September 19, 2018

Building A New City on the Hill: Katz Family Pavilion and Shalom Garden at Stephen Wise Temple

Building A New City on the Hill: Katz Family Pavilion and Shalom Garden at Stephen Wise Temple

Building A New City on the Hill: Katz Family Pavilion at Stephen Wise TempleBuilding A New City on the Hill: Katz Family Pavilion at Stephen Wise TempleOn Thanksgiving, I want to share my gratitude for Stephen Wise Temple where my family has found a spiritual home. During the recent dedication of Katz Family Pavilion and Shalom Garden, Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback asked us: “How can we adequately give thanks for the countless blessings we acknowledge today?He shared that in order to truly give thanks you need to pay it forward. “You will say “thanks” most fully with your efforts to make our world a place where everyone can feel at home, where everyone can feel loved and protected. A world built on kindness, hessed, on dignity, kavod, on love, ahavah…we’ll join together to build a world that’s just a little bit better than it was before. And that’s how we give thanks.”

VIDEODedication Ceremony of Katz Family Pavilion and Shalom Garden

Please enjoy these remarks that Leandro Tyberg shared at the dedication for the building which he helped turn from an idea into a reality.

On this hilltop…here we stand…together as a community.  Together as friends.  Together as a people who take care of…and look out for…each other.  Together as a people who recognize our obligation to make the world a better place, to repair the world, and to plant seeds in a garden that will bear fruit for the generations to come.

Like many of us here on this hilltop…my family came to Wise and found sanctuary.  My parents, Rosita and Juan, brought us to this country in 1977 from Argentina, and we became members a few years thereafter.  My sister Barbara and I were enrolled here at Wise and spent year after year on this hilltop surrounded by a community who cared for us, nurtured us, and helped lay the foundation of what would become our Jewish and moral Identity.

Leandro Tyberg speaking at dedication of Katz Family Pavilion

Leandro Tyberg speaking at dedication of Katz Family Pavilion

As a kid, under the rafters of Hershenson Hall…we played tag, drank Mitz Tapuchim, had camp sleepovers, learned Hebrew, played duck-duck-goose, did musical theater, sang songs, had our spring dances, and grew up.  Here under the rafters of Hershenson Hall, I made out with my first girlfriend.

Here on this hilltop, Barbara and I learned under the tutelage of Rabbi Zeldin, Metukah Benjamin, Cantor Lam, Rabbi Hersher and countless others. 

In fact, Rabbi Hersher officiated at my Bar Mitzvah, at my sister’s wedding, my cousins wedding…both of his weddings in fact…he was there inside my Chupah when I stomped on a cup and married my beautiful wife Lori, he was there for my daughter Francesca’s baby naming, my son Roan’s Brit Milah, for most of my family’s proudest moments…but he was also there for life-cycle events that were painful and heart rending.  He was there for me when as a kid in 5th grade here at Wise, he came to tell me that and my best friend Andy Lipin was dying, and he was there to comfort our whole class after he passed.  He has always been there for me when I needed him, as he has been there for so many of us gathered here on this hilltop.

Building A New City on the Hill: Katz Family Pavilion at Stephen Wise TempleSo when he called me 5 years ago to ask me to chair the Building Committee, it was an easy decision. 

Winston Churchill said “We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us.  As I was shaped by the hard work and dedication of those who built this community over the last 50 years, it was clear that the time had come for us to band together and form a team of people who would continue to shape this hilltop for the years to come.

Our Committee has been guided by the wisdom of Ken Ruby…who taught us the histories of the previous building committees, what it took to get us here, and what to consider as we moved forward.  We have also been inspired, led, and shepherded by our other Cte Members:  Alex Moradi, Kenneth Lee, and Benjamin Soleimani.

As a Committee, and in tremendous partnership with the Wise Board of Directors, the Wise Staff, and the Wise Clergy, we have been privileged to assemble and collaborate with people who take great pride in their work.  People who understand this is more than just a typical construction project, who respect the spirit and intent of what we wanted to shape here on this hilltop:

Building A New City on the Hill: Katz Family Pavilion at Stephen Wise TempleOur brilliant, inspired and incredibly talented architect, Michael Lehrer. Michael who can see around corners; Michael who designs places that leave an emotional effect on you; Michael who combined our history and our culture, and married that with the finest principals architecture can offer.  The word Architect comes from the Greek Archi Tekton, meaning Master Builder.  Master Builder indeed.

Michael’s team helped execute his vision, and were our key collaborators, compatriots, and sometimes conspirators, along the way = the talented and very insightful Roberto Sheinberg and Alex Clark. 

Building A New City on the Hill: Katz Family Pavilion at Stephen Wise TempleThe Shalom Garden, The Great Commons, the hard-scape and landscape has been thoughtfully and meticulously designed by the office of Mia Lehrer and Associates.  Mia Lehrer, and Matt Lysne, have helped create a serene, contemplative and joyous space, that invites you to participate, to engage, to reflect, and to be inspired.  You have left an indelible impression in our hearts and minds, and as Khalil Gibran once said “your work is your love made visible.

We’ve also been led by our detailed and tireless Construction Management team at Searock Stafford.  Led by David Stafford and Alex Grosjean.  Shaping a project of this magnitude is a tremendous feat, and their commitment, hard work and tenacity are deeply appreciated, as has been their friendship and counsel along the way.

Building A New City on the Hill: Katz Family Pavilion at Stephen Wise TempleWe’ve benefitted greatly from our partnership with Del Amo Construction, our general contractors for this project.  Passionately led by Steve Donahue, whose company worked on other projects here on this campus in the 1980’s, and who has treated this project as something very personal, and very special. 

The Del Amo team also consisted of Dennis Billings, Nancy Gutierrez, Bennet Akker, and of course Gene Postert, whom the children affectionately call “Builder Gene! Builder Gene!”   

I would like to say that they are some of the most talented, caring and amazing contractors we’ve ever worked with…I’d like to say that…but we still have a few change orders to settle up on, so I don’t want to say that publicly just yet.

And over us all, are the torch bearers, the dreamers, the idealists, the hand holders, the visionaries of Wise…that we look to for leadership, governance and guidance, as we terraformed, drilled into bed rock, and erected this art work…inside the heart of an active and vibrant campus:

Building A New City on the Hill: Katz Family Pavilion at Stephen Wise Temple

Judi, Lisa and Frank Niver at Katz Family Pavilion and Shalom Garden Dedication

Thank you to the amazing Board of Directors of Stephen Wise Temple, led by Steve Fishman, and his predecessor Glenn Sonnenberg;

It’s impossible to name everyone at Wise who contributed of their time, sweat, wit, wisdom, assistance and hard work.  All are appreciated, and no matter how large or how small your contribution, you represent the fabric of what keeps us together.

Our maintenance crews, our event coordinators, our security teams,

Our technical wizards, led by Marc Entous.

Our athletics dept. who rally under Coach Ryan Hosler

Our talented Director of Development = Jessica Lebovitz, If she hasn’t called you yet for a contribution, just wait…she will;

Our partner-in-all-things = Executive Director & COO Sharon Spira-Cushnir,

Our brilliant, tireless, passionate and loving Head of School = Tami Weiser,

And our beloved friend and guiding light = Senior Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback;

Building A New City on the Hill: Katz Family Pavilion at Stephen Wise TempleSo here we are on this hilltop,

shaped by the memories,

and in honor of,

the people who made us who we are,

secure in the knowledge that the work we do here at Wise will have a lasting impact,

on the lives of our grandparents, parents, our children,

and our children’s children. 

Here we are, shaped by the belief,

that what we have all accomplished here together,

as a community, matters. It matters very much. 

We Shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us”.

Indeed.

Thank you.

Building A New City on the Hill: Katz Family Pavilion at Stephen Wise Temple

First published on We Said Go Travel

Happy Thanksgiving Jose Cuervo

Five orange pumpkins sit in a row in front of a distressed, wooden background.

This time of year inspires people to reflect on their lives. We take the time to say thank you and count our blessings, even if it is just for a day. Thanksgiving is a lovely holiday, but as a woman who gives thanks each and every day, saying thanks is just a small piece of the pie. In the spirit of the holiday however, each year I like to pick one thing or one person in my life that has gone unappreciated, and say thank you. This year’s selection happens to be both a person and a thing.

My son has moved into his own apartment and it’s been hard. Even though we talk all day and I see him regularly, I miss him so much it aches. I am not ashamed to share I have cried every day since he left. I have also slept in his room twice, and sat in the middle of the floor weeping. By sitting, of course I mean I was in the fetal position while looking at baby pictures with my boyfriend. By boyfriend, of course I mean Jose Cuervo, which leads me to my special thank you for 2017.

Thank you to Jose for helping me through this difficult transition in my life. I have spent almost 22 years preparing my son for this moment, but sadly forgot to prepare myself. The truth is that even if I had prepared myself, I still wouldn’t have been ready. He stayed at home longer I did when I was young, but I could have used a little more. Another five years would have been nice. Pathetic to be sure, but still nice. It has been him and me for so long it feels strange when he tells me he is going home after dinner, but it is not our home.

He was six months old when I got divorced and so our bond is special. It has been him and me against the world so long, I guess I’m just scared about how I will do it on my own. It would keep me up at night if it weren’t for Jose. He relaxes me so I can stop thinking and get some sleep. I love him. Important to clarify I don’t love him so much that we are together all day, but I do love him some evenings and imagine it will be a couple more weeks before me and my tequila boyfriend cool off.

Being a mother is the highlight of my life and most important job I will ever have. I am proud of my son for taking this milestone step in his life, and proud of myself for raising such a wonderful human being. He is living his best life and his successes are mine. I respect and admire him. I also trust him. He makes good choices and that is because of me. He is fearless, compassionate, aware, and kind. In the interest of full disclosure, it has not been all bad. There are blessings.

My home is always clean! There are no clothes on the floor, there are no dishes in the sink, and there is something quite liberating about walking around your home naked, just because you can. I am actually writing this while naked on the couch with Jose. I’m not sure I will ever get used to my empty nest, but with Jose by side I will learn to embrace it. Happy Thanksgiving! Count your blessings, acknowledge someone worthy, and raise a glass to keeping the faith.

How Do You Say ‘Wishbone’ in Hebrew?

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

If an American holiday falls on the Jewish calendar, does it make a sound? That’s a question we American immigrants ask ourselves annually with the coming of Thanksgiving.

Ahh, Thanksgiving. That special holiday, rich with delicious foods unknown to most of humankind, commemorating a story that none of us over here can seem to remember. As an expat living in Israel, on no other day do I feel more American. No longer am I the Jewish kid in the public school cafeteria, trying to explain why my people eat a roll substitute made of “matza farfel”. In November, I become the American immigrant who defends the practice of adding marshmallows to yams (and pumpkin spice to coffee).

And why wouldn’t you? What is Thanksgiving, if not a day to stuff your face in the presence of loved ones? That’s a question I get every year from my Israeli friends.

Yossi: “Ehhh, Benji, so waht eez Tenksgeeving?”

Me: “So the Pilgrims came to Plymouth Rock…..and they met an Indian named Squanto….although he wasn’t from India….and then they had a big feast with the Indians….and at some point, umm….I think they…kinda killed them all through genocide and disease….(long pause)….hey, who wants cranberry sauce?!

(Under my breath) “I really need to look this up before next year.”

Anyway, who has time to explain? There’s a meal to prepare! At least for those Americans who step up to embark on a wild goose turkey chase through Israeli supermarkets. As Dorothy told Toto, we’re definitely not in Kansas anymore. At this time of year, the immigrants come out of the woodwork seeking community and shopping tips.

Even if the unthinkable were to happen and you weren’t to find cranberries, life would go on, right? As long as you have a turkey, which is its own adventure. Since Israelis don’t buy whole turkeys, you have to make a special request to the supermarket or butcher (a week in advance to be safe) and ask them not to cut it. You might pay three or four hundred shekels (make sure you’re seated before converting that to dollars) AND you might even discover that your Israeli oven doesn’t fit a big bird. Hey, nobody said life was easy.

No oleh (someone who makes aliyah) remains 100% American so it’s fitting that we put our own Israeli twist on the day. Since Thanksgiving is a normal Thursday here, its proximity to the weekend means we all just push it back a day and celebrate Friday night. Voila…Shabgiving! If it’s your custom, you can begin with the traditional Sabbath prayers or if you’re the creative type, you can make up your own, like “hamotzi stuffing min ha’turkey”. (Note: To this date, no one has ever actually done this.)

Actually, Thanksgiving dinner would be more fun if we ran it like Passover Seder. You want pumpkin pie? Go find it.

A Shabbat meal is always nice but let’s not lose focus: tonight is about the traditional holidays foods: turkey, stuffing, green beans, pumpkin pie, and more. Which brings us back to the yams, marshmallows, and bending over backwards to explain to the locals why a country with such expensive health care would ever eat them together.

And speaking of the locals: just as our Israeli friends open their doors to us for holiday meals, it’s only fitting that we do the same and welcome them to our feast. Keep in mind that they’ll be confused and bewildered by our bizarre food combinations. So why waste them on their unappreciative palettes? Give them some oatmeal and a taco shell and they won’t know the difference. “This is our traditional food, Sivan, which our forefathers have eaten for thousands of years. Now turn to page 45 and lead us in the bracha over the 4th cup of gravy.”

