Monthly Archives: March 2011

A Couple Who Could Use a Ketubah

This entry was posted in Culture, Life on by .

I find ketubahs to be pretty non-romantic. They’re basically glorified prenuptial agreements, so it seems weird to paint flowers all over them and display them in your bedroom. But for some people, pre-nuptial agreements seem completely appropriate, and so for those people, I’m totally pro-ketubah. And by some-people, I mean Prince William and Kate Middleton.

A British-born Israeli artist has apparently made them a ketubah, and while normally I would consider that shlocky and dumb, in this case it seems right on the nose. If ever there was a marriage that should come with a pre-nup, it’s this one (sorry, but those royals don’t have the best track record). I recognize that this ketubah won’t hold up as a prenup, and in all likelihood the couple will never even lay eyes on the piece of artwork. But at least it kind of makes sense as a gift, which is not something one can say for most of what they’ll likely receive.

So, Will and Kate, mazel tov, and if it doesn’t end up lasting, divide your assets nicely, okay?

Posted on March 16, 2011

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Alterna-taschen

This entry was posted in Holidays on by .

The New York Times has a fun article on traditional hamantaschen, and some newer riffs on the classic.

Fillings of poppy seeds, nuts and dried fruits used to be as exciting as these Eastern European sweets got. But at Lehamim, marzipan, sour apple, dates with sweet red wine and cinnamon, halvah, and chocolate chip cream pop out of their tops. Other bakeries have such unconventional fillings as amaretto, meringue with cream, marshmallows, strawberries and orange jam, and pistachio with rosewater.

And then later:

“I have never seen customers like in Israel,” said Uri Scheft, the baker and an owner of Lehamim, a kosher bakery with the most modern baking equipment from Europe. “I listen to what they want, always new things.”
“Our customers are always asking us for different kinds of hamantashen,” he added. The bakery uses butter in its dough, unusual for a kosher bakery, and makes about a dozen types, like one with spelt flour filled with sugar-free preserves, and savory quichelike versions stuffed with potatoes and sesame seeds or feta cheese and beets. His triangles are also tinier than usual.

A savory hamantaschen! With beets! (Though in the slide show, the feta seems to be with berries, not beets.) Somebody make these for me right now.

Other hamantaschen I would try:
Pumpkin
Mango chutney
Sun-dried tomato, basil, and kalamata olive (with or without feta)
Chana masala

Just don’t make a hummus hamantaschen, okay? I don’t think I could handle that.

Posted on March 16, 2011

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Battle of the 13-Year-Old Kid Videos

This entry was posted in Life on by .

The internet moves very quickly. Less than 24 hours ago, I had no idea who Rebecca Black was. And if I were a betting man, a year from now, I’d assume I will have forgotten who she is. But I’m living in the now. And right now, it’s all about Rebecca Black.

Who is Rebecca Black? She just so happens to be a 13-year-old girl whose music video has gone viral over the past week or so. Not that she is talented or anything. She made her video with Ark Music Factory–a company that, if you pay them enough, will make a professional looking music video for teenagers between the ages of 13-17.

So I have zero clue if Rebecca Black is Jewish. But she does have the best 13-year-old kid music video out there right now. OR DOES SHE?

I introduce to you Zack Freiman. Zack just had his bar mitzvah. He hates sports and love musicals. Most importantly though, his dad loves  to make cheap music videos. So for his son’s bar mitzvah–he created this wonderful gem for the party.

So…who is better? Zach or Rebecca? You decide.

Posted on March 16, 2011

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Miss Venezuela Material

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

On Monday, Reyna Simnegar, the author of Persian Food from the Non-Persian Bride: And Other Sephardic Kosher Recipes You Will Love, wrote about Sephardim Strike Back! She will be blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning’s Author Blog.

It had been 9 years since I had not seen my beautiful cousin Isha. She lives a busy life in Florida working in the restaurant industry and going to school. It was my turn to feed her, and I decided to invite her for Shabbat dinner. After all, is there a better time than Shabbat to impress anyone with delectable dishes?

Isha is half Venezuelan and half American. She is the perfect combination of Latin American charm and American beauty. As we were reminiscing about the past (over a slice of my favorite dessert, Persian Roulade), it was impossible not to talk about how much we suffered starving together in the name of our modeling careers. You see, both Isha and I were part of a Venezuelan modeling agency that recruited girls for the Miss Venezuela beauty pageant.

