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August 4, 2015 / 19 Av, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘matzah’

Preserving Baltimore’s First Synagogue (Part I)

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes are from “The Lloyd Street Synagogue of Baltimore: A National Shrine” by Israel Tabak, American Jewish Historical Quarterly (1961-1978); Sept. 1971-June 1972; 61, 1-4; AJHS Journal page 343. The article is available at www.ajhs.org/scholarship/adaje.cfm.

While it is not known precisely when Jews first settled in Baltimore, we do know that five Jewish men and their families settled there during the 1770s. However, it was not until the autumn of 1829 that Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, whose Hebrew name was Nidchei Yisroel (Dispersed of Israel), was founded. This was the only Jewish congregation in the state of Maryland at the time, and it was referred to by many as the “Stadt Shul.”

The original 29 members of the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation met in a room over a grocery store located on Bond and Fleet Streets (now Eastern Avenue). By 1835 the congregation occupied a one-story building on High Street and membership had increased to 55. In 1837 the congregation acquired a three-story building on Harrison Street near Etna Lane where it worshipped until 1845 when it built its new synagogue on Lloyd Street.

Rabbi Abraham Rice

Readers of this column likely are familiar with the life of Rabbi Abraham Rice from the articles “Abraham Rice: First Rabbi in America” (November 6, 2009) and “The First Rabbi in America, Part II,” December 4, 2009. Rabbi Rice, the first ordained Orthodox rabbi to settle permanently in America, became the spiritual leader of the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation in 1840.

Rabbi Rice was known for his piety and upright character and for a number of years he was probably the only person in America qualified to pasken sheilas. He became one of Orthodoxy’s foremost spokesmen at a time when it was under attack from the Reform movement.

“Abraham Rice’s place in the history of American Judaism is secure. The courage and dauntlessness with which he defended the principles of historic Judaism give him a unique place among the pioneers of Orthodoxy in America. His consistent and uncompromising stand in matters of Jewish theology was the strongest factor in stemming the tide of Reform. His devotion to the study of Torah and his depth of talmudic learning made it possible for [halachic] Judaism to gain a foothold on American soil, where for centuries Jewish life was spiritually barren and Torahless. His dedication to Jewish education and his personal instruction of many a youth in this community were responsible for a new generation of enlightened laymen to be raised up who changed the entire physiognomy and religious climate of the Jewish community of Baltimore.” (“Rabbi Abraham Rice of Baltimore, Pioneer of Orthodox Judaism in America” by Israel Tabak, Tradition, 7, 1965, page 119.)

The Lloyd Street Synagogue

Within a few years of Rabbi Rice’s arrival the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation was able to build the Lloyd Street Synagogue, the first Jewish house of worship to be built in Maryland and the third oldest surviving synagogue in the United States.

“There is no doubt that Rabbi Rice was the prime factor in the growth and consolidation of the congregation. It was under his guidance that the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation was able to build its own sanctuary befitting a Jewish community of stature and dignity. The architect commissioned to design the new synagogue was Robert Carey Long, Jr., who achieved renown for the several houses of worship he built in Baltimore at the time. In 1842, Long built the Alphonsus Roman Catholic Church; in 1843, St. Peter’s Catholic Church; and the following year, Mt. Calvary Episcopal Church and the Franklin Street Presbyterian Church. The Jewish community was sufficiently affluent to afford the services of such an eminent architect, and the Lloyd Street Synagogue was completed and dedicated in 1845.”

The synagogue building was built of brick and was sixty feet wide by seventy-five feet deep. It cost about $20,000.

The synagogue contained what was then a most innovative feature – a “Shield of David” that was conspicuously set in the main window of the synagogue above the Holy Ark, in the eastern wall, which everyone faced in prayer.

Isaac Lesser, chazzan of Congregation Mikve Israel of Philadelphia, wrote the following description of the synagogue after attending the dedication ceremonies on Shabbos Parshas Vayelech (September 26-27, 1845):

Operation Pillar Of Defense Becomes A Cloudy Pillar

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

As I write this, Defense Minister Ehud Barak has just announced, during a televised press conference, his decision not to run in the coming elections and to leave politics.

