November 21, 2018

Rosner’s Torah Talk: Parshat Nitzavim With Rabbi Suzanne Singer

Rabbi Suzanne Singer joined Temple Beth El of Riverside CA in  2008. She has been actively engaged in social justice work, serving as a member of the Inland Congregations United for Change (ICUC) Clergy Caucus and as a commissioner for the City of Riverside’s Human Relations Commission. She is the recipient of the Champions of Justice Award, 2010, from the Riverside Fair Housing Council. Two of her essays have been published in The Torah: A Women’s Commentary.

Prior to attending rabbinic school (HUC), Rabbi Singer spent twenty years as a television producer and programming executive, primarily for national public television (PBS) and primarily in news and public affairs. As executive producer of a national documentary series, POV , she won two national Emmy awards.

Parashat Nitzavim (Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20) – begins with Moses gathering the people of Israel to enter them into a covenant with God. Moses then warns of the great desolation that will befall them if they stray from the covenant, but he assures them that if they repent God will bring them back together again from the ends of the world. Our discussion focuses on the idea of acknowledging our human imperfection and choosing life.



Previous Talks on Nitzavin (and Nitzavin-Vayelech)

Rabbi Richard Block

Rabbi Marc Margolis

Rabbi Morley Feinstein

Rabbi Rick Shapiro

Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky

The Akedah Dilemma

Rembrandt, The Sacrifice of Isaac (excerpt), 1635

The binding of Isaac passage has posed a perennial problem for those affirming universal moral norms. Struggling with the dilemma of a God who commands Abraham to sacrifice his ‘chosen’ son has yielded a steady flow of creative interpretations. Herein my latest suggestion.

One way of presenting the Akedah challenge is to define the quandary that confronts Abraham as the choice between fulfilling the command to “Love the Lord your God” and the obligation to ‘Love Your Fellow as Yourself.” Which one has priority, the commitment to principle and law or the devotion to interpersonal love and relationship? Is the essential religious message that one must be prepared to sacrifice everything for the sake of the Divine or that we must do everything in our power to sustain our human relationships? Is obedience and submission always the appropriate religious stance or is resistance and disobediences sometimes the more holy/moral response?

Here again, as in the Sodom episode, Abraham emerges as our radical mentor. At the moment that he refrains from sacrificing Isaac he demonstrates that the perceived contradiction between the two Love commandments is only imagined and that, at the deepest level, the fulfillment of the Love of God is achieved through one’s acting to Love one’s fellow human being. Indeed, Abraham concluded that the God with whom he is covenanted would never desire that he sacrifice his beloved son nor demand the violation of any other universal moral precept.

And so, once again Abraham the iconoclast shatters the idol of religious absolutism in favor of the moderating virtues of compassion, mercy and love.This is the gift of a religion that proclaims loud and clear: “and you shall live by means of the commandments”(Leviticus 18:5), to which the rabbis append, “and not die because of them”(Yoma 85b).

To life, and to a year filled with health, love and peace.


Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller is Director Emeritus,UCLA Hillel


A Rosh Hashanah rap

Fifty Seven Seventy Five  / is not the combo of my locker

It’s also not the age of my Mother to Father 

Not the goals of Brazil vs. German World Cup soccer

It is the year of Israel/ kiss the land upon

when I El-Al’ed her

Sweet new year / for my future Jewish lovely

That “high holiday” time of month / after my

birthday money

It resonates from Qiryat Tivon to Pico / land

of the sunny

A couple l’chaims later / everything is smiles

and so funny.


The first of Tishrei / remembers Adam and Eve

The shofar blows / honey cake ’n’ apples and treats

Confused so great / till my tummy aches

On Yom Kippur I’ll fast / and lose all that weight


A holiday we CAN celebrate / even if it’s a

little something

If we can’t make it to shul / we eat sweet

and take a hike up Runyon

We fight with our families / and they pretend

it’s a discussion

We embrace carbohydrates / because that’s “what’s in”


We are Ashkenazi, Persian, Sephardic, Ladino, Mizrahi

… and … Russian.


We make it home / for least one night of the two

We bring home a girl  / that our Mother will not like

(and it’s true)


We travel across the nation /  to see them for

once chillin’

And if things are all wrong / we pretend to not act

like some victim

Rosh Hashanah / head of the new year 

Yom Kippur cleanses us from our old fears 

No magic ball drops along with cone hats / Times Square / month-old beers 

We are just rejoicing because Moshiach is almost here 🙂

We recall great shows like Friends …

Costanza and Cheers


This year, Less Manishewitz — more “Man I Schivtz”

Less 24-hour partying — more 24-hour fitness

More calling our brothers and sisters about things

that matter

And matter of fact … more minding our own business

(especially as a Jewish rapper/actor)

Less lashon hara / if we fight / more making up 

Less shopping at Sephora /more creating trust

Pursue my goals / stick to a plan 

12 weeks at a time / 4 times as much money this year

if I can


Throwing bread crumbs / in a river  

Say good-bye and repent / for Joan Rivers

This is different from Passover 

These herbs are not bitter


As I mention before / it’s time to set our goals

If we are in business / lets hope more items are sold

Acknowledge more Jews / be passionate with more soul

And let’s shack up already / It’s 5775 /

and we are getting old


For the end of My rap

Let me give a shout out to my future wife/  OY VEY!

I promise to swipe right /  say OK!  / and be Awkward…

in a Good Way

I’ll message you first / and I’ll pay for the Bill.

Happy 5775 LA  / Sincerely 

The best Jewish rapper in Koreatown @koshadillz

Follow Rami Even-Esh on Twitter @koshadillz; for more, go to

The deep wellspring of the Shofar

Venerated Chassidic master Rabbi Hillel of Paritch (in his magnum opus Pelach haRimon) likens the Shofar’s simple but powerful “cry” to a mighty wellspring bursting forth from the depths of the earth. Such a wellspring, explains Reb Hillel, replenishes even a parched river, i.e. one whose flow has all but ceased. While the analogy is admittedly beautiful the question of relevance remains, for how are we Jews of the modern age meant to connect to Reb Hillel’s magnificent teaching? Let us analyze the master’s words a little further. To begin with, Reb Hillel clearly associates the use of Shofar with the unleashing of deep wellsprings, or, sources of flow that are normally concealed from our conscious experience. As is known in the material sciences, nature’s water cycle (hydrologic cycle) exists in two primary expressions: 1) Revealed waters and 2) Concealed waters. “Revealed” waters are simply defined as states of flow that are directly tangible/experiential to us, e.g. Precipitation (rain descending from the clouds above). In contrast, “Concealed waters” can be defined as states of flow that are utterly hidden, e.g.Percolation (water penetrating deep into the earth below). By stating the Shofar unleashes deep waters (waters issuing from the depths of the earth), Reb Hillel suggests that even the waters that are normally concealed (hidden below) come as a result of Shofar bursting forth. This is beautifully intimated in the word Shofar itself, wherein the numerical value of its letters (Shin = 300, Vav = 6, Pey = 80, and Reish = 200) equals exactly the Hebrew word for “wellsprings” (“Ma’ayanot” – Mem = 40, Ayin = 70, Yud = 10, Yud = 10, Nun = 50, Vav = 6, and Tav = 400) 

This phenomenon teaches us that there is an intrinsic relationship between the revealing of “wellsprings,” i.e. sources of hidden water, and Shofar. To help clarify the idea, there is a story told of my ancestor Rav Zev Volf Kitzitz (one of the Ba’al Shem Tov’s closest disciples). As is known from Chassidic tradition, the Ba’al Shem Tov assigned Reb Wolf the awesome task of sounding Shofar every Rosh HaShannah. One year in particular, the Ba’al Shem Tov spent considerable time instructing Reb Wolf as to the appropriate Kabbalistic meditations to be used on Rosh HaShannah (in the hour of sounding the Shofar.) Diligently, Reb Wolf recorded every one of his master’s insights, careful not to omit even a single letter. A week passed, and on the morning of Rosh HaShanah, Rev Wolf confidently proceeded to the synagogue with both his Shofar and the paper containing the Ba’al Shem Tov’s sacred instructions. All of a sudden, a strong gust of wind dislodged the paper from Rev Wolf’s fingers and blew it away, never to be seen again. Trembling and disheartened, Reb Wolf entered the synagogue refusing to gaze upward lest he encounter the haunting eyes of his master. Ascending to the podium, Reb Wolf took hold of the Shofar and with tear filled eyes and a broken heart performed the Tekiot (blasts) as prescribed. The entire assembly trembled at the sounds emanating from the Shofar, for never before had they felt such explosive and penetrating emotion. Upon the conclusion of Rosh HaShannah, the Ba’al Shem Tov approached Rev Wolf and with a smile said, “I am aware of what transpired before Rosh Hashanah (with the loss of the paper), and you should know that with your simple broken heart you  managed to open in the heavens above more gates then my meditations ever could!”                 

From the above narrative we can better appreciate Reb Hillel’s timeless lesson, namely, when we learn to serve G-D like a Shofar, i.e. from a place of deep heartfelt emotion, we manage to reveal a “wellspring” of Divine “flow”, a powerful current of spiritual revelation that breaks through all created barriers and replenishes the “river” of our Jewish consciousness. Once such hidden depths become manifest, even the driest of rivers (the soul most distant/detached from Divine consciousness), erupts with life. This then becomes a powerful and useful meditation for the New Year (Rosh Hashannah) in general, and the sounding of the Shofar in particular, namely, in the hour of the Tekiot (Shofar blasts), to contemplate the hidden depths of your own heart (the hidden spiritual potential deep within you) bursting forth. Visualize, in particular, the light of the Divine flooding forth (like a river), flowing from the heavens above through your head, neck, chest, stomach, back, and extremities. As the Tekiotconclude, ask Hashem to aid you in your quest to reveal more of your Divine potential and strive daily to bring about your new awakening in thought (Prayer), word (Torah study) and deed (acts of kindness).

Rabbi Brandon Gaines is a Kabbalist, acupuncturist, herbalist, and martial arts master in Los Angeles.

Israel’s population grows slightly to 8.081 million

The population in Israel rose to 8.081 million — 148,000 more than on the eve of Rosh Hashanah a year ago.

According to data released Monday by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, the population grew by 1.8 percent, with 75.1 percent of Israel’s population, or 6.066 million people, listed as Jewish. Arabs made up 20.7 percent of the population. There were no significant changes in either group.

Those listed as others made up 4.2 percent of the population, including Christians and people without religious affiliations.

Last year, 163,000 babies were born and 40,000 people died.

In addition, there were 16,968 new immigrants to Israel in the Jewish year 5773, as well as more than 6,000 Israelis who returned to the country after living abroad.

The most popular names for boys were Itai, Daniel, Ori, Yosef and Noam; for girls they were Noa, Shira, Tamar, Talia and Yael.

A Symbolic Menu for A Rosh Hashanah Meal [RECIPE]

So this is where it all comes together — all the thought, all the planning, the testing. And the tasting, the tasting, the tasting. (That’s the best part).

A simanim-inspired menu brings added challenges, but it also adds a level of meaning to your Rosh Hashanah meal. Simanim — literally it means signs or indicators — are meant to point the way to improved circumstances. 

For the past few years, I have used the menu as a Rosh Hashanah conversation starter with my kids during our cooking and prep time together. My guests, my kids, my guests’ kids — everybody loves identifying which simanim are on the table openly or “hidden” as an ingredient. Our discussion takes on a special yontif energy that only comes with Rosh Hashanah.

In the coming year, may all of your meals be cooked to perfection — nothing burns, nothing is soggy or falls apart. May it be a year of culinary delights and taste-bud adventures! And may you and your loved ones eat in good health, happiness, sweetness and peace.


Gefilte Fish Cakes With
Horseradish Sauce

1 loaf (22 ounces) frozen

       gefilte fish or 1 jar 

      (24 ounces), drained

1/2 cup diced red bell pepper

1 small red onion, diced

2 celery stalks, diced

1  1/2 cups light mayonnaise

4 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground 

black pepper

1 egg

1 cup coarsely crushed matzah

Canola oil for frying

Juice of 1 lemon

4 tablespoons prepared horseradish 


In a large bowl, combine gefilte fish (defrost if using frozen fish), bell pepper, onion, celery, 1/2 cup mayonnaise, dill, salt, pepper, egg and matzah; stir well to combine. Using slightly wet hands, scoop 1/4 cup of mixture and form into patties, repeating until all mixture has been used. Place on a sheet pan and refrigerate for 30 minutes before frying.

Heat oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Fry patties in batches for 3 to 4 minutes per side or until golden brown. (Can be kept warm in the oven at 250 degrees).

In a small bowl, combine remaining 1 cup mayonnaise, lemon juice and horseradish; stir. 

For each person, serve 2 patties and garnish with a tablespoon of horseradish sauce.

Makes about 16 patties.


Brisket in Wine Sauce


1 (2  1/2-pound) beef brisket, thick-cut

1 tablespoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon basil

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

3 medium onions, sliced

2 cloves garlic, peeled and halved

1  1/2 cups ketchup

1  1/2 cups dry red wine

1  1/2 cups water 


Preheat oven to 325 F. Rinse brisket. Place in roasting pan. Rub paprika, basil, salt and pepper into meat. Scatter onions and garlic over meat.

In a medium bowl, mix ketchup, wine and water. Pour over brisket. Cover pan tightly with aluminum foil, tenting so that the foil does not touch the meat. Bake, covered, for 3 hours, or until a digital instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the brisket reads 190 F for well done.

Let stand 5 to 10 minutes before slicing diagonally, against the grain. Serve warm; pass pan juices in a gravy boat.

Makes 8 servings.


Honey Chicken


1 chicken, about 3 1/2 pounds,

cut into 8 pieces

3/4 cup honey

1/4 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup olive oil

1 tablespoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon black pepper


Preheat oven to 375 F. Lightly grease a 9-by-13-inch pan with nonstick cooking spray. Rinse chicken, pat dry, and place in prepared pan. In a small bowl, mix together honey, soy sauce, olive oil, garlic powder and pepper and pour over chicken. Bake, uncovered, for 1 hour until slightly browned.

Makes 8 servings.


Spicy Sauteed Leeks and Spinach


4 tablespoons olive oil

6 leeks, white and light green parts only, cut into 1/4-inch rounds, then halved

10 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons crushed red pepper

1/2 cup white wine

1 bag (20 ounces) baby spinach


Heat oil in a large saute pan over medium-low heat. Add leaks, cover and cook for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in garlic and red pepper flakes. Add wine and spinach and increase heat to medium. Cover and cook 4 minutes more, tossing occasionally, until spinach is wilted.

Makes 10 servings.


Carrot Apple Mini Cupcakes With 

Nondairy Cream Cheese Icing



1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

4 tablespoons margarine

3 tablespoons brown sugar

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 egg

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup grated carrot

3/4 cup grated apple 



1 package (8 ounces) nondairy cream cheese, softened

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar


Preheat oven to 375. 

For cupcakes: Line a mini cupcake baking pan with 10 cupcake liners or lightly grease with baking spray.

In a small bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt and whisk to combine.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine margarine and sugars and beat until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla and mix until combined. Add carrot and apple and mix until moistened. Add flour mixture and mix just until combined. 

Divide batter evenly to make 10 mini cupcakes. 

Bake 15 to 18 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool 10 minutes and then remove from pan to a wire rack to cool completely.

For icing: Whisk together nondairy cream cheese, honey and confectioner’s sugar until smooth. Frost the top of each completely cooled cupcake with a heaping tablespoon.

Makes 10 mini cupcakes.

Jamie Geller was “The Bride Who Knew Nothing” — until she found her niche as everybody’s favorite kosher cook next door. She is the author of the best-selling “Quick & Kosher” cookbook series, creator of the Joy of Kosher With Jamie Geller magazine and host of the popular Quick & Kosher cooking show online at and on-air on JLTV. Join Geller and the world’s largest kosher food community on to discover 5,000 free kosher recipes, inspiring menu ideas, how-to videos and more.

Rosh Hashana in India: Torah, sequined saris, chapati and perhaps a secret recipe for peace

I have prayed in synagogues in many foreign countries around the world including Italy, Venezuela, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Belgium, Kenya, Egypt, Australia, and Russia, but this was my first time chanting the “Shema” with a group of Jewish women all wearing saris. 

