Friday, May 16, 2008

From JACTS Director, Rabbi Sara Shendelman

Dear JACTS Families,

We have had an amazing year in our
curriculum with our students. Really brilliant teaching
and art and music, Hebrew and more. I am told by
parents that students are loving it, and so am I.

The JACTS class that Av and I have been teaching week-
days has also been amazing. Contact me about classes,
Sundays or weekdays for next year.

I am so grateful to all of our teachers, and all of our
students and all of our parents! May we hold to
spiritual community and love more fully and feel
the embrace of each other!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Shavuot: Giving of the Torah!

Shavout Begins on
June 8, 2008 6 Sivan 5768

Shavuot is a two day festival (one in Israel) it is to celebrate the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. Shavuot falls on the fiftieth day after the beginning of Passover.

The Customs of Shavuot

(Much of the material in this section is adapted with permission, from Sefer HaTodaah of Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov)

What are the Customs of Shavuot?

Shavuot has a number of customs which are deeply ingrained in the celebration of the holiday. Among these are the following:

Staying Up (Without NoDoz)

There is a custom among the People of Israel to stay up all night to study the Torah on the first night of Shavuot. One of the reasons given for this custom is that it is to "make up" for the behavior of a large number of Jews who were present at Sinai, at the "main event," so to speak, yet they went to sleep that night. And Hashem had to wake them up with peals of thunder and Shofar blowing, to receive the Torah.

It is said in defense of those Jews that they slept "l'shem shamayim," with good intentions, for they felt that they would be better able to absorb and withstand the experience of Hashem's Revelation, which they knew was coming in the morning.

Those who stay up all night should wash their hands in the morning as usual, but without making the "brachah," or blessing, of "Netilat Yadayim," which is made each morning when one has had a regular night's sleep. Neither should they say the regular "Birchot HaShachar," the Blessings of the Morning, which contain blessings which correspond to the various aspects of "waking up:" opening the eyes, standing up, getting dressed, etc. On Shavuot morning, they should hear these "brachot" from someone who had slept during the night, but who came to "daven," to pray, typically at an early hour, with those who had stayed up to "learn."

Spreading Greens and Flowers

There exists a beautiful custom of decorating the synagogue on Shavuot with flowers and greens, because of the vegetation on Mt. Sinai. Some have the custom of adorning the Sefer Torah with roses. That, in particular, seems to have been an ancient custom, because Haman criticized the Jewish People to Achashverosh because of their observance of that custom.

The custom once existed to bring trees into the synagogue, but the Vilna Gaon basically banned that custom on the basis of it being "chukot ha'goyim," "adopting the customs of the gentiles," who have adopted the custom of celebrating their holiday by the use of trees.

Eating Dairy Meals

There is a tasty custom of eating dairy foods on the first day of Shavuot. Some simply eat a dairy meal. Many observe this custom by beginning with dairy foods, and following it by meat, to fulfill the commandment of "And you shall rejoice," and for most people, "there is no 'rejoicing' without meat."

In this case, one has to be very careful to rinse the mouth carefully, and to wait an hour between eating the dairy and eating the meat! In the other direction, of course; that is, meat first, then dairy, rinsing the mouth and waiting one hour is not sufficient (unless one is Dutch)! Then, one must wait several hours between meat and dairy. The number of hours is determined, again, by custom. The time interval varies from six hours to three hours (German Jewish custom) to one hour (Dutch Jews).

When having dairy followed by meat in relatively close succession, one must also say Birchat HaMazon (the blessing after a meal), spread a different table cover and reset the table for meat. A hint that this is the procedure to be followed is the Shavuot-related verse, "Bring the first fruits of your Land to the House of the L-rd - Do not cook a lamb in its mother's milk" (the three-fold repetition of the latter part of the verse being the source for the prohibition of the meat and dairy combination).

There are a number of reasons offered for this custom, but, whatever the reason, it is an established custom, and as long as it is not illegal, immoral or (very) fattening, we continue to abide by it. Some of the reasons given are as follows:

  1. The day that Moshe Rabbeinu was pulled from the water by the daughter of Pharaoh, was the Sixth of Sivan, the day on which we celebrate Shavuot. And Baby Moshe refused to nurse from a non-Jewish woman, so that Miriam, Moshe's sister, was able to get Moshe's real mother, Yocheved, to be his nurse.

