Not all that long ago, I was explaining the difference between “Kosher” and “Jewish” to a non-Jewish neighbor. Kosher is defined by the dictates of our religion; Jewish is defined by the tastes of our ethnicity. One can therefore eat a dinner that is one hundred percent kosher but has no “Jewish taste”. Alternately, one can eat a dinner that is totally treif but tastes exactly the way Bubbie used to prepare it. Because of this, there exists the term Yiddisher Ta’am or Jewish flavor
Yiddisher Ta’am extends far beyond the palate. It encompasses invitations; it includes weddings and Bar/Mitzvah receptions. Many years ago, Shirah and I received a Shannah Tovah card that was devoid of a Yiddisher Ta’am from a rabbi of national acclaim. To say that I was irate, would be an understatement.
Pandemic aside, I should like to suggest, nay urge, strongly recommend a Yiddisher Ta’am for Thanksgiving dinner,  regardless of the fixings,  trimmings, and side dishes. Thanksgiving dinner at a Jewish household – especially at a Jewish household, given the history of our people – ought, to begin with, a D’var Torah. Let us whet our appetites as Jews, by hearing and hopefully digesting a teaching from our tradition, that is in the best of tastes for the fourth Thursday in November. With the Torah portion of Jacob experiencing a dream where angels ascend and descend a ladder to heaven, one would do well to recall what Jacob vowed not long after waking: “If G-d grants me bread to eat and clothing to wear…” We would do well to recall that there were periods of time in our past when our people did not always have bread to eat. Many might not realize that food rationing was commonplace in the formative years of Israel’s independence. Alternately, we ought to appreciate how infinitely easier it is to keep a kosher home in this country in the here and now, than say, a century ago.
While my interest in food preparation is nil, Thanksgiving would not be complete without annual ideas and recipes for Thanksgiving leftovers. Rarely if ever, does it occur that the platter is licked clean at Thanksgiving. Those of us steeped in our Eastern European heritage, particularly those of us with knowledge of  Hassidism, are well aware of shirayim, uneaten morsels of food from the Rebbe’s plate, distributed to his faithful adherents. Government rules and regulations prohibit us from donating shirayim and leftovers to the homeless. But rather than shirayim and leftovers, Thanksgiving with a Yiddisher Ta’am would be one where we have arranged for holiday meals to be served to the homeless? When was the last time we volunteered to feed Thanksgiving dinner to the homeless before we sat down to our own sumptuous se’udah for Thanksgiving? When reciting Birkat HaMazon or Grace after Meals, we refer to G-d as feeding all. Rather than debate the veracity of that statement, perhaps we should take it upon ourselves to at least feed a few.
Having mentioned Birkat Hamazon, many may not realize that toward the conclusion of the prayer, there are a number of induvial petitions or requests. Each one begins with the appellation HaRachaman or the All-Merciful. While the majority of petitions or requests are to be inserted for special days such as Shabbat or a Festival, others can be inserted for special settings. For example, one may ask that the All-Merciful bestow blessings on the host or hostess. Conversely, the host or hostess may ask the All-Merciful to bestow blessings upon all assembled guests. Thanksgiving presents itself as an ideal opportunity for creativity. While there are those who will beseech HaRachaman to bestow blessings on these United States, others might find it appropriate to ask HaRachaman to bless those in the food industry, whether they be out on the farm or in the food processing plants. Should one be unable to include such a request in Hebrew, I am confident that HaShem understands English, along with all other languages.
If not this year, let us look forward to Thanksgiving dinners of future years, together with family and friends. Let those dinners be garnished with a D’var Torah. Let those dinners be embellished with the knowledge that we have made it possible for the less fortunate to also partake of a Thanksgiving dinner. Let those Thanksgiving dinners be adorned with a heartfelt, request to HaRachaman that He bestow blessings reflecting the spirit of a most special day.  What a perfect recipe for a Thanksgiving with a Yiddisher Ta’am!

