Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Kosher L'Pesach (Article#81) 4/17/2008

Pesach food shopping is tougher here than in the USA. I know it sounds strange, but in the USA you can go into the local kosher supermarket (and in many cases the regular supermarket) and easily identify which items are kosher and kosher for Pesach. Not here.

With a Sephardic majority here in Israel, many of the companies make items that Sephardim will eat, but Ashkenazim will not eat, and mark them – Kosher for Pesach. Things like bamba snacks, peanut butter and cereals are easier to spot and avoid. Yet, there are things like yogurt and ice cream that come with ingredients we would never have thought to be careful about and are not acceptable to us as Ashkenazim (my sister, whose husband in Sephardic, eats everything).

Because of this confusion, Goldie likes to get more American products than she normally would buy, to make sure that she knows she is getting the right thing. Also, when it comes to Pesach and its’ food needs, the specific recipes she has are designed for products that they just don’t make here – like decent chocolate syrup (what is Pesach without Bosco or UBet).

Last year, our neighbors Sandor and Suzie Joffe told us about a specific supermarket they go to in Yerushalayim that specialized in American Pesachdik products – Cheaper Kol. We found it to be such a good place for picking up most of our needs that we decided to make a return trip this year. Since Mordechai was off of school for vacation (a mere week and a half before the chag – I can hear all the Yeshiva teachers in the USA saying “why don’t we get that much), we took him along for the trip.

As expected, Cheaper Kol was a zoo. It was however, much more organized than the normal Israeli supermarkets, with clearly marked “Kosher for Pesach” aisles. They even had matza farfel, which is an incredible rarity here in Israel (although I don’t see what the big deal is, my kids can make a box of whole matza into farfel in about 85 seconds). We filled up 8 boxes of food and took advantage of tashlumin (monthly no interest payment plan) on our credit card for the first time.

Tashlumin are an Israeli innovation. In order to entice the purchaser to spend more, the vendor will agree to defer some of his payment over time. So you can hand in a credit card to pay for your groceries and have it paid for (interest free) over the next 3 months instead of at the end of the month.

While on line we played jewish geography with some other customers and met a few people who knew someone who we knew, so the 45 minute wait to pay wasn’t as incredibly boring as it could have been. We really saw a big difference between shopping in Yerushalayim and shopping in the 5 Towns.

Even though the supermarket catered to Americans and other English speaking customers, they still could not get into the full customer service culture. Walk into Brach’s, Gourmet Glatt or Supersol on a busy pre Pesach day and you will see each row with baggers packing the groceries for the customers so that things will move faster. There are people working in the store who actually know where products are and are willing to help you find them. Not so much here.

Of course, as usual, the prices here don’t go up as much for Pesach either. So you give a little and you get a little.

There is a big market in Pre Pesach mini day camps in Bet Shemesh. With such a large break for vacation, enterprising teens open their backyards to groups of kids to make a little pocket money. This is a win/win situation for everyone involved (OK – maybe not for the parents who actually host the camp and have to deal with the noise and mess). The kids have a great time and are kept busy. This in turn is a terrific boon to their parents, who have work/Pesach preparations to take care of.

Once they come home, with all the time on their hands, they drive Goldie nuts. Since it is incredibly hot here already (high 80’s minimum every day), they can get really cranky. Every day I am thankful that the movers gave us the wrong size container and at no expense I was able to toss a few additional things onto the shipping container that I had never intended to bring with us. One of those things was our hard plastic wading pool.

It doesn’t have a plug anymore, we use duct tape to seal the drain. And after a winter of being exposed to the elements, it needed a big cleaning. Yet, now that it is needed, it is a HUGE lifesaver for us. Some days it seems like there are 20 kids crowding into the pool. The kids are busy, they are out of the house and they are having an awesome time.

So we, just like you, are gearing up towards Pesach. We will have only the one Seder and a two day Shabbat/Yom Tov, which allows for more chol hamoed and day trips for us all (which we are looking forward to, especially with Bubbee Shoshana and Zaidee Shelly coming in from NY). So on behalf of Goldie and our entire family, we will simply wish you a Chag Kasher V’Sameach. We hope that you and your families enjoy a wonderful chag and (in the off chance that it doesn’t happen between the time I write this and Pesach) look forward to the rebuilding of the Bet HaMikdash so that we can enjoy the Korban Pesach together in Yerushalayim next year.

P.S. Please also remember to say a quick prayer for my nephew and all the soldiers. He has not yet been told if he will even be allowed to be home for Pesach (although my understanding is that with the tensions on the Syrian border – the odds are not so good). So he may be stuck on a base somewhere, maybe even manning a post. So remember him and all the Chayalim. And think kindly of his parents and family who will have an empty chair at the table and an empty place in their hearts, missing his presence

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Hand Made Matzot (Article# 80) 4/10/2008

As we entered into full Pesach cleaning mode, I took a week off last week. It isn’t as if you missed much.

