Life Is A Picnic

Life Is A Picnic

Havin’ A Picnic

One of the results of the French Revolution which they do not usually teach in history class was the creation of the picnic as a social activity.  All of the royal gardens were converted into public spaces, and taking the family to the park for a casual lunch became “the thing to do” by the close of the 18th century.  The idea of preparing and eating food outdoors in a casual setting, and for fun, quickly spread to other countries (and even across the pond to the young United States).  This does not mean that all picnic foods are simple, especially in the 1800s, some picnics would include elaborate feasts for the occasion. These days, they can be as simple as throwing a few cold sandwiches into a bag with some chips and pop.

The origin of the word picnic comes from the French phrase pique-nique or piquenique, which is a reference to a group of people that brought their own wine to a restaurant. The earliest known appearance of this word appearing was Origines de la Langue Francaise by Tony Willis in 1692. The word was used to describe groups of people brining their own wine and food to the park, and then eventually was anglicized into the modern day picnic. However, the French word piquer is translated to “pick” in English – and may describe the action of each person going to the gathering picking what they will be brining.

The term was really not used outside of France until the mid to late 1800s, and it was used to describe pot-luck lunches that did not necessarily have to held outside – where everyone contributed to the meal.  Eventually, the word evolved into what we understand it today, as a casual meal eaten outdoors (and it does not need to be by a large group). [Fast Fact: There is a misconceived notion that the word picnic is derogatory, and that the word originated from the lynching of black people (e.g., N-picking or N*g-pic). This origin is untrue since the word had originated at an earlier date (see above), however, during this dark period of American history, crowds would gather and this abominable activity was sometimes described as a “picnic-like” experience.]


The modern picnic can be a very casual affair, and food does not even have to be pre-prepared.  Just stop into your local delicatessen and pick up a few cold-cut sandwiches, chips, and beverages.  Or get a little more daring and pick up hot sandwiches (like corned beef or pastrami) and a side of potato salad or coleslaw. I hold this particular topic close to my heart; I worked for a decade in a kosher deli-restaurant in Brooklyn, NY. I had worked at every position from busboy to maître d’ and everything in-between. I had spent many years on the counter serving hot dogs and hot corned beef, pastrami, tongue, and other assorted sandwiches (and not the pre-processed stuff they call cold-cuts today). All piled high with some slices of pickle on the side.  I had worked in the kitchen (with no air conditioner) cooking up all of the dupes laid out over the work station and arguing with the waiters and waitresses.  It was not always easy, you were always on your toes, and holidays did not mean rest, but overtime.  However, there were some good times and comradely with your fellow workers, and met many interesting people (sometimes celebrities, but mostly ordinary people) that frequented the restaurant.

The first delicatessens, or places that sold foreign foods, first originated in Germany during the 1700s. The German company Dallmayr is credited as being the world’s first delicatessen in Munich (they imported fruits from all over the world), which began business in 1700; and they are still in existence.  The word delicatessen originally comes from the French word délicatesse, which means “delicious thing (to eat).” The Germans adopted the word, and uses delikatesse to describe food.  However, the root of the word is even much older and may come from the Latin word delicatus, which translates to “giving pleasure or pleasing” – although maybe not specifically food.  German immigrants brought this idea to America with them, and they began establishing delicatessens in the mid 1800s. The first known use of the word delicatessen in the United States occurred in 1885. As time went on food stores, such as supermarkets, began specifying areas of their stores as delis, where they would sell cold-cuts, salads, and other assorted dishes.

The first Jewish delicatessen in the United States, Kat’s Deli, opened its doors in New York City in 1888. However, they did not become commonplace until the 1920s. After WWI, the Jewish immigrants began making their way up into the middle class and had more money to spend. So they now had money to spend on meats like pastrami, which was truly a delicacy at that time. They also became meeting places for Jews. Anti-Semitism was always around each corner, especially during that time, so Kosher delis became a place where Jews could go and not worry that their religion will be the cause of scorn.  As the Jewish people made further advances in their economic standing, delis became more prevalent. At its height, there were 15,000 Jewish delis in New York City alone; in 2015 there were only 15 businesses that registered as such.

Now That’s A Sandwich

Over the decade that I worked in the deli, I literally made thousands of sandwiches. The three most popular meats were corned beef, pastrami, and turkey.  Other meats included brisket, roast beef, salami (soft and hard), bologna, tuna salad, chicken salad, chopped beef liver, and tongue. I never acquired a taste for liver, but tongue has always been one of my favorites.  Through the years I have served (or eaten myself) almost every conceivable combination of these meats on a sandwich with various toppings and condiments, such as mustard, Russian dressing, mayonnaise, cole slaw, potato salad, pickles, cranberry sauce, etc. One of my favorites was the oddly-named knishawich, in which I sliced open the center of a Gabila’s potato knish and added slices of pastrami and mustard (delicious). Although I have added ketchup to a number of sandwiches for customers, that is not for me.  Also note, since it was a “real” kosher deli, there was no cheese, so the “classic” Reuben sandwich was not on the menu. [Fast Fact: The two leading opinions as to the creation of the Reuben sandwich originates with it coming from one of two Jewish men; Reubin Kulakofky, who put it on the menu at Blackstone Hotel in Omaha in the 1920s, or Arnold Reuben, the owner of Reuben’s Deli in NYC, that claimed to put it on his menu as “Reuben’s Special” in 1914.]


Of course, Jewish delis also sell their share of other “Jewish” food such as matzo ball soup, knishes, boiled beef flanken, stuffed cabbage, and hot dogs. Most Jewish delicatessens also serve American food as well, such as fried chicken, beef burgers, steak, and salad.

Pic-a-nic Baskets

June 18th of each year marks International Picnic Day. Yes, it is a “made-up” holiday, but it is a fun one. [Fast Fact: The Northern Territory in Australia does have an official public holiday called Picnic Day, which is celebrated on the first Monday of August.] The origin of the holiday is unknown, but probably has its roots stemming from the time of the French Revolution.  For those that follow it, it is a reason to go out and enjoy the day with a picnic, alone or with friends and family. [Fast Fact: UC Davis also holds an annual Picnic Day event, begun in 1909, that attracts over 125,000 people.]

This year, International Picnic Day also falls on another widely celebrated day in the U.S., Father’s Day.  What could be a more wonderful idea than to spend Father’s Day having a picnic?  Take dad to the park, to a favorite outdoor spot, or even just to the back yard and enjoy the day.

When I think of picnics, I always (maybe not always, but fairly often) associate them with the animated cartoon character Yogi Bear and his always trying to steal vacationers “pic-a-nic baskets.”  Yogi Berra was born on May 12, 1925.  I mean Yogi Bear was created by Hanna-Barbera and first appeared as a side-character during the Huckleberry Hound Show in October 1958. The character was so popular that he was given his own show in 1961 entitled The Yogi Bear Show, and has appeared many times on TV (and on the big screen) ever since. Although it was said that Art Carney’s character of Ed Norton in the Honeymooners was the inspiration for Yogi Bear’s character, Yogi Berra sued Hanna-Barbera for defamation of character.  Although the creators denied the claim, and the suit was dropped, the names are too close not to be a coincidence (just as Jellystone Park is akin to Yellowstone Park). In fact, when Berra passed away in 2015, the AP mistakenly reported that “New York Yankee’s Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Bear has died.  He was 90.” [Yes, really.]  [Fast Fact: Yogi Berra’s real first name is Lawrence.  He received the “Yogi” moniker when playing for American Legion Baseball as a teenager. One of his teammates noticed that Berra sat with his legs crossed, just like a picture of a Hindu yogi he saw in a picture from a travel brochure for India. He started calling him Yogi, and the name stuck.]


Trying to figure out what recipe to provide for this month was not easy. For a picnic, it is much easier to pick up meat and bread (or have a deli make you the sandwich).  Although they may sell salads to go, it is pretty easy to make your own cole slaw.

