Letters to the editor: Matzo Ball, Barbara Boxer, French Jews and more


If I Go, There Will Be Trouble; If I Stay Will It Be Double?

I am an American non-Jew and basically secular in thought. Until recently, I was completely unaware of Jews feeling threatened in Paris (“Stay or Go? French Jews Face a Growing — and Emotional — Dilemma,” Jan. 23). I am willing to bet that 99 percent of my fellow Americans are also totally unaware. Is it the Arab population threatening you, or the French? I cannot speak for my country’s immigration policy, but if Jews living in France requested immigration to the U.S., I would welcome that. I wish safety and peace for each of you. wherever in the world that may be.

Zoe Ash via jewishjournal.com

I do not want Jews to emigrate from France. What would it prove? That they let evil run their lives? Jews there need to become self-vigilant. They cannot let themselves be pushed around by human evil after hundreds of years of Jewish-French culture. The prime minister of France was correct when he said that France would not be France without Jewish influence. Fewer Jews in Europe would only make them weaker and [they would] have much less clout than they already have. Don’t give up.

Richard Levine via email


A Teacher’s Reach

Marty Kaplan’s homage to a science teacher who opened his singular world to the world-at-large is a paean of praise and gratitude to a profession that has lately been in the crosshairs of pundits and parents (“Before Your Favorite Teacher Dies,” Jan. 23). Teachers, in innumerable ways, have been the swizzle stick that has churned the sediments that lie in each of us, releasing in the process an unbridled curiosity, a heat-seeking intellect, and a passion that is the engine to creative achievements across a variety of fields and vocations. I, like Kaplan, have been the recipient of numerous pedagogues who opened my eyes and engaged my heart, unleashing in me a thirst for learning and justice that will never be quaffed. Every day that I open a book, marvel at the symmetry of a tree, revel in the multihued sunrise and sunset, and immerse myself in the gymnastics of an intellectual endeavor, I remember and thank all the teachers whose paths I was fortunately enough to cross.

Marc Rogers via email

As a student in Mr. Jaeger’s biology class, I was far from ever considering a career in the sciences. But I, too, felt the wonder of science, and more importantly, I saw an educator whose love for his subject and dedication to his students demanded respect.

Hugh Mahon via jewishjournal.com


Electing Barbara Boxer

If I recall correctly, Barbara Boxer was first elected in large part because the Republicans chose the very right-wing (and Jewish) Bruce Herschensohn over the more moderate and electable Tom Campbell (“Barbara Boxer and the Democratization of California Politics,” Jan. 23). Once elected, Boxer enjoyed an incumbency advantage that nearly guarantees statewide re-election in California. (Remember, Gray Davis was not defeated by any opponent. The only person he could lose to was himself!)

E. Randol Schoenberg via jewishjournal.com


Funding for their Future

Thank you for the wonderful article on the Generations program (“With Help, Local Schools Grow Their Endowments,” Jan. 16). The Journal has reported in the past about Builders of Jewish Education’s Los Angeles High School Affordability Initiative funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation. The Generations project builds on the success of the Jim Joseph Foundation grant, and between the two programs, over $34 million in cash and pledge endowments have been raised for day-school education since 2009.

The initial idea to help schools build endowment began with the vision of the Lainer family. They and local donors created the Simha and Sara Lainer Day School Endowment Fund, a 1:4 match to incentivize schools. The Jim Joseph Foundation then provided a grant to help schools build their development infrastructure, create a culture of giving and provide middle-income scholarships while the high schools raised endowments to sustain these tuition grants.   

The two programs have become models for other communities. BJE, with the help of the Jim Joseph Foundation, created LAHighSchoolAffordability.org, where donors, schools and communities interested in undertaking endowment development can obtain detailed information on how to implement this initiative in their school or community.

Arlene Agress, Director, Jim Joseph Foundation High School Affordability Project,  BJE (Builders of Jewish Education), Los Angeles


Matzo Ball Drops the Ball

I wanted to share a story with you about a Jewish singles event I attended last month on December 24, 2014.

Most single Jews in LA know that the largest Jewish singles events that happen each year are on Christmas Eve. I am a young single mom of a 6 yr old girl. On December 24, I decided to try a singles event called The Matzo Ball. I was completely shocked and disgusted at what I saw that night. 

The event was at a club in Hollywood called Bardot. Approx 200 or more people were there that night. There was a stage with a dj and a screen where graphics were being project. The graphics showed photos of men with their shirts off and the statement read “The Matzo Ball, where you find the best Kosher meat in town”. Another graphic was a photo of a menora with candles of Kim Kardashians naked rear end. This supposedly was a spoof on Saturday Night Live. These graphics were so offensive. I was shocked that at a Jewish event the promoters would ridicule what it means to be kosher and the hannukkah menora that represents g-ds miracle of lights.

Next they had a woman dancing on stage to rap music. She was dressed in a bra and g-string. Shortly after that they played Hava Nagila. I swear, it felt more like a freak show at the circus than a Jewish event. I invited a group of friends and after about 2 hours we left. We stayed the 2 hours because we thought it was going to get better, but it only continued to get worse.

A few days later I wrote the company an email requesting a refund. After no response, I followed up with a phone called to the headquarters in New York. I spoke to a young man named Ben and told him the story. He responded by saying “whats the big deal, lighten up”. I was even more upset that I had to convince him that there was a problem with those events. I responded by saying “It is up to our generation to hold the respect for our religion and our people. My family went through the Holocaust and now its up to us”. He cut me off and said “My family went through the Holocaust, so whats your point?”. He said to forward an email to him and he would give it to the owner. Since that call, I wrote back 4 more times followed by 4 more calls. They never responded to me. Finally I contacted the company that sold the tickets (Eventbright). After 5 days Eventbright sent The Matzo  Ball and gave them a warning to refund my money within 1 business day. After that I received a refund.

