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Connect with Rabbi Steve Nathan during these difficult times

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During these difficult times, I will be sharing my thoughts and musings about healing and wholeness. Some of these are based on the weekly Torah portion and other traditional Jewish texts. Some are my own thoughts and feelings.

This can be my own original poetry and prose. Some might even be music. Other posts are just my own personal musings that will hopefully be helpful.

As someone who has been trained in Judaism and mindfulness, many of the posts are made from that perspective. Please read the writings, check out any video or audio posts, and feel free to reply with your comments and questions. The more interactive this page can be, the better.

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Thoughts from Rabbi Steve

Contents

Click here for Torah commentaries and other related messages on my MindfulTorah blog.

we all must breathe: a poem in four parts in response to racism in our country

In watching events unfold over the past two weeks the image which constantly came to my mind was that of being able to breathe the air freely.
In Central Park, a white woman tried to prevent Christian Cooper from breathing the air and occupying the space, even though both belonged to him as much as they did to her.
In Minneapolis, George Floyd cried out “I can’t breathe,” just as Eric Garner did in Staten Island six years ago. In both cases the police ignore the cries and their ability to breathe was taken from them.
Finally, in the early days of the protests in Minneapolis, New York, Washington, and elsewhere, tear gas, pepper spray, and other means were used to prevent the protestors from being able to breathe freely with the hope that they would disperse. They did not. They have not. They will not. Until justice is acheived.
No justice. No peace. We must continue with the cry and remind everyone that until the lives of black people, all people of color, and all who have been denied there rights truly matter to everyone we will not have justice nor peace.
Shalom/Salaam/Pace/Peace to all,

Rabbi Steve

——————————————-

we all must breathe

  • In memory of George Floyd, Eric Garner, and the countless other people of color whose breath was stolen from them
  • In honor of Christian Cooper whose ability to breathe freely was threatened

and in honor all those who have protested in spite of having the air taken from them by tear gas and other militaristic methods. And yet they still breathe. They still survive. They still fight to reclaim the air, which belongs to us all.

In watching events unfold over the past two weeks the image which constantly came to my mind was that of being able to breathe the air freely.

In Central Park, a white woman tried to prevent Christian Cooper from breathing the air and occupying the space, even though both belonged to him as much as they did to her.

In Minneapolis, George Floyd cried out “I can’t breathe,” just as Eric Garner did in Staten Island six years ago. In both cases the police ignore the cries and their ability to breathe was taken from them.

Finally, in the early days of the protests in Minneapolis, New York, Washington, and elsewhere, tear gas, pepper spray, and other means were used to prevent the protestors from being able to breathe freely with the hope that they would disperse. They did not. They have not. They will not. Until justice is acheived.

No justice. No peace. We must continue with the cry and remind everyone that until the lives of black people, all people of color, and all who have been denied there rights truly matter to everyone we will not have justice nor peace.

Shalom/Salaam/Pace/Peace to all,

Rabbi Steve

Click here to go to the poem on my personal website

An Interfaith Prayer in response to racism in our country by Rabbi Joshua Lesser

Elohai Neshama SheNatatah Bi Tehorah Hi Source of Life the Soul, the Breath that You Have Placed Within Me is Pure (Jewish morning prayers)

“The soul that is within me no [person] can degrade” – Frederick Douglas

Breath of Life, we are overcome by grief
And fueled by rage
Over the death of another black person
By the lethal grip of our Injustice system.
That somehow the pure breath and soul bestowed to every human being
Has been ended by the supremacy riddled throughout our country and the world.
Let us honor the memory of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery
And all those who have been murdered and oppressed by the racist systems in our midst.
May their memory be a blessing.

And Sacred Spirit, bring a shelter of wholeness
To our shattered communities
Gather in the black community
Under a quilt of wholeness
So that there may be communal places
Where Black voices are centered,
Black anger expressed,
Black protest supported,
Black trauma healed,
Black resilience uplifted,
Black spirit celebrated,
Created in the Divine Image
Place central in our mind that the breath, the soul of the black community matters.
And is beloved.

