The Celebration of Purim

This post was originally published in 2016 and has been updated.

Hamentashen, a traditional Purim sweet (CC image by Rebecca Slegel)
Hamantaschen, a traditional Purim sweet (CC image by Rebecca Slegel)

The observation of Purim begins the evening of February 25th

Purim is a holiday that represents a tangible victory over an enemy. Many things are done to commemorate this victory. The Book of Esther is read, people go around in costume to show their happiness, a festive meal is eaten, and charity is given to help those who otherwise couldn’t celebrate this occasion. People give out packages of food to friends (usually in the form of a dessert) to celebrate camaraderie.

For more on the history and celebration of this holiday, see “Who is that masked man?” Happy Purim!

Contributed by: Edward Shabes, Library Assistant, Midtown

Celebrating the Lunar New Year

This post was originally published on February 8, 2016 and has been updated

Chinese New Year celebrations in San Francisco (photo by Daniel Dionne)

Our enthusiasm for opportunities to start fresh has frequently made its way onto the blog, from the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah), to the civil New Year, to the start of a new semester.

This week marks another calendrical reset: the Lunar New Year. Commonly known as the Chinese New Year for its largest group of celebrants, it’s the start of a calendar determined in part by the phases of the moon, rather than the Earth’s revolutions around the sun. Because of this, the civil date of the holiday varies from late January to mid-February.

According to former Touro Library Cataloger, Liping Wang, observations of the holiday often include cleaning the home, families gathering for a home-cooked meal on New Year’s Eve, fireworks, and “luck money” given from the older generations to the younger in red envelopes. In New York, you can normally participate in parades and other celebrations held in Chinatown, in Manhattan, and in Flushing, Queens. NYC public schools recognize the Lunar New Year as an official holiday, meaning no school for students. Alas, Touro classes are all still in session, but we wish you all a happy Lunar New Year!

Happy New Year 2021!

2020 was a challenging year, but as we look to 2021, there are many reasons to be hopeful. We are thankful to have been a part of your year and look forward to supporting your success in the new one, too, through research support, online and print resources, and more. Make it your resolution to come visit us — online or in-person — and see all that we have to offer you.

Photo by Polina Kovaleva from Pexels

The Touro College Libraries wish you and your families a happy and healthy new year!

Put on your yarmulke, it’s time to celebrate Chanukah!

This post was originally published on the Touro College Library blog in 2015

(photo Ricki Carroll)
Many menorahs (photo by Ricki Carroll)

When I was a college student living in the dormitory, one of my favorite times of the year was Chanukah. Starting from the evening of the twenty-fifth day of the Hebrew month of Kislev, over one-hundred girls who called the dorm home came down to the front lounge, where long, foil-covered tables were set up in full view of the street, to light Chanukah lecht (candles or lights).

For eight nights the front lounge was softly lit with the light from hundreds of Chanukah lights. It did not matter if that light came from a sturdy iron menorah you brought with you from home that used olive oil and wicks or a cheap aluminum menorah you purchased in the dorm’s convenience store with a box of multicolored candles. Saying the blessings and watching the lights burn together, remembering the miracles that occurred in Jewish history during that time, that was what counted. Everyone was friendlier and more cheerful by candlelight, even if finals were around the corner and assignments were due the next day. Girls brought their dreidels downstairs to play around the low tables and ate sufganiyot, traditional jelly doughnuts fried in oil, provided by the school.

Jerusalem_Sufganiot_(8141532264)
Sufganiot from Old Jerusalem, Jewish Quarter Road, Neeman Bakery (CC image by Geagea)

We sang Chanukah songs and discussed the story of how a small group of Jews called the Maccabees (incidentally, our school sports teams and acapella group were named for these famous warriors) rose up from the oppression of the Syrian-Greeks during the time of the second Temple. Antiochus, their king, had issued restrictive edicts punishable by death preventing Jews from practicing their religion, including outlawing the Jewish Sabbath and most importantly, installing and worshiping idols in the Holy Temple. Judah Maccabee and his followers fought back, winning the battle against the massive Syrian-Greek army with their small band of soldiers.

The seven Maccabee brothers are condemned to death by Antiochus IV, by
The seven Maccabee brothers are condemned to death by Antiochus IV, by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo

After the fight, when Judah went to re-dedicate the Temple after its desecration and light the great Temple menorah, he could not find any of the special oil used. All bottles appeared to have been smashed during the desecration. After a thorough search, a tiny bottle of oil that would only be enough for one day was found still sealed. That oil burned for exactly eight days and nights, the amount of time required to produce a new batch of oil. To remember this miracle, Jews eat foods fried in olive oil, such as the aforementioned sufganiyot and potato pancakes called latkes. The dreidel has the Hebrew letters nun, gimmel, hay, and shin on each of its sides, which stands for ”neis gadol hayah sham,” or “a great miracle happened there”. Though I am not in the dorm this year, I will make time to pass by, look through the front windows at the long table of lights, and remember.

