Thoughts on Eruv Yom Kippur

IMG_2269First, avid blog readers will be happy to note that we got Oma’s shabbos lamp up and running before Rosh Hashana and, in  my humble, but somewhat partial opinion, it is AWESOME.

My dad wrote the story of the lamp in his own words and I think his description is also pretty awesome so I’m reprinting it here.

My Mother had this old, ugly Shabbos Lamp hanging in her dining room.  It had been an oil lamp that my Father had acquired on the boat coming here from Germany from a poor Jew who needed the money.  They electrified it, put in Christmas bulbs and coated it with some kind of anti-corrosive lacquer that hid the sheen of the original brass underneath.  Stacy and Eli tore out the wiring, restored it to its original oil-burning configuration and had it professionally polished.  The result is the beautiful lamp you see in the picture.  It now hangs in their home and will be lovingly used every week

I know my Mother would be extremely pleased that a piece of our family heritage has been preserved.  However, on a deeper level, I see it as a metaphor for stripping away all the unnecessary embellishments of life to reveal the true beauty underneath.

Separately, and unrelated to the lamp other than the possible proximity to Yom Kippur, is recently I realized that my relatives who were murdered in the Holocaust no longer haunt me.

For a long time they did.  The pictures of the men women and one child who perished stayed with me.  I could put faces to the names of people that perished due to an extensive family photo album we have.  In moments of solitude I could close my eyes and hear them scream.

They were haunting me like Halloween type western ghosts.  People who met an  untimely end hanging around to protest their suffering in this world.

This is particularly strange because Oma never expressed this sentiment nor did anyone else in my immediate family.  This seemed to be a burden that I bore alone and recently it was lifted.

Then, due to a series of unforeseen events I found myself at slichot this year.

At the end of a prayer that begins El Rachoom, Compassionate G-d.  I found this:

. . . Act for the sake of those killed in sanctification of Your name.  Act for the sake of those slaughtered over Your unity,  Act for the sake of those who have gone through fire and water in sanctification of Your name. . .

I later noticed the same words are found in Aveniu Malkenu.

This year I read these prayers with new eyes.  Jews have a tradition of bargaining with G-d.  Avraham, the first Jew did it with the destruction of Sodom.  The message I internalized from the tephillah this year is  to use my personal family martyrs, as well as the general concept of millions of Jewish martyrs to extract divine blessing.  It seems somehow selfish.

And yet . . .

When someone dies we say “may their memory be for a blessing”.  Any generation would naturally want blessings to rain down on their descendants.  This tephillah is a mechanism to to transform their suffering into an blessing.  This year this tephillah released me from my American style ghosts, it was the true manifestation of a compassionate G-d, El Rachum.  This year I will implore G-d  in their name to rain down blessings on His people.

I hope that this year all of our prayers will be answered.

Zwetschgenkuchen

As a Jew of German descent I associate Rosh Hashana with apples and honey and Zwetchgenkuchen.  We don’t do honey cake, it’s not a thing.  What is Zwetchgenkuchen?  It’s a plum tart and like apple pie, there must be hundreds of ways to make it.

For me it’s also a very strong Oma memory.  I was her accomplice in Zwetchgenkuchen production.  And while she didn’t give me a recipe (she would say, just watch me make it and then you’ll know how), she gave me Zwetchgenkuchen tips and tricks.

The existence of Oma’s Zwetchgenkuchen was a major psychological barrier in becoming kosher and since I became kosher, now almost fifteen years ago, I’ve been trying to recreate it.  Since this is a unique southern German/Alsatian specialty, it’s not exactly standard Jewish cookbook fare and to make matters worse there are several different unique versions, ones with crumble on top, ones with plums sunk into the dough.  In college and for the first few years were were married I made the Joan Nathan version, the only easily accessible version online and found it greatly lacking both in it’s milchig and pareve incarnations.  Last year I just gave up.

