachers of Hebrew showed the students documentaries that were very difficult emotionally to watch. Then a Facebook friend added me to some Facebook groups of dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, I started to have hope for the peace when I saw this. Then I added some Palestinians as my Facebook friends.

It changed some stereotypes I had about Palestinians, like “they are all terrorists, etc.” and I understood that they live in a very difficult situation. One of my Palestinian friends is a peace activist. When I come to Israel, I hope to meet some of my Palestinian Facebook friends and discuss these issues with them.

The majority of French Jews are of North African/Sephardic descent, many of whom emigrated to France after the French withdrew from their colonies in North Africa. Can you tell us a little about your own family’s background?

My father is from Morocco, and my mother is from Tunisia. The majority of French Jews are from North Africa because they lived in French colonies and were educated in the French culture. That’s why my parents speak French as well as Tunisian & Moroccan Arabic.
My parents emigrated to France because there was a rise in antisemitism in Arab countries after the wars in Israel. They chose France because they were familiar with the culture of the country, making it easier to integrate in France than in Israel.

My mother told me she went to France on a ship with her brother and her mother, and after years of working they integrated successfully. My father didn’t tell me a lot about his story because he never wanted to talk about it. You can find out more about the Jewish exodus from Arab and Muslim countries on Wikipedia.

I know you were not raised observant, but currently identify as such. Can you tell us a little about this process? What made you decide to become religious? What obstacles have you encountered?

I had spiritual questions in high school so I decide to learn about every religion and talk to my rabbi, then I started to read books about the Judaism and I liked this religion, so I became more and more religious over time.

My family was opposed at first because they were afraid I would become extremist, but things are good today with my family and we have almost no tension over religion.

I wish the best to you and to everybody.

Cordially,

Aviv


Are you a member of a religious minority in your country? Write us a guest letter, or a request to be interviewed! We want to hear your story!

Jew Food, Part II: The Vegan Section (well, sort of.)

Note: this is the 2nd post in a 3-part series on kashrut. Click here for Part I, and here for Part III!


Dear Josep,

Welcome to Part II of the Great Jew Food Tirade! (Here is Part I in case you missed it.)

In this part we’re going to talk about plants.

Now, if you can recall what my plate looked like while you and the rest of the press team were happily devouring your “pimp salmon” 😛 you will remember that fruits and vegetables, as a general rule, are just fine within the laws of kashrut. So why am I writing an entire section on them? Well…

Mitzvot HaTluyot Ba’Aretz (Commandments Connected to the Land of Israel)

Observant Jews indeed wander freely through the produce aisles of supermarkets in the USA and Europe. Ironically, it is actually in the land of Israel that we have to be more careful. Because while there is no problem inherent to any plant, when the land is owned by a Jew and is located in Israel, there are a number of commandments that apply that must be observed for the plants to be okay to eat. These are the mitzvot hatluyot ba’aretz, which I mentioned briefly in the entries about shmita (which is one of them) and the Jewish New Years (because Tu B’Shvat is used to calculate “fiscal years” for these commandments).

I am not going to elaborate on what all these commandments are, because there are a lot of them and the details will probably bore you. But they basically split into two categories: mitzvot that involve giving to the poor (such as leaving fallen grapes or stalks for them to collect, leaving a section at the corner of the field unharvested for them to harvest, etc.), and mitzvot that are connected to the Temple service (such as bikkurim, bringing the first fruits to the Cohanim at the temple; terumah and ma’aser (tithing); challah (which is probably where the name of the Shabbat bread came from), separating a portion of the bread dough for the Cohanim) or other issues of sanctity (such as the prohibition against crossbreeding plants or eating fruits from a tree in the first three years after it is planted).

Now, the ones connected to the Temple are no longer relevant; some of them are observed sort of symbolically (like terumahma’aser and challah), but they still must be observed for the produce to be considered kosher.

For fields owned by non-Jews or located outside of Israel, these commandments are not relevant.

However, there are other problems associated with products produced in non-Jewish settings…

Wine

So, for instance, you have known for a long time that there is such a thing as kosher wine, by which one would logically (and in this case, correctly) deduce that there is such a thing as non-kosher wine. But think about this for a minute. We’re talking about 100% pure crushed grapes, fermented in barrels that hold nothing else. Grapes are inherently kosher, and given that the mitzvot hatluyot ba’aretz are not in the picture, what could possibly be non-kosher about wine?

According to the Talmud, there are a number of things that must be avoided under the general prohibition of idolatry. One of them is drinking wine that used for some kind of ceremonial practice by idolaters.

Buuut, I hear you say, that would explain why you couldn’t drink wine made in, say, India. But what about wine made by Christians or Muslims, who are, for the most part, not considered idolaters? (“For the most part” because the concept of the Trinity makes us go :-/ . But the sages who actually lived among Christians did not consider it idolatry. That’s a topic for another e-mail. 😛 We have no such debate regarding Islam.)

So, the sages extended the prohibition to include all non-Jews and non-observant Jews, pretty much because you don’t really have any way to know what their beliefs about the wine are, and because of the severity of idolatry, we need to be extra, extra careful about this. Idolatry is one of the only three commandments that we are not allowed to transgress even if it means our only other option is to die. The other two are murder and sexual immorality.

