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Man Sues Trump Hotel Over Non-Kosher Turkey Sandwich

Man Sues Trump Hotel Over Non-Kosher Turkey Sandwich


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A customer claims the hotel served him a non-kosher meal

Wikimedia/Jonnyboyca

An Orthodox Jewish man is suing the Trump Soho Hotel for allegedly trying to pass off a non-kosher sandwich as a kosher one.

A man who says he paid $146 for a kosher meal from the Trump Soho hotel says management there tried to trick him with a non-kosher sandwich, and he’s so angry he’s suing in response.

According to the New York Post, an Orthodox Jewish man named Dan Miller was attending a business conference at the Trump Soho Hotel. Miller says he paid the hotel $146 for a kosher meal while attending the conference, but when lunchtime came around he was served a plain, cold turkey sandwich of suspicious origin.

Miller’s suit maintains that he asked several employees about where the sandwich came from and if they were sure it was kosher. He was suspicious because it was only wrapped once in plastic, while he would expect a kosher meal to be wrapped twice and labeled with a seal indicating that it had been prepared according to kosher laws. Miller says that employees assured him the sandwich came from a well-known kosher deli called Noah’s Ark, but when Miller contacted the deli later, employees there said the restaurant had not made any deliveries to the Trump hotel that day.

Miller says that a food and beverage manager eventually confessed that the hotel had forgotten to place his food order, and instead of admitting it, they tried to pass off a non-kosher sandwich as kosher. Miller, who ate a bite of the sandwich, is livid.

“The hotel staff panicked and inappropriately responded by serving him a non-kosher meal that was made to appear kosher,” his lawsuit alleges.

Miller is suing the Trump Soho hotel for unspecified damages.


One True Sandwich

There&rsquos a sub shop not too far from where I live that serves one kind of sub:

Their grammar and punctuation skills are about on par with my abilities as a photographer. And they don&rsquot have mustard or mayo or different kinds of bread or cheeses. Your choices are as follows: whole or half.

It&rsquos not my favorite sandwich in the entire universe, but it&rsquos good enough that I&rsquoll drive several miles to get one every now and then.

My favorite sandwich is one I make about once a year. I got the recipe from a Food Network program, I think, but have modified it a bit. Anyway, it consists of bacon, freshly carved turkey, jack cheese, avocados and balsamic mayo on grilled ciabatta bread.

I am also fond of the post-Thanksgiving leftovers sandwich: turkey and mayo on Cuban bread with a few dollops of stuffing and a slathering of homemade cranberry sauce.


All You Need To Know About Jewish Culture

Judaism, the religion of the Jews (or Yahudis), is believed to found its roots in the land of the Kingdom of Judah. Aging over 4,000 years, it is believed to be the oldest monotheistic religion of the world, tracing back to the Babylonian Era (538 BCE) and ancient Roman and Greek empires.

The Jewish culture we know and see today was formed in ancient Israel and evolved through the different ages and reigns. The teaching of the Bible holds the center stage of cultural briefs and ideology of Jewish Culture – relating the life experiences and social cultures to an all-powerful God and his teachings.

What is Jewish culture?

Jewish Culture is the way of life, beliefs, values, and ideology of the Jews. The culture that originated and grew in Israel and its neighboring regions. The relation of the Jews to the culture isn’t just related to religious beliefs but also their linkage to the land of Israel, the teachings of Jewish text, and their history.

The culture that is made up of its literature, art, beliefs, and practices as well as their social customs. Thus, Jewish culture and traditions involve an element of religion alongside that of practice and life.

Furthermore, the Diaspora history of the Jews, especially those followed by the Roman Empire, has significantly contributed to shaping the culture as it is today.

Being scattered across various geographical regions and exposure to varied cultural and social dynamics, Jewish culture evolved into multiple versions of itself, unique to each community and geography.

The Jewish culture in regions like the Middle East and other parts of Asia share the characteristic Jewish attributes but differ slightly from Jewish communities of Israel, Europe, and America.

Jewish culture has had quite an extensive life and lived eras. Furthermore, the culture has experienced some major historical events and cultural changes, leaving behind stories to tell and facts to quote

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Facts about Jewish culture

The Jewish culture reflects the ideas of Judaism and how the Jews mold their lives around such beliefs and practices. Having a lifetime of extravagant incidents and eventful history, the branches of Jewish culture has spread across, creating a biome of its own. Here are some essential aspects and Jewish cultural facts.

Five Torah Pentateuchs

The foundation for Jewish culture is rooted in a set of 5 books of Moses – Torah. The Torah introduces and talks about the core values and ideology of Judaism, which, in turn, transforms into the beliefs and practices of Jews.

According to the Hebrew relics, the Torah (written Torah) was passed on to humanity by God through his Prophets along with the oral teachings – Mishna (as oral Torah). The written instructions, along with the oral teachings, enlighten the path of life and peace.

An original Torah written on a cow skin (KLAF)

613 commandments of God

The Torah defines the way to live – leading the path to the divine. According to the books, there are 613 commandments of God, known as ‘mitzvahs,’ laying the deeds and direction for the Jews.

At the age of 12 and 13, Jewish children (girls and boys, respectively) commit themselves to the practices of mitzvahs and step into Jewish adulthood. Itis is accompanied by ceremonies, Bar Mitzva for boys, where the boys read a section from the Torah and Bat Mitzva for girls, where they are celebrating their adulthood.

One Jewish people

All the different sects – Jews, Israelites, and Hebrews are all the same Jewish people. According to the preaches of Judaism, God revealed himself to Abraham and introduced the principles of monotheism. Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, was renamed as Israel, descending into a family of Israel. Later, the people of the tribe of Judah recognized themselves as Yehudim – hence the Jews are often referred to as Yehudi.

Slavery in Egypt

According to Jewish tradition, the Jewish people formed into people during the slavery period in Egypt. According to the texts in Exodus, the early Jewish people served as slaves to the Egyptians. Soon after, God (through Moses) freed the Jews of their distressful condition. As per Jewish values, this experience propagated the sentiment of charity and empathy to the less fortunate and laid the Torah’s community ethic of ‘tzedakah’.

Simultaneous religious and national identity

Jewish identity is a national identity but can also exist regardless of geographical location. Rather, being it is related to one perceiving oneself as a Jew and relating to Jewish beliefs. According to Jewish laws, any child born to a Jewish mother is considered a Jew, irrespective of their beliefs or following Jewish customs. But also, people from other social sects and religions can convert into Judaism.

The Jewish community accepts the converts through a lengthy conversion process and ceremony performed under the observation of a Rabbi . It includes instructions of the commandments of the Torah, an immersion into water, and acceptance of the commandments before a rabbinical court.

Jewish symbols and rituals

Jewish worship uses many sacred objects, some of which are daily use, such as items that need to be worn. Some are used once a year on one of the holidays, like a Seder plate, and some are used once in a lifetime, such as Ketuba, the written marriage agreement between the husband and his wife. Traditional Jewish art has evolved around sacred objects such as scripture, wine goblet, menorah, Seder Haggadah, and other items. The art of the Jewish holy objects is called Judaica.

The Mediterranean cuisine

The Mediterranean cuisine from the Middle East has always been known to offer some of the healthiest and yet delicious food items. Israel is no exception. Residing in the Mediterranean crescent, the Israeli diet is considered among the most nutritious diets from around the world.

Jewish Cuisine and food customs

The Jewish Torah defines the laws of kashrut – the Jewish dietary laws. These laws are structured around what is seen as ‘fit to eat,’ thus establishing kosher (‘Kasher’ in Hebrew, which translates to ‘fit’). For those who follow a kosher diet are required to adhere to the rules of the kashrut.

Although not many Jews follow these rules strictly – how should it be produced or slaughtered (in case of animals) or how it is prepared they follow the directions to respect their culture while keeping up with the external changes.

Jewish food presents various similarities to different cuisines because of their constant migrations and their tradition of adapting other cultures and cuisines into Jewish form. Jewish cuisine, as we know it today, is shaped over decades, driven by kashrut, the diasporic history, and the influence of an adaptation to different regions and traditions on the Jews.

Typical Shabbat dinner table

Ever since the early days, bread has been an integral part of a Jewish diet. It was complemented with agricultural products like grains, vegetables, and milk. Fruits, nuts, and meat were consumed occasionally or on special occasions.

Over time, new products like rice, barley, millet, fish, and a wider variety of fruits were added to the table. During the Greeks and Roman eras, furnished meat like chickens, pheasants, etc. also got their place. However, all through these shifts, the Jews upheld their traditions and culture. They transformed each of these ingredients and their dishes to adhere to the laws of kashrut.

Over recent years, Jewish cuisine has undergone hybridization, while bringing in elements from different Middle Eastern cultures and dishes. At present, the Jewish Israeli cuisine showcases a fantastic blend of different flavors and overlapping techniques from different cultures, creating a fusion cuisine while being authentically Jewish. These are some of the traditional Jewish culture dishes:

1. Gefilte Fish

The Oral Torah defines the food traditions for Shabbat, and the gefilte fish (stuffed fish) fulfills all the rules necessary. This traditional dish is highly popular during the Jewish festival of Passover or Rosh Hashana.

It is made by pressing minced fish into a deboned and intact fish. It is finally being cooked in fish stock. The deboned fish is an essential element of this dish as it is religiously prohibited to pick bones on the table during Shabbat. Check out for the Gefilte fish recipe here.

Gefilte Fish, typical European-Ashkenazi food, fish cutlets (Photo by Mussi Katz)

2. Knish

This baked snack is highly popular among the community. The traditional version of knish includes dough stuffed with mashed potato, kasha, and cheese followed by baking or fried. Some variants of knish are also loaded with black beans, spinach, or sweet potatoes. Again, these are available in different shapes and sizes. Check out for Knish recipe here.

Knish, dough stuffed with mashed potato

3. Pastrami Sandwich

A unique Jewish American creation, Pastrami Sandwich is loved by the Jews across all geographies. For this dish, the pastrami is slow-cooked with broth and corned beef for low heat. Sandwich bread slices are prepared with mustard, coleslaw, and cheese while sandwiching the cooked pastrami mix between them. Check here how to make your own Pastrami.

Delicious Pastrami sandwich

4. Blintz

This Israeli pancake is a lovely delicacy. Most of the favorites, like chocolate, meat, rice, mashed potatoes, and cheese, are rolled into a pancake blanket. Though the Blintz is not associated with any religious event, these cheese-filled rolls are in high demand during Hanukkah. Check out this recipe for tasty Blintz.

Each filling is suitable and delicious

5. Challah

Challah is a beautiful braided and special Jewish bread that is often served during Shabbat and other Jewish holidays. The name is derived from the mitzvah, which refers to separating a portion of bread after braiding. This portion of dough is kept for the Kohen (priest).

The preparation of the bread starts with a dough of eggs, flour, water, sugar, yeast, and salt, and sometimes complemented with raisins and nuts. These are then rolled into ropes and braided. Finally, to be baked. Try this Challah recipe at home.

The melodies of Jewish music

Music is a language that knows no bounds. It breaks through borders, the barriers of spoken language, and appeals to the hearts. Jewish music is an epitome of music and its power.

The Jewish music has flourish and branches out of the lands of Israel for centuries. It is spreading across the Middle East – to Iran, the Mediterranean, parts of Africa and Europe, and even further to the Americas.

The community has nurtured music in its early days, creating some fantastic musical pieces and admirable works. However, due to some uneventful incidents of their history, instrumental music was excluded. Only what stayed was vocal tradition, including a melodic recitation of the Torah for religious services.

There are various citations in the Talmud about the use of musical instruments like trumpets, harps, timbrels, etc., at momentous occasion’s festivities. However, after the hardships suffered under the Babylonians and the fall of Jerusalem under the Roman Rule, instrumental music would only remind the community of the suffering and sorrow.

During these times, the traditional synagogues were purely vocal. Different forms of music were born for religious service and ceremonies – piyyutim (poems), Pizmonim (traditional melodies to praise the god), zemirot, baqashot, and nigun. The instruments played in harmony with the Jewish vocals later, when the Jews reunited in Zion and started to rebuild themselves as a community.

The influence of other musical cultures and forms

For years, Jewish music resisted the music of other cultures and regions, trying to preserve their culture and identity. However, with the winds of time eroding the essence of Jewish music, the Jewish people have started to mingle with the tunes of other cultures.

There are three different streams of Jewish music, each connecting Jewish music to other cultures.

  1. Ashkenazi is the western stream that originated in the west, from Europe and the Americas.
  2. Sephardi forms a connection with the Mediterranean roots – Spain, North Africa, Greece, and Turkey
  3. Mizrahi is the music of the Jews and the one from the east – Arabic cultures.

Jewish traditions and customs

The Halakah, a part of the Jewish Torah, lays a framework of rules and traditions, defining the way of life for the Jews. The Halakah influences not only the religious practices but also the Jewish experience in general. Halacha encompasses all aspects of life and guides the Jew on how to behave, what to eat, what holidays to celebrate, and how, prayers, and more.

1. Shabbat

From a general perspective, Sabbath is looked like a day of the week when Jews cannot work. However, according to Jewish tradition, it is a day of joy, peace, and rest. As per the Jewish literature, the 7 th day of the week is made holy by God and is set aside as ‘a day for rest. In Exodus, it states that God completed the ‘Creation’ in 6 days, and resting on the 7 th .

Exodus strictly prohibits work on Sabbath, while Leviticus mentioned that one should not work on a festive day to contribute towards the festival. Daily activities like cooking, washing, repairing, writing, etc. are also prohibited on Shabbat. Although the rules of Sabbath are quite definitive, Orthodox Jews adhere to them diligently, while the Conservative Jews follow them to a certain degree.

2. 613 Commandments

The Jewish Torah lists 613 Commandments that every Jew must follow and is believed to lead the path to the divine. Out of the 613, 248 rules are favorable and encourages the Jews to perform certain activities. These include following certain religious practices, ways to celebrate festivals, and serving humanity.

The remaining 365 commandments are negative and strictly prohibits the Jews from performing those activities or sins. These include not having a negative emotion or ill thoughts towards others, having illicit relationships within certain relations, defines some social responsibilities, and construct and guidelines for certain religious activities.

3. Jewish Naming rituals

After the birth of a child, the 1 st Shabbat marks an important day. On this day, the infant’s father recites the aliyah (part of Shabbat morning prayer) and seeks god’s blessings for the mother and the child. For a girl child, the naming ceremony is held on the same day, while for a boy child, it is performed after eight days of the birth, after the child has been circumcised. There are no limitations or rules for names, and bear no religious significance. Therefore, the name can be from any language or culture.

4. Jewish culture death

Unlike other cultures, death is considered an essential and sacred event in Jewish culture. In Judaism, life holds a too high standard. When there is a death in a Jewish family, there are extensive rituals associated with the mourning of the person.

According to Jewish tradition, the burial of the dead must not be delayed, and the dead should be buried that day. The treatment of the deceased is called the purity of the dead. It includes cleansing the dead person, an internal and external cleansing of the body, as if the dead person still feels, sees, and hears.

Men care for deceased men, and women tend for deceased women. Each organ of the dead body is washed and cleaned separately. This activity holds excellent value in Jewish culture.

Cremation is not practiced in the Jewish culture. During burials, open caskets are strictly prohibited. Instead, the body is wrapped in a linen shroud all are equal, rich or poor, and placed on the ground itself, not inside a closet. There are burial ceremonies in Kibbutzim and Villages that carry burial inside a Coffin, but this is a small minority. Most of your burial processes in Israel are performed according to Jewish tradition.

The old Jewish cemetery of Prague

The Literature of the Jewish Culture

Literature is an essential component of any culture. It presents a means to understand the ideas of the culture, the knowledge, their history, and unveil the lost past. The Jewish culture has such a long and eventful past the literature is quite sizable too.

Jewish Literature Between the Bible and the Mishnah: A Historical and Literary Introduction - Click for details!

When we speak of the literature of a culture, how do we relate which literature belongs to which culture? It is based on the language of the text or is decided by the culture of the author? Or does the content plays that role?

By either of these definitions and probably even various other aspects, the Jewish literature is vast, contributing some of the greatest literary works and producing fabulous authors. The literary works of the Jewish culture spread across various themes – religious holy books, social, ethical, philosophical, history, and fiction are some of the prominent ones. The Jewish literature includes Yiddish, Arabic, Hebrew, and Jewish American literature under its umbrella.

Classic Jewish literature, Torah book with many commentators

The Yiddish literature originated in the 19 th century in parts of Eastern Europe. The modern Yiddish literature has contributed considerably and some of the great Yiddish authors of those times. Writers like Abraham Sutzkevar, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and others were popular publish in the late 19 th and early 20 th century. Isaac Singer was also awarded the Nobel Prize in 1978.

During the early 19 th century, Hebrew wasn’t spoken or accepted by the masses. And, so Hebrew Literature experienced some hiccups in its early days. However, soon by the mid and latter half of the 19 th century, the literary movement was catching pace, and Hebrew was gaining popularity on the secular and religious fronts.

With more and more writers and poets using Hebrew in their works – fiction, romance, religious texts, poems, and many other forms. Hebrew literature soon transformed from being merely a nationalistic ideology to being a popular and experimented literature.

Jewish holy books

Jewish history is quite extensive and old and has evolved over numerous historical events and turning points. There are multiple sacred and historical texts and oral teachings that have been passed on for ages and between generations.

The Hebrew Bible forms the center of various Jewish beliefs and faith. The written Torah is derived as an extract from the Bible along with the oral Torah – Mishna, Talmud, and Midrash, supplementing the learnings and messages of God.

These books define the way of life and the commandments for the Jewish community. According to Jewish tradition, God revealed his message and commandments to Moses in the form of written and oral Torah so he could pass it on to humankind and help them find their path to the divine. The Five Books of Moses – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, are believed to be written by Moses as dictated by God.

Each of these books contributes to lay the foundation of Judaism. Each of Moses’s books describes the divine pasts and events from the early times, explaining the ideas of God while laying down thee commandments for the Jewish living. They also describe the formation of the Jewish people according to the Torah, the way of life of the patriarchs of the nation, and various significant events that shaped the Jewish people at the beginning.

These Jewish culture books also encourage the Jews to nurture the sentiments of love, forgiveness, and empathy. Further describing for the Jews how they should observe their lives, categorizing actions into sins and activities towards divinity. It also talks about festivals, celebrations, and special events on human life and how these should be celebrated.

