Community Passover seders


“King Solomon’s Table” Seder

Chef Akasha Richmond will prepare a Passover feast and seder to celebrate Joan Nathan’s new cookbook, “King Solomon’s Table.” Served family style, the first course features various salads and spiced fried matzo. For the main course, you can choose between braised short ribs, double-lemon roast chicken or Richmond’s eggplant bake with almond ricotta. There also will be side dishes and fried artichokes (Jewish style) to accompany dinner. Passover food rules will be followed strictly and the dinner is “kosher style,” containing no dairy. Officiated by Rabbi Laura Owens, B’Nai Horin. 6 p.m. $95; $45 for children younger 12. Reservations required. AR Cucina, 9531 Culver Blvd., Culver City. (310) 558-8800.

Wilshire Boulevard Temple Adult Seder

Join Rabbi Susan Nanus and Cantor Seth Ettinger for a musical seder followed by a Passover meal (wine included). Older children and teens are welcome. 6:30 p.m. $40; reservation required. Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Irmas Campus, 11661 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 388-2401.

Chabad of Toluca Lake

Enjoy a gourmet Passover seder that is interactive for the whole family. Share and hear meaningful discussion while enjoying a four-course meal and international wines. All are welcome to join, regardless of Jewish affiliation or background. 7 p.m. $40; $20 for children. Chabad of Toluca Lake, 4912 Strohm Ave., North Hollywood. (818) 308-4118.

Chabad of Ventura

“Relive the Passover Exodus” with Rabbi Yakov and Sarah Latowicz. Enjoy a seder with a gourmet kosher brisket Passover meal paired with a variety of kosher wines from Herzog Wine Cellars and authentic, handmade shmurah matzo from Israel. The event will feature an abridged (but traditional) seder, fully illustrated and colorful haggadah in Hebrew and English, contemporary spiritual messages and songs. All are welcome to join this community seder, regardless of Jewish affiliation or background. 7:30 p.m. Suggested donation of $54, $26 for children younger than 10. Nobody will be turned away for lack of finances. Pierpont Racquet Club, 500 Sanjon Road, Ventura Beach.

For more Chabad Passover events, visit

Jem Community Center

Relax as you relive this festival of freedom and take a journey through the haggadah with traditional songs, stories and spiritual insights. Enjoy a gourmet Passover dinner, original handmade shmurah matzo and four glasses of kosher wine. Everyone is welcome and nobody will be turned away due to lack of funds. 8 p.m. Second night seder at 8 p.m. April 11. $60; $30 for children. JEM Community Center, 9930 S. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 772-0000.


Hollywood Temple Beth El Sing-Along

Enjoy a kosher meal and the telling of the Exodus story in song at “Some Enchanted Pesach Seder.” Sing along to parodies of music from Disney movies and by Stephen Sondheim, the Beatles and Adele. Kosher for Passover. 6 p.m. $80; subject to availability. Hollywood Temple Beth El, 1317 N. Crescent Heights, West Hollywood. (323) 656-3150.

Temple Etz Chaim Family Seder

Enjoy a seder with the family led by Rabbi Richard Spiegel and Chazzan Pablo Duek. 6:30 p.m. $55; $32 for children ages 6-12; $20 for children ages 3-5. Temple Etz Chaim, 1080 E. Janss Road, Thousand Oaks. (805) 497-6891.

Calendar: April 7-13



Celebrate the end of the week with Young Adults of Los Angeles, tasting wines and food while welcoming the start of Shabbat. 7 p.m. $36; tickets available at The Blending Lab, 7948 W. Third St., Los Angeles.



Wayne Newton makes his return to Beverly Hills with his new production, “Wayne Newton: Up Close and Personal.” The entertainer known as “Mr. Las Vegas” will sing crowd favorites including his signature hit, “Danke Schoen,” interact with the audience and play an assortment of instruments. The opening set will be by modern adult-contemporary/smooth jazz artist and songwriter Carly Robyn Green. 8 p.m. $38; tickets available at Saban Theatre, 8440 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills.


International recording artist RebbeSoul is back in the United States from Israel with his unique blend of ancient and modern music. Come enjoy an evening of music, storytelling, noshing and mingling with the community. 8:10 p.m. $25; tickets available at; $29 at the door. Address given upon RSVP, Santa Monica. (310) 430-9864.



