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Of course, the rules at the movies are clear: We know you’re not supposed to sneak any elicit, normally-priced snacks into the theatre. But you’re doing it anyway (we are too). So why not pack your purse or backpack or jacket pockets with the most Jewish snacks around? From new favorites likes Trader Joe’s dill pickle-flavored popcorn to the old classics like Joyva halva bars and Jordan almonds, this list will have you noshing from the 20 minutes of previews all the way to the happy ending.
Bamba – pick any of these brands!
Joyva Jelly Rings– no, they’re not just for Passover!
Father’s Day is coming up, and while I believe that every day is an opportunity to celebrate the father figures in our lives, some days stand out more than others. My family recently celebrated my dad with his favorite Jew-“ish” ritual: a baseball game.
It would be an underestimate to say that my dad loves sports, especially baseball: the crowd, the vendors, the excitement of a home run, the common disappointment in a double play. During the summer months, you can almost guarantee that you will find my dad near Miller Park, home of the Milwaukee Brewers. He loves sharing the experience of a ballpark with my brother and me. Dinner time conversation always includes a rankings update and a low-stakes bet on who would win the Sausage Race. I bet on Chorizo every time.
For most of my life I thought it was just his passion, but then I began to see that baseball and Judaism (both of which he loves) are pretty interconnected. Maybe it’s the community gathering, or perhaps it’s the way that it is intertwined with Jewish American history. When I did a little digging into the topic, I found one article that even calls baseball “America’s Religion.” For Jews, there have been historical moments marked by baseball players navigating the game and their identity, like Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax.
Baseball is deeply intertwined with my own religious upbringing. Growing up, our rabbi’s sermons often related the parsha to the ups and downs of the baseball season. A few times, my dad would declare an unexpected Sunday morning appointment, pulling my brother and me from religious school a half hour early to get to the ballpark before the first pitch was thrown. In these moments, I learned that Jewish values are more than something we learn; they’re something to be enacted. My father, an important Jewish figure in my life, shared his love for sports with the next generation, and I, in turn, fulfilled the mitzvah of honoring my father by spending those joyous times at the park with him. I loved these unexpected surprises. Even today, I sometimes wish he could call me out of work to go catch a game!
Throughout the years, my dad and brother have made it a goal to visit every major league stadium. Until recently, one of the few they had left was the Houston Astros’ stadium. So, for his 60th birthday, we all met in Houston – my brother’s fiance and I were even invited to join! While my brother and dad took lead on the logistics of getting to the game, I was enlisted to fill the rest of the weekend. As the Southern transplant, I found the interesting sights in Houston as well as a sampling of the local cuisine. We loved eating at Houston’s Jewish culinary landmark, Kenny and Ziggy’s Deli. Baseball, Southern hospitality, Jewish food, family – what could be better?
Celebrating fathers can be as simple and as fun as a baseball game, a new experience in the South doing something he loves with the children he loves. This year I cannot be with my dad on Father’s Day, but I will certainly be sending him a baseball from this special trip. This way, we have a reminder of our shared love of baseball for years to come.
Breathing, the natural rhythm of expanding and condensing, occurs not just within the air sacs of the lungs but throughout the body, each cell gently expanding and condensing as it receives oxygen and nourishment and releases what is no longer needed. The ubiquitous process of breathing, of receiving oxygen and releasing carbon dioxide, defines life itself.
Neshamah, one of the Hebrew words for breath, also means soul. The sages of the Talmud suggest that upon awakening in the morning, a person should say, Elohai neshamah shenatata bi tehorah. “My God, the soul that you have placed within me is pure.” Berakhot 60b
These simple yet potent words, now included in our traditional morning blessings, draw us back to the very dawn of our mythic creation. In Genesis 2:7 we read that God formed the human of dust from the earth and breathed into its nostrils the soul-breath of life.
Each morning, as I draw my first conscious of breaths of the day, I am transported back to that state of purity and wonder that our tradition ascribes to the first human, breathed into aliveness by the Infinite. Legend teaches that in the Garden of Eden, before eating from the Tree of Knowledge, the first human could see from one end of the universe to the other. Enjoying the gift of breath, I too glimpse the vastness, the wholeness of the world. I am ensouled anew.