Ingredients (6 servings)

½ cup mayonnaise

3 tbs sugar

1 ½ tbs lemon juice

1 tbs vinegar

½ tsp black pepper

¼ tsp salt

6 cups shredded cabbage

1 cup shredded carrots


  1. Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl



“Dallymyr” (official website) @

“Delicatessen” ( @

“Fun Holiday – International Picnic Day” ( @

“History in a Basket: It’s Picnic Time” (Stephanie Butler: 2013) @ 

“History of New York Delis” (Pastrami Blog: 2009) @

“International Picnic Day” ( @

“International Picnic Day (June 18)” ( @

“Pastrami on Rye: A Full-Length History of the Jewish Deli” (Kenny Sokan: 2016) @

“Picnic Pique – Rumor: The Word “Picnic” Originated with Crowds Gathering to Witness Lynchings” (David Mikkleson (fact checker): 2017)  @

“Reuben Sandwich History and Recipe” (What’s Cooking America) @

“Picnic Pique: The Word Picnic Originated with Crowds to Witness Lynchings”

“Yogi Bear” (Hanna-Barbera Wiki) @

“Yogi Bear” (Wikipedia) @

“The Relationship between Yogi Berra and Yogi Bear, Explained” (Laura Bradley: 2015) @

Is Mr. Spock Jewish?

Is Mr. Spock Jewish?

Forty years ago this month changed the way I was to perceive movies and the world of science fiction.  It was four decades ago that my parents took me to see the first installment of the epic Star Wars.  I left that movie feeling sky high (and it was not from what the teenagers were smoking in the back row).  Last year also marked the fiftieth anniversary of the start of another science fiction classic, Star Trek, which first premiered in September 1966.  These, and many other science fiction movies, books, and TV shows have highlighted various alien races and religions throughout the galaxies, and looking back, it is interesting to note how Judaism has influenced this genre – both by the writers and producers, as well as the actors themselves.

Live Long and Prosper

There are many symbols of Judaism appearing through the sci-fi universe, although many are subtle.  For instance, the famous Vulcan salute which Mr. Spock uses as a greeting, was derived by late Leonard Nimoy, for Star Trek from his memory of the hand signal the Kohanim make during the Priestly Blessing (the hands form the Hebrew letter shin (ש)).  The salute is associated with the greeting “Live Long and Prosper” may also correlate to the Jewish/Hebrew greeting Shalom Alechem (שָׁלוֹם עֲלֵיכֶם) which means “may peace be upon you” in English; as well as the Vulcan reply “Peace and long life,” which also correlates to the Hebrew aleikhem shalom, which means “unto you peace.” [Fast Fact: Muslims also have a similar greeting and response in Arabic.]

Although Gene Roddenbery, the creator of Star Trek, was not Jewish, his two co-writers for the series (Bob Justman and Herb Solow) were Jewish.  This may account for some of the Jewish-like themes that were infused into the episodes, such as some of the aliens (including the Vulcans) being treated as outsiders, or the episodes that probed into the evils of the Holocaust and genocide (“The Conscience of the King,” “Patterns of Force,” and “The City on The Edge of Forever”). [Fast Fact: The “Patterns of Force” episode was banished in Germany until 1997, being called “unfit for entertainment.”]   It must also be noted that the two main characters in the original series, Mr. Spock and Captain Kirk, were portrayed by Jews (Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock and William Shatner as Kirk). Also many are unaware, but one of the secondary characters on the bridge was also Jewish (Walter Koenig, playing Pavel Chekov). There were other main characters played by Jews in the subsequent series as well (e.g., Brent Spiner as Lt. Data (Next Generation), Armin Shimmerman as Quark (DS9)).

The character of Mr. Spock was a vegetarian. It is speculated that this was one way of keeping the character Kosher, without outright stating it in the series – however, it may also come from the Buddhist non-violent ideology, which do not believe in killing animals (or even insects) for food. In Star Trek, the writers did not really bring religion into their characters, and did not state it outright in the series, but there is speculation that the Klingon character Worf, who was adopted as a child, had Jewish parents.

However, Star Trek also may have its anti-Semitic side. There are those that believe the alien race in the show called Ferengi (first introduced in The Next Generation) are a satirical people based on Jews, with their love of money, and a religion that sometimes correlates to Judaism.  However, the producers of the show have stated that Ferengi are actually supposed to represent humans of the 21st century, along with all our faults – in fact the word ferengi is an Asian word for “foreigners” or “Europeans.”  It should also be noted that the most well known Ferengi character, Quark, was played by a Jewish actor (Armin Shimmerman).

May the Schwartz Be With You

Anti-Semetism and racism has a long history of being in Science fiction – either blatant or hidden.  For instance, in Star Wars, the Phantom Menace, the character of Watto has come under heavy scrutiny for taking on the characteristics of a stereotypical Jew. He has a large hooked nose, beady eyes, greedy, and even speaks with a Yiddish-like accent. There may racism if you look hard enough, even where it does not exist.  Love or hate the movies, George Lucas did try to create a universe in which the motto was that everyone is equal and should live together in harmony.

Forty years ago, when I was a ten-year old kid and first saw the first Star Wars movie, there was an automatic awe of the story and its characters.  The whole idea of the “force” and the Jedi really appealed to me – as a kid, and as a Jew.  Even at this young age I saw a direct correlation between the Jedi and the Jews. When Mel Brook’s movie Spaceballs was released ten years later and provided a satirical view of the Jewish themes in the original movie, the comparison was of no shock to me.

George Lucas, the creator of the Star Wars franchise, was not Jewish (he was a non-religious Methodist with Buddhist leanings). Whereas Indian Jones may have had direct Jewish influence (the co-creator of the story was Jewish director and screenwriter Philip Kaufman, and directed by a Steven Spielberg), the story line may have received greater influence from co-producer Gary Kurtz and his study of comparative religion. They wanted something religious that did not connect to any one religion, but was easy to explain to the audience, so the “force” was created. As Kurtz stated “no time to deal with exposition about esoteric religion. What we were looking for was a simple handle on something that could be explained really quickly.” As they intended, it was explained by Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi in one line: “It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.”  Although they may not have intended it to be more than a nondescript religious notion, in the 2011 census taken in England and Wales, over 175,000 people stated “Jedi” as their religion.  [Fast Fact: The original draft of the screenplay for Star Wars was a complete mess and went through many revisions until it was finally produced.]

It is well known that the role of Han Solo was played by Harrison Ford in the first three (and seventh) film, who is half-Jewish.  However, it is not as well known that Carrie Fisher is also half-Jewish (her father, actor Eddie Fisher, was Jewish). Although Fisher was raised Protestant, it has been stated that she “identified” herself as a Jew – and attended Sabbath services with her daughter.  It must, however, be noted that the second and third films in the series (Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi) were co-written by Jewish screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan, and one of the directors of Empire, Irvin Kershner, was born Jewish. As a kid, and even as an adult, I could still imagine the ancient Hebrew warriors using the force of G-d as sure as the Jedi wielding the force.  The wise Yoda was a puppet, but was voiced by Jewish voice actor Frank Oz. [Fast Fact: There is a theory that the writing on Darth Vader’s uniform looks like it is a form of Hebrew, and when read upside down, it translates to “One shall be regarded innocent until he is proven guilty.”]

If one counts the three prequel movies as a part of the series, it is hard not to notice that one of the maid characters, Princess/Senator Amidala was played by the beautiful Jewish Actress Natalie Portman. Also note that although the actors playing both the young and the old Obi-Wan-Kenobis (Ewan McGregor and Alec Guinness) are not Jewish, they married Jewish women, and have raised their children Jewish. The latest move of the series, The Force Awakens, has a lot of Jewish influence, beginning with its Jewish director JJ Abrams (who also revitalized the Star Trek series on the big screen), and the return of Kasdan as part of the team of writers.

