Sunday, December 21, 2008

I saw the following in Haaretz this morning. It is so painful to see my religion, the symbol of my people, used for such an act of bigotry and hatred. I pray that Jewish leaders will have the strength to be loud voices of Torah, condemning such hateful and dangerous acts and reaching out to protect and honor their non-Jewish neighbors with love and solidarity. I pray that the vicitms of these hate acts will have the strength and vision and faith in Hashem/Allah to transcend these acts, to defeat this hate by not allowing it to contaminate their worship and their lives.

It's chanukkah. Baanu choshech legaresh. We have come to chase off this darkness

Extremists spray-painted "Mohammed's a pig" and "Death to Arabs" early Sunday on the walls and doors of the Sea Mosque in Jaffa, sparking the fury of the Islamic Movement in the mixed Arab-Jewish city.

The hate slogans also included "Kahane was right," a reference to the slain Rabbi Meir Kahane, founder of the outlawed anti-Arab Kach movement, and "No peace without the House of Peace," alluding to the Hebron structure from which dozens of far-right activists were evicted earlier this month.

Two Stars of David were painted on the entrance to the mosque.
Worshippers discovered the graffiti when they arrived for early morning prayers on Sunday.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Jessica and Ari's Seders in Mali

As Jess was taking a shower to prepare for the first night of Hag, she heard Ari from inside the latrine walls talking with our host sister Djeneba. “I be se k’an ka farini ani buuru be san?” he asked her in a serious voice. (Can you buy all of our flower and bread goods?) “Seli a be na ani an ka kanka farini ani buuru be feeri,” he explained (We’re about to start our holiday and we need to sell all of our flour and bread things”). There was silence. “Djeneba?” Ari prompted. “You want me to buy all that from you?” she asked. “Are we going to put it all in my room? Or in our host mom’s room? And what are we going to do with all of it?” She didn’t question why Ari would want to sell these items to her, but she was concerned about how the logistics would work. “We’ll just leave all of the stuff in my room,” Ari reassured her. “Wait a second,” Djeneba said. “Let me make sure I understand. You’re saying you want me to buy it from you so you can leave it in your room?” “Yes,” he replied. “You’re going to buy it from me and you’re going to leave it in my room.” “So,” she said, “it’s going to be in your room but it’s going to be mine, not yours?” “Exactly!” Ari explained, “and I’ll sell this entire bucket full of wheat products to you for 10fcfa” (i.e., 2 zuzim).

Ari and Djeneba drew up a formal contract, but selling our Hametz was the least of our challenges. Because the first Seder fell on a Saturday night, we needed to figure out how to prepare the Seder meal without cooking and also without access to refrigerators, electricity, hotplates, or coolers. This had to happen in the middle of the hottest point of the hot season in Mali, where the heat rises well above 100 degrees every day. For the first Seder, we decided to prepare one of our favorite meals in Mali: salad. We preordered the vegetables and hardboiled eggs. We knew we would have many guests, so we ordered an enormous tub of lettuce, which arrived in a big wagon that was wheeled to our house by a neighbor who showed up with a big smile. Several women from the neighborhood gathered to help us wash the vegetables for the salad. As is the custom here, where there are no salad spinners, all of the lettuce was wrapped in a huge piece of thin, clean, cotton fabric and hung from a clothesline so that the water could drip out. By this point, it was well over 100 degrees. Derik, who is a small golden puppy who lives with us is an expert at finding the coolest spots in the courtyard area of our host family’s home naturally settled right below the enormous sack of dripping lettuce. Jessica, who was also rather warm by this point, went to join Derik under the lettuce, peeling onions while water ran down her head.

