What Did My Foremothers Eat? What My DNA Analysis Revealed!

— by Ronit Treatman

Where did my ancestors live?  What was their culture and cuisine like?  I have some oral family history to work with, but I have always wished that there were some scientific way to know.  In the year 2003, the Human Genome Project announced that it had mapped the approximately 25,000 genes of the human genome.  Gene Base founded “the world’s first online personal genomics DNA database” in 2005.  They offer DNA tests to help you trace your ancestral routes. I could finally find out how much of the oral tradition was correct, and what was unknown or forgotten.  Last summer I decided to take the test.

More after the jump.
My family did this test with Gene Base.  To get the best results, you need a brother and a sister.  The brother’s cheek swab will reveal where all the males in the family came from.  The sister’s will do the same for the females.  My brother and I scrubbed the inside of our cheeks with the special swabs, shipped them off to a laboratory in Canada, and waited for the results.

About two months later, the analysis was complete.  Some of it was true to the family narrative.  On the male side, the arrow went directly from the Near East to Bukhara (in modern day Uzbekistan).  My family remained there, part of an isolated community, for a very long time.  The matrilineal analysis revealed a surprise.  This is the Ashkenazi side of the family.  According to the DNA analysis, these ancestors had lived in Catalonia for hundreds of years.  They left when the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492.  Even more amazingly, I was able to extract the name of a city: Girona!  I had never heard of it before.

Girona, or Gerona, is an ancient city that lies northeast of Barcelona.  It is a charming place on the banks of the Onyar River.  In the 12th century, it was home to a large Jewish community.  Rabbi Moses ben Naḥman Girondi.  (better known as Nahmanides or Ramban) headed one of the most important Kabbalistic schools in Europe here.  He was selected to defend the Jewish position in the Barcelona Disputation of 1263.  This was a debate in The Grand Royal Palace between the Ramban and Pau Cristia, a Jew who had converted to Catholicism.  The purpose of this debate was to convince the Jews to covert to Christianity.  Nahmanides won.

The preservation of the Jewish remnants of Girona occurred thanks to Joaquim Nadal i Farreras.  A historian, and the mayor of Girona, he made sure to preserve the remains of Rabbi Nahmanides’ Yeshiva when they were uncovered during a construction project during the 1970s.

What was my family’s life like in Girona?  They lived in the Call, or Jewish Ghetto.  The Jewish community was called The Aljama.  The Call was self-governed by Jews, and taxes were paid directly to the king of Catalonia.  Jews were merchants, bookbinders, and businessmen.  Life revolved around the synagogue, mikveh, and of course meals!

What was there to eat?  My family in Catalonia ate well!  The food is Mediterranean, with lots of fresh vegetables, fruit, fish, and meat.  The cooking shows the influence of Spanish, Arabic, and Jewish cultures.  Catalan food is famous for its base of five sauces: Sofregit, Samfaina, Picada, Alioli, and Romesco.

Sofregit

  • 1tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 onions, chopped
  • 6 tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
  1. Place a heavy Dutch oven over a low flame.  Heat the olive oil.  
  2. When the oil is hot, add the onions.  Cook the onions uncovered until they are golden.  
  3. Add the tomatoes, stir, and cover the pot.  
  4. Cook the tomatoes and onions until all the liquid has evaporated.  

Samfaina

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 onions, chopped
  • 6 tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 eggplant, cubed
  • 1 zucchini, cubed
  • 2 bell peppers, seeded and chopped
  • Salt to taste
  • Black pepper to taste
  1. Place the chopped eggplant in a colander, and sprinkle with salt.  
  2. Place a heavy Dutch oven over a low flame.  Heat the olive oil.  When the oil is hot, add the onions.  Cook the onions uncovered until they are golden.  
  3. Add the garlic, and salt to taste.  
  4. Rinse the eggplant with cold water, and pat dry with paper towels.
  5. Add the eggplant, zucchini, and peppers to the pot.  Stir and add black pepper to taste.
  6. Cover the pot and allow to cook over low heat for two hours.  

