Special Sections

Several times throughout the year JNS.org releases collections of articles centered around a special theme. All our special section pieces are assembled on this page. To select another topic, choose from the other content “categories” in our navigation bar.

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Passover’s mostly gluten-free diet won’t have many health consequences for most Jews observing the holiday—but it could have some real benefits for some of them. Eight days is just long enough for a gluten-free diet to result in noticeable health gains for people who may have celiac disease without realizing it. Improvements in digestion, energy level or sense of mental clarity during a weeklong bread, pasta and beer-free holiday could indicate that someone has an undiagnosed celiac condition, explains Dr. Arun Swaminath, director of the inflammatory bowel disease program at Northwell Health’s Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

Last summer, Israeli teen Yoav Madani was offered something most kids would jump at: an overseas trip with his family. But his response to the invite surprised his parents. “No thanks,” he said. “I’d rather go back to camp.” As it turns out, for the last three years, Yoav’s summer camp has been anything but ordinary. “Since I’m in camp with kids from 30 countries like Italy, Greece, America and England, it’s like I am going overseas,” said the 16-year-old from Netanya. Yuval’s experience is a microcosm of the broader goals of the Big Idea camps, where children from around the world get a taste of Israel’s culture of innovation.

By mid-April, spring is in full swing in Israel, with trees and wildflowers in bloom and daytime temperatures in the 70s (°F). The timing couldn’t be better given that on Passover, much of Israel’s citizenry—and countless tourists—are off from work and school, making them intent on discovering the nation’s most breathtaking sites. Moving from south to north, JNS.org presents 10 popular destinations for Passover travel in Israel, encompassing both the “greatest hits” and the “hidden treasures.”

From big-picture decisions, like helping clients choose from what can be an overabundance of competing venues, caterers and music options, to minutia like running around at the last minute in hot pursuit of batteries for table centerpieces, bar and bat mitzvah planners can take some of the weight off parents’ shoulders. Even if their connections with vendors don’t serve to recoup the entire cost of a planner’s services, Neil Bartfeld—who went from skeptic to believer on using a planner—says that “what you do recoup is some of your sanity and that is also very valuable.”

For years, Jewish basketball aficionados have adored Tamir Goodman. The same can now be said for Jewish summer campers. Nicknamed the “Jewish Jordan” for the combination of his on-court prowess and his observance of Orthodox rituals, Goodman has spent his post-playing career as a coach and motivational speaker. One of his crowning achievements is founding a Jerusalem-based basketball camp in which campers receive expert instruction from professional players and soak up the spiritual vibrancy of the holy city. Initially, the program was only available for day campers. But in 2017, Goodman is expanding that vision to an overnight camp. “There’s something majestic about Jerusalem, it’s a city that unites,” Goodman says. “We’re excited to help [campers] reach their potential on and off the court and to connect them to Israel.”

It has been almost a year since Liz Stevens stood before a couple hundred people and delivered a eulogy for her father, Larry Stevens, who for nearly 50 years was the director of the summer camp he started in northern Michigan. His mourners spanned every phase of his work, from septuagenarian former campers to 20-something ex-counselors. Camp Walden, founded in 1960, drew its first campers from heavily Jewish neighborhoods in Detroit. Liz Stevens, decades later a camp director herself, reflects on a father-daughter legacy of camp leadership.

When it comes to acts of loving-kindness, plenty of rabbis talk a good game. But Rabbi Ari Sytner has put his entire self into the endeavor. To the rabbi, the person in the adjoining surgical suite in December 2011 was still a virtual stranger. He knew she was a 45-year-old Israeli mom with three kids and a kidney disease that had sapped her strength. Ronit Havivi's prognosis was not good, unless a donor could be found quickly. Fast forward five years. Against all odds, in a wedding hall in central Israel Feb. 20, Rabbi Sytner’s voice sang out the blessing under the chuppah as Havivi’s daughter married her childhood—an occasion Havivi might easily not have lived to see without the rabbi’s kidney. 

At his recent bar mitzvah celebration, Lavi Gimpel’s great-grandmother handed him a check that she said would cover the cost of seven trees. “One for each member of your family. When I come to the farm someday, I want you to show each tree to me,” said the great-grandmother, Chaya Wexler. Trees are not a typical bar mitzvah gift. But Lavi Gimpel is not a typical bar mitzvah boy. Not only did he ask his guests—and crowd-funders—to help him populate the farm his family is establishing in the Judean Hills with trees, but he also chose to have his Feb. 19 bar mitzvah party at a soup kitchen in Jerusalem. 

On the right, a man sits and prays holding a liturgical book. On the left, a rabbi is seen explaining the story of the Jewish exodus from Egypt to a child. These images were printed on the pages of a Passover haggadah in the city of Prague in 1556. This nearly 500-year-old haggadah, one of only two remaining copies, is part of the Valmadonna Trust Library collection that was recently sold to the National Library of Israel. The Valmadonna collection was a “showstopper” when it was displayed at the Sotheby’s auction house before the sale to Israel, attracting more than 3,000 visitors a day, said Sharon Mintz, senior consultant for Judaica at Sotheby’s.

Even the most finicky wine snob won’t be able to “pass over” the new generation of kosher wines. Increasingly, the current mindset is that since Jews are commanded to drink four cups of wine at the Passover seder, they might as well drink high-quality wine in the process. “Today’s Jewish consumer is more sophisticated and discerning, and not satisfied with sacramental wine,” says Jay Buchsbaum, a vice president at the New Jersey-based Royal Wine Corporation. “They have more disposable income and they’re willing to spend a little more for a good wine. They’re not willing to settle.”