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how-to Judaism

How-to Judaism June 24, 2015

How To Make Awesome Challah (even if you hate to bake)

Regular readers and those who know me in real life know that I’m hardly the domestic goddess. Yet, I must modestly confess that I make a mean challah. The reason I would like to share my challah tips with y’all is this: I don’t make ANY food unless it’s EASY. I don’t have the time, interest, or talent. So if challah wouldn’t be EASY I wouldn’t make it. It’s actually that simple. People have all these intimidational fears of challah and frankly I just don’t know why. You don’t even have to separate eggs.

Uncategorized May 4, 2014

How to Cook Shabbat Dinner in One Hour

Inspired by the popularity of my post on How to Clean for Passover in One Day, I decided to tell y’all how I cook for Shabbos in an hour.  Because I’m all about saving time and getting out of the kitchen.  A friend of mine recently told me I am doing the Jewish world a service by standing up there and admitting that I don’t like to cook, so of course I’m all about doing a mitzvah, benefiting others, yada yada.

So hear this now: I’m Jewish, I’m religious, I’m the mother of a large family, my husband is even a rabbi, and I DON’T LIKE TO COOK.  I’d much rather go for a walk with someone I love, or even like; read something really interesting; socialize with friends; or play a game with my kids.  For those of you that love the patchke, you may click right away from the page with no hard feelings at all.

And yet I cook Shabbos food pretty much every week and love to host guests.  Here’s how I do it:


Homemade challah
Partially homemade gefilte fish
Homemade matza ball soup
Roast chicken
Grilled vegetables
Pareve ice cream dessert


There’s a secret.  You have to prepare the challah dough in advance.  And you have to do shopping in advance.  And not everything will be homemade.


(I’ve only included the things you’re unlikely to have on hand.)

  1. yeast
  2. loaf of frozen gefilte fish (I don’t find the brand matters much; I shop the cheapest brand)
  3. chicken, for the soup and for the main
  4. any bottled salad dressing or sauce
  5. veggies for the salads and roasted veg dish
  6. matza ball soup mix
  7. pareve ice cream or sorbet for dessert
  8. net bag for your chicken soup


Throw the following into a bowl:

  • 1.5 Tbsp yeast
  • 2 c. warm water
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 c oil
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 7-8 cups flour
Mix well and allow to rise by covering with saran.  Leave overnight in fridge, or on counter for a few hours.
Estimated time: 10-15 minutes.
  1. Start by mixing up your matza ball mix according to package directions and put in fridge to firm up.  Estimated time: 5 minutes.
  2. Next, peel all the veggies for your roasted veggies and for the soups (I like onion, carrots, sweet potato, celery, and squash in my soup).  Throw your veggies for the soup in a large pot along with the chicken.  I put the chicken in the bag for easy removal.  Fill pot with water to the top, season with salt, pepper, dill, and whatever else you like.  Put it up to boil.  Estimated time: 10 minutes.
  3. Next, clean your chickens and arrange in a nice dish.  Pour some bottled dressing or sauce (any will work) and put in oven for two hours uncovered at 350.  Estimated time: 10 minutes.
  4. Now, take your gefilte fish, unwrap it from both the plastic and wax paper, and transfer to a loaf pan partially frozen.  Spray or brush the top with olive oil and sprinkle with lemon pepper or any seasonings.  Put it in the oven for two hours.  Estimated time: 5 minutes.
  5. Next, arrange your roast veggies in a pan.  I drizzle with two tablespoons olive oil, basil, rosemary, kosher salt, and freshly ground pepper.  Put in oven for two hours.  Estimated time: 5-10 minutes.
  6. Now prepare your salads.  I can’t put a time on this; it all depends how you like your salads.  I sometimes do the salads just before dinner anyway, so I’m going to leave it out of the equation.
  7. Now deal with your challah.  I have instructions for that here.  Not counting rising time, this should take 10 minutes, depending on how fancy you get with your braids and how new you are at it.  Estimated time: 10 minutes.
  8. Take your matza ball mix out of the fridge and form into balls.  Fill a pot with water and bring to a boil.  Drop in matza balls and allow to cook.  Estimated prep time: 5 minutes.
  9. The rice is super-fast because I have a rice cooker.  I throw the rice in there with water, a little oil, some soy sauce and frozen veggies, and just turn the thing on.  But before I had a rice cooker, I did it in a pan in the oven and it was almost as easy.  Estimated time: 5 minutes.
As you’ve realized, dessert is store bought, so that’s easy.  Also, a comment on doubling recipes to freeze.  I rarely do this.  I know everyone swears it’s a time-saver, but it’s also a time-saver to braid fewer challahs, roll fewer matza balls, and clean fewer chickens.  This is a different strokes for different folks kind of decision. 
And there you have it… Shabbos dinner, in an hour or less.
Uncategorized April 27, 2014

