Cuban Jews: Help Our People Thrive!

Photo by NatalieMaynor https://www.flickr.com/photos/nataliemaynor/

Photo: Natalie Maynor

Cuba has never been on my list of countries to visit. With the uncertainty regarding individual travel, I have always been concerned that I might be entering a country that I may not be able to exit. In 2014, president Barrack Obama eased restrictions on travel to Cuba for United States citizens. Since his election, president Donald Trump has proposed to reinstate many of these limits. Last week I took advantage of this current window of opportunity and participated in an organized trip to Jewish Cuba. During my time there, I discovered a community that was effectively forbidden to practice communal Judaism for thirty years, much like the community in the former Soviet Union. Now, Judaism is blossoming again in Cuba, and many young Cuban Jews are choosing to make aliyah, Jewish immigration to Israel.

[Read more…]

Israeli Avocado Salad

Photo by T.Tseng https://www.flickr.com/photos/68147320@N02/

While the guacamole craze has not spread to Israel, avocados are one of its important crops with trees that produce beautiful, plump fruits. Israelis have cultivated their own methods of preparing and using avocados, including avocado salad.

Avocados are native to Mexico. The first avocado trees were brought to Israel by the monks of the Latrun monastery, who grafted them in the monastery garden, in 1908. It took until 1927 for these trees to produce fruits. Upon seeing the success of the monks, people started planting avocados in their gardens. In the 1950s avocados were planted in commercial orchards for the first time. Today, most of the avocados planted in Israel are for export. Israelis have also grown to love them. The most popular way to consume avocado is as a salad, in a vegetarian sandwich.

Avocado season is in full swing now, and ripe avocados are widely available. This simple avocado salad uses local ingredients, and appeals to the Israeli palate. You may serve it with a fresh baguette, or sliced bread.

Israeli Avocado Salad

Ingredients:

  • 1 ripe avocado, mashed
  • 1 small onion, finely minced
  • 1 lemon or lime, squeezed
  • Salt
  • Black pepper

Preparation:

  • In a large bowl, combine the mashed avocado with the minced onion.
    Season to taste with lemon juice, salt, and black pepper.

FIDF Event Shines a Light on Siblings of Fallen Soldiers

Gil Lesnik

The Friends of the Israel Defense Forces hosted a Shabbat dinner in Center City. The evening’s special guest was Israeli writer, producer and director Gil Lesnik, who screened his film “My Younger Elder Brother” at the dinner. The film documents the struggles of a previously overlooked group of bereaved people: the younger siblings of fallen soldiers. [Read more…]

Café Ole: Philadelphia’s Shakshuka Queen

Egg and tomato mixture in pan. Photo by cyclonebill https://www.flickr.com/photos/cyclonebill/

Photo by cyclonebill

Shakshuka, the fiery North African egg and tomato sauce staple, has been discovered by North Americans. The most authentic version that I have tried in Philadelphia is prepared at Café Ole.

Shakshuka, which means “mixture” in Arabic, came to Israel in the 1950s with the immigration of Libyan and Tunisian Jews. These new Israelis prepared a delicious breakfast of eggs poached in sauce made with tomatoes and onions. They seasoned it with salt, cumin, and chili peppers. It was served with fresh, hot-from-the-oven, crusty bread. [Read more…]

Rhubarb: The Savory Vegetable of the Jews of the East

Photo by RhubarbFarmer

Most Philadelphians associate rhubarb with pie. Rhubarb is a vegetable, yet it is treated as a fruit in our cuisine. Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews cook rhubarb as a vegetable, adding a sour note to fish and lamb dishes. The first local crops of rhubarb are ripening now, so it is a good time to experiment with someone else’s grandmother’s recipe. [Read more…]

Lag B’Omer Hot Dog Bar

Lag B’Omer marks the end of the 49-day period of counting the days between Passover and Shavuot. Historically, the counting begins on the day an omer (unit of measure) of barley was brought to the Temple in Jerusalem and ends on the day before an omer of wheat was brought to the Temple. In Israel, it is celebrated with picnics, bonfires, and barbecues. How can you combine the ancient Jewish holiday of Lag B’Omer with an all American twist? Throw a hot dog bar party!