For many Venezuelan little girls their dream is to become a beauty queen. I am not talking about the kind-hearted queen that has a talent and visits orphans, I am talking about a queen whose attributes are completely based on outer beauty and her talent in memory; that is how talented she is to be able to memorize the right answers to any possible question the jurors might have.

Isha, with her exotic mixed looks and height, actually made all the way. When she refused to have plastic surgery to add a little here and take a little from there, she was let go. I was a little less “lucky,” I was simply too short to make the cut. No plastic surgery would have helped with a height problem! These castings are the most humiliating situations anyone can put herself through, and your self-esteem, if completely based on your looks, becomes absolutely shattered.

Going through that experience really helped me understand the concept of modesty in the Jewish world. Having grown up in a country where clothing is an option, it never occurred to me that by the simple act of covering certain parts of my body I would regain an incredible amount of self-appreciation I had lost during my upbringing. I am not going to deny that in the beginning modesty was a really difficult concept to grasp, not to mention to embrace. However, the longer I covered certain parts of my body, the more sensitive and special they became.

Seeing myself as more than just a body or a face really helped me comprehend how I am not really what people can see, but I am the soul that lives inside. And, even though I always knew that true beauty lies inside, I was never really able to grasp this concept until I stop focusing only in the outside.

I love looking good, working out, feeling healthy and beautiful. However, I love it even more when I go to sleep knowing I have worked equally hard on making my inner beauty, that is my true beauty, equally presentable.

A woman’s inner beauty shines through and permeates into her outer beauty, and I hope I can be an example of this concept, even if I don’t make the height requirement!

Persian Roulade

This is by far the most popular dessert at my Shabbat table! It is amazing to see people’s eyes when I bring it to the table—and also to witness their puzzled faces trying to figure out the unfamiliar flavor they can’t decipher (rose water).

Versatility is what is great about this recipe! You can use the same cake recipe I provide you, but the fillings are endless. Since I usually serve this cake after a meat meal, I use pareve (nondairy) whipping cream (such as Rich’s Whip). Other fun fillings are raspberry jam, Nutella (if dairy), and even date butter. I also like to use rum or brandy mixed with a bit of water to moisten the cake if I do not have rose water handy. I promise, this will be a hit! Check out more videos at my website.

Tricks of the trade

The eggs should be at room temperature so that you can whip them to maximum volume. The secret to making the parchment paper stay in the baking pan is to spray the pan with a little oil or water before lining it. Cut slits in the corners of the paper for a snug fit. This cake freezes beautifully—just wrap in parchment paper and then in foil. Also, it is important to use parchment paper and not wax paper; these are not the same product. Make sure not to overbake this cake or it will crack. You can drizzle some powdered sugar on the cake before rolling it so it doesn’t stick to the parchment paper. For a cleaner look, you can cut off both ends of the cake…I’ll bet you can’t resist eating them!

Cake
4 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup flour
1/4 cup rose water (to moisten cake)

Cream
1 pint pareve whipping cream, divided
1 cup powdered sugar

Garnish
powdered sugar
4 strawberries
parve whipping cream
chocolate shavings or melted chocolate chips (optional!)

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 17”x12”x1” jellyroll sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.
2. Beat eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer for 1 minute or until fluffy. Add sugar and vanilla and continue beating for 3 minutes or until the mixture begins to turn pale yellow.
3. Gently and thoroughly fold in baking powder and flour with a flat spatula, making sure not to deflate the eggs. Spread batter evenly onto the prepared cookie sheet. Bake for 15 minutes or until center springs back when lightly pressed.
4. In the meantime, whip pareve whipping cream until peaks form. Add sugar and combine. Set aside.
5. When cake is ready, hold the corners of the paper and remove from tray onto a flat surface. Peel cake off paper. Roll, 12-inch side in, along with the parchment paper. Set aside for a few minutes.
6. Unroll and use a pastry brush to moisten the top of the cake with rose water. Spread cream evenly on the cake, leaving some for garnish. Roll again
7. Place on a platter, seam side down, and garnish with powdered sugar, melted chocolate, pareve whipped cream, and strawberries, as desired. Refrigerate if not serving immediately.

Yield: 10 slices.

Reyna Simnegar‘s Persian Food from the Non-Persian Bride: And Other Sephardic Kosher Recipes You Will Love is now available. Check back all week for her posts on the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s Author Blog.

Posted on March 16, 2011

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Is This Real?

