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Twitteleh – Twitter for Jewish Children (and their Moms)

As a proud Jewish mother (whose kids aren’t old enough to use Twitter yet), I highly recommend Twitteleh (thank you to Itamar for sharing this).

Twitter Challa

It has become a routine. Each Thursday my neighbour calls to ask whether I’ll be baking challa come Friday. I usually answer in the affirmative and in return get a name of a sick person to pray for while separating challa. The whole project of organizing 40 women each week is spearheaded by an amazing lady, who literally came back from the dead after giving birth to her last child.

Ever since I began baking challa in earnest a couple of years ago, it has become a cherished spiritual experience. And while at it, I take the time to say a short prayer for all the people I know could use a break in life.

This got me thinking. With so many potential challa backers on Twitter, wouldn’t it be a great medium to match them with those in need of a prayer? I know that some people are averse to segulot, but the mitzvah of challa, like any other mitzvah, creates a merit, which we could share with others by praying for them.

So, if this is up your alley, here is the deal:

  • The hashtag for this scheme is #twitchalla
  • To post a name for a prayer, tweet the name and problem with #twitchalla (for example: Itzhak ben Sara – refua shlema – #twitchalla). Note that most people bake their challot on Thursdays or Fridays, so time your messages accordingly.
  • If you bake challot and would like to help out, use the search function  to find tweets with this hashtag and include a prayer for as many people as you can when separating challa.
  • If you don’t tweet, feel free to post the names as a comment to this post.
  • Pass along.

As always, I welcome suggestions and comments.

Happy baking.

Fun Chanukah Salt Dough Project

 Fun Chanukah Salt Dough Project

My kids came home with an assignment to create a chanukiya (chanukah menorah) for the school’s annual competition. After lots of deliberations, we decided to do it together from homemade salt dough.

We used the leftovers to make magnets, by creating shapes with cookie cutters and pasting fridge magnets on the back.

Salt dough recipe:

4 cups flour

1 cup salt

1½ cups water

  1. Mix flour with salt. Add water and knead thoroughly to form smooth dough. Shape into a ball and let dry for about 10 minutes.
  2. Create desired shapes.
  3. Place shapes on baking paper and bake at 200°C (320°F) for about 45 minutes (longer for very thick shapes).
  4. Let cool.
  5. Decorate with paint, sprinkles, beads and so on.

‘Tis the Season to Eat Cholent

Winter is here and with it the annual cholent season. While the long months of the Israeli summer make the very thought of a heavy meat meal (and an extra heat source) unthinkable, cholent is the perfect winter comfort food.

For anyone unfamiliar with this masterpiece of Jewish inventiveness, cholent (chamin in Hebrew) is a stew eaten on Shabbat afternoon after being left to simmer on low heat since Friday. Almost every Jewish community in the world has its version of this dish. Natives of communities as diverse as Jerusalem’s Nachlaot or London’s East End, have fond childhood memories of carrying home the steaming pot of cholent from the local baker’s oven every Shabbat morning.

At our house, cholent usually consists of beans, meats, potatoes and grains, such as wheat, barley, brown rice, or buckwheat. The best way to cook the grains is by separating them from the rest of the stew. Although most people I know use cellulose cooking bags for this, I don’t particularly savour the idea of cooking my food in plastic. However, I found the perfect solution while translating a Bukharian cookbook a couple of years. The author suggested cooking the grains in   drawstring muslin bags ‘Tis the Season to Eat Cholent and that is exactly what I’ve been doing with great results.

Cholent can be cooked either in a crock pot or in a regular pot placed on top of a hot plate or a blech (a sheet of tin placed over a small burner or a pilot light). Make sure the pot is boiling before turning the heat down Friday afternoon.

Here is our favourite cholent recipe with several variations on the theme.

Is Israel Good Enough for Your Charity

Several days ago, Mother in Israel asked her readers to compare American and Israeli parenting styles. In response, someone mentioned Israelis’ lack of social graces, which has led one reader to make the following comment.

…let’s look at the effects of this aspect of Israeli culture. When tourists return from Israel with a bad taste in their mouth, will they return as often? At all? Will they tell their friends that they simply must go to Israel? Will those of us that are Jewish reach as deeply into our pockets when asked for money for Israel?

When you are asked for a contribution for Israel, and the first thing that pops into your mind is seeing an old man shoved aside by EVERYONE trying to board a bus. Or the many drivers that see by your rental car that you are a tourist and then gladly run you off the road, how does that affect your thought process? Every year North American Jews give millions of dollars to Israel, and yet it is difficult to see that Israelis appreciate it at all.

I think that it also makes it more difficult to defend Israel.

Don’t get me wrong. I still and will continue to donate money to Israeli causes, through the UJA, JNF and other avenues. I still and will continue to defend Israel as best as I can with the knowledge I have. My husband, as a professor on a campus with a very active anti-Israel movement, does so even more. But I am sure that there are others that maybe don’t donate as much or as often as they used to and maybe don’t speak up for Israel as strongly as they used to in part because of the interactions they have had with Israelis.

Nothing annoys Israelis more than the argument “it’s hard to donate to Israel when Israelis are so …” Every day, Israelis invest their sweat, blood, and tears into building this amazing country. So you can imagine how we feel when Jews from abroad tell us we are not good enough for their charity dollars or vacation budgets.