Just a few days ago I had an opportunity to usher in the New Year together with some 85 Jews in Ahmedabad in western India, at the Magen Abraham Synagogue, an imposing building squeezed into a crowded side street in the Jamalpur area near Khamsa Gate.  Just outside the synagogue, Muslim merchants hawked their wares and motorized rickshaws, motorcycles, pedestrians and wandering sacred cows all jostled for their rightful place in the street. Even as a seasoned traveler, I could tell this was going to be a “first” for me!

Praying with the Jews of the Bene Israel congregation was as fascinating as learning about their history. They are one of three Jewish communities in India.  The other two are the Jews of Cochin in southern India, and the Bagdadi Jews of Calcutta located in eastern India near Bangladesh.

The first Jews who arrived in India were fleeing from Israel some two thousand years ago. They reached India after a ship wreck on the Konkan coast near Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay). The Jews kept their Biblical names and they also adopted the name of the village they lived in.  Their principal occupation was pressing oil and, because they observed the Sabbath, they were dubbed Shanvar-Telis, meaning the “Saturday Oil People.”

The Bene Israel Jews I met Ahmedabad on the eve of Rosh Hashana trace their earliest history to 1840.  More Jews arrived in 1857 as employees of the British services, happy to find jobs in railways, post offices, textile mills, factories and the army.  Their first official synagogue was built in Ahmedabad in 1933 when at that time there were 800 Jews and 300 families. Two years ago, on September 11-12, they celebrated their synagogue’s 75th anniversary (their “Platinum Jubilee”) with great fanfare, even though their numbers have dwindled considerably, and intermarriage is not uncommon—although it usually means that the non-Jewish partner converts to Judaism, not the other way around.

I found myself sitting next to a beautiful young Jewish woman wearing an elegant embroidered sequined sari and fancy jewelry. For all I knew, Eliza with her tawny skin, long straight hair and ebony eyes, could have been a local Hindu if I had seen her on the street.  That was true for all of the women in the congregation, giving new meaning to the phrase “You don’t look Jewish!”

Ezer Divekar, 11, blows the shofar which is almost as big as he is.

Eliza related that exactly a year ago she had been married in the same synagogue to a local Jewish boy, Mac (short for Macabee) Jacob, who had served as a tank driver in the Israeli army and worked in a dairy on a kibbutz.  Although many Israeli girls were interested in Mac, he yearned for a Bene Israel wife.  He came back home to find one (through an arranged marriage initiated by his mother) and the young couple is now planning to make Aliyah to Israel in the next few months and will either live in Dimona or Eilat.

Eliza introduced me to her lively and petite mother-in-law, Serena Jacob, Vice President of the Magen Abraham community.  Sarena, I learned, was formerly a principal of what they call a “medium” school, which would be the equivalent of a junior high.

Coming from a family of educators myself—my father was a high school math teacher and my mother taught Hebrew school in Chicago for 40 years—I was delighted to discover the most popular and most respected junior high schools of Ahmedabad were founded and administered by Bene Israel Jews.  Until this day their schools are prized not only for high academic standards, but for being open to students of all religious backgrounds, including Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, and Jains.  A recent article in an Indian daily newspaper, penned by Anil Mulchandi, described in great detail the educational contribution made by the Bene Israel community in Ahmedabad.

As an interfaith activist, I found this last fact particularly meaningful and quizzed Serena at length about Bene Israel’s educational legacy. I learned that one of their most celebrated scholars was Esther Solomon (who died in 2005).  Dr. Solomon was one of three Bene Israel women awarded the prestigious “Padmashree” status (one of the highest civilian awards) by the Government of India, nine years after she had received the Presidential Certificate of Honor for Outstanding Contribution to Sanskrit in 1983.  She is fondly remembered as a great scholar and teacher of Sanskrit and Indian Philosophy, noted for having made major contributions to the study of ancient texts of Hindu philosophy and for her writing on Comparative Philosophy, which explored the concept of Avidya (translated as both ignorance and delusion) in three philosophical traditions of India: Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.  When she joined the Department of Sanskrit of LD College in 1948, she was the only woman on the Arts Faculty.  Many of her colleagues expressed astonishment, the Bene Israel jubilee booklet noted, because not only was she a woman, but her name was “Solomon.”  A worthy name for a worthy scholar, they must have deduced.

Edward Daniel Reubens discusses interfaith engagement among the Abrahamic communities of Ahmedabad with Los Angeles filmmaker Ruth Broyde Sharone.

The intermittent chats I held with the Bene Israel women took place during Rosh Hashanah prayers, which began at 7:30 a.m. and lasted until 1:30 p.m.  Magen Abraham members consider themselves a “traditional” rather than an orthodox community, and the synagogue follows the Sephardic tradition, in melody and in physical configuration.  The pulpit is in the middle and the congregation is seated on three sides around it.  Although women are not allowed on the pulpit or given an opportunity for an “Aliyah” to the Torah, curiously enough they were not opposed to individuals taking photographs or videotaping.  In fact a local Hindu photographer, Bindi Parekh, had received official permission to extensively document religious practice at the Magen Abraham Synagogue for an exhibition she is planning to mount for the wider Ahmedabad community in the next few months.

I noted that their prayer book was from Israel while I was comparing their Sephardic melodies with my own from the liberal Ashkenazic Jewish tradition in the States.  Except for the final “Adon Olam” song, very few melodies were familiar to me.  They have no rabbi. Their main chazzan and Hebrew teacher for the last 15 years has been Johny (short for Jonathan) Pingle.  Johny led the entire service single-handedly.  Aliyahs to the Torah were auctioned off at 11 a.m., and all monetary contributions for the High Holidays were duly inscribed in a notebook and announced to the entire congregation by Manessah Solomon, the synagogue’s secretary (and also the nephew of Esther Solomon). 

Their custom of greeting one another fascinated me.  They would clasp their hands around the hand of the person they were facing and then raise their thumb and index finger to kiss their own lips.  Each person made the rounds of the entire congregation to enact this ritual, which served as both greeting and blessing.

Very few children were present. Two of the post-Bar Mitzvah boys chatted amiably with me during the morning break, and Serena later told me they were very accomplished and could recite all the prayers for the service. Obviously, Hebrew learning and synagogue liturgy were considered essential for the younger generation. I did witness the young boys’ expert shofar blowing at the conclusion of the service.  The youngest member present that day, Ezer Diveker, age 11, also had a chance to blow the shofar. His father was nearby to videotape his son’s masterful turn on the curly four-foot ram’s horn, almost as big as the boy!

Young girl in the Magen Abraham synagogue of the Bene Israel community in Ahmedabad

Lunch was served afterwards on the covered patio next to the synagogue, and I was invited to join.  Rows of chairs had been set out in anticipation of the full congregation.  Each of us took our turn waiting in line for a vegetarian buffet of chapati (Indian bread), rice, the ubiquitous dahl (soup), spicy vegetables, fried spinach balls, and honeyed deep-fried dessert in the form of pinwheels—all served on stainless-steel plates with a spoon.  Chai with milk, heavy on the sugar, was also available.

I had been given an opportunity to speak to the community at the end of the morning service, and I was invited to come as far as the lowest step of the pulpit (women were not allowed to actually be on the pulpit).  I offered sincere thanks for being able to spend Rosh Hashanah with them, and I congratulated them on their stellar contributions to education in India and for being a “light onto the nations.”  In an emotional tone that surprised even me, I said although the melodies and dress were distinct, I felt at home with them, because “the Shema, the Torah, and Am Yisrael, the people of Israel, were all one.” I also mentioned that I was in India because I had been invited by the Brahma Kumari community to be a guest at a meditation retreat for interfaith leaders on Mt. Abu, about a four-hour drive from Ahmedabad.  I arrived a few days early to be able to celebrate the Jewish New Year with them, I explained.

My comments proved to be an important bridge to the congregants during lunchtime.

Edward Reubens, one of the congregants, a tall, elegant mustached man in his sixties, sought me out for a private conversation. He had been faithfully organizing interfaith activities among the local Abrahamic communities for the last three years, he said. But he confessed that not all of the members of the Bene Israel congregation were as eager to engage in interfaith engagement as he.  “What should I do?” he asked me earnestly.

I shared one of the most significant facts I learned about the Jews in India, and he nodded his head in enthusiastic confirmation. For more than two thousand years, their host country had never discriminated against them nor persecuted them, as has been the ongoing experience of Jews in most other countries around the world. That fact alone should serve as great encouragement for Jews in India to become interfaith activists and not to be fearful, I said.

Muslim merchants sell their goods outside the Magen Abraham synagogue

“Don’t lose heart,” I implored.  “You are a dedicated interfaith pioneer, and you need to know there are many Jews all over the world like yourself who know the importance and urgency of this work.” Edward nodded gratefully and confirmed another startling fact I had learned just that day during the Rosh Hashanah service. The Jews of India and the Muslims of India are on excellent terms, I was told, and the Israeli-Palestinian issue had not soured their relationships in business or socially.  “That is also a reason to rejoice,” I said, “because in the rest of the world the Middle East conflict continues to be the thorniest issue between Jews and Muslims and greatly hinders interfaith progress and chances for peace.”

As I took my leave, I urged Edward to stay in touch with me and wished him and the other congregants Shanah Tovah. Just outside the synagogue, the Muslim merchants were still busy with their customers. Two young Muslim men dressed in white walked by, deep in conversation, wheeling their bikes. A middle-aged Muslim woman wearing a hijab covering most of her face passed near me, her young son in tow.  Two Hindu women in colorful saris, their gold dangle earrings and multiple bracelets glinting in the sun, stared at me and then offered shy smiles.  A Sikh man on a motorcycle with a woman sitting side-saddle behind him suddenly darted out between two cars. Across the way I spied an ancient Persian fire-burning temple erected by the local Zoroastrian community.  Just another typical day in Ahmedabad.

There has to be a secret lesson somewhere in here, I muse.  In a country where Jews are welcome and have never known discrimination; in a country where Jewish educators are praised for offering top-quality education to Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and Jain children as well as their own Jewish children; in a country where a Jewish woman scholar is awarded the highest academic and governmental accolades for her contribution to Sanskrit, the ancient language of India, and for her research on the philosophical traditions of Indian Hinduism, Buddhism and Janism; in a country where Israel’s existence does not inflame local Muslim citizens—as it does in neighboring Pakistan, Bangladesh,  and Afghanistan; in just such a country there must be some crucial lesson for us to learn in order to be able to duplicate it in the world at large.

I contemplate that thought as I climb into a motorized rickshaw on my way back to my hostel.  My heart pounds, my breath quickens, and I find my hands gripping the side of the rickshaw as my driver navigates through a tortuous maze of bumper-to-bumper rickshaws, taxis, trucks, buses, vegetable carts, pedestrians, cows, goats, and dogs, with nary a traffic light in sight.

This is India, I tell myself, and it will never reveal all of its secrets. I find myself looking forward to my return to the Jewish community of Ahmedabad the following weekend for Yom Kippur, when praying next to a group of women wearing colorful sequined saris will no longer be a novelty.

Ruth Broyde Sharone, a Los Angeles documentary filmmaker and producer/director of the award-winning film God and Allah Need to Talk, is a passionate advocate for interfaith engagement.  Her book, Minefields and Miracles: A Global Adventure in Interfaith will be published this November.

Going around the world to break the fast

Breaking the fast has its own set of traditions. Ashkenazim usually break the fast with something salty, like herring, because they believe fish restores salt lost by the body while fasting. Herring also was the cheapest fish in Eastern Europe, where the custom originated.

Egg and cheese dishes—dairy products in general—are popular among the Ashkenazim for the first foods after Yom Kippur.

Some Eastern European Jews break the fast with a German sweet roll called shnekem, from the German word for snails, because of its coiled shape. The yeast dough containing milk and sour cream is rolled out, brushed with melted butter and sprinkled with a cinnamon sugar, raisin and nut filling then rolled up, cut into slices and baked.

Gil Marks writes in “The World of Jewish Desserts” that Central European Jews ate cheese kuchen, a coffee cake, for the meal following Yom Kippur. German Jews also ate erstesternen, a cinnamon star cookie, so called because stars were the sign of the end of the fast day.

Zimbabwe Jews break the fast with juice, traditional rolls with oil called rusks, oil biscuits and cheese. Sweets include almond and honey turnovers and sponge cake. Later they dine on a meal of cold chicken, fried fish, chicken soup and other sweets.

The Jews of South Africa, whose origins were in Europe, have babke, a sweet milk bread with almonds and raisins originating in Poland. They also drink soda water, milk or lemon tea. Later they have a meal starting with pickled herring and lemon fish.

Typical among South African Jews whose ancestors came from the island of Rhodes is breaking the fast with melon pip milk, bread with olive oil, sponge cake, honey and almond turnovers, and rusks.

Others break the fast with cold chicken, chicken soup and sesame biscuits, followed by almond sponge cake with syrup or marzipan. (Marzipan is a sweet mixture of almond paste, sugar and egg whites often tinted with food coloring and molded into forms such as fruits and animals.) Layered phyllo pastry with almonds and honey also may be served.

Among Sephardim and Middle Eastern Jews, a light snack is followed by a heavier meal. For example, some Syrian, Iraqi and Egyptian Jews break the fast with cardamom coffee cake. Some Iraqis drink milk, then have the cake or a cardamom-almond cookie called hagadi badah, Marks writes in “The World of Jewish Desserts.” Afterward they have a big meal that includes teebeet, a stuffed whole chicken with rice that has been left to cook over a low flame all Yom Kippur day.

Pan dulce, a sweet yeast bread in loaf form or rolls, is served by some Sephardim before and after the fast, Marks notes in his book. Marks also writes that the Jews of India for the meal following Yom Kippur have a semolina-filled turnover called singara or kushli, and sutlach, a Middle Eastern rice flour pudding.

Some Yemenites break the fast with ginger cake or watermelon, then they drink coffee and eat cookies. Afterward they have more of the broth from before the fast or another Yemenite soup.

Edda Servi Machlin, author of the cookbook “Classic Italian Jewish Cooking,” among others, recounts that her Italian family drinks vermouth and then eats a special, oval-shaped bread to break the fast. They then enjoy a meal with soup and pasta, chicken, fish, stewed fennel, cold noodles with sauce, sweet cakes and fruit.

Marks writes that Italians typically break the fast with il bolio, an Italian sweet yeast bread.

Nicholas Stavroulakis, who wrote “The Cookbook of the Jews of Greece,” relates that Greek Jews prepare interesting drinks to break the fast. One is made with grenadine; another with almonds; another with lemons; and one has melon seeds, water, sugar and almond extract or rosewater.

Rachel Dalvin, who has researched about the Jews of Ioannina, Greece, shares the fact that these Jews broke the fast with avgolemono, chicken-lemon soup, and a variety of stuffed vegetables that were common in Turkish cookery and acquired because Turkey occupied that part of Greece for centuries.

Some Moroccan Jews break the fast with fijuelas, a deep-fried pastry soaked in sweet syrup. They may also drink arak, an anise-flavored liqueur. Later they have coffee with milk, cake and cookies. Still later they have harera, a special thick soup with chicken and ground vegetables.

Here are some special recipes to break the fast from “Olive Trees and Honey” by Marks, a cookbook of traditional Jewish vegetarian dishes from Jews around the world that can be prepared ahead.

2 to 5 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon table salt or
2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 cups plain yogurt
1 cup milk or
1/2 cup buttermilk and 1/2 cup water
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil (optional)
4 cups peeled, seeded, diced or grated cucumbers
1/2 cup chopped scallions
1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped fresh dill, cilantro or mint or
6 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon plus
3 tablespoons fresh dill
2 chopped hard-boiled eggs or
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Mash garlic and salt into a paste in a bowl. In a large bowl, blend yogurt, milk and oil. Stir in garlic, cucumbers, and scallions. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Five minutes before serving, stir in herbs. Pour into serving bowls and garnish with eggs or walnuts. Serve with crusty bread or pita.

6-8 servings

Italian Cold Pasta in Egg-Lemon Sauce

2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons flour or
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon salt or
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons sugar (optional)
2 cups boiling vegetable soup or water

1 pound tagliolini/taglierini or thin egg noodles such as linguine
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh parsley (optional)

Beat eggs, egg yolks and lemon juice in a saucepan. Whisk a little of the egg mixture in a bowl with the flour or cornstarch to make a paste. Stir it back into the egg mixture.

