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Archive for March, 2010

Part of my kids’ celebration of Pesach involves watching a few short videos.  Here are their favorites:

Pharaoh’s reaction to the Exodus

The Village People meet the Bread of Affliction

And a poke at anti-Semites

Enjoy the videos and the holiday.

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Seder menu 5770

This year we’re hosting a seder at our house for friends.  I hate eating a hearty meal shortly before going to bed, which is one reason why we never invite guests for Friday night (unless they’re staying with us for all of Shabbat).  A typical Friday night meal for us is chicken soup that includes vegetables, cut-up chicken, matzo balls and/or noodles.  We’re full, but not stuffed after a meal like that.

But once a year, at Pesach, when we find ourselves famished at 10 PM and have only just reached the meal portion of the haggadah, an exception must be made.

Since most people we know are non-kitniyot-eaters (though I’m compiling a mental list of those who do partake for future Shabbat Pesach and Shvi’i shel Pesach meals), I’m working out a menu that includes not only our standard Ashkenazi-eating guests, but also their vegetarian son.  Here’s what I have so far.

Soup: choice of potato leek or chicken with matzo balls

Roasted garlic chicken (roast garlic separately, then separate the skin from a whole chicken and stuff the mushy cloves between skin and flesh, then roast the chicken with plenty of salt, pepper, and olive oil on the outside; this is my kids’ new favorite chicken)

Matzo farfel kugel (this is my friend Heather’s recipe and is a lovely balance of matzo and vegetables; I could eat it all year long)

Baked potatoes (I may coat peeled potatoes in olive oil, then roll in a mixture of matzo meal, salt and pepper before baking.  Or not.)

Steamed broccoli

Salad of tomato slices and chopped basil, with balsamic vinaigrette

Green salad (probably a modified Caesar salad with chopped egg, no cheese, and perhaps some matzo farfel in lieu of croutons)

Chocolate nut cake

Chocolate farfel clusters (since the Cap’n don’t eat nuts)

I have friends whose connection to many of the holidays is entwined with the foods that go with those holidays.  I don’t share that—I usually vary my menus for holidays—but Pesach is different, and while the type of chicken I make might vary, it’s not seder night without matzo ball soup, Heather’s kugel (it’s the only kugel I make, ever), and chocolate nut cake (good enough for year round, though I don’t make it aside from Pesach).

What are must-have dishes for YOUR Pesach?  And are there any other suggestions out there for a vegetarian (who doesn’t eat fish)?

Chag kasher v’sameach!

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Food relics

Over time, vanilla yogurt makes a good glue.

I discovered this when wiping out my refrigerator yesterday.  As I tried unsuccessfully to pull out the bottom-most glass shelf, I remembered that a few months back, an unnamed family member had returned a half-eaten pot of yogurt to the refrigerator, which had then been knocked over and spilled, trickling down three shelves and, ultimately, cementing one of them in place.

As I applied warm water (to see if this glue is water soluble), I thought about people who don’t keep Pesach and what happens in THEIR refrigerators and freezers.  While I won’t say where I witnessed these things, I will say that I’ve either seen or heard of 25-year-old lamb chops being recovered from a basement freezer only after a storm knocked out power for days.  I’ve seen a human hip bone (the result of replacement surgery) in a ziplock bag in the freezer, being reserved to make an ornamental head of a walking stick.  I’ve seen a spice cabinet plagued by pantry pests laying their eggs in the threads of jars of dried oregano, neglected and nearly white from age.  And I’ve seen a rare Indonesian chili sauce on a refrigerator door, four years after its expiry date.  (Hoping to throw away this bottle of largely desiccated sauce, I helpfully located a “replacement” bottle of the stuff in a cupboard, only to find that it was two years past expiration.)

So to those who say Jews are nutty to do such a thorough cleaning job every year, I say, “What’s the alternative?”

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I make no secret that Pesach is my favorite of the Jewish holidays.  Yes, the cleaning, cooking, kashering, and shopping are daunting.  But while the meanings behind many of the other holidays escape me, this one rings out clear.

Every year, I think about why it is that of all the holidays in the year, this holiday speaks to me the most.  This year I’ve been thinking about one of my daughters’ favorite movies: “Prince of Egypt.”