This year, Chanukah begins at sundown on Thursday, December 10th and ends at sundown Friday, December 18th.

This post was contributed by Toby Krausz, Judaica Librarian, Midtown

Give Thanks for Books

Thanksgiving is a special time when Americans gather with their families to reflect on what they have to be thankful for. This year especially, we have learned that each and every one of our blessings is special. 

Books play a special role in many American’s Thanksgivings experiences. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, three-fourths of Americans will read at least one book, newspaper, or magazine. And, on the busiest travel of the year, over half of Americans will be taking something to read as they travel. According to a Barnes & Noble survey, more than a quarter of Americans are taking a book as a means of getting out of those awkward conversations we often find ourselves in over the holiday.

Photo by Gabby K on Pexels.com

Whatever the reason, Americans turn to books to make their Thanksgiving extra special. Check out a book from your campus library or find an eBook to download before Thanksgiving to make your holiday a little more special. 

From our Touro Libraries family to you and yours, we wish you a Happy Thanksgiving!

This post was contributed by Michael Kahn, Librarian, Touro College School for Lifelong Education

Meow-y National Cat Day!

Celebrated on October 29th in the U.S., and on August 8th in Canada, National Cat Day is a holiday that was created to raise awareness about cat adoption and rescue. Established in 2005, National Cat Day is also a day for cat owners and cat lovers to laud the cats in their lives and to acknowledge all of the joy that they bring.

Cats are the most popular household pet in the U.S.: around 34% of homes having one or more cats. In addition to the cute and cuddly factors, cats and other household pets provide social, emotional, and physical health benefits to their humans. These benefits include decreased cholesterol levels and triglyceride levels, decreased blood pressure, and decreased feelings of loneliness.

According to the CDC, “Research has shown that cats can provide emotional support, improve moods, and contribute to the overall morale of their owners. Cats are also credited with promoting socialization among older individuals and physically or mentally disabled people.”

Benjamin Franklin. Photo provided by Kelly Tenny.

Here are some “paw-some” ways (Would it really be National Cat Day if we didn’t stick at least one cat pun in here?) to celebrate this cat-centric day!

Adopt A Cat

There are millions of cats nationwide in need of a loving home. If you are in the position to take in a cat or two, why not share your home and add a new member to the family! Not only will you be changing that cat’s life forever in a positive way, you’ll be improving yours, too.

Donate To A Local Shelter

Many animal shelters are 501(c)3 non-profit organizations that rely heavily on the generosity of donors. Medical care, food costs, housing, and taking in animals on a continuous basis gets expensive. If you are able to give to a shelter to help them pay the bills, you’d be playing a key part in keeping that organization open and functional.

Volunteer Your Time & Skills

For those unable to donate monetarily, a great way to help out local shelters is to volunteer! Clean up after the animals, feed them, administer medications, and help socialize them. Allergic to cats? Unable to volunteer in-person? Why not donate skills that you have! These organizations often need help with other aspects of their operation like fundraising, organization of collection drives, social media promotion, and more

Diego. Photo provided by Kelly Tenny.
Spend Some Extra Time With Your Cats

Who better to spend quality time with on National Day Cat Day than your own feline friends! Snuggle up and take a cat nap together, unleash their frisky side by playing with their favorite toys, spoil them with treats, and snap some photos of your companion.

Unwind Watching Cat Videos

We live in a stressful world, so take a break from studying and watching the news to let loose with some laughter, cry happy tears, or gush over kittens. YouTube and other video streaming websites are rife with funny, heartfelt, and adorable cat videos. No matter what your mood is, there’s a cat video for that.

References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019, April 15). About Pets & People. https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/health-benefits/index.html

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019, April 1). Cats. https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/pets/cats.html

Zax, D. (2007, June 30). A Brief History of House Cats. Smithsonian Magazine. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/a-brief-history-of-house-cats-158390681/

National Cat Day (n.d.). https://www.nationalcatday.com/

This post was contributed by Kelly Tenny, Library Assistant, Bay Shore

What is Sukkot?

This is a happy time of the year, when booths that were built to house the Jews during their 40 years of wandering in the desert, from the time when they were brought out of Egypt until they entered the Land of Canaan. These days, the Festival is spent partially in prayer and partially in the Sukkah, which is primarily used for meals. The palm branch and the esrog are shaken every day except for the Sabbath.

CC-BY 3.0: Wannapik Studio

G-d Almighty wanted to keep the Jews for one more day, much as a father would when the children have visited and are going home, and with that, the Festival ends. The next day is called Simchat Torah, which is when we finish the reading of the Old Testament and then start all over again reading the weekly portions over the next year.

Moadim L’simcha!