Staying In for Yizkor

Yizkor is one of the strangest events that happens in a synagogue.  Most of the members leave the sanctuary, and only some stay to say a special prayer that only applies to them.  The reason for this is that if someone has both of their parents alive, and is thus not obligated to say Yizkor, it would be an “ayin hara” to stay in and have all the bereft congregants feel envious.

Yizkor is said four times a year: on Yom Kippur, the last day of Sukkot, the last day of Passover, and the second day of Shavuot.  There’s also a custom to light a yahrtzeit candle for our loved one the night before Yizkor is said, and to say “L’EEloy nishmat [Hebrew name ben/bat father’s Hebrew name]” which means, “may this be an elevation of the soul of [insert name of loved one]”.  A candle is compared to a soul in a number of places in Jewish literature and lighting a candle is a Jewish way to memorialize a loved one.

I’m in the Yizkor Club – the club no one wants to be in.  I’ve been saying Yizkor since I am 7 years old, aware of the pity for being so young.  Even now at 39, it’s somewhat depressing that a person my age has to say Yizkor, even though it’s actually one of my favorite things to say.  I’ve always connected very strongly to what Judaism teaches us about the afterlife, and in Yizkor, it’s so poignantly and openly discussed – essentially, permission to dwell on death.  
It’s kind of like the elephant in the room.  Talking about the loved ones that we miss, especially decades later, is something that’s not socially appropriate most of the time, and those of us who have lost a loved one treasure the opportunity to talk about them, cry for them, and mourn a mini-mourning.  More, Yizkor is my chance to offer help to my deceased father by asking God to remember him in the next world.  This is incredibly empowering in a situation which mostly leaves one feeling helpless.
It always suprises me how short Yizkor is.
God, please remember the soul of my father, my teacher, Moshe ben Aryeh Leibush, who has gone on to his world.  Because of this, I will commit to giving tzedakah in his merit.  May his soul be bound up in the bonds of life, with the sould of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah and with the other righteous men and women who are in the Garden of Eden; and let us say Amen.
That’s it.  But the old ladies in shul always hung around for longer, leaving me wondering what on earth they were doing for so long.  So since I didn’t want to leave conspicuously early, I just used those moments to meditate on my loss, and my hopes for the future.
It was in those moments, I discovered the Kel Malei Rachamim prayer that delves even more beautifully into what is going on with the souls of our loved ones in the next world.
God who is full of mercy, who dwells on high, please find a good peacefulness, on the wings of the Shechinah (Divine Spirit of femininity), in the lofty heights of the holy and pure, who shine like the brilliant brightness of heaven, to the soul of Moshe ben Aryeh Leibush, who has gone to his eternal rest.  Because of this I commit to giving tzedakah on behalf of his soul.  May his resting place be in the Garden of Eden.  Therefore, may the Master of mercy care for him under the protection of His wings forever, and bind his soul in the bond of everlasting life.  God is his inheritance and may he rest in peace, Amen.
These last few lines are so incredibly moving and comforting for me.  They remind me anew each time that death is not an end, that what we see is not all there is, that I matter in continuing the legacy of my father, that Jewish continuity effected by me and my siblings matter to him, and that I am not at all helpless in the face of loss and tragedy.
May God remember, and may we remember.
What has your experience been with saying Yizkor?
Uncategorized March 24, 2014

What to Bring to Shabbat Dinner?

