Feature Stories Jewish Holidays

Shanah Tova

Can Yom Kippur atonement be accomplished in 140 characters or less?

By Alina Dain Sharon/ JNS.org

Coming from a non-observant family of Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union to Israel, a country where many people tend to lead secular lifestyles to begin with, I wasn’t raised in a particularly religious environment. In fact, I can count on fewer than five fingers the times that I stepped foot in a synagogue during my childhood.

But one aspect of the Jewish faith that has always appealed to me, and likely appeals to many other Jews—religious and non-religious alike—is its introspective morality. Every fall season, we look back on the past year in advance of Yom Kippur, determine whom we have wronged, and try to atone for our interpersonal sins with sincere apologies.

Around the time of Yom Kippur last year, I felt that I had unintentionally offended an old friend of mine. I then decided to make an apology. Belief in God or prayer aside, this felt to me like the decent thing to do.

Without too much thought about the medium, I made the apology through a Facebook message. Although the apology was accepted, I later questioned whether I had handled this the right way.

In the fast-paced world we live in today, in which many social interactions are already conducted online, can apologizing on social media be considered true atonement? JNS.org surveyed Jewish religious leaders across denominations on the subject.

Popular Jewish blogger and social media expert Rabbi Jason Miller strongly argues against technology-facilitated atonement.

“I’m a fan of face-to-face communication or, when not possible, a phone call. It’s important for people to hear your voice when you apologize. Sending an email, text message, or Facebook message is a good start, but it’s not sufficient for the performance of teshuvah (atonement),” Miller says.

Yet Miller does acknowledge that “our communication preferences change as new technology emerges,” which “means that what our society considers acceptable for sincere communication, like asking for forgiveness before Yom Kippur, also changes.”

“There was a time when it wouldn’t be considered appropriate to perform teshuvah over the phone,” Miller says. “That changed as people moved farther away and there were not opportunities for face-to-face communication. Soon, email and then texting became ‘tacky’ ways of performing teshuvah—until these were the most common ways that we engage with each other.”

Even so, Miller maintains that face-to-face communication should remain the preferred mode of teshuvah, because it is much more difficult to ask for repentance in person.

In fact, according to Rabbi Joshua Rabin, director of kehilla enrichment (organizational development) at the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, people often tend to apologize via social media “because sometimes it’s just easier to type a message to somebody than to look them in the eye.”

Female hands typing on a white computer keyboard. White background.Rabin says that these days, when “more and more people use technology—whether it’s text messaging or social media—to communicate with each other about important things, it actually is all the more reason why a face-to-face personal apology is the most meaningful thing you can do. It’s that much different from the typical option.”

But there’s one exception, Rabin argues: “if the wrong you committed was actually through social media.”

“If you were to write a really nasty tweet about somebody… I think that any teshuvah process should involve your actually apologizing through that medium to begin the process, because that’s where the wrong was committed,” he says.

Rabbi Roni Handler, director of community learning for the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and executive editor of Ritualwell.org—a website committed to blending Jewish tradition with innovation—also believes that if the sin being atoned for is directly connected to social media, “there’s actually something really powerful about stating that [apology] online.”

“If we are atoning for something like spending too much time on social media and not paying attention to our family, then putting out a statement like that might serve to hold us accountable and show our recognition of having a problem in this area,” Handler says.

“But it shouldn’t be that we just state it and then go back to our regular behavior,” she adds. “That, in fact, is not doing teshuvah according to any Jewish scholar.”

In the Reconstructionist movement, explains Handler, “we value community a lot, and obviously the face-to-face community is really special and powerful… But we are always thinking about other ways in which we can connect as well. I don’t know that should replace face-to-face connection, but we do recognize that community is important and there are a lot of different ways to connect.”

sorryHandler believes there is a difference between posting a public apology on social media and sending a direct social media message to an individual. Posting a public apology has its place and value, though in many cases it should be just the first step on the way to teshuvah, says Handler. Regarding direct messages on social media, their suitability for atonement “depends on the relationship itself,” she says.

