7 Smartphone Habits To Help You Feel Calmer and More Connected To Your Real Life

Since their release in 2007, Smartphones are taking a toll on our health and our relationships.

Here are a list of my most urgent questions about my smartphone experience:

  • Is it possible for me to have a smartphone and use it in a balanced and sane way?
  • Does smartphone use naturally lead to compulsive overuse?
  • Are some of us more at risk for smartphone addiction that others? (i.e. experiencing symptoms like craving, anxiety and spending too many hours using our smartphones even when it is having adverse effect on our life)
  • My smartphone use makes me feel speedy, interrupted, mentally/emotionally exhausted and distracted?  Is it just me or does everybody feel like this?
  • How does my smartphone use impact others? Namely my daughter.
  • How much time do I spend on my smartphone everyday, really?

To illustrate what I am pointing too, here are three multiple choice questions for you about your smartphone, and the impact your smartphone is having on your life.

This best describes my relationship with my smartphone:






This best describes how my smartphone makes me feel:






This best describes how smartphone use impacts my important relationships:

It interrupts my IRL (in real life) relationships

It distracts me when I am with people I care about

Sometimes, I find I am fighting with my children and/or partner about smartphone usage

Too much time on my smartphone makes it harder for me to connect with people IRL.

Keeps me connected to the people I love


Yes, of course there are a lot of wonderful things we do with smartphones: read maps, look up recipes, buy things, listen to podcasts, call my Mom on video, edit photos, and scroll social media, etc.

However smartphone overuse drains away all the positives. In a paradoxical way, the tool that is supposed to make us feel more connected is making us feel more separate and isolated. Smartphone overuse is damaging our health and our relationships.

Families face a particular conflict around their smartphone use. Parents have their child(ren) as their audience to their smartphone use. To me, when I am “on” my smartphone, I am “doing” all kinds of things on my phone: reading the NY Times on my smartphone, or texting about dinner plans, finding a recipe for dinner tonight, relating to a friend’s social media post, editing photos. To my daughter I am simply locked into a one-way gaze and looking at a screen I am holding in my hand. Added to this, our children mimic our smartphone use and soon want to be on our phone all the time or to have their own.

The saddest sight is going to a restaurant and see a family, a couple, and/or friends at a table “sharing” dinner except each person is only relating to the smartphone in their hand.

Martin Buber said in I and Thou “All real living is meeting”

Without good habits and boundaries, smartphones interfere with real living.

Here are 7 simple habits that will help you to create supportive boundaries with your smartphone:

Respect Your Real Life Morning Routine

Refraining from checking your smartphone first thing in the morning is a way of respecting your morning routine. Diving right into smartphone use creates speedy energy. Waiting to engage with your smartphone helps create a calmer start to your day. If you have children, not using a smartphone makes morning go smoother for them too. Beginning your day with real life activities like drinking water, making coffee/tea, getting breakfast, giving your partner and/or children a hug, or taking care of a pet is better way to start your day.

Relax and Connect to During Mealtime

Mealtime, whether you are eating alone of with others, can be a time to relax and connect. Smartphones interrupt meals and cause people to eat mindlessly and in isolated virtual silos. To create a good atmosphere at meals, we can put our phone on silent/vibrate, take it off the table or even place it away in our handbag.

Evening Are a Time to Rest Our Minds and Pay Attention To Real Life

Having a specific time to turn off your smartphone and focus instead on your real life is helpful. Place your cell phone out of sight to signal to yourself that it is time to turn your attention towards other activities and real people. Evenings can be a time to rest and refresh through real life activities and connecting with people in our real life.

Our bedrooms are for resting and intimacy

Make your bedroom a smartphone-free zone to encourage resting and intimacy. Remember when people used to read books in bed? By removing your smartphone from your bedroom, there is less temptation to compulsively check social media, read another article, or watch clips on Youtube before bed. Instead read a physical book, cuddle with your partner/children or pets, share a conversation about your day, or simply lay down, close your eyes, and relax after a long day.

Take a weekly 25-hour break from Technology

Powering-down our computers and phones (and other electronic devices) for specific and routine periods of time during our week can rejuvenate us and allow us to reconnect with ourselves and the people around us.

Put Your Phone down and Put It Away

So many times when we are with other people in real life, we keep our phones in our hands or in our sight. Many people place their phone on the table during a meal or a meeting and anxiously keep glancing at it or picking it up during conversation. This is an intimacy interruption and makes it difficult to sustain human contact because it breaks up eye contact, conversation and body language. This inattention hurts the people we are with in real life. It feels horrible to feel like the person you are with is more interested in their cell phone than in you! Set the stage to connect in real life by putting down your phone and placing it out of your sight.  

Know Your Somatic Limits

We are all different and therefore each of us has our media/technology tipping point where engaging with our smartphone stops feeling helpful or good for us. Martha Graham said “The body never lies” and this idea applies to our unique response to technology. Our body sends us a clear signal that we need to take a break to rest and refresh. Some people get a headache, other people’s eyes hurt, and some people just feel more distracted and forgetful. Whatever your body’s signal, honor yourself and take a break.