Elohai – my God. This prayer-word teaches me that the great cosmic mystery that breathes life into me is also very personal. The unique breath-channel that I am can draw in the very manifestation of the Unnameable that knows me intimately.
Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi writes: “Our minds might insist that we go directly to the Infinite when we think of God, but the heart doesn’t want the Infinite; it wants a You it can confide in and take comfort in.” Amidst the jagged and often wrenching complexities of daily life, what a balm it can be to feel the Presence as close as my breath.
Tehorah hi – it is pure. The mystics speak of five levels of soul, neshamah being the level that corresponds to the mind and heart, the wise, universal intellect. Reminding myself that each soul-breath I inhale from Source is tehorah, pure, becomes a touchstone for my day. Whatever challenges greet me, whatever missteps I take, I can return again and again to the gift of pure breath, soul, that remains unsullied, unshaken by the vicissitudes of the moment—refreshed, awakened, fully alive.
Rabbi Diane Elliot is a spiritual leader and somatic therapist who inspires her students to embody and deepen their Jewish spiritual lives through awareness and movement practices, chant and expressive arts, and nuanced interpretations of Jewish sacred text. She leads retreats, teaches nationally, and works with individuals in spiritual direction. Her recently published “This Is the Day, Poems,” inspired by the practice of counting the Omer, is available on Amazon. You can learn more about her work at www.whollypresent.org.
It feels like years in the making, but it’s finally happening: Chef Einat Admony, who owns the restaurants Taim and Bar Bolonat in New York City, is opening a couscous-centric restaurant this month also located in NYC. Chef Admony can already be credited with introducing New Yorkers to high quality, Israeli-style falafel, Jerusalem bagels, malabi, and a slew of other Israeli specialties. And now New Yorkers will be blessed by the addition of hand-rolled couscous onto the culinary scene with her latest restaurant, Kish Kash.
The restaurant is actually named for the special kitchen tool, a sieve, used to make the hand-rolled couscous. Apparently this is called a kish kash. See, you learned something new already!
The menu is focused but not extensive: hummus, salad, and seasonal vegetables are available as appetizers. The couscous will be offered topped with the choice of items like braised short rib, chicken tagine, braised lamb, chrime (fish), vegetables, or mafrum, a Moroccan-style meat stuffed potato. And according to The New York Times, the menu is kosher.
We also recently visited Palikao in Los Angeles, which serves California-North African-Israeli style couscous bowls, which were incredibly satisfying and healthful to boot. But Palikao isn’t making hand-rolled couscous, which is what makes Kish Kash truly unique in America today. We can’t wait to try.
Before we dive in, do you know about CSAs? Community Supported Agriculture shares are popular around the country: individuals can purchase a “share” of the farm and in return they get a box of weekly produce. Each week there are different kinds of vegetables and fruits (sometimes also eggs or cheese) in unpredictable quantities, presenting a unique culinary challenge.
One week there might be a pound of kale and three pounds of red potatoes with a bundle of scallions and fresh herbs. The next week there might be Japanese eggplant with mustard greens and napa cabbage. I look at it as an opportunity to try new things and enjoy the healthiest, freshest produce in the city.
CSAs aren’t just an efficient way to purchase local food, but they’re also a wonderful way to support your local farmers. By paying upfront before the season begins — often a financially difficult time of year for growers — you help farmers afford the seeds and supplies they need for the summer. In exchange, you receive amazing produce at a more affordable rate than farmer’s markets and grocery stores. What could be better than that?
This summer, let your CSA share guide you in the kitchen. To get you started, I’ve curated a list of vegetable-forward dishes to help you strategize from the first greens of summer to the tomato and zucchini bounties of July, to the long-awaited eggplants and root vegetables of late summer and early fall.
Spinach and Cheese Bourekas
(This recipe is great because you can substitute the package of frozen spinach with 8 cups of your choice of hearty leafy greens, like kale, mustard greens, collard greens, or spinach.)
