Community Tashlich

On Rosh Hashanah afternoon, we gather beside flowing waters to unburden ourselves of the baggage from the past year that no longer serves us. Join us for tashlich on the Schuylkill River at Locust Street, together with members of Mekor Habracha and Leyv Ha-Ir, followed by a brief Mincha service.

Tropical Rosh Hashanah Chicken

As members of the Mexican Jewish community begin to plan their Rosh Hashanah menus, they discuss recipes for dishes such as gefilte fish and keftes de prasas (leek fritters). Most families preserve the Ashkenazi or Sephardic recipes they brought with them to Mexico. They also incorporate some local exotic ingredients to enhance the celebration. One dish that has made its way to many Rosh Hashanah tables is chicken cooked in a tamarind sauce. Tamarind chicken blends the sour flavors of the tamarind fruit with the complex sweetness of sugarcane and the smoke-dried spiciness of the chipotle pepper. The combination of these ingredients makes for a fun and interesting new year: a little bit tart, a little bit sweet and a little bit spicy.

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Tamarinds. Photo: Mlvalentin.

Tamarind chicken is a Mexican dish that was made possible by the Spanish colonists. Tamarind is a very tart fruit encased in a leathery brown pod. Originally from Africa, it was nicknamed the “Indian date” because it has grown in India for so long. The tamarind was brought to America by the Spanish conquistadors. Its acid notes are tempered in tamarind chicken with sweetness from the sugarcane.

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Piloncillo. Photo: Camilo Sanchez.

Christopher Columbus was the first to import sugarcane to America, planting it in Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic). Once the colony of New Spain was founded, which included what is now the country of Mexico, sugarcane plantations were established. The Spanish colonists learned to tame the tartness of the tamarind with the smoky, caramelly sweetness of the piloncillo. Piloncillo is made from crushed sugarcane. The sugarcane is pressed and its juice is collected in a pot. Then it is boiled and poured into a mold. When the juice dries, it hardens into a cake. Piloncillo has a stronger and richer flavor than brown sugar. For tamarind chicken, the tartness of the tamarind and the sweetness of the piloncillo are accentuated with the smoky heat of the chipotle pepper.

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Chipotle. Photo: User:Carstor.

When the Spaniards arrived, the Nahuatl tribe lived in the area that is now Mexico. They introduced the colonists to the chipotle, a jalapeño pepper that is preserved by drying in smoke. Jalapeños are native to Mexico, and the name chipotle comes from the Nahuatl word chilpoctli, which means smoked chili. Chipotle peppers had been cultivated and consumed for thousands of years before the Spaniards arrived in Mexico. Newcomers to Mexico, including the Jews, have incorporated them into their cuisines. Chipotle peppers add subtle heat to the tamarind chicken.

Chicken in Tamarind Sauce

  • 1 cut-up chicken
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1/4 cup tamarind paste
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup grated piloncillo or brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 dried chipotle chile
  1. Place the water, tamarind paste and piloncillo in a pot.
  2. Bring to a boil, and then turn off the flame.
  3. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature.
  4. Pour the tamarind mixture into a blender. Add the garlic, balsamic vinegar, and chipotle pepper. Process until smooth.
  5. Place the chicken in a large glass bowl, and pour the tamarind marinade over it. Mix it well, so the chicken is coated on all sides.
  6. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
  7. Pour the chicken and marinade into a casserole dish. Cover tightly with aluminum foil, and bake at 350 °F for 30 minutes.
  8. Take the foil off, and allow to bake for 10 more minutes.

Adapted from Sonia Ortiz.

Sephardic Stuffed Rosh Hashanah Vegetables

Some Sephardic families have the tradition of not preparing any black foods during Rosh Hashanah in order to avoid the appearance of mourning. The mothers and grandmothers of these clans are famous for their delicious stuffed vegetables. For Rosh Hashanah, this dish is still prepared, using everything that is in season, except eggplants, black olives and dark raisins. Stella Cohen, the author of Stella’s Sephardic Table, shares her recipe for the queens of stuffed vegetables. [Read more…]

Crypto-Jewish Rosh Hashanah Honey Cake

Photo by Andreas Schauer-Villanueva https://www.flickr.com/photos/schauervilla/

Palma de Mallorca Photo by Andreas Schauer-Villanueva.

Who serves a cake whose name means “lard” on Rosh Hashanah?

The secret Jews of Mallorca have been surreptitiously celebrating with such a cake since 1492. Their signature confection is called ensaïmada. The word saïm, derived from the Arabic shahim (fat), means “lard” in Catalan.

