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I had the date on my calendar for weeks: a Shabbat dinner with some of the couples in my âLove and Religionâ class. Weâve gotten together several times over meals and I knew that nobody has any eating restrictions besides âkosher style.â Emily was hosting the dinner at her house and had offered to order chicken from Zankou (a favorite LA chicken spot) with all the delicious fixings: hummus, babaganoush and tabbouleh. I was making challah and bringing wine. I knew everyone ate chicken which is perfect for Shabbat, convenient and would be a big hit. I was sure of it.
Then, as the three of us started trading emails to coordinate the menu, one of the guests said, âChicken is great for me, but my boyfriend is observing Lentâweâll bring fish.â Oh right. Itâs Lent! And Shabbat! And heâs Catholic. This IS an interfaith couplesâ Shabbat dinner after all. Now what the heck do I do for Lent?
Shabbat is a time for people to be together and celebrate community. It can be a time for inclusion and joyâŚand eating. When people feel singled out or excluded it is hard to strengthen relationships and build community, and thatâs antithetical to so much of what I aim to create at a Shabbat dinner. I appreciated the participant bringing up her boyfriendâs tradition. I also appreciated her offer to bring something special for him, but it would have detracted from the spirit of the gathering. In order to create the best scenario for community and relationship-building, I realized I needed to learn more about his tradition in order to honor it and make sure everyone felt included.
I reached deep into my religious studies major memory bank to try to remember the rules about Lentâsomething about Fridays and fish but I have no clue. Are there special prayers? Do they HAVE to eat fish or can we get falafel and call it a day? (Does he even like falafel? It seems to be the go-to vegetarian option for Jewish functions, but is that a normal thing or one of those weird Jewish things that no one else does?)
I realized I need to call in reinforcements. I emailed some colleagues and I posted on Facebook: âCatholic friends, please tell me what you like to eat on Fridays during Lent!â I typed in a search in Pinterest: âChallah and fish recipes.â
I went into the living room to talk with my El Salvadorian, kind-of-Catholic nanny. âDo you know anything about Lent customs?â I asked. âYes, you donât eat meat on Fridays,â she said. âBut sometimes people eat chicken. Not everyone will eat chicken. Chicken broth is OK for some Catholics, but not everyone. People like to eat fish.â
Oy, what had I gotten myself into? By this point, I had so many different opinions and answers and I just didnât know what to do.Â And then I got a text from my InterfaithFamily/LA project manager. âWant me to have my wife call you to talk about Lent?â
Yes! How had it had slipped my mind that her wife is Catholic?
She tells me everything I need to know. Order fish: Itâs one of those things thatâs not necessary but itâs tradition. And either way, fish is delicious and healthy.
She responds, âI know of a few places, but thereâs not really âCatholic fish.â Catholics eat pretty much anything.â
Except chicken on Shabbat during Lent, apparently. As I kept trying to find a solution that worked for everyone, the emails continued and the couple offered again to bring their own fish. But I’ve been that person who had to bring her own food to gatherings and parties because they were making pork and I kept kosher. I hated being singled out like that and I always felt alienated. As much as she reassured me that they could bring their own food, I did not want her boyfriend to feel left out at this interfaith dinner.
I insisted on serving fish for dinner and, as it turned out, our host said she would rather have fish anyway and would love to cook it for everyone rather than ordering in from a restaurant. It was her first time hosting a Shabbat dinner and thought we were supposed to eat chicken on Shabbat, even though she would have rather eaten fish all along!
Itâs been a few weeks since the dinner and Iâm happy to share that it went extremely well. The Catholic partner and his Jewish girlfriend were touched that they were both made to feel so welcome and included. The fish was excellent. And after spending all afternoon Googling âHow to braid a challah shaped like a fish,â I let it rise too long and it melted in the oven. So we had flatbread for our Lenten Shabbat dinner and Iâm bringing in a better baker to teach us all how to make a proper challah next time.
By the IFF/Philadelphia Team: Robyn, Wendy and Robin
Challah is the yummy braided bread with which many Jews begin Shabbat dinner. For those who grew up Jewish, the smell and taste of challah often invokes fond memories of family meals.Â For those who didnât grow up Jewish (along with those who did), including challah with your Friday night dinner can be a fun and easy way to bring Judaism into your home.
