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Posts tagged ‘Holidays’

New Fruit

We just celebrated the beginning of the new Jewish year, 5778, Rosh Hashanah, literally “head of the year.” Jews celebrate not with frivolity and booze, but with contemplation and prayer. We are entering the period before the Day of Judgement, Yom Kippur. We want to think about what we’ve accomplished, how we treated others, our relationships with people and G-d.

New Fruits for the New Year. (c) JustHavingFun

New Fruits for the New Year. (c) JustHavingFun

Many include a “new” fruit as part of their new year celebration. This beautiful custom entails eating a fruit that one has not eaten in a while or one that has not been encountered before. After making a blessing on the fruit, there is a blessing thanking G-d for bringing us to this season. Then the fruit is eaten.

Our local kosher supermarket, Seven Mile Market, stocked numerous “exotic” options to choose from: lychees, fresh figs on the stem, golden berries, jackfruit, and prickly pear to name a few. This year I bought lychees. (I chickened out from buying a slice of jackfruit.) I can’t remember if I ever ate fresh ones before! It was a delightful experience.

New beginnings are the theme of this season, returning our thoughts to our core values and making use of the ability to turn ourselves away from directions we may have taken that stray from the true path. I have the opportunity to make amends, to look inside and see where I’ve erred. G-d allows me to start over again, freshly invigorated and reoriented if I’ve gone astray.

I feel doubly blessed this new year having started a new position and new career after a long job search. It’s a new beginning in many ways, working for a non-profit organization that strengthens our community by helping neighbors acquire and maintain housing… among other benefits. It’s a chance for me to give back in Gratitude for the many kindnesses bestowed on me.

I’m sending all wishes for a good, healthy new year in 5778.

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Passover Pizza

Pizza for Pesach

Passover Pizza and Pizza for Pesach © JustHavingFun

Maybe it’s a symptom of me getting old, but I experience a moment of cognitive dissonance when I see “Passover Pizza” on the market shelves. You mean you can’t go 8 days without pizza? Is this a generational thing?

My Mother tells me about what Passover in Philadelphia was like growing up in the waning years of the Depression. They had eggs, fish, matzah, beets, meat, potatoes, nuts, fruit… and more eggs and potatoes. Kosher for Passover milk and dairy products weren’t readily available, and they didn’t have the wealth of prepared foods that we kosher consumers enjoy today whether for year-round or Passover use. Mrs. Hindy Krohn, also a Philadelphia native (and mother of Rabbi Pesach Krohn), describes the situation well in her 1989 memoir The Way It Was: Touching Vignettes About Growing Up Jewish in the Philadelphia of Long Ago.

Passover Pizza

Freezer case with kosher for Passover products. © JustHavingFun

I’m not quite that old but I remember my Bubba Goldie shaping gefilte fish loaves by hand, sliding them out of the oven, and serving them with a perfect circle of cooked carrot. I don’t know where the fish came from. She probably went to a fish man and asked him to grind it. She also had a special basin for the chicken to soak in. She sat in a chair in the breakfast room pulling the pin feathers from the skin before cooking it.

Passover wasn’t a big deal in our family. We were secularized; it was a time for family to gather. I don’t remember the family having Seder dinners, but I sure remember sitting at the big mahogany dining room table with the matching chairs and claw-footed legs.

Bubba Goldie’s chicken soup was the clearest golden broth with little “eyes” of fat on the top, and the matzah balls were light and fluffy. Well, really I can’t remember the matzah balls, but I like to think they were “floaters” because it fits well with the imagery of the golden soup. She’d serve it with a small portion of chicken breast meat. My other grandmother, Bubba Lena, cooked her chicken soup with lots of “junk,” as she called it. Vegetables peeked from a cloudy broth, and chicken chunks were liberally strewn through the bowl. Did she make matzah balls? I can’t remember, but if she did, I bet they were “sinkers.” I inherited her skills in making a fragrant, filling cauldron of soup and I don’t get complaints about my matzah balls.