Jewish culture in Israel

The Jewish Culture of Israel has cultivated and evolved over an elongated time. Influenced by various rules and external cultures, the Jewish culture, as we see today, is slightly different from its original form. For a considerable period, the Jews were scattered over other parts of Europe while adapting to the local cultures along with their Jewish descend.

These diasporic times brought a cultural mix into Jewish traditions, only to undergo a fusion when these communities returned together to their homeland, giving birth to the fusion culture of Israel, which contains parts from the western European, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and Arabic cultures.

The Western Wall, one of the spiritual centers for the Jewish people in Israel

Today, the philosophy, art, music, literature, and festivals of the Jews in Israel express an essence of different cultures, seamlessly fused into Jewish traditions at the core.

Jewish culture in America

In the United States, the Jews are seen as religious, as well as an ethnic identity. With a significant share of Jews in the population, the American Jewish culture is widely recognized and observed.

The Jews in America share a similarity to the Jewish culture of Israel however, here the observation of the commandments and practice of the religious rituals is less diligent. But, they share a common value, and the core values of Judaism are strong among the American Jews.

The Jewish Culture in America is a little more relax and influenced by the western cultures of America and thus creating an observable difference in the art, customs, and literature of the Jewish culture.

Can Jewish people drink?

In the Jewish culture, there is adequate segregation when it comes to alcohol. While wine is considered an essential part of various Jewish practices and religious ceremonies, there are no mentions of other alcoholic beverages. The Torah defines and speaks a lot about Jewish customs, and there are numerous mentions of the use of wine at different events.

Wine is symbolized as God’s way to bring joy to the man. Hence, it is used at many Jewish holidays like Shabbat, Passover seder, and other religious activities, and its consumption is encouraged. Therefore, the wine (red and white) holds a special meaning in the Jewish culture.
However, there are no rules or restrictions around the consumption of other alcoholic drinks.

Can Jewish people eat shellfish?

In Jewish culture, kosher is essential. It describes the eating cultures for the community, defining what is permitted and fit for consumption. It also prescribes the ways by which certain ingredients should be cooked to fulfill the kosher rules.

When it comes to seafood, any water animal that has fins and scales are considered kosher. According to Leviticus, any water animal that lacks these features is deemed to be impure. Therefore, shellfish is not kosher, and hence religiously, it is not permitted for a Jew to consume shellfish.

Can Jewish people eat shrimp?

The Jews have strict dietary laws, defined in the Torah. These laws, Kashrut, describes what foods are permitted or fit for consumption for the people of the Jewish community. Furthermore, it describes how food should be prepared. Hence defining kosher, and shrimps are not considered kosher.
According to Kashrut, kosher seafood should have scales and fins. Since shrimps do not fulfill those criteria, they are not considered kosher.

Can Jewish people eat pork?

According to the food laws of the Jewish community, Kashrut, consumption of certain food products and animals is strictly prohibited. Furthermore, if the food is not prepared in a certain way, it is considered unfit for Jewish consumption. In many Middle Eastern cultures, including Jewish, consumption of pork is highly discouraged and strictly prohibited in some cases.

According to the rules, an animal is kosher if it chews its cud and has split hooves. While pigs fulfill the criteria of split hooves, they don’t chew the cud. It is making them non-kosher food.

Can Jewish people get tattoos?

According to one’s understanding of the Torah, tattooing is considered unbefitting in Jewish culture. One of the texts suggests that the human body is creating God and mutilating or changing that creation unless it is essential for a greater good. It is considered as an insult to ‘His Creation.’
One may argue that circumcision is also a mutilation of the body. However, this practice has a greater meaning from a religious and philosophical viewpoint.

Are Jewish people a race?

There is a significant difference in race, a religious entity, an ethnic group, or other social sects. Being a Jew is attributed to a sense of belongingness and beliefs. The Jewish culture is formed out of ideology and feeling connected to the land of Israel. The Jewish community is created by people – descendants of Abraham and Sarah, the people of Israel (often referred to as the Children of Israel), and other members who relate to the ideas and are committed to the beliefs of Judaism.

Are Jewish people circumcised?

In Jewish culture, circumcision is a critical practice. According to the Hebrew Bible and Genesis, circumcision is a religious ritual. Considering it as the commandment of God, all Jewish males are required to be circumcised. After a male child is born, there is a religious ceremony on the 8 th day of his birth, and the child is circumcised, followed by the blessings and naming ceremony. Also, there are numerous mentions of circumcision and its importance in the 5 Books of the Jews.

What are the different types of Jews?

Jewish history is over 4 thousand years long and has been quite an eventful past. Surviving the difficult times and celebrating the good times, passing through various reigns and kingdoms, the Jewish culture evolved and grew. The diasporic history of the Jews and exposure to different cultures led to diversity in the community.

Religious groups – the Jews have three religious groups – Kohanims (priests), Levites (people of the Levi tribe), and Israelis (people from other tribes of Israel). Ethnic groups – Ashkenazi (Jews from parts of Eastern Europe), Sephardic (Spanish Jews), and Mizrahi (Jews that originated in the Middle Eastern parts – Iraq, Persia, Yemen, etc.)

Who is the God of the Jews?

Judaism is a monotheistic religion and believes in one God. The God who freed the Israelis from under the rule of Egypt, the one who gave them the Torah and culture. In Judaism, God is known by various names, but God is Yahweh (as described in the Bible).

Are Jews an ethnicity?

The Jewish identity is far beyond the definitions of being a religious, ethnic, or social group. Being a Jew incorporates elements from these division definitions, making it a little bit of everything, yet not any of those.

Being a Jew is about believing in the ideas of the Torah and observing a life driven by the commandments. It is about feeling connected to the homeland (Israel and the various tribes). It is more about feeling it in oneself than being a religion or practice forced upon an individual. Therefore, making Judaism and Jewish culture an ethnic religion.

Who do the Jews believe in?

The Jews believe in one God and his commandments. According to their beliefs, God came in the human form to free them of their sufferings and to show them a path of the divine. The Jews show acceptance and obedience to the laws of the Torah and the ideas of the five Holy Books of the Jews.

What are the 3 main sects of Judaism?

The Jews are divided into sects/ groups that differ from each other on various attributes. These include their understanding of the laws of the Torah, their dedication, and the extent to which they observe these laws and more. These sects are Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Jews.

Why do Orthodox Jews have curls?

The Jewish side curls (called Payot in Hebrew) bears a cultural significance and is a unique element of the Jewish culture. Many Orthodox Jewish men and boys can be seen having the side curls. It is primarily driven by the Biblical verse which instructs the Jews to not to shave/ remove the corners of their head. Different communities follow different styles and customs to grow and handle them. Mainly to distinguish themselves from others.

Do Orthodox Jews drink alcohol?

Jewish food laws are quite complex and influence everything a Jew can consume. While alcohol is an essential element of the Jewish culture, certain types of alcohol don’t fit the equation. The wine holds a unique position among all alcoholic beverages. During festivals and special ceremonies, drinking wine is promoted.

However, for other alcoholic drinks, like beer, whiskey, etc., they must be kosher. According to Jewish cultural beliefs, the food, ingredients, and the preparation together contribute to making the food kosher for a Jew.

Why do Jews wear Yamakas (Kippah)?

Wearing Yarmulkes is an old Jewish tradition that symbolizes the act of respect for God. In ancient times, it was worn to express respect, but soon became a normative part of the attire. Although it started as a formal behavior to show respect, it was transformed into a rule of the Halacha. Different groups of Jews opt to wear these at other times, and it is, more importantly, respect to God above them than being an obligatory practice.

Do Orthodox Jews work on Friday?

Shabbat is one of the most critical days in Jewish cultural traditions and involves some rules that must be followed. It is the 7 th day of the week (at sundown on Friday) that God described as the day of rest and no work. The commandment strictly prohibits any work. Only under certain circumstances, the Torah permits some kinds of work.

The Orthodox Jews are highly particular of these regulations and follow them diligently. Therefore, Orthodox Jews do not work on Fridays till Saturday evening, when you can see three stars in the sky.

What can Jews not eat?

The Jewish laws for food are quite elaborate, and the community is very particular about what they eat. Jewish food is often attributed to Kosher – the food that is fit for consumption. On the other hand, certain products are restricted.

If the land animal doesn’t have hooves and doesn’t chew the cud, it is non-kosher. Similarly, all fishes without scales and fins cannot be eaten. Furthermore, the meat cannot be consumed along with the milk of the same animal. For example, a Jew cannot eat beef that is cooked in or served with cow milk. No reptiles and amphibians are permitted in Kashrut.

What is forbidden in Judaism?

Judaism and the Jewish culture is driven by a set of rules and commandments of the Torah. While some of these commandments encourage specific activities and actions, others forbid the Jewish community to undertake some actions.

The food laws of Kashrut forbid the Jews from consuming pork, or any land animal that does not chew the cud and don’t has hooves. Water organisms without scales and fins are also forbidden. Furthermore, pulling bones out of the meat on the table is strictly frowned upon. Consumption of Non-Kosher food is not allowed.

The Jews are forbidden to work (primarily the work for the living/earning) on Shabbat and other festive days. The Torah forbids individual relationships, which are considered socially incorrect. Intimate relationships with Non-Jews are not permitted. Sexual relations with one’s family – mother, father, siblings, brothers, and sisters of one’s parents, children of one’s siblings, primarily with anyone within the blood relations.

A Jew is forbidden to mutilate their body unless necessary for one’s survival and/ or accepted by the community. Of the 613 commandments of the Torah, about 300 rules prohibit or oppose performing certain actions.

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All You Need To Know About Jewish Culture

Judaism, the religion of the Jews (or Yahudis), is believed to found its roots in the land of the Kingdom of Judah. Aging over 4,000 years, it is believed to be the oldest monotheistic religion of the world, tracing back to the Babylonian Era (538 BCE) and ancient Roman and Greek empires.

The Jewish culture we know and see today was formed in ancient Israel and evolved through the different ages and reigns. The teaching of the Bible holds the center stage of cultural briefs and ideology of Jewish Culture – relating the life experiences and social cultures to an all-powerful God and his teachings.

What is Jewish culture?

Jewish Culture is the way of life, beliefs, values, and ideology of the Jews. The culture that originated and grew in Israel and its neighboring regions. The relation of the Jews to the culture isn’t just related to religious beliefs but also their linkage to the land of Israel, the teachings of Jewish text, and their history.

The culture that is made up of its literature, art, beliefs, and practices as well as their social customs. Thus, Jewish culture and traditions involve an element of religion alongside that of practice and life.

Furthermore, the Diaspora history of the Jews, especially those followed by the Roman Empire, has significantly contributed to shaping the culture as it is today.

Being scattered across various geographical regions and exposure to varied cultural and social dynamics, Jewish culture evolved into multiple versions of itself, unique to each community and geography.

The Jewish culture in regions like the Middle East and other parts of Asia share the characteristic Jewish attributes but differ slightly from Jewish communities of Israel, Europe, and America.

Jewish culture has had quite an extensive life and lived eras. Furthermore, the culture has experienced some major historical events and cultural changes, leaving behind stories to tell and facts to quote

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Facts about Jewish culture

The Jewish culture reflects the ideas of Judaism and how the Jews mold their lives around such beliefs and practices. Having a lifetime of extravagant incidents and eventful history, the branches of Jewish culture has spread across, creating a biome of its own. Here are some essential aspects and Jewish cultural facts.

Five Torah Pentateuchs

The foundation for Jewish culture is rooted in a set of 5 books of Moses – Torah. The Torah introduces and talks about the core values and ideology of Judaism, which, in turn, transforms into the beliefs and practices of Jews.

According to the Hebrew relics, the Torah (written Torah) was passed on to humanity by God through his Prophets along with the oral teachings – Mishna (as oral Torah). The written instructions, along with the oral teachings, enlighten the path of life and peace.

An original Torah written on a cow skin (KLAF)

613 commandments of God

The Torah defines the way to live – leading the path to the divine. According to the books, there are 613 commandments of God, known as ‘mitzvahs,’ laying the deeds and direction for the Jews.

At the age of 12 and 13, Jewish children (girls and boys, respectively) commit themselves to the practices of mitzvahs and step into Jewish adulthood. Itis is accompanied by ceremonies, Bar Mitzva for boys, where the boys read a section from the Torah and Bat Mitzva for girls, where they are celebrating their adulthood.

One Jewish people

All the different sects – Jews, Israelites, and Hebrews are all the same Jewish people. According to the preaches of Judaism, God revealed himself to Abraham and introduced the principles of monotheism. Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, was renamed as Israel, descending into a family of Israel. Later, the people of the tribe of Judah recognized themselves as Yehudim – hence the Jews are often referred to as Yehudi.

Slavery in Egypt

According to Jewish tradition, the Jewish people formed into people during the slavery period in Egypt. According to the texts in Exodus, the early Jewish people served as slaves to the Egyptians. Soon after, God (through Moses) freed the Jews of their distressful condition. As per Jewish values, this experience propagated the sentiment of charity and empathy to the less fortunate and laid the Torah’s community ethic of ‘tzedakah’.

Simultaneous religious and national identity

Jewish identity is a national identity but can also exist regardless of geographical location. Rather, being it is related to one perceiving oneself as a Jew and relating to Jewish beliefs. According to Jewish laws, any child born to a Jewish mother is considered a Jew, irrespective of their beliefs or following Jewish customs. But also, people from other social sects and religions can convert into Judaism.

The Jewish community accepts the converts through a lengthy conversion process and ceremony performed under the observation of a Rabbi . It includes instructions of the commandments of the Torah, an immersion into water, and acceptance of the commandments before a rabbinical court.

Jewish symbols and rituals

Jewish worship uses many sacred objects, some of which are daily use, such as items that need to be worn. Some are used once a year on one of the holidays, like a Seder plate, and some are used once in a lifetime, such as Ketuba, the written marriage agreement between the husband and his wife. Traditional Jewish art has evolved around sacred objects such as scripture, wine goblet, menorah, Seder Haggadah, and other items. The art of the Jewish holy objects is called Judaica.

The Mediterranean cuisine

The Mediterranean cuisine from the Middle East has always been known to offer some of the healthiest and yet delicious food items. Israel is no exception. Residing in the Mediterranean crescent, the Israeli diet is considered among the most nutritious diets from around the world.

Jewish Cuisine and food customs

The Jewish Torah defines the laws of kashrut – the Jewish dietary laws. These laws are structured around what is seen as ‘fit to eat,’ thus establishing kosher (‘Kasher’ in Hebrew, which translates to ‘fit’). For those who follow a kosher diet are required to adhere to the rules of the kashrut.

Although not many Jews follow these rules strictly – how should it be produced or slaughtered (in case of animals) or how it is prepared they follow the directions to respect their culture while keeping up with the external changes.

Jewish food presents various similarities to different cuisines because of their constant migrations and their tradition of adapting other cultures and cuisines into Jewish form. Jewish cuisine, as we know it today, is shaped over decades, driven by kashrut, the diasporic history, and the influence of an adaptation to different regions and traditions on the Jews.

Typical Shabbat dinner table

Ever since the early days, bread has been an integral part of a Jewish diet. It was complemented with agricultural products like grains, vegetables, and milk. Fruits, nuts, and meat were consumed occasionally or on special occasions.

Over time, new products like rice, barley, millet, fish, and a wider variety of fruits were added to the table. During the Greeks and Roman eras, furnished meat like chickens, pheasants, etc. also got their place. However, all through these shifts, the Jews upheld their traditions and culture. They transformed each of these ingredients and their dishes to adhere to the laws of kashrut.

Over recent years, Jewish cuisine has undergone hybridization, while bringing in elements from different Middle Eastern cultures and dishes. At present, the Jewish Israeli cuisine showcases a fantastic blend of different flavors and overlapping techniques from different cultures, creating a fusion cuisine while being authentically Jewish. These are some of the traditional Jewish culture dishes:

1. Gefilte Fish

The Oral Torah defines the food traditions for Shabbat, and the gefilte fish (stuffed fish) fulfills all the rules necessary. This traditional dish is highly popular during the Jewish festival of Passover or Rosh Hashana.

It is made by pressing minced fish into a deboned and intact fish. It is finally being cooked in fish stock. The deboned fish is an essential element of this dish as it is religiously prohibited to pick bones on the table during Shabbat. Check out for the Gefilte fish recipe here.

Gefilte Fish, typical European-Ashkenazi food, fish cutlets (Photo by Mussi Katz)

2. Knish

This baked snack is highly popular among the community. The traditional version of knish includes dough stuffed with mashed potato, kasha, and cheese followed by baking or fried. Some variants of knish are also loaded with black beans, spinach, or sweet potatoes. Again, these are available in different shapes and sizes. Check out for Knish recipe here.

Knish, dough stuffed with mashed potato

3. Pastrami Sandwich

A unique Jewish American creation, Pastrami Sandwich is loved by the Jews across all geographies. For this dish, the pastrami is slow-cooked with broth and corned beef for low heat. Sandwich bread slices are prepared with mustard, coleslaw, and cheese while sandwiching the cooked pastrami mix between them. Check here how to make your own Pastrami.

Delicious Pastrami sandwich

4. Blintz

This Israeli pancake is a lovely delicacy. Most of the favorites, like chocolate, meat, rice, mashed potatoes, and cheese, are rolled into a pancake blanket. Though the Blintz is not associated with any religious event, these cheese-filled rolls are in high demand during Hanukkah. Check out this recipe for tasty Blintz.

Each filling is suitable and delicious

5. Challah

Challah is a beautiful braided and special Jewish bread that is often served during Shabbat and other Jewish holidays. The name is derived from the mitzvah, which refers to separating a portion of bread after braiding. This portion of dough is kept for the Kohen (priest).

The preparation of the bread starts with a dough of eggs, flour, water, sugar, yeast, and salt, and sometimes complemented with raisins and nuts. These are then rolled into ropes and braided. Finally, to be baked. Try this Challah recipe at home.

The melodies of Jewish music

Music is a language that knows no bounds. It breaks through borders, the barriers of spoken language, and appeals to the hearts. Jewish music is an epitome of music and its power.

The Jewish music has flourish and branches out of the lands of Israel for centuries. It is spreading across the Middle East – to Iran, the Mediterranean, parts of Africa and Europe, and even further to the Americas.

