Monthly Archives: April 2012

The Wandering Jews

by Kelley Kidd

I spent Passover this year in Washington, DC. It was a far cry from the fall, when I celebrated the High Holy Days in Vietnam, and Hannukah in Myanmar. The experiences were inspiring in that both provided me with a sense of belonging, community, and connection even when I was across the world from everything familiar. They made me, ironically, feel more connected to my Judaism than I had for years in America. I was curious to find out whether other Jews had similar experiences abroad—I encountered an Orthodox family during Rosh Hashanah who spent  every High Holy Days in a different country, celebrating with whatever community existed there, usually  by means of a Chabad House. On the other hand, I celebrated with the Chabad, but I also found that the diversity and breadth of my experience of other faiths and philosophies contributed to my own understanding, appreciation, and manifestations of my faith. I spent Rosh Hashanah in Chabad services, while Yom Kippur found me fasting on a boat sailing around the bay of Phu Quoc Island in Vietnam, letting me reflect more perfectly on everything for which I ought to be grateful and all the ways I want to improve my life than I necessarily would have in a temple environment. I was inspired by my ability to adhere to the letter of the law even halfway around the world, while delighting in finding ways to implement the spirit of the law in a new, foreign context.

In this dichotomy of experience, I found myself curious about how other traveling Jews treat their faith, and whether the new perspectives that travel inspired in me existed for others as well. My personal experience led me to Chabad, where I found a traditional Jewish experience, though it took place in a wildly unusual place. Chabad tries to serve as a resource—a way that the Jewish people may learn, practice, and experience Judaism, a home away from home for the Wandering Jews, as I like to fondly call them. There was a Chabad House only minutes from my dorm when I was abroad in Vietnam, and although I didn’t agree with or like everything they did, they helped me to grow more connected to my Judaism in the strangest of places. Because I was able to celebrate familiar holidays in such an unfamiliar place, I felt at home when I was most likely to be most homesick. On the one hand, many of the practices, such as the separation of men and women, were unusual to me and slightly off-putting. But on the other, I was in the midst of faith that was a cause for absolute joy and celebration, and a sense of unity in spite of a fluctuating, ever-changing community, and that was truly inspiring. Their resources helped me, as a Jew abroad, to have a vibrant, traditional, but personally meaningful experience, and they make every new arrival part of that experience, regardless of how long their stay may be.. Though Chabad provides an experience that is as traditional as can be, sometimes in the middle of a wildly new world, that might be what you need.


Thousands of Little Pharaohs: The Plight of the Agunah

By Martin Berman-Gorvine

In this Passover season, consider the plight of Jewish women whose marriages have ended but whose (former) husbands refuse them a get (bill of divorce), which only the man can grant under the traditional version of halachah (Jewish religious law). The spectacle of thousands of Jewish men behaving like little Pharaohs, in whose hands is the power to enslave or free their former wives, has become sadly familiar.

Not so well known is the inner world of the agunah. What are the emotional and spiritual consequences of being “chained” to a dead marriage? I spoke to “Deborah,” a former agunah from an Orthodox community in England, who was married for 13 years and had two children with a man who refused her a get for nearly five years following their February 2007 civil divorce, until he decided to get remarried.

Describe the community you and your ex came from.

I come from an ultra-Orthodox community in Manchester. I am the eldest of nine children. The average family has seven or eight children. My ex came from a modern Orthodox family in London, one of four. We were never on the same level of orthodoxy. No two families are!

At what point did you become aware that your ex was not going to grant you a get? How did he inform you?

I knew from early on this would be an issue. My ex mentioned in [British civil] court that he would give me the get after the “decree nisi [provisional decree of divorce].” Many times afterwards, he would say he would grant it on certain conditions. He asked for money—half the value of the matrimonial home, £200,000 [about $320,000]. He asked my family to pay him money in order for him to grant the get.

Was the Orthodox community supportive of your struggle? What are your feelings about that?

It was “oh dear, poor fella”—meaning my poor ex. It was a case of how can we support the man. I never had support. Of course my friends supported me, but even that became an issue. I lost people I thought were friends, but seemed to side with my ex. You definitely learn who your friends are when you divorce. I felt the community did not know how to handle the situation. For example, should my ex and the children be invited for Shabbat lunch, or me with the children? The rabbi carried on allowing my ex in the synagogue. I feel very let down by my community, then and now. I tried talking to so many people and so many rabbis. I have over 20 rabbis’ numbers in my cell phone. … I wanted action. I never got it. After I agreed to take part in a TV documentary about agunot, I was even more shunned. In the end, I left the Orthodox community, five years ago now.