Welch’s Manischewitz Kosher Concord Grape Juice is kosher for Passover. © Manischewitz

In the 1990s I saw Manischewitz kosher for Passover Quiche Mix (a product fad that didn’t survive); that was when the world changed for me. Now there is Welch’s kosher Grape Juice, too, another world changer. The products keep coming: marshmallows, chocolate chip cookies, mayonnaise, pizza sauce, macaroons (of course), and the list goes on.

I’ll forgo the Passover pizza. I’ll stick with unsalted whipped butter on matzah as the most exotic food choice.  Hooray for eight days of  limited choices!

Happiness is My Choice, 10

There’s a lot to be said about the practice of contemplation and self-improvement. In these days between the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, and the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur—the so-called Ten Days of Repentance—we turn our thoughts toward our actions and character traits which have allowed us to act in a particular manner. This period is a time for appreciation of our freedom to use our wills for good or for selfish ends. We don’t flagellate ourselves when we find ourselves lacking; rather, we contemplate the means to change ourselves for the better.

I liken this week to an employee performance review. Like the yearly progress assessment, we review our success in achieving goals set in the previous season and we formulate future goals. Where do I excel? How can I parlay this strength toward future endeavors? Where can I be better? What tools can I use to improve what is sub-par? Have I failed utterly in any area? What is taking me off track? And if I just can’t proceed in that positive direction yet, what is holding me back? On Yom Kippur, we give a full accounting to the Boss and state how we may improve ourselves toward fulfilling the Company’s goals.

Rather than castigate and flagellate myself for perceived imperfections, I can choose to look at this annual review as an opportunity to learn more about myself. Others may quake in their shoes, fearing punishment and retribution, but I choose to take the opportunity to reboot myself as it were, and get a fresh start.

Rabbi Ezra Schwartz reminded us on Rosh Hashanah that we are not bad people. We just need improvements.

Improvements. This thought makes me … happy. Otherwise, I would be so despondent all of the time, wallowing in guilt and unhappiness for my failures and inconsistencies. If I could not take the opportunity to move on from today into an improved tomorrow, I would feel like the executioner’s sword was inching closer and closer—sure doom—defining my fate. We have so many characteristics that make us who we are. Some are expressed at the wrong times, others are not expressed often enough. Our characteristics are many, like the seeds of the pomegranate which—once you find them and use them—can be a delight for the eye and palate.

Instead of facing severe punishment, we are given a chance to take our measure accurately, and alter the pattern. The Hebrew word middah (מִדָה) literally means “a measurement,” and also refers to character traits. How poorly clothing would fit if the tailor could not make adjustments to the pattern. So, too, we are given the ability to contemplate the pattern and adjust the reality. We are given a new chance at life, forgiveness, and our eyes are opened to our true characters!

Yeah, it’s scary facing our shortcomings. I don’t like admitting where I’ve failed, fallen short, not risen to the moment or shown the darker side of myself. but rather than quake with trepidation, I’m calculating, building, planning, adjusting. I’m using my Ten Days of Repentance to adjust the template and shift the pattern.

Hope! Everyone gets a second chance; not everyone can use it properly. I’m taking this opportunity to increase my internal awareness and assess how good it can get. This is my choice, leading to happiness.

For all of my friends and not-yet friends, I wish you a meaningful period of contemplation, leading to a fulfilling Yom Kippur/Day of Atonement, to be sealed in the Book of Life for a good year!

Memorial Day

American Flag

American flag, proudly waving.

I got married on Memorial Day. A Monday holiday’s convenience for time off and travel made that the most feasible choice. No barbecue,  but lots of sunshine… and humidity. The food was good, the guests had a good time, and we did what we set out to do. Now we are guaranteed a day off to celebrate the day every year, too!

Memorial Day has devolved into a day of national leisure and big $ale$. I sense we’re less concerned about remembering the people who died while serving in the country’s armed forces than we are interested in satisfying our own indolence. The grand parades of earlier times are figuratively replaced by red, white, and blue bunting on some stores. How many of us make the effort to go to the big parade in town?