This is one of the previous, sticky, unfortunate attempts:

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This year with Oma’s passing I resolve to continue the search.  After all I had new resources.  I emailed Gerd Berghofer, from my Opa’s town back in Germany. He said he didn’t have a recipe.  I emailed Louisa Bieler, a friend that moved to Berlin five (!) years ago.  She didn’t have a recipe.

Oma left us with several illegible (to anyone outside the Leo Baeck Institute) German hand written cookbooks and a NINE HUNDRED page printed cookbook from 1901 (in German).  Dr. Frank Mechlenberg, from the LBI has a copy of the same book and tipped me off that there  was a whole Zwetschgenkuchen chapter.  Louisa obligingly translated and found one VERY close, but it was missing the Mürbeteig (shortbread pie crust) recipe.  Her co-workers (in Germany) suggested a yeast dough but I was sure Oma used the shortbread.  Louisa kindly offered to translated the whole Mürbeteig SECTION of the cookbook, but there just wasn’t time before Yom Tov!

I wracked my brain for SOMEONE SOMEWHERE that would have a recipe (other than Joan Nathan).  Finally I thought that Israel has every kind of Jew and I asked my friend Hannah Kaye Greenberg who is currently living in Jerusalem to google Zwetschgenkuchen in Hebrew.  She came up with this Claudia Rodin version.  Sadly it doesn’t exist in English.  Also sadly my Hebrew is quite poor.  Fortunately I know how to use Google Translate and there were some patented Oma secrets I could apply.  Here’s the recipe, 15 years in the making:

Ingredients

2/3 cup sugar
1.25 cups self-raising flour (or plain flour with 1/2 tsp baking powder)
75 g butter or margarine, cold
1 small egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon brandy (I used bourbon)
zest of 1 lemon (Oma addition)
1tbs Matzo Meal (Oma addition)
.5 tsp cinnamon, resist the urge to add “too much cinnamon” like the American you are (as per Oma)
750g Italian Prune Plums (aka Zwetchke) plums, halved and pitted

Preparation

Preheat oven to 375
Mix half of the sugar with the flour (and baking powder) and the lemon zest.
Cut the cold butter into cubes and rub into the flour and sugar mixture.
Stir in the egg and bourbon and mix with your hands (it works better than a spoon) just until a dough.
If the dough is too sticky, add flour.
Press the bottom of a ROUND (Oma specification) baking dish. You should really need to stretch the dough to fit the pan. This recipe called for a pie diameter 25 cm which is 9 inches and change. I used a 9in pie plate and it was way too thick.
Sprinkle the dough with matzo meal, it will absorb the plum juices.
Quarter the plums and arrange in concentric circles, contemplate the circular nature of the year and life.
Sprinkle with some sugar. I found that I needed somewhat less than 1/3 of a cup.
Sprinkle with cinnamon.

Bake at 375F for about 50 minutes or until crust turns golden brown.

Now, you may ask why does this recipe with Oma additions earn my endorsement.  Mainly, the crust is DEAD ON.  So much so that as I was making the pie crust and eating the dough I could hear Oma telling me “Don’t eat my whole pie crust before I can bake it!!!”  I marveled at how this particular flavor could transport me through space and time to Oma’s sunny kitchen baking with her.

The one non-authentic Oma modification is that she used to glaze her pie when it came out of the oven.  This glaze was really just plum jam that she made on her stove-top.  I’ve attempted to re-create the home made plum jam in the past and it hasn’t been a fruitful (ha!) endeavor.  It turns into a sticky mess and the dough gets soggy.  As hard as it was to find the Zwetschgenkuchen recipe it is SO much harder to find a recipe for the glaze.  Most of the ones I’ve encountered are unglazed so I decided to work on perfecting it unglazed this year before trying pie glaze experiments.

This is how mine came out.  I made two, it worked almost equally well milchig and pareve (which was shocking).  It was perfect.  It even turned the correct deep purple color in the fridge.  I’m making another two this week.  If  you’re local come on over.

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I hope someone reading this blog will enjoy this recipe as much as I did.

