Category Archives: Judaism

Spokane’s religion wrap-up: Easter baskets, genealogy, Passover and Tutu

By Tracy Simmons

For kids, the best part of Easter is getting a basket filled with bunny-shaped chocolates and plastic eggs filled with coins. But when was the last time mom got an Easter basket? This year Christ Kitchen is selling ‘grown-up Easter baskets’ filled with soups, breads and other home-made goodies. You can order online.

(By the way, you still have time to get your Easter listings turned in to SpokaneFAVS, but better hurry).

Since we’re on the topic of family — are you interested in learning more about your genealogy? The Spokane West Stake will host a Family Search Symposium from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on April 28. It’s free and you can register online here.

Flickr photo of Passover seder by Suzie T

Let’s not forget that Easter isn’t the only sacred holiday on next weekend’s calendar. Passover begins April 7 and continues through April 13. Passover is a time to commemorate the freedom of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt under the leadership of Moses, who was directed by God. Traditionally on the first two nights of Passover, it is traditional for a Jewish family to gather for a special dinner called a seder in which the story of the Exodus is retold.

In this month’s newsletter from the Eastern Washington-Idaho Synod, the director of evangelical mission writes an interesting reflection on missional leadership. Helga Jansens writes, “Being missional means worrying less about ourselves: a self-denying forgetfulness about our congregational  size and resources. It is to be concerned with what God is already doing and what God wants to have done in  the community.” She offers some ideas in her piece about how to be more missional-minded.

Finally, you probably know Desmond Tutu is coming to Spokane later this year. But did you know his visit isn’t without controversy. The Inlander did a nice job explaining this story here.

Have something you think should be included in next week’s wrap-up? Email it to

Paying off our nation’s debt is a spiritual issue

By Contributor Rev. Bill Ellis

Rev. Bill Ellis

And so now, as often happens, we meet at the intersection of religion and politics streets.

Representative Paul Ryan’s budget committee of the U.S. House has produced a budget that cuts 5.3 trillion dollars from projected deficits over the next decade, a formidable number that does not erase the whole thing, but makes a decent dent in it. When he explained this budget on Meet The Press he emphasized the need to solve this budget crisis now, before it is too late, in a way that reduces federal spending and produces private sector jobs. These are laudable goals; indeed, the Obama Administration shares them.

What concerns me is how Ryan’s committee proposes to do all this. Medicaid would be cut by 800 billion dollars over the next decade, Medicare would be transformed into a system in which government subsidies for the purchase of private health insurance would replace the present reimbursement system, and 261 billion of projected cuts in Defense Department spending would be restored to the Pentagon, financed in part by cuts to food stamps and federal employee pensions.  There are other huge cuts to social service programs.


On the revenue side, the top tax bracket would be reduced from 35 percent to 25 percent. Ryan justified the tax cut by stating that along with the reduction in tax rates for the wealthiest Americans there would be a corresponding closing of tax loopholes — though he did not specify just which loopholes those would be — assuring us that total revenue would remain steady, “neutral” is the term he used, while spending would be reduced, assuring us all that in the aggregate the wealthiest Americans would pay no less in taxes than they do now.

This is precisely the problem. By Ryan’s own analysis the richest people in this country would contribute precisely zero to solving our budget crisis; they would pay no more than now. The folks who use Medicaid, food stamps and other social service programs would shoulder the entire burden.

Apart from the question of the dubious relationship between tax rates and job creation, the fact that even by Republican analysis the burden of solving the debt crisis falls entirely to the poor and lower middle class is deeply troubling. The Hebrew Bible image of the jubilee immediately comes to mind. We don’t know if a jubilee was ever actually declared in ancient Israel, but the notion was that every 50 years all debts would be remitted and all property alienated during the previous half century would be returned to its ancestral owners.  The poor get a chance to start over. In Luke’s Gospel Jesus reads the jubilee text from Isaiah of “good news to the poor” and declares that this is what the kingdom looks like.  What we have before us here is an anti-jubilee, a decree that only the poor must pay, it is the wealthy who get a new start.

I realize most analysts are saying this budget has no chance of passage; fair enough. But the spirit of this budget is alive and well, and I just can’t believe this is what we as a nation really want. Let us find a way that everyone really does contribute to the economic recovery that everyone wants. Let us find a means by which all help pay off the nation’s debt. Only then will we be able to look our spiritual heritage in the eye; anything less will represent the complete failure of our spiritual imagination.