As the salad was drying, we got out the ingredients to start making the charoset, but just as we were about to start, the winds came. High speed winds tearing branches off of the trees and overturning everything quickly brought with it torrential rain, one of the first rains of the year. We scrambled quickly to take the salad down from the clothesline and brought it inside so that it would not get caught in the whirlwind of dust and rain. Jessica and Derik were overjoyed at the sudden change in temperature and refused to seek cover, standing in the rain until they were soaked. Finally, when they came inside, we started preparing the charoset as the winds roared around the house, and the entire courtyard got flooded. For the charoset, we decided to use mainly local ingredients: fresh mangoes, dried lemon mangoes, cashews, dried cashew apples, dark local honey, lime juice, and a few apples from South Africa. We sat on a mat on the ground with our host mom Nana and sister Seytou, cutting up ingredients for the charoset.
We prepared for the Seder using three different haggadas: the yellow-and-red traditional one that was mailed to us by Ari’s parents from Maryland, the Reconstructionist Haggadah of Northern Virginia, which came from Jessica’s first-year advisor at Brown, and a Haggadah prepared by our friend Frances for a Seder she led in Jordan several years go. Each provided inspiration for relating Yetziyat Mitzrayim, the exodus from Egypt, to modern day inequalities and injustices.

These three haggadahs, though they were from different backgrounds and traditions, all shared the common introductory proclamation, “All those who are hungry, come and eat! All those who are oppressed, come and make the Passover Seder with us!” From that point on, however, the haggadahs we consulted referred to the hungry, suffering, marginalized, and enslaved as though they were not present at the Seder. For ourselves, this was the first time we would be discussing the Jew’s freedom from slavery in Mitzrayim with friends and neighbors who are still bound by great adversity on a daily basis. All the haggadahs instructed us to view ourselves as if we were personally slaves in Mitzrayim on our way to freedom, but although they expressed solidarity with those who are suffering, they also contained the implicit assumption that everyone involved in the Seder would be engaging in an act of creative memory, conducting the Seder from a place of relative freedom and comfort.

For our Seder guests, however, slavery, oppression, marginalization, hunger, and daily suffering would not be a distant historical memory. How would we frame the narrative of Yetziyat Mitzrayim? Most other years, we struggle to capture the immediacy of slavery and the struggle for freedom, but this year, we had the opportunity to think with our friends and neighbors about the existence of slavery, marginalization, and suffering in a very intimate and visceral way, and to discuss what it means to be free.

The first night, we told the story of the Exodus from Mitzrayim with more than thirty people at our Seder—our host family, friends, neighbors, and women who participate in Project Muso’s education program. Since there were no other Jews at our Seder—everyone else was Muslim or Christian—we began the story with Abraham, to explain who Jews are, and that we all, Christians, Muslims, and Jews, share a common ancestor and are from the same family. Everyone engaged in the story with rapt attention and appreciated the retelling. To our great surprise, though no one at our Seder had met a Jew before us, some of the children already knew parts of the story because they had seen “The Ten Commandments” with Charlton Heston on Malian television. (Though there is not electricity where we live, some families rig up batteries to power old televisions.)

The second night many of the same people came back, and again we had more than 30 guests. We were able to get deeper into discussing the story and the challenging questions it raises about slavery and oppression in our world. Several of our guests talked about poverty as a form of slavery. Our friend Daouda said that poverty keeps him bound, and that those who are poor are slaves in this way. He said that if everyone in the world, poor and not poor, shared their resources and efforts in solidarity with each other, that poverty would end and slavery would be abolished. Daouda is living with AIDS and has recently started on antiretroviral therapy, thanks to a life-saving referral from a Project Muso Health Promoter and free ARVs from the Global Fund, which has allowed him to continue working. At his job, he earns $1-4/day, which he uses to support his mother and seven younger siblings. He and his older sister, who sells cakes on a bus stop for a few penny profit, are the sole income earners for their family.

A local Bamanan proverb here teaches, “bolo fila be nyogon ko ka je,” or, “two hands must wash together for either to become thoroughly clean.” Referencing this proverb as everyone ritualistically washed their hands at the beginning of the Passover Seder, we explained the Jewish mandate to have solidarity with all of those who are slaves, marginalized, and oppressed because we were slaves in mitzrayim. With each ritual of the Seder we discussed the significance to the story of the exodus. For maror, we used the only bitter plant we could find in Mali, which is a bitter eggplant called goyo. For karpas, Jessica talked about how the salt water represents tears and urges us to confront suffering while the bushy green stalks of celery we used represent life, renewal, and hope.

