Exploring the Jewish Connection to Gratitude

In honor of Thanksgiving, Perelman Jewish Day School’s Rabbi Chaim Galfand offers a snippet of wisdom on the concept of gratitude. In this brief video, he takes us back to the Hebrew matriarch Leah, while framing gratitude as a matter of perspective.

Torah Trivia Tuesday- Thanksgiving (11.21.17) from Perelman Jewish Day School on Vimeo.

Armenian Thanksgiving Pumpkin

Photos of cooked pumpkins by Raffi http://www.armeniapedia.org/wiki/User:Raffi

Photo: Raffi

What should you prepare with all those apples and pumpkins? Many people confront this question after the celebratory hayride and apple and pumpkin-picking excursion. I love to try exotic recipes with my pumpkins. This year I am making a fall dish from Armenia called Ghapama. This vegan dish, dramatically presented inside a whole roasted pumpkin, can be the star of your Thanksgiving table.

Ghapama is a harvest dish with its own special rituals. First, a fresh pumpkin is picked. Then the whole family helps to clean the pumpkin, stuff it with rice, fresh apples, dry fruits, and nuts. Then they enjoy each other’s company while the pumpkin bakes. When it is ready, everyone eats it straight out of the oven while it is piping hot. [Read more…]

Lone Soldier Center Thanksgiving Dinner

By Sara Kalker

The Lone Soldier Center in Memory of Michael Levin will be hosting its 9th annual Thanksgiving celebration in Tel Aviv on Thursday November 23, 2017. Over 1,000 lone soldiers from all over the word will come to enjoy food, beer, music, football and great company at the largest annual gathering of lone soldiers. The event is made possible by individual donors in Israel and abroad, Beer Bazaar Jerusalem and communities across Israel who prepare massive quantities of delicious, homemade food.

There are nearly 7,000 lone soldiers serving in the IDF. The holidays are particularly challenging for many whose families are celebrating thousands of miles away. “For lone soldiers from North America, Thanksgiving was one of the happiest and most fun days of the year, when they got together with their families and closest friends to eat, watch football and enjoy being together,” says Joshua Flaster, a former lone soldier and National Director of the Lone Soldier Center in Memory of Michael Levin. “We prepare this meal for the over 1,000 American and hundreds of Canadian lone soldiers to give them a taste of home and allow them to be together with their family in Israel”. You may be part of the fun by purchasing a meal for a lone soldier.

The evening is not just for Americans and Canadians. Soldiers from all over the world attend the massive event, enjoying unlimited turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie, green beans, mashed potatoes, beer and more. “It has become a highlight of the year for lone soldiers, regardless of where we are from”, says Alan, from Mexico City.

Book Review: “Start Without Me”

Start Without Me is a highly readable novel by Joshua Max Feldman. The protagonists, Adam, a recovering alcoholic musician, and Marissa, a married, one-nighter-mistake, flight attendant, both learn that living with their poor choices in life can be easier than coping with the decisions they inevitably must make going forward.

It is a story of love, but not of lovers, strangers whose chance meeting in an airport lounge finds Adam and Marissa supportive of each other’s need to shore up the courage to return home to family on a fateful Thanksgiving morning. In often colorful and graphic prose Feldman carves out a tale of self-effacement, good intentions, failure, and hope. With Thanksgiving dinner looming for both Adam and Marissa, it’s not about turkey and pumpkin pie; it’s about a slice of life they must learn to swallow without it consuming them.

If you dread looming family reunions at Thanksgiving, or any other time for that matter, this book will help shepherd you through the valley of anxieties that may be churning in the pit of your stomach. It will renew your faith in the strength and resilience of the human spirit and the inherent compassion that defines our humanity.

 

The Bounty of the Sea

Photo by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris

Photo by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris.

It is common to visualize the Thanksgiving feast as a beautifully set table with a large, golden-brown roasted turkey at the center, surrounded by fall vegetables and cornbread. Perhaps it would be more accurate, though, to feature a platter of fish. The Wampanoag tribe, who celebrated the first Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims in Plymouth in 1621, depended on the Atlantic Ocean for much of their sustenance. The Native Americans foraged for mushrooms, berries, wild herbs and nuts to supplement their diet, and they shared this bounty with the Pilgrims.

One of the most plentiful species of fish found in the Atlantic Ocean was cod. The recipe below is inspired by ingredients that would have been easily available to the Native Americans and Pilgrims. [Read more…]

The Savory Pumpkin Pie

How can you make something for Thanksgiving dinner in a hurry? Many people dread having to cook all the traditional dishes. They lack the time and expertise to roast the perfect whole turkey. One dish that combines many of the traditional fall flavors associated with Thanksgiving is the savory chicken pumpkin pot pie.

