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Matzah sneakers

Unleavened Sneakers: Kosher for Passover?

Hey, Seder Fashion Hounds, what will you be wearing when Elijah pops by your house for a sip of Manischewitz?

You can order matzah-print sneakers at Zazzle.com and as a bonus, you can choose between cookie-cutter, mass-produced matzah and handmade shmura matzah, which tends to be a bit on the burnt side.

Splash a little horseradish on these babies and you’ll be ready for the runway!

How Ancient Egypt could have funded its pyramid construction

This isn’t keeping me up at night, but do you think back during the rule of Ramses II that he ever imagined he would wind up on New Hampshire Lottery scratch tickets?

Come to think of it, if the Egyptians had sold lottery tickets back then, wouldn’t they have been able to completely fund the pyramids and pay for construction with worker’s comp, vacation, dental insurance, 401K, etc.?

For some reason, the Las Vegas casinos also have a fascination with Ancient Egypt, giving us absolutely no credit whatsoever for the Mids:

Celebrity Toy Lookalikes: Moses the Duck and King Friday the 13th

My family loves Jewish novelties and kitsch, and this Moses Duck — related to Celebriducks like Obama Duck and Marilyn Monroe Duck — has parted the waters of our bathtub AND kept a watchful eye over the Promised Land of our home office.

But on closer look, this Moses doesn’t look much like Moses at all. He kind of looks a little like Santa Claus (with orange lipstick) and a little like King Friday XIII, the ostentatious puppet ruling the Land of Make-Believe in Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.

Perhaps that’s why the company doesn’t sell him anymore.

Other than the typical toy frogs and locusts, do YOU have any goofy novelties at your Pesach table?

Homer and Bart at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

The Simpsons are very popular in Israel. During my first visit in the early 1990s, I saw the whole mishpacha on Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem. Much to my surprise, the giant cartoon mascots were promoting frozen TV dinners.

My husband also has a small collection of Hebrew Simpsons gum and candy bar wrappers.

But this Sunday will be the first time that Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie will be flying El Al on the small screen.

I can only assume they’ll be traveling on Israel’s national airline, but only a few details have leaked out about the Jerusalem-themed episode — including comedian Sacha Baron Cohen (not to be confused with Sasha Cohen) being Bart and Homer’s tour guide.

As you may have noticed from my blog’s occasional silly diversions, I believe that American pop culture can often provide Jewish teaching moments in the classroom. Of course, with the Simpsons, the level of irreverence will determine how age appropriate the lessons can be.

According to the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, the episode will be called “The Greatest Story Ever D’ohed,” and will have Homer come down with a case of “Jerusalem Syndrome,” the psychological state where one believes he or she is a Biblical personality or prophet.

Simpsons producer Al Jean warns that “people from all three religions will be equally offended.”

I’m honestly not a huge fan of the show, but my radar will be up and running when it airs the day before Pesach.

I wonder if Bart and Homer will see any flying chairs.

The Simpsons’ Israel episode airs at 8 p.m. Sunday, March 28 on FOX. Please let me know what you think of the show!

How many audience members knew that Ben Stiller's nonsensical alien Oscars speech contained part of the Hebrew prayer for wine?

Ben Stiller, who played a rabbi in “Keeping the Faith,” is no stranger to Jewish humor.

At last night’s Academy Awards, he slipped in an inside joke that I wonder how many people noticed. Presenting the honors for Best Makeup, Stiller was flamboyantly dressed as a Na’vi alien from the blockbuster movie “Avatar.”

His presentation speech in the Na’vi language was actually a string of jibberish, tongue clicks and familiar phrases blurted out in a funny accent. Anyone unfamiliar with Hebrew would not recognize two of those phrases: “Pesach,” and “Boray Pah-Ree HaGaffen.”

The guttural letter Chet at the end of “Pesach” definitely sounds like it is from another planet. Just not the Alpha Centauri moon of Pandora. (I had to look that up. I haven’t yet seen “Avatar,” but I want to).

What do you think? Is sneaking in the last part of the prayer for wine into the Avatar speech a gesture of Jewish pride? Or does it mock Judaism — or the Na’vi culture for that matter — by inferring that all foreign languages are just jibberish?

I don’t profess to intimately know Ben Stiller’s soul, but I think he meant well.

In fact, given that Avatar takes place in the year 2154, I see it as a positive development that Passover is getting some extraterrestrial airplay. We Jewish educators are obsessed with Jewish continuity, after all.

And although Judaism does not encourage proselytizing, the religion is very welcoming to all who want to learn Torah. No matter what planet you come from.

