Category Archives: Misc

The Rise of the Religiously “Unaffiliated”

One in five adults in the United States—and one in three adults under the age of 30—do not identify with any religious tradition, a new study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life shows, marking a noticeable growth in the number of “unaffiliated” Americans in the past five years. But lack of religious affiliation does not correspond to spirituality, the survey also finds: Of the 46 million Americans that don’t claim a religion, more than two thirds say they believe in God, more than a third consider themselves “spiritual but not religious,” while just over a quarter are self-proclaimed atheists or agnostics. These changes affect more than just demographics, as the religiously unaffiliated are becoming an increasingly important part of the electorate. In 2008, they came out for Barack Obama as strongly as white evangelicals did for John McCain, and continue to show preference for the Democratic Party and support liberal social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.

Mayim Bialik Goes Vegan

Mayim Bialik is speaking out about the benefits of a meat-free diet in a new ad for PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). Bialik, star of “The Big Bang Theory” and a longtime vegan, says much of the inspiration behind her decision to shun all animal products was Jonathan Safran Foer’s book Eating Animals. “There were two major shifts for me when I became vegan,” the Emmy Award-nominated actress tells PETA in a video interview. “I never had a sinus infection or been on antibiotics since cutting out dairy… I’ve noticed that my true seasonal allergies are much less severe… But I think he most significant shift for me was I used to feel guilty, even as a child, I felt very guilty about eating animals and never knew there was something to do about it. And as I got older, it became clearer that there are things that I can do and choices I can make.” For Moment‘s interviews with Bialik, click here and here.

Can Politics Stay Off the Field?

By Rebecca Borison

Israeli judokas practice on their side of the barrier, separated from the Lebanese athletes (photo courtesy of the Israeli Olympic Committee)

For 15 minutes, a group of boys lived their dream. These boys met their idols and played soccer during the half-time break of a game between Los Angeles Galaxy and Real Madrid. And after the game, those boys returned home…to their Israeli and Palestinian families.

The game was sponsored by Children United, hosted in L.A., and supervised by Jose Mourinho, the coach of Real Madrid. As the world struggles to find the “solution” for the Middle East, groups like Children United are trying to think outside of the box and employ sports.

According to Spanish journalist Henrique Cymerman, “People like the Real Madrid manager have more power than governments, in many cases, because football is like a religion. We strongly believe that the fastest road to peace isn’t with political agreements but through education and sport. Football is a very useful instrument to encourage different people to live together.”

Even though we may all have different political views, Cymerman thinks that we can put that aside for the name of sport. These young boys all share this passion for soccer, and by creating these opportunities, we can bring them together even though they come from entirely different backgrounds.

If only it were that easy.

While soccer-loving kids may be able to put aside their differences, there are still entire governments that can’t seem to put aside politics in the name of sportsmanship. Just look at the current Olympics, and you will unfortunately find an abundance of examples.

For starters, Iran has long maintained a policy of prohibiting their athletes from competing against Israeli athletes. And while this year, Bahram Afsharzadeh, secretary general of the Iranian Olympic committee, promised that Iran would “be truthful to sport” and “play every country,” no Iranian athlete ended up facing an Israeli athlete. The only hope of a show-off was in judo, but the Iranian judo champion, Javad Mahjoub, mysteriously dropped out of the competition because of a “critical digestive system infection.”

Last year, Mahjoub reportedly told the Iranian newspaper Shargh that he threw a match against a German opponent, explaining, “If I won, I would have had to compete with an Israeli athlete. And if I refused to compete with the Israeli, they would have suspended our judo federation for four years.”

Mahjoub had some issues leaving politics out of the arena.

And apparently, so did Lebanon.  After the Lebanese judo team refused to practice in the same gym as the Israelis, the Olympic organizers agreed to place a barrier between the two teams.

But before we get too depressed about the power of sports to overcome any obstacles, Itamar Marcus has a bit of good news for us.  While there may be no way of sugarcoating Olympic conflicts, we can at least find a slight improvement on the Palestinian policy towards competing against Israelis.

Reporting on the Children United soccer game, the official PA daily, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida had only positive things to say about the tournament. In the August 8th issue of Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, the newspaper reported, “[The game] aims to create a warm atmosphere in order to draw the nations together, and support peace between them… Mourinho’s influence may be much stronger than the influence of the governments, and football is capable of achieving what political agreements and treaties have been unable to achieve”

According to Marcus, “the official PA policy is to ban sporting events promoting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.” And the PA has been known to condemn such events in the past. In 2011, for example, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida reported on a similar tournament in Canada, but wrote that the PA was planning on forming a investigative committee which would “submit its recommendations before legal steps are taken against the players.”

