content top

A Monkey Stole My Talit

A Monkey Stole My Talit

20170507_171041A mother orang-utan and her baby shuffled slowly towards me. I took a few steps back. Mama reached out her hand and I gave her a banana.  We weren’t supposed to feed the wildlife, but it seemed like everyone was doing it.

I plucked off a leach that was half way up my leg and tossed it into the stream and then headed back for the campsite.

Salamat Pagi.” My cook said. He handed me a cup of tea.

Terimakasi,” I replied.  It was day five in a Sumatran jungle and I had picked up a few Indonesian words.  I needed to learn how to say, “Way to much sugar in the tea.”

Dan, my trekking partner, approached. “I go this for you.” He handed me a plastic bag containing my talit and siddur. “A monkey grabbed it from the shelter.”

I looked up. A large grey, monkey glared back.

“I chased him up the tree and he dropped the bag.”

“Thanks,” I said. “I should have packed it away when I finished praying.”

“I’ll pack it for you,” Dan said. “I’m heading to the shelter.”

As I sipped the tea I watched several monkeys battle with a couple of komodo dragons over some scraps of food.  The monkeys outnumbered the dragons ten to one and were clearly wining.

A girl came over and squatted on a rock next to me.  Her clothes were clean compared to mine, and she had nowhere near as many mosquito bites covering her arms and legs as I did.

We chatted about our travels. She was American and had been on the road for almost five months which included a trip to Israel. I did not want to ask her straight out if she was Jewish, in a country of nearly two hundred million Muslims I myself would be weary to say I was Jewish.

After a few more questions I worked out she had been on birthright and was obviously Jewish. When she realised I was Jewish, her face lit up. “Was that your talit that fell out of the tree?”

I laughed.


“Unless it has been raining talatot this morning, it was probably


“I saw a guy pick it up off the ground. He said it wasn’t his.” She laughed.  “Will you be in the jungle for Shabbat.”

I wiped the sweat from my forehead. “It’s been almost a week in this place. I would still like to see some snakes, but I’ve had it with the mosquitoes, leaches, mud, and rain. If you are going to be here for Shabbat remember to light Shabbat candles.”20170507_084956

Read More


Ester RadaIn March, WOMADelaide celebrates its 20th festival in Adelaide’s Botanic Park. Dozens of countries including Israel will be represented, showcasing talent from around the world.

Thirty year old Ester Rada from Israel will perform. Ester’s music reflects her Ethiopian heritage and Israeli upbringing and at the same time draws on American soul icons like Nina Simone and Aretha Franklin.  She sings in a mix of English, Amharic, and Hebrew.

Even with three languages to choose from, Ester will sometimes sing in gibberish. ‘It is the music I love, not so much the words.’ Ester says. ‘However, when I sing in Hebrew, I connect with my country. When I sing in Amharic, I connect with my parents, grandparents and family.’

Ester was born a year after her parents arrived in Israel as part of the mass Ethiopian immigration. She grew up listening to religious music, joined a choir at the age of 7, and discovered her passion for music. Her parents loved music and there usually was some playing at home. Often, it was traditional Ethiopian music on a masinko, a single-stringed bowed instrument.

Living in a very religious neighborhood, also meant she was exposed to the sound of traditional prayers coming from synagogues, Shabbat tables and festival gatherings.

During her teenage years, she rebelled against her Ethiopian heritage and culture going as far as to ask her mother not to speak to her in Amharic. Ester’s life at home was different from the life outside and, like many immigrant children, she was confused.

Today Ester serves as a positive role model for young Ethiopians in Israel. When she recorded “Nanu Ney,” it was the first time an Ethiopian song played widely on Israeli radio.

Ester considers herself a citizen of the world but still calls Israel home where she spends time with her family and friends when she’s not touring the world.

WOMADelaide is part of the the World Music Festival taking place around the world. With all the BDS activists against Israel, it is heartwarming to see that the WOMAD organization has not let politics affect good music. For this the Israeli and Jewish communities in Adelaide, Australia, and around the world salute and thank you.


Read More

Kayaking Adventure in the Noosa Everglades, Queensland Australia

Kayak Noosa Everglades Queensland

Thirteen years ago I organized a canoe trip for teens from around Australia. We paddled for three days around the Noosa Everglades. I remember it being scorching hot and getting badly sunburnt. Aside from the sunburn, I have pleasant memories of, beautiful lakes, rivers, and birds.

