Breaking the Myth: Addiction in the Jewish Home

Come join us for a very important and informative program with a panel of professionals and friends and family impacted by addiction.

Our program will identify:

Jewish perspective on the problem of addiction

Risk factors and the course of illness Impact on family and friends

Community resources

Open to adults, preteens and teens

Awareness helps prevention!

Sponsored by:
Women’s Club of GJC
JEVS Human Services

My Home Cooked Bat Mitzvah

Warm memories of community collaboration.

Keeping up with the Steins (or the Hassons, or the Bar-Els for that matter) was not the issue when I celebrated my Bat Mitzvah; collaborating with them was! In 1980, in Caracas, Venezuela, no one in our circle of friends catered. People from the community got together and cooked! With the current downturn of the economy, families in the United States are looking for alternatives to the expensive parties they may have had in mind. Coming together as a community to prepare for a simcha is a very old tradition in many Jewish communities around the world. Not only are the resulting menus more interesting, but the bonds formed between people, and the sweet memories, remain strong for many years after the festivities.

When we celebrated my Bat Mitzvah we were living in Venezuela, fifteen hours away by air from all of our relatives in Israel. In 1980, the Jewish community of Caracas was evenly divided between Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews. My parents befriended people in the community from many different backgrounds. For my Bat Mitzvah, my mother, her friends, their daughters, and I all got together and cooked. As a result, the menu for my Bat Mitzvah was much more diverse than it would have been had my relatives in Israel been the ones doing the cooking.

More after the jump.

For me, the rejoicing began weeks before the big day, when everyone joined us around the dining room table to assemble the appetizers. We were making Moroccan Cigars (for eating, not for smoking!). As we sat together carefully spooning the meat filling onto the dough, we told jokes and talked about the upcoming party. The house was redolent with the smells of garlic, cilantro, and cinnamon. My mother fried up a batch of these crisp appetizers for us to taste. We could all hear them sizzling in the hot olive oil. So impatient were we to try them that we burned our fingers, lips, and tongues as we bit into the spicy delicacies. We played simcha music to enhance the excitement and anticipation in the air. The time our friends spent with us helping with the preparations was the best gift that I received for my Bat Mitzvah. To this day I carry the feeling of warmth and gratitude toward them for devoting their time and attention to me. My Bat Mitzvah celebration would not have been possible without them.

I would love the opportunity to give today’s B’nai Mitzvah what was given to me. There are many ways to achieve this. It can be a potluck, where people are assigned dishes. Friends (including men and boys!) can congregate in one home and work together. When a bigger kitchen is needed, there are some synagogues that will accommodate members who would like to cook their own food for a simcha. At my synagogue, Germantown Jewish Centre, we have two kitchens. One is small, and is only for dairy and pareve dishes. If the party is held on that side of the building, then celebrants are allowed to bring pareve or dairy dishes from home. On the other side of the building is a much bigger, professional kitchen. Dairy or meat meals may be prepared in it. A mashgiach, or kosher supervisor, is required, and is contracted from the Rabbinical Assembly.

Now that my own children are going through the B’nei Mitzvah phase, it is my privilege to be asked to bring something to their friends’ celebrations. I try to make the most memorable dish that I can. Most people in the States feel awkward about imposing on their friends and acquaintances, and yet I sense a yearning in many of the people that I know to give of themselves. My gratitude has not abated over the years. Our family friends’ example has stayed with me. I feel that by celebrating as I did in Venezuela, we can recapture the warmth of being part of a community. Family recipes are shared, and traditions mingled. A Bar or Bat Mitzvah celebration should be a time of pride and joy, not stress and pressure over money. I believe that I remember my home cooked Bat Mitzvah with more love and warmth than I would have any catered affair.

Ronit’s Bat Mitzvah Menu

Moroccan cigars are appetizers served only on special occasions. Our friend Mercedes, who came to Caracas from Morocco, taught us how to prepare them.