Grilling

Getting ready to fire up the grill! “Grilling” by Adam Henning, used under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Rather than sounding like a crotchety old granny, I’m happily remembering Memorial Day last year. We spent the afternoon at Van Cortlandt Park. It was packed! So many families came to enjoy the day together. Grills, bags of charcoal briquettes, picnic baskets, coolers, blankets, chairs, games, balls, and radios magically appeared. How was all of this stuff transported? Did people actually drive there? If so, where did they park (parking being my perennial concern)?

I have a humorous vision of people pouring out of the A-train burdened with all these chattels. Plus babies, toddlers, strollers, and diaper bags. Also sports equipment like bats, soccer balls, badminton nets, and whatnot. Picture that flood erupting and spilling down the steps at 242nd Street!

A beautiful orchid to grace our home with its lovely blossoms in honor of Shavuos.

A beautiful orchid to grace our home with its lovely blossoms in honor of Shavuos.

This year Memorial Day is coincident with the two-day Jewish holiday of Shavuos, or Pentecost, which starts after the Sabbath on Saturday night. It is when we celebrate the bringing of the law down from Mount Sinai. We traditionally eat dairy meals, as opposed to the meat meals of typical holidays. Imagine a holiday where people wax poetic about cheesecake! Not only that, but  we have flowers and plants in our homes because tradition says that Sinai bloomed with beautiful flowers and greenery while waiting for God to give the Torah to Moses on the mountain. I bought a gorgeous orchid for the occasion to enjoy for some time to come.

Whether shopping, picnicking, grilling, or just being lazy, I hope all have a wonderful Memorial Day! That’s one of the freedoms our soldiers fought for. So if you grill this weekend, enjoy a hamburger for me. I’ll be having quiche and cheesecake!

Origin of Mother’s Day

Cover of sheet music, 'That wonderful mother of mine.'

Cover of sheet music, ‘That wonderful mother of mine.’ 1918. M. Witmark & Sons. Historic American Sheet Music, 1850-1920 (from Duke University), Library of Congress.

With this weekend being Mother’s Day, I thought I’d post some odds and ends about the day that honors mothers.

  • Mother’s Day originated in the United States although there were various older religious and pagan ceremonies that antedate the modern holiday.
  • The acknowledged founder, Anna Jarvis campaigned vigorously for a day honoring mothers after her mother’s death in 1905.
  • Mother’s Day was first celebrated with a ceremony on Sunday, May 10, 1908 in Grafton, West Virginia, Jarvis’ home.
  • West Virginia was the first state to officially recognize Mother’s Day in 1910.
  • In 1912, Jarvis incorporated her own association, trademarked the white carnation and the phrases “second Sunday in May” and “Mother’s Day.”
  • Placement of the apostrophe in “Mother’s” is intentional.
  • It was made a national holiday in 1914 by President Wilson, to be observed the second Sunday in May.
  • It started to be observed by sending greeting cards and flowers, or chocolates and photos. but that was becoming too commercialized for Jarvis’ taste.
  • Jarvis hated the commercialization of “her holiday” and threatened lawsuits to various entities planning large celebrations, including New York Governor Al Smith in 1923!
  • She accused Eleanor Roosevelt in 1935 of “crafty plotting” to abuse Mother’s Day by using it in fundraising material for charities trying to combat high maternal and infant mortality rates, “the expectant mother racket,” as Jarvis called them.
  • Jarvis spent her considerable inheritance and the rest of her life fighting the commercialization of “her” holiday.
  • By 1948 when she died, Jarvis was bitter, blind, partially deaf, and completely penniless in a Pennsylvania mental institution.
  • Mother’s Day continues to be celebrated as a “Hallmark Holiday,” complete with sales of everything from A to Z.

Source: Mother’s Day creator likely ‘spinning in her grave’. CanWest News Service, May 11, 2008, (accessed May 7, 2015).

What Mess? What Noise?

 

Whatta lotta matzah!

