שלום על ישראל

It is very hard to believe but seven months from today Marsha, the kids, and I, and my in-laws will be landing in Israel. It is hard to believe that is actually going to happen (we have the airline tickets to prove it!). The origin of this trip goes back a while when Marsha and I had a dream of bringing the family to Israel for one of the kids’ B’nai Mitzvah. However as time moved on, we realized that the dream would be very hard to make happen. When Noam heard that we had thought of this idea, he sort of latched on to it. He began to talk about going, and we gave him the choice of having a party like his classmates, or going to Israel. Over the summer he flipped back and forth between them, until finally he told me one day, “Abba, I’m going to go to lots of Bar Mitzvah parties, I don’t need one more.” And that was it! My in-laws were committed to helping us make this trip a reality and soon after we purchased seven tickets on Uniteג Airlines from Newark to Tel Aviv!

Next I started to do some planning for the trip. We felt it was important to get a lot done now so that we can lock things in. First up was finding a place to stay. From the start we decided that we would rent an apartment or two rather than stay in hotels for two main reasons. First and foremost, hotels are expensive and renting an apartment will be less. For example, two rooms in a basic hotel that can accommodate all of us would run us close to $5000 for the 12 nights. Two apartments, one for us and a smaller one for my in-laws will run around $3000. On top of that, we have a full kitchen and will be able to cook our own dinners most nights which will also save a lot of money. The other reason for the apartment is that in our travels to Israel we have come to really like one specific Synagogue in Baka, Kehillat Yedidya. We have friend who go there and really enjoy the services. They are a modern Orthodox Synagogue with very progressive ideology.

I searched on Air bnb and a few vacation rental sites, and luckily I found two very nice apartments within a 5 minute walk of each other and of the Synagogue. Our apartment I found on a number of different sites, but no one ever returned my emails. Finally I found it on the website of a management company and they do manage the apartment for the owners. We made the arrangements and it was all set up. To make it better someone I know in the area had friends stay in this apartment and said that it is very nice. For my in-laws I found a nice place on Trip Advisor’s vacation rental page and I think they will also be very happy with the apartment.

So now we had two of the major pieces done. Next I looked for a tour guide. For those who do not know, tourism is the biggest industry in Israel. Everyone who lives in Israel has probably acted as a tour guide at one time or another, and to become a licensed tour guide, one has to pass some very challenging tests. Some have asked why we are getting a tour guide. After all, this will be Marsha’s tenth trip to Israel, my sixth, and my in-laws fifth. For my kids, however, this will be their first trip and we really wanted to make it special. Sure we could show them around, but a tour guide will really know how to show Israel to the kids.

I got a few referrals from some people but the first person was not available, and the second was way too expensive. Finally I got the idea to get in touch with the Director of USY Israel programs in Israel. When Marsha was on Nativ, he was the director of Nativ and we know him well. He gave me the name of JJ Jonah who is the CEO of a  company called Israel Maven. JJ has had a long relationship with USY and has provided tour guides for Israel Pilgrimage and he is also involved with Camp Ramah in California. I spoke with him on the phone for a few minutes and he immediately thought of a guide for us and within a few days we had a guide and a first draft of an itinerary. The itinerary is undergoing revision and hopefully within a month we will have them done as well. In a future post, perhaps I will talk about that.

JJ suggested that we reserve our rental car now as well. The rental car companies all have 9 passenger vehicles for rent. JJ said that they do not always have many available, so we should reserve now. I checked a few rental car companies on line and found the best rate with a company called Shlomo Sixt. I have reserved the car and they took my deposit so all should be in order. I have since read some not so great reviews of this company on the internet, but recently there have been more positive reviews, so hopefully all will be ok. I will confirm with them closer to the date.

Flights, check. Lodging, check. Tour guide, check. Rental car, check. Passports, ugh. We have to get passports for the kids and a renewal for me. So one day during winter break we all went to the East Brunswick library at opening time and applied for the passports. It is quite expensive to get one these days. For a kid, it is $80 plus a $25 fee for the facility. Plus we paid $10 for the photos! For an adult is it $110 for the passport and $25 for the facility. Yikes!

Today we got the passports in the mail so now, Passports, check! At this point a most of the trip is planned and arranged. We are still working out what we will be special there for Noam’s Bar Mitzvah, and in future posts, hopefully I will post on that as well.

For now, we are all very excited about the trip, and hope that the seven months go by quickly.

Oh as a treat, watch this wonderful video of Israeli soldiers singing Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.

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From Rutgers Hillel

Friends, please take a moment to read this important update from my friend and the Director of Rutgers Hillel, Andrew Getraer. If you can watch Fox News tonight at 9 please do so.