This post was contributed by Edward Schabes, Library Assistant, Midtown

Resources for the High Holidays on the Touro College LibGuides

The Touro Libraries research guides provide High Holiday resources, not only in the library guide known as parasha ha-shavua (the weekly torah reading) and Hagim (festivals), but also through additional guides on various topics, including links to online resources for archival research and education. In 2020, Rosh Hashanah falls on evening of September 18th.

The High Holidays within the context of all the Jewish holidays in the organization of the Jewish calendar are represented throughout Touro College Library Guide resources.

Image by Ri Butov from Pixabay 

For example, one sketch raises the question of whether the symbolic foods eaten on Rosh Hashanah is merely symbolic for the rational contemplation vs. theurgic supernatural mystical act championed by the Hasidim, which the Rambam as a deontological ethicist might warn risks being a form of delusional theurgic magic.

A second link examines the metaphor of the book on the High Holidays particularly in the Unetanneh Tokef (a Hebrew prayer by Rabbi Amram of Mainz) sung in the synagogues, that states to the effect, “On Rosh Hashanah it is written, on Yom Kippur sealed and implies based on a Talmudic text, on hoshanah rabbah the angels deliver the blueprint to Hashem’s heavenly Temple archive” and the importance of the reverence and cherishing of text in general in general for Judaism.

A third link explores both in Powerpoint form related to the guide on the Jewish arts as the last slides are fine art representations of this event in Genesis 22, and a written sketch of the akedat yitchak known as the “Binding of Isaac” which is chanted on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, raises the question of Providence (hashgahah pratit) vs. free will (behira) and G-d’s foreknowledge (yediah) and is the topic of midrashim found in the Cairo Geniza.

A fourth link of a Powerpoint considers the afternoon reading known as maftir yonah on the day of Yom Kippur, from the perspective of Biblical archeology excavations of ancient Ninevah, cartography, and close textual analysis, among other topics. Ethics is a theme of the book of Jonah in that the Ninevites must repent. On Yom Kippur, we repent our ethical failings in the communal Al chet prayer where one gives a din ve-heshbon (accounting) before the heavenly court in business ethics and in general Jewish ethics, ethical monotheism that Avraham revealed when he left Ur of Chaldea. Up until today in online ethics by applying the laws of forbidden gossip (Hilchot issurei loshon ha-ra) by the Chofetz Chaim and applied in case law to social media.

Photo by Esther Wechsler on Unsplash

The fifth set of resources relate to the book of Koheleth chanted on the festival of Sukkot, which raises the important question of the nature of time in all its dimensions. One link shows that striving to dwell poetically in time is the essence of being in the sukkah, whose construction requires that the roof (sakh) allow one to see the stars causing wonder, expressed in King David’s Psalm eight. Other links examine Koheleth themes in the afterlife, and further ideas of Nachmanides knowledge of shemitah ha-olamot.

This post was contributed by David Levy, Chief Librarian, Lander College for Women

Rosh Hashanah and the Book of Life

The Jewish people have been called the “People of the Book.” Books take on additional significance at this of year with the Talmud describing Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, as a time during which G-d inscribes the virtuous in “the Book of Life.” Indeed, across the world, during this season, Jews wish for each other to be written and signed in G-d’s Book of Life. 

Jewish tradition tells us that G-d does not put away this book once Rosh Hashanah has ended. Even those who did not merit being inscribed in this Book of Life on Rosh Hashanah may still be written in the Book of Life if they change their ways through repentance prior to Yom Kippur. Hence the solemnness of the High Holiday period as a season of personal reflection.

Image by Ri Butov from Pixabay

The Touro College Libraries have many books related to Rosh Hashanah and the High Holiday period.

[Maḥzor zikhron Reʼuven : le-Rosh ha-Shanah] = The complete ArtScroll machzor : Rosh Hashanah : a new translation and anthologized commentary

This is a machzor, a special prayer book used on Rosh Hashanah accompanied by an English translation, which is very popular and has been printed in many editions.

The Wolfsberg labor camp machzor, 5705 (1944)

This machzor contains a facsimile of Maḥzor Rosh ha-Shanah hand-written by from memory in Wolfsberg labor camp. When reading this machzor, one can only be awed by the dedication of the Jewish people to their faith under the most trying circumstances.

Rosh hashanah : its significance, laws, and prayers: a presentation anthologized from Talmudic and traditional sources

This book provides readers with an understanding of the many aspects of Rosh Hashanah that they may wonder about.

As librarians, we have a special appreciation for books. But at this time of year, it is fitting that we pause and reflect on how we live our lives so that we may be inscribed in the book that counts most: the book G-d opens on Rosh Hashanah. 

From the Libraries to the entire Touro Community, may you be inscribed in the Book of Life!   