“There is a lot that can end up being misconstrued in writing, whether it is in an email, in a text or online… Something that people might be writing quickly because they’re running out of the door, might come out as curt or angry. So… when one is making teshuvah, having the proper intention is so important for that. If the relationship that you have is one that you feel an email could be sufficient [for an apology] …then in that case maybe that would be okay,” Handler says. Rabbi Esther Lederman, director of communities of practice at the Union for Reform Judaism, also cautions against making a mass apology on social media because forgiveness in the Jewish tradition must be sought “directly from the person you have hurt” and is “also about repairing the relationship, which can’t be done anonymously.”

Additionally, when it comes to apologizing to someone directly via social media, Lederman believes that the medium is less significant than the intention of the apology.

“I’ve had very meaningful exchanges by chat and email, although I am also someone who prefers to communicate with a person by voice,” she says.

Lederman says she fears a world in which “technology will replace the real human-to-human contact that is necessary for sacred engagement.” If this occurs, she says, “What is the point in gathering together as a community at an appointed time? I believe there is a sacred purpose to that and I don’t want email, Facebook, or Twitter to ever replace this.”

The social media editor of Chabad.org, Rabbi Mordechai Lightstone, emphasizes that the most important aspect of atoning for interpersonal transgressions is understanding that forgiveness in Jewish centers on how the aggrieved person receives the apology. If that person feels they were apologized to in the right way, then whatever the medium is becomes less significant.

“When we wish to truly convey the emotional impact of our words, we must make sure we truly understand how they will appear,” Lightstone says.

That appearance, in turn, will differ depending on whoever is receiving the apology.

“To some, nothing short of a phone call before Yom Kippur would be considered a serious and honest form of asking forgiveness,” says Lightstone. “To others, the very thought of a phone call would be considered unnecessary and even socially awkward. It takes a true understanding of who your friends are to really know the best way to reach out.”

Lightstone, therefore, is unlikely to consider my aforementioned decision to apologize to my friend via Facebook as invariably wrong, as long as the apology was truly accepted.

“If I’m able to truly convey my heartfelt remorse with an emoji and a short message, and I know that the person receiving it will be fully comforted or even prefer that text [over a phone call or face-to-face apology], then I’m happy to do so,” Lightstone says.




Which month marks the Jewish New Year?

By Maayan Jaffe/JNS.org

Tishrei is among the most well-known months on the Hebrew calendar because it contains the High Holidays and marks the beginning of the year. Or so it seems.

HH STUFFIndeed, to modern-day Jews, Rosh Hashanah is considered the Jewish New Year. But traditionally, the Hebrew calendar actually has four “New Year” days: the first of Tishrei (Rosh Hashanah); the first of Nisan; the 15th of Shevat (Tu B’Shevat, or the New Year of trees); and the first of Elul, the New Year of animal tithes (taxation).

The Torah specifically names Nisan as the first month of the Jewish calendar. So where did Tishrei come from, and how did it gain New Year status?

Rabbi Donny Schwartz, midwest regional director for the Orthodox youth organization NCSY, explains that Tishrei relates to the sun, which is connected to the solar year. In Hebrew, the word year is translated as “shana,” which is related to the Hebrew words “sheni” (second/repeatable) and “yashan” (old).

“Tishrei represents a system that never changes,” says Schwartz. “You wake up on the morning and it is just another day. You know you drive on the right side of the street, put clothes on your body. You know who you are. It’s a ‘blah’ feeling sometimes, but there is a benefit to that.”

On the other hand, Nisan relates to the moon, which is changing daily, if not more frequently. Nisan is therefore the “head of the months,” and is “all about renewal” and change, Schwartz says.

Tishrei and Nisan also are tied to the seasons in which they fall. Schwartz believes that at different times of year, there are different energies in the world. Tishrei falls in the autumn, a time of great material beauty, namely the changing of the colors of the leaves. Nisan, on the other hand, falls in the spring, a time when beauty is only budding—renewing or resurfacing fresh off the winter.

Rabbi Jessica Minnen, resident rabbi of New York’s OneTable initiative, which brings together Jews in their 20s and 30s for Shabbat dinners, takes this idea a step further. She says Nisan is the planting season, and Tishrei the harvesting season. Minnen tells JNS.org that a recent course she was teaching examined the differences between the two creation narratives in Genesis 1 and 2, which many modern scholars believe are competing stories.

