Better than a bucket list—a guide to growing your faith!
The demands of modern society often create distance between Jews and their cultural heritage. Author Barbara Sheklin Davis, a New York City native and longtime Jewish educator, offers ways to embrace and uphold Jewish influences in everyday life. Suggestions range from simple activities like indulging in a Woody Allen movie marathon and noshing on pastrami on rye to more involved activities including hosting a Shabbat dinner or exploring tikkun olam to bring about social justice and repair the world. Feeling more Jew-ish than Jewish these days? Let this list of 100 tips reconnect you! Start now with #12 and call your mother—after all, she worries!
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About the Author
A Jewish educator for well over 50 years, Barbara Sheklin Davis has devoted her life to teaching and upholding Jewish traditions in the United States. She earned her PhD in Spanish literature from Columbia University and serves as executive editor of HaYidion, a journal of Jewish education. An accomplished author, noted scholar, and community leader, Davis received the 2015 Hannah G. Solomon Award from the National Council of Jewish Women. She is a true Jewish mother to three children and the grandmother of nine.
Read an Excerpt
100 Jewish Things to do Before You Die
By Barbara Sheklin Davis
Pelican Publishing Company, Inc.Copyright © 2017 Barbara Sheklin Davis
All rights reserved.
Add a Jewish Object to Your Home
There are so many ways to add a "Jewish touch" to your home. You may already have some of these things, or you may have none. But no matter your taste, you will find something that will please your aesthetic sense as well as adding a special dimension to your décor.
Here is a list of some objects that make a home Jewish: mezuzah, Shabbat candlesticks, Kiddush cup, prayer book, Jewish calendar, chanukiyah, tzedakah box, Havdalah set, challah cover, Seder plate, dreidel, mizrach, Jewish art, Jewish books (if you bought this one, you're already ahead of the game!), Haggadot, Jewish family heirlooms, ketubah, Miriam's Cup, Jewish jewelry, Jewish cookbooks.
Why should you do this? "In Judaism and, I imagine, most other faith traditions, the spiritual is material," Vanessa L. Ochs writes in a fascinating article entitled "What Makes a Jewish Home Jewish?" "Without things, in all their thingness, there is no Passover, only an idea of Passover; and a faint and fuzzy idea it would be, like honor, loyalty, and remorse — like, perhaps, God, and more surely, monotheism. Things denote one's belonging, one's participation, possibly one's convictions." She raises the question: "Could we consider the possibility that things in a Jewish home have Jewish identities, as solid, erratic, or angst-filled as the Jewish identities of people? For just as memory recovers lost, stolen, and rejected worlds and ways of being left behind, do not objects — those present, those retrieved, and even those dimly recalled — do the same?"
Adding a Jewish object to your home can be a meaningful and purposeful experience. Finding are all available online, through synagogue gift shops, or (best of all) by going to Israel to shop. Perhaps one will enhance your lifestyle.CHAPTER 2
Admire Warhol's Ten Jewish Geniuses
Andy Warhol's Ten Portraits of Jews of the Twentieth Century, created in 1980, depict illustrious figures of Jewish culture: actress Sarah Bernhardt, jurist Louis Brandeis, philosopher Martin Buber, physicist Albert Einstein, psychiatrist Sigmund Freud, composer George Gershwin, novelist Franz Kafka, the comedic Marx Brothers, prime minister Golda Meir, and novelist Gertrude Stein. Warhol referred to this pantheon of great thinkers, politicians, performers, and authors as his "Jewish geniuses."
When the collection was first exhibited, art critics acerbically called it vulgar, Jewploitative, offensive, and commercial. Warhol was accused of hypocritical pandering to wealthy Jews with little taste. His only comment was alleged to have been: "They'll sell."
While many saw the works as an extension of Warhol's other celebrity portraits, dismissing them as "business art" designed to make money for the controversial but highly successful pop artist, others disagreed, finding greater profundity in these portraits than in others he painted. While Warhol produced hundreds of commissioned portraits of celebrities, the exhibition of Jewish geniuses was different, because it featured people who were no longer alive and was based on archival photos that he enlarged, partially redrew, and overlaid with high-contrast colors.
Warhol, known for enigmatic commentary, is reported to have said that he chose his Jewish subjects because he liked their faces. Jewish communities embraced the Ten Portraits far more enthusiastically than did the critics. With time, there has been a revision in critical assessment as well.
Not many people know about these paintings, but if you are lucky enough to see the Portraits on exhibit, you are sure to admire them.CHAPTER 3
Attend a Passover Seder
"You shall tell your child on that day, saying, 'It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.'" Exodus 13:8
The formulation of the commandment to tell the story of Passover is intriguing: it is clearly addressed to adults who are asked to tell their story of personal redemption to their children. As a guest at a Passover Seder, one is almost automatically in the position of the child to whom the story is being told. That being the case, asking questions (even the most basic) is entirely appropriate and welcome. In fact, asking questions is the reason for the Seder. The Four Questions (Ma Nishtana), asked by the youngest child, frame the entire service, asking, "Why is this night different from all other nights?"
