Israelis build new traditions at L.A. seders


Nitzan and Shaul Barakan

Nitzan and Shaul Barakan had to come all the way from Israel to the United States to learn words like “afikoman” and “seder plate.”

The couple, both born and raised on Kibbutz Kinneret, didn’t have a clue that there is a haggadah that looks nothing like the one they used on the kibbutz.

“We had huge Passover seders every single year, with 1,000 participants in the kibbutz dinning hall” recalled Nitzan, a Hebrew teacher. “Every class performed a song, but those were not necessarily the songs from the haggadah, but spring songs. Even the songs from the original haggadah had a different melody. This holiday was all about nature, the beginning of spring and little to do with religion.”

The kibbutz, Nitzan admitted, never had much to do with religion. They were careful not to place a loaf of bread on the seder table, but bread was part of every meal in the days to follow.

It’s funny, they say, that they discovered their Jewish roots only after emigrating, but over the years, for the sake of their children and friends who came to their home to celebrate Passover, they have combined materials from the kibbutz haggadah with more traditional ones and created their own family version.

“We don’t have the traditional blessings, we created our own,” she said. “Our seder today is much more traditional than the one we had in our youth. We have the seder plate, and when the children were younger, we used to hide the afikoman.”

Another new discovery was the Elijah cup that is left on the table for the prophet.

“We decided to adopt this custom as well,” Nitzan said, “but instead of leaving the cup of wine and chair for Elijah, we leave it for our kidnapped soldier, Ron Arad, in the hope that one day soon, he’ll come back home.”

Shirly Brener

” border = 0 vspace = ‘8’ align = ‘right’ hspace = ‘8’ alt=””>non- Jewish friends that we invite to the seder, so they can learn about our tradition” said Nazarian, founder of CECI (Citizen Empowerment Center in Israel).

In Iran, the family often invited guests who didn’t have anywhere to celebrate the seder. Here, the Nazarian family keeps up tradition and will celebrate both nights of Passover with dozens of guests.

A well-loved Iranian tradition at the Nazarians’ house comes when they get to the part of “Dayenu” in the haggadah.

Brotherly Love


With Chanukah recent history, I came across a fascinating review of a new book, “The Business of Holidays.” The book’s editor, Maud Lavin, notes that 81 percent of U.S. households celebrate Christmas with a tree in their homes, and not everybody is Christian. The line between Christmas and Chanukah has become very blurry in recent years, according to Lavin.

“I’m Jewish myself, and I didn’t even know that Purim was more the gift-giving holiday on the Jewish calendar,” Lavin writes. “But, Purim is in the spring, and so ‘no good,’ because it doesn’t participate in the Christmas season, and Jewish Americans especially turned Hanukah from a tiny holiday into a big consumerist holiday.”

I don’t think that these comments are any longer shocking, or for that matter, revealing. Even without Lavin’s book we knew this to be true. What interested me most, however, was the “Seinfeld” holiday Festivus:

“Festivus, an invention of Frank, George’s father on Seinfeld, had various rituals including the family sitting around the dining room table together criticizing each other. Then Ben & Jerry’s piggybacked on that and had, for a while, a Festivus ice cream. And, there really are people who continue to celebrate Festivus, especially on college campuses.”

I found all of this utterly fascinating because I compared it to this week’s Torah reading, which describes the amazing family reunion of Joseph with his brothers. Twenty-two years have passed since they sold him, and now Joseph finally reveals his true identity. He tells his brothers not to be sad and not to reproach themselves because God Himself had arranged the cycle of events that led to his eventually becoming viceroy of Egypt.

But this story has another side. A close examination of the biblical text reveals that the brothers’ feelings were neither forgotten nor forgiven, according to British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Consider what happens while Joseph is telling the brothers not to fret over the past. They remain totally silent. Only after Joseph has spoken for 13 verses and well more than 150 words are we told: “He then kissed all his brothers and wept upon them and afterward his brothers conversed with him” (Genesis 45:15). What the brothers said is conspicuously absent. Could this be the silence of indifference?

Estrangement also appears elsewhere. For example, what relationship did Joseph establish with his father? Was there any contact during the 17 years that Jacob and Joseph lived together in Egypt? Could it be they saw each other so infrequently that not once, but twice Joseph had to be called and told that his father was on his deathbed?

“Behold — your father is ill” (Genesis 48:1). Why did Jacob not trust Joseph when he promised that he would not bury him in Egypt? Was it really necessary to make Joseph take an oath?

What does all of this mean? Some suggest it is a realistic depiction of life. Life is such that despite the best efforts when there is a schism between family members, or for that matter between friends, the past cannot just be undone. Joseph, who left home at age 17 and rose to the top of the most powerful nation of the world, no longer speaks the same language. The innocence of youth, the closeness of father and son, the familial bond was lost forever. They had truly gone their separate ways.

Yet the Torah implies a different view of this story. True, it is hard to forget the hurt and hatred that once existed between Joseph and his brothers. But consider the length Joseph travels to reunite with them. Certainly he is hurt, yet he tries intensely to recreate the family bond. He is the one who single-handedly supports them. He doesn’t mend fences by holding a Festivus celebration, where each one criticizes the other. Just imagine, if he did, what that family gathering would have sounded like!

The lesson we can learn from this story is that in families, as in friendships, no room exists for Festivus gatherings. Unfortunately, American society today thinks that such gatherings not only are productive but even necessary. We are the generation of “tell it all.” But that presents a prescription for disaster. Instead of feeding criticism in our relationships, we must offer positive reinforcement with lots of love and understanding, or the relationships will fail. We can find enough criticism to go around, but can we find enough love?

So how did the Torah’s tale of sibling rivalry ultimately end? This week’s Haftorah from the Book of Ezekiel (37:19) captures a beautiful answer — “the tree of Joseph … and the tree of Judah will become one tree.” That only happens when kindness rather than criticism reigns supreme.

Rabbi Elazar R. Muskin is rabbi of Young Israel of Century City.

The sweet rewards of Rosh Hashanah rituals


The change was subtle but undeniable. A slightly deeper shade of brown; carrots cut lengthwise rather than sliced; some scattered sprigs of rosemary. Any other day of the year, such a discrete rift in recipe might have gone unnoticed. But this was not any other day of the year — this was Rosh Hashanah.

“What’s up with the brisket, Grandma?” my preteen son asked, echoing my suspicions that bubbe’s famous brisket — the eternal pillar of my family’s High Holy Day feasts — had undergone an unprecedented facelift.

“I thought I’d try something a little different this year,” answered my mother (who had recently been possessed by Rachael Ray).

“But I like the old brisket,” said my younger son.

“Me, too!” agreed my daughter.

“Oh, no. Not the brisket!” added the eldest of my grumbling foursome.

“Shh, I’m sure it’s delicious,” I said, trying to mask my own disappointment in the demise of the dish of honor.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that my kids and I didn’t appreciate the wonderful meal my mother had prepared. (We did.) And it’s not that the updated version of bubbe’s famous recipe wasn’t a legitimate improvement over the original. (It was.) It’s just that it didn’t matter whether Ray herself had prepared that brisket — it wasn’t about taste at all.

In fact, prior to that particular evening, my children had scarcely given our traditional Rosh Hashanah brisket a second thought. It was not until it went MIA — and was suddenly replaced with a swankier roast — that my kids came to appreciate its significance in their lives.

Please! You may be thinking. How can you possibly suggest that a brisket could have a significant impact on someone’s life?

But it wasn’t just any old brisket; it was bubbe’s famous brisket. The same unwavering recipe that had accompanied my family’s Jewish New Year for as long as my children could remember — for as long as I could remember. In the predictable presence of bubbe’s brisket on our Rosh Hashanah table, my children found steady ground; a sturdy link between their past, present and future; and a safety net woven out of knowing where they have been and where they are going.

No, I’m not being melodramatic. Oodles of experts believe that it is in the simple repetitions of life — not in the grand black-tie affairs — that our children find the stability and continuity they need to thrive in an unpredictable world. That it is ritual and tradition — not kiddie stress management seminars or pint-sized yoga classes — that build a vital sense of emotional security in our kids.

Of course, if you asked Tevyeh the Milkman of “Fiddler on the Roof” fame, the power of tradition is not breaking news. Yet, in our rocket-paced, technology-based, achievement-driven, media-ridden society, the presence of family rituals in our children’s lives may be more integral to their emotional well-being than ever before.

Fortunately, Jewish life is positively bursting at the seams with ritual opportunity for modern parents: lighting the Chanukah candles, welcoming Elijah to our seder table, eating challah on Shabbat — all these experiences fill our children’s lives with spirituality, security and predictability. Yet the defining rituals of the Jewish New Year play an especially vital role in our children’s overall well-being, as they also carry meaningful symbolism and essential life lessons. What follows are a few of our rich Rosh Hashanah traditions and the ways they strengthen and prepare our children for the coming year — and far beyond.

10 New Traditions for the New Year

To help ensure your family enjoys all the sweet rewards of the Jewish New Year (while simultaneously taking advantage of the bountiful benefits of family rituals), here are some outside-of-the-box, ripe-for-the-picking Rosh Hashanah traditions:

  1. Visit a paint-it-yourself ceramic shop and decorate Kiddush cups, apple plates or honey bowls together.
  2. Put together baskets of apples, honey, raisins and other sweet treats, and deliver them as a family to a hospital or nursing home.
  3. Give the world a birthday present by planting a tree. (You’ll have a whole Rosh Hashanah grove before long!)
  4. Let your kids design your Rosh Hashanah tablecloths, placemats and challah covers using fabric crayons or markers. (Hint: for younger children, try cutting an apple on its side to reveal a star in the middle, dip the fruit in fabric paint and let your little stars stamp away.)
  5. Take a Rosh Hashanah family nature hike. Sit down in a shady spot and have everyone share what he or she appreciates about one another.
  6. Go apple picking. Use your haul to make Rosh Hashanah apple cakes, kugels and other goodies.
  7. Have a shofar-blowing showdown.
  8. Gather family pictures from the past year and work together to create a “year-in-review” collage.
  9. After lighting the Rosh Hashanah candles, join hands and let everyone share hopes and dreams for the coming year.
  10. Leave Hershey Kisses on your children’s pillows every erev Rosh Hashanah along with a note wishing them a sweet New Year.

This article originally appeared in the World Jewish Digest.

Sharon Duke Estroff is an internationally syndicated parenting columnist, award-winning Jewish educator and mother of four. Her book, “Can I Have a Cell Phone for Hanukkah? is now available for preorder on www.Amazon.com and will be released by Broadway Books this October. www.sharonestroff.com.

Holiday Celebration of Arts and Eats


The year-to-year tradition of celebrating Chanukah doesn’t change at our home. It always includes lighting candles, playing dreidel, eating latkes and having the children open gifts. But, the highlight of Chanukah for me is having all of our family together at the same time. It is one of the few holidays when our children and grandchildren arrive from everywhere, so we can celebrate and spend time with each other.

But, for the past 15 years, the festivities have included our special friends, artist Peter Shire and his wife, Donna. It all began when we invited Peter to visit the Skirball Museum, which was then located on the campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, next to USC. We toured the collection of Judaica in the basement of the museum, and when Peter saw the menorahs, he was intrigued by their design and how the artists had adapted the local culture and architecture into their creations.

Several days later we called Peter and asked if he would be interested in a commission to create a chanukiah for our family, and he was delighted with the idea. He combined contemporary shapes, cactus, the local mountains, and included many colorful symbols that depicted a Southern California theme.

Peter’s chanukiah has a permanent place in our art collection, and is similar to the one that he later created for the Israel Museum and the Skirball. He recently designed several more, some contemporary, with simple architecture elements, others made in the shape of birds or plants.

During the holiday, Peter always lights the candles on his California-inspired Chanukiah at our home. After they are lit, it is time to eat the first batch of crisp and hot latkes, which have been fried in olive oil to commemorate the story of the one-day supply of oil that burned for eight days. I still remember the family Chanukah celebrations from when I was young, consisting of our extended family of uncles, aunts and cousins. This was a special time when everyone eagerly awaited the latkes, and later all commented on who had eaten the most.

Of course, while the latkes are served, the children are looking over the wrapped Chanukah gifts, eager to open them, but they have to wait until after dinner when we return to the living room.

The Chanukah meal this year begins with a salad composed of chopped chicken livers, placed on a bed of baby greens and garnished with pomegranate seeds. The main course, ground chicken loaf, everyone’s favorite comfort food, is baked in a tomato-wine sauce and served with homemade cooked apple slices.

For dessert we have a cookie exchange and ask everyone to bring his or her favorite ones to go with the Chocolate Sorbet that I have made. This supersmooth sorbet, made without milk, cream, or eggs, tastes as rich and creamy as ice cream, and I think the addition of Concord grape wine really enhances the sorbet’s intense chocolate flavor. At the end of the evening there are always bags of cookies for the children to take home as a Chanukah treat.

Award-Winning Perfect Potato Latkes

This latke recipe was chosen as one of the top 10 recipes of 1998 by the Los Angeles Times. “The best we’ve ever eaten,” said their test kitchen and food editors.

4 baking potatoes, peeled

1 large yellow onion, peeled and grated

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

4 extra-large eggs

3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour

Pinch of baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Olive oil, for frying

Grate the potatoes, using a food processor or fine shredder. Immediately transfer the potatoes to a large bowl and add the onion, lemon juice, eggs, flour, baking soda and salt and pepper. Mix well.

Heat 1/8-inch of oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Pour the batter into the hot oil with a large spoon and flatten with the back of the spoon to make 4-inch latkes. Cook on one side until golden brown, three to five minutes; then turn and cook on the other side, about two minutes. (Turn once only.) Drain well on paper towels and serve immediately, plain or with topping.

Makes 12 latkes/four servings.

Chocolate Sorbet (nondairy)

3 cups unsweetened cocoa powder

2 cups sugar

12 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted

1 cup Concord grape Wine

Combine the cocoa and sugar in a large, heavy saucepan. Add 4 cups of water, a little at a time, in a thin stream, mixing with a wire whisk until well blended and smooth. Bring to a boil and boil for five to 10 minutes, or until thick. Stir in the melted chocolate and port. Bring to a boil and simmer for about four minutes, or until thick, stirring constantly. Pour into an 8-cup pitcher or bowl and place in a larger bowl filled with ice and cold water. Mix until cool. Remove bowl from ice. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Process in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer the sorbet to a covered container and freeze for at least one hour for flavors to mellow. If frozen solid, soften in the refrigerator and beat until smooth and creamy before serving.

Makes about two quarts.

Judy Zeidler is the author of “The Gourmet Jewish Cook” (Cookbooks, 1988) and “The 30-Minute Kosher Cook” (Morrow, 1999). Her Web site is members.aol.com/jzkitchen.

 

Kids Page


Count the Days

On Friday, May 27, we will celebrate Lag B’Omer. We remember the students of Rabbi Akiva who used to hide from the Romans in the forest and secretly studied Torah. If Roman soldiers came along, they would whip out their bows and arrows and act as if they were hunting.

In Israel, children light bonfires and play with toy bows and arrows as part of the celebration.

Shield Thyself

Like Rabbi Akiba’s students, you can have a tree branch shield.

First, you must go out into the forest (or to your backyard). Find two curved branches and use tape or thick string to make them into a hoop.

Now tie a long string to the hoop. Stretch it to the other side and loop it. Now stretch it

to another spot on the hoop and loop it.

Keep on doing this and it will start to look like

a bicycle wheel, and then like a dreamcatcher

or spider web. Keep on doing this until there is

no space left between the string.

Passover Again?

On Iyar 14, which falls this year on May 23, some people celebrate a holiday called Pesach Sheinei, or, The Second Passover. This was for people who, for reasons they could not control, were not able to bring the Pesach offering to the Temple. Decode the message to describe what this holiday was for these people. (Hint: It’s what everyone wants when they mess up the first time around.)

Here is the message:

t evdxbs djtbdv

A=t,B=c, C=d, D=s, E=v, F=u, G=z,H=j…

Do the math!

Can you solve this?

A X 3 = B

B + 3 = C

C/3 = 4

4 – D = E

E X 3 = A

What are A and D?

(Hint: It has to do the meaning of one of the words in Lag B’Omer.)

 

Let Your Tasteless Chicken Go


 

For many years, my daughter and I were lucky to be invited out for Passover. Besides joining a big group of people, and sampling a variety of Passover foods, I relished the added benefit of not having to plan, shop and cook for the daunting seder (first and second night) meals. Unfortunately, this also meant no leftovers, no matzah kugel in the refrigerator, no beef and vegetable tzimmes to reheat in the microwave or even charoset to sweeten the lone box of matzah sitting on my kitchen counter.

My daughter was just fine with this arrangement — except for matzah ball soup, she is not a fan of Passover fare. One year, she unintentionally lost weight by avoiding all matzah-related dishes, and living off hard-boiled eggs, fruit and cheese.

So, this year I asked myself how I could create a midweek Passover meal she would enjoy, but I could prepare easily with ingredients on hand, still keeping all bread, pasta and pizza out of sight for the required eight days.

The four questions in the haggadah, intended for the youngest person present to read aloud, begins with: “Why is this night different from all other nights?” and continues with, “On all other nights we eat either leavened bread or unleavened (matzah); on this night why only unleavened bread?” And, “On all other nights we eat herbs of any kind; why on this night only bitter herbs?” These questions, posed by children but listened to by all, bring into focus the Passover food rituals and their significance.

Somehow, these not-so-easy changes in diet are meant to convey a story — of Jewish slavery in Egypt, of the bitter trials of oppression, the unleavened bread eaten by the Jews as they hurriedly fled their oppressors, and, finally, of the fruitful and brave adaptations leading toward freedom.

For my growing daughter and I, a delicious, moist, homemade chicken meal would be different from all other nights. Because on all other nights of the year, we buy our chicken—fried, roasted or baked—from the store. On all other nights, unless immersed quickly and safely into soup, my chicken ends up dry, undercooked, overcooked or tasteless.