If you’ve been to a falafel or shwarma stand in Israel, then you have probably heard of amba. Amba is a spiced pickled mango condiment. Its popularity in Israel comes by way of the Iraqi Jewish community. This flavorful condiment is commonly found in Iraq, across the Middle East, and in India as well. In fact, amba originated in India, and the word “amba” means mango in Marathi.
You can find countless recipes and variations for amba, but the main and required ingredient is mango. Most recipes also include mustard seed, turmeric, chili, and fenugreek. Fenugreek is an herb that’s often used in Indian, Persian, Turkish, and Middle Eastern cooking. It has a unique maple syrup-like aroma, and can add an herbacious sweetness to a dish.
Traditionally, amba is made by slicing and salting green mangoes and placing them in a jar in the sun to ferment for five days. Afterward, the mango is removed from the jar and left to dry out in sunlight for 3-4 hours. Once dried, the mango is simmered with spices and is then jarred for use. You’ll definitely get a deeper flavor if you allow for longer fermentation of the mango, but you might want to make amba when you don’t have access to five sunny days in a row or when you just don’t want to wait that long.
Inspired by the techniques of many home cooks, I decided to make a quicker-pickled amba. You still salt the mango, and you let it sit in that salt overnight, but that’s the extent of the wait time. The cured mango then gets cooked with a variety of spices and aromatics, and finally vinegar is added. Amba is ideally made with green unripe mangoes, which can be tricky to find. For this recipe any mango will work, but it is best to use ones that are firm and not fully ripe. This recipe makes a mildly spicy amba; you can adjust the level of heat depending on how much chili and cayenne you add. Skip the cayenne entirely if you don’t like things spicy. Add an extra chili and a bigger pinch of cayenne if you can take the heat. I like amba that is a little thick with small chunks of mango, but if you like yours smoother and thinner you can purée it until smooth and add water to thin it out to your desired consistency.
Amba is as versatile as it is delicious, and it is unlike any other hot sauce. In our home we especially like to have it on hand during the summertime because it goes great with just about any grilled protein: chicken, steak, tofu, or fish. It’s also nice to have it on hand for a grain bowl topping. Amba added to some yogurt with a little lemon juice also makes a perfect dip for vegetables or pita chips. Amba adds a tangy, fruity, pop of heat to any dish.
The post Your New Favorite Israeli Condiment: Amba, a Pickled Mango Sauce appeared first on My Jewish Learning.
“Yea, I have a goodly heritage…” (Psalm 16:6)
This year, Memorial Day weekend fell right after I moved to Mississippi – and one week before I returned briefly to Cincinnati to receive smicha (rabbinical ordination). To observe the holiday, I went to the Vicksburg National Military Park.
I’m not only a rabbi, but also an army chaplain with a long history with the military. When you’ve met gold star families, deployed overseas multiple times, spent time with soldiers who have returned home but really haven’t fully left their deployment behind… on a day like Memorial Day, being surrounded by people blaring pop music, eating burgers, guzzling beers, and hitting the beach just doesn’t feel quite right. That’s why I found myself at the historic battlefield and cemetery in Vicksburg, Mississippi.
As I walked through the park’s regimental monuments from Illinois, Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama— there was one regiment that stood out to me: The 7th Rhode Island Infantry.
Rhode Island is my home state, the place that I will always call home no matter where I am and no matter where I go. The 7th Rhode Island Infantry unit, after being decimated in the December 1862 battle of Fredericksburg, was sent west to aid Grant’s Army in besieging this focal point of Confederate resistance. Fighting not only rebel guns but also typhoid, dysentery, yellow fever, and the unforgiving heat of a Mississippi summer, the 7th would hand many of her beloved sons over to Death in order to secure their meaningful victory.
If that were not enough, the men who were lucky enough to survive this harrowing ordeal would be shipped back to Virginia to fight at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, Petersburg, and Appomattox before the end of the war. 199 Rhodies of the 7th never came home, never got to embrace their families again, and never got to see old age.
Standing in Mississippi on Memorial Day, I wept openly in gratitude that these heroes are my ancestors, and in humility, that I, as a Rhode Island Army National Guardsman, am their descendant. “Who am I and what have I done to merit standing before these titans?” I asked myself.
