Author Archives: Jordanna Birnbaum

About Jordanna Birnbaum

Jordanna Birnbaum is the intern at

The Rolls-Royce of Emergency Medicine

This entry was posted in Israel on by .

After the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti six weeks ago many of us saw YouTube videos streaming from CNN and other news sources displaying the heroism and organization of the Israeli field hospital in Haiti. But who were these fast acting, compassionate individuals?

This morning I had the unique privilege of meeting Dr. Ofer Merin, Director of Shaare Zedek Medical Center Emergency Preparedness & Response Program, who served as the head of the surgical and intensive care unit in Port-au-Prince. jb_merin.JPG

Dr. Ofer Merin, a composed and humble man, explained the mission which took the world by shock but left Israeli’s unsurprised at their fellow countrymen. Dr. Merin explained that the IDF is constantly training for disaster response scenarios and had just carried out a training a month earlier in Israel.

Some highlights of his talk included a slide entitled “Ma nishtana?” or “What made the Israeli’s different from other disaster response groups?” The list included the word “chutzpah” which Merin translated as ingenuity. Merin explained that when 16 babies were born, there were no cradles, or carriages in sight. The team improvised and procured large salad bowls lined with blankets to keep the infants comfortable.

After treating hundreds of people over the course of five days, the Israeli medical team ran out of the over 1,000 casts they has brought. Some good old Jewish chutzpah once again came to the rescue after a Moroccan-born Israeli searched throughout Port-au-Prince until he discovered over 2,000 casts in the basement of the Moroccan Embassy. When the Israeli’s ran out of special surgical nails, they headed into town and had a blacksmith create nails in order to be used in surgery.

Beyond these moments of chutzpah which separated the Israeli field hospital from others, the Israelis simply came prepared. They had a mini blood bank, an imaging center, an OBGYN, a pediatric surgeon, bar code identity cards, and other amenities that other field hospitals did not have. Dr. Merrin described that “nobody in Haiti has identity cards, photos were used to keep track of patients and for loved ones to identify them.”  A total of 1,111 wounded and sick were treated, and 315 operations were performed. Sixteen babies, including a set of twins and a boy who was named Israel, were delivered.

As one CNN reporter put it, the Israeli field hospital was the “Rolls-Royce of Emergency Medicine.”

Posted on March 3, 2010

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

The Miracle of The Wind-Powered Menorah

This entry was posted in Beliefs, Holidays on by .

When Yeshiva University student Mark Stauber would walk down Amsterdam Avenue daily to go to class, his yarmulke would continuously fly off. Although annoying, Mark thought that perhaps this wind tunnel could be put to good use. He turned to his friends Benjamin Recca and Raffi Holzer who put their heads and hands together to create a wind-powered, eco-friendly menorah. Both The New York Times and NBC News took notice of this innovative collaboration which merged religious and environmental values.

MJL:  How did you come up with the idea to create this wind powered menorah?

Mark Stauber and Raffi Holzer: We are in Washington Heights, and there are all of these wind tunnels.  We thought–hey we could make something out of this. We thought we should definitely power something with this annoying wind and then we decided on the menorah.

win_menorah.jpgMJL: What’s the relationship between sustainability and Judaism?

MS & RH: It goes deeper than that, because we thought of the Maccabees as they had to struggle to keep the oil burning for eight nights, so we saw a connection between the story and our civilization’s race for sustainability. So we wanted to look at the world through this prism of Torah and Mada (science), How can we use what we have been given, the resources we have been given, and make them last for as long as we need them?

MJL: What has been the feedback on the Yeshiva University campus?

MS & RH: Most people walk by and say “what the heck is that?” Students are really surprised that fellow students could create something like this. It’s a lesson for other students–the resources are out there and on our off time we dedicated time to set this up. Suddenly people are asking questions such as “what is a wind turbine?”  And we are really getting that conversation started.

MJL:  Do you see the press you’ve gotten as a sanctification of God’s name (Kiddush Hashem)?

MS & RH: Yes, definitely because we get to do pirsumei nis, publicizing the miracle of Hanukkah and simultaneously, get to spread the idea of sustainable energy.

MJL: So what’s your next project?

MS & RH: We are actually going to work to create a program at Yeshiva University where undergrads can get together to undertake these type of hands-on projects

Thanks for your time Mark and Raffi! May you have a sustainable and Happy Hanukkah!

Posted on December 14, 2009

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Regina Spektor or Benjamin Netanyahu?