Your turn: Tell me in the comments, which of these boundaries feels the most supportive to you right now?

“Sobering” Jewish Quotes on Alcohol and Partying (Pun Intended)

In honor of Purim, the Jewish holiday where many people drink too much alcohol, here are Jewish quotes on alcohol and partying for your reflection and pleasure.

People who drink to drown their sorrow should be told that sorrow knows how to swim.

-Ann Launders

In a place for wine, pour not forth talk.

-Ben Sirah, Jewish moralist 3rd century B.C.E

In Jewish culture compulsive eating is more likely to be selected as a means of alleviating psychic tensions [than] addictive drinking.

-Charles Snyder

We think life is nicer when you have people to share it with. Whether it is sitting around Sadie’s living room playing mah jong, joining Hadassah or our synagogue’s Sisterhood, a bottle of wine on Tuesdays on Rachel’s couch, or commenting on one another’s Facebook page, Jewish women get by with a little help from their friends.

– Elissa Strauss

Drunk emotions aren’t real emotions.

-Lena Dunham

Like a bird on the wire, / Like a drunk in a midnight choir / I have tried in my way to be free.

-Leonard Cohen

Drink no wine nor strong drink, you, nor your sons with you, when you go into the tent of meeting, that you die not; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations.

– Leviticus 10:9


While many Jewish traditions involve alcohol, Jewish culture condemn actual drunkenness.

-Lew Weiss

Drinking alcohol for women can be complicated. Some women drink on Purim and some women do not.

Jewish Food Hero

Who has wounds without cause? Who has bloodshot eyes? Those who sit late over wine, those who come to search for mixed wine. Do not look at wine when it is red; when he puts his eye on the cup, it goes smoothly. Ultimately, it will bite like a serpent, and sting like a viper.Your eyes will see strange women, and your heart will speak confusedly.

-King Solomon, Proverbs 23:29-33

“One must drink on Purim until that person cannot distinguish between cursing Haman and blessing Mordechai.” – Megillah 7b

Jewish law recognizes a special blessing on drinking wine, which is said only when people drink together in fellowship – never when they drink alone.

-Orthodox Union

Wine that cheers the hearts of men, oil that makes the face shine, and bread that sustains man’s life.

– Psalms 104:15

Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise.

– Proverbs 20:1

Judaism is not for absolute prohibition of alcohol. Wine is an integral part of Jewish ritual. But like all matters in life, Judaism preaches good common sense, necessary restraints and discipline and a social responsibility for the general welfare of all society. Alcohol has to fit in to that pattern.

– Rabbi Berel Wein

If a person drinks excessively for the wrong purpose it can cause immoral conduct and destitution. If however one drinks alcohol in moderation and with the right intentions, it can make the person more moral, become more aware of other people’s needs, and heighten the intellect. – Rabbi Eli Brackman

Bodily harm through intoxication is not a [religious commandment] on Purim.

-Rabbi Judah Issacs

So what is wine? Is it a holy beverage with immense powers, reserved for holy and special occasions? Or is it a destructive agent with the power to bring down mighty people; a substance to be avoided at all costs?

-Rabbi Menachem Posner


Wine’s ability to bring joy is because it relaxes our inhibitions and weakens the body’s natural defenses. This “weakening of the body” allows the soul to shine through.

-Rabbi Menachem Posner

Wine in, secret out.

-Talmud Eiruvin

Wine is the cause of a great deal, and so is childhood.

-Talmud Sota-Rabbi Menachem Posner

Getting drunk in order to escape responsibilities we have to ourselves, to our families, and to those around us, is highly destructive. A person who is in an “escapist” mode is a dangerous person, because very often he is also escaping many of the rules that he would be wise to follow.

– Rabbi Menachem Posner

On her motivation for creating a new line of low-alcohol wines, Dr. Ruth’s Vin D’Amour:

“The biggest concern — and correctly so — is having an erection for men. That is one of the reasons I came out with the wine. It has only 6 percent alcohol. Drink a little because everybody has stress; don’t drink too much. She falls asleep and he can’t have an erection.”

-Dr. Ruth Westheimer

Your turn: Do you have a quote to add to this list?  Please add it in the comment section.

An Interview with Rabbi Sara Rich on Modern Modesty

I am so happy to share this interview with Rabbi Sara Rich on modern modesty. My hope for this interview was to learn about the origins of this idea and to enlarge the modern conversation around the topic of modesty in a way that feels relevant and inclusive to all women.

For those of you unfamiliar with Rabbi Sara Rich, she is the Executive Director of the Hillel of BuffaloShe facilitates Jewish learning and experiences, community-building and leadership development for undergraduate and graduate students in the Buffalo area.

Enjoy this special interview!

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I was raised in Maryland, studied in Jerusalem at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies and then studied to be a rabbi at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, in Jerusalem and then in New York City.

