GOP platform offers strong support for Israel, veers right domestically


MINNEAPOLIS (JTA)—John McCain’s Jewish supporters characterize him as a Republican maverick who shares his party’s bedrock support for Israel and combating anti-Semitism. Critics dismiss him as the standard-bearer of a staunchly conservative party at odds with the Jewish community on a host of issues.

They’re both right, judging from the platform approved this week at the Republican convention in St. Paul and Minneapolis.

The platform includes a call for an end to all government-funded embryonic stem-cell research and a ban on all abortions—positions that, polls show, are contrary to those of most Jewish voters. Of course, they also do not conform to the views of McCain, who has said that he would revoke President Bush’s restrictions on federal funding for stem-cell research, permit abortions in cases of rape, incest and threats to the life of the mother.

On immigration, McCain, the U.S. senator from Arizona who is the presumptive Republican nominee for president, has pressed for legislation that would provide undocumented workers with a path toward citizenship, but the platform declares: “We oppose amnesty.”

The McCain campaign reportedly decided to avoid significant fights over the platform rather than upset leaders of the party’s conservative base, many of whom have expressed concern over the GOP nominee. His supporters argue that the platform is irrelevant to understanding McCain and that voters will make their decisions based on how they view the candidate.

Texas state Sen. Florence Shapiro, the only Jewish female Republican in her state legislature, said that the platform is “not what guides my everyday” decision-making and doubts voters will be using it to make decisions either.

They will and should be “looking at John McCain and his positions and record,” she said.

Another Jewish delegate from Texas, Houstonian Stuart Mayper, said the strong “pro-life” language in the platform could be a problem for some Jews. But, he quickly added, the platform contains language strongly supportive of Israel that should be attractive to the Jewish community.

Sources familiar with the formation of the platform say the language dealing with Israel and fighting anti-Semitism was drafted in consultation with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and other Jewish groups.

The platform echoes AIPAC’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, calling for a two-state solution but placing the onus on the Palestinians to take several key steps and calling on nearby Arab countries to play a more constructive role. It also declares support for “Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel and moving the American embassy to that undivided capital of Israel.”

Both McCain and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), the Democratic nominee, have said that the status of Jerusalem ultimately would be decided in negotiations between the two sides. McCain has pledged to move the embassy to Jerusalem right away—a promise that the Obama campaign rejected, essentially calling it a lie.

The GOP platform calls for the isolation of Hamas and Hezbollah and vows to maintain Israel’s qualitative edge in military technology over its enemies—all positions shared by Obama and McCain.

In several contexts, the platform stresses the need to combat anti-Semitism—on university campuses, in Europe and across the world—and declares that “discrimination against Israel at the U.N. is unacceptable.”

It says that Iran cannot be permitted to obtain nuclear weapons, calls for a “significant increase in political, economic, and diplomatic pressure” on Tehran and insists that the United States “must retain all options” in dealing with the situation.

Without naming Obama, the platform draws a contrast with the Democratic nominee’s previously stated willingness to meet with the Iranian president. It states: “We oppose entering into a presidential-level, unconditional dialogue with the regime in Iran until it takes steps to improve its behavior, particularly with respect to the support of terrorism and suspension of its efforts to enrich uranium.”

Kaplan, Eshman, Carlin and Tom


Marty Kaplan

Thank you, thank you for adding Marty Kaplan to your staff (“The Los Angeles Bagels,” July 11).

He shines physically and intellectually. He is not only smart but wise (and so is Rob Eshman).

E. Ehrenreich
Torrance

Boys to Men

Although I only have anecdotal evidence to support my belief, I believe that women have been running synagogues for some time now (“Boys to Men,” July 4).

I grew up in the ’50s in Redwood City, about 25 miles south of San Francisco. My best friend was Catholic, and he and I took piano lessons at his church, Mount Carmel. We both agreed that women ran Mount Carmel and Temple Beth Jacob.

In the case of Beth Jacob, a conservative synagogue, not only did women lead the choir, play the organ, arrange the flowers, arrange the Kiddush table, teach Sunday school, organize the shul’s social activities, but they also drove out one rabbi and brought in another.

My friend said that, without women, Mount Carmel would collapse as an organization. Most of my friends were Jewish or Catholic, and the only active Protestants I knew were Episcopalian. (My other friends who were not Jewish or Catholic wouldn’t be caught dead in a church.) But in the Episcopal Church, too, women ran things.

What I am saying about Redwood City may well be true of most suburbs in the ’50s. The men commuted to their jobs and came home too tired to worry much about religion. Probably, though, only a small percentage of middle- and upper-middle-class women worked then. These women had time on their hands, and many of them decided that their church or synagogue was a good place to put this time to use.

Moving some of these women was their sense of loss of the tight-knit communities they had known in the big cities. (This wasn’t an issue for my own mother, who came from Spokane, or for my father, either, because his family had moved down the peninsula in the ’20s.)

In short, I think the feminization of religion began in the suburbs during the post-war period.

Stanton J. Price
Glendale

In his article, Rob Eshman correctly states that men no longer feel as involved in Judaism as they used to, with the exception of the Orthodox world. His conclusion is that “the weakness of Orthodoxy is that it doesn’t (yet) fully include women.” Its strength is it pushes men to the plate and become active in meaningful, mature ways in their spiritual life as the Jewish leader in their own home.

I can forgive his ignorance of Orthodoxy because he also states that he is a non-Orthodox man engaged in Jewish life. I respectfully suggest that he should engage himself more in the Orthodox world before he talks about Orthodoxy.

All of the liberal movements allow women to fully participate in services because the vast majority of their members have no Jewish life other than going to services, nor do they know much about Judaism. They don’t keep kosher, observe Shabbat, the laws of family purity, etc. They expect their rabbi to observe these mitzvot, and they participate in spectator Judaism.

Their rabbis never explain that the reason women are not counted for a minyan is because they are not obligated to time-bound mitzvot as men are and that you can’t count someone for a mitzvah if they are not obligated to perform that mitzvah. The liberal (any movement other than Orthodox) rabbis never explain that each of us has different roles to play and each role is important and vital.

Orthodox women run the home and are called akeret habayit, the housewife, the foundation of the home. They receive an extensive Jewish education and are responsible for instilling Jewish concepts and values into the family’s daily life.

The home is supposed to be a mikdash m’at, a small sanctuary. Of course, for this, they are belittled by the “enlightened” members of the liberal movements, who have the chutzpah to think that they know more than Rashi, Maimonides, Nachmonides and all of the sages and commentators of the past. To them, the Torah is eternal until they want to change it for the latest fad that comes along and the oral law is nonexistent.

The reason people are leaving the liberal movements is because they do not stress the observance of Torah, that the Torah is eternal and it is the word of God. These movements do not stress any hard and fast values, and everyone is free to interpret the Torah in any manner that they see fit and to do whatever makes them feel good.

Morton Resnick
Oxnard

Kaddish for Carlin

I applaud the article on comedian George Carlin by Rob Eshman, the editor (“Kaddish for Carlin,” June 27).

Yes, there are times when it is a judgment call and a good one to make: Carlin was the exception to the rule. Though he was not Jewish, he was Jewish enough to be included in The Jewish Journal. I enjoyed the article.

Elizabeth Krugers
Los Angeles

Nextbook

Tom Tugend’s piece on Nextbook included an enlightening interview with architect Peter Eisenman about his Holocaust Memorial in Berlin (“Writer Discovers Nextbook’s New Read on Culture,” July 11).

It brought up memories of my only visit to the memorial at dusk in early March 2006, when snow was on the ground and on some of the thousands of concrete slabs in the first year after its opening.

As a refugee from Nazi-occupied Vienna and previous visitor to Berlin in the 1980s, I had an immediate epiphany about this jarring five-acre site in the center of the city. Finally, here was a permanent, stark and indelible reminder of the city’s and country’s past.

In their daily encounter with the memorial, Berliners and visitors alike cannot escape its impact. I felt an immense satisfaction as I walked on to the evening’s performance at the nearby Komische Oper.

Walter Unterberg
Van Nuys

Brooks Arthur brings stars’ hearts and humor to ‘Jewish Songbook’ CD


The decor in Brooks Arthur’s office chronicles what Billboard calls his “career as a behind the scenes superstar of the record industry.”

One photograph depicts Carole King hugging Arthur while working with him after her LP “Tapestry” hit in the 1970s. Nearby is a picture of Bruce Springsteen, who recorded three albums (and his hit song, “Born to Run”) at Arthur’s old 914 Sound Studios in Blauvelt, N.Y. Pasted to the wall are images from the comedy albums Arthur produced for Jackie Mason, Robin Williams and Adam Sandler, who has employed Arthur as the music supervisor on most of his films — including the new Israeli action spoof “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan.” Arthur’s office, in fact, is directly across the hall from the comedy impresario’s office at Sandler’s Happy Madison Productions in Culver City.

Sandler is just one of the artists featured on Arthur’s latest endeavor, “The Jewish Songbook: The Heart and Humor of a People,” a recently released CD of new and veteran artists performing classic Jewish songs. Sandler croons a heartfelt (and joke-free) rendition of “Hine Ma Tov” in a duet with his cantor, Marcelo Gindlin of Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue (the sheet music from that recording session is taped above Arthur’s desk).

The album’s other 12 tracks include comic Rob Schneider doing the 1940s novelty tune “Bagels and Lox”; saxophonist Dave Koz in an instrumental version of the Yiddish song “Raisins and Almond,”; comic Robert Smigel adding irreverent new lyrics to “Mahzel (Means Good Luck)” in the persona of his puppet character, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog; and “Seinfeld” alumnus Jason Alexander in “Shake Hands With Your Uncle Max,” an Allan Sherman ditty about a salesman with too many relatives.


Promo Video: ‘The Jewish Songbook: The Heart And Humor Of A People’

Arthur, sporting a Brooklyn Dodgers cap, says the idea for the “songbook” stems from the childhood years, when he worked at his father’s Brooklyn candy store and avidly listened to Jewish radio.

“All four of my grandparents came from Russia and Poland and spoke Yiddish fluently,” Arthur recalled. “I used to love getting together with them and my parents and listening to the Yiddish station WEVD, because the music made them so happy. After the shows were over, they would go back to their daily routines, but I used to witness them coming alive listening to the Hebrew and Yiddish songs interspersed with comic ditties.

“It’s a dying art form,” Arthur said of that format. “I wanted to produce an album that hearkens back to those days.”

On the CD, Arthur himself performs “Sheyn Vi Di L’vone” (“Beautiful Like the Moon”) with Lainie Kazan; he says he discovered he had a voice while humming along to such tunes on WEVD.

“My parents’ candy store was at the subway station at 22nd Avenue-Bay Parkway, and, at age 9, I’d take the train another five stops to Coney Island, where I could pop some quarters into a booth and make a little acetate recording, a ‘single’ of myself singing,” he recalled.

Arthur also was cantor of the junior congregation at his Orthodox shtibl before launching a career as an audio engineer, overseeing 1960s hits such as “My Boyfriend’s Back,” “The Locomotion” and “Leader of the Pack.” Eventually he won grammys and produced LPs by artists such as Bette Midler and Liza Minnelli.

He segued into movie work when producer Jerry Weintraub asked him to be the music supervisor for his film “The Karate Kid” in 1982. The same year, Weintraub introduced Arthur to Chabad of Westwood, where the musician experienced a Jewish reawakening while dancing with the Torah on Simchat Torah.

“I began to take Hebrew lessons and became very interested in learning,” Arthur recalled. “I found myself sponging up Judaism; I hadn’t been drinking that kind of elixir since my bar mitzvah.”

Arthur drew Sandler’s attention in the early 1990s, after he earned a Grammy nomination for producing Jackie Mason’s “The World According to Me.”

“I absolutely loved Adam on ‘Saturday Night Live,'” said Arthur, who demonstrates by imitating Sandler’s florid “SNL” character Operaman. “I loved his brand of humor, and I’m so lucky that he liked me.”

Their first album, “They’re All Gonna Laugh At You,” went double platinum, and Arthur went on to produce all five of Sandler’s CDs (copies are lined up on the console of Happy Madison’s recording studio next door). Arthur became a regular member of Sandler’s creative posse of friends and collaborators, co-writing Sandler’s animated Chanukah film, “Eight Crazy Nights,” and even playing a part in the success of the legendary “Chanukah Song.”

“I saw Adam performing it in its embryonic form on ‘Saturday Night Live,'” Arthur said, “and while he was still on the air I called his apartment in Manhattan and left the message: ‘Sandman, this is a reason to make your next album.'” (Sandler awoke him at 2 a.m. to agree.)

Arthur initially assumed Sandler might do a humorous piece for the “Jewish Songbook,” but Sandler said he “wanted to do something that makes your heart hurt,” Arthur recalled. His choice was “Hine Ma Tov,” because hearing his cantor sing the melody reminded him of going to synagogue as a boy in Manchester, N.H.

Arthur says the other “songbook” musicians also turned nostalgic in the studio about their childhood.

“They were conscious of keeping alive these great Jewish songs of the past,” he said.

‘Hybrid’ Actor Crafts ‘Everyman’ Show


Is it possible for an everyman to be a leader? Can an everyman be a woman?

Ameenah Kaplan, who calls herself a “hybrid” — the product of an African American mother who converted to Judaism and a Jewish father — is directing, choreographing and co-producing “Everyman for Himself.” Appearing weekends at the Unknown Theatre in Hollywood, the show is a hybrid itself, in that it blends music, dance, theater and capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian dance form that incorporates self-defense maneuvers. Kaplan also wrote and conceived the production and, indeed, thinks of herself as an everyman.

Shaped by Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man,” Kaplan, 31, grew up in Atlanta, where she was bat mitzvahed and confirmed and where, she says, she would “float into different communities and never really fit into any of them.” As the only non-Christian among blacks, the only black among Jews, she says, “you’d be in a room and nobody sees you.”

Everyman, the title character in her show, played by Michael Gallagher, is both invisible and conspicuously visible. Where the other ensemble players paint their faces and wear togs like members of an African or Indian tribe, Everyman looks like a stiff businessman, donning a tie, starched shirt and long pants.

“Go with the flow,” is one of the adages he reads from a book, yet Everyman never quite fits in. He is singled out by one female character, who engages in a kind of martial arts match with him that is equal parts seduction and boxing.

None of Kaplan’s characters have traditional names; instead, they sport generic titles like Ball Girl, Judge, Bee and Boss. With the beat of African drums playing in the background as the ensemble characters teach Everyman to dance, there is the sense that we are witnessing an ancient ritual among primal beings.

In the production notes, Everyman is billed as a Buster Keaton/Charlie Chaplin “genius/fool”; he appears awkward, a modern man, exposed as if for the first time to the world of conformity that dates back to our days as early Homo sapiens in the Horn of Africa.

“People are essentially primal anyway,” says Kaplan, sitting on a couch in a lounge down the hall from her actors’ rehearsal hall. Wearing a head wrap that conceals her afro, Kaplan says, “We’re all simple and alike at the bottom. My acting training taught us that. Come into the room, get your shoes off and build the actor from the ground up.”

We share more than not, she says, pointing out “the visceral body connections celebrating those things that bring us together — sound, energy, drums, heartbeat, blood flowing.”

Kaplan has the slim, athletic body of a dancer; she has played numerous TV and legitimate theater roles, and sees herself first as an actor. She smiles when asked if she was somewhat conflicted over not playing the lead role herself, but she says that Gallagher embodies Everyman. She also stresses that every actor in the show contributes as much as the others. All of the actors play multiple roles: “The ensemble is the show. There are no supporting roles. No one’s playing crossword puzzles backstage. There are no cigarette breaks.”

One scene flows into the next, each one carrying totemic significance. The smallest prop — whether it’s a book, a jacket, a ball or a handkerchief (a nod perhaps to “Othello”) — becomes a talisman in this primordial landscape, where the characters speak very few words and those they do are often monosyllabic.

Everyman may be more Jesus than Adam. He must choose whether to fight or kill another man. Unlike the others, he is consumed with grief.

“What he’s going through is the human condition,” says Kaplan, whose work ethic really comes through in person. Reluctant to leave her actors for an interview, Kaplan never loses her graciousness and generosity; she has the maturity and seriousness of one who knows that, without her, the play will not proceed. Even during the brief interview, she wants to make sure that the actors are OK. At one point, she tells the stage manager that the actors will need her to be there for the next scene, involving some dance routines that they have not tried before.