There is jubilation in Gaza, as Hamas is selling the idea that Israel’s defense minister admitted defeat.

And there is jubilation on the right side of the Israeli political spectrum, with Minister Yuli Edelstein, a resident of Neve Daniel in Gush Etzion, expressing his joy at the departure of a man who recently suggested a unilateral withdrawal from Judea and Samaria.

My daughter Sara and her husband, and all the residents of Bat Ayin Bet, certainly breathed a sigh of relief. Her house was destroyed one night during Netanyahu’s building freeze. (Her husband, a builder, put up two houses in its place.)

With this as a preface, let us analyze the outcome of the eight-day military campaign dubbed “Pillar of a Cloud,” based on a biblical image but mistranslated into English as “Pillar of Defense.”

We must ask: How did Pillar of a Cloud end up a very cloudy pillar?

The Hamas terrorists have been given credibility by achieving a cease-fire with Israel, through the efforts of the new president of Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate and anti Israel activist Mohamed Morsi.

In other words, Hamas is now a recognized political entity – one that will never rest until Israel is erased from the map. We have turned them into a pillar – a cloudy pillar, but a pillar just the same. This after Netanyahu had been so outspoken before the last election calling for the dismantling of Hamastan in Gaza.

And Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister and head of the Yisrael Beiteinu Party, had said, upon joining the government, that one of Israel’s goals must be the end of Hamas rule in Gaza.

So what went wrong?

I think the choice of a holy name like Ahmud Anan, Pillar of a Cloud, demanded a ferocious biblical response to the years of constant rocket fire inflicted on the people of Israel.

God spoke to us from a pillar of a cloud (Tehillim 99). He appeared in a pillar of a cloud to Aaron to rebuke him for speaking badly about our teacher Moshe (Bamidbar 12:5).

The very first time we read of this pillar of a cloud, it guided the Jews as they left Egypt.

But our Pillar of a Cloud military campaign led Israel right back to Egypt because our leaders agreed that they must go to Cairo to complain about any violations of the cease-fire.

Once we dared put a Torah name to this campaign, we should have followed through to keep two rabbinically taught mitzvos. If someone comes to kill you, arise and kill him first. And when the opportunity comes to do a mitzvah, take immediate action. (We need to be quick in matzah-baking lest the matzah become chametz; Rav Osheya taught: replace the word matzah with mitzvah. Respond quickly.)

In the early stages of Pillar of a Cloud, Israel neutralized the chief of the Hamas military wing. The IAF bombed strategic sites, destroying most of the M75 long-range missiles in an initial blow. Reserve soldiers were called into action on the third day and were ready to start the ground battle – just when the Egyptian president demanded the opportunity to draw up a cease-fire agreement.

But the sudden tragic death of his sister caused him to become preoccupied with family matters, and that was our opportunity to quickly send in the troops and carry out the two above-mentioned mitzvos.

Benny Ganz, the IDF chief of staff, said his “solders are motivated, they are ready. It’ll be dangerous to leave them waiting at the border; they’re sitting ducks.”

Whose decision was it? The prime minister’s? He’s not the commander in chief. Lieberman’s? He’s only the foreign Minister. Ehud Barak is the defense minister, so it was his call, but he’s a man ready for unilateral withdrawals.

So in the first eight days of the month of Chanukah – when, for eight days and eight candles we celebrate the greatest ground battle in Jewish history, the victory of the Maccabees – we allowed ourselves to be pushed into a cease-fire that solves nothing and allows Hamas to rearm.

On Matzah & Mohels

Friday, May 11th, 2012

Pesach means bite-sized sweet kidney mangos and the return of the longon. Shavuot brings back the pomelo. Chanukah means miniature Mandarin oranges. And its always star-fruit for Rosh Hashanah. While our palates might have changed, along with our knowledge of Southeast Asian fruit, when it comes to Pesach it’s really all Osem and Yehuda Matzot for us.

I have worked hard to develop a neatly refined talent at being able to rid our apartment of chametz pre-Pesach. Nothing is left and little is wasted. I calculate and know just when to stop buying, what to purchase in smaller quantities and what we can do without for a day or so. Where my shortcoming lies is in my ability to predict how much matzah we will need. I am always grossly short. The kids always seem to eat ten times the amount they did the year before.