And Breath of All Breaths,
Bring a shelter of wholeness
To those who seek to be allies
Give us all the patience to listen,
The openheartedness to learn,
The honesty to be responsible,
The wisdom to look within first,
The tenacity to have hard conversations,
The moral courage to challenge the status quo and own complicity,
The integrity to dismantle the systems that unfairly benefit,
The endurance to do the work tomorrow, and the day after
All the protests have diminished.
And the urgency to address racial violence today.
Remind us that the oppression of black people impact all of us
And that like our own breath and soul, black lives matter.

Bind us, this community of people of different spiritual and faith traditions, together as we seek the Source of Hope,
do not let fear, overwhelm or despair weigh us down.
Bless those who have gathered,
with a vision of justice,
a desire to repair our country.
Shake off our complacency,
Heal our pain,
Guide us on common ground with the knowledge that when we advocate for another, we do so for ourselves.
Turn our hearts towards one another
and fling them open so we may see our humanity.
Let us walk together in step with the heartbeat of each other’s struggles.
Impress upon us that silence in the face of bigotry and racism is a burden our souls cannot bear.
Make the restlessness rise within us so that we have no choice,
But to risk acting with courage and responsibility for the security and well-being of each other.

When we do this together no obstacle is insurmountable. Together in trust may we rise, we rise, we rise banishing hatred and violence with unwavering love and justice for ourselves and for the soul of another. And then we will know we are living the legacy of “The Beloved Community.”


A Response to Racism in the USA in memory of George Floyd, may his memory be a blessing

This past week has been a frightening and tragic one for our country. In response to the senseless killing of George Floyd, another African American man who died at the hands of police, protests and riots have erupted throughout our country. This is on top of the devastating effects of Covid-19, which has disproportionately impacted communities of color.

Racism is ingrained in the fabric of our country. Peaceful protests have been routinely ignored. And so, as in the past, people have taken to the streets. It is perhaps the only way to be heard by those in power.

As the Director of Jewish Student Life at Lehigh, I feel it incumbent upon me to respond to this current crisis in our nation.

The Jewish people have been oppressed throughout our history and we are still hated by many. Just see the statistics of the rise in antisemitic incidents in the last 4 years for proof. Therefore, we must stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters of color in response to the killing of yet another African American man at the hands of police.

We must also remember that there are Jews of color who are also affected by the systemic racism in our society, as well as by antisemitism.  They must not be forgotten and they must not be ignored. They represents 12-15% of American Jewry. And we must all stand together.

Enzi Tanner, a black Jewish social worker reminds us that, “As the Jewish community reaches in and says how do we support [the protestors’] cause and how do we support the black community, it’s really important that people reach in to black Jews and other Jews of color and realize that we’re here,” Tanner said. “And we need our community.”

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marched and protested with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. because Judaism calls on us to speak out for all the oppressed, as we were once oppressed as slaves in Egypt. It is an essential part of our communal narrative. Heschel wrote that “in a free society some are guilty, but all are responsible.” We each must take a look at ourselves and see how we are responsible.  In what ways have we allowed systemic racism to continue both within our country at-large, and within the Jewish community?

It doesn’t matter if we have actively participated in perpetuating racism or if we just stood by and allowed things to happen. As Edmund Burke wrote in 1770, “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good [people] to do nothing.” This is an eternal truth.

The American Jewish community has long had a complicated relationship with the idea of race. In America, we didn’t start to think of ourselves as white until the mid-20th century. The same was true of other immigrant minorities.

In white supremacist ideology we are still not considered to be white. Yet, the majority of us can pass as white. The majority of us don’t have to worry when our teenage son is walking down the street that he might be in danger. As the father of a post-teen boy I recognize this privilege all too well. Therefore, most of us exist and are seen both as minority and majority depending on the context. Of course, this is not true for Jews of color, who have no choice in terms of how they are viewed by others.

As the African American community, other people of color, and all members of marginalized and disenfranchised communities rise up in protest against the violence and deadliness of systemic racism, we must not only support them. As a people who have known oppression we must stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters of color, whether Jewish, Christian, Muslim, of other religions, or none. We must provide whatever support we are told is needed. Let us not assume that we know what is best. We don’t.

We who are seen as white must also acknowledge the privilege that we have and use it to speak out and act out against racism and hatred. We must do what we can at the ballot box, in our actions, and in all our responses to racism. We must prove through our actions that we know that black lives matter. If we do not, we must remember that our silence will not only be deafening, it will be deadly.