The reason I am writing the Jewish Journal about this story is because I think the Jewish community needs to send a message to young people/professionals. The message I would like to send young people especially those club promoters is to keep the integrity of the Jewish people and religion in the highest regard. These young individuals are our future and the torch needs to be passed on to them to protect us from blasphemy. If these promoters do this at an all Jewish event, what can we expect for the future of our people.

Thank you for taking the time to read my story.

Sandra Luban via email

With help, local schools grow their endowments


The endowment at Oakwood School, a private, nonsectarian day school in North Hollywood, adds up to nearly $20 million. Compare that to Los Angeles-area Jewish day schools and things just don’t equate — some have no endowment at all, and at many others, the endowment is, at best, insufficient.

“The Jewish community has done a wonderful job making sure our art museums and symphonies and colleges are around in the future and a very poor job at Jewish day schools,” said Sarah Shulkind, head of school at Sinai Akiba Academy in Westwood. “We really need to be investing in Jewish children if we care about the Jewish future.” 

A national program called Generations aims to change that, not just by making endowments a priority at Jewish day schools but also by giving leaders the tools to more effectively solicit gifts. The effort is a collaboration of several organizations: Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education (PEJE), the AVI CHAI Foundation and, here in Los Angeles, Builders of Jewish Education (BJE). (In other cities, the local Federation has participated.) 

“We’re making them make time for it and make it a priority,” said Rebecca Spain, Generations LA coordinator at BJE. “They then see the benefit and will want to keep going.” 

It started more than three years ago with about two dozen schools in Los Angeles, Boston, New York and Baltimore. Locally, the participating schools were Sinai Akiba, Cheder Menachem in South Robertson, Valley Beth Shalom Harold M. Schulweis Day School in Encino, Adat Ari El Labowe Family Day School in Valley Village, Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy in Beverly Hills, Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School in Northridge and Rabbi Jacob Pressman Academy of Temple Beth Am, adjacent to Beverly Hills. 

These seven schools “graduated” in late 2014, raising over $10 million in cash and legacy gifts. Because of their success, a second cohort of Los Angeles schools started Generations LA: Beth Hillel Day School in Valley Village, Yavneh Hebrew Academy in Hancock Park, Kadima Day School in West Hills, Weizmann Day School in Pasadena and Temple Israel of Hollywood Day School. Because there were more schools that wanted to participate, BJE hopes to launch a third group later this year.

The three-year program offers participating schools significant hand-holding in building their respective endowments. Each school receives 40 hours of individualized coaching a year. Schools also participate in local meetings with representatives from their fellow schools and national training sessions. 

There are monetary incentives for hitting campaign benchmarks, which vary from school to school depending on the size of the student body. (The goal is to raise the equivalent of $4,000 per student.) In addition to the incentive grants, in Los Angeles, the Simha and Sara Lainer Day School Endowment Fund offers a 25 percent capped match on cash gifts.

For leadership at Cheder Menachem, a boys’ school with 315 students that had no endowment, Generations LA was simply too good an opportunity not to pursue. 

“This was an area which was underdeveloped in our institution,” Rabbi Mendel Greenbaum, dean of Cheder Menachem, said. “BJE was bringing it to the forefront. [They] provided a coach who coached us through the process of identifying donors and [have] gone with our solicitors to help work with donors. It was very valuable, between the coaching and constant networking with other schools and with PEJE, the various conferences they held.” 

Because of the success of the program, “We should be able to offer more scholarships and more benefits to our students and families long term,” Greenbaum said.

While Generations LA schools aren’t required to use endowment-generated income for tuition assistance, this particular use is top on many of their lists. And none of the schools are done building their endowments. The idea is that they now have the momentum — and the infrastructure — necessary to continue the endeavor, which was exactly what BJE hoped for from the start.

“Another long-term benefit,” Greenbaum added, “is the whole perspective on how to work with donors and be methodical about the process.”

Of course, raising endowment money is different from raising money for a new playground or computer lab. 

“It’s not tangible,” Shulkind said. 

Consequently, Sinai did “a lot of community education,” including parlor events and dinners. Peer pressure, of the best kind, was extremely effective. When one couple pledged $50,000 at a dinner event, others opened their checkbooks. 

Granted, the school was ahead of many of its peers to start, with an endowment of more than $8 million. It added nearly $3 million through the program, but its long-term goal is $40 million. “That would fully fund our tuition-assistance program as tuition goes up,” Shulkind said. 

One message that seemed to resonate powerfully with supporters of the school, where 31 percent of the 444 students receive some sort of financial aid, was this: “Imagine if one-third of students were not here,” Shulkind said. “Jewish day schools should not just be there for families who can afford it.”

Sheva Locke, head of school at Valley Beth Shalom Harold M. Schulweis Day School, which started with an endowment of $120,000 and added $736,000 thanks to Generations LA, likens an endowment to an insurance policy.

“It’s really for the future,” she said. 

But there are benefits in the here and now, too. 

“We reached out to alumni parents and grandparents. Their contribution to endowment was a way for them to reconnect to the day school and synagogue in ways that are meaningful to them. For me, that was the most exciting part of the whole process. It’s re-engagement.” 

This is key because the school, with an enrollment of 260 students, is giving out significantly more aid than it did in the past. “We’re giving out four times as much tuition assistance as five years ago,” Locke said.

It isn’t just local Jewish day schools that are behind in building endowments. According to the most recent available data from the National Association of Independent Schools, schools on the West Coast — which tend to be younger than their counterparts across the country — have the smallest endowments in the country on average: less than half compared to schools in the Midwest and New York and only a quarter of what their New England counterparts have. 

“Aside from the monetary benchmark, one of the main focuses of this program is creating a culture of endowment,” BJE’s Spain said. “It’s not something that existed in the past.”