PANEL: Did your faith change in college? How and why?

By Tracy Simmons

In February Rick Santorum told an ABC reporter that conservative students are singled out in college because most campuses are liberal. Then he said, “Sixty two percent of kids who enter college with some sort of faith commitment leave without it.”

He admitted the statistic was a bit dated, even though he used the stat in a January interview as well.

The Social Science Research Council, however, show that Santorum is incorrect. In fact, those not attending a college institution are the ones who are likely to stop attending worship services.

We asked SpokaneFAVS panelists about this.

Did your faith change in college? How and why?

Rev. Bill Ellis

My faith changed in college more dramatically than at any time before or since. Prior to college it seemed to me Christianity was a prescription for how to live one’s life, and faith was the intellectual assent to the value of that prescription together with an attempt to live according to that prescription.

During college I realized Christianity is in fact far better understood as a description of the predicament of humanity in the face of an otherwise incomprehensible universe.  The Judeo Christian tradition, as I came to understand it, is the refutation of the human attempt to cloud the truth of our finitude, limitation and mortality in the haze created by the human striving for security in an insecure universe, and power when in fact we are ultimately powerless.  Faith is therefore the positive response to that description, the realization that real and true life, as opposed to the denial of life, happens precisely when we abandon our attempts at gaining power and security, and live in accordance with the truth our powerlessness.  Such a life necessarily leads us to abandon the dehumanizing things we do to each other and to ourselves, and I might add, to the earth, because when we are no longer competing for a false sense of power and security the destructive and dehumanizing things that make perfect sense in the world of the denial of our finitude no longer make any sense at all.

Rev. Bill Ellis

Gracie Kiernan

Many atheists and agnostics will say that they “lost” faith in college. I stopped believing in God while in college, but that’s when my spirituality began to coalesce. I read more than ever before. I conversed with people with whom I did not agree, but still respected. I was exposed to philosophies and mindsets I’d never encountered. I soaked up knowledge like a sponge.

As this glut of information sifted itself out, the important concepts remained on my mind. Some aspects of the religion I was born into started to seem a little far-fetched. The things I’d looked to God or religion for in the past (such as compassion, a sense of community and faith) were still being fulfilled, but not by God. In college, I became active in social causes, honing my compassion for those who suffer. College gave me access to a supportive community.

I learned in college that faith doesn’t mean blind following, nor does it require a lack of intellect. Faith isn’t something your parents give you at birth. Faith is most effectively built when you learn about how the world works and you love it anyway.

Gracie Kiernan

Daya Goldschlag

My faith, or actually my belief in formal religion, changed way before college.  I must have been about 7 or 8 years old when I noticed that on the Jewish high holy days my neighbors and family got all dressed up and headed to shule (synagogue), but the emphasis seemed to be on their new outfits rather than any  religious interaction or teaching.  At that point I began to doubt the need for religion.

When I was even younger, probably around 6 years old, I asked my father what God was.  Because I was so young my father answered simply.  He said, “Some people think there is someone up in the sky who looks after all of us and some people think God is in everyone, in all the rocks and trees and animals and everything.”  I responded, “That’s what I believe.”  He said that was fine.  All these years later, that is basically what I still believe.  So, I guess my faith is still strong but it is not based on a particular religious belief system.

Daya Goldschlag

Rev. Alan Eschenbacher

I was a lifelong Lutheran when I enrolled at a Jesuit university (Gonzaga) and in 1978 most Gonzaga students were Catholic, the school was much smaller — around 1,500 or so. My faith was changed in college. It was strengthened. I think I understood grace a little better than my Catholic friends, good thing since I was in need of it A LOT!

Some of my Catholic friends stressed about going to private confession. After they went, they would come back with their “assignment” as I called it (say five Our Fathers and 10 Hail Mary’s etc.) Meanwhile I prayed with my community and church family in “corporate” confession every Sunday and was reminded of the promise of God’s grace and love and forgiveness. My friends said it was like cheating and I wouldn’t remember it since I didn’t have to “do” anything. I said, “exactly right,” Jesus did it for me, I am a sinner, and I sin boldly, as Luther suggested, but I believe in Jesus Christ and the forgiveness he brings even more boldly! College experience with roommates and friends strengthened this for me through practical everyday experience.

Rev. Alan Eschenbacher

Matt Wise

Yes, I feel like it became deeper and more mature. By the way, my college was BYU-Idaho and it was a great experience.