Our little plate of hamantaschen

Anyone who knows me knows that I love words; big words, small words, monosyllabic ones and polysyllabic ones. I love word games and puns.

So back when I was living in Jerusalem, it was not a surprise to my “new” chevrah when I dressed as “B’DaTz” for Purim.

“B’DaTz,” is the Hebrew acronym for “Bet Din Tzedek” (Just Rabbinical Court), which is a hekscher, or rabbinic kosher stamp of approval for food and food-related items.

A forest green, mid-calf length, drop-waist dress was the base of my costume. I stuck big 2-inch diameter orange, fuchsia, and teal paper DOTS all over my dress. Voila! I was dressed as “B’DaTz.” I won the costume prize at the mostly English-As-A-First-Language Purim party. Light-years away from, and much different than winning the costume prize years before at a Halloween party dressed as a slice of bacon.

In more recent years, I have moved to a different food group: the hamantasch. At just over 6 feet tall, I make for a very statuesque one. I have dressed as both a mohn (poppy seed) hamantasch and as a more “modern” very bright purplish pink centered one.

I have made buckets full of fabric (felt, to be specific) hamantaschen, complete with black or brown, or red or orange pom-pom centers. I have made and worn Sculpey hamantaschen earrings and brooches galore. I have even decorated my very young son, Ari, as a plateful of these delectable felt treats.

Experience has shown me that people prefer to eat real hamantaschen. Even though I have attempted to make rounded corner yeast hamantaschen (my Dad’s favorites are prune-filled), I have failed every time. So, whether baking with my children, other people’s children, or other adults, I make the pointier cornered cookie hamantaschen.

Some of my maven cookie-baking friends kvell over my cookie recipe and we swap filling recipes and actual fillings. Every cookie my friend Eileen makes is a perfect & closed triangle, which is much more challenging when baking with children. Eileen’s platters of Purim delights are picture perfect, looking as though they are straight out of a food magazine. Better than any unmelted chocolate chip center, Eileen makes her adored Chocolate Brownie Hamantaschen Filling (see below), which she has agreed to let me share here:

“EILEEN’S FAMOUS CHOCOLATE BROWNIE HAMANTASCHEN FILLING”

5 oz semisweet chocolate
3 oz unsweetened chocolate
6 T butter
2/3 C flour
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 T instant coffee granules
¾ C sugar
¾ C chocolate chips
2/3 C chopped nuts (OPTIONAL)

In a medium saucepan, over medium-low heat, melt the first 2 chocolates together. Take off heat and mix in the butter, flour, baking powder, salt, eggs, vanilla, coffee, and sugar. Mix to combine and then fold in chocolate chips. Add nuts if desired. After this has completely cooled, store in fridge in air-tight container.

I have had my dough recipe for years and although I know it’s not original (it comes from a tiny small-format Jewish cookbook I once owned), I share it here, along with some more filling recipes. These delightful Purim treats are welcome any time of year, except for Pesach, of course.

STACY’S UNORIGINAL-BUT-YUMMY HAMANTASCHEN COOKIE DOUGH

This recipe does not make many cookies; I never know the yield because I make different sizes. I always double this recipe. Sometimes I wing it and make chocolate dough. I reduce the flour by ¼ C and add ¼ C unsweetened cocoa powder. I do not put in orange juice, instead adding 1 T strongly brewed coffee and 1 oz melted bittersweet chocolate. This dough can be looser, so it’s important to go easy on the liquids.

¾ C sugar
2 C all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
8 T unsalted butter or margarine, cold
1 large egg, slightly beaten
3 T fresh orange juice

• Combine dry ingredients in food processor.
• Pulse in butter until mixture resembles coarse meal.
• Add egg and juice and process just until dough forms.
• Form into 8 inch disk, wrap in plastic wrap and chill at least 2 hours or overnight.

• When ready to bake: preheat oven at 350 degrees.

• Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
• Roll dough out to 1/8 inch thickness on floured surface.
• Cut into circles with 3” cookie cutter, or whatever size you so desire—MAY NEED TO ALTER BAKING TIME ACCORDINGLY.

• Place 1 tsp of filling in center (more or less depending upon circle size).
• Pinch 3 edges of dough together creating 3 corners, leaving small opening in center for filling to peek through.

Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Let cool on cookie sheet for 10 minutes before removing cookies. Cool cookies completely on racks.

I love making cookies with a combo of fillings. I make all of my fruit fillings with dried fruit from Trader Joe’s, but you can use any dried fruit. All of these fillings can be made ahead of time and stored in the fridge in air-tight containers for about two weeks! Cherry-chocolate or cherry-apricot or apricot-chocolate seem to be the biggest hits.