It is the underlying theme of Star Wars – the small and outnumbered heros and heroines taking on the must larger and much more powerful evil in the world.  It is a story that parallels the history of the Jewish people.  From the earliest days of its faith, the Jews have always had to take on a larger insurgence of evil.  I am not only talking about tales from the Bible, such as the Jews oppression by the Ancient Egyptians or the battles against the Philistines. Later in history were the brave band of Maccabees in the second century BCE that fought against the Greek Empire (the Jedi of ancient times) to the Jewish revolts against the vast Roman Empire in the first and second century.  In more modern history, there was the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising against the Nazis and Israel’s wars against the much larger armies of its many hostile neighbors. This David vs. Goliath struggle continues even today, although it is currently occurring in the political arena, with dozens of UN countries teaming up against Israel and its small handful of allies.

Jews in Sci-Fi

There have been many Jews that have been a part of the genre of science fiction and adventure/fantasy in book and on the small and big screens. Although many have been well respected for their works, their religion was not whole-heartedly accepted, especially until recently.  Whereas there are outwardly Catholic oriented works (such as Narnia in the Adventure/Fantasy genre), there is no Jewish Narnia. [Fast Fact: In attempt by the Nazis to keep non-Aryan literature out of Germany, in 1938 the publisher for the German translation of The Hobbit sent J.R.R. Tolkien a questionnaire asking about being Jewish, he answered “I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people.”]  Many of the Jewish authors of the past include Hugo and Nebula Award winners Murray Leinster, William Tenn, and Robert Silverberg, as well as the founder of the first science fiction magazine, Amazing Stories; Hugo Gernsback (the Hugo Award is named after him). Although there are many other writers, the list would not be complete without mentioning one of my favorite authors, Issac Asimov.

Isaac Asimov is considered one of the greatest science fiction writers of all time, winning many awards for his writings, including the seminal epic, Foundation. Although his parents were orthodox Jews, they did not practice any when they immigrated to the United States (from Russia) in 1923.  In fact, they did not teach any Judaism to young Isaac, nor did they give him a bar mitzvah.  Although he considered himself a rationalist and atheist, he always acknowledged that he was Jewish.  However, he never consciously wrote about Jews or Jewish themes in his books.  [Note: some races in Foundation used a Yiddish-like dialect and his short story, “Pebble in the Sky,” seemed very analogous to the plight of the Jewish people.] One explanation he gave for this in the book Wandering Stars was that he “didn’t think of Jews, particularly, in connection with robots, wrecked spaceships, strange worlds with six suns, and Galactic Empires.” Wandering Stars is an anthology of Jewish fantasy writers, in which he wrote the introduction, and contributed a short essay, entitled “Unto the Fourth Generation,” which dealt with assimilation. We should also not forget the groundbreaking sci-fi silent movie from 1927, Metropolis, which was directed and written (uncredited) by the legendary Fritz Lang – his mother was Jewish, although converted to Catholicism before he was born. [Fast Fact: The first Science Fiction movie was Le Voyage Dans La Lune (“A Trip to the Moon”) by film pioneer Georges Méliès. Although he was not Jewish, he directed the politically motivated The Dreyfus Affair, which tells the story of a falsely accused Jewish French army captain.  The story was so controversial that fights had broken out in theaters; Méliès was pro-Dreyfus.]

Although I touched on fantasy and adventure, I will discuss the Jewish influence (or lack thereof) on that genre at in a forthcoming article, as well as the Jewish influence on comics and superheroes.  But for now, let’s reflect on the fact that many of the science fiction stories you read and many of the sci-fi TV shows and movies have been shaped in some way by Jewish influences in this genre.

Food in Science Fiction

The world of science fiction is a world of fantastic creatures, places, ideas, and culinary differences.    The foods depicted are as wondrous and sometimes as gruesome as the aliens (and humans) that consume them.  Some stories, like Star Trek have replicators that will provide the hungry crewmember with their dietary needs, but sometimes food is not as easy to come by and a visitor to a foreign world must eat whatever is served locally.

Below are only a few of the memorable foods and drinks from sci-fi books, movies, and TV shows.

  • Bantha Milk (Star Wars)
  • Dog Food (Mad Maxx)
  • Eddie (Rocky Horror)
  • Gagh (Star Trek)
  • Humans (“To Serve Man,” Twilight Zone; Little Shop of Horrors)
  • Iguana Chicken (Stargate)
  • Klingon Bloodwine (Star Trek)
  • M&Ms (ET)
  • Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster (Hitchhikers Guide to the Universe)
  • Pepsi Free and Tab (Back to the Future)
  • Romulan Ale (Star Trek)
  • Slurm & Popplers (Futurama)
  • Soylent Green (Soylent Green)
  • Spice (Dune)
  • Spoiled Milk (Alien Nation)
  • Last, but not least, the most delicious food in the universe . . . Spoo (Babylon 5)

[This list is surely not complete, so if you think other memorable foods are missing from the list, please submit them via the comments box below.]


Romulan Ale is perhaps one of the most known drinks in the Star Trek/Sci-Fi universe.  Here’s a twist on that drink, and although it does not have the distinctive clear liquidity, I present Romulan Ale Smoothie (2 servings)


1 cup blueberries + 3-4 blueberries on side

8 oz plain yogurt

2 oz. Blue Curacao

3 oz. Vodka

4 oz ice

2 tbs sugar

2 oz. seltzer

½ tsp vanilla extract


  1. Add all ingredients (except blueberries) into blender and mix well.
  2. Place the remaining 3-4 blueberries on top of drink.



“9 Jewish Things About Star Wars” (Lior Zaltzman: 2015) @


“A commentary on the deafening silence in response to anti-Semitism in the genre community in comparison to the unabashed banter in response to Samuel Delany’s 1998 NYRSF essay ‘Racism and Science Fiction’. Contrasts & disturbing impressions” (Season of the Red Wolf: 2012) @


“Fantasy and the Jewish Question” (Abigail Nussbaum: Wrong Questions: 2010) @


“Food in Science Fiction: In the Future, We Will All Eat Lasers” (Jason Sheehan: NPR.or: 2013) @


“From Jediism to Judaism: Star Wars as a Jewish Allegory” (Daniel Perez: @


“Have Jedi Created a New Religion?” (Tom De Castella: 2014) @


“Isaac Asimov, Two Foundations and The Jews” (Roger Price: Judaism and Science: 2013) @


“The Jewish Origin of the Vulcan Salute” (Rabbi Yonassan Gershom: 2000) @


“The Jewish Roots of Star Wars” (Jessica Steinberg: Times of Israel: 2015) @


“The Secret Jewish History of Star Wars” (Seth Rogovy: 2015) @


“The Jewish Side of Star Trek” (Elizabeth Finkel: Ohio Valley NFTY: 2016) @


“Jewish Themes in Star Trek” (Yonassan Gershom: TrekJews.blogspot: 2016) @


“May the Force Be With Jews” (Liel Leibovitz:


“The Merchant of Menace” (Bruce Gottlieb: 1999) @


“The Religious Affiliation of Director George Lucas” ( @


“Science Fiction and Fantasy, Jewish” ( @


“Star Trek: Jewish Thought and Social Revolution” (Matthue Roth: My Jewish Learning) @


Star Wars Producer Blasts Star Wars’ Myths” (Chris Taylor: 2014) @


“The Tastiest Food Moments in Science Fiction” (Meredith Woerner:iO9: 2008) @


“Vulcan Salute” (Wikipedia) @


“Was Princess Leia Jewish?” (Jeffrey Salkin: 2016) @


“Weirdest Foods in Science Fiction” (Cooking Channel TV) @


“Why There is No Jewish Narnia” (Michael Weingard: Jewish Review of Books: 2010) @




Eat Onions and Sit in the Shade; The Non-Traditional Passover

Eat Onions and Sit in the Shade; The Non-Traditional Passover

An onion, like Judaism, is made up of many layers.  Not every onion is the same, nor is every Jew.  As mentioned in a past article, there was once an active Jewish community in China.  Many years ago, a Jewish merchant from England was doing business in town, and decided to pray in the town’s synagogue.  When he entered, a group of people came over to see what this foreigner wanted.  When he said he was there to pray, one of the congregants exclaimed, “funny, you don’t look Jewish.” Just as each Jew looks differently, they pray differently, observe differently, and some have their own unique traditions to celebrate holidays and occasions.  This month, the Jewish people celebrate the holiday of Passover, or Pesach in Hebrew ( פֶּסַח‎). Although there are some clear-cut rules to follow (e.g., it begins on the Hebrew date of the 15th of Nissan, and no eating of chumetz (food that rises), Jews from various cultures and regions of the world have their own unique traditions to augment those rules (e.g., one region uses onions as part of their celebration).

