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  • 18 Sep 2023 5:53 PM | Franklin Jester (Administrator)

    A young boy blows a shofar on Yom Kippur


    As we approach Yom Kippur, the challenge of fasting from sunset to sunset is likely on your mind, especially if you recently converted to Judaism. While fasting can be challenging, it's also incredibly spiritually rewarding.

    Whether this is your first fast or your fiftieth, here are some tips to make sure you have a tzom kal (easy fast). 
    1. Start cutting back on caffeine.

      • Fasting means no coffee, and for many of us, no coffee means a major headache. Start cutting back in advance so you can minimize your withdrawal symptoms.
    2. Hydrate early.

      • On the days preceding Yom Kippur, drink plenty of water. While you will undoubtedly still feel dehydrated later in the day, you want to give yourself a head start. Also, avoid heavily salted foods, as this may make your thirstier down the line.
    3. Dress comfortably.

      • Fasting is meant to be a challenge. It’s meant to be uncomfortable. But if you are spending all day at services, there’s no reason for your outfit to be uncomfortable too. Dress in layers so you can adjust throughout the day. Your body may react strangely to fasting, which means fluctuating body temperatures.
    4. Move around.

      • It’s easy to assume that the best way to get through fasting is to sedentary. While it’s important not to push yourself, fresh air and *extremely light* exercise can be beneficial. Many congregations have light yoga or stretching sessions throughout the day.
    5. Break your fast right.

      • Once fasting is done, your brain might tell you to rush out and eat something dense and high-calorie, but that can be a disaster for your stressed digestive system. Start with fluids, progress to light carbs like challah, and once your body has adjusted, enjoy a delicious meal with friends and family.

    Remember, Jewish law prevents people from fasting if it could negatively affect their health. If you’re pregnant, ill, or have any pre-existing condition that makes fasting dangerous, talk to your doctor and rest assured that you are not obligated to fast.


  • 8 Aug 2023 12:35 PM | Franklin Jester (Administrator)

    Historically, Jewish-American and vegan foods haven’t mixed. While Sephardic and Mizrahi cuisines have long offered delicious plant-based options, the heavy influence of Ashkinanzi culture on Jewish food in America means meat often dominates the menu. But that’s changing with restaurants like Ben and Esther’s in San Diego. 

    Named after the founder’s grandparents, this 100% vegan deli serves up plant-based versions of the classic sandwiches you’d find at places like Canter’s, as well as a variety of Jewish staples like latkes and matzo ball soup. If you’re lucky, you may catch one of their amazing specials like a challah “egg” and “cheese.”

    The number of people eating vegan and vegetarian diets or just trying to cut back on meat has skyrocketed. Given Judaism’s commitment to environmental issues and mindful eating, it’s no surprise that the trend pertains to our community as well. But that’s no reason to give up the foods that are such a major part of the Jewish-American experience. Ben and Esther’s also has locations in Portland and Seattle, and the owners have expressed interest in opening a location in Los Angeles. 


    Check out their menu here:
    https://www.benandesthers.com/


  • 24 Jul 2023 8:33 AM | Franklin Jester (Administrator)

    The Western Wall, an important locations in JudaismTish'a B'av is often not taught in Introduction to Judaism classes, but if you've recently finished your conversion to Judaism, it's an important way to get in touch with our people's history. It is a Fast Day, a day of mourning in the Jewish calendar that commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. We mark this day through fasting and prayer on the 9th day of Av. 

    While the main focus of the day is on the destruction of the temple, Tish’a B’av goes beyond that. It’s a communal day of mourning for all of the tragedies and losses of the Jewish people, including expulsions from countries and the Shoah. Tish’a B’av is a way for us to honor the victims of these events and reflect on how we have struggled and thrived as a people.

    The day itself, we fast from sundown to sunset. During this time we read from The Book of Lamentations. Traditionally we read it at night, sitting on the floor, with our books lit by candelight. The chanting is a unique nusach (melody), minor in key and haunting. We break the fast with a meal that does not include meat or wine. Other traditions may include visits to cemeteries or other places of mourning. 

  • 18 Jul 2023 12:45 PM | Franklin Jester (Administrator)

    San Diego Center for Jewish CultureAfter converting to Judaism, many new Jews embark on a quest to connect with their newly adopted identity. If you reside in Southern California, it's easy to focus solely on Los Angeles, given its status as the city with the second-largest Jewish population in the US. However, Southern California's Jewish culture extends beyond the city of Los Angeles, particularly into the greater San Diego area.

