It’s the time of year when the Jewish calendar turns to love–Tu B’Av (which falls on August 5th this year). The traditional, somewhat obscure day of Jewish matchmaking originated in the time of the Talmud, and it may seem irrelevant today. But there’s no question that matchmaking, in its many forms, is still a common way to meet “the One.”
When I moved to New York, everyone told me it was the perfect place to meet a nice Jewish boy, date for a bit, and get married. I chuckled and quickly shifted the conversation.
Well, I came to New York a few years ago, and I just wasn’t meeting those nice Jewish boys. So I did itâ€¦I joined JDate.
I refused to pay for the service and didn’t really expect to find anyone. (JDate allows you to participate in messaging and view member profiles without paying. In order to initiate conversation or view your “emails” you need to be a paid member.) I just wanted to meet new people. Then, after a bunch of really strange dates (like the one where the guy wouldn’t walk next to me but instead ran ahead and waited for me to catch up, ran ahead, waited, run ahead, waitedâ€¦well, you get the picture) and a few good ones in between (which didn’t turn into anything), I finally found someone I thought was worth a second, third, and fourth date.
At the beginning of our relationship, when people asked how we had met, we said it was through mutual friends. We figured if people knew we met on JDate, they’d make assumptions about us: we were desperate, we weren’t religiously observant or were willing to date the many non-Jews on JDate, we lacked the social skills to meet people on our own, or the many other stereotypes attached to Internet dating and JDate in particular, all of which, for us, were totally untrue.
Well here I am, almost two years later, sporting a diamond on that all-important finger and planning a wedding with my JDate match. We no longer feel embarrassed to tell people we met online and, in fact, we’re excited to say so. We’re psyched to give all of the Internet daters out there some hopeâ€¦it can work out! You can find someone! These days online dating may be just about the easiest way to meet new people, and meeting new people is one of the easiest ways to find love.
Finding love might sound so easy, but the truth is, it takes work. Whether it’s with a shadhan, the Millionaire Matchmaker, a mutual friend, or a dating website, Jewish matchmaking is alive and well.
Tzedakah in their Honor
Websites like NetworkforGood and Tzedaka.org can give you ideas of where to make a donation in honor of the wedding. In choosing a worthy cause, consider the coupleâ€™s interests and passions. NetworkforGood also offers the option of purchasing a “Good Card” which allows the recipients to choose where the money will be donated.
Help your newlyweds get involved in Jewish life by purchasing a membership for them to a local Jewish museum or Jewish Community Center. If you know they plan to join a synagogue, consider contributing to their membership.
A night out on the town is always a welcome gift. Consider purchasing gift tickets to a Jewish concert, theater or dance performance, cooking lesson, Jewish film festival, or other cultural experience.
Movies & Music
The bride and groom might appreciate a collection of great Jewish music or some quintessential Jewish films to help them relax after their big day. You can read about some good choices in this overview of American Jewish music or this article about contemporary Israeli films.
If you choose books wisely, your wedding gift could help a newly-married couple build a Jewish library. For ideas, check out this review of the greatest American Jewish fiction,Â and this list of the top 100 Jewish books–from Exodus (the second book of the Bible) to Exodus (the novel by Leon Uris). You could also give the couple a Jewish wedding planning book, like The Complete Jewish Wedding Planner or The Everything Jewish Wedding Book, in the months before their wedding, or a Jewish wedding art book, like Ketubbah.
Invest in the happy couple’s wine collection with some nice kosher wine or a membership to a kosher wine-of-the-month club.Â They can use it for Shabbat or with any elegant meal.Â Books like Maurie Rosenberg’s L’chaim: User Guide to Kosher Wine 1.0 can help you choose.
Gift certificates to local kosher restaurants make a great gift. You could also consider having dinners delivered to the newlyweds in the weeks after the wedding, preferably food that can be frozen if they do not finish it.
Traditional (and not-so-Traditional) Judaica
If you’re thinking of a more traditional gift, consider some classic Judaica items. The china or silver company the couple registered for might make Judaica objects (Nambe, Spode, and Lenox all do).