Way back when I first started this blog, I wrote a post called “The 10 Things I Want My Shabbat Guests to Know.” At over 10,000 views, it’s my second-most widely read post, and probably at least once a week someone finds my blog by searching Rabbi Google with anxious queries about being invited to Shabbat dinners and not knowing what to do/say/wear.  Of course you can just ask your hosts, but if you don’t feel comfortable doing so, this may be useful.

Photo credit: Hallie Abrams

So here’s a follow-up post about what to bring when you’re invited to an Orthodox (or any) Shabbat dinner.

1. A Shabbos-friendly toy or game for the kids, where applicable. To me this is your best bet because you win over the parents and kids in one fell swoop AND ensure that the kids will play happily while the adults linger and chat.

* For kids ages 0-3, any non-electric toy or game, like a doll or simple stacking blocks.

* For kids ages 4-7, we love games for Shabbos like:
Magnatiles (these are pricier)
(also great for older kids).

* For older kids, we find these to be timeless:
Card games

2. You can also bring something new for the home – again, non-electric. New hand towels, a nice salad bowl or plate, a vase.

3. I’d say the last option I’d try is food. You just don’t know what the family’s kosher situation is unless you ask them.  You’d have to have a pretty good understanding of kosher, and be familiar with your kosher options where you live.  If you do go with food, make sure it is both kosher and pareve (containing neither meat nor dairy) with a reliable kosher symbol.

4. Flowers are tricky since they can’t be placed in water after sundown – it’s one of the Shabbat rules that Orthodox people follow. So either bring them before sundown, or bring them in a vase.

5. Kosher wine is also a nice option.

What are your ideas and suggestions?

Uncategorized March 17, 2014

I’m Praying For You… But How?

Notice I cropped out the name and avatar of the asker but not the compliment (cough, cough).

So the question at hand is: when someone says, “Pray for me,” and you’re Jewish… well, what does that actually mean?  How do you actually do that?  I’ll add my own question, just to stir the pot.  What do you do with those group texts and Facebook posts to pray for people?  Do you truly pray for them all?  Do you forward them all as requested?  How do handle all this in the digital age?

First things first.  There are multiple “right” ways to pray in Judaism.  All are predicated on obtaining the person’s Hebrew name.  That formulation is [Hebrew name] + [ben (for male)/bat or bas (for female)] + [mother’s Hebrew name]. If any of these are unknown, just use the names you know, intending that God will understand who you mean.

That said, here are some options in terms of prayer, listed in order from “beginner” to “advanced”:

1. Say a short prayer in English in your own words, and when you mention the person’s name, use the formulation above.

2. Say a short formal prayer using the person’s Hebrew name as formulated above.

3. Say a chapter of Tehillim / Psalms (or more if so inclined) – which chapters to say are highlighted in the link –  in either English or Hebrew (preferably in Hebrew, even if you don’t understand the words), and when you are done, do #1.  Next step would be committing to saying a chapter each day for that person.

4. Do #3, but follow up with #2 instead of #1.

5. When praying the formal Amidah prayer, either at home or at synagogue, include the person’s Hebrew name in the paragraph about healing.

Now let’s talk about name management.  Here’s what I do, personally.

I have a notepad app on my phone, and whenever I get a name to pray for I add it to my app.  I also note who the person is and where I got the name from so I can follow up.  Praying indefinitely for people I don’t know and am not being updated on is hard for me.  I have learned to transfer the list to paper that I keep near my prayerbook because when I’m praying (as in #5) I don’t want my phone out to check the names.

Which names get added?  People that have a connection to those I know personally, I add to my list.  Other names, such as texts and Facebook posts, I say a quick prayer (see #2) or chapter of psalms (#3) for and move on.  I don’t forward such requests unless I know the sick person myself.  This may be wrong of me, but otherwise there’s no end.

How do you pray?

Uncategorized November 29, 2013


I know, it’s Thanksgivukkah and menurkey, not Chanu-scrooge.

Whenever I do a google search, it fascinates me to see what pops up as a suggestion from the almighty mind-reading google.  Try it. Stop midway into your search words and see what google thinks you want to know. I typed in “why give gifts on” and the first return was “why give gifts on Christmas.”  (The second was “why give gifts on hanukkah.”)

Let’s begin our little comparative religion lesson. According to my google-based knowledge of Christianity the reason people give gifts on Christmas is because the Three Wise Men visited baby Jesus, and bore gifts. Also, to demonstrate the belief that Jesus is a gift from God. Whatever your beliefs may be about Jesus, this correlates.  Bear in mind that, irrespective of a popular song, typically one (1) night of Christmas is celebrated, and hence one (1) gift per giver per recipient.

Unless you count stockings.

According to my knowledge of Judaism, we give gifts on Chanukah because, um, because, um, we don’t. There does exist a legitimate custom to give “gelt” – Yiddish for “cash.” No set amount, no rule to give each night. There are a few reasons offered for this custom, and here is one that I remember learning as a child:

The Hebrew word Chanukah shares the same root as chinuch, “education.” The occupying Greek forces were determined to force Hellenism upon the Jewish population, at the expense of the ideals and commandments of the holy Torah. Unfortunately, they were quite successful in their endeavor. After the Greeks were defeated, it was necessary to re-educate the Jews—to reintroduce a large part of the population to Torah values. Appropriately, during Chanukah it is customary to give gelt to children as a reward for Torah study.(courtesy of

There’s also a popular custom to reward and thank those who teach your children Torah during this time.

So it would seem to me that distribution of “Chanukah gifts” is a tradition that has been borrowed from the Christmas season. The gift-giving has crept into even the most religious circles. But I, Chanu-scrooge, will not buy into it (see what I did there?). Firstly,  I’m a pretty sourcy girl. I like to know where things are written, what they mean in the original, and do things mindfully.  Second, the commercial spirit is bad enough all year without totally capitulating now, of all times, when we are celebrating a holiday that’s all about the triumph of spirituality over materialism.

Thirdly, I’ve noticed that Chanukah is 8 days long? That’s a lot of gifting, even if you just do “small” gifts.

So what to do if you too, don’t believe in all the Chanukah gifting (and if you do, wonderful!  Enjoy.) when lots of your kids’ friends are getting Chanukah gifts, some large and some small; some just the first night and some all eight nights??

Answer #1: stand your ground.

Answer #2: stand your ground.

Answer #3: create a Chanukah ritual that is fun, and still is consistent with your Chanukah instincts.

Here’s what we do.

1. Every night of Chanukah is made special in some way.  Aside from the festive candle-lighting, singing, and dancing.  One night I might make latkes.  Another night I buy donuts.  Another night we might go over to my in-laws for a Chanukah party.  Or we’ll play dreidel.

2. One night, we do the “gelt ladle.”  Apparently, my husband experienced this once as a child.  His teacher at the Hebrew Academy hosted a Chanukah party at his home, and there was a large bowl full of change.  Each kid was allowed to scoop up a ladle-full of change and keep it.  My husband introduced this fun little gelt-distribution to our kids, which is almost as much fun as having your paycheck direct-deposited into your bank account.  The kids love it!  It’s not so much money, but it’s experientially delicious.

3. We are very blessed in that my kids have lots of grandparents and even great-grandparents, all of whom send my kids gelt.  Some goes to tzedeka and a small amount to savings, and then each kid gets to spend his gelt.  Some years, my kids have pooled their gelt (after thank-you notes are duly dispatched, of course) to buy some communal goodie like a basketball hoop or a Wii.  Other years, they go solo.