The fact that the newspaper was able to report on the LA soccer game without any condemnation is a big deal.  We can’t be sure that this represents a total shift in policy, but it is definitely a step up.

So while it may take awhile for this sports over politics philosophy to fully permeate, I can’t help but think that it can’t move much more slowly than the current peace process.

Six Figures for a Thirteenth Birthday

By Lily Shoulberg

Growing up in New York City, I’ve always had plenty of Jewish friends, gone to public schools with significant Jewish populations, and, in turn, attended my fair share of lavish bar mitzvahs.  I think most Jewish New Yorkers can attest to the fact that when seventh grade rolls around, the fancy envelopes start pouring in and the schedule becomes filled with saved bar and bat mitzvah dates.  The parties usually feature at least one ice sculpture, and would not be complete without a photographer to capture embarrassing images of all the awkward pre-teen guests.

But what, really, should a bar mitzvah entail?

The bar mitzvah is supposed to occur at the time of the Jewish child’s (traditionally, only Jewish boys) thirteenth birthday.  He reads a section from the Torah, and in doing so, proves that he would be prepared to lead the congregation in a service.  Additionally, there is generally a tzedakah component, wherein the bar mitzvah contributes to a charity of his or her choice.  The significance of a bar mitzvah originally was that it symbolized the coming-of-age and manhood of a Jewish boy.

Today, however, many bar mitzvahs more accurately represent social standing and financial status than religious devotion.  Most of my peers who went through the entire process feel very little connection to their Jewish identities and ultimately regret the exorbitant sum that was spent on a single night of loud music and mediocre food.  Furthermore, very few of them maintained any knowledge of Hebrew and went on to assist in services at their synagogues.

I think I have a unique perspective on the issue.  I attended a number of very fancy bat mitzvahs and certainly felt the societal pressure to follow suit, but had been given quite a bit of freedom and independence by my parents, who felt that I could make the decision for myself.  I attended a year of Hebrew school when I was nine, before deciding that it wasn’t for me.  My parents, as usual, supported my decision.  When seventh grade rolled around, I naturally became envious of my peers and their larger-than-life celebrations, and decided that I would get a private tutor and cram for a bat mitzvah so I could have a fancy party of my own.  Luckily, this decision didn’t even make it past my mind to my parents’ ears.  I realized, not several hours after making this resolution, how fundamentally flawed it really was.  I felt very little religious fervor at the time, my Jewish identity was entirely cultural, and my motivation was completely attributed to societal pressure.

Of course there are Jewish children who feel that their bar mitzvahs signify their religious identities.  Some parents raise their children with the expectation of this rite of passage.  My mother grew up attending Hebrew School and had a bat mitzvah without a big party afterwards.  I expect that this greatly contributed to her religiosity and spirituality as she got older.  Because of my mother’s example, I see no problem in raising your children with religion and expecting them to pursue a bar mitzvah for the purpose of instilling them with a spiritual identity.  That being said, it should go hand in hand with actual interest in religion.  The fact that I will have to pursue an adult bat mitzvah of my own volition means that I’ll first have to establish a religious identity, which, to me, is more significant than being motivated by social pressure.  I know that my parents have had their doubts about being so lenient when it came to religion, but I’m glad that it went the way it did.  They clearly did something right if I realized that my superficial desire for a bat mitzvah was for all the wrong reasons.

No Gaga Here: Extreme Summer Camps in the Middle East

By Rebecca Borison

While I grew up at a Jewish summer camp playing Gaga, kids growing up in slightly (read: very) different areas than me are partaking in slightly (read: very) different activities in summer camp. The Times of Israel recently published two separate articles on Extreme Summer Camps. The first article discusses a Hamas-run Gaza summer camp, where “activities include walking on knives, cleaning beaches and experiencing life as a security prisoner in an Israeli jail.” Five days later, the Times of Israel released a second article about a right-wing camp in Ramat Migron, where the girls learn “self-defense techniques, how to construct temporary dwellings and basic agriculture.”
So we have two camps representing the extremes of Israelis and Palestinians. But let’s take a closer look at these camps.

We’ll start with camp “We will live honorably” in Gaza. Now that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) no longer runs summer camps in Gaza, “We will live honorably” is the only option for kids in Gaza. This Hamas-run camp attracts around 70,000 kids from across the Gaza strip.  According to one of the camp directors, Omar Aql, the camps try to “strengthen the importance of volunteer work and create a clean social environment.” For example, campers participated in a campaign to clean the Nuseirat beach.