Add salt and sugar if using. Gradually beat in hot soup or water. Cook over medium heat, stirring continually with a wooden spoon until smooth and thick, about 8 minutes. Remove from heat and continue to stir for 1 minute. Pour into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let cool.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt then noodles and stir. Return and bring to a boil and cook 7 to 10 minutes. Drain. Place in a bowl and toss with olive oil. Let cool at least 30 minutes.

Mix noodles with sauce and garnish with parsley.

5-6 servings

My Favorite No-Herring Taste Appetizer

Though I do not like herring, once I tasted this dish more than 20 years ago I was won over and make it often—and not just for breaking the fast.

2 cups herring in wine
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons dill
2 teaspoons sugar
Chopped scallions

Wash and pat dry herring. Place in a blender. Add sour cream, mayonnaise, dill, sugar and scallions. Blend a second or so just until herring is pureed slightly. Spoon into a serving dish. Serve with crackers or pita chips.

4-6 servings

(Sybil Kaplan is a journalist, food writer and cookbook author who lives in Jerusalem.)

Make this the year of the apology

In the words of Elton John, why is it that “sorry seems to be the hardest word?”

With a sense of schadenfreude, we take sport in watching our political leaders and celebrities fall from their pedestals and lie in their attempt to cover up the scandal du jour. We relish TV shows like “The Good Wife” based on character transformations of unfaithful partners and the public (and private) humiliation that comes from admitting wrongdoing.

We have the luxury of being removed from the eye of the storm and think if only they had apologized in the first place, they could have saved face/their career/relationship/reputation/life.

Of course, we know it’s not so easy to say we’re sorry. For all that I think I am emotionally evolved, I have had many an argument with my spouse, family member or colleague in which the defensive wall shoots up and nothing short of a sledgehammer can bring it down.

The reticence to admit our own mistakes starts young. I saw it as my 3-year-old struggled through his first real apology. After he hit me—something slightly more forceful than a love tap and weaker than a full-on whack—and I doled out the requisite scolding, my husband and I insisted that he articulate an apology.

With several tries and averting his big green eyes, a sheepish grin crept over his face and he stammered, “S-ahw-reee.”

His experience held up a mirror to my own. It’s hard to admit when we are wrong and sometimes even harder to take responsibility for it. My son covered his embarrassment by not looking at me squarely in the eye.

Some of us don’t look at our wrongdoings, period. We justify our actions, blame others or deny there was a problem in the first place.

Facing our inadequacies and doing teshuvah, or returning to our best selves, is exactly what we are challenged to do beginning in the month of Elul and continuing through Yom Kippur. Many of us sit in synagogue and pound our hearts reciting a litany of “al chaits” (confessions) about how we missed the mark, vowing to do better next time.

The High Holidays present us with the imperative to live every day with the same sense of moral intensity as if it were our last, as Rabbi Eliezer teaches. This is the period that makes us aware of how fragile our lives are, a time in the Jewish calendar cycle and liturgy in which we are confronted with the possibility of our own mortality.

We are jolted into an awareness of how to live our lives more fully. By taking responsibility for our actions and repairing broken relationships, we can enjoy deeper connections to others—essential ingredients to a fuller life indeed.

While most of us log our greatest number of synagogue hours during the High Holidays, we must go outside the synagogue to do the important interpersonal work of the season. The medieval philosopher Maimonides sums this up nicely regarding Yom Kippur, saying in the Laws of Repentance that “repentance (or teshuvah) and Yom Kippur atone only for sins between the person and God … but sins against other people such as injuring, cursing or stealing are never atoned for until he has paid what he owes the person and appeased him.”

Doing the work of asking for forgiveness from another person is critical. Teshuvah, however, does not happen by issuing a single apology; it is a process. For Maimonides it included three essential steps: regretting bad behavior and confessing wrongdoing; rejecting the bad behavior by not repeating it when a similar situation arises; and resolving not to do it again.

The phrase “I’m sorry” kicks off a process of profound self-transformation. In Maimonides’ book, a person who has done real teshuvah is as righteous as one can get.

Sound appealing? This High Holidays season, let it be your “year of the apology.” Make a list of one or two people you have hurt in some way. During the 10 days of repentance, which fall between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, make a point to reach out to them. Admit your wrong, share your regret, refrain from repeating the behavior and resolve to behave differently in the future. Most likely they will ask you for forgiveness as well.

As the Rambam says, be open to offering forgiveness, lest you turn into the sinner. Let this High Holidays season be a time for sincere apologies. It’s not just something we say, it’s something we embody.

Dozing on the Days of Awe

Don’t let Maimonides catch you napping on Rosh HaShanah.

His famous quote, “Awake, awake, you slumberers from your sleep, inspect your actions and return”—usually found in the High Holidays prayer book before the sounding of the shofar—is meant as the ultimate shluf alarm, his righteous tap on your shoulder.

But what if while sitting in services one Jewish New Year’s Day you should “accidentally” hit the snooze button and head off into the realm of somnambulant psalms?

Some of us seem to become so drowsy the second we set foot in a synagogue. Then the passages seem long, the air conditioning makes us feel cool and comfy, words barely familiar buzz around our ears, the rabbi goes on and on … our lids grow so heavy.

As our heads lurch forward, startling us awake, we wish there was a Starbucks in the social hall or a private place to sacrifice a can of Red Bull. For many of us who work long hours, the prayers and sermons of the Days of Awe work best when they are preceded by nights of ahh.

The need for sleep and wakefulness is even emphasized in the liturgy: On Rosh HaShanah morning, as on every other day during the year, we are to thank God for removing “sleep from our eyes, slumber from our eyelids,” as well as “restoring vigor to the weary.” Later in the morning, the shofar’s blast calls us to physical and spiritual attention.

On Yom Kippur afternoon, when we are tired, hungry and out of it, we read the story of Jonah, who while heading by sea away from where God wants him to go, falls into a deep sleep in the ship’s hold. While he’s napping, the sky storms and the sea crashes; the ship begins to founder.

“How can you be sleeping so soundly!” the captain cries out to him.

To save the crew and ship, Jonah needs to rouse himself, and during the High Holidays we want to rouse ourselves, too. After all, apparently something important is going on, and that “gentle” elbow in the side from our partner can leave a mark.

In talking about the relationship of sleep to the High Holidays, Dr. Rubin Naiman, the sleep specialist and a clinical assistant professor of medicine at the University of Arizona’s Center for Integrative Medicine, cited Shabbat as an example of how sleep relates to our spirituality.

“It’s been a reminder to slow down and sleep,” he said in a phone interview from his Tucson home. “Sleep is not simply unconsciousness; it refers to the deepest part of ourselves.

“My parents, who were Holocaust survivors, taught me to honor sleep,” said Naiman, who grew up in a traditional Jewish home.

Naiman feels sleep helped them to survive. In his book, “Healing Night: The Science and Spirit of Sleeping, Dreaming, and Awakening,” he suggests a battle between divine and man-made forces as a reason for our sleep deficits.

“When God said, ‘Let there be light,’ he divided it equally with night,” he wrote. “But when Edison said let there be even more light, he appropriated it from night. And there are serious casualties.”

To avoid being a casualty, Naiman has a couple of suggestions.

“It’s not like you can prepare the night before. You need to run up to it,” he said.

While reminding that sleep requirements differ, Naiman said that “few people can get by with less than seven to nine hours.”

To find a natural balance between sleeping and waking, he suggested “avoiding excessive stimulation.” But perhaps to the chagrin of pulpit rabbis everywhere, Naiman suggested that if growing drowsy, we should “stop fighting sleepiness” and go with it.

“Falling asleep is an act of faith,” he said. “Think of it as diving into a pool of water; close your eyes and descend.”

In other words, if you feel the need, it’s OK to shut your eyes.

At first I thought, napping through Rosh HaShanah: What’s next, recliners instead of pews?

But later that day, taking the doctor’s advice, I closed my eyes to take a nap and re-thought our conversation. Feeling a pleasant wave come over me, I wondered if Naiman was on to something.

While on the couch, I remembered being in synagogue on Shabbat closing my eyes and saying the Shema. More than once I kept them closed a few beats longer, even while chanting the first paragraph. When I finally opened my eyes, I had felt refreshed.

I also remembered on Rosh HaShanah seeing several members of my congregation closing their eyes while the ba’al tekiah sounded the horn. Naiman had said the shofar’s blasts on Rosh HaShanah were “calling people to a higher state of wakefulness.” Were those with their eyes shut experiencing wakefulness within?

This year I would close my eyes and see.

Edmon J. Rodman is a JTA columnist who writes on Jewish life from Los Angeles. Contact him at {encode=”” title=””}.

Apples and honey

One of the most meaningful customs at each Rosh Hashanah meal is the dipping of apples into honey. By doing so we make a sweet fruit, the apple, taste even sweeter.

Obviously this symbolizes our yearnings for a very sweet year for us, our loved ones and, indeed, for everyone.

The use of two sweet objects may echo the biblical use of doubling for emphasis and the later rabbinic interpretive use of plural forms not merely for emphasis but also to evoke multifold and even untold multiplication — in this case, the multiplication of the realization of our unspoken hopes for the coming year. Nonetheless, we gain more insight by examining the specific choices here.

First, the apple: We received the Torah at Mount Sinai, which the midrash compares to an apple tree. Our sages comment that just as the apple tree ripens its fruit in the month of Sivan, so the Torah was given to Israel during Sivan. Indeed, when the Bible states, “under the apple tree I awakened you” (Song of Songs 8:5), the Talmud claims that this refers to Mount Sinai (Shabbat 88a). The apple, then, connotes all the mystery and majesty of the Sinai experience, all spiritual wisdom and insight we can glean from Torah, and the possibility of a relationship with God.

The rabbis further suggest a comparison of the apple tree to the Holy One. They cite Song of Songs 2:3, “As an apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my Beloved.” The mystical tradition expands upon this, suggesting the various ways in which the comparison is apt (Zohar, Leviticus 74a).

The apple, compared to the Mount Sinai experience and to Hashem, thus symbolizes the “spiritual,” the search for God, for Torah, for meaning, for holiness, for spiritual encounter, for direction for our life’s path.

Honey, on the other hand, symbolizes the search for the “material,” for security, for comfort, for home, for livelihood, for physical health. As the psalmist writes, “They will be fed the best of the wheat; and with honey from the rock, I will satisfy them” (81:17).

This week we read Nitzavim, the portion always read on the Shabbat preceding Rosh Hashanah, where the Holy One assures us that the possibility of holy living is not unattainable, but is “in our mouth” (Deuteronomy 30:14). On Rosh Hashanah,  we dip the apple into honey to symbolically fulfill this verse, a verse that also hints at the possibility of the fulfillment of our deepest spiritual yearnings.

So we dip the apple, symbolic of the spiritual, into the honey, symbolic of the material, and thereby sweeten that which is already sweet. But notice that the material blessings of honey mean nothing unless and until they attach themselves to the solid, pleasing, emotional and spiritual core of the apple, one of the hardiest fruits. Our spirituality, like the apple, must have a nurtured core, for it, not our accumulation of material goods, is what truly and enduringly sustains us.

Our dipping thus expresses our hope that we can combine our more immediate concern for comfort, for home, for livelihood and for health with our more primal quest for the spiritual, for God, for Torah, for connection, for meaning. A full life combines both while recognizing that the spiritual is primary.

And since each person dips his or her own apple into the honey, we symbolically declare that we shall each take responsibility for our own spiritual direction and for our personal sense of wholeness. This dipping into our own potential to chart our lives thus raises the act beyond a mere hope: The charting of our lives this year, the potential for spiritual moment, holy encounter and balanced living is “in our mouths,” a project whose realization is attainable — a challenge, surely, but one that grants us our dignity and the sense that life is precious.

Yehi ratzon mil’fanecha Adonai Eloheinu veilohei imahoteinu va-avoteinu, she-t’chadesh aleinu shanah tovah u-m’tukah um-lei-a v’rachah.

May the Holy One grant you and yours a year in which you will feel spiritually as hearty as the apple tree, where through seeking God and Torah, your branches grow rich fruits of holy connection and deep spirituality. And may your souls be drenched in the honey of home, comfort, health and livelihood. And finding the apples of your souls drenched in the sweet honey of your surroundings, may you experience this year — and all of life — as one of goodness, sweetness and blessing. Amen.

How sweet it is

Apples, honey and a freshly baked round challah are traditionally served at the beginning of our Rosh Hashanah dinner. The shape of the challah represents unending happiness, and foods sweetened with honey symbolize a sweet and happy new year ahead.

Just before Rosh Hashanah, I start thinking of recipes featuring apples and honey, and what better way to combine them but in an assortment of desserts?

Apples come in so many colors, shapes and sizes, and their flavor can range from crisp and tart to soft and sweet. You can use most apples for baking, but the different varieties produce different results. And when it comes to honey, you will find the best selection of honey at the local farmers markets. Even hard-to-find varieties such as chestnut or buckwheat honey, which are dark in color and have a pungent malt flavor, are available.

Over the years, I have prepared many different apple-honey desserts, but this year I have asked chefs, family and friends to share their favorites.

Amy Tidus Zeidler, my daughter-in-law, shared her grandmother’s recipe for their family’s Apple Cake.

“It’s very simple and easy to make,” she said. “Grandma was a great baker and often didn’t use a recipe, but this is what my mom and I have come up with to replicate it.”

Growing up in Los Angeles, she said it was special when her grandparents, who lived on the East Coast, would come to visit several times a year.

“Some of my fondest memories of my grandmother were when she baked for us. My brothers and I loved her cookies and cakes, but the apple cake was our favorite,” she added.

Apple Rosemary Tart is a new find from chef Bruce Marder’s new bakery, Red Rooster, in Santa Monica. A delicious pie crust is filled with sliced apples and rosemary, then topped with crisscrossing strips of pie dough resembling latticework, creating a dramatic effect. As intimidating as it might look, making a lattice pie crust top is actually quite easy to do.

Josiah Citrin, chef/owner of Melisse restaurant in Santa Monica, shares a recipe for Apple Tart “Classique,” from his new cookbook, “Pursuit of Excellence.”” The recipe makes four individual tarts and can be doubled. I have also included his recipe for Crème Fraîche Ice Cream, or it can be garnished with whipped cream.

Our family standby, baked apple, is a perfect Rosh Hashanah dessert and is simple to make. Serve it with a scoop of ice cream on the side, or, for an Italian touch, top it with sabayon sauce accented with honey. 


Grandma Martha’s Apple Cake. Photo by Dan Kacvinski

1/4 cup sugar
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

1/2 pound unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup milk
2 large Granny Smith apples, peeled and sliced thinly
4 tablespoons honey

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Brush an 8-by-8-inch pan with butter and flour and set aside.

For topping, in a small bowl, combine the sugar, cinnamon and nuts; set aside.

For batter, in the large bowl of an electric mixer, blend the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs and mix well. Combine flour and baking powder and add to batter alternately with the milk; mix well. Pour into prepared pan. Arrange sliced apples over the top, sprinkle with prepared topping and drizzle with honey.

Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.


Apple Rosemary Tart. Photo by Judy Zeidler

For a flakier crust, it is important to mix the ingredients just until they begin to form a ball (do not overmix).

Pie crust:
3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
8 ounces unsalted butter
1/2 cup ice water

2 ounces unsalted butter
10 Fuji apples, peeled, cored, diced in 1-inch squares
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons honey
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
Pinch cinnamon
Pinch sea salt
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons water
1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tablespoon water
Granulated sugar to sprinkle on crust

Preheat oven to 325 F.

For pie crust, in the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, salt and sugar; pulse to mix. Add butter and pulse 6 to 8 times, until mixture resembles coarse meal with pea-size pieces of butter. Add ice water 1 tablespoon at a time, pulsing until mixture just begins to clump together. Remove dough from machine and divide in half. Knead each half into a flat disc.

Roll out 1 disc to fit a 9-inch pie dish. Lightly press it into the pie dish, leaving enough dough to hang over the edge. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

Roll out the other disc of dough, cut into 1/2-inch strips, and form strips into a lattice top. Arrange on wax paper, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Place a sheet of wax paper on top of crust in prepared pie dish and fill with pie weights, rice or beans. Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes. Remove weights and wax paper; bake 10 minutes longer or until golden brown. Let cool.

