Monday, September 17, 2007

Sunshine and Cancer

This article from

If vitamin D3 levels among populations worldwide were increased, 600,000 cases of breast and colorectal cancers could be prevented each year, according to researchers from the Moores Cancer Center at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD).

This includes nearly 150,000 cases of cancer that could be prevented in the United States alone.

The researchers estimate that 250,000 cases of colorectal cancer and 350,000 cases of breast cancer could be prevented worldwide by increasing intake of vitamin D3, particularly in countries north of the equator.

The study examines the dose-response relationship between vitamin D and cancer, and is the first to use satellite measurements of sun and cloud cover in countries where blood serum levels of vitamin D3 were also taken.

Serum vitamin D levels during the winter from 15 countries were combined, then applied to 177 countries to estimate the average serum level of a vitamin D metabolite among the population.

An inverse association between serum vitamin D and the risk of colorectal and breast cancers was found.

Protective effects began when 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels (the main indicator of vitamin D status) ranged from 24 to 32 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml). In the United States, late winter 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels ranged from 15 to 18 ng/ml.

Previous research has suggested that raising levels to 55 ng/ml was actually optimal to prevent cancer, the researchers said.

To increase your vitamin D3 levels, the researchers recommended a combination of dietary methods, supplements and sunlight exposure of about 10 to 15 minutes a day, with at least 40 percent of your skin exposed.

