Saturday, October 1
Ditch the stuffy fundraising dinners in favor of two benefits this weekend that actually sound fun. Today’s “Hugs for Ari” is a carnival-style dinner-dance at the Santa Monica Pier. Huge auction prizes like tickets to Pearl Jam in Buenos Aires, plus roaming magicians and clowns and free rides on the giant carousel make the event adult and kid-friendly, all while helping the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. (See Sunday’s listing for our other benefit “pick.”)
6:30 p.m. $125 (adults), $50 (children). Santa Monica Pier Carousel, Santa Monica. R.S.V.P., (323) 655-8525.
Sunday, October 2
The Los Angeles Conservancy makes the bold attempt of “turning Los Angeles into a living museum,” starting today with “Curating the City: Wilshire Boulevard.” The one-day, self-guided architectural tour of L.A.’s historic street includes docent-led tour sites along the route, including one at Wilshire Boulevard Temple.
$12.50-$35. (213) 623-2849. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>
Monday, October 3
A timely CD for the High Holidays recently released by the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music is an all-Leonard Bernstein recording of “Kaddish, Symphony No. 3,” a deeply personal and reflective work that is the last version of several Bernstein rewrote over the years, and “Chichester Psalms,” a setting of Psalm texts performed by chorus, boy soloist and orchestra.
$5.99. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>
Tuesday, October 4
Your favorite red-headed “hard-knock life” orphan returns to Los Angeles for just two weeks beginning tonight. “Annie” runs through Oct. 16 at the Pantages, starring the miraculously still ticking and working Mackenzie Phillips as Lily St. Regis. The show also features a new song by original songwriters Martin Charnin and Charles Strouse, “Why Should I Change a Thing?”
$25-$68. 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 365-3500.
Wednesday, October 5
For those who never quite got what all the fuss was about with classical music, Robert Kapilow is here to answer, “What Makes It Great?” Hallowed for his Leonard Bernstein-esque ability to make classical music accessible to the masses, Kapilow dissects Mozart this evening at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, with the help of the New Hollywood String Quartet.
7:30 p.m. $18. 12700 Center Court Drive, Cerritos. (562) 916-8510. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>
Thursday, October 6
Jew and Latino find a meeting place at the Casa del Mexicano, a Boyle Heights synagogue-cum-Latino community center, thanks to Collage Dance Theatre’s latest production, “The Entire World Is a Narrow Bridge.” The site-specific dance performance explores the history of the Boyle Heights neighborhood.
$40. Oct. 6-9, and 21-23. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>
Friday, October 7
Her name is Allois+. (Yep, there’s a plus sign in there.) And as intriguing as the plus sign, for which we’ve been given no explanation, is her art, for which we have. To quote the quixotic artist on her figurative paintings, “Painting is like breathing to me, an escape from reality to my own private world. I imagine this world like a small submarine, my Nautilus, where I am captain. I stake everything on the unusual and on surpassing the real,…” “Allois, Works on Metal, Canvas and Paper” runs through Oct. 15 at Lev Moross Gallery.
962 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 512-0151.
Kingsley’s ‘Twist’ on a Dickens Thief
A Smile Can Be Key to Temple Security
Will you feel safe going to synagogue this New Year?
The High Holidays bring a special dilemma to American congregations. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur attract more Jews to synagogue — and more attention to American Jews in general — than at any other time of year.
The very prominence of this intensive Jewish season raises significant security concerns for clergy and lay leaders responsible for the safety of their members and guests. Yet the New Year is the single best opportunity to engage and welcome both new and returning members of the congregation.
Can synagogues protect and serve?
For 10 years, Synagogue 2000, a transdenominational project to envision the synagogue of the 21st century, worked with some 100 synagogues across America to re-imagine congregations as sacred, welcoming communities. Beginning this year, Synagogue 3000, its successor, is making that vision of an open tent available to every Jewish spiritual community in the country.
But at a time when virtually all the synagogues in North America have had to install some level of security screening at their front doors, is this welcoming vision realistic, let alone responsible?
We believe that the creation of a welcoming ambience is not only responsible; it is the surest way to keep our communities safe. Remember the origin of the handshake: mutual prevention of violence. Two hands grasping one another cannot wield a sword or a rock.
The reality is that a truly inviting community can be a truly secure community. The question is: how to balance the imperative for hachnasat orchim, the welcoming of guests, with the imperative to protect against strangers who threaten to disrupt these Days of Awe?
These concerns are real. Here in Los Angeles, for example, recent threats against Jewish institutions have made synagogues into high-profile potential targets. The Anti-Defamation League’s September briefing for congregational leaders was at once sobering and reassuring. While we live in an uncertain environment, attendees were told, nevertheless we have the resources and the support to keep our communities as safe as possible.
Still, synagogue leaders were told, “Harden the target.”
So, we have erected guard houses, installed scanners and hired uniformed personnel to check our IDs, search our tallit bags and take our tickets. Running the gauntlet of security is not exactly the kind of “welcome” anyone has in mind.
The very barriers that guard our gates can discourage those taking new and tentative steps toward affiliated synagogue life. What good is praying for the gates of heaven to open, when the gates of the shul are shut?
Consider the steps that many police departments recommend to reduce institutional vulnerability: get involved in your surrounding community, get to know your neighbor and get to know your members. Would that most synagogues knew all of their members.
Let’s be honest. On the High Holidays, we see not only new faces, but also those of the many members who rarely come around during the rest of the year. Nevertheless, a synagogue that installs greeters just outside the security perimeter who offer a smile and a warm “Gut yontif” or “Happy New Year” can create an initial impression of welcome. A follow-up qualifying question to a newcomer can express genuine interest, such as, “Who recommended us to you?” or “What’s your favorite part of the New Year service?”
In Southern California, three of the five most recent hate crimes and terrorist incidents against Jews involved individuals with weapons searching for targets of opportunity. We learn from prison interviews with convicted perpetrators that a synagogue with people greeting one another at the front gate, on the front steps and at the front door is not a target of opportunity. A synagogue whose members care enough to greet one another is a synagogue whose members are its first and most important line of defense against the unusual, the people or vehicles that don’t look quite right, the potential threat.
Savvy synagogue leaders have turned this obstacle into an opportunity. The best congregations have trained their security personnel in the art of greeting. You don’t have to be fluent in Hebrew or even be Jewish to say, “Shanah tovah.” Others deploy volunteers to mitigate delays and other inconveniences caused by security checks.
On Rosh Hashanah 2001, just days after Sept. 11, the Synagogue 2000 team at Temple Israel of Hollywood knew that their congregants would be forced to wait on a sidewalk for up to 15 minutes to go through security screening. They organized a crew of volunteers to “work the line,” offering trays laden with apples and honey to welcome the people to their congregation. Other volunteers brought guitars to pass the time with song.