Determined to prepare this simple Passover meal, all I needed to buy was potato starch to replace corn thickeners. The menu: Moist Baked Chicken, New Red Potatoes, Creamed Spinach and a One-Apple Charoset.

When I began the chicken recipe, I was filled with images of past failures and anxious about wasting pounds of poultry, let alone my time. But when we sat down to our colorful meal — with orange carrots, green spinach and seasoned red potatoes surrounding truly tasty chicken — watching my daughter eat two hearty portions made all my trepidation worthwhile. I even started talking about other scary chicken dishes I might attempt.

Like the Passover haggadah emphasizes, important changes do not come about without sacrifice, and often they begin by asking a question.

Moist Baked Chicken With New Potatoes
These are the chicken parts I had in the house, but you can use all legs or breast sections, whatever you prefer. The simple ingredients will deeply flavor and moisten each bite, and it is impossible to mess up.

2 1/4 pounds chicken legs (approximately three chickens)
1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless thighs
1/4 cup margarine
7 gloves garlic, cut in half
8 new red potatoes, washed, cut in half
8 baby carrots, washed
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika

Preheat oven to 425 F.
In large roasting pan, melt margarine. Scatter garlic and carrots in melted margarine. Arrange chicken, skin side down, and potatoes skin side up, in roasting pan. Sprinkle, salt, pepper and paprika evenly over chicken and potatoes.
Bake 30 minutes. Turn the chicken and baste before baking 15-20 minutes more, or until chicken is fork tender.
Serves eight.

Creamed Spinach
I am not a fan of creamed vegetables. But for Passover, I found a version of this recipe in an old synagogue cookbook and decided a little creaminess during a holiday minus soft bread is a good thing.

1 pound chopped, frozen spinach, thawed
1 1/2 tablespoons margarine
1 glove garlic
1/2 small onion, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup soy milk
1 tablespoon potato starch

In a medium saucepan, sauté onion and garlic in margarine until the onion is tender. Remove garlic. In a small bowl, mix soy milk with potato starch. Stir in salt and pepper.
Over low heat, gradually add milk mixture to sautéed onions, stirring continually as sauce thickens. Stir in drained spinach, heat through and serve immediately.
Serves six.

One-Apple Charoset
This simple mixture reminds me of the one my mother serves. She uses raisins instead of dates. It would be fun to try different dried fruits and nuts, whatever you have in the house. You can double or triple this recipe as needed, but for a midweek matzah spread, this quantity is quick and perfect.

1 apple, peeled
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup crushed pecans
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon sugar
3 medjool dates, chopped small
1 tablespoon kosher-for-Passover red wine

Coarsely grate apple. In small bowl, mix apple and remaining ingredients until mixture is smooth and moist.
Serves four.

 

Prices Too Low to Be Kosher


 

Illyse Zesch likes to start her Passover shopping early. So it isn’t surprising that, two weeks before the holiday, she made a trip with her fiancé — Rabbi Steve Conn of Santa Clarita’s Temple Beth Shalom — to the Kosher Club on Pico near La Brea, the largest kosher market in Los Angeles.

Among other things, the couple bought several bottles of kosher wine, some fresh lox, a variety of cheeses and a package of frozen gefilte fish. What they didn’t buy, however, was also noteworthy: no cake mix, macaroons, matzah or Passover candies.

Why?

“Those things we’re not getting here,” said Zesch, a 39-year-old attorney, “because we can get them cheaper at Ralphs or Albertsons.”

It happens every year, said Daryl Schwarz — who opened this 100 percent-kosher market in 1989 — only lately it’s been getting worse. Large supermarket and discount chains are able to undersell kosher specialty markets on the very products that, traditionally, have been the Jewish stores’ lifeblood. The chains can offer lower prices because they get volume discounts from kosher distributors. Or they can decide to forgo profit entirely on small-ticket kosher items, using below-cost discounts as a lure for shoppers, expected to buy more. Making money off kosher items is not essential to Ralphs; to Schwarz and other kosher merchants it’s a matter of survival.

Kosher products make up an astonishing percentage of the nation’s grocery bill — about $180 billion of a $500 billion total — though many consumers probably have no idea they are buying kosher. One supplier alone, Empire Kosher Poultry, processes 100,000 kosher birds (chickens and turkeys) per day for U.S. consumption. The kosher products industry is growing at a fairly steady rate of about 15 percent a year, said Menachem Lubinsky, editor of Kosher Today, an industry newsletter, with about 70 percent of the sales taking place through supermarkets or large chains. Competition from those chains, Lubinsky said, “is an issue that is now common in many different cities. The smaller markets, in a way, have to reinvent themselves to compete.”

Schwarz, of the Kosher Club, estimates that there are 20 to 30 small, independent kosher markets in greater Los Angeles. He believes that the number has shrunk slightly over the last five years, although he could identify only one market that had specifically shut down. Still, he insisted, the markets have had to scramble to survive.

Schwarz, for instance, has been forced to reshuffle his product mix by dropping or reducing the stock of items that customers are more likely to buy at lower prices elsewhere. One result is that some of his most loyal patrons are sometimes inconvenienced. But Schwarz has an even greater worry. “If the trend continues,” he said, “it will put the kosher markets out of business.”

He offers examples to illustrate his point. Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Southern California, he said, produces a certified kosher-for-Passover version of its soft drink, made with sugar instead of corn syrup. But, based on volume and various other marketing considerations, the product is offered at a major discount to big grocery chains. Which is why in this Passover season, Schwarz contends, Kosher Club customers can choose between buying kosher Coke from him at $1.29 a bottle or walking across the street to Ralphs where the price is just 99 cents.

“How can I compete with that?” Schwarz lamented.

Bob Phillips, a spokesman for Coca-Cola in Los Angeles, said pricing depends on an array of factors including volume, advertising, display, brand recognition and positioning. “We sell to about 225 outlets, including small, medium and large ones,” Phillips said, “and we are glad to do so. There is lots of availability.”

Schwarz also noted that he pays $11 a pound for handmade shmura matzah; customers can buy it at Ralphs for just $9 a pound. “They lose money on it,” he said of his across-the-street competitor. “They use it as loss leader to get kosher customers into the store.”

Last year, according to the Jewish grocer, the resulting shuffling of products ended up causing major headaches for Passover procrastinators after, anticipating a drop in demand for their own more expensive matzah, Schwarz and other kosher merchants significantly decreased their orders from distributors. But Ralphs — perhaps underestimating the same demand — ran out of shmura matzah two weeks before Passover. So observant Los Angeles Jews had to spend extravagant last-minute sums shipping the specialty item in by Federal Express from New York.

And finally, Schwarz says, comes the case of the chicken. Kosher Club buys it from Empire Kosher Poultry of Mifflintown, Pa., the largest purveyor of kosher poultry in the nation. And the store sells it too, at $9.99 for a large bag of breasts. The only problem is that Costco, buoyed by lower prices based on high volume and willing to sell the product at near cost, offers the identical bag of chicken for $6.99, the same price Schwarz pays to get it.

A large chain can get a better deal from suppliers said Elie Rosenfeld, an Empire spokesman. Beyond that, he said, the manufacturer bears little responsibility for what happens to its chicken at the store. “The profit margin and revenue stream that determines what a Costco or Albertsons charges,” he said, “is not something we can control. Running a larger operation allows them to price things the way they feel comfortable, whereas smaller markets need to create the margins they need.”

The bottom line, he said, is that “if Costco wants to put our product at a certain price, there’s not much we can do about it.”

Unlike Schwarz, however, the chicken purveyor isn’t overly concerned. “I don’t think the little markets are in trouble at all,” Rosenfeld said. “They have done an excellent job of serving the consumer market and there is always going to be a place for them…. There’s a difference between going into a neighborhood grocery that offers more personal-type attention, and going into a larger store like Costco or Albertsons that serves the community in a different way.”

Yet there’s little doubt, industry insiders attest, that big chains are going after kosher consumers in big ways. A prime example is Ralphs markets, which has about 250 stores in Southern California. “We’ve been offering kosher items since 1986,” spokesman Terry O’Neil said, “and over the last several years the company has really expanded its offerings outside just those stores that serve Jewish neighborhoods. What we’ve found is that a lot of people who are not Jewish, for health or other reasons, are choosing to eat kosher.”

O’Neil declined to attach a dollar value to these sales, but the company, whose kosher offerings are overseen by several rabbis, has greatly increased the number of approved items it carries. During Passover and other holiday seasons, Ralphs stores stock literally thousands of such items.

“Our kosher customers,” O’Neil said, “are among our top customers in loyalty. We have studies showing that they spend significantly more than our other customers.”

Which is why Ralphs goes to such lengths to attract them. Among other things, O’Neil said, the company organizes several rabbi-led tours of selected facilities in the weeks preceding Passover. The tours are promoted in flyers placed in the stores as well as by mailings to 20,000 kosher customers and by advertisements in the Jewish press. The 15 tours this year each attracted 50-150 people, compared to 20-30 last year.

“This year,” O’Neil said, “has seen, by far, the most successful kosher tours and we’ve expanded them to more stores than ever before.”

And what about the fate of the smaller kosher market?

“I won’t comment on the competition,” O’Neil said without apology, “but I will tell you that it is our intention to be the supermarket of choice for the diversity that is Southern California. Whether that is the kosher customer or our Hispanic customers or our African American customers, we strive to have something in our supermarkets for everyone.”

All of which offends the sensibilities of some kosher merchants.

“The community should not rely on companies outside the community that aren’t committed,” said David Eskenazi, manager at the Kosher Club. “If you put all the kosher butchers out of business because they can’t compete with Ralphs, what do you do when Ralphs changes its policy, because it decides that it’s more interested in the Hispanic community?”

Carmela Geil, the Kosher Club’s controller added: “They can never do it as well as we can because we have the background. They’re very commercial, but it’s not the real McCoy.”

Many customers patronize the chains and the kosher markets, seeing value in each. Karen Avrech, of Los Angeles, said she’d just dropped $200 at Ralphs for a sundry of Passover items. But she completed her shopping at Kosher Club, Avrech said, because “they have a big selection” including some items she could find nowhere else. “Most people have to go to Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Ralphs and the kosher markets,” she said. “It’s not just one-stop shopping.”

Added Zesch, Rabbi Conn’s fiancé: “You have to mix and match.”

Then came Jon Hambourger, surely God’s gift to a place like Kosher Club. “We do most of our shopping here,” the Los Angeles resident said, “because they have a good selection and good meat at good prices.”

But couldn’t he do better at Ralphs?

Hambourger wouldn’t know, he admitted, “Because I haven’t been in a supermarket in years. My perspective is that, as a community, we have an obligation to support Jewish merchants.”

His bottom line?

“Even if it means paying more,” he said, “I’d prefer shopping here.”

 

Make Your Seder an Affair to Remember


 

Many Passover hostesses feel enslaved by the amount of effort that goes into making an elegant seder table. On the holiday of freedom, the only thing to which you should be enslaved is your creativity. By using your imagination and listening to the tried-and-true advice of the experts, you can create a stylish and sophisticated Passover seder that will have your guests wishing for another invitation next year.

The Setting
An unordinary setting can have a dramatic effect. Elie Neuman, program coordinator of Pesach with the Chevrah in Rancho Mirage, often has special requests to prepare private seder tables overlooking the hotel’s gardens.

“A beautiful backdrop transforms the seder’s look,” he said.

This year, weather permitting, think outside of your dining room and set up a seder table in your backyard. Hang Chinese lanterns and Christmas lights for a dazzling effect. Play with the lighting by positioning standing lamps from your living room at the ends of a long table, contrasting the look of the outdoors with a homey feel.

The Menu
With the kosher-for-Passover dietary restrictions, choosing a menu can be intimidating. Levana Kirschenbaum, cookbook author and cooking instructor known by her first name, suggests preparing dishes such as roasted asparagus, grilled fish, and seasonal soups you are certain will work.

Susie Fishbein, author of the “Kosher By Design” series (see story page 38), said that food should not prevent the hostess from enjoying the seder. “Instead of making seven different courses, prepare simple dishes that show you put in time and effort,” she said. “Don’t feel like you have to make meat, chicken and fish.”

The Centerpieces
Since the Passover table is generally crammed with wine bottles and glasses, the seder plate and boxes of matzah, centerpieces can be tricky.

“With everything on the table, you don’t want the flowers to be overpowering,” said Joel Katz of Prestige Catering, who caters Passover meals in hotels throughout Florida and upstate New York. Instead, he scatters small arrangements of flowers that add color to an already busy table.

Fishbein suggested using topiaries because they provide height without obstructing the view. Since topiaries do not die, only the fruits and flowers decorating them need to be replenished. “You can start by having white roses in the topiary for the seders and switch to lemons or strawberries for the end of the holiday,” Fishbein said.

Levana explains how every hostess can easily prepare a beautiful table within her budget. “Instead of making extravagant floral arrangements, I like to bring out specific colors and textures,” she said.

Levana recommended using a vibrant colored tablecloth with a patterned texture and choosing flowers within variations of two colors that contrast with the tablecloth. As long as the flowers are in the color scheme, inexpensive ones will do the trick.

During a recent demonstration at her Manhattan-based cooking school, Levana presented a stunning arrangement of four-dozen orange-red tulips assembled in a low vase. “No one will care if you use one type of flower, as long as you do a good job,” she said, noting that this arrangement only cost her $30.

Personal Touches
The personal touch is the main component that turns an average seder into an affair guests will remember long after the holiday is over. Throughout the year, Fishbein shops for special touches. One year she found stretchy plastic frogs to use as napkin holders while another year she found glass swizzle sticks with decorative frogs, which she placed in each goblet.

Neuman suggested placing individual seder plates at each setting. This way, guests have the essentials while additional plates of marror or charoset can be passed.

Neuman also recommended anticipating what guests will need ahead of time in order to make them feel comfortable. Besides providing a large selection of wine and matzah, find out if your guests have dietary restrictions. If a guest is allergic to wheat, special order spelt or oat matzah.

Creative place cards that double as mementoes will further personalize the table. By cutting cardboard strips; gluing fabric, ribbon and beads; and labeling them with each guest’s name, you can create individual bookmarks. Place the bookmarks in a haggadah at every place setting in order for guests to know where they are sitting.

Bringing It All Together
Levana and Fishbein both stress the necessity of the hostess feeling relaxed on the night of the seder. That way the hostess can join in the seder, and with everyone else, celebrate our people’s freedom.

Felisa Billet, a freelance writer from Forest Hills, N.Y., is at work on a cookbook, a fusion of Mexican and Jewish cuisine.

 

Add Inclusiveness to Your Seder Table


 

Imagine going to celebrate a hypothetical holiday with Martian relatives on their planet. You don’t know the language, you don’t know the customs, you don’t know the purpose of the holiday. You might cope by seeing yourself as an anthropologist, witnessing the strange rites of the other. Still, even if you care deeply about your Martian family, the experience isn’t going to feel familiar or personally meaningful. Yet if this is your own family, you might want to become more involved.

For non-Jewish partners, even with the best good will, the seder experience can be strange and unfamiliar. Jewish family members prioritize coming together at this time of year. Festive preparations have been made: There’s a feast that includes ritual foods such as matzah and special items on a seder plate. There may be lots of Hebrew reading accompanying the meal. Or perhaps the family gathers but with no apparent religious themes. Each family’s Passover is unique, yet there are some ways to orient and integrate non-Jewish guests and family members.

For one thing, some universal themes are celebrated at the seder. The greens and hard-boiled egg on the seder plate celebrate the renewal and rebirth of spring. The story of the exodus of the Hebrew slaves can be seen as a celebration of freedom and has become a paradigm of liberation for many peoples, including African American slaves and Tibetan Buddhists. Bringing alive these elements of the story can be an invitation to all people to be part of the celebration.

At some seders, people move beyond the traditional Passover text to have conversations applying the seder themes to their own lives. They see themselves as moving through bondage, liberation, wandering in the desert, and seeking the “promised land” in very personal ways and discuss how each guest feels enslaved or stuck in his or her life. They may say, metaphorically, as you cross the Red Sea, what do you want to leave behind? What do you want to take with you? In what ways can you identify with the Jewish people who wandered in the wilderness for 40 years — where are you confused or questioning? What is the “promised land” for you? A new job? More time for yourself? Less clutter in the house?

If we make the Passover story our own we receive the gift of living within a myth that is larger than our individual selves. All people throughout history have experienced the tight, stuck places of Mitzrayim (Egypt). All people want liberation either from addictions, financial stress, health problems or some other issue. The bigger story that we are part of helps normalize our own trials and tribulations. It gives meaning to the grand journey of life. And the big story is much more accessible to non-Jewish beloveds than the very specific rituals of the seder.

If you don’t think all the members of your Passover gathering would want to focus on spiritual insights and sharing, maybe you and your spouse would want to prepare for Passover together by having these conversations. As the years go by, non-Jewish family members may learn to chant the four questions in Hebrew, spill drops of wine for each of the 10 Plagues and hide the middle matzah for the kids. But nothing will supersede the value of being invited to step into the mythic story of Passover as an insider and full participant.

This article is reprinted with permission of juliegberg@yahoo.com.

 

A Flashlight Through History


 

Lately, my eldest son has become intrigued by God’s omnipresence. Lying in bed before going to sleep, he asks: “You mean God is under the bed? In the closet?”

Who am I to tell him no?

God, it seems, has replaced monsters, an idea I hope is a comforting one since God’s omnipresence is such an integral part of our tradition.

On no holiday are we instructed to feel God’s participation in our lives more palpably than on Pesach. The hagaddah teaches: “In every generation, each person must see himself as if he personally left Egypt.”

Seder night requires every Jew to believe God has personally redeemed him — a belief, I must confess, that is hard.