Travel back in time to biblical Egypt and relive the Exodus. Watch the Ten Plagues come to life in the Land of Egypt (aka Shemesh Organic Farm), meet animals at the Pinat Chai Animal Center, bake matzo on the open fire, make charoset in the “Jamba Jews” Bike Blender, and enjoy games plus arts and crafts. The day will be filled with activities, snacks and a kosher lunch. 10 a.m. $10; free for kids 6 and younger; tickets available at Shalom Institute, 34342 Mulholland Highway, Malibu. (818) 889-5500.


Need help finding a genealogical record or a ship manifest? Do you know what sources to use? Or do you need family documents translated? Yiddish, Russian, German, Polish and Hebrew translators will be on hand to help answer your questions in an event hosted by the Jewish Genealogical Society of Los Angeles. Sessions include Barbara Algaze on genealogy research at the Family History Library and a Q-and-A on DNA topics moderated by Brock Shamberg. 12:30 p.m. Free for members; become a member at the door for $25 (or $30 per family). Los Angeles Family History Library, 10741 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles.



Join Netiya for a six-day Passover virtual cleanse that features a daylong retreat on April 16 in Sherman Oaks. Instead of a week of eating heavily processed foods full of additives, sugars and salt, you can choose to join Neitya for a virtual cleanse that includes daily prompts with nutritional and health tips, emotional and spiritual probes and quotes, Passover Torah and optional daily conference calls for support. Includes a suggested menu of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, soups and teas. Participants will pot and take home edible plants, sing freedom songs and close with a mikveh.



Michael Twitty, the acclaimed African-American Jewish food writer and culinary historian, will explore race, culture, food, faith and history through what he calls “Kosher/Soul.” Twitty will share his personal journey and discuss the experience of being both African-American and Jewish. The 8 p.m. event will feature a sampling of recipes from his forthcoming cookbook, “The Cooking Gene: A Journey through African-American Culinary History in the Old South.” 2 p.m., free; 8 p.m., $20, $15 for members, $10 for students. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.    

2013 Passover calendar


Celebrate Passover, Shabbat and family during a Tot Shabbat with Rabbi Karen Bender, Cantor Alison Wissot and Len Levitt and the Levitty Puppets. Sat. 9:30 a.m. Free. Temple Judea, 5429 Lindley Ave., Tarzana. (818) 758-3800.


Clergy and community leaders, including Ruth Messinger, president and executive director of American Jewish World Service; Imam Jihad Turk, director of religious affairs for the Islamic Center of Southern California; the Rev. Mark Whitlock, executive director of the USC Cecil Murray Center for Community Engagement; Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom; and Rabbi Mark Borovitz of Beit T’Shuvah, appear at this interfaith urban Passover experience. Held at the new Pico Union, a revival of the historic site of the first Sinai Temple, the event provides inspiration and insight through song, stories and more, all in celebration of the themes of Passover. A light reception follows. Sun. 2-4 p.m. Free-$72. Pico Union, 1153 Valencia St., downtown. (818) 760-1077. (the Journal will live-stream this program at

In Hebrew, “Miriam,” “Moses,” “Mitzrayim” (Hebrew for “Egypt”), “makot” (Hebrew for plagues) and “miracle” all begin with mem, the 13th letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Drawing on Torah, midrash and the imagination of Bill Burnett, who wrote the book, lyrics and music to this concert event, “Mem” follows the Hebrew slaves’ insurgency against their oppressors in Egypt. A lively discussion follows. Sun. 2 p.m. Free (donations welcome). Adat Ari El, Farber Auditorium, 12020 Burbank Blvd., Valley Village. (818) 766-9426.

Cantors Samuel Cohen, Jonathan Friedmann, Marcus Feldman and Netanel Baram perform songs in Yiddish, Hebrew and Italian during “Exodus: A Passover Concert.” Angela Bae (violin), Susan Greenberg (flute) and Carmit Baram (bassoon) provide accompaniment. Presented by the City of West Hollywood’s Russian Advisory Board. Sun. 3 p.m. $20 (suggested donation). Plummer Park, Fiesta Hall, 7377 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood. (323) 868-2623.


