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.

 

Veterans Remembered

On Memorial Day, we take time to remember men and women who went off to war, and those who gave their lives.  Such a sober thought, thinking of families that had a terrible loss.  Although we have turned Memorial Day weekend into the kickoff of the summer, it is also still marked with many parades and the hanging of wreaths at memorial sites to honor the fallen. Tradition compels the marking of graves in cemeteries with a USA flag even during “this 2020 pause.”

We have many markers in our society, across United States, so we can remember history every day. Sometimes these markers and monuments are just there and become part of the background.

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In my family history research, I came across a newspaper article from 1923. This article came up because family members’ names were in the listing of name in the article. I downloaded the article thinking, “what a nice find.”  At another time when I went back to look at the details of the article, I found a surprise.  The article for sure had the listing of names, but they were the names that were going to go on a bronze tablet in a high school.  I thought how nice that was, to have happened in 1923. I didn’t give it another thought.

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But research can be so interesting. On another day I was looking at the article and started to wonder if the high school was still there, and even if it was, if the name might have changed. No one today would know this area in Queens by the name Newton.  What a surprise I found! Not only is the high school still standing with the same name, but also it is an active high school.  I called the school and asked if the bronze plate was still there. The very nice lady was in an office somewhere in the building but she felt it was still there. She yelled over her shoulder to someone else to make sure and then decided to look herself. When she came back she said, “Oh yes it is still there. We wouldn’t take that down.” I explained how I didn’t live anywhere near Queens and could I visit? Any time the school was open I could go and see it, according to her. I really wanted to call back and ask for a picture because I wasn’t going to be satisfied unless I went a saw it myself.

Plenty of time passed before I was able to stop by on a school day to see the tablet. But I did stop by and get pictures. (If you are interested in reading the history of the over 100 year old high school, click here )

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As you can see from the picture above, there are many names on this tablet. According to the article, 27 alumni students gave their lives during World War 1.  My husband is related to three men who were brothers here. Two returned from the War and one did not.

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When we remember the fallen veteran, their memory can live past their time for generations to come.

 

This post was contributed by Joan Wagner, Chief Librarian at the School of Health Sciences

Newspaper articles referred to in this post can be found by clicking here.

The Joyous Holiday of Lag BaOmer

This year, on May 12, Jews will be celebrating the joyous holiday of Lag BaOmer.

typewrite with lag baomer typed out
Photo by Marco Verch (trendingtopics). CC BY 2.0.

What is Lag BaOmer?

Gematria, or Jewish numerology, is related to the philosophy of number and mathematics. ‘Lag’ stands for the Hebrew letters lamed — numerical value of 30 — and gimel — numerical value of 3 — with a sum of 33; this marks the 33 days of the Counting of the Omer in the Hebrew calendar. The Omer was a religious rite observed in the Temple on the second night of Passover.

There are some similarities between Lag BaOmer (sometimes spelled Lag B’omer) and the current quarantine and social distancing necessitated by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Rabbi Akiba and the Plague

The 33rd day after the beginning of Passover is celebrated as Lag BaOmer, because it was on that day that the deaths of Rabbi Akiba’s disciples ceased.

According to the Talmud, in the 2nd century CE, there was a plague that killed 40,000 disciples of the great Jewish mystic, Rabbi Akiba. The Talmud shares that this plague is a punishment for their not showing proper Jewish ethical respect, or derekh eretz (proper behavior and manners), towards each other, and for their lack of manifest proper ahavas yisrael (love of Israel) and love of all creatures (kavod ha-briut). Because of this tragic event, the weeks between Passover and Shavuot are observed as a mourning period, not only for the ethical failings of Rabbi Akiba’s disciples in the interhuman (bain adam li havaro/das zwischenmentshliche) and their lack of care and loving kindness (hesed) for each other, but also the destruction of the Temple that Rabbi Akiba merited to have witnessed. Significantly, it was on Lag BaOmer that Rabbi Akiba’s disciples ceased dying from the plague.

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai

Rabbi Akiba had five disciples who actually survived the plague. One of them, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, also known as the Rashbi, was a great Jewish mystic who eventually went into a kind of quarantine by hiding in a cave to escape persecution by the Romans. In the cave, he lived ascetically, eating only carob, with his son to whom he transmitted esoteric mystical teachings of Kabbalah. It was on Lag BaOmer that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai felt that it was safe to leave the cave after many years; many years later, the Rashbi would pass away on Lag BaOmer, making that day his yahrtzeit, or anniversary of his death, a day of commemoration in Judaism. Thus, Lag BaOmer is considered a day of Kabbalistic significance in the Jewish calendar.

rashbi's cave
The site some identify as the Rashbi’s cave. Photo by Deror_avi.  CC-BY-SA 4.0

Beyond “Business as Usual”

Perhaps the being stuck at home now will spark us to devote more time to the quest for intellectual, spiritual, and moral virtue, rather than assuming a “business as usual” attitude.

