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Uncategorized December 8, 2011


Once upon a time, there was a shul Kiddush.  And at this shul Kiddush were both Orthodox
Jews and non-Orthodox Jews.  Included on
the Kiddush buffet were gefilte fish, cholent, salads, crackers and dips.  Yes, it was a very wonderful Kiddush.
Some of the Jews at the Kiddush had learned of the custom not to eat fish and meat together
Others had not.  The wise Rabbi
had not taught it, since it was a custom, and many people at the shul were
driving to shul on Shabbos and eating cheeseburgers and other more obvious
non-Orthodox habits of the sort. 
Therefore, he was very selective about which points of Jewish law he
chose to share, so as not to overburden or embarrass his constituents.
One of these Jews, unschooled in the meaning of kosher
altogether, took his fishy plate and proceeded to load up on delicious,
steaming cholent.  Another Jew, aware of
the issue, but not quite as sensitive as the Rabbi, and with truly sincere and
good intentions, maybe, honed in on said Jew and proceeded to inform him that
he must use a new plate for the cholent, as the original plate was fishy and
therefore violated the fish/meat combo custom.
The wise Rabbi, observing the debacle from afar, shook his
head in dismay.
And thus was the term “fishplating” born.
Uncategorized December 1, 2011

Do Women Want to Be in the Kitchen?

Freshly arrived back in Cleveland, I was 25 and revved to go.  With my husband newly installed as a rabbi and educator, I set forth to create programs and classes to complement his work.

Ever mindful of the “barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen” thing, I (pregnant with #4) doggedly kept my shoes on and avoided any kitchen-talk like the plague.

I created book clubs, organized talks on relationships, and offered philosophy.

And people asked for challah baking, recipes, and Kosher kitchen tips.

Did the Food Network make the kitchen trendy? In a radical pendulum-swing, did people who liked the kitchen make the Food Network trendy?  *scratches head in confusion*

Just let me know when I can kick off my shoes.

Uncategorized November 16, 2011

Dinner, Again: How I Keep My Family Fed

Sometimes I get asked: “Do you cook dinner EVERY night?”  Well.  That’s a rather personal question.  The question is predicated on the fact that I have a lot of peeps to feed, that I keep strictly kosher, and that I work. So here’s the answer, for posterity.


Here’s my system.  Please bear in mind that:

  • As confessed previously, I am not a foodie (that’s code for “I don’t like to cook”)
  • I am not a health nut, though I try to upgrade my food wherever possible, like using brown rice and Barilla plus pasta
  • I only cook things that are very, very, very easy.  
  • I also serve some kind of salad/veggie at every meal so I’m not listing that, plus the occasional soup when I’m feeling domestic.

Sunday is mac ‘n cheese.  We usually have some leftovers from Shabbat, but most of us don’t want to even look at them, including myself so I can’t even get annoyed.  We usually run around on Sunday either doing stuff with the kids, catching up on home jobs, and/or chauffeuring the kids to various activities, so it’s gotta be quick and easy.

Monday is always dairy night or pareve (neither meat nor dairy).  Since we keep kosher, the menu plan always breaks down to either meat-based or dairy-based.  I usually serve fish on Monday too, so like salmon and quiche; lasagna; tuna casserole; sushi salad (basically unrolled sushi).

Tuesday is chicken night.  Baked chicken; drumsticks in the crock pot; Asian stirfry.  Sides would be couscous, rice, quinoa, or potatoes.  I have a rice cooker.  It rocks.

Wednesday is meat night.  Usually ground beef cuz it’s cheap and everyone likes it.  I usually mix it with ground turkey (1/2 and 1/2) for health purposes, to the chagrin of my unhealthy children.  Some choices would be spaghetti and meatballs; unstuffed cabbage (the lazy girl’s way to pretend you know how to cook Hungarian); beef stirfry.  I don’t buy roasts or anything fancy, aside from a special Shabbat or holidays.

Thursday is pizza night.  Usually we order it; rarely we go out; occasionally I make it myself.  Thursday night I am already prepping for Shabbat so I go the easy route.

Friday night is… Shabbat!  I pull out all the stops.  Well, for me 🙂  I still only make things that are very, very easy, but I have lots of yummy food.  Shabbat gets its own blog post, so stay tuned.

Saturday night we are all full from all the Shabbat delicacies.  I usually retire without eating any major dinner; my kids might fix themselves grilled cheese or something, and my hubby always enjoys leftovers!