Whether you are lighting a bonfire or cooking on your grill, here is your game plan. Set up a buffet, and let your guests express their creativity. Mix and match rolls, sausages, condiments, and crunchy chips.

Sausages:

  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Lamb
  • Venison
  • Fish
  • Vegetarian

Bread:

  • Rolls
  • An assortment of sliced breads
  • Pitas
  • Tortillas

Fixings:

  • Mayonnaise
  • Mustard
  • Ketchup
  • Potato chips
  • Corn chips
  • Chili
  • Guacamole
  • Pickles
  • Hot peppers
  • Sweet peppers
  • Diced onions
  • Coleslaw
  • Hummus

Israeli Independence Day Parrillada

Photo by verovera78 https://www.flickr.com/photos/verovera/

Photo by verovera78.

Israelis traditionally party on Independence Day, Yom Haatzmaut, with a mangel, or Israeli barbecue. They season their meats with traditional Middle Eastern spice mixtures. The huge aliyah of Jews from Argentina has also brought recipes from one of the best cuisines of South America to Israel, including Argentinian parrillada, or barbecue.

When the sun sets on May 1, the celebrations — and the grilling — will begin. [Read more…]

Tunisian Passover Fourma

IMG_0002One of the staples of the Tunisian table is the fourma, or molded noodle dish. Cooked noodles are mixed with spiced meat or vegetables. Eggs are beaten and used to bind the noodle mixture. The casserole is baked and served at any meal, hot or cold. The Jews of Tunisia have a special fourma recipe that they prepare for Passover.

Tunisian Jews eat kitniyot (grains and legumes) during Passover. The starch in the Passover fourma is rice, which has been carefully picked over and cleaned to make sure that there is no chametz in it. Those of you who don’t eat kitniyot during Passover may substitute the rice in the recipe for boiled, diced potatoes or matza farfel.

IMG_0007Passover Fourma
Adapted from Laurent

  • 1 cup cooked brown rice
  • 1 Lb. ground beef
  • 1 large onion, minced
  • 1 cup marinara sauce
  • 4 eggs, whisked
  • 1 bunch parsley, minced
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet.
  3. Brown the onion.
  4. Add the ground beef.
  5. Season with ground cinnamon, salt, and pepper.
  6. Mix in the parsley.
  7. Set aside and allow to cool.
  8. In a large bowl mix the rice, marinara sauce, meat, and eggs.
  9. Pour the mixture into an oiled casserole dish.
  10. Bake for about 45 minutes.
  11. Serve with harissa and a crispy green salad.

StandWithUs Passover Haggadah

unnamed-1A new Passover Haggadah is being distributed by StandWithUs, an international Israel education organization, that emphasizes not only the themes of slavery and freedom but also underscores Jews’ 3,000-year-long connection to their ancestral homeland, Israel. The Haggadah, From Ancient Egypt to Modern Israel, is the brainchild of StandWithUs co-founder and COO, Jerry Rothstein.

“According to a Pew research survey, 70% of Jews in America from all denominations will likely participate in a Passover Seder,” states Rothstein. “This statistic is greater than participation on Yom Kippur, on Rosh Hashanah, or during the lighting of Shabbat candles. What better time to reach high numbers of Jews of all ages as well as their non-Jewish friends who will be attending their Seders?”

The new StandWithUs Haggadah contains the traditional service and adds beautiful original artwork, Hebrew text with English translation, and updates the language to modify the text from “you should tell your sons” to “you should tell your children.” StandWithUs is also preparing to distribute this Haggadah published in other languages.

“While all Haggadahs do a great job focusing on the Jewish suffering during slavery and the miracle of the escape from Egypt, the subsequent arrival in the ancestral land of Israel (immediately following the Exodus) should also be taught at the Passover table,” adds Rothstein.