Why? For one, I live in the United States. I live at a time and place in history when running water is easily accessible. I live in a land of freedom. Compared to the rest of human history, I live in the lap of luxury. But luck is not the stumbling block to my belief. What is harder is that the story of Pesach is the story of God who heard His people’s cries, of God who cared enough to alter nature’s course and perform miracles and save His chosen people.

But we live in a unique time in the history of our people. We face a challenge to our faith unique in the history of the Jewish people because we live after the Shoah. If we affirm the uniqueness of the Shoah as a tragedy, an evil unlike any other in Jewish (much less human) history, we face an equally unique challenge: how can we authentically relive the redeeming story of Pesach just 60 years after the Shoah? On Pesach, God should feel present. But how do we believe in God’s presence after a period when God was seemingly so absent?

“And you shall know that I, Adonai, am your God” (Exodus 6:7). But how are we to know God if, in the midst of our greatest despair, we cried out but He could not be found?

According to the Jewish lunar calendar, Purim must be celebrated in the month of Adar but in leap years with an extra month, Purim could be celebrated in either Adar I or Adar II. Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner (1906-1980) argued that Purim is celebrated in Adar II to juxtapose two stories about how the Jewish people were saved, each of which helps us to know God: the story of Purim and the story of Pesach. Pesach, he says, is like a flashlight one can use to find his friend in a dark room. Pesach is a holiday when God’s presence was undeniable.

“A common woman at the sea saw God more clearly than any of the prophets did,” the rabbis say. Plagues. Seas. Pillars of fire. God has arrived. A flashlight in a dark room clearly lighting the way toward redemption.

But on Purim, Hutner says, there is no flashlight. We find our friend “through any sense other than that which can be seen or proven.” The room is dark and it remains dark — you cannot prove to me that God is there. Darkness surrounds us and destruction is all around. We grope around and feel nothing. We cry out and no one answers. We lash out at air and darkness. Finally in despair, we sit down and cry and grow quiet and still. And in that darkness and pain, and through our brokenness and tears, a voice echoes from within us — “I am here. You are not alone.”

That is Purim — and that, too, is a way to know God.

To be honest, of the two holidays, I prefer Purim. Because I do not live in a world of plagues and seas and miracles so plainly seen. Because, so often, when I call out, I cannot prove that God answers; I cannot see that God is here. But as I despair in the terror of Purim and God’s absence and the challenge of it all, I am reminded anew that Pesach is a gift that, if those who lived through the Shoah could find the strength to celebrate, then who am I not to?

Sixty years ago, the Jews of the Kovno ghetto asked their teacher, Rabbi Ephraim Oshry, questions about unspeakable ethical and moral dilemmas. What blessing does one recite before going to one’s death as a martyr? Were there circumstances in which suicide would not be regarded as a sin? And 60 years ago in this season, they also asked him about Pesach. Could tea be used instead of wine for the four cups drunk at the Passover seder? Could the black beans that were part of the ghetto food ration be eaten on Passover? Filthy potato peels were to be mixed with a bit of flour to make matzah. Could the filthy peels be scrubbed with water — a leavening agent? The very asking and answering of those questions was an act of faith in the depths of hell. And their faith is a gift to me, to all of us, for they teach that God can be found, that God is here, that every seder table full of food and children and wine, that every argument over the kashrut of beans and chemicals and labels — it is all a miracle.

Their questions are our holy inheritance — a light through history. I may not feel I was taken out of Egypt, but I was. I need only open my eyes, switch on the flashlight and behold God’s majesty right in front of me or under the bed or in the closet.

Rabbi Daniel Greyber is the executive director of Camp Ramah in California and the Max & Pauline Zimmer Conference Center at the University of Judaism.

 

Let My Students Go


 

To celebrate Passover, Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy preschoolers spent time in ancient Egypt.

Teachers and students transformed hallway bulletin boards into a colorful representation of the story of Passover. The journey begins with the pyramids, and then students pass through a parted Red Sea with thick tulle and crinkled tissue paper on either side — some gauze and cellophane even hang above. Life-size kindergartners silhouettes represent the Israelites dancing at the other end of the sea, coffee-stained butcher paper evokes the desert, and the trip ends in Jerusalem.

“[The artwork] makes the holiday come alive for the children, so that it’s just not just a flat learning experience,” said Cecelie Wizenfeld, the school’s early childhood director. “They’re a part of it.”

Wizenfeld is not alone in her efforts to find memorable ways of helping children connect with the holiday. While model seders, seder plate illustrations and handmade afikomen bags have become standard educational fare in the classroom, many Southland religious and day school teachers are finding that creative and unusual holiday projects make more of an impact.

Second-graders at Adat Ari El Day School will reenact the Exodus from Egypt as they embark on a two-hour journey around the school grounds. Head of School Lana Marcus will play the role of Moses, while sixth-grade students will dress up as taskmasters, following the children. Other journey highlights include the parting of the Red Sea (the sprinklers will come on), receiving “manna” from heaven (teachers will drop marshmallows from above) and finally, the arrival to the Promised Land (a grassy area on the property) and pitching tents, eating, singing and dancing in celebration. Afterward, teachers will lead a discussion about the journey.

By second grade, the children have a familiarity with the holiday, but “acting out the story of Passover makes the children think what [the Exodus] must have been like for the Israelis,” said Sari Goodman, the school’s general studies director.

Rather than focusing on the journey like the students at Adat Ari El, this year the kindergartners at the Brawerman Elementary School of Wilshire Boulevard Temple decided what material things they would bring on such a journey and, in turn, what they value. Each child decorated a “Passover backpack” and chose a few items from home to bring to Israel. In past years, these prized possessions have included teddy bears, prayer books, baseballs and pictures of family.

Rabbi Elissa Ben-Naim, who oversees the Judaic studies department, said that these activities allow the children to “enter into the text of the haggadah in a new way.”

The fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders at Temple Isaiah’s religious school experienced yet another aspect of the Exodus when they attended a special weekend retreat at Camp JCA Shalom in Malibu on April 15.

One of the weekend activities was a homelessness simulation in which students received “eviction notices” on their cabin doors. Students worked together to combat their plight and attempt to get back on their feet.

“We’re equating homelessness with the Exodus of the Jewish people,” said Lisa Greengard, the synagogue’s youth group director. Greengard hopes that this modern take on one of the key aspects of Passover will help children empathize with our ancestors and ultimately, make the holiday more meaningful.

Temple Israel of Hollywood’s fifth- and sixth-grade religious school students will indulge in a “chocolate seder” in which the regular items on the seder plate are replaced by their supposed chocolate equivalents. Roasted eggs are substituted with chocolate eggs. Instead of dipping parsley in salt water, the students will dip strawberries in chocolate sauce. Chocolate milk will replace wine. Trail mix with M&Ms is the new charoset.

Carrie Frank, a Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion rabbinical student who is interning at Temple Israel, adapted the chocolate seder — a concept typically aimed at college students — to make the experience more relevant to younger students. Her goal is to help the children move beyond the story of Passover and take in the core values of the holiday and the concept of enslavement.

By getting the kids’ attention with tasty treats, Frank hopes to touch on deeper issues. She replaces the 10 plagues with what she deems the “10 modern plagues,” so the seder will include more familiar issues like hunger, inequality and disrespect. When the youngsters sip their cups of chocolate milk, they will be reminded of the things for which they are thankful.

“With the kitsch thrown in, it allows you to sneak in some of the good stuff, like values,” Frank said. “And they will absorb that.”

 

Tell Me a Story


 

When I was growing up, my family’s Passover gatherings were a joyful blend of holiday traditions, over-eating, stand-up comedy and most important of all — storytelling by our “tribal elders.”

For example, I was always moved by one of my Grandma Lena’s stories from the Great Depression.

“So many people were hungry,” she said. “Occasionally, I would come home from work and find a strange, unshaven man dressed in rags, sitting at our kitchen table. Your great-grandmother Leba would be serving him an entire meal — from soup to dessert. It scared me that she let strangers into the house when she was alone; she was a tiny, frail woman. But when I asked her how she could this, she simply said, ‘How could I not do this? He was hungry.'”

I never knew Leba Klein, but when my grandmother shared such memories, I learned something real about my ancestors.

I only wish we had recorded those stories.

Passover is a time for families to gather, to enjoy each other’s company and to recall the story of our shared ancient history.

It is also the perfect time to preserve your family’s greatest treasure: the memories and stories of your own family elders.

That’s why this Passover (or Mother’s or Father’s Day), you should create a family project to interview your oldest relatives.

Recording these stories means that they will be available for future generations. Plus, you can avoid regret. I’m constantly hearing people say things like, “We kept meaning to interview my grandparents, but we just didn’t have time. Now it’s too late.”

Also, every person should have a chance to tell his or her life story. One shouldn’t have to have survived horrible experiences, or accomplished the extraordinary, or be a celebrity to have this opportunity.

When we take the time to ask a parent or grandparent to tell us about their past experiences, and truly listen to them, we are acknowledging them for who they are, and for the life they have lived. They deserve this.

And finally, involving children in this interview process creates a meaningful connection between them and their family elders, something that doesn’t often happen these days. They will learn about their roots from a real person.

Not sure where to start? Here are some tips:

1. Get an audio cassette recorder or video camera and tripod. Bring a lot of tapes and back-up batteries. Get an external microphone, so that the recording will be clear. (Get advice from Radio Shack or Fry’s for a microphone that will fit your specific machine and will capture the sound most effectively. Pay extra for a good one.) Be sure to test your equipment before you conduct the interview. Try out different locations for the placement of the microphone to capture all important voices.

2. Plan a family gathering, where the entire family can commit to a few hours together. That in itself is a challenge, I know. But it’s worth it.

3. Determine the best interview subjects. Usually, this would be the eldest relatives who can not only talk about their own lives and experiences, but who also know the details and stories about your ancestors. You also want to choose people whose memories are intact. (My mother’s dementia would sadly rule her out now as an appropriate interview subject.)

In many families there are Talkers and Listeners. Some of the Talkers are great storytellers; some of them are just dominating. Listeners rarely speak up family gatherings.

With Talkers, your job is to manage the conversation, so that the interview moves along. Having a list of interview questions will help.

With Listeners, your job is to make sure they know that you truly want to hear about their life and experiences. Make sure they have their moment in the spotlight by asking them a specific question, and kindly telling anyone who interrupts to please wait their turn.

4. Before your gathering, have everyone in the family write down a list of questions to ask. There isn’t room here to give you an entire list of such questions, but you want to cover every generation that these interview subjects can speak about — their ancestors, grandparents, parents and the subject him or herself.

Your questions should trigger memories and details about different aspects of a person’s life: For example: names of important people, their personalities, the home, the city or town, daily activities, work, education, their experiences of being Jewish, how the family interacted, what they did for fun, what were their challenges and the events and times.

Ask all of the children in the family to make up questions, too. Depending on their ages, children often want to know grandparents’ favorite toys, what school was like or how their grandparents met.

5. Someone may have to play “director” and make sure that everyone gets a chance to talk and that people aren’t talking all at once (the result on your tape will be gobbledygook.)

6. Remember, this is something that deserves your family’s time and energy. The payoff is a precious experience and a record of your heritage. Have fun!

Ellie Kahn is a freelance writer and owner of Living Legacies Family Histories. She can be reached at ekzmail@adelphia.net.

 

Holiday Frivolity for Young at Heart


 

Offering the chance to parade in costume as Queen Esther or King Ahasuerus, shake groggers at the mention of Haman’s name and feast on hamantaschen, Purim is the perfect holiday — for our kids’ grandparents and great-grandparents.

At every age, we must be connected to life’s fun side, and Purim, the boisterous and tumultuous holiday that begins this year at sundown on March 24 and celebrates the triumph of the Jews in ancient Persia over enemies determined to destroy them, gives us that opportunity.

But far more than the kids, today’s elders — many of whom are contending with the death of a spouse, poor health, loneliness and dwindling finances — need the frivolity that Purim brings. Of the 35 million Americans who are 65 and older, up to 7 million suffer from some form of depression, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. That age group also claims the nation’s highest suicide rate, according to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

“Laughter is the best medicine,” said Faye Sharabi, activity director for Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles’ Valley Storefront, an adult day health-care center in North Hollywood. For the entire month leading up to Purim, Sharabi provides a variety of fun-filled activities, all part of the five-day-a-week program of physical and occupational therapy and socialization for the Storefront’s elderly, physically disabled and/or memory-impaired clients, who range in age from 40 to 99.

“The megillah is a fascinating story that is not just for kids,” said Sharabi, who stresses Queen Esther’s positive outlook and ability to inspire the Jewish people. She arranges a Queen Esther “makeover” for the female participants as well as a beauty pageant, with everyone designated a queen.

“When you’re elderly, you’re still beautiful,” she said.

The highlight, however, is Purim morning, when the king and queen, selected by lottery beforehand, are crowned and feted with flowers, a fiddler playing Jewish songs and a parade.

In addition, costumed second-graders from nearby Adat Ari El Day School come to sing, dance and share hamantaschen that they baked the previous day. They also bring sequins, feathers and other art materials to help the revelers make Mardi Gras-style masks.

“The older people love the kids,” said second-grade teacher Soli Friedman. “They see that the kids care about them and that they are not left alone.”

Other older adults are less interested in intergenerational activities.

“We have too much fun ourselves,” says Paula Fern, director of the Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles’ Pico-Robertson Storefront and Holocaust Survivors Program.

Her group is Café Europa, a social and support group for Holocaust survivors that was founded in 1987 by social worker Dr. Flo Kinsler, which has spread to other U.S. cities.

In Los Angeles, Café Europa’s Purim celebration, funded by the Claims Conference, is expected to draw approximately 150 survivors. Fern explains that the March 22 event is a party, a catered luncheon with singing in a variety of languages, dancing and feasting. Many of the members, who observe a range of religious practices, attend Megillah readings and carnivals with their families.

For some survivors, the festivities provide an opportunity to recall memories of a happy Jewish childhood in prewar Europe.

Eva David, who grew up in Transylvania, remembers her mother covering every available surface of their house with freshly baked cakes.

“Mother would put each cake in a cloth napkin, and we would take them to the neighbors,” she said. “What a memory. The whole street was filled with Jewish children carrying cakes.”

But other survivors remember that they were being rounded up into ghettoes or concentration camps or were hiding, fleeing or living under false identities when they should have been celebrating Jewish holidays.

John Gordon, born in Budapest, Hungary, and president of Los Angeles’ branch of Child Survivors of the Holocaust, was only 2 when restrictions against the Jews were enacted. His family’s Purim celebration, fresh cookies and a Megillah reading, was confined to their home.

So Café Europa’s parties — “as many as we have funding for,” Fern says — help compensate for survivors’ lost childhoods.

But for all older adults, Purim, the holiday that celebrates the survival of the Jewish people, provides an opportunity to reflect, to recapture childhood memories and to create new ones.

“It’s fascinating that Purim, which is so easily dismissed as a holiday for young children, becomes actually a serious adult-oriented holiday,” said Elon Sunshine, rabbi-in-residence at Heschel Day School.

And a serious time for fun.

 

Make Menu Shine With Splash of Wine


 

Purim is always a special celebration for the children — they dress up in costumes, sing and dance. The grown-ups have their rewards, too, because it is the only holiday when everyone is encouraged to drink a generous amount of wine.

This year, the theme of our dinner is foods prepared and cooked with wine, and we ask our guests to bring a bottle of their favorite wine to share during the evening.

The menu includes a Celery Root Slaw with a Balsamic-Mayonnaise Sauce, served on a mixed green salad, and for dessert there is my Aunt Betty’s Orange Juice-Wine Syrup Bundt Cake.

Celery Root Slaw on a Mixed Salad
Balsamic-Mayonnaise Sauce (recipe follows)

2 cups salad greens
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt, to taste
1 celery root (about 1 1/2 pounds)
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

Prepare the Balsamic-Mayonnaise Sauce, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

In a medium bowl, toss the salad greens with olive oil and salt and set aside.

Peel the celery root, wash in cold water and, using food processor or sharp knife, cut into thin julienne strips. Transfer to a large bowl, add lemon juice and toss. Add enough sauce to moisten and toss gently.

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate (until ready to serve) for at least two hours.

To serve, arrange the salad greens on serving plates, and spoon the slaw in the center. Sprinkle with sesame seeds or pomegranate seeds and serve.

Serves four to six.

Balsamic-Mayonnaise Sauce

1/2 cup mayonnaise
4 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons Homemade Balsamic Vinegar (recipe follows)
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Prepare the Homemade Balsamic Vinegar and set aside. In a small bowl, combine mayonnaise, sugar and balsamic vinegar and blend. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add additional sugar or balsamic vinegar to taste.

Homemade Balsamic Vinegar

1 cup sweet Concord Grape Wine
Juice of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons sugar
1 Tablespoon honey

In a heavy saucepan, combine the wine, lemon juice, sugar, and honey. Bring to a boil. Boil until reduce by half. Transfer to a glass jar. Serve on salads.

Makes about 1/2 cup.

Aunt Betty’s Orange Juice-Wine Syrup Bundt Cake

1/4 cup ground walnuts or pecans
1/4 pound unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
Grated zest of 1 orange
1/3 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons sweet white or red wine (Concord Grape Wine)
2 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sour cream
1 cup toasted, chopped walnuts or pecans
Orange Juice-Wine Syrup (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease a 10-inch bundt or fluted tube pan. Sprinkle with the ground walnuts. In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, 1 at a time, until well blended. Add the zest, juice and wine and blend well.

Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add to the butter mixture alternately with the sour cream until completely blended. Fold in the chopped walnuts.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out dry and the cake begins to shrink away from the sides of the pan. Spoon the hot syrup over the cake as soon as you remove it from the oven and serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream (optional).

Orange Juice-Wine Syrup

3/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup Concord Grape Wine
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar

In a saucepan, combine the orange juice, wine, lemon juice, and sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves, and simmer for five minutes. Set aside.

Judy Zeidler is the author of “The Gourmet Jewish Cook” (Cookbooks, 1988) and “The 30-Minute Kosher Cook” (Morrow, 1999) Her Web site is members.aol.com/jzkitchen.

