My Mother’s Cranberry Jell-O Mold Recipe

Anyone who wonders about my fascination with mid-century frankenfoods need look no farther than my mother’s holiday recipe collection. This very 1960s New England side dish is a favorite in my family at Rosh Hashanah and Thanksgiving alike. A word of warning, learned from experience: off-brand (e.g. kosher) gelatins haven’t jelled as firmly as needed for a mold. (If you know the trick to make them work, please share in the comments.)There’s some debate in my family as to which flavor of Red Jell-O works best for the recipe, but I’m pretty sure we have used any number of flavors and it’s come out fine each time.

My mother's recipe card.

My mother’s recipe card.

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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

JewishBoston.com: Stuffed Cabbage (aka Holishkes): Edible Torahs for Sukkot

Originally published on JewishBoston.com.

Most Ashkenazi Jewish food traditions can be summed up with the sentence, “Our ancestors were poor, and this is what they could afford to eat.” Even so, it’s pretty incredible how creatively our forebears were able to construct themed dishes for the holidays that worked on a tight budget.

Stuffed cabbage — known in the shtetl as holishkes — are one such dish. They get paired with Sukkot in part because cabbage is in season now, and in part because two holishkes placed next to each other on a plate look a bit like Torah scrolls, and Sukkot culminates with Simchat Torah, our holiday celebrating the yearly cycle of reading our central text.

Previously on JewishBoston.com we’ve featured a vegetarian, Passover-friendly recipe for stuffed cabbage. For Sukkot, we offer a variation that’s not quite traditional, in that it eschews rice and ground beef, but offers a poultry and whole-grain version as one might expect in 21st-century liberal Boston.  Continue reading

JewishBoston.com: High Holidays 101

Originally published on JewishBoston.com.

Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) are collectively called the High Holidays (or, alternately, the High Holy Days). The entire 10-day period is referred to as the Yamim Noraim (literally “Days of Awe”) or Aseret Yamei Teshuva (“Ten Days of Repentence”).

Rosh Hashanah 2013 begins at sundown on Wednesday, September 4, and ends at dusk on Friday, September 6. (Some Reform synagogues observe only one day of Rosh Hashanah.) This year, we will be inaugurating the year 5774 on the Jewish calendar. The number comes from an understanding of the age of the earth articulated by sages in the Middle Ages.

created at: 2011-08-22Rosh Hashanah combines our joy at reaching another milestone with the solemnity of reflection about the year we’ve just completed. We eat sweet foods (such as apples dipped in honey) to emphasize our hopes for a sweet year. We alter our challah to be round (like the cycle of the year) and dotted with raisins (more sweetness), and have celebratory meals with friends and family. But we are also called upon to make an accounting of our souls (cheshbon ha-nefesh in Hebrew). We figure out what we might need to ask our friends to forgive us for doing and make resolutions to try better in the coming year.

Other Rosh Hashanah traditions include sounding the shofar, a hollowed-out ram’s horn, which serves as a spiritual wake-up call. Tashlich is a practice of tossing breadcrumbs into a moving body of water to symbolize throwing away our sins.

The period that begins with Rosh Hashanah and culminates in Yom Kippur is known as the Days of Awe, or the Ten Days of Repentance. Some use this time for deeper reflection–check out 10Q for an online tool for focusing your thoughts during this period. Tradition sets up Yom Kippur as a deadline for making amends with those we’ve wronged, so this period can also be a time of reaching out and asking forgiveness.

Yom Kippur 2013 begins at sundown on Friday, September 13. The evening service that opens Yom Kippur is often referred to as Kol Nidre, after the prayer said at the beginning of the service declaring that we are all fit to pray together, saints and sinners alike. This prayer’s emphasis on religious vows reminds us that on Yom Kippur, we can use a day of fasting and prayer to make right with God, but wrongs done to other people need to be addressed directly.