For filling, melt butter in a large sauté pan. Add apples, lemon juice, honey, sugar, rosemary, cinnamon and salt; sauté for 20 minutes until soft. Mix cornstarch with water, stirring until all lumps disappear, and add to apple mixture; simmer for 10 minutes. Let cool.

Spoon the apple filling into partially baked piecrust. Brush edge of crust with egg yolk/water mixture. Invert unbaked lattice top onto baked crust. Press edges together and trim to fit pie dish. Brush lattice top with egg yolk/water mixture and sprinkle with sugar.

Place tart on a cookie sheet and bake for 30 to 40 minutes until golden brown.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.


Crème Fraîche Ice Cream:
4 cups whole milk
11 egg yolks
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
Pinch ground cinnamon
1 2/3 cups crème fraîche

Apple Tart:
1 sheet puff pastry (12 by 12 inches)
4 large pink lady apples, peeled
1/2 cup clarified butter
1/2 cup powdered sugar

Caramel Sauce:
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon honey
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 pound unsalted butter, cut into medium dice
2 teaspoons fleur de sel

For ice cream, bring the milk to a boil in a medium pot over high heat. In a medium bowl, lightly whisk together the yolks, sugar and cinnamon. Slowly whisk the boiled milk into the yolk mixture. Strain the mixture through a chinois and into a stainless steel bowl; set that bowl over a bowl of ice. Stir to chill. Whisk in the crème fraîche. Churn the mix in an ice cream maker and reserve in the freezer.

For apple tart, lay the puff pastry on a flat surface. Cut out four circles using a 4 1/2-inch cookie cutter. Place the pastry circles on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, spacing them at least 1 inch apart. Put the tray into the freezer until the pastry is hard.

Using an apple corer, remove the cores from the apples. Cut the apples in half down the core. Slice the apples on a mandolin slicer into 1/8-inch-thick half-rings.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Arrange the apple slices by fanning them out on the frozen puff pastry. Brush each apple tart with some of the clarified butter, and dust with some of the powdered sugar. Bake the tarts for 15 minutes. Brush the tarts again with clarified butter, dust with powdered sugar and bake for another 15 minutes. Repeat this process two more times for a total of four coatings and dustings and 60 minutes of baking time.

For caramel sauce, in a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, honey and water. Put the pan over high heat and let the sugar boil until it turns brown (about 12 minutes). Once the sugar has reached a caramel stage, remove the pan from the heat and, in a gentle stream, carefully whisk in the cream. Whisk in the butter a few pieces at a time. Add the fleur de sel, mix well and strain through a chinois. Keep warm. (If making a few days in advance, refrigerate, then reheat in the microwave when ready to serve.)

To serve, heat the apple tarts in a preheated 350 F oven for 7 minutes. Heat the caramel sauce in a small saucepan. Place a tart on the center of each plate and spoon the caramel sauce around the edge of the tart. Place a quenelle of the Crème Fraîche Ice Cream on top of the tarts and dust with powdered sugar.

Makes 4 servings.


Old-Fashioned Honey Baked Apple. Photo by Dan Kacvinski

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup sugar
6 Granny Smith or Rome Beauty apples, equal size
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 6 teaspoon-size pieces
1/4 cup honey
1 cup apple juice
6 sprigs fresh mint, optional

Preheat oven to 325 F.

In a small bowl, combine cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar; set aside.

Core the apples, making sure not to puncture the bottom of the apples so the juices will remain. Remove skin from 1/2 inch around top of each apple at the opening. Fill each cavity with an equal amount of the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Top each apple with a drizzle of honey and a teaspoon of butter. 

Place apples in casserole dish and pour apple juice and any remaining honey around them. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for about 45 minutes or until tender when pierced with a fork. Remove from the oven, garnish with fresh mint, drizzle with additional honey, and serve.

Makes 6 servings.

Judy Zeidler is the author of “Italy Cooks,” based on 35 years of travel to Italy, “The Gourmet Jewish Cook” (Morrow, 1988) and “The International Deli Cookbook” (Chronicle, 1994). She teaches cooking classes through American Jewish University’s Whizin Center for Continuing Education. Her Web site is

Free High Holy Days services 2011

WED., SEPT. 28


Chai Center. Wed. 6:25-8:30 p.m. New Year’s Eve party follows. Free. Writers Guild Theater, 135 S. Doheny Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 391-7995.

Sinai Temple’s Rosh Hashanah Live, a musical service featuring Rabbi David Wolpe, Cantor Joseph Gole, Craig Taubman, Theodore Bikel, opera singer George Komsky and the Life Choir. Wed. 8-9:30 p.m. Free. Sinai Temple, 10440 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 474-1518.

Hillel at UCLA. Wed. 6:30 p.m. (Orthodox), 7 p.m. (Traditional), 7:30 p.m. (Reform). Free (students). 574 Hilgard Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 208-3081.

Hillel at USC. Wed. 6:30 p.m. Free (students). Hillel at USC, 3300 S. Hoover St., Los Angeles. (213) 747-9135.

THU., SEPT. 29


Temple Israel of Hollywood. Family service (toddler-second grade). Thu. 8:30 a.m. Free. 7300 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 876-8330.

Hillel at UCLA. Thu. 9 a.m. (Traditional), 9:15 a.m. (Orthodox), 9:30 a.m. (Reform). Free (students). 574 Hilgard Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 208-3081.

Hillel at USC. Thu. 9:30 a.m. Free (students). 3300 S. Hoover St., Los Angeles. (213) 747-9135.

Chabad House at UCLA. Thu. 10 a.m.-2 p.m. (service), 11:30 a.m. (shofar). Free. Chabad of Westwood, 741 Gayley Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 208-1613.

JConnectLA’s Days of Awesome Un-Service. Thu. 10 a.m.-1 p.m. (interactive service, including classes, yoga, stories, meditation and song). Free. Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy, 9120 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 277-5544.

Beth Chayim Chadashim. Family service. Thu. 10:30 a.m. Free. Temple Isaiah, 10345 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 931-7023.

Chai Center. Thu. 11 a.m.-2 p.m. (services), 12:30 p.m. (shofar). Free. Writers Guild Theater, 135 S. Doheny Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 391-7995.

Laugh Factory. Thu. 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Free. 8001 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. RSVP, (323) 656-1336, ext. 1.

Sholem Community. Thu. 11 a.m. Free. Rancho Park, Picnic Area No. 1, 2551 Motor Ave., Los Angeles. (818) 760-6625.

Congregation Or Ami. Family service. Thu. 2:15 p.m. Free. Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, Fred Kavli Theatre, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks. (818) 880-4880.

Kehillat Israel. Family service. Thu. 3-4 p.m. Free. Wadsworth Theater, 11301 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 459-2328.

Temple Judea. Tot services. Thu. 3:30 p.m. Free. 5429 Lindley Ave., Tarzana. (818) 758-3800.

Jewish Learning Exchange. Thu. 4:30-6 p.m. (beginner’s service). Free (registration required). 512 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles. (888) 908-0338.


Congregation Kol Ami. Thu. 1:30 p.m. Free. MacArthur Park, 2230 W. Sixth St., downtown. (323) 606-0996.

Nashuva’s Tashlich by the Sea. Thu. 4:45 p.m. Free. Tashlich, drumming circle and shofar blowing. Venice Beach, 1 N. Venice Blvd., Venice.

Leo Baeck Temple. Thu. 5 p.m. Will Rogers State Beach, 15800 Pacific Coast Highway, Pacific Palisades. (310) 476-2861.

Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills. Thu. 5-9 p.m. Free. South Will Rogers State Beach, Lifeguard Station 8, 15800 Pacific Coast Highway, Pacific Palisades. (310) 409-4644.

Kehillat Ma’arav. Thu. 5:30 p.m. Free. End of the Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica. (310) 829-0566.

FRI., SEPT. 30


Hillel at UCLA. Fri. 9 a.m. (Traditional), 9:15 a.m. (Orthodox), 6:30 p.m. (Orthodox). Free (students). 574 Hilgard Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 208-3081.

Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills. Fri. 9 a.m.-noon. Free. 8844 Burton Way, Beverly Hills. (310) 288-3737.

Beth Chayim Chadashim. Fri. 10 a.m. Free. 6090 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 931-7023.

Chabad House at UCLA. Fri. 10 a.m.-2 p.m. (service), 11:30 a.m. (shofar). Free. Chabad of Westwood, 741 Gayley Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 208-1613.

Ohr HaTorah’s Second Day Rosh Hashanah Special Musical Performance. Fri. 10 a.m. Free. Wilshire Ebell Theatre, 4401 W. Eighth St., Los Angeles. (310) 915-5200.

Temple Israel of Hollywood. Chapel service. Fri. 10 a.m. Free. 7300 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 876-8330.

Hillel at USC. Fri. 10 a.m. Free (students). 3300 S. Hoover St., Los Angeles. (213) 747-9135.


Beth Chayim Chadashim. Fri. 4 p.m. Free. Venice Beach, near Figtree’s Café and Grill, 429 Ocean Front Walk, Venice. (323) 931-7023.

SUN., OCT. 2


Eden Memorial Park. Sun. 10 a.m. Free. 11500 Sepulveda Blvd., Mission Hills. (818) 361-7161.

Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary. Sun. 10 a.m. Free. Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary, 6001 W. Centinela Ave., Los Angeles. (800) 576-1994.

Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries—Hollywood Hills. Sun. 10 a.m. Free. 5950 Forest Lawn Drive, Los Angeles. (800) 600-0076.

Home of Peace. Sun. 11 a.m. Free. 4334 Whittier Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 261-6135.

Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries—Simi Valley. Sun. 1 p.m. Free. 6150 Mount Sinai Drive, Simi Valley. (800) 600-0076.

Sholom Memorial Park. 10 a.m. Free. 13017 N. Lopez Canyon Road, San Fernando. (818) 899-5216.


Adat Chaverim. Cantorial soloist Terry Lieberstein leads this outdoor, interactive Tashlich service. Sun. 11 a.m. Free. Los Encinos Park, 16756 Moorpark St., Encino. (888) 552-4552.

Shomrei Torah Synagogue. Sun. 12:30 p.m. Free (for Birthright Israel alumni). Beach in Malibu. For more information, call (818) 346-0811 or visit

Tashlich: A Jewish Ritual of Renewal. Hosted by HaMercaz, Vista Inspire Program, Miracle Theatre and Nes Gadol. Sun. 2-4 p.m. Free. Annenberg State Beach House, 415 Pacific Coast Highway, Santa Monica. (866) 287-8030 or (310) 836-1223, ext. 322.

IKAR. Sun. 4:30 p.m. Free. Santa Monica State Beach, Lifeguard Station 26, just south of Ocean Park Boulevard, Santa Monica.

JConnectLA’s Sunset Tashlich by the Sea. Sun. 6 p.m. Free. Santa Monica Pier, halfway down pier, Santa Monica. (310) 277-5544.

WED., OCT. 5

Chabad Jewish Community Center in conjunction with the Ventura Townhouse.  Wed., Oct. 5, 11:30 am. Free.  Chabad Jewish Community Center, 5040 Telegraph Road.  To RSVP please call Sarah at 805.660.1836.

FRI., OCT. 7


Kol Nidre LIVE BROADCAST. Fri. 6:15 p.m. Rabbi Naomi Levy and Nashuva will appear on livestream over  Click here to watch.

JConnectLA’s Days of Awesome Un-Service. Fri. 5:30 p.m. (non-traditional service). Free. Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy, 9120 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 277-5544.

Hillel at UCLA. Fri. 6 p.m. (Traditional), 6:15 p.m. (Orthodox), 7:30 p.m. (Reform). Free (students). 574 Hilgard Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 208-3081.

Laugh Factory. Fri. 6-8 p.m. Free. 8001 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. RSVP, (323) 656-1336, ext. 1.

Chai Center. Fri. 6:30-8:30 p.m. (services). Writers Guild Theater, 135 S. Doheny Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 391-7995.

Hillel at USC. Fri. 6:30 p.m. Free (students). 3300 S. Hoover St., Los Angeles. (213) 747-9135.

SAT., OCT. 8


Temple Israel of Hollywood. Family service (toddler-second grade). Sat. 8:30 a.m. Free. 7300 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 876-8330.

Hillel at UCLA. Sat. 9:15 a.m. (Shachrit, Orthodox), 9:30 a.m. (Morning, Traditional), 9:30 a.m. (Morning, Reform), noon (meditation, Reform), 1 p.m. (Yizkor, Traditional), 2 p.m. (text study, Reform), 4:30 p.m. (Mincha, Traditional), 5:15 p.m. (Neilah, Orthodox), 5:30 p.m. (Yizkor/Neilah, Reform), 6 p.m. (Neilah, Traditional), 7:13 p.m. (Shofar sounded). Free (students). 574 Hilgard Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 208-3081.

Hillel at USC. Sat. 9:30 a.m. (services), 1 p.m. (Yizkor), 4:30 p.m. (Mincha), 6 p.m. (Neilah), 7:06 p.m. (Break the fast). Free (students). 3300 S. Hoover St., Los Angeles. (213) 747-9135.

JConnectLA’s Days of Awesome Un-Service. Sat. 10 a.m. Free (non-traditional service and break-the-fast). Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy, 9120 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 277-5544.

Beth Chayim Chadashim. Family Service. Sat. 11 a.m. Free. Temple Isaiah, 10345 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 931-7023.

Chai Center. Sat. 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. (services), 3-5 p.m. (“Stump the Rabbi” program), 5:30-7:06 p.m. (Neilah). Writers Guild Theater, 135 S. Doheny Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 391-7995.

Laugh Factory. Sat. 11 a.m.-1 p.m., 6-8 p.m. (Neilah). Break-the-fast follows. Free. 8001 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. RSVP, (323) 656-1336, ext. 1.

Sholem Community. Sat. 11 a.m. Free. Rancho Park, Picnic Area No. 1, 2551 Motor Ave., Los Angeles. (818) 760-6625.

Ohr HaTorah’s Yom Kippur Special Musical Performance. Sat. 2 p.m. Free. Wilshire Ebell Theatre, 4401 W. Eighth St., Los Angeles. (310) 915-5200.

Congregation Or Ami. Family service. Sat. 2:15 p.m. Free. Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, Fred Kavli Theatre, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks. (818) 880-4880.

Kehillat Israel. Family service. Sat. 3-4 p.m. Free. Wadsworth Theater, 11301 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 459-2328.

Temple Judea. Tot services. Sat. 3:30 p.m. Free. 5429 Lindley Ave., Tarzana. (818) 758-3800.

SUN., OCT. 9


Sholom Memorial Park. 10 a.m. Free. 13017 N. Lopez Canyon Road, San Fernando. (818) 899-5216.

Did we forget a free High Holy Days event? E-mail the information to {encode=”” title=””}.

From Selichot to Simchat Torah

More than just a series of days on a calendar, or merely an occasion for the obligatory visit to synagogue, the High Holy Days offer a month-long opportunity for self-reflection, communal prayer and ritual that together allow us each to create our own spiritual journey. This page is designed to guide you along that journey in Los Angeles and includes information on when to pray and how to celebrate rituals. You will find local listings of free religious services on Page 35 and even more information online at L’shanah tovah!

Days of Awe: The 10 days starting with Rosh Hashanah and ending with Yom Kippur are a time for serious introspection, repentance and making amends. One of the themes is the concept of God’s “books,” in which it is decreed who shall live and who shall die. These books are said to be written on Rosh Hashanah, but it is believed that through teshuvah (repentance), tefilah (prayer) and tzedakah (charity), we can change our decree. The books are sealed on Yom Kippur. 

Customs: This is a time of year when we seek reconciliation with people we may have wronged during the year, or at any time. According to the Talmud, on Yom Kippur we can atone for sins between ourselves and God, but for our sins against people, we must seek forgiveness from those people and attempt to right any wrongs we may have committed.

Greetings: During this month, and the month before it, we greet each other with “Shanah tovah u’metukah” (Have a happy and sweet New Year), or “L’shanah tovah tikatevu” (May you be inscribed for a good New Year). After Rosh Hashanah and before Yom Kippur, the notion of being sealed in the Book of Life is added: “L’shanah tovah tikatevu v’techatemu” (May you be inscribed and sealed for a good New Year), which is often abbreviated to “G’mar chatima tovah” (May you conclude with a good inscription) or further shortened to “G’mar tov” (May you conclude well).