4. We’ve created our own custom and it’s really fun.  Each member of the family, parents included, writes down some kind of reward or privilege that they want on a paper.  For example: miss a half-day of school, dinner with mom, a day with no chores, gift card for $10.  In case you are wondering, mine were a Sunday afternoon all to myself, and an evening where everyone handles their own dinner (vacation-minded much?).

So each member of the family writes down two, each on its own paper.  We fold all the papers and put them in a little bowl, and then we go around and everyone chooses.  It’s hilarious to see each person pick out things that are totally incongruous (my husband picked out “double screen time”).  After everyone chooses, each person can make one trade, so the campaigning and lobbying ensues.  It’s our little way of giving our kids stuff, where most of it is privilege or time with us as opposed to “stuff.”  And the game itself is really fun family time.

These are some ideas we’ve had to make Chanukah feel both fun and authentic for us.

What about you?

Uncategorized November 15, 2013

10 Tips for 20 Years of Marriage

Cross-posted from my other blog,
Mazel tov to us!  We’ve been married for 20 years.  Ironically, I still feel like that’s not all that much, that those older and wiser than us have so much to teach us.  But nevertheless, 20 years is a big milestone, and we certainly have learned plenty along the way.  Here we go.

1. Make yourself an easy person to apologize to.  When your spouse says, “I’m sorry for being moody” or even “I’m sorry for driving 500 miles in the wrong direction,” do NOT take that as invitation to say anything other than, “Thank you for that apology,” or, if you’re feeling really big, “I forgive you.”

2. Remember that what you think is the “right” way is simply “the way you’re used to” and may, shockingly, even be “the wrong way.”  So keep an open mind.  Weird is simply when someone else’s mishugas is different from your mishugas.

3. Never diss your spouse’s family members.  It’s wrong and pretty much never worth it.

4. Don’t keep anything important a secret.  Besides the fact that secrets usually leak, this will most definitely build barriers and walls between you and your spouse.  Whatever it is, it’s better off shared and dealt with honestly.  (Ladies, whether you deem a $200 impulse purchase at Nordstrom Rack “important” or not… is up to you.)

5. Learn that you will never, ever change your spouse.  If you married him/her, unconditional love means loving the faults.  Strive to get to the point where you love even your spouse’s faults, because that’s what makes her exactly who she is.  Weirdly, unconditional love often leads to people wanting to become their best them.

6. Never prioritize your kids over the marriage.  If you haven’t been away without the kids, at least overnight, for longer than you can remember, you are prioritizing the kids over the marriage.  Remember that a strong, close, and mutually supportive marriage is the best thing you can do for your kids.  Take their therapy money and use it for your vacation.  You’re welcome.

7. There’s nothing wrong if each of you eats something different for dinner.  It’s far more important that you eat at the same time, even if one of you has a full-on meal and the other sips tea, even if your kids are making normal conversation, um, elusive.  Hang out together over food and drink.  (I am aware that kids often make this difficult… see #6.)

8. Keep a list of things you need to discuss over the week (examples may range from “the washing machine is making weird noises” to “I think our child is bullying others” or even “I’m scared of dying”).  Then make regular time, at least half-hour once a week, whether in person or even on the phone, to discuss them.  This will prevent throwing upsetting issues out there at the wrong time.  And we all know when the wrong time is.  Hungry, tired, stressed, you said it.

9. Find couples who are happy and pump them for info.  Be on the lookout wherever you go.  Elderly people in long-lasting marriages often have great nuggets to share.  Maybe one day, you’ll be one of them.

10. My favorite: don’t each of you give 50%.  Each of you give 100%.  Then you will have not only a marriage, but a loving one.  Let no task be beneath you so that your spouse understands that giving is the most important thing to you.