Charoset delights

It’s that time of year when our thoughts turn to Passover preparations.  With the first Seder less than a week away (This year Monday night April 10, 2017) it is soon time to clean the chametz out of the house and begin cooking for the Passover feast! This year I would like to offer you a variety of charoset recipes for you to try and your Seder.

Charoset is the mixture of fruit and nuts used to symbolize the bricks and mortar the Israelite slaves used to build the fortresses and garrisons cities of the Pharaoh.  But what goes into making the Charoset and the flavors of the Charoset vary by locale!

If you are used to eating apples and walnuts, cinnamon and sweet kosher wine–then you trace your Charoset recipe to the European roots, primarily eastern European roots.  But charoset from around the world can taste very different.

For a class at my congregation we had a charoset tasting. Following are the recipes from around the world. Try some at your Seder table and most of all ENJOY!  Happy Passover.

Traditional Apple Charoset

Serves  8 (makes 4 cups)


1 cup walnuts

1 cup raisins

1/2 cup fresh orange juice

1/4 cup kosher red wine (such as Manischewitz)

1/4 cup honey

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

kosher salt

2 crisp apples (such as Gala or McIntosh), peeled and roughly chopped



Heat oven to 350° F. Spread the walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet and toast in oven, tossing occasionally, until fragrant, 8 to 10 minutes. Let cool, then roughly chop.

Meanwhile, combine the raisins and orange juice in a small saucepan; simmer over medium-low heat until most of the liquid is absorbed, 5 to 7 minutes. Let cool, then stir in the wine, honey, lemon zest, cinnamon, and ¼ teaspoon salt.

In a large bowl, combine the apples and walnuts with the raisin mixture and toss to combine. Cover and let sit for at least 4 hours.


Nut free charoset

Originally from Weight Watcher’s Magazine April 1992:

2 small pears, cored and coarsely chopped

12 dried apricot halves, chopped (I think you could use other dried fruit, prunes for example if you can’t find apricots that are kosher for passover)

1/4 cup raisins

1 1/2 tsp honey (could be omitted in my opinion)

1 tsp lemon juice

1/2 tsp cinnamon

2 tablespoons red wine (or grape juice)

Combine everything except the wine or juice in a medium bowl. Once it’s all mixed together, stir in the wine or juice. (Recipe says this serves 12, so you may want to add accordingly)


Yeminite Style Charoset

30 dates

20 figs 2 tsp ginger powder

matzo meal as desired

dry red wine

1 chili pepper (optional)

4 Tbs sesame seeds

Put everything in a food processor and make into a paste. This is a Yemenite style recipe,


Brazilian Charoset

1 Avocado

1 Banana

1 Orange

2 Granny Smith apple


Greek Charoset

1 orange, peeled and seeded

½ cup raisins

½ cup pitted dates

Cherry preserves

Dark grape juice

Ground ginger

Cayenne pepper


1 tbs dark grape juice


Persian/Iranian Charoset

1 chopped pear

1 chopped apple

chopped pitted dates

chopped raisins


grated ginger root

apple cider vinegar

dark grape juice


Morrocan Haroset

8-10 dried, pitted prunes

6-9 pitted dates

1/4 cup golden raisins

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 cup almonds

4 Tbsp raw honey

2-3 Tbsp grape juice or kosher wine (reserve for end)

sugar (optional)

finely ground almond flour to roll the haroset balls

Anti-Semitism and the First Commandment

This was my sermon on Friday night Feb. 17.  Parshat Yitro.  Sadly, the incidents of direct threats against Jewish institutions has continued.   I thought I would share this here.


Shabbat Shalom

It’s no secret that anti-Semitism is on the rise.  The bomb threats to the JCC’s that have cleared and closed down for days at a time Jewish community centers including Local JCC’s in Long beach, San Diego and Orange County terrorizes little children who go to pre-schools there and their families.  They wonder should they continue to send their kids there….  Just in Ventura this week, the Chabad and several Jewish homes were targeted with swastikas and hate literature. There are increased incidents of vandalism with swastikas making appearances on Subway cars, automobiles in Jewish neighborhoods, even Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati.


The emboldening of anti-Jewish sentiment gives me pause.  This week not once but twice the President could have when asked about the increase in anti-Semitism addressed it head on—but instead yesterday shouted down and Orthodox Jewish reporter and told him to sit down—mishearing that the reporter wasn’t accusing him of anti-Semitism but offering him an opportunity to denounce it.  But again the President couldn’t or wouldn’t do so. Instead he went on and on about how he wasn’t Anti-Semitic but that wasn’t the question from the religious reporter.