Jokes aside, it’s a great time. So maybe we don’t have the Macy’s Day parade, the Cowboys before 11 PM, or the proverbial crazy uncle who you only see once a year and argue politics with. This country is tiny, you can see him every weekend if you want (or send him daily texts through the family WhatsApp group).

What we do have is a few hours of camaraderie, community, and a chance to remember the traditions of where we came from and how delicious it tastes. And just remember: no matter how many carbs you ingest, you’ll burn them off running around town for cranberries.

Happy Thanksgiving!

This column originally appeared in Dallas Jewish Monthly. 

Do’s and Don’ts for Thanksgiving Hosts and Guests

Photo by Jonathan Fong.

Thanksgiving stresses me out. Besides all the cooking, I have the added pressure of creating showstopping centerpieces and décor — like the time I spray-painted 600 ping pong balls gold and suspended them from the ceiling.

That’s why I’m relieved that, this year, I get to play guest and just show up.

Whether you’re a host or a guest this Thanksgiving, here are some do’s and don’ts for a truly memorable holiday.

HOSTS

Do be specific when guests ask if they can bring anything. Instead of just asking for a side dish, specify if you need a salad, potatoes or cranberry sauce. If you’re asking for wine, say red or white.

Do play with the lighting in your home to create a welcoming environment. Avoid harsh overhead lighting. Turn off lights in rooms and hallways where you don’t want guests to venture. And use candles to create a warm ambience.

Do clean the bathroom. Tuck all your personal toiletries and medications out of sight. Put out some fresh hand towels. And light a candle or two.

Do dress up for the occasion. And dress up the kids and pets too.

Do have a place set aside for coats and purses.

Do offer light appetizers before dinner, especially if there are cocktails. You don’t want guests drinking on an empty stomach.

Do be present for your guests. They want to spend time with you, not see you constantly disappear into the kitchen.

Do have plastic takeout containers ready for guests to take home leftovers.

Don’t expect perfection. Better Homes & Gardens is not coming to photograph or critique your Thanksgiving.

Don’t worry if all your table settings match, or if you’re using paper plates.

Don’t look disheveled and complain about all the work you’ve been doing for the past week to prepare.

Don’t have the football game on TV during dinner. Sorry, guys.

Don’t enforce a no-shoe policy, even if that’s what you require every other day of the year. It’s awkward for guests.

GUESTS

Do arrive about 10 to 15 minutes late. As a host, I am always running behind, and people who arrive early or right on time are usually in the way. But don’t show up more than half an hour late.

Do dress up to show respect for your hosts.

Do bring a small gift, and attach a thank you card to it so your host remembers who gave the gift.

Do let your host know in advance if you have dietary restrictions or food allergies. And don’t make a big deal about it when you’re at dinner.

Do offer to help in the kitchen or wash dishes.

Do compliment your host on the food and décor. But be sincere about it.

Do take photographs and send some to your host the next day. It’s a great way to say thank you.

Don’t bring flowers unless they’re already in a vase. Your host will not have time to stop everything and arrange your flowers.

Don’t bring someone who wasn’t invited. Don’t even ask if you can bring someone, as it puts the host on the spot.

Don’t just pick up a pie at the supermarket if you said you would be bringing a dessert. Put some effort into it.

Don’t bring something you need to heat in the oven. Oven space is precious in the hours and minutes before mealtime.

Don’t check your phone constantly.


Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at jonathanfongstyle.com.

The Day-After-Thanksgiving Feast

You know how you wake up the morning after Thanksgiving trying to figure out how you could have eaten so much but still have a refrigerator bursting with leftovers? Well, in my case, this is exacerbated by the fact that I’m a chef and never quite know how many people are going to come to the Thanksgiving lunch in my restaurant in the American Embassy in Uganda.

You can imagine how my Jewish-mother gene gets activated during a holiday, especially when I know that I am cooking for many of our young Marines who are missing their moms’ cooking while on tour overseas. Inevitably, I spend a few hours after the meal is over portioning out care packages to anyone and everyone I see, yet I’m still always left with so much food that it begs for me to get creative with the remnants of America’s favorite food holiday.

Maybe it’s a good thing, then, that I never actually get to eat the Thanksgiving meal — I’m always too busy cooking with my team — so I’ve come up with some simple and tasty recipes for leftovers that I now look forward to eating the next day. I’m sharing three of my all-time favorites here so that they may become traditions in your household, too.

ORNA & ELLA’S YAM PATTIES
(Levivot Batata in Hebrew)

Orna & Ella is a small, cute café on Sheinkin Street in Tel Aviv. After I opened my first business in the city, I often indulged in these tender little treats when I was pushing myself too hard and needed a break. They spell comfort, and are a fantastic use of leftover sweet potato casserole. You can even throw in some leftover mashed potatoes if you have it.

3 cups mashed sweet potatoes (or a mixture of
sweet and regular mashed potatoes)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter (or margarine)

In a large bowl, mix the mashed sweet potatoes with soy sauce, flour, sugar, salt and pepper, and stir without over mixing. Set aside to rest and come to room temperature for 30 minutes.

Put a few tablespoons of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter into a heavy-bottomed frying pan over medium heat.

Transfer the mashed sweet potato mixture to a Ziploc bag and make a small cut at the tip for piping. When the oil is hot, squirt tablespoon-sized balls onto the frying pan and flatten into a patty with the backside of a tablespoon. Fry for about 3 minutes on one side and then flip, frying the other side until both sides are golden brown. Be careful flipping because the patties are fragile. Each time you add a new batch of sweet potato patties to the pan, add more oil and butter — but not too much; a thin layer will do. Transfer cooked patties to a plate lined with paper towels and continue frying until batter is used up. Serve with sour cream, yogurt or tzatziki.

Makes about 15  patties.

THANKSGIVING FEAST EMPANADAS

An Argentine woman named Sheila, who was a retired head chef at a large kibbutz in the north of Israel, once taught me an incredible recipe for empanadas, a deep-fried, stuffed hand pie. Over the years, I have made empanadas filled with ingredients ranging from the traditional meat, raisins and olives to mushrooms, cheese and sautéed shallots.

However, the day after cooking for 200 people is not the day to start making empanada dough, much less deep-frying anything. So I came up with a quick version of an empanada made from Thanksgiving leftovers and store-bought puff pastry. The only thing you have to remember is to take the puff pastry out of the freezer before you go to bed on Thanksgiving and pop it in the fridge to thaw for the next day.

1 package store-bought puff pastry, thawed
overnight in the refrigerator
1/4 cup all-purpose flour for rolling out pastry
1 egg, beaten
9 tablespoons turkey, chopped into cubes
6 tablespoons stuffing
6 tablespoons roasted vegetables,
chopped small
6 teaspoons cold gravy
6 teaspoons cranberry sauce

Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Remove Thanksgiving leftovers and puff pastry from refrigerator and cut the turkey and vegetables into 1/2-inch pieces.

Put a small amount of flour on a clean work surface and roll out the dough to half its original thickness. Keep moving the dough around the counter to ensure it doesn’t stick. Take a bowl that is 5 inches in diameter and use a sharp knife to cut around the bowl, creating as many pastry circles as you can.  Try to cut them close together so that you don’t waste too much pastry. This should yield about 6 pastry discs.

Place one pastry circle on your baking tray and use a pastry brush or your finger to paint a bit of egg wash on the bottom half of the disc. Place a few pieces of turkey, a tablespoon of stuffing, a tablespoon of vegetables, a teaspoon of cold gravy and a teaspoon of cranberry sauce on the bottom half of the circle. (Feel free to substitute other Thanksgiving leftovers, such as green bean casserole.) Bring the top half of the pastry circle down over the top and press gently to seal. Take a fork or the handle of a knife and press carefully to form a decorative edge on the seam. Continue filling the remaining empanadas and then brush with egg wash. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown.

Makes about 6 empanadas.

DAY-AFTER TURKEY SALAD

Another thing I never miss making after Thanksgiving is turkey salad. It’s fantastic on bagels, crackers or leftover toasted challah, but I love it scooped onto a big bed of crunchy salad greens. Truth be told, this is one of my go-to chicken salad recipes, but I like it even better with leftover turkey.

1/4 cup toasted slivered almonds
2 cups of turkey (white or dark meat or
a mix), chopped into 1-inch cubes
3 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
3 scallions (white and dark parts),
finely chopped
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh tarragon
(or 1 1/2 tablespoons dry)
2 tablespoons crystallized ginger,
finely chopped
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons cranberry sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Toast raw almonds in a dry pan for 5 minutes or until golden brown on all sides. Then, in a large bowl, mix together toasted almonds, turkey, celery, scallions, tarragon and ginger.

In a smaller bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, mustard, cranberry sauce, salt and pepper, and then drizzle the dressing over the turkey. Mix to combine and chill covered in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours or overnight.

Makes 4 servings.


Yamit Behar Wood, an Israeli-American food and travel writer, is the executive chef at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, Uganda, and founder of the New York Kitchen Catering Co.

Thanksgiving Spirit: Jewish Volunteers Step Up to Feed the Hungry

People waiting for their Thanksgiving care packages. Photo by Oren Peleg

As the sun rose at close to 7 a.m. on Nov. 17, hundreds of people were gathered outside the Jewish Family Service (JFS) food pantry with empty shopping bags. The line extended half a block east on Pico Boulevard, wrapping south around Robertson Boulevard, and causing a stir at the busy intersection.

Many had lined up as early as 2 a.m. Some sat on newspapers spread out on the sidewalk. Others played cards to pass the time.

Inside the pantry, no one was standing around.

Dozens of volunteers, some busy since 4 a.m., pinballed around, shouting orders, pushing carts and unloading nonperishables from crates for JFS of Los Angeles’ annual Thanksgiving food drive.

“I love this day,” said Susan Wily, the pantry’s assistant manager, who donned a black shirt with skulls on it and worn worker boots. “It’s so great for the people outside as well as the people in here making it all happen.”

Susan Wily preparing care packages inside the pantry. Photo by Oren Peleg

JFS, formerly the Hebrew Benevolent Society, was founded in 1854 by Los Angeles’ Jewish community. It was the area’s first charitable organization.

Since 2001, the organization has distributed care packages of donated nonperishables and purchased frozen turkeys annually to thousands of people in need. The efforts are part of its SOVA Community Food and Resource Program, which also operates a pantry in Van Nuys. Sova is a Hebrew word meaning “eat and be satisfied.”

“We don’t just feed Jews. We feed everybody.” — Ruthanne Rozenek

The care packages included canned goods such as peas, carrots and cranberry sauce, plus instant mashed potatoes and gravy mix, as well as a frozen turkey.

“It’s pretty awesome,” Wily said, dodging a passing shopping cart filed with frozen turkeys. “These people can put together an entire Thanksgiving dinner with this and we’re helping them do that. It’s very heartwarming.”

A group of volunteers perused the line to offer warm greetings to people who had been waiting for hours in the dark. A security guard posted at the entrance controlled the flow in and out. Just inside at two tables, volunteers were handing out the packages.

Wily and her team distributed nearly 800 packages by noon. The Van Nuys pantry handed out nearly 900.

Both pantries operate Sunday through Thursday year-round and are closed on Shabbat. Businesses, schools, places of worship, community organizations and individuals contribute to the ongoing food drives. Last year, SOVA distributed 2.6 million pounds of food — over 100 tons each month.

Many of the volunteers at the Thanksgiving drive work at least once a week throughout the year, giving out groceries and toiletries. The pantries also offer a variety of services, including case management, vocational training, job-search assistance and legal counseling. Besides Thanksgiving, they also hold large drives to distribute meal packages on Passover, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

“But today is by far our biggest, busiest day of the year,” said Linda Alter, JFS of Los Angeles’ client services manager, who stood near the entrance, where grateful care-package recipients streamed in and out. “It’s very gratifying to see all of this come together.”

Alter said the preparations for each year’s Thanksgiving drive involve serious long-term planning. A few days prior, scores of volunteers, including many high school students, had spent a day assembling the care packages at the Van Nuys pantry, which has an attached warehouse. They also stored over 1,600 frozen turkeys there. Before 4 a.m. on the big day, volunteer drivers transferred nearly half the care packages and turkeys to the Pico-Robertson location.

“It’s just amazing that we’re able to do it,” Alter said. “Getting it all in order is definitely the hardest part. It all comes down to the volunteers.”

Ruthanne Rozenek, a Fairfax neighborhood resident and longtime member of Temple of the Arts in Beverly Hills, was on the front lines inside the Pico-Robertson pantry in a hot-pink shirt and matching cap. A dedicated JFS volunteer, she has spent nearly every Monday morning and each Thanksgiving drive there for the last six years. When asked what keeps her coming back, she said it’s a combination of helping others and getting to see familiar faces.

“I just love it, love working here,” she said, distracted by a call for “More turkeys!” from down a hallway. “I love the camaraderie amongst the volunteers, and most of all I love the fact that we’re helping people. Here we feed all people. Even though this is a Jewish organization, we don’t just feed Jews. We feed everybody.”

Rozenek then apologized before rushing off to answer the call.

The line of people at the drive waiting on care packages came from all walks of life, including the neighborhood’s religious Jewish community. Inside, it wasn’t just Jews like Rozenek serving them. Several members from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, mostly in their late teens and early 20s, helped out. They were easy to spot in bright yellow “Mormon Helping Hands” vests.

Elder Lira, 20, who lives in Santa Monica, said that he and his fellow church elders rescheduled a missionary meeting to make sure they could pitch in for the Thanksgiving drive.