I don’t care much for animated kids’ movies.  Most Disney movies make me want to bring up my dinner, and most of the other video fare for kids is similarly tortuous to watch.  But somehow, Dreamworks managed to get it right with “Prince of Egypt.”  (Okay, they made Aaron a dumbbell, Tzipora a centerfold for Hustler, and ignored the midwives completely.  But other than THAT…)

One part particularly stands out in my mind, and that is the scene where Moses kills the Egyptian and is haunted by remorse afterwards.  When Rameses tries to reassure him that he won’t be punished, and says, “We can take care of that.  I will make it so it never happened,” Moses replies, “Nothing you can say can change what I’ve done.”

In just a couple of lines, the writers encapsulate what set Judaism apart from the pagan religions among which it amazingly took root.  The pagan practices of burying live babies in the cornerstones of new buildings, bizarre sexual rituals with many anonymous partners, and the belief in humans as divine (that would resurface later, but that’s another story) are all uprooted and demolished in Judaism, and replaced by a new reality in which deeds cannot be undone with words.  In the Egyptian moral code, an Egyptian can murder a Jewish slave with no apparent consequences.  No one can stop him—except a prince.  And according to Rameses, a prince can murder an Egyptian overseer and declare that it never even happened.  Where Moses’s vision of justice differs is where he realizes that the value of human life cannot be distinguished between a slave, a brute who abuses his power, and a prince.  For perhaps the first time in history, all men are seen as created equal.

The Cap’n and I have scores of family members who think Judaism is a system of quaint rituals at best, and totally irrelevant at worst.  What the more farbrennt secularists believe—that moral and ethical behavior is intuitive and one need not be a religious person to be righteous—is not entirely untrue.  But I believe that attitude ignores the foundations of morality in our society that lie in religion (Judaism in particular, since it was the first to buck the trends in paganism).  As we see in the scene with Moses and the Egyptian, justice and the value of human life are one such foundation.

There is much in this world that I don’t know.  One thing I don’t know is when, had the incident with Moses and the Egyptian not appeared in the Torah, the same lesson would have appeared which would set the groundwork for Western perceptions of justice.  Killing happens pretty wholesale thereafter, with the apparent sanction of God: the plague of the firstborn, the Egyptians in the sea, the Canaanites.  But the predatory attack of the strong and powerful against the weak—like what happened when the Amalekites attacked the Israelites in the desert—is just the sort of abuse Judaism condemns and requires us to be on our guard against.

There are so many things about this holiday to love.  Yitziat Mitzrayim, slavery to freedom, the forging of a people again from a rabble of slaves as down and out as they could get, setting out on the journey to settle in their own land.  When the haggadah commands us to see ourselves as though each of us had left Egypt, the message for me is a resonant one.  From no real spiritual roots to traditional Judaism, and from the non-Jewish world to Israel, where my family feels it truly belongs.

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Although I haven’t had much chance to blog in the last few weeks, I have seen some very interesting stuff in the news that has provoked thought.  Below are some of the items I’ve come across.

I wasn’t sure if or how to respond to Israel Apartheid Week elsewhere in the world.  I would foam at the mouth, but then stop and remember that there are some people you can’t convince of anything, who have decided that Israel is a reincarnation of South Africa.  Or something.  When I remember what South Africa was like, and I look at Israel, I’m inclined to channel Inígo Montoya from “The Princess Bride” and say, “You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means.”  But then Dore Gold, one of my favorite people in Israeli public affairs, came along with an article that exposes the “hidden agenda” behind Israel Apartheid Week.  In short, “what underlies the Israel Apartheid Week campaign is not international law, but rather a highly politicized interpretation of Israel’s history in which the Jewish people are viewed as a colonialist movement that recently came from Europe to usurp lands from the indigenous Palestinian population, rather than the authentic claimants to sovereignty in their historical homeland.”  He also rightfully points out that “[t]he resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict will not be reached by just waging historical debates, but by mutual recognition and accommodation. Israel Apartheid Week is not about respect for human rights; it is an incredibly hypocritical initiative that ignores the apartheid practiced by the Palestinians themselves, who make the sale of land to Jews punishable by death. It is also not a movement dedicated to making peace, but rather to denying the historical rights of the Jewish people. The answer to the challenge is to expose the true intentions of its backers, who clearly seek to dismantle the State of Israel and deny its people their inherent right of self-determination.”  Go, Dore, go!