Sept. 25 (26 Elul)

The Selichot (forgiveness) are special penitential prayers recited throughout the High Holy Days designed to alert us to the significance of the upcoming holy days. Beginning at a midnight service on the Saturday before Rosh Hashanah for Ashkenazim and for the entire month preceding Rosh Hashanah for Sephardim, Selichot are recited each morning until Yom Kippur. The prayers are formed around the “13 Attributes of Mercy,” which describe how God relates to the world:

Merciful God, merciful God, powerful God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abundant in kindness and truth. Preserver of kindness for thousands of generations, forgiver of iniquity, willful sin and error, and who cleanses (Exodus 34:6-7).

Many synagogues offer Selichot services. Visit for links to local listings.

Sept. 28 (29 Elul)
Candle Lighting: Sept. 28 at 6:23 p.m.

Hatarat nedarim/nullification of vows: The hatarat nedarim ceremony is performed to repeal any vows that one has taken upon oneself so that the New Year and Day of Judgment begin free from any sins of unfulfilled vows. The shofar isn’t sounded today, unlike all of the other days of Elul. Orthodox men often visit the mikveh, and many visit cemeteries to pray at the graves of the righteous and to visit their ancestors. 

Blessings for the evenings of Sept. 28 and 29:

1) Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha’olam, asher kideshanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu l’hadlik ner shel Yom Hazikaron.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and has commanded us to light the candle of the Day of Remembrance.

2) Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha’olam, shehecheyanu, v’kimanu, v’higianu, lazman hazeh.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion.

Rosh Hashanah eve meal (and meal on the night of Rosh Hashanah day 1):

These meals are filled with symbolism, with foods representing our wishes for the upcoming year. Special round challah baked with raisins is dipped in honey to represent a sweet New Year. (Need a New Year’s Pumpkin Challah Recipe? Visit

Apples and honey = good and sweet year.

Local farmers markets sell the freshest apples in the city.

Head of a fish, ram or other animal = “be at the head of the class” this year.

Pomegranate = filled with mitzvot, symbolized by the numerous seeds.

Sephardic Jews use these items and add more foods, which have Hebrew names that suggest wishes for the coming year:

Dates: “to end” = an ending of hatred and conflict with enemies.

Small light-colored beans: “many” and “heart” = that our merits may increase.

Leeks: “to cut” = to cut down the evil around us.

Beets: “to depart” = that our enemies shall depart from us.

Gourd: “to announce” = that our merits be announced before God.

A prayer for each food is recited while holding the item in the right hand immediately before eating. For the specific prayers, visit

Sept. 29 (1 Tishrei)
Candle Lighting: Sept. 29 at 7:26 p.m.

Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of a new year in the Hebrew calendar, and literally means “head of the year.”

Machzor: Because there are so many unique prayers on Rosh Hashanah, we use a special prayer book called a machzor.

Want to understand the machzor better? The book “Entering the High Holy Days: A Guide to the Origins, Themes, and Prayers” by Reuven Hammer is a good guide.

Torah reading: Genesis 21:1-34; Numbers 29:1-6.

Haftarah: I Samuel 1:1-2:10.

The shofar, a horn from a kosher animal ­(often a ram), is blown after the Torah reading. This fulfills a commandment and serves as a wake-up call to shake us out of our spiritual slumber, reconnect to our source and recommit to our divine mission in this world. Rosh Hashanah is also known as “The Day of the Shofar Blast,” and the mitzvah simply is to hear the 30 blasts of the shofar, made up of three distinct sounds:

Tekiah — one long, straight blast.

Shevarim — three medium, wailing sounds.

Teruah — nine short blasts in quick succession.

There are many Israeli-made kosher shofars for sale locally at Judaica stores or online.

Tashlich: Following afternoon services, we go to a body of water, preferably one that has fish. There we recite the tashlich prayers to symbolically cast our sins into the water and leave them behind in order to begin the New Year with a blank slate.

Sept. 30 (2 Tishrei)

What’s the difference between the first and second days of Rosh Hashanah?

The Torah reading changes:

Genesis 22:1-24; Numbers 29:1-6.

Haftarah: Jeremiah 31:1-20.

What’s the same:

The prayers and festive meals.

The shofar is blown again to fulfill the­ mitzvah of hearing it.

The 10 Days of Repentance: The days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are a time for cheshbon hanefesh, an accounting of the soul, when amends are made with others and internal work becomes intensely focused. Small changes in the daily prayer pay homage to God’s kingship and remind atoners of the work to be done.

Dip your apples, it’s Rosh Hashanah

Based on Shakira’s “Waka Waka”.

No apples, pomegranates, babies, or smartphones were harmed in the filming of this video. Please don’t feed babies honey.

Vocals: Yoav Hoze, Shani Lachmish, Ahava Katzin, Tal Ginzburg, Reuven Katz, and Amit Ben Atar. Choreography by Ilana Bril and Edeete Suher.

Music arrangement, performance, and mixing by Amit Ben Atar. Recorded at Bit Studios by Amit Ben Atar.

Directed and Filmed by Ben R. Producer: Yigal Haronian

Lyrics by Ben R..

A Rosh Hashanah musical parody by The Ein Prat Fountainheads –

Randy Pausch’s last lecture links morality and purpose

Randy Pausch Last Lecture: Living your childhood dreams

“Brick walls are there for a reason,” wrote the late Dr. Randy Pausch, author of the best-selling book, “The Last Lecture.” A computer scientist and former professor at theUniversity of Virginia and Carnegie Mellon, Pausch argued that brick walls are not there to keep us out. If anything, “brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.”

On July 25, Pausch died of pancreatic cancer, having left this world much too early and leaving behind a wife and three young children. He was 47.

Having just finished his book, what struck me about him was not so much his tragic, premature death, but rather his vitality and his sense of perspective. Published before his death, his best-selling book is sweeping the nation, largely because it is an affirmation of life an affirmation of the here and now. It has become a popular literary wake-up call.

Titled, “The Last Lecture,” Pausch shares a number of personal anecdotes and insights throughout his 206-page book. The work is an outgrowth of a public lecture given by select faculty at Carnegie Mellon. The format of the talk invites a teacher each year to share his or her reflections on life with colleagues and students in an open forum. Pausch’s “The Last Lecture” was particularly poignant, given his terminal medical condition.

Apropos to our community’s upcoming celebration of the Days of Awe and, in particular, Yom Kippur, Pausch designates a chapter heading in his book: “A Bad Apology Is Worse Than No Apology.” In his words, “Apologies are not pass/fail.” Or, as he writes: “Any performance lower than an A really doesn’t cut it.”

I’m not in full agreement with him on this rarely are things all or nothing in life but that not withstanding, he does list three things, to which I agree, that must be included by the person who wronged the other for it to be an appropriate apology:

  1. What I did was wrong.
  2. I feel badly that I hurt you.
  3. How do I make this better?

Eight-hundred years earlier, Moses Maimonides offered the following insight into what constitutes a true repentant. In his legal work, Mishneh Torah (Hilchei Teshuvah 2:1), Maimonides suggests a good indicator of a truly apologetic person is one, who when faced with a similar situation, does not behave in the same manner. The feelings might still be there, but the behavior is different, improved, virtuous.

Like the Days of Awe that will soon be upon us, Pausch’s “The Last Lecture” reminds us all of life’s brevity. Like Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Pausch’s book asks us to ask ourselves: What matters most in life? How can I live a more purpose-filled existence? How can I fortify my faith without becoming excessive? How can I live more in the moment, appreciating all that I have?

In that way, Pausch was a teacher’s teacher. Through his book and recorded lecture, he continues to teach all of us to pause and look within.

But as inspiring as his book is and as vital as his life was, we Jews need look no further than our religious tradition when fashioning our own “Last Lecture.” Though our tradition may not be a best seller, throughout time, it remains forever ageless, undiminished by popular trends, God-filled and when taken seriously, life-transforming.

Meme’s in the kitchen, making memories

I remember the moment well. I had just picked up my 74-year-old mother at LAX, and as we entered my new house in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood, I proudly showed her the new kitchen.

Compared to her kitchen in Montreal, this one was the size of the Roman Coliseum. It took her about an hour to fully inspect it. I think she opened every drawer and cabinet. She was so impressed, she muttered a few words in Arabic I had never heard before. She got a kick out of those little transparent decal stickers on the cabinets — which I got at Shmulie’s Books & Gifts on Pico Boulevard — that delineate milk and meat dishes.

But what I think really moved her — what got those 20/20 eyes of hers to open just a little wider — was the potential. The potential for some very serious cooking.

I’ve never seen Bob Dylan in a recording studio. But I can just imagine. He probably knows just what he wants. He can speak the engineer’s language, tell the bass player how to improve a rhythm, make changes on the fly, fix a lyric, add some harmonica when he feels like it. He’s in creative heaven. Within a few hours, a “Blowin’ in the Wind” or “Dirt Road Blues” is born.

That’s sort of my mother in the kitchen. The difference is she weighs more, she doesn’t sing, she doesn’t wear sunglasses, she has no angst, she doesn’t smoke or drink, she has no help and, once she’s done creating her art, it immediately gets consumed.

What remains from her creations is not a lifetime of playing and listening, but a lifetime of memories.

But oh, what memories.

It didn’t take long for my mother (her grandchildren call her by the French “Meme,” which sounds like “meh meh”) to create memories on her first trip to the hood.

Within a week, her anisette-flavored galettes — flat, crunchy cakes, which she served my father every morning for 49 years along with his Turkish coffee — were politely interfering with Rabbi Abner Weiss’s Torah salon. I distinctly recall Rabbi Weiss taking a break from his class as he saw a tray of Meme’s galettes approaching — the man wanted one. No one seemed to mind.

She used a special pastry roller for those galettes. I’m sure you could find one like it at Pottery Barn. Hers came from her grandmother, who used it to make the same galettes in a Jewish neighborhood of Casablanca. The roller has that worn-out look, but you can see the kind of sturdy construction that suggests it could probably crank out galettes for two more generations.

As the weeks of her visit here went by, and her rule over my kitchen became complete, the household began to revolve not just around her food, but around her.

Grouchy kids getting ready for school in the morning? Nothing like the aroma of a few hot moufletas (Moroccan crepes), with Meme in her bathrobe spreading some melted butter and honey, to lighten the stress of an upcoming algebra test.

Playdates coming over after school? How about an elaborate fruit platter and marzipan cookies to tide you over until Meme’s juicy Keftas (spiced up burgers) for dinner?

For several months, in addition to the weekday surprises she would prepare every night for the kids, a parade of Shabbat guests feasted on Meme’s delights like spicy Moroccan fish, truffle and meatball tagine, an array of delicate Mediterranean salads and, for Shabbat lunch, her signature, unmistakable Dafina, the Moroccan cholent.

Put it this way: By her second month here, she was on a first name basis with at least one meat-cutter at Pico Glatt, and she was beginning to pick up Spanish.

All this, however, seemed to be a build-up to the meal that will go down in family lore. If you should ever come across any of the 20 or so guests who came to Meme’s second Passover seder — created during an intense 10-hour burst of activity in her new kitchen — ask them about that meal.

For about four hours, a group of sophisticated and happy grown-ups were engaged in lively conversation — and kept getting interrupted. As soon as Bob Ore, a French playwright, would go off on one of his wild, comedic riffs, something would come to interrupt. When the editor of Moment magazine tried to explain a new piece she was planning on Norman Mailer to a movie producer sitting next to her, something would interrupt. When the creator of tried to tell us about the different kinds of Sephardics around the world who had taken to his site, or when Louie Kemp tried to enlighten us with a story on the Lubavitcher rebbe, something again would interrupt.

All night long, something would come to interrupt.

These glorious interruptions were Meme’s creations, one sensuous platter at a time. If a Hollywood cinematographer could have filmed the evening, it would have rivaled the food scenes in “Like Water for Chocolate.” To this day, when I meet someone who was there, the conversation invariably comes back to that night of a thousand delights. By the time the meal was over, we had all surrendered. The conversation had clearly shifted to the food. Meme had won, hands down.

After four months creating this culinary heaven, Meme had to return home. The relatives there were clearly getting impatient with our monopolizing of the family treasure. We had no choice. We gave Meme back her passport. But not before she made moufletas, with a big smile on her face, for about 200 guests at the traditional mimouna party celebrating the end of Passover.

Which brings me to a few weeks ago, when I got an e-mail from The Jewish Journal, asking me if I would write about my mother’s cooking for the Rosh Hashanah food issue, accompanied by color photos, recipes, the works. Now I’m thinking: the editors there probably don’t know that Meme’s been back in Montreal for awhile. That big kitchen she took over during those memorable months, well, it hasn’t been the same without her. How can I do a Meme food story without Meme?

As luck would have it, my kids and I were about to go to Montreal for a big family wedding. Would Meme be up to preparing a full Rosh Hashanah feast in the middle of all the festivities, in her tiny kitchen?

Blind Faith

Jews often live in calendar dialectics. Annually, we oscillate between two Jewish New Years (Tishrei/Nissan) and two “Judgment Days” (Rosh Hashana/Yom Kippur). the Dubner Maggid, Rabbi Yaakov Krantz, perhaps the greatest Jewish storyteller of all time, was once asked: Why do we celebrate both Simchat Torah and Shavuot? Why not condense them into one grand holiday?

Characteristically, he responded with a story: A king and queen were childless for many years. Desperate, they visited a sage who conveyed a potent blessing with a cautionary clause. Shortly, the queen would successfully bear a baby girl. No man outside the family, however, must see her until her wedding day, lest she die. And so it was. When the queen gave birth to a baby girl, a secluded island was prepared for the princess. There she was raised in regal style with the finest female educators.

As the princess came of age, the king encountered a serious technical difficulty in marrying off his daughter. Each nobleman in the king’s court was thrilled to accept the princess’s hand in marriage — until it was explained that the first date and the wedding would coincide. On the verge of despair, the king approached the final nobleman, who remarkably assented to marry without as much as a peek.

As the wedding date approached, the nobleman’s repressed bridal fears shook him profoundly. He was for better, but probably for worse, stuck. On the wedding day, the whole world came to dance, except for the anxiety-stricken groom. As he peered underneath the veil, he braced for disaster — but inexplicably the princess was incredibly beautiful. A nagging nervousness persisted: “What’s the catch?” But none was coming. Everyday he unveiled yet another wondrous aspect of her personality. Not only was she stunning, she was also spunky, spirited, charming and deep.

Months later, the nobleman approached his new father-in-law to admit his delight in his new bride and confide his disappointment — that he had essentially missed out on the wedding. The king decided that a new party would be arranged. All the guests would be invited back but this time only one person, the prince himself, would dance to express his absolute delight. And so it was.

Shavuot, the Dubner Maggid explained, marks the Jew’s unshakable commitment to God’s wisdom and His Torah. Not knowing what was in the Torah, at the foot of Mount Sinai, the Jewish nation confidently proclaimed Na’aseh V’nishma (we will perform the mitzvot and then we will understand them). That faith remained blind until the Jew was exposed to the sweetness of the Torah. Simchat Torah celebrates, through dedication to Torah study, the Jew’s joy and ever expanding appreciation for the Torah’s pristine beauty and depth.

Is that not a metaphor for Jewish history? When we had nothing but faith — throughout the numerous darks spots, spanning from Babylonia through Rome to Medieval Europe and 20th century Germany — the Jew always celebrated deep Torah study. It was the study halls of Babylonia, Italy, Germany, Spain, Lithuania and Poland that illuminated our blackest moments. And today — as we begin the “Lexus” period of the 21st century America Jewish community — where are we?

In May 1964, Look magazine ran a cover story on “The Vanishing American Jew,” predicting that by the year 2000, there would be no more Jews left in this country. Since that dire prediction, Look has vanished and we remain 5 million plus. All, however, is not rosy on the American Jewish front. Sub-zero replacement rates, an aging population and a 52 percent intermarriage rate do not bode well for the future of American Jewry.

