Thursday, March 29, 2007



Two things happened in the past few days which made me decide to write this particular blog. The first thing was an email from my cousin, Cynthia, who lives in California and who asked me what we do differently here in Israel to celebrate Pesach (Passover). And the second was phone calls from my friends, Myra and Brenda, who asked me for recipes for Haroset (a fruit and nut paste symbolizing mortar which we use during the Pesach Seder).

Myra and Brenda are both Ashkenazim - but they both wanted Sephardi Haroset recipes. That started me thinking about the differences - and the similarities. Actually - when you get down to it there is one big difference - the food. The Seder is the Seder - we all read the Haggada (the story of the Jews' exodus from Egypt). And while there may be minor differences in the text and in the translations - the story is essestially the same.

We read the first part of the Haggada - we eat - we read the second part of the Haggada - we sing the traditional songs - ve zehoo (and that's it). Well - some of us don't get to read the second part of the Haggada - but that's another story.

The first big difference is that here in Israel we only celebrate one Seder while Jews in the Diaspora celebrate two - except for Jews from the Diaspora who are only visiting here during Pesach - and then they have two Seders. (This is really getting complicated - I'll try to keep it to the basics.)

There are - mostly - Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews. The Ashkenazim come - mostly - from Middle - and Eastern-Europe and the Sepharadim come - mostly - from places like Spain, Morocco, Algeria, Kurdistan - all other places that are not Middle - and Eastern - Europe. Then there are the Yemenites and the Ethiopians - this is getting too, too complicated. Let's just leave it as Ashkenazim and Sepharadim for our purposes.

So - now to the food. Sepharadim eat rice during Pesach - Ashkenazim do not. Except for most of the Ashkenazim I know - including me - who have been here so long that we have also adopted rice as part of our Pesach diet. Of course - none of us eat bread and things made with flour that can rise - but some of us eat beans and legumes. Don't ask.

Ashkenazim traditionally eat hard-boiled eggs and salt water as part of the ceremonial foods - in my friend Marallyn's house they eat the hard-boiled eggs but with very salty boiled meat instead of the salted water. Her husband is Kurdi and that's their custom.

In America we did not ever eat roast lamb as part of the Seder - here we do. We never served tongue as part of the meal - here some people do. When I was studying with the noted Italian cookbook author and teacher Edda Servi Machlin ("The Clasic Cuisine of the Italian Jews") - she invited me to their Seder one year and their traditional main course was a meat loaf made of ground veal.

Ashkenazim traditionally serve gefilte fish - sweet for the Polish Jews and salt & pepper for the Russian Jews - and Sepharadim eat "chraime" - fish poached in a spicy tomato sauce. And in Edda's Italian family they ate cold poached fish in aspic.

Asheknazi Haroset is traditionally made with ground walnuts, apples, cinnamon and sweet wine. I had actually never even heard of any other way to do it until I moved here. In looking through my cookbooks last night I found Haroset made with dates, apricots, silan (date honey), walnuts, sesame seeds, almonds,cardamon and cloves - in various combinations -and cooked - from the other communities.

I'll be having Seder with Shosh and Gaby - Ouri and Devora's "mehutanim" (the parent's of their son's wife). Shosh is from a Polish family and Gaby is Egyptian. Gaby makes "kubbe" - a deep-fried delicacy usually made from a dough of burghul wheat and stuffed with ground meat. For Pesach the "dough" is made from ground rice - remember - no wheat.

Oh - I forgot one big difference - the melody used to sing the "vier kashes" (Yiddish) or "arba she'elot" "Hebrew) or "four questions". In fact, when Marallyn and I were trying to remember the melody of the four questions we sang in North America - we couldn't - and we had to call her Mom to remind us of it. There used to be a cartoon strip here that was titled "You've been here too long if......" I think I've reached that point.

And for my non-Jewish readers - especially my loyal "Jungle Mom" in Venezuela - who doesn't understand half of what I say but bravely reads on anyway - the title of this blog "MA NISHTANA....." are the first words of the four questions - "Why is this night different from every other night?" And it is
different - but it's also the same for all of us - each celebrating in our own ways. Pesach Sameach - Happy Pesach. Have I confused you enough?