It is day three, a few years ago, and my supply is already running critically low. I work out, based on our current rate of consumption, what our needs will be.

It is still early. I am confident there will be an ample supply in the Koshermart, our small but well-stocked market in the Jewish Community Center. The market opens at 10. I am there at 10:15. The parking lot is crowded. This can’t bode well. “Matzah!” I simply exclaim to the clerk. “No more. Maybe you choose something else. Some gefilte fishes? Potato chip?” she responds.

“No matzah?” I confirm.

I let out a frustrated and exasperated long sigh.

Then Grace the cashier approaches. She leans close to me and whispers “meet me in the parking garage at 7pm tonight.”

I nod my head twice. Once in agreement. The second time to add effect.

It was very cloak and dagger. We met in the parking garage at the aforementioned time and she approached my car with four boxes in hand. Constantly looking over her shoulder.

“I thought the Koshermart was sold out,” I offer hesitantly.

“Yes, all sold out but restaurant upstairs have enough for whole Chinese army. I charged your account.”

And so I was to bring my matzah home with a clear conscious.

And while the excitement of this episode might perhaps have been slightly enhanced, it is not altogether overstated. We are not in New York, Los Angeles or Jerusalem. Our supplies are limited. Living somewhat off the radar clearly requires more careful planning.

As the story above shows, by day three of Pesach, the store is stripped of its supply save for perhaps a random sampling of Egg Matzah, Gluten Free Matzah, Onion Matzah and the new High Fiber Matzah. And since I continue to grossly under-buy, the same family has had to bail us out nearly every year for the past few years, passing their extra boxes of matzah to us. This has now become almost part of our Pesach tradition.

By day five, our Synagogue will typically email an announcement asking all those who will have extra boxes to please drop them off at the JCC and they are redistributed accordingly to the families that are running low. It is a comfort to know I am not the only one who can’t seem to get it right and that the demand for matzah is never unmet with a bit of communal cooperation.

When I think matzah, I of course also naturally think mohel. This association, for me, was forged because my eldest son’s brit milah was on the first day of Pesach 11 years ago. This was hardly an accident though. Having worked in the legal medicine field, I was perhaps a bit controlling when it came to things medical.

When I realized I could, if left to natural processes, potentially give birth on Pesach and miss my sedarim, I explained to my doctor in New York that as 38 weeks is full term, I could induce early and we both could have stress free chagim. Dr Goldman, also intent on making it to a family bar mitzvah around the same time, was quite amenable to the plan. And when it came to finding a mohel who would be able to walk to us, it was again not an issue.

When it came to the birth of my second son in Hong Kong, five years later, I learned that while matzah is sometimes heard to come by, a mohel always is. Though as a community we have a fairly high birth rate and our demographics are disproportionately young, we are small. And though we are rich in many Jewish institutions, we are without a mohel.

We must import our mohalim from the UK, Australia, Israel or the US. And like with our matzah, this is a communal effort and we share when we are able. Many “shidduchim” are made between expecting mothers. It is always welcome news to hear that another family is expecting a boy within days of yours. Flights, hotels and the other mohalim-associated costs can than be split. Some also require money to replace their salaries while they are away, some insist on business class seats, while others simply request a donation to a charity.

From Hollywood to the Holy Land

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

I didn’t intend to make this blog a history of how I came to Israel, but since it started off in that direction, it’s a good time to explain how a totally assimilated Jew living in Hollywood got turned on to Torah and ended up trashing fame and fortune in America for a simple life in the Holy Land.

When I was growing up, my family belonged to a Reform Jewish synagogue in New England. We went to temple on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, lit Hanukah candles, had a Christmas tree to be like the neighbors, ate matzah on Seder night and candy eggs on Easter. I remember the reform rabbi telling us in Hebrew School that the splitting of the Red Sea occurred, not through any miracle by G-d, but because a severe drought had dried up the sea, and a freak, sudden rainstorm brought a massive flood that drowned the Egyptians immediately after the Jews had managed to cross on dry land. His explanation sounded so ludicrous to me, I didn’t want to bother having a bar-mitzvah. But my parents insisted. Since, the congregation had outgrown our old temple, and the new one was still under construction, my bar-mitzvah ceremony was held in a Unitarian church. To me, that’s a perfect symbol for being a Jew in America, where you are totally immersed in a foreign, gentile culture. Growing up Jewish in America is like growing up in a great big church. Even if you live in a strictly-kosher ghetto, the World Series, Michael Jackson, Christmas decorations, the Oscars, and the NY Daily News are waiting for you the minute you cross the street.

