Archive for February, 2010

Merry Purim

Check out the Purim costumes on this haredi family.  Suppose they know who they’re dressed as?  (Thanks, Shelly Bloom!)


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Kids in shul

Purim’s coming, and it will be one of the few times per year that I actually set foot in shul.

I used to attend shul all the time.  In fact, before the Cap’n and I were married, we used to walk a mile and a half and got to shul half an hour early to attend the rabbi’s pre-Shacharit shiur every Shabbat morning.  Marriage gave us a little less incentive to get up so early for shul, and children made it nearly impossible.  Even if we were to have gotten up, gotten ourselves and the kids dressed, the kids breakfasted, snacks packed, stroller loaded, and the .9 mile walked to shul, the three-hour service with the stern, disapproving looks from some of the older congregants would have driven us away.

This last thing is something that has irritated me for years about shul-going.  When I first began to attend shul in Israel, I was frequently annoyed by the sound (and sometimes the body-slam) of children running and playing in and just outside the shul.  Their parents seemed oblivious of them, only stopping praying to attend to whatever need the child had burst in to convey, and then going back to their davening.  I was put off by their lack of courtesy to other daveners, but kept my mouth shut.  During the many services I sat through with the sound of kid-play in my ears, I realized that the tone the parents (and by extension, the uncomplaining congregants) were setting for the kids was one in which they felt welcome and accepted for what they were—children.  I also learned to tune out the noise and focus on the words in front of me, relegating the laughter and shrieks to a dull background roar.

I haven’t forgotten those lessons, and now that I’m the one with the kids (who usually whisper rather than shriek), I appreciate even more when fellow congregants withhold their scorn and indignation.  Today’s boisterous kids are tomorrow’s docile shul-goers.  (And the doted-upon grandchildren of the scowling sestogenarians.)  This is why the Cap’n and I don’t let it bother us when every fall someone on the shul committee puts out a reminder to the parents of young children to keep them out of shul, please.  I deal with this by choosing a seat in the shul’s plywood extension that goes up just before Rosh Hashana, right near the door.  That way, when I go hear shofar, the kids can come in and stand with me, and when it’s over we can all leave without disturbing the others.  And the Cap’n deals with it by ignoring it completely, putting Bill in his backpack carrier and wearing him to services, with one or more of the Crunch girls standing beside him.  (That said, the Cap’n does remove Bill when his chanting gets louder than the shatz’s.)

A friend of mine took her toddler with her to services last fall (at a different shul) and sat next to one of the shul’s senior members.  She apologized for bringing the child, saying she really wanted to hear some of the High Holiday davening, and acknowledged that the senior member in the past had not approved of bringing young children to shul.  The senior member (now a grandmother) smiled and said, “I made a mistake.”

Amen to that.

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One thing I dislike about not having grown up with Judaism is that here I am, in my 40s, still scouting for good recipes for the holidays.  My Rosh Hashanah honey cake sticks to the bottom of the bundt pan (my food guru Ilana suggests putting bread crumbs at the bottom), my digestion just can’t take latkes anymore, I haven’t seen the coconut macaroons here in Israel that friends use to make their kosher-for-Passover cheesecakes (probably just as well–that’s about a year’s worth of saturated fat), and I don’t have a hamantashen recipe I really love.

Until yesterday.

I enjoy following the discussions and advice on the Israel Food chat list, and at holiday time it is a great resource for new recipes.  Yesterday I decided to try a recipe someone named Nita posted on the chat list.  This cookie calls for oil instead of margarine (not something I feel terribly strongly about, but in theory I know it’s better) and is flavored with orange zest.  After processing a batch of prune and apricot filling (plus a couple of dates and figs), I got going with the dough.  It was too soft to handle so I added a cup more of flour than the recipe called for, and rolled it out onto a well-floured surface.  When cut, transferred, filled, and wrapped, I popped them into the oven.  The smell was fabulous, and when they came out, they looked perfect.  The orange rind complemented the fruit filling beautifully.  I’m sold.  And best yet, they’ll make a delicious cookie for Shabbat when we have margarine-hating guests, or to send in a tray of several dozen in my monthly contribution to Pina Chama (a free coffee shop for soldiers run at the nearby Gush Junction).

Here’s the recipe.

Sharon’s Hamentaschen

(Can substitute lemon rind instead of the orange.  For Purim, fill with chocolate or apricot jam; the combination with the orange rind is delicious.)

