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entries tagged with: Chanukah


Fairway food expert to discuss ‘a life-giving substance’

Lois GoldrichLocal
Published: 11 December 2009

How would you describe your neighborhood grocer? Chances are — if you think of him at all — you picture an unremarkable sort of guy, responsible mainly for keeping your local store stocked with the few items you deem essential.

Steven Jenkins — author, cheesemonger, and food buyer for Fairway Markets since 1980 — set out to change that drab stereotype.

According to Jenkins, once dubbed the “enfant terrible of the fancy food business” by The New York Times, a grocer “is one of the most important persons in life, right up there with your doctor or mate.”

“The grocer sanctifies every edible substance that comes into your house,” he said, adding that food experts “need to be autodidacts. You can’t wait for someone to fill you up with food knowledge.”

Steven Jenkins

Grocers need to realize the large responsibility they have and read whatever they can, he said, noting that in 1975 he decided to become “the best cheesemonger the world has ever known.”

“It happened,” he said. “I made my reputation as a master cheesemonger.”

The first American cheesemonger inducted into France’s Guilde des Fromagers and a partner as well as buyer for Fairway, Jenkins has a particular fondness for olive oil, which he describes as “endlessly fascinating.”

He welcomes the opportunity to share that enthusiasm, and on Dec. 16 will visit Temple Beth Or in Washington Township to lead an olive oil tasting.

“If people don’t consider olive oil the most important substance in their larder, they are making a fundamental error,” Jenkins told The Jewish Standard, noting that while there are three schools of cooking — characterized by the fat they use — “we adhere to the school of cooking that involves olive oil because not only does it have endless fascination and variety but it’s good for you. It’s a life-giving substance.”

At the Beth Or Chanukah event, attendees will be able to sample seven to nine different olive oils, partnered with three prepared food dishes.

The high-profile grocer, credited with introducing the world “artisanal” into the modern food scene, said his wife uses olive oil for everything and that that it “absolutely” can be used to make potato latkes.

“There’s no such thing as the ‘best’ olive oil,” he said. “One need only determine whether strong flavors are appealing or not.” He pointed out that when you heat olive oil, “it neutralizes all the interesting things about it, its organoleptic properties, so it doesn’t really matter.”

Jenkins — a regular food commentator on television who has been named one of the 25 most important people in the history of the American specialty foods industry by Gourmet Retailer in it 25th anniversary issue — says that given olive oil’s variety of fragrances and nuances of flavor, “it’s every bit as complex as any other foodstuff in the entire realm of gastronomy.”

Jenkins said Fairway grocers are “idiots savants as regards foodstuffs. That’s why we’ve attained such a lofty rank. Our customers know we’re devoted to the foods we import and develop.”

He pointed out that while olive oil comes from all over the world, its home is “the Mediterranean base from Israel to Spain. We’re students of Mediterranean history and cuisine,” he said, adding that not only does he do “voluminous” reading and research for his own writings but requires his staff to do reading as well.

Jenkins, who majored in theater at college, said that while his grandmother was a great cook and his grandfather a great gardener — he had a tomato named after him in Columbia, Mo. — “beyond the enjoyment of food, I had no earthly idea that I would became what I am today.”

He joined Fairway in 1980, “importing whatever thrills you and writing the copy for everything.”

The author most recently of “The Food Life,” a behind-the-scenes look at Fairway, the New York-based chain that recently opened a store in Paramus, Jenkins says artisanal food is “made by people, not by big factories and machines. It has a connection to people, land, locale, and supernatural things, like air and sunlight, that make it wonderful.”

For information about the Beth Or program, e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or visit the synagogue’s Website,



Lois GoldrichEditorial
Published: 12 December 2009

Heroes or rabble-rousers?  The real story of the Maccabees

A Bernard Picart copper plate engraving circa 1730 depicting the Maccabees. Public Domain

In 165 BCE, a group of warriors led by Judah Maccabee and his band of brothers ushered in a new era in Jewish history when they routed the soldiers of the Greek-Syrian empire and rededicated the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

That victory, and the miracle of the menorah that followed, is celebrated every year by Jews around the world at Chanukah.

But if the same thing had happened today, would contemporary Jews hail the Maccabees as heroes?

The place in Jewish history of the Maccabees — a nickname for the first members of the Hasmonean dynasty that ruled an autonomous Jewish kingdom — is much more complex than their popular image might suggest.

