Chanukah Gift Guide 2008

Here’s some ideas for gifts that will continue to inspire long after the chanukiah has been put away. Bling that bridges faith and fashion, a DVD from a local yoga instructor and a Western Wall locket from an Agoura Hills jewelry designer are a few ideas from Southern California and beyond that can make shopping for family and friends easier.

Los Angeles designer Ellen Hart offers an alternative to the tired “status bag” with CareerBags (” target=”_blank”> or at Royal Dutchess in Studio City).

Stella Rubinshteyn has created a treasure trove of mommy must-haves with Tivoli Couture (” target=”_blank”>

Jewtina ($20-$25, ” target=”_blank”> takes the animals of Chinese astrology and replaces them with New York deli favorites. Born in the Year of the Dog? Fuhgeddaboudit. Now you’re the Year of the Blintz. T-shirts ($18-$20), infant onesies ($20) and other Jewish Zodiac products make this a fun, personal gift for family and friends.

Rock Your Religion (” target=”_blank”>, also available at Best Buy and, which is compatible with both PC and Mac, can hold a 16-gigabyte SD card and features an on-board chromatic guitar/bass tuner.

If you are hoping to give (or get) inspiration this holiday, look toward the wisdom of Abby Lentz, who imparts hope and spirit with her “Heavyweight Yoga” DVD ($25, ” target=”_blank”>, a yoga DVD focused on health and recovery of body, mind and spirit created by Hillary Rubin, who was diagnosed with MS in 1996 and teaches at L.A.‘s City Yoga.

The Wish Locket by Agoura Hills-based Monica Nabati goes the distance from fashionable to meaningful by providing you with a Kotel you can keep close to your heart, among other designs ($56, plus $8 for additional engraving). Simply write out your hopes, dreams or prayers, fold the paper and insert it into the locket. Available at ” target=”_blank”> The Seinfeld Edition gives players a chance to relive their favorite “Seinfeld” moments from each of the show’s nine seasons. Kids can school their elders on everything cool with the Disney Channel Edition, featuring clips and trivia from “Hannah Montana,” “High School Musical,” “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody,” “Wendy Wu” and more. Given ($30, ” target=”_blank”> Produced by the American Jewish Historical Society, the set bats .1000 with photos and facts of baseball’s greatest Jewish players. It also includes a special tribute to the 75th anniversary of Hank Greenberg’s rookie season. Once you’re on base, hit a home run with Bergino’s Judaica collection baseballs ($20-$25,

More Meaning, Less Material

“Danny Siegel’s Bar and Bat Mitzvah Book: A Practical Guide for Changing the World Through Your Simcha,” by Danny Siegel (The Town House Press, $12).

This is a book that we have long needed. I wish that it had been around when my children were becoming bar and bat mitzvah.

Bar and bat mitzvahs are now widely observed. There was even a story in the Wall Street Journal a while ago about how non-Jewish kids are pestering their parents that they want one, too, since they are envious of their Jewish friends who get to have such big parties. However, children and their parents are bewildered and confused over how to make these events meaningful. Children wake up the morning after, after the out-of-town relatives have left, and before the mountain of waiting thank you-notes has to be attacked, and they ask themselves: What was this event which took over our lives for the last six months or more really all about?

Was the party that we threw only a way of reciprocating for the ones that our kids were invited to? Were the adults whom we invited really there only for business reasons or for social ones? Was this haftorah that our kids broke their teeth learning how to chant for so many weeks connected in any way to the world in which we live? And what message did we send our kids about our values by holding such a lavish bash?

Danny Siegel’s new book is filled with wise and helpful suggestions on how to avoid the letdown that the child and the family so often feel after such a simcha. First of all, it provides the child and the family with a whole different perspective on what this event means. And then it provides the family with a plethora of ideas on how to make this turning point in the life of the child and the family a genuinely meaningful event.

Siegel, the founder and chair of Ziv Tzedakah Fund, provides a definition of what it means to become a bar or bat mitzvah that I think puts everything into perspective. He says in some cultures the stages of life are: infant, toddler, child, teenager, young adult, adult, midlife, empty nester, retiree, etc. In Jewish thought, the stages of life are: infancy, childhood and then mitzvah manhood or womanhood. The whole point of the day is to understand and accept the status of one who is now capable and obligated to do good deeds.

