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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L’Shana Tova: Rosh Hashana Recipes Round-Up

Pomegrantate

Pomegrantate

I can’t believe I’m writing my third Rosh Hashana post on Neesh Noosh. I’m not sure what I’ll be writing for the coming year, but do expect more posts from me. I’ve been slowly working on putting things together for a cookbook, which I hope will eventually become a reality. Thank you to all of you for reading the blog and your comments and questions. Below is a round-up of Rosh Hashana recipes that you might want to include at your table. I hope you all have a wonderful Rosh Hashana celebration filled with delicious apples dipped in honey from a local farmer and a year filled with bountiful, healthful local foods. L’Shana tova!

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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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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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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