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Ellie S. Grossman

Sukkot Celebrates Bountiful Harvest with Family, Friends, Food & Fun

A decorated sukkah in Israel.

The week-long festival of Sukkot, the Hebrew word for “booths,” begins when the sun goes down tomorrow night (September 23-30), and is considered one of the happiest times in the Jewish calendar. When else are we commanded to build a hut-like structure, called a sukkah, in our backyard, decorate it with fresh fruit, gourds and other Judaica ornaments, and get to eat our meals alfresco and even sleep under roofs of branches open to the stars? Continue reading

My High Holiday Hike With Hashem

I finally found Shari, Elise, Mimi & her daughter Adina.

During the High Holidays, the 10-day period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, more Jews fill the pews than any other time of year. Known as The Days of Awe, we push ourselves to do some serious soul searching.  We dig deep during this time of teshuva, a Hebrew word that translates literally as “return” and describes the return to God and with our fellow human beings as we ask (and grant) forgiveness and strive to better ourselves, our souls.

We walk or drive to our places of worship, sometimes having to park miles away and take a shuttle because the parking lot is so packed. Wdon our finest holiday clothes, schmooze with friends, listen to the loud blasts of the shofar, recite special prayers, and read from the Torah. The rabbis wear white robes adorned with silver and gold to symbolize royalty and the annual coronation of God as King of the Jewish people.

On this Rosh Hashanah, I celebrated the birthday of the Jewish people at Nusach Hari B’nai Zion because I feel particularly close to the Orthodox rabbis there, and I gain a lot of insight from the learner’s service afterwards; On Kol Nidre, the eve of Yom Kippur, I helped collect tzedakah, or charity, at Congregation Shaare Emeth, a reformed temple where my kids made their bar and bat mitzvah. When Cantor Seth belts out the Jewish prayer Avenu Milkenu,“Our Father Our King,” his beautiful voice fills the sanctuary. Every year, the rabbis deliver sermons of various themes, their words profound and personal and make me feel proud to be a Jew.

This year, something special happened to me in between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services, and it took place somewhere without stained-glass windows or a Holy Ark. There was no dress code or crowd of people, either. You see, Hashem a Hebrew term for God, came to me while I was lost in the woods, all alone, wearing gym shorts and a t-shirt, and covered with sweat and bug spray.

I call this story my “A-HAshem” moment.

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Why I Celebrated 2 Passover Seders—in 1 Night

Jewish holidays, from Hanukkah to Purim, give us another opportunity to grow spiritually, and thankfully there’s a reason to celebrate all year round. Passover, which begins this Friday night March 30 and lasts for one week, is certainly no exception. What makes Passover, also called Pesach or Festival of Freedom, so special is that all generations come together to participate in this ritual ceremonious meal called the Seder (means “order or arrangement”) in which we read the Hagaddah (means”retelling”) of the action-packed story of the Israelites journey from slavery to freedom.

The Haggadah begins, “All who are hungry, come and eat; all who are needy come and celebrate Passover.”  Come to find out, it is ME who feels like the stranger in my own religion, hungry for knowledge and wanting more from this holy experience when Jews all over the world celebrate the the Hebrews becoming their own nation thousands of years ago. I’m grateful to our family and friends for hosting the Seders all these years, allowing me to indulge a little more into the meaning of it all without the stress of plating sliced carrots atop gefitle fish for dozens of guests and then cleaning all the dirty dishes. Continue reading

Why is This Haggadah Different From All Other Haggadahs? Because It’s Funny!


As our Passover Seders evolve over the years, and our kids grow into adults, and the guest list has some new faces, so does our Haggadah. Haggadah means “retelling the story,” and it doesnt have to be the same long, boring version year after year like some of us remember from our childhoods, thank you Maxwell House. Perhaps it’s time to change things up a bit and try something new to guide us through the ceremony and full course meal that can last as long as the Exodus from Egypt. There are hundreds of Haggadahs to choose from with various themes, from social justice Haggadahs to the chocolate Haggadah (non edible) that addresses contemporary issues of slavery, economic justice and fair trade. But only one Haggadah is laugh out loud funny with all due respect to Moshe and the sancity of the Festival of Freedom.  It’s called “For This We left Egypt?” from the comic minds of Dave Barry (nationally syndicated humor columnist/author), Alan Zweibel (Saturday Night Live producer/writer), and Adam Mansbach (NY Times bestselling novelist/screenwriter),  a talented trio of wisecrackers who succeed in tickling our shank bone. Just in time for Passover, Zweibel will be sharing his Seder satire as part of the 39th annual St. Louis Jewish Book Festival, on Sunday March 18, at the JCC in Creve Coeur.