This entry was posted in Culture, History on by .

rspektor.jpgLast night I was lucky enough to see Regina Spektor perform at Radio City to a packed house. Even though my love for Regina’s music only started a couple of months ago due to Matthue’s post on her latest album “Far,” I’ve pretty much heard all of her songs, or so I thought. Towards the end of her performance after singing an upbeat, comical song, she suddenly started playing something dark and condemning. The whole room fell silent as Regina shocked the crowd with the words:

“All the Holocaust deniers
To a bathhouse warm and quiet
Complimentary soap, complimentary haircut
And gas them up until they know that

All their ink stains on their wrists mean business
And God is the almighty witness
I wish they’d cure the friendly neighbors
Of the disease which makes them haters

You who accuse the dying of lying
You can’t tell fake from honest crying
Argentina steakhouse Swiss Bank gold card
Aren’t going to help you were you’re going at

So who’ll be the Jew to make the papers
Drenched in blood up to your blue Jew eyeballs
And God and his almighty wisdom
May somehow grant an open season

All the Holocaust deniers
In a bathhouse warm and quiet
Complimentary soap, complimentary haircut
And gas them up until they know that

All their ink stains on their wrists mean business
And God is the almighty witness
I wish they’d cure the friendly neighbors
Of the disease which makes them haters”

Although I had previously applauded Regina for her witty and unique lyrics, now I also felt a sense of camaraderie and pride. Regina was expressing the frustration which people around the world have been feeling. With Ahmadinejad calling the Holocaust “a lie”, along with the shooting at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, many people, specifically survivors and there decedents feel helpless. Should we even come to the table to refute these obscene lies? But, at the same time how can we allow Holocaust denial to dominate the political conversation without intervening?

A few weeks ago, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spoke at the U.N., fully equipped with the original diagrams of the Aushwitz-Birkenau gas chambers and the documents signed by Heinrich Himmler at Wannsee ordering the Final Solution. But many people were torn about the approach of his speech and wondered, why is Benjamin Netanyahu even refuting Ahmadinejad’s ridiculous claims? Has historical truth become so inverted that even the greatest genocide on earth is now being debated? Unfortunately, it seems so.

Regina’s song “Ink Stains” is angry and revengeful, she will not come to the table with the Holocaust denier, she will only condemn him. I applaud her now for being a voice of reason, clear and strong. She does not try to refute the lie, but simply states “God is the almighty witness,” meaning there is no need to refute such nonsense.

After the concert, I turned to Google to find anything I could about the song (which is not on any album that she’s released). What I found was a YouTube video of Regina playing “Ink Stains” to a crowd in Amsterdam. Before she started the song she thanked the people of Amsterdam for preserving Anne Frank’s house and noted that she had just visited what remained of it. She dedicated the song to Anne Frank.

Posted on October 15, 2009

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

A Chat With Shahar Peer

This entry was posted in Culture, Israel on by .

Recently at this year’s U.S. Open, MyJewishLearning spoke with Israeli tennis superstar, Shahar Peer. At 22 years old, Shahar Peer is ranked #34 in the world  and has recently won the Guangzhou Open in China and the Tashkent Open in Uzbekistan. Even with her busy schedule Shahar was gracious enough to answer some questions for us.

MJL: Unlike other players, you have an entire religious and cultural community who stands behind you, do you feel that support at every game? Have any Bubbe’s invited you over for chicken soup and a place to stay?

Israeli tennis star Shahar Peer

Yes, definitely. There are always Jews and Israelis coming to support me. Over the years, I have made really strong connections with Jews in cities all over the world. Now, instead of staying in a hotel every city I go to, I have different families who welcomes me in in a number of cities. Even if a family does not invite me to stay with them, I have received overwhelming support over the years during my matches. At almost every single match I have played, I have had fans cheering me on, Israelis or Jews. This has always been fun and extremely motivational for me. One event in particular in which I received amazing support was when I was not allowed in Dubai. I received hundreds of emails from Jews around the world.

MJL: For many people around the world, Israel is a symbol of conflict, but your status as an athlete shows Americans and others that Israel does have a face beyond the conflict. How does it make you feel to be such a symbol?

SP: While I am only an athlete, I do realize the importance of being an athlete from Israel. I do think I help bridge gaps and show people that there is more to this country than conflict. I hope there will never be any connection between politics and sports, but i do think that sports can help put Israel in a different light from what is seen on the news.

Posted on October 7, 2009

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Breaking The Silence: Israel Activism & American Students

This entry was posted in Israel on by .

