Septimania and Turron

Turron

Before going to Catalonia, Septimania and turron were two words I’d never heard before. Septimania– a Jewish kingdom? Yes, it’s true. I first learned about it while visiting some family who live in a tiny village on the French side of Catalonia (population 100. And, no they actually aren’t the only Jewish people in the area). The village is nestled at the base Mt. Canigou, a revered peak to Catalans. Continue reading

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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

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

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

Elul: Plums and Flames

Elul: poached plum

Elul: poached plum

The month of Elul is an acronym for the phrase “Ani l’dodi v l’dodi li” from Song of Songs (I am my beloved and my beloved is mine). It is about the relationship between ourselves and God.  Rabbi Yoel Glick writes that the process of teshuva (return) is “about repairing our shattered vessel. It is about returning to the sense of inner balance and clarity that will make us fitting pipelines to channel the Divine emanation.. . . radically transforms our consciousness. To do teshuvah is to see light instead of darkness – to view the world through God’s transcendent eyes.”

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Sivan & Shavuot: Eating Dairy-Free

Sivan & Shavuot vegan blueberry ice cream

Sivan & Shavuot vegan blueberry ice cream

We begin the month of Sivan during which we celebrate Shavuot, when the Israelites received the Torah at Mount Sinai. If you’re not a coffee drinker or dairy eater, like me, Shavuot can be challenging. In celebrating the holiday, people’s all night Torah study is generally fueled by cheesecake, blintzes, ice cream and lasagna. There are many explanations as to why we eat dairy foods on Shavuot. One is that the Torah is like milk and “just as milk has the ability to fully sustain the body of a human being (i.e. a nursing baby), so too the Torah provides all the “spiritual nourishment” necessary for the human soul.”

However, eating dairy foods on Shavuot is a custom, not a law.  But, there are lots of delicious ways to enjoy Shavuot without eating dairy.One way is with the the vegan blueberry ice cream recipe that I created for the holiday.

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Purim: Vegan Hamantaschen

Hamantaschen3I seem to be on a desserts stretch the past few posts during Adar 1 & 2! With Purim starting in a couple of days, I assume people are busy preparing their mishloach manot. I hope you enjoy the following recipe for vegan hamantaschen, that I wrote for the Borough Market website. It is a modified version of a recipe that I found on the blog, Musical Assumptions). I filled them with my date paste and strawberry jam recipes.

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Adar 2: Extra Joy

Adar2: Chocolate truffles

Adar 2: Chocolate truffles

When Adar arrives, joy increases.” We are lucky to have two Adars this year (a leap year), a month of joy. Purim is celebrated during Adar 2. There are two significant giving components to Purim. “They are to observe these as days of feasting and gladness, and for sending delicacies to one another, and giving gifts to the poor.” (Esther 9:22). As part of the Purim celebrations, people give mishloach manot (Purim gift baskets), filled with treats, to friends and family. I love  returning home to a stack of mishloach manot at my front door, each one delicious and personalized, filled with homemade treats, fruits and drinks. The baskets are lovely but not extravagant.

Indeed, they should not overshadow Matanot La’evyonim, donations to poor people. Maimonides taught, “It is inappropriate to buy expensive Mishloach Manot, if this will come at the expense of larger gifts to the poor.”  There are countless opportunities to support people in need this Purim through the excellent organizations listed on my resources page.

For my Adar2 recipe, I offer an incredibly delicious and sweet dessert that is completely free of any added sugars. It is possible to enjoy Adar2 and Purim without drowning in sugary desserts!

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Adar: Conflict and Joy

Adar stuffed dates

Adar stuffed dates

We are encouraged to celebrate and have more joy than normal during the month of Adar.
“The whole month of Adar is learning how to grow and heal through joy and laughter. . . . . the main reason we came into this world is to experience and teach joy.” writes Melinda Ribner of Kabbalah of the Heart. Moses was born on the 7th of Adar and the holiday of Purim (the miracle of the Jews survival against Haman) is celebrated during Adar. The 9th of Adar commemorates “marks the day that two thousand years ago healthy disagreements ‘for the sake of Heaven’ turned destructive.”  In honor of it, the 9Adar project is a week devoted to “strengthening a culture of constructive conflict across personal, political, religious, and other divides.”

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Ki Tavo: Mitzvot and Renewal

Ki Tavo: Roasted Fruit

Ki Tavo: Roasted Fruit

This week’s Torah portion, Ki Tavo, begins with the responsibility of the Israelites to bring an offering of first fruits (bikkurim) after they’ve entered the land of Israel. “He brought us to this place, and He gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. And now, behold, I have brought the first of the fruit of the ground which you, O Lord, have given to me.” (26:9-10)

Fruit offerings were later replaced with prayers but the purpose and intention are the same. As my teacher, Diane Bloomfield of “Torah from Jerusalem” explains, each day is the potential for both the physical world and humans to renew through prayer and actions. Despite the darkness that shrouds much of the world, we are commanded by God, as caretakers of the world, to illuminate dark places through mitzvot (actions). Such behaviors enable us to connect more deeply to God and renew ourselves and the world.

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