Generations


I have been thinking about the inscription on the northeast corner of Sinai Temple, where I come to work everyday: l’dor v’dor. Partly, it has been on my mind since I returned from the Builders of Jewish Education’s and Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education’s co-hosted citywide celebration of the Generations L.A. Endowment Program. And partly it has been on my mind because last week my Bubbe and Zayde turned 90. 

My Bubbe and Zayde—at age 90—are flying out to Los Angeles to celebrate, feeling that a party would not be a party without their great-grandchildren (I have three daughters under five). Why, then, are they only staying four days?

I recently called my Zayde to encourage him to stay longer…. “What is the rush to get back?” I said. “Stay, we would love to have you. You’ll come to us for Shabbat. You will visit our school.”

“Sarah,” my Zayde said, “I am just too busy. I can’t leave for that long.” With most other 90 year olds, the hidden message would have been adherence to routine, a preference for a particular challah at the local baker, not wanting to miss his Rabbi’s sermon, etc. Not my Zayde. He performs comedy routines for people with Alzheimers.  He runs a social group called MEL Men enjoying leisure. He writes poetry (in fact, he has published four books). He is fixing my brother up with eligible women while playing bridge. He does pro bono accounting work and even maintains a few paying clients. He has too much to do. He is as alive today than at any other time in my life. He approached life with an urgency and an energy that we would all envy. When he is called to answer, as in the story of the Hasidic Rabbi Zusya—Were you the best version of yourself? Did you fulfill your work in the world?—everyone who knows him is sure what his answer will be. 

Throughout the story of Abraham and Sarah, God had promised them two things: children and a land. But when Sarah dies at 127 years old, Abraham has no land that he can call his own and only one child—Isaac, unmarried at the time of Sarah’s death—who will continue the covenant. Neither promise has been fulfilled. In the final years of Abraham’s life, he lives with an urgency informed by his own mortality. He purchases land and goes on an ardent quest to find his son Isaac an appropriate wife. 

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks notes the extraordinary level of detail the Torah uses to describe this purchase and this quest. “There is a moral here, and the Torah slows down the speed of the narrative, so that we will not miss the point. God promises, but we have to act. God promised Abraham the land, but he had to buy the first field. God promised Abraham many descendants, but Abraham had to ensure that his son was married, and to a woman who would share the life of the covenant, so that Abraham would have, as we say today, ‘Jewish grandchildren’.”

What is significant about this narrative is that God does not act alone. We have the free will and therefore the responsibility to partner with God, to feel a sense of urgency and do the work of the world. 

The work of the world can be overwhelming, and the Jewish community certainly felt this way when the Pew Study came out last year, which all but forecast the demise of our community (or, at the very least, the non-orthodox Jewish community). I am proud that in the face of this report, Sinai Akiba Academy—and other day schools around the country—threw itself fully into the work of proving this study wrong. We launched our Generations Endowment Campaign, which is part of a national program, with urgency and enthusiasm. We also launched it with an ambitious goal of building at least a $40 million endowment to make Sinai Akiba affordable for any family interested in receiving a Jewish education at our dynamic school.  

This generation of parents at Sinai Akiba, my generation, lives in an America where the Jewish community has achieved unparalleled financial, political, and social success. We are wealthier and more influential than at any other time in our nation’s history. Many of us were born into a world where Israel existed and an America where anti-Semitism was largely quiet. And yet, we have done a very poor job securing the Jewish future. We have built symphony halls and art museums and universities. But we have not built our schools to last. We have not given enough to ensure that Jewish day schools will be here for our great-grandchildren. This is our work in the world. And there is no question that it is urgent work.     

My Zayde taught me about urgency. I have lived away from Chicago for nearly 18 years, and whenever I call him, he is ecstatic to hear from me. Then, he quickly rushes me off the phone. “You go, Sarah,” he says every time we talk. “I know you are busy. Go work hard and be good.” The message: There is much to be done in the world, so get to it. 

Sarah Shulkind, E.d. D., is the head of Sinai Akiba Academy

The many miracles of the family menorah


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Alex, Ryan, Josh and Ellie Dubin light about 25 menorahs every night of Chanukah


From painted-clay preschool classics to sterling silver family heirlooms, the eight bright lights of the chanukiyah have a unique and artful way of revealing our values, holding our histories and telling our stories.

That’s a Big Ball of Wax

As a preschooler, Alex Dubin was always mesmerized by Chanukah candles. Every year, he would sit and stare as the flames danced over his growing collection of menorahs — the projects he created in school; or the ones he made with his grandmother, a ceramic artist; or with his mother, herself pretty crafty.

Today, Alex, 17, and his three younger siblings — Josh, 15, Ellie, 12 and Ryan, 6 — still love to stare into the candles, and they still make their own menorahs — and light all of them.

Every night of Chanukah, the Dubin kitchen turns into a glowing testament to art, family and nostalgia, with as many as 100 menorahs (fewer on the candle-heavy later nights) burning on a foil-covered island and table.

Most of their menorahs are displayed year-round in little cubbies in the living room, which fits well in their house, where every inch is covered in homemade art.

Parents Cindy and Mark host a yearly Chanukah celebration, when friends and family come over to do art projects, eat and, of course, light the candles.

While the guests are content to light and then go eat dinner, the Dubin kids stay in the kitchen, staring into the flames and at the colorful wax stalagmites. For the past six or seven years, they have let the wax drippings build up — Alex has one with a square-foot mass of wax.

Some of the menorahs are favorites: the one crafted from pottery from an Israeli archaeological site, preschool clay ones, the double-glazed ceramics they made with grandma, and any number made from pipes, coffee cans, bolts, metal address numbers, old loaf pans and any other inflammable hardware they can spot.

Grandma Marlene Zimmerman, whose work is exhibited at the Skirball Cultural Center, has one menorah that didn’t make it onto the Dubin family display: Her replica of the Breed Street Shul in Boyle Heights is in President Bill Clinton’s museum in Arkansas. When Clinton was in office, his wife, Hillary, chose Zimmerman’s Breed Street Menorah for the National Treasures Collection, and in 1999 Hillary lit that menorah at the White House Chanukah reception.