My Jewish journey has taken some unexpected turns – I was raised in a nurturing Reform community and decided to become a rabbi when I was 15 years old. In college, at the University of Maryland, I was exposed to more traditional Jewish practices, and learned that what I had mistakenly thought was blind observance of ritual could actually be a beautiful, passionate expression of spirituality that I was not feeling in my own Jewish life. I used this opportunity to learn more, which led to taking on an increased level of Jewish observance. I grappled with questions of my own Jewish purpose – would I have a greater impact on the world as an observant Jew, or as a Reform rabbi? Could I try to be both at the same time? From this exposure to communities with different practices and ideas from my own, I became a lover of pluralism, and have continued to seek opportunities to pray and learn with Jews of all different backgrounds, and to facilitate these experiences in my professional life through my work in Hillel. We have so much to gain, and nothing to lose, from encountering new ideas and even trying them on for size in our own lives.

I know I sound cerebral, but I’m a goofy mommy of two young daughters, a wife to an incredible man who is Drew Carey’s doppelganger, a podcast fanatic (OK fine that’s still cerebral) and have never met a scoop of ice cream I didn’t like.

Where do ideas about Jewish modesty come from?

Jewish modesty as a general concept has its roots in the Bible. The prophet Micah teaches that God requires three things of humans: “To do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly/modestly with your God “ (6:8). The Hebrew root is צ-נ-ע, and the word tzniut is used for modesty in behavior and appearance.

The biblical imperative is non-specific, we are only taught that is important to be modest, but we don’t receive any specific instructions. Later rabbinic teachings offer more specific directives related to modesty in dress and appearance, and these laws are used to govern what men and women can wear, the parts of the body that are permitted to be exposed, and precautions that should be taken with regards to modesty so as to prevent physical temptation that can lead to sin.

Today, many people think of modesty as being only about how women dress. What else does modesty refer to in a Jewish sense?

Modesty refers to how men dress as well as women, although the common standards for modest dress are not equivalent for men and women. In some communities where female modesty rules prohibit exposing the arms and legs, men might still be permitted to wear short pants and sleeves.

Maimonides, a medieval philosopher and commentator wrote in his legal code Mishneh Torah, in Hilchot Deot 5:6, that a Torah scholar should conduct himself with great modesty. The behaviors that he describes include not demeaning oneself, keeping the head covered, and using the restroom in privacy. This list is not exhaustive, but it shows that modesty is a consideration of the extent to which the body correctly portrays the soul.

The soul is holy and contains a Divine spark, but it cannot be seen. The body and its behaviors are the manifestations of the soul, and we are commanded to use our bodies in ways that honor the souls within.

What can modesty mean if you are not looking to adopt an Orthodox dress code?

Modesty is a way of subduing the external in order to emphasize what’s internal. This can apply to what we wear, our possessions, the words we use, and other ways that we exist in the physical world. A pursuit of modesty could mean buying a less expensive car, or it could mean refraining from posting a picture of a recent vacation on Instagram.

At the same time, it is important to remember that we are meant to enjoy the physical aspects of the world, and should be careful not to shame ourselves or others for finding pleasure in natural and human creations. In the Jerusalem Talmud, Kiddushin 4:12, Rav Chizkiya teaches in the name of Rav that in the world to come, a person will be required to give an account of everything which is permissible to eat that he saw, but chose not to consume. This teaching puts us on the defense for not maximizing physical pleasure! It is as though we insult God by not taking joy in God’s creations. Modesty, then, ought to be approached in a way that seeks balance between appreciation of what we have, and a recognition that focusing too much on ourselves can pull us away from caring about our obligations to others and to God.

If I was your daughter, what would you teach me/show me about modesty?

That when it comes to what you wear and how you comport yourself, you should seek to be dignified. Dignity is the recognition that we are holy and have many special qualities, and that we should choose behaviors that are appropriate for who we are. I would also teach her that it is easy to judge people by what they wear, and that she will face a great deal of pressure to join in cruel conversations about other people’s clothing and behaviors. She doesn’t have to take part – she can be a leader amongst her peers by speaking positively about others and looking past appearances to get to know the person within.

If I was your son, what would you teach me/show me about modesty?

The exact same thing.

How has contemporary life affected the practical applications of modesty?

We have so many opportunities today over social media to exhibit our external features. A common way for teenagers to show their affection for one another is to share positive comments about each other’s selfies on Instagram. It is trendy to use pictures to exhibit what we ate, who we are with, what we have accomplished, and so forth, and it is very easy to cross boundaries of modesty.

To balance these behaviors, it is important to find deeper ways to connect, so that we can remain in the practice of not just praising what is beautiful, but being comfortable and open to that which is ugly and painful, because all of these experiences are part of life.

Is modesty important in this day and age? Why?

Modesty is as important today as in the past because our struggle between pride and humility is eternal. We are taught that all humans are created with the Good Inclination and the Evil Inclination, and that our task in life is for our goodness to overcome our evil tendencies. The practice of modesty is a way to keep ourselves in balance. For some, it is challenging to refrain from sharing that which they are proud of. For others, they subdue themselves too much, and modesty is actually about working towards the confidence to share their strengths and gifts with others and without fear.

Are women limited or liberated by the concept of modesty?