“We just look for any kind of service,” he said. “This is a place that seemed to really need our help, so we just keep coming back. It’s so enjoyable here and everyone is so nice.

Alter said the pantry’s Mormon volunteers are an indispensable part of the operation.

“They’re here all the time. They’re incredible. We couldn’t do this without them,” she said.

Many other Los Angeles Jewish institutions also give back in the spirit of Thanksgiving. Among them is the B’nai David–Judea Congregation, which held its 13th annual Tikkun Olam Thanksgiving lunch on Nov. 23. Student volunteers from YULA Boys High School and Pressman Academy of Temple Beth Am cook and serve the food.

“It’s a really nice way to bridge these communities, these very different schools whose students volunteer, as well as the people who come for the lunch,” said Rabbi Chaim Tureff, Pressman’s school rabbi, who runs the Thanksgiving lunch every year.

Tureff added that he expected at least 60 homeless people to attend.

To make a contribution to the JFS of Los Angeles SOVA Community Food and Resource program, visit jfsla.org/donate.

Week of November 30, 2017

A Debt of Gratitude

Autumn Fall rustic background on aqua blue vintage distressed wood with autumn leaves and decorations.

To mark Thanksgiving, the Journal asked some of its staff members and others to recall people in their lives to whom they are grateful.


Five years ago, I worked in Uganda as a Global Health Fellow. I met a 12-year-old named Conrad when I went out with my Frisbee after work one day.

I came to learn that “Connie” experienced friendships with an open, trusting heart. He asked after my family with great sincerity. He appreciated my being in his life, but more so, appreciated everything in his life, bearing hardships with grace and shamelessly admitting his fears, hopes and cares. He was guileless in his emotions. Once he admitted that he was hungry and it was hard to concentrate.

By that time, I was in New York, trying a three-day cleanse, intentionally limiting my food intake.

Yes, I’ve learned a lot from Connie.

We Skyped last week, just after he celebrated his 18th birthday. He soon will take his final school exams, and, he hopes, begin college next fall. I am grateful to have had the privilege these years of being in his life, cheering him on for his next steps, but more grateful for him being in mine, unknowingly teaching me how to be a better person.

Nedra Hoffman


Whenever I bake a chocolate cake, it’s in honor of my friend Doly, who lost her battle with cancer a few years ago. I make sure to put candy hearts all over it because Doly always served me chocolate cake when I visited and her friendship got me through some of my hardest years.  Doly hated baking and was of the belief that “true talent lies in knowing how to buy well.” And she did. In the first year after she died, if the cakes I baked were true to the way I felt, all the little hearts on them would have been broken. Now, all that remains are my memories of her and my gratitude that she was in my life, even all too briefly.

Yamit Wood, Food Editor


When I was a little girl, visits to my Aunty Gwen on the summer holidays were a highlight. She was the wife of my uncle and she was warm and welcoming. We did things like decorating a cake and making furniture for her period-decorated dollhouses. When I grew up and traveled, she sent me letters full of family news that kept me connected to my cousins. She was the hub of the family, keeping everyone informed and connected. I am so grateful that my family had such a center. She is one of my “special people.”

Naomi Brewster, New Zealander living in Australia


I lived with my aunt while my husband was in Vietnam. Florence asked me to help her prepare dinner for very special guests. The doorbell rang. Two wrinkled people shuffled in, Ruth and David. Her hair was gray, and his was gone. They were Holocaust survivors. Ruth said she never sat at table without wondering whether her family was alive somewhere, and whether they had food and a place to sleep. As she revealed her faded tattoo, I realized how much I took for granted. I looked at my life differently from that day on, with gratitude.

Sharon D. Walling


I was driving in Southern New Jersey when I realized I was lost. It was a time before Facebook and Twitter, and my Nokia 5160 had run out of juice. I tried to find a gas station — which is how lost people used to get directions before GPS — but the best I found was a random New Jersey diner. I had barely asked, “Where am I, exactly?” when I spied a group of people I knew from Camp Ramah in the Berkshires. As I laugh-cried in relief, they told me where I was and how to get to where I was going. Years later, I realized that Ramah was my first social network, my first lesson about the value of a wider network: how in unknown places, finding the familiar can seem like a miracle.

Esther D. Kustanowitz, Contributing Writer


It was on April 20, 1939 — Adolf Hitler’s 50th birthday — that my mother, sister and I left Berlin to find refuge in the United States.

At the Tempelhof Airport’s customs office stood a stern-looking man, in uniform and wearing a swastika armband. Behind him, a sign warned that no departing passenger was allowed to leave with more than 10 German marks — about $4 at the time.

Trained from boyhood to obey all official regulations, I fished in my pocket and, nestled next to a 10-mark bill, found a 10-pfennig coin, worth about 2 1/2 cents. Dutifully, I turned over the coin to the customs official.

He looked at me soberly, while I feared the worst, then returned the coin and wished me a good trip.

The incident has stuck in my mind for close to 80 years as a sign of hope and gratitude that in the worst of times, and under the most fearful uniform, there may yet lurk a human heart.

Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Make America Grateful Again

America is in a lousy mood.

Everything is a mess. This is how Matthew Continetti describes the state of the nation in National Review Online:

“Riots and the suppression of freedoms on campus, drug addiction, deadly clashes between white nationalists and left-wing radicals, increasing numbers of hate crimes, mass shootings, bitter arguments over the national anthem … a cascading stream of allegations of sexual impropriety against figures in entertainment and in politics, the slow-motion disintegration of our major parties — it’s as if America itself has been thrown into the midst of a demolition derby, with every one of our prominent figures and major institutions targeted for destruction by Monster Truck.”

Given this chaos, how are we supposed to feel grateful this Thanksgiving?

I have a friend who says you can’t feel grateful until you first take a deep breath. This breath helps us relax so we can meditate on the big picture. So, what’s the big picture?

Well, first, there is our tradition. In Judaism, gratitude is a core virtue. The very root of the word Jewish in Hebrew means gratitude. The Talmud instructs us to say 100 blessings a day. And each morning, no matter how horrible the news is, the first blessing we make is Modei Ani — we thank God for returning our souls to us.

Beyond our tradition, though, there’s also that thing called happiness.

As psychologist and author Melanie Greenberg writes in Psychology Today, “Gratitude is an attitude and way of living that has been shown to have many benefits in terms of health, happiness, satisfaction with life, and the way we relate to others.”

If gratitude is so connected to our happiness and well-being, why doesn’t it come to us more naturally?

Maybe we’re simply not hardwired to seek happiness. “Our brains’ natural tendency,” Greenberg writes, “is to focus on threats, worries and negative aspects of life.”

In a way, that makes sense. How can we improve if we don’t worry about our mistakes? How can we repair the world if we don’t look at what’s broken?

The problem comes when negativity turns into a state of mind. The media have an inherent interest in focusing on the darkness — on the threats, the chaos and the crises. If we allow this negativity to permeate our consciousness, we won’t see much hope. We will wallow in the  world’s brokenness rather than working to repair it.

I sense that this is happening in much of the country right now. We have little faith in our leaders. The problems feel endemic, not fixable. We’re hopelessly divided. On top of that, when the media remind us all day long of this brokenness, our brains’ tendency to focus on “threats, worries and negative aspects of life” goes on overdrive. The urge to repair turns into an inclination to despair.

Enter Thanksgiving.

Divided or not, broken or not, once a year America forces us to grapple with gratitude. This is our national “deep breath.” Of course, when the nation is in such bad shape, it can feel awkward to imbue ourselves with gratitude.

The easy thing to do is ignore the darkness and count our blessings, at least for this one day. Many of us like to go around the Thanksgiving table and share the many things we are thankful for — and God knows there are plenty. You can never go wrong doing that.

But this year, because things are in such turmoil, we thought we’d go deeper.

So, we’ve come up with a Thanksgiving Haggadah, put together by Rabbi Zoë Klein Miles working with our community and religion editor Tom Fields-Meyer.

The idea was to borrow from the Passover seder and offer four questions around the theme of gratitude. These are not easy questions. They’re meant to provoke thought and meaningful conversation. In combination with blessings and commentaries, we hope this little discussion guide will elevate your Thanksgiving experience.

One thing I’ve learned in working on this issue is that gratitude is not as simple as it seems. On the surface, it’s such an obviously good idea. Looking at the glass as half full, taking nothing for granted, counting our blessings — all of those clichés are meaningful and true.

All too often, though, life gets in the way. How do we focus on gratitude while also focusing on our mistakes? How do we feel grateful while also feeling outrage at the world’s indignities?

Balancing polarities always has been the great Jewish dance. We don’t pick one imperative over another. We don’t wallow only in gratitude or only in fixing our lives. We don’t look only at the full part of the glass or at the empty part. We look at the whole glass at all times. The full part gives us hope; the empty part gives us the drive to go forward.

Maybe, in the end, the deepest expression of gratitude is to be thankful for the very fact that we are able to move forward, that we have the opportunity to make everything around us just a little bit better.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Move over Thanksgiving: Friendsgiving Shabbat is my reason for the season

The table is set. There’s wine, candles, bread, and a feast larger than your dining room table. It’s a time to come together with the people you care about and give thanks for everything good in your life. And, thankfully, I’m not talking about Thanksgiving, I mean Friendsgiving Shabbat dinner.

Friendsgiving is just what it sounds like: giving thanks over a meal shared with your friends. Over the last few years it’s become ever more popular, even Taco Bell did an ad campaign about it. Many people choose to replace the whole Thanksgiving feast, complete with family tension and bland family recipes, with a day of just the people they actually want to be around. As the perfect opportunity to test out new recipes and brush off the dust on old family classics, I look forward to gathering my friends for the potluck extravaganza that is Friendsgiving on Friday.

Friendsgiving is great, and combining it with Shabbat dinner takes it next level. Shabbat dinner, my favorite weekly holiday, sets the same intention that we seek out once a year in November. What brings joy into our lives? What are we grateful for and who do we want to share it with at the dinner table? I’ve been hosting through OneTable for the past year, ever since it launched in my city. OneTable is a nonprofit that is basically my support system for all things Shabbat dinner. I use their website to organize my meals, find new rituals, recipes and conversation starters, and they even offer grants to make it easy to host regularly. I’ve made new friends, recruited new hosts, and eaten more than my weight in challah!

Apparently, others had the same idea. My OneTable Hub Manager Marina Rostein told me that there have been over 100 Friendsgiving Shabbat dinners on the OneTable site this year.

While Thanksgiving is loaded with traditions and the people you’ve known forever, Friendsgiving just fits better for many millennials. I know plenty of people who struggle to see returning home as positive, but are excited to invent new traditions with their chosen families. Sometimes it’s because traveling is too expensive or difficult, and sometimes it’s just easier to be with the people who share your current values. My friends who are vegetarians have a hard time at their family’s meat-heavy holidays, but organize veggie-friendly Friendsgivings so they too can enjoy a fall feast. We’re a generation that knows what it wants, and how to get it.

While my family has eaten the same stuffing for 20 years, I love that Friendsgiving gives me the occasion to share something that is well-loved to my friends for the first time – and vice-versa for them and their family traditions. We get to share not only food, but memories with one another while creating new ones over a great meal.

Shabbat dinner shares that versatility. There is a traditional kind of Shabbat dinner: roasted chicken, too sweet wine, homemade challah. But that’s not the only option. Part of why I’ve been so invested in hosting through OneTable is that they know Shabbat dinner doesn’t have to look any one way. The rituals, new and old, traditional and chosen, can be meaningful no matter what’s served or where it’s eaten. They’ve made it possible to make Shabbat dinner my own.

One of my favorite dinners was actually one I hosted outside of my home at a bar. Called Board Game Bonanza, I reserved a table at a local bar that has hundreds of board games available to rent and allows you to bring in food. It was one of the easiest dinners I’ve ever held, yet also one of the most rewarding. People truly got a sense what Shabbat means to me – gathering friends around food for a meal that has meaning behind it. I opened up my table to people who also may be apprehensive about the “traditional” Shabbat ritual experience for a meaningful Friday night dinner, with a bit of competition!

This holiday season, I’m bringing these two traditions together and making something new that feels good to me and everyone at my table. Thanksgiving had its moment, but I’ll be celebrating Friendsgiving Shabbat dinner with OneTable. L’Chaim.

You’re Welcome to This Gratitude Leaf Banner

Photos by Jonathan Fong.

Gratitude is a feeling we always should have in our hearts, not just in November when Thanksgiving is upon us. That’s why this banner is such a great reminder to be grateful for our blessings all year round. Made with fallen leaves, the letters spelling out the word “gratitude” are written with a paint marker. The banner would look beautiful on a fireplace mantel, bookshelf or even on a front door. And to all of you checking out this project — thanks!

What you’ll need:
Fallen leaves
Thick book, like a dictionary
Oil-based white marker
Glue or hot glue
Ribbon

1.

1. Collect leaves that have fallen in your yard or neighborhood. Leaves that have turned color, rather than green leaves still on the tree, work best as they can be dried easily. You will need nine leaves to spell out G-R-A-T-I-T-U-D-E.

2.

2. Position the leaves between the pages of a thick book like a dictionary so they can be pressed. Place a heavy object on the book, and allow the leaves to dry for at least four days.

3.

3. With a white oil-based marker (Sharpie makes them, and you can find them in an art supply or crafts store), write one letter on each leaf. Follow the instructions on the marker, as it takes some patience before the ink flows.