“Historically it was much more complicated, as there were Jews on both sides,” Jeffrey Rubenstein, professor of Talmud and rabbinics at New York University, said of the Maccabee uprising. “Nowadays, historians look at the conflict more in terms of a civil war than a revolt.”

The holiday’s traditions obscure some of the history of the conflict.

Judah Maccabee, the hero of the Chanukah tale, died in battle a few years after his temporary victory, and several years before the Hasmonean kingdom came into existence. That mission was accomplished years later by his brothers.

“They didn’t win the decisive victories, and the whole thing dragged on,” Rubenstein said. “But once they did succeed, the Hamsoneans didn’t restore the status quo [ante] — they took over the priesthood.”

At different periods of history, the Maccabees and their descendants have been reviled by their fellow Jews, not revered. The Pharisees, whose teachings became the tenets of traditional Judaism, considered them to be usurpers. To the Essenes, a mysterious sect of Judaism believed to have thrived on the Western shores of the Dead Sea, they were wicked.

“My guess is that most liberal Jews today wouldn’t necessarily get along with the Maccabees if they showed up again,” said Rabbi Jill Jacob, the rabbi in residence at Jewish Funds for Justice.

“Even those of us who are regularly active in Jewish life may find it hard to identify with Matityahu, the leader of the Jewish revolt, whom the first Book of Maccabees depicts as killing a Jew who sacrifices to a pagan god,” she wrote in an essay about the meaning of Chanukah.

Jacobs argues that Jews should be aware of the complicated history, though they do not have to be bound by it.

“In redefining Chanukah, each generation considers anew the questions of assimilation and ethnic identity, the tension between Judaism as a religion and the Jewish people as a nation,” she wrote.

Many Jews in ancient times also had their reservations regarding the exploits of Judah Maccabee and his brothers.

In the first centuries of the common era, the Jewish sages of Mesopotamia sought to minimize the Maccabees’ significance in the Chanukah story. These scholars of the Babylonian Talmud focused instead on the miracle of the menorah oil, emphasizing the divine element of the story over the military victory of the Maccabees.

Richard Kalmin, chairman of rabbinic literature at the Jewish Theological Seminary, says the rabbis’ irreverent treatment of the Hasmoneans was based on the concerns of their era.

“The rabbis were competing with a class of wealthy local Jews over influence,” Kalmin said. “The stories of the Hasmoneans portrayed them as aristocrats, therefore entitled to be in a position of respect.

“However, the rabbis of Babylonia thought studying the Torah was more important. One of the ways in which they fought for their values was to engage in propaganda portraying the progenitors of the Hasmoneans as not coming across too well.”

Largely as a result of this, the festival of lights for centuries focused on the miracle of the oil. Then, in the late 19th century, the Zionist movement revived the cult of the Maccabees. The story of Chanukah, which evokes images of warrior Jews fighting for independence, mirrored their own ambitions, and many early Zionists considered the holiday more important than Sukkot or Rosh HaShanah.

“The early Zionists could use the Maccabees as an example of Jews who took matters into their own hands, as opposed to the shtetl Jews,” Jacobs said.

Stories like that of Elazar, the youngest son of Matityahu, who was martyred in a suicide mission to kill a Greek-Syrian general, grew in popularity.

Not coincidentally, Elazar is now the name of a west bank settlement named in honor of the young Maccabee.

Rabbi Jacob Schacter, senior scholar at Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future, suspects attitudes toward the Maccabees may be changing again.

“In post-Zionism, there’s been some cooling of ardor for the Maccabees,” Shacter said. “I suspect that if the Zionist narrative is under scrutiny, then I believe that one’s attitude toward the legacy of the Maccabees would be contingent upon the perspective of Maccabees as a whole.”

Whichever way one sees the Maccabees, it is hard to imagine what the Jewish people would have been like without them, or whether they would have survived at all, Rubenstein suggested.

“Perhaps Judaism would have turned out more like Christianity without the Maccabees,” Rubenstein said. “The other cultures of the region, such as the Edomim and the Nabateans, got assimilated into the Roman world.

“Judaism was constantly being Hellenized throughout the period, even under the Maccabees. They adopted Greek coins, names, and customs. But is it going to compromise your fidelity to the Temple? That’s where they drew a line in the sand.”



