Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Perfect Salad

Last week Sean and I met a couple who recently moved to Toronto for lunch.  He is a colleague.  The lunch was a mix of business and pleasure.  We met at a restaurant near his new job since he had another appointment afterward.

The company was delightful.  My afternoon was free until school pickup, and Gilah and I schmoozed for two more hours.

On the other hand, lunch... not so delightful.  (Although Sean says he had a great sandwich.)  I had onion soup and a salad caprese.  The menu said, "Tomatoes, Olives, Fresh Mozzarella and Red Onion tossed with our Olive Oil Balsamic Vinaigrette on Romaine Lettuce with a splash of Pesto."  A real salad caprese is buffalo mozzarella, plum tomatoes, and basil leaves with a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  There are variations with mixed greens, other vegetables, and even meats (but why would you make the world's most perfect salad treyf?).  Both onion soup and salad caprese are favorites of mine.

My soup was okay.  That is not stunning for onion soup.  Onion soup is one of the easiest soups to make.  Lightly brown lots of sliced onions in whatever fat you are using (butter, olive oil, etc.).  Add some flour to thicken; then liquid.  Simmer for a while.  Look!  Yummy soup!  This soup lacked onion flavor, but made up for that with an oily texture.  This is not a good thing.

The salad was a complete disappointment.  I don't like olives, but they were on the side, and Sean does like them.  That's my own personal problem, which we solved easily.  The best mozzarella is made from buffalo milk, although cow's milk mozzarella is acceptable.  Unless the menu states mozzarella di bufala, I expect cow's milk.  It is cheaper, and more readily available.  Good mozzarella is also soft.  It is stored in water, and absorbs that moisture.  This is the kind of mozzarella that should be used for salad caprese.  Low moisture mozzarella is often used in the food industry (Think pizza.).  While it's not the ideal, I expect this is what I will get in a mid-line restaurant.  There is also smoked mozzarella, but it's not for this kind of a salad.  The so-called "fresh mozzarella" was shredded cheese you can buy in bag in the supermarket.  It had barely any flavor, and was more of a topping than the focus of the salad.  The salad also contained about 1/4 of a tomato.  The whole point of salad caprese is the cheese and tomato combination, so to have them as a topping was a total disappointment.  If the vinaigrette had balsamic, it was a cheap light version.  The salad was mostly red onion and lettuce with a lousy vinaigrette.

A few days later, now craving a salad caprese, I bought some mozzarella fior di latte.  That's cow's milk for non-Italian speakers.  At home I began to build my salad.  Turns out we were out of balsamic, a tragedy that has not previously occurred in my marriage.  The only basil was dried.  I had an okay salad with mozzarella, but not the caprese for which I yearned.

Last night, 9 days after the first fiasco, I had the perfect salad.  We bought good balsamic.  I now have a basil plant on my desk, and I picked up some mozzarella di bufala.  My dinner was a beautiful layering of that splendid cheese with sweet, flavorful sliced grape tomatoes and freshly picked basil leaves, drizzled with balsamic and olive oil.  I had a sliced avocado on the side, just because.  It was perfect.  I even licked the plate.

Finally, satisfaction.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Kitty Blog 12, by Gandalf the Grey

I hate my life.  No one is letting me out.  The kids are involved in projects so no one plays with me.  Nora is eating my food, and I can't jump high enough to eat hers.  Then every night Sean grabs me.  I think I'm going to be loved and cuddled, but instead Jen takes that infernal tube and puts icky stuff in my eyes.  It doesn't even bother me anymore.  Why does she do that?!

I hate my life.

How'd That Get Here

I love winter.  But what I love about winter is snow, warm sweaters, and cozy fires.  I love making snowmen, wearing mittens, tobogganing, snowball fights, and eating icicles.  I enjoy skating and even shovelling the driveway and the sidewalk.  This is why I live where I do.  The temperature should hover just below freezing so all precipitation turns to snow.  This should be Toronto weather.  Unfortunately, this week it has been much colder.  Colder is not good.  When it is colder there is no snow, just biting wind.  I do not like that.