4.

4. Glue the tip of each leaf onto a piece of ribbon using regular glue or a hot glue gun. Glue it to the back of the ribbon so you can’t see the glue residue. And make sure your ribbon is long enough to tie or tape the ends to an anchor point.


Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at jonathanfongstyle.com.

Thanksgiving With More Joy and Less Oy

Photo by Lynn Pelkey

I have an important message about the Thanksgiving meal for all you moms, dads, bubbes and holiday feast-makers out there: It’s not about the food.

There, I said it.

The truth is, holiday meals are never about the food. They are about family traditions, friends who are family, lively discussions, screaming kids and ranting in-laws. They are about making memories and laughter and having enough leftover turkey to make sandwiches the next day.

No matter how creamy your mashed potatoes are or how many Michelin stars your meal might earn, the fact is, no one is going to remember the food. What they will remember is your radiance, your happiness, your warmth and maybe even your dance moves.

So please, if you are preparing for the upcoming Thanksgiving meal, give yourself permission to take some shortcuts. If your meal is five-star but your face says “I just want to crawl back into bed,” you have lost. This year, commit to not being that frazzled person who is too stressed to be grateful on the official day of gratitude.

This year, commit to not being that frazzled person who is too stressed to be grateful on the official day of gratitude.

I speak from experience. For many years, I’ve prepared the Thanksgiving meal for almost 200 Foreign Service Officers at the U.S. Embassy in Uganda. Not only do I have the added pressure of cooking for people who would rather be home for the holiday, but I have to start well before Thanksgiving arrives — after all, I’d end up in a straitjacket if I woke up Wednesday morning still needing to make hundreds of pies and peel 200 pounds of potatoes.

Yet, many home cooks do just that sort of thing before big meals. This Thanksgiving, take it from a person who cooks for a living: Follow this schedule I’ve put together to take some anxiety out of the holiday.

Monday, Nov. 20: Do your shopping
Nothing spells heartbreak faster than running to 20 stores on Thanksgiving morning in search of croutons — or cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie filling. Don’t forget extra herbs and seasonings, salt, butter (or schmaltz or oil), flour, cream, milk, coffee, tea, sugar and large, disposable foil containers. Also, buy a meat thermometer with a pop-up timer. They cost next to nothing, and you will need to know when your turkey is cooked.

Tuesday, Nov. 21: Start preparing
Today is the day to make dough and desserts, and to prep the veggies, the frozen turkey and the fridge.

Apple pies can be made in advance and frozen unbaked. Pumpkin and pecan pies can be made today, and they will sit happily in your fridge until Thursday.

Figure out the challah/roll/biscuit situation and deal with that. You can make the dough and shape it in advance, then put it in the freezer to pop into the oven on Thursday.

This is also the day to peel regular and sweet potatoes and cover them with cold water. Trim the ends off string beans, blanch them in salted water and freeze in bags.

For the stuffing, prepare croutons, celery, onions and garlic before storing them in the fridge in Ziploc bags.

Clear out your fridge to make as much room as you can. Be brutal: Throw away those jars of condiments you’ve had in there since 1986. Then — and this is critical — if your turkey is frozen, put it in the fridge to thaw. Many Turkey Days have been ruined by underestimating how long it takes to thaw a big bird.

Wednesday, Nov. 22: Side dish day
Make the stuffing, the mashed and sweet potatoes, the green bean casserole, rice, couscous or whatever dishes your traditions dictate. Grease those disposable foil containers, put side dishes in them, cover them with foil and throw them in the fridge, ready to go into the oven the next day.

And if you bought a kosher turkey, you have even more to be grateful for. You can skip all that messy brining because kosher turkeys have already been brined.

Thursday, Nov. 23: Thanksgiving
While everyone else is trudging to the store looking for cranberries, here’s all that’s left for you to do this morning:

Preheat your oven and remove the side dishes and turkey from the fridge, so they come to room temperature. Rinse your turkey well with plenty of cool water, dry it with paper towels and let it sit on the counter for about an hour.

If you need to bake a pie or rolls/challah/biscuits, now is the time. While those are baking, set the table. Go all out. This is the most fun part of entertaining, and if you have mismatched plates and platters, all the better. If you’re like me and almost each one of your serving dishes tells a story, recalls a place you’ve been or reminds you of a relative you miss, this is a great chance to remember.

When the bread and pies are out of the oven, turn up the temperature to 500 F. Put your meat thermometer in the deepest part of the turkey’s thigh — where it meets the breast — and rub oil all over the bird. Season the inside and outside with your choice of herbs and spices. In the roasting pan, pour a few cups of wine or water and add the giblets and neck you reserved.

Pop the turkey into the oven for 30 minutes to brown all over. Then remove the turkey from the oven and lower the temperature to 350 F. Cover the breast meat with a small piece of foil and put the turkey back in the oven until your timer goes off or your thermometer reads 165 F.  An unstuffed turkey will take about 9 minutes per pound.

Basting is unnecessary, and opening the oven door will just increase the cooking time. Let your cooked bird rest for at least 30 minutes or longer. This allows the juices to redistribute and make the meat moist and flavorful. Avoid covering the turkey during the resting period to prevent rubbery skin.

While the turkey is resting, put the foil-covered side dishes in the oven to warm.

Before getting showered and dressed, take a few minutes to remove the pan drippings from your resting-turkey pan, discard the giblets and neck, and prepare the gravy. If you want to be a super chef, pour the gravy into microwave-safe gravy boats to be warmed for 2 minutes before serving.

At this point, you’ll probably be remembering frantic meals of holidays past and wondering why you’re done already — without even breaking a sweat. Keep the good times rolling: Talk someone else into carving the turkey and browning the tops of the side dishes before transferring them to serving platters. Then kick back and enjoy a pre-dinner Thanksgiving l’chaim!


Yamit Behar Wood, an Israeli-American food and travel writer, is the executive chef at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, Uganda, and founder of the New York Kitchen Catering Co.

Say “Thanks” This Thanksgiving!

Photo from Pexels.

For our Thanksgiving issue, the Journal is collecting stories of gratitude. Tell us about someone who did something that changed your life for the better — maybe without even realizing it. Perhaps it was an elementary-school teacher who recognized something in you, or a friend who was there in a time of need. Maybe it was a stranger who helped when you were lost, or that guy in the Tesla who let you switch lanes on the 405.

Tell us in 100 words or less about how someone did something you’re thankful for (you don’t have to share the person’s name). What did they do and why are you grateful? We’ll include the best of these in our Thanksgiving issue. Remember: no longer than 100 words.

Please send your 100-word story to editor@jewishjournal.com or click on this link to submit directly.

DIY: Folded turkey napkins for Thanksgiving

When it comes to your Thanksgiving table, it’s the little details that count. And these napkins folded into turkey shapes certainly will have you gobbling up the compliments.

To make these turkey-shaped napkins, you will need two square napkins for each one. I chose a plain napkin for the body and a patterned napkin for the feathers. I also used paper napkins because they’re much easier to fold than cloth napkins. As you fold, press down firmly to create defined creases.

1. Start with the napkin for the body. Crease the napkin in half diagonally.

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How to talk Trump at the Thanksgiving table

For the past two years, “Racist Trump” and “Crooked Hillary” became convenient scapegoats for us to fight over. Now that the election is over, we each have a choice to make. Retreat into our sense of loss and bitterness on one hand, or triumphalism and righteousness on the other — or try to find common ground to work together.

Granted, the latter choice isn’t easy. In my decades as an executive coach focusing on the role of communication in improving working relationships, I know just how hard it is to find the words to bridge far less bitter divides.

But what if we treated the presidential campaign, in all of its ugliness, as a window into larger learning about ourselves? What if we can use this political moment to learn how we can more genuinely interact, especially in the face of disagreements and controversies not only in politics, but in our workplaces, our schools and in our personal relationships?

Let’s begin with my work axiom that I call “Problem Squared.” Whenever you have a problem to solve, you actually have two problems. First there’s the problem we agree is a problem. Pick it: deciding who should be president, where or whether we should cut expenses in our office, how to educate our students or how to raise our children. But every one of those problems is accompanied by a second, parallel problem: How do we choose to talk to one another about the first problem? More troubling is that unless we work diligently to get better at the second, both become worse. When we accept those stakes and factor them into our discussions, we potentially open the door to real solutions driven by better, more collaborative actions and behaviors.  

With this new foundation to evaluate our conversational choices, I offer five specific suggestions that, as I’ve seen in my 30-plus years of coaching, 20-plus years of marriage and nearly 20 years of parenting, heighten chances for more constructive conversations, especially when such times are rife with conflict and likely to boil over into blaming, accusation and, potentially, damaged relationships. 

Start curious. Enter the disagreement with the prime intention to understand it before trying to prove you’re right. At the outset of any tough conversation, outcomes tend to be better for all involved when there is a deliberate attempt to intentionally listen and empathize, no matter how deep the conflict. I find that listening and curiosity serve their best and highest value when deployed in conflict.

Leave them be. Release the burden of changing “their” minds. You are deluding yourself if you believe you can change anything about anyone, especially their thinking. It is not the startling statistic you offer, or your pithy response to someone’s point that wins the day. People change their minds when they want to, not when you want them to. As the saying goes, “The teacher appears when the student is ready.”

Ask/Tell. Strike a balance between telling and asking. Attempt to sit quietly and listen to the next argument you can find. Around the family dinner table, in the conference room or at a board meeting, quietly keep track of the number of statements/mini-speeches made versus the number of genuine questions asked. You will make an unerringly accurate judgment as to the health of those relationships. The more the statements outweigh the questions, the worse the relationship.

Say less. I have served as a coach and group facilitator in more than 40 Jewish professional organizations. I can unequivocally state that in every one of those places, there is far too much talking and far too little pausing to reflect on what has been said. A rabbi I know often has said that sometimes the best thing you can say is nothing. Amen, rabbi.  

Use magic words. That purple dinosaur Barney, who helped many of our children learn some early lessons of life, told young listeners to always use the magic words “please” and “thank you.” In all of your arguments that you can recall, how many did you end by expressing genuine appreciation for the endeavor that others undertook with you?  

Speaking of magic, our rabbis originally created the word “abracadabra.” Its meaning in Aramaic is literally, “When we speak, we create.” Whether your candidate won or lost the election, whether you felt nauseated or vindicated by the result, and whether you feel the need to evolve the way you converse in controversy, please know that the choices you make leave a mark on those around you. The life we lead and the lives we care about are, in the end, determined largely by the conversations we create.   

Going forth from where we’ve been, may we create wisely and with deep respect for others. That will well prepare us for whatever lies ahead. Happy Thanksgiving.


Drew Kugler is an executive and organizational coach in Los Angeles. He can be reached at dk@drewkugler.com.

Give thanks with a gratitude tree

The Thanksgiving holiday is a good reminder that even when life has its rough patches, we still have a lot to be thankful for. To help us count our blessings, this gratitude tree is an easy-to-make decoration that can be a meaningful part of your family’s Thanksgiving celebration. 

Starting with a vase filled with branches, guests are encouraged to write things they are grateful for on leaf-shaped pieces of paper and then hang those leaves on the branches. By the end of the evening, the tree will be full — a colorful demonstration of the abundance in our lives. 

What you’ll need:

– Vase

– Rocks or glass marbles

– Branches

– Colored paper

– Scissors

– Hole punch

– String

1. Place branches in vase

2. Make the leaves

3. Attach the leaves

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Serving up shalom at a post-election Thanksgiving

It was just a few weeks ago, on the night of Nov. 8, that my family had all anxiously exchanged text messages as we watched the election results trickle in. State by state, my Hillary-loving family saw our hopes slipping away — and now, too soon, we are going to have to gather around the dining room table to celebrate Thanksgiving.

Here's the problem: We're not much in the mood to give thanks.

In a shocking upending of our dreams and expectations, our candidate had lost. We felt that the progressive, multicultural, multiracial and multilingual environment in which we lived was threatened. Since then, for my family members and me — not to mention liberals across the land — a kind of mourning had set in for a potential future lost.

With a tableful of liberal Jews coming over for Thanksgiving, what could we do to lift everyone's spirits?

For Thanksgiving, should we serve hard-boiled eggs, like at a house of mourning? It certainly feels like I'm living in one. The loss wasn’t nearly as life-shaking as when my parents had died, but as on Tisha b’Av — when we chant a dirge called Eicha, or Lamentations, about the fall of Jerusalem —  I had seen the fall of the ideas in which I dwelled. I felt like singing a sad song.

A post-election Pew survey estimated that about 71 percent of the Jewish voters were with Hillary and 24 percent with Trump. That means there are probably a lot of Jewish families out there like mine — meaning that since that fateful Tuesday, we've been living in an emotional state of blue not shown on any electoral map.

Families in which everyone voted for Trump won't have a problem this year celebrating America’s bounty. But if your family is like mine, or is divided between the candidates, short of sprinkling marijuana into the stuffing — hey, now it's legal in my state of California — how do you get the family in a more hopeful mood, or at least a passably reconcilable one?

For help, I put in an emergency call to an old friend, Rabbi Anne Brener, a psychotherapist and faculty member at the Academy of Jewish Religion, California, as well as the author of “Mourning & Mitzvah.” I knew that through her writings and workshops, she had become a spiritual leader who explored how to teach people to help themselves through periods of grief and mourning.