For the Home
A mezuzah is the quintessential symbol of the Jewish home. Check out MezuzahStore.comÂ for some interesting cases, and donâ€™t forget the parchment scroll for inside the case. Similar to a mezuzah, this Jewish prayer is customarily hung near the entrance to the home: “Let no sadness come through this gate. Let no trouble come to this dwelling. Let no fear come through this door. Let no conflict be in this place. Let this home be filled with the blessing of joy and peace.” Artistic renditions of this prayer for the home are available at Canaan-Online and Levine Judaica.
Other practical gifts for Jewish homes include tzedakah boxes–the gift that keeps on giving; kosher cookbooks–available to suit any palate; and ring holders–helpful for netilat yadayim, Jewish ritual hand-washing, when one normally removes rings.
Contemporary artists have come up with many creative ways to turn the broken glass from the end of the wedding ceremony into kiddush cups, candle sticks, vases, picture frames, etc. You can ask the couple to save the glass for you, and then present them with this unique and decorative gift that will always remind them of their wedding.
Shabbat and Holiday Gifts
Shabbat is a special time in the Jewish household, especially for newlyweds.Â Help your happy couple create a beautiful Shabbat together by giving them traditional ritual objects: candlesticks, a decorative matchbox, a decorative challah board, challah knife, or challah cover, a hand-washing cup, or a havdalah set. You can also buy marriage-themed Shabbat accessories– bride and groom candlesticks or a kiddush cup designed with huppah, bride, and groom imagery.
Many newly-married couples dip their challah in honey instead of salt on Shabbat in order to usher in a sweet life together. You can choose from many types of honey holders, from traditional to more contemporary; for a gift that fits your couple’s style.
Check the Jewish calendarÂ to see if there are any Jewish holidays around the time of the wedding you are attending. Consider purchasing a gift for the bride and groom that will help them celebrate that holiday: A plate for apples and honey on Rosh Hashanah, a menorah or dreidel for Hanukkah, or for Passover, a seder plate, matzah cover, or Miriam’s cup.
You can also consider items that are unrelated to the holiday immediately coming up (you donâ€™t want to be the fifth seder plate), or more rare objects like an omer counter, an etrogÂ holder, a decorative gragger, or megillah .
Every time I return from a trip to Israel, I find myself craving those creature comforts like iced coffee from Aroma, shoko b’sakit (chocolate milk in a bag) made by Yotvata, or the onion rings from Schnitzi at two in the morning after a great night out with friends. I wait impatiently to get back to all the yummy (albeit super unhealthy) restaurants in Israel.
Well, lucky me! New York is becoming Israel Junior! For years we’ve seen aspects of Israeli culture imported into New York and all over America: art, music, fashion, and jewelry. It seems a bit more complicated to import Israeli foods, which we can now find in many grocery stores now.Â Now, however, the streets of New York are looking more and more like the streets of Israel, as satellites of some of the classic restaurants of Israel are popping up all over the five boroughs of New York.
Just as a highlight, here are a few Israeli restaurant landmarks you can visit if you are ever in New York:
Burger’s Bar–located in Midwood, Brooklyn and Cedarhurst, Long Island–has all the favorite kosher sandwiches and sauces of the Israeli chainâ€¦complete with the grease that makes it all so tasty! (You also get to scream your order over the counter, just like in Israel! Wahoo!)
Schnitzi–also in Midwood–has all of the variations of the kosher fried chicken sandwiches that the downtown Jerusalem location has, and of course, my favorite side dish, the onion rings (and tons of sauce options to dip them in).
Aroma–the Starbucks of Israel, if you will–is on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and in Soho, It has the great salads, bourekas, and sandwiches, but the best part is naturally the iced coffee–a vital indulgence on all of my Israel trips.
Max Brenner–aka Chocolate by the Bald Man–is in Manhattan’s Union Square. A lot of New Yorkers have no idea this place started in Israel, but they, like me, are more than willing to sample all the kosher chocolaty treats.