Modern Additions to the (American) Passover Table

One of the non-traditional traditions I have seen practiced is the addition of the Kos Miriam (Cup of Miriam, filled with water) to the Seder table [Miriam was the sister of Moses].  It represents Miriam’s Well, a source of nourishment for the Hebrews during the Exodus, but it also provides recognition to the women in the story of the Exodus, and their importance. 

It is interesting to note that the Cup of Elijah, which has become a staple at most Seders, was not always a part of the traditional part of the Passover table.  This tradition may not have begun until around the 1st century, as referenced by the (minority) opinion of Rabbi Tarfon’s (in Pesachim 118a) on the question of allowing for more than four cups of wine on Passover, which he replied “over the fifth cup we recite the great Hallel.”  However, his answer was not really clear. It was not until another millennium that a Jewish scholar made a statement on a fifth cup, when Maimonides wrote that one should have a fifth cup (although it is not mandatory). However, some interpret this in different ways; some believe a fifth cup should be filled with wine in honor of Maimonides, but not to be touched, while others are of the opinion to drink it. In addition, this is more of a tradition of the Ashkenazi Jews (from Eastern Europe)

Another tradition I have seen being implemented is the placement of an orange (sometimes a tangerine) on the Seder table.  The story’s origin usual told is as follows: At a conference, Dr. Susannah Herschel was speaking about a woman’s right to be a rabbi.  An angry orthodox man got up and yelled “a woman belongs on the pulpit, like an orange belongs on a Seder table.” That story, however, is false.  According to Herschel, she was speaking to a woman writing a feminist haggadah. The woman asked her rabbi if there is room in Judaism for lesbians, and the rabbi answered “there is as much room in Judaism for a lesbian as there is for a crust of bread on the Seder plate.”  Since she could not put bread on the Passover table, the following year she added an orange because “it suggests the fruitfulness for all Jews when lesbians and gay men are contributing and active members of Jewish life.”

A third regionalized tradition I have also experienced is the use of rice by Sephardic Jews (Iberian Peninsula). The first time I went to a Sephardic home for a Seder I was taken back, but I quickly learned to enjoy this tradition.  However, in 2016, this 800 year old rule was overturned by the leaders of the Conservative movement, stating that kitnyot (rice and beans) are now allowable during the holiday of Passover. That being said, many still follow the older ruling.

The addition of olives to the Seder table has become a recent tradition. The olives are meant to symbolize the hope for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.  The practice may have begun in 2008 in connection with the Trees of Reconciliation project, in which donations were being sought to provide 3000 olive trees to Palestinian farmers.

In-line with promoting peace and friendship amongst people, some observers add the artichoke to promote interfaith-friendly Seders.  Just like real life, where things are rough on the outside, but friendly on the inside, the artichoke is a vegetable with a prickly exterior and a soft heart/inside.

Passover Traditions from Around the World

There are also many other traditions that come from specific regions of the world.  Unfortunately, some of these customs are carried out by descendants of many these countries, since there are no Jews (or very few) actually living there today.

Afghanistan – During the recitation of the 10 plagues, they take out scallions (a type of onion) and use the scallion to whip the other guests while singing “Dayenu” (to represent the Egyptian slave drivers). [Fast Fact: At one time there was a thriving Jewish community in Afghanistan, now there may only be one Jew living in the country.]

Ethiopia – Break their dinner plates to symbolize a break from the past in which most were airlifted to Israel to avoid persecution (in what was called Operation Moses (see the Passover connection?)). They also avoid fermented dairy.

Gibraltar – They literally add brick to the charoset (a dish made to symbolize the mortar used by the Jews in Egypt).  In actually, they add a very little bit of dust from the brick.

Hungary – They place gold and silver jewelry on the Seder table. This is in reference to a passage in the Torah (Exodus 12:35), where Moses instructs the Hebrews to ask the Egyptians for silver, gold, and clothing.

India (city of Cochin) – Beginning just after Chanukah, they begin their clean-up of chametz, including the inspection of every grain of rice is inspected for defects.

Morocco – Not only is a goblet of wine set aside for Elijah, but an elaborately decorated chair is also set aside for the prophet. Moroccan Jews also have the custom of wearing white to the Seder (as do some Orthodox communities).

Poland (town of Gora Kalwa) – They reenact the crossing of the Red Sea by pouring water on the floor, lifting up their coats, and walk over the water. They would also recite the names of the towns they would cross, taking a drink of wine for each town mentioned.

Russia (Moscow) – Since celebrating Judaism was illegal, underground bakeries would make and distribute matzah around the area. Jewish families would gather at someone’s house for a dinner and although no word of Passover was mentioned, the elder matriarch would get up after the meal and make a toast to freedom (probably with vodka) and thank the wife or host for “organizing a Seder that preserves the Judaism they almost lost.”

Sephardim – Telling the story of the Exodus in costume. The guests tell tales of the Exodus as though they were actually there.

Syria – The children at the table would break matza into the Hebrew letters of a “daled” and “vav.” When added together, they equal 10, which is the number of plagues.

Turkey – At the conclusion of the Seder, they take a sprig of parsley, and recite a verse in Arabic.

Yemen (region of Adeni) – They eat eggs as the main course of the Seder. They also follow the dropping of wine out of the glass for each of the 10 plagues, however, they drop the wine into another glass, which they throw into the garden to cast the plagues onto their enemies. Iraqui Jews have a similar tradition, but they drip the wine into bowls instead of cups.

Iraq, Kurdistan, Yemen – The host would put the afikoman (one of the three main matzah on the Seder table) into a sack, and walk around the room while guest ask them a series of questions as follows: Guests: “Where are you coming from?”; Host: “Egypt”; Guests: “Where are you going to?”; Host: “Israel” (or “Jerusalem”)

Spain, Turkey, Tunisia, and Morocco – The host would walk around the table three times with the Seder plate and hit the guests on the head. This represents the uprooting of the Jewish people from Egypt, and allowing for the guests to ask why.

Something to ponder: In the world of science, some people are growing their vegetables hydroponically (the growing of plants without soil), which may become more standard in the future.  Some people do grow parsley (karpas) hydroponically and want to use it for their Seder plate. The question becomes, since it is not grown in the ground, does the prayer for vegetables need to be changed, which is “Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, King of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the earth”? From what I have found so far, this issue is machloket ha’poskim, which means that this issue is up for debate and has not been ruled upon by any higher authority.

As you can see, there are many different traditions that vary from region to region or even from family to family.  Just because the tradition is not ancestrally yours, does not mean you cannot adopt it and bring something new to the Seder table.  Maybe for this Passover, add a few scallions.


When you walk into the supermarket there are at least four or five different types of “onions” in the produce section.  Onions are a part of the genus family called alliums.  Subgroups of this family include onions, but also many other vegetables that we usually call onions, such as scallions.  Some alliums can be smaller than one inch in diameter and others are larger than 4.5 inches in diameter. Some of the more common types include: Leeks (leafy, look like jumbo scallions), pearl onions (small – also called baby onions), Bermuda/red onions (known for their reddish color), shallots (small and sweet), sweet onions (large, e.g., Vidalia), white onions, and yellow onions.   Garlic is also a member of the allium family and closely related to onions. [Fast Fact: allium is Greek for “garlic.”]