If you accept this perspective, then everything else begins to fall into place: What you say on the invitation; if you buy your kippot from Guatemala women who live in utter poverty and desperately need the work; what the child says in his or her speech; what kind of party favors to give out; who you honor and how you honor them; and what happens with the leftover food after the party all flow directly from this understanding of what the event is really all about.

Here’s one example of what Siegel proposes you can do if you have imagination and good will:

Everyone has a challah at the dinner, right? Technically, you don’t need a challah except at the Shabbat or the holiday meal, but, for some reason, almost everyone has a big challah at the banquet table. And usually we call upon Uncle Herman — who is still sober this early in the evening, gave a pretty good gift and is one of the few at the meal whom we can trust to recite the “Motzi” by heart — to do the honors. But what more can be done with this ritual?

Level 1: At most parties the caterer takes the challah away the moment Uncle Herman recites the “Motzi.” It disappears through the swinging doors that lead into the kitchen, and it comes out some time later, neatly sliced and ready to serve. At some parties that I have been to, the family does it differently. They all gather around the challah, and instead of cutting it with a knife, each member of the family tears off a piece. It involves everyone in the mitzvah, and it is much more informal and haimish than having one person do it, and then having the people in the kitchen do the rest. And it is certainly easy to do.

Level 2: Consider baking the challah yourself, as a family project. Baking it is literally a hands-on mitzvah. And believe me, knowing how to make a challah is a very useful skill to have, something that will come in handy for years to come in the life of the boy or girl who learns how to do it. In this egalitarian age, who says that only girls should know how to bake a challah? Every Jewish wife will be delighted if she finds out that the man she has married knows how to and likes to bake challah, believe me

Level 3: Ask the rabbi for a list of members of the congregation who are in the hospital and bring them each a challah in honor of Shabbat. If you have ever been in the hospital, you know that it is a lonely and a scary experience, and it feels especially lonely if you are there on Shabbat. Imagine what it would mean to a patient to have someone come in, smile, wish them well and leave them a loaf of challah to enjoy in honor of Shabbat.

Level 4: If you have a challah, you have to have a challah cover. You can assign the honor to one of your relatives or friends who sews. They will feel honored and delighted to be given this mitzvah. Or you can go on the web and find lots of places where you can purchase a challah cover and help the poor at the same time. My favorite is Yad Lakashish, Lifeline for the Old (, where you can not only pick up some beautiful challah covers, but you can give honor and dignity to the elderly who make them.

Level 5: What if you went to a senior citizens center, nursing home or assisted- living center and asked if anyone there still remembers how to sew and knit? If they do, then offer them the mitzvah of making the challah cover for the simcha. You will have a work of art that has been specially commissioned for your simcha. How many people can say that?

Level 6: Invite the senior citizen who has made the challah cover to the dinner as your guest, and introduce her to everyone as the artist who made the cover. If you do that, you will have two mitzvot for the price of one: You will have added a lovely new work of ritual art to the simcha and you will have fulfilled the mitzvah of bringing out the radiance in the face of our elders.

And the challah cover that made its debut at this event can become a family treasure to be taken out again as the engagement party, at the wedding and, if we are fortunate, at bar mitzvah’s child’s bar mitzvah.

This is just one small example of the kind of innovative thinking that is found on almost every single page of this book. If even a simple challah can provide so many different opportunities for “mitzvah-izing,” then so can every other detail and every other aspect of the experience. Everything — the invitation, the mitzvah project, the d’var Torah, the centerpiece, etc. — no matter how small a detail it may be, has the power to become a method for doing good and, if it does, then the benefits to the bar or the bat mitzvah child, and to everyone else present, are very great.

There is an old joke that explains why we need this book so much. An exhausted parent says after his child’s simcha: “If having a bar mitzvah is going to get any more expensive, I hope that the next one runs away and becomes a bar mitzvah at a justice of the peace!”

For that parent and for all those who understand what he is saying, this book is a precious resource. If you know a family that will soon approach this event, run, don’t walk, to get them a copy. They will bless you for it.

For more information on purchasing the book, visit .

From Page to Plate

Passover cooking becomes more fun each year with the
publication of glossy new kosher cookbooks brimming with creative suggestions
for elegant and enticing Passover dishes.