I think my faith grew as I took responsibility for training and developing the gifts I have been blessed with. Also having a community of peer’s to be involved with, sharing and growing together by hearing of each others spiritual experiences and witnesses of the gospel really did improve and broaden my understanding of the gospel and the various aspects in which it effects people’s lives.

Matt Wise

M.C. Paul

Growing up in a non-denominational church in the south, authority to interpret Scripture was given to the congregation’s minister; a man who more often than not, had little or no formal training in theology.

When I attended a Presbyterian college for my undergraduate degree, I suddenly found myself required to attend chapel regularly and take core courses in biblical studies. It was in that first course that I discovered exegesis. The world opened up to me in a new way once I had been given a methodology for approaching Scripture in a critical way.

Before college, my faith could have been said to be inherited from my family of origin — with little more than the minister’s word for what I should believe. During and after college, I found myself doubting everything I had been taught in my faith tradition, then rebuilding my faith on more solid ground; faith seeing understanding of the principles on which that faith was built.

Many years later I attended a Jesuit university and found myself again doubting, questioning, and affirming, in my own theological spiral. That is a place I continue to find myself  today, and I am forever grateful to my teachers who taught me to think critically and seek understanding.

M.C. Paul

Do you have a question for the SpokaneFAVS panelists? Email it to


71st Kosher Dinner another success

By Tracy Simmons

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Temple Beth Shalom drew its usual large crowd of about 2,000 people Sunday for its 71st annual Kosher Dinner.

Diners enjoyed Kosher relishes, Challah, beef brisket, potato knishes, carrot tzimmes, Mediterranean spiced apples and chocolate rugalach while listening to live Jewish music. A gift shop was also set up, which included jewelry, decorations and baked goods.

The pictures say it all. View our Kosher Dinner Flickr album here.

Spokane’s Religion Wrap-up: Gay marriage, Christian rock, jocks and food

By Tracy Simmons

If you don’t have plans tomorrow, and if you’re on the pro-side of marriage equality, then you may want to attend the Washington United for Marriage Town Hall and Canvass, which will be from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Spokane Falls Community College.

According to the group’s Facebook page, “We will be looking at where the campaign sits at this moment, what you can do to help, and how Spokane can be the deciding factor in victory this November.”

Following the meeting attendees will canvass the area and have face-to-face conversations with voters.

On a less controversial note, every Thursday in March The Oak Tree is hosting “Turning the Table: A Food Revolution” at Salem Lutheran Church from 5:30 to 7 p.m.

The Rev. Kris Christensen, of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, is facilitating the workshop, which examines local food injustices.

The sun is shining into my office window as I type this and it’s really making me want to get outside and enjoy the warmth. Maybe I’d even go for a hike if the wilderness had wi-fi. But for now, I’m happy reading about these inspirational jocks who scaled Mt. Kilamanjero to honor veterans.

It seems I’m not the only one addicted to technology. Bishop James E. Waggoner Jr. of the Episcopal Diocese of Spokane, wrote that he listens to his smart phone when he goes for walks. He’s figured out how to use his phone as a spiritual guide. Find out how here. I have the mindfulness bell downloaded on my phone. Does that count?

Challah,the traditional bread eaten on Shabbat, will be served at the Kosher Dinner/Contributed Photo from Lisa Lowhurt

Some big names in Christian rock are coming to town. Big Daddy Weave on March 14 and 15, Aaron Shust on April 24 and Third Day in May. Positive Life Radio has details.

Finally, bring your appetite with you to Temple Beth Shalom on Sunday for the annual Kosher Dinner. I can’t stop thinking about Challah. Be sure to check SpokaneFAVS on Monday for photos of the big event.

Have something you think should be included in next week’s wrap-up? Email it to

Kosher dinner expected to draw thousands

Tracy Simmons

Challah,the traditional bread eaten on Shabbat, will be served at the Kosher Dinner/Contributed Photo from Lisa Lowhurst

It started 71 years ago as a way to reach out to the gentile community, and it’s been a hit ever since.

The annual Temple Beth Shalom Kosher Dinner will be Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Last year, like in previous years, 2,300 people feasted on roast brisket, Carrot Tzimmes, Challah and other Jewish delicacies.

“It pretty much started as a way to familiarize people with the Jewish faith, with the practices and customs,” said David Williams, event chairman. “It was a way to get people from other cultures to recognize that we’re really no different from them. Yes, we have different holidays and such, but we’re all of the human race.”