This morning I discovered another thing I do not like.  I waked out to my garage, hands full of bags for the car.  I needed to put the bags down to open the trunk.  However, upon entering the garage I discovered Lake Erie.  A small great lake had moved into my garage.  The water at the door had frozen, forming a bank of ice preventing any drainage.  There was no where to put the bags down, and worse, I stepped into two inches of water, ensuring a day of wet feet and pant legs.

As I felt the icy water creep up the back of my pant leg I thought, "Damn, I just stepped into Lake Erie."  How'd that get here?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Parashat B'Shalach- Growing the Sabra

Vay’hi b’shalah Par’o et ha’am v’lo nacham Ehlohim derech eretz P’lishtim ki karov hu ki amar Ehlohim pen yinacheim ha’am bir’o’tam milchamah v’shavu Mitzraima.
And it was when Pharaoh sent the people that God did not lead them by way of the Philistines, although that was near, for God said, lest the people repent when they see war and return to Egypt.
This week we celebrate Shabbat Shirah. Moshe leads the people Israel in song as they cross the seabed of Yam Suf. Commentary throughout our history has wondered at the reasons the Israelites required such a miracle upon their exodus from Mitzraiyim. For a wonderfully victorious moment the parasha does not start out inspiringly. The Israelites are standing on the shores of Yam Suf. The Egyptians are in pursuit. There is a short path to Israel through the land of the Philistines. After the miracles in Egypt, couldn’t God have helped the Israelites to conquer the Philistines as He had in Egypt?
Rabbi Gunther Plaut, in his commentary, wrote of a tradition reported in Targum Yonaton that 20,000 members of the tribe of Ephraim had attempted to flee earlier by this sea road, but they were slaughtered by the Philistines. With this knowledge the Israelites may have had a change of heart. In Egypt they had a chance to live and fight another day. Would this have been superior to death at the hands of the Philistines? This fear can be inferred from the second half of the verse.
Rambam takes a different tack. He taught that God had a superior reason for taking the Israelites through the wilderness rather than by the regular sea road. The Israelites had been enslaved for 400 years during which time their stamina and determination had eroded. Their experiences in the wilderness would serve to harden them for the conquest of Israel. It would build endurance and heroism among them.
Native Israelis have been known as sabras. The sabra is the fruit of the cactus. It is prickly on the outside. Even after the spines have been removed, small prickles may remain. But once you have cracked the hard outer skin, the inside of the sabra is soft, colourful, and bursting with flavour. This is development of our people. Through the experiences in the wilderness our people have developed into the sabra. Through necessity we are tough, often prickly on the outside. Israel is a strong and solid ally filled with the tasty fruit of technological advances she is willing to share with those who take the time to crack our skin.

Monday, January 21, 2013


Posterity, it is a heady idea on which to dwell.

Today was the 57th public inauguration in the US.  President Barak Obama began his second term (officially yesterday) as the 44th US president.  Today is also marked as Martin Luther King Day.

Today I listened to Reverend King's "I Have a Dream" speech twice.  It never fails to cause my heart to race and to bring tears to my eyes.  It inspires me.  I am proud of the strides we have made, and sorrowed over the work yet to be done.  I am in awe of the man as an orator and a visionary.  His use of language and of his voice give me chills.  If you have not recently watched Reverend King's speech, do so now,  I mean now.  Stop reading and go watch.  I am tearing up just thinking of it.

President Obama took his public oath of office on two significant bibles, he Lincoln Bible and a traveling bible belonging to Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.  Reverend King gave his renowned "I Have a Dream" speech fifty years ago on the steps on the Lincoln Memorial, one hundred years after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.  It was proclaimed by Congress as "A National Day of Hope and Resolve".

It has taken too long for the US to have a black president, and President Obama's first inauguration four years ago was replete with discussion about that fact complete with references to Reverend King.
How wonderful that President Obama's second term began with all the typical inaugural pomp and circumstance, and yes with a nod to the numbers- 50 years and 150 years, but without the amazement.  President Obama is now merely another US president.  It is an elite group to be sure.  However, his presence in that elite group is as an equal, no better, no worse.  It is his election to that supreme and honored office that matters.  From today on he will be judged not by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character.