My Friend Rob and I had been talking about doing a two week long canoe or kayak trip somewhere in Canada. I suggested we first try a three day kayaking trip and see how we go.Ben Kayak Noosa Everglades Queensland

We met in Brisbane, and with a rented car drove north, stopping at the Glasshouse Mountains for a walk. For both of us, it was our first time there, and we can see there are many more interesting trails worth exploring.

The next day we headed out from Boreen Point in a two person sea kayak. We had a weeks’ worth of food to last three days and we ate like kings. This was pleasant change for me. Usually, I would just take a few pieces of fruit, some energy bars, oatmeal, and pasta. However, Rob and I shopped together for the food, and because Rob likes good food, we had eggs, vegetables, and quinoa to name some of it.

The weather aside from being chilly at night (below 5c), was beautiful. We comfortably kayaked wearing long sleeved shirts. And at some points even wore lightweight jackets.

We met other people along the river mostly on the first and third day. But on the second day when we went further up, we sow no one. Both nights where we camped we were the only people and camping at night was peaceful: millions of stars, fresh crisp air, and the rustling of leaves.

Rob Kayak Noosa Everglades Queensland Rob being the adventurer he is, wanted to explore the river to its source, which we did. When we got to the point where we could go no further, Rob bush-bashed his way through the foliage while I relaxed on a sand patch.

I’m glad to say; aside from debating the most efficient timing the stroke and how it hits the water we got along well and are planning our next adventure.

Read More

How To Get kosher Food Almost Anywhere In The World

For the Kosher Jewish traveler, finding food can be an issue. In some places, like in the United States it is not to hard to find plenty of kosher products in any major super market but what about in places like Japan or in Russia?

David, founder of Kosherwhere David Looking for Kosher foodDavid Avital, a 32 years old software engineer and entrepreneur has the answer. David lives in Israel, where kosher food is readily available. But David for a number of years worked at Marvell semiconductor as Marketing Manager. “My job, says David, “had me doing so much business travel around the world that I had to change my watch 3-4 times a month. At that time I was traditional Jewish and I found myself drawing closer to my origins while away from home. While being abroad I started to visiting local Jewish centers around the world and started to connect with my Jewish roots strongly. As I began learning more, I started to follow Shabbat and become a stricter kosher observer.”

David then had to make sure he had kosher food arranged along with his travel plans: Tokyo, Delhi or Las, he would get his kosher meals. “However, the process of ordering the kosher food in advance was a big hassle,” explains David. “I had to find the a kosher supplier in the destination, send an email, receive an email back, select meals, send back again and confirm that it will get to my hotel on time. I spent so much time on this, I had to buy kosher food products prior to my trip and carry an extra bag of luggage with me, just in case.”

After a trip to Brisbane Australia, and a headache of organizing kosher food, David decided to create a website, to solve the problem. It would connect the travelers to kosher suppliers anytime, anywhere. It would make the order process simple. David called the site KOSHWHERE a combination of Kosher and Where. The site now has more than 100 kosher suppliers around the world and growing every day. 

Click HERE for more information.




Read More

Parshas Mattos-Masei: Refinement Through Travel

Parshas Mattos-Masei: Refinement Through Travel

It seems that we have spent most of our life on the road.  And although we have been parked here in Adelaide for a few years now and love it, we still make travel a part of our lifestyle.  Even if we can only take a day trip, or a trip for a few days, we love to travel.  Rabbi Ben and I each spent years traveling on our own before we met – and continued traveling after we got married.  Maybe it’s just ingrained. Maybe it’s just part of who we are.

Sadly, many people accuse chronic travelers of running away from something.  Surely we keep on the move because something is chasing us or because we don’t want to face reality!  Well our time in Adelaide has proven to us both a few fundamental truths – especially these: we are capable of facing “reality”… and we still love travel.

You see, travel is a process of internal refinement.  I remember my first solo journeys in Europe at age 19.  I stayed only in hotels or very nice hostels, places I felt were safe for a teenage girl traveling alone.  By the time I met Rabbi Ben 5 years later, I was a much more savvy world traveler.  Female and alone in South America, I didn’t book my hotels in advance. I stayed in hostels for $5/night, with no hot water and no heating, even in the bitter cold.  I had toughened up.

India, which I traveled with Rabbi Ben just a couple months after our wedding, is the ultimate destination if you are seeking personal awareness and growth.  Whatever your mishegas is, India will rub at your sore spot until it is red and raw, until you can stand it no more.  Even little aspects of your personality that you did not know about will surface, blazing, for the world to see.   If you want to know yourself and have the chance to grow as a person and work on yourself, I recommend you go to India.