    One notable way new Jews can immerse themselves in their newfound identity is through engagement with Jewish arts, a grand tradition that stands as a focal point of our people’s identity. A perfect starting point is the San Diego Center for Jewish Culture, located in La Jolla. Historically affected by Antisemitism, this area now proudly hosts the Center for Jewish Culture, a hub for Jewish theater, music, art, and more. The Center's youth theater program offers an array of performances, ranging from Jewish classics like Fiddler on the Roof to modern pieces like Spongebob the Musical. This provides a splendid opportunity for parents of young Jews to engage with the Jewish community's longstanding influence on American theater.

    The Center for Jewish Culture also hosts the annual Jewish Film Festival, a major event in the Jewish cultural calendar. While the festival officially kicks off in January 2024, early screenings begin as soon as September.

    The Center operates as part of the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center. While synagogues are often seen as the central spiritual and social hubs, particularly during and after conversion, JCCs play a crucial role in nurturing community engagement, especially among new members of the Jewish community. If you live in the San Diego area, the San Diego Center for Jewish Culture offers an excellent avenue to explore your Jewish identity more deeply.

    Visit their Website


  • 13 Jul 2023 10:41 AM | Franklin Jester (Administrator)

    The Skirball Cultural Center, a museum of Jewish culture in Los AngelesOne of the first struggles and joys of converting to Judaism is connecting to Jewish culture. This can be hard if you live in an area without much of a Jewish community, but we’re lucky in Southern California. One organization working to showcase our culture, both abroad and in Los Angeles, is the Skirball Cultural Center.

    Located on a beautiful campus in the hills just north of the Getty, the Skirball Cultural Center is a museum with plenty to offer. They have a massive collection of Jewish art and cultural items that tell a story of how we came to the US and built a home on the West Coast.

    While their permanent collection is enough to demand a visit, their featured exhibitions make this a must-see destination for both local and visiting Jews. The genres of these exhibitions can range from showcases of LA Jewish artists like Peter Krasnow to deep dives into impactful eras of Jewish history.

    While adults reflect on our people’s struggles and triumphs on the West Coast, children can have a fun, hands-on experience exploring their culture. The ongoing Noah’s Ark exhibit brings the story of the flood to life, letting kids climb, build, and explore. Families can also visit the art studio, enjoy story time and music jams in the Amphitheater, and more. Just be sure to check the schedule ahead of time, as some of these activities only run on specific days.

    There is no shortage of options for exploring Jewish culture in Los Angeles, but whether you’re just beginning your conversion to Judaism or a long-time new Jew, the Skirball Center is an excellent way to spend the day connecting and reflecting. Start planning your trip at www.skirball.org

    Image Attribution:
    Hughwa, CC BY 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons


  • 3 Jul 2023 2:41 PM | Franklin Jester (Administrator)

    By Kevin Masterson

    I feel like I’ve had an inner conflict about God since I was a small child, long before my conversion to Judaism. I remember my first grade nun, Sister Justina, telling us that to question or disobey a nun or priest was a mortal sin, which meant we go to hell with no chance of redemption. I remember how frightened that made me. I didn’t want to go to hell.

    The conflict in me was born when I began to see things that made me question their actions. I would see nuns and priests beating children, and I always had an uncomfortable feeling when a priest would come to visit. However, I didn’t want to go to hell, so in my confusion I figured their behavior must be a ‘mystery' that I was not worthy enough to understand.

    My conflict grew even greater in Civics Class in the 5th grade. Sister Augustine had us take a true or false quiz about prejudice. We reviewed the quiz as a group, and there was a question about white people being superior. I raised my hand and said “that is false, sister. In God’s eyes everyone is equal.” Sister Augustine then asked me again. I repeated my answer. She said “no, the answer to that question is true. You are prejudiced.” I tried to explain again, and she told me to sit down. I was so confused and ashamed. What she was saying was against everything that I had been taught to believe by my parents, the priests, and all my other teachers. However, I was also taught that I couldn’t question her, so I assumed there must be something wrong with me.

    Several months later, I started puberty shortly before my 11th birthday. I was told nothing as my body began to change and my testosterone kicked in. Having been so repressed by my family and my faith, I rebelled with a vengeance. I was given the message that I was “bad”, so I set out to not disappoint my critics. I knew that there was something wrong with my religion, but I wasn’t allowed to question it. I was too afraid. I didn’t know what hypocrisy meant.