Dear Friends of Rutgers Hillel: 
We held an event this week that has caused much controversy and will be featured on Fox News TONIGHT at 9 PM – The MegynKelly ShowTUNE IN.

This past Tuesday night the Rutgers Hillel Center for Israel Engagement sponsored an event, “Examining Human Rights Violations Against Minorities in the Islamist World” A Discussion with Brooke Goldstein and Dr. Qanta Ahmed. A letter protesting the event was published in the campus paper, the Daily Targum, the day before. I personally received dozens of hate filled messages, calling me a racist, a white supremacist, an islamaphobe, etc. Dozens of posts to our Facebook event called on us to cancel the event. 

The event went on as planned. Powerful and compelling issues regarding human rights abuses throughout the Middle East were discussed. The most honest dialogue I have ever seen between Jewish and Muslim students occurred. And it has ramifications. 

The speakers, Brooke Goldstein and Dr. Qanta Ahmed were presented powerful testimony.  Ms. Goldstein is a human rights attorney,award-winning filmmaker, and director of The Lawfare Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to issues regarding abuse of Western legal systems and human rights law. She has been featured in several media, including CNN, FoxNews, The New York Sun, Defense Technology International, and WABC News Talk Radio, and has been published in a variety of sources, including The New York Daily News, Commentary Magazine, The American Spectator, The Counter Terrorist Magazine, and others.

Dr. Ahmed, daughter of Pakistani immigrants to Britain, physician, devout Muslim, and human rights activist, is a frequent contributor to a variety of international media, including BBC World Service, Voice of America, NPR, CNN, Fox, C-Span, and Al Arabiya. She has been published in The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, The Christian Science Monitor, the Jerusalem Post, Ha’aretz, Pakistan’s The Daily Times, Gulf News, The Times of Israel, and the World Policy Journal. Her first book, “In the Land of Invisible Women” details her experience of living and working in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.


The presenters were exceptional: reasoned, articulate, compassionate – but no tip toeing around the issues.  It was a powerful and moving experience, before a standing-room-only crowd of students, about half Jews and half Muslim. The speakers clearly and sensitively differentiated between the term ‘Islamist’ and Islam/Muslim. They testified to their own experiences living, working, andresearching in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the Palestinian territories, under the rule of Muslim religious extremists. The litany of child abuse and oppression of women and minorities was tragic and chilling. For over 2 hours students sat in rapt attention, and it  was conducted with civility.


Then came the Q&A, filled with shouting, anger, and discord. Not a single student addressed the litany of tragedy and human rights violations which had been described to them in detail for two hours. The lack of any concern for the serious human rights issues presented was notable and disappointing. 


Instead, many Muslim students focused entirely on attacking the speakers personally. Hillel’s student Israel Chair had been facilitating the event, but eventually I had to step in and restore order. I had the police remove one student who began shouting anti-Zionist epithets. Both Dr. Ahmed and Ms. Goldstein, shocked and insulted, got up and left unceremoniously.

Following the formal program, however, several Muslim students stayed at Hillel and continued discussions with a group of Jewish students for an hour.  These students expressed their feelings that the overall experience was extremely positive.  I was very proud of our students and that Hillel facilitates such discussion. 

The controversy is sure to continue. Some students have already called the Office of Student Life to condemn us. It’s easier to attack Hillel than to deal with the human rights issues related to Islamic extremism. The irony, of course, is that the victims of such extremism are almost entirely innocent Muslims themselves.

Ultimately, Hillel created a safe space for students to engage with challenging issues in a serious way – they struggled, persevered, and ran with it. We hope to continue at the Jewish-Muslim Dinner, Sunday October 12th in the Hillel sukkah next to Brower Dining Hall, co-sponsored The New Jersey Muslim-Jewish Solidarity Committee, the Sisterhood of Shalom Saalam, andThe Foundation for Ethnic Understanding,

That is what the campus, and Hillel is all about. 

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Williamsburg Days 4&5

The last two days have been pretty good! On Wednesday we went to Jamestown, which is the site of the first permanent settlement in North America. There are two different places to go there and with our flex ticket we got entrance into both. First we went to Jamestown Island and Historic Jamestown. This is actual location of the original Jamestown settlement. They are still doing archeology work here and they will be doing it for at least a few more years. We were very lucky that we got there just in time to get a tour lead by one of the archeologists. They also do tour-guide led tours throughout the day, but this one was very good. The guy was able to really tell us what they are doing and finding. It turns out that he is basically the number 2 guy there, so that made it even better. We saw the walls of the fort and they have discovered the location of the first church building (where Pocahontas would have been married). It was all very interesting. There is a museum there where they display the finds and we took a quick look before heading back to the car to get lunch.