Moroccan Cigars

  • 1 pound phyllo dough
  • 1 onion
  • Olive oil
  • 1 pound ground lamb
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • Salt to taste
  • Ground black pepper to taste
  • Red pepper flakes to taste
  • 5 eggs
  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
  2. Chop the onion, and sauté in one tablespoon of olive oil. When the onion is soft and translucent, add the lamb and stir. Add the salt, cinnamon, allspice, ginger, black pepper, and red pepper flakes. Fry everything until the meat is cooked through. Add the cilantro.
  3. Whisk the eggs and then add them to the meat mixture. Cook for about two minutes. Set aside and allow to cool.
  4. When the meat mixture has cooled down, cut the phyllo dough into rectangles. Brush with olive oil, and then arrange some of the meat filling along one of the edges. Roll into a cigar shape and pinch shut. The cigars may be frozen until ready to cook.
  5. Fry the cigars in hot olive oil, then keep warm in the oven until ready to serve.

Moroccan cigars are typically served with a Hummus dip.

Hummus Dip

  • 1 can chickpeas
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • Lemon to taste
  • 1 garlic clove
  • Salt
  • Ground cumin
  • Ground paprika

Put all the ingredients except the paprika in a food processor. Blend everything together until very smooth. Scoop into a bowl, and sprinkle with paprika.

A very fun dish to prepare with a group of friends and family is Israeli Salad. Each participant will need his or her own cutting board and sharp knife.

Israeli salad.

Israeli Salad

  • 2 tomatoes
  • 1 cucumber
  • 1 pepper
  • 4 green onions
  • 5 radishes
  • 1 bunch Cilantro
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • Juice of 2 Limes
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  1. The cucumber needs to be peeled, and the peppers cleaned. The tomatoes, cucumber, pepper, green onions, and radishes need to be washed and diced. The cilantro should be very finely chopped.
  2. After all the vegetables have been chopped, add the lemon and lime juice and olive oil. Finish with salt and pepper to taste.
  3. This quantity of vegetables serves 6. If you have helpers, have each veggie prepared by one individual. All the salads can be joined in one big serving bowl at the end.

One of the main courses served was my mother’s festive beef dish. It is an Israeli recipe that we would usually enjoy for Passover.

Mediterranean Braised Beef with Artichokes

  • 2 onions
  • 5 cloves of garlic
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 stalks of celery
  • 5 pounds beef chuck, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • Olive oil
  • 3 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • Artichokes in brine
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Chop the onions, garlic, celery, and carrots.
  2. In a heavy pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Sauté the vegetables until the onion is translucent.
  3. Add the meat, salt, and pepper while stirring. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Seal the pot with aluminum foil, and place in the oven for four hours.
  4. Take out the pot and allow to cool enough to handle. Place the meat in a separate baking dish.
  5. Arrange the artichokes over the meat. Pour the sauce and vegetables into a food processor, and puree. Taste the sauce and check the seasonings. Pour the pureed sauce over the meat and artichokes. Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and return to the oven. Serve when hot.

Esther, a family friend and neighbor, prepared her special Shabbat dish. This chicken recipe came to Caracas from Tunisia:

Tunisian chicken with lemon and olives.

Tunisian Chicken with Lemon and Olives

I found a great version of Esther’s recipe on the Palm Beach, Florida, website


  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 8 skinless, boneless chicken thighs
  • Salt
  • 1 teaspoon dry red pepper flakes
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 carrots
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 onions
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup cracked green olives in brine
  • Fresh cilantro
  1. Heat the olive oil in a wide pot. Thinly slice the onions, lemon, and carrots, and chop the garlic. Add to the pot and stir for a couple of minutes.
  2. Add the chicken and sprinkle the red pepper flakes, turmeric, coriander, saffron, ginger, cumin, cinnamon, and paprika over it. Add the olives and two cups of water, and bring to a boil.
  3. Cook over low heat for about 20 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Finely mince some cilantro, and sprinkle over the chicken. This dish may be refrigerated and reheated when ready to serve.

The beef and chicken entrees are so flavorful that all they need is a simple rice accompaniment:

Basmati Rice

  • 2 cups basmati rice
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Salt
  • 4 cups water
  1. Heat the olive oil in a pot. Add the rice and salt and until hot.
  2. Add the water and bring to a boil. Cook on low heat for about 45 minutes, until the water has been absorbed. Fluff and serve.

For the grand finale, we prepared a dessert that uses some of the best products of Venezuela, chocolate and rum:

Pareve Chocolate Mousse with Venezuelan Rum.

Pareve Chocolate Mousse with Venezuelan Rum

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 1 pound bittersweet chocolate
  • 1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) margarine
  • 1 teaspoon instant coffee blended with 2 tablespoons boiling water
  • 2 tablespoons Venezuelan rum, such as Ron Anejo Pampero
  1. Boil water in a small pot, and place a bowl over it to be warmed by the steam. Mix the chocolate and margarine in this bowl until they melt. Add the coffee mixture and blend well.
  2. In a mixer, whip the egg whites with 1/2 cup sugar until very stiff.
  3. Add the yolks to the chocolate mixture.
  4. Add the rum to the chocolate mixture while stirring.
  5. Slowly fold the chocolate mixture into the egg whites.
  6. Pour the mousse into a glass container and refrigerate overnight

We live in a very fluid society, where families may live far away from their other family members. By cooking together as a community, we all become a little bit like each other’s family. A joyful, delicious celebration becomes possible for every teenager in the community. The Bar or Bat Mitzvah celebrant experiences the ancient Jewish tradition of “kol Israel arevim ze laze,” or “all of Israel are responsible for each other,” as part of their welcome into the community as adults. These memories last a lifetime, and the example is set of how to be a mensch. When someone becomes a Bar or Bat Mitzvah it is not just their simcha, it is everyone’s simcha. So let the cooking and kvelling begin!

Ronit Treatman was born in Israel and grew up in Ethiopia and Venezuela. She is fluent in five languages, and volunteered for the IDF where she served in the Liaison Unit to Foreign Forces. She currently lives in the Germantown section of Philadelphia with her husband and three children.

Homemade Goat Cheese For Shavuot

by Ronit Treatman

Mmmm Shavuot.  The sweet smell of cheese blintzes and the sound of butter crackling in the frying pan fill the house.  Bright red strawberry preserves are on the table, ready to be served with the delicious filled crepes.  Why do we have the tradition of eating dairy foods during Shavuot?  Shavuot is a celebration of the Matan Torah, the giving of the Torah to the Israelites.  King Solomon described the pleasure of Torah as “honey and milk are under your tongue” (Song of Songs 4:11).  The first iteration of this celebratory meal was homemade goat cheese, sweetened with honey or fruit.  We can explore those primeval flavors as we indulge in the sweet study of Torah on Shavuot night.  
One of the first animals domesticated by early humans was the goat.  In Jericho, evidence of goats kept by Neolithic farmers demonstrates that they were part of the household between 8000 and 9000 years ago. Goats were the main providers of milk in Ancient Israel.  Milk, butter, and cheese were available seasonally, in the spring and summer.

Goat cheese has been made for as long as goats have been domesticated.  In Ancient Israel, raw goat milk probably curdled naturally. This process occurred thanks to two benign bacterial strains:   Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus.  These are soil-based probiotics, which are often present in the milk.  The curdled milk was poured into a cloth bag.  The whey (residual liquid) was drained out of the bag, and the remaining curds were pressed into a soft cheese.  Equally old was the tradition of storing milk in goatskin containers.  Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus are present on the skin of the goats.   These bacteria combined with the raw milk in the warm Mediterranean climate, causing it to ferment.  The milk curdled quickly, and was transformed into laban, a thick, sour milk.  A hard cheese was made with fermented laban.  The laban was poured into molds and left to harden in the sun.  Israelite shepherds accidentally discovered another way to make cheese.  When they heated the milk, they stirred it with fig tree branches.  Only a few drops of fig sap needed to get into the milk in order to coagulate it.  Fig sap contains ficin, an enzyme whose clotting activity in milk is thirty to one hundred times that of animal rennet.  The Mishna and Talmud describe using the sap of fruit trees to make cheese.  This process of making cheese was adopted instead of using animal rennet in order to comply with the prohibition of mixing meat and milk.  This recipe has been recreated at Neot Kedumim, Israel’s Biblical Landscape Reserve.

