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

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.

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.

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.”

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 (

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.

Thanksgivukkah, Emma Lazarus & the Maccabees: Embracing our dual identity


There is something much deeper to “Thanksgivukkah” than sweet potato latkes. It is an opportunity to celebrate the blessing of our dual identity as Americans and Jews.

In 1883, the Jewish-Sephardic-American poet Emma Lazarus was invited to write a poem for a literary auction whose proceeds would go towards building a pedestal for what came to be known as “The Statue of Liberty.” Lazarus’ entry, titled The New Colossus, was eventually (in 1903) inscribed on a bronze tablet inside the Statue of Liberty for all to read. Its message about America, written by a Jew, captures the essence of what it means to be an American Jew:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Recasting the classical Greek Colossus (a representation of the pagan sun god) as “The Mother of Exiles,” Emma Lazarus turned the Statue of Liberty into an American version of a Jewish-Biblical matriarch standing at the door of her home, welcoming all those who yearn for freedom and shelter. No longer interested in the “storied pomp” of ancient empires, this matriarch seeks to house and assist the world’s “tired and poor” who “yearn to breathe free.” Replacing the Greek sun god – the conqueror of the world – Lazarus’ “Mother of Exiles” is now the nurturing and comforting symbol that welcomes newcomers to a new and unique world: the world of American democracy.

It is not by chance that an American Jew of Sephardic background would author a poem invoking the motifs of “exile and homecoming.” Well versed in her people’s long history of exile and persecution, Emma Lazarus fully understood what a privilege it is for Jews to live in the United States, the safe haven where they enjoy the blessings of American democracy. Lazarus expressed this in another powerful poem she wrote titled “1492”:

Thou two-faced year, Mother of Change and Fate,
Didst weep when Spain cast forth with flaming sword,
The children of the prophets of the Lord,
Prince, priest, and people, spurned by zealot hate.
Hounded from sea to sea, from state to state,
The West refused them, and the East abhorred.
No anchorage the known world could afford,
Close-locked was every port, barred every gate.
Then smiling, thou unveil’dst, O two-faced year,
Saying, “Ho, all who weary, enter here!
There falls each ancient barrier that the art
Of race or creed or rank devised, to rear
Grim bulwarked hatred between heart and heart!”

For Emma Lazarus – an American Jew of Sephardic descent — the “two-faced year” of 1492 held a double-edged irony. In 1492, after a long, bloody and brutal inquisition, the Spanish Jews were forcibly expelled from Spain, “when Spain cast forth with flaming sword the children of the prophets of the Lord.” In that same year – 1492 — Christopher Columbus discovered America (and later, in 1654, the first Jews to come to America were Spanish & Portugese Sephardic Jews, Emma Lazarus’s own direct ancestors).  In this poem, Lazarus also evokes the motif of America as a safe place of refuge – “Ho, all who weary, enter here.” This theme resonated deeply with Emma Lazarus, a descendant of a weary and persecuted Jewish people who found a safe haven of freedom and protection in America. So, too, it should resonate with all American Jews, on Thanksgiving, and every day of our blessed lives in this great country.

Over 2500 years ago, facing persecution and oppression, a small band of freedom fighters overcame all the odds against them and defeated an army much more powerful than them. They stood up to injustice and were willing to fight for the freedom and independence of their people. In his moving description of the story of Judah and the Maccabees, Rabbi J.H. Hertz wrote: “There is nothing finer in the whole history of heroism, or more soul-stirring in the annals of religion, than the account of this handful of Jewish warriors who were prepared to live or die nobly, in order that the light of revealed truth and righteousness be not extinguished in a heathen world.”

The torch of the Maccabees continues to shine brightly today. In Israel – a country founded on the same principles of freedom and democracy as those of America – the modern-day Maccabees of the Israel Defense Forces are taught a powerful ethic during their basic training: Only those who know how to defend their freedom are worthy of it.

The modern State of Israel also serves as a safe haven of freedom and democracy. Much, much smaller than the United States, and lacking an impressive “Lady of Liberty” welcoming new immigrants, the State of Israel has certainly done its lion’s share of absorbing “the tired, poor huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” From Holocaust survivors and refugees from Arab lands, to the Prisoners of Zion from the former Soviet Union and the Ethiopian Falash Mura, Israel – the tiny Jewish haven of freedom and democracy in the Middle East – has continued to cry out: “Ho, all who weary, enter here!”

American Jews have often felt conflicted by their so-called “dual identity.” On this Thanksgivukkah – a convergence of an American holiday giving thanks for America, and a Jewish holiday celebrating freedom – I have never felt so proud of being an American Jew.


Rabbi Daniel Bouskila is the Director at the Sephardic Educational Center.

Chocolate freedoms of Chanukah and Thanksgiving


The freedom food of chocolate should star in desserts for Chanukah and Thanksgiving. Puritans seeking asylum in North America and Jews hiding from the Inquisition in New Spain (Mexico) had their first encounters with chocolate in the 17th century. Chocolate paves the religious freedom trail.

A group of Pilgrims traveled to what became Plymouth via Amsterdam and stayed near that city’s biggest chocolate houses. They called chocolate “the devil’s food.” Later, a chocolate cake became popular in Amsterdam; local bakers named it “devil’s food” — what some say became our Devil’s Food Cake. For these Puritan freedom seekers, there was no domestic chocolate imbibing and certainly no ecclesiastical use for chocolate. That devil’s chocolate indulged the senses and distracted from worship.

Themselves suspected of being devils, Crypto-Jews living in New Spain hid Jewish observance from the inquisitors. For them, drinking the popular, local chocolate drink melted them into the local customs of their Catholic neighbors. Chocolate seeped deep into Jewish customs and celebratory meals for holidays and lifecycle events. Indeed, these Mexican Crypto-Jews used chocolate for Shabbat Kiddush because wine was scarce in New Spain. For hidden Jews attempting to follow Jewish dietary laws, the pareve nature of the xocolata, prepared without milk, lent itself to the separation of milk and meat. The chocolate could be enjoyed either with a milk meal or a meat meal. I imagine it being sipped on each night of Chanukah, maybe alongside churros (doughnuts) for dipping. 

Jews used chocolate in meals of consolation. Holding vigil for the dying Doña Blanca Méndez de Rivera, her daughters and granddaughters spent a day in reflection and prayer, fortified by a special meal of chocolate and pickled fish. The proceedings of the trial of Gabriel de Granada report his testimony about the period of mourning for his father, Manuel de Granada:

“Gabriel sent to her the hard boiled eggs and chocolate which was eaten by the said widow and her children. During the six days preceding the said seventh … sent chocolate one day of the said six.”

At funerals, the Váez family ate chocolate, raisins, almonds, salad and homemade bread.