As the interview ends, Kaplan, the everyman, springs to her feet with the physicality of Keaton. She will direct her cast without any crossword puzzle or cigarette breaks. She is anything but invisible.

“Everyman for Himself” plays Friday and Saturday nights at Unknown Theater, 1110 Seward St., near Santa Monica Boulevard, through April 29. For tickets and information, call (323) 466-7781.

 

PASSOVER: You Say Charoses and I Say Charoset


I was so excited when a publishing house in New York accepted my children’s book for publication. Geared to preschoolers, it’s a short piece that recounts the steps of the Passover seder in simple, upbeat verse.

What I didn’t realize was that the work would need to be translated.

It’s not that the manuscript was in a foreign language. Or that they wanted to print it in another country. I had written the piece in “Secular” and the publisher wanted it in “Traditional.” So, in order to use words with which their young readership would be familiar, the publisher changed “plagues” to “makos,” “Jerusalem” to “Yerushalayim” and “God” to “Hashem.”

That left me with a new problem: By substituting words more familiar to Orthodox Jews, we’d be inserting terms that would fail to resonate with Conservative and Reform Jews — whom I’d also hoped would be interested in the book. And that meant I’d be further narrowing an already limited audience.

In my attempt to keep the piece as universal as possible, I found myself trying to avoid using these lost-in-translation words altogether. I was pretty impressed with myself when I managed to get God/Hashem out of the picture — even if it was a piece about a religious holiday. Thus, “Once we were slaves and now we are free/The way God intended all people to be” became “Once we were slaves and now we are free/The way it is meant for all people to be.”

That wasn’t so difficult. But removing plagues/makos proved trickier. There aren’t too many synonyms for plague. I thought about “punishment,” but ultimately I just mentioned spilling out 10 drops of wine and left it at that.

Other words simply could not be avoided. So “charoset” became “charoses,” “Elijah” became “Eliyahu” and “Egypt” became “Mitzrayim.” Lucky for me, “maror” is spelled the same way in both languages, even though one group places the accent on the second syllable, and the other on the first.

Just as I grew frustrated revising her “Traditional” words, I’m sure my editor got tired of correcting my secular terminology. She had to tell me, for instance, that “prayer” would not be a familiar term — “tefilah” or “davening” would be preferable. At least I didn’t have to worry about Shabbat/Shabbos.

I considered asking the publisher about printing two versions of the same book — one in “Traditional” and another in “Secular.” But then I remembered we’re supposed to be One People.

So why is it that we don’t seem to speak the same language?

Maybe there should be some kind of multidenominational commission appointed to negotiate and standardize pronunciation among the various stripes of Jews. They could publish a stylebook of sorts — one which specifies the officially sanctioned version of these troublesome words.

Maybe it would even get us talking to one another. And maybe then we’d feel a little more like One People.

As for my book, it’s still going forward with a planned release date of next Passover/Pesach. I’ve tried to make it as appealing to all constituencies as possible, but I hope, in the effort, I haven’t made it appealing to none.

That would be a real shame/shanda.

PASSOVER: Try to Avoid Asking the Fifth Question


While there are only four questions posed in the haggadah, most seders struggle with the unasked fifth question, “When are we going to eat?” It is asked, not only by hungry children, but also by adults who feel disconnected to the rituals of their ancestors. As if reenacting the hurried way in which the Israelites left Egypt with Pharaoh’s army bearing down upon them, families today rush through the seder. While they are supposed to be reenacting the Exodus through the rituals of the haggadah, instead, unbeknownst to them, they emphasize the hurried nature of the experience. Whether due to hunger or boredom, Jewish families are fast-forwarding to the food and neglecting the command to “see themselves as if they left Egypt.”

I remember my own childhood seders, when eating prior to the motzee (blessing) over the matzah was strictly forbidden. How could a 7-year-old sit for an hour or more in a seder that was largely done by rote and in Hebrew? I was able to remain focused only because I was mesmerized by my zayde (and slightly terrified by the glare he would give if any of his grandchildren got out of order). If I would dare reach for a carrot or any other food item on the table, an adult hand, like one of the Divine plagues unleashed against the Egyptians, would quickly respond with a light slap on my hand. My family did not know about the rabbinic rule stipulating that after reciting the blessing over the karpas (parsley or any green) at the beginning of the seder that any food grown from the ground may be eaten. With great wisdom the ancient rabbis created this rule in order to avoid the fifth question. Therefore, at our seders today we put carrots and celery on the table for people to eat after the parsley.

Once the question of hunger has been resolved, then the issue of boredom can be addressed. Abbreviating the haggadah is fine, if relevance is found in other ways. Ask your own questions, like “Why is it important to remember the Exodus?” and “When do we feel enslaved in our own lives?” as a means of making the seder relevant. Why are questions so important? Because they reflect interest and concern. We ask questions when we care about things. To make the seder relevant, we must ask our own questions and let the answers (there should be no singular answer) give us new meaning.

Reducing the need for the dreaded fifth question beforehand makes us more relaxed until it’s time for the bountiful food, family inside jokes and the rest of a warm and celebratory evening. The seder guests become sated, coffee is served, conversation is plentiful until the announcement, “It is time for the second half of the seder.” During my childhood seders, we never had to make the announcement, because at some point after the meal my uncle would walk a couple of steps over to the couch and take a nap. Some time later (I have no idea whether it was 15 minutes or an hour) when he would wake up, we all knew it was time for the second half of the seder.

Through classes and discussion groups I have discovered that many families do not complete the seder. “Is there really a second half to the seder?” I am asked. But how is this possible? Without the second half, there are only two cups of wine, no afikomen and no opening of the door for Elijah. Without the second half of the seder, there is no completion — there is no hope. So how can families fulfill these second-half rituals? Don’t serve dessert until the very end.

I want to preface this suggestion with an acknowledgement that it is contrary to the traditional Jewish law to eat dessert after partaking of the afikomen. But for families who do not usually complete the rituals of the seder, I would rather they embrace my suggestion. It has become clear to me that most seders fall apart over coffee and cake. Just as the national anthem indicates for many people the beginning of a ball game, dessert means that it is time to go home. With the coffee cup empty and only crumbs remaining on the dessert plate, people begin to think about the next day.

Excuses begin to be offered: “The children need to wake up for school tomorrow” (I would love for children to tell their parents that Passover should be a day off from school), “I have a busy day tomorrow.” Before the haggadot can be brought out again, coats are on, lips are puckered and another Exodus begins. Therefore, finish the meal, clean up some of the plates and then just as they are expecting dessert, bring out the haggadot again. Be gentle with them the first time — perhaps only 15 minutes. But you can do enough in 15 minutes; eat the afikomen, open the door and welcome Elijah, drink two more cups of wine and even sing a couple of songs at the end of the seder. Finally, bring out the coffee and dessert and enjoy the end of an evening that is no longer rushed. Who knows, perhaps they will enjoy the second half so much that, within a couple of years, dessert can be put back in its proper place.

One of my favorite rituals actually occurs during the second half of the seder. Unbeknownst to many Jews, the Cup of Elijah is supposed to remain empty until the fourth cup of wine (see your haggadah). Rather than just pouring wine from the bottle for the Cup of Elijah, it is our custom to pass the Cup of Elijah around the table and each participant pours some wine from their cup into Elijah’s. We open the door each year at Passover with the hope the Elijah will come to announce the coming of a messianic era, a time when wars will cease, hunger will be nonexistent and peace will reign. But we are partners with God in creating this perfect world. So this year, pass around the Cup of Elijah, ask each person to pour a little bit from their cup and as they do, to think about how they will help to bring about the messianic era. What acts of kindness will they perform, how will they save the environment and in what ways will they contribute to the betterment of humanity? How do we acknowledge and thank God for the blessings of life? By engaging in tikkun olam — the perfecting of His world. The full Cup of Elijah represents the Divine-human partnership and serves as a reminder of what ultimately the Exodus should mean to us.

What should be the goal of your Passover seder this year? Make it more meaningful than last year. Ask more questions to show that you care. Challenge more people to reflect on the lessons of the Exodus. Help expedite the coming of Elijah. When your seder is more than just a rushed meal you can truly feel as if you were redeemed from Egypt.

Rabbi Stewart L. Vogel is spiritual leader of Temple Aliyah.

 

PASSOVER FOOD: Treats to Leaven Desire for Dessert


Passover desserts are a challenge to the cook because so many ingredients are forbidden, among them flour, grain, cornstarch, baking powder or baking soda. So we substitute matzah meal, potato starch and versatile fresh egg whites to bake all of those traditional favorites — and lots of new ones, too.

The good news is that it is not difficult — all of these carefully tested delicacies are fairly simple to prepare and will be a welcome addition to your seder dinner, as well as for family meals during Passover.

For all the chocolate lovers, the food processor Cocoa-Pecan Cookies will become a favorite. Just prepare the dough and have the children or grandchildren help by dropping them by the spoonful onto the baking sheets. The batter can be kept in the refrigerator and a fresh batch of cookies can be baked each day.

Something new for the holiday, use the charoset ingredients to make a Passover Fruit Cake filled with nuts and dried fruit that offers a tasty and a crunchy treat. It is similar to the Italian delicacy known as Panforte that originated in Sienna. The mixture is tossed together in a large bowl, spooned into parchment-lined baking pans, and baked for an hour and a half. The good news is that these loaves will easily keep for the eight days of the holiday.

During Passover last year we were invited to the home of Alice and Nahum Lainer, who love to entertain. Alice served a delicious Apricot Torte, and I persuaded her to share her recipe for this wonderful pastry. Because some Jewish households do not use matzah meal or cake meal, the combination of egg whites, apricot puree, spices and a topping of apricot jam make an ideal dessert. It is the perfect after-dinner pastry to serve your guests, accompanied by a glass of sweet wine or hot tea.

For another sweet treat, pass a plate of Rocky Road Clusters, everyone’s favorite. They are made with only three ingredients, chocolate, marshmallows and pecans. Simply melt the chocolate, add marshmallows and nuts, and fill small paper cups with the mixture. This is another great project to do with the children.

Bring a platter of the Cocoa Pecan Cookies or Rocky Road Clusters as an edible gift to share with friends and family at the Passover seder meal.

Alice’s Apricot Torte

1 1/2 cups blanched whole almonds, plus 1/4 cup sliced for garnish
1/4 cup melted unsalted butter or nondairy margarine for pan (one-quarter)
1 cup sugar, plus more for pan
1 1/2 cups diced dried apricots
Zest and juice of 1 small lemon
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
8 large eggs, separated
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup apricot jam
Passover powdered sugar (recipe follows, optional)

Preheat the oven to 325 F. Place whole nuts in a single layer on a foil-lined baking sheet and sliced nuts in a single layer on another baking sheet. Toast nuts until golden and aromatic, five to eight minutes. Shake the pans halfway through toasting to make sure nuts brown evenly. Set aside to cool.

Brush a 10-inch spring form pan with melted butter or margarine, sprinkle with sugar and tap out excess. Set aside.

Place 1/4 cup sugar, whole almonds and apricots in the bowl of a food processor; process until finely chopped, one to two minutes. Add lemon zest, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves and pulse to blend. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk egg yolks and 1/2 cup of the sugar on high speed until light and fluffy. Transfer to a large bowl. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites with salt and lemon juice until frothy. Slowly add 1/4 cup sugar, and continue whisking until peaks are stiff but not dry. Fold beaten whites into egg yolks. Add apricot and almond mixture, and fold in until just combined. Pour batter into prepared pan, and bake for about 50 to 60 minutes, until golden brown and a wooden pick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. If necessary, cover torte lightly with foil to avoid burning. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the torte, and release from pan. Allow to cool completely on wire rack.

Place apricot jam in a small saucepan over medium heat, and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, and strain. Brush onto cooked torte. Sprinkle with sliced almonds and powdered sugar.

Makes one 10-inch torte.

Passover Powdered Sugar

1 tablespoon Passover potato starch
1 cup sugar

In the bowl of a food processor, combine potato starch and sugar. Process until very powdery and resembles powdered sugar, about two minutes. Let sugar settle for about one minute before removing processor cover.

Makes about 1 cup.

Passover Fruit Cake

2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter or nondairy margarine
2 cups pitted dates, thinly sliced
2 cups dried apricots, quartered
1 cup golden raisins
1 1/2 cups toasted whole almonds
1 1/2 cups toasted walnuts pieces
3/4 cup coarsely chopped semi-sweet chocolate, optional
3/4 cup matzah cake meal
1 tablespoon potato starch
3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla or orange juice

Heat the oven to 300 F. Brush one (5-by-9 inch) loaf pan or two (3-by-7 inch) loaf pans with melted unsalted butter or non-dairy margarine and line with parchment paper.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the dates, apricots, raisins, almonds, walnuts and chocolate, if using. Combine the matzah cake meal, potato starch and sugar and mix well. Add to fruit mixture and mix evenly. Beat eggs and vanilla to blend. Using a rubber spatula or hands, stir into fruit mixture until well blended. Spoon batter into prepared loaf pan and spread evenly, press into corners of pan.

Bake until golden brown, about 1 1/2 hours. Cool in pan on rack for 10 minutes, then turn out of pan. Peel off paper and let cool on rack.

Wrap in plastic wrap and foil. Chill at least one day or up to two months. To serve, place cake on a wooden board, and using a sharp knife, cut in thin slices.

Cocoa-Pecan Cookies

1 1/2 cups toasted chopped pecans
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/4 cup matzah cake meal
1/4 cup potato starch
5 large egg whites
1 cup toasted pecans, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup chopped semisweet chocolate

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Combine pecans, 1 1/2 cups of sugar, cocoa powder, matzah cake meal and potato starch in a food processor and pulse on and off until nuts are finely grated. Add 1/2 cup of egg whites and pulse to blend.

Transfer batter to a large bowl and stir in the nuts and chocolate. In a separate bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the remaining egg whites until soft peaks form, add the remaining sugar and beat until a stiff meringue forms. Using a rubber spatula, mix half of the meringue into the pecan/chocolate mixture and then fold in the remaining meringue.

Drop batter by well-rounded teaspoonfuls onto prepared cookie sheets, leaving 1 inch between cookies.

Bake for eight minutes. Cookies should be dull, but very soft. If not dull, bake for one more minute. Transfer parchment to a rack to cool, before removing.

Makes about two- or three-dozen cookies.

Rocky Road Clusters

1 cup toasted pecans, coarsely chopped
1 cup miniature marshmallows or large marshmallows cut in quarters
1/2 pound semisweet chocolate, melted

Place small paper candy cups on top of a large tray and set aside.

In a large bowl, toss pecans and marshmallows together. Add melted chocolate and mix well. Spoon chocolate mixture into the candy cups and refrigerate for several hours until firm. Store in refrigerator.

Makes about 24.

 

PASSOVER: Don’t Be a Slave to Tradition


When I was growing up, I never had to ask my mother what she would be serving at the seder. It was essentially the same menu every year: dishes like homemade chopped liver, chicken soup with matzah balls, turkey with gravy, mom’s special “Shabbos potatoes” (first boiled then roasted with seasonings) and matzah farfel with mushrooms. All tasty foods, of course, but the predictability was not that exciting, to put it mildly, in deference to my mother, who surely worked hard.

Why is this night the same as every other seder night? I’d ask. “Because that’s what my mother made,” she’d reply.

As she talked about the seders she’d had with her parents and grandparents, her face glowed, as if they were there preparing the seder with her. She even used my grandmother’s cooking methods: She chopped the liver by hand, in a large wooden bowl, using a hockmesser — a sort of cleaver with a rounded blade. She cut up fresh horseradish for maror, instead of using milder romaine lettuce.

Here was my dilemma when I came of age and began making my own seders: Should I maintain tradition even though I didn’t have the same associations with these foods that my mother did? Since Passover celebrates freedom (another traditional name for the holiday is Zman Cheiruteinu, or The Time of Our Freedom), I wanted to express my freedom by making foods of my own choosing, rather than feeling bound by a menu that was “traditional” only due to its roots in Eastern European cuisine.

Over the years I’ve served at some nontraditional dishes at seders, including beanless chili, gazpacho, short ribs and bruschetta served on small pieces of matzah instead of the traditional toast. But my favorite dishes are those that tap back into the deep roots of this holiday. They allow me to create new traditions via foods that took on Passover-related significance.

