Friday, March 29, 2019

The Passover Creep

The purpose of this blog is to bloom conversation at the Shabbat table. Please print and share. 
Thank you for all the happy feedback to last week's message, "The Good, the Bad and the Yummy".

grab-my-art-cherry-blossom_a-G-15027954-0First the cherries blossom...

Then you turn on the outdoor faucets....

Then you click here to check the countdown....

Then you follow the link there to get your Art of Amazement Haggada or JSLI Complete Passover Kit.

Then, tonight at the Shabbat table, try asking this question:

How do you want this Pesach to be similar to Pesachim of the past, and how would you like it to be different from all other Pesachim?

You might find the answers very interesting.

Shabbat Shalom
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Thursday, March 21, 2019

The Good, the Bad and the Yummy

The goal of this blog is to lighten up the Purim table in good taste. Please forward, like, tweet or at least print and share.

IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT - The Amazing Jewish-Fact-a-Day Calendar app has not been updated. Someone complained to me today about this and I'm sorry for the delay in updating it. Please watch this space for a future announcement regarding this most amazing app.
71d8e19470ab8e144cfbd2d5fb4e0f29Many times I've asked readers to submit their best Jewish jokes.

To date, the "two guys in Argentina joke" remains at the top.

In the meantime, hamantasch (
that favorite Purim cookie) factories big and small have been at full-steam, leading us to a question for your table:

What would you guess are the three most popular hamantasch flavors?

(Answer below.)

That question leads us to some good news, some bad news, and some yummy news.

The good news is more people than ever before are doing Purim this year.

Why is that good news?

Because one of the main ways to celebrate Purim is to give gifts (money and food). So more people celebrating = more giving.

The bad news is that the world still has a few Haman-wanna-bes. The current front-runner is the president of Persia/Iran, Mr. Rou-Haman-i (who took over for Mr. A-Haman-nijadad in 2013).

Still building the bomb, still wants to kill the Jews.

Note that Persia happens to be the setting of the ancient Purim story.

(In case the face doesn't ring a bell, click on it and learn something about the Haman of our day. Or click here, or here.)

The yummy news is what these modern Hamans have taught us about hamantaschen.

We have all wondered why are they shaped like that, and what does hamantash mean, anyhow?

When I was a kid, we used to call them “Haman’s hat”. But that’s because we didn’t spreken Yiddish. Then I went to Israel where they call them “Oznay Haman” - Haman’s ears. So I thought that tashen meant ears.

(Do Israelis imagine themselves as cannibals when they munch on their hamantashen?)

In fact, if you look in your Yiddish dictionary or talk to your Bubbe, you will learn that a tasch is a purse or bag.

There you have it. Hamantashen = Haman-bags.

Maybe they’re called “bags” because they are folded over with fruit inside, and “Haman” because they do look like Haman’s hat.

Or maybe he carried a triangular handbag.

Or maybe he did have triangular ears.

And then I stumbled upon these photos, hard evidence that the ear theory is correct:


So I'm guessing you're thinking, "What are supposed to do, Rabbi, defeat our enemies by mocking them?"

This calls for a Monty Python line:

“We spit on you, you silly Persian. Your mother was a hamster and your father smelled of elderberries. Now go away or we will taunt you a second time!” (say with French accent) (For context, here's a video clip.)

Like I said, more people are doing Purim this year. Here are the stats from Israel alone:

+ An estimated forty million hamantaschen have been baked.
+ Israelis are able to buy goat cheese and onion hamantaschen.
+ Goat-cheese-and-onion (my personal favorite) has a ways to go before it overtake the most popular flavors of poppyseed, chocolate and date.

(For the adventurous, here are some other interesting flavor innovations.)

One more question for your table: What's your favorite hamantaschen flavor? What flavor would you never want to try?

But if you look in that Yiddish dictionary again, you'll learn that man means "poppy". So the word mantaschen means "poppy-pockets" and therefore "Hamantaschen" is punny.

Hamantaschen remind us that the truth is sometimes hidden, and that sometimes it helps to laugh.

....Even at ourselves.... Here's an oldy:

How many Jews does it take to change a lightbulb?
Just one — but whoever it is, we make them feel guilty for not changing it earlier.


The time to eat them is of course today! ... remembering that every Haman has his hour, and his downfall.

Happy Purim


Shabbat Shalom

PS - All kidding aside, two of the great Purim mitzvot can be done online:

Gifts to the poor - Here or here or here or ....

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Friday, March 15, 2019

The Wizard of Ooo's and Ahhh's

The purpose of this blog is to sweeten the deal at the Shabbat table. Please print and share.

Ace the SATWe were still chuckling from last week's merry pre-Purim post when this week's college admissions-gate was announced.
I happened to have been with people who personally know some of the individuals who were arrested.

So you can imagine how this story came like a bombshell.

Questions come to mind, lots of questions for your table.

Should the ones still in college be expelled?
Should the ones who completed college have their degrees revoked?
Should the students be prosecuted?

That'll larn 'em!

Regardless of the law, what is the moral distinction between bribing a coach to push for your daughter's admission and bribing a property manager to let your cat-owning daughter rent an apartment where pets are not allowed?

How about between bribing a coach covertly and bribing the school overtly by donating a building?

How about between bribing a coach covertly and bribing a congressman overtly by donating to his campaign?

Deepthroat said, "Follow the money."

I've always said, if you want to know what someone truly values, take a look at their credit card statement.

These people we obviously value that "elite" piece of paper.

Question for your table: Why?

But let's make this more personal. Where is the red line between ethical and unethical help for a child?

Is it okay to write an essay for a child (or a friend for that matter)? What about editing it? Proofreading? Does it make a difference if the essay is for college versus for a current class?