The community has nurtured music in its early days, creating some fantastic musical pieces and admirable works. However, due to some uneventful incidents of their history, instrumental music was excluded. Only what stayed was vocal tradition, including a melodic recitation of the Torah for religious services.

There are various citations in the Talmud about the use of musical instruments like trumpets, harps, timbrels, etc., at momentous occasion’s festivities. However, after the hardships suffered under the Babylonians and the fall of Jerusalem under the Roman Rule, instrumental music would only remind the community of the suffering and sorrow.

During these times, the traditional synagogues were purely vocal. Different forms of music were born for religious service and ceremonies – piyyutim (poems), Pizmonim (traditional melodies to praise the god), zemirot, baqashot, and nigun. The instruments played in harmony with the Jewish vocals later, when the Jews reunited in Zion and started to rebuild themselves as a community.

The influence of other musical cultures and forms

For years, Jewish music resisted the music of other cultures and regions, trying to preserve their culture and identity. However, with the winds of time eroding the essence of Jewish music, the Jewish people have started to mingle with the tunes of other cultures.

There are three different streams of Jewish music, each connecting Jewish music to other cultures.

  1. Ashkenazi is the western stream that originated in the west, from Europe and the Americas.
  2. Sephardi forms a connection with the Mediterranean roots – Spain, North Africa, Greece, and Turkey
  3. Mizrahi is the music of the Jews and the one from the east – Arabic cultures.

Jewish traditions and customs

The Halakah, a part of the Jewish Torah, lays a framework of rules and traditions, defining the way of life for the Jews. The Halakah influences not only the religious practices but also the Jewish experience in general. Halacha encompasses all aspects of life and guides the Jew on how to behave, what to eat, what holidays to celebrate, and how, prayers, and more.

1. Shabbat

From a general perspective, Sabbath is looked like a day of the week when Jews cannot work. However, according to Jewish tradition, it is a day of joy, peace, and rest. As per the Jewish literature, the 7 th day of the week is made holy by God and is set aside as ‘a day for rest. In Exodus, it states that God completed the ‘Creation’ in 6 days, and resting on the 7 th .

Exodus strictly prohibits work on Sabbath, while Leviticus mentioned that one should not work on a festive day to contribute towards the festival. Daily activities like cooking, washing, repairing, writing, etc. are also prohibited on Shabbat. Although the rules of Sabbath are quite definitive, Orthodox Jews adhere to them diligently, while the Conservative Jews follow them to a certain degree.

2. 613 Commandments

The Jewish Torah lists 613 Commandments that every Jew must follow and is believed to lead the path to the divine. Out of the 613, 248 rules are favorable and encourages the Jews to perform certain activities. These include following certain religious practices, ways to celebrate festivals, and serving humanity.

The remaining 365 commandments are negative and strictly prohibits the Jews from performing those activities or sins. These include not having a negative emotion or ill thoughts towards others, having illicit relationships within certain relations, defines some social responsibilities, and construct and guidelines for certain religious activities.

3. Jewish Naming rituals

After the birth of a child, the 1 st Shabbat marks an important day. On this day, the infant’s father recites the aliyah (part of Shabbat morning prayer) and seeks god’s blessings for the mother and the child. For a girl child, the naming ceremony is held on the same day, while for a boy child, it is performed after eight days of the birth, after the child has been circumcised. There are no limitations or rules for names, and bear no religious significance. Therefore, the name can be from any language or culture.

4. Jewish culture death

Unlike other cultures, death is considered an essential and sacred event in Jewish culture. In Judaism, life holds a too high standard. When there is a death in a Jewish family, there are extensive rituals associated with the mourning of the person.

According to Jewish tradition, the burial of the dead must not be delayed, and the dead should be buried that day. The treatment of the deceased is called the purity of the dead. It includes cleansing the dead person, an internal and external cleansing of the body, as if the dead person still feels, sees, and hears.

Men care for deceased men, and women tend for deceased women. Each organ of the dead body is washed and cleaned separately. This activity holds excellent value in Jewish culture.

Cremation is not practiced in the Jewish culture. During burials, open caskets are strictly prohibited. Instead, the body is wrapped in a linen shroud all are equal, rich or poor, and placed on the ground itself, not inside a closet. There are burial ceremonies in Kibbutzim and Villages that carry burial inside a Coffin, but this is a small minority. Most of your burial processes in Israel are performed according to Jewish tradition.

The old Jewish cemetery of Prague

The Literature of the Jewish Culture

Literature is an essential component of any culture. It presents a means to understand the ideas of the culture, the knowledge, their history, and unveil the lost past. The Jewish culture has such a long and eventful past the literature is quite sizable too.

Jewish Literature Between the Bible and the Mishnah: A Historical and Literary Introduction - Click for details!

When we speak of the literature of a culture, how do we relate which literature belongs to which culture? It is based on the language of the text or is decided by the culture of the author? Or does the content plays that role?

By either of these definitions and probably even various other aspects, the Jewish literature is vast, contributing some of the greatest literary works and producing fabulous authors. The literary works of the Jewish culture spread across various themes – religious holy books, social, ethical, philosophical, history, and fiction are some of the prominent ones. The Jewish literature includes Yiddish, Arabic, Hebrew, and Jewish American literature under its umbrella.

Classic Jewish literature, Torah book with many commentators

The Yiddish literature originated in the 19 th century in parts of Eastern Europe. The modern Yiddish literature has contributed considerably and some of the great Yiddish authors of those times. Writers like Abraham Sutzkevar, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and others were popular publish in the late 19 th and early 20 th century. Isaac Singer was also awarded the Nobel Prize in 1978.

During the early 19 th century, Hebrew wasn’t spoken or accepted by the masses. And, so Hebrew Literature experienced some hiccups in its early days. However, soon by the mid and latter half of the 19 th century, the literary movement was catching pace, and Hebrew was gaining popularity on the secular and religious fronts.

With more and more writers and poets using Hebrew in their works – fiction, romance, religious texts, poems, and many other forms. Hebrew literature soon transformed from being merely a nationalistic ideology to being a popular and experimented literature.

Jewish holy books

Jewish history is quite extensive and old and has evolved over numerous historical events and turning points. There are multiple sacred and historical texts and oral teachings that have been passed on for ages and between generations.

The Hebrew Bible forms the center of various Jewish beliefs and faith. The written Torah is derived as an extract from the Bible along with the oral Torah – Mishna, Talmud, and Midrash, supplementing the learnings and messages of God.

These books define the way of life and the commandments for the Jewish community. According to Jewish tradition, God revealed his message and commandments to Moses in the form of written and oral Torah so he could pass it on to humankind and help them find their path to the divine. The Five Books of Moses – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, are believed to be written by Moses as dictated by God.

Each of these books contributes to lay the foundation of Judaism. Each of Moses’s books describes the divine pasts and events from the early times, explaining the ideas of God while laying down thee commandments for the Jewish living. They also describe the formation of the Jewish people according to the Torah, the way of life of the patriarchs of the nation, and various significant events that shaped the Jewish people at the beginning.

These Jewish culture books also encourage the Jews to nurture the sentiments of love, forgiveness, and empathy. Further describing for the Jews how they should observe their lives, categorizing actions into sins and activities towards divinity. It also talks about festivals, celebrations, and special events on human life and how these should be celebrated.

Jewish culture in Israel

The Jewish Culture of Israel has cultivated and evolved over an elongated time. Influenced by various rules and external cultures, the Jewish culture, as we see today, is slightly different from its original form. For a considerable period, the Jews were scattered over other parts of Europe while adapting to the local cultures along with their Jewish descend.

These diasporic times brought a cultural mix into Jewish traditions, only to undergo a fusion when these communities returned together to their homeland, giving birth to the fusion culture of Israel, which contains parts from the western European, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and Arabic cultures.

The Western Wall, one of the spiritual centers for the Jewish people in Israel

Today, the philosophy, art, music, literature, and festivals of the Jews in Israel express an essence of different cultures, seamlessly fused into Jewish traditions at the core.

Jewish culture in America

In the United States, the Jews are seen as religious, as well as an ethnic identity. With a significant share of Jews in the population, the American Jewish culture is widely recognized and observed.

The Jews in America share a similarity to the Jewish culture of Israel however, here the observation of the commandments and practice of the religious rituals is less diligent. But, they share a common value, and the core values of Judaism are strong among the American Jews.

The Jewish Culture in America is a little more relax and influenced by the western cultures of America and thus creating an observable difference in the art, customs, and literature of the Jewish culture.

Can Jewish people drink?

In the Jewish culture, there is adequate segregation when it comes to alcohol. While wine is considered an essential part of various Jewish practices and religious ceremonies, there are no mentions of other alcoholic beverages. The Torah defines and speaks a lot about Jewish customs, and there are numerous mentions of the use of wine at different events.

Wine is symbolized as God’s way to bring joy to the man. Hence, it is used at many Jewish holidays like Shabbat, Passover seder, and other religious activities, and its consumption is encouraged. Therefore, the wine (red and white) holds a special meaning in the Jewish culture.
However, there are no rules or restrictions around the consumption of other alcoholic drinks.

Can Jewish people eat shellfish?

In Jewish culture, kosher is essential. It describes the eating cultures for the community, defining what is permitted and fit for consumption. It also prescribes the ways by which certain ingredients should be cooked to fulfill the kosher rules.

When it comes to seafood, any water animal that has fins and scales are considered kosher. According to Leviticus, any water animal that lacks these features is deemed to be impure. Therefore, shellfish is not kosher, and hence religiously, it is not permitted for a Jew to consume shellfish.

Can Jewish people eat shrimp?

The Jews have strict dietary laws, defined in the Torah. These laws, Kashrut, describes what foods are permitted or fit for consumption for the people of the Jewish community. Furthermore, it describes how food should be prepared. Hence defining kosher, and shrimps are not considered kosher.
According to Kashrut, kosher seafood should have scales and fins. Since shrimps do not fulfill those criteria, they are not considered kosher.

Can Jewish people eat pork?

According to the food laws of the Jewish community, Kashrut, consumption of certain food products and animals is strictly prohibited. Furthermore, if the food is not prepared in a certain way, it is considered unfit for Jewish consumption. In many Middle Eastern cultures, including Jewish, consumption of pork is highly discouraged and strictly prohibited in some cases.

According to the rules, an animal is kosher if it chews its cud and has split hooves. While pigs fulfill the criteria of split hooves, they don’t chew the cud. It is making them non-kosher food.

Can Jewish people get tattoos?

According to one’s understanding of the Torah, tattooing is considered unbefitting in Jewish culture. One of the texts suggests that the human body is creating God and mutilating or changing that creation unless it is essential for a greater good. It is considered as an insult to ‘His Creation.’
One may argue that circumcision is also a mutilation of the body. However, this practice has a greater meaning from a religious and philosophical viewpoint.

Are Jewish people a race?

There is a significant difference in race, a religious entity, an ethnic group, or other social sects. Being a Jew is attributed to a sense of belongingness and beliefs. The Jewish culture is formed out of ideology and feeling connected to the land of Israel. The Jewish community is created by people – descendants of Abraham and Sarah, the people of Israel (often referred to as the Children of Israel), and other members who relate to the ideas and are committed to the beliefs of Judaism.

Are Jewish people circumcised?

In Jewish culture, circumcision is a critical practice. According to the Hebrew Bible and Genesis, circumcision is a religious ritual. Considering it as the commandment of God, all Jewish males are required to be circumcised. After a male child is born, there is a religious ceremony on the 8 th day of his birth, and the child is circumcised, followed by the blessings and naming ceremony. Also, there are numerous mentions of circumcision and its importance in the 5 Books of the Jews.

What are the different types of Jews?

Jewish history is over 4 thousand years long and has been quite an eventful past. Surviving the difficult times and celebrating the good times, passing through various reigns and kingdoms, the Jewish culture evolved and grew. The diasporic history of the Jews and exposure to different cultures led to diversity in the community.

Religious groups – the Jews have three religious groups – Kohanims (priests), Levites (people of the Levi tribe), and Israelis (people from other tribes of Israel). Ethnic groups – Ashkenazi (Jews from parts of Eastern Europe), Sephardic (Spanish Jews), and Mizrahi (Jews that originated in the Middle Eastern parts – Iraq, Persia, Yemen, etc.)

Who is the God of the Jews?

Judaism is a monotheistic religion and believes in one God. The God who freed the Israelis from under the rule of Egypt, the one who gave them the Torah and culture. In Judaism, God is known by various names, but God is Yahweh (as described in the Bible).

Are Jews an ethnicity?

The Jewish identity is far beyond the definitions of being a religious, ethnic, or social group. Being a Jew incorporates elements from these division definitions, making it a little bit of everything, yet not any of those.

Being a Jew is about believing in the ideas of the Torah and observing a life driven by the commandments. It is about feeling connected to the homeland (Israel and the various tribes). It is more about feeling it in oneself than being a religion or practice forced upon an individual. Therefore, making Judaism and Jewish culture an ethnic religion.

Who do the Jews believe in?

The Jews believe in one God and his commandments. According to their beliefs, God came in the human form to free them of their sufferings and to show them a path of the divine. The Jews show acceptance and obedience to the laws of the Torah and the ideas of the five Holy Books of the Jews.

What are the 3 main sects of Judaism?

The Jews are divided into sects/ groups that differ from each other on various attributes. These include their understanding of the laws of the Torah, their dedication, and the extent to which they observe these laws and more. These sects are Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Jews.

Why do Orthodox Jews have curls?

The Jewish side curls (called Payot in Hebrew) bears a cultural significance and is a unique element of the Jewish culture. Many Orthodox Jewish men and boys can be seen having the side curls. It is primarily driven by the Biblical verse which instructs the Jews to not to shave/ remove the corners of their head. Different communities follow different styles and customs to grow and handle them. Mainly to distinguish themselves from others.

Do Orthodox Jews drink alcohol?

Jewish food laws are quite complex and influence everything a Jew can consume. While alcohol is an essential element of the Jewish culture, certain types of alcohol don’t fit the equation. The wine holds a unique position among all alcoholic beverages. During festivals and special ceremonies, drinking wine is promoted.

However, for other alcoholic drinks, like beer, whiskey, etc., they must be kosher. According to Jewish cultural beliefs, the food, ingredients, and the preparation together contribute to making the food kosher for a Jew.

Why do Jews wear Yamakas (Kippah)?

Wearing Yarmulkes is an old Jewish tradition that symbolizes the act of respect for God. In ancient times, it was worn to express respect, but soon became a normative part of the attire. Although it started as a formal behavior to show respect, it was transformed into a rule of the Halacha. Different groups of Jews opt to wear these at other times, and it is, more importantly, respect to God above them than being an obligatory practice.

Do Orthodox Jews work on Friday?

Shabbat is one of the most critical days in Jewish cultural traditions and involves some rules that must be followed. It is the 7 th day of the week (at sundown on Friday) that God described as the day of rest and no work. The commandment strictly prohibits any work. Only under certain circumstances, the Torah permits some kinds of work.

The Orthodox Jews are highly particular of these regulations and follow them diligently. Therefore, Orthodox Jews do not work on Fridays till Saturday evening, when you can see three stars in the sky.

What can Jews not eat?

The Jewish laws for food are quite elaborate, and the community is very particular about what they eat. Jewish food is often attributed to Kosher – the food that is fit for consumption. On the other hand, certain products are restricted.

If the land animal doesn’t have hooves and doesn’t chew the cud, it is non-kosher. Similarly, all fishes without scales and fins cannot be eaten. Furthermore, the meat cannot be consumed along with the milk of the same animal. For example, a Jew cannot eat beef that is cooked in or served with cow milk. No reptiles and amphibians are permitted in Kashrut.

What is forbidden in Judaism?

Judaism and the Jewish culture is driven by a set of rules and commandments of the Torah. While some of these commandments encourage specific activities and actions, others forbid the Jewish community to undertake some actions.

The food laws of Kashrut forbid the Jews from consuming pork, or any land animal that does not chew the cud and don’t has hooves. Water organisms without scales and fins are also forbidden. Furthermore, pulling bones out of the meat on the table is strictly frowned upon. Consumption of Non-Kosher food is not allowed.

The Jews are forbidden to work (primarily the work for the living/earning) on Shabbat and other festive days. The Torah forbids individual relationships, which are considered socially incorrect. Intimate relationships with Non-Jews are not permitted. Sexual relations with one’s family – mother, father, siblings, brothers, and sisters of one’s parents, children of one’s siblings, primarily with anyone within the blood relations.

A Jew is forbidden to mutilate their body unless necessary for one’s survival and/ or accepted by the community. Of the 613 commandments of the Torah, about 300 rules prohibit or oppose performing certain actions.

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2 thoughts on “All You Need To Know About Jewish Culture”

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14 Feb 2015

Paying tithes

A North Carolina mother of four who recently quit her jobs at Walmart and McDonalds to care for her four young children is believed to be one of the winners of the $188 million Powerball jackpot — and it’s what she’s planning to do first with her millions that’s surprising.

Marie Holmes, 26, told WECT-TV that she’s planning to donate money to church after she receives her payout.

The Archbishop of Canterbury last night issued an extraordinary apology for the British bombing of Dresden during the Second World War.

In what was immediately criticised as an insult to the young men who gave their lives to defeat the Nazis, the Most Rev Justin Welby told the German people of his ‘profound feeling of regret and deep sorrow’ over the attack.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2952945/Archbishop-says-sorry-bombing-Nazis-Justin-Welby-attacked-bizarre-apology-Dresden-raids-makes-no-reference-RAF-heroes-killed-Hitler.html#ixzz3RkglTeFq



You can make these iconic foods from classic Christmas movies, and here's how

The holiday season is in full swing, which means it's time to cozy up and watch all of your favorite Christmas classics! What better way to enjoy your favorite holiday flicks than eating the most memorable foods from an array of those iconic movie scenes?

Whether you're craving a Chinese roasted duck like the one in "A Christmas Story" or Clark Griswold's eggnog from "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation," we came up with recipes inspired by those movies and more to fill your holiday appetite.

Roast beast, 'The Grinch'

OK, so we don't actually ever learn exactly what kind of meat the Whos are eating down in Whoville during their epic Christmas feast, but if we had to make it in real life, it would probably look something like this classic roasted beef tenderloin.