The Real Opportunity for Unity

by Rabbi Shawn Zell

Come on people now, smile on your brother. Everybody get together, try to love one another right now. And don’t forget to pass the marijuana. Those first two sentiments came to mind when Fantasyland clergy, in response to the recent presidential election, appealed to their parishioners and handed down heaps of hooey. If sages of the Talmud are divided regarding the arrival of Moshiach – there are those maintain that Moshiach’s arrival will be of an evolutionary nature, while others argue that Moshiach arrival will be of a revolutionary nature – why would today’s men and women of the cloth, presume to think that exhortations of unity over a quadrennial election would suddenly be heeded?
Unity? Were Adam and Eve united, when Adam, who should have been seeking pardon in the Garden, threw his wife under the bus before G-d, when the two of them were called on the carpet? Was there unity between Ishmael and Yitzchak? Was there unity between Yaakov and Eisav? People wake up! If domestic abuse has increased over this latest period of time with husbands and wives together at home, day after day, because of the pandemic, what makes one think, that unity can be achieved on the heels of an election, filled with acrimony and rancor?
There is however a totally different type of unity, that is much more realistic and achievable than the kumbaya moment, envisioned by starry-eyed religious leaders. It is no mere happenstance, that the donning of Tefillin is a daily prerequisite in Judaism. One need only look at the “Shel Rosh” or head tefillin and “Shel Yad” or arm tefillin, directly opposite the heart, to realize that a human, by a design, is a combination of the cerebral and the visceral or stated differently, a mixture of thinking or feeling. If the human were totally cerebral, then he would be little different than an automaton. Conversely, if the human were totally visceral, then he would uncontrollably be a manic depressive, incapable of relationships. An ideal society is where humans can restrain themselves so that elections become a united effort of the cerebral and the visceral, where the voter knows the issues at hand and feels that his candidate will make good on campaign promises. That is a realistic call for unity. There is a certain paradox to elections. We have been conditioned by society, to cast our votes for a candidate who promises to make our lives better. Yet, as much as elections purportedly reveal about the aspirant, when all is said and done, elections tell us about ourselves. Sadly, many of us have yet to discover who we really are and what we really need. As such, we would do well to ask, “are we really voting responsibly”? As surprising as this may be, one of the most misused items in our homes is the mirror. For those who are concerned about our appearance and dress, a mirror is indispensable. Yet, it is unconscionable that are mirror be limited to reflect external appearance. Ultimately, each of us ought to stand in front of a mirror to get in touch with our inner feelings. I have always been a firm believer that one must be able to live with oneself. But in order to do so, one must be able to look at oneself in the mirror as well. It was during one election year, that I was speaking with an individual, who consistently voted for the Libertarian Party. When I reminded him, as had so many before me, that doing so was a wasted vote, he wisely replied, “I have to look at myself in the mirror”. Unity, true unity is being able to look at yourself in the mirror – taking a good long hard look – after you have submitted your ballot.
Those of us who grew up watching Westerns, either at movie theaters or in the comforts of our own homes, are carriers of a disease known as “clearcutitus”. While “clearcutitus” is not lethal, it can be dangerous, especially when it comes to elections, in that those afflicted with the malady of “clearcutitus” can only see life as either black or white, bad or good. Once we vaccinate ourselves against “clearcutitus”, we realize that rarely, if ever,  is an election about the “good guy” versus the “bad guy”. Rather, elections are about wrestling with oneself, realizing that there is no such thing as a perfect candidate or even a great candidate. Only after recognizing that each candidate is replete with failings and foibles, can one wrestle with oneself and proceed to cast a ballot, hoping and praying that the proper choice was made in light of all other considerations. Recall if you will that the biblical Yaakov wrestled no fewer than three times (viz. the angel, his unscrupulous father-in-law, and preparing to meet Eisav replete with entourage). It was only then, that the Torah tells us that Yaakov arrived at the city of Shechem shaleim, in unity.
Personally, I am much more concerned about the unity of the cerebral and visceral, the unity of being at peace with oneself, and the unity that follows wrestling with oneself. Living in a country that fosters diversity, let us strive for mentschlechkeit toward others, not unity.