As I continued on with the tour, I came across the Congregation Anshe Chesed cemetery which is located literally on the battlefield itself. Maybe it’s just me, as a New England kid, but a Jewish cemetery isn’t exactly the first thing that comes to mind when I think “Civil War battlefield.” But there it was a Jewish cemetery. I was shocked at just how large it was, realizing that the community that stands at fewer than two dozen members today was at one time, rather sizable.
I went home that night and read up on Anshe Chesed. I was blown away by what I learned. During the 1930s and ‘40s, the historic congregation actually fostered an 11-year-old Albert Friedlander after he escaped from Germany and was separated from his family in 1939. For those who don’t know, Rabbi Albert Friedlander went on to become one of the most renowned, respected and accomplished rabbis of the 20th century!
My friends and family will tell you that I’m not an emotional person, but for the second time that day I wept, asking myself: “What more can I give this community after they have already fully lived the words of Talmud, whoever saves a life of Israel, it is considered as if he saved an entire world?”
People have said to me since my ordination “You must be so happy to finally be a rabbi and army chaplain.” I have felt many feelings, but I would not describe my predominant emotion as happiness; rather, I feel the incredible weight of responsibility that comes with this office. The shock that comes with ordination. The eyes of the past, present, and future on me.
Yea, I have a goodly heritage… I only hope I am worthy of those who came before me.
The post Visiting Vicksburg: Reflections from a Rabbi/Army Chaplain appeared first on My Jewish Learning.
I haven’t seen my friend Hafsa in a few weeks since my spouse and I enjoyed an Iftar dinner at her home, and I miss her. Sometimes I forget we’ve only known one another for about 18 months. Our friendship feels timeless, not bound by the conventional rules of time and space.
We first met in January 2017, at the Istanbul Cultural Center (ICC) in Alpharetta, GA, when I took a group of my students to meet our neighbors in local synagogues, churches, and mosques. Our visit included a formal presentation and an informal conversation with the members who had prepared and served us lunch. As Hafsa introduced herself to our group, she explained that she’d been in Atlanta with her daughter the previous July when an attempted coup d’etat in Turkey forced her husband and their other daughter to join her. Now they cannot return.
We next met in April, at Muslim-Jewish pre-Passover program at Congregation Gesher L’Torah in Alpharetta. I’d thought about her many times in the intervening months, wondered whether she and her family were settling into their new home, worried about how her extended family she’d left behind in Turkey was managing. After the program ended, we stood on the synagogue steps for nearly an hour, catching up. This time we exchanged contact information and promised to stay in touch.
We connected during the summer, mostly through social media, and saw each other again in October, at another program at ICC, a conversation about leaving one’s physical and spiritual home, forced migration, immigration. That night, I invited her to visit my 9th-grade class in December.
Hafsa was an English teacher in Turkey, and she was thrilled to interact with high school students. She shared a well-researched PowerPoint presentation about women in Islamic literature and history, but my students were more curious about her life as a Muslim woman in 21st century Atlanta, GA. Hafsa’s willingness to answer their many questions about her immigration from Turkey and the political situation for her family there endeared her to us all.
In March, she and her family joined mine at our Passover Seder. They talked about their personal exodus—fleeing an oppressive regime to enjoy a measure of freedom in a new land. By this point, we’d had some frank conversations about her seeking asylum here and what might happen if her family is not granted this status.
In May, during the span of a week, we spend two evenings together, eating figs and drinking Turkish tea to break the fast during Ramadan. First, we meet at ICC among friends in faith, including Selda, who has taken in her niece and nephew while their parents are unable to leave Turkey. The situation there, particularly for intellectuals, journalists, professionals and, of course, women and children, is quite dire. We speak of how much Turkey today reminds me of the Poland that most of my husband’s family failed to escape in the late 1930’s. We shake our heads and squeeze our eyes to hold back tears.
Have we as a human race learned nothing from the darkest days of our history? What can we do to stave off hopelessness?