1 cup oil
1¼ cup sugar
4 eggs
3 tsp vanilla
2 tsp orange rind
5 cups flour (or as needed, depending on the weather)
Pinch salt
2½ tsp baking powder

Mix oil and sugar together.  Add eggs, vanilla, and orange rind.  Add flour, salt, and baking powder.  Bake hamentaschen 12-15 minutes at 180 degrees Celsius (350 degrees Fahrenheit).  They should still be white on the top, but slightly cracked. They get too hard if overbaked. Recipe makes about 40-50, depending on the size.

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Send in the clowns

I have discovered lots of cool things about living in Israel.  While people here are notorious for being rude, small shop owners have sold me stuff on credit (“Just pay me next time you come in”), or even loaned me their own personal knitting needles for a project.  I have never once been catcalled by a construction worker here.  (In the US, I don’t think I passed a single construction site without someone rating my appearance.)  And I just discovered that clowns, which I never found funny, but always thought bizarre and pitiful looking, have been transformed into valuable members of medical teams in hospitals.  Check out this video:

The US has also worked at integrating specially trained clowns into its medical programs.  I’m impressed by what this video shows: how the clowns interact with patients from newborns to tweens, their level of training, and their acceptance–nay, the demand for them–by hospital staff.  For the medical field to take the leap to seeing medical treatment through a very young patient’s eyes, and to work to make the experience of hospitalization and treatment more comfortable for that population, is commendable.

I often despair that life is not a progression from barbarism toward greater civilization.  And then I see videos like this, and hope is restored.

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Early hyacinth

Among my many fond memories of living in New England is seeing the snowdrops push their way up through the dirt, wet leaves, and slush in February.  They were the first harbinger of spring, and I planted them deliberately to have something blooming before the crocuses came up in March.

My garden in Israel has been a disappointment thus far.  Most of the plants in it are spindly or diseased, and the soil (of the worst possible quality) is packed so hard that it took hours of hacking away last year for the girls and me to put in a few bulbs.  (I have requested that the Cap’n start a fund toward which we put the money for a total overhaul of the garden in another year or two.)  Last spring we had a couple of crocuses, a few narcissus, and two hyacinths.  This year only one hyacinth has appeared in the great confusion of warm weather before winter’s final exit.  (The other hyacinth and most of the crocuses appear to have been dug up in the course of the local feral felines using my garden as a public loo.)  Beans came in breathless this afternoon having taken a turn about the garden and spotted the Lone Survivor:

Ahhh, a spot of beauty in a garden of mediocrity.

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Post-Rapture pet care

I don’t read Bloomberg Business Week online, and I’m obviously missing out.

Yesterday the Cap’n read me an article about one Bart Centre, an entrepreneur who has decided there is a market niche for a post-Rapture pet care coordinator.  It seems that those who believe they will be Taken Up during the Rapture are concerned about what will happen to their pets when they are gathered to Paradise.  “Pets don’t have souls, so they’ll remain on Earth. I don’t see how they can be taken with you,” [one of the Faithful] says. “A lot of persons are concerned about their pets, but I don’t know if they should necessarily trust atheists to take care of them.”

That’s right.  If all the Righteous are gathered and their pets are left behind, who is left to take care of them?  It seems other God-believers are not entirely reliable because they might–just MIGHT–be given a share in the World To Come.  That leaves the atheists.  According to the article, “Rescuers must sign an affidavit to affirm their disbelief in God—and they must also clear a criminal background check.”

So listen up, atheists!  If you want to be a pet rescuer, this is the chance of a lifetime.  (But probably not.)  And if you’re in the business world and were looking for a new way to part people from their money, it looks like Bart Centre beat you to it.

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Israeli Arabs

David J. Forman, who writes an opinion column for The Jerusalem Post, has completed a two-part series in which he describes the dream of aliyah he cherished growing up in the United States, and the disappointment he has experienced upon coming here (nearly 40 years ago) and finding that the Zionist Paradise is not all he had imagined.

I disagree with most of what Forman writes, and often abandon reading him at all after seeing the headlines of his pieces.  But I not only read this series but kept my mouth shut and my computer idle after the incredibly silly first piece was published, in which he makes the claim that he, like most Westerners, is disappointed with the reality of Israel.

