Jewish Holidays: Foods of Rosh HaShanah

Again, I am not Jewish but I do seem to study Jewish rituals and traditions enough. I have never personally celebrated Rosh Hashanah, so all of the information in this post (& over photo) comes from

FYI this is the “Weekly Deal” advertisement from my local grocery store, I felt it was quiet appropriate for this post!

Traditional Foods

Like most holidays, it is typical to have a big meals. Specifically for the Jewish New Year, two big meals are had on both nights of Rosh HaShanah. For 2017, the holiday falls on Wednesday evening, September, to Friday evening, September 22nd (tonight). The three most known food items associated with Rosh HaShanah are apples, honey, and a round loaf of challah. Therefore many of the other items eaten during these two days that also incorporate these items.

Read more at My Jewish Learning: Rosh Hashanah Traditional Foods and Recipe

Apples, Honey, & Challah

The apple symbolizes the Garden of Eden and the sweetness of Adam and Eve being in G-d’s presence without sin. Although the forbidden fruit of the garden is never mentioned, it has been kind of religious and art historical tradition to depict it as an apple-like fruit (this applies to Christian mythology also).

The sweetness of the fruit, along with the honey, also point towards the hope for a “sweet” year to come. The apples are traditionally dipped in honey and then eaten, but there are a ton of very delicious recipes I have stumbled upon with apple and honey cooked into it (like honey and apple cakes, yum!). Now that it is moving into fall I think I might have to try some of these out!

Challah is eaten at every Shabbat meal, however, this challah loaf is different because it is round. The shape symbolizes a couple of different things:

  • Cycle of the seasons throughout the years
  • A crown = the kingship of G-d
  • Repentance for self-improvement (sounds like New Year resolutions huh!?)

Sephardic Foods

Each of the foods on a Rosh HaShanah seder has a symbolic meaning associated with a wish or blessing for the new year. Each item’s significance is actually associated with a pun on that food’s name in Hebrew. Some of these food items are: pomegranate, date, string-bean, beet, pumpkin, leek, and fish head.

Best wishes for a sweet new year!




Book Review! The Sabbath World

I was struggling a lot this past year to find a work/life balance. I was burning out fast, tired, grumpy, and overworked but I didn’t know what to do besides leave my job. I did eventually move to a new school but I knew that these problems could crop up again if I was not careful.

I love teaching but I wanted to find someway to make a balance that worked for me. This is an ongoing journey and I am nowhere near finished figuring it all out. However, I am doing some research! As a practicing Catholic, I gravitated towards the ritual of a Jewish Sabbath, and after having the lovely opportunity to go to an Orthodox home for a Shabbat meal I knew I wanted to search in that direction.

Sabath world-close up

Read more: Honoring the Sabbath

I picked up this book, The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time by Judith Shulevitz, while at the Jewish Heritage Museum in NYC. It was quiet different from what I was expecting but refreshing nonetheless. The book is not a “how to” manual on the Sabbath and the author herself admits she struggles to keep it. The book is more of a sociological and psychological study on the Sabbath throughout history. It travels from the acts of Creation to the establishment of the Fourth Commandment to how modern people have adapted (and abandoned) the day of non-work.

One lovely concept I took away from the book is the misnomer of the Sabbath as a “day of rest,” when instead the Jewish version is a “day of non-work.” A minor distinction, but not-working does not necessarily mean 100% rest. This subtle distinction has allowed me to see the idea “keeping the Sabbath” in a new light.


Read more: Jewish Holidays: The Sabbath

I still don’t know what I’ll do (or not) do on my Sabbath day, or even which day I will keep it, but I do know that this book has allowed me to grow on this journey to find the right balance for happiness, fulfillment, and joy in my life. If you are searching for a way (religious or secular), I highly recommend this intellectual read.