Marking the line between church and state


Oy, Chanukah

Published: 26 November 2010

Schmaltzy history

A nostalgic look at fats for frying latkes

Linda Morel
Published: 26 November 2010

Fat may be a dirty word now, but we can chart the history of American Jews through the fats they’ve used to fry their Chanukah latkes. Early immigrants relied on goose fat, which was replaced by chicken fat, which was eclipsed by Crisco, which was replaced by olive and canola oils.

Latkes over time have been fried in all of these, says Jane Ziegelman, author of “97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement.” That five-story brick structure, is the home of the New York Tenement Museum.

The book is a pushcart of information about what immigrants ate during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Two of the families Ziegelman profiled were Jewish.

From 1900 to 1910, more than 1 million Jews immigrated to the United States, mostly from modern-day Ukraine, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, and Belarus. Many of them settled in the tenements on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, crowding into unventilated apartments that lacked adequate kitchens and running water.

Ashkenazi homemakers there often obtained cooking oil by rendering or frying goose skin, which liquefied globules, large and small. This created a yellow oil called schmaltz, a succulent delicacy that was strained to separate the crispy and delicious skin from the fragrant fat.

“In the Lower East Side tenement kitchen, the luxuriousness of goose fat elevated the most prosaic ingredients,” Ziegelman says in the book. “Potatoes, onions, and fat — the Jewish cook explored every conceivable permutation of these three ingredients. The more fat, the fancier the dish. The most extravagant of all was latkes, potato pancakes, fried in sizzling pools of goose fat.”

The Jewish cook also used goose fat for braising, enriching, moistening, seasoning, and baking. She sometimes mixed it into pie crust and rugelach dough, making it possible to serve the pastries with meat meals. She fried onions in this fat and spread the dripping slices on rye bread.

Warming, satiny, and with a faintly nutty aftertaste, goose fat imbued foods with a pleasing heaviness that’s now considered a liability to dieters and the cholesterol conscious. But for our poor and calorie-deprived ancestors, goose fat was a virtue, enhancing kugels, cholent, and tzimmes.

“Fat was considered a luxury to be cherished,” Ziegelman said. “It was believed to be nutritious. Frying was a demonstration of wealth and bounty.”

The height of decadence was frying latkes in goose fat, a cooking method that traveled here with Ashkenazim from the Old Country.

The 19th-century Jewish homemaker brought her reliance on geese and its byproducts to the Lower East Side, where she continued her traditional role as a poultry farmer. She raised geese in tenement yards, basements, hallways, and apartments, transplanting a rural industry to the heart of urban America — much to the chagrin of sanitary inspectors.

“At Chanukah, goose was the centerpiece,” Ziegelman said, explaining that goose farms were at their busiest at that time of the year.

Restaurants put up signs: Goose liver is here. This was a once-a-year gourmet treat on menus, something cherished by Ashkenazim.

But in the 20th century, as modern methods of chicken breeding improved, goose fat lost its place of prominence on the Jewish table. The smaller, more economical chicken, and its rendered fat, took the place of goose fat as the lard of choice among Jews.

Rendered chicken fat has the most incredibly delicious smell, unlike any other cooking aroma, Ziegelman said. When speaking with those over 60, she adds, they rave about the memory of the sizzling fat filling their childhood kitchens.

Latkes fried in rendered chicken fat made the Jews swoon, too. But poultry fat was diminished by the invention of scientifically engineered cooking fats derived from vegetables. The new hydrogenated fats had many brand names, such as Spry or Flake White.

But the most famous one was Crisco, a product introduced by Procter and Gamble in 1911. This non-Jewish company soon recognized the value of Crisco to kosher cooks. A pareve product, Crisco could be incorporated into both dairy and meat recipes. Many Jewish women began frying latkes in Crisco.

In 1933, Procter and Gamble published “Crisco Recipes for the Jewish Housewife,” a promotional cookbook available in English and Yiddish.

“It represented the demise of poultry fat as a Jewish staple, bringing to a close a millennium of culinary tradition,” Ziegelman said.

Today’s makers of latkes often rely on olive oil, canola oil, corn oil, peanut oil, or other healthier fats. The thought of rendering poultry fat is not appealing to many home cooks.

Ziegelman, however, raves about the flavor of chicken fat, claiming everyone should try it at least once before passing judgment. She is planning to start baking with this lush golden fat.

“Chicken fat isn’t one of the evil fats — not like beef fat or butter,” she said, explaining that it has about half the saturated fat as butter.

