January 2024 / Shvat 5784
From our Executive Director
We have spent the last several months glued to the news, watching every little development out of Israel. This war dominated the media and our own minds. It is difficult to step back and remember that the world, the Jewish world, and Israel all have more than that going on.
I returned from Israel a week ago. While there, I spent Shabbat up at our kibbutz in the north, Hanaton. I spoke at Gan HaHatufim, the area in Tel Aviv that has sprung up in support of those who are fighting a war, those who have been kidnapped, and the families who live with the torture of the unknown each day. I visited Kehillat Yedid Nefesh in Modi’in. In each of these places, I saw vibrant communities, committed to Masorti and to Israel.
Next week is Tu biShevat. The Mishnah in Rosh HaShanah (1:1) tells us that Tu biShevat is one of four new years on our calendar. At its inception, Tu biShevat was connected to the sacrificial system of the Torah. The requirements of annual tithing needed a starting point. Throughout history, the holiday has picked up different meanings and observances.
In the Land of Israel, one can see the first buds on trees trying to break through the hard outer shell of the branches. Those are the buds of new fruit, of new life. They tell us that even after a difficult winter, new life will burst through.
May they also represent a budding future, a future free of the violence that we witness every day. May the hope of Tu biShevat become the reality on the ground.
From our President
Protests against Israel’s war with Hamas targeting Jewish neighbourhoods and businesses.
Universities and colleges becoming hostile to Jewish students and faculty.
Random acts of violence that are not so random when it comes to targeting Jews.
The fear of being identified as a Jew in Canada. Who among us would have ever thought that would ever come back?
Our federal government becoming less able to define itself as being a friend of the Jewish community, through UN votes and actions and inaction on threats to our community both here in Canada and in the Middle East.
Some of our politicians, who campaigned on their Jewish and Israeli origins, refusing to answer the phone when our community is in distress.
Is it because they are more worried about being elected than being representatives of their communities?
Canadian Jewery is in crisis. Canadian Jews are being targeted. We are told that someone needs to do something.
Over the past nearly 3 months, MERCAZ-Canada and Canadian Foundation for Masorti Judaism has been at the forefront of our communities efforts to make ourselves heard.
In early November, Rabbi Steven Wernick and myself joined the Masorti Leadership Mission to Israel. We visited Kfar Aza, where scenes of unbelievable destruction unfolded before us. We met with President Herzog in Jerusalem. We toured the relief centre in Tel Aviv and visited with the parents of the hostages. At each and every stop on our very short visit, we did our best to document what we saw and comfort those we met.
Rabbi Sean Gorman, our executive director just returned from a two week visit to Israel where he worked to remove bottlenecks for your donations to rebuild our shattered kehilot.
When I was in Israel in November, I presented a cheque from CFMJ for nearly $25,000 to rebuild our rocket damaged synagogue in Ashkelon.
We are here to assist our congregations in whatever ways we can, through providing a conduit for your donations to help rebuild Israel or to provide speakers to our congregations here in Canada.
We have participated in several forums with police services and one of our congregations, Beth Tzedec in Toronto, hosted the Jewish Leadership meeting with Prim Minister Trudeau.
We are working hard to provide as much assistance as we can to those in distress.
How can you help?
Speak to your local police. Have them come to your congregation to talk about your issues. Our experience has been that the police services are very aware of what is going on and how acts of antisemitism are affecting the Jewish community. They are, for the most part, extremely sympathetic to the trauma we are experiencing. Ask them what they are doing and I am sure that they will tell you that they are doing more behind the scenes than anyone is aware of.
Speak to your politicians. Each and every one is going to be facing an election at some point in the future and they are more than welcome to speak to Jewish groups. If you’re on the fence about becoming more politically active, this is the time to make that choice and do it. Being able to speak to your municipal, provincial or federal member on a personal basis means you will be heard.
Set up a letter writing campaign for an issue involving Israel. The politicians may not read each individual letter, but even if they just weigh them for and against, your letters make a difference.
Our previous Executive Director, Rabbi Jennifer Gorman is now the National Director of Outreach & Programming for CJPAC, who’s mandate is to engage Jewish and pro-Israel Canadians in the democratic process and to foster active political participation. CJPAC runs a variety of seminars on becoming more politically active.
If you’d like to donate to either MERCAZ or Masorti, visit our website, https://www.mercaz.ca Your funds can be directed to our activities in Canada and in Israel.
It’s time to face our fears. It’s time to act.
We can help.
Don't forget your MERCAZ Membership!
If you haven't joined or renewed your membership for 2024, do it now!