And of course there’s always the occasional night when everything is crazy.  Then either my kids fix dinner, or it’s laissez-faire dinner… which my mother never, ever did… no guilt there or anything…

Uncategorized September 6, 2011

Queens Girl, Cleveland Girl

One of the most awesome parts, and one of the worst parts, of being Orthodox, is living in a community.  Especially a small community.  Like Cleveland, which has recently been deemed a very “genuine” place to live.
Now, granted, you can technically be Orthodox and live wherever you want, but it means you may not be able to go to shul (synagogue) or easily obtain kosher food.  You could certainly eat fruits, veggies, grains, etc., and you could certainly do your praying and your Shabbat solo, but you might feel much more isolated – we were meant to support one another in this Jewish journey.
So what do I love about living in a small community?
People care if you exist.

This means they notice if you are out of town, they ask you why you decided to switch your kids’ schools, and they are happy to see you when the weather gets warm.  Your existence matters to the PTA, the minyan, and the local Jewish vendors such as the butcher, baker and candlestick maker.  Okay, so in 2012 that’s the neighbor that cuts hair and waxes eyebrows, the neighbor that does my wig, the neighbor that sells accessories in her basement, and the neighbor that owns the local kosher grocery.
This makes me feel warm and fuzzy.  Originally from Queens, many of my relatives live in virtual anonymity on the east coast.  If they drop into one minyan or another, it’s not likely anyone will notice.  If they attend this or that simcha, it’s not likely anyone will notice.  If they buy their groceries at this corner store or the next… big deal; there’s way too much traffic for anyone to take note.
I like it that people care; that my presence and purchases matter; that the schools want more rather than fewer kids.  I like it that my neighbors know when I’m on my own because my husband is out of town for a few and that we’ve been away for a holiday or forgot that it was a holiday weekend and took the garbage out too early or forgot to close the car windows and it was raining, all of which are true stories that have actually happened to me.  I married a Cleveland boy from down the street.  The whole city was delighted when we announced our engagement.  It was so… shtetl-like.  In a good way.
So what don’t I love about living in a small community?
People know everything about you.

This means they notice if you are out of town, and they ask you why you decided to switch your kids’ schools.  Your existence is noted by the PTA, the minyan, and the local Jewish vendors such as the butcher, baker and candlestick maker.  Okay, so in 2012 that’s the neighbor that cuts hair and waxes eyebrows, the neighbor that does my wig, the neighbor that sells accessories in her basement, and the neighbor that owns the local kosher grocery.  And it can be awkward when you patronize one friend over another, one school over another, one minyan over another – when they are all neighbors and community members.

If you teach in a community school, or do business in the community, you see your students/bosses/clients everywhere you go.  This can, indeed, be awkward.
There is an interesting mitzvah to patronize a fellow Jew’s business wherever possible.  If we don’t look out for each other, who will look out for us?  So I am patently aware of this when the local Jewish vendor is right next to me in the carpool line.
But I would never trade what I have in my community.  When someone gives birth, celebrates a bar or bat mitzvah, or wedding, or is new to town, the community roars to life.  They send over dinners, they invite my kids over to play, they send over teen volunteers, and they take over carpools.  I have been brought to tears at the incredible warmth and support in my community.  And I mean personally, and organizationally, via the various non-profits established to support families in financial need, medical need, special ed need, and the list is limited only by the imagination.
So this Queens girl is quite proud to call this small town home.  Thanks, Cleveland, for being such a special place to live and to raise my family.  And for being, oh, so genuine.
Uncategorized August 24, 2011

Do You Know What You Stand For?

Do you keep kosher?  Let’s say someone sat down next to you on an airplane.  Say, an evangelical Christian.  Or a Messianic Jew.  Or a completely unaffiliated Jew.  And saw you eating your own kosher-packed food.  And asked you:
“Why do you keep kosher?”

Could you answer the question?  Without hesitating?  Without stuttering?
If you pray daily, and were sitting on the plane next to someone, who asked you:
“Hey.  What is that hymnal?” 

What would you respond?  Could you, on the spot, articulate a coherent answer?
What if they just noticed a hamsa, or a chai, or that your name is Bergerstein, and asked:
“May I ask you something I’ve always wondered?  What do Jews believe?”

What would you answer?
What if they said:  Why is there so much fighting in the Land of Israel?  Is it true that different kinds of Jews don’t get along?  Why are you wearing a kippah?  What are those fringes [tzitzis]?
Recently I taught a class in which I challenged the participants to articulate one or two sentences that would express, whether to a child or adult, why it’s important to be and stay Jewish.  What would you say?  Do you know what you believe?  Do you know why you believe it?  Are you proud to be a Jew?
Or, as Dr. Suess might ask:  “What would you do if someone asked you?”
Uncategorized August 19, 2011

Open Mic Friday: Kosher Room at Heinen's?