The Promise Menorah

Isaac Bialik and Shawna Brynjegard were high school sweethearts and inseparable at UCLA in the early 1990s.

So when Bialik traveled to Israel in 1992 — without Brynjegard — he was thinking about her much of the time. When he spotted a blue-and-purple ceramic-pomegranate menorah made by the Israeli artist Avram Gofer in a shop on Ben-Yehuda Street in Jerusalem, he knew he had to get it for her.

He came home a couple of weeks later, and gave her the menorah on the first night of Chanukah.

“I told her that from now on we would use this every Chanukah together, and that we would never be apart again,” said Bialik, who works on communications for Deloitte, an auditing and financial consulting firm. Bialik didn’t officially propose to Brynjegard for another year, but today Isaac and Shawna Brynjegard-Bialik (or B2) still light that chanukiyah.

Isaac is himself a Judaic artist (www.nicejewishartist.com), and Shawna is a rabbi who performs lifecycle events for those not affiliated with synagogues. By now, their pomegranate menorah has been joined by others in their Santa Clarita-area home. Their daughters, Mira (9), Yael (7) and Aviva (5), have added their own signature pieces and the family has bought a few more menorahs. Each night of Chanukah they light about five menorahs from their ever-growing collection, and while the other menorahs rotate in and out of the ritual, the Brynjegard-Bialiks always light their “Promise Menorah” together.

The Uncle’s Menorah

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Sheldon Ginns doesn’t even know the name of the great-great-uncle who gave him his brass menorah more than 60 years ago. He was known simply as The Uncle, the first of the family to come to the United States from Berdichev, Ukraine, around 1900. The Uncle was in his late 90s when he died, and just before then he divvied up his belongings between his closest relatives (his only child had died). The Uncle gave his chanukiyah, which he had held onto through years of poverty, to Ginns’ grandfather, who immediately passed it along to Sheldon, then 8 years old.

The cast-brass menorah, whose edges are worn down form years of polishing, features two lions holding up a heart inscribed with the blessing for the candles, topped by an ornate crown.

Ginns, who grew up in Detroit and now lives in Ann Arbor, Mich., is a retired architect, and he remembers lighting the brass menorah every Chanukah and playing with it as a toy the rest of the year.

The menorah took on a place of honor in his own home, as he and his wife and two sons lit it every Chanukah.

Today, the brass menorah is the only family heirloom Ginns has. His grandfather was the eldest of 12 siblings, and the only one to come to the United States before World War II; no one else survived the Holocaust. His grandmother was the eldest of 10, and also the only survivor in her family. Both looked for their family for years.

When Ginns took the menorah to the Los Angeles-based Lower East Side Restoration Project to have it cleaned and repaired a few years ago, he learned that the menorah dated back to the 18th century and was probably from Poland. He also learned that the reason the menorah had two shamashes — candle cups set higher than the rest — was because it was also used weekly for Shabbat candles, a sign that the family who first owned it was poor and couldn’t afford both a chanukiyah and Shabbat candelabra.

He found out that the chanukiyah was originally an oil lamp and had been converted to hold candles. The Restoration Project restored it to its original state for Ginns.

He lights the menorah every two or three years, and he plans to pass it along to one of his five grandchildren some day to continue the tradition of the Ginns family menorah.

A Blessing by Any Other Name

When Judy Stern (not her real name) was a kid, her mother always made sure to pull out the menorah in December, and she recited the Hebrew blessing. Stern’s father wasn’t Jewish — they had a Christmas tree, too — and aside from that little menorah, not much else Jewish happened in their lives.

Then Stern landed at Hamilton High School near the Pico-Robertson neighborhood, and she made friends with some Jewish kids who invited her to the Jewish Student Union at school, and then to a youth group — where she made a disturbing discovery.

At a Chanukah celebration, the teens recited the blessing over the candles — and it was different from the one her mother had always said.

That evening, Stern realized that her mother, who herself grew up with little Jewish education, had been reciting the only blessing she knew — the Hamotzi, the blessing over bread.

Stern began saying the correct blessing, which she still does to this day. She married a rabbi (ironically, so did her brother), and has four kids. Now, every Chanukah, as they say the brachot over the candles, her mother is there to celebrate with them, and to say, Amen.

Blessings From Bullets

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Zane Buzby has restored many menorahs at her Lower East Side Restoration Project, but one of her favorites is what she calls the Palestine Menorah.

The owner, Rivka Greensteen, brought it to Buzby badly in need of repairs and restoration. The dented and dirty silver-plated brass rectangle was shaped like a wall of Jerusalem and engraved with lions and a Jerusalem scene. The candleholders fronting the wall needed care.

Greensteen told Buzby what she knew about the menorah. It had been brought from Russia to America by her grandfather, and was passed down to Greensteen’s father, and then to Greensteen. The family always used this menorah, and always had a family gathering on the fifth night of Chanukah — but they didn’t know why.

When Buzby got the menorah, she immediately recognized it as one from Palestine — pre-state Israel. The candle cups, she told Greensteen, were made from bullet casings. Greensteen put the rest together. Her grandfather’s brother was an early pioneer in Palestine, and must have sent the family the chanukiyah. He was killed in the 1930s in an Arab uprising.

This brother was the fifth son in his family, and it is probably no coincidence, Greensteen guessed, that it is his menorah that brings the family together each year on the fifth night of Chanukah.

The Sedermakers


It’s not that Jeanne Weiner wanted Aunt Leonie’s Indian Tree
dishes for herself. She hadn’t used the hand-painted china in five years —
since just before her husband died — and last Passover she was on the verge of
giving the entire service for 31 to her daughter Joelle Keene, who had taken
charge of the family seder.