While preparing for the second Seder, all of our host-mother’s grandchildren came out to help peel onions: 9-year-old twins Awa and Kadja, 8-year-old Fatimata, 4-year-old Ya, 5-year-old Aminata, 4-year-old Bazu, and 3-year-old Tonton. Tonton was absolutely filthy but demanded that he be included in the onion peeling. Tonton really just likes making mischief but since everyone else was involved he had to be included. Jessica spent 10 minutes washing him up so he could participate, but then he wiped his hands on his filthy shirt and rubbed his onion covered hands in his eyes and after screaming for a while decided he didn’t want to be involved any longer. Ya helped grind the choroset with the mortar and pestle.

We think it is safe to say that the food was a hit. Upon tasting our charoset, our little brother Papuse whispered to Ari: “Ni, a kadi a be se ka ne faga de!” which means in English: “This stuff is so good it could kill me!” Everyone liked the salad the first night and the shakshuka that Ari made from his mom’s recipe the second night. Everyone loved the enormous cauldron of matza ball soup that Jessica made, and everyone kept saying “Vitamini caman b’a la!” which means, “There are a lot of vitamins in this stuff!” referencing all of the fresh local vegetables that she included. Although many of our friends and neighbors were used to sharing grape juice with us on Friday nights, our 3-year-old host-sister Mamani liked the grape juice so much that she collected the empty grape juice boxes and, holding up the boxes in her hand, whispered sincerely to her grandmother, “Ne be t’a feere”, meaning, “I’m going to go sell it.”

But what we never expected was the reaction to the matza. After making hamotsi and the blessing over the matza, we passed around two pieces of matza, imagining that everyone would want to have a little taste. Yet we were entirely unprepared for the mad rush on the matza that ensued. Everyone asked politely for seconds, thirds, fourths, and extra pieces to put in their bags to take home to their families and relatives. Throughout this week, the mere appearance of a matza box brought children running to us, saying, “feti buuru jalan a diarra!” meaning, “that dry holiday bread is good!”

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

On June 26, 2007, a dog walked into Lupiro, a small village in southern Tanzania. It bit eight people and 11 other dogs before anyone managed to kill it. It had rabies or, as the French call it, la rage.

Neither of the nearby hospitals had any vaccine. The closest place with a supply was a private clinic in Dar es Salaam — a 9-hour drive away. The clinic had enough for a full course — five doses — of vaccine for two people, or a single dose for each person. It would be $40 per dose. In Tanzania, the average income per person is just $340 a year, and Lupiro is in one of the poorest regions.

Exposure to rabies requires immediate treatment: the first dose of vaccine should be taken the day you are bitten; every hour counts. Full treatment requires the four remaining doses to be taken, on a schedule, over the course of the month. In addition, if it’s available, rabies immunoglobulin — antibodies that can attack the virus at once — should be injected at the wound. For although not all bites from a rabid animal lead to infection, you won’t know if you’ve been infected or not. If you have been, and you do not get treatment, you will die: rabies is fatal. And it is a horrible death.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Sukkot in Yirimadjo

Bamako’s climate is something of the mirror of Jerusalem: in my three summer months living in Jerusalem in 2004, I did not feel a single drop of rain on my head, and rarely did I spot a cloud in the sky. Rain comes in Jerusalem in the winter months—when I first arrived in Jerusalem my senior year in high school, it was February, and having prepared for sunshine and palm trees, I was quite taken by surprise by the hail and rain that greeted my on my second night in the holy land. In Bamako, summer brings with it the rainy season, and the summer’s close is met with the slowing and gradual disappearance of the rain.

