JCC Newsletter – Vayikra

Chametz. Leaven. Food containing one of the five species of grain (wheat, spelt, barley, oats, rye) that is mixed with water and left to rise for more than 18 minutes. Chametz’s antithesis of course is matzah, namely non-leavened food made from those same five species of grain mixed with water but left to rise for fewer than 18 minutes.

What should be clear, simple parameters of what is permissible or forbidden to be consumed on Passover became over the course of millennia extraordinarily cultural, complicated, controversial, contradictory, and sometimes just plain made up. For instance, the 18 minute number taken as gospel (sorry for the mixed metaphor) in the Jewish world today is a relatively recent invention that flies in the face of both the Babylonian Talmud, Maimonides and the 15th century Code of Jewish Law which state that as long as the dough is being worked on, even all day, it does not turn to chametz. In fact, unlike the crackers we eat today the original matzah which is still eaten by Sephardi Jews is quite soft and resembles a wrap.

But enough about what we can’t eat. What about we can eat? While in a western supermarket the bread aisle reigns supreme, we are blessed in Japan with the most delicious varieties of rice in the world including Koshihikari, Hitomebore or the Uncle Ben’s of Japan, Akitakomachi. Why not have Sushi at the Seder since rice is unrelated to the five species of grain that are forbidden…wait what? Rice is prohibited?! Thankfully that is true only for Ashkenazi Jews but unfortunately also included in the ban are beans, buckwheat, lentils, soybeans (so long tofu!) and strangest of all corn, a new world crop that Jews have only known about for 500 years.

The aforementioned items, and even more not listed, are called Kitniyot, foodstuffs that Ashkenazi communities evolved over time to forbid out of a concern that they either grew near the five species of grain or were sold adjacent to them and thus subject to cross-contamination. Thus, the old joke goes when you see a Sephardi on Passover, you wish them a Chag Sameach/Happy Holiday but when you see an Ashkenazi you wish them a Tzom Kal/Easy Fast.

In the 2010 JCC Passover season, a 3rd grade student named McKayla taught her class and teacher a valuable lesson. While learning about Passover, the always lovely but rarely even-tempered McKayla was not afraid to voice her displeasure. “I won’t do it! I love bread. There is no way I can go eight days without it.” McKayla remained unconvinced even when her teacher pointed out that bread has only been sold widely in Japan for less than 200 years. And so, McKayla made her teacher realize that sometimes pedagogically, it helps to focus on the positive.

Passover, and Judaism more broadly, loses what makes it special when focusing too much on the ‘thou shalt nots’ without spending enough time on the ‘thou shalts’. And so, McKayla’s teacher shifted the lesson to speak about foods we DO eat, love and look forward to on Passover including matzah brei, matzah pizza and the always delicious matzah ball soup…which are also forbidden by some rabbinic interpretations because of a concern called Gebrokts about already cooked matzah getting wet and becoming chametz but (deep breath), how about we save that for another year?


Kabbalat Shabbat
Friday, March 24th
Services: 6:00pm
Dinner with reservation: 7:00pm

Shabbat Parshat Vayikra
Kiddush Sponsored by the Greenfield-Ichikawa Family in honor of Rina’s Tokyo Bat Mitzvah
Saturday, March 25th
Services: 10:00am
Kiddush: 12:00pm

Kabbalat Shabbat
Friday, March 31st
Services: 6:00pm
No dinner on account of the kitchen being turned over for Passover

Passover Day 1
Thursday, April 6th
Services: 10:00am

Shabbat Chol HaMoed Pesach
Saturday, April 8th
Services: 10:00am

Kabbalat Shabbat
Friday, April 14th
Services: 6:00pm
No dinner on account of the kitchen being turned back over to chametz

Shabbat Parshat Shmini
Anniversary of Amos Sitbon’s Bar Mitzvah
Saturday, April 15th
Services: 10:00am
Kiddush: 12:00pm


Yom HaShoah Commemoration
Remarks by Israeli Ambassador Gilad Cohen
Monday, April 17th 7:00pm at the JCC

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Our Passover website is up. Seder reservations close Friday, March 31st. Based on our receiving numerous allergy lists and requests for further e-mail confirmation about said allergy lists, we are expecting a large influx of American Jews touring Japan. Come celebrate with your Landsmen!

Mazal Tov to the Greenfield-Ichikawa Family on Rina’s Tokyo Bat Mitzvah. Before setting sail, or more likely taking flight, to New Jersey for Bat Mitzvah Round Two with her cousin Penny next Shabbat, we have the privilege of celebrating with Rina this Saturday morning.

Mazal Tov to Japan on winning the World Baseball Classic. While 2023 was not the year for our boys in blue on Team Israel, at least for Jews living in the Land of the Rising Sun this was the next best result we could hope for if not the best.

Thank you to the members of the JCC, young and (not that) old, who hosted the UJA-King David Society delegation this week. Your insight, warmth and good humor served as a fantastic showcase for our community. The group reached out to share that regardless of how the rest of the trip goes, their time spent with us will no doubt be the highlight.

Happy Hanami to everyone. Get out and enjoy these beautiful cherry blossoms while they last. Cherry blossoms are not chametz.

Yiddish Club with Jack Halpern: Monthly meetings have been taking place for quite some time in-person at the JCJ. Please contact Jack at jack@cjki.org if you are interested. All levels are welcome, from beginner to advanced. Much more than just language, the club enjoys exploring Yiddish culture as well.

Shabbat Parshat Vayikra
Candle Lighting: 5:37pm
Havdala: 6:34pm