Okay, here’s my question for you today.
1. Have you been to the kosher room at Heinen’s on Green Road?
2. Do you keep exclusively kosher?
3. Do you like The Room?
4. Elaborate.
If you don’t live in Cleveland, this is a separate “Kosher room” at our local grocery store. How would you like that?
And at the end, I’ll weigh in 🙂
Have fun!  Good Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom!
Uncategorized August 12, 2011

The 10 Things I Want My Shabbat Guests to Know

If you’ve ever hosted or been hosted at an “Orthodox” Shabbat dinner, this one’s for you.
At our last JFX Shabbaton, we had a skit called “Friday night live.”  We played out the incredible misunderstandings and confusion that can arise when Jews for whom Friday night might mean Chinese and a movie are invited to experience an “Orthodox” Shabbat dinner.  It was hilarious.

Help!  I’m invited to an Orthodox Shabbat.  Now what??

For those of you that are not familiar, Shabbat-observant folks do not activate electricity or cook or a host of other creative activities, many of which may be surprising to you, on Shabbat.  They have dinner that also involves singing (not kumbaya), “washing” (not with soap), “benching” (that doesn’t involve a bench) and some other quasi-freaky stuff.  To be sure, the dinner is usually delicious, the atmosphere divine (assuming the kids don’t fight too much and the guests don’t radically disagree about politics and you haven’t mistakenly seated a doctor and attorney directly across the table from one another), the guests and hosts well-meaning, etc.  Nevertheless some clarity is in order, as expectations and assumptions on either side may well be…. insanely divergent.

Here are 10 things I’d like MY Shabbos guests to know:

(As an aside: I use the terms Shabbat and Shabbos interchangeably; both refer to the Jewish Sabbath as it is observed according to Jewish law from sundown on Friday or even a bit earlier, to nightfall on Saturday night.)

1.  I know you may have driven to my home.    It’s a little awkward, because I don’t drive on Shabbos, and you do.  The question of whether a Shabbat-observant Jew is allowed to invite a fellow Jew over on Shabbat, when it’s obvious that he will drive, is actually the subject of intense halachic debate.  On the one hand, better to drive to celebrate Shabbat than to drive to the mall – no?  On the other hand, may I be the instrument of the drive?  So “don’t ask, don’t tell” is the way we deal with it.  Because even if I follow the opinion that I can invite you despite the drive, it’s much better if I don’t have to give explicit permission.  Which is why I try to avoid the topic!

2.  I really appreciate the fact that you didn’t park in my driveway.  When you parked around the block and walked, you may have felt like an imposter but I viewed it as a respectful act of not wishing to disturb the Shabbat atmosphere that exists in the neighborhood.  Thank you!  And if you really did walk all the way – double thank you!  You’ve honored your hosts and Shabbat, all in one.

3. So the flowers you brought to dinner, and I kinda left them hanging out on the counter?  You’re so sweet to bring them… but I can’t put flowers into water on Shabbos.  It’s part of the creative process of growing plants.  I felt uncomfortable, but didn’t want to make you feel worse about not knowing, so I just decided to hope you didn’t notice. (More suggestions here for what guests can bring.)

4. It’s really OK with me that your kids are coloring and playing piano, activities that are not allowed on Shabbat.  I know you don’t observe Shabbos the way I do.  They’re only kids.  My kids do that too, and I overlook it because they’re only kids, even though mine ARE brought up with Shabbos.  Don’t worry.

5.  Yes, you’re allowed to flush the toilet on Shabbos.

6.  I’m a little hesitant to ask you if you’d like help with lighting candles or “washing” hands before challah.  See, if these customs are familiar to you, I don’t want it to seem like I think you’re ignorant.  But if they’re not, I don’t want to be a bad host and not offer you info and help.  It’s hard for me to know how to strike the balance.  I’m not clairvoyant, so I don’t know how much you know.  I hope you’ll be OK with my mistakes.

7. If anything seems unusual, please ask!  It’s not rude or disrespectful and it makes me so happy that you are asking so the lines of communication can be open.  I don’t want my life to be inscrutable to you.  Please feel free to ask.  Really.

8. It’s great when you involve my kids in the conversation.  See, I’m trying to strike the balance between paying attention to them and paying attention to you, so if you pay attention to them, it’s win-win-win.

9. It’s so sweet when you offer to bring something.  I know you don’t keep kosher so please don’t feel bad if I just ask you to bring flowers or dessert from a kosher bakery.  You might want to check with me which bakery is kosher because “Farbstein’s Kosher Rugeleh Shop” may not, in fact, be kosher.  Also, many people serve meat or chicken at Shabbos dinner and therefore would not serve dairy at dessert, even if it’s not together.  Just good to know.

10.  What we really want is for you to have a nice time.  Relax, don’t worry so much about the rules, and just try to have fun.  We know you may not be familiar with the customs and that’s OK!  We like you and that’s what matters.

11. I know I said ten but I couldn’t resist.  If you’ve spent time avoiding my invitation, deleting my email, ignoring my voicemail, and pretending you didn’t check Facebook, please know that if you do, indeed, accept my invitation, you may actually have a very nice time.

What are some things you’d like your guests or hosts to know?