“In Genesis 1, God is breathing into Adam, into the Earth, the ground, the shape that is formed into a human being. In Genesis 2, God physically shapes Adam out of the ground,” Minnen says. “This is the planting and the harvesting, this is Nisan and Tishrei. We need both creation narratives, and we need Nisan and Tishrei to form a complete sense of who we are and who we can be.”

“God created the world in Tishrei. But when did God start thinking about creating the world? That was Nisan,” notes Rabbi Mendy Wineberg, program director of the Chabad House Center of Kansas City.

Wineberg says that while the first man was fashioned by God in Tishrei, the Jewish people became a nation in Nisan, when God took them out of Egypt and ultimately gave them the Torah and its mitzvoth.

“God became king of the people on Rosh Hashanah. God became our personal king in Nisan,” says Wineberg.

Minnen says the main message of all the Jewish New Years—Tishrei, Nisan, Shevat, Elul—is one of continuity.

“You have these four opportunities to start over, to redefine who you are now and where you want to go,” she says. “Every day can be your New Year.”



Serving berries at Rosh Hashana can be a ‘religious experience’

By Eileen Goltz

In the world of berries it’s really hard to pick a winner for best flavor, best taste or best all-around best berry. Strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries are all at their best in the late summer and serving them at Rosh Hashanah or for break the fast is practically a minhag.

Berries, at their most basic, are almost perfect eaten plain (or with a bit of sugar, depending on their tartness) Actually combining them with sugar and letting them sit for about 30 minutes to an hour lets the juice be drawn out and helps enhance their flavor. While adding a bit of sugar does add a few calories, berries are naturally low in calories and high in vitamins, fiber and antioxidants.

1 cup strawberries = 50 calories

1 cup raspberries = 52 calories

1 cup blueberries = 57 calories

1 cup blackberries = 43 calories


Pairing berries with melon as a salad or dessert is always nice but being able to use the following recipes to incorporate them into other dishes (side and desserts) is, well, akin to a culinary religious experience.


Many of the following recipes are for desserts and dairy but can easily be converted to pareve if you’re serving meat.




1 cup fresh raspberries

1 cup fresh blueberries

1 cup fresh blackberries

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1/8 teaspoon orange zest


Corn bread:

3/4 cup flour

3/4 cup yellow cornmeal

1/3 cup sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup milk

2 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted

1 tablespoon oil

1 large egg

Sweetened whipped cream or nondairy whipped topping optional


TOPPING: In a bowl combine the raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries. Add brown sugar and orange zest and gently mix to combine. Cover and chill.


Preheat oven to 425°. In a bowl combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt; mix to combine with a whisk. Add the milk, butter, oil, and egg. Whisk to combine.


Grease a 9X9 baking pan and pour batter into the pan. Bake for 15 minutes or until corn bread is lightly browned and a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes then remove the corn bread from the pan and cool on a wire rack then cut the corn bread into 9 squares. Optional: top with 1 tablespoon whipped topping over each serving.


Modified from a recipe from cookinglight.com



2/3 cup sugar

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup fresh orange juice

1/8 teaspoon salt

6 large egg yolks

3 tablespoons butter or pareve margarine, cut into small pieces

2 teaspoons lemon zest

1 1/2 cups blueberries

1 1/2 cups raspberries

1 cup graham cracker crumbs


In a saucepan combine the sugar, lemon juice, orange juice, salt and yolks. Over a low heat cook, stirring constantly until the mixture starts to thicken (6 to 7 minutes). Remove from heat and add the butter and zest. Whisk until the butter is melted. Pour the mixture into a glass serving bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Spoon 2 tablespoons of graham cracker crumbs into the bottom of 8 dessert cups. Spoon 2 tablespoons of lemon curd on top of the crumbs. Top the curd with the berries and then sprinkle the remaining crumbs on top. Serves 8.


4 large eggs

5 1/2 tbsp. honey, divided

1 teaspoon lemon zest

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup flour

2 1/2 cups milk or almond milk

2 cups raspberries, divided

1/4 cup butter or pareve margarine, melted

1 pound strawberries, hulled and sliced


Purée 1 cup raspberries in a food processor. Strain and set the sauce aside.