But then there are some disturbing camp activities as well. Campers are introduced to a model of an Israeli security prison in order to “reenact the daily suffering of Palestinian prisoners,” according to the Palestinian Maan news agency. The “prison” consists of an investigation room, a detention room, a confession extortion room, a solitary confinement room, a courtyard and an infirmary.
At Camp “Hilltop Youth,” the campers partake in some disturbing activities as well, learning krav maga in order to fight against any Arabs that may happen to attack them. The girls are also introduced to extreme living arrangements, spending four days without electricity or running water.  Unlike the “We will live honorably” camps, the “Hilltop youth” camp is one of many summer camps available in Israel. An Israeli child can have a normal camp experience at Camp Kimama or Camp Tapuz.

Both camps promote the immense value of devotion to one’s people. A camper from Gaza named Abdulaziz A-Saqa explained, “We learned that Palestinian prisoners suffer greatly for the Palestinian people.” One of the campers at Ramat Migron named Esther told the Israeli Newspaper, Ma’ariv, “Whoever comes here isn’t looking to go to a luna park (amusement park), rather to fight on behalf of the State of Israel.”

Both campers have been taught to devote their lives to their nation. They are instilled with a great sense of patriotism—to the extent that they will fight no matter the cost.

While Gaza camp counselor Abdul-Ghafour denies that the camp is training future Hamas militants, it definitely appears to be a strong possibility. Why else would these campers need to learn how to “slide over thorns using his elbows for propulsion” and run and jump through flaming hoops? According to the Washington Post, the campers are “told to fight Israel to liberate Palestine.”

According to Ma’ariv, the goal of the “Hilltop Youth” camp “is to train and recruit the next generation of warriors to settle the hills.” They even bring in speakers from the settlement movement, such as MK Michael Ben-Ari and Itamar Ben-Gvir.

Yes, that sounds just as extreme as training Gaza youth to be Hamas militants, but there is one crucial difference between the two: the camps’ relationship to their nation. The camp in Gaza is organized by Hamas. As the ruling power in Gaza since 2007, Hamas is not only condoning such camps but is funding and running them. The camp in Ramat Migron, on the other hand, is run solely by extremists. According to Ma’ariv, “security forces came to the outpost tens of times and destroyed the wooden shacks that the youth had built,” but each time the youth return to rebuild it. The State of Israel is not supporting extremists. They are trying to stop them. In fact, Ramat Migron is scheduled to be evacuated by August 1.

You can make an argument that likens these two camps, and you could make an argument that contrasts the two.  What it comes to at the end of the day is does the camp represent an extremist minority or an extremist people.

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.

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.

Sticky Fingers’ Sweets and New York Cheesecake Cupcakes

By Monika Wysocki

A self-described “Jew-talian from New York,” Doron Petersan grew up in the land of Jewish delis, bagels, cannoli and knishes. But after assisting with a surgery in a veterinarian’s office and realizing that the flesh of the dog looked just like chicken she had just eaten, Petersan began to look for new ways to cook her favorite foods without using animal products. Her kitchen experiments, combined with courses in food science at the University of Maryland, eventually led to the birth of Washington, DC bakery Sticky Fingers Sweets & Eats, and cupcake recipes like the George Caramelin (chocolate cinnamon cupcake, filled with bourbon caramel) that have beat out non-vegan competitors twice on Food Network’s baking competition, “Cupcake Wars.”

In her new cookbook, Sticky Fingers’ Sweets, Petersan shares the secrets behind 100 of the bakery’s hugely popular recipes—everything from tiramisu to red velvet cake to key lime pie—and not an egg or an ounce of butter in sight. Moment Magazine sat down with Petersan at the Columbia Heights bakery to find out about her favorite Jewish foods, the cupcakes that made her a celeb chef and the recipes that elude her to this day.

MM: In Sticky Fingers’ Sweets, you call yourself a “Jew-talian from New York.” What was it like growing up there and how important was food to your family?

DP: I grew up in a household that celebrated every type of food. Every single Italian deli or Jewish deli in New York that you walk into, there’s this sort of Italian-Jewish hybrid food where it’s like, pizza, bagels, calzones… It’s just a constant meshing of the two cultures—the Jewish and the Italian food groups. Even though I went to junior high and high school in upstate New York, my family is from Queens, so I would always head over there for every holiday and every family gathering. So, I did grow up eating a lot of Jewish foods, but it was all one to me really. It was just New York food. These days, I would say that I identify with a more Mediterranean style of eating.