Chocolate appeared on Yom Kippur menus in the 1640s. This may have been the most frequently observed of the holy days, so much so that many secret Jews even risked writing down the exact date. The theme of atonement resonated for them, as they felt themselves constantly sinning through their public profession of Catholicism. Gaspar Váez broke his Yom Kippur fast with chocolate, eggs, salad, pies, fish and olives. Isabel de Rivera testified that on Yom Kippur, Doña Juana, who was married to the wealthy Simón Váez Sevilla, sent “thick chocolate and sweet things made in her house.” Gabriel de Granada and his family washed down their pre-fast meal with chocolate, having dined on fish, eggs and vegetables. Others reported that they preceded the Day of Atonement with fruit and chocolate and that they broke the fast with chocolate and similar treats. Beatriz Enríquez, at the age of 22, testified that when her husband left for long business trips, she took advantage of her sadness to hide her abstinence from chocolate and food on día grande (big day), or Yom Kippur:

“From the window she pretended to be crying over the absence of her husband and with this suffering she was able to hide from her negras [Negro servants] the fact that she ate nothing and did not drink chocolate that day.”

In order not to eat on Jewish fast days, Amaro Díaz Martaraña and her husband would stage a falling-out with each other in the morning. When chocolate was brought to them, they would pretend to be offended, spill it on the servants, then reconcile in the evening. To offer chocolate at times when it was proscribed and to receive a refusal in response was to communicate through a coded language. These Jews developed such subterfuges to avoid being outed for drinking chocolate on Catholic fast days (which Catholicism permits) or not drinking chocolate on Jewish fast days (not permitted by Judaism).

Other fasts were also framed with meals that included chocolate. Attempting a fast, 15-year-old Símón de León confessed to the Mexican Inquisition that he ran away from home because he had broken a fast that his father had ordered him to keep by eating chocolate. When he could not bear the hunger any longer, he asked his sister Antonia for some chocolate. Juan de León and his Mexican Converso friends preceded their fasts with chocolate and broke the fasts with chocolate.

Even once Jews were arrested by the Inquisition, chocolate continued to be part of their experience during the capture and in jail. Muleteers hired to transport suspected Crypto-Jews to trial drank chocolate and listed it as a reimbursable expense. The muleteers who captured Rodrigo Serrano in Veracruz purchased chocolate at each night’s campsite to be prepared for the next morning’s breakfast chocolate. Chocolate both jeopardized the lives of Jews in New Spain and percolated through their ritual observances. 

Lift a cup of chocolate to the complex diversities and freedoms of our Chanukah and Thanksgiving legacies and enjoy these cookies, which feature two New World foods: Chocolate from Central America and peanut butter from North America.

PEANUT BUTTER
CHANUKAH GELT COOKIES 

1 cup peanut butter (crunchy or smooth)

1 cup sugar

1 egg

Approximately 36 dark or milk chocolate
Chanukah gelt coins

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Beat the peanut butter, sugar and egg together. Shape mixture into rounds the size of the gelt, flattening the tops. Bake on buttered cookie sheets for about 12 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool slightly, then gently press one piece of gelt onto each cookie. Cool completely.

Makes about 36 cookies. 

 

Jewish Journal blogger Deborah R. Prinz’s books, “On the Chocolate Trail: A Delicious Adventure Connecting Jews, Religions, History, Travel, Rituals and Recipes to the Magic of Cacao,” (Jewish Lights) and “On the Chocolate Trail,” contain many delicious recipes; Prinz also blogs at The Huffington Post and The Jew and the Carrot. Lesson plans for teaching about Chanukah and chocolate and other bonus materials may be found at her website Jews-OnTheChocolateTrail.org

Giving thanks to the 20th century Maccabees on Chanukah


Thanksgiving is the great American holiday, a secular fete originally celebrating the crops we harvested, now celebrating not just the harvest, but also our freedom, our democracy and our way of life. Because of the oddities of the Hebrew calendar, Jews will be celebrating a second holiday on Thanksgiving, as Chanukah and Thanksgiving fall on the same day this year. We call Chanukah the Festival of Light, because of the candle that stayed lit for a week with only one day’s supply of oil. The real story of Chanukah, however, is a celebration of a military victory when the Maccabees defeated the enemies who wanted to Hellenize Judaism. Thousands of years later, Jews in America now celebrate in the wake of another military defeat, one that changed the face of Judaism for the modern world.

In an age in which Jews can be both proud and free Americans, openly celebrating a Jewish holiday as we also celebrate Thanksgiving, we should be thankful for our 20th century Maccabees who won a stunning victory in the 1967 war. The perception of Jews in America, and, indeed, our own self-perception, was permanently changed after that war. Instead of the meek, browbeaten Jews who went to their deaths without much of a fight, Jews were now mighty warriors who defeated all their neighbors in just six days. As the public’s perception of American Jews changed, discrimination dwindled. According to Pew’s latest study, the majority of Jewish Americans say there is no discrimination against Jews in America today. My estimate is that it was the 1967 war that was the turning point, after which anti-Semitism in America began to fade to the point where it is no longer a significant force in American life. At the time, it seemed that overnight nearly all Americans, not just American Jews, were pro-Israel and pro-Semitic. Had the Maccabees not won, then or now, Judaism — as we know it — would have been imperiled.

Jews hold such a secure place at the American table that no one makes anything of it. Jews are now successful in nearly every field. American Jews, when we sit down at our Thanksgiving repasts, have much to give thanks for, and should give great thanks to Israel. It is Israel that fought against tremendous odds to win its War of Independence in 1948, just as American troops did centuries ago, and brought forth a democracy, the greatest form of government in the world, then and now. Israel has a vibrant democracy, arguably less dysfunctional than ours seems right now. No longer the military underdog, the country deserves praise for the safety it has offered Jews around the world. At great a personal sacrifice of its citizens, Israel has built a formidable department of defense, and the American people and government have always backed Israel in this endeavor. This strength has enabled Israel to protect Jews who live around the world, some in small communities, where sometimes despotic leaders are aware of Israel’s vow to protect Jews the world over, and have behaved accordingly.

I am old enough to have lived through both these periods. Prior to 1967, many Jews in America worried about being accused of double loyalty and increasing anti-Semitism. After the Six-Day War, American Jews became proud of Israel, and, in turn, proud of themselves. In my long life as both a Canadian and an American, I have had very few anti-Semitic embarrassments, but there was a marked difference between how my non-Jewish colleagues treated me before and after the Six-Day War. It is thanks in large part to Yitzhak Rabin and the Israel Defense Forces that I can stand tall as a Jew.

As we Jews celebrate Chanukah and Thanksgiving in tandem this year, let us thank our both our forefathers who came to this country and made it possible for us to thrive and the Israelis who have protected that. 


Edgar M. Bronfman is the former CEO of the Seagram Company, president of The Samuel Bronfman Foundation and the author of “The Bronfman Haggadah” (Rizzoli).

Modeh Ani, connecting thanksgiving and light


When people ask me to describe the God I believe in, I often start by using the image of a flame. We are taught that each of us has a divine spark within us. That divine spark at times burns brightly, often in the moments of our lives when we find ourselves in balance and in tune with our spiritual needs. Other times, our flames seem to burn a bit lower. There is much we can do to nurture the flames within us. Like hands cupped around a match on a windy night, when we acknowledge the blessings in our lives, when we take time for reflection or prayer or quiet, and when we notice everything as fundamental as the power of our own breath, our flames grow stronger.