Book Review! Sabbath World

Religious Worlds of New York Site Visits

Through my amazing summer program, I got to go on a few great site visits to experience different houses of worship and participate in some beautiful events. The sites may fluctuate a bit year to year (if you are planning on attending in the future) but this is the general idea:

Bronx Lourdes Grotto

Kevin Childress 3
photo by Kevin Childress of the Interfaith Center of New York

The garden around the church of St. Lucy is a replica of the countryside of Lourdes and even has its own grotto that looks like the one the Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette in 1858. Although it is not the site of a miracle itself, many people come there to pray and collect water for “religious” purposes.

Address: 833 Mace Avenue, Bronx

Zhikr Service at Dergah al-Farah


This is a small, store-front Sufi mosque in which we got to participate in an intimate Thursday-night service. There are not photos allowed inside so this is as good as it gets people! It was a whirlwind event with sights, sounds, and full of spirit! We ended the night at around 10:30 pm because they (thankfully) shortened the hours-long service for us.

Address: 245 West Broadway

Jumma Service at Islamic Cultural Center of New York


This Islamic service was night and day different from the Sufi Zhikr Service! A very traditional mosque in which there was a strict dress code and segregated gender roles. I was obviously upstairs in the women’s section so there isn’t much I could see but hearing the Qur’an recited in Arabic was moving. After the service, we had a 45-minute Q&A with the imam.

Address: 1711 3rd Avenue

Sunday Service at Convent Avenue Baptist Church


This was a 2-hour charismatic service with lots of hand clapping, singing, “amening,” and worship. The preacher had a fantastic sermon that quoted Hebrews 13:2 “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” And it was all about the fact that we cannot just love of neighbors, but we have to love strangers regardless of what G-d they worship, or what they look like. It was great for the work we are doing at the Interfaith Center.

Address: 420 W 145th Street

Hindu Temple Society of North America


This temple is one of the largest (if not the largest) Hindu Temple in North America. It contains 25 different deities to try to accommodate as many devotees as possible. This was a great experience for us to interact with a sacred site that is so incredibly different from so many of the others. In a Hindu temple it is much more individualistic and ritual-centered than the previous sites we visited last week.

Address: 45-57 Bowne Street, Flushing

Chogyesa Zen Temple of New York


This was about the opposite of what I was expecting when I heard we were going to a Korean Zen Temple. It was a converted townhouse with two prayer spaces, both overwhelmed by giant gold-leafed serene Buddhas and a lack of AC. We got a short tour and then participated in a small (5 minute) Zen meditation and Q&A session with the resident Buddhist monk.

Address: 42 W 96th Street #4

Kabbalat Shabbat Service at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun


Unfortunately, the main sanctuary was under major renovations at the time so our service was in the gym next door, ruined the vibe a little until the singing in Hebrew started, which swept all of us away! It was bewildering not knowing what was going on during the service until I accessed a translation and transliteration, but the communal praise and full-bodied singing was ab absolutely joyful was of welcoming the Sabbath.

Address: 257 West 88th Street

Cathedral of Saint John the Divine


We did not attend a service here, but was looking at the site through the lens of field research about the line between secular and religious. This was a perfect site for this type of work because, surprisingly, they had a lot of secular references and artwork displayed along with a summer camp and gift shop in the narthex. Fun fact: this is one of the largest churches in the world…totally didn’t feel like it though!

Address: 1047 Amsterdam Avenue


The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities or the Religious Worlds institute.  For detailed information about the institute, see

New York Religious Worlds

Student Series! Matisyahu’s Religious Story

Matisyahu has been on repeat this weekend at our house 🙂 and I finally got to visit Crown Heights, the Hasidic community he is from, a few weeks ago while in NYC. Also, he is one of the FEW musicians I’ve seen live. This past year he played at the House of Blues, Orlando!


Introduction to the Hasidic Movement & Matisyahu


The Jewish Hasidic movement was born somewhere between the 1690’s and 1760’s. The Hasidic movement, founded by Rabbi Israel Ben Eliezer, focuses on the spirituality and joy in the worship of G-d. Hasidic Jews are deemed “ultra-religious” and follow Orthodox rules to a meticulous point, they are so Orthodox that they are set apart from more mainstream Orthodox Jews.