In Deuteronomy 16:18 we read “Justice, justice, shall you pursue.” The repetition of the word justice reminds us of its importance. It is something that we must actively pursue with every action we take. One rabbinic commentary teaches that the repetition of the word is meant to remind us that we must pursue justice whether the outcome of the process is in our favor or to our detriment. It doesn’t matter. What matters is the achievement of justice.

We read in Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5 that “Whoever destroys a single soul scripture accounts it as if they have destroyed an entire world; and whoever saves one soul, scripture accounts it as if they had saved a whole world.”

Countless worlds have been destroyed with the unjust taking of the lives of people of color since the first slaves stepped onto the shores of America in 1619. It is up to us to do the important work of stopping the violence and protecting future souls from destruction in order to create infinite worlds of love, justice, and equality that are free from racism, all forms of hatred, and prejudice

It won’t be easy, but we must believe that together this goal can be achieved. Let the work begin.

Four Questions During Covid-19 (one month late)

Hello everybody and Chag Pesach Sameach! Happy Passover to you all!

And no, isolation has not made me that confused! As you read this message you’ll see why I opened with that greeting.

When I started to write this message I went back to the blog to see when I last wrote anything. I thought it was about two weeks ago. So imagine my surprise when I found that my last message was written one month ago! Though I have written Torah commentaries since then which one can on my blog page (just go to the section for my blog posts below), I have not written any other messages.

“Time flies when you’re having fun” is an adage with which we’re all familiar. But the adage for now would seem to be “time loses meaning when you’re in isolation.” I’ve spoken with many people who have said that time has become meaningless, confusing, or non-existent in our current situation. Given that, it makes sense that I thought I had written something within the last two weeks when I clearly wrote the last post right before the first Passover seder. But that’s not why I wished you a Happy Passover. For you see, according to Jewish tradition today is Pesach Sheni, or second Passover.

When the Israelites were about to celebrate the first Passover one year after they were freed from slavery, there were those who could not participate in the Passover sacrificial rituals because they were ritually impure.from coming in contact with a dead body (that’s a whole other story). They asked Moses for a solution that would enable them to make a sacrifice. Moses, of course, asked God. God’s response was to institute Pesach Sheni exactly one month following Passover itself. This solved the problem. Of course, this practice stopped after sacrifices stopped in Judaism thousands of years ago.

Passover was the only holiday which had this practice. There was no Sukkot  or Yom Kippur Sheni, etc. As Rabbi Ismar Schorsch wrote in his commentary on this day, it was probably because of the “thoroughly national character. It commemorates the founding of ancient Israel as God’s emissary to humanity” (www.myjewishlearning.com/article/sometimes-there-are-second-chances/). In other words, if Passover was the consummate national and communal holiday, then if there were those unable to participate in it, accomodations were made.

Ironically, that almost happened this year. When campuses everywhere shut down just before Passover there was a discussion among Jewish campus professionals about what to do. Beyond offering “virtual seders”, and such they also floated the idea of celebrating on-campus seders for Pesach Sheni. At that moment, most of us believed that we’d be back on campus by then (today). That dream died a rather sudden death about a week later. And so, here we are on Pesach Sheni still in lock-down and isolation. Still going from day to day trying to remember which day it is. Still hoping for the time when we will be able to go to the store, have dinner at a restaurant, spend time with friends and other family members.

However, we also cannot forget the millions in our country who are out of work. And we can’t ignore the approximately half a million American that are currently homeless. And this number could rise as the pandemic continues. And we can’t forget those in need within the Lehigh community who are still struggling with issues, whether that means depression and anxiety, or the fact that they might not have the food and shelter that they need.

If we have a home, food, and family to help us through these times we must be thankful, even as we acknowledge the difficulties. And we must do whatever we can to help others while also keeping ourselves safe.

Also this year, I would like us to acknowledge Pesach Sheni. Let us acknowledge the fact that a month has passed since Passover and that we are still where we were then. Still, as this is the central communal holiday, let us acknowledge our communities. For no matter where we are, there are ways to connect with the Jewish community through Zoom services, classes, discussions, etc. This is true for Lehigh students and family members, as well as others.