Ultimately, all members of a sacred community have the responsibility of creating a culture of welcome and safety. Whom does a visitor or a congregant meet when entering a synagogue? A parking attendant, a security person, the custodian, the gift shop volunteer, the front office receptionist, the staff secretaries, the kitchen crew, the caterer, the school office assistant, the religious school teachers, the executive director, the cantor, the rabbi — every one of these people represents the congregation. Every one has the potential to make each interaction with members and guests a positive experience — or not. Everyone must greet and guard.
Perhaps the best way to harden the target is to soften our hearts. All it takes is a smile and a handshake.
Ron Wolfson is president and Shawn Landres is director of research at Synagogue 3000 (
Deaf West Theater
Face It: Judaism Is Not Hip
This Rosh Hashanah I am praying to escape the tyranny of hip. Hip is infiltrating Jewish life like a migrating plume of acrid smoke meandering its way through our collective body and soul.
I know hip well. I know its insidious nature. I have seen its effect and its damage. I was surrounded by hip. I was taken in by hip. I yearned for hip. I searched for hip. I saw people’s lives and identities consumed by hip. Twenty years of my professional life were spent in the palaces of hip.
I was an advertising agency copywriter and creative director. I was trained to be one of the manufacturers of hip. I would sit in offices and create hip, and then watch all those people lust after the creations. I reveled in hip.
And then one day, it all came crashing down.
There was no earth-shattering event. It was just a moment of realization.
In the ad biz, you win awards for creating hip images. That’s all hip is. An image. A fleeting image. You can’t really describe hip. You can’t put your finger on what it is. What’s hip today is not hip tomorrow. You often here people say, “She’s the hippest person around.”
What does that mean? Nothing.
Absolutely nothing. When I happily left the ad agency business, I used to tell people, “It’s the ultimate liberation. I no longer have to direct my energies into the shallow, ridiculous waters of hip.”
I found salvation from hip in the Jewish world. It was a world of content. Meaning. Real connections to people, the earth, the heavens. It gave me roots into the universe in a way hip could never do.
It was such a refreshing departure from where I had been that I was determined to bring my professional skills into the Jewish world — as well as into other nonprofit organizations.
For years, it allowed me to escape even hearing the word “hip.” Then, hip began to seep out into a few Jewish crevices and corners.
Today, hip is everywhere in the Jewish organizational world. Federations want to be hip. Hillels want to be hip. Israel wants to be hip. Chabad wants to be hip. Aish HaTorah wants to be hip. Synagogues want to be hip. Day schools want to be hip. Jewish publications want to be hip. And the Jewish foundation world is clamoring to create and fund hip.
It used to be that Hollywood was going to be the magic bullet that would save the Jewish organizational world. Now Hollywood has been replaced by hip. At least Hollywood was concrete. It meant a person. Spielberg. Streisand. Seinfeld. But can someone please define or concretize hip?
What is this all about? If Judaism’s image — its brand — has become tarnished, is hip going to save it? Is this the point to which we involved Jews have arrived?
Hip is powerful. As a marketer of Jewish life, I am watching our leaders grapple and bow down to its power.
I am not denying that we have a problem in Jewish life with the products we offer and the images we create. Most are lackluster at best.
But if we think that hip is the solution, we are demeaning the essence of Judaism. We are trivializing its soul. We are convoluting Judaism as much as “haimish” has convoluted it for the past few generations.
Haimish was always an excuse for not being professional. As long as the organization was haimish, it believed it had fulfilled its mission.
Much the same mistake is happening with hip. If the organization is hip, if the offering is perceived as hip, then today the organization believes it is fulfilling its mission.
Hip is not about meaning. Hip is not about depth. Hip is not about the soul. Hip is not about connection to human beings and the world.
Hip is about shallow. Hip is about self-absorption. Hip is about today, this minute. Hip is not about the past and it is certainly not about the future.
This Rosh Hashanah, Jewish organizations need to realize that Judaism is not hip. It’s never going to be hip. It is not supposed to be hip. Judaism has too much depth to ever be hip. Judaism must be perceived as the antidote to hip. The products Judaism offers must be the escape from shallow hip. They must be the refuge, the other road, the real thing.
If we believe that the Jewish masses are looking for hip, there are plenty of places they can fill that need. They can go to the Gap. Now, that’s hip.
During the coming High Holidays, grant us justice and kindness. V’hoshiyainu — save us … from the tyranny of hip.
Gary Wexler is the owner of Passion Marketing for Issues and Causes based in Los Angeles.
A Place of Worship Where We Belong
In the Seats Around You
I got a new outfit for yontif. The clothes add to the newness of this time of year, just like the first day of school. I sometimes wonder if the synagogues crank up the air conditioning on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur so we have an excuse to wear our new fall clothes.
The shul I grew up in had assigned seats — the bigger the macher, the closer to the bimah — so we got to know the people who sat around us. I came to rely on them being in their seats as part of the holiday: the woman a few rows in front with the beautiful silver hair; the board member who sat with his son in the section to our right, who was recently carrying his grandson up and down the aisle; the May-December couple who now look more like the a November-December couple, and the “lady doctor” who sat next to us. We knew she was a doctor because Dr. preceded her name on the pledge form we dutifully handed her each year. However, we’ve never learned her name because we didn’t have time to read the entire card as we were passing them on. I wish we had asked her name. Instead, we settled for a smile and a “Good yontif.” I still ask my parents how she is when I call home after services.
I remember the women who wore hats (my mother said women should wear hats on yontif). And I remember hanging out as a teenager, laughing and flirting. Since all the adults were in services and the teachers were busy with the younger children, the shul and its hallways were ours.
Funnily, I can’t remember the beautiful sermons my rabbi gave, but I remember these people. We marked the passing of our years by observing them — the graying of hair, the addition of grandchildren.
I’ve watched as the people having aliyahs have gone from being my parents’ friends to my friends. The children in the hallways are my children. When did this happen? The feeling of being itchy in my new tights and wool jumper, and eating apples and honey with my Hebrew school class is still so fresh in my mind.
The High Holidays make your mind wander — wander around the people around you and no longer around you. I remember sitting in the back of the sanctuary during Yizkor. I wasn’t supposed to be there. None of my friends were allowed to sit with me. But my sister did. We wanted to be there to remember our grandparents. And it was important to be in the sanctuary as if by being there we were lending our strength to our parents who were reciting “Kaddish.”
The first Rosh Hashanah away from my childhood synagogue was lonely. I was a stranger. My husband stayed home with our infant daughter so I could attend services. I sat in the front, not because I was a macher, but because I got there early. I looked around. No one had beautiful gray hair, I had no idea who the board members were and no one was sitting next to me. I saw some men drifting off, but they were not my father. I missed him as I missed my mother and my sister. I missed the familiarity of the hallways. I missed my congregation. I was wearing new clothes, but it didn’t feel like yontif. Suddenly, in walked a boy who I had grown up with, who I was in Hebrew school carpool with. He sat next to me and introduced me to his wife who was expecting their first child. He pointed out people he knew.