In 1492 Spain’s Catholic monarchs, Isabelle and Ferdinand, issued the Alhambra Decree, which required Jews to convert or leave Spain. Some Jews converted for the outside world, while continuing to practice Judaism in secret. One strategy these “New Christians” employed to prevent detection was to consume pork in public. What better way was there to disguise their beloved Jewish pastry then to name it “lard”? Jews had brought this sweet to Spain long before the expulsion.

The Jews came to the Balearic Islands, an archipelago in the Western Mediterranean Sea, more than 1,000 years ago. They imported the tradition of baking sweet coiled yeast cakes from the Middle East. The round shape of the cakes symbolized the circle of life. These confections were called bulemas.

Mallorca was under Muslim rule between 711 and 1229. A legend in Mallorca says that a Jewish baker offered one of these cakes to King Jaume I of Aragon when he conquered the island in 1229. Traditionally, bulemas were prepared with sheep’s milk butter. After 1492, the butter was replaced with lard, and the bulema was renamed ensaïmada.

Ensaïmadas are traditionally served at Carnival, baked with pork and crystallized squash. Most intriguingly, the oldest cookbooks from Mallorca from the 14th century have a recipe for ensaïmadas in which the lard is substituted with extra-virgin olive oil. They are fried and drizzled with orange blossom honey. These ensaïmadas are served during the celebration of Tots Sants, All Saints Day, on November 1. As the Jewish lunar calendar does not have a fixed date for Rosh Hashanah, this date is a close approximation, giving Mallorca’s secret Jews a perfect cover.

In 2011, the descendants of Mallorca’s crypto-Jews were recognized as Jewish by Israel’s Beit Din Tzedek (rabbinic court) of Bnei Brak. The ensaïmada is symbolic of their steadfastness in maintaining their faith and identity.

Ensaïmadas are prepared with sweet yeast dough, which rises for 24 hours. The dough is rolled into a rope, and coiled like a turban. The ensaïmadas are baked, and then sprinkled with powdered sugar. For Rosh Hashanah, try the recipe from the 14th century that omits the pork, and uses olive oil and honey instead.

Olive Oil – Honey Ensaïmada

Photo by Lisa Stevens https://www.flickr.com/people/13803858@N05

Photo by Lisa Stevens.

Adapted from Spain Recipes.

  • 4 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 4 tsp. active dry yeast
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup warm milk
  • 13 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • orange blossom honey
  1. Combine the first six ingredients in a large bowl.
  2. Cover with a kitchen towel, and allow the dough to rise for 1 hour.
  3. Roll the dough like a snake, and coil in the shape of a turban.
  4. Place the dough on an oiled baking sheet.
  5. Cover with a clean kitchen towel, and allow to rise overnight.
  6. Heat extra virgin olive oil in a heavy pan.
  7. Fry the ensaïmada until it is golden-brown on both sides.
  8. Drizzle with warm orange blossom honey.

Get Your Kosher Rosh Hashanah Takeout

Photo by Didriks https://www.flickr.com/photos/dinnerseries/

Photo by Didriks.

Not everyone has the time or desire to cook Rosh Hashanah dinner. Happily, it is possible to order kosher prepared family feasts.

Six Points Kosher has been whipping up delicious, family-style dinners for the past three years. I love ordering challah from Six Points. It is baked early every morning in their commissary. For Rosh Hashanah you may choose from plain or raisin round challah.

You may save yourself the work by ordering chicken and root vegetable soup, roasted broccoli and cauliflower, herb roasted chicken, harvest green salad, Caesar salad, raisin and apple kugel, and honey cake. For the more traditional guests at your dinner, Six Points can cook carrot tzimmes, chopped liver mousse, and carrot, apple or chocolate cake.

If you are planning to order from Six Points’ Rosh Hashanah menu, your order must be placed by Friday, September 4, 2015 by 2 p.m. E.S.T.  When you serve the food, remember to tell your guests how hard you worked for them!

Six Point Kosher and the Magerman family are supporters of The Philadelphia Jewish Voice.

Book Review: The Resolutionary War


As the Jewish New Year approaches, The Resolutionary War and its premise make for an interesting model to contemplate in contrast to Jewish New Year practices.

This debut novel by Sandy Chase and Violet April Ebersole involves a group of individuals intending to meet monthly in support of fulfilling personal resolutions.