This delicious pie can be prepared using convenience and canned goods from the supermarket. It is a very versatile recipe, and you may use any fresh or frozen vegetables at hand to enhance it. If you prefer, you may use a store-bought roasted turkey in the recipe instead of the chicken.

Photo by Alvin Smith https://www.flickr.com/photos/heather_joy/

Photo: Alvin Smith.

Chicken Pumpkin Pie

  • 1 roasted chicken, cut up
  • 1 can of plain pumpkin puree
  • 1 onion, cubed
  • 1 tbsp. minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup minced parsley
  • 1/2 cups fresh sage leaves, minced
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. flour
  • 3 tbsp. chicken broth
  • 2 frozen pie crusts or individual tart shells
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Heat the oil in a heavy pot.
  3. Brown the onion over medium heat.
  4. Add the minced garlic.
  5. Mix in the flour, and then add the broth.
  6. Stir until you have a smooth sauce.
  7. Place the chicken, pumpkin, parsley, and sage in a large bowl.
  8. Season with salt and pepper.
  9. Stir the contents of the bowl into the sauce.
  10. Pour the pumpkin-chicken mixture into the pie crust or tart shells.
  11. Top the pie crust or tart with the second pie crust or flattened tart shell, pinching the edges shut.
  12. Cut a few slits in the top crust to allow the steam to escape.
  13. Bake for 45 minutes for a large pie, around 15 minutes for individual tarts.

A Thanksgiving Prayer for the Refugees

hiasAs we Americans head into our national holiday of giving thanks, I take note of the troubles of our brethren abroad. So many are without sufficient food, clean water, and a safe place to sleep. Many more fear for their lives as well as Europeans who are reeling from the massacre in Paris on Friday the 13th.

Fear brings its companion, hysteria. Hysteria breeds irrational behavior, and the rants of public officials on protecting our people, by limiting the freedom of those others they consider a high risk to public safety, are distressing. This country has been down this road before, especially during World War II, with the arrests and incarceration of citizens of enemy descent (see Jan J. Russell’s The Train to Crystal City: FDR’s Secret Prisoner Exchange Program and America’s Only Family Internment Camp During World War II).

In the Bible, there is the curious incident of the body found at the edge of the city limits (Deuteronomy, 21:1-8), upon which the elders of the city are to atone publicly with a sin offering. The sages say that this is to instill communal responsibility for the travesty that a stranger should die unwitnessed and unclaimed. I was troubled by this interpretation, feeling overwhelmed by the awesome task. With time and reflection, I now better understand that actions — both individual and institutional– impact the integration of people within society.

How many times have we read about the individual who was bullied and ignored, who later exploded in anger and vengeance? Would that we could turn back the clock, so that someone does reach out to this person. Could we better allocate our mental health resources to serve more people? What if gun sales were better controlled? Why not try to reach out to our new neighbor, so that we could see each other as human beings?

How hard do we try to protect people from persecution for their ethnicity? The French and the Belgians are now dealing with the legacy of decades of neglect and isolation of their Muslim aliens, who were never adopted into their national identity. I think the U.S. is a little better in integrating our immigrants, in part because of our pride in our heritage as a nation of immigrants.

Let us not turn our backs on the plight of the Syrian refugees, who are fleeing from the same kind of horror that Europeans are now experiencing through the evil actions of ISIL. They need a home where they will be welcomed, where their young will become integrated into our society, and where they will adopt American values. This is my prayer for them. Throughout our history, we have turned others of “dubious” backgrounds into loyal, law-abiding citizens and we should continue to do so with the Syrians. Happy Thanksgiving!

Here is a letter from a former Iraqi Kurd (obtained from HIAS-PA):

My name is Ali and I served as an interpreter for the U.S. Army in Iraq for three years. In 2013, I came to Tennessee as a refugee after two years of vetting by the U.S. State Department.

I knew I had to leave Iraq in 2009 when a friend of mine, another interpreter, took a vacation in Sinjar. While he was at home, his car was blown up, killing him and two of his family members. If I stayed long after the Army left Iraq, I would have been killed too. In 2011, I returned home and began the refugee application process.

Over two years, my brothers, my wife, and my children traveled several times to the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad for screening. As a Kurd traveling to Baghdad, it was a dangerous for us. The airport, the hotel, and each of the checkpoints on the way to the embassy were all very dangerous. There were many interviews, tests, medical screenings, and background and security checks. They talked to family, friends, and people who employed us previously. And they did it repeatedly over two years. And then finally, on October 23rd 2013, we were approved.