Part II of his piece, in which he sets out to cover in greater depth the things about Israel which disappoint him, could have been about anything—it could have been about the very hot topic these days of sex-segregated buses, about political corruption, about the awful way the government is set up with almost no check and balances, or about the travesty of coalition politics.  It could have been about the incompetent handling of the water crisis, the shameless littering and pollution of the Holy Land, or the unconscionable death toll on Israel’s roads.  But Forman chose perhaps the most complicated topic for his brief discussion: Israeli Arabs.  And the objections he raises to the treatment of Israeli Arabs include loyalty oaths required by certain communities in order to secure building permits, and the fact that some Jews have received building permits in East Jerusalem while an unspecified number of Arabs have not.

Forman has limited space in which to write, so the breadth of his discussion is naturally limited.  He acknowledges that Israeli Arabs have the right to vote and attend Israel’s universities.  He mentions that President Shimon Peres is actively encouraging the business sector to invest in the Arab labor force to help economically disadvantaged communities.

But that is the extent of his discussion of Israeli Arabs.  This is a shame, because they have been a complicated fact of Israeli life on nearly every front since Israel became a state.  Israeli Arabs, unlike Druze and Beduin, do not serve in the IDF.  I think everyone is in agreement about why: they don’t want to, and we’re not sure we want them to either.  The government even offered young Arabs the opportunity to participate in a program similar to National Service, where they could be posted in positions benefiting the Israeli Arab community, and their response was angry and indignant.  (That they should take anything offered by the government was anathema to their young, farbrennter ideals.)  They live in the Jewish State as non-Jews, and therefore are naturally limited in the enthusiasm they can have for singing HaTikva, learning the history of Zionism, or watching their government take on Arab enemies from within and from without.  Arab Israelis have been called a fifth column of late, fueled by the murders of eight yeshiva boys two years ago at the Mercaz HaRav, by three bulldozer attacks on pedestrians and street traffic in downtown Jerusalem by Israeli Arab drivers, and by the fact that during the terror war in the early 2000s, Israeli Arabs were often found to have helped Hamas and Fatah terrorists carry out attacks on innocent civilians.  While Minority Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman (whom Forman reviles in his column) denies that Israeli Arabs are a fifth column, it is difficult to convince many people of this in light of some of the more egregious acts of violence perpetrated by Israeli Arabs who, far from acting out of insanity or principles offensive to the Israeli Arab community, are hailed publicly as martyrs by their fellow Arabs.

I sometimes look at Israeli Arabs and wonder how they manage.  Recent newspaper articles about young, educated Arabs struggling against the negative image of Arabs in the media while competing for high-tech jobs show how complicated their existence is.  And I imagine that when Israeli Arabs identify with the Palestinian Arabs (those living in Gaza, Judea, and Samaria), they are doing so for the same reasons Beduins identify with Palestinian Arabs and the Druze often identify with Syrians: Their future has a degree of uncertainty, and if someday they find their homes and land part of a Palestinian State, or part of Syria, they know it would behoove them to have made clear their loyalty in advance.  They do this in the full knowledge that Israel allows them the freedom of conscience and speech to believe and say this that they would never be allowed in an Arab state.

And yet most Israeli Arabs, when polled, say they prefer to live in Israel than anywhere else.  This is a remarkable statement given the awkwardness of their existence, and the impression many Westerners have of them and their perceived misery here.  (I once debated another commenter about the status of Israeli Arabs, and that person could not accept that Arabs would want to live outside of a state of their own, or that they might be better off doing so.)  If it’s true, it means that despite the many marks against Israel’s treatment of them, there must be something that keeps them here.  Economic prosperity?  They are far better off than most other Arabs in the Arab world.  The presence of culture?  There is little in the way of cultural development in the Palestinian sector of society.  Freedom?  There is certainly much more of that here than anywhere else in the Arab world.  Representative government?  There are far more parties to choose from here than in the PA- or Hamas-controlled territory.  An independent press?  Despite the horror and embarrassment of Israelis at having their government ministers exposed as having committed crimes including fraud, embezzlement, and rape, Arabs have been on record as saying they admire Israel’s system of exposing corruption and holding government officials accountable for their actions—something many Arabs wish they themselves had in their societies.  A connection to the land, and belief that they are living where their ancestors lived?  A handful probably have ancestry that goes back more than 100 years from this land, and others may believe they are here to help in eventually tipping the population balance between Jews and Arabs.

Forman’s columns usually disappoint me.  Like the dream of the Jewish State, they set out to tackle great issues, and like the reality of the Jewish State, they seem to fall short.  Alas.  But what separates my disappointment from Forman’s is that he expected more, and I’ve learned to expect very little.