This entry was posted in Beliefs, Life on by .

You know when you see a YouTube video and you cannot tell if it’s real or a spoof? This video is tormenting me!

It can’t be real, can it? Also, what is she recommending we get at the end? A shoe? A muumuu? Help!

Posted on March 15, 2011

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Dangerous Phylacteries

This entry was posted in Practices on by .

How has this happened more than once? A couple months ago, there was a story of a kid who was praying on an airplane when the flight attendants mistook him for a terrorist. You’d think that enough of a stink would have been made about this that airlines would have properly trained their flight attendants to recognize t’fillin boxes as just that…and not bombs.

But here we go again. A couple of days ago, on an Alaska Airlines flight from Mexico City to Los Angeles, three Jewish men stood up during the middle of the flight and started to daven. The flight attendants freaked out, and when the plane landed, it was surrounded by the FBI. After the men were questioned, it was determined that they were, in fact, not terrorists.

On the one hand, I guess it’s a good thing to see that flight attendants are super careful and strict when it comes to looking out for abnormal behavior (not to mention the fact that they don’t seem to racially profile Muslims as the only potential terrorists).

But on the other hand, come on. We’ve dealt with this before. I can’t believe that a flight from Mexico City to Los Angeles has never had religious Jews praying on a plane. I’ve brought t’fillin on a plane before. I haven’t put them on mid-flight but I have brought them through security. And not once has the TSA ever not recognized t’fillin. It never gets a second check. So how come this is so hard for flight attendants to deal with?

Posted on March 15, 2011

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Eat Your Hamantashen, Take Your Chances

This entry was posted in Holidays on by .

Purim is known as “the fun holiday.” It’s a time during which people dress in costumes, and dance, party, and are enjoined to drink alcohol. But these traditions aren’t just fun–they’re ways of embracing the randomness and the out-of-control nature of the holiday of Purim.

(You guys know the story of Purim, right? If not, watch this mini-movie, and then I’ll dive into the fun stuff. Ready?

Ready.)

The story of Purim oscillates between the ludicrous and the deadly–literally. Esther, a timid young Jewish woman, is selected to be queen, by chance, it seems. Right before that happened, however, the previous queen had just been put to death. Similarly, when her cousin Mordechai hears about an assassination attempt on the King, he steps forward and is declared a hero–yet his bravery is written down and almost immediately forgotten about. And when Haman chooses a day to order the Jews’ genocide, he uses a lottery to pick the day.

“God plans and man laughs,” says the old Yiddish expression. Purim is a time when we’ve little choice but to laugh at how arbitrary and sometimes wonderful Fate can be. When a decree of death is waived without a second thought, or when a lowly Jewish girl can become queen of 127 provinces–that’s Purim for you.

Posted on March 15, 2011

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Masks and Flasks, Love and Light

This entry was posted in Holidays on by .

This commentary is provided by special arrangement with American Jewish World Service. To learn more, visit www.ajws.org.

When I finally got back to my Upper West Side apartment at the end of the day the planes hit the World Trade Center and the world changed forever, there was a raging party at the Underground, a bar on my corner. I heard the pounding bass from almost a block away, and as I got closer I saw windows trembling and drunk men and women pouring into the street shouting “Carpe Diem!” Having spent the day counseling an endless stream of distraught people who walked into the synagogue desperate for a sense of stability, a way to help and answers to unanswerable questions, I was shaken by the cognitive dissonance between catastrophe and celebration.

The sudden realization of the capriciousness of life leads some to search for meaning and comfort among the faithful, while others surrender to the meaninglessness—determined to eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we may die.

Purim, considered by some the most electrifying day of the Jewish year, instructs us to do both. For one day, we come face to face with the chilling reality that no matter how hard we work to control our lives, how diligently we plan and prepare, life is dramatically and inescapably unpredictable. “Life changes fast,” Joan Didion writes. “Life changes in the instant.  You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.” Or, in the language of the megillah, on a whim the Jews of Shushan saw their whole world turn upside down—“grief turned into joy, a day of mourning into a day of celebration.”

The reversibility of fortune, the capriciousness of life, is a message Purim shares with Yom Kippur. Known in the Talmud as yom k’purim, “a day like Purim,” Yom Kippur compels us to reflect on the unavoidable uncertainty of our lives. But on Yom Kippur we dive into this terrifying reality with austerity, reflection and spiritual wakefulness, whereas on Purim we respond by celebrating, imbibing and masquerading.

