On heroes and gratitude: A real Thansgivukkah message


It has a clever, catchy name.  It will allegedly occur once every 78,000 years.  It has inspired dozens of fusion recipes like sweet potato latkes with cranberry applesauce.  It has even inspired a Hanukkiah or menorah in the shape of a turkey,  a “menurkey.”  It is the perfect blending of two of your favorite holidays….It’s Thanksgivvukah.  Next week  we will  celebrate the fortunate overlapping of these two holidays—lighting the 2nd candle as we ate our fill. 

Let’s not forget that at its core, both holidays give us an opportunity to express our gratitude for the abundance in our lives.  And while there are many important themes connected to Hanukkah, the festival of lights, one that really sticks out, is the idea that that the holiday is about heroes.

Our Beverly Hills community as well as the music community at large lost a true hero last week.  Joel Pressman, a teacher of mine, lost his valiant battle with cancer.  Joel, Mr. Pressman, or Mr. P was a consummate teacher.  He was THAT teacher to literally thousands.  The one you remember, the one who left an indelible mark on your life.  He wasn’t always easy.  He had a big personality and wasn’t afraid to share his opinions or judgments. 

In the last few months before he died, Mr. P became more and more public about his condition- with many video posts on Facebook.  And what became clear was that this teacher’s teacher would continue to teach us all up until his dying day.

“I’m not afraid of death.  That’s the easy part” he said. “It’s dying that is really hard.”

In his dying months, he gave us all a gift.  Rather than retreat into anonymity, he became more and more public.  Even hosting a “Day in the Park with Joel” where literally hundreds lined up to say goodbye and to let him know just how much he meant to them.

That, I believe, was the most profound blessing (if there is a blessing in all of this) of his illness and passing.  He got to know first-hand, just how significant he was to so many people.  He got to hear, feel and truly understand just how loved he was. Most people don’t get that opportunity.  We usually talk about people only after they are gone.

How did he do this?  By sharing his one powerful and simple message.  Love.  Just love.  Nothing else.

He told us all he loved us, and in so doing, encouraged us to tell him how we felt about him.  He even inspired me to pick up the phone and tell several other important mentors in my life just how important they are to me. 

At this time of year, just a few days before Thanksgivukkah, I encourage you to put real meaning behind this conflated holiday.  Seek out an old mentor or teacher –one of your unsung heroes.  Express gratitude for  changing your life.  In so doing, you just might change theirs.


Yonah Kliger is the senior cantor at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills–tebh.org.  @cantoryonah

Olim land in Israel on eve of Chanukah


Some 76 new immigrants from North America arrived in Israel on the eve of Chanukah.

The new immigrants arrived Tuesday morning on a Nefesh B’Nefesh group Aliyah flight organized in conjunction with the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption and
the Jewish Agency. They will kindle the first Chanukah light in Israel.

Eyal Marx from the United States brought two menorahs with him explaining that they “have been in my family for generations and I inherited them from my parents when they passed away. Each one of these menorahs, in a way, represents the light they still shine on me from above. Tonight I will have the privilege of lighting my first Chanukah candle as an Israeli citizen.”

The Hanukkah Song: A 2011 update


Bill Funt parodies Adam Sandler’s holiday gem, “The Hanukkah Song.”

Grown-up gelt


All around the Jewish world, Chanukah is chocolate season. But that doesn’t have to mean you’re stuck with the waxy chocolate coins known as gelt. In fact, a new wave of boutique chocolate makers in Israel are redefining this beloved indulgence in Israel. Many of their skillfully crafted products are already available in the United States. One taste and it’s clear: Gelt has grown up.

Holy Cacao

This new guard of chocolatiers, contributing a reported $5.3 million to Israel’s domestic $40 million market, are savvy business owners and gourmands. Among them, only one — Joe Zander — imports whole cacao beans, working with the raw material from start to finish. This New Jersey native resides about 40 minutes outside of Jerusalem, in the Southern Chevron Hills, and like his comrades in chocolate, he is the definitive Israeli chocolatier: independent and artisan. Zander maintains his own piece of land in Peru, where he cultivates organic beans. Akin to the layered flavors of wine, his 72 percent Peruvian chocolate reveals delicious, complex, fruity hints of berries. His Dominican is darker, richer, more coffeelike. His 56 percent contains imperceptible ground hazelnuts that lighten and sweeten each bite.

Zander’s Holy Cacao label features sketches of the machinery used to make chocolate from bean to bar: a roaster, mill, conche and winnower. Seasonally, Zander makes truffles in a wide variety of flavors. Currently, he markets his wares online and through in-person individual sales in Israel, with plans to export on the horizon. holycacaochocolate.com.