Just days after the Durban II conference in Geneva, and on the eve of Israel’s Independence Day, New York University’s campus is being inundated with anti-Israel events and propaganda. Just today, Ynet news reported an anti-Israel event that was fraudulently planned as a climate change event and promoted as ‘The Hidden History of Zionism: The Road to Gaza’s Killing Fields’. Today, on the sidewalks around the village campus I spotted the statement “Zionism is Racism” written in chalk. On Wednesday, there is a “Free Palestine” gathering organized by BDS (Boycott Divestment Sanctions) Intifada and the NYU Palestine Solidarity Coalition in Washington Square Park.

Why am I publicizing these events instead of shoving them under the rug so I can enjoy my falafel on Israel’s Independence day? Because Jewish students have to start caring more.

Zach Novetzky, a fellow NYU student who attended the Durban Conference recently stated in a an article titled, “A Shift is needed on American College Campuses:”

“During my time spent with the European Union of Jewish Students (especially the French students), I have seen a passion for action that shames the campus activism in America, where a real and unjust war is being waged against Israel. Yes, there are exceptional students  in America who do great things but sadly, such characters are rare. The EUJS students are not concerned with “not sounding politically correct” or “being ostracized by the larger community” because they fervently believe in the political correctness of their message.

There must be a paradigm shift on campuses across America: Jewish students need to stop being complacent, remaining silent and acting cowardly when libelous events like Israel Apartheid Week (IAW) sprout up on campus. When the charade that is IAW began, it was unknown; now, it is on more than seventy-five campuses. Why is there no American Union of Jewish Students uniting nationwide to combat this farce? Why are there no students ready to dress up as clowns, peacefully disrupt and expose the parody of IAW? There must be a revolution on the American campus, composed of creative students who are both human rights advocates and defenders of Israel. (Jerusalem Post)”

Just last Friday StandWithUs organized a protest at the UN in New York in response to the Durban II racism conference. The protest was sent out on Facebook, Twitter, listervs and beyond. Much like the French Jewish students did at the conference, the protesters at the UN wore clown wigs to expose Durban II as a masquerade, as well as taped their mouths shut to express the “Silence of the UN” on issues of oppression and racism.

I was excited to gather all of my friends and make a public statement representing young, American Jews. I emailed friends about the protest, messaged people on Facebook and invited hundreds to the event. When I arrived on Friday at the UN, I was greeted by 50 other students impassioned to show their disdain for the conference.

It definitely sent a powerful message, but where were the thousands of Jewish college students who care so much about Israel and Human rights?

They, like most others, remained silent.

I just saw this Youtube video below from a 2007 Human Rights Council meeting which sends a powerful message about speaking out, even in the midst of adversity.

Here’s a description:

“Ambassador Luis Alfonso de Alba of Mexico, first president of the council, duly thanks every offensive statement at the supposedly reformed council: denial of crimes in Darfur; mocking of human rights experts; invective against women and gays; glorification of terrorism; Holocaust denial; demonization of Israel — all of that was admissible. De Alba ruled only one statement “inadmissible”: UN Watch’s criticism of the Council for ignoring victims of violations in 192 countries, and its failure to live up to the noble dream of its founders” (UN Watch)

Hillel Neuer knew that his message was right and just. He read his speech even though he knew he would be condemned for his honesty and accusations. American Jewish students must wake up and start defending Israel on their campuses. If they don’t speak up then who will? If they remain silent, the lies about Israel will continue to spread and the definition of human rights will continue to be distorted.

Here’s some footage for inspiration from the StandWithUs protest last Friday.

I’ll see YOU at the next one.

Tomorrow at NYU their is a Pro-Israel Rally in Washington Square Park from 1-3. Come show your support for Israel and bring your Israeli Flag. Isn’t it time to break the silence?

Posted on April 28, 2009

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Project FEED: Focus, Engage, Educate, & Deliver

This entry was posted in Holidays, Practices on by .

Each year NYU’s Bronfman Center plans Shabbat for 2,000, an event which strives to engage 2,000 community members in a Shabbat together. This year, students in the NYU community recognized the difficult times we are all facing and decided to take it upon themselves to create a week-long initiative with the goal of engaging 2,000 community members in helping to alleviate hunger.


The intense week of service begins this Thursday, March 26th kicking off with a “Challah for Hunger” event. Challah will be baked and sold around NYU’s campus and all proceeds will go straight to Project FEED, in efforts to end hunger in New York City. The week is jam packed with awesome programming. There is a concern for hunger fun run, a Shabbat lunch-and-learn about hunger, Meals on Heels food delivery, supermarket street teams, volunteering at the HUC soup kitchen, and more. The week will culminate with the Big Bang Bash at BLVD to celebrate the efforts of the week and with the hopes of raising $10,000.

