You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Jewish’ tag.

Aly Raisman’s gold medal has taken on more symbolism than she might ever have imagined.

So I happen to be the Interim Director of Education at one of the Newton synagogues that DIDN’T win a gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics!

Mazel Tov to Jewish gymnast Aly Raisman, whose family belongs to Temple Beth Avodah in Newton Centre, Mass., for bringing home two golds and a bronze for the USA. (Rabbi Keith Stern sums up our community’s collective joy here).

To borrow the lexicon of that popular Passover ditty, Dayeinu, it would have been enough to just know that the girl on the Olympic podium was American…

… and it would have been enough to swell us with pride to know she was — bonus! — from nearby Needham, Massachusetts.

… and Dayeinu, Aly also happens to be a mensch who grew up at Beth Avodah and chose “Hava Nagila” as her floor routine music!

After being immersed in Aly-mania for a while, the first thing I thought of was one of my favorite YouTube videos: “I Am Jewish” by poet Andrew Lustig, a student at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem.

I could watch Andrew perform his riveting rant/poem all day.  It is forever relevant and relatable to us all.  His words are stirring because though serious, when appropriate they are delivered with humor and a smile.  He speaks to so much of who we are as modern Jews.  While each of us is our own link in the long chain of Am Yisrael, we also share a collective history and experience.

Andrew begins by channeling our community pride when a moment like Aly Raisman’s gold medal happens:

I am the collective pride and excitement that is felt when we find out that that new actor, that great athlete, his chief of staff… is Jewish.
I am the collective guilt and shame that is felt when we find out that that serial killer, that Ponzi schemer, that wife beater… is Jewish…”

And he peppers the rest of his spoken word poem with clever references to the universal Jewish experience. There’s at least one analogy here that will resonate with everyone:

“I am an IDF sweatshirt and the Chai around your neck. I am a $100 Challah cover you will never use and a 5 Shekel piece of red string you will wear until it withers away. I am your Hebrew name. I am your Israeli cousins. I am your Torah portion and your 13 candles. I am your Bat Mitzvah dress and the cute Israeli soldier on your Birthright trip.

Check out the full video:

Andrew’s poetry is set to Enya’s “Watermark,” which is extraordinarily purposeful. This piece of music was chosen from all the myriad of instrumentals in the world, and I am sure it is not only because of the way it sounds and because of the way it makes us feel when we hear it.  Many other compositions can evoke the same feelings; I wonder if it was chosen in part because of its name. A watermark is a recognizable image or pattern in paper used to identify authenticity.  A poem about Jewish identity speaks to authenticity.

Who is an authentic Jew?  What about us makes us Jewish?  What defines our Jewish selves? Jews are forever measuring other Jews’ authenticity.

As we kvell over Aly Raisman’s Jewish pride and identity, the most impressive part of the story is this. Aly told the media that she chose “Hava Nagila” because she wanted an upbeat song that the audience could clap along to. There are many soundtracks she could have chosen. “Hava Nagilia” got the nod, not because she was making some kind of statement, but just because she loves the song — it is an integral part of her being.

Mazel Tov, Aly!  Your poise and strength inspires us all as we pursue our own gold medals in life — albeit without the pressure of a billion people watching our every move.

Oh, and if you didn’t catch Aly’s “Hava Nagila” routine, I consider it my second favorite YouTube video!


Rihanna rocks Tel Aviv!

Amazing! Since when does the promoter of an American pop star make tikkun olam the price of admission to a concert?

Check out this dispatch from the Israelity Blog, one of my favorite sites to check out Israeli culture beyond the Mideast conflict.

Rihanna’s Tel Aviv concert tickets could not be bought with shekels.  Instead, her fans had to commit four hours of volunteer work in some of the country’s underprivileged neighborhoods. The benefit was the brainchild of Rockcorps, which has inspired more than 60,000 volunteers in the United States, Europe and Israel.

Let’s hope that the tzedakah lesson rubbed off and that some of these fans will continue to do charity work even when they don’t get to see a free concert!

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?

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:


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.


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


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.

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!

If you need to use coloring books to keep kids' attention while teaching about the Holocaust, then maybe the kids aren't ready to handle it.

Nothing surprises me anymore. I recently stumbled across this Anne Frank dot-to-dot on my local newspaper’s education page. Aside from the fact that it is a ludicrously designed dot-to-dot — I mean, why not just draw more of her face and body and leave nothing to connect — this is not the best way to introduce the Holocaust to children.

I have no doubt that the Universal Press Syndicate’s Mini Page has the best of intentions to share Anne’s life story. However, to toss it in the mix with peanut butter pudding recipes, word searches and other activity book games and puzzles only trivializes the tragedy.

Perhaps the most outrageous part of this “Fun Page,” is the Holocaust Word Search. Hey kids, can you find the phrases FINAL SOLUTION, GENOCIDE and DEATHCAMP? Are you kidding me?

Holocaust education is not supposed to be fun. If you have to placate kids with coloring books and puzzles, they are probably too young to learn about it in the first place.

What do you think? When and how should kids first be introduced to the Shoah? And are dot-to-dots and word searches offensive in this context or am I the one who is off-base here?

Keep in Touch

Connect with Facebook

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by e-mail.

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?

Contact Me

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

Buy Israeli Produce