We reminisced about home. And with that, it wasn’t just some synagogue anymore — it was my shul.
Meredith Jacobs, author of the soon-to-be released “Modern Jewish Mom’s Guide to Shabbat” (HarperPerennial), runs
Air Force Flies New Tolerance Guidelines
Sacred Sounds All Over Town
There’s an inescapable irony in vocalist Vanessa Paloma performing Ladino songs at the San Gabriel Mission, which was founded by Spanish Catholics. It was, of course, Spanish Roman Catholics who expelled Ladino-speaking Jews from Spain in 1492. Paloma called the venue “emotionally charged,” but she hopes the music and ambiance will prove to be healing as well as musically appealing.
“Just the fact of sitting in that room and listening to that music will be an interesting experience, and hopefully a powerful one,” she said.
Paloma’s performance at the 200-year-old mission is one highlight of the 2005 World Festival of Sacred Music, which will be spread out among many Los Angeles locations over a two-week period beginning Saturday.
The festival, directed by Judy Mitoma, will show Angelenos how cultures from around the world find spiritual sustenance through music. Jewish cultures of the Iberian peninsula, Eastern Europe and the Middle East are well represented. Here are some of the notable events:
Wed., Sept. 21 — Yuval Ron Ensemble. 7 p.m., Alfred Newman Recital Hall at USC; $20. For tickets, call (213) 740-2167 or visit www.usc.edu/spectrum
Ron, an Israeli composer and record producer, pulls together traditions of Judaism, Islam, and the Armenian Church in music and dance. In this program, Ron’s troupe, which includes artists from Israel, Lebanon, Armenia, Iran, France, and the United States, explore the mystical teachings of different Middle Eastern cultures and the deep connections among them.
Thurs., Sept. 22 — Flor de Serena, with vocalist Vanessa Paloma and guitarist Jordan Charnofsky. Noon, San Fernando Mission, 15151 San Fernando Mission Blvd., Mission Hills; free. For tickets, call (818) 361-0186 or visit www.flordeserena.com.
The ensemble, which includes percussion and bass, will play music composed and performed by Sephardim after arriving in the Americas as well as tunes originating in Spain and Portugal. Historian Arthur Benveniste will narrate the musical journey of Spanish Jews after their expulsion from Iberia in the 1490s.
Paloma, who grew up in Colombia, traces her Sephardic heritage to the north of Spain. She formed Flor de Serena with Charnofsky after a trip to Israel, where she discovered music for many obscure Ladino songs.
Sephardic music, she told The Journal, “integrates the Spanish-speaking and Jewish aspects of my life.”
Charnofsky, who began playing with klezmer bands in the early 1990s, isn’t Sephardic but describes Sephardic music as a natural bridge between his instrument, the guitar, which was developed on the Iberian peninsula, and his growing involvement with Jewish music.
Sun., Sept. 25 — Cantori Domino. 7:30 p.m., John Anson Ford Amphitheater, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, Hollywood; $25. For tickets, call (323) 461-3673 or visit www.fordamphitheater.org.
This 50-voice choir, will sing Leonard Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms” accompanied by musicians on harp, timpani and two pianos. The selection of psalms encompass themes of joy, innocence, war, trust, hope and unity.
Conductor Maurita Phillips-Thornburgh, though not Jewish, has been music director for the High Holidays at Stephen S. Wise Temple for 14 years.
“I don’t know of a time when this [work] wouldn’t be timely, but it seems particularly timely now,” she said.
Mon., Sept. 26 — The Psalms of Ra. 6 p.m., 8 p.m. and 10 p.m., Alchemy Building, 5209 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles; $25. For tickets: (323) 769-5069 or visit www.psalmsofra.com
Jim Berenholtz, who has traveled widely in the Middle East, uses his “neo-ancient” music to illustrate the creative and spiritual cross-fertilization he says existed between the New Kingdom Egyptians and the Jews who lived in Egypt for centuries. He sets ancient Egyptian and Hebrew texts to contemporary sacred music, according to the billing. Some of his works interweave mystical Hebrew incantations with Egyptian mantras; his settings of Hebrew texts include Psalm 116, which speaks of being lifted up after hitting life’s bottom.
Oct. 1 — World Jewish Music Fest. Noon, 200 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica; free. Information: (310) 434-3431 or www.smc.edu/madison.
Westsider Stefani Valadez will perform Ladino songs from Spain and North Africa, and Russian clarinetist Leo Chelyapov will appear with his Hollywood Klezmer Trio. The family-oriented afternoon will also feature Israeli dancing.
The Moscow-born Chelyapov, who first heard klezmer music when his grandfather took him to Jewish weddings in Kiev, had made playing it his “calling” by the time he arrived in Los Angeles in 1992.
“It touches my Jewishness, and it feels natural to me,” he told The Journal. Not only is klezmer music historically identified with weddings, which Chelyapov called “a mystical point of life,” but it often employs liturgical texts and, most importantly, he said, “it’s supposed to elevate your spirit.”
For a complete schedule, visit www.festivalofsacredmusic.org or call (310) 825-0507.
Like Some ‘Guilt’ With Your Chick Lit?
Between the Pages for Young, Young-at-Heart
Let’s face it. Many people go to synagogue on the High Holidays because they have to. A feeling of poorly understood and unappreciated obligation can pervade this time of year. But it doesn’t have to. You can put yourself or your children in the spirit and in the know with help from this by-no-means-comprehensive list of titles that elucidate the prayers and customs of the holiday.
For Young Children:
“My First Book of Jewish Holidays”
by Shmuel Blitz, illustrated by Tova Katz, (Artscroll Mesorah, 2004)
“My First Book,” which is beautifully illustrated, explains the historical significance of the holidays (i.e., the world was created on Rosh Hashanah, as well as the laws). In addition to their regular text, the pages have “Did you know?” boxes. It is not a storybook, but it is written clearly and its pictures are mesmerizing.
“Rosh Hashanah With Bina, Benny, and Chaggai Hayonah”
by Yaffa Ganz
(Artscroll Mesorah, 1990)
“Rosh Hashanah With Bina, Benny, and Chaggai Hayonah” is one in a series of books about Jewish holidays, in which two young children and their talking dove go on a learning mission. In this pleasantly illustrated book, children can learn about holiday customs, such as dipping an apple into honey, and different names of Rosh Hashanah. For example, Yom Hakeseh is called the Day of Concealment, because the moon is concealed on that day — just a sliver in the sky. And metaphorically, the outcome of the new year, too, is concealed from us.
“Rosh Hashanah Yom Kippur Survival Kit” by Shimon Apisdorf
(Leviathan Press, 1997)
The “Rosh Hashanah Yom Kippur Survival Kit” is aimed at those who
would really rather be elsewhere during the services — sound like any teenager you know? The book gives tips about how to make the service meaningful, without being bogged down with effort. (Sample tip: “Five minutes of prayer said with understanding [and] feeling … means far more than five hours of lip service.”)