Ancient Israelite Cheese from Neot Kedumim

  • 1 Quart goat milk. You can buy goat’s milk at Whole Foods, or order it online.
  • 1 fig branch thoroughly washed.  Cut it right before using.

Pour the milk into a pot.  Squeeze 5 drops of sap from the fig branch, being very careful not to touch the sap.  Fig sap may cause a rash, like poison ivy.

Heat the milk until it boils, stirring it with the fig branch.  

Once the milk has curdled, allow it to cool.

Strain the curds through a cheesecloth.

Goats are very curious, intelligent animals.  Their favorite way to eat is to explore their surroundings, tasting weeds and shrubs.  They like to taste a variety of plants.  The plants consumed by the goats influence the flavor of their milk. If they eat bitter weeds, their milk will be bitter too.   Eating a variety of weeds gives their milk a more complex flavor.

Milk from goats has small, well-emulsified fat globules.  This means that the cream does not rise to the top as it does with raw cow’s milk, but rather remains mixed in with the milk.  As a result, goat’s milk does not need to be homogenized (mixed so that the fat droplets do not separate from the milk).  It is more similar to milk produced by humans than milk from a cow.  Due to this, goat milk is a good choice for young children, people who are ill, and anyone who has trouble digesting cow’s milk.  Goat milk contains 13% more calcium than cow’s milk, 25% more vitamin B6, and 47% more vitamin A.  

I learned how to make my own goat cheese from my friend Freyda Black.  Freyda bought her first Nubian goat from the partner of a chef at the Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca, New York.  She taught herself how to make cheese.  When she took some of her home made chevre to the Moosewood chef and his partner to have a taste, they told her it was better than the award winning cheeses from France and Germany.  

Freyda Black’s Goat’s Milk Ricotta

  • 1-gallon goat milk (whole or skim)
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Baking soda

Pour the milk into a very heavy bottomed pot, or double boil it over a low flame.  Slowly heat the milk to 186 degrees Fahrenheit.

When the milk is 186 degrees, pour in 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar while stirring.

Stir until the milk starts to curd.  You should see large curds.  If it doesn’t start to curd, add more vinegar, one teaspoon at a time.

Put cheesecloth over a colander.  Pour the curds and whey into it.  

Gather up the ends of the cheesecloth, and drain for no more than one minute.

Pour the curds back into the pot and add one half teaspoon of baking soda.  This will neutralize the acid and stop the curdling.

Serve immediately.  

Freyda Black’s Goat’s Milk Queso Blanco

Repeat the process for Ricotta.

Omit the baking soda, and allow the Ricotta cheese to drain overnight.

This is a recipe that Sephardic Jews brought to the New World from Spain and Portugal.  They would pair the queso blanco with sweet preserved fruits, such as pears and quinces.  In South America, the queso blanco was also served with guava preserves.  

For an authentic Ancient Israelite Shavuot experience, flavor your homemade ricotta or queso blanco with raw bee’s honey, or Biblical date “honey,” available  online

Have fun preparing it with your family, and eat it while it’s hot!

If you would like to meet Freyda Black and her Nubian goats,  please come to Germantown Jewish Centre on June 5th, from 10:00 AM to 1:00 PM.  She will demonstrate how to make fresh goat cheese.  There will be goat milk, cheese, and whey for everyone to taste.  Free!  Everyone welcome!

Open Your Tents

IHN Executive Director Rachel Falkove reads to one of the children in the Interfaith Hospitality Network program.

— Elisha Sawyer

At this time of renewal, follow the teaching of Abraham and Sarah.

A number of synagogues around the Greater Philadelphia area are actively participating in a creative solution to the growing problem of family homelessness and in doing so are following in the Abrahamic tradition of offering hospitality. Through their involvement with Interfaith  Hospitality Network/ Family Promise and its affiliates throughout Pennsylvania, synagogue members are bringing about Tikkun Olam (repair of the world).

An example of such a network is Northwest Philadelphia Interfaith Hospitality Network (NPIHN), which formed 19 years ago. Germantown Jewish Centre, along with several area churches, banded together to take turns opening up their buildings to homeless families. Since then the non-profit organization, with a core staff of three and a modest network of support staff and area congregations, has moved 275 families – approximately 770 individuals – from homelessness to stability. The program proves to be successful as over 92% of families that have completed the NPIHN program do not return to homelessness.