Sweet Revenge by Rabbi Zell


     As one who believes that it is difficult to restrain or even temper anger, I have always been one to dismiss the adage “revenge is sweet”. Until now. With the 82nd anniversary of Kristallnacht being observed this week, I believe that revenge, is very much in order, as we are summoned to recall a heinous event that would culminate in Hitler’s Final Solution, the Holocaust. Such revenge, must, however, be sweet revenge. Sweet revenge, I believe is the converse of tough love. Just as there are times where love must manifest itself in atypical ways to be effective, so too, are there times, when revenge must manifest itself in atypical ways to be effective. Kristallnacht, the precursor of the Holocaust, I believe, is one of those times.
     As one who believes that any and all atonement falls woefully short for the way Germany left an ineradicable stain on humanity, as it attempted to cleanse this world of Jews, I maintain that it is time for Jews, particularly those whose family members were persecuted, and in six million cases murdered, to mount a campaign of sweet revenge against Germany. I believe that it is repugnant for any Jew, to go through life with a chip on one’s shoulder, as a response for a horrific time period in our people’s past, which began with the breaking of glass of synagogues, business, and homes. I believe that the time has come to remind Germans of this generation of the unforgivable, dastardly acts of previous generations.
     The current pandemic notwithstanding, we are living in an age where any number of Jewish families in this country, elect to celebrate a Simcha, particularly a Bar Mitzvah, in Israel. In addition to celebrating in Israel, sweet revenge dictates that Jewish families, particularly families with a German past, where property and businesses were confiscated and family members were wiped out by the Third Reich, celebrate their Simchas in Germany as well. Let the descendants of Hitler’s War machine witness the success of the descendants of those whom Der Fuhrer and his loyal followers wished to eradicate from the face of this earth. Let the Aryans of today eat their hearts out! Let the joyous sounds of Jewish celebrations ring loud and clear. Let Das Deutsche Volk (the German people) see elegantly clad Jewish women walk out of luxury rental cars into elegant catering halls. Let Israeli music blast through the air, far louder than Deutschland Uber Alles was ever played. And let the aroma of kosher food assail the nostrils of the sauerkraut, blutwurst crowd. Let modern day ostentatious Jewish Simchas in Berlin, Dusseldorf, Munich, and other German cities, serve as a reminder to the grandchildren of those who served in the Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe, that German superiority which shattered the air in November 1938 is being drowned less than a century later, by the sounds of Jews celebrating and reveling.       Reminding Germans that Kristallnacht was not what it was cracked up to be, is sweet revenge.
     As one who has participated in kosher escorted tours of Vienna, Prague, and Budapest, Scotland, and Ireland as well as Italy, I would very much welcome a kosher escorted tour to Germany. There are any number of sites of Jewish interest, such as Heiliger Sand, Europe’s oldest Jewish cemetery in the city of Worms, and the Neue Synagoge in Berlin that are well worth the trip. There is however a caveat. The kosher escorted tour must be first-class in every way. Let American Jews travel through Germany on luxurious motor coaches, preferably with large signs in German on the sides of the vehicles welcoming their Jewish guests. Eight decades ago, the  Omas and Opas of today’s generation lamely protested “We saw nothing”. Now it is time for their grandchildren to stand wide-eyed in amazement, as luxurious motor coaches roll through the streets of Munich en route to Dachau. Better yet, let them also hear the Partisan Song or similar Yiddish music of the Holocaust blare through the loudspeakers of the luxurious motor coach, as it makes its way to the Todes Lager or Extermination Camp. I have every confidence in the world, that the Germans will comprehend the Yiddish lyrics. Let Kosher escorted luxury tours break all record for tourism, as our response to the broken glass of Kristallnacht. The Third Reich failed dismally. Let us show them that hose with whom they were so obsessed, succeeded admirably.  Let das Deutsche volk (the German people) know that we Jews have “arrived”. That’s sweet revenge.
     Rav Archa Karchinaah (Talmud: Berachot 33a) points out, that “revenge” (Psalm 94:1) appears between two different names of the Divine. In his opinion, revenge if properly executed can be extraordinary. I cannot help but feel, that the revered rabbinic sage would wholeheartedly agree with, and even endorse sweet revenge.