Another name for the holiday is chag ha’aviv, or the spring holiday. So I focus on foods that are seasonal, whose flavors evoke the freshness of spring. Other dishes aim at connecting with the many ceremonies associated with Passover.

Ceviche is a fish dish of Peruvian origin, now served widely across South America. The fish is marinated in lime or lemon juice, with the citric acid actually cooking the fish without the use of heat. In this version, the two different kinds of fish present a nice mix of color and texture, while the vegetables also add color and flavor. The tangy freshness of this blend awakens the palate, as spring weather does to the body.

While Sephardim have it a bit easier on Passover, Ashkenazim have basically two starches to choose from: potatoes and matzah. Nearly every other starch falls under the category of kitniot, which are literally legumes, but include rice and corn, and are forbidden to Eastern European Jews.

There is, however, another choice that offers variety, along with taste and healthfulness. Quinoa. The grain was never classified as kitniot because it was unknown in Europe at the time the custom was established. It has a vaguely nutty taste, is extremely high in protein and low in carbohydrates. In this recipe, the lemon juice picks up on the ceviche’s citrus, and the dish is prepared almost like tabouli. But the key ingredient is certainly the fresh mint, which adds a perky crispness that clearly recalls spring.

A great centerpiece dish is lamb and Jerusalem artichoke stew. Lamb has particular Passover significance, connecting with the paschal lamb offering both in Egypt, and later in the Temple. And although Jerusalem artichokes are neither from Jerusalem nor artichokes (they are actually sunflower tubers with an artichoke-like flavor), the name still reminds us of our annual seder proclamation to celebrate “Next Year in Jerusalem.” Plus, they are fresh in season during March and April, as are many of the wild mushrooms in this hearty stew.

Of course, there are many other dishes that can tap into the seasonal and customary aspects of Passover. Express your freedom by cooking almost anything you’d typically make for a Sabbath meal, just leaving out certain ingredients!

Two-Fish Ceviche

1 1/4 pound tuna steak
1 1/4 pound firm white fish (tilapia, trout or sea bass work great)
2 medium jalapenos, seeds and membranes removed, diced
1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1 small red onion, diced
juice of five to 10 limes
lemon juice
1 avocado, sliced

Remove any skin from fish, using a sharp paring knife. Cut tuna into cubes about 1-inch wide. Slice white fish into strips, about 1/2 inch by 1 1/2 inches.

In a glass or plastic bowl, mix fish with jalapenos, cilantro and lime. Add juice of limes. If limes did not yield enough juice to cover all fish, add enough lemon juice to cover.

Refrigerate, covered, for 90 minutes to two hours, stirring mixture every 15-20 minutes.

Serve in small bowls or cups. Garnish each with a half-moon of avocado.

Serves eight.

Note: If made earlier in the day, remove most of the juice after two hours (or once all fish has darkened in color) to avoid over-marinating.

Quinoa Pilaf With Fresh Mint

2 cups raw quinoa (available in specialty markets)
4 cups water
1/2 medium red onion, diced
2 scallions, diced
1/2 cup pine nuts
3 ounces sun-dried tomatoes, julienned
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Mix quinoa and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce flame and simmer covered for 15 minutes, or until most of the water has been absorbed.

Remove quinoa to a large bowl and let cool.

Add all other ingredients and mix thoroughly. Serve at room temperature.

Serves eight.

Lamb and Jerusalem Artichoke Stew

2 pounds boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 2-inch pieces
4 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups dry light red wine (Chianti or Cote-du-Rhone, for example)
2 cups water
1 1/2 pounds Jerusalem artichokes, peeled, larger ones chopped to uniform size with smaller ones (available in specialty markets, sometimes sold as “sunchokes”)
2 pounds mixed wild mushrooms, chopped thick (cremini or shitake, for example)
2 medium yellow onions, diced
4 cloves garlic, sliced
2 carrots, chopped large
2 small turnips, chopped large
2 white or golden potatoes, chopped large
2 bay leaves
1 bunch fresh thyme
salt
pepper

In a Dutch oven, brown lamb in 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat, approximately five minutes. Add Jerusalem artichokes, wine and water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and skim any excess fat from the top of the pot.

Meanwhile, in a frying pan, heat 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add brown mushrooms, stirring, approximately five minutes. Remove to bowl. Heat remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, sweet onions and garlic for about three minutes. Add to mushrooms.

Add carrots, turnips and potatoes to lamb pot. Stir to cover vegetables, and cook for 15 minutes, or until vegetables are softened.

Add mushroom mixture, bay leaves and thyme. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook uncovered until liquid reduces by about one-third, then continue covered, 45 minutes to an hour in total.

Remove thyme and bay leaves, and serve on plates.

Serves eight.

Joel Haber (funjoel.blogspot.com) is a freelance writer and screenwriting consultant. He loves to cook because he loves to eat.

Spectator – My Husband, the Rabbi


The first time the word “rebbetzin” appeared in The New York Times was in 1931, in a review of a book about Yiddish theater. The term stood untranslated; the reviewer and his editors assumed that readers would understand the meaning.

The word has gone in and out of favor among those whom it describes, but the role itself has been an influential one, albeit not always recognized, over the last century in the American Jewish community. The first book to study the evolution of the role and the women who have filled it, “The Rabbi’s Wife: The Rebbetzin in American Jewish Life,” by Shuly Rubin Schwartz (New York University Press), not only honors many unsung heroines but provides a significant contribution to American Jewish history.

Schwartz, a professor of history at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) and dean of its undergraduate List College, is the daughter, niece, wife and soon-to-be the mother of rabbis. Sadly, since beginning this book, her husband, Rabbi Gershon Schwartz, died suddenly, so she now has an additional role — that of widow of a rabbi. Although “The Rabbi’s Wife” is not at all personal, Schwartz’s insider’s perspective informs her book. Because of her background, she was able to gain access to rabbis’ wives of different generations, who felt comfortable opening up their lives and — when they had kept them — their files.

Schwartz began pondering related issues while a graduate student at the Seminary in the 1970s, as she noticed the number of women in her classes hoping to get into rabbinical school should JTS begin ordaining women. “It got me thinking: Here are these bright, motivated religious women, who felt a calling to the rabbinate. My question was where were all these talented women in previous generations? My answer was that a lot of the talented women married rabbis.”

These days, professionals do much of the work that once was taken care of by the rebbetzin: synagogues now have executive directors, assistant rabbis, education directors and youth directors. In general the traditional rebbetzin role continues to thrive mostly in the Orthodox community, where women cannot be ordained. One pocket where the role continues most clearly is the Lubavitch community, where rabbis and their wives do outreach work as a team. But among the other denominations, women’s roles have changed radically.

“Women don’t have to marry rabbis to lead,” Schwartz says. “In balance, the Jewish community is richer.”

 

Valentine’s Day.com


“J-ated,” as in “jaded,” might be the best way to describe the ennui that has set in among many JDaters these days, singles tired of the merry-go-round of endless possibility and disappointment.

In spite of that, or because of it, new dating Web sites seem to pop up every day.

Remember that scene in the movie “Singles,” where the desperate woman asks the airline to seat her next to a single man — and she ends aside an obnoxious 10-year-old? Ostensibly that won’t happen on AirTroductions.com, which is not a Web site for mile-high clubbers (if you don’t know, I can’t explain it here). Nor is it solely for Jews. This outfit targets people who want to make business or personal connections either on the flight, at the airport, or with other travelers in the same city. If they find someone who matches your itinerary, you can pay $5 to contact that person. (It might beat hearing, “Can you take off your belt, Miss?” from the security guy….)

For more personal intervention, try the new Jretromatch.com, which uses paid matchmakers to set Jews up (that’s the retro part). The site, which launched Feb. 6, is based on the successful SawYouAtSinai.com. (Get it? All Jewish souls were originally at Mount Sinai, so it’s based on the pickup line, “Haven’t we met before? Didn’t I see you at Sinai?”) SawYouAtSinai aims for traditional and religious Jews and has a firm foothold in the Modern Orthodox market. It claims 14,000 members and 95 married success stories.

If you don’t want to leave your entire fate to the matchmaker, Jretromatch.com (and its non-Jewish counterpart, retromatch.com) also will let you peruse the database on your own. At $35.95 for a gold membership (which gets you six months plus two “free bonus months”) it’s less than JDate for the same amount of time, although with a much smaller membership (launching with 2,500 non-Orthodox culled from SawYouatSinai’s lists). Still, Jretromatch promises that matchmakers will interview all members and verify that they’re Jewish, something that JDate does not guarantee.

There are a handful of other Web sites aimed at religious and traditional Jews. The main one is Frumster.com, which skews toward the more religious of the Orthodox community (hence the word frum, which means “religious” in Yiddish), although now it has opened up to all “marriage-minded” Jews, according to Ben Rabizadeh, CEO of Frumster. The Web site claims 20,000 members and 542 couples (married or engaged) and starts at $8.95 per month, but still seems aimed most at the very religious, especially given that it requires users to specify levels of observance. You can choose between Traditional and Non-Orthodox, Modern Orthodox-Machmir, Modern Orthodox-Liberal, Yeshivish Modern, Yeshivish/Black Hat, Chasidic, Carlebachian, Shomer Mitzvot.

Other religious Web sites include UrbanTraditional.com (“putting traditional values back into Jewish dating”), Orthodate (“Your Bashert could be just a click away”) and Frumdate (“Our first priority is not simply to make a match but to help singles draw closer to Hashem and find the best within themselves”).

In addition to religiosity, there are other niches in the Jewish online dating market. Consider DarkJews.com — not a racist term, but a statement about skin tone for some Sephardic Jews — a new Web site for Syrian, Persian, Bucharian, Moroccan, Israeli, Egyptian, Yemenite, Spanish, and Turkish Jews. There’s even a category for half-Sephardic and “other,” which defies easy understanding in this context. Another category is “Come to America” where the choices are: Born, Toddler, Adolescent, Teenager, Adult or I’m Not in America.

DarkJews.com is based on the myspace.com and friendster.com models, which allows users to add their friends and their friends’ friends and is more of a social connector than a straight dating Web site. Right now it’s free, and popular among Persian Jews in California. Lumping all “dark Jews” together doesn’t work even for all dark Jews, because many of Far and Middle Eastern origin prefer to date within their own, more narrowly defined communities. Bjews.com, for example, for Bukharian Jews (from Uzbekistan and Central Asia) includes a dating site.

The most retro thing of all, though, might be to leave the computer behind. “Just let it happen naturally,” as your married friends will advise, putting aside the problem that natural meetings often mean the UPS man (or woman) delivering your Amazon.com orders and your neighbor asking you to turn your music down. Bar hopping is equally random and can lead to options with less to offer than the hardworking UPS delivery person.

If that leads you back to JDate, well, it does claim half a million members. And JDate is throwing a party at The House of Blues on Sunset Boulevard on Feb. 13.

Who knows?

 

Letters


Orthodoxy’s Role

I was disappointed but not surprised with Rabbi Tzvi Hersch Weinreb’s and the Orthodox Union’s flat rejection of Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky’s suggestion that the Orthodox community move beyond “traditional parameters” in its discourse with other denominations (Letters, Dec. 23). As an Orthodox participant in Rabbi Kanefsky’s interdenominational study groups, I have yet to find that these interactions blur denominational boundaries or threaten belief in Torah Min HaShamayim. In addition to creating a positive forum for the mutual desire to promote communal Jewish unity, they foster mutual understanding as well as respectful disagreement on fundamental matters of faith.

Rabbi Weinreb refers to Havdalah, where we delineate the distinction between Israel and the nations of the world. I doubt that being Mavdil between Jewish denominations is the intent of the prayer, unless one considers non-Orthodox denominations theologically equivalent to non-Jewish religions. Who can claim the moral authority to distinguish holiness among Jews? Historically our enemies have not been so discerning.

Gil Melmed
Los Angeles

The letter from the Orthodox Union (OU) spurning Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky’s well-reasoned argument in favor of increasing dialogue with the non-Orthodox streams of Judaism (“Orthodoxy Has Chance to Reshape Role,” Dec. 9) is worse than small-minded. It slanders and betrays some of the greatest leaders of both Orthodox and North American Jewry — who, fortunately, had both the good sense and remarkable ability to step forward for the benefit of Klal Yisrael.

One does not have to think back too far to recall Rabbi Israel Miller, who was active until the day of his death in 2002, as chairman of the Material Claims Conference, after holding the highest Jewish offices, including chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and an officer of the Jewish Agency for Israel, the World Zionist Organization and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. In all these roles, Miller, a senior vice president of Yeshiva University, worked closely and with mutual respect with Conservative and Reform rabbinic counterparts, who consistently responded to his wisdom, guidance and dedication by repeatedly electing him to represent them all.

In Canada, a similar role was played by Rabbi Walter Wurzburger, a past president of the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America, who founded the Toronto Rabbinical Fellowship together with Rabbis Gunther Plaut and Stuart Rosenberg, representing the Reform and Conservative streams respectively. Sadly, today, the Toronto Board of Rabbis is bereft of Orthodox members.

Ironically, one of the most popular and dynamic leaders of Orthodox Jewry at this moment, Richard Joel, was appointed president of Yeshiva University precisely because of the reputation he gained as the director of a revitalized Hillel Foundation — and as a direct result of his working primarily with Conservative and Reform rabbis, men and women, who served as directors of campus Hillels across the country.

Tragically, the attitude of today’s OU leadership will ensure that Modern Orthodoxy will be marginalized, to the detriment of its own movement and future generations of American Jewry.

Buzzy Gordon
Los Angeles

Slop Sink

I am responding to Rob Eshman’s editorial “The Slop Sink” (Dec. 31) as one who has been married for 40 wonderful years to an immigrant from Russia and has devoted an entire career to working at an institution that is staffed by beautiful souls from every corner of the globe. It is true that some of our society’s most vital institutions would not last even one day without foreign-born labor. We owe these people extreme gratitude and reverence.

However, we are sobered by two realities: 1) There is a difference between immigration and human trafficking. We have crossed that line. 2) Our society simply cannot absorb everyone who wants to be here. Greedy capitalists who thirst for cheap labor and twisted leftists who think that Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Utah and Wyoming are “occupied territory” have come together to become very strange bedfellows.

Unenforced immigration law threatens to become the most defining issue of the coming years unless common sense prevails.

Rabbi Louis J. Feldman
Van Nuys

‘Munich’ Message

The recent venom against Steven Spielberg surrounding “Munich” frightens me (“‘Munich’: The Missing Conversation,” Dec. 23). Artists like Spielberg profoundly influence culture without bullets and bombs. Surely he is not anti-Israel. He is pro-peace and has a deep passion, I’m sure, for his Jewish heritage and surely for human suffering.

Rick Lippin
Southampton, Pa

 

Still Smarting


By Sunday evening, single women across America were trying to slit their wrists by inflicting a hundred little paper cuts from the Sunday New York Times Magazine, featuring an article by Maureen Dowd, “What’s a Modern Girl to Do?”

Feminism is over, Dowd writes, men only want to date non-challenging, non-career-oriented women, and women are willingly returning to traditional gender roles.

If “Sex and the City’s” Carrie Bradshaw were writing this article, she’d type in her familiar courier font: “Sometimes I wonder … are men threatened by smart, successful women?”

But Carrie’s era has ended, apparently, says the real-life (non-sex) op-ed writer Dowd, pictured in the Oct. 30 magazine in an austere black suit paired with fishnet stockings.

“So was the feminist movement some sort of cruel hoax? Do women get less desirable as they get more successful?” she laments.

I felt like I was listening to my father, or my rabbi — if I still had one (a rabbi, not a father) — with this return to men as providers, women as caretakers and never the twain shall meet.

Dowd’s basic theory posits that “The Rules” — that once-silly guidebook on how to entrap a man, which is now read nonironically, as in The Torah of dating — was just the beginning. The end, a decade later, is women in their 20s who go to law school planning to drop out to get married, women who won’t call a guy because men don’t like to be chased and men marrying nurturers like their secretaries because they don’t desire a challenging woman (like “the boss”). Which leaves some smart, successful women wondering, alone, where they went wrong.