Even the Grinch himself wouldn't be able to turn down Ina Garten's slow roasted filet of beef!

Chinese roasted duck, 'A Christmas Story'

I think we can all agree that other than the infamous leg lamp and Ralphie shooting his eye with his Red Rider BB gun, one of the most epic moments of this movie is the ending. The Bumpass' hound dogs ruin the perfect homecooked meal, the family decides they're "going out to eat" and wind up at Chop Suey Palace for Christmas dinner. And then the server presents a whole roasted duck.

Eat like the Parker family with this Chinese five-spice roast duck recipe.

A 'lovely' cheese pizza, 'Home Alone'

Kevin McAllister loves cheese pizza. And once his family accidentally forgets him in the first "Home Alone" film he pulls off one of the greatest hijinx of all, by using a movie scene to scare off the Little Nero's delivery guy.

If you want to do it just like Kevin and order a New York-style plain cheese pizza, go for it! Or you can go gourmet and make Laila Ali's recipe for a cauliflower crust cheese pizza.

Ice cream sundae, 'Home Alone 2'

I'd like to point out that before he eats the sundae, Kevin once again enjoys a large cheese pizza, this time in the back seat of a limo while he's lost in New York.

McCallister indulges in his favorite junk foods once again, this time ordering an extravagant ice cream sundae from room service while staying in the iconic Plaza Hotel. When the butler scoops the ice cream into his silver bowl Kevin quips, "Two? Make it three -- I'm not driving."

Want to make an over-the-top sundae of your own this holiday? Look no further.

Tyler Malek, the founder of the gourmet artisanal ice cream shop Salt & Straw, and his team created five delicious holiday-inspired flavors that a grown-up Kevin McAllister would definitely use for a modern ice cream sundae: Peppermint bark cocoa, apple brandy and pecan pie, gingerbread cookie dough and sugar plum fairy -- made with plum jam and marzipan -- would be as delicious in a cup, cone or sundae any time this season.

Malek told "GMA" that "Home Alone" was one of his favorite movies growing up and he dreamt up a super decadent sundae using Pepsi, chocolate sauce, and cherries -- "[those] seem iconic to me from that movie."

"This recipe will blow your mind but is incredibly simple it just requires a day in advance of preparation," he explained. "I start with some good maraschino cherries, but pour out the syrup and replace it with a few spoonfuls of cane sugar, plus a can of Pepsi. Let the cherries steep overnight in the fridge. The next day, strain the cherry-infused Pepsi into a saucepan and boil the soda until it becomes a thick syrup and cool the syrup in the fridge."

Malek suggests making a "chocolate magic shell" that can be prepped just before plating.

"In a glass bowl, combine half a cup of dark chocolate and half a cup of coconut oil, let [that] melt down," he said. "I use just vanilla ice cream, really good quality. Then I drizzle the magic shell on top so it hardens. Add whipped cream, then the Cherry Pepsi syrup and top with five to eight cherries."

Twinkies, 'Die Hard'

Just in case this is still up for debate: "Die Hard" is a Christmas movie. (Don't @ me.) For that reason, the bright yellow sponge cake and marshmallow fluff filled childhood snack is also on our list.

Sure, you can go buy a prepackaged one, (since Hostess is back in business) but turns out you can also make it at home with the right ingredients and some serious baking ambition. But it's the holidays, go for it!

Here's how to recreate a Twinkie at home.

Eggnog and roasted turkey, 'National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation'

Who could forget when Clark Griswold sips on his yuletide beverage out of a moose glass with his cousin-in-law Eddie, who shows up unannounced? That beverage basically gets Griswold, played by Chevy Chase, through the outrageous antics of the entire movie.

Whip up a batch of the milk, sugar and holiday-spice-based beverage for a party -- or anytime you're having a Clark Griswold moment.

Check out this recipe for a dairy-free option or shake things up with an eggnog latte!

And if you don't want your turkey to deflate on you like the Griswolds' check out this recipe for a perfectly moist bird without the hassle.

Honorable mentions:

The following films also have some mention of food, and my heart (read as "stomach") may not be strong enough to try them, but these are the other Christmas movie meals worth mentioning.

'White Christmas': Liverwurst sandwich.

Honestly, have never tried, but I hope someone else does. If it's you -- do share it with us!

'The Holiday': Frappuccino with a big or small dollop of whipped cream

When Jack Black offers Kate Winslet a frozen blended drink of some sort, he says she can choose, and as she reaches for the cup with more whipped cream -- "Well hello big dollop!" (Editor's note: This is my personal favorite line of the entire film.)

The pair also shares some delicious food during a Haunnukah dinner party scene and Black's character says he's "had too much of the Manischewitz," referring to a kosher wine. Later in the scene, he says the brisket and coconut macaroons were "delectable," but sadly we never saw those.

'Elf': Buddy's sugar-filled, syrup-topped spaghetti

Will Ferrell's character, Buddy the Elf, makes that monstrosity of sugar-infused spaghetti, topped with candy, Pop-Tarts and maple syrup. It's not on my Christmas list, but, hey, to each his own.

Daring diners with an above average sweet tooth can go taste the dish in real life from executive chef Moosah Reaume at Miss Ricky’s in the Virgin Hotels Chicago. Available through Christmas Day.


Pastrami on wry with the Texan macher keeping deli culture alive

NEW YORK — Loosen your belts, the Deli Man is coming.

Erik Greenberg Anjou’s forthcoming documentary about the dying (but perhaps reviving!) culture of Jewish delicatessens is a meal with many courses. Part of it is history, about the links found in taste and smell to an Old Country that exists only in the memories of our elders. But another part is more celebratory, as today’s chefs search for a way to honor the past while still eyeing the future.

Among the more charismatic figures in the film is Ziggy Gruber, a macher in the Houston, Texas Jewish community and one of the more “purist” figures detailed in the movie. “Since he’s been a little kid, he’s been an 80 year-old Jew” is how Gruber is described in the trailer. His quest to preserve and promote old schul recipes is something of the spine of Anjou’s film.

Naturally, when it came time to do some promotion, the distribution company thought nothing of schlepping Ziggy up to New York City to kibbitz and fress at Ben’s Kosher Deli in Manhattan’s Garment Center.

My conversation with him was very food-focused, but that could be because I had my eye on a giant plate of rugelach mere inches away. As you can see, my first question to the star of “Deli Man” was entirely professional. You’ll also notice that the longer Ziggy talks, the more Yiddish he uses.

What, no Black & White cookies here?

What’s the origin of the Black & White?

Jews don’t like to waste anything, to throw out anything. Yiddische bakers made a thing called Wonder Cake, which was a mix. Some guy probably had some extra mix on the side, and he said, “Hmm. I don’t want to get rid of it. Oh, I know what I’m going to do.” So he scooped it out and laid it flat, and he said, “Ehh, we’ll ice it like a cupcake and we’ll put black and white onto it,” and bang. That’s how everyone got rid of all of the leftover batter. That’s how they got it, and that’s how it developed.

But we don’t know who this was. Like they know, for example, who the first guy to put ice cream in a waffle cone was. That’s, like, the World’s Fair, blah blah blah. We don’t know the first guy to make a black and white?

We don’t know. I mean, it might be some guy named Boris Schmiel somewhere around the corner, but we just have no idea who this person is. You know, it’s like the egg cream. Everyone takes credit — was it invented in Brooklyn by Max Auster? Was it done by the Gem Spa over on St. Mark’s Place? Who knows?

So I ask you, a well-intentioned goy sees the word “delicatessen” they think, “Ahh, sandwiches.” What do you say to that person to say, “No, no, no, this is not just a sandwich — let me explain to you what delicatessen is, the misconception you have”?

“Delicatessen” is a word which means “delicate eating,” basically, in German or Yiddish. When I first came to Houston, that was the perception — that we were just sandwiches. But over time, we’ve educated the customers that there are a lot of good-tasting things on the menu, such as Hungarian goulash, or some nice stuffed cabbage, or some pierogis. Or some latkes, or some blintzes. Nice pot roast. Nice stuffed veal chop. It’s an education.

Yiddische people, we were immersed in this, so we understand it a little bit more. A lot of the younger people, maybe not so much, because they’ve kind of strayed a little bit, but I think they’re starting to come back. You know, good food is good food.

We try to educate. I invite all of the kids in the Hebrew schools to come in. I make every old-school Yiddische dish, from kasha varnishkes to kugel, you name it. Fricassee with the pipiks, they really dig it up and love it. And then what do they do? The kids are coming in. In my dining room, compared to a lot of dining rooms, you see kids eating kishke. You see kids having some fricassee and some goulash, and you have people having a nice Rumanian steak, and all that. It’s an outreach education.

When you’re here in New York, where do you like to go?

Every place has its own signature items. But it’s a lot different than it was. When I was in New York when I was a kid, there were a million and one delicatessen stores. There were a million and one Jewish bakeries. There were a million and one kosher butchers. There was a lot more Yiddishness. Try finding a kosher bakery today. Very few and far between. But, you go to Katz’s and get a nice pastrami sandwich. You go to 2nd Ave Deli, you get some great stuff like stuffed cabbage or chopped liver. Carnegie has got a nice cheesecake.

And then there’s the shtick at Sammy’s Roumanian.

Oh, Sammy’s has all the shtick, and you order a nice vodka in a block of ice.

I love that place, but last time I was there, I’m leaving, putting on my coat, and through that low ceiling I could swear I heard some skittering . . .

Oy! Well, it’s New York City.

Could happen at the Four Seasons!

In New York? Every single restaurant that you patronize, they have rats. It’s a fact of life. Forget about it. Those Lower East Side rats, they’ve been there for God knows, 200 years? They probably were there when my grandmother was there!

Rapid-fire question: Bowl of pickles comes: do you grab the half-sour or the full-sour?

Is there anything that isn’t made better by pickling?

No. I mean, I like anything cured or smoked. Anything. That’s me. You know, some people roast a tongue — that’s not pickled, and I prefer pickled tongue over a roasted tongue, any day.

What’s the difference between corned beef and pastrami? In a realistic but also in a philosophical sense.

I’m a pastrami eater myself, personally. I happen to like pastrami better. Because I like the extra step, and I like the smokiness. That’s me. Basically, pastrami is from the plate corned beef is from the brisket, which is from the shoulder. They’re both cured for about forty-five days in the same style of brine. So now you have corned beef. You now go up an extra process where you basically take the pastrami, you roll it up in peppercorns and juniper berries and all kinds of spices, and then you smoke it for a long time, for about three or four hours. And I just like that smokiness.

So much of the film is about your love for the food because of your family, your heritage, your grandfather. What I find interesting is that you’ve been to Israel –

I got bar mitzvahed there!

So you go to Israel and — you were a kid — you’re like, “Wait, the food’s all different. What’s going on here? This Middle Eastern style.” Do you have any connection to that kind of food as well?

‘I’ve been cooking Ashkenazic food all of my life’

Do I have a connection to that food? I’ve been cooking Ashkenazic food all of my life. But as you know, every Jewish kid goes on Birthright Israel. So I would definitely say the taste, even in Israel — in Israel, when they first opened up, there were a million and one Hungarian-Rumanian restaurants. Today, you can’t find any of them.

Everything is more Middle Eastern and more of the new Israeli cuisine kind of stuff, like Ottolenghi. Yotam Ottolenghi does all this great stuff with a lot of vegetables and fresh dips and everything like that. So in my store I started making shakshouka in the store. And I’ve got to tell you, I made it fifty times — I wanted it perfect, because with me, in any dish I do, I want it to be authentic, and I don’t want anyone saying, “Well, I’ve had better somewhere else.” Because this is not my shtick.

You’re in Houston, so you’re kind of the only game in town for a lot of this. You have to come correct.

Right. I don’t care if you’re from Tel Aviv and you’re visiting a relative, I want them to taste it and go, “You know, this is the best shakshouka I’ve ever had.” So I invited the Israeli consulate there, and I invited a lot of people from AIPAC to come and try it.

The best crowning of my achievement was, there were three chefs from Israel visiting that are very well-known. They did an exhibition at the JCC in Houston. And they came over, and they loved all my Ashkenazic food — they said, “Listen, you’ve got to open one of these on the Dizengoff because we don’t have anything like this.” But I said, “Will you taste my shakshouka and tell me I did it right?” And I said, “I will not be offended if I didn’t do it right.” So they went in and they flipped out for it. They loved it. So I’ve been doing the shakshouka.

‘I do have my customers that eat with me three or four times a week, so I have to constantly come up with new stuff so that they’re not eating the same shtick all the time’

Also, last time I was here in New York — I always try to go and try other restaurants to see, maybe there’s something I can do. And the trend is not so much Ashkenazi food — even the Orthodox — it’s doing more of this. I went to Balaboosta, and I tasted this Moroccan curry with all this fish. I thought it was a fabulous dish. So, I mean, I’m a very good cook and I can figure it all out, and I knocked off that exact same flavor profile and I made that curry, and I sell that on a bed of Israeli couscous for a special in the deli. And that went pretty well. So you do have to evolve a little bit.

I do have my customers that eat with me three or four times a week, so I have to constantly come up with new stuff so that they’re not eating the same shtick all the time.

You’re a man of the world I’m sure you have friends of other ethnic backgrounds. Food is important in every culture. Do you have a friend who is, like, the Italian version of you, the Chinese version of you, who is perfecting the classic cuisine but also expanding on representing it in a certain way?

Yes, my friend Dimitri Fetokakis owns a place called Niko Niko’s, which is a Greek restaurant. It’s fabulous. And then my friend Arturo Boada, who is Italian and Colombian at the same time — he cooks fabulous Italian stuff, absolutely. We all have breakfast every Thursday or Friday at my store, and I tell you, it’s just laughing and laughing.

I see this as the beginning of the Super Friends of ethnic cooking — you need a few more, and then you can conquer the world. Do they have the same attitude as you or is it a little different with Jews due to the history? Part of what I love about the film, and what it gets right, is that it presents the food as a link to a world lost to history. You can go back to Italy you can’t go back to the shtetl in Hungary. It doesn’t exist.

‘We’re ethnic people, so we’re proud of our ethnicity, and we’re trying to all continue with great food’

They are very proud of their heritage like I’m proud of my heritage, and my friend Dimitri is very active, like I am in the Houston Jewish community, to perpetuate our culture and everything else like that. He’s very active in the Greek community, which is like the Jewish community — very tight. And the same with Arturo with the Italian community. We’re ethnic people, so we’re proud of our ethnicity, and we’re trying to all continue with great food.

This film gets very personal, about your love life, your trip to Budapest and your ceremony at the Dohány Synagogue.

Oh, [the Dohány Synagogue is] gorgeous. And Cantor Mendelson — we did a version of the shiva brochas that hadn’t been done in sixty years in Europe, the Mordecai Hershman version of the shiva brochas. It is the most amazing thing to see. It’s a 45-minute service, and Frank London was playing the horn and we had a choir and an organ. The rabbi there said they hadn’t seen anything like it since probably before the war. And it’s funny — even though it’s a very small community in Hungary, when we got married, there was no air conditioning in that synagogue, so they opened up all the doors, and all of a sudden the organ starts playing — everyone’s like, “What the hell is going on over at the synagogue?” Everyone in the Jewish quarter poured out, and they’re playing the whole thing, and when we walked out of the synagogue, we got a standing ovation in the streets of Hungary.

That’s amazing. It’s a beautiful, beautiful spot. [Sips can of Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray.] Hey, this Cel-Ray, or Celery Tonic as my grandfather called it. Have they changed the formula? It tastes a lot sweeter now than it used to.

You know what it is? Most people used to drink the Diet Cel-Ray, the one that was in the yellow can. They’re very stupid — this is what happens when you have an MBA in an ivory tower over there. They come in and say, “You know what, we can’t make two celery sodas, so we’re going to cut out the Diet Cel-Ray.” They were stupid they should have cut out the regular Cel-Ray and kept the Diet Cel-Ray. Because who drinks celery soda most of the time?

Old Jews, right! Most of them are diabetic anyway, and they’re living in, probably, Century Village. So the reality is, why did you do this to these poor people?

I have one of these maybe two or three times a year, and I crack it open, I sniff it, and I go, “Ahh, it smells so good,” and I drink it and I go, “It’s too sweet. It’s not what it used to be.” It used to be a little gross. It should be a little gross, I feel.

Maybe when you got older, your tastes evolved. It’s the Jewish Fresca. Thing is, I still think it complements pastrami better than anything.

It’s like a wine pairing.

As a Dr. Brown’s sommelier, if you just have a plain pastrami and rye sandwich, which Dr. Brown’s goes with that?

I wouldn’t have Cream with it — my first choice would be either a Cel-Ray or a Black Cherry. For corned beef, I would go with the Cream.

When you have the pastrami sandwich, do you put a little mustard on it, or a little Russian dressing?

For pastrami I like mustard.

Okay, so where do you use Russian dressing?

You know, it depends. I’ve got to be in the mood. Sometimes if I make a combination sandwich, like a turkey and pastrami, I would dress it with Russian and cole slaw.

What is your philosophy with regard to the Reuben sandwich? I know it’s not kosher, but …

At Kenny & Ziggy’s, because we’re non-kosher, we sell a lot of Reubens. Let me tell you. It’s a fargenign amount of Reubens. But look, what do I think? The Reuben, obviously, is very traditional New York — again, we were talking about, “Where did the egg cream come from?” Everyone’s taking credit. You know, they said Arnold Reuben at Reuben’s. Some guy said in the middle of Kansas City, they were at a club and they were doing something like that. Who knows what the real — nobody knows what the geschäft is.

Where do you draw the line in kosher-style deli?

In our store we do serve some pork products. That we do. There’s shrimp in there. When I say pork products, we only carry, like, bacon. But for people that don’t want that, I have pastrami bacon that I serve in the store as well. Even though we’re a non-kosher store, I carry some kosher meat — even though we don’t change the slicers or the knives.

So you clearly like to talk you’re not afraid of cameras? But making a documentary film, it’s a pain in the ass. Were there times when you just wanted to turn to these guys and say, “Get your camera out of here not today”?