Elected leaders, synagogue members, students and others come together to celebrate. Sing songs of liberation, nosh on matzah and macaroons, and rejoice. For security and parking reasons, RSVP no later than Thursday, March 14, to Barri Worth at Tue. Noon-1 p.m. Free. L.A. City Hall Rotunda, 200 N. Spring St., Los Angeles. (323) 761-8600.

American Jewish World Service (AJWS), The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger and Netiya come together for an interactive evening of food, conversation and study. AJWS President Ruth Messinger; Cari Uslan, development director of MAZON; and Rabbi Noah Farkas, founder of Netiya, offer insights about food justice and Passover. Also, learn how to advocate for ending hunger and meet like-minded Jews. Tue. 7 p.m. Free. The Hub on Venice, 11827 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 843-9588.


Famed chefs and restaurateurs Judy and Marvin Zeidler host a not-so-traditional Passover feast based on Judy’s recent book, “Italy Cooks.” Between courses, the Zeidlers reminiscence about Italy and discuss Italian Jewish cuisine. Menu includes whitefish mousse on romaine heart leaves with fried sage leaves and anchovy, Tuscan porcini soup, roast spring lamb with green sauce Piedmont and chocolate mousse with chocolate hazelnut. All recipes are kosher for Passover. All wines are kosher. Thu. 7 p.m. $80 (general), $95 (includes wine). Advance tickets required (sales end on March 18). Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.

The young professionals organization (ages 21-39) holds a chocolate seder, led by Jessica Kendler Yarkin, Ruach’s rabbinic student leader, and veteran pastry chef and chocolatier Jonathan Solomon. One golden ticket ensures admittance to this feast, which, to paraphrase Willy Wonka, will be 93 percent perspiration, 6 percent electricity, 4 percent evaporation, 2 percent butterscotch ripple and 0 percent matzah. Thu. 7 p.m. $10 (RSVP requested). Adat Ari El, 12020 Burbank Blvd., Valley Village. (818) 766-9426.


The Shalom Institute in Malibu invites young children and their families to travel back in time to biblical Egypt and relive the Exodus. Kids toil the land and gather parsley for Passover; watch the Ten Plagues come to life; make holiday crafts or the seder table; ride the zip line across the Red Sea to freedom and make matzah over an open fire. Sun. 1-4 p.m. Free. Shalom Institute, 34342 Mulholland Highway, Malibu. (818) 889-5500.


Chef Suzanne Tracht’s acclaimed restaurant offers a special Passover dinner and seder to celebrate the first night of the holiday. The four-course meal merges Tracht’s family holiday traditions with the flavors of Jar, a modern chophouse. Enjoy hors d’oeuvres of house-cured salmon and crispy potato pancakes, matzah ball soup in lemongrass broth and a main course of Jar signature’s pot roast or sautéed Alaskan halibut. Family-style sides include horseradish mashed potatoes and sautéed pea tendrils. Macaroons, cheesecake and more highlight the dessert plate. Author Racelle Rosett leads the service with Rabbi Susan Goldberg. Singer-songwriter Sally Dworsky provides musical entertainment. Guests are encouraged to donate to MAZON : A Jewish Response to Hunger. Mon. 5:30 p.m. $130 (per adult), $55 (per child younger than 12). Jar, 8225 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 655-6566.


Sephardic Singles Havurah (ages 40s-70s) invites the community to its Sephardic seder, which is led in Ladino, English and Hebrew and overlooks on ocean sunset at a Pacific Palisades location. Haifa Restaurant caters the Sephardic-style dinner. RSVP with your check must be received by March 18. Tue. 4:30 p.m. $30 (Havurah members), $40 (guests). (323) 294-6084.

Enjoy a seder experience with the Jewish Home’s family of residents and supporters. Tue. 5 p.m. $40 (per adult), $30 (per adult family member of Jewish Home residents). $15 (per child younger than 12). Advance tickets required (sales end March 18). Los Angeles Jewish Home, Eisenberg Village Camps, 18855 Victory Blvd., Reseda. (818) 774-3386.

Experience a second-night seder with customs and charoset from Jewish communities across the globe. Tue. 6:15-9 p.m. $52 (nonmember adult), $27 (member child, ages 3-13), $48 (member adult), $32 (nonmember child, ages 3-13). Shomrei Torah Synagogue, 7353 Valley Circle Blvd., West Hills. (818) 346-0811.