I think that modesty of dress is more limiting than liberating when it comes as a set of standards that a community applies to all women. In these cases, a woman is judged by her appearance first, and her other attributes second. I know some would argue that by dressing in a modest way, it allows her other attributes to be appreciated, and that those who meet her won’t be distracted by her body. I respect that, but I think it only works when a woman complies with the communal standards. If she doesn’t, then her lack of compliance becomes a barrier to this appreciation, and that isn’t fair.

On the other hand, in a system where people can make individual choices about modesty, then the practice can be liberating because it allows a person to find his or her own balance between the external and internal, and it allows this balance to change over time. I do want to add that I do not advocate throwing out all standards of appropriate dress, because we function in a society, and societies have norms. Unless you are interviewing to be a lifeguard, showing up to a job interview in a bathing suit is not going to land you a job, even if you are smart and capable.

Our minds rely on some standards of “normal behavior” in order to make sense of the world, and this need translates to expectations for what we wear, say, and do. We might find those expectations limiting at times, and it can be challenging to negotiate to what extent we conform to the standards around us if they are different from what we would choose for ourselves in a vacuum.

What is the intersection between modesty and feminist thought?

Feminist thought advocates for equal standards and for individual choices. This means that the virtue of modesty should be taught to people equally, not over-emphasized for women as it is today. It also means that people choose for themselves and are responsible for their own actions. Regrettably, many teachings about modesty of women’s dress are presented as important for keeping men from sexual transgression. One of the important lessons that feminist thought has promoted is that a woman is not responsible for a man’s sexual aggression because of what she wore. She didn’t “ask for it.” We were created with free will, and each of us is responsible for controlling our temptations, regardless of another person’s choice of clothing.

If I am interested in experimenting with modesty in my personal behavior, what 2-3 things might I think about doing?

The first step I would suggest is to identify an area or two in your life where you feel like you want a better balance between the internal and external. Next, choose a behavior to help promote that balance. For example, if I feel like I speak too much about myself and want to strive to keep more of these thoughts inside so that I can be more available to listen to others, then I might set the practice of asking a friend three caring questions in a conversation before I talk about myself. If I think that I am too focused on showing my wealth through clothing and accessories, then I might choose a more modest brand and use the money I save to purchase clothing for people in need.

If I am interested in exploring the topic of Jewish modesty, what books might I read?

The Passionate Torah: Sex and Judaism, by Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, which is a collection of essays about Judaism and sexuality, and which includes a chapter by Rabbi Ruttenberg called “Toward a New Tzniut” which provides a more expansive view of modesty.

With Heart in Mind, by Alan Morinis, which is a book about Jewish virtues (in Hebrew, Mussar). If one is interested in approaching modesty as a virtue, and not as a dress code, then the chapters in this book help a person achieve greater balance of character.

Your turn:  What is the intersection between modesty and feminist thought? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

From the Jewish Food Hero Kitchen: Esther’s Vegan Grain Bowl

To honor Purim this year, I wanted to create a dish specifically to honor Esther. Hamantaschen are great but they do place all the focus on the story’s villain, Haman.  

I would rather focus on Esther.  

“What you focus on expands. So focus on what you want, not what you do not want.”

-Esther Jno-Charles

I find the Talmudic story of Queen Esther’s vegetarianism compelling and inspiring. (It appears in some manuscripts of Megillah 13b.) Esther needed to keep the laws of kashrut while hiding her Jewish heritage, so vegetarianism was the perfect solution. Based on what we know today, it’s highly possible that her switch to eating more fruits, vegetables, tubers, legumes, and whole grains impacted how she felt in her body and in the world.

This recipe was inspired by the Grain Bowl idea.

Esther’s Vegan Grain Bowl
Jewish Food Hero
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  • 1 medium saucepan
  • Vegetable peeler
  • Box grater or julienne vegetable peeler
  • Rice cooker
  • Ingredients:
  • For Rice
  • 1 ½ cups Jasmine rice (to get 3 cups cooked)
  • ¼ tsp turmeric
  • ¼ tsp ground black pepper
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp brown sugar
  • For lentils:
  • 1 cup of lentils
  • 4 cups of vegetable broth or water
  • ½ tsp cumin powder
  • ½ tsp coriander powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • Vegetables
  • 3 cups of julienne shredded carrots
  • 3 cups of whole green beans
  • 4 tomatoes
  • Nuts
  • 1 cup of whole pistachios
  • Dressing
  • 1 Tbsp Tahini
  • ½ cup of orange juice
  • 1 Tbsp rice milk
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • Pepper, optional

  1. Rinse the rice
  2. Place rice, turmeric, ground black pepper, salt and brown sugar in rice cooker and press cook
  3. While the rice is cooking, prep the vegetables and nuts:
  4. Julienne the carrots
  5. Steam the green beans
  6. Quarter the tomatoes
  7. Shell the pistachios and chop
  8. When rice is finished, assemble “Esther’s bowl” by placing all the the rice, vegetables and nuts neatly in the bowl.
  9. Serve the dressing on the side.