In the Greater Philadelphia area, there are many grocery stores and bakeries where you can buy a delicious challah. But the best challot (plural for challah) are those that you make yourselfâthe ones you can smell baking in the oven and taste while theyâre still warm. Theyâre the ones that may not be braided perfectly, but are made with lots of love.
Our staff in the Philadelphia office of InterfaithFamily heard from a lot of people that they wanted to learn how to make challah. And when our people ask for something, we want to deliver (or should we say âriseâ to the occasion)!Â First, we arranged for âChallah and Conversationâ to meet at Robyn Frischâs house on a Thursday evening (so that everyone could have their challah for dinner the following evening). Next, we needed to decide what challah recipe to use.Â So, one morning the three of us got together for a little bake-off. We tried out a few recipes, and ended up deciding on a recipe that was a combination of different ones we had used.
Then Wendy went shoppingâŚ and after buying 30 bowls, 30 measuring spoons, eight packages of bread flour, yeast, salt, sugar, eggs and vegetable oil to make the challot (along with wine, cheese and snacks for the âConversationâ part of the evening)âŚ we were ready!
âChallah and Conversationâ was a great success. Everyone learned how to proof their yeast, knead their dough and then punch it down before they braided it. In between the kneading and the punchingâwhile the dough was having its âfirst riseââwe had time to learn about Friday night Shabbat rituals in general, and challah in particular.Â For example, have you ever wondered why challah is braided? Why itâs traditional to use two challot on Friday evening? Or why the challah is covered with a cloth? The âChallah and Conversationâ attendees now know the answers to these questions and many more!
Many people have told us that they want to make their own challah but theyâve never baked bread before and theyâre afraid theyâll mess up. Theyâre scared of words like âproofing,â âkneadingâ and âpunchingâ when it comes to baking.Â We promise you that once you make challah with us, you wonât be scared. The result will be delicious, and your family and friends will be impressed!Â So keep an eye out for our upcoming âChallah and Conversationâ programs and come join us for one of them.
And by the way, you donât have to worry if you have challah left over after your Shabbat meal.Â It makes delicious French toast!
Read on for Ruth Schapira, IFF/Philadelphia Advisory Council Memberâs account of the evening, and then get our not-so-secret recipe!
Scoop, beat, pour, and mixâthen knead, fold, knead, fold. It’s the methodical way that you’d make a dough for challah, and the process itself seems quite mechanical, if you were doing it alone in your own kitchen.
But making challah with 20 people in someone’s home is quite a different experience, and creating challah with people who are doing it for the first time is exhilarating. The program, sponsored by IFF/Philadelphia and held in the Director’s home, attracted a demographic that would be the envy of any Jewish outreach movement. Four young millennial-aged couples attended, with a smattering of some young singles, older folks and a mom with her two kidsâtheir common interest was in âdoing Jewish.â That was the foundation upon which connections were built among those who shared Shabbat stories along with flour and measuring cups that were set aside at stations, like in some amazing challah bake-off on a Jewish Food Network show.
The event was called âChallah and Conversationâ and by the end of the night, there was plenty of both. The environment was open, accepting and casual which allowed participants to feel comfortable asking about the many beautiful and significant rituals surrounding Shabbat. There was curiosity about egg-checking (for kashrut), traditions for candle-lighting, the custom some choose to follow for âtaking challah,â and questions like: Why do some people tear the challah and not slice it with a knife? Why is salt sprinkled on it? Why is the challah covered? What is the âParent’s Prayerâ?
The most outstanding experience from the evening was not the beautifully braided specimens in personal aluminum baking dishes, ready to be baked that everyone was taking home. Nor was it that everyone would get to savor the experience all over again when that unmistakable luscious challah smell filled their homes the next night before the Sabbath. What was undeniably special was that people came together in the true spirit of learning and community, and shared an experience that brought them that much closer to Judaism, and that much closer to one another.
Here is the challah recipe we ended up using:
1. Dissolve package of yeast in Â˝ cup lukewarm water and let sit for 5 minutes.Â (This is how you âproofâ the dough.)
2. Measure the flour into the bowl. Make a well.
3. Pour the yeast mixture into the well and let stand 5 minutes.
4. Blend in the salt and sugar.
5. Combine two eggs, oil and remaining Âź cup water and mix together.
6. Add the liquid mixture to the flour and stir until flour is moistened.
7. Turn out onto a well-floured board using flour to dust the board and your hands.Â Use up to another cup of flour to handle the dough. Knead by hand until smooth. Let rise on the boardÂ (you can cover with dish towel) about 1Â˝ hours or until doubled in bulk.