Reverend King's dream is not yet satisfied, but the mighty stream of justice is flowing.  May it never stop.

Humans Plan and God Laughs

Since the start of January it's been one thing after another interrupting me at work and home, and keeping me from completing everything on my lists.  (Yes, I have lists, lots of lists.  They keep me organized.) There is clutter in my office.  There is clutter on my desk at home.  There is clutter everywhere.  I do not do well with clutter.  It distracts me.  The first week I was sick.  I'm still extremely hoarse, not recuperated although fully well.  The second week was our monthly Rabbinical Assembly meeting.  I am president, so I need to go.  The third week was the Toronto Board of Rabbis meeting.  At the end of last week I told my assistant, "Next week I'll be here all week... I hope.  I have no meetings planned.

Of course, as the saying goes, when humans plan God Laughs.  Yesterday Gandalf's eye started tearing.  No discharge beyond tears, but it didn't clear up.  This morning I called the vet.  We got a 9:00 AM appointment.  Turns out Gandalf has a very, very small scratch on his cornea.  How does a cat do that?  He currently hates me.  First I stuck him in a box.  Then I took him into the cold, followed by the car, the vet, back into the cold, back into the car, then... when we got home I put ointment into his eye.  He is unhappy.  Gandalf is the most docile cat ever.  He purrs at everything.  Today he hissed at me.  I didn't know he could make that noise.  Then, he growled at me for a while.

I finally got to work at lunchtime.  Oh well, there's always Wednesday and Thursday.

Hoping for a calm, relaxing night.

Night, night, sleep tight.  Don't let the bedbugs bite.

It's My Turn, by Nora T. Cat #11

I was especially nice to Gandalf today.  He's feeling down because Jen stuffed him in a box.  It was very stressful.  I mean there he was in the box, then Jen carries him out the door.  How was I to know if he was ever coming back?  Would he be replaced with an even more annoying kitten?  Ugh.  I was actually relieved to see him return, not to mention Jen gave us both treats.  Yum.  Anyway, Gandalf is sad and mopey.  His eye is bothering him, and he hates the box almost as much as I do.  I understand sometimes it's necessary, but there is something awful about having to travel locked in a box.

I've spent part of the day trying to cuddle, but he really just wants to sit on his level of the kitty tower.  Maybe later I'll let him groom me.  That should cheer him up.

Kitty Blog 11, by Gandalf The Grey

It got worse.  Today I awoke with my eye still tearing.  It's annoying.  I keep blinking.  The people keep wiping my face, which is almost as annoying as having the tears there.  Was it enough that I suffer alone?  No.  I was stuffed into a box, and taken into the horrible cold.  After a terrifying car ride (I hate the car), we arrived at the vet.  The office is pleasant and the people nice, but there is a bitchy clinic cat who even more full of herself than Nora.    I didn't see her, but she makes sure her scent is everywhere.  I could hear her laughing at me from the other room.  I'm sure even the people in the clinic don't like her.  The vet is kind, but Jen can just go to hell.  All my suffering is her fault.  She shoved me in the box.  She then took the box apart to remove me from the box, which was at least safe from the nasty clinic cat and anyone who might poke me.  Today was not a poking day, but the vet kept shining a light in my eye.  I already know it's a problem.  Why does he have to do that?!

Finally the ordeal was over.  Jen tried to pick me up but I hissed at her.  When the box was back together I climbed in with enough disdain so they knew I was not happy (although the vet sprayed something in my box, and it's really a happy place now).

Was that enough?!  NO!  When we came home Jen put some goopy stuff in my eye.  It feels better, but the humiliation is horrible.  I'm spending my day slinking around so the people know how miserable they make me, especially Jen!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Kitty Blog 10, by Gandaf The Grey

Life sucks.  Today I woke up to Nora eating my food.  I am still on that wretched diet, and it adds insult to injury that Nora can eat my food, but I can't get to hers.  