After lunch, on the way out of Jamestown Island, you can see the ruins of the first attempt at industry in Jamestown which was glass blowing. They have recreated what the furnace might have looked like and they are doing glass blowing there today. Then we went to Jamestown Settlement which is a museum where they have recreated the fort, a Powhaten Indian village, and the ships that came over from England. The kids liked the ships but by this time were getting a bit tired. We then headed back to the resort for pool time and dinner.

Yesterday we went to Yorktown which is the site of the last major battle of the Revolutionary war. The battlefield is run by the National Parks Service and we had a ranger led tour of the battlefield which great! The ranger was really animated and even had the kids’ attention for a while. Avi and Noam also sat through the video inside the visitor’s center, so I can tell that they really learned something. We to get the audio car tour of the battlefield. For this the kids were split between the two cars and it was really great. I know that Avi (in our car) was playing on electronics, but he was also listening and asked a couple of questions. My mother in law told me that Noam (in their car) also was attentive. We really got a great overview of this battle. It is interesting that the settlement at Jamestown marked the beginning of the British rule in North America and just 25 miles away in Yorktown, the battle marked the end of British rule.

There is also a site called the Yorktown Victory Center, but everyone was done, so we went back again for pool time. Marsha and I got our night out alone and we went out for Sushi and topped it off with some great Haagen Dazs!

Today, we are going for a half a day back to Colonial Williamsburg before we come back and get ready for Shabbat.

For the last trivia question, one signer of the Declaration from Virginia is easy, Thomas Jefferson. Others are Richard Henry Lee, Carter Braxton, Francis Lightfoot Lee, Benjamin Harrison, George Wythe and Thomas Nelson, Jr. Today’s question is what kind of plane do you see in the bottom picture below?


Avi and Shayna with Pocahontas        Shayna getting ready for battle!

Shayna is on some VERY real bedding in an Indian hut

Avi trying to pick up the Yorktown Victory monument

A plane from the nearby Naval Base that just happened to fly by.

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Williamsburg Day 3

What a difference a day makes! Today was a hot day! Not sweltering, but just plain hot. Bright and sunny. Thank God there is a lot of shade at Williamsburg so it was not so bad. The boys wanted to dive right in to their RevQuest game and they needed to meet a character at some location where the person would be every 30 minutes on the quarter hour. We tried hard to get the kids to take a 30 minute walking tour, but they wanted to go right for that. I got them at least to agree to stop at one location and hear all about guns of that time period.

Once they got started into their game, it was not too bad, but unfortunately that was all they could focus on. I guess all in all, it was a successful day. They did learn something about the time and the events leading up to the Revolutionary War. After they finished the quest (and got their medals) Avi and I took a “tour” of the one coffee house that was in Williamsburg. We learned the difference between a coffee house and a tavern and got to sample either Coffee, Tea, or Chocolate. Of course Avi chose the latter. They make a very authentic chocolate drink from that time period. A thick mixture with coco, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and a pinch of cayenne. Add a touch of sugar and it was VERY good. I tried to find their recipe but I was not successful. I gave this some thought and here is what I think will come up with a similar drink (makes four 8 ounce servings)

1 quart of milk
4 ounces of unsweetened coco powder (not dutch process)
1 Tablespoon of sugar (superfine would be best)
1 Tablespoon of flour
2 Teaspoons of cinnamon
1 Teaspoon of nutmeg
1 Teaspoon of ground cloves
pinch of cayenne
pinch of salt

Mix all of the ingredients except the milk. Add a small amount of water until everything has dissolved and mix well. Wisk in the milk slowly and then heat on a stove until just starting to boil. Serve hot.

After coming back to the resort the kids went to the pool and I went to a grill and prepared burgers, dogs, and corn from NJ. Everyone enjoyed! Tomorrow we go to Jamestown and I am hoping that they also have some things to keep the kids interested.

As for the trivia question yesterday, the answer is that the ring was called the Culper Ring. Washington wanted it called the Culpepper ring, but the men did not like that so they shortened it to Culper ring. Today’s question is (without Google!) “Name two Virginians who signed the Declaration of Independence.