    I joined a Jewish fraternity in college, as I had many friends there and I fit in really well. All of my brothers were very smart and ambitious like I was. Their families valued education like mine did. The only real difference that I can see now is that they did not have the deep level of shame that I did. When they felt bad it was from their conscience, not the fear of going to hell. They made mistakes and learned from them. I made a mistake and was to be punished by God for eternity. They gently taught me to question how irrational many of my beliefs were.

    I fell away from the faith that I was born into due to several very traumatic experiences, and I felt lost for many years. I felt that I was being punished for rejecting my family’s religion. Eventually I found my way to a 12 step program and a spiritual church. However, I still felt so much confusion and shame. My “faith” wasn’t strong enough. I often made very bad choices for that reason.

    I never forgot the comfort & clarity that I got from the fellowship of my fraternity brothers. At the encouragement of Rabbi Sarah Horonsky, I began an intro to Judaism class at American Jewish University. I remember the first thing that Rabbi Morris Panitz said in class: “In Judaism we believe that all human life has value.” It felt like I exhaled fully for the first time in my life.

    In the past three years, I have learned the value of questioning. I’ve heard many other people express their opinions, ask questions, and admit it when they didn’t know the answer to something. That’s what has resolved my conflict in my journey into Judaism. I am encouraged to be authentic and continue to seek out truth. For me, that seems exactly what the purpose of this earthly journey we are all on is designed for.


  • 12 Jun 2023 10:44 AM | Franklin Jester (Administrator)

    By Jill Housen

    Counting the Omer, or the 49 days between the holidays of Passover and Shavuot, is special for me. It is one of the few times I intentionally slow down and make space to prepare my mind and spirit to receive the Torah. 

    This year was more challenging than others with new responsibilities added to my already busy schedule, and sometimes I did not meet my set time for prayer and counting. What I learned through this experience was to let go of expectations of perfection and to be more engaged in what was happening during the process of the actual meditation.  

    I questioned if it was possible to infuse this spiritual nourishment into my everyday life. This year I purchased a workbook, a 49-day self-care immersion. I found this grounded me while counting the Omer. Every day there was a prompt with an activity tied to the teaching.  

    Linking action to the teaching helped me incorporate my meditation into making lifestyle changes. I hope next year those who have not experienced counting the Omer will join me on this 7-week journey of growth and transformation. 


  • 5 Jun 2023 8:16 AM | Franklin Jester (Administrator)

    There’s no question that food plays a major part in Jewish culture. From Shabbat challah to Hanukkah latkes to any number of Passover-friendly matzah creations, it seems like every special day in Jewish life is marked by food (or lack of it). And it goes so far beyond our holidays. Judaism has a rich culinary history, and partaking in it is a great way for Jews by Choice to feel connected.

    If you live in Southern California, you’re in luck. There’s no shortage of delicious Jewish eateries, including delis, Israeli restaurants, and even a few plant-based options. Here are some of our favorites.

    Disclaimer: Not all of the options on this list are Kosher.

    • Canter's Deli - Fairfax

    When you think of Jewish-American food, you think of the classic deli. Reubens, pastrami, and matzo ball soup are all on the menu at Canter’s, which has been an LA institution since 1931. While it’s not a kosher restaurant, it will hit that comfort-food craving. 

    • Bo.Re.Kas - Sherman Oaks - OK Certified

    Far too often, Ashkenazi food captures the spotlight for Jewish cuisine. Bo.Re.Kas, a newer restaurant exclusively serving bourekas, is changing that. Bourekas are a Sephardic pastry filled with anything from cheese to chocolate. This spot is open from 9am to sell-out, so get there early. 

    • Ta-eem Grill - West Hollywood - RCC Certified

    TimeOut magazine put it best when they said “It’s not hard to find falafel in Los Angeles…but man, is it hard to find great falafel…Enter Ta-eem Grill.” Many different cultures lay claim to falafel, but there’s no doubt that it’s a well-loved dish is Jewish cuisine. Of course, you can also order other Mediterranean classics like chicken shawarma and beef kabobs.

    • Ben and Esther’s - San Diego w/ an LA location on the way

    Historically, Jewish-American and vegan cuisines haven’t mixed, but that’s been changing. Ben and Esther’s is a 100% vegan Jewish deli with several locations in California and the PNW. From brisket sandwiches to challah egg n cheese, they’ve brought the classic NYC experience to a plant-based crowd. While not certified kosher, there is no meat or dairy in the kitchen.