In Our Homes
Makroud - A Recipe for Tu biShevat
Today is Tu biShevat, the New Year of the Trees, as mentioned in Mishnah. (Rosh Hashanah 1;1) Historically, it was the date used to calculate tithing of produce for the year, as part of the sacrificial system. The rabbis explained this date as being after mid-winter (well, in some places!), when the rains had fallen and the soil was damp and healthy, ready for the planting of new trees. This is around the time when almond blossoms begin to appear, with their promise of a prosperous harvest. In the Middle Ages, the Kabbalists added a mystical layer to the date, likening the hidden seeds of life within fruits and nuts to the 'spark' of Divine Presence hidden within people.
More recently, Tu biShevat has taken on the guise of a Jewish Earth Day, symbolic of our attachment to Eretz Yisrael, as well as demonstrative of our collective concern for the environment. Various Tu biShevat seders have been developed, and there are countless ways of commemorating this day.
One way is by including some of the Seven Species of the land in our menus for the day. These species include wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, dates, and olives. Here is a recipe for a north African treat called Makroud, a fried cookie with dried fruit (raisins, dates and figs are great options) in a semolina (wheat) pastry.
As an aside, today is also the birthday of the great Scottish poet Robbie Burns. If one chooses to drink a wee dram in his honour, remember that barley (one of the seven species) is the main ingredient in whisky. L'chayim!
For the dough
- 3½ cups medium semolina
- ½ cup flour
- 1 cup clarified butter
- 2 pinches salt
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ¾ cup warm water (more or less)
- 4 tablespoons orange blossom water
- Vegetable oil (if frying)
For the filling
- ½ lb date paste (or puréed ripe dates; you can also use figs and/or raisins as part of this filling)
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground clove
- 2 tablespoons clarified butter
- 3 tablespoons orange blossom water
For the syrup
- ½ cup honey
- 2 tablespoons orange blossom water
- Juice of 1 lemon
Mix the date paste with all the stuffing ingredients until obtaining a smooth paste. Set aside.
In the bowl of a mixer, pour the semolina, baking soda and flour. Make a well and pour the melted clarified butter.
Mix for two minutes so the butter is absorbed by the semolina. Let stand at least 2 hours (more if possible).
Moisten with orange blossom water and warm water, and mix with your fingertips without overworking or kneading the dough. Add water if necessary. Once reaching a compact ball of dough, cover with plastic wrap and let stand for 45 minutes.
Take a good amount of dough and shape a sausage. With the index finger, make a gutter in the center lengthwise. Roll a little strand of date filling and place it into the gutter. Pull the edges of the dough back on the dates to cover everything. Roll again gently to obtain a sausage of about 1 inch (2.5 cm) diameter. Cut diamond shapes and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Repeat until all the dough is used.
Preheat the oven to 350 F (180˚C), and bake the pan on the center rack for about 30 minutes (watch carefully so they evenly get a nice golden color).
Heat a large pot with oil and deep fry the makroud on each side until browned.
For both methods, the diamonds should be arranged close to each other in order to prevent the dates from burning.
- Over low heat, cook all the ingredients of the syrup and dip each cooled makroud on both sides. Set aside for 30 minutes and repeat.
Recipe from 196 Flavors (https://www.196flavors.com/algeria-makroud/)
In Our Communities
TikTok and Instagram Curator Needed
Looking for a way to help out? Know a teenager in need of community service hours?
We need someone to help us build our social media presence on Instagram and TikTok. Can you collect and curate images? Do you enjoy making reels and posting them? Let's Tok... I mean TALK!
Congregation Beth Israel in Vancouver has several upcoming programs, including the following:
The Legality of Combatting Antisemitism
Full Day Legal Seminar
Thursday, February 15
Register here: https://bethisraelvan.shulcloud.com/form/law-seminar-2024.html
Scholar in Residence
A Three-Part History of Israel and its People
with Dr. Henry Abramson
March 10,11, 12 @ 7:30pm
Register here: https://bethisraelvan.shulcloud.com/form/israelhistory2024.html
Scholar in Residence
with Dr. Jonathan Weinkle
February 2 & 3
No Registration Required
Thursday, February 1
@ 7:30 pm
Register here: https://bethisraelvan.shulcloud.com/form/medical-ethics2024.html
Jewish Theological Seminary Weekend
With Rabbi Lara Rodin
February 23 & 24
Register here: https://www.bethisraelvan.ca/event/jewish-theological-seminary-weekend/
You can read more of what MERCAZ and Masorti are doing at our website:
You can contribute to our efforts by joining MERCAZ-Canada and by donating to the Canadian Foundation for Masorti Judaism.
Membership is only $18 a year for adults, $9 for youth up to age 25.
mercaz.ca/join-mercaz at the bottom of the page
Donations to CFMJ are eligible for a tax receipt.