It also offers cute factoids about Rosh Hashana, presenting an easy and fun-to-read overview of the prayer service and Torah readings.
Don’t be fooled by its simplicity — “Survival Kit” does not shy away from the weightier matters; it offers compelling expositions on teshuva (repentance) and personal development.
For College Students:
“60 Days, a Spiritual Guide to the High Holidays”
by Rabbi Simon Jacobson
(Kiyum Press, 2003)
In “60 Days,” Jacobson looks at the months of Elul (the Hebrew month preceding the High Holidays) and Tishrei (the Hebrew month in which the High Holidays occur) as a period for self-improvement. Basing many of his teaching on Kabbalah, Jacobson goes through each day of the two months, explaining the historical significance of the day well beyond the obvious holidays. For example, the 18th of Elul is the birthday of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chasidism.
But he also describes exercises to enable the reader to use the 60 days for introspection. Jacobson wants us to be our better selves, and to use that improvement for an enhanced relationship with God.
For the Prayerfully Challenged:
“Pathway to Prayer: A Translation and Explanation of All the Amidah Prayers of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur”
by Rabbi Meir Birnbaum
(Artscroll Mesorah, 1997)
Even for those familiar with the daily prayers, the Rosh Hashanah service can seem formidable. It is long, different and should ideally be infused with enough kavannah (concentration and devotion) to change the destiny of the upcoming year for the better.
In “Pathway to Prayer,” Birnbaum explains the prayers line by line — often word by word. He is not merely content with translating. Rather, he explains what the thought process should be when each word is said. For example, in the musaf prayer, the repeatedly used word. “Hagadol [the Great One], referring to God, really means God who is great “in exercising the attribute of kindness.”
“A Guide to Jewish Prayer”
by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
(Schocken Books, 2000)
“A Guide to Jewish Prayer” provides great background reading for those interested in the history and development of prayer in Judaism. The chapter on Days of Awe, as the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is known, provides a brief overview of the holiday and the origins of the prayers that developed in conjunction with it.
This book will not necessarily help you navigate a machzor (special prayer book for the holidays), but it does outline what we will be saying on Rosh Hashanah (i.e., which prayer comes after which, when the shofar is blown, etc.) as well as explanations and customs of shofar blowing. Steinsaltz also explains differences between Sephardic and Ashkenazic nusachs (the order of the prayers).
For Meaning Searchers:
“Days of Awe: Sfas Emes, Ideas and Insights of the Sfas Emes on the High Holy Days”
by Rabbi Yosef Stern
(Artscroll Mesorah, 1996)
The Sfas Emes, Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Alter of Ger, became leader of the great Gerer Chasidic dynasty in Poland in 1870, when he was only 23. Under his guidance, Ger became one of the biggest Chasidic groups in Poland.
In this volume, Stern distills the Sfas Emes’ Chasidic teachings into illuminating essays on topics such as “The Omission of Hallel on Rosh Hashanah” to the “Symbolism and Significance” of Shofar blowing.
“This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared — The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation”
by Alan Lew
(Little Brown and Company, 2003)
“This Is Real” follows no ordinary Rosh Hashanah book path, because it encompasses so many different elements. Part memoir, part Zen mediation, part rumination on life in general, interspersed with Torah readings, Jewish teachings and Zen parables (Lew considers himself a Buddhist rabbi), this is a book that describes a soul’s journey from Tisha B’Av through Yom Kippur, as it “heads home.”
Lew sees the High Holidays as a metaphor for life itself, and he wants us to experience “oneness with everything.” Rosh Hashanah is a time that we can “experience the truth of our lives.”
Though the title is ominous, the book is ultimately uplifting, about a person’s power to transform sadness to joy.
For General Background:
“Days of Awe: A Treasury of Jewish Wisdom for Reflection, Repentance, and Renewal on the High Holy Days”
by Shmuel Yosef Agnon
This is a collection of writings on the Days of Awe culled from traditional sources, such as the Torah, Talmud and Zohar. Agnon lets the writings speak for themselves, but he compiles them in a way that tells the history of the holidays.
In the section on Rosh Hashanah, he starts with the commandment from Leviticus to observe Rosh Hashanah (“In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, shall be a solemn rest unto you, a memorial proclaimed with the blast of horns”).
He then moves on to descriptions from Ezra in Chronicles of the Jewish people bringing sacrifices on Rosh Hashanah, and then quotes from the Mishna and Talmud about what Rosh Hashanah means.
The book is a fascinating compilation, perfect for those who want to understand the meaning of the holiday from original sources.
For Contemporary Approaches:
“Celebrating the Jewish Holidays: Poems, Stories, Essays.”
edited by Steven J. Rubin
(Brandeis University Press, 2003)
“Celebrating the Jewish Holidays” is not a book for those who simply want laws or traditions laid out for them. Rather it’s for those seeking creative or artistic musings on the holidays.
Gathering verse from poets as diverse as Solomon Ibn Gabirol (an 11th-century Jewish Spanish scholar) and Emma Lazarus, the poems convey a range of experience, from the spiritually awesome to the skeptically modern. The stories and memoirs are evocative. Eli Weisel tells of Rosh Hashanah in the concentration camp, others of Rosh Hashanah in the shtetl.
“The Jewish Way, Living the Holidays”
By Rabbi Irving Greenberg
(Simon and Schuster, 1988)
In “The Jewish Way,” Greenberg explains the holidays as “the quintessential Jewish religious expression, because the main teachings of Judaism are incorporated in their messages.”
In his essay on Rosh Hashanah, he explains that it is a somber time when we must confront our own mortality, since one’s life “is placed on balance scales.” In addition, Greenberg gives a summary of the prayers and customs of Rosh Hashanah.
Disaster Exposes Government Failures
New ‘Design’ Adds Flair to the Holidays
“Kosher By Design Entertains” by Susie Fishbein (Mesorah Publications, $34.99).
It’s probably already too late. Dishes from Susie Fishbein’s new “Kosher By Design Entertains” are probably gracing Shabbat tables and brunches all over the country. Recipes from her first two books, “The Kosher Palette” and “Kosher by Design,” became ubiquitous, and I fear that when I proudly escort my Glazed Chicken Breasts with Strawberry Salsa to the table, someone will inevitably say, “Oh, page 124, I tried that last week.”
But if you are willing to forego the glow of originality, this fresh and fearless cookbook — which includes a guide for how to make the recipes kosher for Passover — can turn your borscht into Yellow Tomato Basil Bisque.
With flavorful and fun recipes that use ingredients and combinations far from what used to be considered traditional Jewish cooking — think Juniper Berry and Peppercorn Crusted Skirt Steak with Spiced Onions — this book can add flare to a tired repertoire for both connoisseurs and amateurs.
The first “Kosher By Design” (Mesorah 2003), which sold more than 70,000 copies, centered around holiday and Shabbat menus, while “Entertains” tackles lifecycle events or other entertaining opportunities, such as a romantic dinner for two or a housewarming party.