MM: If you had to pick just one, what would be your favorite Jewish food?

DP: I would say my all-time favorite is latkes. We made them here at Sticky Fingers this year during Hanukkah, and then during Purim we made apricot hamantaschen, which was really fun. We’re definitely learning how to introduce foods that are not as common in DC and really be able to enjoy making them…and eating them!

MM: What led you to open up a vegan bakery in Washington, DC?

DP: When I first decided to go vegetarian, I went home and ate every single one of my favorite foods in my grandmother’s house—chicken cutlets, meatballs. I just emptied out the fridge and the freezer, because I thought I’d never get to eat them again. But soon I realized that I could still make the flavors I was missing and I really loved. I was taking some food science classes at the University of Maryland and suddenly realized that a lot of the ingredients that came from animal products could easily be tweaked using some food science techniques to come up with the vegan counterparts. I didn’t want to have to suffer or risk not being vegetarian, so that led to the creation of the bakery. Although we started off as a bakery, we quickly realized that people are going to pass out from sugar overdoses, so when we expanded into Columbia Heights, we included a café, so now we have everything from sandwiches to soups, salads, and wraps. But we’re still really known for our vegan baked goods. You can go anywhere and find a veggie burger but you rarely find an egg-free, dairy-free cupcake.

MM: As a two-time winner of Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars,” you’re definitely known for your cupcakes. What do you think is behind the cupcake craze in Washington, DC, New York and across the country?

DP: They’re the perfect little hand-held dessert. They’re the perfect size, just enough to satiate a sugar craving, and they’re inexpensive. We sell more cupcakes than anything else in the store and the chocolate cupcake is our most popular cupcake. But if you had to pick one individual item that we sell the most, it’s a toss-up between our cinnamon sticky bun and our Calvin cookie, which is an oatmeal sandwich cookie filled with frosting.

MM: Do you have a vegan cannoli recipe in the works?

DP: Yeah, I talk about cannoli a lot. My mother’s side of the family is Sicilian and we’re very particular about the flavor of the filling. So I’ve had a lot of cannoli in my life and tried a lot of vegan cannoli, and I have not found the right combination yet, but it’s something I’m actively working on. I promise we’ll get it!

New York Cheesecake Cupcakes

(adapted from Sticky Fingers’ Sweets)


  • 1.5 cups almond flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 tablespoons non-hydrogenated vegan margarine (recommended: Earth Balance)


  • 2 cups non-hydrogenated vegan cream cheese softened (recommended: Tofutti)
  • 2 cups vegan sour cream (recommended: Tofutti)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons egg replacer (recommended: Ener-G)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4  teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1/4  teaspoon orange zest
  • 1/4  cup all-purpose flour


Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and line two 12-cup muffin tins.

For the crust:  In a medium bowl, mix together the almond flour, the sugar, and the almond extract. In a small heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt the margarine. Add the melted margarine to the sugar mixture and stir to combine. Fill the muffin cups with the two tablespoons of the crust mixture each and press the mixture into the bottom of the muffin cups. Set aside while you make the filling.

Make the filling: In the bowl of a stand mixer whip the cream cheese with a paddle attachment until soft, 1 to 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and add the sour cream and sugar. Cream together the ingredients until fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg replacer and water to dissolve the egg replacer. Add the egg replacer to the sugar mixture and mix until incorporated. Add the vanilla, lemon zest, and mix until incorporated. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure that all the ingredients are mixed together. Add the flour and mix.

Fill the twelve prepared almond-crust cups with the cream cheese filling until the filling reaches the top of the muffin liners. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the tops begin to brown. Cool completely on a cooling rack. Refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours to firm the cupcakes before serving.

Hungry? Sticky Fingers Sweets & Eats is in Columbia Heights, on Park Road between 13th and 14th streets—and everything in the café is baked on the premises. Sticky Fingers’ baked goods are also available for purchase in the Mid-Atlantic region at natural foods stores and Whole Foods. Have a knack for baking? Petersan’s recipe book, Sticky Fingers’ Sweets, is on sale at the bakery, as well as on her website.

Embracing Rosh Hodesh

By Scott Fox

I love Hanukkah: the presents, wintertime, dreidels, candle lighting. I love all of it. I was born on the fourth day of Hanukkah (28th of Kislev), which makes the holiday particularly special. I lament the beginning of the month of Tevet because it signals the coming end of that special time and the return to normal life. As a semi-celebratory day, Rosh Hodesh (the beginning of the new month) seemed just as perfunctory as Tevet. It is a time that is marked but not especially noteworthy.