One of her thoughts on Thanksgiving put my hopes in the freezer, along with the cranberries.

“One possibility is that it could just be awful,” Brener said.

But then: “The other is that it there could be something salvific in it,” she said, giving my expectations a chance to thaw.

“With the vulnerability that people are feeling, I think there’s an opportunity to really connect in a deeper way,” the rabbi said. Releasing a few percentage points from my election-induced anxiety, Brener suggested that people could use the Thanksgiving gathering as an opportunity to “really come together to appreciate what’s really fine about the unit of the family.”

“It’s an opportunity to get back to what Thanksgiving is about,” she said, adding that it isn't just the day before Black Friday.

The key, Brener explained, is that we celebrate Thanksgiving “in a setting where one can feel loved, cared for and protected,” and “to name the things that bring a family together.”

Having these “nehamot,” places of community and caring — “is going to save us,” she said.

“Thanksgiving is actually a perfect antidote because it really does give us a chance to be together and to be vulnerable together,” she said.

Responding to both my own feeling of loss — along with the loss of so many people around us — Brener counseled that “there are losses that don’t follow into a category of mourning but have to be treated just like mourning.”

“In the Temple there was a special gate that opened up into the mourner’s path,” she said of an ancient Jewish place where mourners of all kinds sought solace.

The people who walked this path “were not just people who had a death in their family,” she explained, but “people who were dealing with all kinds of things, including changes in community, financial changes and illnesses.”

In connecting to Jews who lived thousands of years ago, I felt some solace. While their losses were of a different nature, they probably weren't feeling that much different than I was.

But what about Thanksgiving tables that are divided between mourners and those ready to shout “L'chaim!” and raise a glass?

“It’s more complicated in families with a Trump supporter uncle,” Brener conceded.

Still, if this describes your family — some are experiencing pain and others not — she suggested that we seek the opportunity to build compassion. That's something I realized was a valuable exercise whether a family's political views are united or divided.

Specifically, Brener suggested a ritual, modeled after the Native American tradition of a talking stick, in which everyone is allowed to speak — “without being interrupted, comforted, or told they’re wrong” — but only if he or she is holding the stick.

Ground rules are essential.

“Everybody has to listen, nobody can fix it for anybody,” she urged. “Nobody can confront anybody.”

No interrupting? How would that work in any Jewish household, including mine? Brener insisted it was possible. She suggested we use a yad — a Torah pointer, whose end is in the form of a hand with an outstretched finger — rather than a stick to help turn the ritual into “something sacred.”

The image was a pleasant one. But would this create peace at my Thanksgiving table?

“Shalom is a word that also means 'balance' and 'inclusivity,' and taking into account everybody who is present,” the rabbi said. So if families are seeking some shalom on Thanksgiving, she explained, then the ritual is an opportunity to express hurt, as well as gratitude that there's a place where they can be heard.

Brener was right, I realized. Even in a loving yet opinionated, pro-Hillary family like mine, such a ritual may help us find meaning in our loss and help pave a path for us to move forward.

After she and I said our goodbyes and I hung up the phone, I found a yad that one of my sons had been given as a bar mitzvah gift 14 years ago. Raising the yad, I imagined it lifting my family’s post-election gloom. With this new tradition in my pocket, I hope it will allow our Thanksgiving table — and yours — to become a place of shalom.

Edmon J. Rodman is a JTA columnist who writes on Jewish life from Los Angeles. Contact him at edmojace@gmail.com.

Lone soldiers from North America attend Thanksgiving dinner in Tel Aviv

Some 200 lone Israeli soldiers from North America will attend a special Thanksgiving dinner catered by a former lone soldier from New York.

The holiday dinner on Thursday, at the Beit Hachayal in Tel Aviv, will be hosted by Nefesh B’Nefesh, Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, Israel’s Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption, the Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael, and the Jewish National Fund. The dinner will allow the young immigrants without family in Israel to celebrate the traditional American holiday.

“When I was a lone soldier, I celebrated Thanksgiving with only a few friends,” said Idan Ianovici, owner of Vici Deli in Raanana, who served in the IDF’s Armored. He will prepare the soldiers a meal that includes cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie and other traditional Thanksgiving fare.

The soldiers will be joined by other new immigrants from North America.

“Thanksgiving is a very family-oriented holiday,” said Marc Rosenberg, director of pre-aliyah at Nefesh B’Nefesh. “We wanted to give new olim who arrived alone, including lone soldiers, the opportunity to celebrate this American holiday with other Anglo olim here in Tel Aviv.”

How to destroy your Thanksgiving dinner

One of the more obnoxious things I’ve read this year is a piece in Vox titled, “How to Survive Your Family’s Thanksgiving Arguments,” complete with a handy guide to help you turn a warm family gathering into a political food fight.

Never mind that you can have these political arguments all year long, or watch them any time on a cable news channel. No, the folks at Vox are encouraging you to have this food fight… at Thanksgiving.

This is media narcissism at its most advanced. Because the political junkies at Vox make their living from this stuff, they can’t imagine there’d be some human value in taking a break from the circus of current events.

Even the White House has gotten into the act of trying to politicize America’s day of meaning.

“As people are sitting around the Thanksgiving table…” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said, “I hope that’s a question that will be raised, and asked by members around the table—that if we’re going to have a serious discussion in this country about national security, let’s talk about some pretty obvious things that Congress can do.”

Vox actually provides a list of argument topics, such as Donald Trump, Syria and ISIS, Benghazi, Black Lives Matter, and, of course, Bernie Sanders, while offering suggested comebacks for different arguments.

If someone at the table says, for example, “Trump is the only one who’s speaking the truth about immigration,” or “This is why we can’t let in Syrian refugees,” or “Obama and Hillary Clinton’s incompetence got four Americans killed. They have blood on their hands,” Vox gives you all the talking points you’ll need to shame your uncle from Maine.

Beautiful. Can someone please pass the stuffing?

Not all conversation is created equal. I’ve learned that lesson over the years on Friday nights, when we host family dinners in honor of the Jewish Sabbath, usually with guests. The good guests will tell uplifting and funny stories; the not-so-good guests will go on about some terrorist act that just happened or a politician they hate or some other crummy thing now happening in the world. It’s not that those crummy things are untrue or unimportant; it’s just that they have a way of putting a damper on a warm gathering.

Last Friday night at my home, in the middle of a wonderful Shabbat dinner with a large group, the Paris massacre came up. For about 10 minutes or so, a pall came over the table. What was there to say? What was there to add? That the massacre was really evil and disgusting? Of course it was. Thank God my daughter Mia rescued the moment with an improvised riff on how darkness may make more noise, but light has more power.

We are drowning in dark news and political fights. We have so few opportunities to reconnect as families and people in a human way, to learn more about one another, about our lives and the things that mean the most to us. As much as I care about the latest explosion of violence in the Middle East or the Presidential debates, should that really take precedence over stories that can inspire us and deepen our connections?

Here’s the point: Political discussions tend to get circular, impersonal and, ultimately, quite boring. Usually, it’s not about exchanging enlightening information, but about each side proving to the other that it is right. Because you’re not sharing anything personal, there’s little risk involved. But how meaningful is it? Doesn’t it feel like a waste to squander our annual family gathering arguing about ISIS, the Palestinians or Benghazi?

So, here’s my suggestion: When you gather at your Thanksgiving table today, forget Donald Trump. Forget Syria. Forget Hillary. Look around the table and ask people simple questions that might elicit inspiring words, such as: “What’s a great thing that happened to you this past year? What’s a great story that moved you—in a book or a movie or in real life? Did you learn something important that you’d like to share?”

If the answers come back with Donald Trump, then I can’t help you.

Happy conversation.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

After cancer, Thanksgiving will never be the same

In fiction, the scenario would seem implausible: While attempting to console my husband as his little sister drew her final breaths, I noticed an unfamiliar number flash across my screen. I let it go to voicemail. The number flashed again. It was my physician, who informed me when I called back that the morning’s ultrasound indicated that my persistent stomach aches weren’t caused by a virus after all, but likely by ovarian cancer. I had a variant of the same disease that would kill my 47-year-old sister-in-law as the sun set that Friday evening in February.

My world, already dimmed by the unimaginable loss of my sister-in-law Ali, darkened further into a nightmare that was beyond my comprehension.

In the blur of the months that followed, the tragedy of Ali’s death stayed in the furthest reaches of my mind. Likewise, I pushed thoughts of my own peril as far away as I could manage.

Many days I spent largely in bed. Some days the physical discomfort overtook me, and I would drop my body into child’s pose, waiting for medication to soften the pain. As the chemotherapy continued, new side effects emerged. I slept many hours, but fitfully. Some nights, the sweats of sudden menopause shook me awake as I tossed aside one set of pajamas after another.

By summer, after an eight-hour surgery and the resumption of chemo, I’d lost so much weight that I stared at my hollowed cheekbones with little recognition. In the mirror, my eyes appeared red-rimmed and naked, bereft of brows or lashes. I searched the reflection for vestiges of the old me.

And yet, once I learned that my cancer was beating a hasty retreat, my spirits stayed largely aloft. In my strange new universe, with few obligations other than getting well, almost every day became a day of thanksgiving. I would stare out the window of our new Upper West Side apartment, the home we’d moved into during that surreal week in winter when Ali died, admiring the sparkling Hudson River, meditating on the sparrows alighting on the bare branches, so grateful to be close to nature and living in the bustling city that I adore — grateful to be living at all.

I discovered that I was lucky in love. I already knew that I was deeply blessed with a husband and parents who would do anything for me, and with two healthy, gloriously growing children — who in appropriate adolescent fashion alternated between hugging and hating me.

But now I was basking in the warmth of an entire community, people from my daily life, as well as those who had vanished years before. Friends sent me lines of poetry and crafted personal prayers. We received a steady stream of food and flowers and favors.

One friend designed a felt banner emblazoned with a single word: “Courage.” Another sent over a Chabad rabbi to outfit every doorway of our new apartment with protective mezuzahs. Yet another visited several times a week to provide a “healing spa,” soothing my soul with the melodies of Rabbi Andrew Hahn, who goes by the moniker the Kirtan Rabbi. As the iPod played these Hebrew songs, which incorporate the sounds of India, my friend would carefully remove the fluid pressing against my lungs, draining it through catheters that protruded from my upper back.

Jewish tradition, often a source of comfort for me, didn’t play the supporting role I would have expected. I couldn’t get to synagogue much. Several rabbis reached out to me, but they mostly didn’t know what to say.

At the same time, gratitude is deeply embedded in Jewish practice — and finding something to appreciate even in the midst of great sorrow was tremendously uplifting. Jews are not meant to devote just one afternoon in November to thanksgiving, but every day of every year.

“Never once in my life did I ask God for success or wisdom or power or fame. I asked for wonder, and he gave it to me,” the theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel reportedly whispered from his sick bed.

Similarly, in “The Book of Blessings,” Marcia Falk writes, “In a richly faceted world, full of surprise and infinite variation, the source of blessings is everywhere to be found. No wonder the rabbis of the Talmud proclaimed it forbidden to enjoy anything of this world without first saying a blessing.”

I didn’t recite 100 blessings each day as traditional Jews strive to do; I didn’t even consciously aim for gratitude. Without warning, my first glimpse of budding flowers in spring made me sob, first because Ali didn’t get a chance to experience them, and then from my appreciation that I could.

The afternoon before Yom Kippur, I received my final infusion of chemotherapy. I’m in remission, officially. It is a time for rejoicing.

Nevertheless, as we approach the national Thanksgiving Day, I often find myself more anxious than ever.

In some respects, my days are starting to resemble those of my old life. I write a little; I exercise; I care for my children. Still, I sometimes feel as if I am masquerading as myself. I am disoriented, dislocated, changed in ways I find difficult to articulate. My future is more precarious than I ever imagined. Will meditation help? Therapy? A medical trial?

I am navigating the waters of my “new normal” without a captain, without a clear idea of which current to follow. I yearn for the calm I found earlier this year, when I simply followed my oncologist’s program, buoyed by the familiar rhythm of weekly chemo and doctors’ visits. Now I’m sometimes so fearful that I feel as if I can hardly breathe.

At other times, though, I am awed that I can fill my lungs with so much oxygen, and then expend it climbing the hills of Central Park at a blistering pace. Often, when I’m not hyperventilating with fear, I am filled with wonder at this season’s startling beauty.

I allow myself, for brief moments, to mourn the woman who sometimes felt like a sister to me. I want to call her to chat. We would have so much to share.

(Elicia Brown is a writer living in Manhattan.)

Obama tells Americans homeland is safe as millions set off on Thanksgiving travel

President Barack Obama sought to reassure Americans they are safe on Wednesday as millions of people embarked on their annual Thanksgiving travels, with security at airports, New York City's parade festivities and other venues expected to be heightened amid jitters after the Paris attacks.

“We know of no specific and credible intelligence indicating a plot on the homeland,” Obama told reporters at the White House, flanked by his top counterterrorism and national security advisers.

“We are taking every possible step to keep our homeland safe,” he said. 

The FBI sent a bulletin earlier this week to police departments across the country warning of possible copycat incidents and sharing intelligence on how the assailants in Paris carried out attacks on Nov. 13 that killed 130 people.

The U.S. State Department also issued a world-wide travel alert on Monday warning American travelers to remain vigilant, particularly when visiting foreign countries.