  2. Until the giving of the Torah, meat was permitted to be eaten without ritual slaughter. Once the Torah was given, all methods of killing the animal for the purpose of eating other than "shechitah," ritual slaughter, were prohibited. Since shechitah could not be done on Shabbat, and everyone agrees that the Torah was given on Shabbat, the Jews had to eat dairy.

  3. The "gematria," sum of the numerical equivalents of the Hebrew letters making up the word, of "chalav," milk, is forty (letter "chet" (8) plus letter "lamed" (30) plus letter "beit" (2) equals forty) which corresponds to the number of days that Moshe studied the Torah with Hashem on the top of Mt. Sinai.

  4. Mount Sinai has eight names, one of which is "gavnunim," because its appearance resembles that of cheese, "gevina," in Hebrew.

  5. Until the giving of the Torah, the Jewish People were afraid that the milk of animals was prohibited under the category of a "limb from a living animal." This is one of the Seven Laws of Noach, which Noach transmitted to his sons, obligatory upon all of humanity, and which is the source of the prohibition of causing excessive pain to living creatures. Once the Torah was given, and "Chalav," milk, was included among the seven types of produce with which the Land of Israel is blessed, the Jewish People realized that milk was indeed permitted
The Story of Shavuot

Rabbi Sara Shendelman Brings Joyous Judaism Home

Bringing Joyous Judaism Home: Spiritual, practical and creative ways to connect with and live an extraordinary tradition
with Rabbi Sara Shendelman

Every Tuesday
at 7pm,
May 20-June 24

Chochmat HaLev

2215 Prince St, Berkeley, CA 94705
510.704.9687 | US Toll-Free 888.383.HEAL (4325)
fax 510.704.1767

Who are you as a spiritual being and how does Judaism impact this?
How do you help create your family's experience of Judaism?
There are a multitude of aspects to being Jewish—personal and interpersonal.

At the first session, subjects will be proposed and class members will choose what topics of Judaism are most relevant to them today and would most assist in their personal growth and bringing Judaism home. In co-creating a personalized class on Judaism, we will celebrate and transmit Jewish history, holidays, Hebrew, ritual, Jewish law, prayer, Torah, spiritual practice or meditation. We will also spend some time with Jewish songs, stories, Israeli dances, Jewish film, food, and making ritual objects (choosing from candles, mezzuas, challah covers, amulets and many more).

$98 tuition, $26 for materials
or $26 per class plus $26 for materials.
(No one turned away for lack of funds)

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Shalom friends,

In 70 CE the second temple of Jerusalem was destroyed and the Jewish population was scattered in the Diaspora. 1878 years later, on the 5th of the Jewish lunar month Iyar, the State of Israel was declared by David Ben-Gurion.
Immediately after the declaration of the state of Israel, the War of Independence broke out with the young state fighting against the Arab nations’ attacks. This pendulum of joy and fear, peace and war, has become a significant part of Israel’s existence. Symbolically, we honor the fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism on the day preceding the celebration of Independence Day.
The state of Israel became a melting pot of Jews who came from all over the world. The young state has made a difference in the lives of many people in Israel and in the Diaspora. The people of the young state made a difference in every possible area: science, music, agriculture, nature perseverance and tourism, to name a few.
This year, Israel celebrates sixty - a young state with a rich history and many accomplishments.

Yom Azmaut Sameax
Yom Atsma'ut Same'ax!
Happy Independence Day!

Transcription: Atsma'ut.
Part of speech: Noun, Feminine.
Literal Meaning: Independence.
Transcription: Degel.
Part of speech: Noun, Masculine.
Meaning: Flag.
Transcription: Shishim.
Meaning: Sixty.


Transcription: David Ben Gurion: "al yesod haxlatat atseret ha'umot ha'me'uxadot, anu maxrizim bazot al hakamat medina yehudit be'erets Israel, hi medinat Israel!"

Literal Translation: David Ben Gurion: "On the basis of the decision of the United Nation Assembly, we hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel, which is The State of Israel."