The Seder is celebrated much the same way by Jews around the world. At the same time, each Seder is unique, and each recounting of the Exodus story will likewise be different. Within the framework of the Haggadah (telling) lie multiple opportunities for digressions and questions. Some may be scholarly and profound and others worldlier, even political. Haggadot come in many stripes, from the traditional to the holistic. A multimedia Haggadah entitled 300 Ways to Ask the Four Questions: From Zulu to Abkhaz allows one to share the feel of a Seder in Poland or Portugal or hear what the questions sound like in an African click language or Morse Code, Shakespearean English, or even Klingon.
Seder customs are likewise varied. A feminist may place an orange on the Seder plate, in response to an apocryphal rabbi who said, "Women have as much place on the pulpit as an orange has on a Seder plate." Others place a tomato, symbolizing the mistreatment of migrant farm workers. Vegetarians substitute vegetables for shank bones and eggs. A Miriam's Cup is sometimes used to honor the role of Miriam the Prophetess and highlight the contributions of women to Jewish culture.
Enjoy being a guest at a Seder. Bring flowers for your hostess (rather than food or wine) and relax and delight in new experiences. Ask as many questions as you want. The food (it will definitely arrive!) will be delectable and special, and the singing will be joyous. Just know that the Seder doesn't conclude with the meal-part two follows dessert!CHAPTER 4
Avoid Lashon Hara
"Guard my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking lies." These words conclude every Amidah prayer. Other prayers are written in the first-person plural; this one is written in the singular. It speaks directly to the one who is praying and delivers a tough message.
Lashon hara means "evil speech" and has long been defined as "gossip." The twenty-first century has brought a new meaning. Social media has become antisocial media, and cyberbullying, sexting, flaming, stalking, outing, masquerading, and excluding have brought lashon hara into the digital age and the homes and lives of millions of people. The new lashon hara includes the following:
* Sending mean messages or threats to a person's e-mail account or cell phone
* Spreading rumors online or through texts
* Posting hurtful or threatening messages on social-networking sites or web pages
* Stealing account information to break into someone's account and send damaging e-mails
* Pretending to be someone else online to hurt another person
* Taking unflattering pictures of a person and spreading them through cell phones or the Internet
* Circulating sexually suggestive photos or messages about someone
Judaism is intensely aware of the harm that can be done through speech. A classic Chasidic tale illustrates the danger of lashon hara. A man was telling malicious lies about the rabbi. Later, realizing the wrong he had done, he went to the rabbi and begged forgiveness. "Take a feather pillow, cut it open, and scatter the feathers to the winds," the rabbi told him. Though this was a strange request, the man complied gladly. Then the rabbi said, "Now, go and gather the feathers, because you can no more make amends for the damage your words have done than you can recollect the feathers."CHAPTER 5
The term "challah" refers to the piece of dough that was to be given to the priests from a kneading of bread in ancient times, according to the verse, "The first portion of your kneading, you shall separate as a dough offering [challah]. ... In all your generations, give the first of your kneading as an elevated gift to God" (Numbers 15:20-21). Challah then evolved to mean the two loaves of bread that form the core of the Shabbat meal and, ultimately, the braided egg bread with which we are all familiar.
Challah can be made in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Braided challot may have three, four, or six strands. Three braids symbolize truth, peace, and justice. Twelve humps from two small or one large braided bread recall the miracle of the twelve loaves for the twelve tribes of Israel. Round loaves, baked for Rosh Hashana, symbolize continuity and may contain raisins, to assure a sweet year. Ladder shapes signify ascendance to great heights, and hand shapes are wishes for a good year. Small triangular loaves may be made for Purim; for Shavuot, challot may be shaped like the tablets containing the Ten Commandments. Shapes are limited only by the baker's imagination.
Then, just when you think you've seen it all, something brand new comes along. "Challahlujah!" trumpets www.challahhub.com, which proclaims it's "not your mama's challah." It's certainly not, with recipes for banana chocolate and peanut butter chip, vegan pretzel, pesto asiago, salted caramel, raspberry cream cheese, and mint chocolate chip challahs. If you really don't want to do the baking and experience the warmth and delicious smells, you can always get a ChallahGram from www.challahgram.com, which promises to deliver a fresh kosher Brooklyn challah to you anywhere in the United States on Friday. Having conquered shapes, flavors, and sizes, challah makers turned to politics. There's a rainbow gay pride challah and a patriotic red, white, and blue challah.
