Learn by doing.
Hands On Jewish Holidays
When I was a new mother I needed to step up to the challenge of transmitting Judaism to my kids. Much of what I found around me was not very inspiring. I needed to come up with creative ways to engage them. Here is a compilation of how we immersed ourselves in the Jewish holidays. We are all children at heart. I hope these recipes and activities inspires you to engage with the Jewish holidays in a creative and meaningful way.
The important thing is the process, not the end product.
Why The Shofar is Cool
Did you know that the shofar is over 4000 years old? It was used by the Ancient Hebrews for ceremonial purposes. Because it was not considered a musical instrument, its design has remained unchanged. The shofar is the only instrument from the time of the Temple that is still used in Jewish ritual today.
A Crypto-Jewish Honey Cake
The secret Jews of Mallorca have been celebrating Rosh Hashanah surreptitiously with a cake called an 'ensaïmada' since 1492. The word 'saïm', derived from the Arabic 'shahim' (fat), means “lard” in Catalan.
Jews arrived in the Balearic Islands more than 1,000 years ago. They imported the tradition of baking sweet rolled yeast cakes, called 'bulemas', from the Middle East. Traditionally, bulemas were made with sheep's milk butter. After 1492, butter was replaced by lard and the Crypto-Jews of Majorca renamed the bulema. They called it ensaïmada, which means, “with lard”.
A Love Potion for Tu B'Av
Tu B’Av, the Jewish holiday of love, is believed to be a fortuitous time to find one’s bashert, or “soulmate.” Throughout history, people have tried to help move the process along by concocting love potions. Here is a Jewish Kabbalistic recipe written by Elisha ben Gad of Ancona in his book Tree of Knowledge published in 1535.
The Bar Kokhba Revolt
The Bar Kokhba revolt took place from 132 CE to 136 CE. Jews of the Judaea Province, led by Shimon bar Kosiba (also called Simon Bar Kokhba), rebelled against Emperor Hadrian. Bar Kokhba occupied Jerusalem and was responsible for many casualties among the Roman troops. The result of this uprising was the creation of an independent State of Israel.
Algeria had an ancient Jewish community, dating to the 1st Century CE. Many Sephardic Jews fled to Algeria from Iberia following the expulsion of the Jews from Spain and Portugal in the 15th Century. These Western Sephardic Jews baked what I think is the most beautiful matzah for Passover.
Write “Israel” as Written by a Pharaoh: in Hieroglyphics!
The son of Rameses II, Pharaoh Merneptah, had the word “Israel” inscribed in hieroglyphics on a Stele, or monument. This 3,228 year old inscription is the oldest mention of the People of Israel ever found. It was discovered in Thebes. It says:
“Canaan is captive with all woe.
Ashkelon is conquered, Gezer seized,
Yanoam made nonexistent;
Israel is laid waste, bare of seed.”
Israeli Passover Chocolate Roll
When the Israelites left Egypt more than 3,300 years ago, they were in a bit of a hurry and didn’t wait around for their bread to rise. Observant Jews still commemorate their exodus by skipping the leavening during the eight days of Passover. Regular flour is not used in food preparation for fear that it may have come into contact with water, thereby activating the rising process. I see baking without flour made from grain as an opportunity for creativity. In that spirit, here is an Israeli recipe that complies with the special rules of Passover.