Hafsa tells me that she cannot be anything but hopeful about the future. There are many circumstances limiting her family right now, due to their undetermined status, but all we can do is hope and pray to God for a positive outcome. Again, we are among the last to leave that evening, despite knowing that we will meet again at her home for another Iftar dinner in 4 days. We agree that just being together helps.
This week, my Muslim sister in Alpharetta celebrates Eid al Fitr to mark the end of Ramadan while I celebrate Rosh Hodesh Tammuz in the Jewish calendar cycle. We are separated by miles, physically distant but spiritually close, emotionally connected in ways that transcend geography. I write about our friendship to remind us we are apart but not alone, and I pray that we walk our paths of return—to each other, to our homes, to God—in peace.
When I was a newly ordained rabbi working to start a new synagogue, I — along with a small cadre of committed volunteers — decided to do a pop-up High Holidays, turning a local music conservatory into a synagogue for three days in 2011. Although we were a brand new community with no building and no members, Rosh Hashanah went off without a hitch. By the time Yom Kippur came around, we all relaxed a bit. At Kol Nidrei, the first communal prayer service of Yom Kippur, our voices soared.
At some point during the next day’s Torah service, as I leafed ahead through the machzor (high holiday prayer book), an alarming realization spread over me: Yizkor.
With Yom Kippur’s hallowed memorial service, Yizkor, rapidly approaching, I had absolutely no idea what was supposed to happen. I had never attended a Yizkor service. Sure, I had studied Yizkor; during my Yom Kippur morning sermon, I had even planned to introduce Yizkor by exploring the parallels between the Jewish customs of mourning and our observance of Yom Kippur. I knew a thing or two about Yizkor, but I had certainly never experienced it.
As a teenager, Yizkor was the time when my parents and their friends, more and more of them over the years, huddled together to whisper quietly while those of us who had not experienced a loss of a parent or close relative were ushered out of the room and spoke at full volume.
Among Jewish prayer services, Yizkor is distinguished by both its gravity and its mystery. Yizkor, which literally means “God will remember,” is a collection of short paragraphs that memorialize family members (along with other groups like Jewish martyrs or fallen Israeli soldiers). During Yizkor, individuals also pledge tzedakah in memory of their loved ones.
Yizkor began as a part of the Yom Kippur liturgy and later migrated to the final day of each of the three pilgrimage festivals as well: Pesach, Sukkot and Shavuot. This tradition of exiting the sanctuary for fear of tempting the Evil Eye is fairly widespread, though relatively new by halachic standards (first recorded in the 18th century).
I remember listening to a rabbi in New York who devoted an entire sermon to exhorting young adults about the importance of staying in for Yizkor, even if they hadn’t lost a member of their nuclear family; 90 percent walked out nonetheless. Indeed, the mass exodus before Yizkor reflects a common attitude regarding death, part advice and part superstition: avoid this particular life experience as long as you can. Don’t go near it. Once you lose someone close to you, it changes you and there is no going back. An invisible line in the sand of your life has been drawn.
Historically however, Yizkor emerged to address a distinction even more stark: the relationship between living and the deceased. The tradition of saying memorial prayers for the deceased started out as a way the living somehow help the dead. “The living redeem the deceased … therefore, it is our tradition to mention the dead on Yom Kippur and pledge charity on their behalf … which will raise them up just as an arrow ascends from a bow.” (Tanhuma Chadash, Haazinu, 60:1)
Yizkor began primarily as a moment to pledge charity in memory of a loved one. According to some sources, such charity was given in hopes of somehow helping to redeem the dead through the good deeds of the living. (To be clear, this concept of human action benefiting the deceased was the subject of a major question among medieval rabbinic authorities, with arguments and texts on both sides of the debate.)
At the core then of Yizkor then is a question of purpose: Who is Yizkor for, those who say it or those for whom it is said? Perhaps the two elements of the Yizkor service — tzedakah and memory — speak to this dichotomy. The act of pledging charity on behalf of those who have died is a poignant attempt to extend the lives of our loved ones just a bit further. While we can’t know if this helps the deceased in a cosmic way, we can be sure that good deeds can manifest our loved ones’ values and sense of purpose in this world. It is their mitzvah; we are just their messengers.
