June 1, 2023

Prayers to Open the Heart and Soul for the High Holy Days

Editor’s Note: To prepare for the High Holy Days, Fresh Ideas reprints five prayers, some unique to Rosh Hashanah, Kol Nidrey and Yom Kippur liturgy and some that are used during both the high holy days and during the year, from Marcia Falk’s book, The Days Between: Blessings, Poems, and Directions of the Heart for the Jewish High Holiday Season, published in the HBI Series on Jewish Women. In her book, Falk recreates the holiday’s key prayers from an inclusive perspective, often accompanying them with quotes from the Psalms and prophets.

Lighting the Candles for Rosh Hashana

Rise up, shine for your light is here. — Isaiah 60:1


May our hearts be lightened, 

our spirits born anew


as we light the holiday candles

and greet the newborn year.


Blessing the Children

The squares of the city will be filled with boys and girls playing. — Zechariah 8:5


(The child’s name) —


Be who you are, 

and may you be blessed 

in all that you are.


Fruit of the Tree: Apples and Honey

The trees of the field

Will give forth their fruit. 

— Leviticus 26:14


Go, eat choice foods

and drink sweet drinks

and send portions to those

who have not provided for themselves, 

for the day is holy. 

— Nehemiah 8:10


Let us bless the source of life

that swells the tree’s fruit with sweetness.


May the year be sweet as apples dipped in honey

and full as the ripe pomegranate

with blessings.


Tallit: Prayer Shawl

Wrapped in a robe of light,

Spreading the skies like a canopy.

-Psalms 104:2


Enveloped in light, I wrap around me

the widespread wings of the tallit. 


Kol Nidrey: All Vows

All vows —

all promises and pledges —


that we have made to ourselves

and that no longer serve

for the good — 


may their grip be loosened


that we be present of mind and heart

to the urgency of the hour.


The Days Between: Blessings, Poems, and Directions of the Heart for the Jewish High Holiday Season (HBI Series on Jewish Women) by Marcia Falk, makes a great holiday gift or addition to your Jewish library. For more information on the prayers included, visit Brandeis University Press

Blog compiled by Amy Powell, HBI Assistant Director


Add Some History to Your Holiday Table

By Gabrielle Rossmer Gropman

Do you want to add some history to your holiday table?  The German Jewish Cookbook: Recipes & History of a Cuisine, gives you German-Jewish recipes with the backdrop of German culinary history.

After touring parts of the U.S. and doing cooking demonstrations, my daughter and co-author, Sonya Gropman, and I  traveled to Germany in early April for a few special events related to our cookbook. Our previous experiences in Germany showed us a vast amount of interest in all things Jewish, especially things about the real lives of Jewish people, both historically and in contemporary times. Our stories about how Jews ate when they were German Jews – that is until the end of the 1930’s – are of great interest to the public that shows up for our events. This includes foodies, peaceniks, Jews, non-Jews, chefs, and people of all ages.

Credit: Sonya Gropman

Bamberg, the city where I was born, has a magnificent medieval area. The famous Bamberg Cathedral features beautiful sculpture, and the legendary food traditions speak for themselves. Bakers make a particularly flaky small croissant-like roll called a Bamberger hoernchen (little horn). The farmer’s market sells produce from nearby farms including greens, radishes, carrots, asparagus (the season had just begun), to name a few items. There are several traditional bakeries, which have been successfully fighting the trend of mass-produced baked products. Two of those bakers, Edgar Kerling and Alfred Seel, regularly bake the challah that Germans ate before World War II, called berches. Both bakers are aware of the Jewish roots of the bread. Members of the small Jewish liberal congregation in Bamberg order it regularly from Mr. Seel, but they primarily continue to bake this white braided loaf with poppy seeds on top to please their non-Jewish clientele. Sonya interviewed both men for a feature article in TASTE Magazine.

Gabrielle Rossmer Gropman & Sonya Gropman, Credit: James Hull

In Bamberg, we gave a book talk in the centuries’ old Historical Museum right behind the Cathedral. Emmy Zink, who we highlight in the book, joined us even though she is now virtually blind and in her mid 90’s.  She talked about the time when she, as a young girl, helped her mother working in the household of a Jewish family to whom she felt very close. She is a zeitzeuge (historical witness) with whom we have become very close.

