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The Voice

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“The Jews had light and joy, and gladness and honor” (Esther, Chapter 8)

Shaliach, Shy Ashkenazi on Monday, March 23, 2020 at 1:30:00 pm 
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At the very end of February, I attended a Shlichim conference in NY, spending time with close to 60 Shlichim, supervisors, lay people and Jewish Agency staff, learning from each other and sharing experiences. Attending with me was Laurie Albert, Director of Community Engagement at the Pozez JCC and my direct supervisor. Spending time together that is “Shlichut focused”, away from the JCC and everyday life, was a great opportunity to learn and grow together.

It’s always nice to be reminded that as a Shaliach you are a part of a larger network of shlichim that operates all over North America and around the world. We are all working toward the same goal of building stronger connections between the Jewish communities and Israel. Fortunately, I’ve had the privilege to witness these connections being made through my many years of working at American Jewish summer camps. I was able to see first-hand the effects these relationships had on me, other Shlichim, the local staff, as well as the campers. However, in all my years of working with Jewish communities, I never got to experience the magnitude of connection, support and pride of Israel at an event I attended immediately following the Shlichim conference. When I arrived at the AIPAC Policy Conference in DC and gathered with close to 20,000 people coming with different political, social and religious point of view, all sharing a connection and love to Israel. Being a part of this great network was amazing.

Israeli innovation, creations, art and humanitarian aid were presented at the main hall (the “Village”), telling the story of Israel 2020. The speakers be it politicians, activists, artists, researchers or others, all came to inspire and give their unique voices in the diverse texture of our society and among the supporters of Israel.

Now, one of the most interesting things about the Shlichut, and life in general, is how one goes from serious questions of Jewish peoplehood, Zionism and education in one moment to everyday “small” things that are a part of what allows us to create the bigger things. So, after a week of conferences and discussions, I was not prepared to what came next.

“Happy Purim!”, “Are you going to this Purim party?”, “Do you have a costume for Purim?”

Wait, what?! Purim?! Already?! But I’m not ready. No one gave me a heads up.
One of the things I am still trying to get used to here in the states is the fact that the public space does not reflect the Jewish calendar. In Israel, you know when a holiday is coming long before it does. The bakeries have Hamantaschen for sale long before Purim, you see the costumes hanging in store windows all over, everyone starts talking about their costumes and party plans weeks and weeks before the holiday.
Now I find myself facing Purim, but so unprepared. What should I dress up as?
You see, costumes were always important in my family. My mother made creative costumes for us as children. She would create the entire costume herself or buy only some props to complete it, but I rarely had costumes that were just bought. She used the mesh red bag that held oranges bought in the supermarket to create a Spiderman mask, tissue paper, construction paper and other materials to create cartoon characters we loved, using old clothes, sewing, stuffing and more. That is how my mother created the magic of Purim for us every year.

As adults, I always tried to have a creative, home-made costume. It is also my chance to create a character and be someone else for a bit. The costume could be super creative and crafted, or simple, yet interesting. Here are some examples for you- I dressed up as Papa Bear as part of a group of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”. I sewed the brown fur pants, vest and ears myself; I was the witch from Hansel and Gretel and handed people at a party candy and put spices on them for cooking, while Hansel and Grettle wandered around the room; one year I put make up on to appear old and stayed in character the whole night long.

I always say – “If you dress like it, act like it!” – that’s the fun part of Purim!
One of the best things about Purim is how the streets are colorful and decorated. The children go to school in their costumes, carrying their “Mishlochei Manot” )colorful packages of snacks and treats for a friend). When I was a little boy we would go and watch the Ad-d’lo-Yada – “Until one cannot distinguish” (the tradition on Purim is to drink until one cannot distinguish between “Cursed be Haman” and “Blessed be Mordechai”). The Ad-D’lo-Yada is a Purim parade, full of costumes, big creative floats, music and celebrations.

When I got older, I went to the annual Purim street party in Nachla’ot – a neighborhood in Jerusalem that includes Machaneh Yehudah market. Thousands of young adults fill the streets the whole day long, music in different locations, bars out on the streets, food, colors, costumes and joy. You meet your friends, people you haven’t seen in years, people from out of town who came just for the party, and you all get to celebrate together. The celebration goes on from before noon to late at night, and the streets are overflowing with people in costumes dancing as one big community.

Purim takes over the streets! Literally.

Although it might not be the same here, there were parties, the Megillah readings, the costumes and the Hamantaschen to remind me that Purim was here, and that it is a great time of celebration!

 

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Israeli Cooking Corner: Chicken Sofrito's

Ima's Kitchen on Friday, March 13, 2020 at 12:00:00 am 
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MEET IMA'S KITCHEN

We all know that food is a central part of shared experiences.

Shy is happy to introduce you to Ima (mom) Ashkenazi and her cooking. A collection of recipes from the diverse Israeli kitchen.

Find the tastes of Israel and much more here, on our NOVA SHLICHUT Facebook profile, and at theJ.org under the Israel section.

Be a part of our wall! Share your recipes with me at shy.ashkenazi@theJ.org.

 

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Israeli Cooking Corner: Burekas

Ima's Kitchen on Friday, January 31, 2020 at 12:00:00 am 
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MEET IMA'S KITCHEN

We all know that food is a central part of shared experiences.

Shy is happy to introduce you to Ima (mom) Ashkenazi and her cooking. A collection of recipes from the diverse Israeli kitchen.

Find the tastes of Israel and much more here, on our NOVA SHLICHUT Facebook profile, and at theJ.org under the Israel section.

Be a part of our wall! Share your recipes with me at shy.ashkenazi@theJ.org.

 

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Israeli Cooking Corner: Shakshuka

Ima's Kitchen on Friday, January 3, 2020 at 12:00:00 am 
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MEET IMA'S KITCHEN

We all know that food is a central part of shared experiences.

Shy is happy to introduce you to Ima (mom) Ashkenazi and her cooking. A collection of recipes from the diverse Israeli kitchen.

Find the tastes of Israel and much more here, on our NOVA SHLICHUT Facebook profile, and at theJ.org under the Israel section.

Be a part of our wall! Share your recipes with me at shy.ashkenazi@theJ.org.

 

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Light

Shy Ashkenazi on Monday, December 23, 2019 at 12:00:00 am 
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“And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
1:4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.” (Genesis 1, 3-4)

From the beginning of time the theme of light has had a meaningful role in the way we experience the world – Light and Darkness; Day and Night; Good and Bad. The light was the first to be created. It was the first thing to start a process of creation, the thing that made it possible to literally see the options for creation.

Coming from Jerusalem, I am quite used to a cold winter. As the days become colder and shorter, the combination of the cold and the darkness outside my window makes me think about what the options are to bring in the light. Chanukah is the best opportunity for that – the light of the candles and the celebrations with friends and family. The festival of lights comes right on time – the darkest time of the year.

Hillel and Shammai, the Wisemen, had a debate about the lighting of the candles. Shammai argued that one should light all the candles on the first day of the holiday, and gradually take out candles each day, just like the oil that lasted for 8 days slowly ran out. Hillel, on the other hand, argued that you should add a candle each day, and have the light increase with our celebrations (There are different reasons for these arguments). Most people, including me, follow the latter – increasing the light.

As I look around the community, I feel proud to say that the light I see is increasing, despite all the darkness that is around us (the winter and other kinds of darkness that we encounter too often).  Yet I keep asking myself – how can I keep the light growing and growing?

The Jewish people are to be Or LaGoyim – a light for other people. How can I make sure that I am a light for all people?

Bringing the light can start with one person and grow to be a whole community. Let me share a few examples of this based on my experiences in Northern Virginia in the last month or two.

On October 13th, I was going back to my apartment after a Sukkot event at the Pozez JCC and a woman saw me going up the stairs with my guitar. She carefully approached me and asked me if I was a musician and could she have a minute of my time. She introduced herself and told me she is a Muslim woman, and she volunteers at a church with the Hypothermia Prevention Program, feeding and giving shelter to homeless people over the winter. She mentioned that they are looking for entertainment and programs for the crowd coming for the night and asked me if I would be willing to play music for them. My answer was an immediate “Of course!” I was moved by the opportunity I would have to bring music to a cold night. Time went by, and the lovely woman kept informing me about the date and the plan. As the day of my volunteering came on December 5th, I was more excited about playing at the church than I was for any of my performances in a long time. I felt like it was my duty to do a good job for people looking for a safe warm place for the night and that it was a privilege to be part of the volunteers and staff that evening. And all it took was the spark of one woman who was able to expand her comfort zone and reach out to a stranger and allow him to shine his light.

In the past month or so, dozens of families in our community in Northern Virginia opened their hearts and donated old Halloween costumes (whether at the JCC or at various congregations that volunteered to help) for Israeli children and youth in need. The light that we shine now in December, will shine brighter in Israel in March when the costumes reach their destination and help all those children celebrate Purim with joy. Each person who took part in this project is a small and meaningful light, coming together to shine brighter as a community by opening their hearts to lend a hand to those in need — and shining brighter yet by bringing communities together from across the globe.

On Chanukah, we sing- Kol Echad Hu Or Katan V’Kulanu Or Eitan – each one of us is a small light, and together we form a great light. This Chanukah, I look forward to seeing the light and taking in the beauty of the Chanukah candles. I am grateful to be surrounded by so many people shining their small lights, who are excited to help me, and help all of us, see the many options to create more light in the world.

Happy Chanukah,

Shy

 

 

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Tradition!

Shy Ashkenazi on Thursday, November 21, 2019 at 12:00:00 am 
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Tradition- Tradition! Tradition! (Fiddler on the Roof)

It has been a little more than two months since I arrived here in Northern Virginia, and it’s the first time ever that I was not home for the high holidays.

This time of year, a time of family and celebrations is also one filled with traditions. And yes, Jewish people have celebrated the holidays for thousands of years with the same intention all over, but being in different parts of the world, different communities, and different families, we each have our own unique traditions.

Sephardic Jews have the tradition of reciting short blessings called Yehi Ratzon (may it be to your will). Each of these blessings is connected to certain food and a blessing that G-D will be willing to give all that we ask for in this new year.

To prepare for Rosh Hashanah, my mother starts cooking and prepping a week ahead of time, making sure that she has all the necessary ingredients. She cuts and fries the thin slices of pumpkin, which in Arabic is called Kara. It sounds like the Hebrew word that means to tear, as in the blessing asking G-D to tear away all the bad wishes our enemies have for us. This dish is my favorite, filling the house with smells of frying and cooking, letting me know that the holiday will soon be upon us.

On the festive dinner table, there are also apples and honey, the pomegranate, dates, spinach latkes, leek latkes, small beans, and a fish head, all representing different wishes we have for ourselves for the new year. And then comes the food, which is always SO good!

Since I couldn’t be with my family this year, luckily, we live in a time in which technology is amazing and allows us to basically be virtually anywhere. I made sure to video chat with my family when they were around the table so that I could join them for the blessings. As always, I could feel the joy and commotion — everyone chatting between each blessing, my nieces grabbing the phone to say hi to me, my parents, my siblings, and the guests all waving hello and sharing short stories with me. It was as close as it gets to being there with them.

Luckily, I was surrounded by a warm and caring community here in NOVA and had the pleasure of attending a lovely and fun holiday dinner with great people, wishing one another Shanah Tovah, sharing stories and laughing around the table.

And then comes Yom Kippur. The greatest question that I asked myself was – how would it feel to drive on that day as I made my way to shul? In Israel, a few days before Yom Kippur, you can tell it is coming just by seeing people (mostly children) starting to make sure that their bicycles are intact. You see, in Israel, all the roads are cleared of cars on Yom Kippur.  Since the only cars you might see are emergency vehicles, children and teens (mostly) use that time to raid the roads and ride all around without fear of being hit by cars. But here, the roads are filled with vehicles just like any other day.  Not living within walking distance of a shul, I had to make the choice, for the first time in my life, to drive on this holy day. I got in the car, waited to see if I felt weird or maybe feel like it wasn’t right. The first thing I did was to make sure the radio was off.

As I was driving, it was getting warmer and warmer. I decided to not open a window or turn the AC on, as it is a day that we are commanded to not use everyday pleasures. That was my small way to keep the observance I am used to.

I was excited to get to shul and take part in the services, all the while asking myself how it would feel, being so very different than what I am used to. I had attended Shabbat services in conservative and reform synagogues before, but never on Yom Kippur. Back home, I go with my father to the local Sephardic-Orthodox synagogue, where the women sit in the balcony that is located in the back of the hall, where the Chazan has a thick accent and the tunes are mostly from North African traditions, and here I am, sitting in a Conservative – American - Ashkenazi shul. How different would it be?

I was embraced by wonderful friends and members of the community, shaking hands, chit-chatting and getting ready for prayer. Despite the tunes, the tempo, the egalitarian sitting, the feeling was pretty much the same. The sense of community and togetherness, the words, the prayers and mostly the intention, all felt familiar and comfortable. 