 

Create Festive Table in a Blue Mood


 

Following are pointers on livening up your Chanukah table from “Kosher by Design” by Susie Fishbein (Mesorah, 2003).

1. In the Beginning: Dress your dining table with a snazzy tablecloth. A gold one will glitter. Using narrow runners and/or yards of wide ribbons, preferably in shades of blue and gold, weave them under and above each other, creating a lattice effect.

2. Gifted Settings: Create place settings that look like Chanukah presents by using placemat-sized rectangles of Styrofoam (about 2-inches thick). Cover them with blue fabric. Straight pins will secure the fabric to the underside of rectangles. To simulate a bow, wrap gold tulle ribbon on a diagonal around two opposite corners of rectangles.

3. Box Appeal: Find boxes about 3-inches square. Cover boxes with Mylar foil wrapping paper. Tie a bow around them with gold ribbon. With two-sided tape, attach them to the upper left-hand corner of placemats.

4. Got the Gelt: In front of each placemat, situate a gold netted sack of Chanukah gelt. Write each guest’s name in gold ink on place cards. Then, with narrow gold ribbon, tie place cards to gelt sacks.

5. Twinkling Fantasy: Flood the center of the table with as many blue votive candleholders as you can find in every size and shape. Fill them with candles and light just before guests arrive.

6. Gaming Table: Scatter around dreidels in varying sizes and shapes, ones made from silver, gold, porcelain, plastic, wood — and anything blue. Antique dreidels are particularly decorative.

7. Blue Plate Special: Set the table with blue dishes, preferably ones that mix and match. Place a salad plate of one pattern over a dinner plate of another. Wal-Mart sells glass blue plates for $1.25 each.

8. Color Wave Silverware: Set the table with gold-plated flatware or stainless steel with blue plastic handles.

9. Crystal Collection: Buy glasses and wine goblets with blue striations or purchase glassware with a blue tint, found at stores such as Crate and Barrel.

10. Clear Water: Buy mineral water in blue bottles.

11. Fruit of the Vine: Buy wine in blue bottles.

12. Congratulations: You’ve created a show-stopping setting! Photograph your table for inspiration when planning your next holiday meal.

 

Maccabee Meaning Changes With Time


 

The oldest tradition of Chanukah is that it celebrates many stories: freedom from religious oppression, Jews fighting back against their oppressors and the communal struggle about what it means to be and live as a Jew. It is the story of unexpected fuel found in unexpected places, providing light to an entire nation — and it is the story of miracles and redemption in moments of darkness and despair.

These stories have been told in many languages: Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, Latin, Yiddish and English. They’ve been told by every kind of Jew, and even by non-Jews, from almost every nation on the face of the earth. They are tales of a people on a journey looking for ways to confront the challenges that lay before them, and celebrating the victories they experience along the way.

However, in American Jewish life, Chanukah is often described as the story of the Jewish fight against assimilation. Judah Maccabee and his forces arose to defeat their Hellenistic persecutors. The underlying premise of this telling is the presumption of a pure Judaism struggling against external influences that would pollute it. Like most stories about the fight against assimilation, there is a false dichotomy in this retelling between Judaism and the larger world. The complexity and nuance that have defined Jewish life in every age are removed from the story.

Ironically, the Chanukah story, with its many tellings, preserves those nuances better than almost any other holiday in Jewish tradition. It celebrates a variety of ways to be Jewish — ways which have changed through the generations, the challenges and the times.

Whether in ancient times after the destruction of the Temple, when God felt very far away and the rabbis told the story to help bring God back or in more recent history, when early Zionists told the story in ways that emboldened them to return to the Land of Israel, our tellings of the Chanukah story have invited new interpretations, questions and meanings, each helping a generation of Jews rise to the challenge of its moment in history. In fact, the richness of Jewish tradition is its remarkable capacity to embody many forms of Jewish expression. Failing to recognize this on Chanukah would be truly absurd.

On a holiday that reminds us, among many things, of the danger of idolatry, we dare not turn Jewish identity into an idol. Anything can be an idol, including the definition of what it means to be Jewish. Idolatry is what happens whenever we falsely make absolute what is by definition infinite. In telling of the fight against idolatry, we must be careful not to turn our own tradition into an idol — presuming a static definition of what it means to be Jewish and how to contribute to the future of the Jewish people.

While no one can say what Jewish life will look like in the future, we need to continue the oldest tradition of Chanukah by inviting people to enter the process of creating that future. After 2,000 years of playing dreidel, a game of chance that epitomizes the precariousness of Jewish life, we now have an unprecedented opportunity to play a new kind of game — one that reflects the blessings, challenges, and possibilities of this moment in American Jewish life.

Contrary to much in Jewish life, this is a game that everyone can play and win. Here is how it works:

Answer these questions by telling your own story, based on your own experience. For each question, try to find an answer that describes something you think of as typically Jewish, and a second that describes something you don’t think of as typically Jewish. There are no wrong or right answers.

\n

• Which foods or meals evoke Jewish associations for you?

\n

• In what places have you been where you felt particularly Jewish?

\n

• On what occasions did you feel very Jewish?

\n

• Who is a “real Jewish hero” for you? (That person doesn’t have to be a Jew.)

\n

• What makes your relationships Jewish?

\n

• Bonus question: Is there something important in your life that you really wish was a part of what you usually think of as being Jewish?

To score, give yourself one point for each question for which you can give at least one answer. Since each question can be answered for both expected and unexpected circumstances, the maximum score for the five questions is 10. Adding the bonus question for three points, the maximum score is 13.

Actually, forget the points. What counts is not numbers, but being in the game. If you play, you win. The only way to lose this game is not to play at all.

Rabbi Brad Hirschfield is the vice president of CLAL-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.

 

Perfect Gadgets for Jetsetter, Homebody


When it comes Chanukah, you’ve got eight nights to get your gift giving right. Our Gift Guide points you toward a cornucopia of categories for every evening of the Festival of Lights. From low- to high-ticket pricing, we’ve got your loved ones covered, including frequent fliers, adventurers, techies and homebodies of all ages. Last-minute shoppers never fear. With online and phone-in orders, you won’t have to battle holiday traffic.

Bon Voyage

Breathe right with the ionic 1.5 oz. Ultra-Mini Air Supply ($125). Bless your car with a compact version of “Baruch HaCar” ($20), the traveler’s prayer. Surprise your favorite road warrior with a collapsible flashing orange Pack-A-Cone ($25). And supply travelers with Eagle Creek’s astonishing Pack-It Compressors, Two-Sided Cube and other well-priced, smart ideas, such as the Flat Pack Organizer, Jewelry CarryAll and waterproof Splash Caddy ($10 and up). Magellans.com, (800) 962-4943.

Streamline laptop travel with an action-packed lightweight Vertical Computer bag ($85). Awesome convertibility, with a removable computer sleeve for quick getaways. REI.com, (800) 426-4840.

Retrieve luggage with the Victorinox’s astonishing Global Track I.D. Tag ($15). You lose it, they send it back — gratis. SonomaOutfitters.com, (800) 290-1920.

Lux

Cuddle up with a scrumptious F horseshoe head pillow ($25), Brookstone.com, (866) 576-7337.

Eshave’s rich shaving creams, in floral for her and cucumber for him, complement a his/her kit with pink and blue Lucite-handle razors ($195). The picture is complete with a T-shaped chrome stand. Plumparty.com, (800) 227-0314.

Top-of-the-line, foldable “noise canceling” stereo headphones are pricey. Save with NoiseBuster ($69) from Pro Tech Communications.com. Amazon.com (free shipping).

Brew full-bodied gourmet coffee or tea anywhere in the unbreakable, portable Bonjour French Press Carafe ($15). Add romance with a totally flat, packable plastic WonderVase (three for $15) that you mold under warm water. Or create ambiance with a flickering, battery-operated CandleSafe made of real wax ($25). Magellan’s.

Oprah loves a shimmery lime and powder blue silk throw ($100). Will you? PlumParty.com, (800) 227-0314.

Washable suede shirts, sweater jackets and “cashnear” knits are equally yummy ($89 and up). Travelsmith.com.

Techno

Save money and the planet with a Dual-Voltage Battery Recharger ($35). Complete with four AA NiMH batteries, this practical gift runs on both 110 or 220 volt current. Magellan’s.

Shape up with a digital pedometer ($30), loaded with a panic alarm and calorie counter. Or tune in with Orion’s AudioView AM/FM radio binoculars ($90). Travelsmith.

Navigate 20 reversible routes with a wrist-mounted GPS receiver/personal navigator from Garmin Foretrex ($130 to $170). In under three ounces, compute speed, track trips and calculate distances, all while telling time. REI.

Countdown

The flip-top, analog Dakota Mini Travel Clock ($35), features sleek stainless steel in a charming wooden box. Or keep time here and in Israel with easy-to-set dual-time tank style watches ($79 each) for him and her. Magellan’s.

Wake up to shortwave with Grundig’s ultra-compact Mini Radio ($40). Draws in seven bands of shortwave signals, plus AM, FM. With a digital clock, sleep timer and earphones, it’s good to go. Or indulge and download news, weather and calendar dates on the Suunto Web Watch ($299). Includes stopwatch, alarm and date. Subscribe to MSN Direct for stock quotes, sport scores and more. Travelsmith.

Call of the Wild

Prepare for all-weather winter adventure with outdoor gear. Add breathable warmth with soft, moisture-wicking Performance Wool separates ($95 and up). Fast drying and machine washable. Bundle up with 650-fill-power goose down jacket ($99) with a water-repellent, breathable finish that resists light moisture. Doubles as a zip-in liner for REI parkas and packs small for the space conscious. And hydrate with the REI Runoff Pack ($60 and up). The women’s version boasts super comfortable shoulder straps for women-specific contouring. REI.

The ultimate camping mat, the self-inflating Therm-A-Rest Dreamtime Sleeping Pad ($199) includes a cushy pillow top and washable fleece cover. Campmor.com, (800) 525-4784.

His

The classic calfskin Taxi Wallet ($49) or the Cash InCase key ring ($20) stash cash for all occasions. Magellan’s.

Gift gentlemen with the English Butler Shoe Shine kit ($80), includes a distinctive leather case. Delight amateur astronomers with the Night Navigator digital electronic compass ($99). And help Zayde fight off chills and spills with a stylish “Teflon” Stain-Free Cardigan ($99). Travelsmith.

The Gerber Nautilus Flashlight Tool ($69) packs a four-mode LED light with Fiskars scissors, a fine-blade knife, Phillips and flathead screwdrivers, with a bottle opener. REI. Or cut loose with Leatherman’s “high-wattage” Charger Ti multitool. It boasts interchangeable bits, perks galore and lightweight titanium handles. Cabelas.com, $100.

Hers

Classic equestrian-style boots ($160) combine comfort and fashion. Bornshoes.com. Or prep her for wet weather with a 100 percent waterproof, packable microfiber Balmacaan raincoat ($179), optional lightweight liner ($70) and plenty of rain-worthy boots ($89 and up). Travelsmith.

For the perfect shoulder bag on the road or at home, Hobo’s women-designed, microfiber Essential Traveler ($69) hides travel documents and organizes pens, travel guides and more. Attach a handsome leather phone tote ($25) that doubles as an eyeglass case. Magellan’s.

Wrap her in a cultural souvenir from the Himalayan region of Kashmir. This black merino wool shawl ($89) features colorful hand-embroidered flowers. ShopNationalGeographic.com, (800) 437-5521.

Kids

Wooly mammoths and saber-toothed cats, hornless rhinos and giant sloths hold court in NatGeo’s Prehistoric Mammals book ($30). Ages 8 and up.

Or explore the “Atlas of the World,” eighth edition ($125). Hard copy purchases include online access to customized maps, satellite imagery and downloadable updates. National Geographic.

Little ones beam in super-bright blue light with a tiny Microbeam flashlight keychain ($20). Brookstone.

A responsible teen ready for a pocketknife? A miniature Jewish version of Victronix’s “Star of David” model ($15) features a bright blue case and white Magen David. SwissArmyExpress.com, (877) 289-2769.

Little Robosapien ($100), a carefree “pet,” combines robot technology with personality. Command Robo with a remote or speech to fetch books and perform 65 other functions. Ages 6 and up. SharperImage.com, (800) 344-5555.

Lisa Alcalay Klug is a former staff writer for The Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times.

Calendar


The Jewish Journal is no longer accepting mailed orfaxed event listing information. Please e-mail event listings at least threeweeks in advance to: calendar@jewishjournal.com.

By Keren Engelberg

Calendar

NOVEMBER 27/Saturday

SHABBAT

Hebrew Discovery Center: Nov. 26-28. Family Shabbaton with special guest speaker Rabbi Isaac Balaness. $195, $375 (couples). Ventura Beach Marriott, 2055 Harbor Blvd., Ventura Beach. R.S.V.P., (818) 348-4432.

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Padua Playwrights: 4:30 p.m. Padua Playwrights presents a workshop production of “Tirade for Three” and “Gary’s Walk,” parts one and two of a trilogy by Murray Mednick. $10. Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice. (310) 823-0710, ext. 4.

28/Sunday

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

San Diego Center for Jewish Culture at the Lawrence Family JCC: Noon-5 p.m. “Diversity of Life: A Photographic Exhibit” by Zion Ozeri. Free. David and Dorothea Garfield Theatre, 4126 Executive Drive, La Jolla. (858) 362-1348.

EVENTS

Yiddish Alive: 4-7 p.m. A new conversation group in Orange County. All ages and experience levels welcome. Temple Beth Tikvah Fullerton, 1600 N. Acacla, Fullerton. (714) 671-0707.

29/Monday

LECTURES

Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel: 7 p.m. Discussion on “‘In God’s Image’ or ‘The Image of God’: a Spiritual Look at Your Brain.” $15 (includes dinner). 10500 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 475-7311.

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Workmen’s Circle: 3-5 p.m. Stanley Schwartz presents his “The Peaceable Kingdom” sculpture. 1525 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 552-2007.

Academy for the Performing Arts at Huntington Beach High School: 7:30 p.m. “I Never Saw Another Butterfly,” the story of one boy’s journey through the Terezin ghetto on the way to the Auschwitz death camp. $6. Huntington Beach Library Theatre, 7111 Talbert Ave., Huntington Beach. (714) 536-2514, ext. 4305.

MET Theatre Company: 8 p.m. Opening of “The Merchant of Venice,” the classic play reset in early 20th-century New York. $15, $12 (students and seniors). 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Hollywood. (323) 957-1152.

EVENTS

Beth Jacob (teens): 9 a.m. “NFL” Non-stop Fun and Learning, featuring four big-screen NFL games playing simultaneously. Free. 9030 W. Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 278-1911, ext. 120.

OASIS (seniors): 1:30-3 p.m. Yiddish conversation group. All levels welcome. $5 (per trimester). Jewish Family Service, 8838 Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 446-8053.

City of Hope Singers: 5:30-8:30 p.m. Vocal group for singers of all skill levels from all over Los Angeles. Hope Village, Comedy Theatre, 1500 E. Duarte Road, Duarte. (714) 562-0860.

30/Tuesday

LECTURES

Caravan for Democracy: 5 p.m. Natan Sharansky, Israeli minister for Jerusalem and diaspora affairs addresses students and faculty at UCLA. Free. www.caravanfordemocracy.org. For more information, see page 16.

The Menachem Institute: 7:30 p.m. Rabbi Laibl Wolf discusses “The Art of Jewish Meditation.” ($5 in advance), $7 (at the door). 18181 Burbank Blvd., Tarzana. (818) 758-1818.

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Hammer Museum: 7 p.m. Hammer conversation with screenwriter Bill Condon and author T.C. Boyle. Free. 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 443-7056.

EVENTS

Jewish Federation of the San Gabriel and Pomona Valley Jewish Book Festival: 7:30 p.m. Author Kate Wenner discusses “Dancing With Einstein.” La Canada residence. R.S.V.P., (626) 967-3656.

1/Wednesday

LECTURES

Adat Ari El: 12:30-1:30 p.m. Erika Jacoby a Holocaust survivor discusses her new book, “I Held the Sun in My Hands – a Memoir.” $3. 12020 Burbank Blvd., Valley Village. (818) 766-9426.

StandWithUs: 7 p.m. Lecture by Khaled Abu Toameh, award-winning Palestinian journalist. $10 (in advance), $15 (at the door). Museum of Tolerance, 9786 W. Pico Blvd., Beverly Hills. R.S.V.P., (310) 836-6140.

Jewish Book Month: 7:30 p.m. Author Ruth Ellen Gruber speaks about her latest book, “Virtually Jewish: Reinventing Jewish Culture in Europe.” Alpert JCC, 3801 E. Willow St., Long Beach. (562) 985-7585.

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Hammer Museum: 7 p.m. Some Favorite Writers presents Jonathan Franzen. Free. 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 443-7000.

Wilshire Boulevard Temple: 7 p.m. (beginners), 8 p.m. (regular class), 9:15 p.m. -midnight (open dancing). David Dassa leads Israeli dancing. $7. Irmas Campus, 2112 S. Barrington Ave., Los Angeles. ddassa@att.net.

OPEN HOUSES

Valley Beth Shalom Day School: 9:15 a.m. Kindergarten Live. 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 530-4072.

EVENTS

Temple Isaiah: 4-7 p.m. Chanukah Bazaar. 332 W. Alejo Rd., Palm Springs. (760) 325-2281.

PROGRAMS

Northridge Hospital Medical Center: 6:30 p.m. The Healing Arts program offers its monthly topic, “Balanced Nutrition for Holiday Eating.” Roscoe Campus, Penthouse Auditorium, 18400 Roscoe Blvd., Northridge. (818) 885-5488.