Matisyahu was not born in to Hasidism, he was born Matthew Millerov on June 30, 1979 in Westchester. In his early life Matthew liked to rebel against his parents and his traditional religious values. He did this because he considered himself a hippie during the 80’s. At age 14 Matthew had some kind of revelation and reconciled himself with his Judaism. In an effort to make Matthew happy, his parents sent him away to a wilderness school. There he was able to study Hasidic law, but most importantly, that was where he fell in love with reggae and rap.

Matisyahu’s use of Religion in his Lyrics


One of his most famous songs, “King Without A Crown” is a clear example of how deeply connected to G-d Matthew is (All the following lyrics are taken directly from the song “King Without A Crown”).

  • Line 1: “You’re all that I have and you’re all that I need.” In this line he says that G-d is his true creator and it’s all he needs to feel complete.
  • Line 2: “Each and every day I pray to get to know you please.” In this line he acknowledges that he prays so that he can meet his creator when his time comes.
  • Line 3: ”I want to be close to you, yes I’m so hungry, You’re like water for my soul when it gets thirsty.” In this line he refers to a hunger and thirst for G-d’s wisdom on a spiritual and not physical level.
  • Line 4: ”Without you there’s no me.” In this line he refers to the fact that Matisyahu’s identity would not exist without G-d.
  • Line 8-12: “With these, demons surround all around to bring me down to negativity but I believe, yes I believe, I said I believe I’ll stand on my own two feet. Won’t be brought down on one knee.” In these lines he talks about the negative feelings like depression and anxiety; the “demons” he refers to are all the things that try to pull him away from G-d but he remains faithful.
  • Line 13: “Fight with all of my might and get these demons to flee.” In this line he talks about a spiritual battle where victory represents resisting temptation and again remaining faithful.
  • Line 21-22: “What’s this feeling? My love will rip a hole in the ceiling” In this line he describes how overwhelmed he is by the feeling of love towards G-d; it’s so strong he can’t contain it.
  • Line 25: “Want Moshiach now so it’s time we start revealing.” Moshiach means ‘messiah,’ this refers to the prophecy of a savior to mankind.

Matisyahu leaves the Hasidic Community


Matthew Millerov, a.k.a. Matisyahu, recently decided to leave Hasidic life  He decided the leave the strict lifestyle because he felt that he had lost his purpose within the community. Matisyahu is still deeply connected to Judaism and some elements of his Jewish practice, but no longer identifies himself as a Hasidic Jew. Many of his fans were very upset because they thought that this meant the end of Matisyahu but it wasn’t.

His lyrics are still very religious but no longer reflect prayer, now they reflect a man who’s trying to find his spiritual path. His latest album, “Akeda,” reflects this stage of his life which he called the “unbinding” or separation from religion, getting out of his marriage and community relationships.

cover image: Template_ Student Series!

Student Series! Hasidism in Brooklyn

We explored Brooklyn this past weekend and interestingly enough one of my Humanities students did a blog post on the Jewish Hasidic community in Brooklyn. Perfect, huh!?


Introduction to Hasidism

This is my attempt at being stealth taking photos in Crown Heights but I just looked creepy! P.S that’s a synagogue

Hasidism, which is translates to “pious ones,” was a movement that came from Orthodox Judaism and was founded by Rabbi Israel Ben Eliezer. After it was founded in the mid-eighteenth century by Jewish mystics, it was popular throughout society, especially among the less educated who were fascinated by the emotional and spiritual appeal of the Hasidic message. Hasidism, like many other religions, was an outcry to the prevailing religion. The movement, however, had a slow decline because of many progressive social ideas that were spreading throughout Europe. It also almost reached a near destruction during the Holocaust.

After the Holocaust, Hasidism spread again when immigrants moved to Israel, Canada, Australia, and Western Europe. Hasidism was also brought to America, especially in New York City. According to PBS, “In these most modern of places, especially in New York and other American cities, it is now thriving as an evolving creative minority that preserves the language – Yiddish – and many of the religious traditions of pre-Holocaust Eastern Europe Jewry.”

