Hanukkah is one of the best-known Jewish holidays - not because of its religious significance, but because of its seasonal relationship with Christmas. Gift-giving during Hanukkah is a tradition that has taken hold much more strongly here in American than anywhere else in the world.
The real Hanukkah rituals are lighting the menorah, playing the dreidel game and, of course, eating latkes with applesauce.
The dreidel is a four-sided spinning top with each side imprinted with a Hebrew letter. The letters serve as an acronym for Nes Gadol Haya Sham, which translates to "A great miracle happened there," referring to the miracle of the oil, which lasted for eight days. In Israel they say Nes Gadol Haya Po, "A great miracle happened here".
To commemorate the miracle of the oil, it is customary to eat foods that are fried with oil. Potato latkes are the traditional food of choice, eaten once a year (or eight times if you eat them each night of Hanukkah) and served with applesauce. Since fried food can cause indigestion for many, this year I am trying something a little different - baking my latkes instead!
Serving and eating family recipes during holidays helps make that holiday feel special, as it should, because well, it is a holiday. While there’s no harm in indulging every now and then, there are simple ways to clean up an old family favorite without anybody but the chef noticing the difference.
For example, the quality of the ingredients is important. Committing to an exclusively organic diet can be both difficult and expensive. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), fruits and vegetables retain different levels of pesticide residue, so it is recommended to eat organic varieties of the foods that retain higher pesticide levels. The EWG recommends eating organic potatoes and apples in addition to other fruits and vegetables. For the complete EWG guide to pesticides, please click here. [hyperlink to http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary/]
Root vegetables, including potatoes, absorb herbicides, pesticides and fungicides from the soil. Conventional potatoes are also treated with these chemicals to kill fibrous vines before harvesting and to prevent them from sprouting. Washing a conventional potato isn’t enough because the chemicals have already been absorbed into the flesh of the vegetable. Using organic potatoes for your latkes will greatly reduce your exposure to these chemicals.
Conventional apples have one of the highest rates of pesticide residues. Any food that includes apples as an ingredient should use organic apples.
For naturally sweet homemade applesauce and baked sweet potato latkes, check out my recipes below.
Applesauce: (serves 2-4 people)
6 - 8 sweet apples (I used Fuji apples)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Remove skin from apples and chop into 10-12 pieces each
Put apples and cinnamon into pot with lid and apply medium heat
Stir often until apples are soft – approximately 30-45 minutes
Put apples in blender and blend completely
Put apples back into pot and add vanilla
Cool and serve
Sweet Potato Latkes (makes 12-15)
1 large sweet potato, grated
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 eggs, blended
1/2 cup flour (I used pecan flour, but any will do)
1/2 teaspoon pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees
Grease baking sheet
Combine all ingredients into bowl and stir well
Use your hands to scoop mixture
Squeeze all liquid, place scoop on cookie sheet and flatten
Bake until latkes are crisp and golden brown
by Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz
I love to give and receive gifts. I enjoy the suspense of the unwrapping, the strengthened relationship that can emerge and the opportunity to provide another with something new that they didn’t expect to receive. After all, life is about giving and giving gifts is just another way to fulfill our purpose.
This year, however, as I’m really struggling to decide how to approach my annual Hanukkah gift buying, I’m pausing to consider how I can best raise my sensitivities to give better. I wonder how valuable it is to spend so many hours (and hundreds of dollars) shopping for gifts, only to find myself often feeling worse at the end of the day. Further, I’m turned off each year by the parts of our gift culture, such as aggressive competitiveness, that come with the holiday sales. This season, two of my favorite stories involve an alleged riot over two-dollar waffle irons at a Little Rock Walmart and a pepper-spray attack over discounted Xbox games.
We can seek to repair how we give to others at the holiday time. The root of the Hebrew word for love (ahava) is hav, which means to give. When we give to another, we can come to love that individual more. This is why a parent generally loves a child more than the child can love the parent. When we allow others to give to us, we can allow them to love us.
We can release some of our holiday stress and anxiety when we remember that typically the pressure of what gifts we will buy comes from us and not from the receiver of the gifts. And so as receivers, it’s important for us to make a gift-giver feel good about their giving. Dr. Ellen J. Langer, a Harvard psychology professor, explains. “If I don’t let you give me a gift, then I’m not encouraging you to think about me and think about things I like. I am preventing you from experiencing the joy of engaging in all those activities. You do people a disservice by not giving them the gift of giving.”