On the other hand, there is something very powerful about coming together for a fixed time to remember. Technically speaking, the Yizkor service doesn’t need to be said in community or even with a minyan. It could potentially be said even on a different day. Still, this tradition has evolved, much like Judaism’s rituals of mourning, to revolve around communal observance. Those who say Yizkor can be comforted by the shared experience of those around them. For a few times during the course of the year, a loss that may have felt isolating and defining for someone can be public and even shared.
By the time our community arrived at Yizkor during those pop-up High Holiday services, I still felt completely unprepared. I didn’t know if the sky would open up, if people would start wailing, or if I was supposed to begin chanting. I gingerly announced the page as well as the traditional proviso about leaving the service or staying in, knowing that many of the young community members would probably want to excuse themselves. One of the congregants gently suggested (or perhaps nudged), “Are we going to recite the names?” I quickly agreed.
And so we began Yizkor that day, calling on the memories of loved ones with those around us and committing ourselves to turning their memories into blessings.
Rabbi Aaron Finkelstein lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Julie, and is the Middle School Rabbi at Milken Community Schools. He received rabbinic ordination from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in New York, served as a rabbi in Brooklyn and Nashville, and now enjoys sampling L.A.’s kosher eateries.
For someone whose life revolves around food, it may surprise you that I don’t watch a lot of food shows on TV, but I have been a religiously committed viewer of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown from the beginning. I have read his books. And like so many people, I have always loved his refreshing and frank commentary on food, life, and everything in between.
After his tragic passing last week, I thought Barack Obama most succinctly summed up the meaningful way in which Bourdain contributed to the world and challenged his watchers:
“Low plastic stool, cheap but delicious noodles, cold Hanoi beer.” This is how I’ll remember Tony. He taught us about food — but more importantly, about its ability to bring us together. To make us a little less afraid of the unknown. We’ll miss him. pic.twitter.com/orEXIaEMZM
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) June 8, 2018
As a Jewish food writer and lover of Israel, the Parts Unknown episode I have discussed, dissected, and re-watched the most is the one where he visits Jerusalem. It was not merely a romp through the shuk to show the best burekas, rugelach and shwarma the city offers. Instead, Bourdain spent time with Jewish Israelis and Palestinians alike, in Jerusalem, Gaza, the West Bank, and elsewhere, to show the diversity and complexity of Jerusalem and Israel through food and through the narratives of everyone he met.
One of my favorite scenes from the episode is his time spent with a Muslim husband and Jewish wife duo who run a restaurant together and cook Bourdain a meal to showcase their culinary stories: their differing backgrounds and their tasty commonalities.
Like Bourdain, I believe in seeing the truth, even if it’s hard. Especially when it’s hard. I have spent a lot of time in Israel, and I truly love it for all the good, the bad, the delicious and the imperfect. I even used to run an educational program which included shared meals with Palestinians, Arab-Israelis, and Druze-Israelis with Jewish Americans. I saw firsthand how food can bridge so many divides.
More than anything, I loved the way Bourdain told the story of this incredibly beautiful and complex place. “It’s easily the most contentious piece of real estate in the world, and there’s no hope — none — of ever talking about it without pissing somebody, if not everybody, off.” Yet the contention didn’t scare him off — he explored the nuances of Palestinian cuisine in Gaza and the history of their connection to the land. He talked falafel, asking if it’s Israeli or Palestinian, knowing all along there is no answer.
Bourdain showcased a different narrative of Israel and Palestine. He invited us to learn, to challenge ourselves, to be open. He also showed how delicious and beautiful life in Israel can be on both sides. That’s the Israel I know. The media often wants to boil the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into black and white terms that are easily digestible. But this story is so deep, so hard to digest, so emotional, it requires a nuance and sense of humor only someone like Bourdain could provide.
And so may we all honor his memory by carrying on his work: challenge ourselves and one another to go farther, explore the unknown, ask tough questions, and stay hungry.
Header image via Parts Unkown on Netflix.
The post Anthony Bourdain Explored Israel the Way No One Else Could appeared first on My Jewish Learning.