Sweet N’Karem

Less than an hour’s drive from Zander’s base of operations, Sima Amsalem handcrafts chocolate in a pastoral setting within Jerusalem. Ein Karem is an ancient neighborhood resembling a Tuscan village. Amsalem’s brand, Sweet N’Karem, is a tasty homage to this beautiful setting. This self-professed chocolate addict leads a small but critical team of three women chocolatiers. Together, they produce about 40 kilograms of dark, milk and white chocolate pralines, truffles and bars each month in a former Crusader building with thick stone walls and arches. In addition to high-cacao content pieces, there are liqueur infusions and other fresh ingredients, including marzipan, whole nuts and dried fruit. Everything is packaged with the whimsical logo: a truffle fairy resting on a massive chocolate pod. The self-educated Amsalem also leads workshops for groups of 10 to 20 people seeking to learn how to make chocolates at home. Visitors also personalize Sweet N’Karem products for bar mitzvahs, weddings, corporate events and more. Minutes away, the Chocolate House retail shop at 2 Mevo HaShaar offers coffee, ice cream, gifts and more. 2eat.co.il/sweetnkarem.

Chocoholique

Chocolate that goes down easy is the sole aim of Chocoholique, a cottage industry that began when former chef Marc Gottlieb tasted an inferior homemade version of chocolate liqueur. Inspired to make his own libation, this 2006 immigrant from Cedarhurst, N.Y., showed off his creation to his friend and neighbor, Shimona Gotlieb. It was so delicious that, soon after, the pair launched Chocoholique. In two and half years, “Gottlieb & Gotlieb” have introduced eight pareve, mehadrin flavors. Top seller Peanut Butter is a boozy Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. Intense Chocolate is made with 60 percent cacao content. And in all flavors, the alcohol level is kept low, just 7 percent, to ensure the alcohol’s astringency doesn’t interfere with the enjoyment of the chocolate. Other than acknowledging that it is sourced from various bars, the pair keeps their provenance confidential. Keep your eyes peeled for imports — Chocoholique plans to launch in the United States at Kosherfest 2012. chocoholique.com.

Galita’s Chocolate Farm

Galit Alpert founded her namesake Galita’s Chocolate Farm in 1999 with methods she acquired during three years’ training in Belgium. Consumed by chocolate’s flavor and texture, Alpert set up shop in a beautiful stone building that once housed the historic Kibbutz Degania Bet’s first cow shed 85 years ago. The Galita chocolateria boasts an extensive line of products, family-friendly guided tours, a coffee and homemade ice cream bar and chocolate-making workshops for all ages. Nestled amid banana groves and green lawns near the shores of the Sea of Galilee, Galita’s embodies Alpert’s nine reasons to love chocolate: for health, soul, energy, childhood memories, relaxation, joy, desire, love and for yourself — as outlined on her charming (Hebrew-language) Web site, galita.co.il.

De Karina Artisan Gourmet Chocolates Handmade Mountain Chocolate

Tucked away in a small “chocolate house” in the Golan Heights town of Ein Zivan, De Karina Artisan Gourmet Chocolates surprises the palate with a hint of South American flavor. Named for its founder, Argentine immigrant Karina Cheplinski, this third-generation chocolatier incorporates subtle tastes and contrasting flavors, carrying on the tradition of her grandfather, an emigrant from Europe. Her factory features a coffee shop, guided tours, tastings and workshops on tempering, making truffles and other mouth-watering adventures in chocolate-making. Advance reservations required. de-karina.co.il.

Roy Chocolate

When Roy Gershon grew tired of working in technology management positions, he turned his zeal to creating Roy Chocolate. He operates a factory, a flagship store in Tel Aviv and another in Ramat Gan’s Ayalon Mall. Greshon also supplies franchises in Rishon L’Zion, Afula, Cinema City, Haifa and Jerusalem with more than 100 flavors of pralines, truffles and intense liqueurs in innovative bottles. There are also fun gifts galore: chocolate hearts on cinnamon sticks ready to melt into hot chocolate, LoveCakes filled with ganache, gorgeous French macaroons, cupcakes topped with chantilly cream, chocolate lollipops with romantic sayings and much more in pareve, dairy, and lactose- and sugar-free varieties. Each week, Gershon also conducts several workshops around Israel. roychocolate.co.il.

Ornat

In Gush Tel Mond, in the Lev HaSharon industrial area near Netanya, Ornat considers itself the grandparent of Israel’s handmade chocolates. Established in 1987 by the La’or and Ronat families in the tradition of Dutch chocolate making, it ships pralines around the world, personalizing them for special events and corporate clients. The Ornat company operates a visitors center. Guests ages 6 and older are welcome for tours and chocolate-making workshops. cho.co.il.

Max Brenner

Though once handcrafted, Max Brenner’s “Chocolate by the Bald Man,” was acquired in 2001 by Strauss Group, which, in 2004, also merged with Elite, Israel’s leading mass-market brand. The bald man is a composite creation of founders Max Fichtman and Oded Brenner. Visit their Willy Wonka-inspired Chocolate Bar in Jerusalem’s Mamilla Mall and other locations around the world for signature products such as high-impact “cigarette packs” containing almost equally addictive wafer-thin bars and chocolate-covered caramelized pecans in colorful, reusable gift tins simply labeled “Nuts.” Of course, there are also pralines in a wide variety of flavors, including sea salt, as well as truffles and scrumptious creamy/crunchy “Feuilletine Fingers.” Innovative menu items include chocolate pizza topped with milk and white chocolate (and optional banana slices, melted marshmallows and whipped cream), a speckled “Cookieshake” of Oreos, carmelized pecans and white-chocolate creme, a “cappuccino of milk chocolate” and the not-to-be-missed, pudding-like Italian hot dark chocolate. Worth every calorie. maxbrenner.com, max-brenner.co.il.

Chanukah fare with international flair


Around this time of year, I think of my grandmother and the stories she told me about making beef brisket and potato latkes for her first Chanukah dinner in America. She loved to cook, and sharing her recipes from Russia brought her such delight.

Chanukah, often called the festival of lights, is a joyous holiday that is celebrated at home instead of taking place in the synagogue. Families light candles and enjoy the traditional foods that are fried in oil, recalling the miracle that occurred in ancient times, when a one-day supply of oil burned in the Temple for eight days.

For many years, we shared Gramma Eva’s brisket recipe with friends at our Chanukah meals, but as our food focus changed, so too did the menu. One year, we served meatloaf and cabbage borscht. After a trip to Brazil, we had a feijoada stew for our Chanukah family dinner, and last year, the main course was fried chicken.

This year, we are going back to our traditional Chanukah fare, but with a few additions. I am roasting Beef Brisket With Prunes in a Wine Sauce, almost like a tzimmes, and serving it with an Italian-inspired green tomato marmalade and crisp potato latkes.

I still remember using a hand-held grater to help my mother make the potato mixture for the latkes. Today, the food processor cuts down on the time it takes to prepare the old family recipe. To make the latke batter in minutes, use the food processor’s knife blade to chop the onions and the shredder blade to grate the potatoes, and then just add them to a bowl with the remaining ingredients.

We begin frying the latkes when family and friends arrive at our home; meanwhile, our grandchildren spin the dreidel, a game that dates back to ancient times. Before dinner, as the guests exchange greetings, we serve Fried Zucchini Sticks. Then we sit down to a salad of shredded lettuce tossed with sliced tomatoes, fresh fennel and topped with fried parsnip chips. The main course — brisket, green tomato marmalade and potato latkes — is served family style, and everyone helps themselves.

Carrying out the Chanukah theme for dessert, we serve homemade jam-filled doughnuts, which everyone loves. Served in many countries during the holiday, they take on different names. In Israel, they are known as sufganiyot; in Italy they are called bombolini, and in Poland they refer to them as ponchiks. No matter what they are called, they are delicious. Simply fry the doughnuts, roll in sugar and serve them with a bowl of melted chocolate for dipping.

The doughnuts can be made in advance, and stored in plastic bags in the refrigerator. Before serving, just reheat and roll in sugar. Make an extra batch for your guests to take home — they are delicious for breakfast the next day.

But the party is not over. After dessert, everyone returns to the living room, where the gifts wrapped in colorful Chanukah paper are waiting to be opened by the children.


GREEN TOMATO MARMALADE
From “Italy Cooks,” by Judy Zeidler.

If you saw the movie “Fried Green Tomatoes,” you may think the only way to cook green tomatoes is to fry them. The truth is they also make a wonderful marmalade that’s a perfect accompaniment to the brisket and potato latkes.

While living in Italy we were invited to a cooking class at Nittardi Winery in Tuscany taught by Kalus Trebes, chef/owner of Gargantua Restaurant in Frankfurt, Germany. He shared this recipe. It is so versatile that I always keep a jar in the refrigerator. Not only is it delicious on toast or a frittata for breakfast, it is also a perfect accompaniment to meat or chicken.

