Musings on Jewish Education and Jewish Living

Tonight marks the start of the 5th day of Elul, and I’ve already fallen four days behind. OY!

I was all set to act on my good intentions to blog each day of Elul, but I find myself searching for inspiration and motivation. I understand that I don’t have to write every day and I accept my shortcomings, but really, I want to do better.

For the past several months, I’ve been trying to completely the 150 hours necessary to reactivate my Massachusetts teacher certification, searching for meaningful opportunities to earn CPEs. I finally understood and accepted that it made more sense to seek Texas certification and I acted on it, completing my application today.

This one’s harder – For the past ten months, I’ve put on an act that everything was okay; that I was okay. I searched for information, for reasons, for anything that made sense, even as I searched unsuccessfully for a new position. I still cannot say that I understand, but I have no choice but to accept the situation and move on. And so I continue to search for what’s next and to act on every opportunity.

And finally…

Some days I visit my father and he seems like himself, the Daddy I remember with a twinkle in his eye and a mischievous smile. Other times, I search for him in the dull eyes looking back at me from his bed and wonder where he is. Still other times, he comes up with the craziest stories. Is it an act? Does he really think he ran a race today? Or is he pulling my leg, trying to see if I’m going to buy his story. I understand that much of what made him the man he was is gone, and I accept that. But still… every day I search… and sometimes I’m rewarded with a glimmer of him shining through.

The Jewish month of Elul leading up to the High Holy Days provides an opportunity for spiritual preparation. It is a time for cheshbon ha-nefesh – looking inward and reflecting on the past year.  The daily sounding of the shofar calls us to examine our words and our actions, and the words of Selichot (prayers of forgiveness) inspire us to seek forgiveness and to forgive others.  We look ahead to the new year when we can begin anew, striving to be the best version of ourselves.  Each day, I plan to blog on a thought related to this period preparation for the Days of Awe, along with many others in the Jewish blogosphere.  For further inspiration, search #BlogElul on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

I invite you to add your own thoughts on the daily topic.  Feel free to add your comments below or write your own blog, following the daily topics indicated or any others that call out to you.

#BlogElul – Prepare

My blog has been quiet for a while. I’ve had a hard time finding the inspiration over the past year with so many big changes taking place. As I’ve navigated the new landscape of being responsible for my father, I’ve chosen to document our journey on Facebook and Instagram. As I’ve navigated the landscape of losing my job and trying to figure out what’s next, I’ve chosen to be more or less silent.

This summer, I participated in the San Antonio Writing Project as a way of earning professional development hours to reactivate my expired teaching license. It became so much more. On the first day of writing our morning journal, we were asked to respond to the question, “Why do I write?” This was my response:

Why do I write? I write because I have to. Lesson plans, curriculum, evaluations, forms, letters, bulletin articles, and even grocery lists. I write because I’m inspired by an idea, a comment, or my own musings. I write because writing publicly is easier than answering all the texts and emails with the same response. I write because it’s cathartic, because I can share in writing what is too painful to share in person. I write because it’s a way to create community. Most of all, I write because I have something to say.

As I prepare to relaunch my blog, I could not ask for better inspiration than this time of reflection and preparation for the Yamim Nora’im, the Days of Awe. I hope to write each day of the coming month, using Rabbi Phyllis Sommer’s prompts for #BlogElul as inspiration. I welcome your thoughts, feedback, comments, and suggestions.

The Jewish month of Elul leading up to the High Holy Days provides an opportunity for spiritual preparation. It is a time for cheshbon ha-nefesh – looking inward and reflecting on the past year.  The daily sounding of the shofar calls us to examine our words and our actions, BlogElul5776and the words of Selichot (prayers of forgiveness) inspire us to seek forgiveness and to forgive others.  We look ahead to the new year when we can begin anew, striving to be the best version of ourselves.  Each day, I plan to blog on a thought related to this period preparation for the Days of Awe, along with many others in the Jewish blogosphere.  For further inspiration, search #BlogElul on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

I invite you to add your own thoughts on the daily topic.  Feel free to add your comments below or write your own blog, following the daily topics indicated or any others that call out to you.