Yotvata–located in Fresh Meadows, Queens–you may recognize as the rest stop on the way South in Israel, or from its hoppin’ location in Tel Aviv. No, they don’t have shoko b’sakit (chocolate milk in a bag), but they will pour the rich, dairy, goodness into a glass for you. (They also have all sorts of good kosher pastas, salads, etc.)
El Gaucho–in Kensington, Brooklyn–offers the Argentinean food of the downtown Jerusalem location. A kosher carnivore’s dream.
So even when you get back from Israel, if you make your way to New York, you can still get some of those basic comforts for your taste buds.
Shifra Shomron’s novel Grains of Sand: The Fall of Neve Dekalim tells the story of Efrat, a teenage girl living in Neve Dekalim, one of the Jewish settlements of Gush Katif. The residents of this community in Gaza were forced to evacuate their homes and communities in August 2005 as part of Israel’s disengagement plan.
The disengagement from Gaza was a politically and socially complicated issue. Many families left voluntarily before the announced date of disengagement, but some stayed and were forcibly removed from their homes. Shomron’s novel is told by a resident of Gush Katif whose family chose not to leave voluntarily.
The book starts by introducing normal family life in the neighborhood. Efrat describes her parents, brother, dog, school and her attachment to Neve Dekalim. We follow Efrat’s life through the intifadas and into the disengagement. We hear Efrat’s emotions and the feelings of her family and neighbors in regards to their removal from their homes.
Shomron, who was in 12th grade when she started writing the novel, utilizes narrative, poetry, journal entries, news articles, photos, and Biblical text to give the reader a full picture of her experiences. As the first English novel about the disengagement geared towards young adult readers, Shomron wrote her story in order to encourage dialogue and discussion and make sure readers knew what the disengagement was like for the residents who were forced to leave their homes.
How much of this story is true to your life?
Though my book is personal, it isn’t an autobiography. Most of the events actually happened–if not to me then to people I know–and much of the dialogue is true. My book is indeed personal but it isn’t only my story. My story is the story of thousands of Jews who lived in Gush Katif.
Many people who have met me after reading Grains Of Sand have approached me and said, “Shifra you’re Efrat, right?” And the answer is not quite “yes,” and yet, it’s not “no.” The character Efrat does reflect me to a certain degree. On the other hand, things happened to her that did not happen to me. Her reactions are not all the same as my reactions were at the time and so, while she is similar to me, she is not a mirror image.
There has been a lot of controversy as to whether your book is worthy of inclusion in the Israeli literature curriculum for the D and F English Literature matriculation exam modules. Many argue that it is too political to be considered appropriate literature for the classroom. Others say that it is inappropriate to present a one-sided position. Still others refute that the novel represents an important aspect of recent Israeli history and relevant to all. Do you think this debate is due to a bias and why should your novel be a part of the curriculum for the exam?
I’m concerned that there is bias against my book. If it hadn’t been for the Jerusalem Post article by Abe Selig, which highlighted the corruption of one of the committee members in regards to my book and forced them to reconsider including the book, my novel wouldn’t even have passed on to the committee as required in their rules.
Since Grains of Sand meets all the needed requirements, was proposed by teachers to be put on the curriculum, and represents a side of the story which many people didn’t hear, I believe it should have a place on the list of recommended reading materials in the Israeli Literature curriculum. I wrote my book as a teenager, and I think my example can serve as encouragement to other teens to write and empower themselves through the written word. Also, there is much in my novel that could help spark classroom discussions.
In Israel, English is a required subject and taught as a foreign language [EFL] and the language in my book is readable with words that are not complicated. Because my book is written in English, it helps put some distance in a familiar event students might feel very strongly about. Grains of Sand addresses material that affected everyone in Israel regardless of political, cultural, religious affiliation and this makes the reading more interesting and able to relate to. My book provides a bridge of understanding towards the diversity and division within Israeli society. Also, as time passes some students will be too young to understand the historical events which unfolded around them, and this is part of our national history.
You mention in your novel that Efrat felt the government “abandoned” her. How do you feel towards the government now? Do you find it difficult to be involved in the government and army that took away your home?