Registered dietitian Lisa Ellis agrees that chicken fat contains nearly half the amount of saturated fat when compared to butter. Surprisingly, chicken fat is also higher in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats — the healthier fats.

“While chicken fat is a better choice than butter, it still is an artery-clogging fat,” said Ellis, who in her kosher home cooks primarily with olive and canola oils.

Ziegelman would agree that chicken fat is not in the same class as olive oil.

“But on a sliding scale, it’s on the good side,” she said. “This is the moment to bring back schmaltz.”

Chicken Schmaltz


Recipe developed by Linda Morel


5- to 6-lb. chicken (For a larger yield, ask your butcher for additional chicken skin and fat, which he is likely to have on hand, as many people now purchase skinless chicken.)


1 cup of chicken skin and fat (from a 5- to 6-pound chicken) reduces to about 1/2 cup of schmaltz.


Cut off the chicken’s wings and reserve. Slide a sharp knife under the skin on the breast and lift it. With your fingers, pull the skin from the meat. Tear off as much skin as possible, in sheets. Place skin on a cutting board. Using the knife, cut away any remaining skin from crevices. Cut off clumps of yellow fat that stick to the meat and place it on the cutting board. (Use the skinned chicken and wings for other purposes, such as chicken soup.)

Cut sheets of skin and fat into 2-inch squares.

Place skin and fat in large deep pot, preferably non-stick. Heat on a medium-low flame, stirring often. Oil will begin oozing from the skin almost immediately. Reduce flame to low and fry for about an hour, until the fat globules melt entirely and there’s nothing left of the skin except cracklings (called gribenes), which are incredibly delicious. Cool chicken fat to room temperature.

Set a fine sieve over a bowl. Pour schmaltz through the sieve. Use immediately or refrigerate for up to 2 days.

Latkes the Old-Fashioned Way

(Meat or pareve)

Recipe developed by Linda Morel

Yield: About 16 latkes


A box grater


1 small onion

6 large baking potatoes

1 egg, beaten

2 tbsp. flour, more if needed

Kosher salt to taste

6 tbsp. schmaltz or olive oil (more if needed)


Finely chop onion and place in a large bowl.

Scrape skin from potatoes and rinse them under cold water. Pat dry on paper towels. Over a platter, grate potatoes on the coarse side (not the slicing side) of the box grater. To avoid cutting fingers or ruining your manicure, grate only one-half to two-thirds of each potato. Save the remainders for other purposes, such as soup or potato salad.

Place the grated potato in the bowl with the onion. Add the egg and mix contents together with a fork. Sprinkle in flour and mix again. Add a little more flour, if the batter is too wet to stick together. (However, it should be a moist batter.)

Heat the schmaltz or olive oil in a large skillet on a medium flame. With your hands, form potato batter into pancakes 2 1/2 inches in diameter. Using your palms, flatten the pancakes and squeeze out any excess water that may have drained from the potatoes.

Place latkes in oil and fry until the bottom side browns. Flatten latkes with a spatula as they sizzle. Flip latkes and fry until the second side browns. Add more oil, if needed. Turn a few more times, until the center is cooked through and the outside becomes dark brown and crunchy. Drain on paper towels and serve immediately.

Fried Onion on Rye Bread


Recipe from “97 Orchard Street: An Edible History Of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement,” by Jane Ziegelman

Yield: 2 servings


1 yellow onion

4 tbsp. goose or chicken fat

2 slices of rye bread

Crushed black pepper, optional

1 hard-boiled egg, optional


Lightly sauté onion, thinly sliced, in goose or chicken fat. Spread cooked onion on good rye bread. Season generously with crushed black pepper. For a more substantial snack, top with sliced hard-boiled egg.

Fried Chicken Livers


Recipe adapted from “97 Orchard Street”

Yield: 4 servings as an hors d’oeuvre


1 lb. chicken livers

1 cup seasoned bread crumbs

4 tbsp. schmaltz or vegetable oil (more if needed)


Rinse livers under cold water. Place on paper towels to drain. Cut off fat globules and discard. Slice large livers in half. Place bread crumbs on a plate a little at a time, as needed. Roll livers in bread crumbs.

Heat schmaltz or oil in a large skillet on a medium-low flame. Fry livers in oil until the bottom turns golden brown. Should oil splatter, reduce flame.

Turn livers and fry the second side until livers turn golden brown. Do not overcook or livers will dry out. Serve immediately.