Picada

  • 1 garlic clove
  • 2 tablespoons parsley
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 6 roasted, salted almonds
  • 6 roasted, salted hazelnuts
  • 2 cups of bread, preferably baguette, cubed
  • 3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil (preferably Catalan)
  1. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy pot.  Add the cubed bread.  Stir the bread in the hot oil until it is toasted.  
  2. Place the toasted bread and all the other ingredients in a food processor.  Grind everything together until it becomes a paste.  

Alioli
Fittingly named “garlic and oil,” alioli is truly an Old World condiment.  You need a mortar and pestle to prepare this.  

  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1-cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/8 teaspoon of salt
  1. Pound the 3 peeled garlic cloves with a mortar and pestle.  
  2. Slowly add the olive oil while you pound to incorporate it.
  3. Add the salt and pound everything together.

Romesco

  • 3 tomatoes
  • 1 chili pepper
  • 1 tablespoon of mint leaves
  • 10 garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon parsley
  • 12 marcona almonds
  • 24 hazelnuts
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup of toasted bread cubes, preferably baguette

  1. Preheat your oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Roast the tomatoes and garlic for 15 minutes.
  3. Place the all the ingredients in a food processor.  Puree them together until you have a smooth paste.

As I sit munching some fresh bread spread with this delicious Romesco sauce, I wonder about my family in Catalonia.  What were their last names?  Since this discovery comes from the female side of the family, I have no surnames to work with.  I peruse the digitized list of the Jewish last names of Gerona saved by the Inquisition.  I pronounce them out loud to myself, wondering if they could have been my ancestors.  One of the names that appears is Borges.  I remember my Spanish literature teacher; Mr. Carlos Berrendero, telling me that Argentinian writer Gorge Luis Borges, author of the short story El Aleph, was obsessed with the idea that perhaps his family were conversos (forced converts to Catholicism).  Borges did not have access to this list in his lifetime.  His hunch may have been correct.  

I grew up with the culture of Sefarad, since I lived for many years in Venezuela.  I loved everything about it: the food, the language, the stories, the music.  It never occurred to me that it was part of my heritage too!  Following the expulsion from Spain in 1492, the rabbis issued a cherem (judgement of excommunication) that Jews were not to enter Spain for the next 500 years.  This period ended in 1992.  Now that the cherem is over, I would love retrace the footsteps of my ancestors with a visit to Girona.  

 

Gourmet Gelt

First Maccabbee coin with cornucopiae.

— by Ronit Treatman

Did you know that the Hasmoneans minted the first Jewish coins in history?  Those ancient bronze coins have been reinvented as chocolate treats we eat during Hanukkah.  The mass marketed Hanukkah coins are beautifully molded but made of low quality chocolate.  This year, you can get creative and have fun making your own gourmet chocolate gelt for your Hanukkah celebration.

More after the jump.

Last coin minted by the Maccabees Chocolate Gelt by Elite.

For the Maccabees, minting their own coins was an expression of self-governance and freedom.  In the middle Ages, a tradition developed in Eastern Europe to give Hanukkah gelt (money) to teachers and needy Yeshiva students.  The connection was made between the Hebrew root for Chanukah and Chinuch (education), which is Chanech.  Chanech means “educate” or “mold.”  When I was a girl, this tradition was carried over to the types of gifts we received for Hanukkah.  They were educational gifts such as books, art supplies, and tickets to museum exhibits or concerts.  

How were these ancient Maccabee coins transformed into the chocolate coins that are ubiquitous today?  In the 1920s, American chocolate producers were inspired to create chocolate coins.  These coins were wrapped in gold and silver foil, and sold in little mesh bags.  Currently, the Israeli chocolatiers Elite and Carmit dominate the Hanukkah gelt market.  Their coins are molded with the image of the menorah that was found on the last coin minted by the Maccabees 2,000 years ago.  