Entertains is a confection of a cookbook, from its frilly fuchsia dust jacket to the polka dots and floral brocades and masculine plaids that frame many of the pages. Flip through the pages of nine sample parties and feel the crisp air at an autumnal picnic spread on a patchwork quilt, or hear the cooing and giggling at a pastel dessert buffet to welcome a new baby, where 4-foot-tall martini glasses filled with jelly beans frolic across the table.
The book is organized by courses or types of food — appetizers to desserts — which makes it easy to use. In between each section are a menu, party plan and set up for different occasions. As always, Fishbein is as concerned with presentation as with taste, so she takes several pages and lots of pictures to describe her techniques for things like creating an heirloom anniversary tablecloth using silk fabric and old photos converted into irons-ons.
While you may not have the time to use colorful clothes pins to clip your Coconut Chicken Strips to disposable wine cups filled with mango and apricot dipping sauces, the selection of recipes offers a wide variety of doable, contemporary dishes that will impress your guests both with the taste and with how great they look on the plate.
Fishbein, a mother of four, has clearly spent a lot of time in a family kitchen, and while some of the recipes are a little involved, enough of them meet my acceptable patschkie (messing around) level, with only three or four steps per recipe. She also favors some time-saving ingredients, like prepared dressing packets or frozen vegetables.
Fishbein also throws in a resource guide that includes Web sites or 800 numbers for unusual kosher ingredients or kitchen tools; a buying guide for the housewares on the book’s tables; a Passover conversion table; and suggested holiday and Shabbat menus using recipes from this book and her previous one.
But you better work fast. I can already smell that Caramelized Apple Cheesecake baking — in my neighbor’s oven.
Cornish Hen With Pistachio Paste
4 (1 pound) baby Cornish hens, butterflied, backbone removed, pressed flat with your palm
2 cups shelled raw unsalted pistachio nuts, finely chopped, divided salt and pepper
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh thyme or 2 teaspoons dried
12 ounces chicken stock, plus a little extra
4 basil or other brightly colored flat leaves for garnish
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Stuff 1/4 cup of the chopped pistachio nuts under the skin of each of the hens. Massage the nuts under the skin to help spread them out evenly. Salt and pepper both sides of each hen.
Heat the olive oil in two large sauté pans (or plan to sear in batches). Sear the hens, skin side down until golden brown. Remove the hens from the pan and place in roasting pans in a single layer. Set aside. Add the shallots to the pan with the hen drippings. Sauté six to seven minutes. Sprinkle in the thyme. Deglaze pan with the chicken stock, use a wooden spoon to unstick any nuts.
Meanwhile, place the hens, uncovered, in the oven. Roast for 30 minutes or until done.
Prepare the pistachio paste. In a deep container, or in the bowl of a food processor, place 1/2 cup chopped pistachio nuts. Add the shallots and pan drippings. Using an immersion blender or food processor blend into a paste. Thin with a little stock if needed.
Dollop 1 or 2 tablespoons of the pistachio paste on a basil or other flat lettuce leaf, place on the side of the hen. Sprinkle all with the remaining chopped pistachios.
Makes four servings.
Balsamic Braised Brisket with Shallots and Potatoes
1 3-pound beef brisket
Freshly ground black pepper
10 cloves garlic, peeled, divided
3 tablespoons margarine, divided
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
6 whole shallots, peeled
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup red wine
1 14-1/2 ounce can crushed tomatoes
Preheat oven to 400 F.
Season the brisket on both sides with salt and pepper. Using the tip of a sharp knife, make sliver cuts all along the brisket. Cut five of the garlic gloves in half. Place a piece of garlic into each slit. Place 2 tablespoons of the margarine and the oil into a large skillet or pot set over medium heat. When the margarine is melted and hot, add the meat. You should hear it sear on contact. Let it cook for eight minutes, don’t move it around. After eight minutes, lift the meat up, add 1 tablespoon of margarine to the pan and turn the meat over. Sear on the second side for eight minutes. Remove the brisket to a baking pan. Surround the brisket with the potatoes, shallots and five whole garlic cloves.
Add balsamic vinegar and wine to the skillet or pan. Add the tomatoes. Turn the heat down to medium and cook for five minutes stirring to combine. While the mixture cooks down, scrape up the browned bits from the pan; a wooden spoon works well here. Pour balsamic mixture over the brisket and vegetables. Add water to just cover the brisket.
Place in the oven and bake for two to two and a half hours, covered. Allow to cool before slicing.
Makes six to eight servings.
Sweet Potato Wedges With Vanilla Rum Sauce
6 medium sweet potatoes, unpeeled
1/2 cup margarine or butter
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon kosher for Passover vanilla extract
1 tablespoon dark rum
Preheat the oven to 375 F.
Cover a large jelly roll pan with parchment paper.
Cut the sweet potatoes in half lengthwise. Cut each half in half again lengthwise. You will have long wedges. Place in a bowl.
In a small saucepan melt the margarine or butter and brown sugar. Stir in the vanilla and rum. Simmer for one minute. Pour over the sweet potatoes and toss to combine.
Arrange the wedges in a single layer on the prepared pan.
Bake, uncovered, for 45 minutes to one hour, checking at the 45-minute mark, until potatoes are soft and caramelized.
Makes eight to 10 servings.
Let My Old Passover Programming Go
A Minor Holiday’s Major Following
It’s not a religious holiday per se, it appears nowhere in the Torah, God’s name isn’t even mentioned and it’s considered one of Judaism’s minor festivals. Yet over the years, celebrating the holiday of Purim has become a major event on the Jewish calendar. Why?
It’s easy to understand why getting dressed up, eating lots of candy and hamentaschen, drinking the night away and partaking in a festive meal appeals to many. But it’s only really in the post-war era that Purim has become a major player in the Jewish calendar.
Purim was a far more significant holiday in the 19th century, according to Jonathan Sarna, professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University and the author of “American Judaism: A History” (Yale, 2004). However, at the beginning of the 20th century, the popularity of Purim gave way to Chanukah and its concept of gift-giving because of the abundant gift-giving at Christmas.
“Purim had the misfortune of not falling at the same time as an equivalent Christian holiday,” Sarna said. “And with Halloween being stripped of any religious significance, Jews preferred to participate in Halloween, leaving Purim without a lot of energy.”
The only real equivalent to Purim is Mardi Gras, but with that holiday focused in New Orleans, it wasn’t enough to put Purim on the map.
So when did the tide turn back toward Purim?
Purim began to enjoy renewed vigor in the post-war era, Sarna said, for a variety of reasons.
“Part of it is because it’s a naturally appealing holiday,” he said.
Particularly with the emphasis on rebelliousness.
“Jews are rebels and the idea of turning a structure on its head is very appealing to us,” Sarna added.
And part of that appeal came from Jews ceasing to worry less about what their neighbors thought and having the freedom to dress up and violate various taboos without fear of repercussions.
Purim has also become more and more centered on children, with a strong focus on carnivals and dressing up.