Jacob Richman has organized links related to Lag BaOmer that you can explore from home this year, and the Chabad website offer a simple, introductory article on Lag BaOmer. As the power of music in the Jewish arts testifies, song epitomizes the transcendence of the spiritual over the physical, so I hope you may enjoy some music associated with Lag BaOmer, too.

This year, Lag BaOmer falls on May 12, which is coincidentally close to May 15, the target date to begin to lift some of the stay-at-home measures in New York. May we hope that, with the approach of Lag BaOmer, the tide of the novel coronavirus begins to turn.

This article was contributed by David B. Levy, Chief Librarian at the Lander College for Women

May Day, Workers’ Day, and Labor Day

Ehrhart, S. D. , Approximately , Artist. In the merry month of May / Ehrhart. , 1905. N.Y.: J. Ottmann Lith. Co., Puck Bldg. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2011645701/.

May Day (May 1st) has a fascinating history as a public holiday around the world. Today, it is observed in many European cultures and celebrates the return of spring. Its origins stretch back into antiquity and through the medieval period, including festivals marking the change in season. Added over time was a maypole, that is a decorated pole people would dance around. The rituals were also performed in hope of a good season for crops and livestock. Over time the significance of the holiday was gradually lost. The Puritans that came to the New World viewed this practice to be pagan and forbid it. This is perhaps why the holiday never caught on widely in the United States (May Day, 2020).

Today, May Day is also known as Workers’ Day or International Workers’ Day and celebrates workers in the labor force. In Chicago on May 3, 1886 a strike at the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company, part on a national effort for an 8 hour workday, turned violent. There was a gathering the next day at the Haymarket Square, which turned even more violent when a bomb from an unknown assailant exploded. This incident became known as Haymarket Riot or Haymarket Massacre. (Haymarket Affair, 2020).

In 1889, a international federation of socialist groups and trade unions declared May 1st to honor labor in commemoration of the Haymarket Affair in United States, Canada and across Europe. Five years later U.S. Pres. Grover Cleveland, uneasy with the socialist and anarchist origins of Workers’ Day, signed a law making the first Monday in September a national holiday, Labor Day. Shortly there after Canada followed. (May Day, 2020).

May Day march in New York City, May 1, 1909. Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. https://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/ggbain/item/2014683315/

This post was contributed by Joan Wagner, Chief Librarian at the School of Health Sciences

Bibliography

Haymarket Affair. (2020). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from https://academic.eb.com/levels/collegiate/article/Haymarket-Affair/39667

May Day. (2020). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from https://academic.eb.com/levels/collegiate/article/May-Day/438716

May Day. (2020). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from https://academic.eb.com/levels/collegiate/article/May-Day/51569

Further Reading

Foner, Philip Sheldon. May Day : a short history of the international workers’ holiday, 1886-1986. International Publishers, 1986. Possibly available here: https://archive.org/details/maydayshorthisto0000fone

Haverty-Stacke, Donna T. Americas Forgotten Holiday: May Day and Nationalism, 1867-1960. New York University Press, 2009.

https://www.dol.gov/general/laborday/history

Dear Veterans: We thank you for your Service

Since the dawn of humanity in all parts of the world soldiers have been continuously  serving their country. The reasons for their service vary across the lands around the world.

Plenty of veterans gave their lives in battle throughout time. And it is known there will be lives lost on both sides of any battle. Most of them were young and had not lived out a full life.  The impact was devastating for their families. It comes back to had they lived, what would have been?

At the Veteran’s Day Ceremony at Touro Bay Shore, a veteran once said there is not a book, movie or picture that could convey the experience of the battlefield. That alone is reason to give thanks. For the veterans to live through and walk away from this experience is not easy.  We are thankful!

If you follow a family line, how many veterans are there?  If the line starts with a veteran that lived, what would their story be?  Here is a picture of my husband’s great grandfather, Ernst Wagner. He was a civil war veteran. Following are all the battles he was part of and survived. Continue reading

Happy Labor Day

Or Happy Phenomenal Labor Day!

I recently listened to several audiobooks in the car during my travels to work. Their theme was New York History. With the upcoming Labor Day, I have to say that New York has a very long history of “Labor.” In every book I listened to, I couldn’t get over the creative forward-thinking. All carried out with labor. Continue reading

A Day to Celebrate Library Assistants & Support Staff

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Touro Library Assistants, outside the entrance to the Medical Research Library of Brooklyn at the SUNY Downstate Medical Center. From left to right: Merita Verteniku, Sarah Nakar, Brandon Harrington, Ziva Romano, & Nino Rtskhiladze.

National Library Week is a time to appreciate libraries and to celebrate those who make them vibrant and welcoming community centers – library workers! A few of our own library assistants (above) had the opportunity to attend this year’s 21st Annual Library Assistants Day Celebration, sponsored by the METRO New York Library Council. Continue reading