Like my family, the refugees you see on the news are leaving because it is their only chance at a better life. They leave their homes, live in a tent or on the street … maybe they find a camp. Aid and international refugee programs are the difference between life and death.

As I watch the news from my home in Tennessee, I don’t understand politicians who are trying to stop people fleeing from war from coming to the United States.

I don’t understand why they’d try to prevent Kurds, especially, from coming to America. Over twelve years in Iraq, not one American soldier was killed by a Kurd. These are good people coming from over there. The little boy who washed up on the shore in Greece, his name was Aylan and he was a Kurd who fled the violence in Syria with his family.

The people fighting ISIS alongside Americans last week in Sinjar are Kurds. They are trying to escape ISIS and they need America’s help right now.

Thank you for reading my story.

HIAS-EcuadorResponse From an Anonymous Persian Jew:

Dear Hannah,

I beg to differ. This issue is not one that one can apply one size fits all. As tragic and heart-rendering as the plight of the refugees from Syria is, please bear in mind that we are dealing with a radically different culture and set of circumstances.

When we let in and took in thousands of Somali Moslems and housed them in Minnesota, we did not expect that their American-born children would become the backbone of the Islamic radicals in Somalia, the Shabaab. The Shabaab are no different than the Daesh (aka, ISIS) and their acts are barbaric.

Islamic culture has within it seeds of violence and intolerance that are deeply rooted in the Qoran and Hadith. I will not come to the defense of Europe, but to be fair, these folks did not come in to adopt European civilization. The Jews in Europe lived next to European civilization and, whereas they retained their distinct identity and religion, the Jews did not try to assimilate European society or convert Europeans.

We are comparing apples to oranges. The Christian and Yazidi communities are persecuted and should be embraced and welcomed by us. Alas, political correctness does not allow it.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Happy Holiday Season; Or Not?

TurkeyWhen is it okay to participate in holidays traditionally reserved for others?

Most of us have embraced Thanksgiving as the quintessential American holiday, and as such, we will be planning travel to visit other relatives, prepare a bountiful table and of course, watch the Macy’s parade in the morning and football thereafter.

However, we struggle with other American holidays. Many of us still wrestle with Halloween and most of us would not consider celebrating Christmas.

These three holidays are iconic parts of living in America. And all three share religious backstories. Christmas, as the celebration of the birth of Christ, is certainly the most obvious. Halloween is grounded in pagan rituals.

Thanksgiving is essentially a Christian Sukkot, rooted in a Christian religious tradition of gratitude for God’s bounty. What makes the secularization of this holiday such that we are able to embrace it and celebrate, stripping it of its original grounding and retelling the story in a way that it can become ours, and why are we unable to do likewise with the others?

Many of us kept our children from Trick-or-Treating, worried that dressing up in a costume and participating was an affirmation of a pagan ritual of witches and warlocks. However, Halloween has been stripped of its religious meaning.

I read recently how one rabbi used a creative Jewish lens through which the celebration included sharing excess candy collected by her children with the less fortunate. One of my fonder memories is taking my son by the hand, dressed in a costume that his mom created, while I was dressed up as a giant hamburger. The only bad part of Halloween was the stomach-ache and crash after my sugar high from over indulgence.

Christmas is a more complicated situation. But in this age of acculturation, interfaith couples and of course commercialization, there are places where we can enjoy the holiday. I say that very cautiously and carefully because I do not want to be disrespectful of those that hold this as a sacred holiday.

However, the Coca-Cola inspired Santa Claus and Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer both pale in comparison when I faithfully listen as Bing Crosby sings White Christmas in the movie of the same name (Bing also sang it in Holiday Inn). Irving Berlin’s classic homage yearns for us to be able to embrace this American holiday as our own.

Coming from an interfaith background, I am familiar with the beauty of a family gathering, honoring my grandmother, and sharing gifts on a day devoted to love and togetherness. We as modern American Jews need to figure it out.  And in our own unique way, we have already begun.

We have substantially ramped up the Hanukkah holiday celebration. This is, however, a contrived response to a Christmas in which we long to participate. Without reservation, I fully support the increase in joy we bring to our “minor” religious holiday, including the latkes, Hanukkah cards, eight days of presents, parties, and so on.

We go a step further in our “Chinese food and a movie” ritual on December 25. The question is whether we maintain a fictional “Chinese wall” separating holidays, holding steadfast to our modern re-interpretation of Hanukkah, or can we consider an American Secular Christmas?

I submit that celebrating one holiday does not preclude the other, nor does such a celebration threaten our core beliefs. Instead, acknowledging Christmas in a modern American Jewish context can bring us in closer alignment with the Jewish dream of acceptance in America, and more importantly, serve as a significant learning opportunity to share with our children what these holidays might mean metaphorically and Jewishly.