For high school, I went to a very prestigious and snobby private school in Massachusetts. Out of the 800 students, there were only a handful of Jews. We had to pray on Sundays in the basement of the campus church. Upstairs in this gigantic, impressive cathedral, the rest of the students and the faculty were gathered in prayer, and we were stuck out of sight in the basement, as if we belonged to some third-class religion. That’s how I related to Judaism as well. I didn’t want to have anything to do with it. But it was impossible to escape the reality that I was Jewish. After afternoon sports, everyone had to shower in the same locker room. In those days, the gentiles didn’t have their foreskins removed at birth in the hospital, so once again we Jews were the odd men out. It was a vivid sign for all to see that we were different from the goyim. But I wasn’t proud of it then. I wanted to be like everyone else.

Most of my graduating class was accepted into universities like Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and Princeton. I decided to go to NYU Film School where I spent four years in the dark, watching hundreds of movies. The year after I graduated, I wrote a screenplay that became a Hollywood movie, called “Law and Disorder,” starring Caroll O’Conner and Ernest Borgnine. I also sold a novel to a top New York publisher. I was sure that I was on my way to attain my dream of becoming “The Great American Novelist.” Watch out Norman Mailer and Philip Roth! Here comes Fishman!

I tried to play the part by looking as American as Paul Newman. But weird things kept happening, as if God were trying to remind me who I really was. For instance, the summer before my novel hit the bookstores, I decided to make a literary pilgrimage to Europe, in the footsteps of the famous American writers, Henry Miller, Thomas Wolfe, and Ernest Hemingway before me. I crossed the Atlantic by ocean liner and disembarked at the French port of Cherbourg. Remember, in those days I was clean shaven, without a big kippah and giant beard. As I was walking along the dock, a Mercedes Benz drove by and the driver yelled out, “Heil Hitler!” They were the first words I heard in Europe. It was freaky.

When I got back to America, my novel had been published. So I went to the publisher’s publicity department and suggested they send my picture to TV talk shows. After all, I was a good-looking guy. They agreed to try a campaign in the State of Florida. Sure enough, five talk-show producers immediately phoned back to book me on their shows. But when I flew down to Florida, I couldn’t find my book in the bookstores. Furious, I appeared on the talk shows and revealed all the smut I knew about the publishing company. The talk-show hosts loved it, but back in New York, my editor was aghast. He phoned me frantically to apologize and beg me to stop, but I was angry about their screw up. What was the point of my appearing on TV if my novel wasn’t in any of the stores? At that time, success was the most important thing to me in the world. When I got back to New York, the vice-president of the publishing company invited me to a meeting in his plush, skyscraper office.

Achim Academy Students Perform In Pesach Drama

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

The Achim Academy Center for Education in North Miami Beach uses many unique approaches to teach its special students, and for Pesach a dramatic production in six scenes planted the important messages of the Torah in young minds.

Achim Academy students hold model Seder.

The students learned the Torah lessons during the days leading up to Pesach, and then learned and rehearsed the six scenes of the production created by their teacher, Rabbi Avrohom Bukspan. Tall stuffed animals became ferocious beasts with students “roaring,” chemistry lessons turned water into red “blood,” and matzah was broken with well-learned karate moves.

AACE school students had a special show at the school for parents, siblings and friends. The model Seder instilled confidence and a sense of accomplishment in youngsters along with the lessons learned.

Achim Academy Center for Education is an ESE school for children with emotional and learning disabilities and for children who are gifted or may have dual exceptionalities. Established in 1999 and has four divisions: the day school, a gifted cohort, an out-of-school program and a summer camp.

Applications are now being accepted for the summer camp, which begins July 2, and for the day school and gifted cohort for the 2012-2013 school year, which begins August 4. There are a limited number of scholarships available for either on a first come-first serve basis. The deadline for Florida McKay Scholarship applications and registration is Monday, July 2.

