Portugal and Simchat Torah

Simchat Torah cookies

I had an unexpected detour in my travels last year and ended up in Portugal, a place I hadn’t planned to visit and certainly not during Jewish holidays. Portugal had initially been a refuge for Jews fleeing Spain during the Inquisition but it subsequently followed in Spain’s footsteps, expelling or forcing the conversion of its Jewish populations. It was surreal at times to return to the country which now has a Jewish population of 1500 people now, spread amongst a few cities and towns. I spent time in the stunning Algarve region on the southern coast, including the town of Faro, where previously there had been a Jewish population, though the cemetery and museum were closed when I tried to visit. On the other hand, there’s a small but vibrant community in Lisbon, where I spent Simchat Torah. It is a spectacular, dramatic mountainous coastal city filled with the most beautiful buildings whose exteriors are covered in the most colorful tiles. It is quickly becoming an international cultural and technology destination and I predict it to become “the next Berlin.” Continue reading

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Sukkot: Stuffed Zucchinis

Sukkot stuffed zucchinis

This is a recipe that I originally wrote for the Borough Market blog and wanted to share with you. Enjoying seasonal foods at meals in a sukkah makes Sukkot the ultimate “farm to table” holiday. The holiday foods are frequently stuffed, to symbolize the harvest bounty. The dish I prepared is quinoa stuffed zucchinis, sweetened with dates, figs and honey, a few of the “seven species” of Israel.

Chag Sameach! Continue reading

Breaking the Fast in Naples

After Rosh Hashana in Sicily, I took a coastal train to Naples, a city that I was pleasantly surprised by with its picturesque mountainous bay setting, and bustling historic streets. Just blocks from where I stayed in the vibrant waterfront Piazza Vittoria neighborhood, an area filled with boutiques, bars, and cafes, is the city’s sole synagogue. Funded by Baron Rothschild in the 1860s, it is still open for the city’s approximately 150 Jews. The only give-away to its presence was a guard located at a set of massive wooden doors (which one stepped through) at the entrance of a large apartment complex’s courtyard. At the other end of the courtyard, up a discreet staircase, was the entrance to the synagogue. Continue reading

A Sicilian Rosh Hashana Feast

Pasta e fagioli

Last fall I worked on an organic farm in Sicily. Initially, I hesitated to go because I would be there during Rosh Hashana, but then I found out there are Jews in Sicily! I connected with an extremely small community (a handful of people) in the gorgeous historic seaside town of Siracusa (Syracuse), where once had existed a substantial Jewish population. Just a few years ago, in the Jewish quarter, an ancient mikvah was found underneath a hotel. Far from the tourist-centered historic area is the rest of Siracusa, an unpretentious small Sicilian city, where, on an unremarkable road lined with apartment buildings and some shops, is the synagogue on the ground floor of a plain dark-red apartment building. One knows they’ve arrived at the synagogue because on a large metal gate is a huge sign announcing it is here. Continue reading

Shabbat in Germany

Plum cake/pflaumenkuchen/zwetschgenkuchen/flomenkikhen

I recently spent time in Germany-mostly Berlin, with a couple of days in Munich–where I visited   Jewish museums, the Topography of Terror, Holocaust memorials, artists commemorations of the Holocaust (including the Places of Remembrance and stolpersteins), and read lots of books and commentaries (including here, here, here and here).

Trying to comprehend and process my thoughts and emotions about the dichotomy of Germany’s history and the present day was challenging and hard to reconcile, especially against the backdrop of Berlin: a modern, colorful, vibrant, fun, flourishing, art-filled city with a sizable immigrant community from around the globe and a small Jewish community.  There are now four yeshivot and 13 synagogues in Berlin, I heard Hebrew spoken on the street a few times, and had dinner with several Israeli artists living in Berlin. Continue reading

Chai and Kochi Jews

Spice shop, Kochi

I’ve had the opportunity the past couple of years to spend time in some obscure (and also not so obscure) Jewish communities whose foods and traditions offered me a glimpse into their lives. I begin with the story of 96 year-old Sarah Cohen, one of a handful remaining Jews in the city of Kochi, a city on the Malabar coast in the southern Indian state of Kerala. While wandering around a neighborhood called Jew Town, I was drawn to a store called Sarah’s, advertising her judaica. Just beyond the modest storefront, whose shelves were filled with embroidered challah covers, kippot and tea towels, was an older woman seated in a deep chair, engulfing her small, gentle frame. With the store’s walls decorated with news stories about her, she’s as much as a draw as the historic “Paradesi” synagogue steps from the store’s entrance.

Continue reading

Climate Change Resiliency With Seeds

seeds at Navdanya

With the People’s Climate Shabbat and March happening across the country this weekend, I wanted to address the issue of being “resilient” in the face of climate change. We’ve surpassed the targeted goal of 350 ppm, the “safe” level of carbon dioxide emissions.  How will the Earth (people-including entire nations, animals, plants, trees, etc) respond (and what/who will survive)? What about farmers and our food supplies?! As the Jewish Climate Initiative asks, will we chose to respond passively, like Noah, or actively, like Abraham to this environmental and humanitarian crisis? “The response of Noah’s generation during the hundred and twenty year construction period was to scoff, deny the threat and refuse to change. The flood came, Noah and his family was saved, the rest of humankind perished.”

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Torah, Food, and Climate Change

Navdanya farm, India

This weekend begins the “Earth Week” starting with the March for Science and culminating next weekend with the People’s Climate March. Both will be held in Washington, DC, with satellite marches across the nation and around the globe.  We are living in a perilous time: we’ve already exceed the greenhouse gas emissions goal of 350 ppm, each year tops the previous one as “the hottest on record” and efforts are underway to gut the Environmental Protection Agency. The effects of climate change, including drought, floods and increased temperatures wreak havoc on crops, threatening our food supplies.  We can make a significant reduction in our climate emissions through our food choices (9% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the US come from agriculture). Torah teaches us that we are God’s partner in protecting creation, bal taschit (do not destroy/waste) is a central teaching, and our calendar follows the agricultural cycle. “The LORD God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden, to till it and tend it” (Genesis 2:15). The following tips to reduce one’s carbon emissions through food choices can be easily be done at home, schools, and shuls (and details about Jewish involvement in the People’s Climate Shabbat/March and other resources).

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Passover Treat

As people are busy preparing for Pesach, clearing their internal and external chametz, I wanted to share an easy and delicious holiday snack/dessert (or enjoy anytime of year). It’s another version of stuffed dates and the simple list of ingredients include some of my favorite foods. Click below the jump for the recipe. For my other Pesach recipes and commentaries, please click here. Pesach Sameach! Continue reading

Israel’s Freedom Farm Sanctuary

Photo by Tamar Almog, courtesy of Freedom Farm Sanctuary.

I recently interviewed Adit Romano, co-founder of Freedom Farm  the first farm animal sanctuary in Israel. The sanctuary’s educational mission is rooted in a place of non-judgment, love and compassion. Its approach is engaging people across the nation’s political, social, economic and religious boundaries.  Click here to read the full story, originally posted on the Jewish Food Experience.