To a Hasidic, it is ideal to live a holy life in which even the most everyday routine action is sanctified. They are dedicated to live an uncontaminated life by isolating themselves from modern society with the exception of the workplace and the state. They have a strict separation of the sexes when it comes to education and what they are expected of in the future. Birth control is forbidden and the rate of divorce remains low, but it could change in the future depending on economic and social changes in the modern world around them.

Hasidics in Brooklyn

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Hasidic Jews live in tightly knit communities that are also called courts and are centered on a rebbe, a religious leader of a Hasidic sect. There are over 60 courts in Brooklyn right now, but most of them are very small. There are certain neighborhoods in Brooklyn where they are more heavily populated which includes Williamsburg, Crown Heights, and Boro Park, which is in the middle of other diverse and working and middle class neighborhoods.

Many restaurants serve kosher foods and many stores have signs in Yiddish and/or Hebrew. Their daily life is bounded by the neighborhood and its institutions. Hasidics have special buses that they can take to go into Manhattan for work and back to Brooklyn.


Also, Hasidic Jews have their own EMT programs called Hatzolah and they wear yellow vests with Hebrew letters on them and yarmulkes. Hasidic men are not allowed to touch any woman they are not related to (i.e. mother, wife, daughter, etc.) which I feel would make simple tasks difficult such as handing over change to a Hasidic man or just saying hi to them without shaking their hand.

ultra orthodox jewish man riding bicycle

Apparently in Williamsburg, there was a “war” going on between hipsters and Hasidic Jews called “The Great Bike Lanes War.” It started in 2009 and ended in 2016. Bedford Avenue is a street in Williamsburg where a lot of Hasidics are located and there happens to be a bike lane in that street where, girls with short shorts and skirts that “show off” their legs tend to ride through. The Hasidics painted over the bike lanes and the hipsters painted them back on, which resulted in two men getting arrested. It’s a kind of weird situation because you can’t really have a group of people to dictate what you should and should not wear, but it also seems like the hipsters did not have much respect for Hasidim either. There is an organization called “Unite the Beards” which brings hipsters and Hasidim together. I thought this was interesting because it is part of Hasidic life to be around modern society a lot and to live amongst other cultures, but they are still able to keep their traditions.

Visitng Booklyn

Last year in December I went to Brooklyn to visit my family. While I was there, I saw many Hasidic men and women walking down the street. I remember when I would visit there when I was little and I thought they were so cool because their attire, which is a long black coat, black hat, and white button up shirt, made me feel like I had traveled to the past. There are benches along the side of the road where my family lives so sometimes you would see the Hasidic men gathered together. I didn’t see many women, just two elderly women walking together and speaking what I assume was Yiddish. I really found the diversity found in Brooklyn, New York interesting.

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Student Series! Code of Hammurabi vs The Ten Commandments

This student series post is by an old AP Art History student who took Humanities afterwards and so she smartly used her AP knowledge of the Stele of Hammurabi to write this great blog post comparing it to the Ten Commandments.


“An Eye for an Eye Makes the World Go Blind.”

There are many documents and ideologies that have been published throughout the course of history that establish the concept of morality. One of the first documents created to maintain justice in a  society is the Code of Hammurabi. This code played a key role in one of the first civilizations of Mesopotamian society. This was the first example of a set of established laws that was between a king and his people. Shortly after this, the Ten Commandments were created, but instead of it being laws tied between a king and his followers, it’s between a higher authority, God and His people.

The Code of Hammurabi


There are over 282 laws within the Code of Hammurabi. The top part of the stele depicts Shamash (the Sun god) extending to Hammurabi the rod and ring that are meant to represent his role in keeping civilization in order. Hammurabi was known as the “exalted prince” who wanted to bring about righteousness in the land and rule out the wicked and evil-doers in order to bring peace within the community. If one of these laws were broken, there would be a specific punishment that went along with it, unlike with the Ten Commandments where there is no outright punishment listed. The Code of Hammurabi is presented on a massive, finger shaped black basalt stela pillar with the laws engraved below the depiction of authority between Shamash and Hammurabi. It was made with basalt because this material is known to be a long-lasting, therefore meant to passed on throughout history.