Let us be grateful and keep our connections with not only the Jewish community, but all the communities of which we are a part. It’s not the same as being there physically, but it’s still important to do what we can virtually. For we don’t want physical isolation to become spiritual isolation.

If  today were actually Passover, last night we would have been asking the Four Questions. These questions begin with the opening exclamation “How different this night is from all other nights!” Then this is followed by the four questions which, put simply, are: 1) why do we eat only matzah?; 2) why do we eat bitter herbs (maror); 3) why do we dip our foods twice; and 4) why do we eat reclining.

The heart of the answer to all of these questions is that we were slaves in Egypt and God brought us out of slavery in order to be free. These 4 customs which are questioned are simply four different ways of acknowledging and giving thanks for that ultimate act of redemption.

To close this message I’d like to offer Four Questions For Pesach Sheni during Covid-19. I’m not going to give you the answer. That you’ll have to figure out for yourself. But if you’d like to share your answers on the blog you can find a place below for comments. If you can’t, just email me at spn217@lehigh.edu.

Chag Pesach Sheni Sameach – Happy Pesach Sheni  And Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi Steve

Four (plus) Questions for Pesach Sheni During Covid-19 (especially for college students…and parents)

How different this time is from the all other times!

  1. Before, we could eat alone or together and we could eat whatever we wanted (within reason). Why today must we always eat in the same place and with the same people, and why is our food more limited? (for some: why is there not always enough food)
  2. Before, life was a series of choices that resulted in actions. Sometimes results were sweet, other times they were bitter.Why today does it so often feel like our choices are limited and it can often be difficult to feel real joy, or too easy to feel real sadness?
  3. Before, we could do what we wanted where we wanted and with whom we wanted (again, within reason). Why today must we stay in isolation and stay only with our families and in our home? Will it really make a difference?
  4. Before, we were free and we took it for granted. Why today does our freedom need to be limited, and will I be grateful for freedom when isolation ends? And what can I do to help those who feel this lack of freedom every day of their lives?

Postscript: I realize that these four questions, which are really more than four, ultimately simplify a very complex situation. But so do the original four questions. The intricacies, the complications, and the meaning can be found in discovering what the answers are for each of us. 

Though our freedoms have been curtailed, and rightfully so, in order to keep people safe and to “flatten the curve” we can still find ways to exercise our freedom of choice while still following the rules and being safe.  Let us each find our path to doing so, as well as help those whom we love and care about to do the same.

Eventually this period will end. We have no idea what things will be like then. Hypothesizing really does no good. So all we can do is look at where we are now and find the answers that can help us each moment.


FINDING YOUR SONG. A LAST MINUTE MESSAGE BEFORE YOUR SEDER

Dear Hevre/community,

I know that I just posted something the day before yesterday in preparation for Passover/Pesach, However, given the unique situation this year, I just felt the need to post once more before the first seder.

As we know from the Passover story, the Israelites were freed from slavery after the tenth plague, the killing of the first born, having put lamb’s blood on their doorposts so the angel of death would “pass over” them.

After leaving slavery, everything seemed fine until they reached the shore of the Sea of Reeds (previously mistranslated as the Red Sea), when they suddenly heard Pharaoh’s army approaching. 

The Israelites were in fear at that moment. They didn’t know what to do. Even Moses was confounded, as he prayed to God to save them. A pillar of fire was the only thing standing between the people and Pharaoh’s army, with the sea on the other side.

That moment was the perfect example of a liminal moment. One definition of liminal is “occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold.”  The place where they stood at that moment was on the both sides of a threshold. They were both enslaved and free….and neither. That is where we are today.

Today we are stuck in the middle, with parts of us also on both sides of the threshold. Part of us is focused on when things were “normal” just a month ago. That part longs for that “normalcy” again. Yet, another part of us is longing for the future. As with the Israelites at the sea, we have no idea what that future will be. We know it will not be what was before, but exactly how is anyone’s guess.

As we stand in this liminal space, what is it that gives us the strength to continue? What prevents us from giving up, since we don’t have the option to go back to the past? I fully realize that some of us might not have that strength. I know that there are plenty of times when I don’t. Every day there are times when I am simply afraid or depressed because of the reality of the present and the uncertainty of the future. Yet, something is keeping me, and us, going most of the time, enabling us to live in the present.