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Williamsburg Days 1&2

Yesterday, we started our 2014 vacation and took a long drive to Williamsburg, VA. As I said in my last post, my in-laws drove down as well in their own car and this allowed us to split the kids up between the two cars! For the first few hours, Shayna went in my in-laws car, and the boys were with us. For this part of the trip, the boys were amazing. They were each playing on their DS and having some sort of contest with each other. They were calm and mostly quiet. This allowed Marsha and me to actually talk! I cannot recall the last time we able to do that. We stopped in Delaware for lunch and Avi switched cars with Shayna. The rest of the trip was also fine. Shayna can get a bit giggly, but it was really fine. Marsha and I got to listen to a recording of the Billy Joel / Howard Stern interview that was on Sirius XM radio. If you have not heard this, get a copy of the recording and listen to it. It was incredible!

After a little bit of traffic, we made it to Williamsburg just in time for dinner. My cousin Stacey, who lives in Virginia Beach told us about this great restaurant in Williamsburg called “Food for Thought“. This place is amazing. The food is great, and they take vegetarian food seriously! They are not a vegetarian restaurant, but they have a lot of vegetarian and vegan selections, and they will often substitute vegan chicken for other proteins on the menu. I had Ahi Tuna which was a special that night (Ah-May-Zing!) but Marsha had Pad Thai with vegan chicken that was great too. The best was when they made vegan chicken parm for Noam even though it was not on the menu. Everyone loved the meal and perhaps we will go there again.

After dinner we checked into the hotel. The hotel is part of our time share company so we expected a nice place. We were not disappointed. The suite is smaller than we are used to from a time share resort, but it is very nice. Our two bedroom suite ended up being a three bedroom suite which was a very nice surprise. We unpacked and got the kids to bed and we got a chance to just relax for a couple of hours.

We did not set an alarm for this morning, but were awakened by some machine outside (leaf blower?). We still took our time and got over to Colonial Williamsburg by 11 or so. We picked up our tickets and saw two short intro movies about the city. It turns out that they have a little game called RevQuest for the kids. Basically, they get a folder with clues and cyphers and they get to play “spy”. Avi and Noam really got into this. So much so that at times, we did not get to do anything but let them play the game! We did get to see a few things and all in all, the kids were great. The boys got about half way through the game, and we ventured our way to the art museum where they had a kids activity about spy craft and they got to try cyphers and other things that spys would use. One thing that was good is that they sell re-fillable cups here that give you free refills for the entire season! We purchased two of them and there is even one place where they will fill it with ice cream or a slushy! Needless to say the kids enjoyed that.

After coming back to the resort Avi and Shayna got to have some time in the pool and I made some really good eggplant parmesan (of course that means plain pasta for Avi and pizza for Noam, but at least Shayna had the eggplant!)

That’s pretty much it for now. Tomorrow we are going back to Colonial Williamsburg to see some more and let the kids play more of the spy game. Hopefully, Marla won’t mind me copying her vacation trivia game. Today’s question is (without google) what was the name of the Revolutionary spy ring that Washington created, and what is the origin of the name?

Avi in the stockade!

Some of the citizens of Williamsburg

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Vacation and Baseball caps

On Sunday the Goldwasser clan with Kheel grandparents in tow are going on a vacation to Williamsburg, Virginia. I am sure we will have a great time and hopefully the kids will learn something too! While this would be a nice topic for my blog today, sadly it is not. Hopefully I will blog about the trip before, during, and after, but for now I am going to talk about a much more serious issue.

Let me start with a little background. I am very lucky to have travelled to (or through) almost all of the contiguous 48 states. I went cross-country twice, once with my family in 1984 and once as a USY on Wheels staff member in 1989. I have also travelled other places in the country since then and even had a few days in Paris! During all of those trips there is one thing that I can say very proudly, that I wore my Kippah every day while on vacation. Those who know me, know that I wear my Kippah all the time. I started wearing the Kippah when I came back from USY Israel Pilgrimage and I have never stopped. As I said, I have been in almost every state of the US and Paris France (I need to go to more places in Europe!) and never once did I have an issue with wearing the Kippah, and never once did I even think that perhaps I should not wear it. For sure, there were times when I had a baseball cap on as well as my Kippah, but those cases were because of the hot sun, not because I wanted to take off the Kippah. And in those cases there were plenty of times I had the cap off.

Now I am facing a dilemma that I never thought I would ever face. Should I wear my Kippah during this trip south? Before going further, I will say right from the start that I have not made any decision on this. Why am I having this internal crisis? Many of my friends probably are seeing the same things on Facebook that I have been seeing. Throughout Europe there have been major anti-Semitic acts almost on a daily basis. People are defacing Synagogue and Jewish businesses with swastikas, people are harassing Jews, and people are even pulling Israel food from the shelves in stores, and even pulling kosher foods that are not Israeli produces. What I am seeing on Facebook scares me to no end. I feel like I am seeing the 1930 all over again!