Here are some choice filling flavors that have served me well over the years:

• Dried Slab Apricots
• Dried Blueberries (not the freeze dried ones)
• Prunes (which are now remarketed as “dried plums”)
• Dried Pitted Tart Montmorency Cherries

MAKE YOUR OWN HAMANTASCHEN FILLING

¼ lb dried fruit
½ C water
1 tsp fresh lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in small saucepan and cook over medium heat until most of the liquid evaporates, about 10 minutes.
Let cool and puree in food processor.
Refrigerate until needed
Although I have made my own mohn/poppy seed filling, it’s much more cost-effective to buy canned filling.

So, what’s your favorite filling? Please vote in my first Learning, Laughter & Light Poll:

The New York Times recently dove into the world of religious fight clubs

Wow. The New York Times just ran a riveting story on the growing use of kickboxing and violent cage fighting (as opposed to the gentle kind) to lure young men into church. One Tennessee church called “Xtreme Ministries” follows up Bible class with lessons how to beat the crap out of each other.

The school’s slogan: “Where Feet, Fist and Faith Collide!”

The Times says the fights are “part of a larger and more longstanding effort on the part of some ministers who fear that their churches have become too feminized, promoting kindness and compassion at the expense of strength and responsibility.”

For the record, I believe that Hebrew Schools and all religious education programs should just stick to the kindness and compassion stuff.

You can read the full martial arts story here.

Magen David tower fashioned out of Kapla building blocks

This is how you can tell who is the Jewish educator’s kid… Dump a crate of blocks on the playroom rug and see what the children come up with.

This Star of David tower was built by my 7-year-old son, Ari. He likes to take pictures of his creations because he hates to put the blocks back in the box and “ruin” his artistic vision. Perhaps the Louvre will call when they set up a religious symbol exhibit.

Or, maybe Ari will eventually pursue Jewish themes with his LEGOs, in the same spirit as this guy who is recreating the Bible in plastic bricks.

These images are from the wickedly clever web site, The Brick Testament:

Adam's rib before it becomes Eve - from The Brick Testament

Cain and Abel - The world's first premeditated murder from The Brick Testament.

Israelite spies penetrate the walled city of Jericho with help from an unlikely ally (go read the story again) -- from The Brick Testament.

Artist Brendan Powell Smith, who is not Jewish, also builds scenes from the Christian Bible. Most fascinating to me are the warning labels he slaps on the books of the Bible like the motion picture ratings.  There’s N for nudity, V for violence, S for sexual content and C for cursing.

You don’t realize how child unfriendly the Bible actually is until Smith smacks you over the head with it.  After all, there is always someone “smiting” someone or sleeping around in those stories.

Although I classify myself as a non-violent person, I love the word “smite” for some reason.

Anyone have any Jewish or Bible-themed block creations in their playroom?  Any thoughts on the LEGO version of the Bible — even though the toy company obviously has nothing to do with it?

Drew Barrymore at the 2010 Golden Globes

Nope, Drew Barrymore has not converted to Judaism. Not to my knowledge, anyhow.

But she did set up one of the best unrehearsed lines from last night’s Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hills Hilton.

Barrymore, extremely nervous on the Golden Globes bimah as she accepted her trophy for the “Grey Gardens” miniseries, apologized that she did not know award show etiquette regarding where to walk. Ironic, she noted, because “I’ve been meeting with the Hollywood Foreign Press for like 97 years and I’ve been in this room since I was seven years old.”

An obvious reference to “E.T.”

That set up the punchline for “Mad Men” creator and executive producer Matthew Weiner, who later accepted a Globe for Best TV Series Drama.

Bar Mitzvah Party Flashback

“I, too, was in this ballroom when I was seven years old,” Weiner said. “It was for a Bar Mitzvah!”

The audience gave his laugh line a loud applause. Mazel Tov, Matthew!

Back to Drew Barrymore, her Greek goddess gown was absolutely gorgeous. But what was that silver, sparkly rodent on her shoulder?

By the way, if you want to wear Meryl Streep’s or Amy Pohler’s Golden Globe gown for Purim, they’re now up for auction with the proceeds to benefit the Haiti earthquake relief effort.

Not sure I can afford it on an educator’s salary, but if Barrymore’s dress also goes on the tzedakah auction block, my bid will be competitive!

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Mission Statement

This blog is dedicated to preventing another generation from dreading Hebrew School. I seek to exchange stories, ideas and tips with other parents, teachers and everyone who shares my love for Jewish history, culture, spirituality, arts, and Israeli produce. Care for a pomelo, anyone?

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Send me your feedback and Jewish education stories at shalomstacy36 (@) gmail.com

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