When historians will wonder what happened to all those American Jews, I believe they will reach the inescapable conclusion that many analysts of the classic 1990 National Jewish Population Survey have already reached: “Jewish day school was … the only schooling that stands against the assimilatory process indicated by intermarriage and its related behaviors” (Elimor & Katz, 1993). In other words, only a consistent commitment to serious Torah will create the joy critical to ensure Jewish survival. Of course these historians will have only been echoing the words of the sweet singer of Israel, King David, who more than 2,500 years ago penned in his Psalms the sentiment: “Had the Torah not been my constant delight, long ago, I would have long since been lost”

Amid the wild craziness and the merriment (and the unfortunate alcohol) that often accompanies Simchat Torah, we may want to reflect upon the secret of our eternity.

After that reflection, I humbly submit, we might just do ourselves and our unborn grandchildren a favor and commit to attend one of the numerous deep (and often entertaining) Torah classes that can be found year-round in our local synagogues or kollels. The Torah is quite a bride — and marriage, after all, is a beautiful thing.

Asher Brander is the rabbi of Westwood Kehilla, founder of LINK (Los Angeles Intercommunity Kollel) and long-time teacher at Yeshiva University of Los Angeles High Schools.


The Mitzvah’s in the Mail

We need more stamps," a little boy yells. "How many cards do we have left?" asked a dark-haired woman. "I have more envelopes!" shouts a girl in a skirt. It’s the Wednesday before Rosh Hashana at the Jewish Home for the Aging in Reseda, yet the residents don’t seem to mind the noise level, which rises again when two boys start banging on a nearby piano. Still, the octogenarians have smiles on their faces. Who knew that sending out holiday cards could be so much fun?

The lively visitors are several families from Calabasas who have dedicated their time to various charities and volunteer opportunities. "We’re basically a mitzvah group," says Debbi Molnar, the founder of the organization, which has no name. This is the group’s second year helping the elderly reach out to loved ones at Rosh Hashana. "A lot of these folks want to send holiday cards, but they need help," explained Todd Molnar, Debbi’s husband. "That’s why we’re here."

Jo Zuckerman, 88, closes her thick address book after completing her last card. "This evening is lovely," she says, "The children are behaving so well and are so happy to help." Other residents, like Yvette Concoff, are still writing away as preteens sit beside them addressing, sealing, stamping and, best of all, chatting with those they are helping.

"I put on stamps and sealed envelopes for two different women," said Michael Nordon, 10. "I’m glad to be able to do nice things for other people."

"If the kids don’t learn to give back to the community, it’s hard to learn it as an adult," says Molnar. The group, which is 12 families strong, gets together at least once a month to perform charitable acts like this one.

With three helpers, Concoff, 89, was able to send out 26 cards this year, but it’s not the letters she’s happy about: "Kids are always beautiful, and this was just darling," she says with a smile.

For the Kids

This year Rosh Hashana was on Sept. 6 and Yom Kippur will start Sunday night, Sept. 15. In between them, during the 10 Days of Repentance, was Sept. 11. It was a day of sadness when we remembered the 3,000 people who died, and it was a day of looking toward the future. The ruins are cleared away and it is now time to think about rebuilding.

On Yom Kippur we do the same. We spend the day clearing away the ruins of the last year: saying goodbye to mistakes and bad feelings. In the evening, when all is clean and pure, we rebuild: will we be respectful sons and daughters, students and friends? Let’s match the building of new structures at Ground Zero with the building of stronger inner selves.

A Finger-Lickin Break Fast Kugel

1 1¼2 sticks (3¼4 cup)

salted butter or margarine

3¼4 cup dark brown sugar

1 cup pecans, halved

1 pound wide noodles

4 large eggs

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1¼2 cup sugar

2 teaspoons salt

1. Melt half the butter in a 12-cup mold or tube pan.

Swirl it around the bottom and up the sides.

2. Press the brown sugar into the bottom and press the pecans into the sugar.

3. Boil the noodles according to the package directions and then drain. Mix with the eggs, the remaining butter, melted, cinnamon, sugar and salt and pour into the mold.

4. Bake in a preheated 350 F oven for one hour and 15 minutes or until the top is brown. Let sit for 15 minutes before unmolding. The top will become slightly hard like a praline.

Serve cold or at room temperature.

A 9/11 Family Tale

Although I was there, I can’t tell you much about the events of Sept. 11, 2001, that you don’t already know. After all, you had CNN; I only had my two eyes

and the prescription lenses I thankfully remembered to grab as I fled the apartment. Yes, I watched from a few blocks away as the towers fell, but without the benefit of a zoom lens or slow motion video (thank God for that — there was nothing that I saw I wished to see again or in greater detail).

Indeed, the overwhelming personal tragedies and the incredible acts of heroism have been recorded and retold. I cannot add to them. But I can tell you one story, a small one, about two brothers from Long Beach who found themselves that morning on opposite sides of a river.

A decade ago, my wife, Jackie, and I returned to Southern California from New York City, where we had lived for five years. I continued to make frequent business trips there. On the bright, clear morning of Sept. 11, I lazed sleepily in the apartment my company keeps in lower Manhattan.

I was alone. My brother, with whom I share the place when I come to New York, had an early plane to catch, and had left a couple of hours earlier. As I debated whether or not to get up and shower, he was sitting in the terminal at Newark Airport waiting for his Atlanta flight to be called. At the next gate, passengers lined up to board United Flight 93, bound for San Francisco. Randall casually watched them embark; he would be one of the last to see them alive.

Within minutes of the first attack, my building was evacuated. I stood in the park, 37 floors below my apartment window, with my eyes squinting against the sunlight, my heart racing, my mind recoiling, rejecting the evidence of my senses.

As the first tower fell, I was speaking with Jackie on my cell phone, reassuring her that I was alright, although she surely knew otherwise from the sound of my voice. I stood, a couple of hundred yards from the billowing smoke, trembling and terrorized. Randall watched helplessly from the airport, from which the towers were — had been — clearly visible.

Stunned, I began wandering the city, dazed and aimless. Randall, however, had the opposite reaction: he was galvanized, committed and determined to find a way back into Manhattan. His goal was to reach me and make sure I was OK.

Like me, Randall grew up in Long Beach, attended Jewish day school and celebrated his bar mitzvah at Temple Beth Shalom. Unlike me, though, he never left the neighborhood until the day I asked him to come work with me. Within a couple of weeks, he was setting up an apartment on Manhattan’s Chambers Street, learning the subway system and discovering ways to have videos and snack food delivered on demand via the Internet. By Sept. 11, my brother had been working with me for three years, spending about one week a month in Southern California and the rest of the time in New York City.

And so it was that morning, as about 8 million people worked desperately to leave Manhattan as quickly as possible, Randall focused his considerable ingenuity and sales ability on doing just the opposite.

The obstacles to reaching this goal were fairly considerable. Of course, all of the usual routes into Manhattan — subways, ferries and bridges — were closed. River traffic was warned away from the city’s many docks.

Randall, through a combination of persuasion, bribery and alert observation, finally reached Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Like our great-grandparents over a century earlier, he arrived on the island without a dime in his pocket. He set out on foot for SoHo, about 3 miles away, where he found me a couple hours later.

I was shaken, but fine. He was exhausted, but fine. I was relieved to have him with me. We spent the rest of the week together before finally coming home. Our flight was on Rosh Hashana; as Randall said at the time, “It’s not a problem. God is on vacation this week.”

Soon it will be Rosh Hashana again. The High Holiday prayerbook, the Machzor, includes the words “These things I will remember.” I carry hundreds of memories of Sept. 11, 2001, many of them terrifying that I would gladly be rid of. But I will also remember that somebody crossed a blockaded river and walked half the length of a city just to look in my eyes, to be reassured that I was OK.

Thanks, Randall.

E. Scott Menter is an Orange County technology consultant and writer. He currently serves as president of the Orange County chapter of the American Jewish Committee.

Reflections at the New Year

On behalf of the State of Israel, it is my honor to commend this community for all the magnificent work you have done with and on behalf of the Israeli people during this most painful year. Your outpouring of love and support constitutes a source of invaluable encouragement to us. Through your words and deeds, you have directly touched the lives of those Israelis most in need: the ones who have suffered from terrorism, who have lost loved ones and who need us now more than ever.

Now, as we approach Rosh Hashana, we cling to a vision of a better life and a more promising future, for it is no exaggeration to say that the year just passed has been perhaps the most tormenting we have faced since the establishment of our state in 1948. As of this writing, 611 innocent people have been murdered during the ongoing campaign of Palestinian terrorism. At the same time, of course, the past year will be remembered for the fact that the onslaught of hatred and destruction landed on America’s shores. Within hours of the attacks on Sept. 11, the United States revealed its full power and glory, its determination and strength. The reaction of the American people became a lesson to anyone who doubted the resolve of a free people to combat terrorism until it is defeated.

During this year, we also witnessed in horror the slaying of five Americans at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, as well as the Israeli Americans murdered at LAX on the Fourth of July. It is hard to ignore the explosion in the number, prominence and perceived legitimacy of anti-Jewish acts perpetrated in locations within Europe and the Arab world in recent times. These frightening events must call each of us to attention, and remind us just how connected we truly are.

While Israel has long had an overwhelmingly positive and strengthening effect upon Jewish communities in the Diaspora, we must acknowledge that, at times, the consequences of our conflict in the Middle East can adversely affect Jews elsewhere. This linkage places a heavy responsibility upon Israel, and highlights the extent to which Diaspora Jewry has a moral right to intervene in Israeli concerns. I would argue that not only is there a moral right, but a moral obligation for the Diaspora to intercede in Israeli life. If your communities can be drawn into our disputes, and if we expect you to take a public stand on Israel’s behalf in the United States, how could we legitimately tell you not to play an active role among us?

A fundamental aspect of such a role must be the commitment to spend time with us in Israel. As we make resolutions for the upcoming year, I would humbly urge you to come to Israel on regular visits, and urge your communities to do the same. Especially now, there should not be a single Jew who has not experienced firsthand the wonders of the Western Wall, the power of Masada, the mysticism of Tzfat or the beauty of Eilat. We are all uplifted when you spend time at our world-class universities, our institutes of art, science and research. We need to see you with us. We need to know that we are not alone.

The obstacles we now face can easily overwhelm us with a sense of pessimism; yet Rosh Hashana should mark a moment when we reflect with pride upon Israel’s accomplishments and breathtaking successes, which we must never take for granted. Sixty years ago, Jews desperately seeking to escape from Europe had nowhere to go. Now, with our own state, our people have been able to come home en masse.

In the early days of statehood, we were struggling to tame the deserts of the Negev and the swamps of the Galilee. Who could have foreseen that in the year 2002, Israel would have moved to conquering outer space with satellites and astronauts, establishing ourselves as pioneers of cyberspace and as global leaders of the most cutting-edge technologies known to mankind?

In all of its complexity and uncertainty, Israel is, in its totality, our home. It is the only home where Jews can defend themselves, by themselves. We truly have a wonderful land, an amazing country and, in the upcoming year, may we merit the courage to protect our security and our freedom; may we find the creativity to persist in the greatest struggle of all: the struggle for peace. I conclude with our people’s ancient prayer of peace: "Give peace, goodness and blessing, life, grace, loving-kindness and mercy to us and to all Your people in Israel."

May each of us and all Israel be inscribed and sealed for a good year.

Place of Balance

The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana ("Head of the Year" in Hebrew), is an occasion for celebration and feasting but also for introspection and reflection. Marking the "birthday of the world" — the creation of the universe some six millennia ago, according to the traditional reckoning — it falls on the first day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei and is commonly celebrated for two days.

Because Judaism uses a lunar calendar adjusted to the solar year, the holiday can fall anywhere from mid-September to mid-October, and people often speak of Rosh Hashana coming early (as it does this year) or late — but, as the joke goes, never quite on time.

"On time," however, might be at the solar equinox, for Rosh Hashana is concerned with balance, with weighing and with judgment — like the scales of Libra, the astrological sign associated with this time of year. As daylight and darkness even out and summer slowly fades, it seems as if a larger drama framing human lives is being acted out above. It’s to this drama, its Creator and the individual in relationship to it, rather than to events in Jewish history, that Rosh Hashana directs itself. The holiday does not neglect festive meals, holiday clothes and family get-togethers, but its themes are existential, focusing on rigorous self-examination, free will and the possibility of personal change.

Wearing this hat, under the name Yom ha’Din, the Day of Judgment, Rosh Hashana asks that individuals assess themselves to see where they have fallen short in their relationship to their inner selves, to their loved ones, to their community and to God. Because the holiday urges return to the inner self, it has a feeling of homecoming embedded in it. This promise of homecoming may explain why even many Jews who feel disconnected from Judaism the rest of the year bring themselves back to synagogue on these High Holidays.

Rosh Hashana is also called Yom Teruah, the day of sounding the shofar, or ram’s horn, whose piercing blast is the primary symbol of the holiday. The practice of blowing the shofar is mandated by biblical law, and though the Bible offers no justification, the shofar sounds can be understood as a way of waking the inner person to self-examination, change and recommitment to the moral and ethical requirements of Jewish life.

The holiday’s tropism toward the philosophical and internal is corrected, so to speak, by an array of appealing customs. Among the best-known is eating apple slices dipped in honey with a wish for a sweet year. Many people also follow a custom of eating symbolic foods at the start of Rosh Hashana meals, with a spoken word play that explains their symbolism (see page 36). For example — to carry the verbal play into English, as many people do — beets may be served to express the hope that our opponents will not "beat" us. The head of a fish (or even a sheep) suggests, "May we be the head and not the tail."

The braided breads typical on Jewish festivals are exchanged for round loaves, to allude to the cycles of time. Some bakers decorate them with such motifs as a ladder (to recall the ladder that the biblical Jacob saw connecting heaven to earth). At Tashlich, from the Hebrew word meaning "to send," individuals or congregations go to a river or pond to symbolically empty their pockets, as if to cast the mistakes of the past year into the flowing water.

The process of personal realignment is begun on Rosh Hashana, but the struggle with the self isn’t likely to be completed in a day or two of feasting or even praying. Rosh Hashana initiates the period of the Days of Awe, an extended opportunity for making amends to others and for clarifying one’s own heart that culminates 10 days later in the austere and yet joyful fast of Yom Kippur.

A Persian American Feast

Every Erev Rosh Hashana, our dining room table is set with the requisite items: apples, honey,tongue and beets. Zucchini and black-eyed peas. Mouth-watering sweet pomegranate. Sound a little exotic? To Persian American Jews, this is a yearly reality as families get together to celebrate the Rosh Hashana seder and meal.

While this isn’t Passover, a seder is most definitely included on each night. It consists of eight ritual items, each with a separate blessing and symbolic significance. Just as in Passover, we build up an appetite before the main meal.

The ceremony begins with apples and honey. This is followed by leeks, zucchini (baked squash), black-eyed peas, tongue, beets, dates, and pomegranate. But if eating apples and honey are a worldwide Jewish ritual symbolizing hopes for a sweet new year, then what about the less widely known ritual foods?

Rabbi Michelle Missaghieh of Temple Israel of Hollywood, daughter of a Persian father and Ashkenazi mother, never knew of this ritual until she moved to Los Angeles. Then, while she was in rabbinical school, her Persian friends told her about it, and her interest was stirred.

Missaghieh asked her relatives for a copy of the long blessings traditionally said over each item. Using her fluent knowledge of Hebrew, she translated them word for word.

"It was a play on words," she says. For example, in Hebrew the date or palm tree is called tamar. The blessing said over the date, using the word yitammoo, asks that evildoers be done away with. The root of yitammoo is tam, directly taken from tamar. Hence the use of the date in the seder.

Four other word associations are included in the seder. They are drawn from the Hebrew or Aramaic names of the foods involved, Aramaic being the common language used in ancient times in the Middle East.

Leeks, vegetables of the onion family, are called kartee in Aramaic. In Hebrew karoot means felled, or cut off at the roots. The blessing over the leek asks that ill-wishers be felled.

Zucchini are called karaa in Aramaic; in Hebrew karoah means to tear or shred. The accompanying blessing asks that any bad judgments against us be torn up.

Peas, called ruviah in Aramaic, are eaten after a blessing, asking that our good deeds will multiply. Ruviah itself means numerous, and the Hebrew verb yirboo (to multiply) comes from the root rav.

A blessing praying that our enemies will disappear from view is said over beets, called salka. The similar sounding Hebrew verb salek means to disappear from view.