8. Punch dough down and divide into three sections and braid.
9. Cover and let rise at least 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees while the dough is rising.
10. Brush with beaten egg mixed with a few drops of water and, if you want, sprinkle with poppy seeds, sesame seeds or cinnamon.
11. Bake on middle rack of oven at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes (ovens heat differentlyâbake until light brown).
I always laugh when people say âthe High Holy Days are early this yearâ or âRosh Hashanah is late this year.â The fact is that Rosh Hashanah occurs the same time every yearâon the first day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei. Itâs never really âearlyâ or âlateââitâs just where it should be! That being said, the first of Tishrei can be as early as September 5, or as late as October 5, on the Gregorian calendar. Which means that in 2014, when the first day of Rosh Hashanah is September 25(not the same week as Labor Day, as it was in 2013) many of us feel like we have more time to prepare for Rosh Hashanah than we did last year.
Here are seven suggestions for how your family can have fun getting in the mood for Rosh Hashanah:
1)Â Â Â Â Â Apples, apples and more apples: Itâs fun to dip apples in honey on Rosh Hashanah as we wish for a sweet new year. But why just go to a grocery store and buy apples? One of my favorite activities to do with my family before the Jewish New Year is to go apple picking. At the orchard we go to, we take a hay ride out to the apple trees and then we fill our boxes with different kinds of apples. Later we come home and make a yummy apple cake for our Rosh Hashanah dinner and drink apple cider.
Did you ever notice that if you cut an apple right down the middle you see a star? Thereâs a great Rosh Hashanah story about this thatâs fun for kids of all ages. I like the way Shira Kline tells the story on her website.
2)Â Â Â Â Â And donât forget the honey: At the orchard where we go apple picking, thereâs a really fun general store where they sell all kinds of fresh produce and delicious treats. They also sell those cool honey straws that come in all different flavors. Each year I let my kids buy a bunch of different flavored honey straws and we use them on Rosh Hashanah. Theyâre fun to give out to guests (or to take if we go to someone elseâs house for a holiday meal).
As you prepare for Rosh Hashanah and start to think about dipping your apples in honey, itâs a great time to talk to your kids about how bees make honey. To learn about this from a dad who did some research after he couldnât answer his daughterâs question about how bees make honey, check out Matt Shipmanâs article How Do Bees Make Honey? (Itâs Not Just Bee Barf). Or better yet, visit a beekeeper and learn about how honeyâs made from an expert!
You can have lots of fun making beeswax candles to light as you welcome the holiday. For instructions on how to make your own beeswax candles click here.
3)Â Â Â Â Â Try some new fruits, too: Thereâs a great custom on the second night of Rosh Hashanah of eating a new fruit of the season; one you havenât eaten yet this year. So you may want to pick another fruit as well if you can while youâre apple picking, or pick up a different fruit at a farmerâs market or the grocery store. Itâs traditional to recite the Shehecheyanu blessing before eating the new fruit.
4)Â Â Â Â Â Make a round challah: What kid (or adult) doesnât love mixing the ingredients, kneading the dough and shaping it into a challah? While on Shabbat itâs traditional to have a braided challah, on Rosh Hashanah the challah should be round. Why round? Because it reminds us of the circle of life, as well as the cyclical nature of the passage of a year. For a YouTube video teaching three different ways to make a round challah, click hereÂ and get Rabbi Mychal Copelandâs recipe here.
5)Â Â Â Â Â Read Rosh Hashanah stories with your kids: Itâs always fun in the weeks leading up to any holiday, religious or secular, to read books with your kids about the holiday. One Jewish grandmother I know takes out all of her childrenâs books about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur a few weeks before the holidays and puts them in a big basket that she keeps in her family room. Whenever her grandchildren come over, they pick out books from the basket to read with her. She does this before Passover, Sukkot and Thanksgiving, too, so that the book basket is often out and filled with Jewish or secular holiday books to read. For a list of PJ Library Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur books for kids up to 8 yearsold click here.