What steps did you take to appeal to the Jewish religious court, the Beth Din, and other community authorities, and what did they do to try to convince your ex to grant the get?

I applied to all four Beth Dins here in London for a get. I do not feel there was any pressure for him to grant me a get. His rabbi made him his gabbai [sexton]. That had a ripple effect. People left the synagogue. But my ex would not go to the Beth Din when called to do so. Except on a few occasions, I was called to the Beth Din, I would go with my solicitor [attorney]. [My ex] got me excited, feeling the get was almost there, but then it all fell apart. I had various meetings with my rabbi and solicitor, but to no avail. He said he will go when he is ready. I always prayed that he would meet someone, it would be the only way he would grant the get. I was right!

What were the practical and emotional implications of your agunah status for you?

My life was put on hold, I was in limbo land. I couldn’t date, I couldn’t marry, I couldn’t anything. I tried talking to various people and rabbis to assist, but to no avail. I was depressed, I was very unhappy. I was doubting myself, I was doubting G-d, life, religion, everything that I always lived by.  What was my purpose in life? I cannot live like this, I felt strangled. It all vanished.

It was an awful situation to be in. It was a very dark time for me. I felt I would never have love again in my life. It was scary, frightening.

I did have wonderful people and friends around me who supported me through my awful ordeal. The husband of a friend of mine walked out of the synagogue my ex-husband was a member of when he was honored with an aliyah to the Torah.

I was so desperate I got a liberal [non-Orthodox] get [not requiring the ex-husband’s consent], but that did not do it for me. I still felt chained to my ex as I am not a liberal.

I have so many questions now. What is the Jewish life and way all about?

I do not wish being an agunah on any woman. I feel the power should be taken away from the man. It is wrong! I am a free woman.

Beating the Passover Doldrums

by Kelley Kidd

It is around this time during Passover, as the seder leftovers begin to dwindle, that I begin to rapidly lose interest in the standard Passover options of basic broth and matzah where bread would be. However, it simply feels inconsistent with the Passover spirit to live on just salads and eggs for a week. So I’ve been on the lookout for ways to take the Passover basics and spice them up a little bit. Here are some of my favorites:

Jalapeno Carrot Soup

This creamy soup is not only nutritious, but it is also a delicious alternative to the delicious but sometimes bland broth of the average Matzah Ball Soup. As an added bonus, the soup is usually vegetarian–so feel free to add a dollop of sour cream!


3 lbs carrots (cut into one-inch pieces)

1 bunch of cilantro

1 onion, chopped

1 jalapeno, sliced

4 tbsp. of ground coriander

5 cups vegetable soup stock (homemade or store bought)

1 tbsp. salt and pepper (or to taste)

Instructions: Don’t worry! With only one pot, this soup is exceptionally easy to make!

1. Chop the onions, rinse the cilantro.

2. In a stock or soup pot heated over medium heat, sauté the onion in 4 tbsp of olive oil.

3. Once the onion is soft, toss in sliced carrots and rinsed cilantro.

4. Mix together. Cook 10 minutes on medium heat until everything is softened.

5. Add sliced jalapeno, coriander, salt and pepper.

6. Add 2 cups of soup stock. Let cook 10-15 minutes, or until carrots are soft.

7. Let cool, while you prepare the matzah balls. (See below.)

8. Once cooled, puree one third of the soup at a time in a blender, while slowly adding 1 more cup of stock to each third as you blend. This will result in an additional 3 cups of broth in soup.


This recipe can be doubled easily, or made spicier by adding more jalpeno. But be careful! It gets spicier as time passes!


Vegetable Matzah Balls: If you’re looking for a healthier, scrumptious matzah ball, which also makes a perfect complement to the soup above, try these vegetable matzah balls. Simply tack these few steps onto your normal matzah ball recipe to kick up the flavor.


1 onion

1 carrot

1-2 celery stalks

Handful of mushrooms

Italian parsley

1 box matzah ball mix


1. Dice and sauté the onion, carrot, celery, mushrooms and parsley.

2. Drain the mixture and add it your matzah ball mix.

3. Cook them in pot of vegetable broth.

4. Serve with ordinary matzah ball soup or as an addition to the Jalepeno Carrot Soup with sour cream and cilantro on top.


Spicy Chocolate Almond Matzah Crunch: If you’re anything like me, what you miss the most on Passover are the desserts. So here’s a way to add a kick to your matzah experience and satisfy your sweet tooth.