Favorite Passover Recipes

I’ve had many requests for recipes of the various foods I’ve posted over the past several days.  Time is a precious commodity at all times, but especially at this time of year, so with apologies, rather than sending out recipes to each person who requested them, I’m including all of the requested ones here.  Enjoy!

Vegan Seven-Vegetable Soup with Matzah Balls

This soup is easy and fantastic, nutrient-rich and great on its own or served topped with matzah balls.  Makes 8-10 Servings.

Ingredients: 

  • 2 large onions
  • 6 large carrots
  • 3 celery stalks
  • 1 sweet potato
  • 1 russet potato
  • 2 small turnips
  • 1 leek
  • 2 cups vegetable stock
  • 4 cups water
  • Dill
  • Parsley
  • Salt

Directions: 

  1. Start to peel and chop the vegetables to about the same size.
  2. Meanwhile, in a deep pot, sauté the onions in olive oil. As you finish chopping, gradually add the other vegetables, salting each layer.
  3. Cover vegetables with stock and water. Add as much dill and parsley as you like.
  4. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and let it cook for about an hour. When it is done, turn the stove off and let it sit for at least 15 minutes.
  5. Using an immersion blender (you can use a regular blender, but I would not do this with piping hot soup), blend just enough soup to get a creamy consistency but with enough vegetables left intact for texture.

Passover Chocolate Chiffon Cake

Ingredients: 

  • 8 eggs separated (bring eggs to room temperature first)
  • ¾ cup potato starch
  • ¼ cup cake meal — sift potato starch and cake meal together
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1½ cups sugar, divided
  • 4 rounded teaspoons cocoa
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • ¼ cup sweet red wine
  • 10 walnuts coarsely chopped (optional)  

Directions: 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Beat egg whites until stiff; gradually add half of the sugar.  Beat yolks with remaining sugar and salt; when yolks are think and light in color add the oil, only a little at a time.  Then add the wine and the cocoa, beating at a low level.  Gently fold the cake meal/starch mixture into the white, then fold in the yolk mixture, throwing the nuts in at the same time.  Bake in an ungreased tube pan for 50 minutes.  Turn over and hang from a two-liter bottle until cooled.

Veggie Quiche with Potato Crust

Ingredients: 

  • 1-2 russet potatoes, sliced very thin
  • ½ – 1 onion, diced
  • Whatever veggies you have in the house, sautéed in a little bit of olive oil (I always include either spinach or kale) – for a large casserole pan, you want to have 4-5 cups of veggies, more if you’re using kale or spinach because it loses a lot of volume when cooked.
  • Whatever fresh herbs you have handy.  Basil and dill make a good combination.  You can use dry herbs if fresh ones aren’t available.
  • 1 dozen eggs or an equivalent amount of Eggbeaters
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions: 

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Coat a casserole dish or lasagna pan with cooking spray.
  3. Layer thin slices of potato all over the edges and bottom of pan, making sure to overlap them.  Spray with cooking spray and bake in the oven while sautéing the other vegetables, about 7-10 minutes.Remove from oven and set aside.
  4. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Sauté the onions for 3-4 minutes before adding the kale/spinach.  Continue cooking 3-4 minutes, then add remaining vegetables and herbs.  Cook until all veggies are tender.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Layer the veggies and cheese several times over the potatoes so the veggies and cheese mix together when cooking.  Pour the eggs over the veggies and cheese and gently mix to make sure the egg goes all the way through.  If you wish, add another layer of cheese on top.
  6. Place in oven and bake for 30-40 minutes or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.  Be careful not to over- or undercook.  Remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes before slicing.  Enjoy!

CHOCOLATE DECADENCE (FLOURLESS CHOCOLATE CAKE)

Ingredients: 

  • 1 pound semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1/2 cup margarine
  • 1 tablespoon hot water
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon potato starch

Directions: 

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a small pot, combine chocolate, margarine and hot water over a low heat. Stir until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Set aside. In a large bowl, beat eggs on high until thick. Beat in potato starch and chocolate until well blended. Spread even in a greased 8-inch springform pan. Bake 12-15 minutes. Cake will be soft in center but will firm up as it cools. Let stand until cool, then refrigerate until ready to serve. Serve with fresh raspberries or raspberry sauce (Puree frozen raspberries with 1 teaspoon sugar).  Serves 10 – 12.