It’s not that Dowd said anything particularly new. It’s just that, well, the thing is … a lot of it is true. I wish I could deny it; I wish I could say that feminism is safe and Dowd is bitter. And that the people she quotes are a small random selection; and that plenty of people find an equal partner; and my friends and I will too someday (soon). But I’ve had too many recent experiences that suggest otherwise:

  • At a recent Sukkot meal I met a single guy, an educated artist-intellectual who was becoming religious. What he found lovely about religion was the “traditional roles that people — women — played in terms of family,” he said, before stopping when he saw the look of horror on my face.
  • My friend’s father recently came out to visit from New York. The man’s a professor at a prestigious university and married to a woman who is also a professor at a better university and who makes more money than him. After I spent the whole night trying to charm him silly, he told his son, “She’s going to have trouble meeting a man. She’s too smart.”
  • I was recently rebuffed by a guy who said, “You’re the type of woman I could bring home to my parents, but my problem is I’m only attracted to stupid, simple women — women whom I’d never socialize with or bring home to my parents.”

He’d go out with these bartenders, dancers — secretaries — for a few months till conversation ran dry and he couldn’t stand the sight of them any longer and then flee like an escaped convict to socialize with the likes of me — people in his “class.” It was not a question of looks.

“You’re just too smart for me,” he said sadly.

Look, I’ve tried dating down. My last two boyfriends were by no means my intellectual equals; they weren’t threatened by my brain, but they weren’t particularly interested either. Or interesting, really. I chucked them in hopes of finding my intellectual equal, my soul mate, the man I can ask advice from and discuss everything with — from literature to politics to religion to child rearing, to even this stupid New York Times article.

But I hear that he’s off dating his secretary, his physical therapist, his nanny, his cook — all the nurturers we thought we could hire while we provided the intellectual stimulation, which he apparently prefers to get from “The Daily Show.”

Look, maybe we can’t have it all — the perfect career and the perfect man and the perfect family — and if I could do it all over again, maybe I’d do some things differently: Maybe I wouldn’t have done all that I’ve done if I had known the price for independence is … being alone.

Maybe. But maybe not.

Dating for women of my generation has always been about the conflict of being yourself vs. behaving like someone else in order to get the prized man. But what kind of guy would I get if I behaved like someone else? Who would I be? What kind of we would there be if I weren’t me?

The women of the generations before me, well, maybe they were lucky. Lucky without feminism, lucky to be in the haven of their traditional roles. And maybe that’s the happy fate that also awaits the women of the future.

What is a Modern Girl to do, Ms. Dowd? Sadly enough she doesn’t answer that question, so I guess this is one article I’m going to have to write on my own.

 

College Minus Boys, Drugs, Rock ‘n’ Roll


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Ronica Yomtoubian used to sit in lecture halls at UCLA listening to Torah tapes on her headphones until the moment the professor started speaking. As an Orthodox woman, she tried to fulfill her academic requirements as a biochemistry major “with blinders on,” shutting out immodest clothing and speech — and secular values.

Then, after a summer studying in Israel, she decided to transfer to Maalot, an accredited college program for Orthodox women who want a traditional Jewish environment and also wish to study Judaic topics while earning their bachelor’s degree. Maalot, a branch of the Maalot Aidner Institute in Jerusalem, on Third Street just west of La Brea Avenue, has granted approximately 35 bachelor’s degrees since it opened in 2000. There are currently 60 women enrolled.

Many Maalot students say they chose the school because they wanted a small college that supports their Torah values, provides the opportunity to learn from Jewish sources and prepares them for graduate schools and for a variety of professions, school registrar Nechama Landesman said.

The presence of Orthodox higher education in Los Angeles brings the city into the debate over the value and risk of having yeshiva students attend a secular college. A growing number of yeshiva graduates are leaving Orthodox observance when they get to college.

Some argue that yeshiva high schools need to make Judaism a more integral part of a student’s identity so that the student has something to hold on to when she leaves the sheltered environment of high school. On campuses across the country, including UCLA, the Orthodox Union and Hillel teamed up a few years ago to start the Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus, which brings young Orthodox couples to college campuses to create opportunities for Torah study as well as a social circle appropriate for yeshiva graduates.

But others advocate keeping young men and women in a sheltered environment throughout college to assure that yeshiva students don’t give in to previously unavailable temptations. Undergraduate programs such as those at Maalot, or Yeshiva University and Touro College in New York, fill that niche.

Next fall, Touro College will open branches in Los Angeles for men and women, offering a four-year bachelor’s degree with a traditional core curriculum as well as Jewish studies classes, said Esther Lowy, the school’s dean in Los Angeles.

More than 200 women have opted for Maalot since it opened less than five years ago. The student body consists of women straight out of high school, some who transferred from other colleges, and others, including some young grandmothers, who interrupted college careers to start families.

Maalot offers classes in business and finance, education, graphic arts, psychology, Jewish religion and philosophy. The school accepts credit for course work at other colleges. Several students have gone on to graduate school.

The school has no dorms, and the few students from out of town live with families in the area or in apartments.

“Religious girls are often thinking about marriage and starting families when they are college-aged,” Landesman said. “This means they need to get their degrees in the most time-efficient and cost-effective way possible. Maalot students can cut their time in college from four years to two by testing out of many lower-level classes.”

Landesman acknowledges that allowing women to test out may detract from students’ broader knowledge, but she believes that the Judaic studies add depth to the experience.

“The Rambam, the Maharal and Luzzato are the philosophers from which we learn,” she said. “Students get more out of a halacha [Jewish law] class than they would from a class in Chinese culture.”

Judaic classes teach the women topics they can apply in their professional and personal lives, such as business ethics or interpersonal-relationship skills.

“Maalot’s Kodesh classes impart a tremendous sense of mission, and that mission is to be a better human being,” Landesman said. “You don’t get that at a regular college.”

Many students choose Maalot precisely for what they do not get at regular colleges. Approximately 20 percent of the school’s population are students who left UCLA, Santa Monica Community College and other schools not in synch with the students’ beliefs as Orthodox Jews.

Shira Cohen-Gadol, who graduated from Yeshiva University of Los Angeles and transferred to Maalot from Santa Monica Community College, said coarse language and inappropriate male-female interactions made her start thinking about changing schools. What clinched it was when a sociology professor screened a pornographic film.

Cohen-Gadol says her classmates at Maalot influenced her decision to deepen her level of Jewish observance.

“After seeing the girls at Maalot stop what they were doing every afternoon to daven mincha, I began to join them,” she said.

Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, the director of Hillel at UCLA, insists that the secular environment of universities is not fatal to Orthodox observance.

“We have up to 35 people who come [to pray] at our daily mincha/maariv minyan,” Seidler-Feller said. “We have a Shabbat community and learning in our beit midrash all day.”

Seidler-Feller sees the culture of college campuses as the first of many encounters with the world for which Jews need to be prepared. He said it’s important for students to have intellectual conversations with people who are different from them, and to contribute their own viewpoint to the wider conversation.

“It is also important for university students to encounter both new and classical ideas of the world that are not necessarily Jewish,” he said.

Rabbi Nachum Sauer, who teaches Jewish studies at Maalot, puts Torah study on a higher plane than other subjects.

The pursuit of “all learning and parnassah [earning a living] should be guided by the light of Torah,” Sauer said. “Maalot offers students the opportunity to continue to grow in Torah, while learning the skills necessary to contribute to the finances of their families.”

For more information on Maalot call (323) 938-5196. For information on Touro call (310) 246-1231.

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Welcome to Our Wedding!


 

A very nice added attraction to your ceremony is the wedding booklet. This is a personal supplement to your wedding that the ushers will give to each guest as they are taken to their seats. The bride usually chooses a white or ecru linen material with black ink.

The cover states “The Wedding of … ” and usually has both the English and the Hebrew dates. We recommend art of flowers and we added the quote “Ani L’Dodi V’Dodi Li” — “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.”

At the bottom of the front page we inserted:

I marry you because you are now a part of my life.
In all decisions you are a consideration.
In all problems (mostly in term of solution) you are a factor.
In all joy you are sharing; in all sorrow support. — Peter McWilliams

The inside two pages are very creative; along the margin on the left, we wrote:

We would like to thank each of you for traveling today to celebrate with us this very special day in our lives. Each of you has, in some way, shared a part of our lives and have special meaning to us.

We have chosen to celebrate our marriage in [city]. [Name of place where you are getting married] is special to us because this is where [example: the bride celebrated her bat mitzvah and it is the first place we shared the High Holidays together].

Since there might be guests who are not familiar with a Jewish wedding, you might include some mention of the following:

Ketubah: Before the start of the formal wedding ceremony, the couple signs their ketubah, the Jewish marriage contract. The ketubah usually consists of both a traditional Conservative text and an egalitarian text. The traditional text, written in Aramaic, a Hebrew dialect, is legally binding and states their actual obligations. Oftentimes, they add an Egalitarian text in English that represents expressions of their shared goals, personal commitments and desires for their relationship. Two very special Jewish friends are chosen to witness the signing.

Chuppah: The wedding canopy under which the bride and groom stand during the marriage ceremony. It symbolizes the home that they will create as husband and wife and is open on all four sides to signify that family and friends are always welcome. It is also seen as a sign of God’s presence at the wedding.

Kiddush: The blessing over the wine and occurs twice during the ceremony. The two cups are thought to symbolize the joy and sorrow the couple may encounter in life. By both parties sipping from both cups, they are expressing their willingness to face life as equal partners.

Sheva Brachot: The Seven Blessings that comprise the bulk of the wedding liturgy. The blessings cover many themes — the creation of the world and humanity, the survival of the Jewish people and of Israel, the marriage and the couple’s happiness and the raising of the family.

Breaking of the Glass: The ceremony ends when the groom smashes a wrapped glass — or in some cases, lightbulb — with his foot (at some weddings, the bride and groom step on it together). This ancient custom has a variety of interpretations. One of the oldest is that one should not be frivolous. When there is joy and celebration, there should also be awe and trembling. A similar interpretation sees the breaking of the glass as a reminder of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, and that we should never be so joyous as to forget that there is much sorrow in the world. Another translation is that it serves as a reminder of the sanctity of marriage — a broken glass cannot be mended.

On the back page, you might include something like this:

Now that the ceremony has concluded, there is one more requirement all of you, our guests, must fulfill. You are obligated to rejoice and celebrate to make our wedding complete!

Once again we would like to thank each of you for taking the time to share this important day in our lives. A special thanks goes to the rabbi, chazzan and our families and friends for their guidance and support throughout the planning of our wedding.

You might include a photograph of the bride and groom, and we also like to add some art of Jerusalem. You will add what is important to you, because this is your special time and it is the most important day of your life.

Joan G. Friedman lives in Reading, Pa., and can be reached joan@friedman.net.

 

Colonial Cuisine


Knishes, brisket, borscht, flanken and overstuffed corned beef on rye.

Imagine American Jewish food, and one envisions Ashkenazi fare brought by the 2.5 million Eastern European immigrants who settled here between 1881 and 1921.

But long before pastrami ever hit a New York deli plate, Jewish cuisine graced American shores; it began with Sephardic recipes prepared by 23 settlers whose families had fled the Spanish Inquisition to Recife, Brazil, and eventually to New Amsterdam in 1654. Instead of cholent, these newcomers cooked Sabbath meals such as beef and green bean stew flavored with allspice and hot pepper from Brazil.

The ensuing 350 years of American Jewish culinary history is the subject of a research project and lecture series by Joan Nathan, the noted Jewish food author (“Jewish Cooking in America” Knopf), and cooking show host. Among the recipes she’s uncovered: a pickled salmon dish from a New York Sephardic family’s hand-written cookbook and sweet-and-sour beef with dried plums, figs and raisins from an 1872 New York Times review of kosher restaurants.

Nathan believes “the history of food is as valid as any other history.” She explores American Jewish cookery before and after Eastern European Jews debuted their unique eats in the late 1880s.

“Jews have always been great adapters, and that extends to food,” she told The Journal from her Washington, D.C. home. “They brought out their old family recipes for the holidays but adapted daily food to life here.”

If America influenced Jewish cuisine, Jewish cuisine also made its mark on America. Early on, Thomas Jefferson praised what he called “Jew fish,” a cod fried in olive oil rather than lard.

In the following century, German Jews, with their superior ovens, baked sophisticated pastry dishes during their great migration between 1830 and 1880. From their kitchens emerged apple kuchen, sweet challahs and recipes such as Dampfnudeln, a brioche-like cake soaked in caramel and served with a vanilla sauce.

“Surely it was no coincidence that Cincinnati, the largest German Jewish city of the time, became the home of Fleischmann’s yeast and Crisco, a vegetable-based shortening for which, according to Procter and Gamble advertisements, the Jews had waited for 4,000 years,” Nathan said in a recent lecture.

As Jews continued to settle throughout the heartland, their family recipes became regionalized, perhaps most dramatically in the South, according to Marcie Cohen Ferris, associate director of the Carolina Center for Jewish Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “Because the Jewish population was small and often isolated, food became extra important,” Cohen Ferris said. “It provided a link to the old world, to family elsewhere, and to relatives who had passed away. At the same time, it was what connected people to their Southern community; if you eat like your neighbors, you are one of them.”

No wonder New Orleans cooks spiked their gumbo with matzah balls; lox and bagels became lox, bagels and grits; and fried chicken graced menus.

Today, the Memphis Orthodox community hosts an annual barbeque contest, with a local grocer, Kroeger’s, providing the kosher beef shortribs.

If Huntsville, Ala., has its own corned beef and pastrami festival, trace that to Eastern European Jewry. Although much Ashkenazi food wasn’t considered Jewish back home, the victuals became “Jewish” in America because members of the tribe introduced them.

Now the culinary popular culture includes challah French toast and the bagel has become almost as ubiquitous as apple pie.

“[I’ve] visited a bagel factory beneath Mount McKinley in the far reaches of Alaska,” Nathan said. “I have … seen a sign at a bagel joint, near Plymouth Rock, advertising that Plymouth is the birthplace of french toast bagels.”

Meanwhile, traditional Jewish food continues to evolve with the flourishing of the ba’al teshuvah movement, resulting in healthier and more gourmet kosher products from coast to coast. There’s mock lobster made of pollock, for example, and kosher bison served at restaurants such as Levana in New York.

“[We’ve] come a long way since the first band of Brazilian Sephardic exiles arrived on our shores 350 years ago,” Nathan said. “Today you’re just as likely to see the proverbial Jewish grandmother taking her cue from watching celebrity chefs … rather than relying on her own tried and true, but slightly tired recipes.”

For recipes, visit www.gwu.edu/~judaic/350/food_conf.htm . “Joan Nathan’s Jewish Holiday Cookbook” (Schocken Books, $29.95) is now in stores.

Hush Puppies (aka “Corn Oysters”)

From Esther Levy’s “Jewish Cookery Cookbook,” 1871.

6 ears of boiled corn

3 eggs

1 1/2 tablespoons flour

Separate the eggs and beat the yolks well until they are thick. Grate the corn off the cobs, and season with pepper and salt. Mix corn with the yolks and add the flour. Whisk the egg whites to a stiff froth, and then stir them in with the corn and yolks.

Put a spoonful of the batter at a time in a pan of hot butter, and fry until a light brown on both sides.

Same-Sex Marriage Poses Key Questions


I can’t prove that allowing same-sex marriage would be bad for society.

Of course, people terrified of global warming can’t even prove it exists, but that doesn’t stop former Vice President Al Gore from delivering a grave warning on the coldest day of the year.

If he can speculate, so can I. So why might someone oppose same-sex marriage?

My first question would be, is marriage important? Important, that is, to society. Most proponents of same-sex marriage seem to think it’s not, that it’s the grownup equivalent of going to the prom — if boy-girl couples can go, why not boy-boy or girl-girl couples?

To them, marriage is just another form of self-expression. This is evident in the overused question: How does so-and-so’s same-sex relationship threaten your marriage?

That question regards marriage as purely personal: You’ve got yours and I’ve got mine. What’s missing is any sense of marriage as a social institution.

Because if marriage isn’t important, if it’s just a way for couples to show their love to the world, then denying it to anyone would be cruel and pointless. So how do we answer the question? How do we know if marriage is important?

Because every human society, ancient or modern, religious or secular, Jewish or Christian or secular has had the institution of marriage. I guess I’m a Darwinist: If every society has evolved an institution, then I’m reluctant to tamper with it, just as even if I had no idea what the heart did, just the fact that every animal has one would make me very, very cautious about cutting into it.

A society’s evolution is for survival just as much as an organism’s is. Compare marriage to friendship, for example. Society lets us form friendship without a ceremony and dissolve it without going to court. Why? Because while my relationship with my buddy may be very important to the two of us, it’s just not all that important to society, unlike my marriage to my wife.