A kosher Chanukah meal in minutes

Published: 26 November 2010

Chanukah, O Chanukah — it’s one of my favorite times of year, and certainly one of the busiest!

I host several parties, because you know how it goes: Aunt Jenny won’t come if Uncle Oscar is in the room, and Scott isn’t talking to Heather, and Barbara won’t bring the kids if Steve is coming. You have to check your opinions on politics and religion at the door with your coat (that leaves only sports and weather).

So there is at least a party a night before the week is out. That’s a lot of cooking.

You may not believe that I don’t like to cook, being that I am a cookbook author (the “Quick & Kosher” cookbook series), run a kosher food blog (, and host an online cooking show (“Quick & Kosher with Jamie Geller”). The fact is, I wrote my first cookbook, “Quick & Kosher: Recipes from the Bride Who Knew Nothing,” precisely because I needed easy recipes that would get me out of the kitchen fast. Once I had a sizable collection — and learned how to turn on my oven — I wanted to share my beginner’s expertise with the hungry, waiting world.

I’m not pointing any Freudian fingers here, but the truth is that my mother never cooked. It was my grandparents, immigrants from the Old Country, who showed me that there are other ways to get food besides dialing a phone. (They didn’t have phones in the Old Country, so they had to cook.) In fact, Mom’s folks were professional chefs who ran a terrific little restaurant in Philadelphia.

They fried up our latkes year after year — the kind of latkes that would be gone before the tray reached my end of the table. It never occurred to me that I could learn, but Chanukah miracles continue to happen, even in my own kitchen.

I’ve learned a thing or two — enough to write a second cookbook (“Quick & Kosher Meals in Minutes”) — while I juggled a career and four children under the age of 5. I learned to cook great food in a fraction of the usual time, and I love sharing my tips with other busy people.

For those planning a Chanukah bash, my goal is to keep you calm and confident while thoroughly versed in prepping the customary fried and dairy treats.

I’m not an expert at explaining those customs, but here goes.

Take the fried foods — specifically the noble potato pancake, or latke. The main miracle of Chanukah was that the supply of sacred oil needed for the golden menorah of the Holy Temple (when it was re-sanctified by the Maccabees) was only enough to last one day, yet it burned for eight. So we fry Chanukah foods in oil. In Israel they do doughnuts, called sufganiyot, and they are a little piece of sugar-coated heaven.

The dairy thing goes back to one of the gorier stories of the Jewish victory. Suffice it to say that a clever woman used abundant dairy cuisine to lull a certain Greek general to sleep, then promptly dispatched him over the River Styx, or wherever dead Greeks go. To celebrate her triumph, we favor dairy meals (but I wouldn’t go to sleep right afterward; you never can tell).

So whether you’re rejoicing over energy-efficient oil, the guts of a smart woman, the smarts of a gutsy woman, or the fact that Scott and Heather are talking again, it’s time to party. You’ll need lots of good food, and I’m here to provide the shortcuts to culinary success with or without a miracle.

When you want to pull out all the stops, try this Chanukah menu that I pirated from my new book. It’ll look like you slaved all day — but you don’t have time for that.

Quick & Kosher Chanukah Menu from Jamie Geller (serves 6)

Samosa Latkes

Bombay Salmon with Jasmine Rice

Persian Cucumber Salad

Mango Cardamom Shortcakes with Ginger Whipped Cream

Samosa Latkes

Prep: 15 minutes. Total: 40 minutes.


3 baking potatoes, preferably russet, peeled and shredded

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed

1/4 cup matzoh meal

2 large eggs, beaten

1/4 tsp. curry powder

1 tsp. kosher salt

1 cup canola oil

Sour cream for serving

1 (10-oz.) jar chutney, any variety


Line a cookie sheet with paper towels.

In a large bowl, mix together potatoes, onion, peas, matzoh meal, eggs, curry powder, and salt.

In a large nonstick sauté pan, heat 1/4 cup oil over high heat until shimmering but not smoking, about 1 minute. Ladle about 1/4 cup batter per latke into the hot oil, spreading batter to form a 3-inch round. Make 3 latkes at a time. Reduce heat to medium and cook for 4 minutes on each side, until latkes are golden. Remove from oil and place on paper towels to drain.

Continue making latkes, three at a time, until all of the batter is used. Add oil to the pan as necessary, heating oil after each addition before adding more batter.

Serve with sour cream and chutney.

Bombay Salmon with Jasmine Rice

Prep: 8 minutes. Total: 40 minutes.