As anyone who knows me is aware, music is a passion in my life. For me, that is one of the things that helps keep me going. We know from the Torah text that as the people eventually crossed the Sea of Reads they sang a song to God, as Miriam and the women.

But what if the song started before they crossed? What if Miriam picked up her tambourine and started singing in that liminal moment, even as they were filled with fear! Perhaps she felt that it was the only choice she had at that moment.  And what if it was Miriam’s song which signaled to God that it was time to split the sea?

In the psalms of Hallel/Praise, which is part of the Passover seder, we sing Psalm 118. In verse 14 of the psalm we read Ozi v’zimrat yah, vay’hi li li’shuah. This is usually translated as something like “My strength, my song is the Source, who is for me salvation.” In the ancient rabbinic tradition of suggesting an alternate translation as commentary, I would like to suggest that we read it as “My strength, and the song of God, that will be my salvation.”

I imagine that the strength of Miriam, followed by the women, and eventually the rest of the Israelites, created a song which was indeed the song of God. That song became the song of their salvation. It was their song that enabled them to leave that uncertain and liminal place. The song enabled them to be saved so they could begin their journey into the unknown The only thing they did know about that unknown was that they would no longer be slaves.

And so, as we exist here in this liminal space of the present, as well as in the past and the future, let us find our strength and create our song. Each person’s song is different. The song is simply a metaphor for that which helps us find strength and which enables us to connect with the Divine. That means it is what connects us to family, friends, our community, and the world in a very real way.

No one knows your song except you. Maybe you don’t even know it yet. After all, Miriam probably didn’t know hers a moment before she opened her mouth to sing. But hers was there. And so is yours.

As we celebrate, or observe, Passover let us search not simply for the Afikomen, but for our song. That will keep us present and connected even in the midst of our physical isolation. As I wrote earlier in the week, it will prevent us from turning that physical isolation into spiritual isolation. Right now, that is what salvation looks like.

When you find your song, be sure to share it with others, so that it will join with their songs. In that way, together we can find salvation and serenity, even if we might be feeling imprisoned and uncertain. After all, that’s what Miriam did, so why can’t we?

If click on the arrow beneath my signature you will hear a recording of me singing Rabbi Shefa Gold’s setting of Psalm 118, which I wrote about above. I hope you enjoy.

I wish you all a meaningful and joyous Passover. Next year together with our family and friends!

Rabbi Steve

HAD GADYA: A PASSOVER PARABLE FOR OUR TIMES 4/8/20

Most Passover seders end with a version of the song Had Gadya. It is a long song, but one with which we can also have some fun. As a child, I remember my mother and her sisters always competing to see who could sing each verse the fastest. By the time they got to the loooooooong final verse, the three of them were usually laughing so hard that they couldn’t finish. Today, I still try to compete with their memories to see how fast I can sing it without tripping over the words or laughing.

However, the meaning or Had Gadya isn’t so funny, as it a parable of how nation after nation has tried to destroy the Jewish people. However, since in the end, we always prevailed, we can sing about it. Even after the tragedy of the Holocaust (which occurred long after the song was written) we were eventually able to have fun with the song, because laughing as a response to danger has long been a Jewish response. Just look at the holiday of Purim, just one month ago!

These days we are in the midst of a difficult and dangerous time. Not only is there suffering and sickness around us, but we are unable to be together with those we love in order to give support. Most of us will celebrate Passover with ourselves, just a few people, or with others online perhaps.

Yet, even even in the face of that reality, we should do our best to find the ability to enjoy the beauty in the world and laugh a little. As we read in the biblical book of Ecclesiastes/Kohelet (chapter 3): “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven; [including] a time to weep and a time to laugh…”

Often the time for weeping and laughing are linked to one another, or even concurrent. That is certainly true these days. So, even as we weep, we must try our best to laugh as well. I realize that this may not be possible for those who are suffering from the virus, or who have loved ones who are sick, or who have died. And that’s an important reality to remember.

Immediately following the verse quoted above, Kohelet states that there is also “a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” We may not be able to laugh or dance at this moment, but eventually, with the help of God, family, and community, I have faith that we will again.

