Pining for adventure? Missing the warmth and the sun? The Be’chol Lashon/Vanderbilt Hillel Student Trip to Colombia combined both together service learning for some incredible life lessons. The students themselves share some observations of this exceptional adventure.
Day 1: “Bienvenidos a Bogotá” the capital of Colombia, the thriving heartbeat of a vibrant nation, a city full of exciting people, and traffic. We met our Be’chol Lashon guide, Aryeh. Then it was off to visit Monserrate, the towering peak that overlooks Bogotá like a watchful sentinel. We were rewarded with spectacular views of the entire city sprawled out before us. At the Bogotá Chabad house, we experienced Shabbat services before digging in to a mouthwatering feast, complete with plenty of Hebrew songs and “l’chaims”. For many of us, it was a welcome reminder of the type of uniquely Jewish revelry we’d all enjoyed as children. (Gideon Ticho)
Day 2: The experience we shared at the Conservative synagogue, Asociación Israelita Montefiore, opened our eyes to a completely new Jewish perspective. We spoke to Adriano who taught us about what it is like to not only be a Colombian Jew, but also what it is like to be a “converso,” someone who converted to Judaism, in Bogotá. We also learned about new Jewish communities that are forming in other Colombian cities! Once Shabbat was officially over, we went out with Colombian Jewish students! We learned not only what it is like to be a Colombian Jew, but also what it is like to be a young Jewish person in Colombia! (Erika Slepian)
Day 3: Among the highlights of the day was the visit to Museo de Oro: Banco de la Republica, where we learned about the history of metallurgy in Colombia. The themes of eroticism, motherhood and animals in particular were emphasized in the museum; Zenú was a society run by women (!!), and controlled the politics and practices within it. Although indigenous culture largely disappeared after the arrival of the Spaniards, the fact that a society ruled by women was able to exist in Colombia so long ago was both fascinating and inspiring to me. This theme of feminine strength was echoed in Rabbi Yehoshua’s sermon from Shabbat morning about Purim, specifically the inner courage of Esther as both a woman and a fairly non-religious woman. (Nicole Rakusin)
Day 4: We went to the outskirts of Bogota, and explored the Salt Cathedrals and listened to our Colombian guide tell us the history and the meaning of the various rooms and crosses around the underground cathedral. It was a very beautiful area and unique to learn about the Christian history of this city. Following the Cathedral, we went to a delicious restaurant and feasted on native Colombian dishes. Our long meals are always filled with hilarious moments and meaningful conversations.
It is so humbling and unique to be able to discuss Israel and our beliefs in God while in such a small yet vibrant Jewish community in South America. I think we all are truly growing as individuals here and will return to America more knowledgeable, proud, and inspired to spread world Jewry. (Renee Lewis)
Day 5: I think everyone can agree that today’s experience at the Aldeafeliz EcoVillage was eye opening. We visited the community compost, walked through the one room schoolhouse, and admired the sights and sounds of the Colombian rainforest. Fabio helped us get in touch with our spirituality by leading a meditation on a sacred piece of land that has been used for prayer for over 5000 years. Prior to lunch, a few members of the group walked down to the river, waded in and sat among the rocks, and listened to the sounds of water rushing. We agreed that in that moment, we felt more tranquil and at peace with ourselves than we had in months. (Jacqueline Gottuso)
Day 6 -8: We arrived on the Caribbean coast city of Santa Marta. We played on the beach for before meeting up with the Jewish community of Santa Marta. We went through the Purim service and then proceeded to dance and party with the community throughout the night. (Darby Howard)
A little bit about Javura Shirat Hayyam: this is the facility used for all the Jewish life in Santa Marta. It is a house that was purchased by the Jewish community a short while ago and each room in the house serves a different purpose. There is a kitchen, dinning room, a schoolroom, two bedrooms and a sanctuary. This house does not look like a synagogue—so we were given the challenging tasks of painting two rooms, spreading gravel in the yard and decorating the schoolroom. We did it all and made the schoolroom look like a proper cheder (Yiddish for Jewish school) Thanks to the Brandeis Hillel Day School for all the artwork! (Daniel Reches)
Day 9: Our last day in Colombia and was filled with bittersweet emotion of most of us. In the afternoon, the entire group gathered to give Aryeh feedback on the trip and help him out with planning his future trips. We went around a circle and shared our highs and lows of the journey. Overall, it was clear that the highs outweighed the lows! (Danielle Honigstein)
Aryeh the guide reflects on the trip as a whole: The enthusiasm and thoughtfulness of this group is a sign of the strength and vitality of the Jewish future. The students themselves are a a diverse group with different points of view about the important issues in life but the engaging with a variety of Jewish communities in Colombia expanded the conversation further. Of course the swimming in the surf and the fresh coconuts were fantastic too!
Charoset is the star of the seder plate. Amidst the parsley leafs and lamb shanks, this sweet sticky treat teases and tantalizes as we make our way through the story telling. Charoset recalls the mortar used by the Israelites when they were slaves. Jews, spread over the four corner of the earth, and brought the story of the Exodus and the celebration of Passover to every land.
With time, the recipes for Charoset reflected local ingredients and tastes. Whether you make one, two or all of the seven classic and modern recipes we have collected, we doubt that you will be able to wait until the seder to taste these outstanding Charoset!
Uganda: Tziporah Sizomu’s Charoset Recipe
Tziporah Sizomu is a leader in the Abayudaya community in Uganda. Passover is an especially meaningful holiday for the Abayudaya. Her husband Gershom is the community rabbi and Tziporah is responsible for the Shabbat and holiday meals that are eaten together by the Abayudaya as a community. Apples are expensive, as they must be imported from South Africa, while peanuts, known as groundnuts, are local to Uganda. This Charoset makes a fabulous spread for Matzah all week long! (Note: peanuts are legumes and there are some Jews who do not eat them during Passover. They can be replaced them with cashews.)