But when it came to actually giving up the china, she
balked. And even though this year she is making the transfer, these dishes —
more than the Thanksgiving dishes or all the furniture she gave to her
daughters — call up a wave of emotion and tears.

“I wanted to give them to her, but I couldn’t. I just had to
be ready, because I was making a statement. And that statement was that my
husband was gone and I wasn’t going to do any real entertaining of my family
anymore and it’s moved on to my children’s homes,” said Weiner, a 76-year-old
psychologist, sitting at her daughter’s dining room table, the pink and
turquoise peonies blossoming on a setting of the dishes in front of them. “It
is part of my new life, which is not as satisfying as my old life was.”

The emotions heaped on a set of seder dishes shouldn’t be
surprising.

The microcosm of the seder, perhaps like no other ritual of
the year, brings into focus all the nostalgia, Jewish identity issues and
family dynamics that stay in the fuzzy background the rest of the year.

At no point are those dynamics more in focus than when it
comes time for the seder to transition from one generation to the next.

“It is a sign that things are changing, that the power of
the older generation is fading, that the end of that generation is coming and
that a new generation has to take over,” said Rabbi Nina Bieber Feinstein,
associate rabbi at Beit T’Shuva.

The question of who is making seder and how becomes symbolic
of whatever is going on in a family. Whether the transition occurs because of
death, illness, new geographic realities or simply a readiness to retire, it
means changing a ritual whose very focus is the continuity of generations.

“We in America have gotten used to handing our children over
to institutions to get their education, but this is one instance where the
family has to take a role in presenting something that is so deep and so
educational,” Feinstein said.

She suggests making the transition in stages, if
circumstances allow, and making sure that not only is the recipient ready to
take on the enormous task, but that the one giving up sedermaking
responsibilities is really ready to do so.

When Don Goor’s mother, Stephanie Goor, finally stopped
shlepping her box of seder paraphernalia — charoset bowls, kiddush cups,
candlesticks — back and forth between his home and hers, he knew she had fully
let go of making seder.

The transition started about 10 years ago, when Goor and his
partner, Evan Kent, first moved seder into their home. Goor’s mother and
grandmother still prepared much of the food and led the seder as they had for
years, with Stephanie sticking strictly to her never-changing marks in her
leader’s haggadah. And each year Stephanie brought over the box of stuff, and
for years took it back to her home.

“For a long time it was still their seder but it was in our
house,” said Kent, the cantor at Temple Isaiah in West L.A., who has been with
Goor, the rabbi at Temple Judea in Tarzana, for 18 years. “We used the same
haggadah and had the same food, but slowly what happened was we realized that
our own friends would join us and it sort of grew and changed.”

Discussion became more spontaneous and informal, with the
hosts (both clergy, after all) taking the lead. Eventually the menu evolved,
since Kent is vegetarian, though many of the foods — mom’s knaidlach and
grandma’s farfel muffins — stayed the same.

Finally, they switched to a different haggadah, and the
transition seemed to be complete.

With change coming slowly and organically, Goor said his
mother and grandmother never felt pushed aside or left out, and always
participated.

“My mother’s way of resisting was to make these little
editorial comments along the way about how good seder used to be, or what an
unusual way of doing things,” Goor said. “My grandmother was more outspoken.
She would come out and say, ‘I don’t like this haggadah. I liked it better the
other way.'”

This year there will be another transition. Goor’s
grandmother died at 91 a few years ago, and his mother died just a few months
ago at the age of 71. Seder will be a low-key affair this year.

“I’m avoiding it totally. I keep pretending it will happen
on its own,” Goor said.

For many, who is not at the seder is as important as who is.
Beyond the rawness of missing loved ones, the cycling of the generations can
have a strong psychological impact on those who take over — even when it is not
because someone has died.

“Before, there was this buffer between you and your own
mortality, but then when you take ownership, you are the matriarch, you are the
patriarch and there is no buffer between you and the end of your cycle,”
Feinstein said.

It was a slow transition for Jeanne Weiner’s family after
Beryl, her husband of 27 years, died four years ago.

Beryl had been central to the family seder since they moved
to California from New York more than 30 years ago, after Weiner’s first
marriage ended.

“Beryl had a real gift for drawing people out and making
them comfortable so they wanted to talk,” said Keene, the music teacher and
newspaper adviser at Shalhevet High School, who lives in Beverlywood with her
husband and three teenagers.

After Beryl died, the family seder sputtered a bit, not only
because of Beryl’s death, but because Keene and her family had become much more
observant, scaring away her two sisters and her mother from a seder that they
imagined would start late and take forever.

But eventually they gave it a try.

“Last year was the first time everyone came and we had a
really big seder here. I remember feeling that this was like the first real
one, because everyone was here,” Keene said.

Weiner still does some of the cooking — she’s used the same
matzah ball recipe for decades, and the chopped liver stays on the menu.

Keene has tried to replace the haggadah she and Beryl
composed when she was 18, but nothing has seemed quite right yet. With cousins
ranging in age from a baby to teenagers, and religious observance covering the
spectrum, coming up with the right balance, timing and tone is challenging.

But Keene is determined to make it work.

“I feel pressure to make seder really wonderful — it should
be terrific, fun, uplifting, interesting, relaxed, memorable — the list of
adjectives is so long,” Keene said. In other words, to make seder just like
mom.

But Weiner encourages her daughter to create a seder that is
all her own.

“I think what you are trying to — and have — emulated is the
feeling rather than the fact of our seders — the lasting impression of it,
which was that you loved it and it was good, and that is what you are
recapturing. But you are creating your own, and frankly that is as it should
be. It’s nice to pass on dishes, but do things in your home the way you want
them to be done in your home,” Weiner said.

Keene is happy to make it her own, but like any daughter of
any age, still wants mom’s approval.

“Is there anything good about the seders here?” Keene asks
her mom. “You said the food was good.”

“No, I didn’t even say the food was good,” Weiner answers,
deadpan. “I said what was good about the seder was that the family is here.
That is the most important thing.”