Judaism advocates a process that advances healing and intimacy. This involves undertaking a fiercely honest personal inventory of our behavior and relationships across the year (heshbon hanefesh), making appointments with those we have hurt to our regret, a plan of action for how to avoid repeating negative behaviors, commitment to non-defensively support healing within the relationship (teshuvah), which is further sealed by giving charity to support healthy developments within the greater society (tzedakah).

By contrast with Jewish New Year spiritual practices, the book brilliantly reveals profound flaws in the personal resolutions model. Social workers often say that the presenting problem is rarely, if ever, the real problem. This is one of the problems with resolutions: They usually belie the necessary process and guidance to uncover the work that most deeply needs doing.

This novel will easily provoke discussion about family dynamics, because it is rife with painful, often superficial interpersonal dynamics, long-held secrets, and an almost total absence of authentic intimacy grounded in meaningful empathy between the characters. So many relationship skills are missing between these characters that one yearns to jump right in and start coaching each toward the capacity to have a “we.”

A popcorn-style of dialogue gives this debut novel a soap-opera- or graphic-novel-like sensibility. The co-authors chose this approach well, as it serves well to underscore the different social classes depicted among the families. A wide array of true-to-life tensions about life’s essential topics such as marriage, addiction, infertility and adoption give the story weight, character and energy.

The Resolutionary War gives its readers fodder for reflection upon the need to realign their own relationships during this Hebrew calendar month of Elul, which in itself is an acronym for ani l’dodi v’dodi li, “I am for my beloved and my beloved is for me.” May each and all be so blessed.

Attending Yom Kippur Services Online


Rabbi Milgram practices blowing the shofar as Kabbalah4all.com‘s leader David Aharon Curtis prepares to begin his service.

— by Rabbi Goldie Milgram

On Erev Rosh Hashanah, my ankle was too swollen and painful to even hop over to the car to attend  the services. That created a rare rabbinic opportunity for me: attending free High Holiday services on-line.

I did not know what to expect at all, as I had only accidentally tripped over the possibility, when researching a quote online earlier in that week. Here is how it works, at least with Kabbalah4all.com, and the golden-voiced, inclusive service leader, composer of Jewish music, David Aharon Curtis.

Everything on the website, including Shabbat and festival services year-round, is for free. I registered as a member, and downloaded the evening section of the High Holiday Prayerbook, (machzor). Before sundown, I logged in for the Rosh Hashanah evening service.

More after the jump.
What were the services like? The liberal, gender-inclusive services were led by Curtis from what looked like inside of his home, in front of a sweet setup of holiday candles, a menorah, pomegranate and shofar.

It turns out that David Aharon Curtis has been streaming services for eight years already — what a boon to those in hospice or otherwise homebound. Some, it seemed, even gathered in small minyanim (groups of 10 or so) in remote areas without synagogues, tuned in and were able to have a service in this way.

The prayer books, provided as PDF downloads are interlinear: The transliterations, English and Hebrew, are not opposite each other, but rather are in the learner-friendly line-by-line approach. There are also lovely spiritual kavvanot, contemplative explanations, written in the text before each prayer.

The leader rarely showed his face, so one could mostly focus on praying along with the service leader’s lovely voice. A few nature slides and pictures of a Torah or shofar dominated the screen.

In the video to the left you can see an example of the leader’s approach to the Shema, a central prayer in most Jewish services. It’s easy to follow along in the English and transliteration, the leader chants in the Hebrew and occasional Aramaic of the Kaddish, using mostly traditional and a few contemporary melodies. I recognized a few melodies as attributable to Debbie Friedman, of blessed memory. My husband, raised in South Africa, was delighted at the relative absence of talk and simple presence of authentic prayer.

As David Aharon Curtis pointed out in his brief talk at the end of the service, while one can have a sense of connection and community in an on-line service, it’s difficult to meet and mingle afterward. The approach does seems to be catching on, a wide variety of free live-streaming High Holiday service options come up in a key word search, among them the radio broadcasts from New York’s Temple Emanuel and Central Synagogue.

Nashuva, a post-denominational California community that meshes spirituality with social action, is live-streaming their Kol Nidre service, to led by Rabbi Naomi Levy at 9:45 pm tonight. A well-known author and actist, Rabbi Levy is author of several books including Talking to God: Personal Prayers for Times of Joy, Sadness, Struggle, and Celebration. In addition, there are a growing number of synagogues and havurot providing Shabbat and holiday services on-line to members in good standing; these typically require a password for viewing.

For those who are housebound, or far from a congregation this Yom Kippur, or at any point in the Jewish year and your Jewish practice permits it, services on-line will be a great help.