As we try our best to celebrate Passover in the midst of these troubled times, I hope the Had Gadya video below brings a smile to your faces. However, we also need to remember, think of, and pray for those in need of healing. To some degree, that really includes all of us right now. That’s why I’m adding Debbie Friedman’s Mi Shebeirach healing prayer to my seder this year.

So enjoy the video if you can right now. If you’re not able to, don’t worry, just save it for a time when you can in the future, even if Passover has ended! The video was conceived and edited by Daniel Olson, who works at the Hillel International Office of Innovation and features his mother Amy Olson, Executive Director of University of Rhode Island Hillel, as well as other family members. You can click here if you’d like to learn more about the song and get a more detailed explanation of its meaning,

May we each find a way to celebrate Passover in as meaningful and celebratory a manner as is possible this year. And don’t be hard on yourself if you find this difficult to do. After all, we’re only human!

It is traditional to end the seder with the worlds l’shanah ha’baah bi’yerushalayim “Next year in Jerusalem.” For this year I’d like to change that to “Next Year together in celebration.” Amen.

Hag Sameach – Happy Passover,

Rabbi Steve

PS Scroll down to the music section for my recording of Ozi V’zimrat Yah, the verse from Psalm 118 that I commented on above.

OLSON FAMILY HAD GADYA

Chicken Soup: Jewish Healing for the Soul

For as long as I can remember, chicken soup was always one of the most comforting foods that my mother made. Whether with matzah balls, noodles, or neither never really mattered. There was just something about chicken soup that always made me feel better, both physically and emotionally. Of course, I am far from the only Ashkenazi Jew (or any person) who might say this. After all, there’s a reason why it’s referred to as “Jewish penicillin!”

For years I just thought that this was a Jewish legend (bubbe-meise, or grandmother’s tale, in yiddish). So imagine the glee in the faces of Jewish mothers around the world when medical science actually proved them to be right! Of course, these days many Jewish fathers, such as myself, also make this liquid miracle. However, I am the first to admit that it will be forever linked to Jewish mothers in the minds of most. And my egalitarian self is perfectly fine with that!

As a child I thought there must be some magical formula to making chicken soup the right way. So, imagine my surprise when, as an adult, I learned that it really wasn’t that difficult to make.

I think I must have been in high school when my mother finally divulged the secret to her delectable chicken soup. Actually there were three secrets, but you’ll have to keep reading if you want to discover them. I was ready to learn some ancient, secret method passed down from generation to generation that now I, as a foodie and chef-of-sorts, was about to learn.

I watched my mother clean the insides and wash the chicken (see the notes in my recipe about this erroneous practice!) and put it in the pot. She always used the same pot that she had inherited from a deceased aunt of hers. Then she peeled an onion or two, cut them in half and threw them in the pot. This was followed by sliced carrots, celery, and a bunch of flat leaf (Italian) parsley (curly parsley would be an abomination in chicken soup!). Then she would put water in the pot, add some salt and pepper, cover the pot, and put it on the stove.

I then left the kitchen and would come back once the aroma started to waft through the house. I then learned the important step of skimming the dirty-looking foam off the top of the water, lest it add a nasty taste to the soup. She’d then turn down the heat, cover the pot again, and let it cook on low for an hour or two.

However, I was still waiting for the secrets to be imparted. Soon I would learn the first secret, and it would scar me for life (well, not really, but it’s good for dramatic effect). My mother took the lid off the soup and decided that it was done cooking. Then she went to the cabinet and took out a can of Manischewitz chicken broth, opened it, and poured it into the soup.

I’d like to imagine that my jaw dropped and I screamed out “Mom! How could you do such a thing! That’s sacrilegious!”. But I probably just gave her a quizzical look and said something profound like, “huh?”

My mother then proceeded to tell me that the canned soup added a little extra flavor and richness to the soup, so I should always put some in at the end. She also warned me that it added a lot of salt, so I should go easy on the salt at the start! Back then it also added a lot of MSG, a flavor-enhancing chemical that gives some people headaches. Luckily, Manischewitz has removed that from their soups. Plus there is now a low-sodium variety.