5-6 matzah sheets

1  3/4 cups sugar

3/4 cups margarine or butter

1/4 cup honey

1/3 cup crushed almonds or pecans

5 oz. semisweet chocolate

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

1 1/2 tsp coarse sea salt


1. Line a baking sheet with parchment or foil. Coat lightly with non stick spray, margarine, or Crisco.

2. Place matzah on sheet in a single layer.

3. Stir sugar, margarine, honey and 1/2 cup of water in a heavy saucepan over low heat, until the sugar dissolves. Raise temperature to medium/high and let boil without stirring for 13-15 minutes, until caramel changes to a deep amber color. (Tip: Swirl pot from time to time and brush sides with a wet pastry brush to prevent sticking and burning, as needed.)

4. Pour caramel evenly over the matzah.

5. Sprinkle nuts and let cool.

6. Melt chocolate in a pot and drizzle it over caramel nut matzah.

7. Sprinkle evenly with cayenne and salt.

8. Let stand 30 minutes until chocolate sets

9. Break into pieces, and enjoy!

(Tip: Try freezing it for an extra crunchy crunch.)

(Recipes from Jeanne Kidd)


Escape from Freedom?

By Martin Berman-Gorvine

As Passover approaches, I have been reading the psychologist Erich Fromm’s 1941 work, Escape from Freedom. Writing when Nazi Germany was at its height, Fromm sought the reasons why so many people felt their freedom to be “an intolerable burden” that they wished to escape. The questions he raised are still vital.

We often think of people who live under tyrannical regimes as helpless victims. This neatly avoids the problem that even the most monstrous regimes enjoy some level of popular support, without which they could not continue to function; and even worse, that a people granted the vote may freely elect a dictatorship, as happened in Germany in 1932 and as appears to be happening in Egypt today.

Why does this happen? In the case of Egypt, we can begin with the failure of the old regime’s ideology of “pan-Arab nationalism” as championed by the wildly popular dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser, who died in 1970. Nasser’s enmity to Israel was later abandoned by his successor Anwar Sadat, who signed a peace treaty with the Jewish state in 1979, although not before launching a devastating war of his own, the Yom Kippur War of 1973.

After Sadat was assassinated in 1981 by Islamists bitterly opposed to the treaty, the dictator Hosni Mubarak came to power and ruled for almost three decades, preserving the letter of the treaty with Israel while discouraging “normalization” and encouraging anti-Semitism in the government-controlled media, most notoriously in a 2002 TV series, “Horseman Without a Horse,” which was based on the anti-Semitic fantasy “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” a text originally composed by the secret police of Czarist Russia but now ubiquitous in the Muslim world. While he was far from being the Arab world’s most vicious dictator, Mubarak mismanaged the Egyptian economy while allowing corruption to flourish, leaving an impoverished and deeply religious people vulnerable to the slogan “Islam is the answer” (which begs the questions, which Islam? whose Islam? Questions the Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood and the even more extreme “Salafists” have already answered, and woe betide anyone who draws different conclusions.)

Hatred of America and Israel, already encouraged by Mubarak despite the billions in U.S. aid he received, is at the heart of today’s political Islam, whatever the Muslim Brotherhood’s extremely canny spokesmen may pretend to gullible Western reporters. The Middle East Media Research Institute reports that, “In addition to antisemitic content, articles on the [Brotherhood’s] site also include praise for jihad and martyrdom, and condemnation of negotiation as a means of regaining Islamic lands. Among these are articles calling to kill Zionists and praising the September 9, 2011 attack on the Israeli Embassy in Cairo – which one article called a landmark of the Egyptian revolution.” So how surprising is it that we are now witnessing the slow death of the Israel-Egypt peace treaty? In case any Egyptian harbors doubts about the wisdom of a new anti-Jewish jihad, recalling perhaps the disastrous wars of 1948, 1956, 1967, 1969-70 and 1973, MEMRI reports that state-owned TV is again showing “Horseman Without a Horse.”

The Torah teaches us that while the yearning for freedom is innate, so is the yearning for a Pharaoh who tells us what to do while “benevolently” providing for our needs. This is what our ancestors demanded in the wilderness to which they had escaped from Egyptian slavery, driving Moses and even God Himself to the verge of despair. What terrified the Israelites was the prospect of freedom as a barren wilderness; that is, a negative freedom consisting of the removal of all restraints. It is what today’s Egyptians, beset by poverty and violent crime, think they are glimpsing as well; and so two-thirds of them have turned for answers to Islamists who claim to have a direct line to God Himself. What these dangerous people have to offer is not a return to the medieval Islamic caliphate, but a religion-infused version of the twentieth-century totalitarian political movements that claimed tens of millions of lives. We have to start telling the truth to ourselves as well as the people of Egypt: that what they are building is not freedom, but a bridge into the abyss.