Just a few days ago I escaped.  The gate lock wasn't working, and the gate blew open.  I made a run for it.  I got to the front yard.  It's a big world out there.  I decided to pick a spot under the neighbors bushes and wait for my people to find me.  It didn't take long.  Jen came with treats.  I was happy to have her pick me up to bring me inside.  I got lots of loving and treats!  But no one would let me outside today.  I see the yard is covered in the white stuff again, but there's got to be one white-free spot.  Let me find it.  It can't be that cold.  I have a fur coat.  But nnnnoooooo, I was stuck in the house all day.  

Later in the day my eye was bothering me.  It happens.  I get teary eyes.  They don't hurt.  Sean and Jen insist on putting drops in my eyes.  I hate that.  I think I've been picked up for some loving, and then suddenly someone is putting drops in my eyes.  No one likes eye drops!  They don't hurt, but, yuck!

Then, at the end of the day, Nora again ate my food.  She left me 5 pieces- 5 lousy pieces.  

I hope tomorrow is better.

Working the Craft

We're two weeks into the new school term.  We live by the Jewish and school calendars, which conveniently coincide, so midterm is a big deal. It always takes two weeks to get back on schedule.  We're back to karate/kickboxing for Gavi, Keren, and me; back to karate and band for Jesse (on different nights of course), and Sean's meeting schedule is picking back up after a short mid-term lull.

With the start of the secular new year our schedule always changes.  Keren adds Purim rehearsal to the schedule.  She's been in the Beth Tzedec Purim play every year since she was 3.  She took one year off for Jesse's bar mitzvah, which was on Purim.  We attended the show that year.  In the show there was a kiddie parade, and Keren joined.  She's even in the video, so although she skipped most of the performances, she managed to still be a part of the play and get into the video, so we're still counting it.

Recently Keren announced she wants to play Cosette in Les Miserables.  She has a very limited time to do it.  She'll soon be too old to play Cosette as a child, but not old enough to play the other roles.  Sean's contacted a casting agent.  If there's a way to an audition he'll find it.  If anyone out there can help let us know.  I may be her mother, but I've been involved in theater (some very amateur, some professional) since I was 14, and  with all modesty, she's good.  I don't think Keren wants a career in theater, but who knows.  There's a lot of time to decide.

In the future, when children are older, maybe out of the house, maybe high school, I look forward to getting back into theater.  I've done it all.  I've been on stage.  I've directed.  I've done costuming and makeup and sets.  I've helped design and run the lighting.  I've done sound for concerts and musicals.  I understand the backstage mentality.

Funny things happen backstage.  There's a different sense of privacy.  Everyone goes about his/her business, changing costumes when and where necessary.  Mike wires need to pass under costumes.  Battery packs need to be hooked onto clothes in unobtrusive places.  Since I've stopped performing onstage, I've been at the mike table.  I'm there with Keren since she's too young to go by herself.  I do what I needs to be done.  This intimacy leads to a closeness.  The cast that stays from year to year is like a family.  We've shared simchas and tragedies.  We've celebrated and mourned.

There are kids that have grown up in the show.  They have trained in all areas, and become really professional in their attitudes.  It's amazing to watch.  We have the full video collection, and can watch our daughter's and other's development through the years.  They have grown, and with them their talent, poise, and presence.  Last year we lost one to tragedy.  I, and I know others, cannot watch the videos without a sadness.  It has introduced the kids to an aspect of life they might have otherwise not known for many years.  However, the support of the cast also bolstered and protected them.  Life has tragedies, but through this group Keren also learned about community in a special way.

This entry is a bit stream of consciousness.  Life is like that.  But when you can direct that stream into creative outlets, whether art, acting, music, or anything else that provides you fulfillment, that creativity can be incredibly grounding.  I love theater, all aspects.  There is nothing better than the feeling at the end of a performance well done.  You can feel the applause, not just hear it.  But the feeling comes from knowing that you've done your job well, that you've reached out and touched people.  It's a feeling of knowing that for maybe even just a little while you've changed someone's world for the better.

Apologies for the meandering.  I'll let you know when Keren's a star.

Good night and pleasant dreams.