Digging through my archives, I discovered that you actually provided another answer to this question when we first discussed this issue many years ago. I told you that our editor-in-chief in Spain had asked why we still observe this law about wine if there is no longer idolatry in the Western world. You said: “I disagree with [her] about the idolatry thing. Maybe we don’t have idols like in the old times, but there’s still a lot of idolatry with things like the TV, supermodels or superstars, money, fame, sex… And it’s caused by the same basic principle: the emptiness of the soul. When you’re full of God, you don’t need anything more. So you don’t have to put the TV at the center of the house, or the sex in the center of your life. The old people put other gods instead of Him in the center of their lives because they had empty souls. That’s what I think.”

Well, I’m definitely not arguing with that. 😉

In any case, not so very long ago, you couldn’t get really good kosher wines. (Ever heard of Manischewitz? If not, good.) Today, though, there are some really great wineries in Israel and abroad that produce a wide selection of good kosher wine. Like, for instance, the one you bought us last time you were here, which we finally opened a couple days ago. (And is, by the way, delicious. Thank you. 😉 )

L'chaim. (Thanks for this, BTW. It's delicious. :) )
L’chaim.

Baking and Cooking by Gentiles

Another issue that comes up here is bread that is baked or food that is cooked by a gentile. This is a rabbinic restriction based on the idea that it is difficult to trust someone who does not keep kashrut himself or see any importance in it, to be careful enough about it when cooking for you.

There are ways around this. According to Ashkenazi custom, it is enough for a Jew to light the fire for the food to not be considered bishul nochri (food cooked by a non-Jew). That’s how kosher restaurants are able to employ non-Jews in the kitchen.

Another restriction I should mention here, even though it concerns an animal product, is chalav nochri. The Sages ruled that we may not consume milk produced by non-Jews (…that is, their cattle…) out of concern that milks of other, non-kosher animals might be mixed in. The famous American rabbi Moshe Feinstein ruled that this is no longer a concern in places of modern industry where there is strict regulation and supervision, and you can be certain that what you’re getting is cow’s milk. (This is actually not true in all Western countries, by the way… including Spain. I was told that I couldn’t rely on this ruling regarding even plain milk in Spain.) Most Americans hold by this ruling, but many Israelis don’t, because of the wide availability of chalav yisrael (milk produced by Jews) in Israel. The Rabbinate of Israel holds that derivatives of chalav nochri (a.k.a. avkat chalav nochri), such as powdered milk, are okay, but not straight milk. So there was a big scandal in recent years about the Rabbinate removing Haagen Dasz ice cream from the shelves, even though it is certified kosher by the Orthodox Union in the USA, because of this difference in halakhic observation. (Ben & Jerry’s, the other really good foreign, kosher brand, has its own factory here that uses chalav yisrael, so we can still buy decent ice cream. Fortunately, Eitan and I are American and hold by Rabbi Feinstein, so we can eat Haagen Dasz too. 😀 )

Anyway.

In all of the above, beside the practicalities of trusting non-Jews with kashrut… I also see an agenda on the part of the sages to make it more difficult for Jews to get socially intimate with non-Jews. Jews not being able to eat at non-Jews’ tables makes it harder for them to develop the kinds of relationships that could lead to conversion, intermarriage, and assimilation. That may not be so politically correct, but assimilation is the biggest threat to Jewish continuity in the modern era, and… well, this is a topic for a different e-mail. 😛

Little Friends

So the last issue to do with eating fruits, vegetables, and grains, is the fact that we are not allowed to eat bugs (see part I), and therefore they must be thoroughly checked to assure that no creepy crawlies have found their way into our food.

Now, someone who has peeked ahead and knows the 1/60th rule that I will explain in the next entry, might ask: unless we’re talking about the kind of bug that would make any housewife run screaming, we’re talking about tiny, almost microscopic creatures, that are certainly less than 1/60th the volume of the food.

I refuse to post a picture of a bug. Have a puppy instead.
Photo credit: Andrea Schaffer under CC BY 2.0

So why aren’t they batel (“nullified”)?

Because they are a briya shleima, a “whole creature”. Meaning, that because it’s the bug’s whole body, it cannot be nullified.

But then how do we ever eat anything?! What about microscopic bugs?!

So this rule only applies to bugs that can be seen by the naked eye. If you need a magnifying glass, let alone a microscope, to see it–it doesn’t count.

Still, you can imagine, checking for bugs can be incredibly labor intensive and frustrating. For some kinds of fruits and veggies it’s no big deal–fruits, including fruits that are generally thought of as vegetables (like cucumbers and tomatoes), only require a once-over to make sure they don’t have wormholes or something like that. By contrast, leafy green vegetables must be pulled apart, soaked in water with soap or salt or vinegar, and then examined–leaf. by. leaf. (I should mention that there are different standards, and some are more lenient–allowing to check a representative sample, for instance, but checking each leaf individually is the mainstream view.)