Scallions, however are not technically onions, they are the immature plants of a bulbing onion before it becomes fully formed. Scallions can come in many different varieties, and are called by different names depending on the region they come from, such as: green onion, new onions, welsh onion, spring onion, salad onion, and Japanese bunching onion (to name a few). [Fast fact: scallions are called green onions in Israel (בצל ירוק pronounced batzal yaroq).] The origin of the name, scallion, can be traced back to ancient Greece, from the word ασκολόνιον (pronounced askolonion) which may have come from the ancient Canaan city of Ashkelon, where they may have thought it had originally been imported from. The scallion may have first grown somewhere in Asia, and the earliest know mention of scallions is in a 2000 year old book written in China about agriculture and medical use of plants entitled Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing.  Scallions have been used by many different cultures through the millennium for their healing properties ranging from stopping running noses, to stopping headaches, and even remedying kidney stones (however, there have not been any large modern day medical studies to confirm any of these remedies).

History of Onions

One of the traditions discussed above include the use of scallions, which are a type of onion.  Although sources state that there are many different variations of onions in size, taste, and color, I am unable to find a source that actually states how many different types of onions exist. Onions have been around for eons, and it is very likely that the diet of our pre-historic ancestors included onions.  Because onions are small and due to their many layers, they have left very little trace of their existence the actual origin of onions is under debate. Many scholars believe that onions may have first developed in central Asia, while others have hypothesized that they may have first growing in the area around modern Iran and western Pakistan.  However, it is generally believed that onions began to be cultivated about 5000-5500 years ago. There is evidence that the ancient Egyptians were growing onions as far back as 3500 BCE (they were included in Egyptian tombs to symbolize eternity). Onions were even mentioned in the bible (Numbers 11:5). Onions were mentioned in the ancient Indian treatise Charaka Samhita (between 100 and 200 BCE). The Greek physician Dioscorides mentioned the medical benefits of onions in the 1st century. Because onions can be grown in most environments and most weather, they spread and became a staple in diets of people all over the world.  Onions were first introduced to the Americas by Columbus during his early voyages.  It is interesting to mention that, although the Pilgrims brought onions to cultivate with them when they came to settle in Plymouth, MA in 1620, a wild strain of the onion brought by Columbus was already found growing in the fields.

Onions have been used by physicians for hundreds of years.  In one study, it was shown that onions may help with the cardiovascular system and decrease the risk of heart attack, stroke, and heart disease. Another study showed that onions may lower blood-sugar levels. Onions may also help with gastrointestinal help and help decrease bone loss. The great physician Maimonides recommended giving onions to people that are overweight, and would prescribe it as a cure for vomiting. Up until the past century, onions were used to detect pregnancy.

Onions in Judaism

Onions were one of the foods that were grown in the times of Moses. In fact, onions are mentioned in Torah in Numbers 11:5 in a paragraph where the Hebrews are complaining about eating manna in the desert and remembering the things they did enjoy while under the shackles of the Pharaoh, as follows:

“We remember the fish, which we did eat in Mitzrayim at no cost; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic”

 [Note: this passage was read last month in temple.]

According to Rashi (a rabbi that wrote extensive commentary on the Torah), the reason the manna did not taste like the foods listed above is that these items are those that were thought to have been bad to give a pregnant woman, and G-d did not want the Hebrew people to fear that what they ate would be of harm to them.  At the time, this made sense, however it must be noted that many modern sources show that onions are actually beneficial to pregnant women. However, there may be some truth in what Rashi wrote 1000 years ago; WebMD provides a warning to those that are pregnant or breastfeeding: “There is not enough reliable information about the safety of taking onion as a medicine if you are pregnant or breast-feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid using onion in amounts larger than usual food amounts.”

Peeled onions have been the focus of debate amongst biblical scholars.  There is a statement in the Gemara (a biblical commentary) made by Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (in Gemara Nidda 17a) that “one who eats a peeled onion, egg or garlic that has been left sitting out overnight is literally endangering his life, and will be ultimately judged as a person who took his own life.”  However, the Talmud does cite the benefits of onions, such as in Nedarim 66a, that they are good for the heart and that they are good to treat a wound (Tosefta Shabbat 5:3-4). But it does also warn that eating onions after bloodletting can be dangerous (Avodah Zara 29a) and that they can be bad for the stomach (Nedarim 26b).

Rabbi Judah used to state the following adverb: “Eat onions and sit in the shade.” (Pes. 114a) This means that a person should not desire luxuries and be content with what little you have.

As we have read above, onions have been used as a part of different Jewish customs, like the use of scallions during the Seder. Besides the various foods brought to the Seder, the Seders themselves can sometimes be different in form and meaning.

 A Different Kind of Seder

Besides the addition of various traditions to the Seder listed earlier in this article, many recent Seders have been transformed to adapt to the lifestyles and feelings of the today’s modern points of view:

Vegetarian / Vegan Seders, which include the following items on the Seder plate:

  • Matzah
  • Charoset – traditional recipe using apples, nuts, and spices
  • Zeroa – fresh beet – to replace the shank bone (this is permitted in the Talmud, as per Rav Huna in Pesahim 114b); instead of beets, some people use a combination of dry barley wheat, olives, and grapes
  • Maror – bitter herbs
  • Beitzah – hardboiled egg – silky avocado or stemmed white eggplant
  • Karpas – karpas

Chocolate Seders, for the chocolate lover in each of us:

  • Matza – Chocolate covered matza
  • Zeroa – ice cream drumstick
  • Beitzah – chocolate eggs
  • Maror – Dark chocolate with horseradish
  • Charoset – chocolate covered charoset truffles
  • Karpas – green colored chocolate – or strawberries dipped in chocolate, with stems still on
  • Kiddush cup – chocolate liquor or chocolate wine

Freedom Seders, a Seder which celebrates the liberation of Jews and other people – most notably the African Americans during the 1960s.

Tu B’Shvat Seder, the seder for the trees, which is held on the holiday of Tu B’Shvat, which includes many different types of fruit. [Fast Fact: As a side point, Jesus’ last supper is believed to have been a Passover Seder.]

Different Hagaddahs

Hagadajs are part of the Jewish experience.  It is something that we can each associate with when we think about our own Jewish experiences.  When the Nazi’s told the Jews to pack, they were limited in space and weight (8-9 pounds). Although the space was limited to bare essentials, many Jews still carried objects of their religion.  In fact, a half-burned haggadah was recently found in an excavation near the Chelmo concentration camp.  The contents of the haggadah you grew up with and have used each year is not what was in the haggadah when it was first created.  When was that, you ask?  Well experts are not sure.  It may have been compiled around the time of Rabbi Yehuddah bar Elai (about 170 BCE), when the Talmud was being complied), however, since there is a lot of contents from the time of the Second Temple, it may have originally been compiled as early as 500 BCE. The earliest mention of a Seder is in the Talmud (Pesachim 10:5) by Rabbi Gamaliel the Elder in 90 BCE, although he did not mention the use of a haggadah.

The prayers and stories in the haggadah evolved over the next eight or nine centuries, until the basic version we follow today was compiled in 860 by the Geonim (Jewish teachers).  Note that the earlier versions did not include some items we are used to today, such as the story of the Four Sons, and the Four Questions were only three. The early haggadahs were also part of the Siddur (prayer book), and did not become a separate booklet until the 13th century.  It was about this time that illumidated versions of the haggadah were created, including the famous Sarajevo Haggadah. The first known mass-printed haggadah was printed in 1482 (approximately) in Spain. In 1590, the song Chad Gadya was added to a haggadah printed in Progue.  In 1609, a haggadah in Venice included the 10 plagues in Hebrew.  In 1907, the first Reform Judaism version of the haggadah was written. In order to change the custom of not drinking coffee on Passover (since it was thought that a coffee bean was the same as a legume), the owner of Maxwell House began printing and distributing their own hagaddahs (for free) in 1932 (including ads for coffee). The haggadah, known for its simplicity, became the most used haggadah for most families during the 20th century. The first haggadah by the reconstructionist movement was first published in 1941. 