There is no wordplay associated with pomegranate or apples and honey. The blessing over the pomegranate, a fruit commonly eaten during the autumn season in the Middle East, asks that we be filled with as many good deeds as the pomegranate is filled with seeds. Apples and honey are eaten after a blessing for a good and sweet new year.

Then there is the matter of sheep or cow’s tongue.

"Me and my cousins always fight over tongue in the kitchen," said Alison Roya Breskin, a freshman at San Diego State University who is Persian from her mother’s side. She considers tongue "something cool" about Rosh Hashana. "It’s so good, even my pseudo-vegetarian cousin has to have some," she said.

Tongue, virtually unknown in the American diet, is considered a delicacy in many countries. Like brains or liver in the Middle East, tongue is considered part of a good gourmet meal.

According to Rabbi David Shofet, Persian rabbi of Nessah Cultural Center in Beverly Hills, the ceremonial eating of tongue on Rosh Hashana is symbolic on two levels. The first is the literal symbolism, tongue being from the sheep’s head, that we will be at the head rather than at the tail end during the coming year. This is also a hope that we will be leaders and a prayer for good, strong leadership among the Jewish people.

"We hope that God helps us to improve ourselves spiritually and emotionally," Shofet said. He explained that tongue from the head, the first part of the body, is symbolic of being progressive. The second symbolic meaning is of the ram sacrificed by Abraham after passing a test of faith in almost sacrificing his son, Isaac. The Torah portion containing this story is also read every year in synagogue during Rosh Hashana services.

Shofet said that another ritual food used in seders in Iran is sheep’s lung.

This element, he said, is not included in seders in the United States because lung is not eaten here. When cooked, lung is very light, and was used to symbolize that our sins should be light so we would not be punished or judged harshly by God.

It may seem that the serious contemplation associated with the seder’s ritual foods would result in a Rosh Hashana more akin to the somber mood of Yom Kippur, where fasting and confessing one’s sins take up the entire day.

This isn’t so, said Mohtaram Shadpour, who immigrated from Iran to Southern California before the 1979 Revolution. Shadpour loves the tradition of getting together with her four children and 12 grandchildren. It takes her nearly two days to prepare all the Persian dishes for the Rosh Hashana seder and main meal, but to her it is definitely worth it. "Yom Kippur isn’t happy until it’s over," she said emphatically. "But Rosh Hashana is a happy tradition with delicious food, when the whole family comes together to celebrate."

The tradition dates back thousands of years. Jews have been in Iran for more than 2,600 years, arriving there shortly before the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE and the resulting exile of the Jews from Judea to Babylon (modern day Iraq).

As a result of the defeat of the Babylonian empire in 536 BCE by Cyrus, the founder of the first Persian Dynasty, the captivity of the Jews in Babylon was ended. Many Jews returned to Jerusalem, but others chose to relocate from Babylon to the land of their liberator and a community known as Shushan: the same Shushan where the story of Purim took place, where Queen Esther and Mordechai defeated Haman’s evil plan of destroying the Jewish people.

Purim is perhaps the most widely recognized holiday in which Persian Jews figure prominently. But Rosh Hashana, when thousands of Jews in "Irangeles" come together to celebrate with festive seders, singing, and the infamous delicacy of tongue, is a close second.

Blowing the Shofar Is a Blast

"Go away!" Gabe, 15, yells at his two younger brothers, having been rudely awakened by a blast of the shofar.

Jeremy, 13, the shofar-blower, dives under the adjoining bed.

Danny, 11, the instigator, explains, "We need you to play Monopoly."

Normally, the shofar is not blown until the first day of the month of Elul, which this year fell on Aug. 9. It marks the start of the long process of introspection and self-renewal that culminates with a single long blast at the close of Yom Kippur.

But in our house, shofar-blowing began in late June, when Jeremy received three shofars as bar mitzvah gifts. They rest on the living room mantle beside the two that Danny already owns.

"Five aren’t enough," Danny says. "We need one for every person in the family."

While shofars double in our house as alarm clocks and noisemakers, failing to increase our popularity with our neighbors, they originally served as primitive communications and early warning systems.

The shofar is first mentioned in the Bible in conjunction with the giving of the Torah (Exodus 19:16): "On the third day, as morning dawned, there was thunder and lightning and a dense cloud upon the mountain, and a very loud blast of the horn, and all the people who were in the camp trembled." It was also sounded, among other biblical references, to proclaim the Jubilee (Leviticus 25:10), as a summons to war (Judges 3:27), as a call to repentance (Isaiah 58:1) and to announce new moons and festivals (Psalm 81:4).

Later, the rabbis of the talmudic period decreed that the shofar be blown during the penitential month of Elul, every day except for Shabbat and the day before Rosh Hashana. They also specified that the shofar be a ram’s horn, in remembrance of the animal that was sacrificed in place of Isaac, or a horn from a goat or other kosher animal, except for a cow, on account of the Golden Calf episode.

But it is Rosh Hashana itself that is known as Yom Teruah, or The Day of the Shofar Blast. In Leviticus 23:24, God commands, "In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe complete rest, a sacred occasion commemorated with loud blasts." The commandment is to hear, rather than blow, the shofar, and it is traditionally heard 100 times on both days of the holiday. When Rosh Hashana falls on Shabbat, however, as it does this year, the shofar is blown only on the second day in Orthodox and Conservative congregations, due to the prohibition against carrying. That doesn’t apply to the Reform movement, which observes only one day and which allows carrying.

Curiously, while we are commanded to hear the sounds of the shofar, we are not told why.

Sa’adia Gaon, the 10th-century rabbi, offers 10 reasons, from proclaiming that God, in remembrance of creation, is king to recalling the binding of Isaac and the ram in the thicket to reminding us that the shofar will be sounded at the end of time, when the Messiah resurrects the dead.

And Maimonides, the 12th-century philosopher, interprets the commandment to mean: "Awake from your slumber, you who have fallen asleep in life."

And awaken we have, with a jolt. For the past two years, the shofar has roused us to a world of hideous evil and senseless destruction. On Erev Rosh Hashana 2000 (Sept. 28), violence erupted in the Middle East, the start of the current intifada. And less than a week before Rosh Hashana 2001 (Sept. 18), Muslim extremists ferociously attacked the United States.

This year, the shofar, with its eerie, piercing and surreal sounds, awakens us to a world of continued sadness, fear and seemingly irreconcilable conflict. To the knowledge that no matter how much we repent and resolve to improve ourselves, that no matter how many safeguards we erect or military strikes we carry out, tragedy can occur unpredictably and uncontrollably.

This year, the words of the "Unetaneh Tokef" prayer, "who will live and who will die, who will die at his predestined time, and who before his time, who by water and who by fire," are frighteningly real. And there is no guarantee, as we have painfully witnessed, that repentance, prayer and charity can avert the evil of the decree.

Nevertheless, we still need the shofar to summon us to repentance and prayer. But this year, in addition, we need the shofar to awaken us to new possibilities and new ways of thinking, to new hopes and new strengths. We need the shofar to pierce the darkness of the world and to help realize the Rosh Hashana blessing: "May the year and its curses end; may the year and its blessing begin.”

For our family, five shofars are a good start.

Orange County Kids Page

Next week is Rosh Hashana, the Birthday of the World. Soon you get to eat apples and honey. You get to dip the round challah in the honey too — my personal favorite. Some of you will spend the day at synagogue in your holiday best. Some of you may decide to celebrate in nature — surrounded by the amazing gifts we receive from God all year. Like the trees, you’ve grown taller and stronger. You’ve also grown wiser and more aware of the world around you. Make a promise to the world as you grow stronger and wiser, the world will grow stronger too. You will keep it clean and protect it, and, in turn, the world will give you red apples, sweet honey and yellow wheat for challah. Sounds like a good deal to me!

A Festival Feast of Fowl

The festival of Rosh Hashana celebrates the beginning of the Jewish New Year, and family meals are an important part of this holiday. Traditions include serving a round challah and apples dipped in honey symbolizing a sweet and well-rounded new year.

I recently taught a Rosh Hashana cooking class at the University of Judaism that consisted of cooking chicken three different ways, as well as desserts featuring apples and honey.

When I was growing up roast chicken was traditionally served every Friday night, and on most Jewish holidays. I always enjoy surprising my family with creative dinners, and I’m always on the lookout for new recipes using chicken.

At the class, I began with broiled chicken that is served with a salsa verde (green sauce). This Italian barbecue chicken recipe came from Nadia Santini, chef of Ristorante dal Pescatore, located in a small village between Cremona and Mantova in Italy. We love sharing Sunday lunch with the family and the menu never varies — grilled home-raised chicken with a salsa verde, using lots of garlic. This recipe has been in their family for generations, and the chicken must be marinated for 24 hours before grilling or broiling.

The next recipe I demonstrated was chicken, butterflied and baked until crisp and golden brown, seasoned with fresh herb oil and served on a bed of mixed vegetables.

The third chicken recipe, known as B’stilla or chicken pie, is served in most Moroccan restaurants. The chicken is first cooked in a broth, deboned and layered with scrambled egg, almonds, cinnamon and sugar, the mixture is wrapped in leaves of filo dough and baked.

If you want to be truly authentic, the dish should be eaten with your fingers.

One of the apple desserts was apple strudel, using filo dough as the wrapping.

It is a perfect Rosh Hashana dessert to make in advance, freeze and bake just before serving.

Italian Barbecued Chicken

Santini with Salsa Verde
For the Chicken
2 cups olive oil
Juice of 2 lemons
1 cup white wine vinegar
4 cloves garlic, crushed and thinly sliced
1 cup minced fresh parsley
Pinch sugar, salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 small frying chickens (2 to 3 pounds each), cut into pieces

In a large, shallow glass bowl or pan, combine olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, garlic, parsley and sugar. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Arrange chicken pieces in the pan and turn to coat evenly with olive oil mixture. Cover pan with plastic wrap, then aluminum foil, and marinate chicken for 24 hours in the refrigerator, turning pieces occasionally.

For the Salsa Verde

1 large or 2 medium bunches of parsley, finely minced
3 cloves garlic, crushed and thinly sliced
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 to 2 cups olive oil,
salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
In a large bowl, using a wire whisk, beat parsley, garlic, lemon juice and vinegar. Continue beating, adding olive oil in a thin stream, until thick. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour into a smaller bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and chill.
Makes about 3 cups.
When Ready to Cook

Prepare coals for grilling or preheat the broiler. To barbecue, arrange chicken on a two-sided grilling basket and enclose the chicken pieces securely.

Grill until the chickens are cooked through, about 20 minutes. To broil, place chicken pieces under a hot broiler, skin side down. Turn and broil until brown and crisp on both sides.

Serves 4 to 6.

Butterflied Roast Chicken with Fresh Herb Stuffing

For the Chicken

1 4-pound or 2 2-pound whole chickens
Mirepoix (small cubes or slices of vegetables)
1 onion, sliced and diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
1 parsnip, peeled and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons minced parsley
2 cups dry white wine
1 head garlic, unpeeled, cloves separated

For the Fresh Herb Stuffing

2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme
2 tablespoons minced fresh basil
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
olive oil, to moisten stuffing, salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a small bowl, combine garlic, rosemary, thyme, basil, chives and parsley.

Pour in enough olive oil to cover. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Cover with plastic wrap until needed. Makes about 2/3 cup.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Split the chicken along the entire length of the back, removing backbone from tail to neck. Open it, skin side up.

With a mallet (for big chickens), or heel of hand, flatten with a firm whack, fracturing the breastbone and ribcage.

Sprinkle the mirepoix mixture and the unpeeled garlic cloves on a foil-lined large roasting pan, and place the chicken on top, skin-side up.

Working with your fingertips, separate the skin from the meat of the chicken, beginning at the neck end, being careful not to tear the skin.

Place the Herb Stuffing under the skin, filling the drumsticks and thighs first. Force the mixture into place; molding the skin with your hands to resemble the natural contours of the chicken.

Pour the white wine over the mirepoix and garlic cloves. Bake the chicken for l0 minutes and reduce the oven temperature to 375F and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour longer, depending on the size of the chicken.

Baste every 20 minutes. If chicken browns too quickly, cover it loosely with foil.

If the wine cooks away too quickly, add more. Remove the foil during the last 10 minutes, allowing the chicken to brown.

B’stilla (Chicken Pie)

For the Chickens

2 chickens, 3 pounds each, with giblets
1/4 cup olive oil
4 tablespoons unsalted margarine or oil
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup chopped onion
1 garlic clove, crushed
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup chopped cilantro, salt
Freshly ground black pepper

For the Fillings

1 pound unsalted margarine
1/2 cup minced onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
9 eggs, lightly beaten
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

For the Assembly

1 package (1 pound) filo sheets
1 1/2 cups sliced almonds, toasted
Powdered sugar

Place the whole chickens, breastbone down, in the oven. Add the giblets, oil, margarine, ginger, onion, garlic, parsley, cilantro, salt, pepper and 2 cups water, or enough to reach one third up the sides of the chicken.

Preheat the oven to 450F.

Bring to a boil, turn chickens breast-side up, and stir to mix spices.

Place in the oven for 1 hour. Baste the chickens with the sauce. If chickens are a little pink, they will cook again inside the B’stilla. When chickens are cooked, cool, reserving the broth.

Bone, separating meat into bite-size pieces, and set aside.

For the fillings, melt 3 tablespoons of the margarine and sauté the onion and garlic until soft. Add eggs, parsley, cilantro, salt and pepper, and beat with a fork until well blended; cook until eggs are firm. Set aside.

In a medium-size bowl, combine the sugar, 2 teaspoons of the cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg and set aside.

Melt the remaining margarine and use it to brush a large ovenproof pie pan. Place one sheet of filo on the bottom. Brush with margarine and continue in this manner using eight sheets of filo. Spread the chicken in an even layer over the pastry and top with the egg mixture, spreading evenly. Combine almonds and sugar mixture and sprinkle over the eggs.

Place a sheet of filo over the filling and brush with margarine. Continue in this manner using 8 sheets of filo.

Fold top layers of filo under the bottom ones. Brush under seam and top with margarine. It can hold at this point for at least 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown and crisp. Just before serving, sprinkle with powdered sugar. For an attractive pattern, cover the top of the B’stilla with a paper stencil for crisscross, so the cinnamon can be sprinkled on in a heavy crisscross. Transfer to a large serving platter.

Serves about 8.

Apple Strudel

(Adapted from Cabbage Strudel from “The Gourmet Jewish Cook” by Judy Zeidler)
For the Dough
1 package filo dough
1 pound unsalted margarine, melted
2 cups finely ground almonds or walnuts

For the Filling

6 golden delicious apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons honey
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup raisins
1 cup walnuts or almonds coarsely chopped

Place the sliced apple in a large bowl and toss with the honey, sugar, cinnamon, raisins and walnuts. Cover and set aside for 10 minutes.

Place a damp towel on a work area and cover with waxed paper. Remove 4 sheets of filo from the package. Keep the remaining sheets covered with waxed paper and a damp towel to prevent drying out.

Fold the filo leaves in half like a closed book and unfold one page.

Brush with melted margarine and sprinkle lightly with ground nuts. Continue turning the pages of the filo, brushing with the butter and crumbs until you come to the center. Do not brush the margarine in the center yet. Close the second half of the book over the first and work backwards: open the last leaf and continue spreading the margarine and nuts until you come back to the center. Now brush the center with the margarine and sprinkle with nuts.

Depending on how thick a strudel you want, spread 2 to 3 cups of the apple filling lengthwise on the open filo book, 2 inches from the edge closest to you and 2 inches from the sides. Cover the filling with the closest edge and fold the sides over. Brush the sides with margarine and continue rolling up the filo, jellyroll fashion.

Cover a baking sheet with foil. Brush the foil with margarine. Place the strudel on the foil, seam side down, and brush it with margarine. Refrigerate uncovered until the margarine hardens, 15 to 20 minutes. (The strudel can be frozen at this point.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake for 45 minutes or until golden brown. Slice immediately and serve hot .

The New Year’s Sephardic Seder

It may not be as long and involved as the Passover seder, but for Raquel Bensimon, the ritualized dinner of Rosh Hashana is just as sweet and just as replete with memories.

With her husband, son and daughter-in-law, three grandchildren and the extended family of Ashkenazi in-laws and Sephardic friends, Bensimon puts on a traditional dinner that takes guests back to her native Tangier, Morocco, which she left in 1961.