I was pleased to hear (on the AP wire) of the release of British journalist Paul Martin after 25 days in the clutches of Hamas.  His “crime”?  He “was working on defaming the image of the Palestinian people by saying that they smuggle weapons through tunnels,” says a Hamas spokesman who styles himself “foreign minister.”  In other words, Martin was planning to print the truth.  Martin was also working on a story about Hamas’s use of civilians as human shields.  Tsk, tsk.  A journalist print the truth about Hamas?  What can he have been thinking?

The Irish have arrested seven Muslims allegedly linked to an assassination plot to kill Swedish artist Lars Vilks, whose 2007 sketch of Muhammad depicts the prophet’s head sitting atop the body of a dog.  This, of course, resulted in al-Qaeda putting a $100,000 price on Vilks’s head.  Of course, there isn’t enough money in the world to slap a price tag on the head of every Muslim who claims that Jews are descended from pigs and monkeys.

I nearly fainted dead away when David J. Forman, whose opinion pieces I nearly always disagree with, took both Israelis abroad (whom he insists should NOT be extended the right to vote remotely in Israeli elections) and liberal American Jews (who blame Israel for not meeting their wishes, expectations, and dreams of what a Jewish State should be) to task in the last two weeks.  While Forman does his share of complaining about Israel, at least he lives here.

It must be difficult enough to be a stand-up comic, but Canadian Jewish comedienne Judy Batalion had it particularly rough in her story of how she was booed offstage in a cabaret show in London’s West End when, gearing up for an identity joke, she began by saying, “I’m a Jew.”  Batalion writes, “It wasn’t the first time my tribal identity had been an issue with stand-up in Britain.  I had been told by industry-folk to ‘go back to New York,’ ‘change your style’ and even ‘marry a non-Jew so your kids will be better looking’…  [But] it was producers who had suggested I add this joke acknowledging my race, because that’s what audiences would be wondering about when they saw me.  But never before had I been responded to in public by a visceral, unabashed syllable.  This was a place where it was all right to boo a Jew.”  She observes that “in a country obsessed with identity politics, I had the wrong one.”  Nothing funny about that.

Israel’s Channel 2 has a new series called “Hahatufim (The Kidnapped) about three soldiers taken prisoner in Lebanon who are returned after 17 years (two alive, one dead) in a prisoner exchange.  The drama begins at the point when the media in REAL kidnappings and prisoner exchanges leaves off—when the prisoners (if they’re alive) and their families and begin to rebuild their lives.  The creators of the series interviewed former Israeli prisoners of war, and the families of soldiers whose fates are still unknown in an effort to capture their experiences as honestly as possible.  Needless to say, this subject hits a raw nerve in Israeli society, and while some families (including the Shalits, whose son Gilad is still in a basement in Gaza somewhere) are hopeful that it will raise awareness and activism to get the soldiers back at any cost, others doubt the power of art (if television can be called “art”) to move a society to action.

VP Biden’s response to Israel’s plans to build in Jewish Jerusalem was not only a dramatic and overblown performance; he also put all of the onus for “trust-building” on Israel.  What is he encouraging the Arabs to do to build trust with Israel?  Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza have restrictions put on importation of building materials that could help them build their economy.  Why?  Because they have a nasty habit of using building materials to build explosives and rocket launchers.  They have poor access to water and water treatment methods which could be alleviated by the building of proper treatment facilities, but Israel won’t let those materials into Arab territory.  Why?  See previous response.  Arabs could go far in building trust with Israel by 1) accepting that Israel is here to stay and isn’t going anywhere, and that genocide (which they keep promising in Arabic, even as they accuse Israel in English of stalling the peace process) is a big no-no; 2) stopping the teaching of Jew-hatred in their schools and the incitement of violence against Jews—and I’m talking about “moderates” like Abbas and Fayyad here, not just Hamas; and by 3) showing a willingness to partner with Israel in developing their own society to make them ready for a state of their own, if that is ever to come to pass.  It’s time to show some willingness to drag themselves out of the Middle Ages and into the modern world where they say they want to take their rightful place, and to do this, THEY need to take measures to build trust with Israel.  Stand With Us has a very good response to the US’s behavior since Israel’s announcement to build more housing IN ISRAEL.

