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

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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

Lag b’Omer: Fire and Spice

Lag b'Omer roasted spicy vegetables

Lag b’Omer roasted spicy vegetables

A version of this post and recipe originally appeared on the Borough Market website. The market was established in 1014 (yes the date is correct!).

Lag b’Omer begins tonight at sundown tonight. It is the date of the passing of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, a Jewish scholar and mystic who lived from 100-160CE. His commentaries and teachings are part of important Jewish texts about law, ethics and mysticism. He wrote the Zohar, the foundational text of the Jewish mystical tradition known as Kabbalah.

He defied the Roman Emperor Hadrian who persecuted Jews, closed all Jewish schools and forbade the study of holy texts. To avoid execution by the Romans because of his disobedience, Rabbi Shimon and his son, Elazar, hid in a cave for 13 years in the village of Meron, northern Israel.
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Iyar: Connect and Grow

Iyar Beans and Seeds

Iyar Beans and Seeds

Iyar-the second month in the Jewish calendar–is a connector month, between Nisan (Pesach–the exodus and establishment of the nation of Israelites) and Sivan (Shavuot–the receiving of the Torah).  Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz writes that Pesach “asks us to stop walking the old, familiar paths, and to create change within ourselves and in our relationship with others and with the world.”

Such a process of introspection and healing doesn’t end at Pesach but rather begins. Iyar is a time to sow the seeds of our personal and communal transformations that were planted at Pesach through our liberation from slavery and to prepare for receiving the Torah in Sivan. It “is the month of introspection for the sake of self improvement.” Liberation does not mean one’s journey is complete. And, such a journey is not done alone.  Iyar is known as a healing month.  The acronym of Iyar is represented by the phrase, “I am G-d your healer” (Exodus 15:26). (The manna the Israelites received from G-d during their time in the wilderness first appeared in Iyar, solidifying their reliance on G-d to survive.) Continue reading

Nisan: Bless and Sustain

Nisan: Roasted fruits and quinoa

Nisan: Roasted fruits and quinoa

Nisan is the first month of the Jewish calendar, a celebration of the beginning of Spring (Chodesh Ha-aviv) and Pesach. Unlike Rosh Hashana, which is a new year for the creation of the world, Nisan established the nation of Israelites. G-d instructed Moses, “This month shall be for you the head of months, the first of the months of the year.” (Exodus 12-2).

One is instructed to say a blessing during Nisan for blossoming fruit trees.  With the celebration of Spring in Nisan, one can  visit a park or other natural setting to let one’s senses enjoy the colors, scents, sounds and beauty of this time of year. On my little balcony, I’m immersed in an array of flowers, pots overflowing with herbs and a cacophony of birds chirping (of course there is also the regular sounds of drivers honking their car horns). My neighborhood is alight with bougainvellia in vivid oranges and pinks, cascading over tree tops, walls and bushes.

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Nitzavim: Choosing Life

Nitzavim: stuffed zucchini rolls

Nitzavim: stuffed zucchini rolls

This week, before Rosh Hashana, we read Nitzavim during which all of the Israelites establish a covenant with God. Entering into the covenant is stepping into a concrete process in this world. “For the mitzvah which I command you this day, it is not beyond you, nor is it remote from you. “It is not in heaven . . . It is not across the sea . . . Rather, it is very close to you, in your mouth, in your heart, that you may do it” (30:12-14).

This is not about just accepting “I am Jewish” but embracing and living Jewish beliefs and values. While we are a few thousand years removed from the Israelites at Mount Sinai, their journey and experience is as relevant today to each of us. Rabbi Shai Held explains, “One of Judaism’s central projects is to maintain a living connection to our foundational moments: to remember that no matter how much time has passed, Exodus and Sinai have always only just taken place.”

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Tazria-Metzora: Purification

Tazria-Metzora orecchiette pasta

Tazria-Metzora orecchiette pasta

This week’s parsha Tazria-Metzora, offers a detailed explanation of purification steps for someone who is ritually impure (tumah). It includes the following instruction: And he shall slaughter the guilt offering lamb, and the kohen shall take some of the blood of the guilt offering’s and place it on the cartilage of the right ear of the person being cleansed, on the thumb of his right hand, and on the big toe of his right foot (14:25). Tumah is not bad. As commentary in Etz Hayyim explains: “We can see the notion of tumah, then, as growing out of a sense of reverence for the miraculous nature of birth, the awesome power of death, and the mysteries of illness and recuperation” (p. 649).

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Mishpatim: We are all strangers

Mishpatim

Mishpatim

In Mishpatim, twice God tells the Israelites not to oppress a stranger because they were strangers in the Egypt. (22:20 and 23:9). This is central to Jewish identity. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes, “To be a Jew is to be a stranger.”  Rabbi Shai Held writes that, “since you know what it feels like to be a stranger, you must never abuse or mistreat the stranger.” 

Indeed, the Israelites experience as strangers in Egypt and throughout the diaspora provides the imperative that we not only support the strangers in our midst but stand in solidarity. Rabbi Held continues, “Empathy must animate and intensify your commitment to the dignity and well being of the weak and vulnerable. And God holds you accountable to this obligation” Continue reading

Bo: Liberation

Bo. Photo by Eli Ungar-Sargon

Bo. Photo by Eli Ungar-Sargon

This originally appeared on the Joy of Kosher website.
This week, in Bo, the remaining three plagues—locusts, darkness and the death of first-born sons–-are inflicted upon the Egyptians. While Egypt was shrouded in darkness, “all Israelites enjoyed light in their dwellings” (Bo, 10: 23).  How, despite the plagues and the continuing hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, did the Israelites live at the precipice of freedom and eventually gain freedom?

The Sefat Emet teaches that “God had already placed in Egypt hidden treasures that Israel had to take out. . . . When they clarified the lights that came out of such a place, they would go on to live [and shine] throughout the generations.” (The Language of Truth, Translated by Arthur Green, pgs 93-94).

Led by Moses, they embodied light and strength for both their liberation and the birth of the nation of Israel.  According to R. Levi, Israel was “no more than a heap of barren rocks. But, after they left Egypt, they became like a flourishing orchard of pomegranates.” (Sefer Ha-aggadah, p.71). The recipe that I created for Bo is inspired by the concept of finding light and strength in darkness, as well as the Israelites transformation. Continue reading