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
8 cups diced green tomatoes (2 pounds)
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice, heated
Grated zest of 1 orange and 1 lemon

In a large, heavy skillet, combine the sugar and water and bring to a boil, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves. Reduce the heat and simmer until the sugar begins to turn golden. Add the tomatoes, heated orange juice and zest. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until the tomatoes are soft and the liquid has reduced to a thick syrup, about 30 minutes. Cool.

Makes about 3 to 4 cups.


BEEF BRISKET ROASTED WITH PRUNES IN A WINE SAUCE

This roast is best served well done. It is important to slice the cooked meat against the grain.

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 onions, thinly sliced
1 (6- to 8-pound) lean beef brisket
5 medium carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
1 (28-ounce) can peeled tomatoes, undrained
1 1/2 to 2 cups red wine
1 head garlic, cloves separated, unpeeled
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound pitted prunes

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Heat the oil in large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add minced garlic and onions and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes.

Transfer garlic and onions to a large roasting pot and place meat on top, fat side up. Add carrots, parsley, tomatoes, wine and unpeeled garlic cloves. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Bring to a boil, cover, and bake for 2 to 3 hours, or until meat is tender. Add the prunes the last 30 minutes of baking.

Transfer the meat to a wooden board and slice. Return to pot and keep warm.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.


SUFGANIYOT (JELLY DOUGHNUTS) DEEP-FRYING RULE

The temperature of the cooking oil is very important when frying doughnuts: If it is too cool, the doughnuts will absorb it and be greasy; if it is too hot, the doughnuts will burn on the outside and remain uncooked inside. Use a frying (candy) thermometer to establish and maintain the proper heat.

These doughnuts can be fried one or two days in advance and refrigerated in plastic bags. When ready to serve, heat in the oven and they will puff up as if they were just fried.

1 package active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water (105 to 115 F)
Granulated sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted margarine, melted
1 egg, separated
2 teaspoons orange juice
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup raspberry or strawberry jam
Vegetable oil for frying

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Add a pinch of sugar and set aside until foamy, about 5 minutes.

Blend margarine, egg yolk, orange juice and yeast mixture in the bowl of an electric mixer. Gradually add flour, 2 teaspoons sugar and salt and blend well. Cover with a towel and let rise until the dough doubles, about 45 minutes.

Place dough on a well-floured board and knead into a flat disc, adding more flour if needed. Roll dough out with a rolling pin to a thickness of 1/4 inch. Using a cooking cutter, cut out 2-inch rounds. Top half the rounds in the middle with 1 teaspoon of jam and brush the edges with the egg white. Place plain rounds on top of jam-covered rounds; pinch edges closed to seal. Place doughnuts on a parchment-covered cookie sheet, cover with a clean kitchen towel, and let rise, about 45 minutes.

Reseal each doughnut.

Using a deep fryer or a heavy pot and a frying thermometer, heat about 4 inches of oil to 375 degrees. Fry three or four doughnuts at a time, turning them with a slotted spoon or tongs when one side is browned, and continuing to fry until brown all over, about 2 to 3 minutes. Drain on paper towels.

To serve, roll doughnuts in 1 cup of granulated sugar and serve immediately, or, to reheat, place on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake at 350 F for 10 to 15 minutes or until heated through.

Makes about 12 doughnuts.


FRIED ZUCCHINI STICKS

These crisp and crunchy zucchini sticks go well with any menu. They are best fried at the last moment. But, if prepared ahead and reheated in a hot oven, they can be just as crisp.

4 medium zucchini, unpeeled
1 cup flour
1 cup bread crumbs
1 teaspoon dried basil
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 eggs
Vegetable oil for frying

Slice zucchini lengthwise into quarters; cut in half crosswise and set aside.

Place the flour in a small paper bag and set aside. Place the bread crumbs and dried basil in another small bag. Season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside. Place the eggs in a bowl and beat well.

Drop 4 to 6 zucchini sticks into the bag containing the flour, shaking the bag to coat. Transfer to a metal strainer and shake off the excess flour. Dip the flour-coated zucchini sticks into the beaten egg and then coat with the bread crumb mixture. Place on a baking sheet lined with paper towels. (You can hold the zucchini sticks at this point for at least 1 hour.)

Preheat oil in a deep-fryer or wok to 375 F.

Drop the coated zucchini sticks into the heated oil and fry until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Transfer them to a napkin-covered platter and serve immediately.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.