A fun, creative, and delicious activity during Hanukkah is making your own artisanal Hanukkah coins.  The best type of chocolate for this is called couverture chocolate.  Couverture means covering in French.  This type of chocolate is made only from premium cacao beans.  It has a high percentage of cocoa butter (36% to 39%).  Due to this higher proportion of cocoa butter, couverture chocolate is richer and creamier than regular chocolate, and has a beautiful, glossy shine after it is tempered and cooled.  When you bite into a Hanukkah coin made from tempered couverture chocolate, it will snap in your mouth!  This snap, rather than a crumble, is an indication of superior quality.  You can order kosher couverture chocolate from Guittard, Scharffen Berger, Bonnat, Barry Callebaut, Chocolate Santander, and Dagoba.  Dagoba is also organic.  These companies begin with green cacao beans, which they roast.  They make their own chocolate from bean to bar.    

To make your chocolate coins, you will need a confectionary coin mold.  You may purchase a mold at fine cookware stores like Fante’s.  I also found specialty Hanukkah gelt molds online at Concepts in Candy.  Alternatively, you may use mini muffin baking cups.  

You will need to temper your chocolate.  “Temper” means that the chocolate will need to be heated, then cooled in its mold.  Once you have placed the melted chocolate into the mold, you may personalize it by adding Marcona almonds, toasted hazelnuts, candied orange peels, fleur de sel (hand-harvested sea salt), or any other favorite ingredient to it.  Allow the chocolate coins to harden at room temperature.  You may then carefully extract them from their molds, and wrap them with gold or silver foil.

By tempering premium couverture chocolate, with a possible addition of your own favorite secret ingredients, you can make really delicious artisanal chocolate coins.  As the Old Italian saying goes, this Hanukkah gelt will be made of “chocolate so good that it will eat itself!”

How Chamin (Ancient Sabbath Stew) Came To Philadelphia

— by Ronit Treatman

Please enjoy this clip I filmed about how chamin (Portuguese cholent) came to Philadelphia.  It was filmed at Stenton Mansion, one of the best-preserved colonial homes in Philadelphia.  I would like to extend my special thanks to Marlene Samoun for permitting me to use her soulful rendition of the ladino folk song Morenika in this clip.

Jewish contact with Spain may go as far back as the Kingdom of Solomon.  It is thought that Southern Spain was the country of Tarshish.  Tarshish was the furthest place west that people could sail to from Ancient Israel in Biblical times.  There was a continuous Jewish presence in Spain until March 31, 1492.  

Recipes and more after the jump.

This was when the Alhambra Decree was issued, ordering the expulsion of the Jews from the Kingdom of Spain.  The majority of these exiles moved to Portugal, but they were expelled from Portugal in 1498.  As a result, the Spanish Jewish community was dispersed.  A large number of these Jews navigated the 8.9 miles across the Straits of Gibraltar and resettled in the Maghreb (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya).  A much smaller number ventured to America.  


They brought a very ancient dish with them.  Its oldest name is chamin, which comes from the Hebrew word “cham” which means “hot.”  Chamin is a dish that evolved so that Jews could comply with the rule of not kindling a flame on the Sabbath.  In the Mishnah it says “tomnim et ha’chamim.”  This oral tradition instructed Jewish people to “bury the hot.”  In the countries of the Maghreb, the Arabic word for “buried” or “dafina” was adopted for this dish.  No matter where they resettled, these Spanish and Portuguese exiles continued to cook the same special festive Sabbath dish.  The Jews who settled in Eastern Europe continued this tradition under a different name.  Their special Sabbath dish is called cholent.  This name is believed to derive from the Hebrew word “she’lan” which means “rested overnight.”  Several famous European dishes derive from chamin such as the French cassoulet, and the Spanish cocido madrileño.

As the days grow colder, chamin is the perfect comfort food to prepare for Shabbat.  I have a very special recipe to share with you.  My daughter, who is spending a trimester in Israel, enjoyed home hospitality with the Ben Moshe family.  Mrs. Yasmin Ben Moshe welcomed her Shabbat guests with her special Tunisian chamin.  She has generously agreed to share her recipe with us. This recipe has been passed down orally in the Ben Moshe family for generations.  Enjoy!


Mrs. Yasmin Ben Moshe’s Tunisian Chamin

  • 2 1/2 cups wheat berries
  • 2 pounds of cubed lamb
  • 6 potatoes
  • 6 hard-boiled eggs, in their shells
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • Salt to taste
  • Black pepper to taste

Soak the wheat berries in water for one hour.  In a large pot, mix 2 tablespoons of olive oil with ¼ tablespoon of sugar.  Cook over high heat until the sugar caramelizes.  Add 2 1/2 cups of water, 2 teaspoons of paprika, and 2 teaspoons of cumin.  Bring to a boil, then add the wheat berries, and salt and pepper to taste.  Simmer until all of the liquid has been absorbed.  Add the cubed lamb and cover with water.  Add the eggs and potatoes.  Bring to a boil, and then simmer for 1/2 hour.  Set aside and prepare the dumplings and sausage.

Kouclas (Dumplings)

  • 1 cup cubed lamb fat
  • 1 cup ground bulgur wheat
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • Salt to taste
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup minced parsley
  • 1 egg

In a pan, heat the olive oil, and then add the lamb fat.  When it is hot, add the garlic, paprika, cumin, salt, and pepper, stirring well.  Stir in the cup of ground bulgur wheat.  Remove from heat.  Mix in the minced parsley and egg.  Blend everything together until it becomes a dough.  Form the dough into little round dumplings and place in the Chamin pot.


Machshi  (Sausage)

  • 1 lb. ground lamb
  • 1 cup uncooked rice
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup minced parsley
  • 1/4 cup minced cilantro
  • 1/4 cup minced dill
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • Salt to taste
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • Vegetable casing or cotton straining cloth (cheesecloth)
  • Cotton twine

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl.  Form a loaf with the mixture, and stuff it into the vegetable casing, or wrap it in the cheesecloth.  Tie both ends with twine.  Place in the chamin pot.  Make sure that all the ingredients are covered with water.

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.  Cover the chamin pot tightly and place in the oven overnight.  It should cook for 24 hours.

Serve the eggs and potatoes first.  Spoon plenty of gravy over them.  Offer salt, cumin, and cayenne pepper so each diner can spice it to taste.

Then serve the wheat berries, lamb, dumplings (kouclas), and sliced sausage (machshi).

As you experience your first taste of this chamin you will understand the wisdom of the old Ladino proverb:

Cuanto mas tienes, mas quieres.

The more you have, the more you want.

Symbolic Sephardic Foods For Rosh Hashanah

— by Ronit Treatman

The Sephardic communtiy has a unique mystical tradition for Rosh Hashanah.  Symbolic foods are served at a Rosh Hashanah Seder.  Some of these foods are also puns, and are called “simanim,” or “signs.”  Special blessings starting Yehi ratzone, Hebrew for “May it be God’s will,” are chanted over these dishes.  Here are some of them, and the traditions associated with them.

Pomegranate

Pomegranates are said to have 613 seeds, the same number as mitzvot in the Torah.  On Rosh Hashanah we eat a fresh pomegranate preceded by the blessing:

“Yehi Ratzon Mil’fa’necha, Adonai Eloheinu She nirbeh zechuyot ke rimon.”
“May if be your will Adonai our God That our merits increase like the seeds of a pomegranate.”

Recipes and more blessings after the jump.
Black-Eyed Peas And Fenugreek

Black-eyed peas are called “ruvia” in Aramaic.  “Ruvia” is like the Hebrew word “rov” which means most or many.  Fenugreek is also referred to as “ruvia” which may connote “irbu” or “will increase.” The blessing before eating it is:

“Yehi ratzon milfanecha Adonai Eloheinu Sheh’yirbu ze’chu-yo-taynu.”
“May it be your will Eternal God that our merits increase.”


Black-eyed peas and fenugreek are stewed with veal.  This dish is called Lubiya.   Here is a recipe adapted from Gilda Angel’s Sephardic Holiday Cooking.

  • 1/2 lb. cubed veal
  • 1 can black-eyed peas
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 tbsp. tomato paste
  • olive oil
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 garlic clove
  • salt, to taste
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. dried fenugreek leaves

Cut up the onion and garlic.  Saute them in 3 tablespoons of olive oil.  Add the veal cubes.  When the veal has browned add all the other ingredients.  Bring to a boil, and then lower the heat.  Let the casserole simmer for at least one hour.  Serve hot.

No Nuts!

The word for “nut” in Hebrew is “egoz.”  Its gematria or numerical value is “chet” which means “transgression.”  In order to avoid transgressions during the new year, even foods that carry the suggestion of a transgression are avoided.

Fish Or No Fish!

The word for “fish” in Hebrew is “dag.”  It sounds a lot like “daagah,” which means “worry.”  There are people who avoid eating fish on Rosh Hashanah in order to avoid a year full of worries.  Other sephardic communities do have the tradition of eating fish as a symbol of fertility for the new year.  The yehi ratzon blessing for fish is:

“Yehi ratzon milfanecha Adonai Eloheinu She nifre ve nirbe ke dagim.”
“May it be your will Eternal God That we be fruitful and multiply like fish.”

It is traditional to serve chraime for this course.  Chraime is a fish and vegetable casserole.  I found this recipe on Wikia.

  • 2 Lbs. flounder
  • 2 large potatoes
  • 3 large tomatoes
  • 2 red peppers
  • 1 jalapeno pepper
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • 1 cup minced cilantro
  • 1 tbsp. ground paprika
  • salt
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 cup of water

Cut up all the vegetables and place in a pot.  Lay the fish on top of the vegetables.  Sprinkle with salt and paprika to taste.  Drizzle with olive oil.  Add the water.  Cover the pot tightly and bring to a boil.  Allow to simmer for 30 minutes.  May be served at any temperature.

Sugar For Dipping The Bread

Some Sephardic families avoid consuming honey during Rosh Hashanah.  In Ancient Israel, honey would render the incense used in the Temple impure if it was added to it.

For a pure and sweet Rosh Hashanah, they dip their bread in sugar.

Moroccan Couscous With Seven Vegetables

It is customary to wish for a year with as many blessings as there are grains of couscous in a bowl.  Seven appears many times in the Torah.  It epitomizes blessings, good luck, and Creation.  Here is a recipe adapted from Christine Benlafquih.

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 cups of water
  • 1 can chickpeas
  • 1 lb. couscous
  • 2 red onions, diced
  • 2 tomatoes, diced
  • 4 carrots, diced
  • 2 zucchini, diced
  • 2 cups of pumpkin, diced
  • 2 cups of cabbage, chopped up
  • 4 stalks of celery, diced
  • 1 cup cilantro, minced
  • Ground ginger
  • Ground turmeric
  • Ground cumin
  • Ground coriander
  • salt
  • pepper

In a heavy pot, heat the olive oil over a medium flame.  Add the onions.  Cook the onions until they are translucent.  Add the turmeric, ginger, cumin, and coriander.  Stir well.  Add the tomatoes, celery, carrots, cabbage, zucchini, and pumpkin.  Drain the chickpeas, and add.  Pour in the water, and bring to a boil.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Lower the heat, and allow to simmer for 20 minutes.

Mix the dry couscous with 1/2 teaspoon of salt in a bowl.  Pour 2 cups of boiling water into the bowl.  Cover tightly with plastic wrap.  Allow the couscous to steam for 15 minutes.

To serve:

Fluff the couscous with a fork.  Spoon it into a bowl.  Place some of the vegetable mixture with sauce over the couscous.  Sprinkle some minced cilantro on it.

Candied Quince

Quinces are native to the Caucasus.  They are from the same family as apples and pears.  Moroccan Jews have the custom of reciting the shehechiyanu and “Yehi Ratzon” blessings over a candied quince.  Here is a recipe for making your own candied quince.  I adapted it from Simply Quince by Barbara Ghazarian.

  • 1 fresh quince
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups water

Core and peel the quince.  Cut it into thin slices.  Pour the water and sugar into a heavy pot.  Cook over medium heat while stirring until the sugar completely dissolves into the water.  Add the quince and simmer for 45 minutes.  The quince slices will be soft and have a rich golden red color.

Squash or Gourd

Squash or gourd is called “qara” in Aramaic and Hebrew.  “Qara” has two meanings.  It can mean “to read, or to call out.”  It can also mean “to rip or tear up.”    The following prayer is recited over the gourd:

“Yehi ratzon milfanecha Adonai Eloheinu she yeekorah g’zar dee’neinu ve yeekaroo lefahnecha zechuyoteinu.”
“May it be your will Adonai our God that our harsh decrees are torn up and our merits are proclaimed before You.”

Spaghetti squash and pumpkin are thought to be “qara.”  Here is a traditional Rosh Hashanah recipe for Tirshi (Pumpkin Salad) adapted from Copeland Marks’ book, Sephardic Cooking.

  • 1 cup pureed pumpkin
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 1 lemon
  • salt to taste
  • 1 tblsp. olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground paprika

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl.  Check the seasoning.  Chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour.

Round Flatbreads

Saying the blessing over a challah is a tradition acquired in Germany, which spread to all of the Eastern European Jewish communities.  In the Sephardic tradition, the blessing over the bread is chanted over flatbreads.  The round shape of the flatbread connotes the same symbols as the round shape of the Rosh Hashanah challah.  It symbolizes the never-ending circle of life and the yearly cycle.  It helps us express our wish for a good year, which will bring blessings, peace, prosperity, and sweetness.  Twelve flatbreads are baked and arranged in the same pattern as the showbread used in the Temple.  The two flatbreads on the top are held together for the blessing.

“Baruch ata Adonai Eloeinu melech haolam Ha motzi lechem min haaretz.”

“Blessed are you God, King of the Universe, Who brings forth bread from the earth.”

Here is a recipe for Homemade Pita Bread adapted from Saad Fayed.

  • 3 cups of unbleached flour
  • 1 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 2 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water (105 degress Fahrenheit)

Mix the warm water, sugar, and yeast in a bowl.  Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel, and let stand for 15 minutes.  Add the flour and salt.  Mix everything together.  Sprinkle some flour on your kitchen counter, and turn the dough out onto it.  Knead the dough with your hands for about 15 minutes.  Oil a bowl with olive oil.  Place the dough in bowl, turning it over to coat it with oil on all sides.  Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel.  Let it rest in a warm place, away from drafts for 3 hours.

Preheat your oven and cookie sheet to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.

Take out the dough and roll it into a thick rope.  Slice it into 10 pieces.  Roll each piece into a ball, and then flatten it with a rolling pin.

To bake, place each disc of dough on the hot cookie sheet.  Let it sit in the oven for 4 minutes.  Flip it over and let it bake for another 2 minutes.  When you remove it, the pita bread will be puffed up.

Keftes De Prasa or Leek Fritters

Leeks are called “karsi” in Aramaic, which is related to the Hebrew “karet” which means “sever, destroy, or cut off.”  They are accompanied by a prayer to God to cut off our enemies.  The traditional way to serve leeks is to prepare leek fritters.

Adapted from Aromas of Aleppo by Poopa Dweck.

  • 1 Lb. leeks
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup of olive oil
  • 3 tbsp. unbleached flour
  • salt
  • black pepper or chili pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. allspice
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon

Slice the leeks and saute them in olive oil.  Set aside to cool.

Mix the all the remaining ingredients except the olive oil in a bowl.  Incorporate the leeks into the mixture.

Heat the rest of the olive oil in a heavy pan over a medium flame.  Spoon the leek batter into the hot oil.  Turn the fritters over.  They are ready when they are a golden-brown color.

The blessing we say over the leek fritters is:

“Yehi ratzon milfanecha Adonai Eloheinu she yeekartu soneinu.”
“May it be your will Adonai Our God that our enemies will be cut off.”


Dates

Dates are called “tamri” in Aramaic.  “Tamri” means “to finish.”  The blessing over dates experesses the hope that our enemies will end their enmity.

Yehi ratzon milfanecha Adonai Eloheinu she yitamu oyevenu.”
“May it be your will Eternal God that our enemies will be finished.”

Fresh dates from Israel, unadorned, are delicious with this blessing.  Some families have the tradition of dipping their dates in a mixture of anise seeds, sesame seeds, and powdered sugar.

Roasted Beet Salad

The Aramaic for beets is “silka” which sounds like the Hebrew word “siluk.”  “Siluk” means removal.  We pray that our enemies will be removed.

“Yehi ratzon milfanecha Adonai Eloeinu she istalku oyevenu.”

“May it be your will Eternal God that our enemies will be removed.”

Here is a recipe inspired by Joan Nathan.

Brush beets with olive oil.  Wrap them in aluminum foil.  Place them in a 400 degree oven for one hour.  Remove and peel the beets.  Dice them.  Place the diced beets in a bowl and mix in:

  • 2 tbsp. finely chopped onion
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 2 lemons, squeezed
  • 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

Chill for one hour before serving.

Apples

The traditional way to serve apples in the Sephardic Rosh Hashanah table is called mansanada.  Mansanada is a type of apple compote.

This recipe is adapted from Midrash Ben Ish Hai.

  • 1 tsp. ground cloves or cardamom
  • 2 1/2 tbsp. granulated refined sugar
  • 6 apples which are good for cooking such as Stayman, York Imperial, Rome Beauty, Rhode Island Greening, Lady, Jonathan, and Gravenstein
  • 1/2 cup water

Core and quarter the apples.  Peel and slice them.  Arrange the slices in a pot.  Sprinkle the sugar and ground cloves or cardamom over them.  Pour the water into the pot.  Bring to a boil, and then simmer for about 10 minutes.  Remove the apple slices with a slotted spoon.  Allow the liquid to continue cooking until it is transformed into a syrup.  Pour the sauce over the apples.

The yehi ratzon blessing over the apple is:

“Yehi Ratzon Mil’fa’necha, Adonai Eloheinu She techadesh aleinu shana tova u’metuka.”
“May if be your will Adonai our God to renew us for a good and sweet year.”

Head Of A Ram, Fish, Or Rooster

It is a very ancient tradition to bake and present at the table the head of a ram.  This is done to symbolize a desire for the Rosh Hashanah celebrants to be leaders, not followers.  This symbol helps us remember that God allowed Abraham to replace his son Isaac with a sheep when making his sacrifice as commanded.  The head of a fish or rooster symbolized this hope in some of the Sephardic communities.  The blessing is:

“Yehi Ratzon Mil’fa’necha, Adonai Eloheinu She niyeh ke rosh velo ke zanav.”

“May if be your will Adonai our God That we will be the head and not the tail.”

I like to serve a whole, smoked fish, like a mackerel.  It is very elegant with its beautiful golden color.

As there are protective amulets, so there are protective foods.  Long standing traditions dictate that the new year must be welcomed with the proper foods and blessings to merit life, sustenance, and the opportunity to perform mitzvot.  Yehi ratzon!  Shana tova.  

For more hands-on Rosh Hashanah ideas please visit my new blog.

New Arts and Culture Editor!

Lisa GrunbergerI am honored to join the Jewish Voice as the new Arts and Culture Editor.  I welcome you to send me any news you might have regarding the vibrant arts and culture scene here in Philadelphia.  If you have books to review, theatre productions, music, museum exhibits please feel free to contact me at [email protected]

I moved to Philadelphia from Manhattan four years ago to work at Temple University where I am an Assistant Professor in English. I teach creative writing in poetry and literature.   I grew up in Long Island and always dreamed of moving to New York City, but to quote short story writer, Anne Beattie, “I became disenchanted with New York when I realized that I felt as if I had accomplished something when I picked up the laundry, and got the Times and a quart of milk.”   In Philadelphia, it’s just easier to get things done — a walkable, beautiful city brimming with culture and art.  