4 cups roasted peanuts
3 apples, chopped fine
2 bananas, chopped into small pieces
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup sweet wine
Grind the peanuts in a blender and place them in a medium-sized bowl. Rural Ugandans use a mortar and pestle. They don’t have blenders as very few have electricity.
Mix with the chopped apples and bananas.
Add the wine and stir.
Add the honey and mix everything together. (If it isn’t thick enough, add more peanuts)
Syria: Meil Family Recipe, Charoset Halebieh
Originally from Philadelphia, Heather and Jason Meil have been living in the Bay Area for the past 10 years and are active members at Oakland’s Temple Sinai. This recipe was passed down from Jason’s great-grandmother, Jammila Dweck Marcus who was born in Allepo, Syria to his grandmother, Leah (born in the Sudan) to his mother, Joan. It has been in the family for generations and makes an appearance yearly at the Meil seder.
3 pounds pitted dates
1 cup sweet red wine
1 t ground cinnamon (optional)
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
Put the dates in a medium saucepan with enough water to cover.
Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer.
Stir frequently, until the dates are soft.
Pass the date mixture through a strainer or a rotary grader. A food processor may also be used.
Before serving, add the wine, cinnamon and walnuts and mix thoroughly.
Greece: Traditional Greek Recipe
Sarah Aroeste’s familial roots in Greece trace all the way back to the expulsion of Jews from Spain. A vocal artist, she has dedicated her career to modernizing Ladino classics and creating new music that captures the vibrancy of the Sephardic experience. For Passover, she draws on traditional Greek customs and makes this fruity recipe that gets its punch from a variety of spices.
1 cup black currants, finely chopped
1 cup raisins, finely chopped
1 cup dates, finely chopped and then mashed (if they are very dry soak them in boiling water for 10 minutes)
Pinch of grated orange rind
Cinnamon, allspice, cloves, nutmeg to taste
Sweet red wine
Chop all the ingredients as fine as possible.
Mash them into a paste in a mortar and pestle. Or briefly process in food processor.
Moisten as necessary with the red wine.
Makes 3 cups
Guatemala, Two Ways: Modern Twist
The members of Adat Shalom, Guatemala’s only Reform community have created a unique take on Charoset. It was a big hit at last year’s seder in Guatemala City and it will be at yours too.
4 apples, peeled, cored, and finely chopped
1/2 cup sweet red wine (such as Manischewitz)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 tablespoon maple syrup
5 oz of refried red beans
4 oz of chopped almonds
Chop the apples by hand as finely as possible and press them with a fork.
Add the rest of the ingredients. mixing everything well.
Beans should be added at the end, depending on how juicy the apple is so that the charoset thicken.
After plating, add a little of the almonds as decoration.
Brenda Rosenbaum’s Charoset
Brenda Rosenbaum, is the founder of Mayan Hands. She grew up in Guatemala and left as a young adult due to the civil war. Her family is half Ashkenazi and half Sephardic. Her mother lives in Guatemala City and this is her recipe. This recipe came via Ilana Schatz of Fair Trade Judaica.
1 pound dates
2 granny smith apples
1 cup chopped nuts (macadamia nuts are native to Guatemala)
Soak dates in hot water for a few hours.
Drain the dates but put them in the food processor but don’t process them completely, leave some chunks in it.
Peal and cut apples into one inch chunks.
Put apple pieces in pan, and bring to boil with a bit of water. Simmer until they become puree.
Mix dates and apples.
Add cinnamon to taste, sweet wine.
Just prior to serving add chopped nuts.
Cuba: Mango and Pineapple Charoset Balls
For Jennifer “The Cuban Reuben” Stempel blogging about food allows her to explore her twin Jewish and Cuban heritages. This Cuban Charoset is her own invention inspired by the island flavors that influence so much of her cooking. While most Charoset is served as a paste, Stempel drew on the Sephardic tradition of making Charoset into small balls for this unique take on a classic dish.
5oz dried unsweetened mango, coarsely chopped
8oz dried unsweetened pineapple, coarsely chopped
½ cup almond slivers, toasted
2 cups shredded coconut, toasted and separated
In a small bowl, soak the mango in hot water for ½ hour.
Drain well, and add to a food processor. Add pineapple, almonds, and 1 cup of the coconut to the mango in the food processor, and pulse only until the mixture starts to form a ball. There should still be some visible chunks.
Form the mixture into bite-sized balls, and set atop a pan lined with wax paper.
In a small bowl, add the last cup of shredded coconut. Roll the balls in the coconut until they are lightly coated, and return them to the wax paper.
Refrigerate the balls for 1 hour or until set.
United States: Rabbi Ruth’s Charoset Recipe
One of the joys of Jewish life in America is the diversity not only of the community but also of the ingredients from around the world that are at our fingertips. This recipe draws on traditional as well as exotic flavors. Sweet with a touch of the sour with a red tinge which reminds us of the mixed emotions with which we greet our freedom, always recalling the hard work and suffering that preceded the Exodus.
1 cup dried figs
1 cup dried apricots
1 cup roasted hazelnuts
1 large or 2 small whole blood oranges
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses (available at Middle Eastern markets)
Additional orange juice as needed
Cut blood oranges into quarters or chunks depending on size.
Place all the ingredients except the orange juice in food processor
Pulse until mixture resembles a paste.
If mixture is too dry add a tablespoon of additional orange juice and pulse again.
Repeat until the mixture is moist.