Whatta lotta matzah!

Passover is done for another year.

I loved it. I loved having five of our children around and various guests. I loved the planning, cooking, and serving. Even the cleanup after meals didn’t faze me. I was “in the zone.” I felt connected and fulfilled. My shopping list on Google Drive made me ecstatic in the stores. I felt efficient and prepared. I loved the crumbs on the table, the potatoes, and having to reach into a different cupboard than usual for a plate. I loved the seeming mess, having things displaced, needing to walk new paths, searching for equipment. A change, a shake-up. Spring-cleaning for the mind. Last year we were slaves; this year we are free.

And oh my–the second batch of chicken soup was one of the best I’ve ever made! With matzah balls! (The first batch was great, but this second batch… ummm yummm!)

Single-Bottle Wine Caddy
Last Sunday I “turned my kitchen over,” i.e., boxed up and sequestered all of the Passover plates, cookware, and equipment so I could bring out the year-round items. I discarded unused equipment: the wine bottle caddy my husband received with a Purim package ages ago but is not useful at the Seder; his Chinese-patterned melamine plates from before we were married that we used before we bought the new purple ones; and the decorative metal and glass serving box for machine-made square matzah because we predominantly eat handmade, round matzahs. I climbed up the stepladder to the cupboard above the refrigerator–which is closed year-round–and lovingly tucked the Passover supplies to sleep for another year.

I wish there had been more noise. Crazy? I wish there had been more visitors. I wish the apartment had been full of our children and their friends laughing, playing games, and squabbling. Although we played Settlers of Catan one afternoon, people drifted away for naps instead of digging in for the noisy, competitive, seemingly endless tournaments we’d played in younger years. The friends live elsewhere and a small New York City apartment gets crowded quickly.

I have memories of family meals from my childhood. Adults babbled in important adult tones; children laughed and shrieked while spilling drinks and tracking crumbs. Blotchy with wine stains, the tablecloth reminded us of years past. There’s a photo of my sister and our cousin, both about 5 years old, pouring soda and laughing. That’s what I remember.

Don't open! חמץ (Chometz; leavened items) may be lurking there!

Don’t open! חמץ (Chometz; leavened items) may be lurking there!

That’s what I hope to recreate.

The noise, the mess, the planning, the excitement. The expectation of the Seder meal, retelling our exodus from slavery in Egypt. The drama of one whole week of the year dominating our minds so thoroughly. That is Passover of the past, present, and of the future. I hope our children will retain happy memories of this year’s holiday. Doesn’t every parent wish this to be so?

We pray: Let us all be reunited in Jerusalem as One People, celebrating the Passover together, giving thanks to the One Who freed us and continues to sustain us throughout all time.

לשנה הבאה בירשלים

Next year in Jerusalem!

Signs of the Season

Sparkling lights in the lobby bathe Mr. & Mrs. Claus.Santa and Mrs. Claus have come to town!  They’ve settled in our lobby, bathed by the flashing lights of the Christmas tree that reflect off the highly-polished terrazzo floor. It’s only 2 weeks until Christmas. The Chanukah menorah sits nearby, set to be lit one light more night by night, at Chanukah’s start next Wednesday night. We celebrate it all. It’s the Season.

Our distinctive lobby and the historic mural have a natural beauty. Gleaming polished stone, richly veined with red and brown, clads the wall. Art deco styling of the light fixtures and elevator floor indicators dress it up.

Such a welcoming space has its own pizzazz!

Beautiful polished stone and art deco accents lend class.With only 9 hours of daylight, those sparks of brightness in the entrance vanquish some of the darkness I feel coming in from the cold and scurrying to the elevator or up the stairs, past the mailboxes. Attuned to the postal schedule, I sympathize with the mailman due to his heavier-than-usual seasonal burden. He comes later than usual, too, and spends a longer time at his tasks. The mailbox doors snap shut with distinctive clicks and echoes that I can hear from my 2nd floor apartment. A special kind of music.

Celebrate!

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