But no matter how you make it, the fact remains that challah is delicious, and homemade challah is the very best. Its soft texture, sweet taste, delectable aroma, and woven braid symbolize love and are the perfect reminder of manna falling from the heavens.CHAPTER 6
Be a Mensch
"Mensch" is a beautiful word; it has no translation. It's Yiddish and is related to the German word mensch, which means "human being" or "man" in the general sense. But the Yiddish word is completely different. "Mensch" has no gender. It is a completely value-laden word. You know a mensch when you meet one, but words fail to describe exactly what a mensch is. Calling someone a mensch is the ultimate compliment, expressing the rarity and worth of that person's qualities.
Guy Kawasaki, a (definitely not Jewish) Silicon Valley-based author, speaker, entrepreneur, and evangelist, has written a guide for entrepreneurs on how to be a mensch. Here are his guidelines:
* Help people who cannot help you. You shouldn't care if the recipient is rich, famous, or powerful.
* Help without the expectation of return — at least in this life. What's the payoff? There doesn't need to be one, but the payoff is the pure satisfaction of helping others.
* Help many people. Menschdom is a numbers game. Don't hide your generosity under a bushel.
* Do the right thing the right way. A mensch would never cop an attitude such as, "We're not as bad as Enron." There is a clear line between right and wrong, and a mensch never crosses that line.
* Pay back society. A mensch realizes that he or she is blessed. For example, entrepreneurs are blessed with vision and passion, plus the ability to recruit, raise money, and change the world. These blessings come with the obligation to pay back society. The baseline is that we owe something to society — we're not doing a favor by paying back society.
Kawasaki offers an exercise to try: It's the end of your life. What three things do you want people to remember you for?CHAPTER 7
Bikur Cholim — Visit the Sick
Bikur cholim, visiting the sick, encompasses a spectrum of activities that provide comfort and support to people who are ill, homebound, isolated, or otherwise in distress. Bikur cholim can include visiting patients in a hospital, rehab center, or nursing home; visiting the homebound; running errands for those who are ill or disabled; or maintaining contact with and providing reassurance to those in need.
You can also perform bikur cholim by bringing a meal to a family with a new baby or driving a senior to a doctor's appointment. You can purchase gift certificates from places that deliver food; you can call when you are going to the store to ask if you can pick up anything; you can deliver meals on wheels, care for a pet while the owner is in the hospital, call bingo at a senior-citizen center, or bring your guitar and entertain. There is no end to the ways bikur cholim can be done.
Bikur cholim fulfills the biblical command to "love your neighbor as yourself' (Leviticus 19:18). Many communities have bikur cholim societies (the custom dates back to the Middle Ages), but this is something you can do as an individual. In fulfilling this mitzvah, we enrich our own lives as much as the lives of those we visit.
Sometimes people feel awkward about doing bikur cholim. What do I say? What do I do? Sometimes the answer is: nothing. You don't necessarily have to say or do anything; your very presence and the fact that you care are enough.
Don't let your discomfort or busy schedule stop you from being there for someone who really needs you. The worst thing you can do for someone who is sick is nothing. That is why Rabbi Simkha Y. Weintraub wrote, "Our generation, as those before and after us, will be judged by how we listen to those who are sick and vulnerable and to those who care for them. In the end, there is no them. There is only us."CHAPTER 8
Binge-Watch Woody Allen
Woody Allen, born to parents of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, began his career as a joke writer, moved into standup comedy, and then became a filmmaker. Since his first movie, What's Up, Tiger Lily? in 1966, he has written, directed, and frequently starred in about one film a year, both comedies and more serious films, with a variety of styles and subjects.
Film scholar David Desser writes, "Allen archetypically represents the American-Jewish artist in his reproduction of the absent tradition of American-Jewish art: Judaism. In fact, Judaism is the structuring absence of his mature films; his cinema is a constant working out of this missing link, a continual search for a substitute for Judaism. Jewish artists often manifest this absence through the search for social justice or the participation in popular lifestyle trends."
Allen biographer David Evanier stresses, "It almost strains credulity that a Jewish comedian and film actor who placed his Jewishness front and center and consciously proclaimed it, utilizing constant references to his Jewish identity, anti-Semitism, and the Holocaust, and with ambivalent ways of defining gentiles (white bread and mayonnaise were the most popular reference) could capture the imagination of and even beguile a huge audience as Woody Allen has done. Jack Benny, George Burns, Eddie Cantor, and Groucho Marx preceded him, but these were not comics advertising their Jewishness; it was implicit and polite. Borscht-belt comics were open about their ethnicities by the 1950s, but they were entertaining largely Jewish audiences. Allen was a national comic from the start."
But is Woody Allen good for the Jews? Is he even Jewish? In a fascinating column for Religion News Service entitled "Woody Allen, Jewish Despite Himself," Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin lays out the many ways that Allen, despite his protestations, displays his Jewishness in his films, books, and standup routines, concluding: "On the one hand, there is the rejection of Judaism as religion. But there is the re-invention of Jewish identity as attitude — mostly of irony and iconoclasm."