Parashat Bo- Miracles

“Vayomer A-donai el Moshe: Bo el Paro ki Ani hikhba’d’ti et libo v’et lev avodav l’ma’an shiti ototai eileh b’kirbo.” 
“And A-donai said to Moshe: Come to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his servants in order to increase My signs in their midst.”
The Hertz Humash translates God’s words as “Go in unto Pharaoh; for I have hardened the heart of his servants, that I might show My signs in the midst of them.” It seems to be a natural switch. In English we would naturally say, “Go to Pharaoh…” The same is true for Hebrew. So then why didn’t God say, “Lech el Paro…” “Go to Pharaoh…” Dr. Hertz attempts to illustrate the purpose of the verb bo while avoiding the linguistic awkwardness.
“Come to Pharaoh.” The verb choice implies a familiarity with Pharaoh. Moshe has the ability not just to go to Pharaoh like any other begging for an audience. He can come into the throne room, into Pharaoh’s presence as he chooses. The verb should remind us that Moshe was raised in the palace. Moshe is not going to speak to a monarch to whom he has no connection. He is coming home.
Each time God commands Moshe to speak with Pharaoh He uses the command, “Bo, Come.” Even amidst the plagues, Moshe’s ability to come and go, to enter the palace and to leave, as he wished is maintained. Not just anyone could have led the Israelites from Egypt as God’s shaliach. Moshe was chosen not only for his caring as a shepherd, as Midrash teaches. Moshe is chosen for his place in Egyptian society as Pharaoh’s own brother, a brother who has experienced God’s presence and God’s power, and one who can bring it freely into Pharaoh’s domain.
Miracles and success do not only come through God. God often works through us, working with who we are and whether we take advantage of the opportunities presented to us in life.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Kitty Blog 9, by Gandalf

I love the January thaw.  It was so annoying to go outside in the yard with all that white stuff on the ground.  It makes my paws so cold, and there's only so many times the people will open the door before they get lazy.  I'd have to pick my way around the yard trying to find the dry-ish edges, but usually there were few to be found.  I know it got cold again, but for now I am enjoying the snow-free grass.

Today was quite an adventure.  I was exploring Jen's garden when I was suddenly entangled in a net.  I believe it was the same net Jen used to catch tomatoes during the summer.  I don't know why the trap is still set.  I haven't seen a tomato in months, but there it was lying (hanging) in wait.  I don't know what happened.  It just reached out and grabbed me.  The more I tried to get free the tighter the net held.  Now I see why it works so well for the tomatoes.  Sean had to come help me out.  I hope Nora didn't see. She'd never let me forget it.

It was quite an adventure.  Sleep now.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Switch in My Brain

It is ironic that I am typing this shortly before 9:00 AM.  I am not yet on.  I have a switch in my brain.  It's on an independent timer.  I don't get to set it. It flips some time between 9:45-10:15 AM each day.  I can function before that (and often do since my alarm goes off shortly after 6:30 AM most days), but something isn't fully there.  I've always been this way.  My children find it amusing and annoying, especially when I cannot process what they're saying.  All I hear is noise instead of words.  I need slow enunciation with eye contact to process.

When the switch finally flips there is a mental and physical change that occurs.  I feel more awake. My muscles perk up.  I stand/sit straighter.  The mental change is harder to detect, but I know when it happens.  There are a lot of safety nets.  Spellcheck is a great friend.  Usually I can find my typos just moments after I make them, but I can't not make them.  It's most noticeable when I'm not at work.  Routine helps, as does sunlight in the summer months.  On Tuesdays and Fridays, when I'm still up in the dark, but don't have to work, I tend to do the crossword puzzle (which I just typed as crossward, even though I could tell I was mistyping almost as I did it).  This leads to all sorts of fun.  On Tuesday (which I just typed as Tuesdau), I misspelled at least 5 words in the crossword puzzle.  These were not words I can't spell.  My mind thought one thing, but different letters came out of the pen.  (I just remembered my breakfast [soup from yesterday] is in the microwave, where it's been sitting for the past 45 minutes since I pressed start.)  This morning's crossword had the clue "place where your radius is".  By the way, the answer is not, as my mind first thought, in your circle.  The answer forearm.  At 11:30 AM that never would have occurred to me.

Oddly enough I do the sudoku better.

I'd better get my soup now before another hour passes.