The Post ran a lengthy interview with a Lebanese-born Arab who spent several years of his childhood in a house his family built in the German Colony of Jerusalem.  Interested in what this Arab had to say about living in British Mandatory Palestine and how, according to the headline, he “speaks pragmatically about the future,” I read it carefully.  The Lebanese-born Arab who calls himself a “displaced Palestinian” thinks in much the way I would expect him to.  He believes he has been unjustly denied the right to return to the house his family left in 1948 before the Arabs attacked the Jews in an attempt to annihilate them and take over all of former British mandatory Palestine.  He sees Jews in the Sheik Jarrah neighborhood, who are just now reclaiming properties that were Jewish before 1948, as given an unfair privilege by the State, one he believes Arabs should be extended as well.  When reminded that the Arabs themselves created their own displacement by declarations of war, he responds, “Does that mean that if the Nazis won World War II the stealing and destruction of Jewish property was justified?”  He compares Israel with Nazis elsewhere in the article, ignoring the fact that the Jews did nothing to threaten the stability (much less the existence) of Germany, and that the Nazis were the unprovoked aggressors, thieves, and genocidal maniacs—none of which describes the Jews in 1948.  This Arab is just as single-mindedly bent on recovering his property, for whose loss be blames Israel, as any other Arab in the same situation.  Where he is a little more pragmatic is when he admits that repatriation of Arabs is not practical, and that the real solution lies in compensation.  But he is still blinded by Arab propaganda, his emotions, and a severely impaired ability to keep the historical facts straight (something I’ll blog on soon) when he says that “The establishment of the State of Israel by force which caused the displacement of Palestinians and the destruction of pre-1948 Palestine was a moral outrage, but it’s history.”  Well, almost.  And this is a pragmatic Arab.  Just think what the not-so-pragmatic ones are like, and you have Israel’s “peace partner.”

Robert S. Wistrich’s new book, A Lethal Obsession, attacks anti-Semitism through his analysis of “how patterns and themes repeat themselves with depressing regularity,” and a well-documented claim that “anti-Semitism is not, as is conventionally believed, the sole preserve of the European nationalist Right.”  Ben Cohen, who reviews the book, writes, “Actually, anti-Semitism is politically and theologically promiscuous, at home among Christians and Muslims as well as socialists, royalists, anarchists and fascists.  In that regard, one of the book’s most compelling chapters concerns the anti-Semitism that prevailed in the Soviet Union, involving the domestic persecution of the Jewish community alongside a global campaign, at the UN and other forums, against what was euphemistically called ‘international Zionism.’”  And while contemporary Leftists may shrink from many of the vile epithets used by unabashed Jew-haters of the past, and “insist that their opposition to Zionism and Israel is based instead on anti-racism … Wistrich debunks these semantic games.  Whether they like it or not, what the advocates of an Israel boycott share with Holocaust-denier Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the belief that Israel is singularly, as Wistrich puts it, ‘an organic obstacle to peace and progress.’”  I’m fascinated when a book like this comes out that seems to hit the nail on the head about the nature of anti-Semitism.  I just wish the “educated,” “progressive” people who embrace that obsession would read these books (and be shocked at their own hypocrisy) rather than the Jews themselves—who are not the problem.

And finally, as the slow, steady destruction of the antiquities underneath the Temple Mount continues at the hands of Jerusalem’s Muslim Wakf, and Jewish building in Ramat Shilo gets international condemnation, one small ray of light shines through: the rededication of the Hurva synagogue in the Old City.  Destroyed by the Jordanians when they bombed the entire Jewish quarter after securing the Old City in the 1948 war, the jagged, hollow shell stood for over 60 years.  Now, literally from the ashes, it is completely rebuilt.  The first time I saw the Hurva under re-construction two years ago, I got chills down my spine.  So many antiquities and holy places have been left in ruins, and with the restored Jewish quarter surrounding it, I had assumed that it would be left as a monument to a gone-by Jewish presence in the city, like the remnants of the Cardo and the First Temple Era city wall that were excavated after 1967.  It would be hard to imagine a more life- and land-affirming endeavor than this one, and the Post has a very nice editorial discussing the synagogue’s history and the meaning of its rededication this week.  It should be noted, too, that the building that went into restoring this shul has garnered no opposition 0r condemnation from the world despite the fact that it is just as much on the other side of the Green Line as Ramat Shlomo where the much ballyhooed 1,600 housing units will be built.  Just thought I’d mention that. Here are a couple of pictures to put the project into perspective.  The Hurva before reconstruction:

