Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter 2017

One of the few times during the year that I post in color. The Easter Parade in New York is not really a parade. Fifth avenue between 49th and 55th streets is closed off to traffic - that's the area just in front of St. Patrick's Cathedral and St. Thomas Church - and exhibitionists come to strut their stuff. It's an ad lib bazaar for any excuse to dress up.

It was a great opportunity for me to test out the kit that I want to take on my trip to Israel this May.
I eliminated one lens from my bag, the 18mm. So now I have it down to two bodies: the X-T1 and X-Pro2; three prime lenses: 14/2.8, 23/2, and 35/2 (I actually used the 35/1.4 today, but I've already purchased the f2 lens, just waiting for delivery so I can test out the acuity against the f1.4). I'm taking one zoom lens: 55-200mm. I hardly ever use it, but just can't seem to cut the cord and leave it behind. I keep thinking that the one time I leave it, I'm going to really need it and regret not taking it.

After the trip I'll most likely put the 23/1.4, 35/1.4, and 50-140 up for sale ..... and then buy the 50/2.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Passover 2017 - Burning Chametz

Before the holiday begins, we are commanded to clean our homes of all traces of any grain that might  have undergone leavening or rising. It's then burned and we recite prayers of disownership of any remaining leavening in our possession.

Everyone loves a good fire.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Passover 2017

The festival of Pesach celebrates what probably was the defining event in the history of the Jewish people. The liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage (the slavery lasted a bit over two hundred years) was the beginning of forging the Israelite tribes into a coherent nation. It happened over four hundred years after G-d promised Abraham that his children would become a great nation. But there's another story embedded in the festival - the culmination of man's move from idolatry (the story of Abraham leaving his home and family in Babylon) to monotheism. After the eight days of Pesach, forty nine days to be exact (a period of time we call the Omer) we celebrate the holiday of Shavuos which commemorates Moses receiving the Torah - the first five books of the Tanakh at Mount Sinai.

One of the most important symbols (probably the one most identified with Pesach) is matzoh - a flat wheat bread baked quickly without leavening so that there is no 'rising'. It's called a 'poor man's' bread, so most highly observant Jews eschew mixing the wheat dough with eggs or any flavoring. The entire process of producing matzoh - from the mixing of the flour with water to the end of the baking process (in ovens that are at 2000°F) lasts not a second more than eighteen minutes so as to prohibit the possibility of any rising of the dough.

The best way to teach our children about the story of Pesach is to get them actively involved, to actually make matzah.

Pouring the wheat kernels into a grinder:

Grinding the kernels into flour:

Pouring the flour into a mixing bowl:

Adding water to the flour:

The rabbi mixes the flour into dough:

Rolling the dough into flat patties:

Putting the raw matzoh into the oven:

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Pidyon Haben

The ritual of Pidyon Haben (redemption of the first born son) is performed when certain stringent requirements are met. See here for a detailed explanation. Briefly, the conditions are: 1) the newborn child must be a male, 2) the child must be the first child of the mother, 3) the birth must be a natural delivery, and 4) neither the mother or father can be of Levi or Kohen ancestry. The conditions are not met often, so this celebration doesn't occur frequently.

Proud mother and father (Mushka and Betzalel) with their son.

Betzalel carrying his son to the Kohen. A tradition of the ritual is to cover the baby with gold jewelry and surround him with packages of sugar.

The basis of the ritual can be found in the Tanach (Jewish Bible) in several places: Exodus 13:13 and Numbers 3:45 that stipulate the child must be redeemed from a Kohan (ritual priest) for a sum of five silver shekels. It the Chabad custom, the child is redeemed for silver dollars of extremely pure silver.

Father and Kohen (Benny Friedman) recite ritual blessings and exchange the baby for the silver coins.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Havdalah 2

With Purim happening Saturday night and Sunday, this was a busy weekend. Just before we read the Megillah we celebrated the end of Shabat with a Havdalah ritual, and then the eating began! Joseph, the rabbi's son, was holding out a bag of spices for me to sniff.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Purim 2017

For anything/everything you ever wanted to know about Purim you can read it here. It's a festival of redemption and celebration. A day to wear costumes, drink, and get crazy. We read the Megilah - the story of Esther, niece of Mordechai who became queen of Persia and outsmarted the wicked Haman, the progeny of Amalek. So it's really a story about righting the wrongs of King Saul.

One of the Blues Brothers:

Queen Esther:

Reading the Megilah:

Thursday, March 9, 2017

A Weekday Bar Mitzvah

Today was a special day in preparation for the upcoming holiday of Purim - Saturday night and Sunday - when we read the Megillah, which is the book of Esther. It's the story of the exiled Jews of Babylonia/Persia and their struggle against extermination at the hands of the evil Haman who was a descendent of the historical nemesis of the the biblical Jews, Amalek. More on that later.

A young lad was celebrating his thirteenth birthday today. That's the day on which a Jewish male assumes full responsibility for his integration into the community. It happens for girls at the age of twelve. No particular ritual or rite need be observed, it happens automatically. But the tradition for boys is that they put on tefillin for the first time, and they are also called to the Torah for the first time.