I was lucky enough to host a group of friends to break the fast, where I  started by introducing them to my family traditions – we first drink a tiny glass of Arak (Anis based alcoholic drink) and then eat Zeit U’Zaatar (oil and hyssop). We take a piece of bread, dip it in a bowl of olive oil, and then in a bowl of Zaatar (hyssop). We also like to add grated cheese on top. That has always been our opening dish right after the fast. I was excited to have my friends with me sharing my traditions, as we sat together to break the fast.

And then there was Sukkot. For the past 20 years (I can’t even remember how long), my father and I would build the Sukkah together. The ceremony always begins the same way – we never start when we say we will, as my father cleans the front yard to make room for the Sukkah. Then we take all the parts out of the storage space (which includes me climbing up a ladder to go through old stuff to make way to get to the Sukkah) and we build it, part by part, placing wooden beams on the top, crossing each other in order to create a strong foundation for the Schach (the roof of the Sukkah). Every year we have the same small arguments, small disagreements about how to do it, and every year we laugh about how we have the same ones every year - TRADITION! So, this year, since I’m not home, my older brother was the one to build with my father. I made sure to get reports and photos from my mother, to make sure that it all went well, and that they also had those arguments, after all – TRADITION!

I celebrated Sukkot twice at the JCC, once with members of the community and with the children in the preschool, sharing songs and stories with them. I had the pleasure of also spending the holiday with a friend and her family in their Sukkah and completed my Sukkot holiday by spending time with other friends. 

And lastly, there was Simchat Torah.  I celebrated this joyous holiday for the first time in 30 years or so and found myself dancing with the Torah in my arms. It was a great feeling to be a part of the celebration!

It seems to me like I am surrounding myself with a lot of new traditions while having the pleasure of sharing some of my old ones with the people around me.

It is the blending of these traditions that bring us all together. 

 

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My Calling

Shy Ashkenazi on Tuesday, September 10, 2019 at 12:00:00 am 
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"Go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father's house, to the land that I will show you(Genesis 12, 1)

לֶךְ-לְךָ מֵאַרְצְךָ וּמִמּוֹלַדְתְּךָ וּמִבֵּית אָבִיךָ, אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר אַרְאֶךָּ (בראשית י"ב, א')

A calling that a person receives to go and accomplish themselves in a new place is a strong call for action.

No, I am not a father of a nation like Abraham, and I did not receive a call from God telling me I should pack myself and fly across the world for a few years. But I did have a strong inner voice telling me I should. And all that was left was putting it into action.

Being a Shaliach, an emissary, is something that I have been doing for my entire adult life, having it as an official title of what I do (a summer camp Shaliach for 13 years), or as a concept of the everyday choices I make in my line of work and in my personal life.

So, I listened to that inner voice – I packed my apartment in which I’d lived for three years, figuring out what I can get rid of (a great opportunity to do some intense cleaning), what I want to take with me and what is to be stored until I get back to Israel; I had a few crazy weeks of seeing friends and saying goodbyes in different parts of the country (and still so many I didn’t get to see before I left);I had to  decide if I only take one guitar with me or more (only one made the cut, but I love them all); I spent time with my family, hugging my 3 lovely nieces, my brother, sisters, and parents; I packed my suitcase, my backpack with my laptop, chargers, a book for the flight, and with my great treasure – a binder holding all of my lyrics – I came here, to Fairfax, Virginia, to be the Jewish Agency Shaliach at the Pozez JCC of Northern Virginia.

What a long title!

But I do not believe in titles. I believe in the meaning and תכלס -Tachles (purpose) of what I do. I believe in the actions that give life to the meaning. And for me, the Tachles is all about the people, connections, and interactions. How do I make a change in peoples’ lives? I have always hoped to do so, through my music and through education. And a change could be small. Tiny. Yet significant.

Since I arrived, a little over two weeks ago, I have been working to create these relationships, connections, may they be professional partnerships or personal friendships. Meals, meetings, laughs, discussions, handshakes, smiles, small talks, big talks… All amazing experiences that keep coming my way to meet and get to know this community. My (new) community.

There’s still a long way to go on this never-ending journey to connect with people, but that is what I am here to do. People to People. In the Jewish world, some might call it Peoplehood. I am only one, trying to collect connections one by one, to create my piece of it.

 

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