Sukkot lands fortuitously at an intersection of these inverse climates, for in Bamako, too, it couples with the harvest. This year in Bamako, Sukkot coincided almost exactly with the height of the corn harvest. Walking about the peri-urban community in which we live and work as Sukkot approached, it was difficult to spot a piece of uncultivated land. In every direction, stalks of reaching six, nine, even fifteen feet into the air. On roadsides, in small plots, at the edges of houses—corn could even be seen growing inside of abandoned homes, stretching through roofs long destroyed, or perhaps that never existed.

Because corn seemed to be growing absolutely everywhere, it was more difficult than we had originally imagined finding a good spot to build our Sukkah. Nana, the matriarch of our host family, generously offered us a spot at the center of the small clearing of the family’s home—this was a particularly generous offer to make, because much of the family life happens in this clearing. The rooms of the house are tiny and hot, so most cooking, socializing, and eating happens in this clearing. Nana made heroic efforts in helping us build our Sukkah—from providing the precious spot, to organizing some men from the community to help build the frame out of branches (she did not have much confidence in our carpentry abilities), to guiding us in the best techniques we should use to construct the walls, to providing corn stalks and branches for the walls and the stalks, to helping us put the finishing touches on the door, Nana helped us with every step in the Sukkah construction.

Once the frame was erected, we used stalks of corn that had just been harvested to make the walls. The entire family helped us as we built the Sukkah. Small children of our host family boldly ventured into Nana’s corn field at Nana’s request, and drew six-to-twelve foot stalks of corn, several times their height, out of the ground.

Upon Nana’s suggestion, we wove rope between stalks of corn to make each wall. Baignee, one of our older teenage brothers here, climbed into the top of a tree in front of our house to help cut down schach branches for our roof.

Jessica and Nana worked together to weave stalks of corn and millet into an arched doorway.

Word soon spread of the structure we had built, and that we were living in it for the week. As I greeted a neighbor on my way home one day, she began to give me blessings as she walked into her corn field and pulled out the tallest stalk of corn, possibly 15 feet tall, straight out of the ground, and blessing me again, handed it to me, without a word of further explanation.

We explained to our family and neighbors that throughout Sukkot, we would be sleeping, eating, and living in the Sukkah. We explained that even some of the richest Jews in the United States move into temporary shelters for the week of Sukkot, and that this is supposed to help us remember that we began our peoplehood as newly freed slaves, as homeless wanderers in the dessert.

I explained to Nana and our neighbors that on Sukkot, the Torah teaches us that it is imperative for us to celebrate with all the members of the household and the community. So we invited our host family and neighbors into the Sukkah every opportunity we had. Mariam Sylla, one of the members of the women’s cooperative that meets at our house, sat with us in the Sukkah one afternoon and painted Malian bogolan designs, using natural mud-dyes. Children of the household came to sit, visit, and sometimes have a snack. We invited our family and neighbors to eat in the Sukkah as well. We ate freshly harvested corn, boiled, with fresh lemons.

At the end of Sukkot came Simchat Torah. When I had anticipated celebrating Jewish holidays in Mali, of all the different festivals in the year’s cycle, Simchat Torah filled me with the greatest apprehension—how would we do it? In Mali, there are no synagogues, there are no bimahs for hakafot, there are no minyanim, and, most significantly, there are no Torah scrolls. It seemed like all the essential tools were missing, so I was worried that we would not be able to celebrate the chag, or that our celebration would be lackluster at best.

Little did I know.

As the chag approached, we assessed the materials at hand. We did not have a Torah scroll, and we could not find one anywhere in Mali, but we did have a little black JPS Tanach. We did not have a synagogue, but we did have a sukkah. We took a small half-broken metal chair, one of the only pieces of furniture in our room, and brought it into the Sukkah. We took the tallit back that my mother made for me for my Bar Mitzvah, and placed it on top of the chair in the Sukkah, with the JPS Tanach inside of it. It wasn’t your typical aaron kodesh, but it was beautiful, and it gave us a start.