Next, we travelled to Berlin where highlights of our stay included a well-attended bookstore talk at the English-language bookstore, Shakespeare and Sons, and a pop-up dinner that we prepared in conjunction with our chef/host Ulrich Krauss, owner of the Zagreus Projekt, a unique venue for art and dinners. In this case, we offered a special German-Jewish menu and a chance to talk about the book.  We were in the kitchen, yes, but we deferred to the chefs and the meal was delicious. Learn more about our visit on NPR radio station, KCRW-Berlin, where interviewer Sylvia Cunningham asked great questions.

Credit: Don Gropman

Overall, the sense of cooking from our book in Germany is so different because the food is familiar to people there. Almost every German can relate some, if not all, of the recipes to the kitchens of their grandmas and we had a few experiences where the recipes brought tears of remembrance to non-Jews who ate food that held strong memories from their childhood, just as the same food does for Jewish audience members in New York.

Gabrielle Rossmer Gropman, ‘59, with her daughter, Sonya Gropman, is author of “The German Jewish Cookbook: Recipes & History of a Cuisine,” published in the HBI Series on Jewish Women.

Make Your Own Haggadah With Gendered Themes

By Amy Powell

Just before Pesach in 2011, the New York Times reported some important news about gender and Passover: The fusty Maxwell House Haggadah, offered free in grocery stores with a purchase of Maxwell House coffee (this year there was one in my matzo box), adopted some gender-neutral language.

Rather than calling G-d a king, they used “monarch,” and changed the four sons to the four “children.”

Today, there are so many varied haggadot with more profound changes relating to gender than simply adopting gender-neutral language. Haggadot exist for a spectrum of observances, age groups and personal preferences, many with updated themes of freedom, plagues, renewal and more.

For those searching for readings and themes — and perhaps not ready to invest in new haggadot — there are many downloadable versions. HBI has compiled a few tools to help you design your own seder with an eye to HBI’s mission of developing fresh ideas about Jews and gender.

For example, JOFA, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, compiled numerous  Pesach Divrei Torah, described as “by women, for all,” in a 32-page free download titled Shema Bekolah, Hear Her Voice.

Another resource, is JewishBoston.com and The Wandering is Over Haggadah: A Seder For Everyone, their free and downloadable, contemporary and customizable haggadah. Here, you will find readings and options on anti-Semitism, mental health, immigration, feminism, labor rights, social justice, climate change, racial justice, inclusion, Israel, LGBTQ liberation and more. The contributors include The Jewish Climate Action Network (JCAN), JCRC, ADL, Ruderman Foundation, Jewish Family & Children’s Services, Emilia Diamant, JewishBoston.com, New England Jewish Labor Committee and others.

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, known as the “Velveteen Rabbi,” created a downloadable haggadah, the Velveteen Rabbi’s Haggadah for Pesach, out of her desire for a seder text which cherishes “the tradition and also augments that tradition with contemporary poetry, moments of mindfulness, a theology of liberation, and sensitivity to different forms of oppression.”

Jewish Family & Children’s Services released two downloadable haggadot related to healing and wholeness: the Chaverim Shel Shalom Haggadah and the Betty Ann Greenbaum Miller Center for Jewish Healing Friendly Visitor Passover Seder.

Haggadot.com has a tool called Let’s Make Your Passover Haggadah Together, with a platform that allows you to create a custom seder, using content aggregated from more than 150 individuals, artists and 13 organizations. These can be tailored and either downloaded or printed for your seder.

I’m probably not banning Maxwell House completely. I have a soft spot for a wine stain that may have been created by people who have since passed away. It’s also useful to have multiple copies of at least one haggadah with every single verse of Dayenu! But as the four children remind us, it’s better to have a multitude of voices around the table, asking questions and heightening our awareness of what the holiday means.

Amy Powell is the assistant director of HBI.

The LGBTQ Jewish Anthology

By Violet Fearon

There is a tendency to closely associate LGBTQ identities with the modern era, as enormous strides in visibility and acceptance have been made in the past few decades. This was certainly Noam Sienna’s experience: growing up in a “very accepting Jewish community” in Toronto, he felt welcome, but also “like my identity as a queer Jew was seen as innovative or novel.”