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On Purim Treat Yourself Like a Queen

If ever moms deserve to feel like a queen, Purim is the time to treat yourself like royalty (before some of us become slaves again and start cleaning the house of chamitz for Passover). Continue reading

Great Big Challah Bake Unites Women Worldwide



In a world that is more and more divided, The Great Big Challah Bake is bringing us together, one challah at a time. Another alarming reality is that many Jews are drifting away from their heritage, and nothing brings us back to our roots and unites us like this aromatic braided bread made lovingly by hand from the most basic ingredients, mainly flour, water, yeast, egg, sugar, salt. Every single week, in preparation for the Sabbath, this ordinary or mundane act of making bread is elevated and becomes holy and even magical,  as hundreds of women in the same room (and thousands across the globe) come together for the same mission. Last year, more than 500 women and girls, representing the entire spectrum of the St. Louis Jewish community and all levels of observance, bonded together to share their love of making challah. This year’s third annual event, October 26 at the JCC in Creve Coeur, will be bigger and better than ever. Continue reading

Empowering Girls To Be Their True Selves


When it come to empowering girls to be their authentic selves and to boldly pursue their dreams, nobody does it better than Girls In The Know (GITK). Founded in 2009, GITK has already reached more than 2,500 middle school age girls and their parents (or caregivers) and given them the strategic tools they need to navigate through the challenging adolescent years. It’s not easy growing up in today’s world, and young girls have more pressure than ever to conform to unrealistic standards. Again, that’s when GITK comes into play. Continue reading

Sukkot: What We Learn When Our Walls Come Down

When Yom Kippur ends, another Jewish holiday begins. Sukkot! This week-long pilgrimage festival (October 5-13, 2017) commemorates the time when Israelites wandered the desert for 40 years after escaping from slavery in Egypt. The Jewish people built temporary tent-like structures to sleep, eat, and dwell in, and it’s a mitzvah for us to build a sukkah and to immerse ourselves in nature and God’s presence. At this time in our world, when everyday seems to bring another natural or manmade tragedy, from the hurricanes to mass shootings, we are reminded of how vulnerable we really are. The safety of four concrete walls can’t protect us from harm. Also, when we isolate ourselves in our shelters, we can’t connect with each other. So, Sukkot is a time for our walls to come down, for us to be in touch with not only nature and with God, but also with each other. During Sukkot, we are reminded that God’s presence is bigger than all of us. Sukkot, yet another opportunity to make the ordinary–like an outdoor hut–holy again. Continue reading

Four Ways to Forgive, A Yom Kippur Lesson

Forgiveness. It’s the theme of Yom Kippur, and not an easy concept to swallow—kind of like that pickled herring served at break the fast.

Yom Kippur is a time for atonement between us and God. It is the most solemn (and yet positive) time in the Jewish calendar. During the High Holidays, or the 10 Days of Awe, we not only ask God for forgiveness, but also that of our fellow human beings…and ourselves. We can pretty much count on God forgiving us for our mistakes, wrongdoings, and lashon hara (talking negatively about people behind their back) because the Almighty has unconditional love for us, like a parent would of his child. Making mistakes is an inevitable part of human nature and an opportunity for self growth. Asking (and accepting) forgiveness, whether the hurt was caused intentionally or not, is a physical, tangible way to heal the soul and clean the slate for the coming New Year. And it’s not meant to be easy. For Jews, this is the time when the real homework begins. Continue reading

Three Gifts I Learned at Rosh Hashanah

Aish HaTorah St. Louis welcomes Slovie!

Rosh Hashanah, translated in Hebrew as “head of the year,” is a time to let go. As a new Empty Nester, letting go seems to be the theme of everything these days. We let go of our mistakes from the previous year, let go of shame we may be feeling, let go of sorrow for hurting someone, and, of course, ask for their forgiveness.

The Jewish New Year is also a celebrated time for new beginnings…a new school year, a new relationship with others, a new commitment to better ourselves, and a reawakening of Judaism and the Almighty.

Acclaimed author speaker Slovie Jungreis Wolff

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