This amazing effort, being pulled together by all different students on NYU’s campus, is at quite an apropos time. With Passover around the corner, we have a custom of welcoming those less fortunate into our homes for the seder as well as making sure that all have the ability to have food for their own seder. Rabbi Ronald Isaac, in our article on Maot Hittin, states “the custom of assisting the poor with free provisions of food for Passover is very ancient. The Talmud (Pesahim 99b) mandated a distribution of wine to the poor for the obligatory four cups at the Seder so that every person may proclaim the miracle of the exodus.”

What better way to prepare for Passover, the ultimate redemption, than by freeing the needy from their burden of hunger>

Those in the NYC area can go to to get the schedule of events or sign up to volunteer at one of the dozens of programs.

Posted on March 25, 2009

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People of The Book

This entry was posted in Beliefs, Texts on by .

Last week at JELO, a weekly interdenominational learning program at NYU’s Bronfman Center, Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, the University Chaplain entered the room with an incomplete Torah scroll. Rabbi Sarna gathered the crowd of over 60 students and announced that this past summer a man told him that he wanted to donate a Torah to the Bronfman Center. Rabbi Sarna agreed but suggested that instead of returning with a completed Torah scroll, the students would help complete the scroll.Each week for the next few weeks, a different student will get to add a letter to the Torah scroll. Rabbi Sarna also introduced a halakhic question:”If a person’s grandparents or parents have already fulfilled the mitzvah of writing a Torah scroll, do their children still need to write one, or can their obligation be fulfilled through their parents or grandparents?”


Rabbi Sarna’s answer was touching:”A person cannot fulfill their obligation to write a Torah scroll through someone else, and they cannot fulfill it simply by knowing that someone who came before them wrote a Torah scroll. We must each have a direct link to the Torah, not a disconnected one. Perhaps we can learn from this that we must each have a personal, unique connection to the Torah and make the Torah our own. This commandment to write our own Torah embodies this idea of personalizing the Torah.”

Learn more about the mitzvah of writing a Torah and the laws regarding this commandment in MJL’s article on Sofrut.

Posted on February 9, 2009

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

The Kosher Quandary

This entry was posted in Beliefs, Practices on by .

Last night I attended The Kosher Quandary: Ethics and Kashruth, which was the inaugural event of Yeshiva University’s new student organization TEIQU, A Torah Exploration of Ideas, Questions and Understanding. The debate was moderated by Simcha Gross and Gilah Kletenik who jointly spearheaded the event and founded TEIQU.


The room was packed with hundreds of people, students from all different colleges as well as professors, parents, and nearby residents. Cameras and sound systems were visible at every turn, namely the New York Times and PBS.
The panelists consisted of Rabbi Menachem Genack, Rabbi Dr. Basil Herring, Rabbi Avi Shafran, and Shmuly Yanklowitz. Gilah Kletenik opened the discussion with a brief history of “kosher quandaries” as well as posing the opening questions to the panelists. “What if any is the relationship between ethics and kashrut? How should Orthodox organizations certify meat?”

Although I cannot fully recount nearly everything the panelists discussed, I will try and give you a sampling of each.

Rabbi Avi Shafran currently serves as Agudath Israel of America’s director of public affairs and the American head of Am Echad. He opened his statements in a cautionary note stating that he knows that his opinions are not as “popular” or as discussed as the other panelist opinions. He also said that whatever he says he is not judging people but rather things, for only God judges people.

He began his response with a metaphor for the relationship between kashrut and ethics.  He said they are like personal hygiene and poetry. A great poet may opt not to shower, but this does not affect his poetry. Kosher food producers are required to uphold ethical standards, but if they don’t, the kashrut of the food is not affected. Ethics are independent of kashrut.

Rabbi Shafran went on to speak about Hekhsher Tzedek and claimed that the initiative “conflates and confuses two Jewish concepts (ethics & kashruth).”

“Should food producers be held accountable for these wrongdoings?” he asked. “Of course they should” he responded, “but should organizations and people in the kashruth industry be more accountable than other Jewish organizations? Jewish ethics is a meta concept-not limited to kashruth.”

He went on to state that “Hekhsher Tzedek was conceived out of sin because we have no idea if the charges are true, and I don’t say that lightly…It is Jewishly wrong to assume guilt based on accusations, it is unethical.”


As Orthodox Jews we have reverence of the past and those who lie closer to the past…These matters must be brought to the attention of the elders (gedolim) of the community.”

Rabbi Genack currently serves as the Rabbinic Administrator/CEO of the OU’s Kashruth Division. Since 1980, he has overseen the certification program of some 4,500 food production facilities in 68 countries.

