Sunday, April 15, 2018

Why Are There Two Holocaust Memorial Days?

Last Thursday, April 12, 2018, was Yom Ha-Shoah, Holocaust Memorial Day. But wait: Didn't we already have a Holocaust Memorial Day back in January?

In 2005, the United Nations in Resolution 60/7 designated January 27  to be International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a day to remember the genocide that caused deaths of 6 million Jews, 5 million Slavs, 3 million ethnic Poles, 200,000 Romani ("Gypsy") people, 250,000 mentally and physically disabled people, and 9,000 homosexual men. This day was chosen because it was the anniversary of the Allies liberating the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi concentration and death camp. Before that time, many nations had their own Holocaust Memorial Day, many of them on January 27 but many on other days. This is, as a friend of mine jokingly called it, Holocaust Memorial Day for the Goyim (gentiles).

The Holocaust Memorial Day observed in Israel and by Jews around the world, is called Yom Ha-Shoah (The Day of the Destruction). It was established by Israel in 1951 as 27 Nissan on the Jewish calendar, which puts it in April or May on the secular calendar. In 2018, Yom Ha-Shoah was April 12, or more accurately, the observance began at sunset on April 11 and continued through nightfall on April 12 because a Jewish day starts at sunset

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Veggie Pesach Recipes Collected in PDF!

After nine years of creating vegetarian and vegan recipes for Passover, I've reached the point where there are too many recipes to keep track of!

I have collected all 20 of the recipes I have posted in this PDF. I put in as many pictures as I have, but I don't have pictures for many of these recipes! There will be an improved version by the end of Passover with pictures from this year's cooking, too late for this year's use but available for year-round or for next Passover!

The PDF has bookmarks to take you to each of the recipes, and also has sections in the bookmarks to take you to the recipes that are specifically vegan or gluten-free, if that is your need. There is also a section in the bookmarks for the junk food recipes. (grin). The individuals will also say V at the top if they are vegan and GF at the top if they are gluten-free (and both if they are both -- some of them are!).

Friday, March 23, 2018

Very Veggie Pesach 2018: Broccoli-Almond "Meatballs"

Next week, I hope to post a PDF that collects all of my veggie Passover recipes in one place for your convenience, but I wanted to add one more new recipe for this year to bring the total number of recipes in the PDF to 20!

I've seen a number of recipes for vegetarian "meatballs," but a lot of them don't really have a source of protein, always a key consideration for me when creating vegetarian meals for Passover. A few of them used ground almonds to provide the protein. I experimented with a few variations, and this is the one that worked. I served my first successful batch with marinara sauce, but I think during Passover I'm going to try it with the sweet and sour sauce I used to use back in the day when I used to eat real meatballs (it's similar to the sauce for my stuffed cabbage).

This recipe is gluten-free and non-gebrochts (contains no matzah products), but is not vegan (contains eggs and cheese). The cheese probably could be skipped, but I think the egg is necessary to hold the balls together.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

How to Clean Your Chanukah Menorah

Chanukah starts at sunset tonight!

... so you may be facing the same problem that many people do at this time of year: how do you get all of the gunk out of your menorah (or chanukiah, as some prefer to call it)? If leave your Chanukah candles lit until they burn themselves out every night, as most people do, you are likely to have wax debris and wicks in the cups that hold your candles, and that makes it harder to get this year's candles into the menorah. Many years ago, a friend (thanks, Wally!) taught me a trick that makes it quite easy to get the gunk out!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Thoughts on the Solar Eclipse

On Monday, August 21, 2017, a solar eclipse will be visible to one degree or another across the entire continental United States. During a total solar eclipse, the moon passes between the Earth and the Sun, blocking our view of it. The Sun is 400 times the size of the moon, but the tiny moon is able to block our view of the much larger sun because the moon is much closer to us. Those who are in the path of totality and see the sun completely blocked by the moon are overwhelmed by the experience.

Life is like that too. Sometimes, dark things come up in our lives, and we are overwhelmed by them. The bad things seem enormous, insurmountable, but this is only an illusion caused by the fact that the bad things are so close to us. We must remember that the good things are still out there, perhaps at a distance for now but much bigger and more important than any of the small bad things temporarily block our view. If we look carefully, we can see the good things still out there, peeking out around the edges of the bad things, reminding us that they are still there waiting for us. The bad things will pass in time, but the good things will always be there for us, and will come shining through when the bad things pass.

Is this what the rabbis said about eclipses? Not in so many words, but I think it may be what they meant. The most commonly quoted passage is a parable from the Babylonian Talmud, Succah 29a, which says that an eclipse can be compared to a king who made a feast for his subjects, and placed a lantern before them. When he grew angry with them, he told his servant, "Take away the lantern from before them, and place them in darkness!"

So did  the rabbis think that solar eclipses were a random event signalling Divine anger at humanity? Clearly not, because the rabbis of that time knew astronomy well enough to create a mathematically calculated calendar that was literally 100 times more accurate than the one used by the Romans at the same time (the Julian calendar was off by about 6 hours a year, while the Hebrew calendar is off by less than 90 minutes in a 19 year cycle). I think the passage is an analogy similar to the one I made above: When the Divine is unhappy with us, the good things in our life are hidden from us and we are left in darkness. But the lantern is never extinguished, only removed, and the light will come back at the proper time.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Genetic Genealogy and the Ashkenazi Problem

Today is National DNA Day. DNA testing has become increasingly popular for genealogy purposes, and the Jewish community is no exception to this trend. This is clear from this year's IAJGS conference on Jewish Genealogy, which is boasting in-depth DNA workshops and has more than 20 lectures related to DNA on its schedule.

But DNA testing for genealogy purposes poses a special problem for Jews, often called the Ashkenazi Problem: Jews tend to marry Jews, and Jews who do not marry Jews tend to drop out of the Jewish community, and we have been doing that for so long in such a small population that we all tend to have a lot of DNA in common. The technical term for this is "endogamy," or in other words, inbreeding.  As a result, one study found that the average Jewish DNA tester matched 54% of all testers with any Jewish heritage! Compare this with gentile testers, who matched less than 1% of all testers with gentile ancestry.

But if you are Jewish and interested in DNA testing, don't give up hope! It is possible to make real connections with real relatives through DNA testing. One of my great-grandfathers (Joseph Spigler) had seven siblings, four of whom married and had children, and I have successfully identified DNA matches from three of his siblings! Although two of those matches did not appear until six months after I took my test, and I have had less success so far on other branches. DNA testing can be particularly valuable if you are from a family separated by the Holocaust (discussed further below) or by adoption (discussed further below). But you have to come into it with proper expectations, and you have to meet your relatives halfway if you expect to have any success. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

Very Veggie Pesach 2017: Stroopmatzot (Matzah Stroopwafels)

Stroopwafles ("stroopies") are a Dutch treat made by taking two thin, round, pizzele-like waffles and sticking them together with a layer of molasses syrup. They are commonly placed on top of a mug of coffee or tea like a lid, to keep the beverage warm and also heat up and soften the filling. The thinness of the waffles made me wonder, can you make this with matzah for Passover?