However, New York City officials have stressed there is no specific threat to the city, despite a video released last week by the militant group Islamic State that included images of New York. Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks.

The Department of Homeland Security also said last Friday that there was no credible threat to the United States like the attacks in Paris. 

Nearly 46.9 million Americans will travel over the Thanksgiving long weekend – the busiest U.S. travel holiday of the year – with 3.6 million going by plane, according to the AAA, a motorist advocacy group.

Some travel analysts expected airport delays as a result of the heightened security. Officials at the Transportation Security Administration, which oversees airport security, declined comment. 

As many as 3.5 million people were expected to line the 2.5 mile (4-km) route of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City on Thursday, according to parade organizers. Many were expected to head to Manhattan's Upper West Side on Wednesday to watch the giant parade balloons being inflated on the eve of Thursday's parade. 

The New York Police Department is ramping up its usual tight parade security, adding members of a new counterterrorism unit, officials said.

City officials have made numerous public appearances in recent days seeking to reassure New Yorkers and tourists.

“There remain no credible and specific threats against New York City,” Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters on Monday. “I'm very, very confident in the NYPD's preparation for the parade.”

The 89th edition of the parade, which features 8,000 performers, kicks off holiday events in the city, including the lighting of the enormous Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center next week and the New Year's Eve celebration in Times Square.

More than five million visitors come to the city between Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve, according to the city's tourism agency. Chris Heywood, an agency spokesman, said all events are “business as usual.”

Thanksgiving: Vegan and vegetarian dishes

In some ways, I’m pretty traditional when it comes to my family’s Thanksgiving Day meal: I like to plan a lot of old-fashioned farmhouse food for the holiday. 

Who doesn’t enjoy a handsome bronzed turkey with lots of stuffing, an appealing array of relishes and a lavish dessert buffet? We pour apple cider for the children, a robust red wine for the grown-ups, and catch up on all the news while enjoying our family feast. 

It should be noted, though, that not everyone is interested in the traditional turkey. Quite a few guests these days are either vegetarian or vegan, and so we always try to have a menu that will fill their plates and satisfy their appetites. That is why the side dishes are so important.

Our Thanksgiving dinner will begin with bowls of Butternut Squash Soup, garnished with my homemade salsa and served with toasted pumpkin bread. My vegan grandson, Zane, loves my Carrot-Parsnip Slaw so much he can almost eat the whole batch, so it will definitely be on our Thanksgiving menu in a double portion.

It’s never a bad idea to serve a seasonal veggie, and  because there is always a colorful selection of squash at the local farmers market, it offers the perfect solution. Just cut it into cubes and sauté with onions and tomatoes. For my husband, Marvin, it is his favorite holiday dish.

For dessert this year, I will give our daughter-in-law, Amy, the baker in our family, a recipe for a Vegan Pumpkin Spice Bundt Cake to make. I also hope to surprise everyone with scoops of homemade Nondairy Coconut Gelato to serve on the side — and offer them one more reason to give thanks!

BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP

  • Salsa (recipe follows)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted margarine, melted
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 1/2 pounds butternut squash, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces (about 6 cups) 
  • 5 cups vegetable stock or broth
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced and mashed with 1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons peeled and grated fresh ginger
  • 1/3 cup finely minced fresh flat-leaf parsley, (optional)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

 

Prepare Salsa. Set aside.

In a small stock pot, mix oil and margarine. Add onion and cook until tender and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add squash and stock. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until the squash is tender when pierced with the tip of a small sharp knife.

Transfer the cooked squash and broth to a food processor or blender and puree in batches. Return the mixture to the pot and stir in the mashed garlic and ginger. Simmer briefly and stir in parsley. Taste and correct seasoning with salt and pepper. Garnish with Salsa.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

SALSA

  • 2 large tomatoes, sliced 
  • 1/2 large red onion, diced 
  • 1/2 to 1 cup minced fresh cilantro 
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice 
  • Salt to taste

 

In a medium bowl, combine tomatoes, red onion and cilantro and mix well.  Add lemon juice and salt to taste.  

Makes about 3 cups.

CARROT-PARSNIP SLAW

  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise (or vegan substitute)
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons sugar 
  • 10 medium carrots, peeled and grated
  • 4 medium parsnips, peeled and grated
  • 1/3 cup raisins, plumped in grape juice
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

 

In a medium bowl, combine the mayonnaise, lemon juice and sugar and blend well. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.

In a large bowl, toss the carrots, parsnips and raisins. Add the mayonnaise mixture and toss until completely combined. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

FARMERS MARKET SAUTEED SQUASH

  • 3 pounds assorted squash (zucchini, yellow neck, summer squash)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 large tomato, diced
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds

 

Cut squash into 1/2-inch cubes. In a frying pan, add oil and sauté onion until soft. Add squash, tomato and basil, and continue to sauté until desired texture, about 15 to 20 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Just before serving, transfer to a heated bowl. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

NONDAIRY COCONUT GELATO

  • 2 (13- to 15-ounce) cans full-fat coconut milk
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup, honey or sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

 

Shake the cans of coconut milk thoroughly to incorporate the layers that form in the can. Pour 1/2 cup of coconut milk into a medium saucepan over low to warm heat. Add the cornstarch and whisk until the cornstarch is thoroughly dissolved.

Pour the remaining coconut milk into a large pot, add maple syrup and salt, and warm the coconut milk on medium-low heat, stirring until the maple syrup completely dissolves, about 1 to 2 minutes.

Pour the cornstarch mixture into the warm coconut milk while whisking gently. Heat until the gelato mixture is thick. Pour into a large bowl, and mix in the vanilla extract. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

Pour the mixture into the canister of an ice cream maker, and freeze according to manufacturer’s directions. 

Makes about 6 cups.

VEGAN PUMPKIN SPICE BUNDT CAKE WITH MAPLE GLAZE

  • Maple Glaze (recipe follows)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup spelt flour
  • 3/4 cup coconut sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 (15-ounce) can solid-pack pumpkin
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened almond milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar

 

Prepare Maple Glaze. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Oil and flour a 10-inch bundt pan.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, sugars, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda and salt.

In a separate large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, coconut oil, almond milk, vanilla extract and vinegar. Add to dry ingredients, whisking just until combined.

Pour into prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean. Let cool for 15 minutes in the pan, then turn out on a wire rack to cool.

Drizzle Maple Glaze over completely cooled cake and let set for 10 minutes. Slice and serve.

Makes 10 to 12 servings.

MAPLE GLAZE

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon coconut oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Up to 2 teaspoons cold water

 

Whisk together powdered sugar, maple syrup, coconut oil and cinnamon. If it is too thick to drizzle over the cake, add 1/2 teaspoon cold water at a time.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

Judy Zeidler is a food consultant, cooking teacher and author of “Italy Cooks” (Mostarda Press, 2011). Her website is judyzeidler.com

November 29: The Jewish Thanksgiving Day

For several years now, I have been campaigning to declare Nov. 29 as the Jewish Thanksgiving Day, a day to give thanks to Lady History and to the many heroic players who stood behind the historic United Nations vote on Nov. 29, 1947, an event that has changed so dramatically the physical, spiritual and political life of every Jew of our time. 

I have argued that Jewish communities in every major city in the United States should invite the consuls general of the 33 countries that voted yes on that fateful day to thank them publicly for their fellow leaders who listened to their consciences and, defying the pressures of the time, voted to grant the Jewish nation what other nations take for granted — a state of its own. 

Imagine 33 flags hanging from The Jewish Federation building, 33 bands representing their respective countries, and the word “yes” repeated in 33 languages in a staged re-enactment of that miraculous and fateful vote in 1947.

The idea came to partial fruition in 2012, when a marvelous production of “The Vote” took place in the Gindi Auditorium at American Jewish University, featuring clergy, speakers, actors, musicians, singers and dancers commemorating the day when, 65 years earlier, the United Nations voted 33-13 to partition Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state. 

Efforts to turn this into an annual event nationwide have so far not borne fruit, perhaps because we have become overly fragmented, or perhaps because we need time to digest our debt to history to appreciate the impact that such a ceremony would have on strengthening the spines of our children and grandchildren.

But I am not one to be deterred by hesitation.

I will celebrate this day by myself, if necessary, and if you care to join me, it would make the celebration so much more meaningful.

Let us give thanks to the 33 countries that voted yes on the spectacular turn that Jewish history took in November 1947, and for the dignity, pride and self-image that every Jewish soul has enjoyed since.

Let us give thanks to Eddie Jacobson, President Harry S. Truman’s friend and former business partner from Kansas City, Mo., who risked that friendship and wrote to Truman on Oct. 3, 1947: “Harry, my people need help, and I am appealing to you to help them.” 

Let us give thanks to Albert Einstein, who pleaded, albeit unsuccessfully, with Jawaharlal Nehru, then prime minister of India, to vote for “the august scale of justice.”

Let us thank Cardinal Francis Spellman, head of the Catholic Church in New York City, who, days before the vote, used his personal influence in Latin American countries, urging them to vote yes.

Let us thank the many ordinary yet courageous people, from Peru to the Philippines, who understood the collective responsibility that history bestowed upon them in 1947, and used everything in their power — from personal pleading to arm twisting — to influence their governments to vote yes.

Let us thank 33 ethnic communities in Los Angeles and remind them that we Jews do not forget friends who stood with us on the side of justice — we give thanks and ask for nothing in return.

And while we thank history for its miracles, let us remind ourselves and others of a few basic facts.

• Let us remind the world that Israel is there by historical right, not by force, nor by favor.

• Let us remind the U.N. what kind of institution it once was. And let us do it this month, when, in Orwellian mockery, Sudan and Iran win UNESCO leadership roles.

• Let us refresh our memories with all the arguments, pro and con, regarding the idea of a Jewish state; arguments that our enemies have mastered to perfection, and that we have naively assumed to be no longer necessary, to the point of delinquent forgetfulness.

• Let us express ceremonially what we have tacitly understood for quite some time: that Israel constitutes the only uniting force among world Jewry, without which collective Jewish identity would cease to exist.

• Finally, let us remind the Arab world that the U.N. voted for two states, not for a Jewish state only, as their spokesmen claim, and that the optiontion of Palestinian statehood is still on the table, waiting for them to internalize the meaning of the word “coexistence” and to learn to utter the words:

“equally legitimate and equally indigenous.”

It is hard to end this celebration of a Jewish thanksgiving day without reflecting on the tragedy of the Palestinian people and on how they must view the U.N. vote and the missed opportunity for independence. 

Anyone who studied the difficulties Israel faced in its first decade of existence understands that she would not have survived had the Arab leadership accepted the U.N. partition plan. 

A society of one million Arabs and 600,000 Jews sharing a state that the former vows to destroy (assisted by a hostile and sovereign neighbor) has zero chance of survival.

Why then didn’t the Arabs accept the U.N. partition plan?

The main reason was that the Arab leadership was too deeply invested in an ideology that it could not easily disavow. To accept the U.N. plan would have meant accepting the historical legitimacy of a Jewish homeland, hence the Zionist narrative, which they had fought for almost half a century. It would have meant betraying the anthem of their collective identity and admitting to waging an unjust war.

Nov. 29 reminds all of us that it’s time for a new anthem.

Happy Thanksgiving Day.


Judea Pearl is a professor at UCLA and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation (

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How to make a floral turkey centerpiece for Thanksgiving

For me, decorating the table is the best part of hosting a Thanksgiving dinner celebration. I love arranging the dishes, the sparkling glasses, the starched napkins — and, of course, making the centerpieces. 

Centerpieces are a great way to set the mood, a way to tell your guests right as they walk into your house that they’re in for a festive time. But depending on how you’re planning to serve your Thanksgiving meal, you will have to make the centerpiece work for you. If you’re planning a buffet, then most of the serving platters will be on a separate table, and your centerpiece can stay put on the main table, to continue to delight your guests. But if you’re planning to serve your dishes at the table, you’ll likely need the extra space, in which case you can remove the centerpiece before you bring out the dinner and place it elsewhere, such as on a coffee table or mantel. 

I’ve run the gamut on centerpieces, from simple bud vases to elaborate creations that can take over an entire room. Last Thanksgiving, I spray-painted 600 pingpong balls shiny gold, suspended each one over the dining table with thread, and then lined the table with branches decorated with twinkling lights. This year, I’m making our life a lot easier with this simple floral turkey centerpiece. It’s easy to make, yet so adorable you’ll be gobbling up the compliments.

WHAT YOU’LL NEED:

  • Floral foam
  • Knife
  • Mums
  • Wheat stalks
  • Bird of paradise flower
  • Real or artificial fall leaves

” target=”_blank”>jonathanfongstyle.com.

Did you see “The Lion King?”: A Thanksgiving story

I give thanks for “The Lion King.” This month, the theatrical production celebrates eighteen years on Broadway. I first fell in love with the show when I somehow scored tickets to the press preview the night before it opened in New York City, November 13, 1997. Like everyone else in the theatre, Susie and I were blown away by the phenomenal artistry of the piece – the spectacular costumes and puppetry portraying the animals of Pride Rock, the engaging music, and the story of family continuity. There have only been a handful of times in a Broadway show when I've completely lost it: the opening “Tradition” scene of “Fiddler on the Roof” sitting next to my Grandma Celia, the climactic fight scene when James Earl Jones as Jack Johnson prevails against “The Great White Hope,” and watching the enormous puzzle pieces of Mufasa's face come together as Simba sees his reflection as the “He Lives in You” scene unfolds.