The Ten Commandments

Rembrandt’s Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments are composed of a set of biblical rules that correlated with both ethics and worship and they play a fundamental role within the religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The Ten Commandments were originally created to restore the religous practice of the liberated Isreaelites while they wandered the desert of Sinai. With this covenant, the purpose was to teach people the character of God and the dangers of sin. It was also known as a full promise of complete dedication and devotion to God by accepting these commandments. These were to provide justice, while dealing with spiritual laws and personal holiness. This was a covenant tied between God and his followers. These set of rules are still put forth throughout the various religions and practices of our society today.

Comparison Chart

    The Ten Commandments                            Both                           The Code of Hammurabi

I am the LORD your God: You shall not have strange Gods before me Even though there were many gods worshipped in Babylon, these rules are not diety-centric
You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain Even though there were many gods worshipped in Babylon, these rules are not diety-centric
Remember to keep holy the Lord’s day No equivalent law
Honor your father and your mother


Respect your parents If a son strike his father, his hands shall be hewn off

If a son…say to his adoptive father or mother: “You are not my father, or my mother,” his tongue shall be cut off

You shall not kill Don’t commit murder – the Ten Commandments just says not to kill while the Code of Hammurabi gives specific punishment for the crimes or bodily harm If he kill a man’s slave, he shall pay one-third of a mina

If a man put out the eye of another man, his eye shall be put out

You shall not commit adultery Don’t cheat on your spouse If a man’s wife be surprised with another man, both shall be tied and thrown into the water, but the husband may pardon his wife…
You shall not steal Do not take something that is not yours If anyone steal the property of a temple or of the court, he shall be put to death, and also the one who receives the stolen thing from him shall be put to death

If anyone is committing a robbery and is caught, then he shall be put to death.

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor


Do not accuse someone of doing something, unless you have physical evidence to back up your accusation If anyone bring an accusation of any crime before the elders, and does not prove what he has charged, he shall, if it be a capital offense charged, be put to death
You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife


The Ten Commandments uses the word “covet” which is the yearning to poecess something (or someone) but not necessarily action on it…yet

While the Code of Hammurabi is action-focused

If a man take a wife and this woman give her husband a maid-servant, and she bear him children, but this man wishes to take another wife, this shall not be permitted to him; he shall not take a second wife


You shall not covet your neighbors goods Same comment as above If anyone steal cattle or sheep, or an ass, or a pig or a goat, if it belong to a god or to the court, the thief shall pay thirty fold therefore; if they belonged to a freed man of the king he shall pay tenfold; if the thief has nothing with which to pay he shall be put to death

Connection to our Government

The Ten Commandments, Code of Hammurabi, the U.S. Constitution are all covenants between a people and their nation, and meant for people to follow to maintain the order of society. Almost everyone that is able to grasp the concept of morality, should be able to follow these rules whether they are in political or religious manner. All in all, the Ten Commandments and the Code of Hammurabi were meant to serve the purpose of justifying the difference between right and wrong, and punish those whose have committed wrong, as well as the other documents mentioned.

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Our school just stared a Jewish Student Union Club (JSU) and I was so incredibly excited to hear about it so I went to their first meeting and then offered to co-sponsor it by the end. You already know my obsession with Jewish Holidays (The SabbathPurimHanukkah) but this club is about so much more than that.


After watching the first meeting, the purpose of the club seems to be to help students discuss and fight hate crimes (including but not limited to Anti-Semitism). They want to use Jewish culture and tradition as a jumping off point for students (Jewish and non-Jewish alike) to celebrate different backgrounds, religions, and cultures. This is right up my alley! (hello! I teach world religions in my Humanities Class)

My school is in an overwhelming majority-white area and although I have never experienced a hate crime there I definitely have overheard students make comments about Hispanic immigrants that were ignorant and hurtful without realizing that my family is Cuban.

I am excited to be apart of something that is empowering our youth to peacefully and safely discuss the terrible trends happening in our world today. This club is certainly not going to be all roses and butterflies, I know they will experience hate and distrust but I hope to help them overcome that hate with love.


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