He took the podium and began by stating:

It is no mistake that the Rambam puts Hilhot Kashruth in the section of Kedusha. Furthermore the Ramban, in his well known commentary on the Torah, states that “kedoshim tehiyu,” or “You Shall be Holy.” It is an overarching principle, and it must be because, as the Ramban says, it is possible to fully follow the halakhic guidelines of the Torah  and still be a menuval birshut hatorah or disgusting in the eyes of the torah.… But has the Kashruth been compromised? That is not true.

We are deeply concerned with the perception of kosher to the world, and world ethics and kashruth are linked. I have met with Rabbi Allen and Rabbi Seigel, (founders of Hekhsher Tzedek) but with some of the standards they propose, more than half of the food industry would be unethical according to those standards. I believe that these matters are better handled by the federal authorities. They have the mandate and the manpower. We must be humble in what we can handle.

What defined the Jewish home for generations was having a kosher home. Erosion of the perception of kosher will affect the identity of Jews who are not affiliated. In this way Hekhsher Tzedek, the initiative itself, it’s something we should applaud and encourage. Continue reading

Posted on December 10, 2008

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

The Virgin Bride

This entry was posted in Life on by .

In recent months I have received a flurry of wedding invitations. I have also been helping plan my sister’s wedding, which is in two weeks.


With this influx of invitations, I have started to pay closer attention to the Hebrew text which usually mirrors the English text on the invitation.

What I found was quite disturbing:

On the English side of the invitation it says “honored children” and then states the names of the man and woman who are getting married.  On the Hebrew side of the invitation there are two extra statements.  Above the woman’s name it states: “The virgin bride who is praised” or just simply “the virgin bride.” Above the man’s name it states “The young distinguished boy.”

When I pointed out these offensive words to people, many responded by stating that the woman is also referred to as a virgin bride in the marriage contract (ketubah). However, I believe that although it can be taken offensively in the marriage contract as well, I can understand it better, because, after all, it is a contract with both parties entering into the marriage under certain assumptions, in many cases the understanding that the bride is a virgin.

But on an invitation is it really necessary to have the phrase “the virgin bride” placed right on top of the woman’s name?

In my humble opinion, it is not only immodest and tasteless but it belittles the woman to nothing more than a sexual object that is being flaunted and bought by her “distinguished” husband.


It is surprising to me that in a culture that is so obsessed with modesty or tz’ni’ut such a phrase would be allowed on a document which is sent out to hundreds and sometimes a thousand people.

If you happen to be a woman making a wedding any time in the near future, keep in mind that you are more that just a virgin bride.

Posted on November 21, 2008

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Messiah & Ignorance

This entry was posted in Beliefs, History on by .

I recently received a bizarre email that went a little like this: “The following are reasons for why the Mashiach is coming the next year.”

obama_in_the_rain.jpgI’m unsure of who the author of this email was because it was a forward, but the author went on to list 10 reasons, many of which were half truths, myths, and statements of outright ignorance. But the most interesting reason for why we are truly in the midst of the messiah was this one:

# 6. Barack Obama as President

He’s young and inexperienced as well as questionable loyalty and friendship to Israel. With all that’s going on with our economy and global markets, in addition to Obama’s liberal viewpoints it seems very dangerous to have him as a commander in chief.

Hmmm…so let me get this straight, Barack Obama is going to be one of the catalysts to bringing the Mashiach?

Today in the office, I was telling my fellow MJL staff how proud I was of America, that we had truly accomplished something historic. But this email reminded me of all the comments I had heard over the course of the election such as “Barack Obama rallies people like Hitler and it scares me” or perhaps many of the status’ on Facebook after Obama was elected which read “I’m moving to Israel..asap.”

I simply don’t understand why people feel the need to vilify Barack Obama, when he has not even stepped foot into office yet. I do not believe that we should be ruled by “fear” politics or in the case if this email, ruled by a religion of fear.

The email I received listed many current events, such as the economic crisis, Iran’s declaration to wipe Israel off the map, and global warming. The author was using each of these as “reasons” for why the Messiah is about to arrive. At the end of the email, it stated that we must quickly arise and repent. I realized that the author of the email was using fear and malicious stereotypes and generalizations to convince me to repent.

I can only hope that in the coming months our country will continue to be united, but the true test will be for those who refuse to give Obama a chance: The people who never once gave him the benefit of the doubt and who continue to malign his personal character on baseless claims. If you happen to be the author of that email that I received, or if you simply by into the nonsense which I have recounted I respectfully ask you to reconsider your claims against him, research his ideas, who he is considering for his cabinet, and listen to him speak.

Before you flee to Israel asap, maybe you should have a little hope in the American electoral process and this great country, which has given the Jewish people more opportunities then they have ever had before.

Posted on November 6, 2008

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy