Purim Review: Noah and the Ark

I know I only recently posted about Passover, but I’m obviously pretty behind the times for this blog. That said, Noah and I had pretty (in-my-humble-opinion) GREAT Purim costumes this year, so I didn’t want the opportunity to show a few pics of them to pass.

Purim is a holiday of “turning things upside down,” so silliness, unusual outfits, and general ridiculous are encouraged. Something I love about Purim as opposed to Halloween is that everyone is expected to get in on the fun – adults are more likely to get a look if they’re not dressed up than if they are! A couple weeks before Purim, Noah and I started talking about what we should dress up as for the holiday. We came up with the idea that it would be funny if one of us were *Noah* and one of us were the ark (pun intended). I would be Noah, obviously. The grand vision for the project required a couple trips to Michael’s to get the necessary supplies, and then the crafting began…

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Noah’s outfit was definitely the more labor intensive one, and it came out great!

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And just like that, we were showing our costumes off at the KI Megillah reading…TADA!:

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Like any good holiday, we also made time for some good eats. The weekend before Purim, we had some friends over to make hamantaschen (traditional Purim cookies shaped like Haman’s – BOOO! – hat) and mishloach manot (lit: sending portions – one of the four mitzvot of Purim). It’s customary to give mishloach manot to friends and neighbors as a way to build community and the holiday spirit – essentially they’re little snack/gift bags with at least two types of food in them. We got a mishloach manot delivered to our apartment by the religious school kids at our synagogue – it was extremely cute. Anyway…for our party we had lots of snack foods, fruit, candies, and – of course – the freshly baked hamantaschen for people to use as materials inside their mishloach manot.

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Some folks even got into decorating the bags….

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It was a lot of fun to bake and pack bags with everyone. And there was, of course, the added bonus of having all the mishloach manot made, and then we only had to give them out the rest of the week.

It was a great holiday and a lot of fun to celebrate with friends – I’m already wondering what my costume might be next year…!

 

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Tu B’shvat – birthday for the trees!

Last Monday was Tu B’shvat – a Jewish holiday that is considered the “birthday for the trees.” The holiday has become symbolic for many different things such as:

  • a time to think about the ways in which Judaism and modern times call on us to be more “eco” and “green”
  • connecting to the land by eating different types of fruit, planting trees, or taking action to contribute to the ecosystem in positive ways
  • Kabbalistic (Jewish mysticism’s) teachings about how the four seasons and cycle of the trees represent our own layers as people
  • we, like trees, must always be continually searching and seeking personal and spiritual re-growth

There is also a custom (for some) to hold a seder on Tu B’shvat. Like the Passover seder, there are 4 cups of wine, but – unlike the Passover seder – there is not a fixed liturgy or script for the meal. A friend of mine and I collaborated (although she did most of the hard work!) to put together a seder for a meal with friends last Sunday night (at the beginning of the holiday). Given Tu B’shvat’s connection to trees, it is traditional to eat all the different kinds of fruit and tree foodstuffs at the meal: edible insides with inedible outer shells (nuts, oranges, etc), edible outside with inedible inner pit (plums, peaches, etc), and edible inside and outside (grapes, berries, etc). Each of these three categories of fruit are paired with the first three cups of wine. The fourth cup doesn’t have a particular type of fruit to eat with it, but we smell a fragrant fruit (fresh tart apples, lemon, etc). The fragrance – rather than the taste – of this last level of fruit recognizes the ultimate intangibility of the gifts we receive through food we eat as well as our inability to access the deepest levels of the spiritual world. We may not be able to *taste* complete divinity, but we can still *smell* it. Ah…I love Jewish symbolism. 🙂

Anyway, this fruit-filled meal was quite impressive.

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Food for a crowd:

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Complete with small seder plates at each seat featuring the seven species (the native “fruits” of the land of Israel – mentioned in Dvarim 8:8):

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I hope everyone gets to eat some fruit today. 🙂

Holiday Spirit – Happy Chanukah!

Now that we’re in the midst of this year’s “holiday season,” the Chanukah lights have been sparkling at our house:

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Also, Noah gave me this great new sweatshirt as a Chanukah gift!:

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Even though the winter holidays are starting, my fall hiatus from blogging left a few fall holidays unaccounted for. The definite highlight of the fall holidays for me was Sukkot. Noah and I helped to build a sukkah at a friend’s house. We and few others spent the afternoon assembling/decorating the sukkah, and then we all enjoyed a wonderful meal outside together when the holiday started. I got some great photos of the sukkah-building process progressing throughout the afternoon. It started with the frame:

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Then we put up the walls and some lights:

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And finally we added the skach (the vegetation that covers the roof of the sukkah – skach must cover the majority of the roof but leave enough space left so you can see the sunshine and stars) and decorations!:

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Great holiday fun. 🙂

The last holiday to share a photo from is Halloween….Noah came back from a work trip just in time for Halloween, so we celebrated our reunion with some pumpkin carving:

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SpoOoOoOoOoOoOoky!!!

On that note, hag orim sameach (happy Festival or Lights), and hopefully I’ll check in again soon with some posts about our impromptu 3-day trip to Montreal (we’re leaving in the morning!!!).

Experiencing the Yamim in Jerusalem

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, experiencing the Jewish calendar in Israel is definitely one of the most fun/special/meaningful parts of living in Jerusalem this year. The last few weeks included three important holidays: Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron, and Yom HaAtzmaut. Unlike the rest of the holidays I’ve been experiencing here, these are not Jewish holidays from the Torah (or, as is the case with Hanukkah, the Mishnaic period). Rather, these are new holidays, established in the last 50-65 years. The period of the three holidays lasts 10 days, starting with Yom HaShoah and ending with Yom HaAtzmaut, and the climate of the holidays is one that goes from tragedy and sadness to joy and celebration. Collectively, the time period of the three days is called the Yamim (literally, Days). Interestingly, the 10 days of the Yamim are easily compared with the 10 days of the High Holidays (Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur), and many view and understand the Yamim as the ‘High Holidays’ of secular Israel.

Here’s the breakdown…

Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day)

Yom HaShoah was instituted in 1951 and was established as a national holiday at that time. It is an Israeli law that all shops and businesses must close the night that Yom HaShoah begins (all Jewish holidays – and days in general – begin in the evening and conclude at sunset the following day). Having been in Israel all year, I can definitely say that I felt a different mood in the city on Yom HaShoah. The feeling was serious, and even when stores and businesses opened during the day, the holiday was recognized everywhere. For example, most stores have signs recognizing the day as well as yahrzeit (memorial) candles in front:
Note: the full name of the holiday – although it is rarely called as such except on signage – is Yom HaZikaron la’Shoah  u’le’Gevurah (Remembrance Day for the Holocaust and its heroes). 

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At Pardes, we had a special schedule where we had discussions and learning options related to the Holocaust, concluding the day with a student-led memorial ceremony. The most significant part of programming for me was to hear from a Holocaust survivor, Rina:

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Rina was a child during the Holocaust, and she survived living in a ghetto as well as multiple concentration camps. She was liberated by Russian soldiers from Bergen-Belsen. Her story was heartbreaking and miraculous and yet another reminder that there are fewer and fewer survivors left to tell their stories. I believe it is so important for every person to hear as many survivors as they can before it is too late. As I heard one survivor say, “you will be the eyewitnesses to the eyewitnesses.”

The most impactful part of the day for me was hearing the siren. At 10am, across the entire country, a siren sounds (a steady wail, as opposed to the in-and-out wail used to indicate a rocket alert) for a solid minute. The moment the siren wails, everyone stands in silence in honor and memory of those who died. For me, it was an incredible moment to see the affect of the siren. I was standing by a busy road, and at the siren’s first sound, cars pulled to an immediate halt and drivers opened their doors and stood at attention next to the vehicle, pedestrians stopped where they were on the sidewalk – nothing moved. In a country that so often seems incredibly chaotic and passionate and lively, the vision was striking. Also, it was very powerful to know that across the entire country of Israel, people were doing the same thing.

I wanted to fully participate in the moment of silence with the siren, so I didn’t take any photos, but prior to the siren starting I took a photo of many people standing on the roof of a building in anticipation of seeing the great communal halt take place below:

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Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day):

A week after Yom HaShoah is Yom HaZikaron. Yom HaZikaron is the Israeli Memorial Day to commemorate fallen soldiers and victims of terror in Israel. The day was enacted into law in 1963. As I said above, when Yom HaShoah happened, I felt a noticeable degree of sadness around the city. That feeling, however, was incomparable to the feeling of  Yom HaZikaron. The unfortunate reality of the current Jewish state is that essentially no one who lives here hasn’t lost someone they know to war or terror. That reality is on full display on Yom HaZikaron. Unlike Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron has a very particular way of being observed in Israeli society. The hallmarks of Yom HaZikaron commemoration are tekesim (ceremonies). Three tekesim take place related to Yom HaZikaron: one to begin the holiday (done in the evening), one during the day (in the late morning), and one to transition to Yom HaAtzmaut (done around sundown). While Yom HaShoah only has one siren, Yom HaZikaron has two, and the sirens are used as the introduction to the erev (evening) tekes on the first night as well as the morning tekes during the day.

Noah and I went to the opening tekes of Yom HaZikaron at Latrun. Latrun is located between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and it was the site of intense battle during Israel’s war for independence in 1948. Today, Latrun is a military museum and memorial. When we arrived to Latrun, there were booths set up for the event where people could look at (and sometimes hold) weapons used by the military:

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There are also over 100 tanks on display:

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There was a memorial wall listing names of fallen soldiers, and there were flowers available to be placed within the wall:

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The tekes was HUGE with a few thousand people. It took place in Latrun’s massive amphitheater:

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The tekes focused on the profiles of six individuals who had either been killed during army service or were victims of terror. For each profile, there was a video about the person, a commemorative song, and a testimony from a friend or family member. It was a very moving ceremony, and I thought the videos about the people were an interesting way to help the people attending the tekes feel somewhat more connected to that person.

Although the tekes began with a standing moment of silence in accord with the siren, the experience of this siren felt a bit less powerful to me than the one on Yom HaShoah because – since we were all already gathered for the tekes – it didn’t feel like the same sort of interruption to life.

During Yom HaZikaron day, shops once again indicated the event with signs and candles:

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The daytime morning tekesim are structured around schools, although most people who are not schoolage also attend a tekes by going to the school of their children or something that is nearby. Often, part of the tekesim focus on graduates of that school who have been killed during military service (an astounding thing when I try to imagine if every school in America would have fallen graduates to commemorate during Memorial Day). I attended a tekes at the elementary school near to my apartment. Once again, the tekes began with a siren (the second, and final siren of Yom HaZikaron and the Yamim). Seeing hundreds of elementary-age children and families be completely still and silent for the full duration of the siren was a reminder of the significance this symbol carries within Israel.

After the siren, the tekes was a collection of songs, dances, skits, and readings done by the 6th grade class. The tekes lasted about an hour – the first half was devoted to commemoration of Yom HaZikaron and the second half was festive and celebratory in line with Yom HaAtzmaut (which takes place the following day when schools are closed). The message of the transition is very clear: military lives lost enable Israel’s existence/independence.

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During the afternoon of Yom HaZikaron, I visited Har Herzl with Pardes. Har Herzl is the site of Israel’s national cemetery as well as the burial site of many important Israeli and Zionist political leaders and figures, including Theodor Herzl who is buried at the mountain’s peak and for whom the area is named. Har Herzl becomes a bit of a pilgrimage site on Yom HaZikaron when thousands of Israelis come to give their respects to fallen soldiers and sit at the gravesides of friends and family.

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We saw many people – sometimes in groups and sometimes alone – sitting by the side of a grave, appearing to be permanently there for the day. It was quite a powerful image to so vividly see this important site on memorial day. While at Har Herzl, I kept thinking (as I had also felt many times in the preceding days) that the experience of mourning for soldiers on memorial day is so different in Israel than it is in America. In Israel, where there is a compulsory draft and everyone (less the haredim and Israeli Arabs) serve in the military, there is no divide between the well-educated elite and those who serve in the military. When many Americans don’t have close relationships with army members, memorial day is often transformed into a good day to go to the mall and hit up the holiday sales. Here, where everyone knows people in the army – knows people who have died in the army – this is a day of incredible sadness. Something that highlighted this point for me was seeing Robert Aumann, an Israeli who won the Nobel Prize for Economics for his work in game theory, sitting with family at the graveside of his son who was killed during service. Given the class divide within the military that has resulted in America post-draft, it is hard for me to imagine many American Nobel Prize winners whose sons have been killed in action.

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Just as Yom HaZikaron in Israel commemorates victims of terror in addition to fallen soldiers, so does Har Herzl. A section of the cemetery is devoted to a memorial wall listing the names of all those who have died from terror attacks in Israel since 1860.

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It was frightening and sad to see the newest names recently etched into the rock – names from the time period in which I’ve been living here.

Originally, I was intending to include my Yom HaAtzmaut experience in this post as well…but this has turned into a very long post already and it feels somehow appropriate to leave the shift to celebration for a separate account and let these two somber days stand on their own.

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See my post on Yom HaAtzmaut here

Celebrating Purim in Jerusalem

WOW! I had quite a weekend. 🙂

Purim is a Jewish holiday during the month of Adar that commemorates the survival of the Jewish people despite the attempts of the evil Haman (BOOOO!!!!) to destroy them. In a nutshell, the Purim story goes like this:

The king of Persia, King Ahasveros, divorces his first wife, Vashti, after she refuses to entertain him and his drunken buddies naked. To find a new wife, the kings has a beauty contest with all the eligible women in the land and a Jewish girl named Esther is chosen as his new wife (although her Jewish identity is hidden). Meanwhile, the king’s advisor, Haman, is an arrogant and power-hungry individual, who demands that everyone bow before him when he passes by. Mordecai (a Jew, and Esther’s uncle) refuses to bow given the Jewish prohibition against bowing before anyone besides God. Out of anger, Haman plots to destroy all the Jews and receives permission from the king to do so. Learning of Haman’s plan, Mordecai tells Esther that she must speak to the king, reveal her Jewish identity, and ask him to save her people. Although she is at great personal risk, Esther does this task and, ultimately, the Jewish people are allowed to defend themselves (which they do successfully) and Haman is killed.

The full story is recorded in Megillat Esther (the scroll of Esther) which is part of the Ketuvim (writings) part of the Tanakh. If you didn’t already read it this year, I suggest doing so – the story is really quite juicy!!

Anyway…Megillat Esther is quite unique for many reasons, including but not limited to:
– there is a female heroine (YAY ESTHER!!!)
– God’s name is not mentioned anywhere within the book, causing it to be used as a frequent example of the hidden presence of God
– the meaning of the holiday is often understand as being intended to unite the Jewish people (as the people needed to unite in order to support Esther and defend themselves from attack)
– the holiday is not from the Torah, so there are not laws against malacha (work) such as on Shabbat and many other Jewish holidays during the day
– in most of the world, Purim is celebrated on the 14th of Adar, but in walled cities it is the 15th of Adar (because Shushan was a walled city and the fighting lasted one day more than in the rest of Persia). Since Jerusalem is a walled city, we celebrated on the 15th (last Thursday evening-Friday at sundown).

All in all, these elements combine to make one heck of a party.

To begin…the mitzvot.

1. Mikra Megillah (reading Megillat Esther)
The reading of the megillah is typically done in a public communal setting, and Megillat Esther has its own trope (cantillation marks) different from the trope for chanting other books from Tanakh. Often times, the reading is combined with some sort of shpiel (play) reenacting the story. The mitzvah is to read and hear EVERY WORD of the chanting, so even though it’s a festive occasion, people are quiet during the reading itself to enable everyone to hear. Noah and I went to a megillah reading with Nava Tehila, and it was amazing fun:

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2. Seudat Purim (festive Purim meal)

A friend from Pardes invited us over for a meal on Friday which was absolutely delicious – sadly, no photos.

3. Matanot l’evyonim (gifts to the poor)

The commandment here is to give money to two people (enough money for each of those people to buy enough food to equal a meal for two people. So, in total, a minimum of the monetary equivalent of 4 meals). If you are from a community where Purim auctions are a frequent occurrence and you never knew why it always happened at that time of year…this is why! To give you the chance to fulfill this Purim-specific commandment. 🙂

4. Mishloach Manot (sending gifts)

My personal favorite Purim mitzvah…mishloach manot are small gifts packages given to other Jews. This mitzvah is the one most explicitly linked with uniting b’nei yisrael. Rather than being another gift to the poor, this gift is specifically supposed to be to someone that you know (or don’t know so well) but are connected to by your Jewish ties. The mitzvah is to give a mishloach manot to a minimum of one person. The gift package must contain a minimum of 2 foods that require a different bracha (blessing). Ie, there must be at least a food item representing at least two of the following categories: fruit, vegetables, bread, non-bread grain product (cakes, cookies, etc), food that doesn’t fall into one of the aforementioned categories. Noah and I put a clementine, chocolate, nuts, and hamentashen in our mishloach manot (3 food categories of brachot!):

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If you do these four things, you’ve fulfilled your religious obligation regarding Purim. But, if you want to have a REALLY GOOD TIME, then the following things are also essential:

Bake Hamantashen!!

Hamantashen are the iconic Purim food – triangular cookies traditionally filled with jam or poppyseeds (I’m partial to chocolate though, go figure!). There are varying opinions on the cookie’s symbolism, but they are generally thought to either represent Haman’s hat or ears (take that, Haman!). Noah and I made two types of hamantashen: apricot and chocolate peanut butter:

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This is the dough recipe I used, this is the apricot filling recipe, and the peanut butter/chocolate is – you guessed it! – just peanut butter and chocolate mixed together:

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yummmmm.

Get dressed up!

Part of the custom surrounding Purim is to get dressed up (yes, that means EVERYONE). This creates a very fun and socially acceptable outlet for adults to wear costumes. In Israel, during the weeks leading up to Purim, costume shops seemed to pop-up everywhere selling accessories of every kind. During Purim day itself (as well as the two or so days before) it seemed like almost everyone on the street was wearing some sort of costume. Experiencing this aspect of the holiday in Israel (ie, out in the streets as opposed to only one night inside a synagogue) was really an incredible experience:

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Noah and I got the main components of our costumes at the vintage-clothing store, Trumpeldor, in the Nachlaot neighborhood:

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We dressed up as Miss Scarlet and Professor Plum from Clue:

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GO OUT!!!

Perhaps one of the most famous Rabbinic passages is the Talmud is the instruction to drink on Purim ad lo yoda (until you don’t know) the difference between Mordecai and Haman. I have a whole dvar I would like to give you about how this is actually an instruction about utilizing the holiday to erase our judgements and preconceived prejudices against people, but I’ll save that for another time…

In any event, the connection between the holiday and drinking makes it one-heck-of-a street party. This is the shuk Purim night (first picture intentionally blurry for artsy effect…did it work?!):

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People are friendly and boisterous, as evidenced by these random guys who starting playing limbo with us:

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Of course, the Nachman Mashiach party van was out in force:

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Enjoy the Purim culture!!!

What an incredible opportunity it is to live in Israel where walking down the street I see chalk on the sidewalk referring to an upcoming Jewish holiday:

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Reads: Hag Purim Sameach (happy Purim). Presumably written by a child because the ‘mem’ is backwards.

Everyone is in costume, everyone goes out, everyone celebrates. Not only is it the ‘Jewish holiday in Israel’ effect, but this is also one of the relatively few Jewish holidays that has been fully embraced by secular Israelis and not only religious ones.

I guess it’s really not hard to see why…

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Chanukah in the Holy Land

Sufganiya: a filled doughnut, traditionally filled with jelly and enjoyed during Chanukah

Sufganiyot: plural form

Sufganiyot in Israel: a culinary event taking place during the month of Kislev when bakeries and eateries across the country make every variety of filled doughnut conceivable to man, all to be slowly savored, greedily gorged on, and reviewed time and again by journalists and civilians alike, hoping to finally, FINALLY determine once and for all who makes the best sufganiyot in this holy land.

From Roladin:

From Roladin

From English Cake:

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From Cafe Ne’eman:

From Cafe Ne'eman

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Yes, ’tis the season. But this year, no Christmas undertones or – as it were – overtones in my neck of the woods.

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And I have been a total sucker for participating in the mainstream holiday celebration.

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Noah and I bought this beautiful new menorah for our Chanukah in Israel…

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…and we’ve also been to some great Chanukah parties. In addition to sufganiyot, Chanukah is the holiday to eat all-things-fried (in honor of the miraculous event that the holiday commemorates when one cruse of oil lasted eight days). Party highlights included latkes (fried potato pancakes), delicious food, and a white elephant gift exchange.

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One of the parties was also a fried-food fest for the ages. Equipped with a boiling pot of oil, we proceeded to fry every candy, baked good, and vegetable we could get our hands on:

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At least some small piece of my yearning for the Minnesota State Fair has been satisfied:

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My favorite thing about spending the holiday in Israel has been being able to be feel – and take part in – the holiday excitement as part of an overall cultural and social climate. For example, gelt (lit: money, a chocolate version is often given as small gifts during Chanukah) shows up on your coffee and other treats…

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…hotels display chanukiyot for guests to light and see…

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…and people gather together in lobbies to share the joy of lighting the candles together:

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Tonight’s the eighth and final night of Chanukah, and I am definitely sad to see it go. I’m sure I’ll remember this Chanukah in Israel for a lifetime. 🙂

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A Final Note on Passover

Even though Passover ended last Tuesday night, I still have a few more recipes and dishes I want to share from the holiday. I already posted about matzah granola, charoset, brisket and tsimmes. Here a few more delicious recipes to round out the holiday…

Spaghetti Squash Kugel

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I used this recipe and it was delicious! This side dish takes a little extra time because you have to bake the spaghetti squash first, but with a little planning ahead it’s quite simple.

Matzah Pizza

A Passover classic, matzah pizza is quick, simple, and the pie with the crunchiest crust (harhar).

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Our matzah pizza used a very light layer of marinara, sliced tomatoes, fresh basil, and fresh sliced mozzarella.

Matzah Pie

Another classic, matzah pie is pretty much like matzah lasagna. I found inspiration for the recipe from this great cookbook I discovered last year through Noah’s mom:

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Like lasagna, you can stuff matzah pie with pretty much whatever you want. The cookbook had a recipe for a spinach and tomato matzah pie, but I modified and made something with dandelion greens, onion, tomato, tuna, and havarti cheese.
*full recipe below

First, take 3 slices of matzah and soak in warm water for three minutes. While the matzah soaks, saute 1/2 onion with 2 cloves minced garlic, half bunch dandelion greens, one can diced tomatoes, and one can tuna.

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When the matzah has soaked, remove it from the water and pat it dry. Then beat two eggs and dip a piece of matzah into the eggs (similar to french toast).

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Lay the egg-dipped matzah in the bottom of a casserole pan:

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Layer the vegetable and tuna mixture on top followed by shredded havarti cheese (you will need 6oz. shredded in total):

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Repeat this process again, ending with a final layer of matzah and cheese. Bake at 350º for 30 minutes or until cheese is melted:

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Tuna Vegetable Matzah Pie, serves 4-6
Ingredients
 - three pieces matzah
 - two eggs
 - 6 oz. havarti cheese, shredded
 - 1/2 onion
 - 2 cloves garlic, minced
 - 1, 15oz. can crushed tomatoes
 - 1/2 bunch dandelion greens
 - 1, 6oz. can tuna
 Method
 - soak the matzah in warm water for three minutes. Then set on a plate over
 paper towels to dry
 - saute chopped onion and garlic in olive oil
 - when onion starts to color, add chopped dandelion greens, tomatoes (with sauce),
 and drained tuna
 - cook until greens wilt
 - beat the eggs and dip a piece of matzah into the egg, coating on both sides
 - place the egg-dipped matzah piece on the bottom of a casserole dish
 - layer half of the vegetable-tuna mixture on top of the matzah and 1/3 of the cheese
 - repeat this step and then finish with the final piece of matzah and 1/3 of the cheese
 - bake for 30 minutes at 350º

Matzah Toffee

And finally, what’s Passover without some sort of dessert?! Like the granola recipe, this toffee came from Martha Stewart.

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The toffee was crunchy, chocolatey, and delicious…although perhaps a bit heavy on the butter. Nonetheless, it was a big hit with friends I had over for a Passover dinner.

Which brings me to the final point…Passover food can be yummy, but it is best enjoyed in the company of others. 🙂

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