JewishBoston.com: Judaism 101: Sukkot and the Opportunity for Change

Originally published on JewishBoston.com.

Most of our holidays commemorate specific events: Passover recalls the exodus from Egypt, Hanukkah the rededication of the Temple following a military victory against the Greeks, Yom Ha’atzmaut the founding of the modern State of Israel, and so on. But Sukkot is different. Sukkot reminds us of the time between the Exodus and our ancestors’ entry into the promised land of Israel.

created at: 2010-09-21Jews remember this time of wandering in the dessert by building temporary dwellings, little booths called “sukkot” (singular: sukkah) from which the holiday draws its name. As with most Jewish practices, there’s wide variety in how people interpret what it means to “dwell” in the sukkah during the week. Some people eat big meals in their sukkot. Others will only eat in a sukkah and refrain from eating anything more than a snack outside of one. Some people will sleep in their sukkot as well, which can either be super fun or cold and miserable depending on your location and the vagaries of the weather.

Because the holiday is eight days long (including its concluding days of Simchat Torah and Shemini Atzeret), there are lots of other rituals and customs for Sukkot. There are the “four species,” aka the lulav and etrog, the former being a palm frond lashed together with a willow branch and a myrtle branch, the latter being the lemon-like fruit better known as a vodka flavor. Each day of the holiday (except Shabbat), these plants are held together and waved in all directions (north, south, east, west, up and down) during services in a rite that feels as old as religion itself. On the sixth day of the holiday (known as Hoshanah Rabbah), the willow branch is removed and beaten to a pulp in an act symbolizing beating our whatever last remnants of sin made it through Yom Kippur.  Continue reading

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JewishBoston.com: Shamefully Simple Tzimmes

Originally published on JewishBoston.com.

tsimmes, photo used under CC license from Flickr user Edsel LittleTzimmes is an Ashkenazi specialty generally associated with Rosh Hashannah due to its sweetness. There are as many variations on tzimmes as there are Jews, but the common threads are that it’s a sweet dish made from carrots and whatever else you want to throw in. A common version is “tzimmes with flanken,” featuring short ribs to add a meaty savor.

Tzimmes has a reputation for being a big pain in the neck to make — so much so that the phrase “to make a tzimmes” is synonymous with “to make a big deal” out of something. But my family’s recipe is so simple, it’s almost embarrassing to call it a recipe. Even so, it’s delicious and is always a hit when served at holiday meals and potlucks. Better yet, it freezes well and reheats even better.

And since my tzimmes relies on sweet potatoes, an autumnal vegetable if there ever was one, it’s perfect for Sukkot, our fall harvest festival. But honestly, I serve it year-round.

2 large (29 oz.) cans of cut sweet potatoes or yams
2 15-oz. cans of carrots (I like canned whole baby carrots)
1 frozen kishke, thawed (feel free to substitute vegetarian kishke)
Maple syrup and cinnamon, to taste
Optional: raisins, prunes or other dried fruit

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Drain most of the liquid out of the cans of vegetables, then mix the vegetables in a casserole dish. If you’re including dried fruit, add it now. Add liberal amounts of maple syrup and cinnamon. Toss to coat. Slice kishke, laying rounds across the top of the casserole to cover. Bake for 45 minutes, or until the kishke is browned and the casserole is bubbling.

Tzimmes photography used under Creative Commons license from Flickr user Edsel L.