Because they are so personal, over the last few decades, new hagadas have been created to express the social, environmental, religious, and other feelings of the hosts.  Some of these haggadas (new and old) include the following:

  • Maxwell House – which is what my family has used for most of my childhood into adulthood.
  • Feminist / Egalitarian
  • Freedom Seder Hagaddah (as explained above)
  • Liberal views
  • Conservative views
  • Haggada supplements – some people add their own supplemental songs, poems, etc., to add to whatever haggadah they are using
  • Different translations – (even fictional languages, such as Klingon)
  • For children
  • Interfaith
  • For Art lovers
  • Quick Seder (30 minute seder)
  • Internet
  • For JuBus (Jewish Buddhists)
  • And many more.


Since scallions are the culinary focus of this article, how about a recipe for scallion pancakes.  This is something that you can even place on your Seder table for the festive meal to provide a little International flair , along with the story of Passover traditions from other areas in the world.  You can even purchase more scallions than you need for the recipe and add the Afghanistanian tradition to your own.


1 cup   Scallions (to make 1 cup chopped – about 1 bunch/10 scallions)

2 cups  Flour (all purpose)

½ tsb   Salt

1 tbs    Soy Sauce

1          Egg

14 oz   Water

2 Tbs   Oil (for frying)


1) Mix flour, water, egg, and soy sauce, then set aside for 10 minutes

2) Add scallions and mix

3) Heat oil

4) Scoop flour/scallion batter into oil

5) Cook pancakes for about 2 minutes on each side (until each side is golden brown)



“7 Passover Traditions Around the World” (Natalia Sloam: 2014) @

 “10 Unusual Passover Traditions” (Yoni Sherezin: Times of Israel: 2013 @

 “A Celebration of Passover Customs from Around the World!” (Mocha Juden: 2016) @

 “A Haggadah for a Socially Responsible Chocolate Seder” (Rabbi Deborah R. Prinz) @

 “All About Allium Vegetables” (Vegetable Expert Staff) @

 “Chronology, History, and Timeline of the Haggadah” (Elimelech David Ha-Levi) @

 “Different Types of Onions” (The Nibble) @

 “For the First Time in 800 Years, Rice and Beans are Kosher for Passover” (Smithsonian: 2016) @

 “Guide to Vegan Passover Seder” (Abigail Wick: VegNews: 2014) @

 “History of Onions” (National Onion Association) @

 “Is it Safe to Eat Onions During Pregnancy?” (Manjiri Kochrekar: Mom Junction: 2015) @

 “Miriam’s Cup” (Tamara Cohen: @

 “The Missing Fifth – An Extract From Rabbi Sacks’ Hagadda” (Jonathan Sacks: 2015) @

 “Non-Traditional Items Showing Up on Seder Plates” ( 2011) @

“The Odd Account of the Overnight Onion” (Rabbi Yehuda Spitz: Ohr Somayach: 2012) @

“Olives on the Seder Plate” ( @

“Onion” (Jewish Virtual Library) @

“Onions” (Katherine White and Jonathan Zellner: Hamilton College: 2008) @

“Onion History – Origin and History of Onions” ( @

“Onions in the Talmud” (Robin Burger) @ file:///C:/Users/u0061580/Downloads/734455.pdf 

“The Onion Plot” (Yerachmiel Tilles: @

“Onions” (Robin Burger: Derech HaTeva) @ file:///C:/Users/u0061580/Downloads/734455.pdf

“Pregnancy in Ancient Rome” (Natasha Sheldon: Decoded Pregnancy: 2013) @

“The Real Story Behind the Orange on the Seder Plate” (Anita Silvert: Jewish United Fund: 2012) @

“Scalion” (Wikipedia) @

“Scallions” ( @


“Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, Volume 7” @

“Enclyclopedia of Medicine in the Bible and the Talmud” @



These Jewish Eyes Are Smiling

These Jewish Eyes Are Smiling

 The Irish Connection

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, a holiday that began as a religious celebration, but has become an international festival celebrating Irish culture. This would be a good time to look at the similarities between the Irish and the Jews. At first glance, there do not seem to be many cultural connections between the two groups.  However, all is not as it seems. As noted by historian Rory Fitzgerald, the similarities are many:

  • Both have ancestral roots older than most other cultures (ancient Hebrews and the Celtics)
  • Both call home to small countries that are contested by others (Israel and Ireland – although Ireland is about 3x larger)
  • Both Israel and Ireland are home to monuments older than the pyramids of Egypt (Jethro Cairn and Stonehenge)
  • 4000 year old burial chambers known as dolmens are mysteriously found in both countries
  • Both have been prosecuted throughout history and wander the worlds as outsiders (both have had their own Diaspora, but maintained close bonds with their kin even from the furthest corners of the world)
  • Both have a disproportionate number of Nobel laureates in their ranks
  • Both countries declared their independence about the same time – Israel in April 1948 and Ireland (became a republic) in April 1949
  • The Irish may have ancestors that are from the lost tribes of Israel. There is a theory that the tribe of Dan, known for their seafaring prowess may have travelled throughout Europe. There is a group that settled in Ireland known as the Tuathe De Dananna. They ruled the Emerald Isle at some time around the 7th or 8th century BCE, that some theorize may have been decedents of the Tribe of Dan (whom fled the Assyrians that tried to conquer their homeland in northern Israel). Note that the earliest known Jews to visit Ireland occurred in 1079 when five Jewish merchants brought gifts from a foreign king.

Other similarities I have found also include the harp, a symbol of Ireland, and also plays a significant role in Jewish history (David). Corned beef is the infusion of both Jewish and Irish cuisine.

“Corned” Beef

Although there is no corn in it, food historian Shaylyn Esposito has pointed out in an article in that corned beef may be thought of as Irish as the Shamrock, but the current version of corned beef was heavily influenced by the Jews.  Because people did not have refrigerators, they would salt meat (and fish) to preserve them for the long winter months.  The Gaelic Irish had historically used cows for milk and as beasts of burden, favoring pork products for food instead.  However, they had come up with a way of taking the meat off of the bone and salting the pieces of de-boned meat.

When Great Britain took over Ireland, they brought with them the taste for beef and this salted beef was imported back to the British Isles, as well as used for their navy (especially those afloat in the Pacific Ocean).  They used large grains of salt to cure the beef.  These large pieces of salt were called corns because they were the size of corn kernels, and although the origin of the name was not a compliment to the food, the name Irish corned beef stuck. However, the Irish people themselves (due to strict laws by the British Government) did not have money to buy beef for themselves.  Due to the Great (Potato) Famine in the mid 1800s, many Irish sailed to America to find prosperity.  Many did, and began to have enough money to purchase beef for their dinner table. However, the beef they bought was a different type of corned beef they had been making in Ireland.  This new corned beef was purchased (almost exclusively) from shechita (שחיטה), kosher butchers.  This variation of corned beef was made exclusively from a cut of meat called the brisket. Brisket is tougher than other part of the cow, but it was cheaper source of meat for the poorer immigrants. This type of corned beef still needed salt, but it also undergoes a different cooking process in order to make more tender for the palate.  When Irish Americans transformed the religious holiday of St. Patrick’s Day into an Irish day of celebration – they used the Jewish version of corned beef to place atop their cabbage.

Although this article paints the Irish-Jewish relationship with rosy colors, one must also not forget that there are some darker chapters such as the Limerick Pogram, tensions between Jews and the Irish in pre-war USA, and the more recent anti-semetic comments by Irish President Mary Robinson. For the most part, this is a cultural relationship that has fared better than most. Author Brendan Behan once wrote “Others have a nationality. The Irish and the Jews have a psychosis.”