Stay Safe.


Monday, March 26, 2007



For the past several weeks the first question you ask when you meet someone is not - "How are you?" - but rather - "Do you know what you're doing for Pesach?"

Except for only twice over the past thirty years - more or less - I have spent Pesach with Ouri and Devora and their kids - and sometimes my extended family (the Cohens and Sklars and Steins from England and Scotland) and with Ouri and Devora's extended family - the Nagars from Ramat HaSharon - and close friends like Irit from Givatayyim. Even when Devora was living in the States as visiting Professor of Jewish Studies at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania Ouri came over for Pesach and we had Seder with my friends Alan and Jess in New York.

Once during all that time I had Seder with my cousins Dizza & Pazzi and Aya & Amihud (not because I don't love them but because Pesach belongs to Devora and Rosh HaShana belongs to Dizza) - and once with Myra and Arnon at Arnon's brother and sister-in-law's Dudu & Rochele.

This year was going to be somewhat different. Ouri & Devora decided to opt out of Seder - Ouri had a "juk b'rosh" (a cockroach in the head - a bee in his bonnet) - and decided that Pesach wasn't for him this year. Dizza & Pazzi are going off to Crete - so what was I going to do?

Well, my gentle readers (shades of Victorian novels) - there are times I think that despite my Jewish-soap-opera life I am really one lucky lady. In answer to "What are you doing for Pesach?" - when I replied "I'm not sure yet" - the invitations began to pour in. From Ros and her daughter Atanya to Atanya's mother-in-law's house where they always have Seder. From Roz to be with her family. From Brenda to be with her family. From Myra and Arnon. From Marallyn.

And in the end - because Ouri has gotten rid of his "juk" - I'll be - as usual - with Ouri & Devora and the Nagars (O & D's "mechutanim" - a word for which there is no English equivalent - it means the parents of a child's spouse). And I'll be thinking of all my friends who invited me - and because of whom I know I'll never be alone on a holiday.

So - now begins the countdown to Pesach. Yesterday I bought all the "had pa'ami" (one time use) containers to transport the food I'm making. Today Ros and I are going to a Pesach food and gift fair - who knows what we'll find? Tomorrow I have to go to the shuk to order my fish for gefilte fish and buy the dried fruits for the compote - what's Pesach without compote? And then I have to buy all the bits and bobs for the rest of my contributions - nuts and eggs and chocolate chips and matza meal and matza cake flour and potato flour - and... and...and...

I'll keep you posted on how it's all going. The truth is we all complain about how much work there is to get ready for Pesach - but the truth also is that we love it - the continuity - the connection - the fact that never ever in my life have I ever not gone to a Seder - preparing the same traditional foods - and being with friends and family. And the truth also is - I'm glad I live in Israel because here we only celebrate one night of Seder!!

Stay Safe.


Friday, March 23, 2007



Today is Friday - so Marallyn and I went out for our usual Friday morning breakfast. We ate at one of our usual favorite places. And then we went to our usual favorite museum.

Favorite museum? Yes - the MEGA supermarket in The Mall. I don't know about you - but when I travel I go to supermarkets. They tell you how people live - what they eat - how their lives differ from mine. And I also like my own supermarkets - there is always something new. Not like the days of old in Israel when you had a choice of white cheese or yellow cheese. Red wine or white wine. Romaine lettuce or Romaine lettuce!

{By the way - my favorite supermarkets to date are the Akmerkaz in Istanbul; Tesco's in Prague; C-Town in Amman; and the food halls at Harrod's in London and KaDeWe in Berlin.)

So there we were in the cleaning supplies aisle because I decided that I needed to buy toilet bowl disinfectant. You know - those little thingies that you hang from the rim of the toilet bowl to keep it fresh. There used to be one choice (see above). Today you have many choices. Here's how the conversation went:

Rena: Look at all these choices -what should I buy? Here's one at 3 for NIS 20.90. But here's another for NIS 14.90 for 1. I want to try it out - I'll just buy one.

Marallyn: What do you want it to smell like? Afarsekim (peaches)?

R: Nah - not peaches in the bathroom.

M: Here's one that looks nice - take that.

R: OK - but how does it work? (This one was really complicated - it not only had a written explanation on the back of the package - it also had three pictures!! Three pictures to explain a toilet bowl cleaner?)

M: How does it work? You just...... Wait a minute - you just push this thingie in...... No - you just pull that thingie out......

R: Never mind - I'll take the three for 20.90 - but I really don't want to spend 20.90.

Now - you have to understand that NIS 20.90 is about $5.00 - for three - not exactly an exhorbitant amount.

M: It's not diamonds - it's only 21 shekels - if you don' like it you'll throw it out.

And so I took the three for 21 shekels.

During this whole production there was a very nice-looking man standing next to us. I noticed him in passing and thought he was also trying to decide what to buy. Not at all - because as soon as I decided what to buy he walked away. As we left the aisle I walked one way and Maralyn walked the other (that's also a private joke - don't ask) - and as she turned around to look for me she and the man locked eyes - she shrugged - and they both smiled - and Marallyn and I began to laugh.

We couldn't stop laughing - we were helpless with laughter. Two smart ladies, well dressed, bright - and having this absolutely serious conversation about how to work a toilet bowl thingie.

I wonder what he told his wife when he went home. Is he laughing as much as we are?

Stay Safe.


Tuesday, March 20, 2007



If you read my blog on Sunday you'll know that today I was scheduled to visit another MELABEV day-care center for those suffering from Alzheimer's and other dementias. It was, again, a traumatic day for me - but so uplifting that I had to write about it.

The center I visited today is located in Pisgat Ze'ev - part of Jerusalem but a long way out from the center of town. This is a purpose-built center - unlike our other centers which are housed, for the moment, in whatever appropriate space we can find - unused bomb shelters - the basement of a synagogue - any place we can call "home".

The center in Pisgat Ze'ev houses both English and Russian-Speaking groups. The Russian group is, for the most part, very highly educated and also relatively high-functioning - and it's that group which had me disolved in tears.

The people are still quite aware of what is going on around them - and kept asking the regular workers who we - Ida and I - were. I was asked to say a few words - in Hebrew - about who we were and why we were there - and Nili translated into Russian. At the end of her translation one of the Russian women asked to speak. She told us that in Russia she had been a cardiologist. Now she is in Israel - a member of MELABEV - and said "if it weren't for MELABEV I would be lying in the ground".

When she finished speaking her friend, who was sitting next to her, wanted to speak. She had been a teacher in Russia and said "at home no one smiles at me - here everyone smiles all the time".

I was smiling - through my tears. We all hugged and kissed each other and as I told them I didn't speak Russian they spoke to me in Yiddish - shades of my Mom and my Grandma.

Here, too, the workers - and volunteers - are saints. Angels. Women of Valor. And right up there with them belong the Fillipino and Fillipina (male and female) "metaplim" & "metaplot" (caregivers). Many of the people in Israel who can no longer care for themselves employ caregivers. You have never seen such devotion between people - the caregivers and those being cared for. Many of the caregivers have learned to speak Hebrew - how strange to hear them saying "heenay, Mami - tochlee" - (here, sweetheart - eat).

Yes - there are still lots of things we haven't quite gotten right here in Israel - our terrible driving record for one - but I am so proud of what we are doing for our elderly. Mind you - we at MELABEV can only take care of a small percentage of the people who need our help - but, boy, we are really doing something right.

Stay Safe.


Sunday, March 18, 2007



After ten years of suffering my Mother z"l died five years ago of the effects of Alzheimer's.

She suffered - we suffered - and while it was better for her when she no longer knew who my brother, David, and I were - that's when we suffered the most - when our Mother no longer knew who David and I were.

And there are thousands upon thousands of people in that position - both the people who are afflicted and their loved ones. And for the people who are able to keep their family members at home there is really no respite without groups like MELABEV. Alzheimer's is a twenty-four hour a day punishment - for everyone.

Some years ago I was invited to sit on the Board of the Friends of MELABEV - an organization which runs day-care centers in Jerusalem and Bet Shemesh - a suburb of Jerusalem - for those afflicted with Alzheimer's and other dementias. I wanted to refuse - to decline their request - but how could I? I didn't want to be reminded of the sad time of my Mother's life - of her descent into - well, nothingness is the best way to describe it. I didn't refuse.

Of course, every organization today needs financial help as the government has cut budgets drastically. Our task is to raise money and awareness of who we are. One of the ways we raise money (the good old-fashioned Yiddish word is schnorring) is to run a Virtual Dinner - or as our invitation says "Virtual for Us but Real for Them". We raise money for a "Dinner" - but not the usual Dinner where we get all farpitzed (dressed up), go to a hotel, have a festive meal, listen to speeches, listen to more speeches and go home feeling good about ourselves because we've contributed to a worthy cause.

We raise money and spend it all on the people we want to help. No - you don't go to a dinner. We use the money we raise to run our day-care centers - and to provide a festive meal for the men and women attending our centers. Once a year - just before Pesach - we provide a special lunch or brunch for each of our nine centers - complete with sing-alongs and visiting musicians.

Today was the day for Bet Shemesh. As we do each year - four of us from the Board drove to Bet Shemesh and helped to provide a morning of fun and good food. Shoshana - who runs the center - and her helpers - all volunteers - volunteers mind you - are angels. Saints. Women of Valor. I cannot begin to describe to you just how wonderful and loving and caring they are. They prepared the food - we all helped to serve - and afterwards the singing began.

I started to cry. I left the room. I could see my Mother in each woman's face. Beautiful, once active and vital women. Mothers. Sisters. Wives. Daughters. Grandmothers. I wept. I was so sad. But - I was also happy to be able to share something lovely with them. And not all of the people at the centers are old - that - for me - is an even greater tragedy. They never had the time to finish living their lives. But thanks to the incredible compassion and generosity of the volunteers they can live out their lives with grace and love.

A very sad/happy day, indeed. And on Tuesday we will go to the centers in Jerusalem - and laugh and cry all over again.

Stay Safe.


Thursday, March 15, 2007



I was really going to write about something else today - but I just had to tell you of the most wonderful meal I had last night at a restaurant in the "shuk" (market) last night.

When I began shopping at Shuk Machane Yehuda - "the shuk" - more than thirty years ago - it was simply a place to buy good, fresh vegetables, fish, meat, cheeses, appetizings - all kinds of foodstuffs -- unpaved lanes - no covering overhead so that when it rained it rained on you - a bit scruffy if the truth be told - and not particularly frequented by foreign Ashkenazim like me.

Over the years it has been "upgraded" - the streets have been paved - most of the market has a roof now - there is a (very expensive) parking lot leading directly into the shuk - there are some fabulous food stalls - and more recently clothing boutiques and fine restaurants have begun to open. And after all these years I speak Hebrew and I'm as comfortable paying for something in shekels as in dollars --- in the beginning I just pointed to what I wanted and then held out a handful of money for the vendors to take - not a way to live.

So - last night the two R's - or one Rosaline and one Rosalyn (you know them as Roz & Ros) - and I decided to eat at "Tzachko" - arguably one of the best and most fun restaurants I have ever eaten at - and that's really saying something. Let's be real - I've eaten great food - and not so great food - at places ranging from grotty roadside stands in small towns in India to Michelin three-star restaurants - and I'm a real foodie - so I know whereof I speak.

Tzachko is an unpretentious place in the back of the shuk-Iraqi - another section of the market - you have to know where it is to know that you've arrived. The name is actually over the door - the inside door - so that only once you've entered do you know you are there. We were there.

It has a menu which changes daily - and anything can be ordered as either starters or main courses - do what you want. So we did. We ordered seven dishes - from all sections of the menu - had the waiter put everything in the middle of the table - and then we began to "fress".

There is good bread served with little dishes of sea salt, mustard and oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping. And when I asked the waiter if I could have the "neshika" - what we call in Yiddish the "shtreitchikal" - or simply the heel of the bread - that's what I got. Here's what we ate - gnocchi with a pumpkin sauce - lamb kebabs on a bed of eggplant and tehina - goose liver pate with fig jam served with a baby lettuce salad and gorgeous heavy black bread - eggplant on a bed of the most delicious creamy tehina (we love eggplant and tehina if you hadn't guessed) - spicy merguez sausages on a bed of deep-fried onion rings - fresh sardines filled with almonds and swiss chard, breaded and lightly fried - and a "laffa" (sort of a thin focaccia) accompanied by various dips and spreads.

In addition - good wine, reasonably priced - rich non-bitter espresso - great service - a warm buzzing happy ambiance - a perfect evening. And - it's kosher!! Not that I care, mind you - but it was only when Ros asked for milk for her coffee and our waiter said that the restaurant was kosher - that I realized that it was. Interestingly - I didn't notice one "kippa" (yarmulke - skull cap). Which just goes to prove that "kosher" doesn't have to mean heavy, middle-European, greasy food swimming in some sort of unidentifiable gravy.

Eli Mizrachi (who owns the place) and his family have been in the shuk for years. I drink coffee and eat light lunches at his Cafe - I buy my dried fruits and nuts at his brother's stall - and now I eat at my new favorite restaurant - Tzachko. And - in the interest of full disclosure - I did like the fact that he recognized me as a patron of his cafe!

Now - back to my diet.

Stay Safe.


Saturday, March 10, 2007



Do you remember the little poem we used to say as kids? Well - we used to say it as kids --

Da spring has sprung,
Da grass has riz,
I wonder where da flowers is.
Da boids is on da wing - absoid,
I tought da wing was on da boid.

Yesterday - early Friday morning at about 7:00 - Marallyn and I spoke on the phone - and almost at the same moment we began to recite the poem.

And then we realized - spring is almost here. We hadn't been going out for our usual Friday morning breakfast of late - not with any regularity anyway - it was too cold, it was too rainey - we couldn't sit outside under the pergola at our favorite breakfast spot - "Angel's" in Nayot - winter is a time to dig in and stay warm and dry.

And then we noted - the sun was shining - it wasn't bitter cold anymore - it was a day to sit outside and breakfast. And so - "achat, shteim" (one two) - we quickly dressed and by 9 o'clock I picked her up and off we went.

And when we got there - lo and behold - others had had the same idea. The tables were set up under the pergola - people were sitting outside and enjoying the morning - spring had truly arrived.

Our adorable waitress - who hadn't seen us in months - came running over to our table - and asked - "The usual?" We hadn't been forgotten.

So - spring is here. We'll begin Daylight Savings Time at the end of the month. We're beginning to empty out our refrigerators and freezers so we can start anew for Pesach. We're beginning to discuss at great length what we'll cook for Pesach - ridiculous when you think about it as we do the same things every year anyway. Tradition, you know.

And before we have time to realize it Pesach will be here - and Yom HaZicharon (Remembrance Day) and Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) and - finally - a day to celebrate - Yom HaAtzmaut (Israeli Independence Day).

Have a happy spring.

Stay Safe.


Tuesday, March 06, 2007



To paraphrase my friend, Cecelia - who wasn't too thrilled with her trip to India but has had second thoughts upon her return - "we saw cows and monkeys and camels and cows and sarees and elephants and cows and forts and cows and palaces and cows". And cow dung - lots of it. The cow is holy - you know the expression "holy cow" - this is where it must come from. The cows have right of way - always.

I wore my Crocs - those funny looking shoes made of some sort of resin - which are washable. They got washed every night when we came back to the hotel!

It's so strange to be in a city - a big city like Delhi or Mumbai - and to see cows walking in the streets. In Varanasi - which is a very holy city - there are almost more cows than people. I remember walking down a street and talking to Myra - but looking the other way - and I said to her, "Myra, please stop pushing me ". But it wasn't Myra - it was one of the cows - who didn't want to stop pushing me. And me a big city girl at that. What do I know from cows?

In India you go from the sublime to the ridiculous - you traverse centuries in the course of one day. Yes - there is extreme poverty and there are places that are not too clean - is that a diplomatic way of putting it? Especially when you are talking about walking down a street and always - but always - looking down in order to avoid the cow dung. But that same cow dung is used to heat the houses in the small villages we drove through. The dung is formed into patties, left to dry, and the resulting patties are formed into (very pretty) towers in the yards and used as fuel for the stoves and ovens. The same dung is also mixed with paint and used to paint houses. Definitely not our way of life - but it works.

And then you walk into the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai - I always use their restrooms when I am in the neighborhood (a good travel tip - their restrooms are clean and elegant and the hotel is most gracious about strangers coming in for that purpose) which is the height of luxe and modernity and elegance. Walk in the front door - opened by the most fashionable doormen I have ever seen - turn left - walk past the Louis Vuitton display - turn right - up the stairs - and there you are.

We rode in all sorts of conveyances - our ultra-modern Mercedes Benz 9-seater, air-conditioned, 4-wheel drive vehicle -- yes - I know there were only five of us but we do like our comforts. We rode in tuk-tuks - a 3-wheeled vehicle - with handle bars instead of a steering wheel - no doors but a roof - holds three comfortably but I have actually seen 15 people riding in and on it. We rode in bicycle-driven rickshaws and in the yellow and black un-airconditioned Fiat taxis whose meters are so out of date that you have to multiply the amount on them by 14 times the rate shown.

The only conveyance I didn't ride in was a palanquin - a chair affixed to two poles and carried on the shoulders of the men who trudged - countless times a day - up and down 120 very steep and uneven stone stairs to get to the Elephanta Caves. Not because I had anything against being transported by humans in such fashion but because my friends were going by foot and I decided to join them. I was not a happy camper - expecially when I had to walk down - and up - more stairs to get to the loo.

See what I mean about traveling through the centuries in one trip?

Stay Safe.


Sunday, March 04, 2007



I wanted to post a note telling you all I was going off to India, but my computer decided - for a change - to stop functioning. Not to worry - my trusty CM (computer mumche) came to the rescue when I got back and put it all to rights. Actually - it's not his fault - I switched servers and television cable companies - and the whole thing went kerflooey. And all because my original cable provider, HOT, threatened to discontinue BBC Prime and I couldn't have that so I switched to YES. But the computer was linked to HOT and the HOT technicians disconnected the computer - nasty nasty people - and it took forever to get it all together again. And to add insult to injury HOT decided to keep BBC Prime in the end!!

So back to my trip to India. It was my fourth trip there - my third with my friend Myra - sans Arnon this time. There were five of us - all women. Don't even ask. I have to say though that on the whole the trip was fine - and interesting - and fun - and I now know more about some of these women than I ever wanted to know - or needed to know. Who complains - who is cheap - who is generous - who is "gameesh" (flexible) - who is a swift pain in the butt - which ones I will never travel with again - the list goes on. After all - FIVE women!! But all in all - I'd do it again - only with some men next time as leavening.

Haven't you noticed? I have. When I serve on a Board of some organization and it is mixed - men and women - there is almost no infighting and sniping. Women tend to personalize everything.

Anyway - we flew to Mumbai - went to visit the Hare Krishna Temple between planes - nothing like not wasting any time - then flew on to Varanassi and then on to Delhi - where we picked up our car and driver and spent the next few weeks driving to Agra and Fatehour and Jaipur and Pushkar and Ajmer and Jodphur and Jaisalmer and Osian and Ranakpur and Udaipur and then flew to Mumbai and then home. By the way - all those "-purs" are in Rajasthan.

Distances are vast in India -we spent hours and hours on the road - but we had a fabulous driver who really knew the country well - and loves his country - and he took us to see all sorts of places that weren't even on our itinerary. He even took us to his home to meet his wife and to have some tea and cookies. Salaries are very low in India - most couples have no more than three children - usually two - so that they will have the money to educate them. Education is very important - many of the drivers, in fact, are very highly educated. And all of our guides were college graduates - many were already lawyers or studying law.

And the icing on the cake - my friend, Cecelia from Rochester, New York - was in India at the same time as we were and we managed to meet up twice during our travels. However - she found the country boring - a word I would never use in relation to India. The one thing we never were was bored. Cold? Sometimes - the weather was unusually cold and rainey for this time of year. Wet? Sometimes. Exhausted? Often - we ran from morning to night...our choice as we wanted to see as much as possible. But bored? NEVER.

I'll tell you more about the trip as time goes on - the fabulous Temples - the moving ceremony at Varanassi - the Kashmiri wedding we were invited to - in the meantime

Stay Safe.


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