This worldview was turned upside-down when, while an undergraduate at Brandeis, Sienna attended a talk by Peter Cole on his book, The Dream of the Poem: Hebrew Poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain (Princeton University Press, 2007). After Cole discussed the medieval homoerotic poetry of Jewish scholars like Yehuda haLevi and Shmuel haNagid, Sienna was struck by the sudden possibility that there was a vast history of LGBTQ Jewish topics that had been neglected or obscured in his own Jewish education; he wanted “to learn about Jewish history in a way that respected all the facets of my identity.”

A decade later, Sienna—now a doctoral candidate in Jewish history at the University of Minnesota—is publishing a groundbreaking work with the support of the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute, tentatively titled: The LGBTQ Jewish Anthology: a Reader of Primary Sources from the Talmud to Stonewall. Over his years of research, Sienna has shifted from a simple desire to share these primary historical sources with others to a hope that they will serve as “raw material for further work.”

But The LGBTQ Jewish Anthology is not meant just for academia. Sienna hopes “people will take all the stories in this book and use them to write other books and articles, incorporate them into college courses or classroom activities, design summer camp programs or synagogue lectures with them, make films and write poems and paint pictures about them.”

The entries in The LGBTQ Jewish Anthology are varied; about one third of them have never before been published in English. In totality, they form a collection of documents relating to a wide variety of same-sex relationships and homoerotic desires, transitions between and across gender identities, and ambiguity in how bodies are gendered. As an example, Sienna relates a particularly compelling entry: the story of Esther/Jacques, the first recorded Jew in Canada. Born Esther Brandeau in early 18th-century France, as a teenager they chose to live as Jacques La Fargue, a Christian boy. After traveling around Europe, Esther/Jacques reached present-day Quebec; but when their birth identity was revealed (and they refused to convert to Christianity), Esther/Jacques was deported back to France.

The story of Esther/Jacques reveals the uncertainty inherent in exploring these texts. As Sienna explains, “one way to read this source would be through a trans lens, looking at Esther/Jacques as someone who understood themselves to be a different gender than they were assigned at birth. Another way would be to imagine why else Esther/Jacques might have chosen to live as a man: to pursue marriage or partnership with a woman? To seek new professional, economic, or social opportunities? To leave a restrictive or oppressive family life? Some combination of all the above? All these readings are possible, and they can all co-exist.”

A tempting question arises: which interpretation is the truth? But Sienna steers us away from that line of thought, and towards a more complex perspective. “I’m not suggesting that I know the “true” story of Esther/Jacques’ life,” says Sienna, “but I do believe that reading their story alongside our own contemporary experiences and identities adds a richness and depth that had been previously ignored.”

In  The LGBTQ Jewish Anthology, Sienna has assembled a rich historical exploration of the intersection between Jewish and LGBTQ identities. His work documents the persecution faced by LGBTQ Jews (multiple entries concern individuals who died in concentration camps, who not only faced harsh treatment from Nazis, but were socially ostracized by other prisoners; other entries document the execution of Jews convicted of sodomy by the Inquisition, and the difficulties faced by gay and lesbian American Jews in the McCarthy Era), but also the outpouring of creativity which emerged from this pain. The many examples of poetry, drama, memoir, art, and midrash presented in the book all celebrate the richness of LGBTQ Jewish identity, and the important (and unacknowledged) role that LGBTQ lives and experiences have played throughout Jewish history around the world.

More personally, Sienna himself views his own queer identity as “inseparable” from his Jewish identity. Being queer and Jewish have both directed him in similar ways:  “towards a social orientation that pays particular attention to individuals and communities left marginalized and vulnerable; towards an appreciation of ancestry and family, both biological and chosen; and towards building a safer and more loving world for all people.”

Sienna’s anthology will be published in the fall of 2018 through Print-O-Craft Press, but pre-orders will begin within the next few months. For information, sign up at printocraftpress.com.

Learn more about the HBI Research Awards.


Violet Fearon, a freshman and Humanities Fellow, is the HBI student blogger.

Noam Sienna, Brandeis ’11, is a Jewish educator, artist, and doctoral candidate in Jewish history at the University of Minnesota. His anthology of LGBTQ Jewish history is slated for publication in 2018. He received a 2016 HBI Research Award in their newest category, LGBTQ Studies.