One can quickly say, “But that is in Europe. In the US that could never happen.” And until recently I might have been inclined to agree with that. Over the past month or so there has been a major upswing in anti-Semitic activity in the US. In Seattle there was a major protest where participants called for the destruction of the Jewish state and people nearby heard things like “the Jews killed Jesus” and “kill all the Jews.” In Oakland, CA this week dock workers refused to unload an Israeli cargo ship and there are groups planning on doing the same in Seattle and Vancouver. For those who say that this is anti-Israel, not anti-Semitic, they need to have a quick lesson in world history. In truth, there anti-Israel IS anti-Semitism, plain and simple. Just look at these protests. If it were only anti-Israel, why would you hear “the Jews killed Jesus”? In Europe it is even clearer that the protests are anti-Semitic and not anti-Israel. Over 2000 French Jews have moved to Israel in the past number of months, compared with a few hundred the same time last year. That says a lot.

There is some encouragement. Unlike the 1930s, we are not seeing state sponsored anti-Semitism. We are seeing heads of state making public statements against anti-Semitism. This is a good thing. We are seeing the American press talking in terms of anti-Semitism. This is also a good thing because the American press (some of it, not all) seems to be coming to the realization that anti-Israel is actually anti-Semitism.

So I am still unsure about wearing my Kippah. One the one hand, I always wear it and I should continue to do so. On the other hand, I don’t want to put my family in a situation where people will start harassing us over what is going on in Israel.  My post title gives me another option to wear a baseball cap the entire time, but what message am I saying by doing that?  What my final decision will be remains to be seen, and perhaps I will blog about it before we leave, but for now, I want to hear what my friends have to offer about this.

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Community Supported Agriculture

As some may know from my past blogging, I love to cook and I often blogged about recipes and other items of culinary interest. This summer we decided to buy into a CSA. For those who have never heard of this, or is not sure what it is, basically local farms will sell shares of their crops to the local community. Each week you get a basket full of produce and of course get to have fun coming up with great new ways to prepare said produce. Because we were able to get over 10 people to buy in, we also have the farm deliver the produce to our Synagogue and everyone can come pick up there, which makes it very easy. Our CSA is 20 weeks and the farms grows an eclectic list of fruits and vegetables.

Of course you have no clue as to what you are going to get. In the early weeks the baskets were filled to the brim with leafy greens. Different kinds of lettuces, Swiss Chard, Spinach, etc. Now I have no problem with leafy greens and they are totally good for you, but it was hard working with that many greens for three or four weeks (PLEASE try grilled romaine it is very good!)

Once the leafy green season our baskets are so full it is hard to pick them up! This week, for example, we got the following:

2 small bunches of Kale (the only leafy green that comes in the mid to late summer)
2 pounds of grape tomatoes
8 beautiful large tomatoes
1 small and 1 large cantaloupe
6 assorted hot peppers
4 large onions
6 large potatoes
2 small purple eggplants
2 small white egglants
6 cucumbers
1 large cabbage                                                                          Last week’s baskets
16 ears of corn

That is a lot of food and we should be able to get through most of it. If we cannot eat or cook it during the week ahead, we will freeze it. Here is some ideas on what we might do with the produce this week. For the kale we are going to make Kale chips. If you do this right they are just as good as potato chips (well, not AS good, but pretty good). It is a very simple recipe. Take a small bunch of kale and take out the thick stems. Tear the leaves into pieces and then coat with ½ – 1 Tablespoon of oil. Work the oil in with your hands to get every piece covered. Place in a single layer on parchment lined baking sheets and bake in a 300 degree oven for 10 minutes. Turn the sheets and bake for 15 more minutes. Let the chips rest for 3 – 5 minutes before eating or bagging. You can season the kale with almost any spice before baking, but I think just a little kosher salt will be good.

Last week we got the same amount of grape tomatoes. Here is a recipe (from andreasrecipes.com) that I used with them.


9×13 baking pan, lined with foil
12-inch nonstick saute pan


2 pounds grape tomatoes
3 ounces (6 tablespoons) extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons dried basil (I used Italian seasoning)
2 teaspoons sea salt
3 or 4 grinds of fresh black pepper

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium Vidalia onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 green bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
1 yellow or orange bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
1/4 cup sliced olives (I skipped the olives)
1/3 cup sliced button mushrooms
12 fresh basil leaves, chopped
16 ounces linguine, cooked al dente
fresh grated Parmesan, for garnish (or other option for vegan)


1. Roasting the tomatoes: Preheat the oven to 375° F. Put the grape tomatoes into the foil-lined baking pan. Pour the olive oil over the tomatoes, and sprinkle with the dried basil and the sea salt. Shake the pan from side to side to get all the tomatoes coated with the oil and seasonings. Roast for about 90 minutes, until the tomatoes are starting to shrivel. Turn off the heat and leave the tomatoes in the oven while you prepare the rest of the vegetables.