Happy Holidays and Chag Sameach!

Thanksgiving Turkey With Ancient Israel’s Seven Species

Photo by Faith Goble https://www.flickr.com/photos/grafixer/

Photo by Faith Goble.

After enduring many hardships in the New World, the Pilgrims finally succeeded in having a plentiful harvest. They were very grateful to G-d for providing for them, and wanted to find an appropriate way to honor G-d. They turned to the Bible for inspiration and found what they were looking for in Exodus.

They discovered “the Feast of Ingathering at the year’s end” (Exodus 34:22), one of the Three Pilgrimage Festivals celebrated in ancient Israel during the times of the Temple in Jerusalem. This feast signaled the end of the harvest, and the conclusion of the agricultural year of the Land of Israel. It is the harvest festival of Sukkot.

During Sukkot, it is customary to include the Seven Species of the Land of Israel in the sukkah, and to incorporate them into the menu. The seven most important plants that were grown in ancient Israel were wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, dates and olives (Deut 8:8). The Pilgrims consumed the foods from the New World such as turkey, corn, pumpkins, and cranberries.

For this Thanksgiving celebration, I have decided to return to the holiday’s roots. I will prepare the traditional New World bird with the Seven Species of the Land of Israel. It is a turkey brined in pomegranate juice, with wheat and barley couscous stuffing.

Photo by Jim Larrison https://www.flickr.com/photos/larrison/

Photo by Jim Larrison.

For the Pomegranate Brine

Adapted from POM Wonderful.

  • 4 cups pomegranate juice
  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 2 sprigs fresh sage

For the Turkey

  • one 15-pound turkey
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 stalk of celery, chopped
  • salt
  • black pepper

For the Pomegranate Glaze

  • 3 cups pomegranate juice
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate arils
  • black pepper
  1. Place the turkey in a large pot.
  2. Combine all the ingredients for the brine, and pour over the turkey.
  3. Cover the pot tightly, and refrigerate overnight.
  4. Pre-heat the oven to 325°F.
  5. Scatter the chopped onion, carrot, and celery in a large roasting pan.
  6. Remove the turkey from the brine, and place it over the cut up vegetables.
  7. Brush olive oil over the turkey.
  8. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  9. Roast for approximately 4 hours.
  10. Boil 3 cups of pomegranate juice until reduced by half.
  11. Mix in the pomegranate arils and black pepper.
  12. Brush over the roasted turkey.
Photo by ukcider ukcider https://www.flickr.com/photos/ukcider/

Photo by ukcider.

For the Couscous Stuffing

  • 1 1/2 cups semolina couscous
  • 1 1/2 cups barley couscous
  • 3 cups boiling water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 3 tablespoons orange blossom water
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup chopped figs
  • 1/2 cup pitted, chopped dates
  1. Pour the couscous into a large bowl.
  2. Add the salt, boiling water, orange blossom water, and cinnamon.
  3. Stir all the ingredients together, and then cover and allow to rest for 5 minutes.
  4. Mix in the olive oil, raisins, figs, and dates.
  5. Sautee the almonds in a little olive oil.
  6. Sprinkle the almonds over the couscous.

Zucchini Cake for Thanksgiving

— by Margo Sugarman

When you hear “zucchini” you are not likely to think about cakes, but zucchini’s winter spicy taste goes perfectly with a Thanksgiving meal, and most importantly for a post-Turkey dessert, zucchini cakes are parve.

Zucchini CakeA zucchini cake may not look gorgeous, but it is moist and tastes wonderful. Another advantage: It freezes well, so you can make it a few days before and save time on your Thursday cooking.

This recipe makes one large cake or two loaves that serve about 16. You can also halve it and bake it in a 24-centimeter round pan if you do not need to feed lots of guests, or even prepare them as muffins.

Ingredients:

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 2 cups grated zucchini
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 teaspoons cinnamon powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)
  • 1 cup dried cranberries, raisins or chocolate chips or a combination thereof (optional)

Preparation:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF
  2. Grease two 8×4-inch loaf pans or one 11-inch spring-form pan, or line 24 muffin cups with paper liners.
  3. In a mixer, beat the eggs and add the oil and sugar, then zucchini and vanilla.
  4. Combine flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, baking powder and salt, as well as nuts, chocolate chips or dried fruit, if using, and stir into the egg mixture.
  5. Divide the batter into prepared loaf pans or muffin cups, or pour into the baking pan.
  6. Bake loaves for between 45 and 55 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Muffins will bake much more quickly: between 15 and 20 minutes.

Margo Sugarman is the creator of The Kosher Blogger.