Shabbat shalom.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

We Almost Become a Stereotype

School vacations mean visits with grandparents. Treks to New Jersey or Virginia are usually in the cards, although sometimes the grandparents come to us.  There is a flurry of activity for those few days, especially when heading to the States.  I love history, and I have passed on that love to my children.  Summer 2011 we did our own version of a July 4th heritage tour.  We camped at Shenandoah National Park, summer home of President Herbert Hoover.  We also toured Mt Vernon and Monticello.

We've done the memorials and monuments across the National Mall.  We've done all of the Smithsonian, although the kids were young and we should go back to some.  My parents are a short drive to New York and to Philadelphia.  We've made sure to see the sights there as well.

This year we went to the National Museum of the Marine Corps.  It's a must see, although you probably need three days to see it.  The Marines have created an interactive museum where you can feel the noise of incoming ordinance, the cold of Chosin or the vibrations of helicopters.  We aslo went to the shooting range.  The rifles have been adjusted for laser (no live ammo), and the recoil is absent.  Jesse, walking through on his own, missed the range, but the rest of us enjoyed it.

It had us talking about the skill of shooting.  There's a gun range near my in-laws, after all this IS the US south.  We thought we'd take Jesse and go shooting.  They said they were open Christmas eve.  Sean's dad, Sean, Jesse, and I headed out Christmas eve.  Unfortunately they closed early.  We ended up at Target instead.

Spending Christmas Eve shooting as a family.  If that's not an American stereotype I don't know what is!

We're home now, but the kids have remained in Virginia.  I wonder if they'll be a stereotype before they come home.

To all celebrating- I hope you had a merry Christmas and to all may it be a happy and healthy 2013, hopefully filled with peace.

Snow is Not a 4-letter Word

It seems odd I am posting this now as the snow is melting outside, but 1) I wrote this on our trip home through a LOT of snow in between winter storms, and 2) I am sad to see the snow melt.  Snow makes me smile. It makes my assistant a bit crazy.  He has a great window in his office.  When I walk in and see the snow falling so peacefully outside his window I tend to forget why I'm there for the moment and smile glassy-eyed at the beautiful flakes.  David has gotten used to this, and merely shakes his head until I return to the present.

I love winter. During the winter it should snow. Snow is one of God's greatest inventions. It beautifully covers the earth, blanketing the land in quiet and peace. There is a beautiful starkness in a winter landscape, the bare trees and brown grasses pushing through the white. The white of the snow filtering through the brown of bare branches and the green of fir and pine cause the mountains to look purple up close and blue in the distance. Driving through a snowy landscape you can believe in peace.

Smoke rises from a chimney, curling in the wind. The clouds blend into the slate colored sky reflecting the starkness of the ground. There is even beauty in the seemingly endless grey. Light reflects, bouncing from snowy ground to silver grey clouds, so that, even at 3:00 on a December day, it is not dark.

There's more to winter than snow. (Although that is my favorite part.) In winter the whole world is pregnant. Hopes and dreams are wrapped in cottony softness. Winter is the gestation period for the seeds lying dormant under that warm blanket of snow. All the promise of the future is wrapped in winter. In some cases buds are already on the trees, waiting for the freeze and the thaw. Just like people need sleep to rejuvinate, so too the earth in order to bloom anew.

So while many celebrate the January thaw, I look at it with some saddness and wait longingly for the snow to return.