We liberal and Reform Jews haven’t been ones to dwell on Anti-Semitism to swell our ranks.  Oh in the Jewish community there are those who do so. Who fill the coffers of their organizations with daily barrages of messages that proclaim “See how much they hate us”; “See how endangered we are” The Simon Wiesenthal Center has perfected the art of this. Instead we Reform Jews have tried to focus on building an authentically North American Jewish life-filled with our summer camps, and contemporary music and emphasis on social justice and tikkun Olam, interfaith work and inclusion of lgbt Jews, Jews of color, patrilineal Jews, interfaith faith couples. Trying ever to enlarge the Jewish tent!  This was and is our continued response to those who hate us—to succeed beyond ours and their wildest dreams!


But even the ADL the Anti- Defamation League whose organization was designed from its founding to point out Anti-Semitism and to address it head on has tried through the years to do so in a manner that built bridges to other groups, and to help them learn why their words mattered and why their perspective was Anti-Semitic.  They called it when they saw it but tried to do more than just raise the alarm.  They coupled it with education and outreach to various groups.


But now the ADL is reporting unprecedented rises in hate crimes targeting the Jewish community.  I am not one to be an alarmist. But I will tell you I am more concerned than ever before.


And what concerns me about this problem—is not that it exists, it has always existed.  But I believe that we Reform and yes, Conservative Jews are not prepared for how to deal with it.  We are not prepared to deal with it in reality; we are not prepared to deal with it politically, and most important we are not prepared to deal with it spiritually.


And that is what I want to spend a few minutes talking about with you tonight.  How we prepare ourselves spiritually to deal with a world that less tolerant, more extreme and more anti-Semitic than in recent years.


First dealing with this in the real world:  For many people the ADL is considered an old organization in the Jewish community.  It is more than 100 years old! Founded in 1913 to combat bigotry and hate and Anti-Semitism in all its forms.  But what I mean by old—is not just the age of the organization—but the age of its members and supporters. It is not filled with millennials, not seen as cutting edge or innovative.  And its leader for decades was Abe Foxman who only stepped down only in 2015.  Now the executive director is Jonathan Greenblatt who founded ethos water, has worked for and in both the private and public sectors and non-profit. And he is reshaping the ADL into a more vibrant and even vocal organization especially in the present environment.


The ADL works closely with Law enforcement to train officers, sheriffs, and the FBI to learn to recognize hate crimes. The ADL is building strong alliances with many different communities including the Muslim American community, the LGBT Community and others. (and someday I will tell you about how GLAAD started in LA in the late 1980’s in response to something the ADL did and was modeled after the ADL!)  The ADL is working to identify and uncover the rise of white supremacists, and the alarming number of prison gangs for whom white supremacy is part of their culture.  One way to fight the rise in anti-Semitism is to get involved with the ADL and to support them.  In the coming months we will have a speaker from the ADL that will address how you can connect more directly with them.


In the political realm.  We must speak up when we see and hear anti-Semitism.  We have to raise our concerns with our representatives, locally and nationally.  But we cannot just speak for ourselves.  We have to raise the issues of racism, islamophobia, anti-gay rhetoric whenever and where ever it leaks out.  Whether it is a celebrity, like Mel Gibson or a politician we have to be able to hold people accountable.  Whatever you think of Elizabeth Warren—calling her a Pocahontas is vile. Our tradition teaches us words matter.  The words we say, make a difference.  And when they are hateful or hurtful words whether directed at Jews or others—our faith teaches us to speak up.   We only need to consult our great Rabbi Hillel—Im ayn ani li mi li, If I am not for myself who will be for me. If I am only for myself what am I and if not now when?


This teaching by Rabbi Hillel comes from also understanding our theology.  God spoke the world into being.  The universe according to the Torah—existence itself was created by words.  “Let there be light and there was light “teaches Bereshit.  Our entire notion of reality is defined by the words we say.   And this takes me to the third realm for coping – in these times. And that is the realm of the spirit.  Spiritual sustenance in these times will help us cope with what may come our way.

Our Jewish values and teachings like the words of Rabbi Hillel are our guide posts for how to navigate this more complex, more violent, and more chaotic world.