“As a rule, child-centered holidays in the U.S. are much more likely to gain popular support,” he said, adding that in the post-war period, there was a rise in suburban synagogues in response to the baby boom. As such, synagogues were able to mount large carnivals, which was part of the whole movement back to child-centered Judaism.
It has certainly taken hold. This Purim, Los Angeles synagogues and schools, as in previous years, will be holding large carnivals aimed primarily at children but with incentives thrown in for the adults, too.
Temple Beth Shir Shalom in Santa Monica has been holding a carnival in one form or another since 1942.
“It’s a huge communal event,” said Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels. “We usually have around 500-600 people show up.”
Temple Beth Am has been holding its annual carnival for 10 years, with the carnival attracting around 1,000 people each year.
“We’re creating memories for kids,” said carnival organizer Susan Leider. “And being connected Jewishly is about being able to call upon this bank of Jewish memories, and a fun Purim experience for kids is an important part of that.”
But it’s not just children who are reaping the rewards of the holiday — in recent years it’s also been widely embraced by women. In an ever-evolving religion where women are looking to play more significant roles, seizing on Purim was a natural choice, and it’s no longer strange to see women’s megillah readings.
“Some women have also turned Vashti into a type of pro-feminist,” Sarna said, referring to the one-time queen of Persia who is often simplistically considered a villain in the Book of Esther for refusing to show up naked to a party given by her husband, King Ahasveraus, forcing him to find a new queen (Esther).
Women and children are not the only ones who have benefited from the Purim renaissance. Part of the holiday’s success is its appeal to Jews of all religious affiliations.
“With the renaissance of Jewish life in this country, there has become a stronger desire to celebrate our own holidays, particularly when they have resonance on the larger culture,” said David Ellenson, president of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. “And ethnicity now has a respectability that it did not previously possess.”
Jews today are much happier to embrace Purim than Halloween, Ellenson said, because both offer similar elements (the parties, eating candy, dressing up), but Purim is an authentic Jewish holiday that is specifically connected to Jewish pride, survival and continuity.
Once, the whole issue of vengeance against Haman and his sons was deemed problematic by earlier generations of Reform Jews, Ellenson said.
“But with the rise of ethnic pride, concerns with Jewish continuity and the universal themes of escape from prejudice and destruction, Purim has found a ready audience among Jews of all types,” he added.
It’s something that Rabbi Sharon Brous, of the newly founded IKAR synagogue in West Los Angeles, has incorporated into the shul’s first Purim celebrations.
Founded 10 months ago with the vision to “create a community of intellectual and spiritual life and the pursuit of Justice,” IKAR’s Purim carnival for adults and children is a “Justice Carnival.” Every fun carnival booth will be accompanied by a social justice or human rights booth so people can still enjoy the Moon Bounce or the bean bag throw but read about the fight against AIDS in Africa or efforts to help tsunami relief.
“The idea is that the kids understand that by being Jewish and celebrating Purim, it’s also connected to other things,” Brous said. “That performing mitzvot for other needy people is a critical part of being Jewish.”
Whatever the rationale behind each individual organization’s celebration of this “minor” Jewish holiday, celebrating Purim looks like it’s here to stay.
“It doesn’t yet vie with Chanukah …,” Sarna said. “But the appeal is certainly growing.”
Just Say No, Even on Purim
Lighten Up on Christmas and Christians
Even in relatively tolerant and officially secular America, Jews long have had to do a dance around the holidays of the majority population. There’s a national party going on and, let’s face it, we are not invited.
The issue then is how to deal with it. There seems to be three basic responses.
One, give in “to the spirit,” even if that means elevating Chanukah into an ersatz version of Christmas, with excessive gift-giving and demands for equal time with the bigger holiday.
Two, rail against the persuasiveness of the holiday and of Christianity in our core culture. For some, that means waging a kind of secularist jihad to remove all spiritual aspects from the season.
Third, just keep a respectful distance and let the Christians enjoy their holiday to the fullest including allowing trees, mangers and reindeer in the parks. Use the time to reconfirm to yourself and, more importantly, your children our status as proud and very separate minority.
In some ways, the first approach seems akin to giving in to the majority faith. We boost Chanukah, a relatively minor holiday, into megastatus and turn our children into Yuletide wannabes. Let’s face it, most of our kids don’t need more excuses for presents.
More serious, and immediately damaging, is the opposite tendency, which amounts to driving religious Christmas out of the public sphere. This is something not exclusively supported by Jews, but it’s no big secret that Jews are prominent in many of the organizations — like the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) — that spearhead the anti-Christmas secular jihad.
To a large extent, this approach seeks to eliminate everything that is Christian about Christmas from the public sphere — from trees, green lights and mangers to the singing of Christmas carols. It reached the point of ludicrous when our former, illustrious governor, Gray Davis always craven in the service of his heavily Jewish donors, renamed the state Christmas Tree into a Holiday Tree.
This kind of idiocy, which was reversed this year by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, comes out of a mistaken belief that to ensure a secular state, we need to eliminate any hint of Christian belief from the public sphere. In the words of Amanda Susskind, regional director of the ADL, furious efforts must be made to maintain “a wall of separation between the pubic realm and religious tradition.
In theory, this is a fine idea. I certainly would not like to see public school students forced to sing Christmas carols or listen to a Billy Graham lecture. Yet Susskind is talking about circumscribing all manner of spiritually tainted behavior. They have even issued a somewhat silly pronunciamento called, “The December Dilemma, ” to supply guidelines so schools don’t dip their toes into even vaguely religious waters at this time of year.
Behind these efforts lies what I suspect is a more elaborate agenda. Susskind, for example, expresses “sympathy” for the French government’s decision to ban crosses, head scarves and yarmulkes from public schools. She isn’t ready to take this on in America, but more zealous secularists, like the ACLU, might be sorely tempted.
Such efforts, in my mind, turn the state from neutral toward religion to advocate for what may be called the secularist faith. Instead of admitting that religious ideas, primarily derived from Jewish and Christian roots, stand at the root of our constitutional republic, the ADL and the even more secularist ACLU seem to see any acknowledgement of religion — from the singing of “Jingle Bells” at schools to discussions of the religious roots of Christmas — as a grave threat to civil liberties.
Perhaps, the most egregious local example of this can be seen in the ACLU’s so far successful attempt, with full backing from the ADL, to get the Board of Supervisors to excise the mission cross from the Los Angeles County Seal. This effort grew out of the notion that having a cross on the seal for the past half century represented, in the ADL’s words, and affront to the “diversity of the people of the community.” Zev Yaroslavsky, easily the most influential Jewish politician in the county even called the cross a “symbol that divides us.”
David Hernandez, one of the leaders of a broad-based effort to overturn the country’s decision, considers this decision an example of legislative arrogance. It was taken without considering the idea that many church-going Christians, as well as Hispanics proud of their historic role in the City of Angeles, might object to having their heritage expunged from the seal.