6)Â Â Â Â Â Make New Years cards: In todayâs world where we do so much of our communicating by text and email, itâs especially fun to get a card in the mailbox. And itâs even more fun to make cards! Get out lots of craft materials (or even just crayons and paper) and let your kids make New Years cards that they can mail to family members and friends. And they donât have to make the cards just for Jewish family members. Cards for family member who arenât Jewish, letting them know that theyâre being thought of and that theyâre loved, will surely be appreciated any time of year.
7)Â Â Â Â Â Buy a Shofar and learn to blow it: Kids are always fascinated by the Shofar. Many synagogue gift shops sell Shofars, as do Judaica stores. You can also purchase them online. Once you have a Shofar, you can learn about the notes that are blown on Rosh Hashanah. For video instructions on how to blow the shofar, including the three traditional ritual blasts for the High Holy Days: tekiyah, shevarim and truah, click here.
Shana Tova UâMetukah. Have a happy and a sweet new year!
Is there something new youâre planning to do with your family in preparation for Rosh Hashanah this year? Are there activities youâve done in the past that were fun? Please share your ideas below so that others can learn from what youâve done.
Last Friday night, I watched as my kids lit Shabbat candles and said the prayers at our table with my in-laws standing by. My partnerâs parents are not Jewish, and I felt a deep appreciation for them in this moment. When we all met, none of us could have imagined this scene. Nearly two decades ago, I stayed at their home for the first time. My partner and I were graduate students on the East Coast and we headed west to see her folks at their ranch in central Oregon over break. Like many people, Jewish or not, they really arenât into religion at all. Here we were, a rabbinical student and a PhD candidate in religious studies. We pretty much ate, drank and breathed religion.
I wanted to be careful not to overwhelm them with Jewish talk or Jewish practice. That was tough because I was starting to observe Shabbat and other rituals for the first time. I chose carefully which ones I absolutely had to do. One of my new, favorite Shabbat rituals was baking challah. As Friday morning rolled around, it felt strange not to make it. I started to get the ingredients out, and the implications ran through my mind:
1) This kitchen is going to be really, really messy.
2) Â It would feel weird to me if we ate challah on Friday night without saying the prayer over it.Â But saying it will feel really weird too.
3) Oh noâŚit will feel weird to do the prayer over the bread without doing all three Shabbat blessings.Â Now itâs a full ceremony and itâs going to be awkward.
In the end, I did it anyway. The result? Wow, these people love challah. I know most people like it. Whatâs not to like? My recipe includes eggs, flour and tons of sugar and butter which make it more like a Shabbat dessert. Itâs always a crowd pleaser. But I have never seen anyone so overtaken by it. Seeing how excited her parents were and knowing how worried I was about engaging in Jewish ritual in their house, my partner made sure they knew that getting to the challah meant that there would be Jewish prayers at their table. For people who really disagree with religion as a whole, donât believe in the God we are thanking in these prayers and have no context for the foreign language being spoken at their table, this could have been a huge deal.
Itâs been almost two decades, and Iâm still making challah for my in-laws. Now when we visit, our kids help bake and decorate. We do the entire Shabbat ceremony consisting of all three prayers: lighting candles, saying kiddush over wine and grape juice and the motsi over the challah, my partnerâs parents stand by, knowing that challah is coming.
I am greatly appreciative that my in-laws have been able to witness our familyâs rituals and other religious choices. Clearly, some of these rituals have been easier to stomach than others. My mother-in-law enjoys the challah far more than she did the bris (then again, Iâm with her on that one). Itâs not easy when your kids choose a lifestyle so different from your own. In one sense, I credit the challah. It was one of the first moments when we came together around a Jewish custom, and unlike lots of other Jewish foods that are acquired tastes, challah was the one that could allow them to see into a completely new religious framework and even allow for it to happen at their family table. In a way, itâs just bread. But âbreaking breadâ together is also the way people from many cultures have traditionally and symbolically expressed that they can cross a difficult boundary. So maybe itâs no accident that this openness was instigated by a couple of loaves of home-baked bread. But at a deeper level, I credit my in-laws for demonstrating incredible openness to new ideas and most of all, for embracing us. That, and helping me clean the kitchen.
Sweet Egg Bread (Challah)Â
5-6 cups of flour