Two years ago, however, Rosh Hodesh Tevet completely changed my relationship with that time of the year. On that two-day Rosh Hodesh, I lost a woman who shaped my practice of Judaism, and also discovered new women Jewish heroes who would inject Rosh Hodesh with a newfound importance for me.

In December 2009, I went on a winter break program to study modern Israeli literature and religion with students and professors from my college. The best part was being able to spend Hanukkah in Israel. One of the people we spoke to on the trip was Anat Hoffman, executive director of the advocacy group Israel Religious Action Center and the leader of a protest movement called Women of the Wall. She told us about how religious customs function as de facto law in Israel, reducing the rights of women and non-Orthodox Jews.

Women of the Wall organizes groups of women to pray on the women’s side of the Western Wall every Rosh Hodesh. There, many of the women read Torah and wear kippot, talitot and tefillin, even though the holiest site in Judaism forbids women from praying in any way that could resemble a man. Much of what Hoffman said surprised me—this was not the Israel that I grew up learning about that welcomed all Jews with open arms. To me, the Kotel seemed like a solemn place where all Jews could come together to worship at the spot that united Jews for more than 2,000 years in their longing to return.

With two days left in Israel, I got a call from home—my grandmother had unexpectedly died. It was 30th of Kislev but the news made it feel like time had stopped. Her condition had been deteriorating since the summer. Nevertheless, her death was a shock.

The next day, Hoffman suggested that we attend the next Women of the Wall gathering on the first of Tevet. Like many of the other students, I felt both apprehensive and a bit energized about encountering the situation. I had already been to the Kotel a few times on the trip to respectfully worship. Now, I was returning, in a way, to denounce those who worship there. It almost seemed wrong to disrespect such a holy place, especially since my family was beginning a burial and mourning process that was meant to convey deference to God’s master plan. But somehow it still felt like the right thing to do for her.

My grandma was perhaps the biggest religious force in my family. She insisted on keeping a kosher home and having her children and grandchildren attend Jewish day school because she believed the structure was necessary to keep future generations practicing Judaism.

She was also far from a Lubavitcher rebbe. She was a sophisticated, ardent liberal who lived in a secular world. She was continually abreast with the latest political developments or art exhibits. While embracing the structure of Jewish tradition, she could also be very combative toward anything she did not approve of. She always fought for what she believed. As a Conservative Jew, she believed that all Jews had the right to practice religion as they desired. At her funeral, the rabbi of the synagogue praised her for doing something rare today: raising a family committed to observance of Jewish tradition while avoiding any sort of fanaticism.

That Friday morning, the first of Tevet, a cold, relentless rain fell on Jerusalem. We were already soaked as our group walked up the hills into the Old City. The women in our group went into the women’s section and joined a larger group under a colorful array of umbrellas that hid a Torah underneath.

Although it was too wet for the women to read from the Torah that morning, Orthodox men on the other side were still outraged by their presence and began yelling “Asur” (“forbidden”), throwing things at them and calling them transvestites and other derogatory words. Shockingly, this seems tame compared to what recently happened to an eight-year old girl.

Ultra-Orthodox men are forbidden from hearing women sing, especially while praying, because it will be a distraction to their religious devotion. That day it was the opposite. The men were so disruptive that I was unable to focus on praying for my grandmother over on the men’s side. Police separated the enraged men from the women who did their best to drown out all of the haranguing directed at them. I still cannot believe what I witnessed in what seemed like such a hallowed place—my grandmother would have been outraged. Supporting Women of the Wall was my way of continuing my family’s tradition.

This year, Rosh Hodesh Tevet fell on my birthday, meaning that I would honor my grandmother by saying Kaddish as I began a new year of my life. It’s easy to celebrate a new year but celebrating a new month was more difficult for me to understand until I encountered Women of the Wall demonstrating the true spirit of Rosh Hodesh. Rosh Hodesh is meant to be a shake-up from the laws of the status quo in hopes of provoking a more righteous month to come.

Little Jewish School on the Prairie

By Scott Fox

A girls’ high school catering to Orthodox Jews in the little town of Bricelyn, Minnesota, population 340.  Sounds crazy, no? On the surface, The Minnesota Girls Academy (MGA) seems unusual for several reasons, which could be a reason for its lack of success. The school opened in 2009, but was forced to shut down earlier this year after running out of money to operate. Yet it is a needed resource for a community that is sometimes unnoticed.