2. In the nonstick pan over medium heat, sauté the onions in the olive oil until the onions are translucent. Add the garlic, green pepper, yellow pepper, olives, and mushrooms. Stir until all the ingredients are distributed and coated with the olive oil. Continue cooking until the vegetables are heated through and just starting to soften.

3. Remove the tomatoes from the oven and pour them along with all the olive oil and seasonings into the pan with the vegetables. Toss in the fresh chopped basil and stir and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes. Serve over cooked linguine and garnish with fresh grated Parmesan.

Last week we had gotten peppers also so I used a lot of what we had in the one recipe. I hope you will try this recipe it is so delicious. If you do make it, PLEASE do not discard the oil that the tomatoes roasted in. It makes a remarkable creamy sauce for the pasta.

Finally, here is you tube video about how to cook corn:


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Return to Blogging

Lately I have been thinking about starting to blog again, and with the addition of a server to my house (more of this in future posts) I was able to bring up a WordPress installation right here in my office. So this short little post is basically a test to make sure that everything is working well. Hopefully, this post will be in my blog, “The Long and Winding Road“, and will be pushed over to my Facebook page as well.

To get started I guess I will just post a little about what has been going on in my life over the last year or so. Just over a year ago, I started a new job with a small company called Need I.T. Now. We are an IT services company specializing in small to mid-size business. I have worked for NITN in the past. Years ago, I saw a posting somewhere for a Novell expert. I answered and I got the job. It was a small temporary job, but it put me in touch with the owner of the company, AB. Fast forward a few years, and I was out of work. I got in touch with AB, and he gave me a part time job doing tech support for his clients. It was a great act of kindness, and in actuality the highest level of Tzedakah. After a time I did get a job, again in NYC as all of my jobs have been. Any time I was working in the city I would always keep my eye out for New Jersey jobs because I was tired of commuting into New York. I applied for a number of different jobs, and a few of them even went as far as their checking my references, one of which was AB. I get an email from AB asking if I was looking for a job because he was contacted as a reference. I said that I had a job, but would welcome a new job in NJ. One thing leads to another, and now it is just over a year since I started working for him full time.

About 90% of my time is working in my home office. I get sent tickets and then I call the client and fix their problems. Simple! So far this has worked out well and I hope to keep working for NITN for many more years.

So that’s it for now. I am really going to try to write at least a few days a week, if not more, so stay tuned for more travels down our long and winding road!


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Taking Hiddur Mitzvah Too Far

Sunday was the Jewish holiday of Purim. For those who are not familiar, the holiday celebrates the story found in the book of Esther. I am not going to tell that story as it is available all over the web, and in the Bible. The holiday of Purim has three main Mitzvot. A Mitzvah, for my non Jewish friends, is not defined as a “good dead” as is often the case. A Mitzvah is a commandment, somehow based on the 613 original commandments found in the first five books of the Bible. In this case the three Mitzvot are hearing the reading of the scroll of Esther (the Biblical book), giving gifts to your friends and enjoying a festive meal with your family and friends on Purim day. That sounds great and these three are very easy Mitzvot to perform. Go to Synagogue to hear the reading, give a few gifts and have dinner. Not too difficult. And, in fact, our Synagogue was full on Saturday night for the reading of Esther. Kids dress up in costume and everyone has a great time. I think there were over 300 people at the Synagogue!

Now here comes my rant. There is another principal in Jewish life called Hiddur Mitzvah or making the Mitzvah beautiful. The concept of Hiddur Mitzvah is derived from Rabbi Ishmael’s comment on the verse, זֶה אֵלִי וְאַנְוֵהוּ “This is my God and I will glorify Him” (Exodus 15:2): “Is it possible for a human being to add glory to his Creator? What this really means is: I shall glorify Him in the way I perform MitzvotI shall prepare before Him a beautiful Lulavbeautiful sukkah, beautiful fringes (Tsitsit), and beautiful phylacteries (Tefilin).” [Midrash Mechilta, Shirata, chapter 3, ed. Lauterbach, p. 25.] The Talmud [Shabbat 133b] adds to this list a beautiful Shofar and a beautiful Torah scroll which has been written by a skilled scribe with fine ink and fine pen and wrapped in beautiful silks. One of the most well-known ways observant Jews today fulfill Hiddur Mitzvah is to buy very beautiful Etrogim for Sukkot. Some people will, in fact, spend quite a lot of money on an Etrog, often well over $100.

