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

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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Av: Mourning and Comfort

Av corn soup

Av corn soup

I’m a bit late in posting for the month of Av which includes the day of mourning, Tisha b’Av, and Tu b’Av, often called the Jewish Valentines Day. The dichotomous holidays take us through a range of emotions from sadness and sorrow moving towards comfort and joy, as we start to prepare for the high holidays. In fact the month is often called Menachem Av, which means comforter or consoler. Literally, as we move through the day of Tisha b’Av, we gradually move to a more hopeful emotional state and towards one of more comfort. We go from sitting on the floor, as is customary with mourners to sitting in chairs. Emotionally, despite the pain of Tisha b’Av, we also have hope. In Judaism, because of our history we always carry narrative of pain and sorrow but are never defeated by it and always look for redemption in even the darkest places. We are steadfast in our optimism.

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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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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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