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Caution: Movie spoiler

Back in 1999, the Cap’n and I saw the film “Sunshine” in the movie theater.  It tells the multi-generational story of a Hungarian Jewish family’s rise from provincial distillers to movers and shakers in the nation’s many disparate governments.  In the film, each generation finds itself limited by its Jewishness and is persuaded first to change its name, then its religion, and finally abandon its identity as Jews altogether.

The tale of assimilation disturbed us the first time around, but this time even more so from our standpoint as ex-Diaspora-dwellers.  The Sonnenschein family’s loyalty to the Austro-Hungarian emperor, then the Socialists, (taking a break from loyalty during the Fascist government), then the Communists proves unfounded in every case, and only one character, Valerie (in the second generation of the film’s focus), manages to stay true to her identity as a Jew and remain aloof from disappointed loyalties.

I don’t love to think about anti-Semitism.  I don’t like to think of its still flourishing, or lurking under the surface in contemporary societies.  But the anti-Semitism that exists in so much of Western society these days, especially on liberal college and university campuses (wearing the thin cloak of “anti-Zionism”), proves the point made by Alvin Rosenfeld, the Irving M. Glazer Chair in Jewish Studies and professor of English at Indiana University, that “Nazism was defeated in Europe nearly 65 years ago.  Anti-Semitism was not.”  (Rosenfeld is founder and director of the new Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism at Indiana University.)  This makes the claims that so many have made in the last century—that Berlin was the New Jerusalem, that Hungary was the Promised Land, that Jews have found their last, best home in America—all the more unsettling.  There may not be Crusaders marching across the countryside with their priests’ exhortations to “kill a Jew and save your soul” running through their heads, or goose-stepping Brownshirts chanting “Juden raus” down the city streets, but it is clear from the sorts of guest speakers invited to university campuses (David Irving, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad) that the hatred and lies used to perpetuate anti-Semitism are just as protected as the truths of what happened in Operation Cast Lead, if not more so.

In that kind of climate, Jews can’t help but wonder what it takes to garner acceptance.  Some, as ignorant about Israel as the average American, hop on the bandwagon and denounce the Jewish State.  Others, believing the canard that Israel is the greatest threat to world peace, blame Israel (and by extension, the Jews) solely for Middle East unrest, the Palestinian “refugee crisis,” stealing land rightfully belonging to Arabs, and worldwide terrorism.  Still others find their support for Israel flagging in the face of the constant barrage of hatred and libel, and just don’t have the strength to fight it anymore.

Jews have always been suspected of dual loyalty.  I think it was Alan Dershowitz in his book Chutzpah who described being asked by more than one person, “If the US and Israel went to war, whom would you support?”  In some sense, it puts even more pressure on Jews to support and be active in their Diaspora societies, to show their loyalty to their host country.  In every case I’ve ever heard of, that participation and patriotism has been genuine, and one always hopes and expects that it will be taken as such.

And yet, it isn’t always.  It seems a small step for the second generation in “Sunshine” to change their last name from Sonnenschein to Sors, and the glee with which they skip down the stairs of a government building after officially making the change shows that they believe that will be all that will be asked of them for acceptance and promotion in Hungarian society.  But then the next generation rises, and a young fencer cannot even win a match against a Gentile, much less fence in the most exclusive club, without converting to Catholicism.  When he makes the change, he is greeted by the General who directs the exclusive Officers’ Fencing Club who tells him, “You made the right choice; assimilation is the only possible way.”  This Sors’s single-minded pursuit of success (and total lack of connection to his Jewishness) becomes apparent when he discusses a letter he has received from one of the fencing coaches who has fled to Algiers after the rise of the Fascists.  Here is the conversation between him and the General:

“He’s a traitor, sir.”

“It’s not that simple.  The Baron’s wife is Jewish, so his children are considered Jews.”

“He’s a traitor, sir.”

“Anti-Semitism is the creed of resentful and unsuccessful people.  It’s a shared madness which the Baron couldn’t accept.  But we have.  The worst thing about anti-Semitism is that it’s a philosophy of philistines.  It’s in bad taste.  I don’t know how much longer I can go along with it.”