Our Rabbis teach that on Purim we are to ply ourselves with wine, drinking ad d’lo yada—until we can no longer tell the difference between “Cursed be Haman” and “Blessed be Mordecai.” We wear costumes that simultaneously mask who we are and reveal the part of ourselves we work all year to hide. We eat, drink, dance and laugh in the face of our darkest fears—the possibility that human life and human history can change on a dime, that everything we know to be true could be a farce, that everything we love might disappear in an instant, that there is more chaos than order in the world. It is an exercise in radical spiritual destabilization. And the response is the closest Jews come to carpe diem—one day a year when our otherwise exacting tradition understands that sometimes drunken revelry is the only reasonable response to desperate vulnerability.

Yet Purim is more than a day of rowdy gluttony. It also dictates acts of generosity and community: “Make them days of feasting and gladness and of mishloah manot (sending portions of food) one to another, and matanot l’evyonim (gifts to the poor).” We embrace the confusion and moral ambiguity of Purim with a renewed commitment to social transformation, responding to the mess of life by giving our family and friends sweet gifts and by giving generously to the poor. In other words, the only way to make sense of the absurd randomness of life and the social order is to honor the loving relationships that sustain us and work to address the imbalance of fortunes that leaves some with abundance and others with nothing. Mishloah manot and matanot l’evyonim come to reinforce that while we cannot control the world, we can control the way we live in it.

Remarkably, we learn regarding matanot l’evyonim that, “We [should not be] exceedingly precautious with money on Purim. Rather, we give to everyone who puts out a hand.” Today is not the day for discernment or judgment. Give, regardless of what you fear he might do with the money. Give, not because you have determined that she deserves, but because she has asked.

This mitzvah acknowledges our lack of control over our destinies: Give generously today, for tomorrow it could be you begging for a little spare change. Give because you know in your heart that it is only an accident of history that you are here and the poor are there. Give because it would be intellectually and morally corrupt to tell the story of our people’s miraculous triumph, to celebrate history’s reversibility, without sharing our bounty with those who sit now on the other side of fortune.

So Purim is simultaneously an acknowledgment of life’s meaninglessness and unpredictability and a wholehearted last-ditch effort to pierce the chaos and shatter the darkness. “There is no greater or more wonderful joy,” says the Mishnah Berurah, “than to make happy the heart of a poor person, an orphan or a widow. This is how we become God-like.” Even from the heart of darkness, we refuse to cede agency. We make up for God’s absence in the Purim narrative by redoubling our capacity for God-like living in our own. We respond to the threat of emptiness by pouring more kindness and sweetness into the world.

May it be a day of masks and flasks and love and light for you. Chag Purim Sameach.

Posted on March 14, 2011

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Jewish New Media Fund Grants Announced

This entry was posted in Parenting on by .

The Jewish New Media Innovation Fund, a pilot program of the Jim Joseph, Righteous Persons, and Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family foundations, announced today the winners of their first grants — and we’re ecstatic to congratulate Kveller.com, one of nine recipients!

Here’s what they said:

Kveller.com is the first and only Jewish parenting website aimed at parents from across the Jewish  religious spectrum, with special attention paid to interfaith families and the less-affiliated. From its popular Jewish Baby Name Bank to its prolific bloggers, Kveller has content reflecting all types of Jewish families: observant, interfaith, queer, divorced and more. It also connects parents to local organizations  and events, including piloting online communities with calendars of events and lists of resources, as well  as local Facebook groups.

For full details, and the other winners (including my favorite animated Torah series ever), here’s EJewishPhilanthropy’s full post on the subject:

  • Jewish New Media Innovation Fund Announces Grantees
  • Posted on March 14, 2011

    Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

    Sephardim Strike Back!

    This entry was posted in Culture on by .

    Reyna Simnegar is the author of the recently published Persian Food from the Non-persian Bride: And Other Sephardic Kosher Recipes You Will Love. She will be blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s Author Blog.

    Sephardic Jews are really something to ponder. According to Rabbi Chaim Amsellem, “The Sephardic way is a paradox: to keep tradition but to stay open. The Torah is not there to put handcuffs on you. We try to find solutions. We put unity first.” I am including under Sephardic all Jews that come from Middle Eastern Countries (although these are actually Mizrahi Jews) and Jews from Spain Italy and some other countries in Europe.