Unanswered/Answered Prayer

What happens when God doesn't answer our prayers?
An article from
Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, the Days of Awe, are the time of year when we talk with God.
Yes, we are supposed to talk with God all year long, but we really feel it on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. These are days devoted to prayer. They are days when we struggle to express our thoughts, our hopes, and our fears to the Almighty. These are days when we try to engage the Master of the Universe in conversation.
We hope that the Almighty smiles on us, grants us our requests. But here is a particularly searing question that we must confront at this time of year: What happens when He doesn't? What, if anything, is left of our relationship with God then?
Imagine a woman who prays deeply and sincerely for the success of an operation on her severely ill 6-year-old daughter. The time comes -- and the operation fails. The girl dies under the surgeon's knife. What is a mother to feel after this? What would we feel?
In the swirl of emotions following a tragedy, one feels indescribable anguish -- the terrible, searing pain of overwhelming loss. But sometimes, one feels something else too.
At first, the feeling might be unidentifiable, hidden underneath layers of sadness and pain. But then, slowly it might emerge. "How could God have done this? We trusted in Him. We prayed with all our might. We placed our every hope in His Hands. And He let this happen..."
How can we expect to love God if one feels betrayed by Him?
And these questions -- spoken or unspoken -- then provoke a completely new swirl of emotions. Fear. Guilt. "Who am I angry at?", we ask ourselves, "God? How can I be angry with God?"... We're not supposed to be angry with God. We're supposed to feel that He's compassionate, loving. One cannot easily "make up" with someone one feels has betrayed him; how, then, can we expect to love God if one feels betrayed by Him?
I don't know if there is a single, definitive, way out of this problem. Perhaps the answer differs from person to person. But I think a change in perspective can begin to point in a useful direction:
We can ask a fundamental question: When one prays to God for something -- be it for health, happiness, or even for a new car -- what is it that one hopes to achieve? What does one hope the prayer will accomplish?
On one level, the answer is obvious. One hopes that God will bequeath to him that which he prays for. If one prays for his daughter's recovery from a terrible illness, for example, one obviously hopes that this will somehow help her recover. But there is, I think, a deeper aspect to the meaning and purpose of such a prayer.
Allow me to relate a story a friend of mine tells about one of his early childhood experiences. This is how he relates the event:
"When I was about four years old, I awoke from my nap one day, ventured out of my room, and walked through the house. No one was there. I tentatively called out for my mother, but there was no reply. Slowly, a realization dawned on my little mind: 'It's finally happened. My parents have abandoned me...'
"I raced to the phone on the kitchen wall and dialed the operator. 'That's it,' I told her, between sobs, 'my parents are gone; I'm all alone now.' The operator stayed on the phone with me until, sure enough, my mother did come home. She had slipped out for a few minutes to pick up some milk. It was, however, an experience I shall never forget."
Now, if you will, perform a little mental exercise. Imagine for a moment that you are four years old. Your parents are everything to you. Consider the terror you would feel thinking they have abandoned you, leaving you to somehow manage life on your own. Of course, as an adult, you know that this would never happen. However, as a child, you would not have known this. The threat would have seemed real. How does that terror feel?
Now, proceed further. Imagine you are six years old. Climbing on a chair, you have found your mother's cookie jar on the kitchen counter. It's filled with chocolate-chip cookies. You approach your mother, cookie jar in hand, and ask her for one. Now consider the following two scenarios:
Your mother kindly and lovingly looks at you and says: "No, dear, I'm sorry. It's not time for a cookie now; it's too close to dinnertime. As much as I know you'd like to have it, I can't give it to you right now."
Your mother has had a very hard day, and is at wit's end when you have approached her. She stares at you a little coldly for a minute. Then she turns and walks away. "I don't care," you hear as her voice trails away, "Your little cookie doesn't matter much to me at all right now. If you want it, take it."
As a 6-year-old, which of the two scenarios would you rather have faced? In the first, you are denied the cookie; but you get the loving attention of your mother. In the second, you get your cookie -- but a gnawing pit swells in your stomach. In some small way, your mother has abandoned you...
Let us continue. Imagine that you are older now. You and your spouse live in a small apartment. Unfortunately, your financial situation is bleak; you cannot afford to buy yourselves even a small, used car. Even routine grocery shopping has become an ordeal. Your husband's employer, however, has hinted he may be in line for a raise -- enough, perhaps, to allow you to afford a vehicle.
So you pray to God with added devotion, and ask for this raise to come through. We, of course, have no way to directly perceive how God accepts our prayers -- but for the sake of argument, let us imagine that you could somehow "hear" His response. Imagine, again, two scenarios:
God responds to you: "My child, I want you to know that I am with you. I know the stress you feel due to your financial situation, and I feel your anguish. But for reasons I cannot now reveal to you, it is not within the scheme of things for your husband to receive this raise."
God responds to you: "In the past, you have not displayed enough faith for Me to take your concerns seriously right now. I choose not to involve Myself in your plight; I shall allow events to unfold as they would on their own. If your husband's employer decides to give him the raise, then so be it; but I will not be involved."
Again, which would we prefer to hear? The first response firmly but gently denies our request, whereas the second leaves open the possibility that we will indeed get the money. But in the second response, we also feel the hard, cold shock of God abandoning us. If we do get the money, what price will we have paid?
And now, finally, consider a last situation. A man suffering the effects of leukemia is wheeled into the operating room for a last-chance operation to save his life. The doctors give him barely fifty-fifty odds. As he feels the anesthesia begin to take effect, he realizes quite clearly that this may be his last moments of consciousness on Earth. He opens his heart to God and prays that he will survive.
Imagine that in his last fleeting seconds of consciousness, this man would be privileged to hear God's response to him. Consider, again, two scenarios:
God responds to him: "My child, I want you to know that I am very close to you now. As you drift into sleep, I shall stay by your side, and I shall not leave you.
"I feel your anguish, and I know how much you want to live. But I must tell you that now is the time I have chosen for you to end your stay on Earth. You cannot understand why. But now, My child, is the time."
God responds to him: "You have not made yourself worthy of My becoming intimately involved in your affairs. The doctor who is operating on you is as competent as any; I shall leave your fate in his hands."
In his final waking moments, which response would the man rather hear? Is it not conceivable -- even probable -- that he would prefer God's intimate and loving denial of his request, than God's cold withdrawal from his life? If so -- if this is what we would feel were we in this man's situation -- then we may have discovered something truly profound about our values: An intimate relationship with our Parent in Heaven is something we would trade anything for -- even life itself.
When we truly open our hearts to God, we make God real in our lives.
This, then, says something important about why we pray, and what we get out of the experience.
Yes, it is true that we pray for the cookie, the car, or indeed, for our very lives. But these are only the apparent purposes of our prayers. For when we truly open our hearts to God -- when we genuinely reach out to Him in our times of need -- we make God real in our lives. We build a relationship with Him.
As in any good relationship, feelings tend to reciprocate. Our connection with God is no different. When we reach out to Him, He reaches back to us. Each word of prayer becomes a brick in the edifice of that relationship. And when all is said and done, we value that relationship more than anything.
I think that when we truly understand this, we have given ourselves the tools to deal with the possibility that God may not, in fact, grant us the object of our prayers. For we can realize that the more profound our need, the more deeply we have fashioned a relationship with our Creator by telling Him about it. Thus, whether we receive what we have "asked" for or not, we have certainly not been "betrayed" by God. A refusal can be loving, too. And the relationship we have built by asking has not gone away.
We live in a flesh and blood world, and this is a difficult truth to internalize. Our needs are real to us. We really do want the cookie or the car; our heartfelt desire for the object of our prayer is not simply imagined. However, if we pause for a moment, we can focus on the deeper things, too. Through our heartfelt communication, we have drawn closer to God, and He has drawn closer to us. And as we sense this closeness, we may find that we have not only achieved a deeper appreciation of prayer -- and of these Days of Awe -- but we have also gained newfound strength to deal with whatever response God ultimately bequeaths us.
Listen to Rabbi Fohrman's free audio classes at
Excerpted from "INSPIRING DAYS" published by K'hal Publishing in conjunction with The Afikim Foundation

Friday, September 14, 2007

Carrot Recipe

A Rosh Hashana Story from

My mother's tzimmes became a bridge from the past, connecting me to a rich and tasty heritage.

It's the afternoon before Rosh Hashana and once again I'm spooning an odd assemblage of fruits and vegetables into the clear glass bowls I keep just for this purpose. These special foods are called simanim, or signs because their Hebrew or Aramaic names allude to blessings we would like God to give us in the new year.
For the most part this display of pomegranate seeds, black eyed peas and beet greens has nothing in common with the Rosh Hashana table I experienced as a child. Only the apple and honey and the tzimmes come from my past.
In a way, it's odd that I've clung to the tzimmes. As a kid I never liked it. My mother, a Holocaust survivor and a Hungarian, was a great cook. Her palachinta, Hungarian crepes stuffed with ground almonds and raspberry jam, were superlative, her chicken soup golden and heavenly, her stuffed cabbage wonderfully sweet and sour; but her tzimmes was not on the hit parade for me.
Tzimmes was part of the holiday, but its reason for earning this coveted spot was never discussed. Not that I ever thought to ask. Explanations weren't part of our family culture. For survivors existential inquiries were just too painful. As my parents saw it, our lives were best conducted by staying firmly anchored in the here and now. Neither of my parents liked to talk about their younger days before the war. We had no family myths, no stories, no religious traditions, not even any physical heirlooms.

The only place where my parents dared to venture into their former lives was through their taste buds. Every night my mother performed a seance recreating the flavors of her former home in the Carpathian Mountains: dishes like mamliga and rumpl krumpl (a layered potato, sour cream and egg casserole), kraut pletzl and in the summer, sweet cold soups made of frothy whipped eggs combined with stewed apple, canned sour cherries or gooseberries, if they were available.
I didn't always appreciate this culinary richness. I would have preferred to be ordinary, to eat fish sticks, mashed potatoes and steak, not unpronounceable foods whose names were sure to provoke a fit of giggles from my Americanized classmates.
Then in my mid twenties I unexpectedly fell in love with all things Jewish and moved to Israel. During that first year, I ate Rosh Hashana dinner with a family who had the custom of serving as many symbolic foods as possible. Their table was overflowing with agrarian oddities: gourds and leeks, beet greens and black eyed peas, even the head of a sheep. Much to my surprise, included among this colorful display was a plate of cooked carrots which looked suspiciously similar to my mother's tzimmes.
What was my mother's tzimmes doing here in Jerusalem? As we dug our forks into the tzimmes the father, who also happened to be a rabbi, recited a prayer and explained the meaning of eating carrots at the Rosh Hashana meal. I could hardly believe it! My mother never said anything about a prayer. To her, tzimmes was just another dish in her Hungarian Jewish repertoire like goulash, flanken or Hungarian cheesecake.
But my host was saying something else. He was suggesting that by making the tzimmes and serving it on Rosh Hashana, my mother was performing a religious act, unconsciously carrying on a sacred tradition that may well have been in my family for centuries.
I was beside myself with glee, like an orphan who had suddenly discovered her pedigree. Before this experience I never thought that my family had any religious customs at all and now I'd discovered one, and a rich one at that.
"It's a word play," my host said, "The Hebrew word for carrot, gezer is phonologically linked to the Hebrew word gezeira, which means evil decree." The prayer said over the carrots asks for God's protection from any manifestation of an evil decree. It all fit so well.
My mother got to Aushwitz so late in the war that the Nazis didn't even tattoo her. They thought they'd just kill her right away.
I thought to myself, "Was there anyone on earth who'd get this better than my mother, who got to Aushwitz so late in the war that the Nazis didn't even tattoo her. They thought they'd just kill her right away."
But that was only part of it. In Yiddish carrots are called mehren, which means to increase. Tzimmes carrots are sliced into rounds resembling gold coins. Eating them was a segula, a good omen for prosperity. Right away I thought of my mother at the helm of a successful family business dressed in silks and wools instead of concentration camp rags.
A few months later I got married. One of the first things I did as a new bride was to call my mother in New York to get her tzimmes recipe. Although my cooking style leaned towards improvisational, with this recipe I was determined to be exact, to prepare it just the way she did, and her mother before her, and her mother before her.
I'm reminded of a story of the Ba'al Shem Tov. He used to go to a special place in the forest, say a prayer, light a fire and somehow convince God to perform a miracle and save the Jews.
Years passed, the Ba'al Shem Tov had died and the Jews were in trouble once again. His students approached the Ba'al Shem Tov's grandson who was now their Rebbe. "I can't find the place in the forest, I can't light the fire, I don't know the prayer, but I can tell the story and that is enough," he answered.
And so it was for my mother. She didn't know the words of the prayer or even that it existed, but she remembered the recipe and when to serve it and somehow that was enough.
My Mother's Tzimmes Recipe Here is the recipe if you want to give it a try. Peel a dozen or so carrots -- only fresh, never frozen or canned. Hand slice them into rounds. Don't use a food processor. The slices will be too limp and thin. Combine two heaping tablespoons of flour and a quarter cup of oil into a thick brown paste (roux). Add the carrots and gradually drizzle in up to a cup of honey and a third of a cup of water. Cover the pan and let it simmer until it's soft and sweet.
A version of this article appeared in the Jerusalem Post and in House and Garden.
Published: Sunday