Psychologists say it is often the giver, rather than the recipient, who reaps the greatest gains from a gift and thus is also the most concerned about the gift. Gino and Flynn, researches at Harvard and Stanford, have found that givers are more concerned with giving something costly items than receivers are with receiving them. Givers can worry less, and recipients can remind them to be less concerned with big gifts. A 2005 survey, conducted by the Center for a New American Dream, showed that four out of five Americans think the holidays are too materialistic. As receivers we can remind our loved ones that we don’t need or expect expensive gifts.
While embracing a culture of gifts is important there are certain dangers we must be sure to avoid. For example, the Torah looks down upon the desire for gifts: Proverbs (15:27), most poignantly, states, “Sonei matanot yichyeh" – (one who hates gifts will live long). The gift-seeker is at risk for corruption and bribery, developing transactional relationships and cultivating a personality of entitlement.
There is no such thing as a free lunch, and to expect one is to misunderstand the purpose of our existence, which is to live a life of service working to repair the world. Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky explained that the Torah seeks to prevent us from growing accustomed to effortless profit. When one regularly receives gifts without investing any effort, one begins to expect more and more to receive that which doesn’t belong to them.
The Torah also teaches that, ultimately, it is not gifts that build or heal relationships; rather, it is human connection. Before Jacob encounters Esau after a period of estrangement, he sends his brother a large gift consisting of many animals. Esau is willing to rekindle the relationship, but he initially turns the gifts down, showing that they are not the reason for his decision. He says, “I have plenty. My brother, let what you have remain yours” (Genesis 33:9). It is not gifts but words that truly heal relationships.
The manner in which we give requires great attention. Marcel Mauss, a 20-th century French sociologist who wrote the classic work on gift exchange, explained that gift economies tend to be marked by three related obligations: the obligation to give, the obligation to accept and the obligation to reciprocate. Some level of reciprocity can be expected but gift-giving fails when it creates an oppressive sense of obligation, establishes hierarchies or fosters humiliation or manipulation.
These dangers, however, should not dissuade us from the fact that gift giving, when done well, can serve to bring us closer together and provide a way for a giver to express additional love. We can all learn to have more sensitivity in how we give and receive. Giving gifts should bring us closer to the receiver and should be done in a way that reinforces the core values at the foundation of our relationships. Givers should consider the needs and wants of receivers, and receivers should be sure to cultivate and express gratitude and not entitlement.
The Sema (Sefer Meirat Einayim), the classic commentator on the Choshen Mishpat, actually explains that according to the majority position, "sonei matanot yichyeh" (one who hates gifts will live long) does not pertain to a gift intended for the benefit of the giver. When gifts are used to help foster relationships and to further a culture of giving, everyone wins.
In today’s economic climate, few can afford to buy gifts the way they once could. We can make our consumption this holiday season more ethical by reducing costs, valuing the spiritual over excessive materialism, engaging in our shopping process respectfully and reconsidering how our giving brings us closer to others. We might also consider making our tzedakah contributions (financial gifts to those in need) more integral to the spirit of our holiday giving. We can attach words of gratitude to our gifts that deliberately celebrate our most important relationships. Rather than fight for the last toy on the shelf, we can strive to give better.
After all, this holiday is ultimately about something greater than gifts. While giving Hanukkah gelt (chocolates) is an old custom from Europe, giving gifts on Hanukkah is relatively new. Professor Jonathan Sarna, the great American Jewish historian at Brandeis University, explains that Jews used to exchange gifts only on Purim, but in the late 19th century, when Christmas became more magnified, there was a shift from Purim to Hanukkah. Some explain that Hanukkah gift-giving in America really took off in the 1950s when, in a post-Holocaust age, Jews were more concerned with their assimilation in the face of “Christmas envy.” At the holiday’s core though, for decades we strived to dedicate time to celebrate life’s great miracles and to express gratitude for our existence. This surpasses the value of any tangible holiday gift.
This year, I hope and intend to spend less, put more thought in the gifts I give, cultivate and express more gratitude when I receive gifts and allow the gift-giving process to be a transformational vehicle to strengthen important relationships.
by Dan Friedman, the Jewish Daily Forward
An exhausting year for Kushner has included a CUNY honor granted, rescinded, then re-granted, working with Spielberg and more (Photo: Jonathan Kesselman)
I half expected to see the picture of Tennessee Williams that sat on Tony Kushner’s office desk. I didn’t expect the picture of Pep Guardiola, the youngest and most successful manager in the history of Barcelona Football Club, to be sitting right next to it. A present from the late poet Thom Gunn, its presence on his desk is a testament to Kushner’s sentimentality as well as to the wide regard in which Kushner is held.