Excerpted from 100 Jewish Things to do Before You Die by Barbara Sheklin Davis. Copyright © 2017 Barbara Sheklin Davis. Excerpted by permission of Pelican Publishing Company, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 Add a Jewish Object to Your Home 11
2 Admire Warhol's Ten Jewish Geniuses 12
3 Attend a Passover Seder 14
4 Avoid Lashon Hara 16
5 Bake Challah 17
6 Be a Mensch 18
7 Bikur Cholim-Visit the Sick 20
8 Binge-Watch Woody Allen 22
9 Blow a Shofar on Rosh Hashana 24
10 Browse a Jewish Museum 26
11 Buy a Jewish Cookbook 28
12 Call Your Mother (She Worries …) 30
13 Celebrate Yom Ha'atzmaut 32
14 Check Out Innovative Jewish Initiatives 34
15 Comfort One Who Mourns 36
16 Connect/Reconnect with Your Family 38
17 Create a Family Tree 40
18 Dance the Hora 42
19 Deliver Mishloach Manot on Purim 44
20 DIY-Do It Yourself 46
21 Do Jewish with Five Jewish Friends 48
22 Do Tshuvah-Make Amends 50
23 Download Some Klezmer Music 52
24 Eat Blintzes and Cheesecake for Shavuot 54
25 Eat Chinese Food and See a Movie on December 25 56
26 Knjoy Falufel 58
27 Experience a Saturday-Morning Service 60
28 Explore a Different Jewish Culture 62
29 Face the Future 64
30 Fast on Yom Kippur 66
31 Feast on Pastrami on Rye 68
32 Feel Guilty 70
33 Get a Jewish Calendar 72
34 Get Out of the Jewish Box 73
35 Give Up Bread for Passover 76
36 Go to a Jewish Wedding 78
37 Go to the Jewish Museum in Philadelphia 80
38 Groove to Some New Jewish Music 82
39 Guess How Many of These People Are Jewish 84
40 Have a Knish 86
41 Have Bagels and Lox for Sunday Breakfast 88
42 Host a Shabbat Dinner 90
43 Identify Famous Jews by Their Real Names 92
44 If You're a Parent, Bless Your Children 94
45 If You're Single, Go on JDate 96
46 If You're Young. Go on a Taglit-Birthright Trip 98
47 Investigate Contemporary Jewish Creativity 100
48 Join a Jewish Facebook Group 102
49 Join a Jewish Organization 104
50 Kvell 106
51 Laugh with a Book of Jewish Jokes 108
52 Learn How the Jews Influenced Broadway 110
53 Learn Krav Maga 112
54 Learn Ten Hebrew Phrases 114
55 Learn the Mourner's Koddish 116
56 Learn the Shema 117
57 Learn Your Jewish Name 119
58 Light a Chanukiya, Eat Sufganiyot 121
59 Light a Yahrzeit Candle 123
60 Listen to a Jewish Tenor 125
61 Make an Impact with a Social-Justice Choice 127
62 Make Matzah Ball Soup 128
63 Make/Buy/Fill a Tzedakah Box 130
64 Marvel at Tchotchkes You Never Knew Existed 132
65 Place a Note in the Western Wall 134
66 Plant a Tree for Tu B'Shevat 136
67 Play Jewish Geography 138
68 Put a Mezuzah on Your Doorpost 140
69 Read a Jewish Magazine 142
70 Read Pirkei Avot 144
71 Recite a Blessing on Seeing a Rainbow 146
72 Repair the World - Tikkun Olam 148
73 Save a Life-Pikuauch Nefksh 150
74 Say "Shabbat Shalom" Instead of "TGIF" 152
75 See Fiddler on the Roof 154
76 Shop for Israeli Products 156
77 Sing "Hatikvah" 158
78 Sleep in a Sukkah 160
79 Start Your Week with Havdalah 162
80 Study a Page of Talmud 164
81 Subscribe to a Jewish Site 165
82 Take a Jewish Quiz 167
83 Talk to a Rabbi 169
84 Taste Gefilte Fish 171
85 Travel in Israel 173
86 Try a Bit of Kosher 175
87 Try on a Kippa 176
88 Unload Your Jewish Baggage 178
89 Unplug and Reboot 180
90 Unravel a Jewish Superstition 182
91 Use Yiddish Expressions 184
92 Visit a Holocaust Museum 186
93 Visit a Jewish Community Day School 189
94 Watch an Israeli Film 191
95 Watch Schindler's List 193
96 Watch The Tribe 195
97 Work Out at a JCC 197
98 Write a Devar Torah 199
99 Write an Ethical Will 201
100 Write Your Own Prayer 203