“Well, you said I do a good job on the table,” Keene
submits.

“You said it and I agreed. Don’t misquote me,” her mother
fires back.

They go at it for a few more minutes, until finally Weiner
caves in with the smile and love that was there all along.

“The seder is warm and friendly and welcoming and the food
is delicious. The family is here and the table is beautiful. What more could
anyone ask?” Weiner says.

“Thanks,” says Keene, with a relieved laugh. “Thank you. I
needed that.”  

Think Global, Cook Local


“The Jewish Kitchen: Recipes and Stories from Around the
World” by Clarissa Hyman (Interlink Books, $29.95).

Clarissa Hyman’s new cookbook, “The Jewish Kitchen,” is
alive with miracles — stories of Jewish life and war-torn Jewish communities,
bringing with them their glorious history, rich culture and a cuisine passed
through the generations, itself a story of miraculous survival.

This award-winning author crisscrossed the globe, visiting
eight families in nine months, recording their stories and recipes.

“The stories were as important to me as the recipes, because
I believe in context and background, and I wanted to give snapshots of the
Jewish world today to show that there are so many different aspects to the
Jewish experience,” Hyman said.

From the Israeli food and wine writer Daniel Rogov come
pineapple fritters, a classic for Chanukah in Lyon, France, where owner
Celestine Benditte-Strauss served them at her renowned Restaurant Cercle.

And rugelach for Chanukah? Hyman describes the lesser-known
Chanukah tradition of eating cheese and dairy products in memory of Judith, a
brave Jewish widow who beheaded the enemy general Holofernes after feeding him
— what? Hyman said “fatal small cakes.”

Some say perhaps she got him thirsty on cheese so that he
would drink wine and fall asleep. Others insist it was rich, creamy food for
the same reason. While stories differ, the message is clear.

“One Jewish dish, 20 different versions. One Jewish story,
20 different tales,” Hyman said. “It’s one of the wonderful things about Jewish
food: We are as lavish with our symbolism and myths as we are with the sour
cream. Any excuse for something delicious to eat.”

 

PineappleIe Fritters a La Celeseine

2 large pineapples peeled, cored and

thickly sliced

Superfine granulated sugar for dredging

1/4 cup Kirsch (cherry brandy)

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup warm water

7/8 cup beer

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 tablespoon brandy

Pinch of salt

2 egg whites whisked

Apricot jam for spreading

Vegetable oil for deep frying

Superfine granulated sugar for sprinkling

Dredge the pineapple with sugar, then sprinkle generously
with the Kirsch. Let steep 30-40 minutes.

Sift the flour and mix with the water, beer, oil, brandy and
salt to make a batter. Dry the pineapple slices on a paper towel, then coat
them with a thin layer of apricot jam.

While the oil is heating, fold the whisked egg whites into
the batter. Take the fruit and batter to the stove. When the oil is hot (350
F), dip the pineapple slices into the batter, then fry until golden brown on
both sides. Serve hot, sprinkled with sugar if desired.

Serves 6-8.

Hazelnut Rugelach

13 tablespoons butter, softened

7 ounces cream cheese

2 teaspoons superfine granulated sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour sifted with a pinch of salt

1/4 cup brown sugar

4 tablespoons cocoa powder

2 teaspoons cinnamon

7/8 cup finely chopped hazelnuts (or walnuts)

2 tablespoons butter melted

1 egg white beaten with a little water

Granulated sugar (optional)

Cream the butter and cheese until well blended. Stir in the
superfine sugar, then the flour and mix until the dough begins to hold
together. Gather into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and chill overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Combine the brown sugar, cocoa,
cinnamon and nuts and set aside. Cut the dough ball in half and return one half
to the fridge while you work with the other.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry into a
thin circle about 10 inches in diameter. The pastry may feel hard at first but
it quickly softens. Use a cake pan or plate to help cut out a neat circle. Cut
the dough circle into 16 or 8 equal pie-shaped wedges.

Brush the surface of the wedges with melted butter, then
sprinkle evenly with half the nut mixture. Cover with a piece of plastic wrap
and use a rolling pin to press the filing lightly down into the dough.

Remove the plastic wrap and roll up each wedge from the
outside, wide end toward the point, so you end up with minicroissants. Place on
a lightly greased baking sheet and brush with the beaten egg white. Sprinkle
with a little sugar if desired.

Repeat with the remaining dough and bake for 20-30 minutes
until golden brown. Let cool slightly before transferring to a wire cooling
rack.

Makes 32 small or 16 large rugelach. Â


Judy Bart Kancigor is the author of “Melting Pot Memories”
and can be found on the Web at

Think Global, Cook Local


"The Jewish Kitchen: Recipes and Stories from Around the World" by Clarissa Hyman (Interlink Books, $29.95)

Clarissa Hyman’s new cookbook, "The Jewish Kitchen," is alive with miracles — stories of Jewish life and war-torn Jewish communities, bringing with them their glorious history, rich culture and a cuisine passed through the generations, itself a story of miraculous survival.

This award-winning author crisscrossed the globe, visiting eight families in nine months, recording their stories and recipes.

"The stories were as important to me as the recipes, because I believe in context and background, and I wanted to give snapshots of the Jewish world today to show that there are so many different aspects to the Jewish experience," Hyman said.

Hyman’s nine months’ work on the book — "research, traveling, writing, testing, a miracle in itself," she said — took her to such places as Greece, Norway, Belgium and the Caribbean.

No Jewish cookbook would be complete without latkes, and Hyman’s recipe is her own. But Chanukah is about the oil, not the potato.

From the Israeli food and wine writer Daniel Rogov come pineapple fritters, a classic for Chanukah in Lyon, France, where owner Celestine Benditte-Strauss served them at her renowned Restaurant Cercle.