Nah, they were very unobtrusive. The reality is, Kenny & Ziggy’s is a machine, and it’s a very busy place, and we just put our head down. I mean, he came in the middle of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and he was filming us during both holidays. And we just had to continue, because the reality is, what’s more important, him or getting a clean plate for Mrs. Goldberg? We don’t want to hear anything from Mrs. Goldberg. Listen, everyone’s yontif has to be perfect. You can’t have anything go wrong. So he didn’t bother us, we continued, and we felt like he was never there.

“Deli Man” begins its theatrical run in Florida and Arizona on February 27, debuting in New York City and Los Angeles on March 6. Check the official site for times in your area.

I’ll tell you the truth: Life here in Israel isn’t always easy. But it's full of beauty and meaning.

I'm proud to work at The Times of Israel alongside colleagues who pour their hearts into their work day in, day out, to capture the complexity of this extraordinary place.

I believe our reporting sets an important tone of honesty and decency that's essential to understand what's really happening in Israel. It takes a lot of time, commitment and hard work from our team to get this right.

Your support, through membership in The Times of Israel Community, enables us to continue our work. Would you join our Community today?

Sarah Tuttle Singer, New Media Editor

We’re really pleased that you’ve read X Times of Israel articles in the past month.

That’s why we come to work every day - to provide discerning readers like you with must-read coverage of Israel and the Jewish world.

So now we have a request. Unlike other news outlets, we haven’t put up a paywall. But as the journalism we do is costly, we invite readers for whom The Times of Israel has become important to help support our work by joining The Times of Israel Community.

For as little as $6 a month you can help support our quality journalism while enjoying The Times of Israel AD-FREE, as well as accessing exclusive content available only to Times of Israel Community members.


The 9 best Jewish food trucks in the US

JTA — Summer is upon us. And that means swimsuits, summer camps, sticky temperatures — and food trucks.

True, many of these trendy restaurants-on-wheels are known to ply their wares in the depths of winter. But as the weather warms, everyone from office workers to tourists find themselves beckoned outside for lunch.

Sadly, kosher options can be hard to find among the ever-increasing legion of mobile eateries. But take heart, we’ve compiled a list of standouts from across the country (we’ve also thrown in a couple of our favorite Jewish-themed trucks that are not necessarily kosher).

From corned-beef hash burritos to kosher barbecue, these are nine of the best Jewish-themed food trucks from coast to coast.

Conversos y Tacos, El Paso (kosher)

This truck, known for its fusion of Latino and Jewish cuisines, began as an art project in 2013. Founder Peter Svarzbein — a Hispanic Jew and El Paso native, who now serves as a representative in the city’s government — had been interviewing and photographing Latino families in the Southwest who believed their ancestors were Conversos, Spanish Jews forced to convert to Christianity during the Inquisition. When it opened, Svarzbein played a video of his interview subjects and the menus included an Inquisition timeline. Since then, the truck has stayed operational — even if only for special events these days — thanks to its inspired plates, like the brisket and pickles taco.

Clover Food Lab, Boston (kosher)

Most restaurants don’t call a falafel sandwich a “chickpea fritter” — but Clover Food Lab founder Ayr Muir isn’t one to follow the crowd. Drawing on data he collects from his customers, Muir obsessively reconfigures his company’s operations, tweaking everything from recipes to refrigerator temperatures. His approach has been a successful one: With eight restaurants and five food trucks, the vegetarian (and now kosher) chain has become a rising health food dynasty in Boston. Don’t miss their creative, seasonal fare like a granola, pear and yogurt compote for breakfast and an egg and eggplant sandwich for lunch — plus year-round staples like seitan sandwiches and those famous chickpea fritters.

Milt’s Barbecue for the Perplexed Food Truck, Chicago (kosher)

Many people would probably like to know what Jake Arrieta, the Cubs star pitcher off to a historic start this season, is eating these days. Turns out he loves the food at Milt’s Barbecue for the Perplexed, a restaurant whose legend has only grown since it was named one of Chicago’s best new restaurants in 2013. (The name is a play on the essential Maimonides text, “The Guide for the Perplexed.”) The old-fashioned barbecue joint got a truck rolling the next year. It features a delicious, if abridged, menu that includes charred hot dogs, brisket sandwiches, smoked chicken and baked beans. Who says good barbecue needs pork?

Napkin Friends, Seattle (not kosher)

It sounds like a crazy dream or the ultimate Jewish food experiment: What happens when you make a sandwich using latkes instead of bread? Chef Jonny Silverberg took his culinary fantasy and started a food truck in 2014 to focus on the idea. “Being a nice Jewish boy, I’ve grown up eating latkes my whole life,” Silverberg told Seattle Met Magazine. “And then one day something just clicked. Why can’t you just replace the bread and put it on a panini machine and see what happens?” Good question, Jonny — and the answer is even tastier. Highlights of the small menu include the O.G. — pastrami, peppers, arugula, Thousand Island dressing, horseradish cream and gruyere — and an apple-and-brie combo, all pressed between two perfectly crisp potato pancakes.

Aryeh’s Kitchen, Nashville (kosher)

One of the very few places in all of Nashville selling kosher meat is a refurbished 1971 Airstream trailer truck set up by a Vanderbilt University undergrad. Aryeh’s Kitchen, which opened on campus this spring, gives its kosher menu a southern twist with dishes such as fried chicken and waffles, latkes with apple chutney and a BLT with pastrami “bacon.” To keep things student-budget friendly, most of the food is under $10.

Taim Mobile, New York City (kosher)

Israeli couple Einat Admony and Stefan Nafziger opened the falafel joint Taim in 2007. As Admony went on to foodie fame as one of New York’s premier restaurateurs — her other acclaimed restaurants include Balaboosta and Bar Bolonat — Taim’s two locations became downtown staples. Oh, and the falafel has been called the best in the city. The Taim Mobile truck, which launched in 2012, serves the restaurant’s greatest hits, from falafel platters and fresh Mediterranean salads to its notable drinks, like ginger-mint lemonade and the strawberry-raspberry-thai basil smoothie.

New York on Rye Deli Truck, San Diego (not kosher)

“Have a nosh day” is the motto of the New York on Rye food truck — a sure sign that you’re in Southern California and not the Big Apple. This “deli with a twist” on wheels won San Diego’s Top Truck trophy last year, beating out nearly two dozen others in the city’s first-ever Food Truck War. It serves up New York classics like corned beef on rye, but also gives some deli favorites a distinct So-Cal flair — like the corned beef hash burrito, Cuban sandwich and turkey sandwich with an avocado-and-goat cheese spread.

JoeBob’s Barbeque, Austin (kosher)

In Texas, barbecue is king. Kosher food? Not so much. So Joel Davis’ truck, which specializes in beef brisket, ribs and sausage, is more innovative than it sounds. JoeBob’s utilizes the “slow and low” cooking method popular throughout the Lone Star State — that’s cooking at a low temperature for a long period of time — which ensures its meat is juicy enough for the most discerning Texan, Jewish or otherwise. But the operation isn’t all about taste — part of each purchase is donated to an array of charities, from the Michael J. Fox Foundation to the Jewish Federation of Greater Austin. Customers can choose which cause they’d like to support.

Moty’s Grill, Miami (not kosher)

Before moving to Florida, Chef Moty Goldman cooked for the Israeli army — but his food is nothing like mess-hall fare. Though it isn’t technically kosher certified, this health-conscious, Israeli-themed truck claims to only serve kosher ingredients. It often stops by Miami International Airport’s central terminal parking area and is frequently spotted at big events throughout the city. Menu highlights include a kafta pita pocket and attayef, a dessert consisting of fried dough filled with nuts and cinnamon and topped with sugary syrup.

I’ll tell you the truth: Life here in Israel isn’t always easy. But it's full of beauty and meaning.

I'm proud to work at The Times of Israel alongside colleagues who pour their hearts into their work day in, day out, to capture the complexity of this extraordinary place.

I believe our reporting sets an important tone of honesty and decency that's essential to understand what's really happening in Israel. It takes a lot of time, commitment and hard work from our team to get this right.

Your support, through membership in The Times of Israel Community, enables us to continue our work. Would you join our Community today?

Sarah Tuttle Singer, New Media Editor

We’re really pleased that you’ve read X Times of Israel articles in the past month.

That’s why we come to work every day - to provide discerning readers like you with must-read coverage of Israel and the Jewish world.

So now we have a request. Unlike other news outlets, we haven’t put up a paywall. But as the journalism we do is costly, we invite readers for whom The Times of Israel has become important to help support our work by joining The Times of Israel Community.

For as little as $6 a month you can help support our quality journalism while enjoying The Times of Israel AD-FREE, as well as accessing exclusive content available only to Times of Israel Community members.


Prison Food and Commissary Services: A Recipe for Disaster

Food plays an integral role in our lives. It not only provides the nutrition necessary to sustain our existence, it feeds the sense of community we all crave. Social bonds are made as we break bread with those who sit and dine with us at the meal table. It may sound trite, but food feeds not just the body but also the soul.

The role of food is more pronounced for prisoners than for those who are not incarcerated. A primary reason for that difference is the fact that prison and jail schedules revolve around meal times. Another is that prisoners are limited to eating the fare provided in the dining hall (commonly called the chow hall or mess hall), or what they can buy from the commissary they lack the food choices that most people take for granted.

The answer to the question &ldquowhat&rsquos for chow?&rdquo is often determinative of whether a prisoner goes to the dining hall or eats out of his or her own pantry. The latter occurs only if the prisoner has money to buy food items from the commissary or can hustle up something to eat. The poorest prisoners are often content with a &ldquobutt naked&rdquo ramen noodle soup.

For the uninformed, a butt naked soup contains nothing more than the soup noodles and seasoning pack. Ramen soups are a staple food among prisoners (as well as poor college students), and even serve as a type of currency in prisons and jails.

More elaborate meals can be made using ramen, by mixing it with various other ingredients. What these dishes are called varies with location in some facilities they&rsquore known as swoles. In Florida they&rsquore called goulash or goulahs.

When not making a goulah, the only other option is to go to the chow hall. As in any institutional setting, there is a serving line that kicks out a tray containing food of dubious quality and sometimes unidentifiable origin. Many years ago, Florida prisons set up barriers to prevent prisoners working in the kitchen from seeing who they served, ending preferential treatment as meals were given out.

When commissary food is prepared as a group meal for a prisoner and his friends, such &ldquospreads&rdquo can be very elaborate. As one prisoner put it, &ldquoIt&rsquos all about taste contrast.&rdquo Spreads have been the subject of such books as Prison Ramen, Commissary Kitchen, Cooking in the Big House, The Convict Cookbook, Jailhouse Cookbook: The Prisoner&rsquos Recipe Bible, From the Big House to Your House: Cooking in Prison and The Prison Gourmet. Most often the recipes only include items sold in the prison commissary, but other ingredients are often available from kitchen workers who sell onions, peppers, spices, meat or even sandwiches or pastries they make in the institutional kitchen.

While a single goulah is tailored to the maker&rsquos taste and eaten alone, a spread meets the varied tastes of the group and is part of a communal gathering. Spreads may be made at any time, but are more prevalent around the holidays.

Corrections officials realize that food is a major part of prison and jail operations it can be used as an incentive for good behavior, to maintain control and to generate profit. Some have the attitude of Maricopa County, Arizona Sheriff Paul Penzone, who said at the &ldquovery bottom&rdquo of his list of concerns was &ldquowhether or not detainees are happy with the taste of the food they receive.&rdquo

Other officials view food differently. &ldquoNutritious and delicious &ndash it sounds like a catchphrase &ndash but at the end of the day, we don&rsquot want to give inmates any reason to have unrest,&rdquo stated Daniel Martuscello, deputy commissioner for administrative services for the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Services. &ldquoIf we&rsquore not giving them something that&rsquos palatable and acceptable to them, it can lead to other problems inside the institution.&rdquo

A World View of Prison Food

Meals served to prisoners have varied significantly by era and location. In the northeastern part of the United States, for example, prisoners were once served what was considered a poor man&rsquos food: lobster.

&ldquoUp until sometime in the 1800s . lobster was literally low-class food, eaten only by the poor and institutionalized,&rdquo David Foster Wallace wrote in a 2004 Gourmet essay.

&ldquoEven in the harsh penal environment of early America, some colonies had laws against feeding lobsters to inmates more than once a week because it was thought to be cruel and unusual, like making people eat rats. One reason for their low status was how plentiful lobsters were in old New England.&rdquo

Also, a 1946 menu from the federal prison on Alcatraz Island listed a number of tasty dishes, including roast pork shoulder, beef pot pie Anglaise, baked meat croquettes with Bechamel sauce, potato chowder, fried eggs and spinach with bacon.

Among the world&rsquos prisons, Norway has a reputation for the most humane facilities. At the Bastoy Prison in the Horton municipality, prisoners are served fish balls with white sauce and prawns, chicken con carne and salmon.

In Japan, meals include fried fish, miso soup, rice with barley, daikon radish and noodle salad, while prisoners in India are served pulihora, a tamarind rice dish, for breakfast. Lunch consists of lentil stew with rice and curry. Dinner is tamarind juice soup and rice goat or chicken curry is served on Sundays. Prisoners in Denmark can prepare their own meals.

Prison food can be much worse in countries where prisoners are treated poorly and their well-being is not seen as a priority.

Andre Barabanov served four years in Russia&rsquos penal system following an anti-Putin protest in 2012. &ldquoThey didn&rsquot give us porridge in the prison canteen, but an incomprehensible grey mass,&rdquo he said. &ldquoI had stomach problems and I felt as if they were trying to kill me.&rdquo

In Thailand, visitors can deliver food to prisoners those who are not so lucky must eat the prison fare. &ldquoBy seven o&rsquoclock a bell would ring and prisoners would line up in the mess hall where plates of steamed rice husks had been sitting on the benches for half an hour,&rdquo wrote Harry Nicolaides, an Australian who served six months in a Bangkok prison for defaming the Thai monarchy. &ldquoThough hungry, I resisted the temptation to try the murky soups, having seen cats vomit after being fed the scraps.&rdquo

China, according to U.S. citizen Stuart B. Foster, has a brutal prison system. While serving eight months in a Chinese prison, Foster was forced to assemble Christmas lights all day except during two 10-minute breaks for lunch and dinner. If the prisoners&rsquo work production did not meet quotas, their rations were halved.

&ldquoEach meal we were fed rice, turnips, and a little pork fat, which tasted terrible but was enough to sustain life,&rdquo Foster wrote in a 2014 online article written for PLN. &ldquoA cut in food rations was devastating, and I saw a few prisoners start to look skeletal.&rdquo

The worst conditions for prisoners with respect to food are in Africa. In 2008, the United Nations reported that at least 26 prisoners had died due to malnutrition in the city of Mbuji Mayl in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The following year, according to news reports, more than half the 1,300 prisoners at the Chikurubi prison in Zimbabwe died as a result of starvation or disease.

In the United States, the Eighth Amendment requires prison officials to adhere to evolving standards of decency, which means prison conditions are based upon the constantly improving conditions of society in general. Fiscal realities, however, are always at the forefront &ndash particularly when it comes to prison and jail food services.

Food Service Privatization

Correctional facilities are always looking for ways to cut costs. One of the most popular trends in recent decades has been privatization &ndash of prison operations, medical and mental health care, transportation, commissaries and food services. In the latter regard, Aramark Correctional Services and Florida-based Trinity Services Group are the two largest players in the privatized prison and jail food industry. Other companies include Summit (which has acquired correctional food service firms CBM Managed Services and ABL Management), Food Services of America (owned by Services Group of America) and GD Correctional Services, LLC.

Because these companies are mainly concerned about generating profit by lowering costs, both the quality and quantity of food served to prisoners tend to suffer.

&ldquoInmates shared countless grievances about serving sizes as well as the quality, taste, or healthiness of the food,&rdquo said University of Arizona School of Sociology doctoral candidate Michael Gibson-Light, who interviewed around 60 prisoners and employees at a men&rsquos facility. &ldquoIt was common for some to compare their meals to those that they received during previous prison stays, sometimes years or decades prior, which they claimed contained more and better food.&rdquo

Over my 30 years of incarceration,* I have watched this phenomenon play out in Florida&rsquos prison system. The meals have never been great as with most institutional food, it is bland and looks unappealing. Yet by adding a bit of seasoning to most chow hall meals, I could leave satisfied.

&ldquoThe reality of it is we do institutional cooking, and that&rsquos bland cooking,&rdquo said Willie Smith, food service administrator for the South Carolina Department of Corrections. &ldquoWe don&rsquot season. We don&rsquot cook it like momma used to cook it.&rdquo

Regardless, holidays and specialty meals are a big draw. &ldquoThanksgiving, Christmas, hot dogs, anything Fourth of July related,&rdquo said Smith. &ldquoWe have what we call the Big Mac deal. If they come in and for some reason the hamburgers are gone, that&rsquos when they get upset. When those popular meals appear, we feed everyone.&rdquo

The most satisfying meal I&rsquove had in prison was my first Fourth of July. We were served a small slab of ribs, potato salad, baked beans, salad and a quarter of a watermelon. Some regular meals, such as creamed beef for breakfast, cheeseburgers or fried chicken, were highly anticipated meals that drew most prisoners to the chow hall.

In 2001, the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) decided to privatize its food services in hopes of saving money. As word spread, prisoners uninformed about the perils of privatization espoused hopes for better food.

The first meal served by Aramark Correctional Services at my prison was appealing to the eyes, generous in portions and appetizing in taste. From that point on, though, things spiraled downhill as profit became the motivating factor instead of food quality, quantity or nutrition.

&ldquoWe control the menu, we control what ingredients are used, we enforce the calorie amount that has to be present in every meal,&rdquo noted Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) spokesman Chris Gautz.

As previously reported in PLN, the MDOC privatized its food services, first with Aramark and then with Trinity Services Group, with unappetizing results. Following repeated problems with unsanitary practices &ndash including maggots found in food serving areas &ndash as well as issues involving food shortages and substitutions, misconduct by private food service staff and protests by prisoners, Michigan officials finally decided to bring kitchen operations back in-house. [See: PLN, June 2018, p.52 Jan. 2018, p. 46 Feb. 2017, p.48 Dec. 2015, p.1].

Similar problems have occurred in other jurisdictions where prison and jail food services have been privatized, including in Florida and Ohio. [See: PLN, March 2018, p.14 Dec. 2006, p.10 March 2003, p.15].

When Aramark was the food service vendor in Florida, it often shorted meals with small portions and missing ingredients. On one occasion when I was assigned as a kitchen worker, an Aramark employee berated me for draining water off the vegetables after they were cooked.