Join AJWS, Global Circle, ATID and Moishe House for a second-night seder, designed for singles and couples (ages 21-39), that focuses on how our freedom story inspires global justice today. A three-course kosher gourmet meal will be served. Tue. 6:30 p.m. $44 (reservations required). Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 481-3244.


The rehabilitation center hosts a special third-night seder with a presentation of its original musical, “Freedom Song.” Wed. 6:30-8:30 p.m. $26. Beit T’Shuvah, 8831 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 204-5200.


Experience the seder through the eyes of women, sing women’s Passover songs and feast on a kosher-for-Passover dinner. One of the National Council of Jewish Women/Los Angeles’ most anticipated and well-attended annual events, this get-together aims to be meaningful and inspiring. Thu. 6:30-9:30 p.m. $36 (members), $46 (general). NCJW/LA Council House, 543 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 651-2930.

Calendar Picks and Clicks: March 16-22, 2013

Looking for Passover events? Check out our Passover calendar.



Storyteller Karen Golden takes a food-centric journey through the holidays with a buffet of traditional and original stories that highlight how recipes bond generations. A catered nosh — including kugel — follows the performance. Sat. 2-4 p.m. $20. Institute of Musical Arts, 3210 W. 54th St., Los Angeles. (323) 300-6578.



Alain Resnais’ “Night and Fog,” one of the most screened films about the Holocaust, is often criticized for its failure to confront the specificity of the genocide. “Concentrationary Cinema” authors Griselda Pollock and Max Silverman, both professors at the University of Leeds, present their argument that the film’s political aesthetics of resistance might better be approached through the prism of the camps as the core instrument of totalitarianism’s assault on the human condition. Sun. 2 p.m. Free. Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 443-7000.


Michele Paskow, a lecturer in the Jewish studies department at California State University, Northridge, leads a discussion on “Murder on a Kibbutz: A Communal Case,” a murder mystery by late Israeli author Batya Gur. Today’s event is the first meeting of a book discussion group at CSUN featuring the university’s Jewish studies faculty facilitating conversations about interesting reads. Sun. 2-4 p.m. Free. California State University, Northridge, Oviatt Library, Jack & Florence Ferman Presentation Room, 18111 Nordhoff St., Northridge. (818) 677-4724.


Fusing klezmer, political cabaret and punk folk, this internationally renowned ensemble, led by Detroit-area native Daniel Kahn plays West Hollywood. The set-list draws on material from the group’s newest album, “Bad Old Songs,” which features polyglot reinventions of Yiddish folk songs and covers of classics from Leonard Cohen and Franz Josef Degenhardt. Notable Russian-Jewish songwriter Psoy Korolenko appears as a special guest. Sun. 7-8:30 p.m. $10. Plummer Park, Fiesta Hall, 7377 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood. (213) 389-8880.



Rabbi Mark Borovitz, spiritual leader of rehabilitation center Beit T’Shuvah, and Cambria Gordon, co-author of “The Down-to-Earth Guide to Global Warming,” discuss mindfulness in navigating today’s technologically dense world during an evening of dinner and learning. Gordon, wife of “Homeland” producer Howard Gordon, who lost control of her SUV while reaching for her cell phone and struck an elderly man in 2011, shares her personal story on the dangers and consequences of distracted driving and the faith-based lessons she learned. Mon. 6:30-8:30 p.m. Free. Beit T’Shuvah, 8831 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 204-5200.


The singer-songwriter, son of folk-rock icon Paul Simon, moves away from his alt country-flavored debut to explore a modern psychedelic folk-rock sound driven by electric guitars as he plays material from his forthcoming sophomore album, “Division Street.” Willoughby, Henry Wolfe and Heather Porcarro also perform. 21 and older. Mon. 9 p.m.-2 a.m. Free. The Satellite, 1717 Silver Lake Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 661-4380.



The Women’s International Zionist Organization hosts a special dessert reception and Q-and-A with the acclaimed Israeli writer. A Jewish Journal contributor, Mossanen is author of the historical novels, “The Last Romanov,” “Harem” and “Courtesan.” Tue. 7 p.m. $36. Light in Art Gallery, 8408 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 378-2312.