Context: The partition plan to divide Palestine between Jews and Arabs was put to a vote in the United Nations on 29 November 1947. The result was 33 in favor of the plan, 13 against, and 10 abstentions. The division was to take effect on the date of British withdrawal from the territory (15 May 1948). Eight hours before the end of the British Mandate over Palestine, David Ben-Gurion read the Declaration of Independence and proclaimed the State of Israel. The joy and festivals of the establishment of Israel quickly turned into bitter defensive war against seven Arab armies that attacked the new state.

Watch a Video of David Ben Gurion announcing Israel's Independence. 1948


The Israeli National Anthem Himnon
The Hope Hatikva

Literal Meaning Transcription The Song
As long as in the heart, within,
A soul of a Jew is yearning,
And to the edges of the East, forward,
An eye gazes towards Zion.
Kol od baleivav p'nimah
Nefesh y'hudi homiyah
Ulfa'atei mizrach kadimah
Ayin l'tziyon tzofiyah.
Our hope is not yet lost,
The hope of two thousand years,
To be a free nation in our land,
The land of Zion and Jerusalem.
Od lo avdah tikvateinu
Hatikvah bat sh'not alpayim
Lihyot am chofshi b'artzeinu,
Eretz tziyon viyrushalayim.

Click to hear Hatikva - The National Anthem of Israel



Name: Israel (Yisrael, Yisra'el)
Gender: Male
Time of Appearance: The Biblical Era
Meaning: According to the Biblical explanation, the first part of the name "Israel" is derived of the verb
Lisrot (lisrot, "wrestle"); the second half
of the name is El (El, "God").
This name was given to Jacob because he wrestled with God's angel.
History: "Israel" is the name given to Jacob after he wrestled with God's angel; it is also the name of the Biblical kingdom of Israel, the land of Israel, the people of Israel and the modern state of Israel.
Citation: "And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel, for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed." Genesis 32, 28 (Hebrew version: Genesis 32, 29)


Name: Tikvah (Tikva)
Gender: Female
Time of appearance: The Biblical Era.
Meaning: A girl's name (in the Bible: a boy's name), which means: hope.
History: There are two people called Tikvah in the Bible. One of them is the father of the husband of Huldah the prophetess. Also, the Israeli national anthem is called: "hatikva" - the hope.
Citation: "So Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam, and Achbor, and Shaphan, and Asahiah, went unto Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe, now she dwelt in Jerusalem in the college,,,." 2 Kings 22, 14

Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Butterfly Project: Houston Holocaust Museum

In an effort to remember them, the Holocaust Museum Houston is collecting 1.5 million handmade butterflies.

The butterflies will eventually comprise a breath-taking exhibition for all to remember.

Please facilitate the
I Never Saw Another Butterfly” activity and collect as many handmade arts-and-crafts butterflies as possible.

  • Butterflies should be no larger than 8 inches by 10 inches.
  • Butterflies may be of any medium the artist chooses, but one-dimensional submissions are preferred.
  • Glitter should not be used.

Send butterflies by June 30, 2008, with the following information included:

  • Your name,
  • Your organization or school,
  • Your address,
  • Your e-mail address, and
  • The total number of butterflies sent.

If possible, e-mail a photograph of your butterflies, to

Mail or bring your butterflies to:

Holocaust Museum Houston
Education Department
5401 Caroline St.
Houston, TX 77004

I am the victim.
it may be you.”

John F. Kennedy

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Shavuot: Giving of the Torah!

Shavuot is a two day festival (one in Israel) it is to celebrate the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. Shavuot falls on the fiftieth day after the beginning of Passover.

Shavout Begins on
June 8, 2008 6 Sivan 5768

Lag B'Omer: 33rd Day of the Omer

Lag B'Omer Lag B'Omer (Hebrew)

As Pesach flows into Sefirat Ha'Omer, (the counting of theOmer), which leads into Shavuot, Jews commemorate the loss of thousands of the students of the great 2nd century sage, Rabbi Akiva. Because of their lack of respect for each other, the students were struck with a terrible plague. On the thirty-third day of the Omer, the plague ended, but nearly all of Rabbi Akiva's 24,000 students had perished. To commemorate the tragic loss of these Torah Scholars, 33 days of the Omer are marked as days of mourning, during which observant Jews refrain from marrying, shaving, cutting hair and listening to live music.

In Hebrew, every letter has a numeric value. The "lamed" equals 30, and the "gimmel" equals 3, thus the name: Lamed Gimmel (L"G) Ba'Omer, literally 33 (days) in the Omer.