On December 5, he is slated to receive a $100,000 prize for Creative Citizenship by The Nation Institute and The Puffin Foundation. The honor recognizing his socially conscious work will be a happy ending to an exhausting year for America’s leading playwright. In July, Kushner brought to a close almost two years of work on an important retrospective season that began in 2010 with a major restaging of both parts of the era-shaping “Angels in America.” Having a new generation of actors interpreting the parts helped him finish and resolve some of the problems that had been bothering him about “Perestroika” for nearly 20 years. Over the summer, he premiered the mini-opera “A Blizzard on Marblehead Neck” at Glimmerglass Festival. Co-written with his “Caroline, or Change” collaborator Jeanine Tesori and based on an episode in the life of Eugene O’Neill, it was successful enough that the Metropolitan Opera has commissioned a full opera from the two of them.
And since October he has been on set with Steven Spielberg, filming and re-writing the epic “Lincoln.” It’s a project in which he became engrossed almost as soon as they finished making “Munich” in 2005, and it is, he says, “the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.” In the midst of all this, Kushner had to deal with a media kerfuffle when trustee Jeffrey Wiesenfeld nearly scuppered an attempt by the City University of New York to give him an honorary degree, levelling ill-founded accusations of anti-Zionism at the writer.
The retrospective with Signature Theatre Company was also the occasion for the premiere of his first major new play in almost a decade, in partnership with the Public Theater. The title of “The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures” (also known as IHO) suggests, with a nod to George Bernard Shaw, that it will be “a treatise,” but what Kushner himself likes about the title is that when you go, the play is “intriguing and enigmatic
by Suzanne Kurtz, JTA.com
|Ben & Jerry's co-founder Jerry Greenfield recently spoke at a Jewish Federation of Greater Washington event. (Photo: Jewish Federation of Greater Washington)|
“There is a spiritual aspect to business, just as there is to people,” Greenfield told a crowd of 300 last month at a networking event for the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.
The ice cream company known for its colorful pint-size containers, funky flavors and creative marketing has implemented smart business practices that have advanced its bottom line as well as its do-good corporate culture.
Raised on suburban New York’s Long Island, Greenfield, 60, and his longtime friend and business partner Ben Cohen met in gym class in junior high school after discovering a shared dislike of running track. They were chubby kids who always enjoyed eating, Greenfield said, and both attended Hebrew school and had their bar mitzvahs at the Reform Congregation of Merrick.
Though a self-described “cultural Jew,” Greenfield said that his religious education helped sensitize him to discrimination, marginalization and the needs of “other people in society and around the world.”
In his mid-20s, after being rejected from some 20 medical schools and not content with working as a lab technician, Greenfield split a $5 Pennsylvania State University correspondence course in ice cream-making with Cohen and embarked on a new business venture.
In 1978, with $12,000 scraped together from loans and savings, they opened Ben & Jerry’s Homemade, Inc. in a renovated gas station in Burlington, Vt. Their single storefront venture would grow eventually into a $300 million global ice cream empire owned by the Unilever Corp.
by Reuven Firestone, Jewishjournal.com
|Riot Police Run Towards Protestors in Tahrir Square. Photo by REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic|
It is impossible to know what is going to happen in Egypt. That’s a simple fact. Here are some reasons: Egyptians have been moving steadily toward religious conservatism over the past 40 years. In the ’50s and ’60s, you saw few women veiled, and mosque attendance was sporadic. Today you rarely see a woman on the street unveiled, and on Fridays, worshippers typically spill out onto the sidewalks despite the existence of literally thousands of mosques in greater Cairo. Bikinis once were common in Alexandria. Today you’ll be hard-pressed to find any Egyptian bikinis anywhere on public beaches (private pool parties is another story). But, during the same period, Western ideas and values have penetrated Egypt increasingly and thoroughly. Notice the veils on many young women…and extremely tight-fitting tops and pants that show every wrinkle. Egyptian music today is a fusion of Eastern and Western styles, and Egyptian sit-coms could be produced in Hollywood.
Egypt has had no direct experience with democracy, ever. Dictators, kings, foreign colonial administrators, sultans, caliphs and pharaohs have all ruled. Egyptians have never experienced a true parliament or real elections. But vicariously, Egyptians have been watching America and Europe and have envied the West’s democracy and success. And they have watched the fall of the Iron Curtain and the democracy struggles – some successful and others not – after the failure of communism.
by Gershon Baskin, Jpost.com
|Photo by: GPO|
Real leadership is measured when one is faced with real-life situations that place diametrically opposed values and principles on the scales of decision making.
Binyamin Netanyahu faced that in the Gilad Schalit case. His positions on negotiating with terrorists and releasing terrorists from prison in hostage situations were well known. He had written about this issue, spoken about his opposition to prisoner releases and even advised foreign governments on the issue.