And rugelach for Chanukah? Hyman describes the lesser-known Chanukah tradition of eating cheese and dairy products in memory of Judith, a brave Jewish widow who beheaded the enemy general Holofernes after feeding him — what? Hyman said "fatal small cakes."

Some say perhaps she got him thirsty on cheese so that he would drink wine and fall asleep. Others insist it was rich, creamy food for the same reason. While stories differ, the message is clear.

"One Jewish dish, 20 different versions. One Jewish story, 20 different tales," Hyman said. "It’s one of the wonderful things about Jewish food: We are as lavish with our symbolism and myths as we are with the sour cream. Any excuse for something delicious to eat."

PINEAPPLE FRITTERS A LA CELESTINE

2 large pineapples peeled, cored and thickly sliced

Superfine granulated sugar for dredging

1/4 cup Kirsch (cherry brandy)

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup warm water

7/8 cup beer

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 tablespoon brandy

Pinch of salt

2 egg whites whisked

Apricot jam for spreading

Vegetable oil for deep frying

Superfine granulated sugar for sprinkling

Dredge the pineapple with sugar, then sprinkle generously with the Kirsch. Let steep 30-40 minutes.

Sift the flour and mix with the water, beer, oil, brandy and salt to make a batter. Dry the pineapple slices on a paper towel, then coat them with a thin layer of apricot jam.

While the oil is heating, fold the whisked egg whites into the batter. Take the fruit and batter to the stove. When the oil is hot (350 F), dip the pineapple slices into the batter, then fry until golden brown on both sides. Serve hot, sprinkled with sugar if desired.

Serves 6-8.

HAZELNUT RUGELACH

13 tablespoons butter, softened

7 ounces cream cheese

2 teaspoons superfine granulated sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour sifted with a pinch of salt

1/4 cup brown sugar

4 tablespoons cocoa powder

2 teaspoons cinnamon

7/8 cup finely chopped hazelnuts (or walnuts)

2 tablespoons butter melted

1 egg white beaten with a little water

Granulated sugar (optional)

Cream the butter and cheese until well blended. Stir in the superfine sugar, then the flour and mix until the dough begins to hold together. Gather into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and chill overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Combine the brown sugar, cocoa, cinnamon and nuts and set aside. Cut the dough ball in half and return one half to the fridge while you work with the other.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry into a thin circle about 10 inches in diameter. The pastry may feel hard at first but it quickly softens. Use a cake pan or plate to help cut out a neat circle. Cut the dough circle into 16 or 8 equal pie-shaped wedges.

Brush the surface of the wedges with melted butter, then sprinkle evenly with half the nut mixture. Cover with a piece of plastic wrap and use a rolling pin to press the filing lightly down into the dough.

Remove the plastic wrap and roll up each wedge from the outside, wide end toward the point, so you end up with minicroissants. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet and brush with the beaten egg white. Sprinkle with a little sugar if desired.

Repeat with the remaining dough and bake for 20-30 minutes until golden brown. Let cool slightly before transferring to a wire cooling rack.

Makes 32 small or 16 large rugelach.

A Family Passover


Of all our family traditions, the Passover seder is the one we look forward to the most. We all fight over who will host it, but no matter, everyone pitches in with the cooking, making sure the seder plate is appropriately filled, the multicourse table properly set. My father and brother, Dennis, share responsibilities for hiding the afikomen and rewarding the lucky child who finds it. Although my father leads the service, with Dennis by his side, all generations participate, down to my 6-year-old granddaughter, Tiara.

Although we love retelling the story of the first Passover — we use our best Hollywood voices — and are often moved to tears at the horrors endured under Pharaoh, like any good story, we are lightened by the happy ending and the unique way we obtained our freedom. The only problem with poignant storytelling is that it is endless and it is often two hours before we get to the main course.

Because we are starving, we gratefully pass the parsley around, anxiously dipping it in salt water and hungrily stuffing it into our mouths. Next comes the hard-boiled egg, although I hate filling up on eggs when I know my favorite brisket isn’t far behind.

For most of us, the most fun is making the charoset sandwich — mixing the sweet fruit and nuts with the bitter horseradish and piling it between two pieces of matzah to symbolize the bitterness of slavery and the sweetness of freedom. The trick is to put just the right amount of horseradish, or else we are caught quite breathless and giant tears overwhelm our eyes.

Tiara always wants as much as the big people. But, I caution her to look at the other end of the table at her cousin, Joey, who is coughing and choking — he thinks he is impervious to his grandmother’s horseradish. When we are finally finished experiencing the trip through the Red Sea, out of Egypt and singing about the joys of spring, all of us matriarchs hurry to the kitchen to serve up the best meal of the year.

Baked Brisket

1 4- to 5-pound beef brisket
Kosher salt, to taste
Ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon paprika
3 to 4 onions, sliced
1 cup water
1 cup dry red wine
3 medium carrots, cut into chunks
3 to 5 whole garlic cloves
2 to 3 celery stalks, sliced
8 to 10 small new potatoes
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1 bay leaf

Preheat oven to 350 F. Rub both sides of meat with salt, pepper and paprika. Spread half the onions over bottom of a shallow roasting pan. Place brisket, fat side up, in the pan; top with remaining onions. Add 1/4 cup of water. Bake, uncovered, basting occasionally, until meat and onions begin to brown, about one hour.

Pour in enough of the remaining water and wine to reach halfway up the sides of the meat. Add remaining ingredients, cover and reduce heat to 300 degrees. Cook until meat is fork-tender and the thickest part of the brisket registers about 175 F on a meat thermometer. Cover brisket loosely with foil; let stand for 20 minutes before carving. Slice brisket diagonally against the grain, about 1/8-inch thick. Brisket can be prepared up to two days ahead and reheated in the gravy. Serve with horseradish or whole grain mustard. Total cooking time is about three to four hours (one hour per pound).

Adapted from "The World of Jewish Entertaining” by Gil Marks, (Simon & Schuster, 1998).