Set in Los Angeles’ revitalized downtown and a highlight of the 2012 Los Angles Jewish Film Festival, this indie romantic-comedy follows a nebbish-y young Jewish woman named Deb (Sara Rue). Trapped in the role of caretaker of her unappreciative family, Deb suddenly gets her own life when she volunteers to cat-sit at her unrequited love’s downtown loft for a week. Oscar nominee Elliott Gould costars as Burt Dorfman, Deb’s cantankerous widowed father. Fri. Various times. $11 (general), $8 (children younger than 12, seniors). Laemmle’s Noho 7, 5240 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. Laemmle’s Music Hall 3, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. Laemmle’s Playhouse 7, 673 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. Laemmle’s Town Center 5, 17200 Ventura Blvd., Encino.



Celebrate the Jewish people’s deliverance from Egyptian slavery with Pesach events that begin well before the first seder on March 25. Highlights include musician Craig Taubman’s interfaith experience, drawing Jewish, Muslim and Christian clergy to downtown’s Pico Union neighborhood; acclaimed restaurant Jar’s kosher-for-Passover menu, which features crispy potato pancakes, Alaskan halibut and horseradish mash potatoes; and the National Council of Jewish Women/Los Angeles’ women’s seder, which aims to inspire and educate about social justice issues. With events for children and their parents, the elderly, young professionals and for all denominations, there is something for everyone.

View more Passover events here.




Hike Griffith Park and relax in Amir’s Garden ( with the young professionals of Valley Ruach. A barbecue and picnic with kosher and veggie hot dogs and salads follows. Wear sturdy and comfortable shoes, sunscreen and a hat. The easy hike lasts between 90 minutes and two hours. Sun. 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m. $4 (members), $6 (general). Meets at: Mineral Wells Picnic Area, Griffith Park Drive (near Harding Golf Course), Los Angeles. (818) 835-2139.


JConnectLA and Jewlicious invite 20- and 30-somethings to their annual Lag b’omer party at Dockweiler State Beach. Bonfires, music and games rage along the shoreline. Make sure to bring to bring guitars, tambourines or bongos to take part in jam sessions.  Last year, 600 people turned out. Don’t forget to bring a coat. Sinai Temple’s AtidLA participates. Wed. 6-10 p.m. Free. Dockweiler State Beach, 12501 Vista Del Mar, Playa del Rey. (310) 277-5544.


Orthodox singer Lipa Schmeltzer blends music and comedy; the Cheder Menachem Boys Choir and a juggler perform, and The Jewish Journal’s David Suissa and Rabbi Shlomo Cunin of Chabad-Lubavitch of California speak. Hebrew Academy Huntington Beach, Conejo Jewish Day School, Cheder Menachem, Bais Chaya Mushka Chabad, Congregation Kol Yakov Yehuda and others attend. Organized by Chabad Youth Programs. Thu. 11 a.m.-1 p.m. $18 (general, advance), $25 (general), $54 (premium seating, advance), $75 (premium). Saban Theatre, 8440 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. (424) 242-2239.

Juggling sensation Josh Horton infuses his show with comedy and audience participation at tonight’s Lag B’omer celebration.  Plus, a moon-bounce, music, bonfire and roasted marshmallows please all ages. Thu. 5:30 p.m. $10 (adults), $5 (children, 13 and under). Chabad of Calabasas, 3871 Old Topanga Canyon Road, Calabasas. (818) 222-3838.

7:00 pm
Dockweiler State Beach
Playa Del Rey between lifeguard stations 52 & 53
Join Rabbi Naomi Levy and members of the Nashuva Band for a nighttime bonfire, kosher hot dogs, fresh homemade hummous, S’mores and the traditional (for Nashuva anyway) bubbling kettle of fresh, sweet mint tea.  Every one of all ages is welcome!  We’ll have a drumming circle and plenty of singing. For more information see  There is no cost, but please RSVP at  Bring a blanket and dress warmly.

Thanks for Everything

Our holidays are as much about what we are bidden to remember as about what we are willing to forget.

At Chanukah we celebrate the miraculous rededication of the Second Temple by Judah Maccabee. In so doing the festival’s complex historical background fades to backstory. The part we more typically overlook is that the Maccabean revolt was not just a struggle versus Antiochus, an anti-Jewish ruler, but against a larger group of Jews who wanted to be more Greek and less Jewish.