&ldquoWater is part of the serving,&rdquo the employee said. That would result in prisoners who were unfortunate enough to be served from the bottom of the pan receiving just a few green beans in a scoop of water.

&ldquoPrisons are very delicate environments and things like food become incredibly important to people who are incarcerated. It&rsquos a safety issue for other prisoners and corrections officers,&rdquo noted Mike Brickner, senior policy director at the ACLU of Ohio. &ldquoWhat we&rsquore seeing with Aramark and around food privatization is that it injects chaos into the situation.&rdquo

Aramark&rsquos poor food quality and small portions reportedly sparked a 2009 riot at a Kentucky prison that left eight prisoners and eight guards injured. [See: PLN, April 2010, p.10 Oct. 2009, p.36]. According to a subsequent report by Kentucky&rsquos Auditor of Public Accounts, &ldquocertain items on the menu were watered down or . items were routinely missing or cut out of recipes.&rdquo Further, &ldquoThe auditors noted numerous instances in which spices were left out of recipes, and even more serious instances in which flour, beef base, and bulk food ingredients called for in the recipe were dramatically reduced or omitted.&rdquo

Florida abandoned prison food privatization in 2009, and Michigan announced it would do likewise in February 2018. Other jurisdictions have also chosen to keep food services in-house, concluding that the savings, if any, are simply not worth it.

The 2009 Kentucky riot at the Northpoint Training Center, in which six buildings were destroyed, resulted in $18 million in repair costs. A September 10, 2016 riot at the Kinross Correctional Facility in Michigan &ndash partly due to the poor quality of food served by Aramark &ndash cost the state $888,320, according to a prison spokesman.

Learning from Privatization

When Aramark ended its contract with Florida in January 2009 and food services reverted to the FDOC, prison officials adopted the company&rsquos cost-cutting practices. Rather than making its kitchen workers corrections officers as it had done previously, the FDOC hired people at minimum wage as non-benefit employees. Under Aramark, the daily cost to feed prisoners was around $2.31 each per day. The FDOC cut that amount to $1.71 per day.

It accomplished that not only by hiring lower-paid workers, but also by serving lower-quality meat and soy products.

Aramark had removed fryers from prison kitchens, eliminating fried food and the cost of grease. It also converted all beef products to turkey. Thus, sloppy Joe was really &ldquosloppy Tom.&rdquo

In its eagerness to cut costs, the FDOC went even further. It made virtually every meal soy-based. All of the patties were soy, as were most other &ldquomeats.&rdquo The only real meat was the weekly chicken quarter. The soy patties have fancy names like Southwestern patty, but to prisoners they are known as &ldquofart patties&rdquo due to the severe flatulence they cause. The worst cases of gas came from what prisoners called &ldquoKibbles and Bits,&rdquo so named because they were small chunks of textured soy protein that resembled dog food.

Additional cost-cutting came in the form of eliminating virtually all fresh fruit from the menu. The irony is that Florida is one of the nation&rsquos largest producers of fruit, with the state itself owning thousands of acres of citrus orchards.

On several occasions, the inferior food led prisoners at the Cross City Correctional Institution to boycott the chow hall. Those incidents compelled prison officials to improve the meals, and they eventually abandoned the Kibbles and Bits due to the boycotts and because prisoners were regularly choosing the alternative meal option: beans. Plus, as many prisoners were suffering intestinal ailments after soy became the main course in most prison meals, increased medical costs may have been a contributing factor.

There are some things that private food service companies can do that most corrections agencies can&rsquot, or won&rsquot, though.

Aramark&rsquos iCare and 811marketplace.com offer specialty food items that family members can purchase for prisoners at certain facilities. They can order pizzas, burgers, Philly steaks, hotdogs, onion rings, hot wings and more &ndash but must pay exorbitant prices. A Double Angus Cheeseburger with A1 sauce is $15.49 through iCare, and an eight-inch cheese pizza is $12.39. At 811marketplace.com, which services the Norfolk County Jail in Virginia, a hamburger, two slices of pizza or a Philly steak, with drink included, costs $9.00 each plus a $2.00 processing fee. The food is ordered online and delivered to prisoners on a scheduled date.

The Cook County jail in Chicago has a similar program in which prisoners can order pizzas for $5 to $7 each, and have them delivered to their cells. According to May 2017 news reports, the pizzas are made by prisoner workers enrolled in a culinary program taught by Chef Bruno Abate, who is a member of Recipe for Change &ndash a non-profit that works with prisoners at the jail and gives them an &ldquointroduction to healthy food, good nutrition and the art of quality cooking.&rdquo The most popular jail pizza is one topped with sausage.

The Kosher Effect

Thanks to the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), many jails and prisons have been forced to provide prisoners with religious dietary options, including halal meals (for Muslims) and kosher meals (for Jewish prisoners and sometimes Muslims, too). Corrections officials have done so unwillingly in some cases.

When the U.S. Department of Justice dragged Florida into federal court to force it to provide Jewish prisoners with kosher meals, the FDOC mounted a vigorous challenge. Costs, state prison officials argued, would be over $3 a day per prisoner &ndash or about $12.1 million a year. The district court, however, calculated the cost at $3 million, which was a fraction of the FDOC&rsquos $2.2 billion total budget. [See: PLN, Oct. 2017, p.59 May 2014, p.14].

The California Institution for Men in Chino has seen a huge shift from having to serve kosher meals after a federal court decreed they must be made available. The food budget for such meals jumped from $52,000 in 2016 to $143,000 in 2017.

&ldquoThe state [overall] has spent an additional $2 million to $3 million feeding kosher,&rdquo declared Willie Harris, the food manager at the facility. To cut down on that, prison officials remove prisoners from the kosher meal program if they consume non-kosher food. Harris found that &ldquo80 percent of the inmates that were on that kosher list have purchased some type of pork product from the canteen.&rdquo

However, prison officials often ignore the fact that prisoners purchase food items from the commissary to barter or trade with other prisoners, not to eat themselves.

While many prisoners request kosher meals due to their sincere religious beliefs, others seek them out because they are considered more nutritious, better tasting or at least different from the standard, monotonous prison fare.

Since kosher meals cost more, within the past year Florida officials have tried to entice prisoners to abandon the kosher diet program by upgrading the master menu. The current menu now includes roast beef, chicken nuggets, breakfast burritos, real beef patties and even ice cream bars. The effect was exactly what the FDOC had hoped: Many prisoners receiving kosher meals returned to the master menu. It seems that prison officials figured out if they spend a bit more on the regular menu, they could spend a lot less on kosher food.

Litigation, mainly under RLUIPA, has spurred corrections officials to provide kosher dietary options, including in Nevada, which settled a class-action suit in August 2012, and in Texas, Indiana and Idaho. Maryland agreed to serve kosher meals in 2009 after a meeting between the Secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services and representatives from the Jewish community. [See: PLN, March 2018, p.56 April 2018, pp.40,48 Sept. 2009, p.44]. And in October 2017, Michigan prisoners sought class-action status in a federal lawsuit to require prison officials to provide kosher meals. See: Ackerman v. Washington, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Mich.), Case No. 4:13-cv-14137-LVP-MKM.

Most recently, on July 5, 2018, a federal district court in South Dakota held a former prisoner&rsquos suit could proceed on claims that he was denied kosher food. While James Irving Dale was incarcerated between 2002 and 2017, he claimed that the prison&rsquos private food contractor, CBM Correctional Food Services, served meals containing rice cooked with pork flavoring and byproducts, that the kitchen was not certified by a rabbi and that kitchen workers indicated they had contaminated his food with utensils used to cut pork.

The district court wrote that &ldquoIt is settled law in the Eighth Circuit that a kosher diet must be provided in a prison setting,&rdquo and, &ldquoViewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the court concludes that there were numerous instances in which Kashrut [Jewish dietary] practices were not followed in the preparation and serving of food that Mr. Dale would have eaten.&rdquo

Although Dale has been released from prison, rendering his claims for injunctive relief moot, he also sought monetary damages, which allowed his lawsuit to proceed. The case has been set for trial on September 18, 2018. See: Dale v. Dooley, U.S.D.C. (D. SD), Case No. 4:14-cv-04003-LLP.

Not all prisons and jails offer a halal or kosher option, but rather provide vegetarian alternatives or serve &ldquocommon fare&rdquo meals that meet the dietary requirements of a number of religions.

The Commissary Alternative

In some jurisdictions, the company that supplies prison food services has a disincentive to serve meals that draw prisoners to the chow hall. That&rsquos because the vendor not only provides meals but also manages the commissary or canteen store. When the same firm controls both operations, it&rsquos like hitting the prison contract lottery.

Such is the case with Trinity Services Group, owned by TKC Holdings &ndash a company that also owns Keefe Group, which operates prison and jail commissaries. TKC, in turn, is indirectly controlled by H.I.G. Capital, LLC, a private equity firm.

&ldquoThere&rsquos almost no incentive to serve good food,&rdquo noted Ronald Zullo, an associate research scientist at the University of Michigan&rsquos Economic Growth Institute, upon learning that Trinity managed both food and commissary services in Michigan state prisons until earlier this year. &ldquoIf you deter people from the chow hall and have them buy food [from the commissary], that would, from Trinity&rsquos perspective, be the most profitable.&rdquo

Other private companies that provide both food and commissary services include Aramark, TIGG&rsquos Canteen Services, Summit and Tiger Correctional Services. Several other firms, such as Kimble&rsquos Commissary Services and McDaniel Supply Company, only provide commissary services &ndash mainly at local jails.

The meals served in prisons and jails are sometimes so unpalatable that prisoners avoid going to the chow hall altogether, instead relying on commissary purchases.

&ldquoI don&rsquot eat that prison food,&rdquo said one South Carolina prisoner. &ldquoThe guys on what they call lock up, they&rsquore the ones who mostly fall victim to that. Me, personally, I would have to be rock bottom with no chance at all to eat that.&rdquo

South Carolina canteen manager Eddie Huddle said prisoners who can afford to do so opt out of the chow hall meals and purchase their food from the commissary. &ldquoI can&rsquot tell you what percentage but I can tell you there&rsquos a lot of [that],&rdquo he observed.

Commissaries are big business. One example can be found in the FDOC&rsquos contract with Trinity in exchange for the privilege of providing commissary operations, the company pays the state $1.165 per day for each of its nearly 100,000 prisoners &ndash or over $36 million annually.

Accordingly to a 2014 contract proposal posted on West Virginia&rsquos website, Keefe Commissary Network and its affiliate, Access Securepak, reported gross sales of over $375 million for care package, commissary and technology programs in 2012, with net profit of $41 million &ndash or a 10.9 percent profit margin.

The Association of State Correctional Administrators (ASCA) conducted a survey of state prison systems in 2013, and of the 34 that responded, 12 had privatized some or all of their commissary operations. Twenty-eight states reported combined annual commissary revenue of $517 million with net profit of over $57 million.

When Trinity&rsquos parent company, H.I.G. Capital, announced it was acquiring Keefe Group in May 2016, the Prison Policy Initiative &ndash a non-profit criminal justice research and advocacy organization &ndash estimated based on the ASCA data that Trinity could reap annual revenues totaling $875 million after buying Keefe.

The Company Store

Exercising the option to mainly eat commissary food is expensive. Commissary prices are typically higher than what people pay outside of prison for the same items some facilities have policies that limit the mark-up amounts, while others don&rsquot. Corrections officials justify the prices by noting they are similar to those at convenience stores &ndash which often charge more due to the &ldquoconvenience&rdquo factor, which is lacking in prisons and jails where prisoners have no other options. [See: PLN, Oct. 2009, p.25].

Higher commissary prices are compounded by low prison wages. The Prison Policy Initiative released a report in April 2017 that examined how much prisoners earn in each state prison system, both in regular institutional jobs and prison industry programs. For regular jobs, the average wage ranged from .14 to .63 per hour. Thus, high commissary prices consume a large amount of prisoners&rsquo income. In some states, including Alabama, Texas and Georgia, prisoners receive no pay for their work.

To supplement their paltry wages, prisoners often receive money from family members and friends, which is put on their prison or jail trust accounts.

&ldquoWe&rsquore not rich,&rdquo said Lisa Moore, who has sent thousands of dollars to her son in a Mississippi prison to buy commissary items. &ldquoWe work hard, but I see so many people who don&rsquot have anything to take to their loved ones.&rdquo She added, &ldquoI work an extra job, just to take care of it.&rdquo

The most popular item in prison and jail commissaries, ramen noodle soup, is often sold at inflated prices. Trinity charges Florida prisoners .70 for a standard 3-ounce package of ramen. Union Supply Group, a California prison package service, sells the same soup to Tennessee prisoners for .45 each. By contrast, ramen packages are available in most grocery stores at a cost ranging from .10 to .25.

Honey buns are another very popular item. [See: PLN, July 2011, p.24]. An iced honey bun you can buy at the corner store for .70 is sold in Florida prison commissaries for $1.59, while a two-pack of AA batteries that discount stores sell for $1.80 costs $3.02 in the commissary.

This is reminiscent of a scene in The Grapes of Wrath, the 1939 Pulitzer-winning novel by John Steinbeck, when a family travels to California during the Great Depression to look for work. When they obtain a job picking peaches, the mother goes to the company store &ndash owned and operated by the farming operation &ndash to buy food for their dinner. She finds everything is overpriced but there are no other options if they want to eat. Thus, they have to use their meager wages to purchase food from the company store at inflated prices.

Such is the nature of prison and jail commissaries.

&ldquoYou&rsquove got a very high cost of doing business,&rdquo countered Jim Theiss, CEO of the Centric Group LLC, Keefe&rsquos former parent company. &ldquoI can assure you, we believe in providing value.&rdquo

That value depends largely on location. Through Access Securepak, Trinity sells food packages for prisoners. The Florida Fall/Winter 2016 catalog listed eight packs of cheese on cheese crackers for $3.90. That same item was sold to Georgia prisoners for $3.25 in the Fall 2016 catalog. A five-ounce Vienna sausage package was offered to Florida prisoners for $2.40, while Georgia prisoners could purchase that item for $2.00. Union Supply Group engages in such disparate pricing, too for example, it offered a four-ounce bag of Folgers Instant Coffee to both Florida and Tennessee prisoners in the winter of 2016. The former had to pay $4.95 per bag, while the latter were charged only $2.55.

Inflated commissary and package prices are directly connected to the kickbacks that corrections agencies receive in exchange for awarding companies monopoly contracts. For food packages, the FDOC receives 20 percent of Trinity&rsquos gross sales, while Union Supply Group kicks back 15 percent of its gross sales.

Prison Policy Initiative Report

The Prison Policy Initiative released a detailed report on commissaries in May 2018, noting that they &ldquopresent yet another opportunity for prisons to shift the costs of incarceration to incarcerated people and their families, often enriching private companies in the process.&rdquo

The report examined data from Illinois and Washington, where the state DOCs operate prison commissaries, and from Massachusetts, where Keefe is the prison system&rsquos private commissary vendor.

According to the study, prisoners in Illinois and Massachusetts spent an average of $1,121 and $1,207 per year on commissary purchases, respectively, while those in Washington spent an average of $513 annually. The disparity for Washington may be partly due to a state law, RCW 72.09.480, that makes any money sent to prisoners&rsquo trust accounts subject to 25 percent deductions for victims&rsquo compensation and cost-of-incarceration, plus another 10 percent for mandatory savings, 20 percent for outstanding legal financial obligations and 20 percent for any child support orders. As a result of these deductions, less money is available to Washington state prisoners for commissary purchases.

In a call with PLN, Prison Policy Initiative executive director Peter Wagner also mentioned that Washington prisoners appear to receive a significant amount of commissary items through quarterly packages ordered by family members from Union Supply Group. The packages, which are not counted in commissary sales data, may be favored by prisoners&rsquo families as a way to avoid the DOC&rsquos trust account deductions.

An analysis of commissary sales in the three states examined in the report found that prepared and snack foods made up the bulk of purchases, followed by beverages and hygiene products. The study noted the emphasis on foodstuffs was not surprising, since &ldquoprison and jail cafeterias are notorious for serving small portions of unappealing food.&rdquo

It also questioned whether prisoners should be forced to buy commissary items due to inadequate meals served in the chow hall and insufficient hygiene products provided by prison officials. &ldquoIf people in prison are resorting to the commissary to buy essential goods, like food and hygiene products, does it really make sense to charge a day&rsquos prison wages (or more) for one of these goods? Should states knowingly force the families of incarcerated people to pay for essential goods their loved ones can&rsquot afford, often racking up exorbitant money transfer fees in the process?&rdquo

Total commissary revenue in the three states included $11.7 million in Massachusetts (for the one-year period ending in June 2016), $48.4 million in Illinois (for one year ending in September 2017) and $8.69 million in Washington (for one year ending in October 2017).

With respect to pricing of prison commissary items, the Prison Policy Initiative wrote that &ldquoOne rather surprising finding is that prices for some common items were lower than prices found at traditional free-world retailers. Other commissary prices were higher, but only by a little bit.&rdquo

Then again, the report had a limited data sample from just three state prison systems and no local jails, and apparently didn&rsquot do much in the way of comparison shopping with respect to free-world costs. For example, the study cited local retail prices for ramen soup ranging from .40 to .89 each, though ramen typically sells for much less at grocery stores.

In regard to public operation of prison commissaries versus privatization, the Prison Policy Initiative found that &ldquoeven in state-operated commissary systems, private commissary contractors are positioned to profit, blurring the line between state and private control.&rdquo

&ldquoOf the three states we examined, only Massachusetts has a contractor-operated commissary system. It also has the highest per-person average commissary spending. It is tempting to conclude that the profit motive of commissary contractors leads to higher mark-ups and thus higher per capita spending, but we would need a larger sample size to test this hypothesis,&rdquo the report said.