Now I have no problem with enhancing our observance of Mitzvot. I am all for it. But there has to be a limit. It seems to me that people are using Hiddur Mitzvah as a means to “one up” their neighbors. “They” spent $50 per gift basket this Purim so next Purim I am going to spend $75 per gift basket. This year I saw two different families being driven around in stretch limos delivering their Mishloah Manot (Purim gift baskets). This made me quite angry (I saw it last year too but for some reason it got me more this year). I think there needs to be a limit to Hiddur Mitzvah. How much money did these families spend up Purim? I have no idea on the cost of their baskets but I am sure it was not small. It is not impossible to think that their Mishloah Manot cost over $1000 when you include the limo. For what? Of course it was to fulfill a Mitzvah, so that is good, but they easily could have fulfilled the Mitzvah with small baskets that they themselves drove around town. Perhaps the $900 they saved could have been donated to Mazon or many other charities whose missions is to deal with the problem of hunger in our society. It is time for the Rabbis in these communities to put their feet down and say enough! No one should spend more than $36 for an Etrog. No one should build 500 square foot Sukkot and move their living room into it. No one should deliver Mishloah Manot by Limo.

And now, a little Torah. The holiday of Passover is fast approaching. In the center of the Haggadah are verses that we spend much of our Seder discussing. Many people will recognize these verses:

אֲרַמִּי אֹבֵד אָבִי וַיֵּרֶד מִצְרַיְמָה וַיָּגָר שָׁם בִּמְתֵי מְעָט וַיְהִי־שָׁם לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל עָצוּם וָרָב:  וַיָּרֵעוּ אֹתָנוּ הַמִּצְרִים וַיְעַנּוּנוּ וַיִּתְּנוּ עָלֵינוּ עֲבֹדָה קָשָׁה: ז וַנִּצְעַק אֶל־יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֵי אֲבֹתֵינוּ וַיִּשְׁמַע יְהוָֹה אֶת־קֹלֵנוּ וַיַּרְא אֶת־עָנְיֵנוּ וְאֶת־עֲמָלֵנוּ וְאֶת־לַחֲצֵנוּ: ח וַיּוֹצִאֵנוּ יְהוָֹה מִמִּצְרַיִם בְּיָד חֲזָקָה וּבִזְרֹעַ נְטוּיָה וּבְמֹרָא גָּדֹל וּבְאֹתוֹת וּבְמֹפְתִים: וַיְבִאֵנוּ אֶל־הַמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה וַיִּתֶּן־לָנוּ אֶת־הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת אֶרֶץ זָבַת חָלָב וּדְבָשׁ

“My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down to Egypt and lived there with a few people and there he became a great nation, large and strong. And the Egyptians dealt harshly with us, and afflicted us, and laid upon us hard slavery. And we cried to the Lord God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice, and looked on our affliction, and our labor, and our oppression. And the Lord took us out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with great awesomeness, and with signs, and with wonders. And he has brought us to this place and given us this land flowing with milk and honey.”

In the Torah’s context (not the Haggadah’s) this mini-history of the Jewish people is to be recited when a person brings their first fruits to the temple for a sacrifice. One interesting thing is that, according to the Talmud, a person did not just recite these verses, but the priest in the temple would recite the verse word by word and the person bringing his first fruits would repeat the words and the priest said them. Another example is during a wedding ceremony. When a bridegroom says the special verse of betrothal: הֲרֵי אַת מְקֻדֶשֶת לִי בְטַבַּעַת זוּ כְּדַת מֹשֶׁה וְיִשְׂרָאֵל “Behold you are consecrated to me, with this ring, according to the laws of Moses and Israel”, it is also said by the groom repeating the words as the officiant says them under the Huppa. Also at a wedding it is traditional for a groom to say some words of Torah at his Tisch (literally a table, but a small ceremony before the wedding when certain legal documents are signed) but the attendees interrupt him with song so he cannot say anything.

All of these things are done so that one person is not set above another. In the first two cases, some people may know Hebrew very well, and some not. But if they have to repeat word for word the verses, then everyone is the same. Even the greatest sage has to repeat the words that are said to him. In the third case, at the Tisch, the friends interrupt with song so that no matter the groom’s abilities or learning, all grooms are seen the same.

Similarly, I think it is time for us to start letting all people be the same in terms of Hiddur Mitzvah. Rather than some people being able to buy the most beautiful Etrog, perhaps a Synagogue should collect money to buy Etrogim for all members and make sure they are all the same. People with more money can pay more in and people with less money can pay in less. But no matter your wealth, you will get the same Etrog. On Purim people should be encouraged to make modest gift baskets for their friends. The only requirement is that there are two different kinds of foods in the basket. I don’t think it is wrong to ask people to be more modest with their baskets (plus we only have four weeks to get rid of the baked goods before Passover and less is better!)