So it is no surprise to me that this week’s parsha focuses on the journeys made by the Jews.  Travel is a process of internal growth and refinement.  The Jews spent 38 years in one spot – which means that in just 2 years, the Jews moved 41 times.  How grueling and uncomfortable that must have been! To pack and unpack, to wander in the desert, unsure of when and where you will arrive… and, once arriving, to never know when you will be told to pack up and hit the road!  Imagine how tired they must have been, hot and cold, hungry and thirsty from the way, the diverted routes, the lost luggage.  It sounds a lot like some journeys I have taken!

But imagine also how they must have grown.  Being tired, hot, and hungry, their worst middos would have surfaced, making them aware of their own limitations, pushing them to improve themselves.  So many times I have been in that position, hot and sweaty, tired, hungry, and thirsty, sitting on a dusty train or rickety bus, feeling grouchy, but consciously restraining myself from saying a mean word to a fellow passenger, or to my husband.  Noting my discontent and maintaining an awareness that I must not say what is on my mind because it is not rational, not fair, not just, and just plain not the Torah thing to do is the way I can grow as a person, improve myself, and stretch myself to higher spiritual heights.

Because that’s what personal refinement is, a working to become closer to G-d.  In Judaism our goal is to emulate G-d, to become more and more like Him, in whose image we are spiritually created.  It is striving to meet our potential.  But if we are never stretched, if we are never challenged, we will never know who we truly are deep inside, and so will not be able to overcome our own personal issues to become better people.

This week, let us all work on our own journeys of personal and spiritual growth.

Shabbat shalom!

Read more on Parshas Mattos:

Read more on Parshas Masei: It’s the Journey, Not the Destination

Read more on Parshas Mattos-Masei: Leadership is for Others, Not the Self

Read more on Parshas Mattos-Masei: Paying Our Dues

Read more on Parshas Mattos: Getting Your Priorities Straight

Read more on Parshas Masei: It’s All a Matter of Perspective

Read More

Gay Pride, Jewish Gay Pride and the Torah’s View

This week gay marriage was approved as a constitutional right in the United States.  Homosexual couples can now get married and divorced, adopt children, get tax benefits, and inherit from one another just like heterosexual couples. Reactions to this news have been mixed.  Many people are in the streets celebrating their “gay pride.”  Yet many people are also protesting and calling these same people sinners and abominations.

Judaism specifically prohibits homosexual acts not only to the Jew but to all mankind. It is one of the seven Noachide Laws, included under the prohibition immoral sexual behavior.

Consider that of all things G-d felt important for mankind to live by, a proper code of sexual conduct was one of them. The Noachide laws include: do not murder, do not steal, and do not be cruel to animals. Thus, from a G-dly perspective homosexuality is a serious issue.

However, in reference to gay acts the Torah uses the word toeva which means an abomination. The Torah also uses the same word referencing a man who divorces his wife of a second marriage and returns to marry his first wife – this too is an abomination to G-d. However, using only our own logic, we could say it is beautiful how he realized the depth of his love for his first wife and returned to her.

It is also important to realize that G-d’s commandments are for us, not for G-d alone. What difference would it make to G-d if we stole from each other or killed one another?

If a person and animal are happy together, a brother and sister, parent and child, minor and adult, and any polyamorous relationships, it is easy to ask what harm is being done. Why can’t they be together if they love each other?

Also, why not allow death duels if both parties are happy? Who are we to intervene with intertribal stealing that has been going on millennia? Why should we stop someone from committing suicide? It’s their life after all!

But it is the deeper unseen realm that can have catastrophic effects on man, which only G-d can see. Sometimes what we see as progression is regression. We all want to believe we are living in an advanced society and no longer holding to backward codes of practice. We no longer stone criminals or conduct public hangings. But are we truly an advanced society when we can give a murderer like Martin Bryant a 1035 year sentence for killing 35 people and injuring 23 others in a shooting spree in Tasmania?  Maybe it’s a good thing people don’t live to a thousand years.

I’m not advocating we stone people or suggesting whether or not gay pride is going forward or backwards, but we must be aware how true our progressive thinking is.

So how should we as Jews handle the news from America?

There are several points to consider:

  • Science currently shows that homosexual attraction is biologically different in the brain.  Science suggests that like the color of one’s skin, it cannot be changed.  But unlike skin color, which has no bearing on anyone’s actions or nature, homosexual attraction can and does lead to homosexual acts, which are explicitly forbidden by Torah law.
  • In Judaism, we are meant to show compassion for others and to judge them favorably.  Yet, we must actively discourage Torah violations.
  • Pirkei Avot (Ethics of Our Fathers) teaches that we cannot understand another person’s struggles unless we have lived their life.

