Book Chat: Get Real, Get Married

— by Hannah Lee

Aleeza Ben Shalom has always happily served as a networker or a “connector,” bringing together people whether it was about housing, cars or furniture. Her successful connections, made through her Shabbat hospitality at her family’s table and her volunteer work for the SawYouAtSinai dating website, have led her to launch her business, “Marriage Minded Mentor,” in February 2012. To date, she has brought 14 clients to the wedding chuppah and another eight are engaged.

Her 132-page book, Get Real Get Married, hit the stores today (Tuesday). With clients from the observant community, her shortest match took four months from introduction to marriage (Those two really knew what they wanted!), while the longest match took about nine months. Her clients in the general public need more time.

More after the jump.
Raised Conservative and formerly known as Lisa Caplan, Ben Shalom studied Jewish studies, children’s literature, and environmental studies at the University of Pittsburgh. While attending a retreat with IsraLight, a kiruv (outreach) organization founded by Rabbi David Aaron, she found both meaning and purpose in a life structured by Torah and mitzvot (commandments). Overnight, she began to observe Shabbat, swapped out her trendy wardrobe for modest clothing covering her collarbones, shoulders and elbows, and already a vegan, she started keeping kosher.

Also attending the same retreat was Gershom Ben Shalom, although they were both dating other people. They dated for three weeks, got engaged, and were wed in four months. This is not what she recommends for anyone else, but as her mother noted to her, “You’re not flaky, but this [rapid transformation] is flaky.” Her parents nonetheless supported her decision and they are delighted in their four grandchildren (and another on the way). The Ben-Shaloms have been married for 10 years.

Ben Shalom says a matchmaker has to work in three levels: in fact, in act, and intact. The first goal is the one that’s most familiar to us, but a successful matchmaker has to also walk the client through the process — “in act,” as well as support the client through the inevitable ups and downs of relationships — “intact,” to keep them together. Even after the wedding, she fields calls from former clients asking if some particular issue or conflict is typical to other marriages. She is even planning a sequel to be titled “Stay Real, Stay Married,” for a society where 50% of marriages end in divorce, as do 20% of Orthodox Jewish commitments.

Recently, Ben Shalom spoke at a non-Jewish event attended by women aged 18-65, and she saw that her message, that you have to be marriage-minded to get married and stay married, resonated with the audience. She realized that her message is universal: that marriage is a lifelong process of growth and connection.

She offers her clients a pithy lesson of one, five, and ten. One: you have to pick one goal to focus on. If marriage is your goal, then choose no more than five mentors to assist you. Who qualifies as a mentor? Ben Shalom advises to choose someone who has been married for more than five years and who has shown wisdom and a history of good decisions. Then, choose ten or fewer people to date until you pick your spouse. This directs dating in a healthier way, so that one thinks carefully about whether a person is worthy of dating for marriage.

Older singles can be particularly fragile, but they usually hide their vulnerability: They present themselves as accomplished, financially stable, and able to live independently. How do we, who are not matchmakers, help these people?  “Engage in open dialogue,” counsels Ben Shalom, “and ask what does the person need at that moment.” Check back each time, because the emotional terrain is very volatile and someone who’s ready to meet people one month may be exhausted emotionally the next one, so that person may wish to simply join your family for a Shabbat or Yom Tov meal, with no expectations for a shidduch.

Successful clients are stable: physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Some clients have met with Ben Shalom’s refusal to arrange meetings during a period of transition. She also readily refers clients to other professionals for therapy, diet counseling, or personal organization (clutter management).

What does she think of speed dating (a phenomenon that’s not so popular in the Philadelphia area, where singles have the opportunity to sit and engage with each other individually in a focused, limited time — usually several minutes)? This may work for some people, but Ben Shalom finds it emotionally challenging, and it is not amongst her top techniques. She is more a proponent of “inspect what you expect,” and her clients do not go on blind dates without evaluating the particulars of a prospective date.

The dating scene in Philadelphia is unlike those of New York and Los Angeles, where there are so many singles, that they don’t feel the need to get married. “They are practicing to be single,” said Ben Shalom, “not practicing to get married.” Moreover, people tend to leave New York once they do get married for more affordable communities, in order to be able to raise children.

Are the rabbis doing enough for singles? The times are changing fast, so while individual rabbis may be helpful, they are not unified in their efforts. In earlier times, all Jews in any particular area knew each other, and so it was easier to facilitate with matches. In our times, Ben Shalom advocates the use of a “dating resume,” or dating profile. In addition to personal statistics and biographical data, she asks her clients to reflect on who they are and what they are looking for.

A crucial advice by Ben Shalom is not to look for what the mentors want instead of what you want, because that could lead to shaky relationships. As for highly-specific documented demands such as the dress size of the kallah (or mother-in-law!) or the color of the tablecloths, Ben Shalom asks, “are their head and heart in line? The color of the tablecloth may be a surrogate for family minhagim (customs), but is the person marriage-minded? Can he or she stay married?”

Ben Shalom hosts a weekly radio show at Jewish Talk Radio, and blogs at the Marriage Minded Mentor website.

Book Chat: The Secrets of Happy Families

— by Hannah Lee

Who doesn’t seek family harmony? What I found compelling about Bruce Feiler’s The Secrets of Happy Families was that the author did not seek out therapists, happiness researchers, or self-help gurus. Instead, he explored different disciplines, learning how to successfully apply their results to family management. I appreciate the affirmation from outside the social sciences.

The first chapter dealt with how to deal with stress points. Two of the techniques discussed were the use of a family flowchart/checklist (children love making checkmarks) and a weekly family meeting to discuss problems. These strategies were developed in the software industry and are now used in practically all forms of product development. Two startling strategies suggest involving the children, both in devising rewards and in assigning punishment, because they then become invested in the follow-through. The author wrote about the marvelous results that led to his sharing in his children’s emotional inner life, as our children often do not open up to us in this way.

More after the jump.
Another chapter discussed how to fight smart. Feiler writes that we spend about half our days negotiating — with our spouse, our boss, our clients — but most people do not understand its nature. Managing disagreements hinge on:

  • timing (6-8pm is usually the most stressful time);
  • language (“I” and “we” are signs of a healthier relationship than “you”);
  • length (the most important points are made in the opening three minutes); and
  • body language (eye-rolling, sighing, and shifting in the seat are signs of disrespect).

For this technique, Feiler went to the experts in negotiations: Bill Ury (co-author of Getting to Yes) and the Harvard Negotiation Project, which teaches people involved in the most difficult global issues of the day. Ury’s teachings involve a five-step process:

  1. isolate your emotions;
  2. go to the balcony (to see the big picture);
  3. step to their side (to understand their reasoning);
  4. don’t reject, re-frame; and
  5. build them a golden bridge.

This last point is especially important for families, as we live with our negotiating partners and we cannot leave anyone embittered.

When Feiler visited Joshua Weiss, cofounder of Harvard’s Global Negotiation Initiative and Ury’s business partner, he witnessed one family fight amongst the Weiss daughters (aged eleven, nine, and five). It was remarkable that the five-year-old was the one who stepped in as peace negotiator, asking each sister to state her case, without interruption. The middle sister had learned other techniques, such as “Stop, Think, Control” (a child’s equivalent of going to the balcony) and to consider the other person’s feelings. The eldest girl had already mastered some adult problem-solving strategies, demonstrated in separate incidents, for going to the balcony and trying to understand the other side.

Additional chapters in the book dealt with having difficult conversations with our families, improving marital relationships, and even how smart families share space. The final part of the book covers the fun-but-trying times of family vacations, sporting events, and reunions. You might not be ready to adopt all of the insights described, but it’s certainly eye-opening to learn about them.

Feiler had already published ten globetrotting books by the age of 43 when he was diagnosed with bone sarcoma. His twin daughters were only three, so he pondered how to maintain his connection with them in the event of his death. His novel solution was to create a Council of Dads, male friends from six different periods in his life who could serve to convey his values and perspectives to his daughters when they face milestones or difficult decisions. The resultant memoir of the same name is a lively account of how these men became important people in their lives, as their friends, not just friends of their father.
 
With the book The Council of Dads and now The Secrets of Happy Families (begun after his cure), Feiler is forging a new direction, one about relationships. I cautiously predict that his new career may reach even more readers than did his first bestseller, Walking the Bible, which inspired a television series. (Readers of The Council of Dads have created their own councils to deal with the pressures of different parenting situations.) The Bible is the greatest story ever told, but Feiler’s recent two books are his own stories and they shed a different light on our world.  

Film Chat: The World Is Funny

— by Hannah Lee

This year’s Israeli Film Festival of Philadelphia opened this past weekend with the 2012 box-office hit, The World is Funny. The gala weekend included a visit by the director/screenwriter, Shemi Zarhin, for a Q&A session with Sunday’s audience.

Nominated for a record-setting 15 times by the Israeli Film Academy for its Ophir Awards (and won for one), The World is Funny is set in Tiberias, the birthplace and muse of its director. It has a stellar cast, including Assi Levy, who won a Best Actress Ophir for her starring role in the 2006 film Aviva My Love (Aviva Ahuvati), also written and directed by Zarhin. This film also is graced by the presence of an Israeli legend, Yeshayahu “Shaike” Levi, whose career with the Gashash HaHiver comedy trio spanned 40 years and won the Israel Prize in 2000. (My favorite Zarhin film remains the 2007 “Noodle,” in part because of the Israeli cheerful bravado spirit and the Chinese actors.)

More after the jump.
The World is Funny is narrated by a young woman, Tsephi, who cleans houses (although she doesn’t need the income) while seeking out interesting stories for the writing workshop that she attends at the library. Her duties bring her into the lives of three estranged siblings: Yardena, whose daughter died while serving in the Israeli Army; Meron, whose wife died in a car crash and whose teen son has awakened from a 8-year resultant coma; and Golan, whose sweetheart is dying from cancer.