Rabbi Akiva persevered after this great tragedy and continued to teach those students who had survived the plague, as well as new students. Of his surviving disciples, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai is also deeply connected with the thirty-third day of the Omer. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai spent his life studying the Kabbalah, the hidden esoteric aspects of the Torah. According to tradition, on the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai finished revealing his teachings, recorded in the famed book, the Zohar. He died that evening, and was buried in the cave on Mount Meron, near Safed, where he had lived.

There are several customs associated with Lag B'Omer:

Bonfires: Families and friends gather together for a bonfire or a picnic on Lag B'Omer, often on Mount Meron. There are several reasons given for this custom. One is that the teachings of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai were compiled in the Zohar (which means shining light) and the bonfires bring light to the world.

First Hair Cuts: Many have the custom not to cut a boy's hair until he is three years old, the age at which he first begins to learn Torah. Because this idea is tied into Kabbalistic thought concerning hair, many put off the ceremony, called an Upsherin, until Lag B'Omer.

Weddings: Because weddings are not held during the mourning period of the Omer, and because of the high spiritual energy of the day, many people choose to get married on Lag B'Omer.

Mount Meron: In Israel, tens of thousands of people travel to Mount Meron to celebrate the Yahrtzeit, the anniversary of the death, of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. Per his deathbed request, his death is celebrated, rather than mourned.

Lag B'Omer ("The 33rd Day of the Omer") happens on the 18th of Iyar. The origins of the holiday begin with the time of Rabbi Akiva. The Talmud (Yevamot 62:2) states that 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva's students died from a mysterious plague. The Talmud says that this was because they did not show proper respect to one another. We celebrate Lag B'Omer as the traditional day that this plague ended (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, 120:1-10. Lag B'Omer is also the Yahrzeit, the anniversary of the death, of the Tanna Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai who authored the Zohar.

Lag B'Omer is a time of dancing and singing. Families go on picnics and outings. Children go out to the fields with their teachers with bows and rubber-tipped arrows. All of the rules of the Omer period are suspended on Lag B'Omer and it is a school holiday in Israel.

On the eve of Lag B'Omer huge bonfires are lit. This is to remind us that during that time there were rules set down by others which told the Jews that they could not mark the new month by lighting bonfires and could not worship HaShem. Shimon Bar Kochba led this revolt against tyranny and the bonfire lighting was reinstituted.

Lag B'Omer Begins on
May 22, 2008 18 Iyar, 5768

Yom Ha'atzmaut: Israel Independence Day

Yom Ha'atzmaut Yom Ha'atzmaut (Hebrew)

Yom Ha'atzmaut (Israel Independence Day) celebrating the declaration of the state of Israel by David Ben-Gurion in Tel Aviv on May 14, 1948, and the end of the British Mandate in Israel. Although Yom HaAtzma'ut is normally observed on the 5th of Iyyar, it may be moved earlier or postponed if observance of the holiday would conflict with Shabbat.

An official ceremony is held every year on Mount Herzl on the eve of Yom Ha'atzmaut. The ceremony includes a speech by the speaker of the Knesset. The Chief Rabbinate of Israel, along with many other religious authorities, have declared that Yom Ha'atzmaut is one of the Jewish holidays in which Hallel should be said.

For Jews living outside of Israel, celebrating Yom Ha'atzmaut is a way to express solidarity with Israel. In Israel, it is a national holiday, so almost everyone has the day off. National celebrations occur and additional prayers are offered for the nation. There are parades, fireworks, and of course the heartfelt singing of Hatikvah, the Israeli National Anthem.

National Jewish Outreach Program brings you a brief summary of the dynamic history of the State of Israel:



Israel Independence Day

Independence Day, Israel national holiday, marks Israel’s Declaration of Independence with the end of the British Mandate. It is the only full holiday in the calendar decreed by law without a tradition of hundreds or thousands of years.

Independence Day is on the fifth day of the Jewish month of Iyar (from the end of April till mid-May), the day in which David Ben-Gurion, the state’s first prime minister, declared the country’s independence in 1948. It was declared a full holiday in a law enacted in the Knesset in 1949. Over the years various traditions evolved to celebrate the holiday, and it is now marked by family picnics in scenic spots all over the country.