My mother is currently battling stage IV melanoma, and like most families facing serious illness, her experiences have brought much in my life into new focus. The word “quarterly” has taken on new meaning, as each three months now bring new scans and new treatment plans.

My parents are both retired. And yet, as my mom was reflecting on her outlook on life a few weeks ago, she said to me, “Each day I wake your father early, saying ‘Get up, get up.’ When he asks me, ‘Why?’ I say, ‘I want to see the sunrise.’ ” Perhaps, one thing that living scan-to-scan teaches you is that when each moment is so very precious and each new day a radical gift, nurturing one’s divine light is not something that should be put off until tomorrow.

For me, this year’s once in our lifetime intersection between Thanksgiving and Chanukah seems fitting. As the days are growing shorter and the preciousness of life is drawn into sharper focus, a convergence of light and gratitude is exactly what I’ve been seeking.

One of our sacred tasks during Chanukah is pirsum hanes, or to publicize the miracle. This mitzvah to share our light is why we place our chanukiyot, our Chanukah menorahs, in our windows. These days are times when we are invited to share our light.

It seems to me that a lit up window is as apt a place for gratitude as a Thanksgiving table is for light.

Jewish tradition teaches us that we are to begin each morning with the most basic of prayers, “Modeh Ani,” I am grateful. These words, which root us in gratitude, offer us a daily connection between thanksgiving and light. They are also intentionally offered in the first person singular: I am grateful. In difficult times or in moments of joy, the utterance is the same.

P’sikta D’Rav Kahanah provides a beautiful commentary on Psalm 57:9, which declares, “I will awaken the dawn.” The midrash explains, “I will awaken the dawn: that is, ‘I will awaken the dawn, the dawn will not wake me’” (P’sikta D’Rav Kahanah, Piska 7:4). And so, whether we jump to see the sunrise or enjoy our few extra moments of rest, the spiritual orientation remains the same. Each day we have a choice: Either to greet the day with gratitude or to allow the moment to pass.

This year, with our historic pairing of Chanukah and Thanksgiving, we are given a powerful reminder: Gratitude nurtures our inner spark and our inner spark grows our gratitude. All we have to do is cup our hands and nurture the flame.


Rabbi Jocee Hudson is rabbi educator at Temple Israel of Hollywood.

‘Thanksgivukkah’? Not quite


It’s taken American Jews a good century to fully absorb the miraculous idea that this country is unlike any other that Jews have experienced. After 2,000 years of feeling insecure no matter where we pitched our tents, the people of Moses finally found safe harbor in the land of Lincoln — the land of freedom, human rights and justice for all.

So maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised to see the Jewish community go head over heels for anything that makes us look and feel American. It’s our Jewish way of saying thank you.

Naturally, when we learned this year that Thanksgiving and Chanukah would fall on the same day — something that’s never happened before — our gratitude went into overdrive and … drumroll … Thanksgivukkah was born!

It’s eerie that this rare Jewish-American holiday meld would coincide with the just-released Pew study of American Jewry, which revealed, among other things, that Jewish identity is melting right into America’s loving embrace. 

Maybe it’s a sign of how intimate that embrace has become that hardly anyone in the Jewish community has uttered a breadcrumb of complaint about the “intermarriage” of these two holidays.

How dare we complain? How dare we show ingratitude on the very day of gratitude?

After all, it would be impolite to do what comedian Stephen Colbert did from his side, when he complained that “Chanukah is screwing up my Thanksgiving.”

For most American Jews, it’s the opposite: Thanksgiving is upgrading our Chanukah. It’s a shidduch made in heaven.

That certainly feels like the polite American response, but is it the proper Jewish one? I don’t think so.

For one thing, the meshing of the holidays makes it harder to appreciate differences. The holiday of Thanksgiving is one of my favorites, not least because it brings families together and puts even grouchy people in a good mood. Who can beat that? 

But Thanksgiving — however beautiful, warm and happy it is — is missing something.

As Rabbi Benjamin Blech notes on Aish.com, there are two instances in the Bible where Jews are commanded to make a blessing of gratitude: after a material experience (eating a meal), and before a spiritual one (learning Torah).

“In biblical terms,” Blech writes, “Thanksgiving is a sequel to the biblically mandated Birkat Ha-mazon, the Grace after Meals in which we express gratitude to the One Above ‘who feeds the world in his goodness with grace, with kindness and with mercy.’ ”

Thanksgiving, however, does not address another kind of gratitude we owe God: “It is the blessing for the spiritual part of our lives … a blessing that alerts us to the hunger of our souls and our yearning to be nourished by the sacred.”

That’s where Chanukah comes in.

As Blech explains, the real meaning of Chanukah is spiritual: “Antiochus was not bothered by the survival of Jews,” he writes. “What he wanted at all costs to prevent was the survival of Judaism. His decrees were against the observance of Torah.”

In other words, the threat “was not to our bodies, but our souls. The danger was not death but disappearance by way of assimilation.”

How appropriate, then, that Chanukah’s main ritual should be based around oil, the one liquid that never “assimilates.” This oil speaks to the singularity of Jewish identity and the unique importance Judaism places on ritual.

It is ritual that leads us, somewhat ironically, to the spiritual.

The Friday night Shabbat meal, for example, would feel empty and generic without our time-honored rituals such as lighting the candles, welcoming the angels, blessing the woman of valor, blessing the children, blessing the wine, washing our hands and then blessing the bread, singing Shabbat songs and reciting the long prayer of thanks after the meal.

This ideal Shabbat meal, in fact, probably comes closest to being “Thanksgivukkah”— a meal that marries the spirituality of Chanukah with the abundance and gratitude of Thanksgiving; a meal that feeds body and soul.

In the Jewish tradition, rituals elevate and add reverence to physical acts and deepen the very expression of gratitude.

As my friend Rabbi David Wolpe told me, maybe the real issue here is that “Thanksgiving is not Jewish enough.” Well, it’s an intriguing thought that Jewish notions such as rituals might enhance the Thanksgiving experience — and why not? It wouldn’t be the first time Jews gave something back to America as an expression of our gratitude.

In any event, as the Chanukah lights glow this year on the great American day of gratitude, Jews will have plenty to be thankful for. Just as our ancestors were grateful for the miracle of the Chanukah oil that lasted eight days, we can be grateful for the miracle of the Jewish oil that has lasted 5,774 years. 

That oil is a metaphor for the duality that challenges American Jewry: How do we engage with an embracing world while staying true to who we are? How do we shine the unique light of Judaism without making it mushy and generic?    

Let’s be grateful that we live in a country that allows us to do all that. 

Happy Thanksgiving … and Happy Chanukah.

On heroes and gratitude: A real Thansgivukkah message


It has a clever, catchy name.  It will allegedly occur once every 78,000 years.  It has inspired dozens of fusion recipes like sweet potato latkes with cranberry applesauce.  It has even inspired a Hanukkiah or menorah in the shape of a turkey,  a “menurkey.”  It is the perfect blending of two of your favorite holidays….It’s Thanksgivvukah.  Next week  we will  celebrate the fortunate overlapping of these two holidays—lighting the 2nd candle as we ate our fill. 

Let’s not forget that at its core, both holidays give us an opportunity to express our gratitude for the abundance in our lives.  And while there are many important themes connected to Hanukkah, the festival of lights, one that really sticks out, is the idea that that the holiday is about heroes.

Our Beverly Hills community as well as the music community at large lost a true hero last week.  Joel Pressman, a teacher of mine, lost his valiant battle with cancer.  Joel, Mr. Pressman, or Mr. P was a consummate teacher.  He was THAT teacher to literally thousands.  The one you remember, the one who left an indelible mark on your life.  He wasn’t always easy.  He had a big personality and wasn’t afraid to share his opinions or judgments. 

In the last few months before he died, Mr. P became more and more public about his condition- with many video posts on Facebook.  And what became clear was that this teacher’s teacher would continue to teach us all up until his dying day.

“I’m not afraid of death.  That’s the easy part” he said. “It’s dying that is really hard.”

In his dying months, he gave us all a gift.  Rather than retreat into anonymity, he became more and more public.  Even hosting a “Day in the Park with Joel” where literally hundreds lined up to say goodbye and to let him know just how much he meant to them.

That, I believe, was the most profound blessing (if there is a blessing in all of this) of his illness and passing.  He got to know first-hand, just how significant he was to so many people.  He got to hear, feel and truly understand just how loved he was. Most people don’t get that opportunity.  We usually talk about people only after they are gone.

How did he do this?  By sharing his one powerful and simple message.  Love.  Just love.  Nothing else.

He told us all he loved us, and in so doing, encouraged us to tell him how we felt about him.  He even inspired me to pick up the phone and tell several other important mentors in my life just how important they are to me. 

At this time of year, just a few days before Thanksgivukkah, I encourage you to put real meaning behind this conflated holiday.  Seek out an old mentor or teacher –one of your unsung heroes.  Express gratitude for  changing your life.  In so doing, you just might change theirs.


Yonah Kliger is the senior cantor at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills–tebh.org.  @cantoryonah

Eight chefs’ new Chanukah delights, one for each night


This year, Chanukah and Thanksgiving coincide: Chanukah is celebrated for eight days by candle-lighting, gift exchanges and eating foods fried in oil, an ancient custom, commemorating a miraculous event at the Temple in Jerusalem, while the Thanksgiving meal reminds us of our American heritage. Both offer a special time to reflect on our traditions and enjoy a family meal. 

Of course, the favorite Chanukah food is latkes, most often made from grated potatoes and served with sour cream, preserves or applesauce.

This year I decided to interview some well-known chefs and restaurateurs for some new and different ideas. The result was more than I bargained for. I never dreamed there could be so many sensational new recipes, and an added bonus was the delicious new sauces these food experts provided to serve with the latkes.  

I am featuring eight chefs and their recipes, one for each night of the holiday. Our family is also celebrating Thanksgiving a day early, on the first night of Chanukah, since our family is traveling from Northern California as well as Washington and Oregon to be together for this special celebration.     

Michel Richard, who was the chef/owner of Citrus while in Los Angeles, has just opened his new bakery, Pomme Palais, and restaurant, Villard Michel Richard, at the Palace Hotel in New York. Always looking for ways to reduce the use of butter and cream, he developed wafer-thin, super-crisp Oven-Fried Potato Latkes, which have absolutely no resemblance to the old-fashioned, heavier and more caloric ones. They are also a perfect dish to serve with your Thanksgiving turkey meal.

Bruce Marder, the innovative chef of Capo and the Brentwood Restaurant in West L.A., came up with Two-Tone Potato Latkes, made without eggs, which he serves with salmon caviar to celebrate Chanukah and Thanksgiving . 

Chef Jonathan Waxman’s restaurant, Barbuto, in New York City’s West Village section, serves Italian-inspired cuisine. Several years ago he shared this Red Pepper and Corn Latkes recipe, served with a creamy corn sauce, which has become a staple for our Chanukah menu.   

Michel Ohayon, chef/owner of  Koutoubia in West L.A., offers another substantial main course for Chanukah: Moroccan Ground Beef and Potato Latkes, which he suggests should be served with harissa, a spicy-hot chili pepper sauce that can be found in most Middle Eastern markets.

When your guests arrive, offer them a large bowl filled with thin home-fried potato chips that our foodie friend, home cook Luigi (Lou) Liuzzi created. It is one of his many innovative food experiments that we continue to enjoy.

Chef Brett Swartzman is a chef with passion. Originally a native of Chicago, he is creating his second Chanukah celebration at the Brentwood Country Club.  They love his Potato Latkes With Granny Smith Applesauce, and this year he is going to surprise them with Sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts).  

Chef Robert Bell, owner-chef of Chez Melange and Mama Terano, both in the South Bay, prepared an unusual potato latke recipe on my TV show “Judy’s Kitchen” many years ago. Thinly sliced russet potatoes are arranged in layers in a skillet to resemble the pedals of a flower, then baked in olive oil until crisp. It’s always a tasty dish to serve during the holiday. 

Josiah Citrin, chef-owner of Melisse in Santa Monica, serves his family’s traditional potato latkes, using a special French cheese. This is a recipe that his French grandmother, Simone, prepared for Chanukah, and she always served it with fig compote.

With these eight exciting latke recipes, it is a perfect time to plan a festive latke party for your family and friends. Keep the menu simple — after all, the latkes are the real stars, and a hearty soup or salad may be the only addition needed. If your latkes are served for dessert, invite guests to drop in after dinner for latkes, tea and coffee.

Preparation can be made easy by using your food processor or blender, and remember, many batters may be made in advance, then fried at the last moment. In planning your Chanukah party, don’t forget to include the traditional songs, the custom of giving Chanukah gelt (foil-wrapped chocolate coins) to the children and exchanging small gifts.


MICHEL RICHARD’S OVEN-FRIED POTATO LATKES 

1 pound (about 4 medium) potatoes, peeled
Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Sour cream and diced cucumbers

Preheat oven to 325 F.

Cut the potatoes into long, thin strips, about 1/8-inch wide, by hand or using your food processor’s julienne or shredder blade. Place potato strips in a bowl of water to cover. Before cooking, drain potatoes, then dry well in a lettuce spinner or with a clean kitchen towel. 

Place a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add 3 tablespoons olive oil and heat. Add the potatoes and stir-fry until tender, about five minutes. Turn the potatoes out onto a baking sheet and push the strips together to form a rectangle or triangle, about 1/4-inch thick. Roll using a rolling pin to flatten further.  

Oil a large baking sheet. Cut into the flattened potatoes by pressing down on a fluted cookie cutter, creating 2 1/2- to 3-inch rounds.  Using a spatula, transfer the latkes to the prepared baking sheet. (This can be done in advance.) 

Before baking, season potatoes with salt and pepper. Bake in the preheated oven until crisp and brown on both sides, about 30 minutes, turning the latkes halfway through. Transfer them to a serving platter, using a metal spatula. Serve with sour cream and diced cucumbers. 

Makes about 8 servings


BRUCE MARDER’S TWO-TONE POTATO LATKES

1 large russet potato, peeled
1 large sweet potato, peeled
Salt and pepper
Olive oil for frying
Salmon caviar

Julienne potatoes lengthwise into long matchsticks, either with a knife, food processor with julienne attachment or mandoline.  Place in large bowl, add salt and pepper to taste, and mix well.

In a cast iron skillet or on a griddle, heat olive oil. Shape potato mixture to form pancakes about 2 inches in diameter. Fry on one side until brown, then, using a metal spatula, carefully turn and flatten with the back of the spatula and brown on the other side.

Place latkes on heated plates and serve immediately with salmon caviar.

Makes about 12 latkes.


JONATHAN WAXMAN’S RED PEPPER AND CORN LATKES

Creamy Corn Sauce (recipe follows)
1 red bell pepper
3 eggs, separated
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen
1/2 cup flour
Olive oil for frying
Salt and pepper
Salmon caviar (optional)

Prepare Creamy Corn Sauce; set aside.

Roast red pepper in a 375 F oven for 40 minutes, turning once.  Skin will puff and brown. Peel off the skin, remove the stem, and discard seeds. Puree in blender or food processor. 

In a large bowl, combine the red pepper puree, egg yolks, milk and corn kernels; mix well. Blend in the flour. Beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Fold egg whites into red pepper mixture. Season to taste with salt and pepper.  

In nonstick or heavy skillet, heat 1 to 2 tablespoons oil.  For each latke, spoon 2 tablespoons batter into the hot oil and fry on both sides until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Repeat until all batter has been used, adding more oil to skillet as needed to keep latkes from sticking 

Serve with Creamy Corn Sauce and top with salmon caviar, if desired.  

Makes about 24 latkes.    


CREAMY CORN SAUCE

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup corn kernels
1/2 red bell pepper, finely diced
1 cup vegetable broth
1 cup cream
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons minced chives

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet and saute corn kernels until tender, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and saute diced red bell pepper until tender, about 2 minutes. Set aside.

In a saucepan, heat vegetable broth and simmer until reduced to about 1/2 cup. Add sauteed corn and bell pepper.  Blend in cream and simmer until thickened.  Season to taste with salt and pepper, and stir in chives. Serve warm.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups.


MICHEL OHAYON’S MOROCCAN GROUND BEEF AND POTATO LATKES

2 pounds potatoes
Oil for frying
1 medium onion, diced
Salt and pepper
1 pound ground beef
1 tablespoon minced onion
1/2 teaspoon each minced fresh parsley and fresh cilantro
Pinch nutmeg
Pinch mace (optional)
Pinch saffron (optional)
1 egg
Harissa

In a pot, boil potatoes for 45 minutes; peel and mash. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a skillet and saute diced onion until soft.  Add to potatoes with salt and pepper to taste. Cool.

In a skillet, brown ground beef, minced onion, parsley, cilantro, nutmeg, mace and saffron, until no juice remains. Cool mixture and transfer to a food processor. 

Using the knife blade of a food processor, blend meat mixture with egg. 

Using a heaping tablespoon of mashed potato mixture, place in palm of hand and place a teaspoon of ground beef mixture in center. Roll potato mixture around meat mixture.  Flatten between the palms of your hands.       

Fry in oil in nonstick skillet, or deep-fry until brown and crisp. (These can be prepared in advance and warmed in the oven, or served cold. ) Serve with harissa.  

Makes about 10 latkes.    


LUIGI’S POTATO CHIPS

4 russet potatoes
3 to 4 cups olive, peanut or canola oil for frying
1 tablespoon salt

Peel the potatoes and slice them very thin using a mandoline or a sharp knife. Places the sliced potatoes in a bowl of cold water. Pour oil into fryer or large pot and heat to 375 F.

Dry the potato slices between two clean kitchen towels and place some into the not oil. Do not overload.

Fry for five minutes, or until golden brown. Transfer the chips to a large cookie sheet lined with paper towels and sprinkle salt onto the chips. Continue in batches until all the chips are cooked. Place the chips carefully into serving bowl — do not dump them from cookie sheet, as you do not want pour the excess salt from the sheet into the bowl. 

Makes 6 to 8 servings.


BRETT SWARTZMAN’S SUFGANIYOT (JELLY DOUGHNUTS)

2 tablespoons active dry yeast

1/2 cup warm water (100 to 110 F)
1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar, plus more for rolling
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons unsalted margarine, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 teaspoons salt
3 cups vegetable oil, plus more for bowl
1 cup seedless raspberry jam

In a small bowl, combine yeast, warm water and 1 teaspoon sugar. Set aside until foamy, about 10 minutes.

Place 2 1/2 cups flour in a large bowl. Make a well in the center; add eggs, yeast mixture, remaining 1/4 cup sugar, margarine, nutmeg and salt. Using a wooden spoon, stir until a sticky dough forms. On a well-floured work surface, knead until dough is smooth, soft and bounces back when poked with a finger, about 8 minutes (add more flour if necessary). Place in an oiled bowl; cover with plastic wrap. Set in a warm place to rise until doubled, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Using a 2 1/2-inch-round cookie cutter or drinking glass, cut 20 rounds. Cover with plastic wrap; let rise 15 minutes.

In medium saucepan over medium heat, heat 3 cups oil until a deep-frying thermometer registers 370 F. Using a slotted spoon, carefully slip 4 rounds into oil. Fry until golden, about 40 seconds. Turn doughnuts over; fry until golden on other side, another 40 seconds. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a paper-towel-lined baking sheet. Roll in sugar while warm. Fry all dough, and roll in sugar.

Fill a pastry bag fitted with a No. 4 tip with jam. Using a wooden skewer or toothpick, make a hole in the side of each doughnut. Fit the pastry tip into a hole, pipe about 2 teaspoons jam into doughnut. Repeat with remaining doughnuts. 

Makes about 24 doughnuts.


ROBERT BELL’S OVEN-FRIED POTATO LATKES

4 russet potatoes, scrubbed and thinly sliced
8 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 F. 

Brush a nonstick skillet with a small amount of olive oil and arrange the potato slices in a ring, overlapping until the entire surface is covered. Pour a thin stream of olive oil over the potato slices until completed coated (use most of the 8 tablespoons). Repeat with another layer, brush with remaining olive oil, and fry on medium heat for 5 to 10 minutes.

Transfer to the oven and bake for 20 to 30 minutes until potatoes are cooked through. Using a metal spatula, transfer potatoes to a cutting board and cut into triangles. Repeat with the remaining potato slices.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.


JOSIAH CITRIN’S POTATO AND TOMME REBALAISE CHEESE LATKES

2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and grated
1 medium sweet onion, peeled and grated
1/2 pound Tomme Rabelais, grated (Salers or a firm Tomme de Savoie can be substituted)
1 large egg
2 teaspoons sea salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground white pepper
Olive oil for frying

Place small batches of grated potatoes in the center of dishtowels, and wring excess liquid from the potatoes. Transfer potatoes to a large bowl and repeat the process with the remaining potatoes. Add the onion, cheese, egg, salt and pepper to the potatoes and mix well to combine.

Heat 1/4 inch of oil in a heavy 12-inch skillet (cast iron works best). Add the potato mixture by 1/4-cupfuls to the hot oil. Lightly flatten with a spoon, and cook until golden, about 5 minutes. Turn the latkes over and cook until golden and cooked through, about 5 minutes longer. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with paper towels. Repeat process until all of the potato mixture is used. Serve warm.  

Makes about 24 latkes.


Judy Zeidler is a food consultant and author of “Italy Cooks” (Mostarda Press, 2011). Her Web site is JudyZeidler.com.

Stuffed: Thanksgiving on Hope Street


Last Sunday, my job was to make stuffing for 400 people. I said I’d do it because there’s a part of me that prefers to forget that it’s been 25 years since I was a caterer, and I assumed it would be as easy now as it was then.

Every year for the past nine years, Nashuva, the spiritual community led by my wife, Rabbi Naomi Levy, hosts a Thanksgiving meal at Hope Street Family Center downtown. Hope Street provides childcare, counseling and other social services to thousands of at-risk families. About 100 Nashuva volunteers from the Westside, the Valley and Silver Lake provide a turkey dinner with all the trimmings, along with arts-and-crafts projects for the children and care packages to take home. 

So, on the prior Thursday evening, I went to Costco and bought 20 pounds of onions and 15 pounds each of carrots and celery. I filled my car with enough croutons to stuff a twin-sized mattress. At home, I reached far into our storage closet to find the industrial-sized pot I last used to photograph our infant son in, with his head poking over the rim. He’s 20 now.

Things started simply enough. I chopped the vegetables, sautéed them over two burners in two quarts of canola oil, added seasoning and broth. The kitchen smelled good, like Thanksgiving.

I tossed the croutons with some chopped chestnuts, then portioned it all out in large foil banquet pans. I ladled the hot broth over the croutons and began to mix. I used a big spatula, and the boiling-hot stuffing lifted up and — onto my hands. I screamed. The glutinous mass attached the heat to my skin like culinary napalm. I jumped away — and the whole tray tumbled onto the floor, splattered my ankles. I screamed again. I lurched for the sink, my feet slid in a mound of stuffing, and down I went.

I lay on the floor, burned, bruised. My dogs wandered in to lick the turkey dressing off my wrists, like jackals on the battlefield.

Eventually, I cleaned up, cut my losses and assembled the remaining pans. On Sunday morning, I cooked them, and by lunch they were beside the turkeys in the buffet line, just like I’d planned it.

Hundreds of moms, dads and kids came to the center at Hope Street, just south of Pico, that day. People sat down with their food and began to eat. Tania Benacerraf, director of the family preservation program at Hope Street, spoke about all the things the organization does, day in and day out, to help people raise their children in health and safety. 

Over the years, as Nashuva and Hope Street collaborated on many projects, I’ve listened to the stories — of women escaping abuse; of fathers overcoming addiction; of people working two, or even three jobs to make a life for their children. I’m a very lucky person to be able to complain about my mishaps making stuffing. 

We ate together at long tables in a large function room. On a patio outside, the children created spin-art and decorated picture frames. 

Around this time of year, countless Americans stand where I stood that day: helping to serve Thanksgiving dinners in a homeless shelter, a halfway house or a soup kitchen, doing something small, even symbolic, to share this country’s enormous bounty with those less fortunate.

Nashuva’s Thanksgiving meals with Hope Street have spawned deeper ties between the two organizations. But there can be no pretending that by serving turkey and gravy we are somehow righting deep systemic wrongs. The morning after we volunteered, Congress is still debating a Farm Bill that plans to cut $40 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — a program so many of the hard-working moms and dads at Hope Street depend upon to feed their kids and help lift their families out of poverty. The morning after, Washington, D.C., is still treating the right to decent health care as a political game, rather than a national priority. The morning after, these people are still struggling, and I have a funny anecdote about stuffing.

But while the debates in D.C. all seem to diminish us as a nation, shared moments can still lift us up. We reach out to help some others, and they are kind enough to accept our need to help. 

Perhaps we need to help because we know from experience that ours is a nation of enormous, almost unbelievable wealth. We have seen with our own eyes that we waste more food than those we serve can ever eat. We have been in private homes larger than all of Hope Street. We need to serve because something needs to change.

Just as the families of Hope Street were settling into the meal, my wife stood and offered a blessing in English, as Julie Drucker, a Nashuva member and organizer of the event together with Carol Taubman, translated Naomi’s prayer into Spanish.

“Sometimes life can be very difficult,” Naomi said. “And we struggle to make a living and take care of our families. Thanksgiving is a time to take hope in the future and to know that together we can help each other to make a better life. And we take a moment to give thanks to God for our lives, for our friends, for the gift of community and for being together here today.”

Amen — and Happy Thanksgiving.


Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.

Time to shop for Thanksgivukkah


Now that the parade of Jewish holidays has passed, it’s time to start planning for the impending arrival of an unprecedented hybrid: “Thanksgivukah” is coming! 

This year, the first day — and the second night — of Chanukah falls on Nov. 28, which also happens to be Thanksgiving. This particular coincidence, according to one calculation, won’t happen again for some 77,000 years, and some American Jews are pretty excited. 

“I’ve been thinking about it for so long,” said Dana Gitell, who first noticed this curiosity on her calendar about a year ago and has created a line of T-shirts and greeting cards to celebrate the holiday. “My kids can’t wait. They think everybody celebrates Thanksgivukah.”

Gitell, who lives in a suburb of Boston and works in marketing, loves imagining “mashups” of the two holidays — turkeys with latkes, pilgrims and rabbis, dreidel balloons at the Macy’s Thanksgivukah Day Parade. 

The hybrid holiday — which Gitell has chosen to spell with a double-K  “Thanksgivukkah” and holds two trademarks on the usage of that name — offers a chance to celebrate both Jewish and American values, she said. Her cards and T-shirts — designed by Los Angeles-based illustrator Kim DeMarco — use icons of both holidays, and in the spirit of the season, 10 percent of the proceeds from sales will be donated to MAZON, the Jewish anti-hunger nonprofit. 

Thanksgiving always falls on the fourth Thursday in November, and the next time American Jews will light Chanukah candles at Thanksgiving will be in 2070, when the first night of the festival begins at sundown on Nov. 27. That overlap hasn’t happened since 1918 — although in both 1945 and 1956, Jews in Texas and other states still celebrating “Republican Thanksgiving” on the last Thursday of November may have marked the combined holidays. 

Regardless, because the Jewish lunar calendar is slowly falling out of sync with the solar calendar — with Jewish holidays moving forward through the seasons at a rate of four days every 1,000 years — Chanukah has slowly but surely been moving deeper into winter and away from Thanksgiving.

This year, however, Chanukah begins at sundown on Wednesday, Nov. 27, which means that the entire day of Thanksgiving overlaps with the Jewish holiday. So on Thursday night — sometime during the first quarter of the Steelers-Ravens game, for those on the West Coast — families can fire up two candles in their menorahs, plus the shamash, of course. 

To do so, they may well use a “menurkey” — a ceramic menorah in the shape of a turkey, the brainchild of Asher Weintraub, 9. Asher and his father, Anthony, funded the $25,000 project through a Kickstarter campaign that concluded in early September. 

Then there’s the food — ideas for hybrids like sweet potato latkes and cranberry sauce-filled doughnuts abound. 

“Manischewitz broth is the official broth of Thanksgivukah,” said Courtney Manders, who works with Manischewitz as an account executive at The Bender Group, a public relations firm in New Jersey. The 125-year-old manufacturer known for its matzah and gefilte fish makes a full line of beef, chicken and vegetable broths, Manders said, and last year introduced a new broth — turkey. “That works out perfectly for a lot of Thanksgivukah dishes,” Manders said. 

Manischewitz tapped kosher chef Jamie Geller to come up with some appropriately hybridized dishes and is sponsoring a “mash-up recipe contest” starting in October to identify other culinary ways to celebrate Thanksgivukah. The company also launched an online contest to make a short video about Thanksgivukah, which so far has drawn a handful of ideas, including one titled “Close Encounters of the Thanksgivukah Kind.” The best video wins a prize of $6,000, second place gets $3,000, and videos must be submitted by Oct. 10 to be eligible. (No pilgrims, Native Americans or non-kosher animals, the online brief says — and don’t mention Manischewitz wine, because “that is actually a separate company.”) 

Like all things Chanukah-related, there’s a healthy dose of consumerism involved in this holiday. One listing on eBay describes a box of 12 Shabbat candles in “autumnal shades of Yellow, Orange, Green and Purple” as being ideal “for a peaceful Sabbath at ‘Thanksgivukah’ or throughout the year.” Another seller is hawking a plastic dreidel filled with kosher candy corn as a “Thanksgivukah Special.”

Deborah Gitell — sister-in-law of the Thanksgivukah greeting cards and T-shirts creator — is planning a Thanksgivukkah Festival for Nov. 29, to be hosted by Craig Taubman’s Pico Union Project in Los Angeles. 

She’s trying to raise $18,000 through the crowd-funding site Jewcer to make the festival happen, and said some musical acts — including the Moshav Band and Beit T’Shuvah Band — have already confirmed their participation. The Canter’s Deli food truck and Shmaltz Brewing Co. are also on board; proceeds from the event will support Pico Union’s theater programs and MAZON. 

Thanksgivukah’s attraction lies, for the most part, in its rarity.

“If the Jewish calendar is never modified in any way … [the first day of] Hanukkah will again fall on Thursday, Nov. 28, in the year 79811,” Jonathan Mizrahi, who holds a doctorate in physics and works for Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M., wrote in a blog post in January of this year. 

Sure, Mizrahi notes, the Jewish calendar is likely to be modified long before then, since Passover must be in the spring. If the Jewish calendar were to be allowed to fall out of sync with the seasons and loop all the way around — Rosh Hashanah in July, anyone? — Chanukah and Thanksgiving would meet again in 76695, when the eighth day of Chanukah coincides with the autumnal American festival. 

“In all honesty, though, all of these dates are unfathomably far in the future,” Mizrahi writes, “which was really the point.”

Dana Gitell’s T-shirts — available for sale at ModernTribe.com ($36) — play up that aspect. 

“Our design is inspired by the logo for Woodstock,” Dana Gitell said of the T-shirts, and compared Thanksgivukah to another relatively recent, once-in-history moment. 

“It’s a bit like Y2K,” she said. “You were there, you lived through it, and it’ll never happen again.”

For a Thanksgiving seder, it’s all about the ‘hodu’


Sitting down to the well-set table every November, even though it is filled with family and food, I always feel that something is missing — a Jewish connection to the Thanksgiving story.

A dinner without the drama of the Exodus, like the Passover seder, leaves me just with the turkey to send my spirits soaring.

It’s not that I need another haggadah — I already know why this night is different: the stuffing isn’t made of matzah meal. But what about borrowing the idea of the seder’s four cups of wine — the Tu b'Shvat seder does this, as well — to help organize the evening in a Jewish way?

Liking the idea of repeating an action four times but wanting a change from raising a glass, I played thematically with four feathers, four fall leaves, even sticking four olives — so American, yet a fruit of Israel, too — on my fingers.

For inspiration I turned to William Bradford, a passenger on the Mayflower and later the governor of Plymouth colony, who as it turned out was a figure who could bridge the gap between Puritan and Jewish narratives.

In “Of Plymouth Plantation,” his journal of the Pilgrims, Bradford made comparative references between the Pilgrims’ voyage and the Israelites' Exodus. Later in life, according to Stephen O’Neill, the curator of Pilgrim Hall Museum in Plymouth Mass., Bradford “taught himself Hebrew,” even writing a book of Hebrew exercises.

According to Bradford’s journal, the Mayflower Pilgrims gave thanks upon their landing: “Being thus arrived in a good harbor and brought safe to land, they fell upon their knees & blessed ye God of heaven, who had brought them over ye vast & furious ocean,” reads the text.

“Let them therfore praise ye Lord, because he is good,” wrote Bradford, quoting from Psalm 107, which in Hebrew begins with the word “hodu,” “give thanks.” Here was my repeating element.

Saying hodu, or thanks, four times in my Thanksgiving seder would work, and in a fortuitous Hebrew play on words, hodu also happens to mean “turkey.”

First hodu: Begin your Thanksgiving seder with a blessing over a glass of wine or juice. Though historians think the Pilgrims probably drank water at the first Thanksgiving, they were not teetotalers — they later produced a hard cider, even a watered-down version for children.

Then say a Shehecheyanu. During their first year in the New World, slightly more than half of the Mayflower’s 102 passengers survived. Sitting together around the table and saying this blessing — especially in a year when nature has made it painfully clear how fragile life can be — reminds us that God grants us life, sustains us and enables us to reach this day.

Since the first Thanksgiving followed the corn harvest, the hamotzi blessing is in order. Break some bread — at this seder you don’t even need to dip it once. Say a hodu for a cornucopia of blessings.

Second hodu: In 1621, Edward Winslow wrote a letter to a friend in England describing the first Thanksgiving meal shared by the Pilgrims with the Indians: “Our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors.”

Adding to the menu, we find in Winslow’s account that to help feed the assemblage, including 90 from the Wampanoag tribe and “their greatest king Massasoit,” the Native Americans “went out and killed five deer.”