The conclusion we can draw from these somewhat conflicting points is that we can neither condone such behavior nor should we condemn the individual.  Judaism cannot endorse gay pride any more than we could endorse kleptomaniac pride.  Yet even while we are clear on our moral standards, we should approach gay people with compassion and a willingness to help them overcome their own personal challenges should they choose, just as we would with any individual, no matter what they feel challenged with.

In turn, homosexual Jews (and non-Jews) should not flaunt their homosexuality.  It is the difference between a Jew who says, “I eat pork even though I know I really shouldn’t,” and the Jew who says, “I’m a proud Jew attending a Yom Kippur Lunch where roast pig on a spit is being served.”

The problem with embracing and celebrating gay pride goes beyond just supporting others in their violation of a biblical commandment. Once we begin to actively support something that is morally wrong, suddenly other morally wrong actions don’t seem that bad.

Take this week’s parsha for example.  The Jewish men sin sexually with Moabite and Midianite women.  That seems bad enough, but they actually do it fully in public view – they are not ashamed.  From that immoral behavior, they then begin to worship other gods.  One act of immorality in which they took pride eventually led to other sins, as well as to a massive plague.

As Jews, it is our obligation to be a light unto the nations and sometimes that means standing up for what the Torah teaches is right even if the rest of the world is against it.

With the above all said, there is a deeper underlying issue which is not about gay pride celebrating their marriage rights. The question is, what does marriage mean?

One upon a time marriage was a sacred act performed as a religious ceremony. It still is today for many people in diverse cultures. But in the West, marriage for many has become more of a formality than anything else.

After we married in Israel and returned to the United States, rather than a lengthy and expensive process of translating our Israeli marriage certificate and going to court to have our marriage recognized, we paid a marriage celebrant in Virginia $50, and with a fifteen minute ceremony we were married again. If we were in Las Vegas perhaps we could have done it in five minutes at a drive through ceremony.

Perhaps what is going on is: those who see marriage as a sacred union under G-d between a man and a woman, are against gay marriage. Those who see marriage as a mere formality are fine with gay people marrying, and in a way they are right.  If two people regardless of their sex or sexual orientation want to inherit one another and receive tax breaks and the like then why not?

Please G-d may we merit divine revelation and truth in our time.

Read More

Parshas Chukas: Putting Family First

Parshas Chukas: Putting Family First

Have you ever noticed that often the people who have the biggest problems in their own lives are the ones who spend their lives fixing other peoples’ lives?  Social workers, therapists, and psychiatrists have a reputation of having the most messed up relationships and families.

At first glance, this doesn’t seem to make sense.  But then again, maybe it does.  After all, aren’t we all better at giving advice than taking it?  We have a better vantage point from farther away: When we are outside of the relationship, family, or life, we can tell what needs to be done.  The general finds it easier to lead his troops if he is watching the battleground from up above on a hill than if he is down in the fray.   But when we are the soldier down in the battle, we do not have the same clarity of vision to know what to do next.

Therein lies the solution to the “parah adumah” paradox.  The parah adumah is the red heifer whose ashes remove spiritual impurity from one who has had contact with a corpse.  Ironically, these same ashes render the priest who administers them spiritually impure himself.  It doesn’t make sense that something should purify one person but render another person impure.

But if we view it as a metaphor for the purity of our relationships with one another, it begins to make more sense.  A psychologist, for instance, can view another person’s relationship, identify the problems, and tell how to fix them.  But in doing so, the psychologist takes on a bit of those problems himself.  The stress of curing other peoples’ problems constantly can place a big strain on a person, leaving no resources left over for dealing with his own problems at home.

Perhaps this is why the rabbis had to specify an order for the giving of tzedaka (charity), starting with one’s own family and radiating out from there.  Often it is tempting for us to use our far-away vantage point to place all our energy into helping others, while neglecting the problems that are, literally, right under our noses.

Pirkei Avos tells us to bring the poor into our home.  But if we neglect our own families in order to help others, we will find that we become the poor ones.  Always remember, tzedaka begins in the home.

Shabbat shalom!

Read more on Parshas Chukas: The Fine Art of Persuasion

Read more on Parshas Chukas: Explaining the Unexplainable

Read more on Parshas Chukas: We All Get Angry Sometimes

Read more on Parshas Chukas: Learning a New Type of Logic

Read More
content top