After all, Catholic missionaries built the first schools, brought medicine and many other elements of European civilization (not all positive, to be sure) to this part of the word. Reducing the mission symbol to a kind of jumped-up Taco Bell is not only an affront to L.A.’s Hispanic Catholic heritage but to the critical role faith has played in the evolution of the city since then.
Nor can anyone but a total paranoid compare people like Hernandez to the kind of bigoted Christians who have tormented us in the past.
“People are surprised I am not a Bible-Belt, right wing Christian fanatic,” explains the middle-of-the-road Republican insurance adjuster from Valley Village, who is a member of such dangerous groups as the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley, the North Hollywood Neighborhood Council and the Executives support group for the Jewish Homes fro the Aging.
This guy is about as close to Father Coughlin as, well, Kris Kringle.
Rather than wage silly battles with such well-meaning people over Christmas carols, of a mission cross, Jews need to lighten up. Christmas and traditional Christianity today simply do no represent serious threats to the existence of Jews in the contemporary world; outside of the Islamicists, our mortal enemies and those of Israel, can more likely be found among the most hip, pro-Palestinian Churches, some of which back a boycott of Israel, as well as among the longtime anti-Zionists in the secular intellectual left.
In 2004, we have more to fear from Micheal Moore and the archbishop of Canterbury than we do from Graham and ex-urban megachurches. It’s long since time to admit that the political and social landscape has changed greatly from the time our grandparents fled the czarist shtetl.
Finally, we should also recognize that the attempt to drive all religious thought (except perhaps pagan ideas) from the schools also represents a threat to the intelligent understanding of our republic. The founding fathers, many themselves steeped in the traditions of the Torah, would have found it ludicrous that our kids are expected to learn about the roots of American republicanism without some notion of the role played by basic Jewish, as well as Christian, moral principles.
For these reasons, learning about our faith, along with Muslims, Buddhist and Christian traditions, should not be verboten within public education. Indeed, the study of history has convinced me that you can’t understand the past, and how we got to be who we are, without a full comprehension of the religious past.
By removing religion from the public realm entirely, evicting the ecclesiastical role from our histories, plays and pageants, we essentially end up embracing in its place another theology, one that sees human history in exclusively economic class or biological terms.
Given these realties, it’s time for Jews to realize that traditional Christianity — and its symbols — represent less a threat than an important potential ally. By showing respect, and keeping our distance at this time of year, we can build on this historically miraculous development, instead of creating the basis for yet another season of discord.
Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor
Q: When does a Christmas tree become a Tu B’Shevat tree?
A: When a Westwood church and a Santa Monica synagogue decide that having one tree do double duty is good both for the environment and the spiritual awareness of their congregants.
After the hard-working tree has done its dual job, it will be planted in a public park for everyone to enjoy.
Fifty Jewish families from Beth Shir Sholom and 50 Christian families from the Westwood Hills Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ are each contributing $36 to jointly purchase one tree, for a total of 50 trees.
The trees, in planters, were delivered to the church on Dec. 12, during a joint celebration with temple members.
After the Christmas season, on Jan. 9, the trees will be delivered to Beth Shir Sholom families, who will care for them for the next three weeks.
Although Tu B’Shevat, the New Year of Trees, falls on Jan. 25 this year, the actual tree planting will be delayed until Sunday, Jan. 30.
On the morning of Jan. 30, the Christian and Jewish families will meet at the temple and nosh on the fruits symbolic of the holiday, after blessings by the rabbi.
Immediately afterward, the trees will be transported to the Ed Edelman Park in Topanga Canyon and planted there with the help of the TreePeople, Malibu Creek State Park and the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.
“This project marks the convergence of two traditions, without detracting from the integrity of either one,” said Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels of Beth Shir Sholom, the “Progressive Reform” congregation long active in interfaith relations. “In both traditions, trees symbolize new life and hope.”
“We tend to link Christmas and Chanukah because they happen around the same time,” said the Rev. Kirsten Linford-Steinfeld of the church. Linford-Steinfeld, who is married to a Jewish man, warmly endorsed the project. “I think it’s a neat idea to connect two of our holidays in a different way, especially since Tu B’Shevat comes exactly one month after Christmas this year.”
The project was the brainchild of Nurit Ze’evi, who thought of the idea when she remembered her childhood in Israel and the Tu B’Shevat holiday.
This year, the project will be on a trial run, but Ze’evi already has more ambitious plans for the future.
In a poem she wrote for the occasion, Ze’evi envisions that in the years to come, hundreds and then thousands of Christians and Jews will join hands in planting Christmas/Tu B’Shevat trees in Los Angeles, the United States and across the world.
A Sporting Chanukah
It’s All About the Olive Oil
“I like to have fun in the kitchen,” said Susie Fishbein, a stay-at-home mother of four — three girls and a boy — who became an overnight success with the publication of her cookbook, “Kosher by Design: Picture-perfect food for the holidays & every day” (Mesorah, 2003).
While some food writers automatically push the same old latke and brisket menu at Chanukah, Fishbein offers a lighter touch by mixing in Mediterranean fare. And although she tweaks culinary tradition, she honors it. Fishbein believes in presenting beautiful food in unique ways.
Because Fishbein never attended culinary school, she has empathy for the home cook who is working blindly from a stranger’s instructions and, maybe, a picture. Her recipes are easy to follow; even novices can achieve professional results.
Although she is playful and adventurous, Fishbein is serious about finding inspiration.
She talks to lots of people, asking them about their favorite foods. She reads restaurant menus the way some people study the stock market. She’s never just eating; she’s figuring out what ingredients she’s tasting and which flavors compliment each other. Her aim is to keep ahead of the kosher curve.
“Creating recipes is my forte,” she said. To invent novel ways of preparing food, she spends huge amounts of time experimenting in the kitchen. She asks her husband and children to test her creations.
“Through trial and error, I attempted a new dish several months ago,” she said with a laugh. “It went through three phases before my family said: ‘Give it up! It just isn’t any good.'”
With a bubbly personality, Fishbein describes a recent December when a Hadassah chapter on Long Island invited her to demonstrate how to make beignets, a type of French fritter.
“Beignets are fresh and exciting at Chanukah,” she said. “A change of pace from jelly doughnuts.”
Because she expected 200 Hadassah women at the demonstration, Fishbein asked her mother for assistance.
“Ironically, I don’t come from a long line of good cooks,” she said. “My ancestors were amazing women, bold beyond their time. But we gagged on their food.”
Watching Fishbein whipping up the beignet batter and frying fritters, her mother said: “Those aren’t beignets, they’re punchkis!” She then claimed that Fishbein’s grandmother used to make an Ashkenazi rendition of this French confection. “It’s the one thing that Bubbe made well!”
Fishbein found this hiliarious, because she had searched long and hard for this upscale idea. Then, through a series of missteps followed by corrections, she perfected her version of the recipe, only to find something similar had been in the family for decades.