Cover Story: Grandparenting


Left, Flora and Vernon Stroud with two of their fivegrandchildren, Laura and Jonathan, in 1991.

The Family Melting Pot

By Ruth Stroud, Staff Writer

Three generations of Grahams.

 

Is there such a thing as a “typical” Jewishgrandparent in America? When I thought about this impossibly broadquestion, I turned to my own extended family for examples. Were theytypical? Stereotypical?

To me, they seemed different from all others in certain respects,but also universal. They included “types” that we all think we know:Eastern European and German immigrants; Holocaust refugees; those whogrew up in poverty and pulled themselves up; those who grew up withwealth and privilege and left much of it behind; fiery Zionists;Jewish scholars, skeptics and seekers; those for whom Jewishtraditions and rituals are important; and those for whom tradition isirrelevant and uncomfortable.

Like all families, mine has its share of meshugas, anddisagreements, as well as celebration. And, like all families, wehave our secrets. But there are many stories that can be told aboutthe Graham (Granowsky) and Stroud (Straus) households. The cast ofcharacters includes Oma, Grandpa Jerry, Grandpa Vernon, Grandma Judyand my 11-year-old son, Sam.

Oma

I have an idealized memory of my father’s mother, Edith Straus,who we called Oma. A large German-speaking woman, she worecustom-made, flowered-print dresses, often in blue to match her eyes.The kitchen of her Berkeley home was filled with smells of cookingmeats and potatoes. Food, to Oma, was the solution to almost everyproblem. According to one often-told tale, her response upon learningthat one of her grandchildren had plowed into a police vehicle withher car was, “Poor boy! You must be hungry.”

Oma was the only grandparent I really ever knew, since Opa diedwhen I was 1, and my mother’s mother, a Lithuanian immigrant inGlasgow, Scotland, was too far away. My mother’s father died before Iwas born.

Oma and her husband, Frederich “Fritz” Straus, had fled NaziGermany in late 1938, leaving behind many possessions and mygrandfather’s banking business in Karlsruhe, a southern German citynear the Black Forest. The family — Oma and Opa and five children –settled in Berkeley because they had some contacts there.

The Granowsky Disposition

My husband’s grandfather, Dave Granowsky, came to the UnitedStates from Russia in the early 1900s and became a successfulscrap-metal dealer in Indianapolis, first with his father and thenwith his brother. We have a videotape of Grandpa Dave in his mid-80s,shortly before he died, ambling slowly about a grocery store,squeezing lettuce and searching for bargains, and advising hisgreat-grandson Sam not to eat as much candy as the boy’s dad did lesthis teeth would rot. Dave was a joker, a testament to the “GranowskyDisposition” — a term coined by his sister Sophie.

Example: Whenever his grandchildren would get out of the pool,he’d say, like clockwork, “You didn’t get the water wet, did you?”

Dave and his wife, Lillian, had three sons; the youngest, JerryGraham, my husband’s father, became a television and radiobroadcaster and author. Now 63, he has two grown sons, threegrandchildren and a 6-year-old daughter, Lillian, from his secondmarriage, to Catherine, a writer and aerobics instructor.

Semi-retired and living in Northern California, he is making upfor his devotion to his career the first time around by volunteeringin his daughter’s classroom, watching Nickelodeon with her and being”hands-on” with his grandchildren. But because of geographicalseparation, he sees them only a few times a year.

“Grandparenting is an occasional thing, stress-free,” said GrandpaJerry recently. “It’s like playtime, while being a parent isfull-time and something overwhelming. Being a grandparent at adistance can be difficult, but it is a fact of modern life.

“It’s very hard to find situations like the movies and TV imagesof old Gramps taking the kids fishing or, as in the “BerensteinBears” (children’s books), where the kids always run over to Gramp’sand Gran’s house. I don’t think that happens very much any more.”

Grandpa Vernon

With five grandchildren, ranging in age from 2 to 27, my father,who changed his name from Werner Straus to Vernon Stroud during WorldWar II, and mother, Flora, have a relationship to Sam that’s quitedifferent from the other grandparents. The Grahams are looser andmore relaxed, while the Strouds, foreign-born and almost a generationolder, are more traditional and formal.

Jonathan, the 26-year-old son of my oldest brother, David,remembers that he had difficulty relating to his paternalgrandparents when he was younger. But, now, he thinks he understandsthem better.

“When I was younger, I couldn’t identify with them, but I’velearned to respect what they went through. I want to know all aboutthem,” he said. Especially Vernon’s deep knowledge of Judaism andtheir celebration of Shabbat and other Jewish holidays. “I feel moststrongly Jewish when I visit my grandparents. It’s the ceremonies. Ithink they kind of epitomize what it means to be Jewish.”

Grandma Judy

Jaws drop when my son introduces his Grandma Judy. Slender, prettyand stylish at age 60, the Hollywood-based knitwear designer forfilms, television and retail looks about the age of her bearded49-year-old companion of 20 years — artist and photographer MichaelAnsell.

Judy Rammelsberg had married her Indianapolis high schoolsweetheart, Jerry Graham, when she was 18, had two children by thetime she was 21, and became a grandmother for the first time at age49. She and Jerry divorced in the 1970s.

Judy makes a point of not letting a week go by without seeing Sam,her first grandchild. He has been visiting her rustic hilltop homesince birth, winding yarn, doing crafts projects with his grandma, orhelping Mike build a darkroom and develop photos. Lately, they’vebeen haunting flea markets, driving hard bargains for old cameras.

“Being a grandma was real easy for me, and I love it,” said Judy.”I feel like Sam is my best friend. I would rather be with him thanmost of the adults I know.”

As for her other grandchildren, Janna and Jared Graham, who livein Atlanta, Judy visits them once or twice a year and talks to themweekly on the phone and via e-mail.

“I feel sad that I can’t be more a part of their lives, but theminute I see them, I feel as if no time has passed,” she said.

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