Sukkot is a harvest festival that allows us to experience and reflect upon our vulnerability and fragility in the world. All of the practices of this holiday–celebrating fall harvest foods, inviting community and strangers to one’s sukkah and living in an impermanent dwelling for a week–can be examined through the lens of how we are addressing and will deal with the impacts of climate change crisis. Continue reading
This is the story of an apple cake. But not the ingredients or how to make it. It’s the story of its maker—someone who brought warmth and joy to my family’s home for Shabbat meals and holidays and who selflessly cared for so many people (including painstakingly preparing a beloved cake for voracious eaters!) despite a past that was far from sweet.
The baker of the famous apple cake is Nina Merrick, an 89-year-old resident of Silver Spring, Maryland. She and her husband, Leon, have been friends of my family’s ever since I first began to study with her to prepare for my bat mitzvah, a connection that came about thanks to her lifelong commitment to teaching Judaism. Continue reading
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.”
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.
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.
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 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.
I 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.
“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!
The letter of Tevet is “ayin” which also means eye. “The month of Tevet is the month of the rectification and nullification of the ‘evil eye.’ The word Tevet itself comes from tov, “good,” referring to tov ayin, ‘the goodly eye.'” Indeed, celebrating the remaining days of Chanukah during the beginning of Tevet is an opportunity to see good in the world, as revealed in the burning of the holiday’s candles. “We need the power of the light of Chanukah, especially the light of the last day of Chanukah. . . to help us rectify the “Evil Eye” and to reveal the good (Tov – Tevet) in whatever exists.”