; Yield: Makes 6-8 servings

If you love this recipe, you’ll love The Jewish Food Hero Cookbook: 50 Simple Plant Based Recipes For Your Holiday Meals

Jewish Food Hero Cookbook // jewishfoodhero.com

Shabbat Shalom 9 February 2018

Pre-Shabbat Prospects:

Why not use an oil-free salad dressing this Shabbat?
I am going to make oil-free hummus for Shabbat dinner and this how-to guide will help me make them from it from scratch (if I have to use canned, I buy these)

I have been following these two Jewish sisters Simi and Chaya on Instagram for the past few months.  

Simi tragically lost her husband at the end of 2017 and since then been using Instagram in a therapeutic way to support herself through this year of grief. Her posts are heartbreaking and so raw and authentic that reading them makes me cry. I wrote to Simi and Chaya to tell them I am thinking of them, and sent them a digital Jewish holiday calendar.  

Mental Nourishment:

I read this book with my daughter and she loved it so much we bought the whole series. It is a darling portrayal of Jewish life at the turn of the century in New York’s Lower East Side through the eyes of five young sisters.  

I am reading this book on Mussar and I like the book structure and the focus on practical life and improvement. I find myself wishing for something more feminine. It feels distant from me because the anecdotal stories are about men.  

Looking for a delicious and healthier hamantaschen recipe? Make this high protein brownie hamantaschen and thank me later.

Yup, body positivity is exhausting and that’s why body neutrality makes a lot more sense.

Finally vegan and kosher chocolate chips that don’t taste like dark brown cardboard.

In Parshat Mishpatim there are the words: “You shall not tolerate a sorceress”. Today, who do you think the term “sorceress” applies to? Women who practice tarot? Women who practice reiki? Women who use crystals for energetic support?

I am asking because I am not sure. I keep a rose quartz on my bedside table and occasionally place in on my heart to help me relax before I fall asleep.  

Shabbat Shalom, here’s to your peaceful Shabbat

Your turn: Tell me in the comments what you think the term “sorceress” applies to today?

*This “Shabbat Shalom” series is about sharing inspiring and supportive ideas with you before Shabbat.  Please note that it is not a recommendation to “do” these activities during Shabbat.  Rather it is in the spirit of giving you nourishing resources before Shabbat that they may intentionally bring into your life at the right moment.

Finally, the secret to 18 Hamantaschen Recipes Revealed

The secret is INSPIRATION.

One the most enjoyable parts of creating anything is the inspiration phase where we look for new and visually pleasing ideas to help us do our best.  Inspiration awakens us to new possibilities and being inspired just feels good.  

When I am looking at a recipe, I am as interested in the inspiration behind the recipe as I am in the recipe itself.  Knowing the story of the recipe, the creators intent and inspiration in turn leads to me feeling more inspired.

Here are 18 Hamantaschen inspired cookie recipes and photos to inspire us before Purim.

Here is a yummy plant-based high-protein and low fat hamantaschen recipe that adults and children love. (Make a double batch of the filling).

These gingerbread and apple hamantaschen are sweet and spicy.

This hamantaschen recipe is Pareve (if you do not know why that might be important, click here)

If you want to go the savory route, these savory Mediterranean hamantaschen look very grown up.

If you love rice (like me) this creative sushi version would make for great appetizers.

Try this spelt and red currant agave hamantaschen if you are looking to use a different type flour this year.

If you are looking for a gluten free hamantaschen recipe, here is is.

This fresh fruit variation looks elegant and fresh.

If you are making cookies for a big crowd, here is a recipe that makes 60 hamantaschen cookies!

If Jewish women could invent their own girl scout cookie flavor, I think this Double Chocolate Hamantaschen with Tahini + Caramel Drizzle would be a compelling entry.

Seriously, why didn’t we think of combining rainbow sprinkles and hamantaschen a long time ago?

Vegan Hamantaschen recipe that use Earth Balance.

Traditional, old-school Hamantaschen recipe via Chabad.

This recipe calls for homemade apricot jam and citrus marmalade filling.

The author swears this Hamantaschen recipe was her mothers.

Grain free Hamantaschen recipe for those who want a more “primal” purim.

Super easy Hamantaschen recipe that kids can make easily.

This hamentashen recipe is all about buttery taste, slightly crumbly, dough that have crisp edges.

Your turn:  Place your favorite hamantaschen recipe in the comments below.

Why Jewish Women are Reading the Megillah to Each Other on Purim

While I was living in Switzerland I met an Jewish orthodox woman at the park named Esther. One day I was there alone with my 18-month-old daughter Yaël who was eating an apple. All of a sudden, my daughter started choking. Out of nowhere Esther (who also was a mother of young children) offered to help me. I will never forget that Esther offered to help me in that crisis moment. Looking back, I felt very vulnerable at that time in my life caring for a toddler so far away from my own family and Esther’s unassuming confidence and generosity really supported me. 

Over the next year, Esther and I became good friends. The next Purim, she invited me to a women’s only Megillah reading at her apartment. I attended and it made a deep impact on me.  

Participating in a woman’s only Megillah reading was one of those moments (and there have been many) when I felt a real appreciation of Jewish Orthodox women. Specifically, how women living within Orthodox boundaries find creative solutions to express themselves and create community.