More after the jump.

Germantown Jewish Centre member Ellen Ufberg helped Octavia decorate her new home upon relocation to permanent house from staying at Interfaith Hospitality Network congregations. She continues to mentor Octavia and her 3-year-old son Keyon.

Rachel Falkove, Executive Director of NPIHN, attributes this success to congregational involvement. “Without the congregations, we wouldn’t be able to do this work,” says Falkove. “We wouldn’t have local space within the community to accommodate the families. But more important than the congregational space are the congregational volunteers who offer companionship, encouragement, mentoring, and networking opportunities.”

After being accepted into the NPIHN program, families are offered career and education planning, financial literacy instruction, parenting education, individualized therapy, and material support. During their stay with the program, calm and quiet emergency housing is provided by a network of 30 synagogue, church, and mosque congregations. Congregations that do not have the physical space to host families may also participate as a co-host or a partner congregation. “It’s a great way to get to know who your neighbors are,” says Falkove.

“We are the custodians of a building that can serve quite well as a temporary home to homeless families,” says Rabbi Kevin Bernstein, Education Director of the Germantown Jewish Centre, which has been working with NPIHN since its inception. Rabbi Bernstein cites references in the book of Genesis to Abraham and Sarah’s commitment to hospitality to strangers.

Falkove, a member and former president of the Germantown Jewish Centre explains, “The injunction to ‘Remember you were a stranger in the land of Egypt’ means something. These programs help remind us why we’re here, why we’re in the city, why it’s important to continually put attention into our own community and to use the community as a springboard to make the world a better place.”

With the contribution of members of two synagogues in the network, Mishkan Shalom and Germantown Jewish Centre, NPIHN’s families are not simply given a temporary place to stay. Members cook dinner for the families (12-15 individuals) every night during their stay with the synagogue. They dine with the families and spend the evening at the residence, helping with homework or simply socializing. A volunteer from the congregation also stays overnight at the host residence, acting as a liaison between the families, NPIHN, and the congregation.

“Though our regular contact with homeless families, we have become familiar with the real faces of the individual homeless,” says Rabbi Bernstein. “This has helped dispel the myth that the homeless are emotionally or physically disabled or incompetent. They’re simply poor and without a home.” Raising awareness about the reality of homelessness in Philadelphia and nationally is crucial, as family homelessness is on the rise, creating a host of other social and economic problems.

The children in these families have switched schools multiple times. Children from homeless families often lack the resources to participate fully in school and fall behind their peers or simply become truant altogether. “Every time a child needs to relocate to a different community, change schools, change friends, and lose connections, the child loses several months of academic progress. There is also a great deal of psychological damage done when combined with stressed parents, and the prevalence of reactive attachment disorder, that is difficulty in forming lasting relationships,” explains Falkove.

Approximately 2.3 to 3.5 million Americans experience homelessness at least once a year. Families with children make up 34% of the homeless population and this number is growing. The City of Philadelphia Office of Supportive Housing estimates that on any given night in Philadelphia, 1,000 children stay with their families in a shelter. Countless others wander around uncounted, couch-surfing to avoid being in shelters.

“Children who grow up homeless are more likely to experience homelessness as adults,” says Falkove. “Our ultimate goal is to end the tragic cycle of homelessness for each family. As the Talmud teaches us, ‘Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.’ And so we celebrate every success story.”

Other IHN’s in the Greater Philadelphia area with synagogue involvement include the Mainline IHN, which works with the Beth David Reform Congregation; the Ambler IHN, which works with Beth Or and Or Hadash; and the Delaware County IHN which worked with the Suburban Jewish Community Center B’nai Aaron.

For those interested in helping to end family homelessness, Rabbi Bernstein recommends getting involved with your local IHN (for a list of local affiliates, visit, volunteering at community kitchens and shelters, and identifying advocacy campaigns involving aimed at public policy solutions to homelessness. For more information on NPIHN, contact Rachel Falkove.