2/Thursday

LECTURES

Israel Cancer Research Fund: 7 p.m. Dr. Timothy Cloughesy, associate clinical professor, UCLA department of neurology, discusses “Using Molecular Biology to Individualize Brain Cancer Care.” Free. Loews Beverly Hills Hotel. 1224 Beverwil Drive, Beverly Hills. R.S.V.P., (323) 651-1200.

California Museum of Ancient Art: 7:30 p.m. “Warrior Women of the Bible” with speaker Dr. David Noel Freedman. First in a two-part series, “Women of the Ancient Near East.” $15 (adults), $12 (seniors), free (members). Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Piness Auditorium, 3663 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (818) 762-5500.

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

L.A. Film School: 8 p.m. Larry Hankin’s “10 Funny Fables Plus 1” with cameos by Janeane Garofolo, Larry Hankin, Jeff Garlin, Jerry Stiller and others. Free. 6363 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. (877) 952-3456.

3/Friday

SHABBAT

B’nai Tikvah Congregation: 6:30-7:30 p.m. A musical family shabbat. Services and potluck dinner. Free. 5820 W. Manchester Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 645-6262.

Nashuva: 6:45 p.m. Nashuva community service-oriented Kabbalat Shabbat.

Westwood Hills Congregational Church, 1989 Westwood Blvd, Westwood. www.nashuva.com.

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

CSUN Arts Council: 7-9 p.m. Eighth annual high school art invitational opening reception. Thirty-nine Valley high schools and more than 200 students are participating in the show. Main Gallery, N. University Drive, Northridge. (818) 677-2226.

Camelot Artists Productions: 8 p.m. David Steen’s “A Gift From Heaven” is the story of an Appalachian family’s demise. $28 (general), $20 (students). Beverly Hills Playhouse, 254 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 358-9936.

Vanguard Theatre Ensemble: 8 p.m. Opening night gala of the holiday play “Greetings.” Champagne reception immediately follows the show. $23. 120-A W. Wilshire Ave., Fullerton. (714) 526-8007.

Imaginary Friends Music Partners: 9 p.m.-midnight. Jazz pianist George Kahn and the George Kahn Quartet play songs from their newest release “Compared to What?” Featuring Andy Suzuki, Karl Vincent and Paul Kreibech. $10 cover, plus minimum. Lunaria Jazz Club, 10352 Santa Monica Blvd., Century City. (310) 282-8870.

EVENTS

Chai Center: Dec. 3-5. Desert Hot Springs Retreat. Hot springs mineral baths, women speakers and teachers, gourmet healthy food, stress reduction, massage and informal classes. R.S.V.P., (310) 391-6691.

UPCOMING

Sat., Dec. 11

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

MnR Dance Factory: Creative drama workshops for children with Chicago actress/writer Lisa Diana Shapiro. Free. 11606 San Vicente Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 826-4554.

Sun., Dec. 12

PROGRAMS

ATID (21-39): Dec. 12, 4 p.m. “Adventures in Judaism II” for young professionals ages 21-39, an afternoon of workshops, latkes, cocktails, “ultimate dreidel” and a Middle Eastern buffet. Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 481-3244.

Dec. 30-Jan. 2

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Wilshire Boulevard Temple: Winter Rikud in Malibu. Israeli dancing weekend. From $175. www.rikud.com.

Feb. 17-21.

PROGRAMS

Jewish Student Union: Applications now available online for the annual JSU New York experience trip. www.jsu.org.

SINGLES

27/Saturday

Conversations at Leon’s: 7:30 p.m. Post-Thanksgiving mixer. $15-$20. 639 26th St., Santa Monica. R.S.V.P., (310) 393-4616.

Jewish Singles, Meet! (30s and 40s): 8 p.m. “Not-So-Speedy Meeting” and game night in conjunction with Temple Ner Maarav. $9. 17730 Magnolia Blvd, Encino. R.S.V.P. by Nov. 26, (818) 750-0095.

28/Sunday

Jewish Singles Volleyball: 3 p.m. Volleyball and post-game no-host dinner. Free. Playa del Rey Beach court No. 11 at the end of Culver Boulevard, Playa del Rey. (310) 278-9812.

JDate: 7 p.m. (reception), 7:30 p.m. (concert). Performance by Israeli recording artist Noa. $45 (online only). Fred Kavli Theatre, Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd. www.jdate.com.

New Age Singles (55+): 7 p.m. “Starlight Ballroom Dance” with music by Johnny Vana Trio. $10-$12. University Synagogue 11960 Sunset Blvd., Brentwood. (310) 473-1391.

29/Monday

Nexus (20s and 30s): 7:30 p.m. (beginners), 8:15 p.m. (intermediate), 9-10 p.m. (open dance). Israeli dancing lessons and open dance. $5 (members), $6 (nonmembers). Alpert Jewish Community Center, 3801 E. Willow St., Long Beach. www.jewishnexus.org.

Project Next Step: 8 p.m. “Coffee Talk” with coffee and pastries. $7. 9911 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 284-3638.

30/Tuesday

L.A.’s Fabulous Best Connections: 6-9 p.m. Dinner at Marmalade Cafe. The Grove, Third Street and Fairfax Avenue. R.S.V.P., (323) 782-0435.

Westwood Jewish Singles (45+): 7:30 p.m. Therapist Maxine Gellar leads a discussion about “My Most Embarrassing Moment.” $10. R.S.V.P., (310) 444-8986.

The New JCC at Milken: 8-11 p.m. James Zimmer leads Israeli folk dancing. $5-$6. Salsa, swing and tango lessons for an additional $3 (7-8 p.m.). 22622 Vanowen St., West Hills. (310) 284-3638.

1/Wednesday

Nexus (20s-40s): 6 p.m. Volleyball followed by no-host dinner. End of Culver Boulevard, near court No. 15, Playa del Rey. www.jewishnexus.org.

2/Thursday

Conversations at Leon’s: 7 p.m. “Date or Mate, What Are You Looking For?” $15-$17. 639 226th St., Santa Monica. R.S.V.P. (310) 393-4616.

J Networking: 7:30 p.m. The new Jewish networking group meets in the West San Fernando Valley. R.S.V.P. by Nov. 26, (818) 342-2898.

Mosaic: Dec. 2-5. Trip to Kartchner Caverns, Ariz. info@mosaicla.org.

3/Friday

Brandeis-Bardin/Makor Jewish Learning Circle: Dec. 3-5. Partnership weekend with the theme “The Search for Roots and Wings: Commitment and Creativity” with Rabbi Gordon Bernat-Kunin. $130 (singles), $240 (couples). Simi Valley. (805) 582-4450.

New Age Singles: 6 p.m. No-host dinner at Nibbler’s in Beverly Hills followed by Creative Arts Shabbat Service at Temple Beth Am. 1039 La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 838-7459.

Singles Toward Marriage (30-39): 6:30 p.m. Monthly Shabbat dinner with group discussions led by Rabbi Shlomo and Tovi Bistritzky. 5998 Conifer St., Oak Park. R.S.V.P., (818) 993-0441.

upcoming

Sat., Dec. 11

Sephardic Singles Havurah (40s-60s): 7 p.m. Chanukah celebration and potluck dinner with candlelighting, prayers, songs and dancing. $5. R.S.V.P., (323) 294-6084.

Jan. 21-23

J-Ski (20s-40s): Mammoth Ski Trip. $185. Also, March 2-6, Whistler Ski Trip. $759. JskiLa@aol.com.

Keren’s Corner

Le Nouvel Anti-Semitism

What’s new in French anti-Semitism? Head downtown Thursday, Dec. 2 to find out as ALOUD at Central Library presents Michael Curtis, who will discuss “Anti-Semitism in France: Past and Present.” The author of numerous books on the history of France and anti-Semitism will discuss the relationship between historic traditional anti-Semitism in France and its current manifestations, including new factors like the extreme political left and Muslim

Holiday Breads Worth the Calories


With the no-carb craze sweeping the nation, Atkins Diet adherents make sure to avoid pasta and potatoes, but when the High Holidays roll around, even purists are tempted by succulent Jewish breads.

What would Rosh Hashanah be, after all, without huge round challahs? Or Yom Kippur without bagels to break the fast? Not to mention Bukharan bread, za’atar pita and the wide variety of breads that Sephardim adore.

Atkins converts aside, bread has historically been among the most important staples in the Jewish diet. We even eat matzah at Passover — a holiday that revolves around shunning luscious, lofty loaves.

Indeed, bread was once considered a complete meal, and until recently was the mainstay of many people’s daily calorie intakes. In the Bible, bread is a symbol representing food.

"Jewish law said that if bread is served, you have a meal; without it, you are having a snack," wrote Maggie Glezer in her upcoming book, "A Blessing of Bread: Jewish Bread Baking Around the World" (Artisan).

Bread is central to Jewish celebrations. Ideally before each meal, and certainly before holiday meals, a blessing is recited, thanking God for bringing forth bread, and by implication all food, from the earth.

"At Rosh Hashanah, my family likes the same breads each year," said Glezer, an Atlanta mother of two children who bakes huge batches of sweet honey challahs and freezes them. She serves some of these airy challahs at Rosh Hashanah and the rest at Yom Kippur. But her family breaks the fast with her homemade honey cake — which Glezer considers bread.

Knowing that challah braiding is a dying art, what inspired Glezer to write a book about baking Jewish bread?

"I’m a bread fanatic and a Jew — that’s how I came to this," she said, adding that she’s been seriously studying bread baking for 15 years. An American Institute of Baking-certified baker, Glezer specializes in teaching bread techniques to both amateurs and professionals. This is her second book about bread, and she writes on the subject for culinary magazines.

"’A Blessing of Bread’ is accessible to less experienced bakers," she said.

Because Glezer empathizes with beginners relying on recipes and a picture to produce unfamiliar breads, she gives readers numerous guidelines, conveying exactly what the dough looks like at each step. Her recipes are often long, but for novices it’s like having a professional baker at their side.

With more than 60 recipes in her cookbook, Glezer encourages people to stray from the usual babkas, bagels and deli rye to try new delicacies like Turkish coffee-cake rings or Hungarian walnut sticks.

Glezer’s goal was not to include every bread recipe in the Jewish repertoire — which would take two lifetimes. Her aim was to give readers a thumbnail sketch by highlighting some recipes from Sephardi, North African, Near Eastern and Ashkenazi cultures.

To assemble this impressive collection, she spoke to and baked with people from many backgrounds. She also included lively oral histories, anecdotes and passages from folk tales.

While the book features international holiday baking, Glezer has a special place in her Ashkenzi heart for sweet challah. At Rosh Hashanah, people often drizzle honey and raisins into challah, hoping for a sweet year. Instead of the oval-shaped, braided variety, the Rosh Hashanah challah is spiraled to represent the cycle of life and the completeness of the world.

"Rosh Hashanah is apple season," said Glezer, explaining that while apples have been a symbol of sweetness for centuries, this treasured fruit has recently begun to appear in American challah recipes. Calling for huge chunks of apples, Glezer’s spin on this new genre produces delightfully moist results. Her step-by-step instructions yield a coffee cake or a sweet bread to serve with dinner.

"While my Apple Challah can be prepared in a loaf pan or a circular cake pan, at Rosh Hashanah, I prefer the cake pan for its round theme," she said.

"One of the best parts of the Holidays is Sephardic pumpkin bread," said Glezer, explaining that her recipe was inspired by one from Gilda Angel, author of "Sephardic Home Cooking."

Angel explains that among Separdi Jews, pumpkin is popular at Rosh Hashanah because it expresses "the hope that as this vegetable has been protected by a thick covering, God will protect us and gird us with strength."

While pumpkin gives the bread an appealing color, it derives its aromatic flavor from cardamom and ginger, popular Sephardi spices. Glezer suggests either fresh or canned pumpkin.

"My favorite part of writing ‘A Blessing of Bread’ was listening to bakers and others talk about their lives," she said. "Their stories are the fabric of Jewish life; their recipes the carriers of our tradition."

Hearing her rhapsodize about her favorite subject is like being with an energetic bubbie who has burned her fingers in ovens a thousand times but still exudes the enthusiasm to taste the unfamiliar, learn from strangers and share amazing recipes for a never-ending basket of Jewish breads.

Apple Challah

2 envelopes instant yeast

5 cups unbleached bread flour

1 cup warm water

3 large eggs

6 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus extra for the pan and dough

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus extra for sprinkling

3 large baking apples (Braeburn preferred)

In a large bowl, whisk together the yeast and 1 cup of the flour. Then whisk in the warm water until yeast mixture is smooth. Let it ferment uncovered for 10-20 minutes, or until it begins to puff up slightly.

Whisk the eggs, oil, salt and sugar into the puffed-yeast slurry. When eggs are well incorporated and the salt and sugar have dissolved, stir in the remaining 4 cups of flour all at once with your hands. When mixture is a shaggy ball, scrape it out onto work surface and knead it until it is smooth and firm, no more than 10 minutes. Soak your mixing bowl in hot water to clean and warm it. If the dough is too firm to easily knead, add a tablespoon or two of water. If the dough is too wet, add a few tablespoons of flour. The dough should feel smooth, soft and only slightly sticky.

Place dough in the clean, warmed bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough ferment for one hour, or until just slightly puffy.

While the dough ferments, peel, quarter and core the apples. Cut each quarter in half lengthwise. Then cut each slice across into three pieces. End up with large, squarish apple chunks. Measure 4 1/2 heaping cups of the chunks. Reserve them in a covered container.

After initial ferment, sprinkle dough and work surface with flour. Pull out the dough. Cut dough in half into two equal pieces, keeping one piece covered while working with the other. Roll out the dough into a 1/8-inch-thick, 16-inch-long square. Scatter 1 heaping cup of apples over the center third of dough. Fold up the bottom third to cover it.

Press dough into apples to seal it around them. Scatter another heaping cup over the lower half of dough — onto the second layer of dough — and fold the top of dough over both layers to create a very stuffed letter fold. Press down on the dough to push out air pockets and to seal dough around apples. Roll dough into a bowl. Move dough in bowl so that the smooth side — without a seam — faces up. Cover with plastic wrap. Repeat with other piece of dough, using another bowl. Continue fermenting both doughs for about an hour, or until they have risen slightly and are very soft.

Oil two 8-inch round cake pans. Using as much dusting flour as needed, pat each dough half into a rough round shape. Try keeping smooth side intact on top. You won’t be able to deflate dough much now because of the apples. Slip dough into pans smooth side up and cover them well with plastic wrap. Let loaves proof for about 30 minutes, until they have crested their containers.

Immediately after shaping the breads, arrange an oven rack on the lower third position and preheat oven to 350F.

When loaves have risen over the edge of the container and won’t push back when gently pressed with a finger but remain indented, brush each with a generous tablespoon of oil. Sprinkle them with a few tablespoons of sugar. Bake for 45-55 minutes total. After the first 40 minutes, switch the pans from side to side. Bake 5-15 minutes more. When loaves are well browned, remove them from oven, unmold and cool on a rack.

Pan de Calabaza (Sephardic

Pumpkin Bread)

1/2 cup canned pumpkin puree

1 envelope instant yeast

1/3 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

About 3 3/4 cups bread flour, divided

2/3 cup warm water

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 3/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup vegetable oil

2 large eggs

In a large bowl, whisk together yeast, cardamom, ginger and 3/4 cup of the flour. Whisk in warm water until yeast slurry is smooth. Ferment for 10-20 minutes, or until slurry begins to puff up slightly.

Whisk sugar, salt, oil, one egg and pumpkin puree into puffed yeast slurry. When mixture is well combined, stir in remaining 3 cups flour with your hands. When mixture is a shaggy ball, scrape it onto your work surface. Knead it until well mixed, fairly smooth and firm. Soak mixing bowl in hot water to clean and warm it for fermenting dough. If dough is too firm, add a tablespoon or two of water. If dough is too wet, add a few tablespoons of flour. Dough should be light orange, firm, easy to knead and not at all sticky.

When dough is fully kneaded, set it in the cleaned, warmed bowl. Cover with plastic wrap. Let dough ferment about two to three hours, until it has tripled in size.

Oil two baking sheets. Divide the dough into two loaves of equal size, placing each on a baking sheet. Tent them well with plastic wrap.

Let loaves proof 60-90 minutes, until triple in size.

Thirty minutes before baking, arrange an oven rack in the upper third position. Remove racks above it. If both baking sheets won’t fit on one rack, place a rack below it, leaving room for bread to rise. Preheat oven to 350F. Beat the remaining egg with a pinch of salt to use as a glaze.

When loaves have tripled and don’t push back when gently pressed with a finger but remain indented, brush them with egg glaze. Bake loaves on individual baking sheets for 35-40 minutes. After the first 20 minutes of baking, switch the pans from top to bottom or from front to back so that breads brown evenly. Bake 15-20 minutes more. When loaves are very well browned, remove them from oven and cool on a rack.

New Torahs Mark Holiday Celebration


Shavuot, the holiday that celebrates the receiving of the Torah, will be honored this month with special tributes by two area congregations. Figuring prominently is the holiest of all Jewish books, but each event has its own twist.

In a coming-of-age rite by one of the county’s youngest congregations, members of Congregation Kol HaNeshamah will dedicate their first Torah, a 150-year-old scroll with still-pristine script, along with the official presentation of their charter into the 900-congregation Union of Reform Judaism (URJ). The service will be held May 25 in Irvine’s Bommer Canyon Park.

Out of frugality and by conscious choice, the congregation’s 33 families convene for worship and religious school mostly in rented Irvine public park facilities. Its part-time rabbi, Raphael Goldstein, commutes from San Diego once or twice a month for services and holiday observances. Since the group’s founding three years ago, after the implosion of another small congregation, they have made do with a scroll lent for special occasions by Westminster’s Temple Beth David.

"For us, it’s been a godsend," said Howard A. Goldman, who is co-president with his wife, Pat.

As need arises, they keep the borrowed scroll in their Irvine home and ferry it back to Westminster for safekeeping. Goldman, also a religious school teacher, said lacking the Bible’s first five books in scroll form meant his students often felt insufficiently prepared for b’nai mitzvah. Often, he said, they would first see the vowel-free, calligraphy version of their Torah portion on the day they were expected to read to the congregation.