What does marriage do for a society? I can think of two things.

The first benefit is often discussed: Marriage seeks to provide the ideal situation for raising children, a stable household with a father and a mother. To say that two men — or two women – can raise a child just as well is to say that mothers — or fathers — are irrelevant, a dangerous message when studies suggest that boys raised without a father are more than twice as likely to end up in prison, and girls raised without a father are more than four times as likely to get pregnant as teens.

The other benefit of traditional marriage, little-discussed even by opponents of same-sex marriage, is society’s huge interest in curbing the aggressive energy of men and channeling it into productive activities. In segments of society with an overabundance of unattached men, we see crime, promiscuous sex and fatherless children.

Marriage channels male energy into things like raising children and supporting families and away from things like crime: Unmarried (heterosexual) men are more than five times as likely to end up in prison as married men.

Maybe allowing men to form marriages with other men could help society by stabilizing their relationships. But why, then, didn’t marriage evolve that way in the first place, as a union of any two people?

Because society’s idea of marriage has always been to tame men, not by hooking them up with someone but by hooking them up with women. Women bring a different energy, a different point of view to marriage, and it’s their energy that tames men, domesticates them, if you will. Without that domestication, society is in big trouble.

Finally, advocates argue that allowing same-sex marriage might not help society, but it would leave the benefits of opposite-sex marriage in place. After all, the vast majority of men will still marry women, excepting only gay men who — in this day and age — wouldn’t marry women anyway. I don’t think so.

Allowing the unimportant will dilute the important. Allowing men to marry men and women to marry women will make marriage more like simple friendship. Because of the importance or raising children and taming men, society is wounded whenever a traditional marriage breaks up. But if two married men were to divorce, society would suffer no more than when two friends call it quits.

If we allow same-sex marriage, there won’t be two sets of rules: All marriages will have to be treated the same. The traditional marriages that are so vital to society will be treated like the same-sex marriages that are not. It would become less important.

We didn’t build our society. We’re like people who have inherited a house built long before we were born, and every now and then we walk around and decide we want to change something — the décor is old-fashioned or it fails to reflect our unique style.

Right now we’re thinking about working on the wall called marriage, but before we do we should ask an important question: Are we just repainting or are we tearing down a structural wall that’s holding the building up?


Sandy Frank, a former Wall Street lawyer and Emmy-winning comedy writer, is still waiting for his invitation to join the vast right-wing conspiracy.

Pariah or Trendy?


I was born into a world of one-size-fits-all lifestyles: either I’d marry and have children or be a subject of gossip and humiliation.

In 1970, just before the women’s movement came into full swing, I married. At 20 I was a child, struggling to make a marriage work and separate from my Holocaust survivor parents. Education, career and independence hadn’t figured into my upbringing, but I often daydreamed about what my life would’ve been like if I’d had choices. My husband also questioned our traditional life and eventually we parted. At 27, I was terrified when my fantasies became a viable reality. But as I got my footing, I exploded into the new world of choice, greater opportunities for women, more tolerance for divorce and a growing awareness that happiness wasn’t about fulfilling my parents’ dreams. My late 20s through my 30s were an exciting time as I developed from a blurry image into a vibrant, four-color photograph.

Fast forward to 2004. I’m still single. Not immune from the expectations of family, society and my own biological and emotional pulls, I’ve moved in and out of deep longings to marry, have children or become a single parent. I’ve also experienced being single with no children as a liberating license to focus on me in a way my childhood hadn’t allowed.

A generation ago I might have been seen as a pariah. Now it appears that I’m part of a trend. According to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau Statistics, 43 percent of all Americans 18 and older are single. Since 1980, there’s been a 13 percent increase in the number of single adults, and that number isn’t expected to decline.

The reasons are numerous. Economic freedom of women has created large numbers of women in no rush to marry. Men, long socialized to look to women to care for them, have the conveniences of technology to help them care for themselves in the most basic ways. In addition, with nearly one out of two marriages ending in divorce, the age of first-time marriages has risen. Longer life spans have created a large number of adults who live long after the death of a spouse, or whose marriages end after 20 or 30 years. Many will marry again, while others will remain single. And then there are those who might be like me, who later in life find themselves and discover a stunning release from external expectations.

The fact that activist and author Gloria Steinem waited until she was 66 to marry should prove that single adults are vital, intelligent and responsible. But as a society — we’re not there yet — single people still get a hard time of it.

Karen Gail Lewis, a Maryland-based pscyhotherapist and author of "With or Without a Man" (Bull Publishing, 2000), blames this on what she terms, "the cultural trance." Simply put, while statistics tell us otherwise, we have a deeply ingrained belief that only marriage will make us whole.

Colorado-based Daphne Rose Kingma, psychotherapist and author of "The Future of Love" (Doubleday, 1998), says this idea comes from our collective unconscious. We know that marriage isn’t working for many of us, but our unconscious is like a warehouse of primal needs and beliefs, hearkening back to a time when men and women needed each other for survival.

In the Jewish community where marriage and family are so highly valued, the single, happy adult is a relatively new concept. As it takes hold, what will become of the stereotypical Jewish parents, worrying about their child being single at 30 or 40 or 50? Especially when it turns out that this child isn’t commitment-phobic, selfish or in some other way damaged.

On the contrary, the correct adjective might be lucky. Not to be unmarried necessarily, but to be living at a time when there are so many choices.

So, here I am, living out my life in a way I hadn’t expected: Single, 53, not apologizing.


Sandra Hurtes is a Brooklyn-based writer whose essays and articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Washington Post, The Forward and other publications.

A Prayer Book of Many Colors


Lori Justice-Shocket thought that the traditional praying
experience was just a bit too black and white. Not the prayers, themselves, per
se, but the siddurim (prayer books), with their plain black typeface on white
pages and the archaic traditional language, made davening, for her at least,
formal, stiff and lacking in the visual and emotional engagement that she
thought prayer should have.

So Justice-Shocket, vice president of conceptual development
at the Los Angeles-based nail polish company, OPI, decided to take matters into
her own  presumably well-manicured hands  and create a prayer book that could
visually and intellectually inspire worshippers.

The result is the new Reform Shabbat morning prayer book,
“Mikdash M’at” (Behrman House Inc), which means “small sanctuary.” It’s a
prayer book unlike any seen before. The first page — the morning blessings — is
illuminated in deep reds and pinks, and thereafter the colors don’t stop.
Sometimes the graphics are superimposed on the text, other times they are
located at the side, but every page is replete with some design, either a
graphic of an old Israeli coin, item of Judaica or a vibrant and richly hued
modernist painting that causes one to look twice at the text it illuminates.

The text, however, is still the same. “Mikdash M’at” is a
traditional prayer book with traditional prayers — they’re just presented in a
funkier fashion. Justice-Shocket also worked to make the prayers easier to
follow. The book is divided into the seven parts of the Shabbat morning
davening. Many of the prayers are transliterated, but all are translated into
gender-inclusive English. Most are prefaced with a brief explanation of what
the prayer is about, to inhibit mindless recitation of the words. For those who
get distracted during prayer, this is the kind of book that keeps you looking
inside.

To order, visit www.behrmanhouse.com .

Thanksgiving’s Sukkot Roots


Did you know that Thanksgiving is really a Jewish holiday? Although Thanksgiving is not on the Jewish calendar, historians believe that Sukkot may have inspired America’s favorite farewell to fall, often nicknamed "Turkey Day."

"The pilgrims based their customs on the Bible," said Gloria Kaufer Greene, author of the "New Jewish Holiday Cookbook" (Times Books, 1999). "They knew that Sukkot was an autumn harvest festival, and there is evidence that they fashioned the first Thanksgiving after the Jewish custom of celebrating the success of the year’s crops."

Linda Burghardt, author of "Jewish Holiday Traditions" (Citadel Press, 2001), said, "Sukkot is considered a model for Thanksgiving. Both holidays revolve around showing gratitude for a bountiful harvest."

Today Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November, but President Franklin Roosevelt didn’t propose this timing until 1939.

It was Abraham Lincoln who made Thanksgiving a national holiday. Roosevelt actually changed Lincoln’s decree that Thanksgiving be observed on the last Thursday in November, which may fall on the fifth Thursday of the month.

The pilgrims’ invited local Indians to the first Thanksgiving during the fall of 1621. Historians speculate that this celebration occurred somewhere between Sept. 21 and Nov. 9, but most likely in early October, around the time of Sukkot.

"Originally, Sukkot entailed a pilgrimage to Jerusalem," said Greene, who believes the two holidays share much in common.

The Puritan Christians who landed on American shores seeking religious freedom were called pilgrims, in deference to their journey from England. Their dream of finding a place where they’d be free to worship as they pleased is a recurrent theme in Jewish history.

After their pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the ancient Israelites lived for a week in temporary huts while giving thanks for a plentiful harvest. Likewise, during their first winter in Massachusetts, the pilgrims dwelled in makeshift huts, wigwams that the Indians helped them build.

While Sukkot remains a seven-day observance, the first Thanksgiving celebration continued for three days, a time frame more similar to the Jewish harvest festival than today’s Thanksgiving dinner, which often begins in late afternoon and ends several hours later.

With its pumpkin pies and cranberry garlands, Thanksgiving mirrors many of Sukkot’s customs and culinary themes.

Burghardt said she is amazed at how many of the same foods are connected to both holidays.

Piping hot casseroles brimming with vegetables and fruit grace the American and Jewish harvest tables, as do pastries that are filled with apples, nuts, pumpkins and squash. Stuffing one food inside another as a metaphor for abundance is the hallmark of Sukkot cuisine.

Yet there’s nothing more opulent than the elaborate bread stuffings found inside Thanksgiving turkeys.

Greene enjoys transforming traditional Thanksgiving recipes into kosher cuisine.

"I like mixing new and old world themes," she said.

One of her favorite recipes is glazed turkey with fruit-nut stuffing. Bursting with so much produce, it’s a one-dish harvest festival. Because the pilgrims and Indians shared roasted corn during the first Thanksgiving, Greene’s double-corn bread is a fitting choice. It is soft and moist, almost like a kugel.

Harvest-time cranberry relish is always a big hit at Greene’s house.

"Several years ago, I invited a family of Russian Jewish immigrants to celebrate their first Thanksgiving. While they adored traditional American foods, they were especially fascinated with the taste and bright color of cranberries."

But since the two holidays are so close in time, is there any reason for American Jews who celebrate Sukkot to pay homage to a second harvest festival six weeks later?

"Participating in Thanksgiving is how we feel American," said Greene, a former food columnist for the Baltimore Jewish Times, who used to submit a Thanksgiving story every year.

She agrees with Burghardt that Thanksgiving is a lovely experience. It’s an easy holiday to include friends and neighbors of other faiths.

"While Thanksgiving is not technically a Jewish holiday, it’s not a Christian one either," Burghardt said. "It’s a great equalizer with a multicultural theme."

Although Burghardt believes that Thanksgiving, with its chocolate turkeys and pilgrims, lacks Sukkot’s depth, Greene feels there’s something spiritual about the whole country partaking in a communal meal, even though menus and customs vary from home to home. At her table, she asks guest to share one thing for which they’re grateful.

"Like Sukkot, at Thanksgiving you’re supposed to invite people to share abundance with your family," Burghardt said. "You can’t serve too much food. Could there be anything more Jewish than that?"

Glazed Turkey With Fruit-Nut Stuffing

Fruit-Nut Stuffing:

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 celery stalks, diced

1/2 cup orange juice

1/4 cup sugar

1 1/2 cups cranberries

12 pitted prunes, coarsely chopped

6 dried apricots, coarsely chopped

1 cup raisins

3 medium apples, cored and diced

1 1/2 cups chopped nuts

1/2 cup finely chopped parsley

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/8 teaspoon ground ginger

Salt and pepper to taste

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1. In a medium-sized saucepan sauté the onion and celery in oil over medium-high heat, stirring until tender but not browned. Transfer to a large bowl. Set aside.

2. In the same (unwashed) pan, combine orange juice and sugar, bringing mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir in cranberries and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer cranberries, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes, or until berry skins pop.

3. Mix in prunes, apricots and raisins. Remove from heat. Transfer mixture to bowl containing onion and celery. Cool to room temperature. Add remaining stuffing ingredients and mix well.

Turkey:

1 12-14 pound turkey, completely defrosted in refrigerator

Canola oil

1. Clean turkey well and discard giblets. Rub skin with canola oil.

2. Fill the body and neck cavities of the turkey with stuffing, allowing room for expansion. Tuck the legs under the band of skin or tie legs together with heavy cord. Skewer or sew neck skin closed against the body. Place turkey, breast up, on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Roast in a preheated 325 F oven for about three hours.

Yield: 10 servings

Double Corn Bread

1 cup yellow cornmeal

1 cup all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons sugar

4 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

1/3 cup canola oil

1 (about 15-ounce) can cream-style corn, including liquid.

(Note: Because cream-style corn does not contain dairy products, it is pareve.)

1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Coat an 8-inch square baking pan with no-stick spray.

2. In a medium bowl, combine cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Make a well in the center, and add eggs, oil and canned corn. Beat wet ingredients with a fork to combine them, then incorporate dry ingredients. Stir only until all ingredients are completely moistened and combined.

3. Spoon mixture into prepared pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Cut into 16 squares and serve directly from the pan.

Harvest-Time Cranberry Relish

1 medium-sized navel orange

1 12-ounce package fresh cranberries, sorted, rinsed and drained

1 medium-sized apple, cored and cut into eighths

1 medium-sized pear, cored and cut into eighths

1/4 cup walnut pieces

1/4 cup dark raisins

1/2 cup dark brown sugar

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 tablespoons lemon juice

1. Use a sharp knife to remove the colored part of the orange rind. Set aside. Remove and discard the white pith. Cut orange pulp into chunks.

2. Put orange rind and pulp into food processor fitted with the steel blade with the remaining relish ingredients. Pulse the mixture until ingredients are finely chopped but not smoothly pureed.

3. Chill relish covered for several hours, stirring occasionally until the sugar completely dissolves and flavors blend.

Yield: about 3 1/2 cups

From "The New Jewish Holiday Cookbook," by Gloria Kaufer Greene.

A Shul Torn Apart


Judging from the row of strollers parked in the foyer, the faces young and old who came to hear the young rabbi at the pulpit and the number of classes and programs on the calendar, it was hard to know that Congregation Mogen David’s attempt to rejuvenate itself was about to go terribly wrong.

For years, members of Mogen David, a traditional synagogue on Pico Boulevard near Beverwil Drive, watched young Orthodox families trek down the hill past the brick building at the westernmost end of the Pico-Robertson neighborhood on their way to other synagogues. Lay leaders of Mogen David, which according to the shul’s executive director, Rabbi Gabriel Elias, had a dwindling membership of about 600 families — 80 percent of them older than 80 — knew that if they were to survive they would have to get those families in the front door.

So after much soul-searching and with a painful dose of pragmatism, the board decided four years ago to carve out separate men’s and women’s sections in the sanctuary, get rid of the microphones and start a search for a Modern Orthodox rabbi.

Within two years about 30 young families joined. In January 2002, the board awarded a two and a half-year contract to Rabbi Jonathan Muskat, a 30-year-old former attorney fresh out of Yeshiva University’s rabbinic seminary. Over the next year, Muskat filled the calendar with programs and the pews with another 20 young families, according to board members.

But it wasn’t long before tensions began to simmer and flare, eventually resulting in a conflagration between older members who felt pushed aside by power-hungry upstarts and young families who felt their efforts to build a vibrant congregation were being thwarted. Within 18 months the rabbi would be fired, the young families would leave in disgust and the longtime shul members would be left with a wounded institution miles behind its original starting line.

In an era when synagogues all over are trying to reinvent themselves to attract the throngs of Jews who are opting out of any regular form of observance, there is much to learn from Mogen David’s experience.

At the root of this particular conflict are issues that can entangle any congregation that makes the bold decision to change in order to survive. Can an institution transform its core beliefs and practices just by the vote of a board? What does it take for two generations with disparate value systems to really mesh? What kind of leader does it take? And what about the strong personalities in conflict that threaten to hijack the process?

Why Go Orthodox?

Before making the decision to alter the 75-year-old congregation’s long-standing direction — as a traditional congregation it had Orthodox-style services with mixed seating and microphones — for two years a long-range planning committee weighed the synagogue’s options, said board members Marilyn Gallup and Al Spivak, who was president at the time. The committee recommended to the board to make the shul Modern Orthodox and also hold a separate, mixed-seating High Holiday service to accommodate the vast majority of members, who primarily attended only on those days.