I am not a Rabbi and I have no authority to get people to do anything, but I feel very strongly about this issue. I hope that others, who are reading my blog will think about this and if you have similar feelings about this, speak with your Rabbi to learn his or her views.

Hag Kasher V’sameakh!

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I have posted my Hamentashen recipe twice before in my blog (here and here). For the first time in more years than I can remember, I have made some changes to my recipe. If you can hold back you gasps, I will explain and post my new recipe below. I have been baking for many years now and I have a number of items that I have always done in a particular way. I also have a go to book for Jewish baking that I consult with all the time. The book is called “A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking” by Marcy Goldman. This is a great cook book and covers all the basics of both baking in general and Jewish baking in particular. If you want to learn about baking, buy the book. If you already bake, buy the book. It has helped me numerous times.

My Hamentashen recipe differed from others because I tried to create a VERY light dough with a minimum of flour in the recipe itself. My reasoning was that as you roll out the dough you add more flour and as you keep re-rolling you continue to add more flour. Eventually I would find that the last rounds I would cut would be much too dry to shape into proper Hamentashen. The downside was always that I had to closely watch them as they baked. I would need to take them out just as they began to turn brown. Any less time and they would fall apart and any longer and they started to burn. I figured for a couple of days a year I can stick close to my oven. My dough was also very sweet (which certainly made it popular with my kids!)

I have not really looked at another recipe in a long time. People had given me recipes over the years and I have glanced at them, but I always said to myself, mine was better. Year after year, I would taste other homemade Hamentashen that I would get on Purim, and year after year I was satisfied that mine were the best of the bunch. Today I decided to just take a look at Marcy Goldman’s Hamentashen recipe. I was somewhat surprised that the recipe was very close to my own, with some significant changes. First off, she had more flour in the recipe than I did; significantly more. My recipe as printed in my blog had two cups of flour for ½ cup of shortening. Her recipe was double mine, and as printed said “at least four cups of flour”. It seems the same, but one of my little secrets was that I did not follow my own recipe and I used closer to 1 ½ cups in my single batch, or 3 cups in a batch equal to hers. That meant that she was using a whole cup more than me. If I were to put that much extra in my dough, I felt it would dry up much too quickly. Then I noticed that she dealt with that problem by adding more liquid. I call for 2 teaspoons of vanilla in my double batch (or orange juice) and she called for ¼ cup of orange juice and two teaspoons of vanilla. I had two eggs and she had three. The only other difference was the lower amount of sugar that she used. I had two cups, and she had a cup and a half. I think as I have gotten older, my need for the extra sweetness had lessened, so I was open to this idea as well.

Here, then, is my NEW Hamentashen recipe, based on my original recipe and Marcy Goldman’s.


2 Sticks of Margarine
1 ½ Cups of Sugar
3 eggs
¼ Cup of Orange Juice
2 teaspoons of Vanilla
2 ½ teaspoons of Baking Powder
½ teaspoon of salt
4 ½ Cups of flour

1.    In a standing mixer, cream the margarine and the sugar with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy.
2.    Add the eggs one at a time and mix in until the mixture is smooth. If it looks like it is curdling, add a few tablespoons of flour to bind it together.
3.    Add the orange juice and the vanilla and mix well.
4.    Add the baking powder and salt and mix well.
5.    Add half of the flour and mix in, and then mix in the rest a half cup at a time until the dough holds together well but is still somewhat soft. Depending upon the humidity (which should be low this time of year) you will need to adjust the amount of flour. I think I added about 4 ½ cups.
6.    Take the dough out of the bowl and put on a lightly floured board. Bring the mass together into a large ball and flatten slightly. Let the dough rest for at least 15 minutes. You could refrigerate the dough at this point and use within 6 hours or freeze it and use within a few weeks.
7.    Separate the dough into quarters and roll out each quarter to about 1/8 inch thick. Using a 3″ cookie cutter or similar sized glass cut out rounds. Stack the rounds on the side and take the remainder of the dough and add it to the next quarter and roll it out and cut the rounds. Keep repeating this until you run out of dough.

Rather than explain fillings and how to shape the Hamentashen, I recommend going to my friend’s website, The Shiksa in the Kitchen. She has a bunch of recipes for fillings and some great images showing a wonderful technique in shaping the Hamentashen. The only thing I will add to her info is that if you want to purchase fillings, the best you can get is Solo brand pie filling.


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