Kol HaNeshamah’s scroll was purchased at an antiquities book fair in Los Angeles with the aid of Rabbi Haim Asa, of Fullerton. Its calligraphy is in Arizal script, the most common style among Eastern European scribes.

"It’s ornate and artistic, with very nice flourishes. This was clearly a master," Goldman said of the scribe.

Given a culture self-described by Goldman as "do-it-yourself Judaism," fittingly two members volunteered to customize the Torah’s trappings.

Terry Kokin, a Costa Mesa carpenter, is making the scroll’s two wooden dowels, etz chaim, Hebrew for "tree of life."

Elizabeth Barak, a pharmacist and artist from Irvine, is working with Roberta Lange to design and execute a velvet cover, though they have yet to settle on a theme. Only its inscription is already agreed on: "It is a tree of life to those who hold fast to it."

Presenting the charter is Rabbi Linda Berthenthal, assistant director of the URJ’s Pacific Southwest Region. Deciding to remain a family-style congregation means members "value intimacy as one of their primary values," said Berthenthal, describing Kol HaNeshamah’s size and service frequency as similar to other congregations of 50 or fewer families.

Initial objections to the group’s inclusion in the Reform movement, raised last year by other congregations, were amicably resolved, Goldman said.

"They’ll give us professional guidance, specialists in Hebrew school, everything imaginable in Judaism," he said.

Also in the weekend preceding Shavuot, congregants of Santa Ana’s Temple Beth Sholom will also prepare for the holiday by witnessing the first ink strokes of a new Torah undertaken by scribe Neil Yerman on May 23. Torat Sholom — Torah of Peace — is to honor the congregation’s 60th year and its rabbi, Shelton J. Donnell. After 13 years, he intends to make a permanent move to Jerusalem next year.

In a letter written in April, congregation president, Sylvan Swartz said, "Just as forward-thinking people created Temple Beth Sholom 60 years ago, we are creating something that will last for many years to come. Just as we stand on the shoulders of our ancestors, Torat Sholom will be our loving legacy to new generations."

Yerman is one of only 60 sofers, or Torah scribes, in the United States — there are an estimated 300 worldwide. When agreeing to create a Torah, Yerman, 55, strives to help others also fulfill the 613th commandment from Deuteronomy: "And now write for yourselves these words, and teach them to your children."

The sages consider completing even one letter as discharging the duty.

Before supporting the hands of congregants putting quill to parchment, though, Yerman endeavors to summon a contemporary connection with Jews of antiquity by explaining the art, technique and spirituality of the scribe’s ancient tradition. Such a yearlong task of writing the Torah’s 304,805 letters can cost a synagogue $80,000, and Yerman plans periodic visits to Beth Sholom.

Strict rules guide a Torah’s reproduction. There are to be no mistakes in the scroll, which nowadays is often proofread by a computer after completion. Ink is made from the crushed outer bark of a wasp’s nest, a quill made from a turkey or goose feather and parchment made from a calf killed for food.

A former Wall Street commodity broker who loved to scribble as a child, Yerman began his second career in 1987. "I spend a great deal of time every day writing with a feather and thinking about things that seem to have no connection with modern life," he said in a 1999 interview.

To learn more the Kol HaNeshamah event, call (949) 551-2737. For more information on the Beth Sholom Torah, call the temple office at (714) 628-4600.

Thanksgiving’s Sukkot Roots


Did you know that Thanksgiving is really a Jewish holiday? Although Thanksgiving is not on the Jewish calendar, historians believe that Sukkot may have inspired America’s favorite farewell to fall, often nicknamed "Turkey Day."

"The pilgrims based their customs on the Bible," said Gloria Kaufer Greene, author of the "New Jewish Holiday Cookbook" (Times Books, 1999). "They knew that Sukkot was an autumn harvest festival, and there is evidence that they fashioned the first Thanksgiving after the Jewish custom of celebrating the success of the year’s crops."

Linda Burghardt, author of "Jewish Holiday Traditions" (Citadel Press, 2001), said, "Sukkot is considered a model for Thanksgiving. Both holidays revolve around showing gratitude for a bountiful harvest."

Today Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November, but President Franklin Roosevelt didn’t propose this timing until 1939.

It was Abraham Lincoln who made Thanksgiving a national holiday. Roosevelt actually changed Lincoln’s decree that Thanksgiving be observed on the last Thursday in November, which may fall on the fifth Thursday of the month.

The pilgrims’ invited local Indians to the first Thanksgiving during the fall of 1621. Historians speculate that this celebration occurred somewhere between Sept. 21 and Nov. 9, but most likely in early October, around the time of Sukkot.

"Originally, Sukkot entailed a pilgrimage to Jerusalem," said Greene, who believes the two holidays share much in common.

The Puritan Christians who landed on American shores seeking religious freedom were called pilgrims, in deference to their journey from England. Their dream of finding a place where they’d be free to worship as they pleased is a recurrent theme in Jewish history.

After their pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the ancient Israelites lived for a week in temporary huts while giving thanks for a plentiful harvest. Likewise, during their first winter in Massachusetts, the pilgrims dwelled in makeshift huts, wigwams that the Indians helped them build.

While Sukkot remains a seven-day observance, the first Thanksgiving celebration continued for three days, a time frame more similar to the Jewish harvest festival than today’s Thanksgiving dinner, which often begins in late afternoon and ends several hours later.

With its pumpkin pies and cranberry garlands, Thanksgiving mirrors many of Sukkot’s customs and culinary themes.

Burghardt said she is amazed at how many of the same foods are connected to both holidays.

Piping hot casseroles brimming with vegetables and fruit grace the American and Jewish harvest tables, as do pastries that are filled with apples, nuts, pumpkins and squash. Stuffing one food inside another as a metaphor for abundance is the hallmark of Sukkot cuisine.

Yet there’s nothing more opulent than the elaborate bread stuffings found inside Thanksgiving turkeys.

Greene enjoys transforming traditional Thanksgiving recipes into kosher cuisine.

"I like mixing new and old world themes," she said.

One of her favorite recipes is glazed turkey with fruit-nut stuffing. Bursting with so much produce, it’s a one-dish harvest festival. Because the pilgrims and Indians shared roasted corn during the first Thanksgiving, Greene’s double-corn bread is a fitting choice. It is soft and moist, almost like a kugel.

Harvest-time cranberry relish is always a big hit at Greene’s house.

"Several years ago, I invited a family of Russian Jewish immigrants to celebrate their first Thanksgiving. While they adored traditional American foods, they were especially fascinated with the taste and bright color of cranberries."

But since the two holidays are so close in time, is there any reason for American Jews who celebrate Sukkot to pay homage to a second harvest festival six weeks later?

"Participating in Thanksgiving is how we feel American," said Greene, a former food columnist for the Baltimore Jewish Times, who used to submit a Thanksgiving story every year.

She agrees with Burghardt that Thanksgiving is a lovely experience. It’s an easy holiday to include friends and neighbors of other faiths.

"While Thanksgiving is not technically a Jewish holiday, it’s not a Christian one either," Burghardt said. "It’s a great equalizer with a multicultural theme."

Although Burghardt believes that Thanksgiving, with its chocolate turkeys and pilgrims, lacks Sukkot’s depth, Greene feels there’s something spiritual about the whole country partaking in a communal meal, even though menus and customs vary from home to home. At her table, she asks guest to share one thing for which they’re grateful.

"Like Sukkot, at Thanksgiving you’re supposed to invite people to share abundance with your family," Burghardt said. "You can’t serve too much food. Could there be anything more Jewish than that?"

Glazed Turkey With Fruit-Nut Stuffing

Fruit-Nut Stuffing:

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 celery stalks, diced

1/2 cup orange juice

1/4 cup sugar

1 1/2 cups cranberries

12 pitted prunes, coarsely chopped

6 dried apricots, coarsely chopped

1 cup raisins

3 medium apples, cored and diced

1 1/2 cups chopped nuts

1/2 cup finely chopped parsley

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/8 teaspoon ground ginger

Salt and pepper to taste

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1. In a medium-sized saucepan sauté the onion and celery in oil over medium-high heat, stirring until tender but not browned. Transfer to a large bowl. Set aside.

2. In the same (unwashed) pan, combine orange juice and sugar, bringing mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir in cranberries and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer cranberries, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes, or until berry skins pop.

3. Mix in prunes, apricots and raisins. Remove from heat. Transfer mixture to bowl containing onion and celery. Cool to room temperature. Add remaining stuffing ingredients and mix well.

Turkey:

1 12-14 pound turkey, completely defrosted in refrigerator

Canola oil

1. Clean turkey well and discard giblets. Rub skin with canola oil.

2. Fill the body and neck cavities of the turkey with stuffing, allowing room for expansion. Tuck the legs under the band of skin or tie legs together with heavy cord. Skewer or sew neck skin closed against the body. Place turkey, breast up, on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Roast in a preheated 325 F oven for about three hours.

Yield: 10 servings

Double Corn Bread

1 cup yellow cornmeal

1 cup all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons sugar

4 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

1/3 cup canola oil

1 (about 15-ounce) can cream-style corn, including liquid.

(Note: Because cream-style corn does not contain dairy products, it is pareve.)

1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Coat an 8-inch square baking pan with no-stick spray.

2. In a medium bowl, combine cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Make a well in the center, and add eggs, oil and canned corn. Beat wet ingredients with a fork to combine them, then incorporate dry ingredients. Stir only until all ingredients are completely moistened and combined.

3. Spoon mixture into prepared pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Cut into 16 squares and serve directly from the pan.

Harvest-Time Cranberry Relish

1 medium-sized navel orange

1 12-ounce package fresh cranberries, sorted, rinsed and drained

1 medium-sized apple, cored and cut into eighths

1 medium-sized pear, cored and cut into eighths

1/4 cup walnut pieces

1/4 cup dark raisins

1/2 cup dark brown sugar

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 tablespoons lemon juice

1. Use a sharp knife to remove the colored part of the orange rind. Set aside. Remove and discard the white pith. Cut orange pulp into chunks.

2. Put orange rind and pulp into food processor fitted with the steel blade with the remaining relish ingredients. Pulse the mixture until ingredients are finely chopped but not smoothly pureed.

3. Chill relish covered for several hours, stirring occasionally until the sugar completely dissolves and flavors blend.

Yield: about 3 1/2 cups

From "The New Jewish Holiday Cookbook," by Gloria Kaufer Greene.

Not Just for Kids


Purim may conjure up visions of kiddie games, sugar-addled
toddlers and homemade noisemakers, but it lends itself just as well to adult
forms of celebration. The Talmud instructs us to drink and make our hearts
merry with wine on Purim until we cannot tell the difference between “cursed be
Haman” and “blessed be Mordechai.”

For American Jews who were raised on G-rated carnivals held
in synagogues and schools, the idea that Purim could look more like a Jewish
variation on Mardi Gras can come as a minor revelation. Just think: Dance
parties instead of spin art; the pop of a wine cork instead of the slosh of a
doomed goldfish in a Zip-Locked baggie; and costumes that might even make
Vashti blush.

After all, the Shushan story is one of our spicier
narratives. Underneath the sanitized children’s version, there is a rich tale
of palace intrigue, sexual power struggles, violence and desire. The king
demands that Vashti parade in front of his wine-soaked friends, wearing nothing
but her crown. After Vashti’s rebellion and violent demise, Esther, a lovely
virgin, is taken to the palace, rubbed with oil and beautified for display, so
that she may be chosen as queen instead of just palace concubine. Haman plots,
Mordechai maneuvers and, ultimately, the Jews of Shushan escape death. Who
needs goldfish?

For the over-21 set, there are now more adult opportunities
to celebrate Purim than there used to be. While family-oriented events still
dominate, there has been a conscious effort in recent years to organize Purim
celebrations that will appeal to Jews who are young, single and unaffiliated.

A Green Martini Purim

ATID’s first ever Purim Bash is a case in point.

“We want to attract people who otherwise would never come to
shul on Purim,” said recording artist and Friday Night Live music director
Craig Taubman. Through his independent label, Craig ‘n Co., Taubman is
co-producing the Purim party at Bergamot Station. Taubman will be there in
tandem with Sinai Temple’s Rabbi David Wolpe kicking-off the first party
sponsored by ATID (Hebrew for “future”), a new group under Sinai’s auspices
that has been set up to fund programming for young Jewish professionals.
Inspired by their success with Friday Night Live, Taubman and Wolpe, believe
the Jewish establishment must think creatively in order to spark any interest
among disaffected, unaffiliated Jewish singles.

“We’re looking to attract people who don’t even usually
consider attending anything remotely Jewish,” Taubman said.

A DJ, guitar player and percussionist billed collectively as
Tribe 1, will provide live music. Wolpe will conduct a decidedly nontraditional
Megillah reading jazzed up by the Purim Posse, a troupe of professional actors
who, Taubman said, will dramatize a rather “spicy” version of the holiday tale.
Strolling musicians and jugglers will entertain partygoers while interactive
performers will mingle with the crowd. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Purim
celebration without costumes. Grand prize in the ATID costume contest will be
two tickets to New York City on American Airlines, with other prizes for
runners-up.

“Estherminator”

In an irreverent press release that promises to “put the
‘fun’ back into fundamentalism,” a group of New York- and San Francisco-based
actors, musicians and educators will bring “Estherminator,” their edgy version
of a Purimspiel, to Los Angeles’ Echo Club on March 16.

Billed as a “psycho-pious Purim rock opera,” Estherminator
is an hour-plus piece of Megillah-inspired performance art put together by Amy
Tobin of The Hub in San Francisco, and the New York-based Storahtelling
Project, a nonprofit group founded by artistic director Amichai Lau-Lavie.
Lau-Lavie, like his organization, has an interesting pedigree. His work as
scholar-in-residence at New York City’s Congregation B’nai Jeshurun transformed
the staid, Saturday morning Torah services into pieces of dynamic performance
art that taught — as well as inspired.

Original music is woven into show, and the evening promises
to provide a modern take on the timeless themes of power, vengeance, sex and
politics. While “Estherminator” is the centerpiece of the evening, it’s still a
party. Drinking and dancing will get equal billing, with a live DJ and a cash
bar both before and after the performance.

“We’re hoping to attract a funky and cutting-edge crowd
from the more radical, underground Jewish arts scene,” saidStorahtelling
marketing director,Stephanie Pacheco.

Brazilian Night Singles Party

What better way to honor Los Angeles’ dizzying polyglot
culture than to gather together in West Hollywood to celebrate an ancient
Persian story with booze, kosher food, music, Brazilian dancers and a
Vegas-style casino?

At Brazilian Night, the fourth annual Purim party hosted by
the Iranian American Jewish Federation’s (IAJF) Youth Division, you don’t have
to be Iranian to come and celebrate, or to meet that special someone. All
Jewish singles between the ages of 21 and 38 are welcome to dance to music spun
by DJ Shaad, dine on glatt kosher hors d’oeuvres, gamble at the casino tables
with $1,000 faux dollars in chips that will be handed out at the door, win
prizes and shimmy to the tropical beat of live Brazilian dancers.

IAJF planners say they expect a strong turnout of singles,
as they have in years past. Youth Division Chair Elliot Benjamin said this will
be the fourth year they’ve held the Purim party, and it’s always a hit.

Shushan Revisited

Now in its third year, Purim Extravaganza 3 at the Century
Club is a veritable tradition in Los Angeles. This year, the festivities are
sponsored by the Happy Minyan, Olam and the Chai Center.The party is geared
toward “Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, non-affiliates and any Jew that moves,”
host Rabbi Shlomo Schwartz says in his press release.

With Megillah readings beginningat 7 p.m. and continuing
every hour from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m., the evening will also include entertainment
by Yehuda Glantz, Peter Himmelman, Gregg Fisher, The Happy Minyan Band and
comedians seen on Leno and Letterman.

For more information, check our Arts and Calendar sections.

  • ATID’s Purim Bash at Bergamot: Monday, March 17, 8 p.m.,
    Bergamot Station Art Center, Track 16 Gallery, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa
    Monica. $25 cover includes all food, drinks and entertainment. Costumes
    encouraged. Reservations are required. Call (310) 481-3244; or visit
    www.fridaynightlive.net.

  • Estherminator: Sunday, March 16. Doors open at 8 p.m. $8
    (with costume); $10 without. Club Echo, 1822 West Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles.
    For information, call (323) 761-8350.

  • Brazilian Night Singles Party: Saturday, March 15, at the
    Iranian American Jewish Center, 1317 N. Crescent Heights Blvd., Los Angeles.
    Doors open at 8 p.m. Admission is a donation to IAJF; $40 (in advance) $50 (at
    the door). Ladies entering before 9:30 p.m. are charged 2 for 1 (either in
    advance or door ticket sales). For tickets or more information, call (323)
    656-3150.

  • Purim Extravaganza 3 at The Century Club, 10131
    Constellation Ave. Century City. $15. Costumes optional. For more
    information, call (310) 285-7777 or (310) 391-7995.

Serious Fun


For weeks now, Merrill Alpert has been searching for the
perfect inflatable slide, the largest Ferris wheel and the flashiest ice cream
cart — all for her synagogue. Like event organizers at other temples in the
Southland, Alpert, Valley Beth Shalom’s (VBS) youth director and carnival
planner extraordinaire, feels that the joyous holiday of Purim is serious
business.

Like many temple Purim carnivals, VBS’ annual event is both
a fundraiser and a community activity. On the fundraising side, $2,500 of the
proceeds will go directly to the youth group’s Tikkun Olam fund and any
remainder will go toward scholarships. While the VBS carnival is a grass-roots
effort, other local organizations, such as Temple Beth Am and Stephen S. Wise Temple,
expect their larger-scale carnivals to generate more revenue. Temple Beth Am
expects to rake in approximately $15,000, which will benefit its schools and
youth department.