SWEET AND SOUR MEATBALLS

Ingredients: 

  • 2 lbs. ground meat (beef or turkey or mix)
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 1 cup crushed matza
  • ¾ tsp. salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/8 tsp. pepper
  • ½ cup water
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 20 oz. tomato sauce
  • ¼ cup lemon juice

Directions: 

Combine meat, onion, matza, salt, pepper, water, eggs and ½ cup tomato sauce.  Form meatballs and place in greased baking dish.  Combine remaining tomato sauce with lemon juice and sugar.  Pour sauce over meatballs.  Bake at 350 degrees for 1 to 1½  hours depending on desired crispness.  Baste frequently.  Serves 6 adults.

Moroccan Charoset  

Ingredients: 

  • Large bottle sweet kosher wine
  • Dried apricots
  • Figs
  • Dried cherries
  • Prunes
  • Slivered almonds
  • Craisins
  • Dates, chopped
  • Sesame seeds

Directions: 

Use fruits in proportion to your family’s taste buds.  A roughly equal amount of each makes for a nice mix. Cook on top of the stove for about one hour.  Stir often. This keeps for up to 6 months in freezer or fridge.

Vegan Mock Chopped Liver

Ingredients:

  • 2 large onions
  • 1 cup of walnuts
  • 1 cup brown lentils
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350°. Place the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast them for 5 to 7 minutes. Place lentils in a pot with 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and let simmer until the lentils are tender. Heat olive oil in a medium skillet and carmelize the onions. Take your time to do this, leave on medium heat and stir occasionally to bring out the sweetness of the onions. Combine the onions, lentils, and walnuts in the bowl of food processor. Add salt and pepper. Process until smooth, scraping down sides as needed. Taste and adjust seasoning. Store in refrigerator and bring to room temperature before serving. Serve with matzah and carrots for an appetizer or serve with your main course.

 

I would love to hear from you and invite you to join the conversation.  Feel free to respond here or if you prefer, send me a private email at lgoldstein@beth-elsa.org.

Passover Memories

Every year, I do something a little different with our family seder.  Some years it’s preparing meaningful questions to discuss or new songs to sing.  Other years, it’s toys and/or props.  Always there’s a new recipe or two.  

This year, one of the discussion cards asked the holder to share a most meaningful seder memory.  I have so many incredible seder memories, it’s no wonder Passover is my favorite holiday!  So, while not to diminish the beautiful memory shared at our seder table tonight, here are a few standouts of my own:

  • We used to travel to New York every year to have seder with my father’s parents. I have wonderful memories of helping my grandmother cook, setting the table, chasing and being chased by my cousins, and the very rare coming together of my maternal and paternal grandparents – who, truth be told, did not particularly like each other.  But my father’s parents were gracious enough to extend the invitation, and my mother’s parents were gracious enough to accept.  For me, having our entire tiny family together once a year was priceless.
  • My Bat Mitzvah was during Passover.  At that time in Boston, there were wonderful caterers who kashered for Passover.  It was a serious pain in the neck, but the food was all delicious (and it’s a GREAT Haftarah!).  I have vivid memories of the silverware and glasses floating in the bathtub for days – meaning, of course, that we couldn’t shower – so they could be kashered.  It was the only way my grandparents would come.  That was the first year we had separate Passover dishes, purchased for this special occasion.
  • My mother embodied the spirit of “Let all who are hungry, come and eat.”  There was always room for one more at the table.  Our friends were always welcome and embraced.  Maury and I have tried to pass that lesson on to our own children, even as we continue to open our home to new and old friends and those with no place to go for seder.
  • There was the year not long after my paternal grandfather had a stroke that affected his language ability.  He could no longer speak English at all, and his Hungarian wasn’t so hot, either.  My father was leading the seder.  My grandfather grew increasingly agitated as my father butchered the Hebrew until he finally took the Haggadah out of my father’s hands and proceeded to chant the remainder of the seder liturgy – all in Hebrew, from memory.
  • Finally, Passover during my sophomore year in college coincided with an unexpected blizzard.  Expecting to head to New York as usual, we had nothing with which to make our seder, but there was no way we were getting out of town.  So we pulled together what we could and did our best.  That night, we stayed up into the wee hours as my father shared stories of his family coming to the U.S. from Hungary, his parents’ struggle to find their place in their new home, and his relationship with his sister.  It was the first time I’d ever heard the stories, and I learned that night how powerful the stories of our parents and grandparents could be.