Fasting on Yom Kippur is supposed to allow us to fully concentrate on the meaning of the day. The sages described the Yom Kippur fast as not only abstention from food and drink, but also from sex, bathing and anointing (e.g. perfumes). Only those in good health and over the age of 13 are expected to fast. Fasting at a time that could put your health at risk is forbidden.

Whether you’re planning on spending three days in synagogue, hosting or attending a holiday meal, or taking this time of year to focus your thoughts about the year that’s passed and the year to come, JewishBoston.com has resources for you. Visit our Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur page for information about services, recipes, our High Holidays Idea Guide and more.

JewishBoston.com: What’s Jewish about Gay Pride?

Originally published on JewishBoston.com.

Last Shabbat, I was invited by Rav Claudia Kreiman to give the drash (sermon) at Temple Beth Zion in Brookline for the GLBTQ Pride Shabbat. She asked me to speak on the question of why gay pride is a Jewish concern. Here’s what I had to say:

Falsettos - Broadway PlaybillIn 1992, the summer before I started high school, I saw Falsettos on my second-ever trip to Broadway. For those of you unfamiliar with the show, it was the combination of two earlier, ground-breaking off-Broadway musicals by songwriter William Finn: March of the Falsettos, which told the story of Marvin, a Jewish man in his forties who had left his wife and son for a male lover, but who wanted a “tight-knit family” that included all of them; and its sequel, Falsettoland, in which Marvin’s son struggles with becoming bar mitzvah while Marvin’s lover struggles with the disease that would come to be known AIDS.

I don’t know that there’s ever been another show — or ever will be — that spoke so directly to me. A large part of that is simply that it’s the first time I can remember seeing gay lives portrayed, well, anywhere. I didn’t know any gay adults, and while I had an inkling that some of my friends might also be gay, none of us had yet spoken the words out loud to each other.

I’m just young enough to have missed Billy Crystal on Soap, and Tom Hanks in Philadelphia was still a year away; Ellen wouldn’t come out for another five years. So in 1992, gay boys who loved Broadway musicals had Falsettos, lesbians had newly out of the closet country singer k. d. lang, and that was it. The gays of Falsettos were Jewish – and I don’t just mean Jew “ish” – the opening number of the show is called “Four Jews in a Room Bitching,” which really sets the tone for how the rest of the show unfolds… that these characters’ sexuality and domestic struggles were wrapped in the familiar neuroses of my community intensified the resonance. Continue reading

JewishBoston.com: The Orange on the Seder Plate and Miriam’s Cup: Foregrounding Women at Your Seder

Originally posted on JewishBoston.com.

Just before we drink the second cup of wine in the Passover seder, we speak of three symbols considered indispensible to the holiday’s meaning: the shank bone, the matzah, and the bitter herbs. However, in many homes, other symbols are added to this section, from the egg (which sits on the seder place but has no formal mention in traditional Haggadahs) to olives (signs of peace) to oranges and cups of water.

Last year, we collaborated with Jewish Women’s Archive on a special edition of our Haggadah called “Including Women’s Voices.” Here’s the section I wrote for that Haggadah on the customs and significance of the orange and Miriam’s Cup.  Continue reading

JewishBoston.com: Fathers and Sons: A Special Blessing

Originally published on JewishBoston.com.

As Fathers Day approaches on the secular calendar, I find myself thinking about the traditional Jewish blessing fathers bestow on their sons. This tradition has its roots in a scene towards the end of the book of Genesis, in which Jacob says from his deathbed:

By you shall Israel invoke blessings, saying: “May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.” (Genesis 48:20)

Every Shabbat evening, Jews around the world bless their sons with the words “May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh,” fulfilling Jacob’s deathbed pronouncement from the end of the book of Genesis. I did not grow up with this particular tradition in my family, so when I learned about it, a question immediately sprang to mind: what’s so special about Ephraim and Manasseh that we pray to make our children like them? Continue reading