Application forms and additional information are available on the school’s website, www.aaceschool.org, or by calling 305-945-7443.

The Passover Peacock

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

It was a few days before Passover when I first heard the horrific cackling. “What,” I asked family members, is that? It sounded just like the longtime leftist agitator Shulamit Aloni. But it wasn’t.

Soon thereafter my wife came running into the house.

“There is a peacock downstairs in the yard,” she proclaimed.

Hmmm, just in time for Passover, I said to myself.

Down I went to investigate. And there standing in our yard was a giant turkey, like something out of a Thanksgiving poster in a Walmart store.

We live not far from the Haifa zoo, and various critters, especially those in possession of wings, tend to escape the place in search of friendlier, quieter surroundings.

The zoo, you see, is rather noisy. Late at night throughout our neighborhood one can hear the elephants in the zoo making loud noises. And – how shall I put this delicately – the noises they are making are not from their mouths.

Zoology is not my wife’s strong point, so you will have to forgive her classification error in ornithology. But she had good reason for mistaking the turkey for a peacock. Years back we actually had a male peacock refugee – long blue peacock feathers and all – take refuge in our yard.

The kids were young back then and nicknamed the peacock “Notsi,” from the Hebrew word for feather, notz. The yard guest lost a feather, which we saved and still use to this day in the late-night search for any crumbs of chametz the night before the Passover Seder.

The kids discovered that peacocks really like Bamba, a peanut butter-tasting Israeli puffy snack. Bamba, by the way, is kosher for Sephardim during Passover, and it seems peacocks must be Sephardic because they love gobbling up Bamba even during Passover. We know, we fed it.

The newest “Notsi” was, however, an obnoxious and aggressive male turkey. The various cats on the street found themselves intimidated and chased down the block by the monster whenever they came to investigate and got too close.

No one quite knew what to do with the turkey. Being the only American around, I of course proposed fattening it up and trying to keep it around until the last week of November, when all Americans know just what the proper use for such yard guests should be.

The neighbors, however, cringed at the thought of the noisy gobbling lasting that long.

Meanwhile, the children all along the street were carrying plastic bags full of chametz out to the garbage containers. I invited them over to feed the scraps to our Passover turkey instead of dumping or burning them. I am sure it was the highlight of Passover for many of them, and for years they will remember feeding the beast far better than they will recall reading about Pharaoh in the Haggadah.

The Passover turkey did have some problems during the actual days of Passover, though. It was not crazy about matzah – not even egg matzah or French toast-style matzah.

Anyway, the parking situation near the zoo was horrendous during Passover, with some cars stopping as far away as the front of our building just to get to the zoo. But the lazier families halted their climb up the hill when they got to our yard. They let the kids chase and photograph the Passover turkey.

Alas, the turkey did not last very far into the counting of the Omer. One morning it was just gone, and I suspect one of the other critters that lives in the Haifa wadis or gorges came out one night and had its own snack. There are wild boars and huge porcupines down there.

There went my plans for Thanksgiving!

But all is not lost. I went for a climb up the Carmel today to get some serious coffee, and a few buildings up the hill from my own I heard a new but different cackle. It wasn’t Shulamit Aloni this time either. (She has never quite recovered, by the way, from letting Hansel and Gretel escape her clutches.)

This time it really was a peacock, the newest refugee from the zoo, though a female this time, meaning she did not have any of those glorious blue feathers. If she hangs around until Shavuos, I’ll let you know if she eats cheesecake.

Steven Plaut, a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press, is a professor at Haifa University. His book “The Scout” is available at Amazon.com. He can be contacted at steveneplaut@yahoo.com.

Stories For Pesach

Monday, April 16th, 2012

Shares In The Embarrassment

         Among the famous practitioners of our forefather Abraham’s virtue, hospitality, was Rav Akiva Eger. Naturally, on Pesach, it was “Let all who are hungry come and eat…’’ Once, at the Seder, a guest accidentally overturned his cup. As the red wine stained the fine white tablecloth and the guest’s face was suffused with embarrassment, Rav Akiva tipped the table slightly so that his own cup was overturned.