The festivities start with kiddush on white wine, not red.

“Everything is light and happy and sweet,” says Bensimon, a longtime active member of Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel in Westwood. “We don’t put salt on the table, just sugar. On the first day of Rosh Hashana we don’t even drink coffee, because it is dark.”

After Hamotzi, the blessing on the challah (in some customs before Hamotzi) comes the parade of “Yehi Ratzons,” blessings of “May it be God’s will,” said on foods that are symbolic sometimes because of what the food represents, and often because of a play on words.

The one most familiar to American Jews is the apple dipped in honey, for a sweet new year. Among Moroccan Jews, a candied quince usually plays the part.

But while Ashkenazi customs begin and end with the apple — and perhaps a fish head — the Sephardim have kept up a much longer list.

That list makes its first appearance in the Talmud, with pumpkin, fenugreek, leek, beet and dates, which commentators assumed were included for their abundance and thus a symbol of prosperity. Other commentators took the concept further, playing on the double meanings the names of the vegetable could have.

The list was codified in many later halachic texts, but fell out of popular use among Ashkenazim, while Sephardim expanded those lists.

Today, many Ashkenazi households are once again adding the colorful customs, probably due in part to the fact that the widely used Machzor published by Artscroll includes the full list of simanim, symbolic foods.

While the order and customs of the simanim vary among Sephardic communities of different origins, many are similar.

A pomegranate symbolizes plenitude, with the hope that the mitzvot performed over the coming year should be plentiful. Bensimon says her family mixes the pomegranate seeds with sesame seeds and anise seeds.

A date, which in Hebrew is a tamar, is eaten with a benediction asking God that Israel’s enemies be consumed and that sinners vanish from the earth, both using the Hebrew word “tamu,” similar in root to tamar.

The “ruviah,” which could be fenugreek, black-eyed peas or string beans, tie into the word “yirbu,” multiply, with the prayer that merits should increase over the new year.

The leek is known in Hebrew as “karti, ” which is similar to the word for cut off, “karet,” imploring that God cut off enemies of the Jews.

Similarly, “silka,” which means either beet or spinach, is similar to the Hebrew word for disappear — symbolizing the prayer that our enemies disappear.

Using words from the Rosh Hashana prayers, “Kera roah gezar dineinu,” may the evil decree be torn up, pumpkin or gourd are eaten, playing on the Hebrew “kra.”

Based on the same phrase, Ashkenazim also have the custom of eating carrots, “gezer,” similar to the word “gezar,” decree.

Another custom that has been maintained among both Ashkenazim and Sephardim is that of eating part of an animal head, so that we may be the head and not the tail. Among Ashkenazim the head of choice is usually that of a fish, which also represents plenitude. Among many Sephardic communities, a sheep’s head is used, also symbolizing the ram that took the place of Isaac in the story of the binding of Isaac, which is read on Rosh Hashana.

Bensimon says in Morocco her family also used a lung, symbolizing the breath and spirit of a New Year, although she has not seen that practiced in America.

Bensimon and other Moroccans usually make a vegetable soup out of all the vegetables mentioned in the simanim, along with other winter vegetables, just as on Passover they have a vegetable soup with all the spring vegetables.

Along with the soup, Bensimon prepares a sweet dish of cous cous, vegetables, pumpkin and raisins with a cinnamony, candied onion sauce.

In Morocco, cous cous was the meal of celebration, much as turkey has become a traditional holiday food among Americans, Bensimon says.

Rabbi Daniel Bouskila of Sephardic Temple is also trying to keep the Rosh Hashana seder alive. He circulated among his congregants a list of the simanim, along with explanations of why these foods are relevant and how they vary among the different Sephardic communities.

“We hang on to our traditions,” Bensimon says. “As Americanized as we’ve become, when it comes to the holidays, we go back years for traditions.”

17 Years Ago: Taking the Schmaltz Out of Our Food

At sundown on Monday we usher in the happiest day of our calendar, Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. For the next 10 days we’ll be called upon to reexamine our lives — to wake up and not only smell the roses, but plant them for other people to enjoy.

The Days of Awe end at sundown on the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, when we’ll spend the day in temple fasting and praying. Our sundown to sundown fast brings us agony and ecstasy as we internalize how fleeting life is, promise to make amends for acts we’re not proud of, realize we have a whole new year ahead of us to make a difference.

As we hurriedly leave the temple with visions of chopped liver, lokshen kugel and our beloved cheese blintzes dancing in our heads, we know it’s just a matter of moments before we can eat.

Lately though, we’ve had to rethink this. Though it’s a beloved family tradition to break the fast with our favorite Ashkenazi dishes, we also know they contain ingredients that top the cardiologist’s list of no-no’s — red meat, schmaltz, cottage cheese, sour cream and butter. Fat, fat and more fat.

In response, creative Jewish cooks have been hard at work adapting these recipes. And, as rabbi and cookbook author Gil Marks says, with a laugh, “Healthy Jewish cooking is no longer an oxymoron.”

Marks modifies traditional holiday recipes in “The World of Jewish Entertaining” (Simon & Schuster, 1998). He uses meat sparingly, as a flavoring instead of the main event. He also uses recipes from the Sephardim, who migrated to areas as diverse as North and South Africa, the Middle East, India and later to the Mediterranean countries of Spain, Italy, Portugal, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey. Their cuisine revolved around the three main ingredients mentioned in the Bible: grains, wine and olive oil.

As for our traditional Ashkenazi delicacies, which nourish our souls more than our bodies, Marks substitutes yogurt for sour cream in blintzes, kugels and borsht, uses olive oil instead of schmaltz for chopped liver — or even eliminates liver altogether in favor of a pate of mushrooms, onions and string beans. Instead of stuffing chicken with oil-soaked bread cubes, he suggests apples and spinach, traditional ingredients for the New Year.

Marks has also gone where few men have ventured before him — perfecting a recipe for whole wheat challah, which subtracts eggs and extra fat, adding whole wheat, wheat germ and honey for moisture. He sweetens dishes with fruits instead of sugar. But, he cautions, “Be smart with substitutions. Don’t serve a dish just because it’s low fat. Experiment until you’re happy with the flavor.”

Since we’re trying to modify tradition, not break it, instead of asking a Jewish matriarch for our Break the Fast menu, we went to premier Jewish chef and caterer, David Rubell, who serves the Break the Fast Meal at Temple Shalom for the Arts in Los Angeles.

Rubell learned about “food from the old country” from the closest person to him — his Nana Willner. “On Yom Kippur, she’d shine,” he says. “Because she knew she’d be in shul all day, and exhausted when she got home, she developed a technique that I, as a caterer, use to this day.

“Nana was meticulously organized. The day before Yom Kippur, she’d assemble her ingredients, then slice, dice, and, in some cases, partially cook, then refrigerate the dishes. When she got home from shul, she’d finish each recipe and have it on the table — piping hot or ice cold — almost instantly. Nothing ever tasted like it had been sitting in the refrigerator all night. Everything was always delicious.

“I learned another lesson from Nana,” Rubell says slyly. “Seltzer water in matzah balls. ‘Most people use fat, eggs and too much matzo meal,’ she’d scoff, in her inimitable Russian-Brooklyn accent. ‘And they handle them too much. Of course, they’re like lead.’

“Not my Nana’s,” he says. “Hers were always light as a feather. I used to laugh, because when we’d eat at my other grandma’s, Nana Rubell, her matzah balls were like sinkers. We never told her our secret.

“When Nana made blintzes she’d insist on filling them with pot cheese. When she couldn’t find it, she’d substitute Farmer’s. Of course, she’d grouse every time. The mystery ingredient in her sweet blintzes was salt. Just like the infamous spoonful of sugar, ‘A pinch of salt makes us remember who we are and where we came from,’ she’d tell me. ‘Life is not all sweetness and honey. Never forget that!’ This is especially relevant on Yom Kippur, which is all about that little dose of reality,” Rubell muses.

As Rubell grew older and started working as a professional chef, his beloved nana took sick with pancreatic cancer. He trudged down to Florida and cooked her all of her favorite meals. “That meant more to her than anything,” he says, his eyes welling up. It made him start thinking about lightening the traditional Jewish foods he’d grown up with.

Today when he’s doing a menu, he starts with the dishes she’d taught him, then replaces them with healthier variations.

For example, Rubell replaces the customary sour cream topping for the blintzes with fresh berry compote. Instead of sweet, heavy babkas that “will lay in your stomach for the next three days,” he’ll serve a fresh peach cobbler. Since tuna salad with gobs of mayo is a staple on many buffets, Rubell created savory Chinese Seared Ahi Tuna Salad. Instead of the traditional sweet, heavy kugel, he’ll serve a vegetable frittata. According to Rubell, “We never forget our cultural traditions, but we’re reinterpreting them for today’s healthier lifestyles.”

Have a happy and healthy New Year!

Recipes for taking out the Schmaltz from Jewish food

All recipes from Chef David Rubell.

Smoked Whitefish Salad (A favorite of Theodore Bikel’s)
Smoked Trout may be substituted for the whitefish.

1 smoked whitefish, approximately 2 lbs., carefully boned
1/3-1/2 cup mayonnaise (low fat or regular)
1 bunch scallions, green part only, sliced thin


Pulse all ingredients in food processor until just smooth. Refrigerate. Serve as appetizer with crackers or challah, or as first course with baby greens and tomato.

Serves 8 to 10.

Chinese Seared Ahi Tuna Salad with Mango

1/2 cup soy sauce
1 teaspoon wasabi
1 1/2 pounds, fresh ahi tuna
1/4 cup canola oil
1 One-pound package wonton skins
1 quart canola oil for frying noodles
1/2 Six-ounce package saifun or dry
bean thread noodles, broken in half
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1/4 cup dry roasted, salted cashews
1 head iceberg lettuce, sliced very thin
1/2 head Savoy cabbage, sliced very thin
2 bunches green onion, green part sliced diagonally
2 mangoes, peeled and sliced thin

For Dressing:
2 ounces pickled ginger
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 bunch scallions, white only
1 cup seasoned rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup Chinese sweet and sour sauce
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup toasted sesame oil

Mix together soy sauce and wasabi. Marinate tuna in mixture for 20 minutes. Sear tuna in hot, nonstick skillet with 1/4 cup oil approximately 1 minute per side. Refrigerate immediately after removing tuna from heat. Allow to cool at least 1/2 hour before slicing for salad. Slice tuna into 1 1/2 inch pieces, reserving odd sizes to incorporate into body of salad.

Slice wonton skins into very thin julienne strips. Fry noodles in very hot oil in 3 separate batches, so as not to decrease oil temperature. Cook noodles approximately 1 minute, tossing constantly. Drain on paper towels.

Bring oil back to temperature. Fry saifun noodle halves separately from each other as they expand rapidly upon hitting the oil. Turn once, remove from pot; drain on paper towel. Repeat until all noodles are fried.

For Dressing:

Place all ingredients in blender and mix for 3 minutes.

To Assemble:

Reserving small handful of wonton noodles and nuts for garnish, toss with dressing, lettuce, cabbage, green onion, nuts, saifun and wonton noodles, and odd pieces of tuna. Place on platter; arrange remaining tuna slices and mangoes decoratively around salad. Top with additional noodles and nuts.

Serves 8 to 10.

Holiday Cheese Blintzes Topped with a Trio of Fresh Berries

(This recipe is from David’s beloved Nana Willner, who told him, “With every bit of sugar, you need a pinch of salt.”)

The pancakes may be purchased ready-made in the produce section of the supermarket.

For the pancake batter:

Is It Safe?

In light of Tuesday’s terrorist attacks, synagogues and other Jewish organizations scrambled to evaluate security precautions.

A week before Rosh Hashana, and with ongoing violence in Israel, the timing of the attacks raised serious concerns for many about the safety of high-profile Jewish events. Yet, though many organizations were reluctant to publicly discuss security measures, most Jewish representatives insisted that their congregations were adequately prepared.

“For the High Holy Days, we probably won’t do anything more than usual,” said Rabbi Eli Hecht of Chabad of South Bay and vice president of the Rabbinical Council of America. “Chabad of South Bay feels that the American population is as safe as they can be, and the Jewish population should feel equally safe,” Hecht said.

Rabbi Steven Carr-Reuben of Kehillat Israel echoed this confidence. “We’ve checked with local police, and we don’t feel personally threatened,” he said.

Should Jews feel safe to attend High Holy Day services? “Definitely so,” said Rabbi Baruch Shlomo Cunin of Chabad Lubavitch West Coast. “What, are we going to become hostage to fear?” he asked. Like most organizations, Cunin said he couldn’t make public any specifics about security measures, but, “we’ve always been conscious of the welfare of those who come to pray with us. I’m confident that we shall overcome this — light always overcomes darkness,” he told The Journal.

At Kol Tikva in Woodland Hills — as at other synagogues across the nation — Rabbi Steven Jacobs organized a healing service Tuesday night for congregants “to come and to grieve,” Jacobs said. Dr. Nazir Khaja, head of the Islamic Information Center, spoke at the Kol Tikva service to denounce the attacks and emphasize that they were perpetrated by a small number of lunatics who do not represent America’s Arab or Islamic population. “While we’ve brought on some extra security … you can’t throw up your hands. Jews can’t become neurotic that they’re after us,” Jacobs said.

The Jewish Federation’s Goldsmith Center shut down Tuesday after leadership consulted with police and firefighters. Federation executives and leaders of its various agencies met and conferred throughout the day, “putting a crisis plan in place,” said The Federation’s PR Director, Michelle Kleinert. For concerned synagogues, The Federation will “serve as an information resource on security,” she said.

A meeting of The Jewish Federation’s agency leaders and Jewish educators was hastily assembled to address new concerns raised by the terrorist attacks. Sheriff Lee Baca, Police Chief Bernard Parks, Fifth District city councilmember Jack Weiss, Federation president John Fishel and a panel of police officers and sheriff’s deputies spoke to the group Wednesday afternoon. After describing law enforcement officials’ coordinated response to Tuesday’s fears in Los Angeles, Parks assured the audience that the LAPD is “very sensitive to the holiday season,” with security plans in place for synagogues throughout the city.

Los Angeles police have their own concerns for the Jewish community. “Basically, we have no information about specific threats,” said LAPD Deputy Chief David Kalish, “but we’ve reviewed and expanded our list of potential political and religious targets.”

Kalish added that while the terrorist attacks have created a heightened sense of danger, the LAPD reviews its protection plans for Jewish organizations every year before the High Holy Days. One such review session took place Wed. afternoon at the Federation building.

Without giving any specific information on LAPD operations, Kalish said that additional police protection would take the forms of extra patrols, assignment of police personnel to Jewish-affiliated organizations, and collaboration with private security forces.

At Chabad of Agoura, Rabbi Moshe Bryski told The Journal that the Sheriff’s department had already contacted the institution, letting him know that it will be affording heightened security for the High Holy Days.

The security concerns affected not only synagogues, but Jewish schools and community centers as well. At Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, a recorded message told concerned community members: “Due to the current crisis, the school is now closed.”

North Valley JCC, the site of a white Supremicist attack two years ago where five people, including three children, were injured, was closed Tuesday and officials were not available for comment.

The University of Judaism, where many students live on campus, remained open, with students helping to address safety concerns. In particular, U.J. President Dr. Robert Wexler referred to “a significant number of Israeli students who’ve had specialized military training.” But like other Jewish community leaders, Wexler emphasized that no specific threats had been directed at the school. “Primarily we’re doing this for the emotional well-being of the students and the community,” he said.

The terrorist attacks will affect Jewish concerns both at home and abroad. Ian Lesser, an advisor on international security to the Clinton administration, believes the attacks on America would probably translate into greater sympathy in Washington for Israel’s tactics in targeting Palestinian terrorist leaders.

Lesser, now a senior analyst with the RAND Corp., until recently in Santa Monica and now in Washington D.C., also commented on American Jews’ perceptions of their own safety.

“There might be a concern by some whether to congregate in synagogues during the High Holy Days, and, of course, everyone is entitled to his or her personal choice.

“However, we should remember that when we alter our daily behavior, we give in to the aims of terrorism,” Lesser said. “Some caution may be required, but the illusion that we’re safe in America is now gone. No one is really safe anywhere.”

Tom Tugend and Sheldon Teitelbaum contributed to this report.