People sometimes assume that due to their devout nature, teens in Orthodox Jewish communities in places like Borough Park, Brooklyn, do not succumb to self-destructive behavior like abusing drugs or alcohol, cutting themselves, or  suffering from eating disorders. Teens facing emotional and/or behavioral challenges, also known as at-risk teenagers, are not only just as prevalent in Orthodox communities but have become a growing problem there recent years. A  New York Times article from April featured rabbinic leaders confronting a growing of number of teenage girls in their community dealing with eating disorders.

MGA, also known as the Miryam Ghermezian Academy, was devoted to putting the lives of at-risk teenage girls on the right track. Its student body was entirely composed of girls from Orthodox communities in the U.S., U.K. and Israel. The school was the first Jewish-run therapeutic boarding school in the U.S.

“In the non-Jewish world, there have been programs running for troubled teens for a long time,” Rabbi A.Y. Weinberg, founder and director of the school, explained. “That left a need for Jewish troubled teens that are searching for some sort of spirituality, which they will not get in a non-Jewish program.”

Going back to the 18th and 19th centuries, there have been Jewish groups, such as local Jewish Family Service organizations across the country, devoted to helping troubled children. However, there had not been a year-round Jewish therapeutic boarding school before MGA.

Why Bricelyn? Weinberg was surprisingly nonchalant in discussing the seemingly unlikely selection of a town 90 miles from the nearest Jewish community (Rochester).

“We came across a vacant public high school with the right price and right location,” he said. “Rural Minnesota is not a problem. Twin Cities Poultry distributes kosher meat and products throughout the Midwest.”

One factor that likely helped Weinberg pick Minnesota was that the company run by the school’s largest benefactor, Don Ghermezian, helped create and currently owns the Mall of America in the suburbs of Minneapolis. MGA has used the Mall of America for fundraising and to educate the girls on life skills and professional experiences. Weinberg also said it is not uncommon for therapeutic boarding schools to be placed in remote areas.

Bricelyn turned out to be a welcoming community for the Jewish educational center that took over the community’s old public school (Bricelyn has become too small for its own school; the nearest public school is in nearby Wells). The local school district helped set up an online-based program for the girls to take classes in English subjects. and has also employed several local residents as dorm staff and cooks. Many of the town’s residents attended the school’s dedication ceremony in 2009 to show their support. Students were also involved in the community by volunteering at local hospitals, schools, and senior centers.

After 19 years spent serving as Midwest Regional Director of National Conference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY), an Orthodox teen group, Weinberg founded MGA’s parent program, Project Extreme, in 2001 when he saw an unfulfilled need in his community for the teens that required the most help. Project Extreme began as a summer camp that took Orthodox Jewish boys and girls whose behavior was alienating themselves from their loved ones and community out to the Canadian Rockies. The program, based out of Long Island, soon introduced weekend and holiday retreats in upstate New York, character-building “Nights on the Town”, and a helpline to provide year-round service.

Starting a full-time school was the next logical extension of the program’s reach. Advertising itself as “kosher, therapeutic, residential setting,” the school opened its doors in 2009 as a year-round facility with a student body of 15. It closed last September.  For now, the school is on hold until a source of outside funding can be discovered.

One could argue that the school’s downfall was its extensive commitment to its students. MGA had ten staff members for its 15 students. Each student’s individualized treatment was overseen by a clinician, program director, assistant program director, program nurse and academic administrator. According to Weinberg, the cost of caring for each student is $75,000 a year. Since each student’s parents are required to only pay what they can afford, much of that $75,000 for each student needs to come from fundraising. Weinberg has so far explored several avenues, including state and federal governments, in search of funding, with no luck.

While it was open, the school was able to attract girls primarily through word-of-mouth in Orthodox communities. Though Project Extreme’s programs are run by Orthodox Jews, separated by gender, and have a solely Orthodox clientele, the program is open to teenagers from all backgrounds and hopes to attract Jews from other denominations in the future. Students at MGA were not required to adopt an Orthodox Jewish lifestyle beyond keeping kashrut and observing Shabbat.

One especially helpful aspect of MGA and Project Extreme is their requirement that all of its staff sign a social contract stating that they will maintain contact with each teen that they work with into adulthood.

“It’s a necessity,” Weinberg explained. “If you run a program, the impact needs to last. If we follow up, the impact lasts or we send them to another program where they need to go to. We need to be there to pick up the pieces when they slip. There’s nothing like helping (these kids). You’re basically saving their life.”