Preheat an oven to 425. Set a 9X13 pan in the oven. In a bowl whisk together the eggs, 1/4 cup honey, and lemon zest. Add the salt, flour, and 1/4 cup milk. Whisk to combine and the mixture is smooth (no lumps). Whisk in the remaining milk and set it aside. Remove the pan from oven and add the melted butter and tilt to cover the bottom with the butter. Pour the batter into the pan and then drizzle the raspberry sauce over the top, moving back and forth to create ribbons of the sauce in the batter. Reduce the oven to 400 and bake 30 minutes. Let cool for 10 to 15 minutes to firm up (pancake will fall).

In a bowl combine the strawberries and remaining 1 cup raspberries and 1 1/2 tbsp. honey. Mash to combine. To serve, spoon half of fruit over pancake and serve the rest on the side. Serve in wedges. Serves 6 to 8.

Modified from southerncooking.com



1/2 cup oil

1/4 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup rice vinegar

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon hoisin sauce

1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted

1 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil

1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled

1 medium shallot, peeled and chopped

1 clove garlic

fresh ground black pepper, to taste

3/4 cup thinly sliced fennel


Chicken Salad

1 package Driscoll’s Strawberries (about 3 cups) hulled and sliced or quartered

1 lb. left over chicken shredded or cubed deli smoked chicken breast

8 ounces mixed baby greens, washed and dried (about 8 cups)

1 cup julienned jicama

4 green onions, sliced


Sesame Dressing

Place vegetable oil, vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, hoisin sauce, sesame seeds, sesame oil, Dijon mustard, ginger, shallot, garlic and pepper in a blender or food processor and process until smooth. Refrigerate in a covered container. (Makes about 1 1/3 cups)

Chicken Salad

Combine strawberries, chicken, greens, jicama, fennel and green onion in a large bowl. Drizzle with about 1/2 cup dressing and toss to coat and serve with the remaining dressing. Serves 6.

Modified from driscoll.com


A New Way to Welcome the New Year at Sinai Temple

Sinai Temple in Springfield is experimenting with an outreach service and a new format for the service when Rosh Hashanah arrives on Sunday, Sept. 13.

This special outreach service will be open to anyone in the Jewish community. Interested people only need visit the Temple website or call the Temple office to receive “free” ticket(s) for the service.

“We hope to remove barriers to congregational life,” says Bruce Leshine, Temple president. “Although we can’t open all High Holiday services to unaffiliated Jews, we do have extra seats on Erev Rosh Hashanah – the New Year – for the 8 p.m. service. That’s when we want to open our doors.”

The service will be different from other High Holiday services. Rabbi Mark Shapiro has developed a text for the service that won’t require congregants to hold a prayer book in their hands. Instead of that, the service will be projected onto a large screen on the bimah. The service will be a visual experience.

Rabbi Shapiro explains, “We have done other ‘visual’ services and they have been very successful. I have taken the traditional prayers and set them against beautiful backgrounds. For this Rosh Hashanah service that means setting the Shema in front of a photograph of a sunset. Other prayers may have clouds or flowers or candles or smiling faces for their background. And what makes a service like this work is that congregants don’t have their heads down reading a page. Everyone looks up. Everyone sees the screen and it somehow feels more energetic and powerful.”

The congregation is using this visual format plus several instruments on the bimah in order to make the service more accessible for non-members. The thought is that many people are not as familiar with the traditional liturgy as they wish. This open format service featuring traditional as well as modern texts is meant to be understandable by all. The congregation is also planning a home-baked “oneg” after the service to encourage conversation and sociability among those attending.

For more information, call Sinai at (413) 736-3619 or visit the congregation’s website. www.sinai-temple.org



High Holy Days Broadcast on WCUW

WCUW Community Radio, 91.3 FM and streaming live at wcuw.org, will broadcast the Kol Nidre service from Temple Emanuel Sinai on Tuesday evening, Sept. 22, starting at approximately 8:45 p.m.

There will be appropriate music at 8 p.m., and the service itself will be on the air around 8:45 p.m.; the broadcast of the service will be delayed for technical reasons. This broadcast is intended to serve those unable to attend services in person.

Donations in honor of this broadcast can mail donations, payable to WCUW, to 910 Main St. Worcester, MA 01610 and include a note that says the donation is in thanks for this broadcast.  For more information, call Troy Tyree at WCUW at (508) 753-1012 or Bobbie Chase at (508) 757-2881.




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