What about a child's bar or bar mitzvah speech? How much parental input is ethical?

I'm not suggesting that these gray-area questions have no answer; on the contrary, I believe that they should and do have clear red lines. I'm putting them out there for discussion in order to find those red lines.

Shabbat Shalom


Happy Purim

"I can't give you brains, but I'll give you a diploma!"
(Bonus question!!! Who said it?)

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Friday, March 08, 2019

A Photon Checks Into a Hotel....

The purpose of this blog is to lighten up the Shabbat table. Please print and share.

photonThe manager asks, "No luggage?"

The photon says, "No, I'm traveling light."

OK, no apologies, it's a pretty good joke.

But you have to admit, after last week, you were expecting something sappy.

Listen, for what we charge for this email, you should be grateful to get even one good joke. But just because you're special, I'm going to give you another:

A neutron walks into a bar and asks the bartender how much for a drink?  —“For you, no charge.”

Had enough? No, you want more?

Confused? Wondering what these pretty-good-jokes are doing in this holy space?

Today's the first day of Adar. Back by popular demand. It is time to get a little happier.

Pretty soon it's going to be Purim, then Pesach, then.... time keeps on slipping into the future!

Past, Present, and Future walked into a bar. It was tense.

So how does all this merriment become a meaningful talk for your table?

Try asking this question:

Why can’t you trust atoms?  —They make up everything.

But seriously - question for your table - what makes a joke funny?

Why, for example is that last one funny, but this one is not:

Why can’t you trust atoms?  —They always lie.

Somehow, that just falls a little flat. Can you pinpoint why?

The answer (it seems to me) is because it's not true. They don't lie. Atoms don't even talk. There is no way it could be spun as truthful.

So it turns out that the truth matters a lot, even in comedy, even though not always in the ways that we think of it.

Last question for your table: Did you hear the one about the guy who always forgot the punchline to his jokes?

Shabbat Shalom

Friday, March 01, 2019

Sappily Ever After

The purpose of this blog is to tap into something sweet at the Shabbat table. Please print and share. 

Maple tree tapHow did everyone at your table do on last week's bottle test?

This week, a little magic.

Log CabinIf you’ve ever tasted maple syrup then you know it is one of the most amazing flavors in the world. (Maybe second only to chocolate.)

It's hard to believe, but I actually know someone who has never tasted real maple syrup. His entire life he has only known imitation.

First question for your table - what would you guess they make Log Cabin syrup from? Bear in mind that the bottle proclaims in giant letters, "NO HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP"

Answer: corn syrup. Just not "high fructose".ingredients

So let's go back to maple. Two more questions for your table:

2. Would you guess that it's good or bad for you?
3. How is it made?

It is of course the sap of the maple tree. But don’t think you could just drill a hole in a maple tree and enjoy the sap!

In this picture, you are looking at the Seinfeld family's first ever maple tap. It's hard to see in the photo, but the bottle is about half-full of a clear liquid.

So here's the lo-down.

All spring and summer trees and all plants are making sugar. Sunlight hitting those green leaves, good ol' fashioned photosynthesis.

But what do you do if you're a tree in a cold climate, where the winter freeze will destroy your leaves?

Easy - you drop the leaves when it gets cold and grow new ones when it warms up again.

But wait, you need energy to grow, and your energy comes from photosynthesis, and you've lost all your leaves!

Answer - all summer when you're making all that sugar, store some extra in your roots, kind of like a squirrel storing nuts. Then, in late winter, when it's still freezing at night but above freezing in the day, that temperature differential creates a pressure differential which starts pumping the sap up through those xylem.

For a magical week or two, that sap will contain a high concentration of sugar, and certain maple trees for some reason contain even more sugar than other trees. Maple sap also contains unusual amino acids which give the syrup that special maple flavor.

The tappers wait until the weather is just right – not too warm but not too cold – to drill a small hole into the tree and take some of the rising sap. Typically, this occurs in mid-to-late-February.

But if you would taste that sap, it would taste almost like water. To turn it into tasty syrup requires heating precisely to 7 degrees above boiling. It takes 40 or more gallons of watery sap to make 1 gallon of syrup.

In other words, even if we fill that bottle a couple times, we're not going to get much syrup.

Besides tasting amazing, maple syrup contains:

Polyphenols, compounds that work as antioxidants

• Zinc, mangnesium, calcium and potassium
• Less sugar and calories than honey and agave syrup – even less than sugar!

When they tap the tree properly, it doesn’t harm the tree at all. The tap hole will heal and the same tree may be tapped for many years and live just as long. Tapping removes only about 10 percent of the tree’s sugar, not a problem for a healthy tree.

How about other trees? A new trend is to make birch syrup. Would you try it?

In addition to tapping our first maple tree this week, we also made our first maple candy. It's easier than I'd thought.

1. Pour an inch or two of maple syrup into a saucepan.
2. Bring to a boil, then simmer on low for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. When it has the color and consistency of creamy hand soap, pour into ice cube tray or other small molds (silicon is best). Or just dribble on a baking sheet.

The first time we tried it, we let it simmer too long: it was slightly burnt and the candies were rock-hard.

The second time we nailed it and now have an unparalleled melt-in-your-mouth treat for Shabbat.

Final two questions for your table:

4. There is a trend to tap and sap other trees, including birch and oak. Would you try birch or oak syrup?

5. If you don't agree that maple is the most amazing flavor in the world, what is and where does it come from?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - Photo credit: my amazing wife, who is even sweeter and better for me than maple syrup.

PPS - If you want to tap your own trees and don't have any Kedem grape juice bottles around, click on the photo for a complete kit.

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