But when facing the issue himself and facing the reality that on the other side of the scale was a living soldier whose chances of surviving much longer in captivity were seriously questioned, he was forced to make a decision that challenged his positions. He recognized the social solidarity that emerged from all corners of Israeli society because of the “unwritten covenant” between the people and their army. Eventually, Netanyahu abandoned his steadfastness, paid the unbearable price and brought the soldier home.
This was proof of real leadership and no one can take that away from him.
by Amy Kurlansky
|Jewish Author Myla Goldberg Comes to the Mayerson JCC Thursday, November 10|
by Ben Cohen, Tablet Magazine
|Jon Scheyer of Maccabi Tel Aviv (Seffi Magriso)|
Scheyer was referring to his new team, Maccabi Tel Aviv, the wildly successful basketball organization that signed Scheyer to a two-year contract this summer. Playing at the highest level is something Scheyer has done for years: He led Duke to college basketball’s 2010 national championship as the team’s captain. At a reception for the team at the White House Rose Garden, President Barack Obama called Scheyer his “homeboy from the Chicago area.”
Many think Scheyer has the chops to become one of the best Jewish basketball players ever. At 24 years old, Scheyer has already been honored twice by the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, so it wasn’t surprising that a crowd greeted him at Ben-Gurion Airport when he landed in July. On the day he moved to Israel, immediately after he declared citizenship, the website ynetnews.com published a news story with the headline “ ‘Jewish Jordan’ Jon Scheyer Makes Aliyah.”
by Jamie Geller, Joyofkosher.com
|Asian Vegetables with Quinoa|
Everyone wants to know: Is it a grain? How do you use it? How do you pronounce it? Is it good for you? So I looked it up. Turns out, this trendy food is from South America and it’s a species of goosefoot, a “grain-like” crop. That clears everything up, doesn’t it?
But there’s more. The fact is that quinoa (pronounced keen-wah or kee-no-uh, your choice) is packed with calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and iron, and has a high protein content to boot. Unlike wheat and rice (but similar to oats) it contains a balanced set of amino acids, making it a complete protein source. It’s high in fiber, gluten-free and easy to digest. It’s so nutritious that NASA is considering it as a crop for their Controlled Ecological Life Support System for long-duration manned space flights. (So if your kids turn up their noses, tell them it’s astronaut food!)
And now...on to the good stuff:
Asian Vegetables with Quinoa
* Prep time: 15
* Cook time: 40
* Ready time: 55 min
* 1 tablespoon olive oil
* 1 medium Spanish onion, peeled and sliced
* 3 medium carrots, peeled and sliced into ¼-inch thick rounds
* 2 cloves garlic, minced
* 1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger or ½ teaspoon ground ginger
* 1 medium red bell pepper, sliced
* 2 cups sugar snap peas, coarsely chopped
* 1 medium eggplant, cut into ½-inch cubes
* 1 cup quinoa
* 1 cup water
* 1/3 cup soy sauce
* 3 tablespoons honey
* 1 lime, zested
* 1 can sliced water chestnuts, drained (8-ounce)
* 3 green onions, sliced
Heat olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium high heat. Add onions and carrots and sauté 5 minutes. Add garlic and ginger and sauté 2 minutes or until fragrant. Add peppers, peas and eggplant and sauté 8 minutes more. Add quinoa and 1 cup water and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer over low heat and cover. Cook for 15 to 18 minutes or until vegetables are tender and quinoa is cooked. Stir in soy, honey, lime zest and water chestnuts and cook 2 more minutes.
Divide between 6 shallow bowls to serve and garnish with green onion.
For more amazing kosher recipes, check out http://www.joyofkosher.com/
by Allyn Fisher-Ilan, Reuters
Israel and Egypt have reached a deal to swap 25 Egyptian prisoners in Israeli custody for U.S.-Israeli dual national Ilan Grapel, held by Egypt since June, a statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said on Monday.
The U.S.-brokered deal was reached days after a successful Egyptian-brokered swap between Israel and Hamas Islamists that freed captive soldier Gilad Shalit in exchange for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.
It was subject to Israeli security cabinet approval widely expected to be issued at a session scheduled on Tuesday, the Israeli statement said.
Egyptian officials confirmed the agreement and a source in Cairo said the swap may take place this week. An Israeli official involved in the talks told Reuters the swap was expected to occur on Thursday once Israeli ministers give the go-ahead.
“In the framework of efforts by Israel and Egypt and with the help of the United States, Egypt has agreed to release Ilan Grapel. By Egyptian request Israel has agreed to free 25 Egyptian prisoners,” the official said.