Take for example this week’s Torah portion. Parshat Yitro in the book of Exodus.  One of the most famous parts of the entire Torah, even the entire Tanach, the Bible is presented in this week’s portion—The Ten Commandments. The 10 simple and not so simple rules for living life as a Jew, as a human being in society.   Maimonides counted up 613 mitzvot in the Torah with the Ten Commandments being the first 10.  But let’s face.  Most people have a hard enough time with the first 10 let alone the other 603!

But before God wrote down the 10 commandments and handed the tablets to Moses… our Torah portion this week says that GOD SPOKE THEM In Exodus 20:22, God tells Moses that he should convey to the Israelites, “You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven.”  They heard the thunder and lighting, they hear the Kol-the voice say at least the very first command according to our tradition,  I am Adonai Your God who led you out of Egypt to be your God, I am Adonai Your God. They heard God’s own voice. And our midrashim state that they each heard God’s voice in a different way.  This was not a private revelation to Moses—as depicted by Cecil B DeMille but a revelation in public—to the whole people—unifying the Israelites into a Nation.



There are lots of midrashim about how this scared the Israelites so—that they retreated 12 miles away from the mountains, literally running for their lives and how they had to be led back to the holy mountain by the heavenly angels. This is one of two versions in the Talmud in Shabbat 88a-89b ascribed to Rabbi Joshua b. Levi.  This experience of the Divine was overwhelming, over powering and in another version of the Midrash found here… literally scared the nation of Israel to death—and that God had to resurrect the entire nation so they could hear the second commandment!


I share these with you tonight because to combat the anti-Semitism that we experience, to ground ourselves as a people, it is not enough to be political, it is not enough to be wealthy or culturally Jewish—it doesn’t sustain.
We have to hear the first commandment: I am Adonai your God, who led you out of Egypt, the house of bondage.


The assert HaDibrot—as they are called later in Exodus, starts with knowing God. Starts with recognizing at the center of it all, and from which everything else flows-is our belief in God. A God of justice, of compassion, of hope, of life who blesses us through these commandments and through the mitzvoth with all of these things.


Through our sacred obligations we will rise, spiritually, morally to combat that which is comes at us from the outside—like Anti-Semitism.  For it is our belief in the One God, that has often stirred up the hatred against us.  And when so many Jews say, I don’t believe in God, or I don’t believe in the God on the Throne on heaven, or I am agnostic, I doubt a belief in God—the very core issue of why we are attacked—because we are different in our beliefs from Christians or Muslims, and we have no Jesus, no Mohammed that intercedes and becomes the God.



But also the malaise and indifference which comes from within and is also just as dangerous than the anti-Semitism we see around us.
Judaism has a trinity—not like Catholics.  Our is God Torah and Israel. Some say you only need one, others say you don’t need any—it’s enough to be born that way.  I say we need all three to remain a people, to remain strong and vigilant.


An old woman and her granddaughter sat at a crossroads between two villages. A traveler passing by from the western village asked her about the people in the village to the east.

What were the people like in the town you have just left?” asked the grandmother.

“They were mean, deceitful and rude!” said the traveler.

Then the old woman nodded and said, “You will likely find the people in the eastern village just the same.”

A few hours later, a second traveler heading in the same direction asked the same question.  Again the old woman asked about the townsfolk in the village where the traveler had just left.

“They were kindhearted, generous and helpful.”

The old woman nodded knowingly, “You will find the people in the next village just the same.”  The traveler went on his way.

“Grandma,” said the child after the traveler had gone. “How could you give the same answer to both people?”

The Grandma smiled at her grandchild.  “I told them the truth. What we find in the world is but a reflection of what is in our hearts.”


I hope that in our hearts—we don’t give in to fear. But take the time to invite God back into our lives. Invite the holy aspect of truth and justice that was revealed to our ancestors at Sinai and to us into our hearts. So that we too can see the goodness, and kindness and generosity in the world and not let the anti-Semitism, or racism that has become too evident rule the day.  To this we must resist.


And I pray that in our own lives, we can find ways to reaffirm the God of our People in the many ways we talk about God and perceive God in the world and bring it once again to the place of affirmation that is core to being Jewish.  Hear O Israel Adonai is our God Adonai is One.