One way of getting around this problem is growing the plants in special conditions where bugs are extremely unlikely to come in contact with the vegetables. In Israel, Gush Katif vegetables are grown hydroponically, meaning in that they are grown in greenhouses, detached from the soil:

Photo credit: Ryan Somma under CC BY-SA 2.0
Photo credit: Ryan Somma under CC BY-SA 2.0

The environment is carefully controlled to assure that no bugs will get in. In this case, we are permitted to eat the produce without checking for bugs (but most authorities still require a thorough soaking and rinsing before use). There is also an opinion that frozen vegetables are not a problem because any bugs that may be in there will explode in the freezing process (…) and therefore are no longer “whole creatures”. This is not exactly reassuring, but our bug-free standards are way more OCD higher than pretty much anyone else’s, and you have to draw the line somewhere…

So that concludes Part II! Stay tuned for the third and final installment. 😉

Love,

Daniella


Missed Part I? No problem! Click here to read Jew Food, Part I: Vegetarians, Avert Your Eyes.

Vive L’Aliya

Dear Josep,

I don’t know if you know this about me, but I am fascinated with languages. Recently I’ve been on a very strict regimen of learning Spanish on DuoLingo. I’ve been practicing almost every day since the beginning of the summer, and creo que puedo decir que mi castellano es mucho mejor ahora. O, se puede decir, es existente. 😛 They say that people with musical abilities tend to be better at grasping languages, and in these past few months I’ve developed a theory why. When I immerse myself in a new language, I start hearing words, phrases and sounds from it echoing in my thoughts, much the way I get a catchy song stuck in my head.

Anyway, what I’ve found in the last few days is that the language reverberating in my head has not, for a change, been Spanish.

It’s been French.

Three guesses why. :-/

I studied French as a third language in eighth and ninth grade. Personally, in retrospect, I think they should have been teaching us Arabic. But given that those years were the height of the second Intifada, and that it was a religious school that was not supposed to have a political affiliation but quietly arranged buses to anti-disengagement protests… you can imagine that maybe some among the staff and the parents might not have been so thrilled with that choice. So French it was. And it so happened that in eighth grade, I had a unique opportunity to travel to Paris with my school choir. We visited several Jewish schools and communities in Paris, and when we weren’t performing, we toured. It was my first time in Europe, and my maternal grandparents had firmly instilled within me an appreciation for high culture, art, music and travel, so I was well trained to appreciate Paris. 😉 The trip was wonderful and left me hoping to return someday.

However. There was one thing that struck me about being in Paris that I had never felt before in the USA or in Israel. Something that I felt again, several years later, in the city you call home. Something that I felt as a Jew, especially when visiting the Jewish communities in those cities.

Fear.

If you give it some thought, it kind of sounds ridiculous. I mean… I live in Israel, right? This trip was in March of 2001. 8 Israelis were killed and about 45 were injured in terror attacks in that month alone. My trip to Barcelona was in 2006, just three months after the Second Lebanon War, in which I personally dodged a few Katyushas in Haifa. Certainly, far more Jews have been killed on racist/nationalist grounds in Israel than in France or Spain over the past fifteen years. But in Israel we do not tuck our Stars of David under our shirts. In Israel we do not hide our synagogues behind heavy metal gates and stern security personnel. And obviously, in Israel, we do not avoid speaking or wearing Hebrew in public. Seeing Jews do these things, just as a matter of daily life, was appalling to me. It felt backwards, so different from the feeling of being Jewish in America (or even in London, which I visited in 2004), and from the kind of fear we deal with in Israel.

The news from Paris last week was horrifying but not surprising to me. (And frankly I find it upsetting that the world’s attention was focused solely on Paris while 2,000 people were massacred by Boko Haram in Africa. But I digress.) There has been a serious uptick in antisemitic incidents in Europe in general and France in particular lately; boosted by the war in Gaza, but it was on an upward trend beforehand, too. I don’t need to read the papers to know this; all I have to do is open my ears. I’ve been hearing more and more French on the streets. This year was the first time in Israel’s history that France topped the countries of origin for olim, new immigrants to Israel. 7,000 French Jews moved here in 2014–and that includes the exhausting war we had this summer. If you ask any of these olim, they will tell you that they’ll take the rockets over the constant, looming threat of antisemitism any day. At least, they say, here, we are in charge of our own destiny.

France is the world’s third largest Jewish community, after the USA and Israel. But a few years down the line, that may no longer be true. The Jews are fleeing France. And when Jews start emigrating en masse, it is not a good sign for the place from which they’re fleeing. Persecution often starts with Jews, but it never ends with them… and we already saw that in Paris last week.

And while I do find all this upsetting and infuriating, I can’t say I’m unhappy about the wave of immigration from France. There is a sizeable (and growing) community of French expats in my town, one of whom started a lovely café here. 😀 The other day Eitan and I were walking down Emeq Refa’im Street in Jerusalem and we noticed that a restaurant that had been there for many years was closing down, and there were signs up that it was going to be replaced by a French patisserie. I gave a sarcastic grin and said, “Thank God for French antisemitism.”

Vive le croissant!
Vive le croissant!

I hope that many Jews from France will make aliyah, but I really wish it were more about coming to Israel than about fleeing France. :-/

Love,

Daniella