Independence Day celebrations begin on the evening of the fifth of Iyar with the end of Yom Hazikaron, the Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars, with special ceremonies marking the transition from mourning to celebration. The main ceremony is held in Har (Mount) Herzl in Jerusalem. During Independence Day, the World Bible Quiz is held in Jerusalem and the prestigious Israel Prizes are distributed to the year’s winners in a special ceremony.

Most businesses are closed on Independence Day, but cafes restaurants and other places of entertainment are open because it is not a religious holiday.


Flags – Many Israelis fly flags from their houses, porches or cars, often with colorful decorations.

Entertainment Stages – Because of Independence Day’s profoundly secular nature, a tradition of evolved of free entertainment by performers, dancers and comics on stages set up in the center of cities and other communities on the eve of Independence Day. The shows are often accompanied by fireworks. The main streets of towns and cities are usually packed with people.

Barbeque - Independence Day has become Israel’s unofficial barbeque holiday with families picnicking huge amounts of meat in every green spot they can find in the country.

Visits the IDF camps – Many of the army’s camps are open to the public on Independence Day, offering Israelis a chances to see arms, navy ships, tanks and aircraft.

Israeli Movies - Local channels devote all of their programming to the holiday and often screen old Israeli movies which have become cult items.

Prayer – Even though this is a national and not a religious holidayt, religious Zionists tend to say a special prayer composed by the chief rabbinate. This prayer sometimes includes blowing a shofar (a ram’s horn).


Most sites in the countryside are usually packed on Independence Day, also because this is the only holiday in which both religious and secular Israeli Jews can travel. Since so many Israelis use this day to visits these sites, tourists might wish to stay inside the cities, the main streets of which are also full of people.

Yom HaZikaron Begins on
May 7, 2008 3 Iyar 5768

Yom HaZikaron: Israel Memorial Day

Yom HaZikaron
Yom HaZikaron (Hebrew)

Yom HaZikaron (Israel Memorial Day) wes originally established to remember those who fell in the many wars that Israel has had to endure

at the hands of the Arabs. Now it not only includes those in the IDF
(Israel's Defense Forces) but the people who have fallen victum to Arab terrorists.

Remembering those who have sacrificed to help create and maintain the state of Israel is a tradition. We remember the act of creation, the Exodus from Egypt, giving of the laws at Mount Sinai and other events in our
history as a people. The Jewish people are a people of a collective
history and memory.

In Israel it includes many national ceremonies for fallen soldiers in which senior public officials and military officers are present. The day opens the preceding evening with a one-minute siren during which most Israelis stand in silence, commemorating the fallen and showing respect. Many say prayers for the fallen soldiers. The official ceremony to mark the opening of the day takes place at the Western Wall, at which time the flag of Israel is lowered to half mast.

A two-minute siren is heard the following morning which marks the opening of the official memorial ceremonies and private remembrance gathering which are held at each cemetery where soldiers are buried. The day officially draws to a close in the official ceremony of Israel Independence Day on Mount Herzl, when the flag of Israel is returned to full mast.

Yom HaZikaron Begins on
May 6, 2008 2 Iyar 5768

Yom HaShoah: Holocaust Remembrance Day

Yom HaShoah Yom HaShoah (Hebrew)

Yom HaShoah ( "Holocaust Remembrance Day" ) was established by Israeli law by David Ben-Gurion the Prime Minister of Israel in 1959.

Commemorations range from synagogue services to communal vigils and educational programs. Many Yom HaShoah programs feature a talk by a Holocaust survivor, recitation of appropriate psalms, songs and readings, or viewing of a Holocaust-themed film. Some communities choose to emphasize the depth of loss that Jews experienced in the Holocaust by reading the names of Holocaust victims one after another dramatizing the six million who died. Many Jewish schools also hold Holocaust-related educational programs on Yom HaShoah.

On the eve of Yom HaShoah in Israel, there is a state ceremony at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes Authority. At 10:00am on Yom HaShoah, throughout Israel, air-raid sirens are sounded for two minutes. Public transport (including virtually all highway vehicles) comes to a standstill for this period, and people stop and stand silent. All flags on public buildings are flown at half mast.

Yom HaShoah Begins on
May 1, 2008 27 Nisan 5768