In the very next scene, the Sors family sits around the radio listening to the new “racial laws” of Hungary, desperate to find grounds on which they themselves are exempt from the new legalized exclusion and persecution of Jews.  As disgusting and irrational as the laws themselves are, the family’s belief that they are safe because of their service to the country is just as irrational.  In their own way, they too have accepted the racial laws.  Rather than view the Big Picture and ask themselves, “What the hell happened to this country we thought was so great?” they wring their hands and look for any way they can to try to stay true to a country that no longer appreciates them, and perhaps never did.

Of course, their exemptions and safety are short-lived.  Shortly before the fencing champion is rounded up and sent to Auschwitz, he has a final conversation with the General, who says, “Sors, something I once said to you—that assimilation was the right choice.  I want to ask your forgiveness for having said that.  I was profoundly wrong, and I apologize.”  That the Gentile General can bring himself to apologize for having encouraged Sors to do what thousands of Jews had to do to participate fully in European society is marvel enough.  And yet, knowing Sors as the viewer does, he would never cling to something as meaningless and inconvenient to him as his Jewishness just for its own sake.  His ambition was too great, and his attachment to Torah too little.

By the end of the Communist era, the family is decimated, their generations of heirlooms and possessions looted, lost, or hauled away with the trash.  All that remains to the last living member is a letter written by his great-grandfather containing his ethical will, describing his creed of justice, humility, and Jewish identity.  In it Emmanuel Sonnenschein has written, “Never give up your religion—not for God; God is present in all religions.  But if your life becomes a struggle for acceptance, you’ll always be unhappy.  Religion may not be perfect, but it is a well-built boat that can stay balanced and carry you to the other shore.  Our life is nothing but a boat adrift on water balanced by permanent uncertainty.”

The movie ends on a note of hope as the last living member of the family returns to the government office to change his name back to Sonnenschein.  He is unlikely ever to be as religious as his forebears, or to desire the power and possessions they once enjoyed, but armed with his great-grandfather’s prayers for his son, he once again has a sense of who he is, and what his life is a part of.  For years he has made himself into what others expected or wanted him to be.  The viewer gets the sense that he needs only his own acceptance now, and not that of others.

While a great story, and beautifully acted and filmed, “Sunshine” depressed the Cap’n and me even more than last time we watched it.  Not for ourselves—we are happily installed in the great Zionist Paradise, get all our holidays off without being snarled at by secular Jewish bosses who say, “Well, I’M working on Yom Kippur.  Don’t see why you can’t,” spend a fraction of tuition of our Diaspora friends, and live a stone’s throw from the holiest city on Earth.  But thinking of our friends whose kids in college and university are subject to disgusting anti-Semitic bias from fellow students and professors, who themselves are professors and make a concerted effort not to get drawn into discussions that are heated and unproductive, and who are so used to the vicious anti-Israel (and anti-Semitic) articles published by The Boston Globe and The New York Times that they’re surprised to see anything published at all that is fair to the Jews, we find ourselves incredibly grateful that the REAL Jerusalem is within our grasp, that the Promised Land is ours once again, and that the Jews’ last, best home is once again the one given us by Hashem Himself.

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Nude beach Barbie

Our neighbor, a heavy smoker, very kindly passed on her grown daughter’s Barbies to the Crunch girls.  For an after-gan activity, Banana and I gave them all (plus their clothes) a bath, combed their hair, and laid them out on towels to dry.  The Cap’n, coming upon this, thought it looked like a soon-to-be-classic Barbie scene: the nude beach.

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Table manners

I decided early on that one of my jobs as a pedantic parent is to teach my children table manners.  The Cap’n and I figure this goes hand-in-hand with our philosophy that kids will live up or down to parents’ expectations, and that it is never too early to establish the foundations of good manners.  When our kids were still early talkers, we taught them the formula, “May I please…” and now have merely to remind them—in their occasional lapses into “I want…”—that “That is a ‘may’ question.”

As far as the Crunch family is concerned, table manners for young children consist of the following:

1) Sitting at the table for a reasonable duration of the meal.  During the week, this means the 40 minutes or so of dinner, which consists of eating and hearing a short summary of everyone’s day.  On Shabbat it means kiddush, motzi, and whatever of the appetizer course appeals.  They are then excused to play until the “real food” is served.

2) Putting their napkins in their laps, using a fork or spoon for their food, keeping elbows off the table, and chewing with their mouths closed.

3) Asking others politely to pass them things.

4) Not interrupting conversations, but saying “Excuse me” and waiting until the conversation is ended (or paused) to be acknowledged.

