Musings of a Ba’al Koreh on Purim


 Unlike other Yomim Tovim, we choose how to spend Purim, more or less.  There is only so much variety in how a traditional Jew can observe Pesach or Sukkos, Rosh Hashana or Yom Kippur.  Purim, however, has that odd combination of no איסור מלאכה, and a healthy--but not overwhelming--number of מצוות that, in practice, hardly take a full day to observe.  That means there is a lot of time to do other stuff.
    Many people work on Purim, out of necessity or otherwise.  Some spend the day distributing funds to the poor.  Most are busy delivering משלוח מנות or engaged in other forms of revelry, sober or otherwise.  And many are preparing lavish feasts, watching the children, and taking older boys to visit their rebbe. 
    I spend the day reading the megillah.

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Queen Begs…and Bam! (Or Vashti’s Lament)

I will not come before the king

I will not come for anything!

Would you, could you in a coach?

His majesty you must approach.


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Income Taxes 2015


In my last article I discussed some last-minute tax law changes that were expected. They indeed came through in December, and they are not earth-shattering. Teachers can deduct $250 in expenses, and college tuition gets a $4,000 deduction or a tax credit, whichever you prefer. And mortgage insurance premiums are now deductible.

Another mortgage-related change is a big deal. It is called “exclusion from income for discharge of mortgage debt,” and here is what it means: Say you are underwater in your mortgage, owing the bank more than what your residence is worth. The mortgage company might “write off ” some of the debt, and you now officially owe less principal. Normally, if someone forgives debt that you owe him, you have to claim the forgiven amount as income. This included home mortgages that were renegotiated, which could become a disaster. This new provision saves people who are in that situation.

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UJA-President, Alisa Doctoroff Radical Support of Palestinian Non-Violent Activism, And New Israel Fund


Expose Uncovers Extreme Anti-Israel Financial Support From UJA President -Alisa Robbins Doctoroff, President of the UJA-Federation of New York, the largest local philanthropy in the world claims to lead an organization whose mission is to “care for people in need, inspire a passion for Jewish life and learning, and strengthen Jewish communities in New York, in Israel, and around the world.” She was appointed to this position on July 1, 2013 – and until today no one has researched her background.  Unfortunately for her, that time is over.

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Israel in the Crosshairs The Current Threat and its Possible Outcome

israeli flag

A curious headline appeared online last summer: “Turkey Captures Bird, Accuses It of Spying for Israel.” (The Blaze, July 28, 2013) This headline was not a joke. Rather, it is but one of many bizarre accusations that are daily fare in many parts of the world, and reflect the only-too-real perceptions of its peoples. Nor is it merely a war of words. The headlines are accompanied by increasingly frequent violence against Israel and Jews in general.

As Purim approaches, the Jewish people once again finds itself in the crosshairs of its enemies. Purim also reminds us that attacks on Jews and Israel are nothing new. But, as if to counter the frightening reality of being surrounded by enemies, the Megillah’s hope-inspiring subtext also reveals that those who attempt to destroy the People of Israel are the ones who in the end disappear.

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Have Your Pancake and Eat It Too: A Healthier Take on a Breakfast Favorite


On the list of iconic breakfast foods, pancakes and waffles have to be right near the top. Surpassed in popularity only by the cold crunch of cereal and milk, a stack of steaming hot pancakes or waffles, fresh off the griddle, can brighten a cold winter day like nothing else.

Maybe they’re a special treat in your house, reserved for weekends or holidays. Or perhaps the griddle or waffle iron is the most important appliance in your kitchen. Either way, we’re not the first society to have enjoyed this comfort food. In his book Feast: Why Humans Share Food, archaeologist Martin Jones suggests that pancakes were probably the earliest and most popular cereal food of prehistoric society. The earliest recorded references to pancakes are in fifth-century, BCE, Greek plays. The Greeks called their pancakes tagenias, from the word tagenon—frying pan. (Note the similarity to the Hebrew letagein, to fry!) Waffles are not quite as ancient as pancakes, but food scholars believe they have been around since the early Middle Ages, with the earliest known recipe from a 14th-century French manuscript.

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Bina’s Lobell’s Super-Secret Diary, by Ruchama Feuerman

bina lobel

This is an important book for children – as well as a great story. Bina’s Lobell’s Super-Secret Diary, a chapter-book by author Ruchama Feuerman, addresses an issue crossing all lines of secular schools and Jewish religious schools: bullying.

            Nine-year-old Bina attends a Jewish Montessori home-school with four other girls. A typical Torah-observant fourth-grader, she is a bit insecure, trying to work on her faults; asking why, if eating carrots can turn your skin orange, eating blueberries can’t turn your eyes blue; being careful about shmiras halashon; and pondering hair:

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Ask the Shadchan


To the Shadchan:

My son, who is in yeshiva, just turned 21. Like me, he has seen the ads and articles in various publications about the shidduch crisis, including the idea that boys should get married at a younger age. (The assumption is that eliminating the age gap between boys and girls would help equalize the numbers of boys and girls in the “market.”)

He is not asking me to help him find a wife, so maybe he is not ready yet – although I get the feeling he is worried about it. I, too, am not sure he is ready to get married. But looking ahead, I am thinking about what to say if he does bring it up. Normally, I would encourage him to wait until he is older, but I am wondering whether these ads apply to him. How would I know if he is ready to get married? What kinds of qualities in him should I be looking for? How can he and I know when would be the right time to start searching?

I occasionally insert the topic of “what kind of girl are you looking for” into our conversations. Should I continue that, or should I avoid it, so as not to encourage him to pursue marriage at this time? Any guidance you can give me would be appreciated.

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Behind the Scenes at the Jewish Deafblind Shabbaton

shabbos table

Before Baltimorean Sara Leah Kovacs read about the first Jewish Deafblind Shabbaton, which was held in 2010, she assumed you had to be totally deaf and totally blind, like Helen Keller, to participate. When she found out that it was open to people with varying degrees of dual hearing and vision loss, she eagerly signed up for the 2011 and 2013 Shabbatons. At those events, she led tefila (prayer) classes, and is now also the Deafblind delegate to the planning committee for this year’s Shabbaton, along with Deaf delegates David and Sheryl Michalowski.

Mrs. Kovacs will make the 17-mile trip to the Pearlstone Conference and Retreat Center, in Reisterstown, where the Shabbaton will be held this year, from June 12 to 14. Others come from farther away. Mordy Weis will travel 5,817 miles to attend the Shabbaton for a third time. “I gain from the Shabbaton by meeting different people with different backgrounds and different vision issues,” says Mr. Weis, who works for a fabric design company in Holon, Israel. “My favorite part is the ‘panel,’ which debates various issues. At the last Shabbaton, I was asked to help interpret in shul by tactile signing for a Deafblind male, because his female support service provider (SSP) could not accompany him in the men’s section.”

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Venahapoch Hu: From Purim-Pooper to Purim Queen

delivering shalach monos

As the winter wanes and Purim draws near, my family begins to hear comments wherever we go:

“So what are the Raczkowskis dressing up like this year?” or “Can’t wait to see what the Raczkowskis come up with this Purim….” 

Most people have the one Yom Tov that they especially love or identify with. Mine has become Purim. To explain how this came to be, I have to take you back to the beginning. So make yourself comfortable and listen to the whole megillah.

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