Wishing all who celebrate a zissen Pesach – a sweet, liberating Festival of Freedom!

Four years ago yesterday, I received a phone call from my niece, Shira.  I knew instantly it had to be bad.  After all, it was Yom Tov, and Shira would never have called me on Yom Tov unless she had to.

“You have to get here quickly.  Eema has a brain bleed.  She’s in a coma and they don’t know if she’s going to come out of it.”  As it turns out, my sister had suffered a massive stroke, just one day after receiving the diagnosis of acute leukemia, too advanced to treat.

Backing up approximately 12 years prior to that, I remember the day my sister called me to tell me that she had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.  She had, of course, diagnosed herself – and it was at her suggestion that her doctor tested her for MS.  Over the course of the next decade plus, she never let the MS stop her.  Sure, it slowed her down, but with the best possible attitude, she attacked each day with grace and enthusiasm for life.

My sister was a music teacher, mostly strings.  She was a talented violinist.  When she reached the point that she could no longer accurately position her fingers on the strings, she began to play the cello and discovered that she loved it even more than the violin.

No matter how tired she was or how much pain she was experiencing, she never let it interfere with her celebration of Shabbat or Chag (holidays).  It was rare that her table was not full with family and guests.  Her four children all chipped in to help clean and prepare.

My sister was hyper-organized, even in her final hours of consciousness.  The night she got her horrible news, Shira stayed with her.  In retrospect, it was as if she knew she wouldn’t make it another 24 hours.  She ran through lists in her head, telling Shira what she needed to do to put my sister’s affairs in order.  “You need to cancel my lessons, refund payment to these people, go through my files,…”

And then she was gone.  I caught the first available flight to Boston, which from Jacksonville, FL was not until the next morning.  I missed my connection due to a flight delay.  My nephew made it to Boston from Israel before I made it from Jacksonville.  By the time I arrived, there was nothing left but a heart beat.  I held her hand as she passed from this world to the next, surrounded by her children.

Tonight and tomorrow we mark the fourth yahrzeit (anniversary of death) of Ellen Gail (“Elana”) Adler Nouriel – Eidel Gitel Elana bat Menachem u’Mariasha Risha.  While I miss her every day, my heart is especially heavy this year even as it rejoices.

The day after observing her mother’s yahrzeit, Shira will stand under the chuppah to be joined with her bashert.  Truly cause for rejoicing and celebration.  And while her Eema won’t be there with her, I can’t help but reflect on the many ways she really is there. Her sons, Benny and Yoni, bear a physical resemblance to her, and her younger daughter, Leora, shares with her the search for identity and journey to becoming her best self that my sister took at about the same age. But it is Shira who is so much her mother’s daughter, from her passion and drive to her love of all things Star Trek, from her intelligence to her absolute devotion to her siblings.

We just completed our celebration of Simchat Torah, the holiday of cycles.  Even as we end the reading of the Torah, we barely take a breath before returning to the beginning.  So it is with our lives.  As I remember my sister tonight and tomorrow by lighting a yahrzeit candle and saying Kaddish in her memory, I will also rejoice in the goodness and the gifts she left behind.  And while I sadly am not able to make the trip to Israel to rejoice with the bride and groom, you can bet I’ll be rejoicing for them.

I would love to hear from you and invite you to join the conversation.  Feel free to respond here or if you prefer, send me a private email at lgoldstein@beth-elsa.org.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” 

This quote from Charles Dickens pretty much sums up how I feel about September and the Hebrew month of Tishri.  These months which always overlap to some degree, this year almost entirely, are a roller coaster of emotion.  September and Tishri both bring great joy, as we celebrate the Jewish holy days, family birthdays and our anniversary.  They also bring the most profound sadness, as one of those September birthdays should have been celebrated by my sister.  We also say Yizkor, the memorial prayers, twice in Tishri, on Yom Kippur and again on Simchat Torah.  And two days after Simchat Torah, I will observe the fourth yahrzeit (anniversary of death) of my sister, Ellen.