    • Maury’s Bagels - Echo Park/Silver Lake 

    If you’ve spent any time online in Jewish spaces, you will likely see people from the east coast teasing California about our bagel situation. I will give them one concession: We do not have a cheap bagel shop on every corner. But that doesn’t mean we don’t do bagels! Maury’s has some of the best bagels the Golden State has to offer, plus other classics like challah and noodle kugel. While it’s not kosher certified, the kitchen only serves dairy and fish.  


  • 14 Mar 2023 10:07 AM | Franklin Jester (Administrator)

    By Franklin Jester

    Passover, also known as Pesach, is a significant holiday in our calendar that celebrates the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. As a convert to Judaism, this was one of the few holidays I was already familiar with, and I was eager to celebrate. Hosting a Seder, or the traditional meal and ritual held during Passover, is a great way to feel connected to Judaism, but it can be intimidating to host one for the first time. Here are some tips to ease your anxiety and help you host your very first Seder from someone that’s been there:

    1. Remember there is no perfect Jew. As with my first Shabbat dinner, my biggest fear was that I was going to do something wrong and offend my other Jewish guests. But that happens to even the most seasoned hosts. Someone is going to mispronounce some Hebrew, miss a cue for a drink of wine, or forget to hide the Afikomen. It’s okay.

    2. Pick the right Haggadah. The Haggadah is the book that outlines the Seder service. There are plenty of traditional options, as well as more modern takes that cover relevant issues or lifestyles. While they will all follow a basic outline, make sure you study it and print copies for all of your guests.

    3. Plan for the strictest observance of Kosher for Passover rules in your guestlist. The basic Kosher for Passover rules are no wheat (except in matzah), oats, rye, barley, or spelt. In many traditions, rice, corn, legumes, and most seeds are also off the table. Regardless of what rules you keep, ask your guests what they follow so you can be inclusive.

    4. Organize your Seder plate. The basic elements you need are Karpas (a green vegetable eg: parsley), Haroset (a sweet fruit and nut mixture), Maror (a bitter herb, eg: horseradish), Hazeret (another bitter herb, eg: romaine lettuce), Zerora (a shank bone), Beitzah (egg). Vegetarians and vegans can substitute a roasted beet and a potato for Zerora and Beitzah.

    5. Ask a friend for help. The best part about converting to Judaism is the community that is willing and eager to help. Reach out to a member or your temple or just a Jewish friend. Sandra Caplan Community Bet Din is also able to provide a conversion mentor for both candidates and recent converts.

    Passover is a beautiful and powerful time in the Jewish calendar. While it may seem stressful to host a Seder, it’s a huge step in your Jewish journey. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and don’t be afraid to be imperfect.



  • 27 Feb 2023 3:49 PM | Franklin Jester (Administrator)

    By Anthony Arnello

    Purim at first glance appears like a version of Halloween, New Years, and the County Fair all combined, but there’s much more to it than that. Purim celebrates the saving of the Jews by Queen Esther. For those who don’t know, here’s a paired down version of the Megillah: Esther was not born to royalty, but was instead chosen out of many to become King Ahasuerus of Persia’s new wife. 


    At first, since she does not appear Jewish, she does not make her heritage known. However, it’s discovered that the king’s advisor, Haman, is hatching a plan to kill the Jews, so her uncle Mordecai urges her to reveal her true identity. Amidst fear of death, she tells the King of her Jewish background and urges him to stop Haman. King Ahasuerus condemns Haman, his plan is foiled, and the Jews are saved.


    Purim is about celebrating the courage and the heroinism exemplified by Esther. It’s about the “masks” we all wear each day to get through life, but it is also about knowing when it’s necessary to peel back a façade to do what is right. The rabbis teach us that Purim and Yom Kippur are “two sides of a coin.” Without diving into the theological and Hebrew reasonings for this teaching, the takeaway is that Purim is important! 


    Though this holiday might not be one of conventional religiosity and admiration of God, it leaves us with an important lesson and calling: to recognize that the voice of one may save the lives of many. Antisemitism has been around for as long as there has been a Jewish people. It is an unfortunate reality that comes with choosing to be chosen, but as scary as it can be to choose to deal with antisemitism, there is also a power in this path.


    As Jews by Choice, we come from varied backgrounds; different ethnicities with unique experiences, histories, and understandings. In the face of rising antisemitism, in some ways we are lucky. We may or may not “look Jewish” or have backgrounds which are conventionally Jewish, but we ARE Jews. Esther teaches us that part of being chosen is choosing to do what is right, even when it is scary. We can explain and advocate in ways others cannot and we must use our strengths to strengthen and help the Jewish people, our people, just as Esther did.



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