Since then I have been wanting to write about women’s-only Megillah readings in a meaningful way so that other women could learn more about this positive feminist phenomenon in Jewish life today. To me, one of the best ways to write about women’s experience is to give women space to speak. Alors!

I found just the right woman to share her experience with us. Hadassah Levy has been participating in a women’s Megillah reading for years and has a lot of encouraging and supportive insights to share with us on this ritual.

Let’s get to know Hadassah and learn from her.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I am originally from New York, but have been living in Israel for about 25 years. I came “for the year” after high school and never left! I have always been fascinated by our rich religion and studied Talmud at university and at Matan. I started working on a Jewish website in 2004 and a new career was born, combining my love of digital marketing with my love of Judaism.

I have four children and a lovely husband and live in a small town called Eli. When I’m not on Facebook, I enjoy exercising, family trips, reading, and for the next few months – wedding planning.

Can you give me a “cliff notes” version of the holiday of Purim?

After the destruction of the First Temple, many exiled Jews were living in the Persian Empire, which ruled most of the world at that time. King Ahasuerus had his first wife killed and chose Esther, a Jewish woman, as his new wife. Shortly thereafter, the king decreed that on a specific day, Jews were fair game for killing and looting. Esther revealed her Jewish origins and saved the Jewish people, with the help of her uncle, Mordechai.

In memory of this miracle, Jews celebrate the holiday of Purim in four ways: reading or hearing the Megillah, sending food packages to each other, giving charity to the poor and eating a holiday meal.

Which of Esther’s character traits and virtues do you admire most?

Esther was quite scared to reveal her identity. In fact, it was a great act of bravery just to request to see the king. Esther expressed her fears, but didn’t let them prevent her from courageously doing everything she could to save her people.

Once the Jews were saved, she joined Mordechai in leading her people to exact revenge on those who had plotted against them, celebrate the holiday and write down the historic events for posterity. In an age when women didn’t hold leadership roles, this was an amazing accomplishment.

What is the Megillah?

The Megillah is a scroll which contains the biblical Book of Esther, telling the story of Purim. The Megillah is meant to be read on the evening and morning of Purim, in its original Hebrew. It’s important to hear every word, so Megillah reading must be accurate and easy to hear.

If you are being honest, what are women’s main complaints with the holiday of Purim?

One of the customs of Purim is drinking alcohol in order to increase joyfulness. Some of my female friends complain that their husbands start drinking early on Purim and are unable to help with childcare and other tasks throughout the day.

In addition, there is a lot of food preparation on Purim, for the meal and for the mishloach manot (packages of food), and many women find that the burden of making all this food is entirely on their shoulders.

What does Jewish law say about women reading the Megillah?

Orthodox Jews do not generally include women in synagogue leadership, but Jewish law does allow for women to read Megillah for each other. Until recently, this was not done in many circles, but in recent years it has become popular around the world.

What is a “Woman’s reading of the Megillah”?

Women gather together to read the Megillah, often with each woman reading a different chapter of the book. It is the same as any other Megillah reading, including the blessings before and after and the use of a kosher scroll.

Tell us the story of how you got involved with the Woman’s Reading of the Megillah?

When my children were young, I used to go to a secondary Megillah reading (after the main one my husband attended), where a man read the Megillah for a large group of women while their husbands watched the kids. But then a woman in our neighborhood volunteered to read for women, and we formed a small group that enjoyed her reading for a few years.

That woman moved away and we decided that we preferred hearing the Megillah from a woman (it is, after all, a woman’s story), so we split up the chapters and found women who had experience reading or wanted to learn. I signed up for Chapter 8, and spent months learning how to read it from a recording. I have been reading for about 5 years, and am already practicing for this Purim.

Last year, I even got to read Chapter 3. Maybe one day I will know the entire Megillah reading!

What is the impact of a woman reading the Megillah to other woman?

After the first time I read Megillah, I knew I was not going back to the traditional reading. The feeling of empowerment from reading for other women and helping them fulfill a mitzvah is unparalleled. Participating in a women’s reading allows me to fully celebrate Purim as a holiday dedicated to the power of women to effect change, even under difficult circumstances.

As an Orthodox Jewish feminist, I accept that there are roles and privileges which men take for granted that I will not enjoy. I am often frustrated by this, but I am committed to this lifestyle despite the challenges. I believe that it is important to take part as much as possible in Judaism, and as such, I try to fulfill mitzvot even if I’m not “officially” obligated as a woman. Reading Megillah fits into this rubric; it’s a way for me to take the kind of public role usually denied to me.

What kind of ambiance do you try and create at your Purim Megillah reading?

Our Megillah reading is very friendly and inviting. If we know a woman is on her way but running a little late, we wait a few minutes. If a reader makes a mistake, we correct her politely, and we compliment each other when the reading is done.

Last year, we had a “women-only experience.” Our Chapter 1 reader called an hour before Megillah reading to report that her waters broke and she was on her way to the hospital. A young woman stepped in and learned the entire chapter in time for Megillah reading!

What about food? Tell us about the food.