Last night I lit two yahrzeit candles, one for my sister and one for my mother.  This is a traditional observance whenever Yizkor, the memorial prayers, are said as they are on Yom Kippur.  Lighting these candles never seems to get any easier, even though the day to day certainly has.  Last night especially, I felt a great reluctance to light them, almost as though not lighting them might somehow bring them back.  With a pain in my heart, I lit each candle.

So why do we/I continue to perform these rituals when they’re so painful?  If the every day is okay, why do we inflict the pain of Yizkor upon ourselves?

There is great power in remembering.  Without these rituals, we might actually choose just to go through our lives being and feeling okay.  With them, we have a structure that forces us to remember.

This year, as I made numerous challot for the holidays, I remembered the year my sister and I figured out together (over the phone) how to make a braided round challah.  I remember how much she loved to open her home to family and friends and the guest who had nowhere to go for Shabbat and holidays.  I remember how the silliest thing could set us off and how we laughed together for hours at a time.

This year, I remember my mother’s finally embracing Jewish learning once she retired and my parents moved to a retirement community in Florida.  I remember the look of pride on her face as she sat in the front row of the congregation as I sang the High Holy Day liturgy as cantorial soloist.  I remember how utterly devastated she was by my sister’s death, and how much joy she reaped from her grandchildren.

In a few hours, we will say the Yizkor prayers.  My heart is already heavy with the anticipation.  No matter how painful remembering is, I owe it to my loved ones, who filled my life with blessing.  And I owe it to myself, because remembering their examples makes me a better person.

I would love to hear from you and invite you to join the conversation.  Feel free to respond here or if you prefer, send me a private email at lgoldstein@beth-elsa.org.

#BlogElul 18 – Pray

Today was one of those days.  It started with breakfast ending up all over the kitchen – floors, cabinets, even the wall at the other end of the kitchen.  (Thank God for my awesome husband who helped me clean it up!)  I was really planning on making it to Temple in time for Torah study.  I really needed Torah study today.  I didn’t make it.

I met with a young woman preparing for her conversion to Judaism on Thursday and we worked a little on her Hebrew.  (A bright spot in my day.)

Even though it was Shabbat and I knew I shouldn’t be working, I worked all day to prepare for our Teacher and Ma’aseh (teen assistants) Orientation tomorrow.  I thought for sure I’d spend just an hour, two at the most.  But I kept finding things that I thought were done but weren’t, and that needed to be done before tomorrow morning.

And then I had an impromptu meeting with a young woman who I thought would be joining our faculty this year, but who had decided just today to accept a different opportunity.  With two weeks before school starts.

After a 12-hour day, I finally left Temple.  A few blocks down the road, I see flashing red and blue lights behind me.  The officer said I rolled through the stop sign.  I don’t think I did. (Really, I don’t!)  Thankfully, he took pity on me and let me off with a warning.

And in the midst of this crazy, crummy day, was a shining light in the form of a beautiful, poised, kind, compassionate, knowledgable 13 year old, celebrating becoming a bat mitzvah. She prayed with skill and with kavannah, with her whole heart.  She led the service in a way that made it especially meaningful to pray with her.  I’m grateful today for the opportunity to pray and celebrate, even for just a short time; I’m grateful for these (too) few hours of Shabbat in a very long day.

 

The Jewish month of Elul leading up to the High Holy Days provides an opportunity for spiritual preparation. It is a time for cheshbon ha-nefesh – looking inward and reflecting on the past year.  The daily sounding of the shofar calls us to examine our words and our actions, and the words of Selichot (prayers of forgiveness) inspire us to seek forgiveness and to forgive others.  We look ahead to the new year when we can begin anew, striving to be the best version of ourselves.  Each day, I plan to blog on a thought related to this period preparation for the Days of Awe, along with many others in the Jewish blogosphere.  For further inspiration, search #blogElul on Twitter or Facebook.

I invite you to add your own thoughts on the daily topic.  Feel free to add your comments below or write your own blog, following the daily topics indicated or any others that call out to you.

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