First, I’d like to point out that many youth from Gush Katif felt betrayed following the expulsion. They found it very difficult and traumatic after their own army, where their father, brothers, relatives and friends had served, had come and expelled them from their homes. Today, four years after the horrible withdrawal, most have joined the Israel Defense Forces and don’t feel so estranged that they do not want to participate in the Israeli army–which is the melting pot of Israeli society. I volunteered in National Service, which is what many religious girls do in Israel instead of going into the Israeli Defense Forces.
I’m quite critical regarding the government. They managed to expel us and destroy our homes in an exceedingly swift and efficient military operation. But now, four years later, we are still in temporary caravillas and our future permanent communities are vague castles in the air. We have high unemployment, health problems on the rise, and little hope for the future–all in direct relation to the unilateral withdrawal/disengagement.
My identity with the State of Israel is not because of the leaders but rather, in spite of them! As a daughter of the Jewish nation, this is my land. This is my heritage. I love my country and my people–and do my best to make this a better place by participating in national elections, writing articles, publishing my novel, and studying to become an English and Bible study teacher.
Where are you living now? How has your family life changed after the disengagement?
I live with my family at the Nitzan caravilla site (pictured) which is the largest encampment of the Gush Katif expellees. The walls are plaster with a thin sheet of metal inside. The caravillas are set very close to each other, and there is little privacy inside the caravilla or between them.
How hasn’t my life changed after disengagement? I’ve gotten tired of always searching for words. Therefore when I found a wonderful quote of Yoni Netanyahu (written to a friend in his first letter from the US after leaving Israel with his family while yet in high school) I memorized it:
“Longing is difficult to describe. I always used to laugh at the word; I always thought that you could forget, but I was wrong; believe me you can’t. To adopt oneself to a new life–yes, that’s possible; but to forget the old- that’s impossible. And I want to return, return, returnâ€¦the word keeps floating up to the surfaceâ€¦ without purpose, without hopeâ€¦ yet always gnawing, stabbing, hurting.” (From the Letters of Jonathan Netanyahu).
Jen Abrams is an intern at MyJewishLearning.com
This weekend I returned to Dallas for a friendâ€™s wedding. As the wedding party prepared for the toasts, my momâ€™s friend approached me and, ironically, asked me to explain Jewish death rituals to him. As it turned out, he had been to a funeral recently. He heard the rabbi mention that the family â€œstays at homeâ€ afterward and wanted the details of shiva. As I explained the ritual–and, of course, recommended he visit MyJewishLearning.com for more information–I flashed back to elementary school.
I was the only Jew in my school, located in a predominately Southern Baptist suburb of Dallas. When people had questions about Judaism, they came to me. I was the Go-to-Jew.
In elementary school I had no choice but to embrace this role–giving presentations about the menorah during Christmas time and toting around my copy of In the Month of Kislev. I explained over and over that no, I do not believe in Jesus, and no, I am not Hanukkan (no, this is not a real word), and no, I do not sing Christmas carols. I found myself teaching my friends the alef-bet on the playground and, in high school when I started observing the chaggim, struggling to explain to my teachers why I would not be in school for days at a time.
As the years went by, on my Dallas trips, the questions got more difficult. I no longer receive the simple, yes-or-no inquiries which my childhood peers asked. Now, adults ask me questions about beliefs and practices and request answers which represent not only my own understanding of Judaism or the views of my Jewish community, but those of all Jews.
When I have questions, which is often, I ask a rabbi, a website, a book–whatever, wherever, or whomever I can think of, so why can’t these people?Â I don’t consider myself any sort of authority, even though I feel like I am relatively knowledgeable. I guess I don’t trust myself to give the right answer. Ask me for my opinion anytime, but for “what Jews do,” I would way rather say, “Just Google It.”
When I haven’t been back to Dallas in a while, I sometimes forget that in New York, I am one of thousands. When I go back, I’m one in thousands. I feel like I have a responsibility to be an ambassador, a representative of Judaism, and I am.Â But being one of thousands certainly doesn’t mean I have all the answers.