Truth is, Israel is not a charity case. It is a crucial component of contemporary Diaspora Jewish identity. A friend recently related his mother’s memories of growing up in Boston during 1930s and 1940s. While other immigrant kids had a sense of geographic belonging and could brag about the way things had been done in Italy, Ireland, or Greece, Jewish children experienced “a  deep level shame at not being able to point to a country (and not simply an area of land) on the map and say ‘that’s where my people is from.’”

Israel’s role in shaping Jewish identity was reaffirmed by a recent Brandeis study, which has shown that a single Birthright trip to the country can lower a person’s chances of intermarriage by almost one half. Over the past decade, the Israel government together with North American philanthropists has invested close to half a billion dollars in Birthright trips.

Israel appreciates all types of Diaspora solidarity. But as Shimon Peres has aptly put, the best gift one can give Israel is coming to live here.

A different Shabbat fish

When my Yemen-born mother-in-law first came to Israel in late 1940s, her parents decides to build their house apart from the rest of the community, so as to protect their children from unwanted social influences. Little did they know that within a decade they would be living in the midst of a vibrant community of Moroccan immigrants that arrived to Israel during the 1950s.

This is how my Yemenite mother-in-law came to cook the traditional North African chreime fish stew for Friday night dinner. Today, my in-laws Shabbat table is unimaginable without chreime. From there, the recipe has made its way into our kitchen and even to my mother’s recipe box, where it’s a great hit with her New Jersey neighbors.

I have made several changes to the original recipe, which is quite spicy. Unlike my mother-in-law, who uses carp or tuna steaks, I prefer salmon fillet. You can use any fish fillet or steak. The rich sauce is very dominant and will make up for the taste of the fish.

Finally, bread dipped into the sauce is the best part of this dish, so make sure to cut up a large loaf to go with the stew.

Moroccan Chreime Fish Stew

Mothers' Guilt

Julia over at The Jew and the Carrot explores how guilt shapes her choices as a mother. The topic is not new to me. A couple of years ago, I took part in a workshop together with half a dozen of my friends, all women in their 30s, raising 5-7 children and holding day jobs. Incredibly, when asked to talk about themselves, each one felt compelled to talk about a certain weakness, something she didn’t do so well. My next door neighbour (who in addition to teaching special education and rearing 5 kids was studying for a degree in speech therapy) knocked my socks off by saying she felt guilty because she was not sewing her family’s clothing as her mother had done.

Since then, I have noticed that guilt is especially prevalent in the experiences of religious Jewish women. Between bringing up kids, working, maintaining healthy marriages, contributing to the community, trying to grow as people, and keeping wits about, women feel just a tad overwhelmed. Augment that with a constant stream of newspaper and magazine articles showcasing super-achiever moms with dazzling careers, and the stage is set for a penetrating sensation of not being good enough at keeping up with such a huge load.

By necessity, something just got to give, so most women make choices and set priorities. But social pressure and an innate tendency to keep options open supply yet another reason for guilt. So long as we reproach ourselves for not devoting time to a certain task, we maintain an illusion of being able to get to it some day. It’s right there on our radar if not as part of the daily routine, than at least weighing down on our conscience. Although there was no way for my friend to spend time sewing, the remorse somehow kept that option alive.

The problem is that guilt is counterproductive. It eats away at our self-image and prevents us from enjoying positive experiences and successes. Moreover, it makes us doubt the choices we have made and undermines the conviction necessary to persevere with these choices.

Thankfully, it is possible to rid ourselves of the feeling of underachievement by asking ourselves some frank questions.

  1. What fuels your sense of not doing enough? (Does your guilt over not cooking homemade meals stem from the belief in their nutritional value or from your cousin’s bragging about homemade pasta she makes from organic wheat grown in her back yard?) The first step to dealing with guilt is getting rid of the measuring stick. You’ll never be able to keep up with the Cohens, and chances are they are busy trying to keep up with you.
  2. What price tag accompanies that elusive achievement? Superwomen do not exist, period. If someone appears to be a superwoman, she pays a personal price for something she does not have the time to do. Consider what your life would look like if you would make different choices. For example, if you are pining over your slow career progress, think about the effects of a promotion on your work-life balance? What would you need to give up to accommodate this change?
  3. If you feel that the missing part would answer a real need, is it possible to incorporate that task into your life even partially? Sometime, small changes can make a big difference. You don’t have to pursue a university degree or hold a full-time job to get intellectual stimulation. So if your household chores are getting the better of you, consider getting some help (or pushing them off for another day) and heading out of the house for an interesting lecture.
  4. Has guilt become a substitute for action? If you know your current choices leave out something truly important, it’s time to shut down the auto-pilot. When long office hours force us to miss our kids’ childhood years, it is possible to seek alternative arrangements.  A time-consuming parenting workshop could save hours of parent-child battles and improve the overall family atmosphere.

Finally, after taking stock of the choices you have made, concentrate on your accomplishments. A “can do” attitude will get you much farther than any feeling of guilt.

Something different for the holiday meal

Our family’s love affair with Bukharian cuisine began over 60 years ago during WWII, when my grandmother was evacuated from Ukraine to Central Asia. She returned home after getting to know dozens of Bukharian-Jewish families and learning about their favorite dishes. Although I got my hands on a whole treasure trove of authentic recipes while translating a Bukharian cookbook last year, my favorite pilav recipe still comes from my mother.

Pilav – a rice and meat dish – is the cornerstone of Bukharian cuisine. There are some 70 different varieties of pilav. Traditionally it is made with lamb and lamb fat. That’s a little too heavy for us, so I usually use chicken together with brown rice, which adds another 20 minutes to cooking time.

If you are looking for something simple yet different, check out my Chicken Pilav recipe here.

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