Still, some 200 members left the congregation. But the prospect of attracting young families offset the immediate loss. Financially, the shul was on solid footing, thanks to the late Rabbi Abram Maron, who during his 60-year leadership built Mogen David up to 1,800 families, according to Alias, and established an endowment reportedly in the millions. The shul also owns outright the building on Pico, which is estimated to be worth about $6 million.

Jeff Fishman, a 35-year-old-financial planner, started going to Mogen David in the summer of 2001, and about eight families soon followed. When Muskat was hired, the new members quickly built a strong rapport with him, acting as a team to attract more young families.

But within about six months of when Muskat was hired, Fishman said he began to hear diatribes against Muskat from some older board members.

Irwin Griggs, 66, a supporter of Muskat who was vice president of finances at the time, thinks the board jumped too quickly toward Orthodoxy.

"I think the biggest problem was that I’d say a majority on the board of governors really did not fully understand what going with a Modern Orthodox direction was," Griggs said. "They hired somebody who was a Modern Orthodox rabbi, and yet somehow they could not reconcile that to what their view of Modern Orthodoxy was."

Muskat, serving his first pulpit, got caught in the middle of a congregational identity crisis that even a veteran rabbi would have found difficult to navigate.

Gallup says the board was fully aware of what being Modern Orthodox entailed, but she alleges that Muskat was taking the shul to the right of other established Modern Orthodox congregations. Others dispute those claims, saying Muskat was learning to balance the halachic imperatives of Orthodoxy and the needs of a congregation in transition.

Muskat, who now lives in Israel with his wife and four children, declined comment for this story, as stipulated in his termination agreement with the congregation.

Gallup claims that Muskat focused too much on his mandate to attract younger members and neglected the long-standing members.

"There was never a polarization before age-wise or based on how observant one was, but now we had a polarization," Gallup said, referring to a rift between the Orthodox and the non-Orthodox, between those who came every week and those who came only occasionally, between the young and the old.

Chuck Chazen, an 82-year-old past president of the shul, disagrees with that assessment.

"I didn’t feel any arrogance, and I didn’t feel that anybody was trying to take advantage of me or looking down on me," said Chazen, who noted that Muskat called him every Friday to wish him good Shabbat and also visited him in the hospital. "Some people were looking for it because they still harbored feelings about the mechitzah and maybe they were cultivating it in their own minds, but I didn’t have that feeling at all."

Ironically, many members and some board members of Mogen David are refugees of a similar situation at a shul just down the street. In the late 1980s, Rabbi Philip Schroit put a mechitzah in at B’nai David-Judea Congregation, which like Mogen David had been traditional. A significant portion of the membership left, and several rabbis passed through the pulpit until the congregation found a match that would lead to the success it enjoys today

.

Congregant vs. Congregant

When the board decided not to renew Muskat’s contract in May 2003, tensions exploded. Some of Muskat’s supporters mobilized to present a slate of nominees for the upcoming board elections in July, hoping to overturn the decision and keep Muskat beyond the end of his contract in August 2004.

There are conflicting accounts of exactly what happened at shul elections, but accusations fly in both directions about agressive campaigning, block voting and manipulating arcane bylaws to hoard the power of the 23-person board.

In the end, the slate of candidates proposed by the Muskat supporters was invalidated, and only five of the 11 candidates proposed by the board were elected. Later, the president reappointed two of the ousted candidates to the board.

"The majority of the people who were behind this attempt to take over the board had joined the congregation recently. They were people who had never done anything for the shul and had not supported it and suddenly came in and said, ‘here we are, we’re taking over,’" Gallup said. She described an encounter where a "one-year wonder" demanded a seat on the board, saying "we are the future, you are the past," which she said became something of mantra.

But Fishman said the new members were simply trying to keep a rabbi they loved and to gain a voice in the future of the shul. That effort was stymied by some board members blocking younger members from joining committees, Fishman said. The board also upped the number of years one had to be a member before becoming eligible to run for the board from three to five.

"Bylaws were changed to place them in a position where they continued to control every facet of the shul, where they were not in any way seeking any kind of inclusion in the everyday operation of the shul," Fishman said.

Griggs, who has since left Mogen David, said that the us-and-them picture is much fuzzier than Spivak and Gallup are painting it.

"The line should not be drawn as all young members were in favor and all of the longtime members were not, because there were many longtime members — some of them currently on the board — who were supportive of the rabbi and are still supportive of the rabbi," Griggs said. "I think Rabbi Muskat would have been one of the best rabbis in the community. He had the potential."

After the board elections in July, tensions elevated, with exchanges of harsh words and reports of vandalism.

Finally, in August, the board decided that the issue was ripping the shul apart. They voted to end Muskat’s tenure effective immediately, and to pay out the remaining year on his contract in full.

When Muskat was asked to leave, nearly all of the 60 young families, including the handful who had been there for as long as 10 years, left Mogen David.

"There is no desire on the part of anybody that used to be involved to go there anymore, because it is a closed book. The board is going to do what they are going to do," said one young member who did not want to be identified. "Why would I go there if there is nobody for me to socialize with, nobody for my kids to play with? And now we are being accused of trying to destroy the shul. Somebody takes a sledgehammer to where you live and accuses you of leaving your house," he said.

A Cautionary Tale

The saga of high expectations and mistrust is not surprising to experts in congregational life.

"The recognition that a congregation needs to change is a wonderful thing. The problem is that you can’t just expect it to happen without very, very, very careful tending," said Speed Leas, who for 25 years was a congregational consultant for the Alban Institute, a Maryland-based research and consulting organization for congregational life. "If you choose to change and are successful, success brings its own set of problems."

Leas, now a professor at the Pacific School of Religion at the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley, was not involved in the Mogen David case, but said that the story fits the timeline and progression he has seen at both the Protestant and Jewish congregations he has shepherded through change.

"It takes quite a period of time — about four to five years — for a congregation in transition to settle in," Leas said. "There’s the beginning phase, that I think is appropriately called the ‘honeymoon phase’ of working hard to try to get along. Then there is always an awkward phase, which might occur within a year or two, where your run into some kind of significant challenge, and partly that is testing to see whether the relationship is going to be an authentic one as well as asking ‘how are we going to have to change and adjust to each other.’ It is the degree to which they can handle well that challenging time that is going to have to do with whether or not they can make it through this and stay together."

Leas, who has seen many false starts in situations like this, is currently helping another Los Angeles synagogue make the transition after a longtime rabbi retired, to acclimate to a young rabbi from the East Coast.

"We are thinking about every possibility we can to help the congregation adapt to the new style of the rabbi and the rabbi adapt to the style of the congregation. We are developing strategies for helping people understand and be comfortable with new things and to respond to things we didn’t even think would be new," Leas said.

"We need to do it in a very conscious way, to recognize that we’re are going to have these feelings and we’re going to have these painful experiences and they need to get talked about. That’s the No. 1 thing," Leas said.

The Future of Mogen David

Gallup said the shul just wants to move on. It plans to keep the mechitzah and eventually hire another Orthodox rabbi.

But Leas cautions that as is the case in any relationship that has gone bad, time is necessary.

"First, there needs to be a period for grieving, a time of just being quiet and of not attending to the work of recovery, but just letting what has happened be there and experiencing it and talking about it. And then, after a significant period of time — six months to a year — to begin to think about longer range planning: ‘what will we do now, where do we want to go, what resources do we have and how can those be better utilized to reinvigorate our organization?’" he said.

For his part, Elias, who has been the executive director at Mogen David for 10 years and is now the interim rabbi, is ready to steer the synagogue back on course.

"The bitterness that this caused is unfortunate, and it should go away," Elias said. "We need to move forward for the sake of the community, the sake of this synagogue and the sake of everyone involved."

Ease Out of the Yom Kippur Fast With Salmon and Potatoes


Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, is a time when Jews are required to fast for 24 hours. At the end of this period, family and friends gather for the traditional break-the-fast meal.

This year at the conclusion of services our family and friends will arrive at our home at various times, since they are coming from synagogues that stretch from San Fernando Valley to West Los Angeles.

The transition from fasting to feasting should be a gradual one. Light, simple food is best. These two quick recipes are perfect for the holiday. Just add a few side dishes to complete the menu.

The first recipe is a dish I served a recent dinner, individual mini-potato salads topped with smoked salmon and garnished with a zesty mustard-dill sauce. Everyone enjoyed them so much, I decided to include them in our break-the-fast menu. The secret to this dish is that the potatoes are boiled for only eight minutes and they can be made in advance.

The second smoked salmon dish was inspired by a Swedish friend, Kerstin Marsh, a great cook, and she often serves this family specialty as a first course with sliced fresh cucumbers.

These two delicious dishes can be prepared ahead of time and chilled until ready to serve. It is comfort to return home from the synagogue and have the perfect dish ready for your guests.

Complete the break-the-fast meal with a fresh fruit salad and serve it with the traditional honey cake, my family’s favorite holiday dessert.

Smoked Salmon with Mini-Potato Salads

2 medium white rose potatoes, 1/2-inch

dice (1 pound)

1 small carrots, diced

1/2 cup diced red bell pepper

1/2 cup diced fennel

1/2 cup uncooked corn kernels

1/2 cup mayonnaise

Salt and pepper to taste

6 slices smoked salmon (lox)

Mustard-Dill Sauce (recipe follows)

6 sprigs fresh dill

Rinse diced potatoes in cold running water. Bring a large pot of salt water to a rolling boil, drop in diced potatoes and boil for eight to 10 minutes.

Drain into a colander and transfer to a shallow dish to cool. Add carrots, fennel, red bell pepper, corn kernels and enough mayonnaise to moisten, and salt and pepper to taste.

Place a 3-inch ring mold on serving plate and spoon in salad mixture. Trim salmon slices to fit a 3-inch mold. Arrange a slice of smoked salmon on top of salad. Repeat with remaining five serving plates.

Prepare the mustard-dill sauce and spoon around each serving. Garnish with sprigs of fresh dill.

Serves 6.

Mustard-Dill Sauce

This sauce can be prepared several days ahead, Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Try replacing the dill with basil leaves, cilantro, water cress, parsley or sorrel.

3 tablespoons Dijon-style mustard

1 teaspoon powdered mustard

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon white vinegar

1/3 cup oil

3 tablespoons fresh chopped (or snipped) dill

In a small, deep bowl, combine the mustard, powdered mustard, sugar and vinegar and blend well. With a wire whisk, slowly beat in the oil until it forms a thick mayonnaise. Stir in the chopped dill. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Makes about 1 cup.

Kerstin’s Swedish Potato and Gravlax Casserole

Unsalted butter for the baking dish

Eight (1 3/4 pounds) white or red

new potatoes, steamed, peeled,

and thinly sliced

8 large slices gravlax or smoked salmon

1/2 small yellow onion,

peeled and thinly sliced

2 tablespoons snipped fresh dill

Salt and freshly ground black

pepper to taste

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup milk

1 egg

3 tablespoons bread crumbs

2 tablespoons unsalted butter,

cut into pieces

Preheat the oven to 400 F.

Brush an 8-inch square baking dish with butter. Arrange half of the sliced potatoes on the bottom. Arrange the slices of gravlax on top of the potatoes. Sprinkle with the onion and dill. Repeat with a top layer of the remaining sliced potatoes. Season with salt and pepper.

In a small bowl, beat the cream and egg and pour over the potato mixture.

Sprinkle the bread crumbs and pieces of butter over the potatoes. Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown and cooked through. Serve hot or cold.

Makes 6 servings

Note: Whole new unpeeled potatoes, steamed, take about 20 minutes to cook, depending on the size of the potatoes. Peeled and sliced potatoes, boiled, take only five minutes.

Cooking Middle Eastern Memories


"A Fistful of Lentils" by Jennifer Felicia Abadi (Harvard Common Press, 2002).

Reading "A Fistful of Lentils" is like wandering through a family album. Instead of food photos you find dozens of family portraits, touching stories and the fascinating history of a rich and unique culture. In this engaging new cookbook, first-time author Jennifer Felicia Abadi tells the fascinating story of her Syrian Jewish family and reveals the secrets of their little known cuisine.

In 1924, her great-grandmother, Esther (called Steta in Arabic), left Aleppo for America on the crest of a wave of Syrian immigration as the Ottoman Empire crumbled. She brought with her cherished family recipes, passed down from mother to daughter, from the communal kitchens back home, where Arab and Jewish women gathered daily, as they had for centuries, to bake sambussaks (savory-filled pastries) and exchange gossip.

In the 1970s, Esther’s grandchildren (Abadi’s mother and aunt) decided to observe their Steta in the kitchen and carefully recorded her recipes for the family. Thirty years later, Abadi embarked on a project of her own — trying to fill in the gaps by observing her own grandma, Fritzie — and in the process learned as much about her family’s history as she did about their cooking.

Numbering a mere 150,000 worldwide, Syrian Jews descend from a blending of the Spanish Jewish population that fled to Syria to escape the Inquisition and the Mizrahi (Eastern) Jews they found there who had made Syria their home for 2,000 years.

Those who think Middle Eastern cuisine is all falafel and hummus will delight in the exotic tastes and smells of the Syrian kitchen. But what distinguishes the foods of Syria from other Middle Eastern cuisine?

"Syrian cuisine has a strong flavor," Abadi explained, "but as compared to, say, Indian, we don’t use a lot of different spices. We use mainly cinnamon and allspice in tandem together and lots of cumin. And whereas Moroccans, Algerians and Tunisians use couscous, we use bulgur wheat. We love rice, too, but bulgur wheat is our favorite grain."

Although rice was plentiful in Persia, Abadi noted, it was brought into Syria later through the trade routes. Originally reserved for the upper classes, the traditional riz (basic Syrian rice) is now considered a staple on the Syrian table. "Basic it is; plain it is not," Abadi writes.

Onions are first sautéed in oil and then combined with soaked and drained long-grain white rice, the mixture boiled and topped with toasted pine nuts. The favorite part of the rice is the prized a’hata, the brown crust scraped from the bottom of the pot, achieved by slowly cooking (and watching) the rice for 50-60 minutes over low heat.

Whereas Moroccans use dates, Syrians prefer mish mosh (dried apricots) in a variety of dishes, from Meh’shi Sfeehah b’Dja’jeh (Stuffed Baby Eggplant with Roasted Chicken) to the colorful and refreshing Mish Mosh m’Fis’dok (Cold Rose Water Syrup With Apricots and Pistachios).

"Many recipes call for rose water or orange water, and that separates us from other Mediterraneans, like the Greeks, who use honey," Abadi continued. "But I think probably our use of tamarind most distinguishes Syrian cuisine from others in the Middle East."

The rich tamarind sauce called ooh, a staple in the Syrian kitchen, is made from the pods of the tamarind tree. It is dark in color and lends a unique tart-sweet flavor to such dishes as Dja’jeh Mish Mosh (Sweet-and-Tart Chicken With Apricots) and Meh’shi Kusa (Stuffed Squash With Sweet-and-Sour Tomato Sauce). Presentation is key to the Syrian table.

"We’re definitely concerned with how the table looks and that all the food is presented colorfully," she said. "What’s nice is to have many little tastings, not just have one thing, and we like to have plenty. There will usually be several main dishes, on the average at least three or four, with a rice and a vegetable stuffed dish and maybe a noodle dish. The maazeh [appetizers] are colorful and done on little plates with lots of different shapes and sizes."

Most Syrian dishes, Abadi said, are easy to prepare.

"It’s peasant food, a home-cooking thing. The dishes are long cooking, but, except perhaps for the pastries, which require more time and skill, they are not that difficult to do."

Case in point, Dja’jeh b’Ah’sal (Chicken With Prunes and Honey), a perfect choice for Rosh Hashanah.

"We use prunes, as well as apricots and dates, not only for their sweetness," Abadi notes, "but because they are round, they represent the cycle of life."

Tired of the same old honey cake? Try the more exotic Ka’ikeh b’Ah’sal (Honey Cake With Sesame Glaze), rich with tahini and sesame seeds, which, Abadi tells us, are used on Rosh Hashanah along with poppy seeds to represent an abundance of good deeds.

Dja’jeh b’Ah’sal (Chicken With Prunes and Honey Sauce)

2 cups pitted prunes, soaked in 1 cup cold water for 15 minutes

1/4 cup honey

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Chicken

5 to 5 1/2 pounds chicken pieces (white and dark meat), skinned

1/4 cup olive oil

1 cup finely chopped yellow onions

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Three 3-inch cinnamon sticks

2 cups cold water

To Serve

1 cup blanched whole almonds, toasted in a dry skillet over medium heat until golden

Prepare the sauce. Place the prunes and soaking water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Add the honey and cinnamon. Mix well and simmer until the prunes absorb some water and soften (they should be soft yet retain most of their shape), about five more minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Prepare the chicken. Rinse the chicken under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels. Place on a plate.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and cook the onions, stirring, until golden and soft, three to four minutes. Add the chicken pieces and brown, cooking for two to three minutes on each side. Add the salt, pepper, cinnamon sticks and water, stir well, and bring to a slow boil over medium-high heat. Pour the sauce over the chicken. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, for one hour.

Uncover the skillet and cook until some of the excess liquid cooks off and the sauce has thickened to a gravy-like texture, an additional 20-30 minutes.

Serve on large platter, garnished with toasted almonds.

Ka’ikeh b’Ah’sal (Honey Cake With Sesame Glaze)

Cake

4 large eggs, lightly beaten

1/3 cup tahini (sesame paste)

2/3 cup honey

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

Glaze

2/3 cup honey

1 tablespoon tahini

2 tablespoons sesame seeds

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Prepare the cake. Combine the beaten eggs, tahini, honey and vanilla in a large bowl until smooth.

In a medium-size bowl, combine the flour and baking powder. Add to the wet mixture and mix well.

Pour the batter into a greased 9-by-13-inch baking pan or 9-inch Springform pan and bake until a toothpick or knife inserted into the center comes out clean, 25-35 minutes.

When the cake is ready, remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 45 minutes. With a knife, loosen the edges of the cake. Place a large plate on top of the cake pan and flip the pan upside down.

Prepare the glaze. Combine the honey and tahini in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until blended to a smooth consistency, four to five minutes. Add the sesame seeds and mix well.

Remove from the heat and immediately pour the hot glaze over the top of the cake, allowing the glaze to soak in. Let cool for 30 minutes.

Cut into diamond shapes about two inches long and 1-inch wide and serve at room temperature. Do not refrigerate.

Kick Off the Year Rolling in Dough


As most people know, challah is the braided egg-rich loaf of bread that we traditionally eat on the Sabbath and holidays — two loaves of challah at each of the three Shabbat meals. They help commemorate the miracles that the Jewish people experienced during their 40 years of wandering in the desert. While on weekdays they received one portion of manna from heaven, Friday God sent two portions.

Challah — especially homemade — is wonderful every week, but it resonates with deeper meaning at Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, when it is an age-old custom to dip it (at least the first piece) in honey after reciting the appropriate blessing to beseech God to grant us a sweet year.

For Rosh Hashanah, challah is often shaped into a crown or a turban, and raisins are often added to make it even sweeter. Throughout the whole holiday period — through Sukkot — many people follow the custom of preparing or buying round loaves instead of the traditional long, braided ones: a reminder of the cycle of the seasons. Some very ambitious people add a braid in the center in the shape of a ladder, in the fervent hope that we merit both physical and spiritual uplift during the coming year.

The round challah custom is ideal for yours truly: I confess to being braid-impaired. While every preschool child in Israel seems to know how to form beautiful, even braids, I never learned this in Minnesota. Even my three-part braids (I have rarely attempted anything like six or more braids) leave much to be desired in the evenly braided department.

My solution? Round challahs — they always come out nice, look impressive, and no one can believe how easy they are to make. You can either make one long braid and then roll it up, or use the following recipe and baking method. The smell is indescribable. For more details on challah — actually on all aspects of bread baking, see any Jewish cookbook: all the myriad details won’t fit into this article. The mitzvah of separation of challah must be observed along with Jewish law — ask your local rabbi for more information.

Challah should be allowed to cool completely before being well-wrapped for storage. Well-sealed challah can be stored for a day or so on the shelf, or frozen. It defrosts well, and no one can tell that it’s not freshly baked. You can even freeze the ready-to-bake dough. This is good to know in the busy preholiday period.

May this be a sweet year for the entire Jewish people.

Sweet Round Challah

2 tablespoons instant dry yeast

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup oil

Approximately 9 cups of flour (divided), sifted

1 tablespoon salt

5 eggs (divided)

2 cups warm water

1/2 cup golden raisins (optional)

Sesame seeds

Poppy seeds

Combine yeast, sugar and oil in a large bowl. Stir in about 3 cups of flour; combine well. Add salt and four well-beaten eggs, one at a time. Add water and mix in well. Sift in enough flour, 2 cups at a time, to form a dough for kneading, beating well after each addition. Add raisins, if desired.

Knead for eight to 10 minutes, adding a bit more flour if necessary. Place dough in a greased bowl and turn to grease all sides. Cover with a damp cloth and allow to rise in a warm place until double in bulk-about one and a half to two hours.

Punch down, fold in sides, cover and allow to rise for about another half hour. Punch down. Divide dough in half. Coat two 8- or 9-inch diameter pans (look for pans that are at least 3-inches high) with nonstick cooking spray. Form a ball of dough about 3 1/2 inches in diameter and place in center of pan. Divide rest of dough into eight even portions, forming eight balls of dough, and surround center ball of dough. Repeat with remaining half of dough.

Cover pans and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk. Brush with beaten egg. Sprinkle both sesame and poppy seeds on the two middle balls. Sprinkle sesame and poppy seeds alternately on each of the outside balls of each challah. Bake in a preheated 350 F oven for 35-40 minutes until golden brown and challah sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Remove from pans immediately and cool on a rack.

Makes two round challahs.

De-Stress the Simcha


On Monday evening, we will celebrate Purim, the holiday that
commemorates the liberation of the Jews in ancient Persia, and reminds us of
the triumph of Queen Esther and her uncle, Mordecai, over Haman, the wicked
prime minister.

Purim is traditionally a time when families come together
and celebrate the holiday with a menu of dairy foods, veggies, nuts and seeds
of all kinds because, as the story states, Esther did not eat meat while in the
king’s court.

This year I will serve some family favorites that I recently
taught at a cooking class for the University of Judaism. My students were
enthusiastic and they loved the Beet Borscht and Blintzes, the traditional
dishes that I usually prepare for Purim.

The Sweet and Sour Beet Borscht is easy to make. It can be
prepared several days ahead, served hot or cold and garnished with sour cream
or sliced cucumbers. The addition of balsamic vinegar in the recipe instead of
the usual lemon juice heightens the sweet-and-sour flavor.

Blintzes are very versatile, depending on the filling, they
can be served as an appetizer, a main course or for dessert. In class, I
demonstrated how to prepare blintzes with the traditional hoop cheese mixture,
fry and serve them with sour cream and preserves. Using the same blini recipe,
but filled with ricotta cheese and spinach, they are baked and served with a
tomato sauce similar to Italian Crispelle. Both recipes can be made in advance,
filled, folded and refrigerated or frozen until ready to heat and serve.

During the class, the students made hamantaschen, the
traditional Purim pastry that is combined with either poppy seed, prune or a
chocolate-nut filling. But, for a contemporary American version, I often fill
the hamantaschen with peanut butter and jelly, a favorite of my children and
grandchildren.

A Purim custom still observed is called shalach manot (the
giving of food). Just pack your delicious Hamantaschen in colorful gift boxes
and share them with family and friends.

Purim Menu:

Sweet and Sour Beet Borscht

1 pound beets (about 4 medium), tops removed, peeled and
shredded

6 cups water

2 tablespoons unsalted butter or nondairy margarine

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1¼4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

1¼4 cup balsamic vinegar

Salt, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Sour cream, for garnish

Sliced or diced cucumber, optional

 Place beets in a large nonreactive pot and add water. Bring
to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until tender, about 30 minutes.

In a small skillet, heat butter over medium heat and sauté
onion until softened, about five minutes. Add brown sugar and cook, stirring
constantly, about three minutes. Add to cooked beets along with balsamic
vinegar. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer stirring occasionally, about
20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, ladle the soup into cups or soup bowls. Top each
with a dollop of sour cream and cucumber if desired.

Serves 6.

Cheese Blintzes

Usually cheese blintzes are rolled into an oval shape, but I
like to fold the pancake over the filling like an envelope so the result is a
flat blintz. This makes them much easier to fry, and the sour cream and
preserves can’t roll off the top of the blintzes.

1 cup flour

1¼4 teaspoon salt

4 eggs

13¼4 cups milk

2-3 tablespoons melted unsalted butter

1 tablespoon brandy

Cheese Filling (recipe follows)

Butter for frying

 In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine flour and salt.
Blend together eggs and milk and add to flour mixture a little at a time,
blending after each addition, beating until smooth. Stir in 1 tablespoon of the
melted butter and brandy. Put through a fine strainer to avoid a lumpy dough.
Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes.

Prepare the cheese filling, cover and refrigerate.

In a small skillet or crepe pan, melt 1 tablespoon of the
butter over low heat. When the butter begins to bubble, pour in 1¼8-1¼4 cup of
the batter and rotate the pan quickly to spread the batter as thinly as
possible, pouring off any excess. (The first blintz will be thicker than the
rest.) Cook on one side only, until lightly browned around the edges and turn
it out onto a towel to cool. Repeat with the remaining batter, stacking the
cooled blintzes on a platter with a square of waxed paper in between each one.

Makes about 24.

Spoon 1-2 tablespoons of the cheese filling into the center
of the brown side of each blintz. Fold the blintz around the filling like an
envelope, completely enclosing it. Place the blintzes on a large platter, cover
with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.

To prepare the blintzes for serving: In a large skillet,
heat 1¼4 cup of butter and brown the blintzes lightly, about 1-2 minutes per
side. (Do not crowd.) Repeat with the remaining blintzes adding more butter as needed.
With a metal spatula, carefully transfer the blintzes to serving plates. Serve
with bowls of sour cream, sugar and preserves.

Cheese Filling

2 pounds hoop, farmer or pot cheese

2 tablespoon sugar

1-2 teaspoons salt

2 eggs

In a large bowl, mix the hoop cheese, sugar, salt and eggs
until blended. Cover with plastic wrap, chill in the refrigerator until ready
to assemble the blintzes.

Makes 4 cups.

Crispelle With Ricotta and Spinach

24 Blini (see recipe)

1 pound ricotta

8 ounces spinach, steamed, squeezed dry and finely chopped

Freshly grated nutmeg

Salt, to taste

Prepare blini cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. If
ricotta is very soft, place in a strainer set over a medium bowl for 30 minutes
to drain. Mix the drained ricotta cheese, spinach, nutmeg and salt in a large
bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Makes about 3 cups

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Spread about 2 tablespoons of the
Ricotta-Spinach Filling over the entire surface of each blini. Fold 1¼2 inch of
each side over the filling and roll up tight. Cut each roll into four pieces
and place on lightly buttered baking sheet. Bake until heated through, about
five minutes. 

To serve, heat the tomato sauce and spoon some in the center
of each plate. Arrange four or five rolled crepes, cut side up, on top of the
sauce.

Serves 12. 

Poppy Seed or Chocolate Filled

Hamantaschen

1¼4 pound unsalted butter or non-dairy margarine, softened

1¼2 cup sugar

3 eggs

Grated zest of 1 orange

2 cups flour

11¼2 teaspoons baking powder

1¼4 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon poppy seeds

3 (8-ounce) cans poppy seed filling

Preheat the oven to 375 F. In the bowl of an electric mixer,
beat butter and sugar until well-blended. Beat in two of the eggs and the
orange zest, blending thoroughly. Add flour, baking powder, salt and poppy
seeds and blend until dough is smooth.

Transfer to floured board and divide dough into three or
four portions for easier handling. Flatten each portion with the palm of your
hand and roll it out 1¼4 inch thick. With a scalloped or plain cookie cutter,
cut into 21¼2-inch rounds. Place 1 heaping teaspoon of filling in the center of
each round. Fold the edges of the dough toward the center to form a triangle,
leaving a bit of the filling visible in the center. Pinch the edges to seal
them.

Place hamantaschen 1¼2 inch apart on a lightly greased
foil-lined baking sheet and brush with the remaining egg, lightly beaten. Bake
for 10 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer to racks to cool.

Makes 5 dozen-6 dozen.


2003 Passover Recipe ContestContest

The Jewish Journal is once again sponsoring a Passover
recipe contest. Send in your favorite kosher-for -Passover recipe with a brief
story. The winning recipes will appear with the chef’s photo in an upcoming
Jewish Journal. The winners will also receive a personally autographed copy of
Judy Zeidler’s cookbook “Master Chefs Cook Kosher.”

All entries must be received by April 1 .

E-mail recipies along with yout name and phone number to
marnil@jewishjournal.com; or write to: Passover Recipe Contest c/o Marni Levitt,
The Jewish Journal 3580 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1510, Los Angeles, CA 90010.

No phone calls, please.

Love Spelled G-O-L-D


“I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine.”

This beautiful expression of commitment from Song of Songs,
is for many Jewish couples the perfect way to say “I love you” every day —
without uttering a word.

Called the “Ani l’dodi v’dodi li” in Hebrew, it adorns many
a wedding band. For other couples, only an exquisite diamond ring will do. And
for the majority, the solid gold wedding band remains, as it has through the
ages, the ring of choice. Though choosing a wedding band is a matter of
personal taste and preference, it is also a matter that Jewish tradition weighs
in on. Most importantly, the ring must be one solid piece, with no stones of
any kind, gaps or perforations. It should be purchased by the groom, or be a
family heirloom from his side. As for Hebrew lettering, engraving or embossing
— that’s a little open to interpretation.

For couples seeking advice, the guidelines concerning
wedding bands are “an easy topic to broach,” said Rabbi Judah Dardik. There are
two aspects, explains the Orthodox rabbi.

The “unbroken circle is a beautiful concept,” he said. Under
the Talmud, “our custom is not to use rings with any stones in them. The woman
has to know exactly what she is getting, with no false pretense.” A stone that
to the untrained eye may sparkle like a diamond might indeed be glass. And a suitor
who would be so disingenuous as to try and fool his bride-to-be is nothing more
than an impostor.

Whether etchings are permitted under Jewish law, “that’s
more of a question,” Dardik said. An etching “takes out some of the metal. Does
that make it difficult to evaluate the value [of the ring]?”

Orthodox Rabbi Jacob Traub said inscriptions and Hebrew
letters are “OK,” and the ring “can be ornate, to a certain degree.”

Traub does share Dardik’s concern: “The main thing is no
stones, because it’s important that the bride know exactly what it is she is
getting.” In his years counseling engaged couples and officiating weddings,
Traub has found that for the “overwhelming majority” of couples, “the plain
band I think is still your band of choice.”

Rabbi Daniel Kohn said the ring is a “minor issue [that] is
only for the wedding ceremony itself.”

Owners of jewlery shops with a significant Jewish clientele
say their selection of bands runs the gamut.

“Given the fact that we certainly live in an assimilated culture,
Jews buy the full range of gold rings,” said Bill Caplan of Topper. His store
carries a large range of finely made modern wedding bands, including ones with
Hebrew lettering, though “religious Jews,” he said, “mainly use simple metal
bands for the ceremony.”

In his family jewelry business since the 1960s, Caplan said
styles have changed somewhat. “In the ’70s, there were a lot of very heavy, big
pieces. Today, they’re more delicate, smoother.”

Ellen Bob of bob and bob in Palo Alto, said even married
couples purchase bands with the “Ani l’dodi,” for a “special anniversary” as an
affirmation of longstanding love.

“It’s sort of like a little intimate secret. It’s not
obvious that it’s words, but it is something that you and your partner share in
a special way.” Jewish couples who come to her store also favor another
selection from Song of Songs, she added: “This is my beloved, this is my
friend.”

Afikomen’s wedding shop carries a selection of bands with
Hebrew on them, but “these are not the most popular,” noted owner Jerry
Derblich. “People seem to want a more traditional ring.” His bestseller, in
fact, is the narrow gold band.

“The ‘Ani l’dodi’ are fairly wide,” he explained. There is,
however, great variation among the seven to eight vendors he uses.

The owners of Edelweiss Jewelers in Berkeley don’t go far
for their Hebrew bands: husband and wife Robert and Anne Flexer both make them.