The Blood Libel

         The “Blood Libel,” which would usually crop up before Pesach, was generally denounced by governments and Popes, disproved on numerous occasions, and still brought tragedy to the Jews for nearly 1,000 years. From the massacre at Cordova in 1013 to the infamous Beilis trial in 1911, the blood of innocent Jews was shed as freely as the Pesach lamb was shed in the time of the Beis Hamikdash. May these innocent sacrifices serve as an atonement for us today and may God in His infinite mercy hasten our redemption.

Let us take a look at how a King of Poland, Stanislas August Poniatowski, dealt with such a case nearly 200 years ago.

         In 1787, a peasant of Olkusz (near Cracow) found a Christian girl in the forest. She told him that a Jew wanted to kill her. Since it was before Pesach, a ritual murder charge was immediately announced. A poor tailor by the name of Mordecai was arrested and tortured until he confessed. But the local landlord, a certain Stanislas of Wodzicki, was not satisfied. He wanted to have the leaders of the Jewish community tortured.

         It was at this point that the Jews of Cracow appealed to the King for help.

         “It was after the dance at the cloth-galleries,’’ Wodzicki wrote in his memoirs, “And I sit in my room, writing letters. Suddenly my uncle, Elias of Wodzicki comes in and says: ‘Dress, Sir Stanislas, and come along with me to the King!’

         “I replied that I would gladly fulfill the uncle’s desire, but that I was already introduced to the King.

         “‘It is not a matter of introduction,’ he answered, ‘but the devilish affair with the Jews. The King takes an interest in this matter and wants to discuss it with you.’

         “‘I understand and guess something is afoot,’” I say.

         “The uncle asks, ‘What do you guess?’

         “‘That the Jews have gotten to the King,’” I reply. The uncle remained silent.

         “I dressed and we drove to the palace. We waited a short time and then the door of a small room opened and the King entered and addressed me in this way:

         “I did not expect that you, after having learned and studied in foreign countries, should still give credence to such medieval stupidities as that the Jews use Christian blood for Easter. We find such accusations in the history of all countries, it is true, and Jews were condemned to terrible punishments. But our enlightened age knows that these victims of superstitions and prejudice were innocent. I would ask you, Sir, not to push this matter in the courts!’”

         Frightened at the King’s attitude, the landlord dropped the charges and another tragedy was averted.

Hides The Matzoh

         A Yishuvnik, an unlearned farmer, who kept a teacher for his children in his home during the winter, told the teacher, “Rav, I am going to withhold the payment I owe you, because I want you to remain here for the Pesach holiday to show me how to conduct a Seder.”

         Unable to help himself, the teacher reluctantly agreed. As they were sitting at the Seder and they came to Yachatz, where the middle matzah is broken in half and one portion is put away for the Afikomen, the teacher did just that. He broke that matzoh in half and placed one piece under the pillow.

         When the farmer saw what the teacher did, he exclaimed, “Shame on you! What do you mean by hiding half a matzah under the pillow? Do I begrudge you a piece of matzah? Eat with the best of health all you like. But to hide a piece of matzah, shame on you” (Dr. Yitzchak Unterman, in his book Lekoved Yom Tov).

Peas For Pesach

         The Rav of Bialostok, Rav Samuel Mohliver, used to supply Jewish soldiers, who were stationed near Bialostok, with kosher meals so that they need not be forced to eat non-kosher food from the army’s general kitchen. This was his particular mitzvah. One day before Pesach, the head of the Jewish Congregation visited him and explained that because of high prices it would be difficult to supply the Jewish soldiers with kosher Pesach meals. “In that case,’’ Rav Samuel told him. “I will call together a meeting of the Dayanim (Jewish Judges) and we will allow the use of peas for this Pesach.’’

         “Excellent, Rav,’’ the head of the congregation replied, “The L-rd shall give you long life for this. I was very worried how to supply the Jewish soldiers with wholesome meals. Now you have come up with an excellent solution, we will feed them peas.’’

         “Peas for the Jewish soldiers did you say? This will never happen in Biyalostok. You, I, and the entire city will eat peas for Pesach, but the soldiers, they will eat the best food available!’’ exclaimed the Gaon.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/kidz/tales-of-the-gaonim/stories-for-pesach/2012/04/16/

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