It also noted that in Illinois&rsquo DOC-operated commissary system, items sold to prisoners were purchased from private vendors &ndash the largest being Keefe, &ldquowhich accounted for 30% of the commissary&rsquos spending.&rdquo Thus, the report observed, &ldquoit appears that Keefe is positioned to make money even in states that have not privatized the operation of their prison commissaries.&rdquo

&ldquoIn the long term, when incarcerated people can&rsquot afford goods and services vital to their well-being, society pays the price. In the short term, however, these costs are falling on families, who are overwhelmingly poor and disproportionately come from communities of color,&rdquo the Prison Policy Initiative study concluded. &ldquoIf the cost of food and soap is too much for states to bear, they should find ways to reduce the number of people in prison, rather than nickel-and-diming incarcerated people and their families.&rdquo

Protesting Price Gouging

Challenges to high prison and jail commissary prices are rarely successful, but that does not stop prisoners and their advocates from trying.

In New Jersey, a prisoner at the Monmouth County Jail, Donell Freeman, 41, filed suit over price gouging at the facility&rsquos commissary, which is run by Keefe Commissary Network. Freeman claimed the high cost of commissary items violated anti-trust laws and constituted cruel and unusual punishment due to the &ldquodiscriminating prices.&rdquo The county receives a 45 percent commission from Keefe on commissary sales, plus there is a 10 percent fee that goes to a crime victims fund. In 2016, the county received over $350,000 in commission payments. One package of ramen soup costs $1.10 at the jail.

Freeman&rsquos lawsuit was dismissed in May 2017, just one month after it was filed, for failure to comply with in forma pauperis requirements. Ironically, he had been jailed for robbing an A&P grocery store. See: Freeman v. Monmouth County Correctional Institution Commissary, U.S.D.C. (D. NJ), Case No. 3:17-cv-02713-BRM-TJB.

In March 2010, a California federal district court dismissed a class-action lawsuit brought by eight prisoners who alleged the state prison system unfairly raised commissary prices to make up for revenue lost in an earlier suit.

In 2003, several California prisoners had sued prison officials because they were not receiving the interest earned on their trust accounts instead, the interest was deposited into the Inmate Welfare Fund (IWF). As a result of that case, prisoner funds were no longer placed into interest-bearing accounts. See: Schneider v. Cal. Dept. of Corr., 345 F.3d 716 (9th Cir. 2003).

Because the IWF relied in part on funds generated by interest earned on the trust accounts, it lost revenue. In order to make up that shortfall, prisoners argued that commissary prices were unfairly and unlawfully increased.

The class-action suit claimed the sudden price increases violated the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment and constituted &ldquoprice gouging&rdquo under California law.

The district court dismissed the case, noting that prisoners are not forced to buy anything from prison commissaries, and thus no takings clause violation occurred.

And in dismissing the prisoners&rsquo price gouging claim, the court found that 1) there is no constitutional right to purchase anything from the commissary other than the necessities of life, 2) prisoners were aware of the prices and authorized the expenditure of funds from their accounts when they made commissary purchases, and 3) there was no evidence that the prices were unfair or unlawful. The dismissal of the case was affirmed by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on July 13, 2011. See: Godoy v. Horel, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Cal.), Case No. 4:09-cv-04793-PJH.

Beyond litigation, prisoners and their advocates have also protested high commissary prices through boycotts and demonstrations.

In early July 2017, a group of women incarcerated at the Arizona State Prison Complex-Perryville collectively boycotted commissary purchases. The organized action began after the Arizona Department of Corrections hiked prices on various commissary items provided by Keefe Commissary Network, ranging from tampons and shoelaces to granola bars and soap.

The prisoners released a statement expressing their frustration over the increased prices. &ldquoWe get one roll of toilet paper per week and 12 pads a month. Everything else comes out of our pockets, including [non-cafeteria] food. We make between .10-.45 an hour. 20 percent of our wages go to restitution and we get charged $2 a month for electricity,&rdquo they wrote. &ldquoWith so little, we already struggle to make ends meet &ndash often being left to choose between buying a bar of soap, which is now $1.50, or making a phone call home at .20 a minute. Now we&rsquore expected to pay 70 percent more for staple items, like peanut butter.&rdquo During the boycott, prisoners bought only a single .06 toothbrush.

The Arizona Department of Corrections receives a 16 percent commission kickback from Keefe, which generated $6.3 million in 2016. A prison spokesman noted that only 268 commissary items out of 1,000 had increased in price, while another 222 decreased.

On January 16, 2018, prisoners&rsquo rights supporters protested outside several Florida prisons and the FDOC&rsquos central office in Tallahassee, in part due to price-gouging in prison canteens.

&ldquoCan someone talk to us about why tampons cost $18?&rdquo one demonstrator asked.

The protest action, which resulted in at least one arrest, coincided with a planned non-violent &ldquolaydown&rdquo by prisoners that included refusal to work and a boycott of canteen purchases as a form of non-participation. The laydown was supported by the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, a project of Industrial Workers of the World.

The previous month, Operation PUSH &ndash an effort by Florida prisoners and their advocates to end prison slave labor and exploitive commissary prices, and to fully reestablish parole &ndash posted a statement that read, in part, &ldquo[O]ne case of soup on the street cost $4. It costs us $17 on the inside. This is highway robbery without a gun. It&rsquos not just us that they&rsquore taking from. It&rsquos our families who struggle to make ends meet and send us money &ndash they are the real victims that the state of Florida is taking advantage of.&rdquo

The Culture of Prison Cuisine

When it comes to prison meals, the bottom line is that they are one of the most anticipated events in correctional facilities because there is little else to look forward to &ndash and because prison schedules are designed to accommodate thrice-daily meal times (or twice a day on weekends at some facilities). While chow hall dishes sometimes have appealing names, such as Turkey Tetrazzini or Western Chili, the reality is that most prison food is bland, under- or over-cooked and unappetizing. [See: PLN, April 2010, p.1].

As a result, prisoners create elaborate recipes to make their own tasty meals. The best combine both commissary items and food from the chow hall. Onions, tomatoes, peppers and seasonings are popular items sold by kitchen workers.

&ldquoIn most cases, if you&rsquore lucky enough to know somebody that works in the kitchen, they can bring you back some raw onions, maybe some chives, some jalapenos, fresh vegetables,&rdquo said former prisoner Gustavo &ldquoGoose&rdquo Alvarez, who co-authored Prison Ramen: Recipes and Stories from Behind Bars. &ldquoAnd then there&rsquos times when you don&rsquot have much but tap water, a bag of Cheetos &ndash Flamin&rsquo Hot Cheetos at that &ndash and a couple of soups. And you know what? You make a little tamale.&rdquo

Prisoners also frequently take food from the chow hall back to their cells, in violation of prison rules. &ldquoYou&rsquoll sneak back bits of beef stroganoff and wash it off, mix it in with your ramen and create a different dish,&rdquo Alvarez stated.

While some prisons and jails have microwaves available in housing areas, others do not. Most facilities provide access to hot water, though, so prisoners can make soup and coffee, and warm other food items.

&ldquoYou put your noodles in this [bowl], add hot water, put the lid on, and then take it to your bunk and cover it with bedding and a pillow to hold in the heat,&rdquo an ex-prisoner wrote on WikiHow.com. &ldquoThis method is usually pretty effective, and after 10 minutes or so you have your ramen.&rdquo

Bread is a commodity not always sold or available in commissaries, so prisoners make &ldquosoup sandwiches.&rdquo This involves opening one end of a ramen noodle pack and filling it with hot water for about a minute. Once the water is drained off, the block of ramen, which is partly cooked but still firm, is split into two flat pieces and filled with mackerel, tuna, pork rinds or chips and condiments as desired.

Larger &ldquospreads&rdquo may contain ramen or chips as a base plus pickles, eggs, summer sausage, Slim Jims or virtually anything to add taste. Improvised tamales, burritos, pizzas and even cakes are possible. For example, a jail-house recipe for &ldquosweet and sour pork&rdquo includes pork rinds, cherry Kool-Aid mix, V8 or tomato juice, ketchup, sugar and (where available) soy sauce.

Prisoners are not just innovative when it comes to concocting recipes from food available in the commissary and chow hall they also can be entrepreneurial. When Seth Sundberg was serving time in California, he avoided eating meat in the chow hall that was delivered to the kitchen in boxes stamped &ldquonot for human consumption,&rdquo and developed a granola bar using oatmeal, honey, trail mix and peanut butter.

Finding that other prisoners were willing to buy them, upon his release he started a company to make organic, gluten-free energy bars under the name Prison Bars. [See: PLN, Aug. 2016, p.17]. His business has since expanded, and is now branded as Inside-Out Bars (www.insideoutbar.com), offering such flavors as cranberry almond and peanut butter choco chip.

Eating in prison has a larger purpose than simply being a means of nourishment or even having something appetizing to take the edge off the drudgery of life behind bars.

&ldquoCooking meals in prison isn&rsquot really about taste,&rdquo explained performance artist Karla Davis, who conducts demonstrations on how to prepare prison food. &ldquoIt&rsquos a reminder of humanity, community, and the person you were on the outside.&rdquo

Sitting down to a spread can be a sharing experience that helps prisoners remember there is power in bringing people together. While at the California Institution for Men in August 2009, Alvarez experienced race riots. &ldquoThere were inmates being stabbed, people getting beaten, buildings going up in flames. People were carrying around swords made out of broken windows,&rdquo he recalled.

Then, he saw something that caused him to change his life and way of thinking. He saw some older gang members calm down younger prisoners and begin feeding soup to freezing prisoners who were not being let back into the housing units by guards.

Alvarez told others in his unit, &ldquoGather up whatever food you have, and let&rsquos feed these guys.&rdquo It was then he realized, &ldquoI was having a meal with my so-called enemies, but after speaking with them, it was obvious that they were my brothers.&rdquo

The carceral experience can be traumatic, both physically and emotionally, and food can make an enormous difference.

&ldquoI was making chicken soup &ndash it took me back to that ordeal [during the riot],&rdquo said Alvarez. &ldquoI felt how I felt at the time &ndash I was on my own, becoming a man, but in prison. It was an eerie feeling &ndash that little warm soup brought me some comfort. There is still something I can have and feel at home, even though I&rsquom not.&rdquo

Sources: Daily Republic, www.spoonuniversity.com, Seattle Times, Statesman Journal, The Republic, Clarion-Ledger, Baltimore Sun, www.prisonpolicy.org, www.stltoday.com, Munchies, The Atlantic, www.firstwefeast.com, www.npr.org, www.bbc.com, Detroit Free Press, Colorado Springs Independent, www.laweekly.com, www.postandcourier.com, www.9news.com, The Marshall Project, www.tkcholdings.com, www.rapidcityjournal.com, www.politifact.com, https://fighttoxicprisons.wordpress.com, Phoenix New Times, www.wtxl.com, www.xojane.com, www.vice.com, Chicago Tribune

* The author is incarcerated in a Florida state prison.

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Takeaway

There are number of ways to help boost wellness and support a healthy immune system, and adding an extra immune-boosting supplement may help. Use our guide to find the best multivitamin or supplement to boost your immune system, and learn whether or not you should consider a supplement for immune health.

Audrey Nakagawa is the content creator intern at EcoWatch. She is a senior at James Madison University studying Media, Art, and Design, with a concentration in journalism. She's a reporter for The Breeze in the culture section and writes features on Harrisonburg artists, album reviews, and topics related to mental health and the environment. She was also a contributor for Virginia Reports where she reported on the impact that COVID-19 had on college students.

Join Patti Smith, Dave Matthews and Others for Virtual World Environment Day Concert

Every June 5, the UN celebrates World Environment Day, a chance to honor our shared home and bolster our commitment to protecting it.

This year's theme is "Ecosystem Restoration," so it's fitting that Pathway to Paris and 350.org are coming together with the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) North America Region to kick off the weekend with a virtual festival for restoration and recovery. The festival will take place Friday, June 4, and feature musical performances from artists like Patti Smith and Dave Matthews as well as presentations from activists like 350.org's Bill McKibben and United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres.

"It's important for us to work together to continuously draw attention to the needs of our suffering planet," performer Patti Smith said in a statement emailed to EcoWatch.

The festival will begin at 3 p.m. EST, but can be viewed from anywhere in the world via one of the organizers' Facebook pages:

In addition to Smith and Matthews, you will also have a chance to listen to performances by Rocky Dawuni, Jack Johnson, Ben Harper, Michael Stipe, Yury Revich, Priya Darshini, Tomas Doncker, Jordan Sanchez, Rima Fujita, Tenzin Choegyal, Patrick Watson and Jackson Smith.

The event will also feature music and remarks from Pathway to Paris co-founders Jesse Paris Smith and Rebecca Foon.

Smith and Foon have been bringing art and environment together since 2014. The aim of their organization is to unite the cultural, scientific, activist and policy spheres in order to make the Paris agreement a reality. This World Environment Day, that message is particularly urgent as the world chooses how it will recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

"We simply cannot go back to the way things were before," Smith said in a statement. "So much has been lost due to Covid, an immeasurable amount, and all the while, the climate crisis did not go away it has always been there underneath the surface, existing every day amongst all of the other destruction and suffering. As we rebuild our world, we must make changes greater than ever before, and transition into a new era which favors our natural and wild places, and focuses deeply on protection and preservation. Global collaborations like this event provide healing and communication during such a challenging time, and these new connections must continue and lead to great change, new ideas, ambitious action, and true global renewal."

The event also honors the 2021 World Environment Day theme of ecosystem restoration, the process of healing degraded ecosystems and protecting those that are still intact. 2021 launches the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, which lasts through 2030 and has been backed by more than 70 countries. During these 10 years, restoring 350 million hectares of land and water environments could generate $9 trillion and remove 13 to 26 gigatons of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

"There has never been a more urgent need to mitigate human impact on species and natural systems, and to reconnect and work with nature, instead of against her," performer Priya Darshini, who is also on the board of the International WildLife Co-existence Network, said in a statement. "I am so honored to be working together with like-minded artists, and be a part of this wonderful event which serves as a great reminder to us that everything we consume, including our art, comes from nature."

Scientists Discover First-of-Its-Kind Extinct Dwarf Emu Egg in a Sand Dune
Mattel Wants t​o Recycle Old Barbie Dolls
Bayer Considers Ending Some U.S. Glyphosate Sales as Environmentalists Urge EPA to Enact Full Ban
Mattel Wants t​o Recycle Old Barbie Dolls

Mattel, the maker of Barbie, Matchbox and MEGA toys, wants your old toys. The 76-year-old toy company has launched a pilot program to recover and recycle materials in certain old toys into future Mattel products, creating a more circular model with sustainability in mind.

"Mattel PlayBack," as the program is called, is a "toy takeback" program that "enable[s] families to extend the life of their Mattel toys once they are finished playing with them," a company press release said. The idea is to offer parents "guilt-free solutions for toys that have reached the end of their useful life," the program webpage said, and to ensure that "fun comes full circle."

To participate, consumers can visit Mattel.com/PlayBack to print out a free shipping label. Once Mattel receives the old toys, they are sorted and separated by material type. What can be processed and recycled is, and what cannot is either downcycled into other plastic products or converted from waste to energy, the press release noted.

"At Mattel, we are committed to managing the environmental impact of our products," Mattel's global head of sustainability Pamela Gill-Alabaster said in the press release. "The Mattel PlayBack program helps parents and caregivers ensure that materials stay in play, and out of landfills, with the aim to repurpose these materials as recycled content in new toys. It is one important step we're taking to address the growing global waste challenge."

CNN reported that of all the plastic ever created, only 9 percent has been recycled. The majority ends up in landfills or in the natural environment like the ocean, where they can take hundreds of years or longer to break down. Unfortunately, plastic toys are no different. A recent study found that LEGO bricks, which are made of plastic, can survive up to 1,300 years in the ocean. In that time, they can cause a lot of harm to marine life and fragile ecosystems.

One of the most frequently recommended ways to combat the plastic pollution crisis is to curb the use of new plastics and to recover and recycle what plastic already exists. Because of this, conscientious actors in the play space are beginning to create toys out of new materials and/or to find ways to recycle and upcycle old toys.

Mattel Playback will begin by accepting three brands of toys for recycling: Barbie, Matchbox and MEGA. The initiative has begun in the U.S. and Canada. The plan is to add more brands in the future and to extend to France, Germany and the United Kingdom through partnerships with third-party recycling partners.

"We get to keep these valuable materials out of a landfill and have the opportunity to learn from the circular model," Gill-Alabaster told CNN.

For ineligible toys, including non-Mattel brands, that are in good condition, one option is to pass them on to friends or donate toys to charities, USA Today reported.

PlayBack is Mattel's latest step towards increasing the overall sustainability of its products. The company previously committed to using 100% recycled, recyclable or bio-based plastic materials across all of its products and packaging by 2030, CNN reported. In line with that goal, the company introduced new toy innovations like baby blocks made of bio-based plastics and a fully recyclable UNO deck, the press release said. Mattel also announced the Matchbox Tesla Roadster, a die-cast vehicle made from 99 percent recycled materials and certified Carbon Neutral, the release added.

Mattel is not the only toy manufacturer trying to improve its processes and products. Another CNN article reported that the pandemic created an "unanticipated surge" in the demand for toys because parents were stuck at home with their children. The news report noted how large toy companies are meeting the new demand with more environmentally friendly products, packaging and programs.

For example, in early 2020, McDonald's in the UK announced that their Happy Meals will be plastic toy-free. Children will have a choice, instead, for a soft toy, a paper toy, or a book. The fast-food chain also will organize "toy amnesty" programs where children can recycle old toys to be made into play equipment for Ronald McDonald House Charities.

Additionally, according to Forbes, all of the "Big Three" toymakers — Mattel, Hasbro and Lego — have "greened up" their products to align with the environmentally-conscious values of millennial and Gen Z parents. The news reported cited a May 2019 trade group report that recommended biodegradable toys that can be composted in residential compost bins, neighborhood toy exchanges, and toy banks to collect donations for children in need.

"Toy companies need to recognize and respond to a fast-rising movement against plastics that is shaping consumer behavior," the report stated, Forbes reported.

Mattel says their PlayBack program is designed to teach kids about the values of recycling and sustainability in the context of their own toys, while recovering valuable materials for reuse in future toys and products. Mattel

South Africa Announced Plans to End Controversial Captive Lion Breeding Industry

South Africa is taking steps to resolve its controversial captive lion industry, making headway in major conservation efforts. This response brings an end to the international treaty that bans the global sale of products made from big cats.

Lion bones, teeth, and claws aren't supposed to be sold and traded globally, with the exception of products that come from South Africa, according to a report made by The Independent.