At your table, ever thankful that someone else has done the “fowling,” and that you haven’t hit a deer with your car, somebody should hold up the turkey (or Tofurky) platter and thank the “greatest” cook.

To add a sense of family tradition to the meal, also hold up the other dishes, acknowledging what the guest households — the tribes — have contributed to the meal. One should ask, from whom was the recipe passed down?

For tables with children in elementary school, it's also a good time for show and tell. One should ask, from what did you make that lovely centerpiece? Go ahead and kvell.

Say a hodu of recognition and dig in to your Thanksgiving meal.

Third hodu: Before dessert, talk about the perilous journey of the Pilgrims toward religious freedom from England to Holland and finally to Plymouth. Each person at the table can introduce the story of their own family about coming to America; one should tell of the going out.

Say a hodu of freedom and feel free to indulge in pie.

Fourth hodu: Last year, having a guitar-playing guest at our Thanksgiving dinner really gave us a chance to sing out our feelings. After dessert we sang old American favorites like “Turkey in the Straw” and “If I Had a Hammer.”

This year I want to add a passage from “Birkat hamazon,” the grace after Meals” that begins with the words “Kakatuv, V’achalta  v‘savata,” “And you shall eat and have enough, and then you shall thank the Lord your God for the good land He gave you.”

Say a final hodu: As a guest, for the hospitality of your hosts. As a host, for the opportunity to bring together your family and friends.

Then pray you can get up from the table.

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

Slice of Life: Cider recipes for adults


When my boys were younger we had hot cider for them and the neighborhood kids after a hard day playing in the leaves. Now that my kids are out of the house and all I’m doing  all the raking (yeah, right) I’ve decided to invite other “parents of children too old to do the chores we don’t want to do” over to share stores of epic piles of laundry that engendered shock and awe to all that beheld them. I felt that the appropriate fall beverage to serve would be cider, but cider with a twist and a kick.
 
All of the following recipes are rated ADULTS ONLY as alcohol as a key component. While they are perfect for keeping the cold at bay after a hard day with the leaf blower they are also wonderful for Thanksgiving and Hanukkah.

HOT APPLE CIDER WITH RUM (pareve)

  • 1 granny smith apple
  • 2 teaspoons whole cloves
  • 1 orange, thinly sliced
  • 2 quarts apple cider
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • Pinch grated nutmeg
  • 1 cup rum
  • Cinnamon sticks, garnish
Push the cloves into the apple and place it in a saucepan. Add the sliced orange, apple cider, brown sugar, allspice and nutmeg. Whisk to combine and bring to a boil and then immediately reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and remove the apple. Add the rum and whisk to combine. Ladle into 6 to 8 mugs and garnish with a cinnamon stick. Serve hot.
 
Serves 6 to 8
 
Recipe modified from one by Emeril Lagasse, 2002

CIDER STREUDEL COCKTAIL (pareve or dairy)

  • 1 oz. orange, lemon or plain vodka
  • 6 oz. apple cider
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • ground cinnamon
  • powdered sugar
  • 1 apple
  • caramel apple dipping sauce (optional)
  • ice
In a microwave bowl combine the vodka, water and apple cider. Add one dash of ground cinnamon and whisk to combine. Microwave until hot about 30 seconds but do not boil. Dip the rim of a hot beverage glass with powdered sugar then ladle the warm cider into the rimmed glass. Dip a slice of the apple in the caramel dipping sauce and use it, with a dash of cinnamon as a garnish.
 
Serves 1. This recipe can be doubled
 
Modified from a recipe by Michael Snyder

CIDER PUNCH (pareve)

  • 2 quarts apple cider
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon whole allspice
  • 1 teaspoon cloves
  • 3 sticks cinnamon
  • 1 dash of nutmeg
  • Dried apple slices
In a tea strainer combine all the spices. In a large saucepan, combine apple cider, sugar and salt. Add spices. Bring slowly to a boil. About 20 minutes. Turn down the heat to a simmer for 20 minutes. Discard spices. Add cinnamon stick and dried apple to each mug. This can be made ahead of time and reheated when needed, but don’t boil.
 
Serves 8
 
Modified from about.com

CIDER SHOTS (dairy)

  • 1 ounce vodka (you can use flavored)
  • 1 ounce apple cider
  • 1 tablespoon sweetened whipped cream
  • 1 pinch ground cinnamon
In a 2 ounce shot glass, combine vodka and apple cider. Top with a dollop of whipped cream and a pinch of cinnamon.
 
Serves 1
 
My files, source unknown

GOLDEN APPLE PUNCH (pareve)

  • 1 pint vodka
  • 1 pint apple liquor
  • 2 bottles sparkling apple cider
  • red apple slices
Into each glass, pour 1 tablespoon vodka and 1 tablespoon Calvados over ice. Add sparkling cider to fill and a red apple slice. 
 
Serves 30.
 
From Health DECEMBER 2008

Lone soldiers mark Thanksgiving in Israel


Several organizations in Israel held Thanksgiving dinner for lone soldiers.

The Lone Soldier Center in Memory of Michael Levin on Thursday hosted a Thanksgiving meal and football tournament for more than 300 soldiers who have come to Israel to serve in the Israel Defense Forces and have left their parents, family and friends behind.

The American Jewish Committee celebrated the 10th anniversary of its annual Thanksgiving Dinner for lone American soldiers. Some 30 soldiers from across all IDF units attended the dinner at the AJC offices in Jerusalem.

Each year since captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was held by Hamas, the AJC Thanksgiving dinner featured an empty seat prepared in his honor. This year the seat was not present.

Nefesh B’ Nefesh hosted 50 lone solders and over 100 young professional olim for its fifth annual Nefesh B’ Nefesh Thanksgiving dinner.

“This was a great opportunity for young professionals and lone soldiers to enjoy a traditional festive meal and express their thanks together with fellow Olim from around the country for their good fortune,” said Rachel Kaufman, Events & Programs Coordinator at Nefesh B’Nefesh.

The IDF gives leave to all lone soldiers who request to attend Thanksgiving dinner, according to the Lone Soldier Center.

N.J. bus drivers working on Thanksgiving driving Jewish students


Some school bus drivers in Lakewood, N.J., are expressing their displeasure with having to work on Thanksgiving driving Orthodox Jewish students to school.

About 200 bus drivers will work on the holiday—half the number of a regular school day—taking some 18,000 Orthodox students to private Jewish schools in Lakewood, according to the Asbury Park Press. The state requires the school system to provide transportation Monday through Friday from September to June.

Bus driver Kofo Ademosu, 23, told the Asbury Park Press that in addition to getting up at 5 a.m. for work, she will have to cook her Thanksgiving dinner.

Ademosu said that “we [bus drivers] are being treated like worse than servants. There’s really no amount of money that would make it OK [to work Thanksgiving].”

In the past, parents carpooled to school on Thanksgiving, but the number of students has grown too large for that to be practical, school officials told the newspaper.