Although Larry Gordon doesn’t really believe me when I tell him this, office business slows down for almost a month and a half through Pesach. Beginning a week before Purim, as people begin to make their preparations for the chagim, it becomes harder and harder to get them to sit down and do business.

The tourist industry is busy ramping up for a jam packed 10-14 days of Pesach visitors. Yeshivot and seminaries are either in Purim mode or vacation mode as the students all disappear either to their homes or to wherever they plan to be for the chagim. If you are in the non-profit or tourist industry (technically I am in both), this is a slower time of year.

We had a 7th birthday party in our backyard for Mordechai. We usually do an in-school celebration and this is only the third at-home party we have ever had. He really wanted the party, and Chaya decided that she would organize it so we said OK. With a class full of Hebrew speakers, we left it to Chaya and her friend Sarah Fuchs to run things for us. I am amazed by Chaya’s growth in the language and also in her confidence in speaking with the kids and being able to organize them and run the party.

Mordechai is of an age where he doesn’t really remember that much of America. It is kind of weird. We send him for special English lessons, but he prefers to read Hebrew if given the choice. He plays soccer all the time outside and when the kids of our block play together, they speak Hebrew even when the entire group is made up of English speakers.

With the party out of the way, we started gearing up for Pesach. With Goldie’s parents arriving the day before Yom Tov, we want to maximize their visit by having everything prepared by the time they get here. So Goldie has begun to list and plan everything we do.

We got the usual emails from shul asking about our wine and hand made matza order for this year. While we ordered the wine (it really isn’t cheaper but definitely more convenient), I decided that I wanted to try something different this year for the matza.

Twenty three years ago, as a student in Yeshiva, my cousin asked me to join him in making his hand made matzot. He had ordered a specific amount from a specific bakery that he uses along with a group of other families in his neighborhood. In order to keep the price down, he was required to put in a certain amount “sweat equity” labor in the manufacturing process and was short a few hours. So he asked me if I could come help.

Thinking it would be an interesting to do, I agreed and met him at the appropriate time and place. The chareidi foreman took one look at me and said, “You can switch the poles after the matza is baked.” Translation: we ain’t letting you anywhere NEAR the actual production line.

Since then, making my own matzot was definitely on my “to do” list. I therefore sent an email to the local Bet Shemesh email list asking if anyone knew of a matza bakery that allowed people to come bake their own matzot. Lo and behold, I immediately got flooded with replies that the Feigenson shul in Nofei Aviv, a 2 minute drive from my house has a matza bakery in their basement every year.

Within hours, Avrumie Weiss (one of our neighbors) called me up to tell me that he had been trying to put together a group to go to the shul and buy a 3 hour baking slot and our two families combined would fill the labor squad if we would go into it with them. We booked the time slot and excitedly prepared for the day.

We were allowed to bring anyone over bar or bat mitzvah with us, so our older kids came too (Aliza had a math test she couldn’t miss – so she missed out this year) and we baked our own matzot this week. It was very hard work, especially the kneading which is a lot of intense action in a short period of time (the longer it takes to knead, the less time you have to roll and puncture the dough and then get it into the oven before the time is up). Of course, with each cycle we also had to clean, clean, clean everything before it became chometz as well, so we felt afterward like we had all had a good workout.

My job was taking the rolled and perforated dough and getting it (flat with no folds) into the oven. I can definitely tell you that the oven is hot and the dough seems to naturally want to fold itself over no matter how hard you try to avoid it. I was also in charge of blowtorching several of the metal implements every cycle to completely clean them from the dough.

At the end of our shift, the mashgiach told us that he was amazed at how many kosher matzot we were able to produce. We had several cycles in which less than 2 matzot were unusable for Pesach and the end result was about 160 or so matzot. Of course, they were not nearly the size or shape of the ones that come from the professional matzo bakeries, but they are definitely the only matzot that we personally had a hand in making and that fact will definitely make them taste better at the Seder.

We had to take them home in special garbage bags because we didn’t think to bring any boxes with us beforehand and I am definitely nervous that they will break (since they aren’t actually totally flat) during the seder, but I guess I will just have to ask a Rabbi what to do if……

Another Three Day Holiday (Article# 79) 3/27/2008

Purim, I mean.

In truth, I had always been jealous of the people who lived in Israel. After all, they got to enjoy a second day of Purim, which is definitely one of my favorite days of the year. Purim is tons of fun; dressing up, visiting as many friends as I can get to and enjoying my kids make the day special.

Last year, I was a little harried in dealing with Shushan Purim in Yeshiva and regular Purim at home in addition to Goldie’s illness, but I really felt prepared this year. We had gotten our Mishloach Manot packed and ready early in the week, our Seuda plans were all made and I had even gotten our costumes ready (most of us were The Katz in the Hatz – a costume no one in Bet Shemesh had seen).

With Purim falling out on Friday, it made for an extension of the holiday through Sunday for those who observe Shushan Purim, with a host of changes in how things were done. Megilla is read everywhere, even Jerusalem, on Thursday night and Friday morning and most people observe the regular obligations of the day on Friday (more about the Seuda a bit later).