A salmon steak is cut across the fish to form a slice containing the bones. A filet is taken from the side of the fish, leaving the bones behind.


1/4 cup olive oil

6 (10-oz.) salmon steaks

1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1 tbsp. kosher salt, divided

1 tbsp. canola oil

1 medium onion, coarsely chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 cube frozen crushed ginger

2 tsp. curry powder

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp. ground cardamom

1/4 tsp. turmeric

Pinch ground cloves

1 (14-oz.) can coconut milk

1 cup jasmine rice


Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Place a 7-by-9-inch ungreased baking pan in the oven.

Rub 1/4 cup olive oil all over salmon steaks and season with pepper and 2 teaspoons salt. Set aside.

In a medium saucepot, bring 2 cups water and remaining 1 teaspoon salt to a boil over high heat.

In a medium sauté pan, heat 1 tablespoon canola oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in garlic, ginger, curry powder, cinnamon, cardamom, turmeric, and cloves. Mix well and cook for 1 minute more. Slowly stir in coconut milk and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes.

Add rice to the boiling water. Reduce heat to a slow simmer. Cover and cook for 20 minutes.

While rice is cooking, remove the baking pan from the oven. Place salmon steaks on the pan and return it to the oven. Immediately reduce heat to 300. Bake for 20 minutes or until fish flakes with a fork.

Plate salmon steaks and spoon the sauce over top. Serve with jasmine rice.

Persian Cucumber Salad

Prep: 4 minutes. Total: 10 minutes.


3 Persian cucumbers or 1 English cucumber

1/3 cup red wine vinegar

1 tbsp. honey

1 tbsp. minced shallots

2/3 cup olive oil

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1 small red onion, halved lengthwise and sliced

1/2 cup golden raisins


Quarter cucumbers lengthwise and slice them into 2 1/2 -inch sticks.

Place red wine vinegar, honey, and shallots in blender or food processor. With the blender or processor running, slowly add olive oil. Add salt and pepper.

In a large salad bowl, toss cucumbers, onions, and raisins together. Pour dressing over salad and serve.

Mango Cardamom Shortcakes with Ginger Whipped Cream

Prep: 10 minutes. Total: 55 minutes.

Chilling the dough makes it easier to roll out and helps the glutens relax so the dough is not tough. Lining your baking sheet with parchment paper makes clean-up a snap, helps food color more evenly, and prevents food from sticking.


2 cups flour

1 tbsp. sugar

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. ground cardamom

5 tbsp. shortening

2⁄3 cup whole milk

Flour for kneading

1 cup heavy cream

1 tbsp. confectioners’ sugar

1/4 tsp. ground ginger

2 mangoes, pitted, peeled, cut in 1/4-inch cubes


Preheat oven to 450. Line a jelly-roll pan with parchment paper. In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and cardamom.

Using a pastry cutter or a fork, cut the shortening into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal.

Add the milk and mix together just until combined.

Turn out onto a floured board or work surface. Knead until a dough is formed, about 2 minutes, adding flour as necessary to keep it from being too sticky. Be careful not to knead too much or shortcakes will be tough. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or overnight.

Roll out dough with a rolling pin to 1/2-inch thickness. Cut into rounds with a 2 1/2 –inch-diameter biscuit cutter or glass.

Place shortcakes on prepared pan and bake for 10 minutes.

Whip heavy cream with confectioners’ sugar and ginger until soft peaks form, about 2 minutes.

Transfer shortcakes to a serving platter. Split each shortcake in half horizontally and distribute the mango among the shortcakes. Top each with whipped cream.

Recommended wine: Hagafen White Riesling

The fried latkes and the flavors derived from the medley of spices in the sauce for the salmon steaks require a versatile wine.

JTA Wire Service

Jamie Geller is the author of “Quick and Kosher Recipes from the Bride Who Knew Nothing” and its sequel, “Quick and Kosher Meals in Minutes from the Bride Who Knew Nothing.” To learn more recipes, visit Jamie’s blog at


At the Knesset, a candle for the Russian Jews

Sue Fishkoff
Published: 03 December 2010
The author after a day’s work at the kibbutz gas station in August 1982. Courtesy Sue Fishkoff

It was December 1982, and my kibbutz ulpan had just been invited to light the Chanukah menorah for the Israeli Knesset.