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

God Sees

This from

I'm invisible.
It all began to make sense, the blank stares, the lack of response, the way one of the kids will walk into the room while I'm on the phone and ask to be taken to the store. Inside I'm thinking, "Can't you see I'm on the phone?"Obviously not. No one can see if I'm on the phone, or cooking, or sweeping the floor, or even standing on my head in the corner, because no one can see me at all. I'm invisible.
Some days I am only a pair of hands, nothing more: Can you fix this? Can you tie this? Can you open this? Some days I'm not a pair of hands; I'm not even a human being. I'm a clock to ask, "What time is it?"
I'm a satellite guide to answer, "What number is the Disney Channel?"
I'm a car to order, "Right around 5:30, please."
I was certain that these were the hands that once held books and the eyes that studied history and the mind that graduated summa cum laude - but now they had disappeared into the peanut butter, never to be seen again. She's going ... she's going ... she's gone!
One night, a group of us were having dinner, celebrating the return of a friend from England. Janice had just gotten back from a fabulous trip, and she was going on and on about the hotel she stayed in. I was sitting there, looking around at the others all put together so well. It was hard not to compare and feel sorry for myself as I looked down at my out-of-style dress; it was the only thing I could find that was clean.
My unwashed hair was pulled up in a clip and I was afraid I could actually smell peanut butter in it. I was feeling pretty pathetic, when Janice turned to me with a beautifully wrapped package, and said, "I brought you this."
It was a book on the great cathedrals of Europe. I wasn't exactly sure why she'd given it to me until I read her inscription: "To Charlotte, with admiration for the greatness of what you are building when no one sees."
In the days ahead I would read - no, devoure - the book. And I would discover what would become, for me, four life-changing truths, after which I could pattern my work:
(1) No one can say who built the great cathedrals - we have no record of their names.(2) These builders gave their whole lives for a work they would never see finished.(3) They made great sacrifices and expected no credit.(4) The passion of their building was fueled by their faith that the eyes of God saw everything.
A legendary story in the book told of a rich man who came to visit the cathedral while it was being built, and he saw a workman carving a tiny bird on the inside of a beam. He was puzzled and asked the man, "Why are you spending so much time carving that bird into a beam that will be covered by the roof?
No one will ever see it." And the workman replied, "Because God sees." I closed the book, feeling the missing piece fall into place. It was almost as if I heard God whispering to me, "I see you, Charlotte. I see the sacrifices you make every day, even when no one around you does. No act of kindness you've done, no sequin you've sewn on, no cupcake you've baked, is too small for me to notice and smile over. You are building a great cathedral, but you can't see right now what it will become."
At times, my invisibility feels like an affliction. But it is not a disease that is erasing my life. It is the cure for the disease of my own self-centeredness. It is the antidote to my strong, stubborn pride.
I keep the right perspective when I see myself as a great builder. As one of the people who show up at a job that they will never see finished, to work on something that their name will never be on. The writer of the book went so far as to say that no cathedrals could ever be built in our lifetime because there are so few people willing to sacrifice to that degree.
When I really think about it, I don't want my son to tell the friend he's bringing home from college for Thanksgiving, "My mom gets up at 4 in the morning and bakes homemade pies, and then she hand bastes a turkey for three hours and presses all the linens for the table." That would mean I'd built a shrine or a monument to myself. I just want him to want to come home. And then, if there is anything more to say to his friend, to add, "You're gonna love it there."
As mothers, we are building great cathedrals. We cannot be seen if we're doing it right. And one day, it is very possible that the world will marvel, not only at what we have built, but at the beauty that has been added to the world by the sacrifices of invisible women.
God Bless You as you build your Cathedrals!