Jews were a minority in the area seven decades ago, and they still are today. According to the Association of Religious Data Archives, there are approximately 1,500 Jewish adherents in Spokane County.

The Kosher Dinner is a fundraiser for the temple and will feature Mediterranean spiced apples, Rugelach, potato knishes and Kosher meat (which has to be shipped from the East Coast). It will also feature live entertainment, including an appearance in the late afternoon by the Spokane Community Gospel Mass Choir.

“There will be everything from Jewish folk music to Klezmer music to soloists,” Williams said.

The gospel choir, Williams added, was invited because the choir is made of people of all faith backgrounds.

He said the dinner’s been successful for 71 years because the Spokane community has proven to be supportive of other faiths.

Tickets are $16 for adults and $9 for children ages 3 to 11 and can be purchased at the door or online. Takeout will also be available.

Jewish Film Festival coming to local theater

Tracy Simmons

A movie about Ruth Gruber will be shown at the Jewish Film Festival/Wikipedia Photo

The annual Jewish Cultural Film Festival is just a few weeks away.

Movies about notable Jewish academics, entertainers and events will be featured beginning March 22 at The Magic Lantern. On March 24 at 7:30 p.m. a reception will be held to celebrate the festival’s eighth year.

Rabbi Tamar Malino, executive director of Jewish Area Family Services, will facilitate a discussion following the final film on March 25.

The event is sponsored by Jewish Area Family Services. Tickets for each movie are $10, or $7 for seniors and children. They can be purchased at the Lantern or online.

Ahead of Time,” 7:30 p.m., March 22

This film documents the life of Ruth Gruber, who became the world’s youngest Ph.D. recipient at the age of 20.

Mahler on the Couch,” 8 p.m., March 24

This film is about the real-life marriage of Gustav Mahler and his tempestuous wife Alma Schindler Mahler.

Viva Espania: A Tale in Four Octaves,” 6:30 p.m., March 25

This film explores the life of Israeli singer Hanna Aharoni.

Degania: The World’s First Kibbutz Fights its Last Battle,” following the first film.

This is a documentary about the privatization of the world’s first kibbutz, Degania.

Jews worry about Purim’s endorsement of alcohol

By Meredith A Bennet-Smith
Religion News Service

Purim greetings/Wikimedia CommonsIt’s almost Purim, and Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb is feeling a mix of joy and dread.
Joy because the Jewish holiday commemorates the survival of ancient Jews against the threat of extinction and children dress in costumes and exchange gifts and candy. Purim, on Wednesday, is also Weinreb’s birthday.
Dread because too many times, Weinreb has seen the high cost of Purim’s darker side, the “ugly and despicable behavior” of young yeshiva students who drink to excess on a day that is equal parts Halloween and Fat Tuesday.
 A close friend was killed in a drunk-driving accident, and another car accident — in the parking lot of a famed Torah institution —nearly claimed the leg of a young boy.
 In a recent commentary, Weinreb described “scenes of young Torah scholars rolling in puddles of their own vomit, totally incoherent, uttering obscenities that they would be ashamed to pronounce if they were sober.”
 At the root of these tragedies lies the Purim tradition of mishteh, drinking, and a passage in the Talmud that is too often used as an invitation to overindulge, said Weinreb, the former executive vice president of the Orthodox Union.
 The annual spring holiday commemorates the triumph of the ancient heroes Mordecai and Queen Esther over the evil Haman, who had plotted the destruction of the Jewish people in the Persian Empire. During the festivities, a relevant passage in the Talmud advises celebrants to drink until one cannot distinguish between the phrases “Cursed is Haman” and “Blessed is Mordecai.”
For some, the expression is taken too literally, said Dr. Herbert Rakatansky, a Rhode Island gastroenterologist and a clinical professor emeritus of medicine at Brown University.
“It’s an endorsement of binge drinking, and for teenagers and adolescents, it’s a message,” Rakatansky said. “If it’s OK to drink on Purim, why isn’t it OK to drink like that on other days? On Purim, you drink until you’re drunk, basically.”
 In Orthodox communities, the drinking may take place at the local synagogue where men and boys imbibe together. Alex Harlig, a Ph.D. student in dance studies at Ohio State University was recently invited to a “Purim bar hop.”
“I definitely have friends who use the supposed tradition of drinking on Purim as a cue to drink,” she said.
For a community that has only recently started coming to terms to the dangers of alcoholism, the perceived endorsement of drinking on Purim is bad news, according to Jonathan Katz, director of Jewish Community Services at the New York-based Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services, an organization that includes Jewish Alcoholics, Chemically Dependent Persons and Significant Others (JACS).
“The whole connection with the drinking to excess, and the holiday of Purim, is based on a misreading of the rabbinic texts, and that’s kind of been used as an excuse,” said Katz, whose synagogue once made beer available to adults and adolescents alike.
“It’s quite a serious issue. I think that most responsible Jewish groups regardless of denominations are becoming increasingly aware of that and making efforts to try to limit the danger or the risk involved.”
Ritualized drinking has long been built into Jewish ceremonies, such as the ritual four cups of wine at the Passover seder. Judaism is not alone; within Christianity, the blessing and drinking of sacramental wine is a staple at many Sunday services.
“The myth was because of that controlled or ritually structured drinking, Jews did not have this problem (of alcoholism),” Katz said, “and that really is not the case.”
Through the efforts of organizations like JACS and the advocacy of respected leaders like Weinreb, the Jewish community is starting to “puncture this level of denial,” Katz said.
The Orthodox Union includes a “Purim Safety Alert” on it website, stating in part, “Bodily harm through intoxication is not a mitzvah on Purim, and driving under the influence of alcohol is illegal, leads to impaired judgment, and chas ve’shalom (God forbid), a possible catastrophe.”
Still, the temptations presented by Purim continue.
“It’s taken a lot of time to really get through, but I think at this point Jewish communities have reached a whole other level of awareness of the problem,” Katz said.
“But you still do have a lot of denial, and a lot of challenges, with people who don’t want to accept the risk, or who minimize it.”