We davenned in the Sukkah, and took our the Tanach when it came time for Hakkafot. Jessica and I traded off turns leading Hakaffot. For each Hakaffah, we would come out of the Sukkah, with the JPS Tanach raised high in the air or cradled in our arms, and we would start a niggun. Each hakaffah, we danced around the Sukkah, singing a niggun. As we sang and danced around sukkah in the dusty clearing with this tiny black book, our little brothers and sisters in our host family began to clap and dance with us. At first they were somewhat shy, not sure if it was ok for them to join in. They danced on the side when we came around for the first Hakaffah. But when we came over to dance with them, they grew bolder, and soon they were dancing with us and the little JPS Tanach around the Sukkah. Boi, one of our teenage little brothers, picked up a bucket and started playing it like a Djembe drum. Although Mali has strong musical traditions, particularly in drumming, Djembe drums are expensive and only a few people in Yirimadjo, professional musicians of the community, have them—so our little brothers decided to improvise. Following the lead of Boi, our four year old little brother Bazu picked up a little tin can and made it his own Djembe, and they followed us around the Sukkah, drumming to our nigguns, and encouraging their little brothers and sisters to dance with us. Nana, the matriarch of the family here, who has had serious back problems that have kept her under house arrest for months, could not dance with us, but she clapped and danced as much as she could while sitting, and she kept count of our hakkafot.

After the seventh hakaffah, Jessica and I took turns reading from the end of Dvarim and the beginning of Bereshit. Afterward, we talked about Torah and its significance in our lives.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The only Rosh Hashanah Challot in Mali?

Jessica and Ari (still with flour in hand) after a full day of cooking.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

We awoke at 6:45am on the last day of 5767 to find more than thirty men in the open area just outside my room, drinking coffee-milk and eating little pieces of bread to celebrate the baby naming of one of our participants. “Good morning!” one man greeted me, “May G!d bless your day with overflowing peace!” and then he added, “You slept in Ali! (the Malian pronunciation of my name here) The naming is already finished. Her name is Nana (named after the matriarch of my host family).” I quickly got ready and took a packed green minibus into the city, where I printed out the Rosh Hashanah Seder that my parents had emailed me. I smiled as the sheet emerged from the printer—thanks to the miracles of scanners, email, and printers, the piece of paper my grandfather Shalom brought out of Tunisia with him, folded up and tucked into his barber kit, had finally made its way back to Africa. This paper, in faded Hebrew print, carried with it the Rosh Hashanah Seder tradition passed down to me through my grandfather and mother (and my father, who of course has taken up the ritual as well).

On this last day of 5767, Jessica and I resolved not only to cook a complete Rosh Hashanah Seder and meal, but also to bake round raisin Challahs. This was particularly exciting and challenging for several reasons:

1. Neither of us had ever led a Rosh Hashanah Seder before.
2. We were planning to try to cook, in one day, in a place without running water, electricity, a refrigerator, counters, or cutting boards, a meal that my mother usually prepares with awe-inspiring rigor and precision over the course of weeks leading up to Rosh Hashanah.
3. We were planning to bake challahs in a community where no families have ovens.
4. I had never bake challah before.

Needless to say we were excited and a little nervous, and we tried to get an early start. We bought fresh produce from the local market—at the market, we met several of the participants in Project Muso’s microfinance program, who helped us figure out how to say words like “yeast” and “squash” in the Bamanankan language.

On the way back from the market, Jessica stopped by the local bakery, the only place in the community that had an oven. This oven is used solely for the purpose of baking long baguette-shaped loaves that are sold throughout the community. After a few short minutes in the bakery, Jessica had secured the baker’s enthusiastic support for the challah project. However unlikely it might seem to convince a commercial baker to participate in our preparations, I was not surprised, because Jessica is one of the most convincing people I know. “Of course!” he told Jessica. “I would be honored to bake your challahs. My ancestors came from Israel! Do you have any casseroles or kugels that I can help you bake?” Though there is no Jewish community in Mali and we were preparing the only services and meals we knew of in the entire country, many residents of Mali actually know quite a bit about Jews from listening to the radio, have quite positive impressions of Jews, and are very interested in Jewish customs.