Whether you are planning your seder menu, looking for a
memorable Passover gift, or you just want a break from cleaning, salivate over
the scrumptious recipes in these cookbooks from master chefs and food writers.

“The Hadassah Jewish Holiday Cookbook: Traditional Recipes
from Contemporary Kosher Kitchens” (Hugh Lauter Levin, 2003), edited by Joan
Schwartz Michel, is a gorgeously photographed collection of 250 recipes from
Hadassah’s great cooks — Ashkenazic and Sephardic — in America and Israel.
Commentaries on holidays and their foods by Jewish cuisine experts like Joan
Nathan and Claudia Roden precede each section. The extensive Passover section
features seven types of charoset, from a Suriname cherry jam and dried fruit
recipe to the Persian version studded with pistachios, walnuts, almonds,
hazelnuts, dates, apples, pears and gingerroot. Try Traditional Chopped Liver,
Apple-Spiced Brisket or Chicken Marrakesh baked with olives, cumin, thyme,
apricots, figs, brown sugar and pecans. For dessert, whip up an Egyptian
Sephardic-style Orange Cake; or please kids and adults with Matzah Brickle,
Chocolate Pudding Cake and Lemon Squares.  

“Adventures in Jewish Cooking” (Clarkson Potter, 2002)
presents the innovative cuisine of Jeffrey Nathan, executive chef of Abigail’s
Restaurant in Manhattan and host of the PBS series, “New Jewish Cuisine.”
Alongside creative alternatives like Latin American Ceviche instead of gefilte
fish, Nathan offers “heritage” recipes like classic chopped liver. Date charoset
gets an extra kick with the addition of diced mango and quartered red grapes;
chicken soup goes Sephardic with saffron matzah balls; sweet oranges, smoky
trout and raddichio blend in an unusual salad; and wild mushroom-farfel
dressing complements a rack of veal. End on a light note with Banana Cake and
Strawberry Marsala Compote, or go all the way with the crunchy, creamy combo of
Matzah Napoleon with White Chocolate Mousse. Salivating yet?  

“Levana’s Table: Kosher Cooking for Everyone” (Stewart, Tabori
& Chang, 2002), offers 150 recipes from Levana Kirschenbaum, owner of Manhattan’s
kosher gourmet Levana Restaurant. Directions for creating homemade condiments
like preserved lemons and fiery Moroccan harissa will come in handy when adding
pizzaz to the Passover palate. The cookbook is divided by courses
(appetizers/soups/salads and so on, with a section on favorites from the
restaurant and even a kosher wine list), but cull through the book for numerous
recipes that can be made for Passover (some with minor adjustments) like the
nondairy Cream of Broccoli and Watercress Soup and Tricolor Ribbon Salad with
Cider-Shallot Dressing. Her suggested Passover menu: Trout Stuffed With Gefilte
Fish in Jellied Broth; Matzah Ball Soup; Brisket in Sweet and Sour Sauce;
Cider-Roasted Turkey with Dried Fruit Stuffing; Artichokes and Carrots in Lemon
Sauce; Potato Kugel; Almond-Wine Cake; and Poached Pears With Chocolate

Chef Joyce Goldstein explores Sephardic foods in her newest
cookbook, “Saffron Shores: Jewish Cooking of the Southern Mediterranean”
(Chronicle, 2002). As she traces the crosscultural culinary trail of the diaspora,
Goldstein explores the spice-infused dishes of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya,
as well as Judeo-Arabic recipes. Goldstein introduces the book with an
informative history of Jews in Muslim lands, description of kosher laws and a
selection of menus for holidays. Be aware that Sephardim consider legumes and
rice kosher for Passover. Three Passover menus — two for dinner, one for lunch
— include an emerald soup of pureed peas, beans and greens; a vegetable stew of
artichokes, fennel and celery root; a Sabbath stew (akin to cholent) called D’fina;
Tunisian Fish Ball Tagine, Whiting and Potato Pie; Moroccan Carrot Salad with
Cumin. Oranges, dates, raisins and walnuts star in candied desserts and,
strangely enough, there’s a candied eggplant, too. 