No matter what the profit, most synagogue administrators
agree that the yearly celebrations are helpful morale boosters.

“People love [the Purim carnival] and the kids look forward
to it all year long,” said Susan Leider, principal of Pressman Academy Religious
School at Temple Beth Am.

Rabbi Marc Dworkin of Leo Baeck Temple believes that his
shul’s event reinforces a certain closeness within the congregation.

“It’s a community builder and it brings different
generations together,” Dworkin said.

While many synagogues elect carnival committees, the
teenagers in VBS’ United Synagogue Youth (USY) chapter traditionally put
together this annual event. As the organization’s administrator, Alpert has
organized the annual carnival for the last 18 years.

“The struggle is getting the manpower,” admitted Alpert, who
expects 150 USY volunteers at the carnival on Sunday, March 16.

In order to accommodate the expected 1,000 carnivalgoers,
Alpert needs all the USYers she can get.

Oraneet Orevi, 17, the USY chapter’s co-president, is one of
this year’s committed volunteers.

“Despite the fact that we’re teens, we have things very
well-organized,” said the Calabasas High School senior. Orevi, who dressed as a
cowgirl at last year’s carnival, said she hopes to work at the dunk booth again
this year.

“The water is freezing,” the teen said with a laugh, “but
it’s a lot of fun.”

In the meantime, Orevi and her friends are currently
creating posters and flyers in hopes of attracting more potential attendees.

Come Sunday, Orevi and the other volunteers are prepared to
sacrifice their weekend sleep to begin decorating the booths and setting up at
7:30 a.m., a good three and a half hours before the carnival begins.

Alpert will coordinate with food vendors like Subway, which
has been contracted out to make kosher hero sandwiches in the synagogue’s
kitchen. Another vendor will mass-produce slices of pizza.

While volunteering is hard work, Orevi said that investing
time in the carnival is a bonding experience for the students and helps VBS
become a close-knit community.

As the Purim countdown begins, Alpert still has a few
concerns. The carnival will be held in the synagogue parking lot, rain or
shine.

“If it’s raining, not as many people show up,” she said.

Luckily, generous congregants offer donations to underwrite
costs. But even a large sum of money could not replace the crown jewel of Purim
carnivals: an inflatable moon bounce. Unfortunately, the rental company from
which Alpert rented the coveted attraction last year went out of business.
Lucky for moon bounce fans, Alpert is determined to find another one.

As she prepares for a new shipment of carnival prizes, like
whoopee cushions, key chains, stuffed animals or whatever the game company
deems “trendy” this year, Alpert anticipates a successful and profitable carnival.

“It’s pretty much down to a science,” she said.

And if there is any doubt that her teen volunteers will come
through for her, Alpert’s got a plan. 

“At the end of the day, if we help clean up, Merrill treats
us to dinner,” Orevi confided.

In addition to the carnival, which runs from 11 a.m-3 p.m., there will be a Red Cross blood drive from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. 15739 Ventura
Blvd., Encino. For more information, call the VBS youth office at (818)
530-4025, or the temple office at (818) 788-6000. 

7 Days In Arts


Saturday

So lovely is that scene of Gene Kelly skipping along, Arthur Freed song in his heart, umbrella in his hand, that it’s become a part of our cultural memory. In honor of “Singin’ in the Rain’s” 50th anniversary, Warner Bros. Classics has digitally restored the sound and picture of the film. You can see the spruced-up classic today at the American Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theatre.

1 p.m., 3:30 p.m., 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. (today and tomorrow). $8. 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. Runs Dec. 19-25. (323) 466-3456

Sunday

Spock’s finally got his own series — well, a chamber music series, anyway. Leonard Nimoy (a.k.a. Mr. Spock from “Star Trek”) has donated the funds to resurrect the Temple Israel of Hollywood series laid to rest 20 years ago. The 2002/2003 season begins this afternoon with a concert by the klezmer group The Klezmatics. Two more concerts later in the year by Viklarbo and The Los Angeles Jewish Symphony round out this first season back.

3 p.m. $8-$25 (individual tickets), $20-$60(season tickets). 7300 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. (310) 478-6332.

Monday

With last night’s official start of winter, it’s the perfect time for cocoa and quality time with the kids. Get their minds out of vacation mode and into a good book, like Dr. Claire Buchwald’s “The Mitzvah-Go-Round,” with illustrations by Anne D. Koffsky. The book’s filled with Seussean rhymes about make-believe children in made-up lands who do mitzvot. The Whoopswhistler Yidden, Tefillin twins and Kugel-mit-Strudelheim sisters deliver a fun Jewish message.

$9.99. www.artscroll.com .

Tuesday

What’s a Jew to do today? Chinese food’ll just make you hungry again in an hour, and movies can be so antisocial…. Instead, take the family to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion for the 43rd annual Los Angeles County Holiday Celebration. The six-hour song and dance show features 34 performing groups representing the diversity of Los Angeles — everyone from the Tabernacle Children’s Chorus to Halau Keali’i O Nalani to the Los Angeles Zimriyah Chorale. The free show is sponsored by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. A one-hour show of highlights will air on PBS the following day.

Doors open at 2:30 p.m. Seating is first come,first served. 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles.(213) 972-3099.

Wednesday

Those who failed to beat the crowds to the movie ticket counters today need not fret. Turner Classic Movies comes to your aid with our vote for the funniest holiday marathon we’ve come across. It’s “A Very Jewish Christmas,” featuring “Fiddler On the Roof,” “Yentl,” “Cast a Giant Shadow” and “The Jazz Singer” back-to-back. Now that’s what we call Christmas spirit.

5 p.m. TCM. www.turnerclassicmovies.coms Dec. 15-Feb. 9. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. (Sunday-Thursday), 10 a.m.-2 p.m. (Friday). 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. (310) 476-9777, ext. 201.

Thursday

Mobsters, chorus girls and burlesque dancers all make appearances in the colorful life of Jewish Rat Packer Joey Bishop (né Joseph Abraham Gottlieb). But the well-loved comedian, despite some rough moments, was also one of America’s most popular. Chosen to emcee JFK’s 1961 inaugural gala, he also hosted “The Joey Bishop Show,” with Regis Philbin as his sidekick. A new book titled, “Mouse in the Rat Pack,” by Michael Seth Starr, tells the life story of the pack’s sole survivor.

Taylor Publishing, $18.17. www.amazon.com  

Friday

A new CD worth staying in for tonight is “Livingston and Evans Songbook Featuring Michael Feinstein.” Pour yourself a glass of wine, light a fire and listen to some songs that never get old. “Mona Lisa,” “Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)” and “As I Love You” are just three of the 23 offered up.

$13.99. www.amazon.com .

A Holiday Hits the Big Time


At Universal Studios, all the usual characters — Spider-Man and the Rugrats — were out in force on Sunday, Nov. 24. But they weren’t just there for photo ops with children. Instead, they were lighting menorahs, spinning dreidels and eating the world’s biggest latke at the Chanukah celebration in Universal City.

Joining them were Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn, Justin Burfield of "Malcolm in the Middle," the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Shawn Green and Remedy of the Wu-Tang Clan, who performed "Chanukah Rap."

"We were looking for a way to bring Hollywood magic and star power to Chanukah," said Brian Pope, Universal vice president of marketing services, who said he hopes that the event will become an annual one.

"We thought that Chanukah was one of the best Jewish holidays that lent itself to the fun family entertainment, and so we worked with a consultant and spoke with a number of rabbis from a variety of groups to create this event," he said.

Pope noted that Universal Studios is the first major theme park to put on a Chanukah event.

That Chanukah has gotten its own event at Universal Studios shows how far it has come: The little-known Jewish holiday — which once had to fight for display space next to Santa — is now a major event on its own, even when it comes a month before Christmas.

From movies to malls, from sitcoms to shopping, Chanukah has gone mainstream; and while some see it as a sign of the resurgence of Jewish identity and the acceptance of Jews in American society, others wonder if the holiday’s success has come at the expense of its spirituality.

This Chanukah, if you head down to your local multiplex you can see Adam Sandler belching his way through "Eight Crazy Nights," an animated Chanukah comedy (see story, page 37). If you turn on the radio, you might hear Sandler singing, "Put on your yarmulke/It’s time for Chanukah," or Tom Lehrer crooning about "spending Chanukah in Santa Monica."

On television, Chabad’s "Chanukah, the Miniseries," will be broadcast on KCAL-TV each night at menorah-lighting time (between 4:15 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.). Two Chanukah shows will be presented on KCET-TV: a special Chanukah episode of "Alef…Bet…Blastoff," followed by "A Taste of Chanukah." They will be shown on Dec. 1 starting at 8:30 a.m.

You might also see Chanukah pop up on some sitcoms. Last season on "Friends," for example, an episode had Ross trying to teach his son, Ben, about Chanukah. "Saturday Night Live" featured a character, Chanukah Harry, who dressed in a blue-and-white Santa Claus suit and had a black beard instead of a white one.

For children, Disney has a Chanukah book out, "Winnie the Pooh and the Hanukkah Dreidel," and there is "A Rugrats Chanukah" video.

There are other reminders of Chanukah. Every Ralphs supermarket will display a large menorah, courtesy of Chabad, and most banks will put a small plastic menorah in their windows. Chabad is also sponsoring a number of public menorah ceremonies, such as the lighting of a 35-foot menorah in Beverly Hills Gardens, the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica and at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda.

For shoppers there is an abundance of Chanukah items. Hallmark offers 119 different Chanukah cards. Online flower sellers, such as proflowers.com or 1800-Flowers.com, offer Chanukah bouquets for $39.99 and gift baskets, complete with dreidel cookies, for $69.99.

Godiva sells a $23 Chanukah Ballotin box of chocolates. Kmart has a 20-piece Hanukkah Lights dinnerware set for $19.99 and Avon sells a $14.99 Festival of Lights Bear that lights an accompanying menorah when its paw is pressed.

For those who have the urge to splurge for Chanukah, Neiman Marcus has a $4,000 Steuben crystal menorah with silver-plated candle cups.

The proliferation of Chanukah products has led retailers to focus less on the fact that the holidays are solely about Christmas. "I have noticed over time that it has gone from being the Christmas season to holiday season," said Tom Holiday, president of the Retail Advertising and Marketing Association, a division of the National Retail Federation, which represents 100 trade organizations. "In retail, there is always a conscious effort to be aware of the dates of Jewish holidays, but I see a more ecumenical approach in general."

All of this has taken Chanukah out of the Talmud and into the mainstream. Jews started celebrating Chanukah 2,000 years ago, when a small band of Jewish fighters led by Judah Maccabee emerged victorious in their battle with the Hellenists, who, led by King Antiochus, wanted to sway the Jews away from God and turn them into idol-worshipping hedonists.

After the battle, the Jews found their Temple desecrated, and only one vial of pure olive oil remained, enough to light the menorah — a daily ritual in the Temple — for one day. A miracle occurred when the oil lasted eight days, which provided enough time for new oil to be pressed.

Since then, every year beginning on the 25th of the Hebrew month of Kislev, Jews have been commemorating the occasion by making a blessing and lighting a menorah for eight nights and by eating foods that are cooked in oil, such as latkes.

Today,while many people don’t know the details of the correct way to light the menorah (halacha dictates that the candles/oil must be the same height and lit from right to left, using a shamash servant candle, and that the lights must burn for at least half an hour), thanks to the the ubiquity of its symbols, Chanukah is a significant holiday on the Jewish calendar, and one that Jews can easily identify with.

The fact that Chanukah usually occurs around Christmastime — although this year it coincides with Thanksgiving — means that Jews don’t have to co-opt another religion’s holiday as an excuse to give each other gifts (although traditionally gelt — money — is given on Chanukah), and they don’t have to feel left out during the holiday season.

Chanukah is not the only Jewish holiday or practice that has over time accreted aspects of the larger culture.

"Jewish tradition has generally been responsive to the various cultures that Jews live; that adds up to the idea of minhag [custom] that varies from locale to locale," said UCLA professor David N. Myers, who teaches Jewish history. "[Jewish] language, culinary habits, dress norms all change according to the different environments [in which] they find themselves."

"In the modern period," Myers said, "the forces of acculturation are very powerful, and one of the reasons Chanukah has been so malleable is because it is not a major festival, and therefore the ritual stakes not as high when you modify its meaning or significance."

Rabbi Alan Flom of Burbank’s Temple Emmanuel said, "Most rabbis think that Chanukah is a very minor holiday, but in our culture we have had to make it a bigger holiday to compete in the marketplace. If we didn’t, I think that Christmas would be so overwhelming, it would be even more difficult to keep our people Jewish in this kind of an environment."

However, many see the mainstreaming of Chanukah not as a de facto response to Christmas but as a positive resurgence of Jewish identity.

"Chanukah has become front and center in Jewish life, and it’s a way for a lot of people to discover a bridge to their heritage," said Rabbi David Eliezrie of Chabad of Orange County. "The subjective message in the mainstreaming of Chanukah is that its OK to be Jewish, and I think that’s good."

Others think that having Chanukah symbols everywhere actually does have a religious significance, and not just a Jewish feel-good one. "The Talmud says that one of the key ways to observe Chanukah is through pirsumei nissah, publicizing the miracle," said Rabbi Chaim Cunin, public relations director for Chabad-Lubavitch on the West Coast. "That means lighting the menorah, spreading the beautiful message of Chanukah. And thank God, you can open your newspaper now and find that everyone is helping to publicize this beautiful miracle."

However, others believe that Chanukah has become a kind of Jewish Christmas — a holiday whose religious significance has been almost overshadowed by its commercial possibilities and universal appeal.

"The commercialization of Chanukah is particularly tragic," said Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, director of Project Next Step of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. "Commercializing Chanukah is a contradiction of its very essence. If you take Jesus out of Christmas, you have a holiday where people are nice to each other, feel upbeat. Although it’s missing the point, it is not a violation of what Christmas is.

"Commercializing Chanukah is the opposite of the point. Chanukah is not a liberation story — [under Antiochus] the Jews could have lived in their country as free people without any other problem, other than being asked to renounce their faith. The story of Chanukah is not one of being asked to throw off the yoke of a foreign oppressor, but it is the issue of the spiritual prevailing over the might of the decidedly unspiritual."

"Chanukah is the story of the spark of Judaism striving to be united with its God and its Torah and its mitzvot," Alderstein added. "It is not a substitute for the gift-giving of prevailing culture. Chanukah is about the resistance of Jews to the prevailing culture of modernity and aesthetic beauty."

Claudia Wolf, an educator and program director for the Shalom Nature Center in Malibu holds a similar view. "It is bad that Jews feel like they have to compensate by becoming almost like Christians," she said. "One student at my program told me that she was going home for Thanksgiving/Chanukah, and her mother told her that she was not going to get any gifts until Christmas, because that is really the gift-giving season."

Rabbi Shlomo Holland, the director of development at Los Angeles Kollel, agreed. "When we portray Chanukah in a superficial, shallow and trivial way, in a sense we are ingraining in ourselves a new version of Chanukah that was never meant to be, and we celebrate a holiday that is not the essence of that holiday," Holland explained.

"When we commercialize it, we don’t portray that, we just portray a cute holiday where we light the menorah," he continued. "Which, in the eyes of the world, is not too different than a cute holiday where you light up a tree-and you give presents here, and you give presents there, and rather than looking for the obvious difference, one is looking for the similarities and the sameness."

Holland said that the essence of Chanukah is the message of the light of Torah. "That light could break through what appeared to be the wisdom of the Greek Hellenists, but was truly the darkness of illusion," he said. "The only thing that shines so powerful a light, that shows you what is real, and what isn’t real, is the light of the Torah. If anything, that is really the essence of Chanukah."

Competing With That Other Holiday


"Instead of one day of presents, we have eight crazy nights," croons Adam Sandler in that humorous holiday tune, "The Chanukah Song." Sandler speaks for many American Jews in feeling a certain pressure and longing for Chanukah to live up to the glitz and excitement associated with Christmas. In keeping up, many Jews feel it is necessary to give and receive a large assortment of holiday gifts.

In our commercialized culture, communicating the true meaning of Chanukah, acknowledging the hoopla surrounding Christmas and preserving a child’s interest in our own holiday can be a challenge for parents. With these goals in mind, three local rabbis shed some light on the Festival of Lights.

While most Jews know that Chanukah is a celebration of the victory of the Maccabees and the rededication of the Jerusalem Temple, many are unaware (or have forgotten) the deeper meaning of this time of the year. Rabbi Elie Stern, outreach director of Westwood Kehilla, explained that Chanukah is a celebration of the Jews’ ability to continue their traditions and not give in to the majority culture.

Stern feels that the influences of our culture have overshadowed this history. "What’s happening in the Western world is a very superficial comparison with Christmas," said the Orthodox rabbi. "Rather than resisting assimilation and highlighting the uniqueness of Judaism, we end up aping the worst of secular culture and bringing it into Chanukah."

To combat this tendency, Stern suggests instilling Jewish pride in children every day of the year, rather than simply reminding them at holiday time. In addition, he feels Jews should stop trying to compete with Christmas. "We’re going in the wrong direction if we feel we have to keep up with the Joneses, but with Chanukah wrapping paper," he said. "It’s a shallow ‘me, too-ism.’ We have our own values, and one is not to be ostentatious and recognize that we’re serving God. It’s God’s miracle, not a one-upmanship."

With these values in mind, Rabbi Sheryl Nosan of Temple Beth Torah, a Reform congregation in Granada Hills, feels that one way to instill these ideas is to monitor family gift-giving traditions. If children expect presents on every single evening of Chanukah, parents can adjust their customs to include donating money to a charity. "Based on the traditional notion of giving gelt, we can build the idea of giving tzedakah at Chanukah time," Nosan said. To keep things light and fun, parents can make a game of choosing the charity. Perhaps each family member can choose a different charity and the family can have a dreidel tournament to determine where the money will go.