Back in 1997, we couldn't wait to share the show with our children, Havi and Michael. They, of course, loved the original animated film, even though a beloved character dies. Once again, I cried tears of joy observing our kids sobbing in recognition when Simba realizes his place in “the circle of life.” 

Fast forward eighteen years. Havi is now herself a mother of a five year old, Ellie Brooklyn, and a two year old, Gabriel Elijah. “Mom, Dad,” Havi exclaimed on the phone as we planned our visit to celebrate Ellie's fifth birthday, “the national company of 'The Lion King' is in town…” I didn't wait for her to finish the sentence. “Don't say another word,” I said. “I'll get tickets. Gabe is too young for a three hour show, but I think Ellie will love it!” “I know, I know,” Havi cried, barely containing her anticipation.

And so it was on October 4, 2015, when Bubbie Susie and Zaydie Ronnie walked hand in hand with Ellie and Mommy Havi toward the San Jose Center for Performing Arts, while wonderful Daddy Dave took Gabe to the park. The plaza in front of the theatre was crowded with other grandparents, parents and children of all ages eagerly awaiting the show. Once inside, we bought a stuffed Baby Simba doll and a program before settling into our seats. As we waited for the curtain to rise, miraculously, Ellie lifted the Baby Simba doll high over her head and rocked it back and forth even though Havi had decided not to show the movie to Ellie, wanting her instead to experience the story as told in the theatre. From the moment Rafiki began her call to the incredible puppet animals to walk down the aisles and gather on stage, Ellie sat transfixed in awe. Havi, of course, was not watching the show; her entire gaze was on her daughter. And, of course, Havi was a basket case. 

I knew this because Susie and I were not watching the show either! We were watching our daughter watching her daughter experience the glory that is a live stage performance of “The Lion King.” Three generations sitting together in the dark of a theatre with souls illuminated by the power of music, art, and storytelling. It was magical…and, of course, I cried like a baby. 

When the climactic “He Lives in You” scene unfolded once again, I was overwhelmed with images of my parents. My mother Bernice died six years ago; my father, Alan, three years ago, God bless their souls. How they would have loved this moment! My mother was in a delirium for several days during the week before she died, but when she awoke and saw Susie and me standing next to her hospital bed, the first words out of her mouth were: “Is Havi pregnant?” It was a cry of hope for the future of her family.

This is the reason I wrote my new book, The Best Boy in the United States of America: A Memoir of Blessings and Kisses (Jewish Lights Publishing). Excuse the pun, but Is there any greater dream than our “line” continues? Is there anything more powerful than family to shape our identities and destinies? This is the compelling message we transmit through storytelling. So, in addition to turkey and football, let’s spend some time at our Thanksgiving tables telling our stories and marveling at the wonder of generational continuity.

At Gabe’s brit milah, I was given the honor of being the sandak, the grandfather who holds the baby during the ritual circumcision. The moyel did his business in a few minutes, but Havi has the creative gene from Susie, so the bris was a wonderful celebration, with readings for each family member, explanations of the baby’s names, songs, poems, and reflections. But it took a good forty-five minutes. The baby did fine, sucking on a gauze pad soaked with wine. But, forty-five minutes?! Finally, the service was over, and everyone erupted in song, “Siman tov, u’mazal tov!” I don’t know what came over me, but as the singing came to an end, I stood up, held the baby high over my head, and yelled, “Hakuna metata!”

Did you see “The Lion King?”

Giving thanks for a fight-free Thanksgiving

As my family — and families across the country — begin preparations for the Thanksgiving feast, I started to wonder what kind of family tsuris could rend this day of plenty, pilgrims and, well, pigskin, asunder.

Even in this season of presidential candidate debates, I knew that the table divider at my house probably wouldn’t be politics — after all, only some 6 percent of Americans have had a Thanksgiving dinner ruined by a political argument, according to a Economist/YouGov poll taken last December. But what about politics of a more familial kind?

This year, with my own family coalition coming over to partake in the feast, I didn’t want any infighting. After all, Thanksgiving is historically an important day for both sides in a potential conflict to come together — the day is imbued with the story of Wampanoag Native Americans joining the Pilgrims for that first dinner held in Plymouth Colony in 1621. Edward Winslow, who attended, wrote in a letter to a friend “many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer.”

Though our plans were smaller scaled, and did not include a hunting party, we did plan on entertaining for a few hours, and wanted to do it in happy union with our family.

Moreover, on the Shabbat the week of Thanksgiving this year, we read from the portion Vayishlach, which relates the story of how Jacob and Esau — brothers estranged by a birthright that a hungry, impulsive Esau sells for a bowl of stew — reconcile. Years have passed, each is successful in his own right, but Esau is coming with 400 men. Is he going to settle the score?

Though my family arrives at my door without an army, each family gathering does present the opportunity for slights to be addressed and wounds reopened. In the Bible, Jacob sends ahead gifts to his brother to ease the tension. In our invitations to Thanksgiving dinner, I also suppose we send an offer of potential reconciliation of family issues.

Setting aside my projection that our table could be split between Clinton and Sanders supporters — I do have a right-leaning nephew, but he’s celebrating Thanksgiving elsewhere — I could see that there were other factors, aside from voting patterns, that could divide our company: important things like stuffing and cranberry preferences.

In the wake of terrorist attacks in France and the stabbings in Israel, peacefully resolving family disputes may seem trivial — that is until the blow-up happens around your own table, as it did at my mother’s house one year when a guest showed up totally shickered. It also happened at another Thanksgiving when an Orthodox vegetarian refused to even pass the turkey platter.

Like a lot of baby boomers, with parents aging or passing away, my family has experienced recent shifts surrounding Turkey Day. For decades, my wife’s aunt and uncle hosted Thanksgiving dinner; guests were required only to contribute good cheer. But with her passing a few years ago, my wife and her sister began to prepare separate holiday dinners.

Then, three years ago, after my sister-in-law became ill with cancer — today she is cancer-free, something to be especially thankful for — we offered to host Thanksgiving for both families.

So now, the entire mishpocha, comprised of around 16 politely opinionated people, comes to our Los Angeles home. Just throw a bigger turkey in the oven and schlep out a few more chairs, right?

But just because the meal is largely a secular one for Jews, do not think for a second that our preferences for “traditional” flavors — whatever they may be — are given the day off. For many families, there’s only one way to prepare the turkey, the yams, the pie — and only that way will keep peace at the table.

Turning to the Bible, there is a portion (Genesis 18) when Abraham suddenly realizes that he and Sarah are going to have angelic guests — the literal and not behavioral kind — in their tent. They rush about preparing the food and seeing to the comfort of their divine guests — so much so that when hospitality, or “hachnasat orchim,” is discussed in a Jewish context, these verses are often cited.

Yet, no matter how fine a model are Abraham and Sarah as hosts, they did not have to divvy up the food assignments among branches of their family, each with their own tribal preferences.

Many Thanksgiving dinners today are group endeavors, even potluck, and ours is not the exception. My brother-in-law and his wife supply salad and drinks, my sister-in-law brings a kugel and mother-in-law buys knishes (this is, after all, a Jewish meal).

But for the traditional Thanksgiving must-haves, nothing is left to chance — in fact, there is planned redundancy. That is, to keep everything copacetic between the two sisters (who deny any competition), there are two of most everything: two styles of stuffing (one with kosher sausage, the other with challah and vegetables), two types of cranberry sauce (a cranberry orange relish and a sauce made with wine and nuts), plus two vegetables and yams.

Though there’s barely enough room at the table for all the dishes, I must say that all the passing does keep us together. And we’re careful not to play favorites: There’s no singing the praises of one cook’s dish without a favorable comparison to the other’s offering.

There can be no table cliques or caucuses. We dine together or we dine alone. If this is the price of Thanksgiving “shalom bayit,” peace in the house, then call me a satisfied and satiated fan.

(Edmon J. Rodman is a JTA columnist who writes on Jewish life from Los Angeles. Contact him at edmojace@gmail.com.)

What’s the deal with canned cranberry sauce?

No American holiday conjures up images and memories of food like Thanksgiving. Starting in preschool, most of us learned that Thanksgiving commemorates the moment in 1621 when Pilgrims sat down for a peaceful meal with their Indian friends. They wore funny hats and buckle shoes that are conveniently easy to replicate out of construction paper. They ate turkey, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and stuffing … just like I ate with my family every year in Stanfordville, New York, after watching the Thanksgiving Day parade. Since the mid-20th century, historians (including those at Plimoth Plantation) have gone to great lengths to prove how little of this story actually happened. Nonetheless, the Thanksgiving meal as we know it today is a cornerstone of our national identity. But why pie? And turkey? And that inescapable canned cranberry sauce?

What we choose to remember about the past often says more about America than what actually happened. Thanksgiving betrays a need—which we see throughout American history—to create a shared national identity. And, in this case, the way we have addressed that hunger is by creating shared food traditions. 

Because very little is known about what actually happened at the “first Thanksgiving,” we’ve been free to commemorate it based on what we’ve needed it to look like over time. Most of what is known about the foods of the “first Thanksgiving” is based on what foods were common at that time in the region, and a letter written by Edward Winslow to a friend in England describing the feast in 1621. Winslow wrote that Governor Bradford of the Plymouth Colony sent men out to hunt wildfowl (most likely goose or duck) while Wampanoag Indians brought deer to the feast. While turkeys were plentiful in New England in the 1620s, historians agree it is unlikely that they were the centerpiece of the “first Thanksgiving.” Turkeys were hard to catch, and the meat was tough and lean. Fish, however, would have been plentiful and almost certainly part of any harvest celebration.

The Pilgrims may have stuffed their birds (though most likely not turkeys) with onions and herbs. Cranberries were native to New England and would have been in the native diet in the 1620s, so they could have been part of the Thanksgiving meal, too. If cranberries were in sauce form, the sauce would have been sweetened with maple syrup. We also know that pumpkins, a type of squash, were eaten in 1620s New England, though there was no flour and hence no pies.

With very little historical basis on which to create a shared national holiday, America needed someone to tell them how the holiday should be celebrated. And Sarah Josepha Buell Hale was just the woman for the job. Hale, based in Boston, and later Philadelphia, was the editor of Godey’s Ladies Book, a very popular women’s magazine of the mid-19th century. She wanted to create an American tradition that brought people together and, according to historian Anne Blue Wills, hearkened back to the rural, Protestant foundations of the country.

Hale first wrote about the Thanksgiving meal in her novel Northwood: A Tale of New England, published in 1827: “The roasted turkey took precedence on this occasion, being placed at the head of the table; and well did it become its lordly station, sending forth the rich odor of its savory stuffing, and finely covered with the frost of the basting.” Her meal included not only turkey, but also “a sirloin of beef, flanked on either side by a leg of pork and a joint of mutton,” along with, “innumerable bowls of gravy and plates of vegetables” and “a huge plum pudding, custards, and pies of every description known in Yankee land.” 

This vision of the overflowing plentiful feast table represented mid-19th-century ideals of the woman’s role in creating a perfect home, a vision that Hale spread through her editorials each November in Godey’s detailing how women should prepare and celebrate the Thanksgiving feast in the home. Featuring recipes for turkey, stuffing, and pie, her writings created the “classic” American Thanksgiving ideal. As the United States was divided by the Civil War, Hale wrote a letter to President Lincoln urging him to make the day a national event, one that would bring Americans together. On October 3, 1863, Lincoln did just that, declaring the last Thursday in November a “day of Thanksgiving and Praise.”

As America entered the 20th century, Americans tweaked their Thanksgiving food traditions to reflect the modern vision of America. Progress, innovation, and technology all became part of the Thanksgiving table. Take the beloved cranberry sauce. Cranberries were too delicate to transport long distances and were consumed mostly in New England. But in 1912, Marcus Urann, head of the United Cape Cod Cranberry Company, started packaging and selling canned cranberry sauce under the name Ocean Spray Preserving Company. Now cranberries could enjoy a longer shelf life and become fixtures on the Thanksgiving table far away from cranberry bogs.

Stuffing, too, got a modern “upgrade.” The convenience-food revolution of the mid-1900s introduced pre-packaged stuffing mixes to the home kitchen; perfect stuffing became as easy as just adding chicken broth. These same convenience foods in the home earned green bean casserole a place at the Thanksgiving table. Campbell’s Soup Company published the first recipe for green bean casserole in 1955, trying to create a recipe made up entirely of things the “average” cook had on hand. The recipe, which has remained the same for over 50 years, used their cream of mushroom soup, crispy onions, and green beans. 

Even pies took a turn to convenience with the introduction of canned, pureed pumpkin. Today, the vast majority of pumpkins grown in America are turned into canned pumpkin puree, which takes away the need to bake and mash a real pumpkin. Through these food innovations, every home in America could have a “traditional” Thanksgiving that meshed with the 20th-century vision of a modern America. So nowadays our Thanksgiving feast is as much a tribute to the mid-20th-century modernist ideal as it is to a 19th-century idealized view of our 17th-century origin story.

My Thanksgiving meal this year is going to be a mash-up. I can’t give up the canned cranberry sauce, even though locavores might shudder at the idea that I enjoy slicing its jellied perfection on the lines. But I’ve also ordered a “heritage” turkey—a bird that has more in common with a wild turkey than a Butterball—and added fish to the menu as a way to give those around my dinner table a taste of what the Pilgrims might have tasted back then. And I’m also going to add some mutton, as a nod to Hale’s Northwood feast. Thanksgiving not only reflects who Americans are, but who we want to be. And so what I really think Thanksgiving shows is how creative we are in putting new twists on old experiences.