We don’t serve food at our Megillah reading, but most of us go to the neighborhood women’s Purim party, which often includes a play. There’s always hot soup and coffee and cake.

If I wanted to host a women’s Megillah reading, where should I start? What tips do you have for me?

  • Start early, so there’s enough time for women to learn the chapter they are reading.
  • Listen to a recording of the Megillah to help you learn your chapter
  • Find a venue: someone’s home or a room in the synagogue work perfectly
  • Borrow a kosher Megillah.

Can you recommend a recording of a woman reading the Megillah that women can listen to online if they are interested?

Yes, here are two options:

You can listen to the Youtube playlist of Hila Cohen who reads the entire Megillah here:

Hadar Aricha read the Megillah to celebrate her bat mitzvah and recorded it here:

Your turn: What is one more question you have for Hadassah about these all women Megillah readings?  Place your question in the comments below. 

From The Jewish Food Hero Kitchen: High Protein Brownie Hamantaschen

Hamantaschen cookies are a traditional Purim food. Here is a healthier plant based version that uses just the tiniest amount of oil (here is why I only used a little tiniest bit) and a high protein filling inspired by my last 6 years living in Asia end enjoying Cambodian desserts.

In Cambodia where I live, desserts sometimes include beans and bean purees. I have come to love the taste of beans in sweet desserts. This inspired me to create a bean-based high-protein brownie hamantaschen filling.

Here are the hamantaschen featured on my cat napkins (I think Queen Esther had a Persian cat, don’t you?)

You might find yourself eating the filling by the spoonful so you might want to make a double batch and eat it with toast for breakfast or an afternoon snack.  

High Protein Brownie Hamantaschen
Jewish Food Hero
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Category: desserts

  • small bowl
  • whisk
  • medium mixing bowl
  • large mixing bowl
  • wooden spoon or electric mixer
  • plastic wrap
  • parchment paper
  • 3-inch round cookie cutter or you can use the rim of a glass
  • spatula
  • cooking oil
  • baking sheet
  • cooling rack
  • small mesh strainer for sprinkling
  • powdered sugar
  • Food processor or blender
    For cookies:
  • 2 tablespoons arrowroot flour
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened low-fat non-dairy
  • milk (or water)
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour OR gluten-free baking mix (such as Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free All Purpose Baking Flour)
  • 1 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 cup virgin coconut oil, softened (check the bottle to make sure it can be heated to 350F)
  • 1/2 cup organic cane sugar
  • 1 teaspoon fresh orange zest
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    For High Protein Brownie Filling
  • 1 ½ cups black beans
  • ¼ cup natural cane sugar
  • 3 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1tsp canola oil or coconut oil
    Optional cookie garnish:
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar

  1. • Preheat the oven to 350 F
  2. In a small bowl:
  3. • Combine the arrowroot flour and the milk. Mix well with a fork or small whisk until smooth.
  4. Prepare the dry mixture:
  5. • In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour baking powder, and salt, and set aside
  6. Prepare the wet mixture:
  7. • In a large bowl, cream the coconut oil and sugar together with the orange zest. You can do so by hand or with an electric mixer.
  8. • Add the arrowroot mixture and mix with a wooden spoon to combine
  9. • Add the juice and extract, and mix until combined Combine the two mixtures to form the dough:
  10. • Add the dry mixture to the wet, and stir to combine. Be careful to not overmix.
  11. • You can work with the dough right away or chill it in the refrigerator for 20 to 30 minutes (but no longer or it will get too firm)
  12. Meanwhile Prepare the high protein brownie filling:
  13. Using a food processor or a blending combine black beans,natural cane sugar, unsweetened cocoa powder, pinch of salt and canola oil or coconut oil and blend well and set aside
  14. Form the cookies and bake:
  15. • Roll out the dough between two sheets of parchment paper, to 1/8-inch thickness (you can do this in two batches if you wish)
  16. • Lightly flour the parchment paper or dough if the dough is sticking
  17. • Use a 3-inch round cookie cutter or the rim of a glass to cut circles from the rolled dough
  18. • Using a spatula, carefully transfer the circles to the baking sheet
  19. • Place a teaspoon of high protein brownie filling in the center of each circle
  20. • Carefully form three sides with the dough and fold them over to create a triangle
  21. • Pinch the corners tightly (like you mean it)
  22. • Repeat with the remaining circles of dough
  23. • Bake for 20 minutes, then remove from the oven
  24. • Cool cookies on a cooling rack
  25. Once completely cooled:
  26. • Garnish with a sprinkling of powdered sugar if desired before serving

; Yield: Makes approximately 30 cookies

Tell me in the comments, what is your favorite Hamantaschen filling?

If you love this recipe, you’ll love The Jewish Food Hero Cookbook: 50 Simple Plant Based Recipes For Your Holiday Meals

Jewish Food Hero Cookbook // jewishfoodhero.com

From the Jewish Food Hero Kitchen: Detox Vegan Chocolate “Milk”

Vegan Chocolate Milk

I am planning a joyful life-long relationship with chocolate and there are times when I feel that I need to take a mini-break or just reduce my consumption. For me, eating chocolate every day does not feel good. And yet, sometimes I fall into the habit of noshing on chocolate. To me, chocolate is not a food to nosh, it is a treat to savor.