Nosan also suggests incorporating different activities into the eight nights to take the focus off of receiving gifts. One night can be "latke night" where the family spends time making potato pancakes together. Another night might include inviting friends over to light the candles in order to share our traditions with others. Parents can find special projects to do with their kids or do something special just for the sake of being together — be it hiking, going to a museum, seeing a play or anything else you can do as a family.

Similarly, Rabbi Tracee Rosen of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino suggests creating actual theme nights throughout Chanukah, including gift night, song night, dreidel night and invite-a-guest night. Rosen suggests parents emphasize that the holiday is a celebration of both giving and receiving. One way to accomplish this is to alternate in the types of activities the family will engage in so that kids will take note of both ends of the spectrum "For example, maybe on the first night, the kids get presents," she said. "Then on the second night you might take used toys to a shelter or toy drive so kids can get a sense of the cyclically of [the holiday traditions]."

Rosen also recommends the book, "A Different Light: The Chanukah Book of Celebration" by Noam Zion and Barbara Spectre (Pitspopany Press, 2000), which details innovative gift ideas for Chanukah. Suggestions include designating nights for homemade gifts, edible gifts, low-cost grab-bag gifts and homemade "coupons," where the giver promises to give his time or services (i.e. baby-sitting, cooking dinner, playing a game, etc.) to another. Whether it is gifts, extravagant decorations, carols taking over the radio airwaves or Santa Claus in the department store, the rabbis agree that Chanukah is not a counterpart to Christmas.

"Christmas will always be brighter and gaudier," Stern said. "We have to remember the value of Judaism and the purity of the small little light that endured all the darkness. That is the message of Chanukah."

Glitz for Gelt


Julie Hermelin wanted nothing more than to throw a great Chanukah party that would rival her friends’ Christmas bashes.

She succeeded beyond her wildest dreams.

At that long-ago soiree, 60 friends crowded into Hermelin’s home. They spun dreidels, feasted on latkes and imbibed vodka until the wee hours of the morning. The following year, in 1997, 100 friends showed up. In 1998, 300 folks dropped by, including a group of naked, drunken revelers who soaked in her hot tub until 3 a.m.

Although she couldn’t have known it at the time, Hermelin, a 35-year-old television director and former musical video director, had planted the seeds for Vodka Latka, which has since become one of the hippest parties this side of Hollywood for Jews in the entertainment industry. The annual bash has helped its sponsor, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, attract hundreds of new young supporters and, in the process, partly shed its image as a stodgy, distant bureaucracy.

Back in 1998, though, the only thing Hermelin knew was that she wanted to get out of the business of throwing big, homegrown holiday bashes, especially after partygoers trashed her Los Feliz home at her last one.

But Hermelin’s Chanukah party soiree created buzz and raised more than $1,000 for Mazon, The Jewish Response to Hunger, a nonprofit group. Her ability to fuse fun with tzedekah caught the eye of her cousins Matthew and Aaron Weinberg, co-chairs of The Federation’s entertainment steering committee.

Why not, they asked, join forces with The Federation to put on an event that would both tap her talent as a world-class party planner and further Jewish causes?

Why not? she thought.

Vodka Latka was born.

“I find a lot of joy in my Jewishness and wanted to be able to share that with other people,” said Hermelin, now one of four co-chairs for the annual celebration. “I wanted to crack that image that somehow being involved in a Jewish organization was nerdy or queer; that it was something for your parents or grandparents but not for you.”

On Dec. 4, an estimated crowd of up to 1,500 of Tinseltown’s young and beautiful is expected to spend more than $200 apiece to down vodka, caviar-topped latkes and other munchables at The Federation’s fourth annual Vodka Latka at the Hollywood Palladium.

The crowd will be entertained by the band Pink Martini, watch a fashion show put on by Sharon Segal of Fred Segal in Santa Monica and dance, dance, dance. Participants will also have the chance to hang with the likes of such celebrities as Jonathan Silverman, Christina Applegate and Josh Malina (see story page 39), who will saunter across the red carpet as they arrive at the Palladium.

The event, which has come a long way since The Federation’s first Vodka Latka back in 1999 attracted just 200 people, now garners lots of media attention. Vanity Fair is expected to cover the shindig. People magazine, E! and the Hollywood Reporter, among others, have received invitations, said Tracey Kardash, director of The Federation’s Entertainment Division.

Vodka Latka is more than a party worthy of the paparazzi. This year’s event is expected to raise up to $30,000 for nonprofit groups that service at-risk children, Kardash said. That’s in addition to the thousands of dollars that will go directly into The Federation’s coffers.

The glitzy gathering also helps to “engage the young Jewish population here,” in the words of Federation President John Fishel. Indeed, Vodka Latka has given many young Jews their first exposure to Jewish philanthropy and spurred them to get involved.

A majority of Vodka Latka’s 20 committee members, for instance, only joined The Federation after last year’s event. And Israeli actress Mili Avital, who attended the 2001 party, has gone on to become a Vodka Latka co-chair. Avital, who has appeared in the Jim Jarmusch western, “Dead Man,” and the NBC miniseries. “Uprising,” has helped recruit other stars for this year’s party, said Scott Einbinder, also a co-chair.

Jonathan Silverman, who starred in “Weekend at Bernie’s” and NBC’s “The Single Guy” and will appear in the upcoming Showtime movie, “Deacons for Defense,” said his Federation involvement has increased significantly since he appeared at last year’s event. The 36-year-old actor, son of Rabbi Hillel Silverman, said he has asked “all my pals” to participate at this year’s Vodka Latka.

“I’m dragging Evan and Jaron, who are not only great entertainers but great Jews; I’m dragging Bob Saget,” he said. “Last year’s event was wonderful, and I can only hope this year’s will surpass it.”

Vodka Latka’s ascending star comes at a time when The Federation is rethinking its efforts to raise money and awareness among young Jews.

The organization significantly scaled back its outreach to Jews 25 to 45 when it recently suspended the decade-old ACCESS program, which taught donors about Jewish nonprofit agencies. Featuring Shabbat dinners, weekend retreats and wine-tasting events, ACCESS enjoyed a high degree of popularity but failed to generate enough charitable giving, said Carol Levy, The Federation’s vice president of Community Divisions.

Last year, the program brought in $240,000 in donations, about $10,000 less than The Federation spent on ACCESS.

“We’ve stepped back and taken that past eight months to relook, revise and redefine what The Federation can do for young people,” she said. “There are lots and lots and lots of young people who are moving up in their careers, joining synagogues and have discretionary funds. We want to find them.”

But The Federation has not abandoned young Jews.

The group reaches them through youth committees in the Legal, Entertainment and Real Estate divisions. The Young Leadership Cabinet brings together a group of donors contributing a minimum of $3,600 to deepen their connection to Jewish charities and the community. L.A. Couples, another program, educates married professionals on The Federation’s role and aims to tighten bonds among philanthropic Jews.

Looking forward, The Federation hopes to replace ACCESS with a new, highly targeted program by the beginning of the year. A search is currently underway to find a full-time staff member with experience in youth fundraising, Levy said.

The Federation’s goal is to raise $1 million from young lawyers, doctors and other professionals in the next three years and increase the average gift fivefold to $1,000 per person, she said.

Perhaps some vodka and latkes will infuse them with the spirit of giving.

Doors for “Vodka Latka” at the Hollywood Palladium, 6215
Sunset Blvd., Hollywood, open on Dec. 4 at 7 p.m; the program begins at 8:30
p.m. Tickets are $100 (through Dec. 1) and $125 (at the door), plus a minimum
pledge of $118 per person to the United Jewish Fund annual campaign. All guests
are asked to bring an unwrapped toy for a child 1-17 years old. For tickets,
call (323) 761-8316 or visit www.jewishla.org/html/vodkalatka.htm

Once Upon a ‘Nail’


The joyous holiday of Chanukah is replete with miracles and storytelling. Judy Aronson, Jewish educator in New England, loves telling stories at Chanukah. "The best are handed down from generation to generation. And they change in each retelling," she said. "I first heard the ‘Miracle of the Iron Nail’ in a youth group in Hartford, Conn., when I was 8 years old. Every time I tell it, I add a little something, take a little something out. It’s the same way I cook," she said, mischievously.

This is the story — I couldn’t help but add a little, take a little out:

A long time ago, young Jewish boys were stolen from their families to serve in the Czar’s army. Stalwart soldiers would sneak into their villages at dusk, and march from house to house, wreaking havoc and leaving a trail of brokenhearted parents.

The boys were taken far away, and ordered to forget about their families — especially what it was like to be Jewish. They grew up as soldiers and followed in the footsteps of their captors.

One night, a terrible blizzard blew through the camp, uprooting tents and hurling boys from their beds. Yehuda, Moshe and Reuven found themselves in the pitch-black night in the middle of nowhere. They wandered for days.

Finally, they came to a small Jewish village, looking ragged and pathetic. Instead of taking pity, the villagers ran for their lives, warning each other. "Hide everything in sight, especially your children!" But one housewife wasn’t fast enough, and as the soldiers passed her house they peered into the window and spotted a chanukiah.

Reuven suddenly remembered the holiday he hadn’t celebrated for so many years, and said to Yehuda and Moshe, "Dear friends, it’s Chanukah, remember the delicious latkes our mothers used to make? What I wouldn’t give for a latke." The memory brought tears to their eyes.

They trekked through the town, hoping somebody would give them a latke. They knocked at every door but the only response they got was, "We have no food! Go away!"

Moshe and Yehuda pleaded with Reuven. "Nobody wants us, we might as well go back to the army. At least they’ll feed us." But Reuven was adamant — they mustn’t lose faith.

He knocked at the next house. Miraculously, the door opened. When Reuven saw Nechama, a beautiful housewife, instead of asking for food he stood up straight and announced, "I come bearing food — some latkes for Chanukah."

"How can you possibly have any food?" she asked.

"Because I brought the magic iron nail. All I need is a pot," he replied.

Against her husband’s wishes, Nechama ran into the kitchen and fetched a pot. Reuven led her to the Town Square. He held up his hand and shouted, "Look everyone, I have a magic nail. I’m putting it in the pot. I’m going to make the finest latkes you’ve ever tasted."

The villagers scoffed. Someone picked up a stone and threw it. Undaunted, Reuven stirred the pot. "All I need is an onion." Nobody moved. Finally, Nechama’s neighbor dropped an onion into the pot, then quickly retreated.

Reuven was ecstatic. "We have a pot. We have an onion. Now all we need are a few potatoes." A little girl ran up, dragging a sack of potatoes, and dropped them into the pot.

The three soldiers began dancing. So did the villagers, who started peeling, chopping and grating. "Now all we need is some salt. And matzah meal," Yehuda appealed.

When someone fetched the foodstuffs, Moshe enthused, "We’re going to make it. All we need is some oil." And the oil flowed.

Boruch built a fire in the middle of the square. Rochel brought a fry pan and poured in the oil. Gila fashioned the mixture into latkes and dropped them into the pan, one by one.

The oil started to crackle. The latkes started to fry. Everyone was gleeful, full of the spirit of Chanukah.

The mayor addressed Reuven, Moshe and Yehuda. "We’ve learned there are good soldiers in the world, not just ones who will harm us," he complimented them. "You’ve brought us the most wonderful Chanukah gift we’ve ever had."

Reuven eloquently assured him, "Because you have been so kind, your people will live in peace forever more. No soldiers will harm them ever again."

"All Jewish stories have a deeper meaning," reflected Aronson, a graduate of Brandeis University and Harvard Divinity School. "It’s the community that makes the latkes, the people that create the celebration. If nobody had contributed anything, all they’d have was an iron nail. Because everybody cooperated, they not only had a feast, they had peace of mind forever more."

Buy for Chanukah, Donate to Israel


The idea of a rabbi doll came to Gary Barris while he was shopping during the holiday season two years ago.

Overwhelmed by stores filled with Christmas decorations and gifts, the young Detroit entrepreneur said he “felt there was a void for sending greetings in the Jewish community.”

His answer: “The Rabbi Says…,” a 10-inch-high, plush rabbi doll.

Barris’ rabbi doll, which debuted last year, wears traditional Jewish garb and comes with a blank greeting card where buyers can add their personalized Chanukah wishes. It’s currently selling for $11.95, mainly on the Internet at www.therabbisaid.com.

Barris consulted Orthodox and Conservative rabbis before sending the final sketches to China, where more than 3,000 dolls were sewn, stuffed and shipped back to Michigan. He has sold more than 800 dolls so far. He has plans to expand his rabbi line to create a talking version that may say “Mazal Tov!” or “L’Chaim!”

If you buy the rabbi this year, a portion of the proceeds will go to the United Jewish Communities’ Israel Emergency Campaign.

Rabbi doll sales are just one way that North American Jews are being encouraged to support Israel as the Palestinian intifada enters its third year.

“We have felt helpless in the fight for Israel for so long. This is one way we can all truly make a difference,” said Lisa Katzman-Yassinger, a volunteer who devised a campaign to make the third night of Chanukah, Dec. 1, “Support Israel Day” on the Web site Shopinisrael.com.

With more and more people shopping over the Internet, it has become much easier to buy products directly from Israeli vendors who are struggling amidst the country’s economic downturn.

Shopinisrael.com is a nonprofit site set up last February by Californian Jane Scher and run by a team of more than 50 volunteers from around the world.

The site allows people to buy a variety of items — Judaica, art, jewelry, food, wine and other products — directly from Israeli merchants.

“The idea started at a bat mitzvah,” Scher said. “I had bought a gift from Israel and everyone at my table was very excited about it.”

A full-time volunteer for the San Diego Jewish community, Scher said she contacted some vendors in Israel and launched the site with just 15 links. The Web site now lists over 350 Israeli companies and has had more than 222,000 hits since February.

The goal of the site is “to help struggling merchants in Israel who have been hit by this rapid decline in visitors,” according to a news release sent out by Scher.

And there are success stories. Scher said vendors have sent her letters claiming that 30 percent to 50 percent of their business comes through the Shopinisrael site. One merchant, Ocean Herbs (www.oceanherbs.com) got a contract with an American company to bottle and sell its products overseas thanks to the Web site.

Similar sites have sprung up on the Web such as Israelexport.org, which promotes Israeli products and is sponsored by the Israeli Embassy in Washington.

A site called isrealiwebshops.com, based in New York and New Jersey, creates free Web pages for Israeli businesses trying to sell their products abroad.

And on www.israelshop1.com, the rabbi doll may find his competitor in “Shimale” a doll of a little Jewish boy wearing a red and purple yarmulke who is accompanied by a series of narrated CDs and videos. For just $14.95, a Chanukah evening can be spent watching Shimale star in “The Tabernacle Treasures.”

However, not all the shop-in-Israel-type Web sites offer merchandise that’s quite as light-hearted.

Some of the sites, like www.israelmilitary.com, sell genuine Israel Defense Forces gear like the bulletproof Titian Vest Level-3 — listed under the product heading “Ballistic Protection” — or gas masks for adults, children and infants.

Marketed for sale abroad, such products serve as a stark reminder that all is not cheery for world Jewry this Chanukah.

Place of Balance


The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana ("Head of the Year" in Hebrew), is an occasion for celebration and feasting but also for introspection and reflection. Marking the "birthday of the world" — the creation of the universe some six millennia ago, according to the traditional reckoning — it falls on the first day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei and is commonly celebrated for two days.

Because Judaism uses a lunar calendar adjusted to the solar year, the holiday can fall anywhere from mid-September to mid-October, and people often speak of Rosh Hashana coming early (as it does this year) or late — but, as the joke goes, never quite on time.

"On time," however, might be at the solar equinox, for Rosh Hashana is concerned with balance, with weighing and with judgment — like the scales of Libra, the astrological sign associated with this time of year. As daylight and darkness even out and summer slowly fades, it seems as if a larger drama framing human lives is being acted out above. It’s to this drama, its Creator and the individual in relationship to it, rather than to events in Jewish history, that Rosh Hashana directs itself. The holiday does not neglect festive meals, holiday clothes and family get-togethers, but its themes are existential, focusing on rigorous self-examination, free will and the possibility of personal change.

Wearing this hat, under the name Yom ha’Din, the Day of Judgment, Rosh Hashana asks that individuals assess themselves to see where they have fallen short in their relationship to their inner selves, to their loved ones, to their community and to God. Because the holiday urges return to the inner self, it has a feeling of homecoming embedded in it. This promise of homecoming may explain why even many Jews who feel disconnected from Judaism the rest of the year bring themselves back to synagogue on these High Holidays.

Rosh Hashana is also called Yom Teruah, the day of sounding the shofar, or ram’s horn, whose piercing blast is the primary symbol of the holiday. The practice of blowing the shofar is mandated by biblical law, and though the Bible offers no justification, the shofar sounds can be understood as a way of waking the inner person to self-examination, change and recommitment to the moral and ethical requirements of Jewish life.

The holiday’s tropism toward the philosophical and internal is corrected, so to speak, by an array of appealing customs. Among the best-known is eating apple slices dipped in honey with a wish for a sweet year. Many people also follow a custom of eating symbolic foods at the start of Rosh Hashana meals, with a spoken word play that explains their symbolism (see page 36). For example — to carry the verbal play into English, as many people do — beets may be served to express the hope that our opponents will not "beat" us. The head of a fish (or even a sheep) suggests, "May we be the head and not the tail."

The braided breads typical on Jewish festivals are exchanged for round loaves, to allude to the cycles of time. Some bakers decorate them with such motifs as a ladder (to recall the ladder that the biblical Jacob saw connecting heaven to earth). At Tashlich, from the Hebrew word meaning "to send," individuals or congregations go to a river or pond to symbolically empty their pockets, as if to cast the mistakes of the past year into the flowing water.

The process of personal realignment is begun on Rosh Hashana, but the struggle with the self isn’t likely to be completed in a day or two of feasting or even praying. Rosh Hashana initiates the period of the Days of Awe, an extended opportunity for making amends to others and for clarifying one’s own heart that culminates 10 days later in the austere and yet joyful fast of Yom Kippur.

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