With the baker now on board, we returned home to begin cooking. Quickly noticing that we were in far over our heads, several of the mothers in our household and several neighbors of ours, graduates of Project Muso’s Women’s Education Program, came to our aid, helping us wash and chop vegetables—it is incredible how difficult these elements of cooking are for Jessica and I when we are here, even though both of us cook regularly in the states. Chopping a hard, uncooked sweet potato with a dull knife and no cutting board or counter feels like an awkward juggling act to me, but the women we live with here can do this with the ease, speed, and precision of an experienced surgeon. In the mean time, we needed to accompany all our cooking with fanning to keep flies away, especially from the honey-raisin challah dough. Because people sleep in very small dark rooms here, and no one has a kitchen, people cook in designated areas outside their rooms, and thus fending off flies becomes an essential part of sanitary cooking.

As we were kneading the challah, we received two calls. First, from one of Project Muso’s partners, which is based in Senegal—would we be available to come meet with UNICEF this afternoon at 4pm? Of course, we answered. Then, shortly thereafter, Jessica received a call from the US Embassy. The Assistant Deputy Secretary of the US State Department still would like to come visit, but is running a little late—could we meet her at 4:15 or 4:30pm? Of course, we answered.

We cooked continually with the women of the household and the neighborhood into the afternoon, sent the challahs to the baker, and began preparing the elements of the Seder. Around 3:15pm, I washed the egg, flour, breadcrumbs, and spinach off of my hands, and Jessica put down her spatula and took the frying pan off the fire. In five minutes, we had changed into suits, and I headed into the city for the meeting, and Jessica went to meet our visitors.

Baby naming celebrations here begin at dawn with a naming ceremony attended by men, which is quiet and still, and punctuated by an overflowing number of soft blessings whispered to the baby by religious leaders, and the announcement of the name. At sundown, the women gather to celebrate with the new mother, to dance, sing, give blessings and gifts to the baby. So when Jessica and I returned from our meetings two hours later, we returned to our house, to find close to 50 women, most of them Project Muso participants, in the outside area of our home, dancing, exchanging blessings, and singing to celebrate the birth and naming of our participant’s newborn baby Nana. We quickly changed out of our suits, blessed the newborn baby and the new mother, and resumed our frantic cooking. In the meantime, the baby naming celebration continued around us. As I was again washing spinach and egg off of my hands and preparing for the next step in our cooking, I was goaded by one of our participants into dancing for the new baby.

When all the food was ready, we lay out woven mats and invited our extended family and the neighbors who had helped cook—Nana, Sumba, Mamu, Naani, Tata, and their children—to join us for the meal. To welcome everyone and call everyone to come sit, I sang a melody from slichot. After making kiddush, we made motzi and our guests got their first taste of challah. The challah was particularly, but not overpoweringly sweet, because we had put in the dough many raisins and a generous amount of local Malian honey, which is richer and darker than any other honey I have tasted.

Then we began the Seder. The Seder revolves around a series of blessings for the new year, each connected with a particular food, by means of visual or phonetic pun. Because certain foods cannot be found in Mali, we had to make some replacements, but Jessica saved the day with some brilliant innovations. Our Rosh Hashanah Seders this year included:

1. Oranges—My family’s Seder at home usually begins with figs, but we could not find figs in Mali. The blessing here is for the year to be good and sweet as a fig. Jessica chose oranges as the best local fruit for goodness and sweetness.

2. Apples and honey—with fresh, dark Malian honey, for a sweet new year.

3. Sesame candy: which many people make locally here, with the blessing that G!d should multiply our meritorious deeds to be as numerous as sesames.

4. Maize: I had been particularly sad about our inability to find Pomegranates. Pomegranates for me are such a potent symbol of the promise of the new year and such a central part of our family’s Rosh Hashanah Seder. Thankfully, Jessica found a creative and delicious solution: maize is a local staple food that has just come into season here. Everywhere you walk in Yirimadjo, a peri-urban area where we live, you pass rows of six-foot tall stalks of maize. Every inch of arable land is farmed here in the rainy season—there are even abandoned houses with no roofs and dirt floors that are now filled with tall growing stalks of maize. Maize, like pomegranates, is sweet and many-seeded. Maize also comes into season here at this time just as pomegranates come into season in Israel. Thus it is an ideal choice for the blessing that G!d should grant us a year filled with meritorious deeds.