After adding that “secret ingredient” she stirred the soup and turned off the heat. Of course, I was ready to eat a bowl then and there, and I suppose I could have. However, it was then I learned the second secret. Don’t eat the soup right away!

After the soup cooled, my mother took out the pieces of chicken, the onion halves, and the bunch of parsley out of the pot. She put the chicken pieces in a bowl to save for chicken salad, which she would make the next day. She never put chicken back in the soup.

For years, I thought that you could only make chicken salad from soup chicken. So the two dishes were inextricably linked in my mind. To be honest, to this day, the only time I make chicken salad is when I make chicken soup.I have been told that roasted chicken can also make chicken salad that’s just as tasty, though I don’t quite believe that. But I digress.

After taking out the chicken, she covered the pot and put it in the refrigerator. “Soup always tastes better the second day. Plus this way the excess fat collects on top of the oup and you can skim it off tomorrow, so it isn’t too greasy.” “Ok,” I thought, “whatever you say Mom.” Of course, she was right. Such is the wisdom of Jewish mothers when it comes to chicken soup.

And so, I waited impatiently for the next day to arrive. That next day, she would take the soup out of the refrigerator, skim off the congealed fat from the top, and put it back on the stove to warm up. Finally, when it was hot enough, she ladled it into a bowl. I then enjoyed a hot bowl of golden liquid comfort. She usually made matzah balls as well, but that’s a whole other story, the ending of which was linked to another Manischewitz surprise: she had given up making them from scratch, as she insisted that the boxed mix was just as good! Like I said, she was infallible when it came to chicken soup, and so who was I to argue with her?

And this is my late mother Melba Waldman Nathan’s Torah (teaching) of chicken soup. In later years she added fresh dill. Much later, she would then take the advice of the kosher butcher’s wife and put her immersion blender in the soup and puree some (but not all) of the vegetables in the soup. She said she liked how it gave the soup “extra body.” But even with those changes, the taste of the chicken soup remained the same, because it was hers.

I realize I forget the third secret. That one is simple. Make sure you add enough carrots! My mother believed with complete faith that the secret to any good soup was the carrots. “Don’t skimp on the carrots!” was her motto. And I never do.

My mother continued making this soup, with its slight changes or additions, when she became a grandmother as well. My kids always looked forward to Grammy’s chicken soup (she was Grammy, and definitely not a “bubbe”, just as my grandmother was always Nana). I still remember how my kids, and my oldest sister, loved to help her make the matzah balls and put them in the soup. All three of my kids loved her chicken soup. I’m not sure how she would feel about the fact that one of them is vegan. I’ve no doubt that she would try to convince her that a little chicken soup could never hurt!

When my mother was in her late 80s and I moved in to help take care of her, she would make the soup with my help. Then I started making the chicken soup myself sometimes. Just as she inherited the method from her mother, Esther Mittelman Waldman, so I inherited it from her. Of course, I added my own touches to it, just as I imagine she must have made some changes to her mother’s recipe. When she saw that I added fresh whole garlic cloves and some paprika (the Hungarian in me believe paprika belongs in everything) she seemed a bit skeptical. Imagine my surprise when one day she declared, “your chicken soup is maybe a little better than mine!” That day I knew I had finally arrived as an Ashkenazi Jewish cook!

Though I made some minor changes, the essentials are still based on what I learned from my mother. To this day, I still add a can (or box) of Manischewitz chicken soup (though I use low sodium variety), refrigerate the soup overnight whenever possible, and, of course, always make sure to use enough carrots! You’ll see the directions (it’s not exactly a traditional recipe) on the Food for Thought page of the blog.

This article ended up being much longer than I had intended it to be, but I wanted to share with you the importance of chicken soup and it’s connection to my past and hopefully to my future. I’ve passed some of the basics on to my son Noah, but I’ve actually never tasted his soup. Yet. My eldest daughter Shira never liked the idea of touching chicken with skin and bones, and Eitana is now a vegan. And so the tradition is hopefully being passed on now from father to son. And hopefully I’ll be around to make it for a long time. Such is the way of the world.