The Israeli army was deep in the heart of Lebanon, the Cold War was raging, talks with the PLO were years away, and Israel was feeling both isolated and feisty. Freedom from oppression was the theme for that year’s holiday, and my six-month work-study ulpan program had been chosen for this annual honor because we had so many students from countries where Jews were being oppressed.

There was 18-year-old Ahuva, from Aleppo, whose jaw had been broken by Syrian border guards when she was caught during her first escape attempt. She made it out the second time — on foot.

There was 19-year-old Daoud, now David, and his twin brother, Ofer, who grew up Muslim in Beirut and only learned they were Jewish that summer, when their Israeli-born mother revealed her heritage, divorced her Lebanese husband, and dragged the twins to Israel as its army poured across their border.

We had the three French boys in the class: Charlie from Morocco, Michel representing Tunisia, and Didier, whose parents were Algerian.

There was a student from Iran who fled after the fall of the shah three years earlier. Another student claimed Egyptian ancestry — good enough for the Knesset — and one young man from Glasgow also would light a candle, presumably in the name of Scottish independence.

I might argue that the student from Paris who refused in class to use the Hebrew word “olah,” or “ascend,” to describe her move to Israel, on the grounds that any departure from Paris could only be a descent, also was living under oppression. She just didn’t know it.

The only thing we were missing was a student from the Soviet Union. The Iron Curtain had shut tight in 1980, few new immigrants were arriving, and we were some years away from the great exodus of the early 1990s. Not a single Boris or Natasha to add to the mix.

Then I let slip that I spoke Russian. And my grandparents were from Ukraine — sure, they arrived in 1906 and 1912, but our ulpan teacher was eager to seize upon any connection, however tangential, to clinch that Knesset deal.

She renamed me Sonia Pitchkopf and instructed me to prepare a short speech to deliver, in Russian-accented Hebrew, as I lit my candle.

After the laughter died down in class, I realized the enormity of what I had signed on for. This was no Purimspiel. This was the parliament of the Jewish state, and here I was, tasked with pulling a fast one over on men and women, some of whom certainly spoke Russian, or at least were capable of sniffing out a ruse of this magnitude.

As I began writing my speech, I thought back to my first trip to the USSR. My Russian class from Cornell landed in Leningrad on Dec. 31, 1975, and as so often happened with Jewish visitors from the West in those years, I found myself in a Jewish apartment within hours of my arrival, plucked out of the crowd by a young Jewish member of the Komsomol group sent to greet us.

The table was spread with a lavish repast — mushrooms in cream sauce, pickled vegetables, carrot salad, all kinds of smoked fish. I learned later how long the family had scrimped to put together that holiday meal.

People crowded around me, eager to ask questions about America. Was there really so much street crime? What did people think of the pullout from Vietnam? Had I ever been to Israel? I had stars in my eyes, so excited was I to be in the forbidden land of Cossacks and Bolsheviks, the center of such rapt attention.

Then two young men dragged out a book and thrust it into my lap. It was an English-language edition of the Encyclopedia Judaica they had opened to the page on Chanukah. One of them pointed to a drawing of the nine-branched Chanukiyah and asked me to explain its use.

Thinking he was joking, I smiled. These were university-educated people. This was the 20th century. He had to be pulling my leg.

He wasn’t. And I’ll always remember my shock and sadness as I realized it.

So here I was, on my Israeli kibbutz, purporting to masquerade as people whose pain and isolation were so very real? I couldn’t do it. I wouldn’t.

My ulpan lit the Chanukah candles that year on the floor of the Knesset building in Jerusalem. And when my turn came, I was Sue Fishkoff, not Sonia Pitchkopf. And I lit in the name of my own grandparents, free in America, and in the name of the five young men I had met that night in Leningrad.

Two of them already were living in New Jersey. The others were still in Leningrad, now St. Petersburg, as late as 1996, the last time I visited them.

And my ulpan friends called me Pitchkopf for the rest of the year.

JTA Wire Service


Doughnuts, draft dodgers, and sexy paranormalists

JERUSALEM – Here are some recent stories out of Israel that you may have missed.

Dough for doughnuts

It’s hard to hate Elie Klein of Beit Shemesh, even though he’s been chowin’ down on sufganiyot without gaining a pound.

Israel under the radar

As of Sunday, the still-slender Klein, 30, has raised more than $4,000 for three dozen charities just for eating the Israeli doughnuts — 39 of them.

Via his Facebook page, Klein has asked family and friends in Israel and abroad to donate a certain amount per sufganiya he munches. He has raised more than $100 per puffy fried confection for 37 causes.