A Child’s Success

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It seems that sometimes Oma’s prayers for her childrens’ success were answered.

Here is the letter transcribed:

1327 Verbena Ave.

Floral Park, NY

June 24, 1962

Dear Mrs. Heidecker,

I did so appreciate your note and also wish to thank you for the shoe holders.

I have enjoyed having Perry for Reading and Arithmetic.

I was so pleased when he got 100%, in his Arith test because I knew he could do it.

When I first came to know him we would often visit when I had playground duty.  I admired his choice of words, so in Reading I expected high grades.

I feel he is a boy who needs a challenge so I tried so hard to make him get the high grades I knew he was capable of getting.

I think at times he thought I was rather strict but when a child has the ability, I feel you aren’t a good teacher unless you strive for the best.

I’m sure he can go far.

Thanks again.

Sincerely,

Emma M. Chisamore.

I love this letter.  I imagine Oma picking out the shoe holders for the teacher.  I love how she reveled in my Dad’s success.  I love that she saved this letter for fifty years for me to find.

A Mother’s Prayer for the Success of Her Children

At long last here it is. I feel this is very first day of school appropriate . . .

Reprinted with permission from “Hours of Devotion” by Dinah Berland (http://www.amazon.com/Hours-Devotion-Neudas-Prayers-Jewish/dp/0805242457/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1409761471&sr=8-1&keywords=hours+of+devotion)

A Mother’s Prayer for the Success of Her Children

A wise son is a father’s Joy;
A foolish son is a mother’s sorrow.
– Proverbs 10:1

All-Compassionate One, children are
Gifts of your mercy and the reward for virtue.
A praiseworthy child-
How a mother’s heart beats with exaltation
At the sound of those words
Successful children are the flowers
That make our lives a Garden of Eden.
They are the sweetest fruits of our life’s tree,
The holy tributes we leave behind us on this earth;
Their pious prayers serve us even in the afterlife.

Successful children are gifts of your grace,
But how awful, my God, when they fail!
A mother’s life is devoted to the care and raising of her children.
Her heart and mind dwell on them-
On all they do and all they strive to do.
To help them prosper, no sacrifice is too great for her,
No effort too heavy. When they fail,
Her entire life is disrupted.
All cheerfulness, all joy lie buried
Beneath heavy clouds of sorrow, darkening her hopes,
For a wise child is a father’s joy,
But one who fails is a mother’s distress.
O dear God, may your Grace protect me from this pain.
In addition to the keen awareness of my misfortune,
I must also add the heartrending thought
That I may not have fulfilled my maternal duties.

Sometimes a child’s nature,
In the child’s physical or mental constitution,
An unfortunate impairment or injury exists,
Yet through wise and attentive care and upbringing,
It is often possible to strengthen a sickly plant
And raise it into a hearty , strong, and healthy shoot;
But through neglect or error,
Through weakness or ignorance,
Instead of healing the brokenness,
We may instead increase and magnify it.
With our own hands, we may guide our children
Into ruin. With our own hands, O God,
We can transform your blessing into a curse.

Almighty, I humble myself before your holy power.
From you who gave me the name of mother,
I beg aid, counsel, and insight
Into the practice and fulfillment of a mother’s duties,
That they may serve in my children’s
Healing and redemption, and in my own.
Grant that-unblinded by a mother’s love-
I may turn a sharp eye to my children’s faults,
Take those faults seriously, recognize them,
And at the right time find the best way
To address and help repair them-
To acknowledge my children’s struggles
And to notice and promote my children’s
Natural and enduring goodness.

Grant that I may combine love and strength
In the right measure, so I might
Guide my children on the path of virtue
And raise them to be the joy of my heart,
To praise your name, and to serve humanity.
But for all those things that no human wisdom
And no human power can provide to them – please
Grant these things to them, All-Compassionate One:
Good health and strength of body and mind,
Grace and generosity of spirit,
A long life filled with good deeds,
And an abundant portion
Of life’s good fortune and joy. Amen.