5. Zucchini Squash, battered with egg and flour, fried, and covered in honey sauce. My other’s recipe calls for breadcrumbs, which we tried making in the beginning, but this proved time consuming and we eventually replaced the breadcrumbs with flour. This food plays off the pun for the Arabic word for squash, Akara, and the Hebrew roots for “cut,” and “read out” asking G!d to cut out our harsh judgments, and to have our good deeds read out before G!d.

6. Spinach, battered with egg and flour, fried, and covered in honey sauce. Also playing off a phonetic pun, that G!d should send those who wish us harm far away from us.

7. Fava beans: these we were able to find, canned and imported from our northern neighbors. Fava beans are included through a pun with the Arabic word for fava bean, “aful” and the Hebrew root for falling away, that G!d again should send those who wish us harm far away from us

8. Garlic, battered with egg and flour, fried, and covered in honey sauce. Again, a blessing asking G!d to send those who wish us harm far away from us.

9. The head and tail of a fish: This is the first time I have had a chance to actually include this in the seder—our family happened to have dried whole fish heads and tails around, which they use for cooking sometimes. We did not eat the fish but we did use it for the blessing: that G!d should bring our efforts to the head and not to the tail.

For each blessing, I did my best to explain and translate the blessing in Bamanankan, with much participation from our guests helping find the best phrasings in Bamanankan. Since giving and receiving blessings is a continual part of daily experience here, and it is not uncommon to receive and to give more than 100 blessings a day to friends, family, and perfect strangers, the participants at our seder were quite engaged and exuberant in this element of the evening, particularly on how best to phrase these blessings for the new year. The first night, about 25 people participated in our Seder, many of them small children. The second night, 10 people participated. The main courses we prepared were also somewhat exotic for Malians: chili and rice the first night, and lentils the second night.

Over the course of the two days, Jessica and I were also able to organize two person services, to our knowledge the only services in Mali, thanks to the extraordinary and heroic efforts of Marga Hirsch, who created Hebrew PDFs of each of the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services and emailed them to us complete with instructions. Thanks to these incredible efforts, we were able to pray with the traditional liturgy—because we did not have a minyan and could not do certain parts of the service, we took a creative approach at those points, reciting, reflecting upon, and discussing certain piyuttim, and including some yoga and meditation in the service. The second day we completed the service by hiking up a large hill on the edge of the community, to where a tiny stream springs out of a huge rock. We sat on the rock and reflected at length on the tshuva we would like to focus upon in the days to come, and then finished with Tashlich at the stream.

I will post pictures soon here. Jessica and I would like to send our abounding thanks to Marga Hirsch for creating the PDF mini-machzor so that we could pray on Rosh Hashanah, to my parents for sending us all the Seder materials, to Sumba, Nana, Tata, Naani, Mamu who helped us cook, and to Cheick, the baker, who baked our challahs in his oven.

Sunday, April 01, 2007


I smile now every time I look in my refrigerator. Gone are the sauces, the condiments, the plastic, the cardboard packages and small bags and so many molded and printed petroleum based containers. In my refrigerator, I see the earth's fruit, purple, white, green, golden red, orange. Unclothed and unlabeled, free of pesticides, they somehow managed to make it from the ground into my refrigerator without interference. A solitary piece of simple recycled cardboard sits beside these roots, cradling 12 perfect white orbs, the gifts of chickens who have never seen a cage.

I turn to my cupboard, and find another joyously simple sight. Quinoa. Honey. Extra virgin olive oil. Four varieties of nuts. A single can of tomato sauce sits lonely in the corner, a little
safety net in this new adventure.

This, is how I want to eat. Praise G!d, who gives us the gift of Pesach.