These lion body parts are used in scientifically discredited medicine, according to Yale Environment 360, and the sale of them will no longer take place. This new policy change is not yet a law.

In 2019, a panel started to review various policies related to the "management, breeding, hunting and trade of South Africa's elephants, lions, leopards, and rhinos," according to National Geographic.

On May 2, South African Minister of Forestry, Fisheries, and the Environment, Barbara Creecy, released a set of recommendations and hoped for key outcomes for the country's lion industry, including promoting "human-wildlife coexistence."

The South African government has banned the issuing of permits for breeding and is revoking current permits. Additionally, there is a recommended ban on hunting, and interacting with captive lions, according to National Geographic.

"Thousands of farmed lions are born into a life of misery in South Africa every year in cruel commercial breeding facilities," Edith Kabesiime, the wildlife campaign manager of the nonprofit World Animal Protection, wrote in an email to National Geographic.

This move by the South African government has garnered positive attention from wildlife groups who want to see lions live in the wild or in reputable conservation parks, according to AP News.

Conservationists are particularly happy about seeing an end to "canned hunting." This practice is when lions are raised in tight captivity and then moved to larger living quarters where they will face death by hunters that pay to shoot them. Hunters keep the head and skins of the lion, and the bones are shipped and sold mainly to Asia, according to National Geographic.

"If your mandate was that you want to shoot a lion in an easy way, with not so much effort, then South Africa was your No. 1 destination," Neil Greenwood, regional director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare said in a statement to AP News.

There are around 2,000 lions in South Africa, a number that has decreased during the last quarter-century. This decrease in wild lions is attributed to splintering habitats and a decrease in antelopes, a frequent meal of wild lions, according to National Geographic.

In addition to making recommendations on lion captivity, the Department of Forestry, Fisheries, and the Environment also accepted the panel's recommendation to push back on reopening trade on rhino horns and ivory.

Audrey Nakagawa is the content creator intern at EcoWatch. She is a senior at James Madison University studying Media, Art, and Design, with a concentration in journalism. She's a reporter for The Breeze in the culture section and writes features on Harrisonburg artists, album reviews, and topics related to mental health and the environment. She was also a contributor for Virginia Reports where she reported on the impact that COVID-19 had on college students.

Biden Backs Massive Alaska Drilling Project Approved Under Trump

The Biden administration is facing backlash from climate activists and scientists after filing a court brief Wednesday in defense of a major Trump-era Alaska drilling project that's expected to produce up to 160,000 barrels of oil a day over a 30-year period — a plan that runs directly counter to the White House's stated goal of slashing U.S. carbon emissions.

"This is a complete denial of reality," said Jean Flemma, director of the Ocean Defense Initiative and former senior policy adviser for the House Natural Resources Committee. "The project is expected to produce about 590 million barrels of oil. Burning that oil would create nearly 260 million metric tons of CO2 emissions — about the equivalent of what is produced by 66 coal-fired power plants."

Approved by the Trump administration in October of last year, fossil fuel giant ConocoPhillips' multi-billion-dollar Willow Master Development Plan aims to establish several new oil drilling sites in part of Alaska's National Petroleum Reserve and construct hundreds of miles of pipeline.

Environmental groups promptly sued the Trump Bureau of Land Management and Interior Department over the move, charging that the agencies signed off on Willow "despite its harms to Arctic communities, public health, and wildlife, and without a plan to effectively mitigate those harms."

But in a briefing submitted in the U.S. District Court for Alaska on Wednesday, Biden administration lawyers defended the Trump agencies' decision to greenlight Willow against the environmental coalition's legal challenge.

"The agencies took a hard look at the Willow Project's impacts, including impacts from the alternative proposed water crossings and impacts from building gravel roads and other infrastructure," the filing reads. "The analysis did not suffer for lack of specific project information."

The Biden administration's filing does not explain how support for the massive drilling project — a top priority of Alaska's Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan — comports with the White House's pledge just last month to cut U.S. carbon emissions in half by 2030.

"This is climate denial," author and environmentalist Naomi Klein tweeted in response to the Biden administration's brief, which came just days after the International Energy Agency said nations must immediately stop approving new fossil fuel projects and urgently transition to renewable energy sources if the world is to avoid the worst of the climate emergency.

A federal judge temporarily halted construction of the Willow project in February, arguing environmental groups demonstrated that "there is a strong likelihood of irreparable environmental consequences once blasting operations commence."

But the New York Times reported Wednesday that "oil and gas industry officials and members of Alaska's congressional delegation, some of whom personally appealed to President Biden this week, said they believed the administration's support would help [the drilling project] proceed" despite the legal challenges and dire warnings from climate experts.

In what the Times described as "a paradox worthy of Kafka," ConocoPhillips is aiming to install cooling devices in Alaska's rapidly melting permafrost to keep the ground stable enough to support drilling that is contributing to warming temperatures.

"When someone describes a project with words like 'in a paradox worthy of Kafka,' you can bet it's not what climate action should look like," said Trustees for Alaska, an environmental justice organization. "We'll see the administration in court."

Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.

Scientists Discover First-of-Its-Kind Extinct Dwarf Emu Egg in a Sand Dune

For the first time, scientists have found and described an egg belonging to an extinct species of dwarf emu that only lived on one Australian island.

The find, written up in Biology Letters Wednesday, also helped scientists understand more about the now lost dwarf emus and how their eggs evolved to protect the birds inside.

The egg was a "rare" and "unique" discovery, lead study author Julian Hume, a paleontologist and research associate with the National History Museum in London, told Live Science.

Emus are the world's second largest bird, measuring an average of 5.7 feet tall, according to the Smithsonian. There is currently only one species of emu that lives on Australia and its surrounding islands, but this was not always the case. Before European settlers arrived, there were at least three different subspecies of emus living on different islands off the Australian coast, as Phys.org reported. In addition to the emu still with us today, known scientifically as Dromaius novaehollandiae, there was also the smaller Tasmanian emu (D. n. diemenensis), the dwarf Kangaroo Island emu (D. n. baudinianus) and the dwarf King Island emu (D. n. minor). Sadly, all three went extinct shortly after European colonization began.

Hume told Live Science that the emu species diverged around the end of the last ice age some 11,500 years ago, when melting glaciers increased sea levels and separated the islands from the Australian mainland. It is an evolutionary rule that species isolated on an island tend to shrink over time, and this was the case for the dwarf emus.

The smallest of all three subspecies was the King Island emu, according to Phys.org. It stood less than a meter (approximately 3 feet) tall and was half the weight of a contemporary emu. It was also the only subspecies of emu for which no egg had been found, until now.

The egg was first discovered in a sand dune by study co-author Christian Robertson, a natural historian on King Island.

"He found all the broken pieces in one place, so he painstakingly glued them back together and had this beautiful, almost complete emu egg," Hume told Live Science. "The only one known in the world [from the King Island dwarf emu]."

The finding wasn't just unique in its own right it enabled the scientists to compare all of the extinct emu eggs they were aware of, including six from Tasmania and one from Kangaroo Island. They discovered that, despite the birds' smaller size, the eggs had roughly the same dimensions as today's larger emu eggs, though they were slightly less in mass and volume and appeared to have slightly thinner shells, the study explained.

Hume told Live Science that retaining a larger egg size could help the dwarf emus on two fronts: it would protect the eggs from predators and give the baby birds time to fully develop before emerging from the shell. This is a similar evolutionary strategy to New Zealand's kiwi, which lays the largest egg relative to body size in the world.

"That tactic is because the kiwi has to produce a chick that is ready to go," Hume said. "That's exactly what the King Island emu was doing."

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Bug Chips and Cricket Quesadillas — Is the Future of Protein Six-Legged and Winged?

Origen Farms in Castilla-La Mancha was founded two years ago to create a lot of one thing: crickets. In central Spain, the company is growing thousands of these bugs as healthier, more sustainable "livestock" for consumption.

As it turns out, crickets are a great alternative source of protein and nutrients. An unrelated 2020 review of cricket species being consumed around the world found that most edible crickets have a higher protein content than many traditional animal-based proteins, such as chicken, pork and goat. The review also found that digestibility of crickets in humans is slightly lower than that of eggs, milk or beef, but better than popular plant-based sources of protein such as rice and corn, Healthline reported.

Some species of cricket are even complete protein sources, meaning they contain all nine essential amino acids that humans need in suitable amounts, a 2019 study on the protein quality of commercial cricket and mealworm powders found.

Healthline also reported that crickets are a good source of critical vitamins, minerals and fiber. The latter is a strong advantage of cricket protein over other animal proteins, which lack a fiber content, the news report found. The fats contained in crickets are "good fats" that can help alleviate the risk factors for heart disease, Healthline reported.

Origen focuses primarily on creating a protein-rich flour out of Acheta domesticus, the house cricket. This is used in foods such as pasta, snack bars, crackers, chips and tortillas. The common insects are "habitually overlooked" for their nutritional benefits, the company told The Guardian. Being made of 70 percent protein, Origen's crickets also contain healthy amounts of iron, zinc, calcium and amino acids, the news article reported.

Despite some wary neighbors, Origen's founders are optimistic about scalability and potential growth and are looking for franchising partners.

"We were looking to start a business that was sustainable and profitable," founder Andrés García de Lis told The Guardian. "We looked at various things, from spirulina to other kinds of insects, but we ended up going for crickets for human consumption because it's a young market which could be profitable."

García de Lis and his partners grow their crickets on cereal and vegetables, and then humanely freeze them. Dried crickets can be eaten as snacks, but the majority of them are shipped to the Netherlands to be turned into flour, which is then imported back to Spain. After being mixed with Mexican corn, the flour can be turned into tortillas and chips. Spanish law currently prohibits the processing of insects into flour for human consumption, but does allow such flour to be used in foods, The Guardian reported.

"There are companies here in Spain that are very ready to partner with us and develop the technology to process the insects, but we'll have to wait until we get the green light before we can really do something scalable," García de Lis told the news outlet.

Come July, Origen plans to make their flour, tortillas and chips available for purchase. They aren't the only company intently focused on insects. In fact, the bug revolution went global years ago, with the database "Bug Burger" listing out 324 currently running startups in the insect protein space. For human consumption, these companies can make everything from protein bars to pasta to candy to nutritional supplements from insects. Bugs are also used for pet food and commercial animal feed.

Insect-based proteins may be more sustainable and environmentally-friendly than traditional factory farming, Healthline reported. According to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, livestock production is responsible for 14.5 percent of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. Healthline cited a study that found that broiler chickens had greenhouse gas emissions 89% higher per unit of edible protein produced than crickets. As chicken is already an animal protein with a smaller carbon footprint, the environmental implications for swapping red meat and other high-carbon-footprint animal products with crickets could be substantial.

Compared to livestock farming, insect rearing requires far less feed, water and land, insect protein provider Crickster noted. Energy is the only environmental sector where insects do not currently excel more energy is required to keep cold-blooded insects warm during winter, the company reported.

Overall, the health and environmental benefits of eating insects may prove cruical as the existing climate crisis and food security challenges continue to grow around the globe. A 2020 UN report found that global hunger is increasing and that COVID-19 has only exacerbated the problems. Including insects as part of daily diets could help create a more sustainable and secure food system that doesn't necessarily have to destroy nature.

"We believe in the shift towards responsible and sustainable livestock production," Origen's company website says. "Many people have joined the insect-eating revolution. We are here to convert the rest."

Origen Farms in Spain focuses on protein powder made of house crickets. Origen Farms

Most Americans Don’t Approve of Animal Testing - Will the U.S. Congress Finally Pass Legislation to End It?

The life of a mouse or a rat is an unenviable one. Chances are that if you're in the urban wild, you must contend with deadly traps, poisons and broom-wielding humans. If you're a country-dweller, you might have it a bit easier, but then again you may be blown to smithereens by a shotgun or carried off in the sharp talons of a barn owl. Or be poisoned anyway. "The only good mouse is a dead mouse," Australia's deputy prime minister Michael McCormack said recently, as the nation ramped up its war on mice with a plan to poison millions of them in New South Wales.

Either way, you'd still have your freedom and be much better off than one of the more than 111 million mice and rats who are used, abused and/or killed in the name of biomedical research in the United States every year. These highly intelligent rodents are so popular among researchers that they represent 99 percent of all animals used in laboratories. Much of the horror is funded by taxpayers—more than $16 billion each year since 2017—even though a majority of Americans oppose the use of animals in scientific research, according to a 2018 Pew Research Center poll.

Sue Leary, the president of the Alternatives Research and Development Foundation, which is dedicated to finding humane replacements for animal-based research, said the staggering number of lab mice and rats—the recently compiled figure of 111 million—is concerning because rodents are not protected by the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA), which provides some protections for animals used in research. "If the numbers are anywhere near correct, the amount of pain and suffering that's occurring in these animals is completely unacceptable," she said.

There's another reason to stop testing on mice and rats, too. Due to significant differences in biology, mice and rats are terrible substitutes for humans when it comes to medical research. Biologists Javier Mestas and Christopher C.W. Hughes studied the differences between mice and human immune responses and found that mice are poor preclinical models of diseases that impact us. In 2004, while they were researchers at the Center for Immunology and Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry at the University of California at Irvine, they published a study in the Journal of Immunology showing the limitations of using mice models. "The literature is littered with examples of therapies that work well in mice but fail to provide similar efficacy in humans," they wrote.

While rats and mice may be different from us biologically, emotionally they seem incredibly similar. "Male rats will snuggle up for a cuddle and find contentment when they are curled up in a person's lap," according to PETA, a nonprofit animal rights group. "Although female rats are just as affectionate, they tend to be tremendously energetic and inquisitive. Rats love seeing kind people and will often bounce around waiting to be noticed and picked up. Rats can bond with their human companions to the point that if they are suddenly given away to someone else or forgotten, they can pine away—and even die."

Though mice and rats are the most used animals in laboratory experiments, a whole host of other animals are in the crosshairs, including birds, frogs, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, pigs, sheep, dogs and cats. (In 2013, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced a phaseout of chimpanzees in biomedical research, though dozens of chimps formerly used in research are still locked up in labs.)

"Rodents' capacity to experience significant pain and distress in experiments is no longer contested. With over 100 million of these sentient animals born per year for American science, it is time to revisit the adequacy of their welfare protections," writes Dr. Larry Carbone, a veterinarian and animal welfare scholar, in a paper published in January in the journal Nature. "If the same proportion of… [rats and mice] undergo painful procedures as are publicly reported for AWA-covered animals, then some 44.5 million mice and rats underwent potentially painful experiments."

And it's not just mice and rats that make poor preclinical models. Conducting research on any nonhuman species to understand human disease is inherently flawed. "[A] growing body of scientific literature critically assessing the validity of animal experimentation generally (and animal modeling specifically) raises important concerns about its reliability and predictive value for human outcomes and for understanding human physiology," writes Dr. Aysha Akhtar, a fellow of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics, in a 2015 paper published in the journal Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics. "The unreliability of animal experimentation across a wide range of areas undermines scientific arguments in favor of the practice."

In designing a more ethical and more scientific future that doesn't involve harming animals, one way to think about alternative methods is to replace or reduce the use of animals, or at least refine the way they are used to lessen their suffering. This approach is known as the "Three Rs": replacement, reduction and refinement. But to start this change in meaningful ways, there needs to be political will for the federal government to craft a legal framework.

That framework could be enforced with the passage of a bipartisan bill, currently making its way through Capitol Hill, that would change the way federally funded research is conducted. Developed by Citizens for Alternatives to Animal Research and Experimentation (CAARE), a nonprofit organization that promotes research without animals, the Humane Research and Testing Act (HRTA), H.R. 1744, is a first-of-its-kind bill that seeks to establish a separate center under NIH called the National Center for Alternatives to Animals in Research and Testing. This new center would fund, incentivize and train scientists to use new, innovative, non-animal research methods. Reintroduced in Congress by the late Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) and Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL), HRTA would also allow taxpayers to know more about what they are paying for by requiring NIH to disclose the total numbers of animals they are using every year. The bill also requires NIH to submit ongoing plans for reducing the number of animals used in testing, to fulfill its mandate.

The bill has "immense potential to tackle the problem of millions of animals used in wasteful and repetitive research," says CAARE, but it "needs more cosponsors." So the group has launched a public petition—already signed by more than 150,000 people—urging Congress to pass the bill. This legislation affords us the opportunity to move the nation to a more ethical place when it comes to animal rights. It also will stop the wasteful use of federal dollars on cruelty that most American taxpayers don't want, while also shifting research to a more human-centered approach, which is ultimately better for human health.

"Science has advanced considerably in the 21st century so that research can be performed using non-animal methods that are more relevant to human medicine," Barbara Stagno, president and executive director of CAARE, told Earth | Food | Life. "Despite that, many millions of animals continue to be used, and the U.S. is one of the largest users of animals in laboratories worldwide. The Humane Research and Testing Act holds great promise to change the current paradigm of routine overuse of [laboratory] animals in the face of available alternatives," she added.

In March, CAARE hosted a congressional hearing in support of the bill. The hearing, titled "21st Century Innovations in Alternatives to Animals in Biomedical Research," featured as its keynote speaker the famed primatologist Jane Goodall, who shared her first experience with the extreme suffering that imprisoned nonhuman animals are forced to endure in laboratories across the nation and the world.

"It was in 1985 that I first saw with my own eyes the cruel, inhumane, and sterile conditions in which thousands of sentient animals are kept for use in medical research," said Goodall, who was named a Messenger of Peace by the United Nation in 2002. "On moral and ethical grounds, I found this shocking and unacceptable," she said, adding, "Despite an abundance of exciting breakthroughs in science and technology for the replacement of animal models, and a number of laws and policies that encourage the reduction of the number of animals used in experiments, we have unfortunately not seen enough progress in this area. Creating a dedicated center under the NIH devoted to providing scientists with the funding and training to replace animals would, without doubt, lead to major change."

Reynard Loki is a writing fellow at the Independent Media Institute, where he serves as the editor and chief correspondent for Earth | Food | Life. He previously served as the environment, food and animal rights editor at AlterNet and as a reporter for Justmeans/3BL Media covering sustainability and corporate social responsibility. He was named one of FilterBuy's Top 50 Health & Environmental Journalists to Follow in 2016. His work has been published by Yes! Magazine, Salon, Truthout, BillMoyers.com, EcoWatch and Truthdig, among others.

This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.



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