Copyright Dinah Berland, all rights reserved.

Treasure Found!

 

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I was fortunate to spend the better part of a year studying in Israel at Nishmat.  Laurie Novick was my teacher and introduced me to a form of prayer that was new to me, techinot, these are very personal supplications often composed for women and or by women quite commonly about 150 years ago.  There are techinot on all sorts of different topics, finding a shidduch, praying for children, special prayers for holidays, and for your wedding, for your kids’ weddings.

At the same time Aliza Lavie had come out with a beautiful compilation of these techinot in Hebrew.  While this form of prayer spoke to me strongly, I could only glimpse at the eloquence of the words because I struggled with the Hebrew.  In particular, I remember drafting Dovid Skversky (I know you’re reading this) to translate one by Fanny Neuda for me to recite on my wedding day.  They subsequently came out in English.

Imagine my shock when going through Oma’s house to find an original, German copy, from 1936, of Fanny Neuda’s book Studen Der Andaacht, or Hours of Devotion in English.  Fanny Neuda’s poems featured prominently in Aliza Lavie’s book and I immediately knew what I had found!

I didn’t know she originally wrote in German, and I certainly didn’t know Oma was a fan!!!  How I long to discuss this with her.  I literally dream about sitting in her kitchen, having a cup of tea and talking about it.  The next best thing I could do was buy Dinah Berland’s book Hours of Devotion, an English translation of many of the techinot.

This book was important enough for Oma to carry out of Germany.  It also enjoyed good use in the years since. The edges are worn, and the book is rebound.  The inside of the book says “In Memory of My Mother (Thanks Frank Mecklenberg!)”.  I’m not quite sure who’s mother this is.  You can also see a lipstick print on the inside in Oma’s shade as well as about a dozen stamps of my grandfather’s name.  I imagine some small child got their hand on the stamp and the book 🙂

Possibly most interestingly the book falls open to Gebet Einer Mutter um Das Gluck Und Das Wohlbefinden Ihrer Kinder.  I was able to match this up with Dinah’s book by matching up the biblical citations at the beginning of each techina.    The translation is A Mother’s Prayer for the Success of her Children.   This is clearly a prayer that Oma said frequently, the page is darker at the top right where she must have flipped to it many times. It was so emblematic of who Oma was that I contacted the author and asked her if I could reprint it on this blog and she graciously agreed.

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Stay tuned for the techina in the next post . . .

The Shabbos Lamp

One of the treasures I remember from Oma’s house growing up is her shabbos lamp.  Now for a long time I didn’t get it.  What was this ugly weird thing with the X-mas lights on it?  Why did Oma treasure it so much?  Why did she have someone wire it for electricity (okay that one I never figured out).

As I became religious Oma told me it’s story.  It was a sabbath lamp (Judenstern).  This is a somewhat but not totally unique artifact for German Jews.  Oma’s, like most of the other ones you find on the internet from southern Germany, is brass and has a large reservoir for oil for use on Shabbat, so that it could burn for a long time and you could have a late meal Friday night.  When Oma told me what it was for and that her family had one just like it in her home, for the first time I could see past the ugly light-bulbs and wires and to it’s original form.

Oma got hers when Opa bought it from a poor Jew on their boat who looking for some extra money to help him get a fresh start his life in America.  Because this wasn’t commissioned or even picked out by Oma, for a while I felt like this heirloom had less sentimental value.  Then I realized that this hung next to her dining room table for SEVENTY FIVE YEARS?  I think at that point it becomes a legitimate family heirloom.  Further, for me it solidified my connection to my shabbos keeping ancestors.  They used one just like this to keep shabbos and beautify the mitzva.

On the theme of beautification we decided to restore it and light it up again with oil, hopfully for Rosh Hashana.  Here are some initial pictures of the restoration.  It’s not done yet but I’ll be sure to post pictures when it is.  Thank you Eli, for being my man with a blow torch.  Wishing everyone a much needed Shabbat Shalom.

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