Every Chanukah, Fishbein throws a block party and includes all of her neighbors. Inviting 18 adults and 14 children, she serves many of the recipes from “Kosher by Design,” especially the ones calling for olive oil.
Olive oil, a precious commodity in Jerusalem during the Second Temple period, is at the heart of Chanukah cooking. After the Maccabees prevailed in a series of bitter battles, there was only a 24-hour supply of oil left to light the Temple menorah.
This created a crisis, because it took eight days to replenish lamp oil. But, miracle of miracles, one day’s worth of oil lasted eight days. Paying homage to this joyous event, no Chanukah menu would be complete without food fried in oil.
True to this theme, Fishbein serves family and friends Rigatoni ala Norma, a scrumptious Italian dish made with red sauce riddled with fried eggplant and basil. Her Parmesan Crusted Grouper is a remarkably easy recipe that yields amazingly delicious results.
A perennial favorite, Greek Tomato-Spinach Pizza is surrounded by phyllo dough and layered with fried veggies and ricotta and mozzarella cheeses. Fishbein likes these two dairy recipes because of the role cheese plays in the Chanukah story.
Aware that food is mightier than the sword, Judith, an unsung heroine, entertained an enemy general and plied him with salty cheese. To quench his thirst, he consumed far too much wine. After he fell asleep from the wine, Judith cut off his head with his sword, helping her people prevail against the enemy forces.
Today, the Festival of Lights remains a joyous occasion. In accordance with the holiday’s spirit, there’s a photo of a glittering table flooded with glowing candles and blue and gold accouterments in the Chanukah chapter of “Kosher by Design.”
Fishbein knows how to turn an ordinary dining room into a dazzling scene that impresses guests. She has become the doyenne of Jewish entertaining. As a matter of fact, she’s publishing “Kosher by Design Entertains” in time for Passover.
No matter what your home looks like, Fishbein suggests firing up your imagination when setting holiday tables (see page 50). Last Chanukah, her house was under construction. “We had bare walls down to the studs,” she said. “The place was a disaster zone.” Yet at her annual Chanukah party, she overshadowed chaos with extravagance.
“Would you believe the photo from my cookbook was actually my table — taken during the demolition,” she said. “It goes to show, you can create ambiance anywhere.”
But how do the creatively challenged get started? Fishbein suggests beginning with the best food. Yet, she says, it’s not only what you serve, but how you serve it.
A simple garnish creating contrast, an offbeat tablecloth such as a quilt, an Oriental pot filled with flowering plants — these things elevate the mundane to the magnificent. Search your house for lovely objects long forgotten. Mix and match things representing different styles and adapt them when you entertain.
“Above all, enjoy yourself,” Fishbein said. “Let each meal be a wonderful journey — the sharing of something special with people you care about and love.”
Rigatoni Ala Norma
6 medium Asian eggplants, unpeeled and cut into 1/2-inch thick slices crosswise
Salt to taste
1 1/4 cups or more olive oil
Freshly ground pepper to taste
4 large cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 (28-ounce or 32-ounce) cans whole plum tomatoes, drained and chopped
1 tablespoon sugar
3-4 fresh basil leaves, chopped, plus ex
tra for garnishing
1 pound rigatoni, uncooked
Lay eggplant slices in a single layer. Lightly salt both sides. Cover with paper towels. Let sit for 20 minutes. Press on paper towels occasionally to soak up water that will come from eggplants.
In a large frying pan, heat 1 cup, or more, of olive oil over medium high heat. Make sure you have at least an inch of oil, so it will cover the slices and eliminate the need for flipping each piece over. When oil is hot, carefully add the eggplant in batches and fry until golden on both sides. Add more oil, if necessary. Transfer to clean paper towels and drain. Season generously with salt and black pepper.
Place 1/4 cup olive oil in a large pot. Add the garlic and sauté until golden. Add the tomatoes and any accumulated juices. Add the sugar and simmer about 15 minutes. The sauce will thicken. Add the chopped basil leaves and simmer three to four minutes longer.
While the sauce simmers, prepare the pasta according to package directions until al dente (chewy). Drain, reserving one cup of the pasta water in case sauce needs thinning.
Toss the pasta with the eggplant and sauce. Garnish with fresh basil leaves.
Makes six to eight servings.
Greek Tomato-Spinach Pizza
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cups chopped onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 (10-ounce) boxes frozen chopped
spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
2 teaspoons dry oregano
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
15 ounces ricotta cheese
10 sheets frozen phyllo dough, thawed
1/4 cup butter, melted
4-6 fresh tomatoes, evenly sliced
1 1/2 cups grated mozzarella cheese
Preheat oven to 400 F.
In a skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic. Sauté about five minutes, or until onion is transparent.
Add spinach and saute until all excess moisture has evaporated. Add oregano, basil and pepper. Mix well. Remove from heat. Mix in ricotta cheese. Set aside.
Grease a large jelly roll pan (the kind with a small rim). Lay one sheet of phyllo in it. The phyllo may be just a little bigger than the pan. Brush phyllo with melted butter. Top with a second phyllo sheet and brush with melted butter.
Repeat process until all ten sheets are buttered. Roll the ends of phyllo into themselves to form the “pizza crust.” NOTE: Phyllo dough dries out quickly, so keep sheets covered with a damp cloth until use.
Using a spatula, spread the spinach ricotta mixture in an even layer over the phyllo. Arrange tomatoes over this layer. Sprinkle with mozzarella. Bake 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. When cool enough to handle, cut into squares.
Makes 12 servings.
Parmesan Crusted Grouper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup butter, softened but not melted
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 scallions, thinly sliced
4 small (1-inch thick) grouper fillets
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Preheat broiler to high.
In a small bowl, combine Parmesan, butter, mayonnaise and scallions. Reserve.
Place grouper fillets on a lightly greased boiler pan. Squeeze juice from lemon over fillets. Sprinkle with black pepper.
Broil 6 inches from heat for 10 minutes. Remove from oven. Spread tops of the fillets with cheese mixture. Return to oven and broil for two minutes longer, or until topping is lightly browned and bubbly. Remove fillets to platter.
Makes four servings.
4-6 cups vegetable oil
1 cup milk
1 cup water
1 large egg
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons sugar
Pour oil into a deep pot to a depth of 3-4 inches. Heat oil to 370 F.
In a large bowl with the mixer at medium-high speed, combine the milk, water and egg. Add the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Mix until batter is smooth.
Using a 1/8 cup measure, drop the batter into the hot oil and fry about 3-4 minutes. Don’t make them much bigger or the inside won’t cook properly. The beignets will float to the surface. Turn them a few times, until the beignets are golden on both sides. Remove and drain on paper towels. Use a strainer to sprinkle confectioners’ sugar on all sides. Serve hot.
Makes 20-24 beignets.
Recipes from “Kosher by Design: Picture Perfect Food for the Holidays & Every Day,” by Susie Fishbein (Mesorah).
Give Thanksgiving a Jewish Flavor