From the Israeli film festival to the new Jewish Museum, from the World Cafe to the Kimmel Center, I feel fortunate to call Philadelphia my home.  

Lisa Grunberger is the author of an illustrated humor book, Yiddish Yoga: Ruthie’s Adventures of Love, Loss and the Lotus Position (Newmarket Press, 2009) which she has adapted into a musical (stay tuned!).  She teaches yoga and writing classes in Philadelphia.  

A Hyphenated Identity

— Hannah Lee

Schoolchildren of the early 19th century were punished for speaking any language other than English.  We’ve come a long way in our tolerance of differences.  (My mother-in-law says that someone who speaks English with an accent knows at least one other language, a dig at the monolingual Americans.)  We’ve changed our perspective in cultural assimilation and the iconic image is no longer of the melting pot, but the salad bowl, in which the ingredients are separate and distinct.

More after the jump.
A running series in the New York Times on racial identity in America highlights the growing comfort that young Americans have in declaring a multiracial background.  According to the Pew Research Center, one in seven new marriages is between spouses of different races or ethnicities.  The latest installment in the series looked at how different institutions tally racial data.  In contrast, I’ll ask the question from the other end: what does it mean when college student Michelle López-Mullins (right) identifies herself as being of “Peruvian, Chinese, Irish, Shawnee, and Cherokee” descent.  How does she honor each of these heritages?

My Rabbi said that Philadelphia’s new National Museum of American Jewish History is very good at depicting how successful Jews have become in America, but it fails at telling how Jews in America are Jewish.  A critic from the New York Times asked at the time of its opening, if this country needed another monument touting the success of Jews (which is better, I say, than another monument about the death of Jews).  So, my friend asked me, are there any U.S. museums that does what my Rabbi thinks the one in Philly should?  Well, the Yeshiva University Museum puts on exhibits that highlight aspects of Jewish history, but it’s an institution that’s not well-known outside of the Orthodox Jewish community.

At least once a year, I love to visit the Museum of the Chinese in America (MoCA) in a tenement building re-designed by Maya Lin, the Chinese-American architect who established her reputation while still at Yale with her design of the Vietnam War Memorial.  It has an extensive permanent display of notable Chinese-Americans, with more details and more personages than in any other setting or book.  There are other informative displays from American history, which are unsettling because of the prejudice the Chinese have faced.  There is also a replica of the historical Chinese store, which once served as a community center for its compatriots.  The current traveling exhibit is on Chinese puzzles-tangrams, linked rings, sliding block puzzles, and Burr puzzles (see www.ChinesePuzzles.org).  The museum succeeds in educating visitors regardless of their background.  The books available for purchase in the gift shop are of particular value to me, as these titles are not promoted in the mainstream media.  

The difference between MoCA and the National Museum of American Jewish History — or rather the difference between what the latter museum is and what it could be — may lie in the difference between ethnicity and religion.  The donors and board of trustees of the Jewish Museum chose to depict Jewishness as a cultural trait.  My Rabbi defines Jewishness as Yahadut, a religion.  Ergo, it’s a difficult balance to reach out to a wider audience.  My husband noted that the donor list of MoCA included corporate and government sponsors, who were comfortable with the idea of a cultural museum about the Chinese.  Similarly, it seems the sponsors of the new Jewish museum wanted to tell the cultural story of the Jews in America.  

Finally, what is the difference between a Jewish American and an American Jew?  It lies in the value the person places on the relative labels.  Someone who declares herself an American Jew says that being Jewish is more transcendent than being American.  And such as person identifies as a religious Jew.  So, the National Museum of American Jewish History needs to live up to its chosen name.  It needs to also educate the public about the religious history of Jews in America.