And with the facade complete:

Takes my breath away.

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Hell and beauty

I just finished rereading C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters.  I didn’t love it the first time and was no more thrilled with it a second time.  But one part caught my eye this time around.  In Chapter 20, the demon Screwtape writes his nephew Wormwood, a novice demon, offering advice on how to tempt his “patient” through sexual desire.  Screwtape launches into an interesting aside about the contributions Hell and its minions have made to human impressions of beauty.

In a rough and ready way, of course, this question is decided for us by spirits far deeper down in the Lowerarchy than you and I.  It is the business of these great masters to produce in every age a general misdirection of what may be called sexual “taste”.  This they do by working through the small circle of popular artists, dressmakers, actresses and advertisers who determine the fashionable type.  The aim is to guide each sex away from those members of the other with whom spiritually helpful, happy, and fertile marriages are most likely.  …As regards the male taste, we have varied a good deal.  At one time we have directed it to the statuesque and aristocratic type of beauty, mixing men’s vanity with their desires and encouraging the race to breed chiefly from the most arrogant and prodigal women.  At another, we have selected an exaggeratedly feminine type, faint and languishing, so that folly and cowardice, and all the general falseness and littleness of mind which go with them, shall be at a premium.  At present we are on the opposite tack.  The age of jazz has succeeded the age of the waltz, and we now teach men to like women whose bodies are scarcely distinguishable from those of boys.  Since this is a kind of beauty even more transitory than most, we thus aggravate the females’ chronic horror of growing old (with many excellent results) and render her less willing and less able to bear children.  And that is not all.  We have engineered a great increase in the licence which society allows to the representation of the apparent nude (not the real nude) in art, and its exhibition on the stage or the bathing beach.  It is all a fake, of course; the figures in the popular art are falsely drawn; the real women in bathing suits or tights are actually pinched in and propped up to make them appear firmer and more slender and more boyish than nature allows a full-grown woman to be.  Yet at the same time, the modern world is taught to believe that it is being “frank” and “healthy” and getting back to nature.  As a result we are more and more directing the desires of men to something which does not exist—making the role of the eye in sexuality more and more important and at the same time making its demands more and more impossible.  What follows you can easily forecast!

Yes, Hell is still busily tampering with the human mind where beauty is concerned.  Actress Kate Winslet corroborates Screwtape’s observation that the human body in “art” is a fake, and condemns the pressure on women to conform to the fashionable figure.

If one is full-figured (i.e. normal), it’s a comfort to know that they STILL sell corsets.

This piece is written for women “blessed with a boyish figure,” and consists of suggestions for clothing to counteract that boyish figure, making it appear more rounded and feminine!

The advice for those with boyish figures must be out of date, though, because based on the pictures of Hollywood actresses on this website, those flat chests are fast-disappearing (as is the planet’s supply of push-up bras and silicone).  And talk about women’s chronic horror of growing old—even dear J.K. Rowling, who I always cheered for looking like a real, normal woman, has shelled out some of her considerable fortune in an attempt to look more glamorous.  Doesn’t talent count for anything these days?

And for the matrons among us, there is even a “mommy makeover.” Just think—I can go from slumped, stretched, deflated baby-maker to, well, still pretty matronly.  Just not AS matronly.

Indeed, it would seem that Hell still has a firm grip on humans where beauty is concerned.  Whatever happens, it seems the mantra is still, “It’s more important to look good than to feel good.”  Or to do good, or to think good, or to BE good.

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…at Ima on (and off) the Bima.  Check out recipes, food halacha, restaurant reviews and more for the month of Nissan.

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