This post was contributed by Michael Kahn, Librarian, Touro College School for Lifelong Education

It’s Shavuot—please pass the cheesecake!

illustration of crowd of people looking at mountain
The people of Israel waiting for Moses to bring down the Ten Commandments from Mount Sinai. Illustration from a Bible card published by the Providence Lithograph Company. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Original source: TheBibleRevival.com

Shavuot, the festival of weeks, is celebrated exactly seven weeks after Passover. It is the conclusion of the story of the Exodus from Egypt, which ends at the highest point of biblical Jewish history: Matan Torah, receiving and accepting the Torah and all its commandments.

In commemoration of Matan Torah, the first night of Shavuot is often dedicated to learning, with many staying up late into the night, and even until dawn, immersed in Torah study. This year, the special night of learning will be different. We will not be gathering in synagogue as usual to study together due to quarantine restrictions for the novel coronavirus. The learning, however, will be no less powerful.

biblical illustration
Bringing Bikkurim (first-fruit offerings) to Jerusalem for Shavuot, 1730, illustration from a biblical dictionary. Image hosted by the National Library of Israel.

In the days of the Temple, it was customary to bring Bikkkurim, first-fruit offerings, to the Temple in Jerusalem for this holiday, as seen in the illustration above. For more information on the rituals—or lack thereof—of the holiday of Shavuot, please see Dr. Simcha Fishbane’s essay “In the Absence of Ritual: Customs of the Holiday of Shavuot” from his book The Impact of Culture and Cultures Upon Jewish Customs and Rituals : Collected Essays, available as an ebook from the Touro College Libraries.

Personally, Shavuot is one of my favorite holidays. While all Jewish holidays (and Shabbat!) require us to eat festive meat meals together, Shavuot is the one holiday of the year that at least one meal is customarily dairy instead of meat. According to The Book of our Heritage by Eliyahu Kitov (v.3, p.73), this is due to the reception of the Torah and the laws of keeping kosher. Before accepting these laws, the Jews had been permitted to eat non-kosher foods; after, their utensils and dishes became prohibited under these new laws. They could, therefore, only eat dairy foods at that time. We continue that tradition today.

I find it very exciting to have dairy options. There are only so many ways to make a brisket—not to mention the utter delight of selecting a variety of cheesecakes for your holiday table!

cheesecakes in a bakery display
Cheesecakes on display in a retail bakery—so many choices! Image by Trilok Rangan courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

No matter how many cheesecakes I have tasted, however, my mother’s homemade recipe remains my favorite (naturally!). I am very pleased to share her recipe below. Chag Shavuot Sameach! Have a happy and healthy Shavuot!

Shavuot begins at sundown on Thursday, May 28, 2020 and concludes at sunset on Saturday, May 30, 2020.

Mommy’s cheesecake recipe

(My sincere apologies to the lactose intolerant!)

Use a 9 or 10 inch spring-form pan or make half the recipe to use smaller tins or pans. Best when round. If using a spring-form pan, place aluminum foil on the outside around the bottom and sides to prevent leakage.

Ingredients:

  • Prepared graham cracker crust (optional; if using, pre-bake 40-45 mins at 350°)
  • 16oz container whipped cream cheese
  • 16oz container cottage cheese (small curd is preferable for fewer lumps)
  • 8oz container sour cream
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 ½ cup white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 6 eggs (beat with fork before adding)
  • 1 cup milk (the more fat, the better the taste, but we prefer 1%)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°
  2. Combine all ingredients in a big bowl using a whisk, wooden spoon, or even your hands (be sure to wash them first!). Prepare another bowl.
  3. Use a food processor or blender and process the mixture in batches until smooth, pouring the smooth batter into the second bowl as you go. You may also beat the mixture with an electric beater until smooth if you do not have a food processor or blender.
  4. Pour batter into spring-form pan or smaller pans or tins with the prepared graham cracker crust.
  5. Bake for 1 hour at 350°
  6. Turn oven off. Leave in oven for another hour to solidify.
  7. Remove from oven and leave on counter to fully cool.
  8. Store in refrigerator. Do not release spring-form until after cheesecake has spent time in the fridge.
  9. Release and top with whatever you wish—we often use fresh berries or a variety of pie fillings. One memorable year I made caramel sauce!
  10. Enjoy!

References and Resources Used

Bikkurim: First Fruits by Menachem Posner

Shavuot by Louis Jacobs, in Encyclopaedia Judaica, 2nd ed.

In the Absence of Ritual: Customs of the Holiday of Shavuot by Simcha Fishbane, in In The Impact of Culture and Cultures Upon Jewish Customs and Rituals : Collected Essays

Staying up all Night and Greenery (lecture) by Rabbi Yehoshua Grunstein

Jewish Holidays and Food by The Jewish Food Experience

The Book of our Heritage, volume 3 by Eliyahu Kitov

Recipe dictated to me by my mother!

 

This post was contributed by Toby Krausz, Judaica Librarian.