Happy Out,

Chef Lon

The Recipe

I do not have space to add a proper recipe for corned beef, but what is a good corned beef without great mustard?


6 tbs                mustard seed

2/3 cup             mustard powder

½ cup              beer (may substitute with water)

2 tbs                brown sugar

3 tbs                white wine vinegar

2 tsp                salt


1) Ground the mustard seed

2) Combine mustard seed, mustard powder, brown sugar, and salt in bowl

3) Add beer and stir well and let sit for 15 minutes

4) Stir in vinegar

5) Place into glass jar with lid and place in fridge for 15 hours before eating





Kurlansky, Mark, Salt: A World History (Penguin Books 2003).


“Are the Celts One of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel?” (James O’Shea” 2016) @


“The Irish-Jewish Parallels” (Rory Fitzgerald: 2010) @


“Is Corned Beef Really Irish?” (Shaylyn Esposito: 2013) @


“Some Tales of ‘Celts’ Exposed by the Science of DNA” (Michael O’Laughlin: 2016) @

From Ethiopia to Israel: A Journey

From Ethiopia to Israel: A Journey

In honor of this month’s celebration of Black History Month, I thought it would be apropos to discuss the history of Beta Israel (בֵּיתֶא יִשְׂרָאֵל :translated as House of Israel), also known as the Ethiopian Jews. In addition, I will also touch upon the connection between Jews and both Africans and Black Americans, with the culinary feature of this month being the egg-and the dish of ShaShuka.

Although it is well known about the Israelites stay in the African nation of Egypt, the Jewish community in the province of Gondar (not Gondor) in Ethiopia was largely forgotten – many Jews in other parts of the world did not even know of its existence. This community which began in the time of Moses was half a million strong at its height, and ruled their own kingdom for hundreds of years.  However, in 1624, the Portuguese (looking for control of the area) led an assault against the Ethiopian community, killing as many as possible and making slaves and converting those that did not die.  In addition, they destroyed all writings and items related to their Jewish history and identity.  However, the community, now oppressed under foreign rule, still endured (and was still numbered at about 100,000). There was little contact with the community and Europeans until 1769, when a Scottish explorer (James Bruce) unintentionally found their community in his search for the source of the Nile River.  In 1935, the Italian Army met up with Beta Israel, when they tried to march across the country; interestingly enough, the Emperor of Ethiopia at the time hid out in Jerusalem, but this did not improve the condition of Beta Israel upon his return. By the late 1940s, communication greatly increased, especially after the formation of the State of Israel (who began giving aid and building schools for the Beta Israel community).

The community still endured, even after Ethiopia broke ties with Israel because of the Yom Kippur War (the Arabs threatened to stop the oil supply if they did not comply). However, soon afterwards the Emperor was replaced through a coup d’etat, and the new leader (Col. Mengustu Haile Mariam) was not friendly towards the Beta Israelis, fostered anti-Semitism, and moved many of the Beta Israelites from their private farms to state run cooperatives. In 1977, Menachem Begin (Prime Minister of Israel at the time) began working on taking members of the Beta Israel community out of Ethiopia and bring them them to Israel, which began the mass exodus a decade later. However the situation became worse in 1980, when Judaism was outlawed, and many Jews were falsely accused of crimes and imprisoned.

In 1984, due to a great famine in Ethiopia, they asked for International help.  Israel came to their aid, but asked for more members of Beta Israel to be allowed to leave (in what had been named Operation Moses). This was supposed to be done in secret, but when the Arab countries found out, they forced Sudan to block any Jews from leaving (and two thirds of the community remained behind). With the help of the US (spearheaded by Vice President George Bush), Operation Joshua was launched to bring another 500 people to Israel.  Finally, in 1990, due to political pressure, the Ethiopian government allowed Operation Solomon to be launched, and many more members of Beta Israel were brought to Israel. The Israeli government has continued to try to emigrate the remaining members of Israel, with over 135,000 Ethiopian Jews now living in the country.

Speaking of Africa and the Middle East, a few years ago, I had begun making an egg dish originating from that region called shakshuka (שַׁקְשׁוּקָה).  This dish is prepared by poaching eggs in a tomato sauce with various spices (this can vary greatly). The origin of the word possibly comes from the Tunisian, meaning “mixture.” However, the word may also derive from chakchouka, the Berber word used for ragouts (types of stews). Although many countries in Africa and the Middle East claim the dish as their own, it most likely first became popular in the North African countries of Tunisia, Algeria, and/or Morocco.  Some historians also claim that the dish spread around the Middle East with as the Ottoman Empire spread around the entire region (and some also claiming that the dish may have originated in area of current Turkey).

Eggs are the main ingredient for this dish.  Although I am not going to debate which came first, the chicken of the egg, I will tell you that the modern chicken was first hatched in southeast Asia at least 10,000 years ago (chickens were first domesticated in that area by 7,000 BCE). Chickens were probably not introduced in Europe or the Middle East until 800 BCE, when trade began between these two regions. The first of its breed was probably a hybrid of various other birds living in that region (e.g., the red jungle fowl). Although shaksuka is primarily made with chicken eggs, there are many different fowl that lay eggs. There were eggs being laid long before early humans ever appeared on earth, and have been eating them ever since (most likely raw, until fire began being used about a million years ago). [Fast fast:  Eggs do not need to be refrigerated unless they are washed. In the US they are washed, so you need to refrigerate.]

For an unabridged version of this article, see

The Recipe

It should be no surprise, the recipe this month is for shakshuka (which I had made for a crown of 125 people at an event a few years ago).

Ingredients (serves 4-6):

32 oz.  Marinara or Tomato Sauce (store bought, or better, if homemade)

6          Eggs

If not in your sauce: 1 tsp each of: cumin, paprika, and chili powder

Note: I also like to add additional 2 chopped tomatoes and 1 sliced onion


1) Heat sauce in pan

2) Poach eggs in sauce.

Keep on Cookin’

Chef Lon



“How the Chicken Conquered the World” (Jerry Adler and Andrew Lawler: Smithsonian Magazine: 2012) @

“Israel Association for Ethiopian Jewelry” (Official website: @

“Jewish Virtual Library – Ethiopia” (Jewish Virtual Library) @

“Origin of the Chiken” (Greg Laden: Science Blogs: 2008) @

“Shashouka” ( @





What A Difference A Year Makes

What A Difference A Year Makes

According to the Gregorian calendar (the one you are most used to), which is based on the time it takes the earth to complete its journey around the sun, this start of the year 2017 (Happy New Year everyone!).  Although most countries follow the solar cycle, both the Jewish calendar and the traditional Chinese calendar follow cycles based on the moon (although technically lunisolar).

On January 28th of this year’s Gregorian calendar marks the beginning of the start of the Chinese New Year of 4715 (the Year of the Rooster). The current Chinese calendar had evolved over the millennium, and has had over 100 variants, and one of the more commonly used calendars has 12 months, but is actually based on a 60 year cycle. Although most people know of the 12 terrestrial signs (animals) associated with each year, there are also 12 celestial signs (e.g., Jai (growing wood), Wu (earth), Geng (metal), etc.).

Many different countries and cultures have created their own system of calculating and identifying the days that make up a year.  For instance [note: all dates based on Jan. 1, 2017], it is the year 2560 in the Buddhist calendar (it began the year Buddha passed away), in the Mayan Calendar,  Koiak 1733 in the Coptic Calendar (also called the Alexandrian calendar), Proyet (season) Sf-Bdt (month) in the Ancient Egyptian (Civil) calendar, and 3rd of Tevet 5777 in the Hebrew calendar.

What is interesting about the Hebrew calendar is that it is not the only New Year that is celebrated throughout the year.  There are four (yes four) New Years celebrated since the times of the Ancient Hebrews. The first, which provides the numbering begins on the 1st of Tishre – Rosh Hashanah, which translates to “Head of the Year.”  The second is Tu Bishevat (15th of Shevat), and is the New Year for the Trees.  Another is the 1st of Nissan, which corresponds to the holiday of Passover, and the exile of the ancient Hebrews from Egypt; all other holidays in the Torah are based on this date.  The last is the 1st of Elul, which is the New Year for the tithing of the cattle. However, there is another “New Year” of sorts, or at least the beginning of an annual restart, the holiday of Simchat Torah commemorates the annual beginning and end of the reading of the Torah.