Va'era- Frogs Here, Frogs There, Frogs Were Hopping Everywhere

One morning when Pharaoh awoke in his bed
There were frogs in his bed and frogs on his head
Frogs on his nose and frogs on his toes
Frogs here, frogs there, frogs were hopping everywhere
This is a very popular seder song in our home. We added it when the children were little, but have maintained its place in our seder even as the children have grown. It’s more than a nice rhyme. The song portrays an important theological aspect of the plagues.
...hinei Anokhi nogeif et kol g’vul’cha batzfar’d’im. V’sharatz ha’y’or tzfar’d’im v’alu u’va’u b’veitecha uvakhadar mishka’v’cha v’al mitatecha u’v’veit a’vadecha u’v’amecha u’v’tanurecha u’v’mish’a’rotecha. U’v’cha u’v’amecha u’v’chol avadecha ya’a’lu hatzfar’d’im.
…Behold, I will strike all your borders with frogs. And the rivers will swarm with frogs, and they will go up and come into your house and into your bedroom, and on your bed, and into your servants’ home, and upon your people, and into your ovens and in your kneading troughs. And on you and on your people and on your servants the frogs will come.          (Shmot 7:27-29)
The first plague, blood, strikes at the Nile, central to Egyptian theology. The Nile itself was a God. It could give life or kill with its waters, and all of Egypt depended upon its benevolence. So follows the procession of plagues. Not only do they afflict the Egyptians, they work to erode faith in the power of the Egyptian gods over all others. The Nile turns to blood. Fish die. The amphibians crawl out to plague the Egyptians. The frog plague, as with the other plagues that follow, fills all of Egypt, from border to border within Egypt. The frogs plagued the Egyptians in their homes, in their beds, in their kitchens, on their dishes, and on their bodies. The frogs fill every space, including Pharaoh’s bed and upon his body. The plagues did not differentiate among classes. They did not choose between the people and their god on earth, Pharaoh, but were here, there and everywhere.
Further, these plagues struck Egypt. They do not enter Goshen, where the Israelites dwelled. This is a basic theme of the redemption. Only the Egyptians were afflicted. As they had afflicted others, now they were afflicted. For and against whom God stood had to be clear. The child’s song, while silly and fun, illustrates God’s power and the extent of the helplessness of Pharaoh, a god among the Egyptians.
As an aside, I used to wonder why we read the story of the exodus for far before Pesach. I have decided it’s to remind me that Pesach is coming and I’d better start getting rid of all the hametz.

Shemot- Have You Been The Change You Wanted to See?

Last year for parashat Shemot I wrote about Naama Margolese and her mother Hadassa. Naama was the eight-year-old girl in Beit Shemesh at whom a haredi man had spit because she did not fit his image of a properly modest woman. There was outrage and rallies on both sides of the argument. A few weeks later, on the same day that I led Mincha for the first Masorti/Conservative minyan ever held at the Knesset, a woman was assaulted on a bus by a haredi man who saw marks from tefillin straps on her arm. I wrote of Ghandi’s words, “be the change you want to see in the world.”
Vatirehna ham’yaldot et Ha’Ehlohim v’lo asu ka’asher diber aleihem melech Mitzraiyim va’t’chayehna et ha’y’ladim.
And the midwives were in awe of God, and did not do as the king of Egypt told them; they let the boys live.
All change begins with one individual. This is the message throughout history.  From Naama Margolese and her mother Hadassa, the eight year old girl in Beit Shemesh determined to learn, back through history to Craig Keilburger, founder of Free the Children; from Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, to Rosa Parks to Mahatma Ghandi and so on, all the way back to this first act of resistance by the Egyptian midwives.
These were some of my words last year. If you googled Naama Margolese now, you would only find the news of last year. She has returned to her childhood. Nonetheless, Naama’s and her mother’s courage in standing up before the world to make public the wrong done to her opened a floodgate of support and action. The past year has seen more discussion on religious equality in Israeli society than ever before.
The past year has brought a ruling in Israel that rural communities may appoint non-Orthodox rabbis to be their religious leaders, and those choices must be accepted and paid for by the Israeli government. The Jewish Agency (JAFI), led by Natan Sharansky, no stranger to civil disobedience, passed a resolution calling for a “satisfactory approach to the issue of prayer at the Western Wall.” In early December a prominent religious leader in Israel, Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, called upon the State to recognize all streams of Judaism in all aspects, including conversions. Most recently Prime Minister Netanyahu appointed Mr. Sharansky to study the issue of equal prayer access to the Kotel.
A prominent theme in Jewish life, beautifully illustrated by the actions of the midwives in our parasha is ain somchim al hanes; do not depend upon to the miracle. Talmud teaches us that we finally merited redemption because of the merit of the righteous women. It all began with these two midwives. Our year of change began with an eight-year-old girl, but it continues with all of us. May 2013 be another year of positive change, not just in Israel, but in the world.