And, according to the unvarnished account, the Maccabees treated their more-Hellenized brethren viciously. Judah’s father Mattathias derived his status from his peremptory murder of a Jew who offered a pagan sacrifice — an act that, from the outside, looks an awful lot like political terrorism.

Anyway, enjoy your latkes.

As for Passover, we tend to elide right over the seder’s little tidbit about the Lord smiting all the firstborn sons of Egypt. Sure, we dip a finger in our wine glass and dab it on our plate to recall the innocent blood that was shed, but most of us then lick our fingers and proceed to the soup.

Purim ends in a bloodbath, plain and simple, which is conveyed by an almost throwaway line. The Book of Esther speaks about how the king, instead of murdering the Jews, carried out his decree instead against their foes: “As a result, the Jews killed more than 70,000 of their enemies.”

Maybe it’s time to amend the tongue-in-cheek definition of a Jewish holiday: “They tried to kill us. They failed. We’ll forget the ugly parts. Now let’s eat.”

Thanksgiving, interestingly enough, offers the same challenge. Compared to the Jewish holidays we celebrate, the historical events that we celebrate this Thursday are centuries nearer in the historical record. But how soon we forget, or, more accurately, misremember.

Two new books provide a historical before-and-after picture of our beloved national holiday that is as cold as a cranberry mold.

In “Dogs of God: Columbus, the Inquisition and the Defeat of the Moors” (Doubleday), James Reston, Jr. documents the events in Spain that surrounded Columbus’ voyage to America. In their drive to consolidate their rule, to be more Catholic than the Vatican, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella launched the Inquisition, a campaign of terror, torture, murder and exile against some 120,000 Jews and thousands of Muslims.

“It is little appreciated,” Reston writes, “how intimately the discovery of the New World is bound up with the victory of Christianity over Islam … with the expulsion of the Spanish Jews, with the terrible Spanish inquisition…”

The piety and savagery that marked the reconquest of Christiandom crossed the Atlantic in 1492 (thanks, as Reston points out, to Abraham Zacuto, an exiled Jew who supplied Columbus’ four voyages with maps and copper astrolabe).

Charles C, Mann picks up the story in his book, “1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus” (Knopf). Drawing on new research, he puts the pre-“discovery” population of the Americas at 112 million, larger than the entire population of Europe. Contact with European diseases wiped out 90 percent of these people.

And consider this lovely Thanksgiving tableaux: In his history of Plymouth Colony, the colony’s governor William Bradford wrote that he and his fellow Puritans only survived the first winter by robbing vacant Indian houses and graves. In Plymouth, the colonists established their homes in a deserted Indian village.

The “good hand of God,” as Bradford terms it, evidently favored the Pilgrims with a plague of viral hepatitis upon the land’s former inhabitants, ” sweeping away great multitudes of the natives … that he might make room for us.”

And what disease didn’t accomplish, outright military force and broken treaties took care of.

I don’t mean to ruin your holiday: I plan to celebrate it with as much poultry and pie as you. And I’m not going to lead the protest against Thanksgiving’s place as one of our favorite national holidays, one that Jewish Americans of almost all stripes celebrate.

But these darker histories, like the shattered glass at the end of a wedding ceremony, should give us pause in the midst of our joy.

So in that spirit, even as we celebrate with gratitude this Thursday the blessings bestowed upon us and our loved ones, let’s not forget our obligation to bestow blessings on those still in need:

  • The victims of Hurricane Katrina, some 50,000 of whom, as I write this, could soon be rendered homeless, as CNN reports, when federal and state financial support is scheduled to end.
  • Our soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq, fighting a war based on bad intelligence, and conducted unintelligently by our political leaders. Let’s resolve to find a way for them to complete their missions as safely and as soon as possible.
  • The victims of American torture. Let’s resolve to speak up against methods and practices, as the Israel Supreme Court did in 1999 to stop the practice in Israel. Torture dehumanizes us as well as our enemies.
  • The victims of genocide in Darfur and Chad. Without forthright action, more than 2 million people will languish, die or be slaughtered in refugee camps, victims of the same sort of hate and violence that engendered the phrase, “Never Again!”

Happy Thanksgiving.


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
6 shallots
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
Sea salt
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.


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