Zionism and Feminism 101: A Guide by Janet Freedman

By Amy Powell

Last year, sparked by two widely read articles in The New York Times and The Nation, a lively and contentious debate on the place of Zionism within feminism emerged with well known voices facing off on either side.

Is the controversy new? Prior to the publications of the articles that kicked off so much debate, the op-ed in The New York Times by Emily Shire, Bustle politics editor, Does Feminism Have Room for Zionists, and the rejoinder in The Nation, an interview with Palestinian-American feminist activist Linda Sarsour, Can You Be a Zionist Feminist? Linda Sarsour Says No, the issue bubbled up often in within the history of the application of intersectionality in both the women’s movement and the academy.

In an effort to understand the context, vocabulary and history, Janet Freedman, resident scholar at the Brandeis University Women’s Studies Research Center and member of the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute’s Academic Advisory Committee, published “Feminism and Zionism” a free, downloadable pamphlet published through the Academic Engagement Network’s Pamphlet Series.

The pamphlet outlines the issues and their history along with useful definitions, turning points and trends. Subheadings include The Linking of Women’s Rights and Anti-Zionism: The United Nations Women’s Conferences, Ms. Magazine Responds, The National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA) and Its Jewish Caucus, Coming Home to a Changed Community, Coming Out as a Zionist, An Assault on Academic Freedom and Democracy, My Experience in 2015, A Surprise That Should Not Have Surprised Me, Suggestions for Action and Conclusion: What Has Worked for You?

Freedman also discusses basic questions like, “Should you stay or should you go?” when an organization feels anti-Zionist or anti-Semitic. She urges people to continue to march, to join, but with greater knowledge of the platforms and issues espoused by various organizations and activist responses. For example, Freedman remained a member of the National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA) despite the adoption of a pro-BDS resolution and is now urging the association to provide a hospitable and open environment for Jewish members that goes beyond defining Judaism in the simplistic framework of one’s view of Israel and Palestine.

“When you walk away, you ensure that your views are not heard,” Freedman says, “so, it’s important to stay and try to have a meaningful conversation.”

Freedman began publishing on Zionism and feminism two years ago. Between November, 2015 and March, 2017, Freedman wrote a series of blogs on related topics for Fresh Ideas and The Sisterhood  including A Statement in Opposition to the NWSA Resolution on BDS, For the Women’s Studies Association, the BDS Vote Was Over Before It Began  and Unfinished Business: Remaining in the NWSA, Post BDS about her experiences as one of the lone voices speaking at the 2015 National Women’s Studies Association conference in opposition to a Boycott, Divestment and Sanction resolution against Israel before the membership.

The Academic Engagement Network (AEN), an organization of faculty members, administrators, and staff members from American college and university campuses across the United States committed to opposing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, affirming academic freedom and freedom of expression in the university community, and promoting robust discussion of Israel on campus, invited her to create the pamphlet after she wrote these blogs. Her work on the Zionism and Feminism pamphlet led to another response to Shire and Sarsour in Fresh Ideas, co-authored with colleague Ruth Nemzoff,  a resident scholar at the WSRC, entitled, Not My Feminism.

One of the most useful parts of Freedman’s pamphlet is the Suggestions for Action, ways that “faculty members can work toward fostering a more positive climate on campus and in academic associations.” The goal is to find “the words to say it and the ways to do it” including the challenge of finding words to clearly explain one’s views in an increasingly polarized political climate.

Although this work grew out of Freedman’s experience within an academic organization, she is eager to discuss and encourage discussion of the controversy of Zionism and feminism outside the academy and to learn from the experiences of others.

Says Freedman, “My greatest goal for this pamphlet is that it serves as an impetus for productive dialogue on these important topics.”

Download a free copy of Feminism and Zionism. 

Dr. Janet Freedman is a Resident Scholar at the Brandeis University Women’s Studies Research Center, a member of the Academic Advisory Committee of the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute and the author of Reclaiming the Feminist Vision: Consciousness Raising and Small Group Practice (McFarland, 2014). She has a grant from AEN to begin a study group on Zionism and feminism.

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