    I was waiting to receive Rabbi Haim Levy at Logan Airport. I have been to the airport many times to receive prominent rabbis…but never a prominent Sephardic rabbi. I was so excited to finally meet the author of what apparently is the book that has revolutionized Sephardic halacha (laws) and finally brought it to the hands of the regular people like me: Anshei Chayil.

    Rabbi Levy was to speak that night at my home. He runs a program called “Go Sephardic” which brings Sephardic youth to Israel and helps them increase their closeness to their rich Sephardic heritage. Rabbi Levy is very typical of the new generation of Sephardic leaders who are dynamic, energetic and motivated to “return the crown to its place” as Rabbi Ovadia Yosef says.

    The more I see people like Rabbi Levy, the more I realize Sephardim are ready to “strike back.” We have been in the shadows for hundreds of years, but our glory and incredible traditions have always been thriving. I think that the world is yet to see the grandeur of our people and the treasures that will come from the descendants of the Rambam and the Ben Ish Chai, to name a few.

    In my humble opinion I think Sephardim are the chilly peppers of Judaism. Our tour guide in Masada was a Sephardic man with wild curly hair and an equally hairy chest where a large star-of-David dangled. When it came time to visit the ruins of the Synagogue at Masada he managed to pull out a kippah that was “baking” flat in the back pocket of his very tight jeans. He placed proudly on his head and said, sorry I only carry one so if you need something to cover your head before you enter the sanctuary use a napkin!

    I am sure many of us have stories where we see an unexpected spark of a holy neshama (soul) shine through at the moment we least expected. However, when it comes to Sephardim, even people in bathing suits reach out to kiss the mezuzah! Many Sephardim keep some semblance of kashrut and have an enormous respect for anything holy. Just like Rabbi Amsellem suggested, we are a paradox…dark people (for the most part) that shine bright!

    Fried Eggplant
    Chatzilim

    This is one of my favorite Sephardic appetizers. However, preparing this dish also became a nightmare, because just by looking at all the oil I was using I could feel my arteries clogging! I decided to broil the eggplants instead. The secret is to use oil spray and to cut the eggplants thin enough to produce a crunchy and delicious result. Below I give you both options and you can make the choice! My Moroccan friend Michal Bessler, is the genius who taught me this recipe.

    Salting the eggplant before frying will extract the excess liquid from the eggplant so that the pieces absorb less oil when fried and expel no liquid when broiled. Salting will also produce a crispier result. Please be careful and keep your children away from the sizzling oil!

    2 eggplants, unpeeled, washed, and cut into slices 1/4-inch thick
    5 tablespoons kosher salt
    canola oil or spray
    1 tablespoon chopped parsley, for garnish (optional)

    Garnish Sauce
    ¼ cup olive oil
    ¼ teaspoon paprika
    ¼ teaspoon cumin
    ¼ teaspoon salt
    ¼ teaspoon pepper
    3 tablespoons lime juice or the juice of 1 lime
    4 cloves fresh garlic, pressed

    1. Layer the eggplant slices in a large colander, sprinkling generously with kosher salt between layers. Let stand for 30 minutes.
    2. Rinse the eggplants in the same colander to wash off the extra salt. Dry with paper towels.

    Frying method

    1. Add canola oil to one-quarter of the depth of a very large skillet. Place over medium heat until the oil sizzles when a drop of water is drizzled onto it.
    2. While the oil heats, make the garnish sauce by combining all ingredients. Set aside.
    3. Fry the eggplant slices in a single layer for 1 minute on each side or until slightly brown on both sides.
    4. Drain on paper towels and serve with parsley as garnish, or drizzle garnish sauce on top.

    Broiling method

    1. Preheat the oven to broil.
    2. Spray 2 cookie sheets with oil. Place the eggplant slices on the sheets in a single layer and spray with oil.
    3. Broil on rack closest to the flame for 5 to 7 minutes or until the eggplant slices are slightly brown.
    4. Carefully remove the cookie sheets from the oven and flip the eggplant slices with a spatula or food tongs. Spray more oil on the eggplants and return to the oven to broil for additional 5 to 7 minutes.
    5. Make the garnish sauce by combining all ingredients.
    6. Remove eggplants from the oven and serve with the garnish sauce and chopped parsley.

    Yield: serves 4 to 6

    Reyna Simnegar‘s Persian Food from the Non-persian Bride: And Other Sephardic Kosher Recipes You Will Love is now available. Check back all week for her posts on the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s Author Blog.

    Posted on March 14, 2011

    Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy