Us, God and Challah

touching the challah

“Everyone touch someone who is touching the challah!”

by Rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner

It’s hard for me to resist an easy pun, so when I decided to teach a Shavuot session on challah and how this seemingly innocuous bread is rooted in a fraught relationship between the Jewish people and God, I couldn’t help myself; I named the session, “A Long and ‘Twisted’ Relationship: Us, God, and Challah.”

We began our tikkun leil session by each sharing a memory of challah from our childhoods. We then asked and attempted to answer the question: Why do we eat challah on Shabbat?

Looking through Numbers 15 (click here to access the entire source sheet/study guide), we learned that the mitzvah of challah comes from a commandment in the Torah to set aside a loaf of bread for God “as a gift.” And why 2 gift-loaves, and not just one? Because as the Israelites wandered in the desert, God “rained down bread” for them from the sky – aka manna – and on Fridays, two portions of manna fell, so that the Israelites would not have to gather food on Shabbat.

As we read through the manna story, it became clear that manna was 1. Given by God quite begrudgingly, and 2. That the Israelites mistrusted that God would continuously and consistently provide them with food. The episode of the manna quickly became a test of Israelite faith; the Israelites were ordered by Moses to gather only as much manna as they could eat each day; any manna stored for the following day would rot and become infested with maggots.

The rabbis of the Mishnaic and Talmudic eras had a field day with this enmeshed relationship as the Israelites sought safety and comfort in sustenance and God used food to teach them a lesson. The rabbis considered a variety of lenses through which to understand the relationship:

Rabbi Tarfon imagined God gently extending a hand each morning to deliver the manna like dew, and he imagined that at the same time, God collected Israelite prayers and returned with them to heaven.

Rabbi Shimon wondered why the manna didn’t simply descend once a year, and suggested alternately that 1. God wanted closeness with the Israelites, and thought that their reliance on daily deliveries of manna would reinforce the bond; 2. God wanted to reassure the hungry Israelites that they would consistently be provided for; or 3. God didn’t want to burden the Israelites by making them carry a year’s worth of manna as they trekked through the desert.

So: what are your earliest memories of biting into this sweet and complicated bread? How does challah keep you anchored to God, your ancestors, or tradition?

Our Measure of Grain

“Memorial Tablet and Omer Calendar” by Baruch Zvi Ring, 1904. Paper cut, pencil, ink and paint. Owned by the Jewish Museum in NYC. Baruch Zvi Ring (Ringiansky) came to Rochester from Vishya, Lithuania, in 1902. Please visit this artwork on the Jewish Museum website to learn more about the incredible intricacies in this work.

Our Beit Sefer, led by our Yeledim class (Bass, Ben, Ellie, Isaac, Joey, Miles, Molly, and their teacher, Shlomit) is collecting boxes of grains (pasta, cereal, rice, etc) to make a collective donation to Food Gatherers. We started collecting right after Passover and we will continue through Shavuot. By collecting donations for the Food Gatherers, the Yeledim are learning to connect the Jewish holiday cycle with a need in our community.

We are commanded by the Torah to bring, on the second day of Passover, a measure—an omer—of the first cutting of our barley harvest to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem as an offering to G‑d, and not to partake of that year’s grain crop until that offering is made. We then count 49 days, and on the 50th day, which is Shavuot, we bring the first of our wheat harvest as an offering to G‑d, and we do not use of the year’s wheat crop for Temple offerings until this is done. Hence, the 49-day count leading from Passover to Shavuot is called “the Counting of the Omer”—a reference to the omer of barley that was brought on the first day of the count.
(from “Grain, Growth and Goodness” by R. Shlomo Yaffe)

The Yeledim have set a goal of collecting as least 49 boxes of grain, one for each day of the Omer. And you can help! We will be collecting this Saturday, May 12th at the JCC during Second Saturday Shabbat morning services, and also at our congregational observance of Shavuot on Saturday May 19th.

Preparing for Mimouna

Rabbi Myron Kinberg blessing guests with dates stuffed with butter and anointing them with buttermilk, 1996.

AARC is doing something new this year. We are getting together to learn about and celebrate Mimouna, the hametz-laden Moroccan Jewish end-of-Passover celebration.

Mimouna

Saturday April 7

5:30-7:30

at the JCC.

Because my beloved sister-in-law, Alice Haya Kinberg, grew up in Morocco and taught my family about Mimouna many moons ago, I have known about the special holiday for a long time. But this year, when Rabbi Ora suggested we have a Mimouna “seder” where we as a community learn about Mimouna traditions, I learned a lot more!

Thanks to Carol Lessure, our community has had several Mimouna-inspired pizza parties at the end Passover. Now we have the opportunity to learn more about the traditions of sharing with non-Jewish neighbors, enjoying Moroccan food, and celebrating the blessings of springtime.

In this article, “Ten things you didn’t know about Mimouna,” I learned several surprising ways that Jews and Muslims in Morocco expressed appreciation for each other. “Inside the Mimouna, Passover’s Best Kept and Sweetest Tradition,” I found a picture of the custom of  wiping the forehead with mint leaves dipped in buttermilk which, Alice explained to me, is a blessing for gaining wealth and wisdom and feeling satiated. And in this essay by Alicia Sisso Raz I learned about the Mimouna being brought to South America and the traditional Judeo-Arabic greeting Tirbeḥu Utis’adu (success and good luck), and the Spanish greeting for Mimouna, “A Mimon, a Shalom, a baba Terbaḥ.”

Along with the seder, we will be having a potluck dinner, and we encourage you to bring a dish that includes at least one of the following ingredients common to Mimouna celebrations: milk or buttermilk; wheat flour (try your hand at moufleta); eggs; bean pods; dates and preserves; butter; honey; Zabane (marshmallow sauce); fruits or candied fruit; spring greens; fish; wine.

Einat AdmonyCandied Citrus Peels

Ingredients:

1 large red or pink grapefruit

1 large pomela

2 oranges

1 cup sugar, plus more for tossing

1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and chopped

2 pieces star anise

AARC Mimouna 2018: Abandon Bitterness, Celebrate Blessing

Photo of Mimouna foods from an article in The Nosher, includes recipes.

This year, AARC will be celebrating Mimouna on Saturday April 7, 5:30-7:30pm at the JCC. We’ll have lots of food, music, and a short ‘seder’ to learn about the symbols and traditions of Mimouna. We will also begin a conversation about things our congregation can do to form relationships with other faith communities in the coming year.

Mimouna, the traditional Moroccan Jewish celebration held the day after Passover, marks the start of spring and the return to eating chametz, i.e., leavened bread and bread by-products, which are forbidden throughout Passover. In centuries past, Muslim neighbors would bring gifts of flour, honey, milk, butter and green beans to their Jewish neighbors to help them prepare delicious, chametz-rich recipes. More recently, Moroccan Jews brought the holiday to Israel where it is now widely celebrated with picnics and visiting with friends and neighbors. Recently, an organization of Moroccan Muslim students was founded which preserves and promotes the history of Morocco’s ancient Jewish community and seeks to educate about Jewish culture to encourage harmony between Jews and Muslims.

“Unlike Passover, which is charged with religious meaning, this is a festival devoted to the celebration of community, friendship, togetherness and hospitality. Mimouna is celebrated by throwing one’s home open to friends, neighbors and even strangers, with public parties, and by sharing – a large portion of that sharing involving food. Mimouna is thus clearly all about encouraging peace, kindness and human warmth. It also centers around making music, singing and dancing,” explains an article in Haaretz which includes a recipe for the traditional crepe, mofleta.

The piyyut (ligurgical poetry) below, “Atem Yotzei Maarav ,”composed by Rabbi David Bouzaglo (1903-1975), to commemorate the Mimouna holiday tells–in Hebrew with some Judeo-Arabic interspersed–the various aspects of the holiday including the foods eaten, the friendly atmosphere, and the significance of the holiday. It tells a story of strife and its resolution, and in conclusion calls for the abandonment of bitterness between Muslims and Jews.

 

Atem Yotzei Maarav

A Moroccan Jewish Piyyut:

You, who come from the Maghreb, from Morocco, men of faith –
praise G-d in assembly, this day of the Mimouna.

Yesterday the Red Sea opened its gaping mouth before Pharaoh,
it moved over all their wagons and swallowed them.

Israel, the flock, his servants crossed through passages,
as the waves of the sea were piled up by the hand of Moses, the faithful father.

The wealth of their enemies and tormentors Israel collected,
between the waves of the sea, they received it as a gift.

On every doorstep, all congratulated each other:
“Be blessed, friend, all the months of the year.”

And in Morocco, for many generations, the Hebrews say,
in blessing their friends, “good luck, brother, good fortune!”

The strangers, their waters were spilled on them;
the fear of G-d, in Heaven poured down on them.

Loads and loads of wealth and grains
were delivered from all comers of the world to the people G-d has chosen.

And it is the way of the sons of Arabia, in Morocco,
each according to his means brings the Jews an offering of value.

Yeast, honey and flour, the milk of a healthy cow,
fish, mint, and butter with wild flowers and flowers from the garden.

This night, Hebrews and Arabs are all seated together –
they rejoice with musical instruments and singing.

The Hebrew woman wears the clothes of an Arab,
the man wears an Arab vest, and the scent of incense and perfume.

One can no longer distinguish between a Hebrew and his Arab brother,
or if they are city dwellers or villagers: the good spirit overtakes them all.

The borders between Israel and the nations are blurred
If it wasn’t for the bloodthirsty who run the states.

It is these evil kings who deliver their people to catastrophe –
They are concerned only with their thrones, not the soul who suffers.

Abandon for all time conflict and bitterness!
Stop the bitter cries! Stop in the name of peace and freedom!

(Translation – Ruben Namdar and Joshua Levitt)

Seven Species Recipes for Tu B’shevat

 

In the past, our Tu B’shevat seders have followed the kabbalistic tradition of the “four worlds.” Traditionally, these seders include nuts, though we found substitutes because the JCC is a Nut Free Building.

There is also a tradition of eating of the Seven Species on Tu B’Shevat. Since these don’t involve nuts, seems like a good tradition for those of us who potluck at the JCC! This Friday, January 26, 2018 is our Tu B’shevat themed Fourth Friday potluck. I’m looking forward to some new eats!

The Seven Species

Deuteronomy 8:8 tells us that Israel was “a land of wheat, barley, grapevines, figs, and pomegranates; a land of oil olives and date honey.” The seven species are:

  • Wheat (chitah in Hebrew)
  • Barley (se’orah in Hebrew)
  • Grapes (gefen in Hebrew), usually consumed as wine
  • Figs (te’enah in Hebrew)
  • Pomegranates (rimon in Hebrew)
  • Olives (zayit in Hebrew), usually consumed in oil form
  • Dates (tamar or d’vash in Hebrew)

Here’s a collection of recipes to get you started:

Hanukkah 2017 blog: Latke fry-off and more

As I write this 2017 Hanukkah blog, the first snow of the season has skimmed the porch with white. I realize that all the serious stuff I want to say about Hanukkah, I wrote in last year’s blog, with links to various other thoughtful writings.

 

 

Here’s an annotated schedule for the rest of 2017:

This Saturday, December 9, is our Human Rights Shabbat, focusing on the light we bring through our activism. Rabbi Ora has invited our members to signup to speak for no more that 4 minutes each. Please read about it here and sign up here. There will be childcare!

Sunday December 10: Beit Sefer gets ready for Hanukkah!

Sunday December 10: Over 50 (yrs old) AARC members getting together at Morgan and York, sharing ways to enrich Jewish life. Look for a doodle poll soon to pick a Saturday morning to meet again. Questions? email Memberchip Committee co-chair, Marcy Epstein at dr_marcy@hotmail.com.

Friday December 15: Home hosted potluck and candle lighting at Debbie Zivan’s (limited, you must RSVP here.)

Saturday December 16: Home hosted potluck and candle lighting at Carole Caplan’s (limited, you must RSVP here.)

Sunday December 17: Home hosted potluck and candle lighting at Kira Berman’s (limited, you must RSVP here.)

Just gotta say, the description of this photo is “Martha Stewart, Thanksgiving leftovers on a platter.” Okay then.

Tuesday December 19: Last Candle Latke Party and Fry-Off: We are having an all congregation and friends Hanukkah party at the JCC, 5:30 to 7:30pm (Clean-uppers should plan to be there till 8pm). We need you to bring latkes: prizes for the best in every category! For ideas, here’s the winning recipes from  last year’s fry-off at Jewish Senior Life’s Fleischman Residence/Blumberg Plaza in West Bloomfield. And, here’s Jen Cohen’s Latke Secrets from our own past. Three people have already signed up to make latkes, but we need several more!! We’ll eat, light the hanukiot (bring your menorah and candles), sing songs and make a craft. Fun for all! RSVP and tell us what you are bringing.

Friday December 22: Fourth Friday Kabbalat Shabbat with potluck and tot shabbat, at the JCC.

Monday December 25th: Dinner and a Movie: Our annual December 25 “Dinner and a Movie” on Monday, December 25 (Christmas Day) at 5:15 pm, will again take place at Madras Masala (328 Maynard St, Ann Arbor) followed by movies at Michigan and State Theaters.
We will pre-order the food and you need to fill out this SignUp Genius so we can send the order in. Have cash available for payment. Madras Masala has increased business in the last two years and management needs us to pre-order to efficiently serve us as well as their walk-in and take-out customers. With this in mind, we will have our usual very fun dinner, with less wait for food and more time for enjoying and schmoozzing. Restaurant cooks will begin to prepare our orders early and wait staff will bring each individual and family your specific order.

Repair the World invites us to Act Now Against Hunger

The director of Education for Repair the World, Rebecca Katz, sent an email to Rabbi Ora last week inviting AARC members and friends to participate in their Act Now Against Hunger campaign this Thanksgiving. Detroit is one of seven active sites for the non-profit organization Repair the World, which was founded in 2009 to encourage young Jewish people to participate in meaningful service and engagement in social change rooted in Jewish values and learning.

This year they have put together special resources for Thanksgiving  to help us have conversations about hunger at our Thanksgiving dinner table, or another appropriate time.

“Transform your table into a place of generous learning, listening, and action.  As we gather around a table of plenty, commit to opening your table to conversations about food insecurity and hunger. Use these three discussion guides and DIY resources to root your discussion of food insecurity in Jewish values and foster a brave space for people to meaningfully engage with each other’s experiences and ideas.”

The discussion guides and resources below are very nicely put together and will be relevant throughout the year. Take a minute to look through them and download for your family’s use.

Discussion Guides:

  • A Plateful of Grateful
    • Untangle the impact of food waste and hunger using this guide co-created with 412 Food Rescue, a Pittsburgh non-profit that believes that good food belongs to people, not landfills.
  • Addressing Hunger Together
    • Discuss root causes and strategies to address food insecurity through traditional and modern food justice texts
  • Bringing Generosity to a Tough Table
    • If you are heading into a tense or divisive space and want to foster a generous and open conversation at your table, check out this guide we developed in partnership with Lab/Shul, an everybody-driven experimental Jewish community in NYC.
  • Food Justice Glossary
    • Build a shared language around food justice

 

Erica Bloom on Tu B’Shevat: “Bend a little closer to the earth”

On Saturday February 11, Erica Bloom, Project Director at Growing Hope, gave this talk during our morning Shabbat service.

 

 

Hello everyone. Thank you for having me today. This is a rare opportunity for me to wear two of my hats at once. I’ve been asked to speak today to reflect on Tu B’shevat as the Program Director at Growing Hope, but also as a Jewish person who cares deeply about the natural world and access to healthy food as a human right. [Read more…]

Tu B’Shevat: The Jewish Environmental Holiday, February 11, 2017

Tu B’Shevat, the 15th of the month of Shevat, is the Jewish new year of the trees, the date in the Jewish calendar when we especially focus on human interdependence with nature and other environmental concerns. This year, Tu B’Shevat will fall on Saturday, February 11 and there are several ways you can celebrate the holiday with AARC.

Saturday February 11 is a Second Saturday, our regular monthly Saturday morning Shabbat service at the JCC (10am-noon), so it’s the perfect opportunity for us to get together for Tu B’Shevat. Rabbi Alana will lead the prayer service and we’ve invited special guest Erica Bloom to join us for a talk about her work with Growing Hope in Ypsilanti. Growing Hope is an organization focused on helping people improve their lives and communities through gardening and increasing access to healthy food. It hosts an urban farm on W Michigan and does several community and school programs on “farm to table” themes.

Growing Hope 922 W. Michigan, Ypsilanti

Growing Hope Green House and Gardens

Erica’s roots are in Southeast Michigan, though she went west for her education. She received her M.S. in Environmental Studies from the University of Montana where she studied environmental health and environmental non-fiction writing. After returning to Michigan, she worked at the Michigan League of Conservation Voters advocating to increase protections for our state’s natural resources. She is currently a Senior Fellow with the Environmental Leadership Program, and participated in a Detroit area young professional Jewish leadership initiative through Bend the Arc, a Jewish partnership for justice.

 

 

Later in the day, we are invited to two Tu B’Shevat seders in Detroit:

  • Congregation T’chiyah, the Reconstructionist Congregation of Detroit, and the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue are hosting a Tu B’Shevat Seder on Saturday, February 11, at 3.30 pm, at IADS (1457 Griswold, Detroit 48226). The seder, led by Rabbis Alana Alpert and Ariana Silverman, will have lots of fruits, nuts, and Jewish wisdom about being better stewards of the Earth. Special activities for children will enable each generation to celebrate and learn. This event is free of charge.
  • And at 7:30 Hazon Detroit is hosting a Tu B’Shevat event at the Light Box: Gather in community for an experiential Tu B’Shvat seder (ceremony) that will re-connect us to the environment and take us on a journey from the physical world to the spiritual world with music, poetry, and learnings from some of Detroit’s most dedicated environmental changemakers and activists. Expected to be there are State Representatives Jeremy Moss and Robert Wittenberg; Executive Director & Health Officer for the City of Detroit’s Health Department, Dr. Abdul El-Sayed; President & CEO of We the People of Detroit, Monica Lewis Patrick; and Executive Director of Soulardarity, Jackson Koeppel! Co-sponsored by: The Well, NEXTGen Detroit, Jewish Ferndale, Yad Ezra, Repair The World: Detroit,Congregation Shir Tikvah, Detroit City Moishe House, and Adat Shalom Synagogue’s Young Adult Group. There is a fee for the Hazon event: sliding scale of $10-18. Scholarships available. REGISTER HERE for the Hazon event! Please contact Julie Rosenbaum for questions: julie.rosenbaum@hazon.org or 248-997-6344.

For the past few years, Tu B’Shevat has been a special holiday for AARC. Here is a blog about last year’s Tu B’Shevat Shabbaton and Seder, and from the 2015 Tu B’Shevat Seder. Let’s make this year memorable as well.

Marcy’s Break-Fast Pear Plum Kugel, with Ricotta and Thoreson Farm Apples

marcys-kugelby Marcy Epstein

This is a no-holds-barred, creamy sweet kugel (noodle pudding) that necessitates a good amount of improvisation. In other words, I made this up. There are two conventional kugels Ashkenazim have turned to for over a century– the sweet apple and raisin variety, and the even more common starch-salty kugel of matzah meal, potato, leek or just plain cream sort that serves as accompaniment to a main course.

Because I made this kugel toward the end of Yom Kippur, I aimed for the happy fusion between the two, the dessert you eat as an entree, something to fill a stomach after ten servings of contrition. I combined a salty, creamy starchiness with many eggs and the earthy tang of sweet and earthy fruits. I reconstructed the tradition of eating new fruit of the fall harvest, taking t’shuvah to mean the literal turning of the spoon, I prepared noodles, ricotta cheese custard, and a great combination of fruits I doubt can be exactly replicated: this year’s extra sweet fresh Italian plums, some Bartlett pears, and (learning from Nancy and Drake Meadow how to set up jars and jars of local fruit) fresh raspberries, strawberries from Tantre Farm, serviceberries gleaned from outside a hospice, and Lodi apples gathered from a wild edge of Thoreson Farm (ironically, this farm was first to cultivate cherries in Michigan, but I only had dried cherries about, and dried fruit Kugel is a whole ’nuther casserole.) As I mentioned, improvise. Look to this recipe with open invention, an invitation into the sweet coherence of a signature on baker’s parchment in life’s divine cook book. The secret of kugel is in its ingredients and coherence.

As for coherence, I had a spiritual and practical problem. Homemade noodles would have made this recipe sound that much more home grown, true to humble roots. But practically, it was already torture not to taste the kugel while fasting– to make homemade noodles would have done me in and tripped me up. (I read the al Chet while the kugel cooked.) Wide store bought egg noodles were used instead.

pawpaw5cropped

If you really want to stretch this recipe in another locavore way, hang out with Allison Stupka and Harry Fried, and perhaps you, too, can be enthralled to the seasonal Michigan Paw Paw and its light, complex custard– this fruit could carry the kugel on its own.

One more note: this is not the kugel of my humble roots–that is a fantastic suburban pineapple kugel that I used to make with my mother, Ruth. Among the many things I turned over with the spoon was how I missed making this kugel with her. Mind you, I did most of the making, and she would talk with me, take or make calls to people from our JCC, or tell me about her hayday of hosting Hadassah meetings with this and that. Those are the missing ingredients of my own kugel, the kavanah of turning and folding, the awkward but satisfying slops where the cream and salt hit the fruit. It is in the spirit of lost-ness and return that I dedicate this little kugel to my mother and to Karen, Debbie Zivan’s mother, whom we lost this past month. I was lucky enough to share the holy days with her, to eat kugel with her, and to feel her Jewish motherliness when I could not be with my mom. So this recipe is for them and for yours.

Ingredients:
Salt, one big pinch
Butter, salted, two pats
1/4 cup Olive oil
1 bag of wide egg noodles
1 healthy cup sour cream
1 healthy cup ricotta cheese
3 tbsp of strawberry cream cheese
3 tbsp of regular cream cheese
1/2 cup milk
6 eggs
Two pears, diced
8-10 Italian (prune) plums
One pint jar of preserved fruit: mine  was apples with raspberries and serviceberries. Apple sauce can work in a pinch.
Honey to taste.

Directions:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Set a couple of quarts of water with pinch of salt to boil. Add egg noodles when water is just at a boil, watch for 4-5 minutes, turn off heat and let sit. In a large mixing bowl, add cream cheese and microwave 1 minute till soft. To this, add and turn over a little milk, sour cream, a pat or two of salted butter, olive oil, eggs, vanilla, ricotta cheese, salt, and honey and cinnamon to taste. This mixture should prove to be nearly the mass of the noodles. Strain but do not rinse noodles. Add to a large casserole dish and have another smaller dish nearby in case you can make an extra for someone special. Core and chop pears. Pit and chop half the plums, leaving several halves intact. Fold cheese mixture into pan of noodles and turn. Fold canned fruit into the pan and turn. Fold chopped fruit into the pan and turn. Don’t worry about a topping for this kugel, the starch and oil in the recipe keep it from sticking (as long as you don’t over oil it), and it should have crunchy, pliant noodles on top. Bake for 40 minutes. Check to see if the custard has formed by putting in a knife and seeing it come out relatively clear of batter. Let the kugel sit a little before serving. It is best served luke warm.

Ideas for kugel are most welcome here on the AARC blog, and I can use suggestions before I expand this entry for my little Tumblr blog, New Jew Food.