For many families, table manners are something parents just don’t have the koach (strength) to enforce.  True, correcting the same children on the same poor habits can be a bit like banging one’s head against the proverbial brick wall.  But consider the consequences of giving up: Rearing up a child who as an adult holds a fork like a shovel, belches loudly at the table, announces, “I’m done” the second the food is gone from his plate, lifts his cereal bowl to scrape the last few cornflakes directly into his mouth, and eats salad with his hands.  That might not bother some people, and people with manners like that have been known to get married, but I aim a little higher for the Crunch children.  They understand from the categories on their chore charts (for which they receive daily stickers and an allowance commensurate with their week’s performance on Friday afternoons) that good table manners are as much expected of them as cleaning their rooms, setting the table, folding their laundry, and doing their homework.

In general, I enjoy eating with my children much more when they use good table manners.  They’re neater eaters, dinnertime is more quiet and orderly, and I sometimes get to entertain the illusion that I’m eating with other human beings rather than barely-tame baboons.  They occasionally take their knowledge of table etiquette too far, though, and have loudly corrected their visiting grandparents’ table manners (which was kind of cute) as well as those of friends who hosted us for a Shabbat meal (considerably more horrifying).  The trick here, it seems, is to teach them manners as we would teach house rules: Adhere to what we observe, but don’t try to force it on others.

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In the last few weeks, I’ve undertaken some challenging cooking jobs.  Vegan friends sponsored a kiddush, other friends with multiple allergies recently welcomed twins into their family, and a family joined us for Shabbat with a member who doesn’t eat gluten or eggs.  And my in-laws are shortly to join us for a couple of weeks, with my mother-in-law on a diet that at this point allows for plain chicken breasts, lettuce leaves, rice, and peppermint stick ice cream.

My mother thinks I’m crazy to cook as much as I do, but I really enjoy it.  I cook very simply during the week (salads, soups, beans and rice, raw vegetable platters) and save the bulk of my cooking energy for Shabbat.

And it’s also a fact that food, which I always thought was here to sustain us, makes many of us sick.  So it’s not enough anymore just to keep kosher (which was plenty complicated for me to learn at the beginning); now a competent cook needs to have a cooking repertoire that includes dishes for friends who are lactose intolerant or dairy-allergic, gluten-free, vegan, or allergic to tree nuts, eggs, sesame seeds, soy, half of the fruits, the nightshade family, and can’t be in the same room as fish.

Should anyone else find themselves having to make food for friends with allergies or strict diets, I thought I would share some of what I’ve done in the last couple of weeks, and the sources for the recipes where relevant.

For the vegan kiddush I made the following:

Ultra-orange cake (a beautiful, tasty one-bowl cake from the latest Joy of Cooking)

Vegan chocolate cake (not the best chocolate cake in the world, but passable, also from Joy of Cooking)

Apple “pie” (a crustless apple dessert made in a springform pan)

Coconut rice pudding (a very rich, Indian-inspired dish from Claudia Roden’s Book of Jewish Food)

Jelly mold (I used bovine gelatin here, which no true vegan will eat, but the kids had to have something to enjoy, and I sprinkled Jelly Bellies® around it for added fun, flavor, and color)

Popcorn (the Cap’n made regular salted popcorn, but one can make caramel popcorn or “sweet” popcorn, adding powdered sugar instead of salt)

For our highly allergic friends’ dinner we took the following:


Spaghetti and meatballs (where I formed the meatballs from ground chicken and beef, but no other add-ins; just be gentle with them in the pan until they’re browned, so they don’t break up)


Raw vegetable platter

Crunch-top apple pie (okay, the kid with the nut allergies couldn’t eat this, but we didn’t call the kids for dessert anyway, and just sat and enjoyed it ourselves)

And for our friends with a gluten-free, egg-free mom, here’s what I made:

Friday night: chicken soup with choice of pasta or rice, cooked separately from the soup

Saturday lunch: Tuscan bean soup, chicken piccatta (sprinkled lightly with rice flour instead of dredged in wheat flour) and schnitzel (for the kids), rice pilaf (wild rice blend with sautéed shallots, olive oil, and fried pinenuts), roasted zucchini and tomato gratin, and coleslaw.  Dessert, the pièce de resistance, was homemade marshmallows, balls of green melon, strawberries, and orange chunks dipped in a warm chocolate sauce.   (Thanks for the idea, Ilana!)