A Match Made in the O.R.

by Sala Levin

The dating ritual is replete with anxieties: What dress to wear? How long should I wait to call after the date? Is my nose so big that I’ll be single forever? Well, Orthodox denizens of greater Miami, Michael Salzhauer is here to help you with at least one of those worries. The plastic surgeon gained some notoriety last month for putting out a music video (called “Jewcan Sam”) in which a young man–played by the lead singer of The Groggers–with a prominent nose just can’t get the pretty girl to go on a date with him. In exchange for the band’s performance in the video, Salzhauer offered gratis nose jobs to any of its members. The lead singer took him up on it, but his character–now smooth-nosed–still didn’t get the girl. Now, Salzhauer is offering scholarships for free plastic surgery to Orthodox singles. Yes, really. We caught up with him to ask him about it. (The following is a lightly edited transcript.)

Is this for real? Are you serious about these scholarships?

Yes. I’ve done a fair amount of pro bono work over the years. I had been speaking with shadchans [matchmakers] for years, trying to tell them, “I’m here for you if you have clients you think could benefit but can’t afford it.” It’s still spoken about in hushed whispers, especially in Haredi communities. So I’ve been trying to coax them. They love the idea, but getting people to talk about it is kind of awkward. I’ve been getting a little bit of attention through this music video, so I’ve been using that to gain some attention for this free plastic surgery concept. It’s obviously not going to solve the shidduch crisis, but if it helps one person find their match, I think it’s worth the controversy.

How do you decide who gets a scholarship? What is the application process like?

This program is requiring a matchmaker to refer the patient so that I know that they’re seriously dating for marriage, that the shadchan thinks it would improve their chances, and that they don’t have the financial means to pursue plastic surgery otherwise.

How many will you grant? Will you perform any procedure requested?

If I get so busy that it’s overwhelming my practice I’d try to schedule them out or enlist the help of other plastic surgeons. By the nature of the community and the size of the issue, I don’t expect thousands of girls or boys. There’s no procedure that’s off the table. There are a lot of women with breast asymmetries, where one breast failed to develop, and especially in the Haredi communities, people are embarrassed to talk about it. That would be on the table. Even liposuction—if it’s a tiny area, I’d be happy to do those also. No procedures are off the table—it just has to be the right procedure for that person.

Who’s been applying?

The youngest one so far was 21 and I’ve received from people in their 40s and anything in between. I would say it’s about 70 percent female and 30 percent male.

Is plastic surgery really the answer for single people?

There’s no one answer for single people in general. However, I’ve seen in personal experience in my own practice girls and boys come in and they’re kind of shy and self-conscious, and plastic surgery gives them a huge boost in self esteem. They’re happier. They say, “What you did for me really opened up my life.” Parents tell me how much it opened up their children. I know from firsthand experience this does help people’s self-esteem: I had rhinoplasty, so I know how big a difference it can make. It’s something I believe in and that I’m passionate about. Is this going to solve all singles’ problems in the world? Of course not. But this is something that does help. I’ve reached a stage in my career that I have enough skill and experience that I can really help people. I’m trying to give back to the community that I’m part of. I understand this is controversial, but I think if it helps one girl or boy find their mate, it’s worth all the controversy.

You say that those under 18 can apply with parental consent. Do you have any qualms about performing surgery on minors? Should they even be thinking about marriage?

Of course they need parental consent, but I don’t have qualms about performing a rhinoplasty on a 14, 15 or 16 year old. We routinely pin back ears on seven- or eight-year-olds. I doubt that 14- or 15-year-olds are thinking about marriage. They usually don’t start dating until 17, 18 or 19, so I don’t think that will be an issue—but on the other hand, performing surgery on minors for cosmetic reasons has been done for a long, long time.

What has the community response been?

Surprisingly supportive, as controversial as the notion is. I think there’s general acceptance that it could help certain people. There are people out there that from the beginning don’t believe in plastic surgery, whatever that means. When I ask, “Well, if your children had crooked teeth and you took them to orthodontist and put metal braces and twisted their teeth, you wouldn’t say ‘Ugh, they’re so vain.’ You’d say, ‘Of course we’re straightening their teeth.’” That’s a purely cosmetic procedure. I don’t see where the moral argument comes in when you say straightening a crooked nose is different from straightening crooked teeth. It’s not like braces are necessary to eat or live. Neither is rhinoplasty, but it does enhance people’s self-esteem.