Parting the sea of 2 faiths, the language that separates Messianic Jews

By Contributor Lace Williams-Tinajero

Lace Williams-Tinajero

One day Rabbi David D’Auria found a red Nazi swastika painted on the sign of his synagogue. Regardless, he answers with a firm “no” when asked if he has ever been targeted or persecuted for being a Messianic Jew. The leader of Kehilat HaMashiach, a Messianic congregation in Spokane Valley, says that anti-Semites, people who hate Jews, target all Jews. Even some of his fellows Jews are suspicious of him. For Christians the rabbi has to prove himself a true follower of Jesus. For Jews he has to prove he’s still Jewish.

At times, such “gross display of ignorance” makes living in Spokane difficult, D’Auria said. Larger metropolitan areas like Philadelphia, Miami and Fort Lauderdale have higher populations of Jews and Messianic Jews. Not so in Spokane, which is mostly homogeneous.

“Spokane is not this international community with many different cultures,” D’Auria said. “When you have interactions between different cultural groups, you have more openness. Spokane feels resistant and non-accepting of different groups.”

One word sets all Messianic Jews apart, Yeshua (Hebrew for Jesus). The call for Messianic Jews is obedience to Yeshua while maintaining their Jewish identity. Yeshua is the center of their worship. Yeshua is also the eye of a storm of controversy that swirls around them.

“We are not part of what is traditionally considered Christian or Jewish because of our unique call; yet, we desire the unity in both groups of people — Christians and Jews,” said D’Auria.

As with any religious journey, it is difficult to walk a straight path. The difficulty for Messianic Jews is, “staying to the center of the road when there are two sides pulling you apart, Jews pulling you to be non-Yeshua, and Gentiles pulling you to be less Jewish,” he added.

Yeshua is the most descriptive word for Messianic Jews. It evokes hatred from some non-Yeshua believing Jews. D’Auria indicates for nearly 1,000 years, some ultra-Orthodox and Orthodox Jews refuse to utter the name Yeshua. Instead, they spit on the ground and shorten it to Yeshu, interpreted as false one or traitor. Non-Messianic Jews regard Yeshua as a blasphemous word. They disregard Yeshua because of the harm that has come to Jews in the name of Jesus. In defense of Yeshua, D’Auria rejects this conclusion as sinat hinam (hatred without cause), stemming not from theological reflection but from emotional reaction.

To move forward, more open dialogue in place of emotionally charged reactions is needed. D’Auria answers “yes” to the question of whether it is possible to understand one another’s beliefs based on language.

“From a Messianic Jewish standpoint, belief in Yeshua breaks down some points of compatibility,” he said.

He stands firmly in his belief that Yeshua is God’s promised Messiah to the Jewish people. His sincerity and courage give insight into his character and why he continues on a path that others find so suspicious, even if it comes in the form of a red swastika.