“Sephardic Israeli Cuisine: A Mediterranean Mosaic,” by
cooking instructor and author Sheilah Kaufman (Hippocrene, 2002) treads the
same ground, from an Israeli perspective. Following an historical overview,
Kaufman offers tasty recipes, many of which can be made for Passover.
Specifically for the holiday, there are Turkish and Portuguese haroset
recipes-both date-based; Meat and Leek Patties; fava bean Soup; Moroccan
apricot lamb shanks; spinach bake; sweet potato cake, and sponge cake.

“Tastes of Jewish Tradition: Recipes, Activities &
Stories for the Whole Family,” by Jody Hirsh, Idy Goodman, Aggie Goldenholtz
and Susan Roth (JCC of Milwaukee, 2002) provides a complete family-friendly
holiday experience. Before the pages of 125 recipes even begin, parents and
grandparents are invited to delve into each holiday through stories, cartoons,
games, activities, craft ideas and a special “Kids in the Kitchen” page. For
Passover, there’s Matzah Pizza as well as directions for making seder plates, afikoman
bags, frog hats, Burning Bush table centerpieces and more. In the recipe
section, try Sweet and Sour Meatballs, Easy Eggplant Dip; Honey Pecan Crusted
Chicken; Salmon with Brown Sugar and Mustard Glaze; Passover Popovers; Cherry
Muffins; Greens Salad Garnished With Fresh Strawberries; “Macaroni” (i.e.,
farfel) and Cheese; Flourless Chocolate Cake, Mandel Brot and Brownies.

I don’t know about you, but suddenly I’m raring to get into
the kitchen. With these guidebooks and a little creativity of your own,
Passover dishes can be delicious, eclectic, elegant, easy and appetizing.  

Was Hitler Gay?

With more than 100,000 books and scholarly articles over the last 50 years, you might think we know all we need to know about Adolph Hitler. At least, everything relevant.

For instance, if Hitler had been a homosexual — and many of his associates knew it and remarked about it in their diaries, and it was commonly, if quietly, assumed by the German public during the Third Reich, and Hitler’s fear of being "outed" fueled some of the most brutal purges of the Nazi Party ranks — you might think that bit of trivia would have come out, so to speak, before now.

Well, you would be right. It has come out, but never in English. Lothar Machtan’s book, "The Hidden Hitler" (Basic Books, $26), is the first to focus exclusively on the possibility that Hitler was gay, and the first such suggestion to have been translated into English.

However, Machtan, an associate professor of modern and current history at Bremen University in Germany, wrote in an academic context. The book — and the resultant publicity tour — reads more like a ploy for tenure than a real contribution to our understanding of Hitler.

The book draws many of its conclusions from innuendo (the first chapter is titled "The Would-Be Aesthete"). Hitler’s various social and political relationships with acknowledged homosexuals; his asexual relationships with women, including his niece; and claims made by others in published accounts and private diaries, make up much of Machtan’s evidence.

If Hitler was gay, he went to great lengths to hide it — and the gay community is not too fond of its newly discovered member, either. But as Cathy Renna of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation writes in her review of the book, "Fair is fair — if we claim the likes of Michelangelo and Joan of Arc, we have to acknowledge less-desirable members of the ranks. — Mike Levy, Staff Writer

It Only Gets Worse

The long-awaited Mitchell commission report about Israeli-Palestinian violence was released yesterday, and now there is a debate over what to do with its recommendations. I have a suggestion. It’s kind of a two-for-one deal. Take all the Mitchell reports, make a big pile out of them, and set them ablaze into a gigantic bonfire. It would surely generate enough heat, and light, to make a small contribution to the Bush energy plan.

Am I being unfair? Yes, just a bit. George Mitchell is a good man, and the central argument of his report is right, in the narrowest sense: If you want to stop the latest Israeli-Palestinian slide into the abyss, first there must be a cessation of all violence, and then confidence-building steps, including a settlements freeze and Palestinian security measures.

My problem with the Mitchell report is that it fundamentally ignores how we got into this abyss and the only real way out. It is not because of Israeli settlements. The settlements are foolish, and their continued expansion is a shameful act of colonial coercion that will meet the fate of all other colonial enterprises in history. The inability of American Jewish leaders or U.S. governments to speak out against settlement expansion — which should be stopped under any conditions for Israel’s sake — is a blot on all of them.

But the settlements are not the core problem. The core problem right now is Yasser Arafat — the Palestinian leader who cannot say “yes” and will not say “uncle.”

President Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Ehud Barak put on the table before Arafat a historic compromise proposal that would have given Palestinians control of 94 to 96 percent of the West Bank and Gaza — with all the settlements removed, virtually all of Arab East Jerusalem, a return to Israel of a symbolic number of Palestinian refugees and either the right of return to the West Bank and Gaza or compensation for all the others.

Not only would Arafat not take it, he would not even say: “Well, this was insufficient, but this is the most far-reaching and serious proposal Palestinians have ever seen. Now, I want to enter into a dialogue with the Israeli people and government to see if I can get them to 100 percent.”

No, instead, Arafat launched this idiotic uprising. He did so because he is essentially a political coward and maneuverer who apparently has not given up his long-term aim of eliminating Israel and who was afraid in the short run that if he took 99 percent, he would be killed for the 1 percent he left on the table. Arafat has never been willing to tell his people he got them most of what they wanted and now is the time to end the suffering of as many Palestinians as possible and move on.

This truth is what the Mitchell “investigation” should be telling the world and the Palestinians. There was an Israeli leader, and a slim Israeli majority, for a fair historic compromise. But there was no Palestinian equivalent, and unless there is a Palestinian partner, and a Palestinian leader, for a historic compromise roughly along the Clinton lines, no cease-fire is going to hold.

The best Hebrew biography of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is entitled “He Doesn’t Stop at Red Lights.” Arafat’s biography should be entitled “He Doesn’t Go at Green Lights.”

Now Sharon — who was elected in the Israeli backlash against the failure of Camp David — is trying to pummel Arafat into submission. That won’t work either. Because Arafat is as afraid to say “uncle” to Sharon as much as he was afraid to say “yes” to Clinton. He fears he would be killed for saying uncle as much as he would be killed for saying yes to 99 percent. The Palestinians will never be bombed into submission. One hundred years of Palestinian history tells you that.

The real problem is that the Palestinians are leaderless today, and that is what the United States, the United Nations and the Arab world have to face up to. Deep down, they all know it, and they admit it to each other in private. There is no Palestinian leader right now willing or able to say yes to a fair historic compromise, and we simply fool ourselves with commissions that don’t acknowledge that. Unless the Arabs can stiffen Arafat by supporting him in any grand compromise, or by creating a context in which an alternative leadership can emerge, this bonfire will rage on, and it will consume many, many others.

Rosh HaShana Sites (5762 – 2001)

Selected Rosh HaShana Sites (5762 – 2001)

Aish HaTorah – High Holidays Ohr Somayach: Rosh Hashanah OU Presents Rosh HaShanah Torah Tots: Fun & Games Chabad: The Jewish New Year Project Genesis: Elul & Rosh HaShana Card 4 Israel (Biggest Rosh HaShana Card) The Time is Today (about Life) My Hebrew Dictionary – Rosh Hashana Related Words Akhlah: Children’s Learning Network (includes the blessings) The J Site: Rosh Hashana Coloring Pages and Hebrew Songs Jewish Heritage Magazine: Rosh HaShanah – Jewish Torah Audio (real audio) Virtual Jerusalem: Rosh Hashana Everything Jewish: Rosh HaShanna – The Jewish New Year Uncle Eli’s Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur Prayer Book Beith David Presents the Yam’im Nora’im Rosh HaShanah @ JTS < Jewish Community Online: Rosh Hashanah Judaism 101: Rosh HaShana WZO: Holidays with a twist JA Pedagogic Center: Tishrei Festivals Holidays.Net: High Holidays on the Net Celebrate with JOI: Rosh Hashanah Torah From Dixie: Rosh Hashana Articles NCSY: Rosh Hashana Articles Virtual Beit Midrash: Rosh HaShana Journal (2000) Virtual Jewish World: Rosh Hashanah Jewish Magnes Museum: Sounding the Shofar Rosh Hashonoh Gateway Misrash Ben Ish Hai (Sepharadim customs) Jewish Studies: High Holiday Handbook

Hebrew Sites

Galim: Rosh Hashana Short Hebrew Essays on Rosh Hashana Bar-Ilan Essays on Rosh Hashana Daat: Rosh Hashana Torah Articles Maale: Rosh Hashana Articles Torah Outreach Program: Rosh Hashana


RFCJ Jewish Recipe Archives – Rosh Hashana Jewish-Food High Holidays Archive