What’s next?  Well, for my mother-in-law, I plan to have pre-cooked and frozen chicken breasts, spun lettuce, and the rice cooker at the ready.  (And since they’re bringing us an ice cream maker, I’ll make homemade ice cream.)  The rest of us will eat bean and cheese tacos, spaghetti with tomato sauce, Caesar salad, and the rest of the normal Shimshonit repertoire.  And we’ve extended an invitation to friends for Purim seudah where the father has Crohn’s, so no raw vegetables or fruits.  But I suppose shepherd’s pie, steamed broccoli and cake should be all right.

Does anyone else have tips, suggestions, or experiences they want to share about feeding people with special diets?

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Rain, rain, DON’T go away

Today is our second day of rain in a row, and we’re due for more tomorrow.  (Some rumors are circulating that it could even turn to snow, but while snow is sometimes seen outside the Golan Heights, including in Efrat, I’ll believe it when I see it.)

It began yesterday morning.  We rose to a typical day of bright, morning sunshine, and got the kids out the door as usual.  As I was sitting at my computer and looked out the window, however, I saw the sky quickly turn to gray and the wind pick up.  (One thing that is amazing about Israel, and particularly Gush Etzion, is that the weather changes on a dime here.)  The sky opened up soon after, and while there were brief respites during the day, the rain came down pretty steadily all day, and most of last night.  (I know because I was awake for much of the night.) When my friend Ilana and I traveled to Jerusalem yesterday, the fog was thick on the road, a common occurrence in the Gush since our altitude places us nearly in the clouds during weather like this.

Rain in a desert country like Israel is almost like manna falling from the sky.  Israel has had a serious of unusually dry winters, and while this winter was predicted to be wetter than past years, until this week that prediction did not appear to be accurate.  Chief Sephardic Rabbi Shlomo Amar called for Israelis to fast and pray for rain (even harder than we do anyway, which is three times a day).  But a look at the level of the Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee) shows that the heavy rains have had an impact on the water level.  The Cap’n informs me that the Kinneret used to feed into the Jordan River and make its way ultimately to the Dead Sea, but that this has not been the case for many years, the outflow having been closed off to preserve Israel’s precious chief water supply.  (The Dead Sea continues to be fed, much less regularly, by runoff from the desert.  We have hiked several of the nachalim, or washes, that lead from the desert highlands to the Dead Sea, but those would be quite deadly in the last few days.  The road that runs along the Dead Sea past Masada and Ein Gedi is sometimes washed out in weather like this.)

As beautiful and necessary as the rain is, it also wreaks havoc when it falls in torrents like this.  Last time we had heavy rains, several people were killed.  Sometimes it is Bedouins in the desert lowlands who get caught by sudden flooding.  But sometimes it is thrill-seekers who hear dire warnings to avoid certain areas where flash-flooding occurs, and interpret those warnings as an invitation to see something cool.  The Jerusalem Post had an editorial a couple of weeks ago recommending that such people be responsible for paying for their own rescue missions, which are dangerous and costly.

On a rainy day earlier in the year, one of the Crunch girls came home and said it was a mabul outside.  Mabul is the word used to describe the rising waters in the story of Noah.  But in ulpan we learned that the rivulets of water and flash flooding are actually called a shitafon.   (Shin-tet-feh is also the root for “wash,” and expressions that use this root include “scolding,” e.g. shtifah min haminahel and “brainwashing,” i.e. shtifat moach.)

Having grown up in Oregon, I am not bothered by rain.  I loved the weather there, and when the rain sometimes turned to snow, it became magical.  One New Year’s Eve, when I was home from college for the Christmas holidays, my entire family–parents, adult children, and Irish setter–went sledding down the very long, steep hill near our house.

In Boston, the Crunch family was always equipped with both raingear and snowgear.  But now the Crunch girls have nearly outgrown all those boots and slickers.  I asked someone what kids are supposed to wear on their feet on the rare snow days in Efrat.  My neighbor (a Minnesotan, no less) answered with a smile, “Oh, just rubber-band plastic bags over their shoes.  It’s only one or two days a year.”

Today I will spend most of my time in the kitchen preparing food for Shabbat (warming soups, warm tomato and zucchini gratin, warm chocolate dipping sauce for fruit chunks and homemade marshmallows).  My kitchen window looks out through a small section of our garden to our car parked on the street outside.  One of the things I will enjoy when I look out the window will be seeing that car, like all the other cars around here, get its thick layer of dust and filth washed off.  For free.

Come again some other day.  And another.  And another.