Women’s Day, Esther and Jewish Community Leadership

Wednesday March 8th is International Women’s Day.  Ironically this weekend Jews around the world will observe Purim–whose main character is the good Queen Esther one of the most famous women in the Bible.  Esther who at first hides her Jewish identity marries the Persian King named  Ahashuerus but comes to the aid of the Jewish people when the king’s evil Prime Minister Haman plots to murder the Jews and in particular kill Esther’s uncle Mordechai who is the leader of the Jewish community in the capital city of Shushan (Susa).  Esther literally pleads for her people’s lives because Haman had gotten the king to sign a royal decree condemning the Jews and permitting their genocide.

The King who clearly loves Esther is portrayed as a buffoon, who doesn’t really know what is happening before his very eyes grants Esther’s request for safety for herself and her people.  Haman is hung on the very gallows he erected for Uncle Mordechai and the Jews are allowed to defend themselves against the forces that Haman had put into place.  The Jews of Persia and Media fight for their very lives and prevail.

The story of Purim in this time of increased Antisemitism in America has special poignancy.  The President and his minions have unleashed forces of hatred in America that has caused now more than 120 bomb threats to Jewish community centers, Jewish organizations, synagogues and day schools.  We see anti-Muslim rhetoric from the White House itself, increased arson at mosques and an anti-immigrant fervor in the US which we have seen since the early 1920’s. When fear is the tool used to whip up dissent among the masses, this is the result.

And oh yes did I mention the backlash against women and women’s health care concerns and reproductive health?

The story of Purim is more relevant that ever.  Who will speak up? Who will come forward even at great risk? Who wil be a patriot for the people as Esther was?

The Jewish community should also take note that with International Women’s Day, until more women are the paid executives of leading Jewish organizations and not just the Jewish Women’s Organizations and more of the mainstream organizational boards are chaired by women the misogyny that is evident even in the Jewish world will continue.

Even though women make up most of the Jewish Federation’s work force in the US the only major city to have a woman as its CEO is Philadelphia.  And even though there is a woman who chairs the board of AIPAC, Lillian Pinkus, and the Union for Reform Judaism, Daryl Messinger there are still entire pockets of the Jewish community where there are still meetings that are only men.  That is shameful.  Just look at the picture below… what’s wrong with it.

jewish men sitting around the table

Just look at this picture from Ha’aretz magazine March 3 in a meeting of Jewish leaders with FBI head Comey discussing the recent bomb threats.  NO WOMEN.  Yes, Queen Esther we still have a long way to go.

Happy Purim



Why I am proud to be A Reform Jew

I am proud to be a Reform Jew for so many reason our embrace of women spiritual leadership, our amazing youth programs inspiring faith and tradition in our young people, our contemporary music and innovations in worship. But what has always inspired me spiritually, theologically has been our emphasis on ethics and social justice.  Today our Movement responded to the deplorable rollback in civil rights perpetrated by the Trump Administration.


I am proud to be a signatory and co-author of this statement on behalf our Reform Movement, over a million Jews strong in North America alone!

Reform Movement Deplores Rollback of Transgender Rights

For Immediate Release
February 23, 2017

Contact: Max Rosenblum
202.387.2800 |

Press Release from the Religious Action Center

WASHINGTON—The Union for Reform Judaism, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism condemn President Trump’s decision, and resulting actions by the Offices of Civil Rights of the Justice and Education Departments, to overturn a federal rule making the nation’s public schools welcoming and safe for transgender students.

The book of Genesis teaches us that all human beings are created in the Divine image — a status certainly shared by transgender men, women, and children, males created in female bodies and females created in male bodies.

The rejection of Title IX protections for transgender students undermines the safety and security of all students. Further we are concerned that if the government can set aside Title IX for some students, important Title IX protections for all students and in particular women and minorities are also at risk.

Tragically, transgender youth are especially vulnerable — to bullying, to rejection by their families and by their peers, to violence, and to suicide. A government that deprives youth of their right to safe schools, and specifically to use the restroom that conforms to their gender identity — in short, a government that fails to protect their imperative to live in accordance with their gender identity — is a government that is willing to accept bigotry and bullying.

Far from protecting girls and women from men in women’s bathrooms, decisions such as this imperil transgender youth. Transgender men and boys may appear threatening and come under attack if forced to use women’s restrooms. Transgender women and girls risk becoming victims of violence if forced to use men’s restrooms. The Administration has overturned a rule that was sound public policy and endeavored to uphold pikuach nefesh, saving life, the very highest of religious injunctions.