Nearly 14 years ago, Robert Flexer said, “one customer came
in and asked me to enlarge such a band. I started asking a lot of questions.”
He said one thing led to another, and “I made one just to see…. Now I have a
whole collection.”

Anne Flexer began crafting them about four years ago.
“People ask for different quotes from the Bible. Their names — his and hers,”
she said of the commissions that come her way. “They prefer Hebrew lettering;
they don’t want something in English. It’s meaningless to them.”

Flexer said she provides a needed service to the Jewish
community.

“Outside of Hebrew letters, very few things, motifs, that
you can use are typically Jewish. How many different kinds of rings can you
make with the Star of David?”

Hebrew letters, on the other hand, “are so unique. Given
that we don’t write the vowels, you can really pack in a lot of text.”

As for her favorite expression of love, the “Ani l’dodi” is
“one of the best that I know of,” she said. Â

Silence on Israel Is Not Golden


For Avi Davis, truth is a blazing light threatening to blind the unprepared.

There are no moderating factors or gradations, just a division between those who can handle its assault and those who can’t.

In contrast to Davis’ unitary absolutism, traditional Jewish wisdom tends to frame things in twos and threes. So we read in Pirke Avot 1:18, the teaching of Rabban Simeon ben Gamaliel, that “the world is established on three principles: truth, justice and peace.”

I write as one of those who formulated and then signed “the most recent lachrymose statement on the back page of The Jewish Journal” that draws Davis’ ire. For my colleagues and me, the truth that we live in the Diaspora, rather than Israel, must be balanced by the transnational demand to pursue justice and peace.

Feeling that demand, we did indeed “buy advertising space” in The Jewish Journal — not to weep and wail, but to share our concerns with others in a responsible public way. All of us have spent considerable time, if not lived for some years, in Israel.

I myself paid Israeli taxes, took part in neighborhood patrols and spent hours in my sealed bedroom during the Gulf War. I know the difference between living there and here.

But surely the State of Israel belongs not only to those who live within its borders. This entity that was envisioned, prayed and worked for by generations of our people must exist as, in some sense, the state of the Jewish people. Even Israeli citizens will need to fly home to vote on Jan. 28. But certainly, other ways of joining the national debate are open to Jews abroad who care deeply about “Hatikvah,” the 2,000-year-old hope that is Israel.

The ad titled “One Community, Many Voices” represented one such way. It sketched what we see as the essential ingredients for peace with justice: the end of occupation, withdrawal from settlements and secure borders for both peoples. But our main assertion is captured in our name, which insists that Klal Yisrael (the unity of the Jewish people) is strengthened, rather than undermined, by vigorous debate about pivotal matters.

In our view, having a free and open exchange of ideas makes it more likely that new understandings will emerge. It is precisely our Jewish willingness to challenge even close-to-the-bone sacred truths that wins the respect of outsiders, while making our community deeply resilient, even in hard times.

Davis tells us that his Zionist education traced a strong, red line around criticizing Israel from abroad. As the Oslo process went forward, he bit his tongue rather than express bitter opposition to policies pursued by the democratically elected government of Israel.

What shall we say about such restraint? Is it really admirable? Don’t journalists, public leaders and even individuals in democratic countries engage in a constant process of evaluating the actions of other governments, as well as their own? Clearly, the give and take of public opinion plays a role in moderating conflict, both internal and external, around the world.

Without global reaction, a neo-Nazi might still be in office in Austria, and India might well be warring against Pakistan. By what right and moral standard do we exempt Israel from this court of world opinion, and especially from being judged by those who know and care the most — Diaspora Jews?

Those of us who spent our precious time and dollars on the One Community, Many Voices ad have no desire to micromanage Israeli military and governmental operations. We really do know the difference between living here and there, and we also have our individual lines of work as teachers, rabbis and professionals.

What we claim for ourselves is simply the right to participate in a substantive communal discussion about where, in broad terms, Israel is heading. It cannot be that supporting the State of Israel means agreeing with everything that happens or gets planned there. Like good parenting, loving Israel requires asking hard questions, looking far into the future and spotting internal contradictions.

In order for us to do that effectively, we American Jews need to mount serious programs in which substantive knowledge is communicated, a range of views gets expressed and rational questions may be posed. Unfortunately, these are not the sort of programs being presented currently.

Scholars with genuine expertise on the Middle East and Jewish history are passed over in favor of those who encourage distrust of academic learning. Instead of urging college students to take classes in international relations and other fields that would genuinely equip them to understand world events and represent Israel knowledgeably, huge public relations campaigns get organized to teach them and their parents how to “stand with” Israel. Rather than helping people sort out various ideas and options, too many communal leaders and rabbis are yielding their responsibility to a specialized organization with a single point of view.

Davis’ contention that the forums he participates in or attends mostly feature alternative points of view cannot be disputed by someone who has not shadowed him. Others of us have been exposed to speakers whose idea of providing general, “centrist” background has been to criticize everything different from the Sharon government’s current policies. How can it be, one asks, that it is right to denounce the policies and practices of past democratically elected governments of Israel, while unequivocally upholding those of the present one?

I have in my office a hanging scroll purchased in Israel, on which the words of Isaiah 62:1 are written. While they are, of course, open to interpretation and application, I take them as a watchword for conscientious activism. Often, they help me continue holding to account the Israel in which my people’s past and future are so deeply invested.

Rather than Davis remaining silent when he disagrees and speaking up when he agrees with particular Israeli governments and policies, I would want him and others to join “One Community, Many Voices” in continuing conversation under the banner of Isaiah’s words: “For Zion’s sake, I will not be silent; for Jerusalem’s sake, I will not be still.”


Rabbi Susan Laemmle is the dean of religious life at USC.

Menorah Lights Our Way


For three years, I lived in an apartment in Jerusalem next to a bus stop. The rhythm of my life quickly adapted to the bus schedule. Just by looking out my bedroom window, I knew exactly when to leave the house in order to catch the bus.

When I returned to California, I assumed my life’s association with buses would end. But this was not to be. I live in a neighborhood where buses abound. But the associations couldn’t be more different.

In Israel, a bus represented a possible tomb. Each passenger a could-be suicide bomber. Taking the bus becomes a statement of defiance in the face of unrelenting terrorism and the constant threat of death.

I had friends who stopped taking the bus in favor of taxis. Or if they saw someone who looked suspicious board the bus, they jumped off and waited for the next to come along. Here, boarding a bus means getting to where you need to go.

While the buses are different, so is the experience of Chanukah. Growing up, my family always lit a single menorah in an interior room of the house. In Israel, I learned the menorah is supposed to be placed near a window looking out onto the street to publicize the holiday, and each member of the household should light his own.

I quickly grew to love this enhanced way of honoring events that happened some 2,000 years ago.

We all know the story of Chanukah. The Syrian-Greeks occupied the land of Israel and commandeered our Holy Temple. They outlawed many of our religious practices and defiled the Temple. Then a group of Jews known as the Maccabees rebelled, drove the Syrian-Greeks out and reclaimed the Temple. Topping off the victory, a flask of oil meant to last just one day, miraculously burned for eight.

But the battle of Syrian-Greek versus Jew ran much deeper than a mere physical occupation of our land. It was the battle of two great forces — spirituality versus physicality.

Syrian-Greek culture placed beauty and intellect above spirituality and religion. It honored and revered all that the physical world represented. In their aspiration for aesthetic idealism, however, they denied the transcendence of the human spirit and rejected any notion of metaphysical reality. Thus it should not surprise us that they fought so desperately to uproot Torah, the spiritual compass for morality and spirituality.

Judaism teaches that the potential for human greatness is achieved not through the ascendancy of the physical, but by subjugation of the physical to the spiritual. We strive to break through the bounds of physical limitation and aspire for a higher reality, one that lies beyond materialism, beyond superficiality.

The Syrian-Greeks enjoyed a high measure of success in "converting" Jews who succumbed to the attractions of secular life. These Jews, known as Hellenists, thrived in the cultural ambivalence offered by the Syrian-Greeks to such an extent, that Jewish tradition was on the verge of disintegration.

The Jewish people had survived attempts by the Babylonians and the Persians to destroy them physically and spiritually, but never before had a movement from within sought to redefine the beliefs and practices that had shaped the Jewish national character since the time of Abraham.

Ultimately, the Macabbees routed the enemy, the Temple was rededicated, the oil miraculously burned for eight days and the Hellenists were discredited. And just who were these victorious Macabbees? None other than the Cohanim, or the priests, of the nation.

On Chanukah, therefore, we celebrate the victory of traditional Jewish culture over both the external forces that strove to overturn it, and the forces within that wished to dilute it.

Today we find ourselves in much the same shoes, but in an even more complicated mixture. Ideological sects lay claim to spiritual authenticity, separatist movements labor to set themselves apart and multiculturists demand a coming together. Terrorism, ethnic cleansing and hate crimes prod us to wonder if we may not be better off abandoning our culture and religion.

Had the ancient Syrian-Greeks not sensed their beliefs were threatened by Jewish monotheism, they would not have fought so desperately to crush Judaism. Had the Hellenist Jews felt more secure in the traditions of their ancestors, they would never have contemplated compromising their heritage by pursuing secular culture with such fervor.

The one who knows what he believes and why is both immune to the attraction of foreign culture and tolerant of sincere alien belief. He will be neither bullied nor seduced by the philosophies of others, because he is secure in his own. He will be able to live in harmony with others and work together for the common welfare without sacrificing his ideals or compromising his values.

For more than 2,000 years, the lights of Chanukah have burned as a symbol of spiritual wisdom. And it is the menorah that represents the way the soul finds its expression in this world. No matter how much darkness surrounds us, we still light the menorah, because we know who we are and who we can be.

This year, proudly place your menorah in a spot where the outside world can gaze in and see your spiritual light illuminate the darkness. Because sometimes a bus ride isn’t just a bus ride.

Marisa N. Pickar is a freelance journalist living in Laguna Woods.

The Musical Sound of ‘Lights’


Not all Chanukah music is kiddie music — even when it’s played by kids. On Sunday, Dec. 1, the Skirball Cultural Center will host the West Coast premiere of Russell Steinberg’s suite, "Lights On!" Steinberg will conduct the Stephen Wise Youth Orchestra, a group of 70 youngsters ages 9 to 18 from throughout greater Los Angeles, who attend more than 40 public and private schools.

The second half of the program will be Steinberg’s "Symphony No. 2," titled, "What Is a Jew?" featuring narration by actor Ed Asner, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles), Rabbi Isaiah Zeldin of Stephen S. Wise Temple and Rabbi Harold Schulweis of Valley Beth Shalom.

"Lights On!" gives a symphonic twist to eight traditional Chanukah tunes. After beginning in darkness, the musicians add one melody after another, with the light increased for each tune, until they finish in a blaze of light and a complex intertwining of sound — a musical chanukiah on the eighth night of the holiday.

"I didn’t like most Chanukah music," Steinberg told The Journal, speaking from a residency at the MacDowell Colony, an artists’ retreat in New Hampshire. That disaffinity, he said, "gave me a blank canvas," and the piece wound up being "a lot of fun to write."

Steinberg, 43, who holds a doctorate in music composition from Harvard University, was hired at Milken Community High School four years ago to teach music. He created a conservatory at the school that gradually expanded to younger children. The youth orchestra is an outgrowth of the conservatory.

"We’re reaching out to the whole community, not just Jewish kids," Steinberg said.

A self-described "Valley boy," Steinberg said he came late to an interest in Jewish music, which was sparked by his involvement with Milken and through association with Noreen Green, director of the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony. Attending Shabbatons at Brandeis-Bardin Institute, he said, also brought him into Jewish life.

"I realized [music] was a wonderful way for me to explore Judaism," Steinberg said. "It’s a journey I never would have imagined taking."

The Stephen Wise Youth Orchestra will perform Sunday, Dec. 1, at 4 p.m. at the Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. $8 (Skirball members), $10 (nonmembers). For tickets call (310) 440-3500 ext. 3344.

The Festival of Lite


Yes, the time of the fatty foods is upon us. But eight days of latkes and jelly doughnuts can be the least of problems for those who celebrate their holidays by eating out.

“The bad news is, most restaurant meals are high in calories and fat,” said nutritionist Anita Jones. “If you’re like most people in Southern California, we tend to eat out a lot.”

Even “heart healthy” or “light” menu options can be filled with hidden fat, sodium or other dangers for those on special diets or trying to eat healthy. While nutrition labels have been required by federal law on all packaged foods since 1994, the secrets of a meal prepared in a restaurant kitchen stay in the kitchen.

At a recent seminar for patients at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Jones laid out some ways to get healthy food at favorite restaurants. “It’s really about consumer demand,” she said. “You have to speak up and let them know you want healthier dishes.” She also recommended common-sense alternatives like sharing or taking home portions of large entrees, or requesting that salt, oil and other undesired items be left out of the prepared foods.

The recent trend toward keeping down carbohydrate intake has left many diners still unaware of potentially dangerous levels of fat in their restaurant meals, Jones said. Even pasta or chicken dishes labeled with a heart or other “healthy” symbol can contain upwards of 70 grams of fat — approximately equal to one stick of butter — when they are cooked and drizzled in oil. She cited olive oil in particular as a common, healthy ingredient that diners should still watch out for if they are concerned about fat intake. “What looks healthy may not be,” Jones said. “On many menus, salads can be the highest fat options.”

Since 1991, Jones and her colleagues have been analyzing the nutritional content of restaurant meals throughout Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties.

The result is the “Healthy Dining in Los Angeles” restaurant guide (Healthy Dining Publications, $19.95), with weight and health-conscious options from more than 80 restaurant menus, from the Acapulco in Azusa to the Whole Foods Market in Woodland Hills, in addition to coupons and 40-plus recipes from restaurant chefs. Broken down according to fat, cholesterol, sodium, protein and carbohydrate content, the menus allow diners to plan ahead and eat healthy meals out. The menus also make clear which special requests are necessary to make the meals healthier, particularly items that patrons should ask that no added salt or less oil be used in preparation.

At the Cedars-Sinai seminar, representatives from a handful of local restaurants offered samples of recommended dishes. Real Food Daily restaurant offered some of its vegan fare, while Chaya Brasserie chef Shigefumi Tachibe showed off his Organic Tofu Caesar salad. Tachibe said that based on customer requests for healthy dining options, the lower-fat and lower-sodium dish has replaced a more traditional mix as the standard Caesar salad at his restaurants.

“Restaurants are the weakest part of the whole nutrition world,” Jones said, who added that the trend is changing as savvy diners are asking for healthier food. “Chefs are artists, they’re creators and they are really rising to this challenge.”

With the right information and an accommodating kitchen, even your favorite restaurant experience this Chanukah can be a festival of lite.

Art of the Scalpel


Archie Granot is very careful and precise when making incisions with his scalpel — yet he knows he’ll never be sued if he makes a mistake. As the world’s leading paper cut artist in the area of Judaica, the London native is among 30 artists from Israel and the United States whose work will be on display at Temple Isaiah’s 22nd annual Festival of Jewish Artisans on Nov. 16 and 17.

Granot, who resides in Jerusalem, discovered his talent for paper cutting — an ancient art form that involves snipping and layering multitextured paper to create designs — several years ago when his daughter came home with a menorah she made in school. Inspired, Granot made his first masterpiece, which he claims was a disaster. "I was lucky that my parents liked it because I might never have done another," said the artist with a laugh. He is currently touring the United States with his works.

Upon studying the art form, Granot, 65, decided to focus on Judaic life cycles. His work includes ketubbot, mezuzot and haggadot, among other traditional Jewish relics. "When I’d look at paper cuts around the world, Polish paper cuts were made in Poland, Moroccan [paper cuts] were made in Morocco, so it seemed right, as a Jew living in Jerusalem, to make Judaica," Granot said.

While most paper-cut artists work with a knife or scissors, Granot uses a scalpel, after recalling using the tool for dissection in his high school zoology class. The artist is a regular customer at the local medical supply store, as he goes through 30 or 40 scalpels in a short period of time. Thinking back to that science class long ago, Granot is thrilled to have found his passion with the use of the delicate tool. "It’s much more aesthetic cutting paper than dissecting," he said.

Archie Granot will conduct a paper-cutting workshop Sunday, Nov. 16. at Temple Isaiah’s Festival of Jewish Artisans, 10345 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. Other featured artists include silversmith Emil Shenfeld and jeweler Shula Baron. For more information, times and tickets, call (310) 277-2772.

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