The gorging mitzvah grew out of a friendly rivalry among several friends to see who could eat the most sufganiyot, a traditional Chanukah food. The sponsors decide where the pledges go.

Klein, who had a doctor check him out before starting the sufganiyot marathon, told The Jerusalem Post that he’s been balancing his goodies by having plenty of salad. He told Ynet that he is “blessed with a crazy metabolism” and has not gained any weight yet as a result of his binging.

Draft-dodging women caught on Facebook

Memo to Israeli women: If you claim to be religious to avoid army service, don’t update your Facebook status on Shabbat. And don’t post photos of yourself in immodest clothing.

The Israel Defense Forces is using the social networking site to help catch draft-dodging women and reportedly has nabbed 1,000.

Military investigators looking for women who lied about being religious to evade mandatory army service have found young ladies posting photos of themselves in immodest clothing, dining in non-kosher restaurants, and responding to invitations to parties taking place on Friday night.

Some 42 percent of Jewish women in Israel do not serve in the army — 35 percent of them signed a declaration that they are religiously observant. The army has 60 days to challenge the declaration, according to The Jerusalem Post.

Israeli men at 18 and finished with high school are required to serve three years in the Israeli military; women are required to serve two years.

Recharging their batteries

Israelis will soon see electric cars on its roads, imported to test battery recharging stations at several sites throughout the country.

Better Place, a company based in California and Israel, was granted permission by the Minister of Transportation to import 13 Renault Fluence electric cars to test the stations. The cars are set to be approved soon for marketing in Israel for 2011, the Israeli business daily Globes reported, making Israel one of the first markets for vehicles with a quick-change station, where the vehicles can pick up a freshly charged battery for immediate use.

Sexy entertainer

One of the sexiest men alive, at least for the year 2010, lives in Israel.

Israeli paranormalist Lior Suchard was named to People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive list for 2010 representing his age group, 28, on the Sexy at Every Age list of 100 men.

“I still can’t believe that I’m on the list; I’m in shock,” Suchard, who is performing his Uri Geller-esque act in Las Vegas, told Ynet. “I got all sorts of text messages from people telling me that I’m in the magazine, so I immediately ran to the store to buy it.

“On the one hand I’m a little embarrassed, but on the other hand this is very exciting. It was never my goal to be on it, but it is definitely cool to be included.

‘Traffic Light’ passes Emmy muster

“Ramzor,” an Israeli sitcom about three longtime friends and their romantic relationships, won the International Emmy Award for best comedy.

The Emmy was awarded Nov. 22 in New York at an International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences ceremony.

“Ramzor,” which means “traffic light” in Hebrew, defeated entries from Thailand, Mexico, and Britain. It was selected as a finalist by a panel of 700 judges from 50 countries.

Earlier this year, the Fox network bought the rights to the show, which is being called “Mixed Signals” and is scheduled to air starting in February. The American version will be written by Bob Fischer, who wrote the Fox TV series “Married with Children” and the film “Wedding Crashers.”

Russia also has purchased rights to the show.

The Hebrew version will be aired in several other countries, including Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Georgia, Ynet reported.

“Ramzor,” which airs on Israel Channel 2 and is owned by its franchisee Keshet, is taping its third season. Its second season was among the top 10 most watched shows of 2009, with 23.7 percent of Israelis watching.

‘Sex and the City,’ Israeli style

Casting has begun for an Israeli version of the hit HBO series “Sex and The City,” Ynet reported. The series will follow the lives and loves of three 30-something gal pals. The four American women lived in New York; the three Israelis will live in Tel Aviv.

Ynet reported that young Israeli actress Neta Plotnik has been tapped to play the Carrie Bradshaw character made famous by Sarah Jessica Parker, a Jewish actress.

Two episodes will be filmed as the Globus Corp., which is producing the series, searches for a broadcasting contract.

On the Oscar shortlist

The Israeli documentary film “Precious Life” has been shortlisted for an Oscar.

“Precious Life,” the story of a sick Palestinian child in Gaza and his mother’s efforts to get him the care in Israel that he needs to survive, is up against 14 films for one of five spots to vie for the Best Documentary Film award at the 83rd Academy Awards in March.

The film, by award-winning Israeli TV reporter Shlomi Eldar, who is making his documentary directorial debut, has been screened at festivals around the world in recent months.

JTA Wire Service

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