This matter is personal for Reform Jews. Our congregations proudly embrace transgender men, women, and youth among our members. Some of our rabbis are transgender. Many children in our congregations and communities, including children of our rabbis, are transgender. Our rabbinical seminary, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, educates transgender Jews for sacred leadership roles in our community. Our congregations, our youth programs, and our summer camps fully accommodate transgender youths and adults in accordance with their gender identity.

We lament this serious step backwards in the effort to protect transgender youth — and, more broadly, in the march toward equal civil rights for all Americans.


Central Conference of American Rabbis
Rabbi Denise L. Eger, President; Rabbi Steven A. Fox, Chief Executive

Union for Reform Judaism
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President; Daryl Messinger, Board Chair

Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, Director; Isabel P. Dunst, Chair, Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism


The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose nearly 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, whose membership includes more than 2,000 Reform rabbis. Visit for more.

Published: 02/23/2017

Ohio attacks women

Here is my latest statement on behalf of the Central Conference of American Rabbis about the Ohio State Legislature’s latest attack on women HB493. 

Please call and write Govenor Kasich. Ask him to veto the Ohio bill HB 493 which would destroy woman’s lives. Yesterday the Ohio house attached a ” Heartbeat” provision to an unrelated bill. This would make it a fifth degree felony if the woman sought an abortion after a heartbeat was detected often before she knows she is pregnant. (Which could be at 6-8 weeks tho the fetus is no bigger than a lentil). It’s clearly unconstitutional according to Roe v Wade which permits abortion up until the 2nd trimester. This is a new shot across the bow to strip away choice and yet another anti-woman law. 

Governor John Kasich 

Riffe Center, 30th Floor 

77 South High Street 

Columbus, OH 43215-6117

Phone: (614) 466-3555

Contact Gov Kasich  to ask him to veto this heinous proposed legislation.  

Come sing and pray and meditate with me



Dear Kol Ami family and friends,
It is a new day in America and the people have exercised their civic duty.  Whether we like or dislike the outcome of the election and the many races and propositions that were on the ballot, as Americans we still must be in awe of the great process and privilege that is voting in a democracy.
I know many in our Kol Ami community are passionate about politics. After all, Jews have long embraced democracy because it allowed us to thrive as a people like never before in history. But I also know many of you have expressed to me your deep fears and concerns after such a ugly, contentious election season. Many of you are scared and devastated.
It was an election that was filled with overt racism, misogyny, xenophobia, Islamophobia, Antisemitism and anti-LGBT sentiments. The President-Elect and his Vice President-Elect have fostered many of these in their election rhetoric. Let us pray that they understand governing is different than electioneering and that they now become the President and Vice President of all Americans and American residents.
President-Elect Trump has the opportunity to use his office to bring
Americans together, and to move us toward a brighter future. If he does so, we will be ready to work with him for the common good. If he does not, we stand ready to be fierce advocates for the values that guide us: inclusivity, justice, and compassion.
So for those of you that are in pain and turmoil after last night’s results, for those of you who are scared or questioning your faith in America, or questioning your faith at all – I invite you to join me tonight from 6:30 pm to 7:15 pm at our Temple, Congregation Kol Ami 1200 N. La Brea Avenue for 45 minutes of healing and hope with meditations for our future and our country. 
Afterwards, we’ll adjourn to our rooftop deck for refreshments, conversation, listening to one another and supporting each other. For those who would like to stay, at 8 pm we’ll join Pastor Keith Cox and the Center for Spiritual Living for 30 minutes of uplifting music and communal prayer in our sanctuary.
This week we read Parshat Lech Lecha. Abraham’s call to leave his home and discover a new land and a new promise and a new relationship with God. The days and weeks ahead will be our time to explore this journey as a Kol Ami community and what we can do to make our values heard in the marketplace of ideas and to protect these values in our country.
For centuries Jews have prayed for the welfare of the country they lived in and its leaders. All the while knowing that we Jews have a Higher Power! As we pray in the Prayer for our Nation:
We ask God for guidance for ourselves and for our nation, to grant
our leaders the wisdom and forbearance to govern with justice and compassion. We ask God to help us appreciate one another and to respect the many ways that we may be faithful to the ways of righteousness, and to keep our country sound in body and spirit.
Shalom ,
Rabbi Eger Signature
Rabbi Denise L. Eger