I have included this article here for a few reasons. The most obvious is because I believe that chicken soup can bring a sense of comfort and healing when times are difficult, or when we are sick. So it certainly is appropriate for this blog during these times. I also wrote this to remind all of us of the importance of connection in our lives, and often this connection can be found in food. This is especially for the things we call “comfort food.” When I make the chicken soup, even if I’m alone in my apartment, I am there with my mother, my sisters, and my children, not to mention my Nana, and a multitude of aunts and great aunts who also made wonderful chicken soup. Though none quite as good as my mother’s to my mind. This alone brings me comfort, even before I feel the first spoonful warming my belly and my heart.

And so, as we are all living in isolation, let us be grateful for those who actually are there with us in person and for their presence. Connect with them in person and don’t just spend your time on social media, zoom, or texting.

If you are alone, such as I am, remember that we can still find that connection with others not with us in the same physical location. It just takes a little extra effort. That’s when all of the electronic methods mentioned above can certainly make a huge difference.

However, we remember that we can also connect ourselves with family, and even friends, through cooking a family recipe, looking at photos or videos, or simply just remembering. In short, even though we may feel alone, and indeed we are right now in so many ways, we must remember that we are never truly alone. We are inextricably linked to those who share our lives now, as well as those who are no longer with us in this world.

I remember this every time I make chicken soup, not to mention brisket, goulash, split pea soup, and more. It’s as if my mother is at my side making sure that I’m doing it just right. She’s looking over my shoulder and smirking a little when I add the garlic, and of course, reminding me, “make sure to add enough carrots. After all, carrots are the secret to any good soup.” And hearing that voice makes me feel warm inside before even smelling or tasting the soup. And that is the soul-healing power of chicken soup.

Click here to read my instructions for making chicken soup. Read it well,. and then make the recipe your own! That’s what my mother would want you to do!


A message from March 31, 2020

Well, it may seem like a year, or maybe to some it only seems like a few days, but we’ve been away from campus for a total of about 3 1/2 half weeks, depending on when you left for spring break. During that time, our lives and our world have changed. Things that we took for granted are no longer accessible to us. People whom we saw every day have not been in physical proximity to us in days or weeks. Classes have been transformed from in-person, communal learning experiences to online experiences, which started out a bit shaky, from what I’ve been told. Though hopefully, by now, students, professors, TA’s, etc. are settled in and getting more accustomed to the “new normal” in terms of classes.

I know this is not what any of us had planned on, but as I wrote a while back, it is something that’s out of our control.

This “new normal” is going to be with us for quite some time. Luckily, as frustrating as social isolation is, medical authorities claim that it seems to be having the desired effect. So, if you’re tempted to break the rules, even just one tiny bit, with one person, PLEASE DON”T. The short-term inconvenience and frustration of true social isolation, will be worth it in the end.

So even as we are stuck in our homes most of the time, let’s do our best to stay in touch with family and friends via text, phone calls, zoom, etc. It’s amazing how in-touch you can stay with people thanks to the media available today, which many of you just take for granted as having always been there! I actually had a zoom call with over a dozen friends the other day whom I’ve known for almost 40 years (back in the days before cell phones, etc!), and many with whom I haven’t spoken in almost that long! I have a feeling this never would have happened if we weren’t all cooped up in our homes 24/7.

Use this time to be in touch with your Lehigh friends whom you grew accustomed to seeing daily, as well as those family and friends with whom you’ve been out of touch to some degree. Then, when the current situation is over, stay in touch! Let’s all take the positive outcomes of this difficult situation and make them part of the new new normal that will exist after the isolation has ended.

We know that the world we are living in today is in so many ways nothing like the world we lived in only one month ago. I think we also know that the world in which we will be living after the pandemic has ended will be very different from that world of one month ago or the world of today. But so many of the emotional and personal connections will remain the same, and even deepen, during this time.

In Psalm 118:24 we read “this is the day that the Eternal has made, let us rejoice and celebrate in it.” Each day, whether in isolation or not, let us remember that there is always something to celebrate.

In a way, each day is like it’s own unique snapshot of existence, and putting all the days together we create a new collage (or existential Instagram story?) that reveals our life to us as it has been unfolding. Let us do our best to create a story now that we can smile at in the future, even as we remember the difficulties of this time. Then, in the future let us continue the story day by day, celebration by celebration, and even challenge by challenge, not as a wholly new entity, but as just an extension of the day-by-day journey in the unknown that we are experiencing today.

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