FOOD PROCESSOR POTATO LATKES

1 large yellow onion, peeled
4 medium baking potatoes, peeled
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
4 extra-large eggs
3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
Pinch baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Vegetable oil for frying

Chop the onion into small dice with the knife blade in a food processor. Remove the knife blade, insert the shredder blade, and grate the potatoes. Immediately transfer the potato and onion mixture to a large bowl, and add the lemon juice, eggs, flour, baking soda, salt and pepper. Mix well.

Heat 1/8 inch of oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Spoon the batter, about 1/3 cup at a time, into the hot oil and flatten with the back of the spoon to make 2- to 3-inch latkes. Cook on one side until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes; then turn and cook on the other side, about 2 minutes. (Turn only once.) Drain the latkes well on paper towels and serve immediately.

Makes about 2 dozen latkes.

Matisyahu’s ‘Miracle’ Chanukah song [VIDEO]


A message from Matisyahu from

A Chanukah in the ‘People’s House’


The invitation to the White House was completely unexpected. It arrived in a caligraphied envelope, with a Chanukah stamp in the corner and a menorah showing through.

A Chanukah card, I thought, but I was wrong. There was a gold presidential seal at the top of the card and a few lines of black engraving: "President and Mrs. Bush request the pleasure of your company at a Hanukah reception to be held at the White House. Six o’clock. Wednesday, December 6. East Entrance."

Not bad from a man whom most of my friends thought I was crazy to vote for, because he was a member of the "religious right." (Then again, as it turns out, so am I.)

My wife and I spent most of the day speculating as to what the event would be like. How long would it last? Would President Bush’s involvement be perfunctory or meaningful?

After all, the most powerful man in the world has better things to do than stand around and eat latkes all night. I have learned that if you don’t expect too much in life, you will never be disappointed.

We arrived at the White House gate a little early and were immediately admitted (this president is noted for his punctuality). We walked down a grand hallway.

Coming around the next corner we heard a high school choir singing Chanukah songs next to a large, illuminated antique menorah that came from Congregation Rodeph Shalom in Philadelphia.

Moving up the stairs, we found ourselves literally in the center of the White House, in a grand foyer. The walls were adorned with portraits of past presidents; a military orchestra was playing festive music, and already 100-200 guests were milling about in their finest party clothes.

To the right, was a grand hall that turned out to be the State Dining Room. This was where the kosher table was set up — a full bar (the wine was Hagafen) and an assortment of food. The mirror image room to the left was the East Room, which contained the nonkosher — though not overtly treif — spread of food.

By this time, a fairly lengthy receiving line was already forming in the East Room, as people waited for a chance to meet the president and first lady. We recognized and chatted with several other Los Angeles residents, including several prominent rabbis of all denominations: Marvin Hier, Abraham Cooper, Steven Weil and Mark Diamond.

When our turn finally came, one of the military ushers formally announced our name and escorted us to the president and first lady. We exchanged cheek kisses between the mutual spouses and chatted for a minute or two both before and after our photo was taken.

We spoke briefly about our children, and if the president didn’t actually remember them ("you have a beautiful family, if I recall"), then he certainly pretended to very well. We thanked both the president and first lady for all they were doing for us and for having us to their house.

"This is the people’s house," the president replied.

Following this exchange, we had dinner and visited with some of the guests and luminaries in attendance. Ben Stein was there, as were Sen. Arlen Spector (R-Pa.) and Fred Zeidman, chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Council. We also had a chance to speak at length with Josh Bolton, deputy White House chief of staff (Jewish), and briefly with Andrew Card, White House chief of staff (not Jewish).

At around 8:30 p.m., after the Bushes finished receiving their guests, they emerged one last time, personally thanked orchestra members, waved a final goodbye to the crowd and ascended the stairs to the private residence. Remarkable, I thought, for a man who reportedly rises every day at 5 a.m.

What came to mind was the Passover refrain Dayenu, it would have been enough. It would have been enough if we had just received the engraved invitation; it would have been enough if several hundred Jews had just taken over the White House for a Chanukah party that night; it would have been enough if they had set up a nonkosher table in the East Room and a kosher table in the State Dining Room.

It would have been enough if the president had just lit the menorah in the private residence with a few friends in attendance (notably, he is the first president ever to have done this — last year); it would have been enough if the president had just come down and mingled a bit, made a speech and then gone upstairs to relax.

But no, instead, the most powerful man on the planet spent well over two and one-half hours standing on his feet and greeting each and every guest personally.

So my friends, when you count your blessings this Chanukah season take heart in two things: Not only do we Jews have a great friend in the White House, but we have a real mensch there as well.

Dr. Joel Geiderman is co-chair of the emergency medicine department at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and a presidential appointee to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Council.