Susan Evans is program director of the American Food History Project at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. She wrote this for What It Means to Be American, a project of the Smithsonian and Zocalo Public Square

What’s my name? Thanksgiving

I was born in Soviet Ukraine at a time when people were stripped of their spiritual rights and forced to conform to a colorless mass that was communism. How did I know that I was Jewish? It was written in the passports and legal documents of every member of my family, an undeniable truth that no one could question, abandon or deny.  I was always amazed at how easily identifiable we were. We were different, something about our genetic makeup that made us sound and look and act as the “other.” And there was no shortage of tormentors to remind us of that.

But what did it mean to be Jewish? There were no working synagogues when I was little, just empty buildings where Jews once worshiped. There were fading memories of Jewish holidays once celebrated and Hebrew prayers once pronounced. There was a sense of regret for all that was lost.

My family left their home. We didn’t just walk out of the land where my grandparents and great-grandparents are buried — we ran. To be honest, we were not looking for a spiritual home.  We were looking for safety, a place to live without fear of arbitrary persecution. I am almost certain that it wasn’t my family’s faith in God that gave us courage to leave. But I know that we were not alone when we leapt into the unknown.  

Thousands of Jews we had never met before fought for our freedom. The Jews in America and in Israel, who had tirelessly petitioned the Soviets to let our people go, did have synagogues and rabbis and inspirational teachers to hold them up, to motivate them. God’s word and God’s promise lived through the courageous acts of many American Jews.  

A few years ago, I had dinner with Rabbi Bernard Mehlman, my husband’s rabbi from growing up at Temple Israel in Boston. He told me that he traveled to Moscow in the ’70s at the height of the Soviet crackdown on the refuseniks, when families who tried to get out were harshly mistreated and imprisoned for treason. He went to Moscow in the dead of a miserably cold winter to bring a pacemaker for a Jewish woman who was refused the apparatus over and over on the grounds of being a traitor. She would have surely died had he not smuggled it into the country for her.  

Now that I live in America, I sometimes struggle with my identity. I have an internal dialogue: What am I? How do I identify myself? Am I Russian? After all, I speak Russian and it is my mother tongue. But that’s not quite right, as my roots are in what is now Ukraine, and hardly anyone speaks Russian in Ukraine anymore, preferring their national language. Certainly I am not Soviet, as that definition does not even exist anymore. I am American. Yes. American. But am I Jewish American or American Jewish?   

This year, my intent during the Thanksgiving holiday is to honor my American story in a wholly new way, through the lens of a Jewish immigrant experience. Jewish religious observance requires retelling of the Exodus from Egypt story every year, as if each generation personally experienced God setting them free from bondage. Thanksgiving is truly an American holiday. Whether your family came to this country during the Civil War, through Ellis Island or after the fall of the Iron Curtain, it’s a celebration that’s easily embraced by all. Breaking bread together and sharing gratitude transcends racial, ethnic and social boundaries. 

Recently, my girlfriends and I shared our anxieties about the preparations for the upcoming Thanksgiving family gatherings. Most of my girlfriends in this particular group are relatively recent immigrants or first-generation Americans with parents who very much identify with the immigrant experience. We all laughed at the myriad different foods that show up at our Thanksgiving tables: Persian rice, pirozhki, dozens of pickled side dishes, mayonnaise-smothered potatoes and everything in between. We joked about overbearing mothers set in their ways and children who won’t touch the turkey, and grandparents who think cranberry sauce is excellent for tea-sweetening. We shared stories of confusion between a multitude of languages and our poor, intermarried, American family members who get lost in the shuffle and are too polite to exert their preferences. This experience, we agreed, is the best of what America has to offer.  

As I searched to label my identity, I thought how this year, Thanksgiving falls on a time during which we read the portion of the Torah VaYetzei. In it, Jacob’s wife gives birth to his fourth son, who she names Yehuda, which literally means “thanksgiving.” She says, this time, I will give thanks to God and name this child Yehuda. The Jews inherit Yehuda’s name and it becomes our own, as we are known as Yehudim, those who give thanks. Thanksgiving is literally coded into our very names. We carry within us a vision of a higher being, standing at the top of Jacob’s ladder, and a promise of a homeland, our safety and our continuity as a people.  

So finally, I came up with an identity I am comfortable with: I am Yehudi. I am part of a grateful people. I am grateful to God. I am grateful to the people who fought for my personal freedom. I am grateful to the hundreds of thousands of Americans who lost their lives, as one mistake was made after another and continue to be made, as we strive for the vision of justice and freedom for all. I am grateful to the Founding Fathers of this country who wrote the Declaration of Independence with language of such clarity that we have aspired to honor it for more than 200 years: 

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

They ended the document with a pledge of loyalty: 

“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

Thank you, America, for giving me the safety and the freedom to know that I am Yehudi. I am a Jew and a grateful one.

Marita Anderson is a student at the Academy of Jewish Religion in Los Angeles.

Thanksgiving by mom, updated

The Thanksgiving holiday is the perfect time to invite family and friends to celebrate an American tradition with a home-cooked feast. The essential elements are turkey, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce and yams. And, of course, everyone looks forward to several delicious desserts.

My mother was very proud of her very special veggie stuffing and used it for chicken as well as turkey. She mixed everything together and placed it in the bird uncooked, but I have found that cooking the stuffing first blends the flavors together better. I’ve also added my own flourish — plumped raisins that give it a nice, sweet taste that is especially festive. 

This year, I am adding some new dishes to the meal, and you can, too, combining tradition with creative new recipes. 

My family loves rhubarb, so this year we’ll include the tangy, sweet and vibrantly colored fruit, serving it alongside the traditional cranberry sauce. Don’t forget to include some Honey Glazed Yams to round out your menu.

Pumpkin Chiffon Pie is the traditional pie for our family Thanksgiving dinner. I always served it when the children were small, because although pumpkin was never their favorite, this dish is especially light in flavor and texture — and absolutely delicious after a big dinner.

TURKEY IN A BAG WITH VEGETABLE STUFFING

(From “The Gourmet Jewish Cook,” by Judy Zeidler)

  • Mom’s Vegetable Stuffing (recipe follows)
  • 1 turkey (15 to 20 pounds)
  • 1/4 cup safflower or vegetable oil
  • 1 cup apricot preserves
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Prepare Mom’s Vegetable Stuffing; set aside.

Preheat oven to 325 F.

Clean the turkey and pat dry with paper towels. Spoon cooled stuffing into both cavities and close with a needle and thread or skewers. Rub outside of turkey with oil and preserves; sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Grease the inside (seamless unprinted side) of a large paper bag, or use a large plastic baking bag. Place turkey, neck first and breast down, inside the bag. For a paper bag, fold down the top and seal it with paper clips or staples. If using a plastic baking bag, tie with plastic ties supplied in the package. Place turkey on large rack over a roasting pan lined with heavy-duty foil. Bake according to the following guide, about 20 minutes per pound:

10 to 12 pounds = 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 hours

14 to 16 pounds = 5 to 6 hours

18 to 20 pounds = 6 to 7 1/2 hours

About 30 minutes before the turkey is done, make a slit in the bag under the turkey and let the liquid drain into a saucepan. When all the juices are poured off, remove bag. Return turkey to oven to brown for remaining cooking time. Skim fat that forms from juices, discard fat, and heat juices. Remove stuffing and transfer to a heated bowl. Carve turkey and arrange slices, legs and wings on a large platter. Serve heated juices in a gravy boat.

Makes 15 to 20 servings.

MOM’S VEGETABLE STUFFING

  • 1/4 cup safflower or vegetable oil
  • 3 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 celery stalks, finely chopped
  • 1 bunch carrots, peeled and grated
  • 1 parsnip, peeled and grated
  • 2 large zucchini, grated
  • 1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins, plumped and drained
  • 8 mushrooms, chopped
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons oatmeal
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons flour
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons dry breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a large, heavy skillet, heat oil; sauté onions and garlic until transparent. Add celery, carrots, parsnip and zucchini; toss well. Sauté for 5 minutes, until vegetables begin to soften. Add parsley, raisins and mushrooms; mix thoroughly. Simmer for 5 minutes. Blend in 1 tablespoon each of the oatmeal, flour and breadcrumbs. Add wine; mix well. Add remaining oatmeal, flour and breadcrumbs, a little at a time, until stuffing is moist and soft, yet firm in texture. Season with salt and pepper. 

Makes about 4 to 5 cups.

HONEY-GLAZED YAMS

  • 2 1/2 pounds yams or sweet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces (about 7 cups)
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted margarine or olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 F. 

Arrange yams in a 13-by-9-by-2-inch baking dish. In a small saucepan, combine margarine, honey and lemon juice; cook over medium heat, stirring, until margarine has melted. Pour mixture over sweet potatoes; toss to coat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake until tender when pierced with fork, stirring and turning occasionally, about 45 minutes. 

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

RHUBARB PRESERVES

  • 3 to 4 rhubarb stalks, ends trimmed, cut in 1-inch pieces (about 3 cups)
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup cranberry juice
  • 2 tablespoons grated orange peel

Place rhubarb in a medium pot; pour sugar over. Let rhubarb absorb the sugar for 30 minutes. Add cranberry juice and orange peel. Cook over low heat for 20 minutes or until rhubarb is soft. Cool and transfer to a bowl. 

Makes about 3 cups.

PUMPKIN CHIFFON PIE

  • 1 1/4 cups pumpkin (canned or fresh; if canned, use 100% pure pumpkin, not pumpkin pie mix)
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground mace
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 envelope unflavored gelatin (kosher)
  • 1/4 cup cold water 
  • 1 (9-inch) baked deep-dish pie crust
  • Nondairy whipped topping

In the top of a double boiler, over simmering water, combine pumpkin, egg yolks, 1/2 cup sugar, mace, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt; beat well. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes.

Dissolve gelatin in cold water and let stand for 5 minutes. Blend into pumpkin mixture, remove from double boiler; let cool.

Beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Add remaining 1/2 cup sugar; beat until stiff. Fold pumpkin mixture into beaten egg whites until combined. Pour into prepared crust; chill in refrigerator until set, 3 to 4 hours. Garnish with non-dairy whipped topping.

NOTE: For those preferring not to consume raw egg whites, Eggbeaters 100% Egg Whites may be substituted.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.


Judy Zeidler is a food consultant, cooking teacher and author of “Italy Cooks” (Mostarda Press, 2011). Her website is judyzeidler.com.

Why does Judaism care about gratitude?

While Jews were able to enjoy the rare, simultaneous celebration of Thanksgiving and Chanukah this year, Judaism has long been had something in common with the American holiday.

It’s a theme that runs from Torah to Talmud, from Psalms to the siddur (prayer book) and into aspects of everyday life.

It’s gratitude.

Liturgically, there actually is a timely connection between Chanukah and thanksgiving — an additional prayer in the daily “Amidah” that references God’s role in defeating the Seleucids, after which the Jews entered the Temple “to give thanks and praise to Your great name.” But that message of gratitude to God is just one of many examples that pervades Jewish philosophy.

Biblically, there’s the example in Deuteronomy when God commands the Jews, upon entering Israel, to bring the first fruits of the land to the Temple and express gratitude for the Exodus from Egypt and the arrival in the Promised Land.

There are more modern instances, too. As Rabbi Jocee Hudson of Temple Israel of Hollywood recently wrote in the Journal, Jewish tradition holds that upon waking, one should recite the prayer “Modeh Ani,” a prayer that helps “root us in gratitude, offer[ing] us a daily connection between thanksgiving and light.” Upon exiting the bathroom, drinking a cup of water or even snacking on potato chips, tradition holds that a prayer of gratitude and acknowledgment to God is in order. 

The last and final section of the “Shemoneh Esrei” — the climax of each of the three daily prayer services — contains three prayers whose purpose is expressing gratitude to God.

One question in response to Judaism’s lovefest is this: Why does an omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent God need to hear, “Thank you,” from his creations?

The answer offered by Rabbi Eli Stern, an instructor and the outreach director at LINK, the Los Angeles Intercommunity Kollel, an Orthodox synagogue and kollel (place of learning), is that all of these expressions of gratitude aren’t for G-d’s sake.

“Obviously Hashem doesn’t need it,” Stern said. “We need to develop — for ourselves — the character trait of gratitude,” he said.

Rabbi Dov Heller, a licensed marriage and family therapist, calls blessings of thanks the “technology for helping us develop gratitude.”

And for people who have suffered particularly painful lives, so painful that blessings may not simply ease their pain?

Esther Hess, a developmental pediatric psychologist in Los Angeles and the executive director of the Center for the Developing Mind, explains that prayer can help people feel “they are not alone.” She’s seen this firsthand in counseling parents of children who have developmental disorders.

“I think they have a sense that there is a partnership with whatever difficult endeavor they are doing,” Hess said. 

And if God is a partner, as Heller intimated, then He shares in both life’s blessings and life’s curses.

“If you are going to blame God for the bad, also give Him credit for the good,” Heller said. “That can open people up to seeing their pain in a larger context.”

And so, he said, by thanking God for every seemingly little thing — waking up, drinking water — someone who views life in the context of its problems can begin to appreciate its many blessings.