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My parents often forward me things that get passed on to them via email.  Some of the sillier things are things that have 18-point font and lots of all-caps, bold, and exclamation marks (a little like a Leon Uris novel).  Most of these things get a cursory read before I either check Snopes and find them to be frauds, or are just too silly to pass on and I click “delete.”  But once in a while, they’re fun to contemplate, just as the movie “Dave” was fun for seeing an average guy (who happened to be a dead ringer for the president) with the ability to balance his own checkbook taking over a budgetary meeting at the White House.

It seems the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times Business Section that asked readers for ideas on how to fix the American economy.  One respondent answered as follows (with my edits for hyperbolic font, etc.):

Dear Mr. President,

Please find below my suggestion for fixing America’s economy.  Instead of giving billions of dollars to companies that will squander the money on lavish parties and unearned bonuses, use the following plan. You can call it the “Patriotic Retirement Plan.”

There are about 40 million people over 50 in the work force. Pay them $1 million apiece severance for early retirement with the following stipulations:

1) They must retire.  Forty million job openings.  Unemployment fixed.

2) They must buy a new American Car.  Forty million cars ordered.  Auto industry fixed.

3) They must either buy a house or pay off their mortgage.  Housing crisis fixed.

It’s that simple.  And if more money is needed, have all members in Congress pay their taxes.  And while you’re at it, Mr. President, make Congress retire on Social Security and Medicare. I’ll bet both programs would be fixed pronto!

It’s a bewitching notion, solving three major problems for a scant $40 million, but what are the holes in this argument?  I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed when it comes to economics, but a million dollars doesn’t go as far these days as it once did.  To find oneself suddenly out of work and forced to buy a car and a house could use up a good chunk of that (especially if one lives inside an eruv).  I can imagine many of those working people suddenly out of a job would be without health insurance (unless Medicare goes down to age 50), in need of Social Security, and who knows what else.  If they’re used to frittering their money away, they’ll keep doing it, and soon be a burden on the economy, just in a different way.

People smarter than me (and there are plenty of you), what else do you see wrong with this rosy picture?

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Relatively healthy

One of the things I have found remarkable about our lives in Israel since making aliyah three and a half years ago has been how relatively healthy our children are.  True, like most new immigrants, we were all dreadfully sick in our first year here.  The Cap’n missed three solid weeks of ulpan while the girls each took a turn with a week-long fever, which would begin on Shabbat afternoon and taper off the following Shabbat morning, to be followed by the next girl’s fever spiking and settling in.  That, plus our own colds, were not fun.

And this is not to say that the Cap’n and I are so healthy all the time either.  We have had our share of colds, but even worse than the occasional virus are the allergies here, especially in Efrat where it seems something is blooming or otherwise reproducing at any given time, and the regular doses of Loratidine we take are more for making us less miserable than for making us actually feel well.

But the children have been in the pink almost every winter.  Banana missed a couple of days with a fever this year, and Peach pretended to be sick last month (which we humored for a day, then sent her packing back to school).  But in general, they go to school feeling fine every day.

Oy—the memories I have of the flu, the chicken pox, the rotten colds that made me miserable for days and weeks on end!  Living in Hingham (Mass.) where my bedroom was an icebox, in Denver where we burrowed tunnels under the snow in the front yard, and in Portland (Ore.) where the rain could keep us indoors for days on end were what I grew up with, and the viruses I caught which kept me miserable cannot be counted.

It’s a particular joy, and one I hopefully anticipated before making aliyah, to see my children healthy (yes, they eat well, including their vegetables) and able to play outside nearly every day of the year.  Even if the wind is blowing or the weather is cold, the ground is usually dry and the sun is usually out.  I suppose if one really wants to live in paradise, one could move to Hawaii which has essentially one season—warm.  But I couldn’t give up seasons altogether, and now the almond trees are flowering, the tulips and narcissus are up and blooming, the cyclamen and anemones are dotting the rocks and grass on the hillsides among the ancient terraces here in the Gush, and we still get a rainy day here and there to keep it all green.  It’s all good.

Except for those allergies…

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A beautiful song

I’m sick, the Cap’n’s sick, Bill’s sick.  The laundry is piled up to the ceiling.  I’ve been cooking and baking for days solid.  I slept about 2 hours last night.  ‘Nuff said.

But this song always moves me.  Idan Raichel is one of Israel’s most miraculous musical talents, and I fell in love with this song when Beans’s gymnastics team did a stunningly graceful floor exercise routine to it last spring.  Have a look and listen.

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