Detox Vegan Chocolate Milk

Everyone is different but I notice that if I overindulge in chocolate, I start enjoying it less.  

There is a thin line between eating a bit of chocolate for pleasure and eating chocolate out of boredom, habit and/or physical need.  

I do not have an all-or-nothing philosophy on chocolate (or much else) and so when I want to reduce or eliminate eating chocolate, I simply transition with a healthier option – enjoying vegan chocolate “milk” instead for a few days as a “detox”.    

Using high quality organic kosher cocoa powder gives me the chocolate taste and feel that I love plus all the antioxidants, iron and magnesium.  

What I notice:

Transitioning from eating chocolate everyday to enjoying a vegan chocolate milk everyday instead allows me to break free of the overindulging in chocolate pattern and makes me feel physically better right away. After a few days of enjoying this vegan chocolate “milk” daily, I am able to “feel” less physical need for chocolate. When I feel ready, I return to eating chocolate once in awhile for pleasure.

From the Jewish Food Hero Kitchen: Detox Vegan Chocolate “Milk”
Jewish Food Hero
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Category: drinks

  • Blender
  • ½ cup of nondairy milk of your choice
  • ½ cup of cold water
  • 1 tbsp organic Kosher cocoa powder
  • Optional: If you want your chocolate milk sweeter, add 1 tsp of sweetener of your choice or ½ ripe banana

  1. Place all ingredients in blender
  2. Blend
  3. To serve, place in a glass cup and add ice cubes if desired

; Yield: Serves 1

Your turn:  What do you do when you feel you need to take a break from chocolate?

*photo taken by me at my favorite local cafe Kinyei Coffee in Battambang Cambodia.

If you like this recipe, you’ll love The Jewish Food Hero Cookbook: 50 Simple Plant Based Recipes For Your Holiday Meals

Jewish Food Hero Cookbook // jewishfoodhero.com

From The Jewish Food Hero Kitchen: Oil-Free Healthy Baked Potato Fries

Oil Free Sweet Potato Fries

The good news about potato fries is that they are made using potatoes. Most of us love potatoes because they are a satiating starch with lots of vitamin C, B6 and a fiber rich food. I call potatoes my “happy food” because they are a good source of vitamin B6 (and lots of other vitamins too).  

The sad news is that most people enjoy potatoes in their worst possible nutrition scenario: fried!

Regularly eating minimally processed potatoes or sweet potatoes without oil/butter/margarine or cheese does the body and mind good. We can enjoy minimally processed potatoes with a small amount of salt and/or sugar (yes, that means you can add a bit of ketsup, salt or even maple syrup).

These healthy starches should be included in our diets and here is why.

Jeff Novick, a healthy eating expert, proposes five guidelines (or principles) that to define a healthy dietary pattern and these guidelines are backed by an overwhelming body of scientific research (you can read more about Jeff’s healthy eating philosophy here)

1) Plant-Centered – Center your plate and your diet predominantly with plant foods (fruits, vegetables, starchy vegetables, roots/tubers, intact whole grains, and legumes such as beans, peas and lentils).

2) Minimally Processed – Enjoy foods as close to “as grown in nature” with minimal processing that does not detract from the nutritional value and/or add any harmful components.

3) Calorie Dilute – Follow the principles of calorie density, choosing foods that are calorie adequate, satiating, and nutrient sufficient.

4) Low S-O-S – Avoid/minimize the use of added salts/sodium, oils/fats, and sugars/sweeteners.

5) Variety – Consume a variety of foods in each of the recommended food groups.

Oil-free baked potato fries meet all the above requirements, are delicious and satiating. Children and adults love them.

We enjoy baked potato fries every week in our house.

Here is our simple recipe, that you can spice up if desired.

Oil Free Sweet Potato Fries

From The Jewish Food Hero Kitchen: Oil-Free Healthy Baked Potato Fries
Jewish Food Hero
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  • Large Soup pot
  • 2 large baking trays
  • 8 medium potatoes/sweet potatoes or a mix of the two (approx around 2.2 lbs)
  • Oil Cooking Spray (Canola or olive oil cooking sprays work best)
  • Salt, to taste
  • Optional other spices you might add: paprika, garlic powder, onion powder or chili powder

  1. Preheat oven 450 degrees F (230 degrees C)
  2. Boil the potatoes for 15 minutes. The potatoes should not be fully cooked!
  3. Cut the potatoes into uniform “wedge” or “fries” shapes
  4. Spray the baking trays
  5. Place the potato pieces onto the baking sheet
  6. Bake for 45 min
  7. After 20 min flip the potato pieces so that both sides brown nicely
  8. Serve with your favorite oil-free sauce

; Yield: Serves 4-6

Your turn:  What is your favorite sauce to eat with baked potato fries?

If you like this recipe, you’ll love The Jewish Food Hero Cookbook: 50 Simple Plant Based Recipes For Your Holiday Meals

Jewish Food Hero Cookbook // jewishfoodhero.com