However, Jerusalemites give Matanot L’evyonim on Friday, say Al Hanissim on Shabbat and give Mishloach Manot and have their Seuda on Sunday, creating what is referred to as Purim Meshulash or a 3 day Purim. With all the different days and obligations, the Yeshiva guys and I were all looking forward to an extended celebration that would really be meaningful.

For those who have met me or seen my picture, you know that having begun to go grey at age 15, I have a full head of grey hair now. As an additional Purim shtick, I had my brother Ozer bring me a bottle of Clairol hair dye for men, and colored my hair totally black. It was amazing.

Goldie could not believe it. She kept saying, “THAT is the man I married”. When I finished rinsing my hair, Mordechai took one look at me and said to Goldie, “EEMA – who is that man?” and only after hearing my voice did he realize it was me (although he couldn’t figure out what I had done).

Batya thought I had gotten a haircut and Chaim didn’t notice anything (with much laughter from the rest of the family as he tried to figure it out). My teenager women knew right off the bat.

In shul, as we prepared for davening and the megilla reading, I kept taking off my “Cat in the Hat” hat, to the shock of our friends. My next door neighbor, Ari Ginsberg, came over to me the next morning to tell me that he had sat in his seat for half of davening wondering why I hadn’t introduced him to my younger brother who apparently was visiting for Purim.

The best reaction came from the students in the Yeshiva. On the night of regular Purim every year, we have a special event in a local restaurant to keep the guys occupied and not running all over the country to celebrate with their friends outside of Jerusalem. I arrived to the restaurant with a baseball cap, and when I walked in I got a chorus of cheers from the guys. When I removed the cap – they went nuts. It was really awesome.

On Friday, while the rest of the world was rushing around to get their Seuda finished early and Mishloach Manot delivered, I got to do something I have wanted to do for several years. Before I continue, I want to make something clear:

I am not a Rav. I do not make Halacha decisions. I have said before that this column is a journal of our life here in Israel and should not be relied upon for halachic purposes – every one must consult their own rabbinic authorities for such decisions. So please, do NOT email me if you disagree with the Halacha we followed – especially since this issue won’t come up again for something like 13 years and by then we had better be celebrating Purim in the Bet HaMikdash.

In preparation for Purim, I mentioned to one of my neighbors that I had always thought it was nuts to rush around and get the Seuda finished early and go like crazy all day whenever Purim falls out on Friday. It made much more sense to me that you should start the Seuda late in the day, break for davening and then come back to the Seuda for Shabbat.

I had always been told that this was totally wrong and could not be done, so I followed along and pushed myself to try to have a normal Purim with such a limited time allotment. Yet this neighbor told me that he has ALWAYS done Purim on Friday in such a manner, the source was a Gemara. While investigating the issue, I found out that a local (Ashkenaz) Rav was having a shiur on the topic and attended and following his psak, we made the late Seuda this year.

Without going into things, we stopped in the middle of the Seuda to daven Kabbalat Shabbat, covered the bread on the table, made Kiddush to change the Seuda from Purim to Shabbat and finished our meal, bentshing with Al Hanissim (like Jerusalem residents) before davening Maariv with a bunch of others on my block (including this Rav) who had done the same thing.

We were able to spend the morning delivering Mishloach Manot like regular people and our kids weren’t totally stuffed from a daytime Seuda so that they were actually able to enjoy a 5 hour seuda with Purim songs and Zmirot for Shabbat that was much more L’kavid Purim and L’Kavod Shabbat than we would have been able to do if we had to rush an have a quick early Seuda in the morning.

Did I mention how unbelievably hot it was here on Purim weekend? Temps in the 90’s!!!! I thought the kids were gonna wilt and our chocolate covered wafers were half melted by the time we finished delivering the Mishloach Manot. I couldn’t believe how hot it was, we had to have a/c for the Seuda.

On Saturday night I rushed into Jerusalem to join the Yeshiva for the shpiel/party. As I drove home, I realized how truly exhausted I was from all the Purim, Purim, Purim we had been celebrating. I had even seen it in the Yeshiva guys. Many of them didn’t bother to come in costume that night (or the next day for the Seuda) and the celebration was definitely more low key – which I attribute to the long stretch of 3 days between the beginning of Purim to the end of Shushan Purim.

Before bringing the little kids to the Purim Seuda in Yeshiva, we decided to take the whole family on what has become a regular outing for us. Dressed in costume, we made our way to several checkpoints and really delighted in giving specially prepared Mishloach Manot packages to each and every soldier on duty there (we even stopped a passing truck).

The delight the soldiers showed, especially in meeting our littler kids who were all in costume, was infectious. I hope never to tire of visiting the soldiers and bringing a smile to their face as a small measure of thanks for what they do in protecting me and my family.

By the time the Yeshiva’s Seuda was finished, even my kids were tired of all the partying. It is a great time of year and we really enjoy it, but we are definitely ready for it to go back to being a 2 day affair next year.