In a testament to the writer’s craft, the film is not depressing. The director livens up the mood with comic depictions of the student writer’s scenes, including a man who falls in love with the goat he’s raising for slaughter for his son’s bar mitzvah celebration, and an assassin who only reveals his true face during his deadly assignments.

“Is the world funny?”, asked Zarhin during the Q&A session. “Well, it’s not so funny; it’s actually sad. But, it’s up to us to make it funny, because we need it to be so”, he answered.

Israeli films succeed when they are “communicative,” when they touch people, and not subjects. Zarhin concludes, “Life is a story we’re telling to ourselves — especially in Israel — and it always has a happy ending, but in Israel, it’s always too late.”

After the opening weekend, which included The World is Funny, By Summer’s End and a collection of short films, Israeli Film Festival of Philadelphia continues with “Life in Stills,” “Out in the Dark,” “A Bottle in the Gaza Sea,” and “The Flat,” concluding with “Fill the Void,” on March 17 and a farewell reception at Zahav.


First row: Cultural attaché for the Israeli embassy Deborah Baer Mozes, Israeli Consul General Yaron Saidman, Israeli Film Festival Founder and Coordinator Mindy Chriqui, The World is Funny Producer Shemi Zarhin, IFF Board Member Kira Stein.
Second row: IFF Web and Social Media Chair Irene Glickman, IFF Board Member Galit Carmeli, IFF Chairperson Nurit Yaron, IFF Board Member Idit Trope.
Back row: IFF Board Member Linor Schmeidler, IFF Board Member Zvi Shmulevitch, IFF Board Member Marvin Verman, IFF Board Member Hava Grunwald, and IFF Media and Communications Chair Aelon Porat.

Film Chat: The Other Son

— by Hannah Lee

Last night, I was fortunate to watch The Other Son at the Bala Cinema, before the whole township closed down for Hurricane Sandy. My family declined to join me, thinking it too sad to watch a movie about two babies switched at birth (because of a Scud attack to the hospital’s region in Haifa) and one son growing up with a professional Israeli family and the other with a Palestinian family barely eking a living on the West Bank. The premise was wretching, but it was also beautifully acted, especially the expressive face of the Palestinian mother played by Areen Omari. Directed by Lorraine Levy, a Frenchwoman, it tries to give a human face to the Middle East conflict. It was filmed in Israel, and shown in French as the dominant language (with English subtitles), and supplemented by Hebrew, Arabic, and English.

Spoiler alert after the jump.
Joseph is the musician son of an Israeli Army colonel, Alon Silberg, and a physician mother, Orith.  At age 17, a blood test for Joseph being drafted into military service proves that he is not their son. Their baby was switched with another baby born premature the same day by a Palestinian woman, Leïla Al Bezaaz, who was visiting her sister. This other son, Yassin, has just passed his baccalaureate exams in Paris and is expected to commence his medical studies.  He plans to return to the West Bank and, with his older brother, Bilal, open a hospital there, so other families would not have to grieve over a child dying from inadequate medical care, as happened to their brother, Fariz (circumstances not detailed in the film).

The shock of mistaken identity is intensified for these two families who are on opposite sides of the political war of existence.  Is Joseph, who’d had a brit milah and a bar mitzvah and who was the star pupil of his yeshiva still a Jew? No, said his Rabbi sadly, but he only need to immerse in a mikveh, under the supervision of three rabbis. So, was Yassin who’d been raised by Arabs a more authentic Jew than he was?  Does he exchange his kippah for a suicide bomb?

Yassin better learn Hebrew, taunts the border guard, who’d presumably been informed by their Army superiors.  Both fathers, Alon and Saïd, struggle to cope with the devastating news, and Bilal lashes out at Yassin, for being an enemy in their midst. But he was the same person as before, with the same dreams, responded Yassin. The two mothers, Orith and Leïla, are the harbors in a storm, the ones who quickly adapt to the cruelty of fate, and caution their men for love and acceptance.

A special visa from Colonel Silberg allows Yassin to seek out Joseph, who’s selling ice cream (poorly) at the beach.  Yassin offers his more agile sales technique and Joseph gives him half his day’s earnings, which Yassin noted was almost a full month’s wages for his father, an engineer who works as an auto mechanic (because he’s not allowed to work outside of the West Bank).

When Joseph attempts to visit Yassin at his home, he is welcomed but to the neighbors he is labeled the nephew from Paris. When Leïla realizes that the Silbergs did not know of his intentions, she calls them with the news. The Silbergs race to the border at dusk, and it was poignant to watch the Colonel race-walking along the border fence, in an effort to find his son before he comes to harm.

Spoiler alert: In the climactic scene, Bilal gets to visit Tel Aviv, but the boys are attacked on the beach and Joseph sustains a serious abdominal cut and needs emergency care.  When he awakens, Bilal, who’s also been bloodied in the attack, tells Joseph that he’d alerted his parents. Which ones, queried Joseph, with a weak smile. It’s the bizarre and charming premise of the film that people have hearts big enough to adapt and welcome new members into the circle of loved ones. I’m not convinced it’s a fitting metaphor for the troubles of the Middle East, but it’s a delightful conclusion to the film for me.

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.