Although diverse in many ways, the traditional cultures of both Judaism and the Chinese, there are many similarities which they both share, from the basic tenets of their beliefs to the food they eat. The “three teaching” of traditional Chinese are Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism. One of the roots that these have in common with Judaism is ethics – doing what is right, and doing to others what you would have them do to yourself. These are also two of the oldest cultures in the world, and both have endured many different changes throughout their respective histories.


Although Jews may have travelled to China during earlier eras, many had probably first come to China when the Silk Road first opened during the 2nd century BCE. These were trade routes between China and Europe for the intent of trade, but also allowed for the transfer of ideologies and ideas.  There were many Jewish traders at the time, and although there is no evidence of a Jewish community in China before the 10th century AD, many historians claim that Jews may have settled in Kaifeng as early as the 2nd century AD. It is known that during the Song Dynasty (960 to 1127 AD), many Jews migrated from Persia to China, and many settled in Kaifeng [Fast Fact: The first synagogue was built Kaifeng in 1163.]. Although the city had become conquered by various rulers over the centuries, the Jews had maintained a large settlement within the city. Over the years the community changed, and had adopted many of the local customs into their own. It should also me be mentioned that this was not the only Jewish community in China; a few other smaller communities existed throughout the country as well (such as in Shanghai, Beijing, Harbin, and Hong Kong). The community began to decline after a flood ravaged Kaifeng in 1642, and some ruling Dynasties that were not friendly to Jews (or any outsiders) in subsequent years, and after the last rabbi died in 1810, no one was found to replace him. In 1914, the land that held the synagogue was sold (to the Anglican Bishop).

After a long hiatus, a resurrection of Jewish identity in Kaifeng had begun in the 1980s, even under the strict Communist rule (which does not recognize Judaism as a state religion), which had even opened a Jewish Study Center.  There are reportedly 1000 people in the city that acknowledge a Jewish heritage, but many do not practice Judaism, at least not in public. Although this was tolerated by the authorities for the past three decades, when a group of fifty people gathered to celebrate Passover last year to light the menorah, they closed the study center, removed any signs of Jewish history, and cut off any association with International Jewish organizations.

Despite the actions and position of the government itself, the Chinese people themselves do have an admiration (or at least a curiosity) of Jewish people, which are a very small minority of about 2,500 in a country of over 1.3 billion. In fact, ten Chinese Universities offer Judaic Study programs.  In these courses, only allowable books are (officially Jewish liturgy is forbidden) and even a Chinese citizen trying to perform research on the Internet will not find many resources; China has its own contained Internet, where users can only access government sanctioned websites (containing sanctioned content).

Enough History, I’m Hungry

There are many times I have enjoyed Chinese food and a movie while half of the world celebrates Christmas.   If you look back at these two cultures as they assimilated into the American way during the latter half of the 20th century, one can see signs as to why this connection had occurred.  First, both were outsiders to the majority of the populace – including religious beliefs, dress, and of course food.  Chinese food includes very little, if any dairy, which allows for an easy transformation to kosher (which does not allow the mixing of meat and dairy), and an easier conversion to kosher-style (e.g., vegetarian or fish dishes (non-shellfish, of course).

One does not merely eat “Chinese food.” The term is really a misnomer.  People from different areas have been cooking food for thousands of years, and various types of dishes, as well as preparation methods, and ingredients were prepared in different regions of the country. In fact, Chinese food can be broken into foods, or the “eight cuisines” of China: Anhui, Cantonese, Fugian, Hunan, Jiangsu, Shandong, Sichuan, and Zhejiang.  [So when you see “Cantonese Noodles” or “Sichuan duck” they are not only referring to a style of cooking of that dish, but to the region where it originated. The different styles can be attributed to the food available in the region, the fuel available to cook, and the societal likes and dislikes of the inhabitants of each region. Although each have their own unique styles and tastes, most of the dishes have three things in common – rice, noodles, and vegetables. Some traditional cooking includes using a wok, and eating with chop sticks – both strange to the Euro-Americans. Chinese, for thousands of years believed that there was a direct relationship between gastronomy and health; so cooking was not only a way to satisfy an appetite, but it also became a science and an art form.

It is also interesting to note a number of eating customs to remember when having a meal in China:

  • The elderly/senior members and guest of honor sit first; and one must not eat until they have begun eating
  • Pick up the bowl from the side or top, and never from the bottom (holding from the bottom is associated with the act of begging)
  • Proper manners are expected (similar to proper table manners in America)
  • For a popular/premier on the table, one should take sparingly, and ask others first if taking a second portion (do not over-fill your plate)
  • A younger table guest should fill rice on the plates of their elders before their own, and if an elder gives them rice, they should say thank you.
  • Being distracted by anything other than the people and food at the table (e.g., tv, cell phones, etc.) is considered bad table manners
  • Tea is usually served when you sit at the table.  You should tap the table with two or three fingers when you have had enough as a way of asking them to stop, and to express thank you
  • Chew with your mouth closed
  • Do not stick chopsticks vertically into your food (it is associated with the incense sticks at funerals)
  • Knives are usually not provided on the table because they are seen as violent and will break the harmony of the meal
  • Contrary to some old popular beliefs, slurping your food/soup loudly is not acceptable

For an unabridged version of this article, please visit:

Keep on cookin’

Chef Lon E.

The Recipe

This month’s dish is from a recipe for a chicken and broccoli dish I found a number of years ago. The dish, and sauce are very easy to make.


3 tbs vegetable oil

2 chicken breasts (boneless, cut into bite-size strips)

1 sml. head broccoli (chopped)

½ cup onions (chopped)

Salt & pepper

Sauce (to be combined)

  • 4 tbs soy sauce
  • 1 clove garic (minced)
  • 2 tbs rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tbs honey
  • 1 tbs corn starch
  • ½ tsp ground ginger


  1. Heat 2 tbs oil, then add chicken, onions, salt and pepper – heat until chicken is mostly cooked (~5 min)
  2. Add 1 tbs oil and broccoli and stir until broccoli is bright green (~ 3-5 min)
  3. Add sauce and stir until thickened (~1-2 min)
  4. Optional: sprinkle with sesame seads


“Chinese Authorities Crack Down on Tiny Jewish Community”  ( 2016) @

“Chinese Calendar” ( @

“The Chinese Calendar” (Time and @

“China Virtual Jewish History” @

“Detailed History of the Kaifeng Jews” (Michael Pollack: Sino-Judaic Institute) @

“Jewish and Chinese Calendars are More Similar Than You Think” (George Jochnowitz: 2014) @

“How Many Jewish New Years” (Michelle Alperin: My Jewish Learning) @

“ ‘Tis the Season: Why Do Jews Eat Chinese Food on Christmas?” ( 2014) @

“Why Are the Chinese So Obsessed With the Jews?” (Banjamin Ivry: 2016) @

“Why Do American Jews Eat Chinese Food on Christmas?” (Adam Chandler: 2014) @

“What Jews and Chinese Have in Common” (Michael Goldfarb: 2014) @

“Virtual Statistics: Jewish Population of the World” (Jewish Virtual Library) @



Jewish Penicillin

Jewish Penicillin

My mom makes the best chicken noodle soup in the world. Although I make a decent soup, I could never replicate it to taste exactly the same. As a kid growing up, I was never a great lover of soups, but when it came to her chicken noodle soup, I would gobble down at least two bowls at a time.  When I was sick as a kid, the soup was warm, went down smooth, and without me knowing it, the soup also contained many healing qualities (which mom, of course, knew about). As we head into the midst of this season’s fury, and winter colds try to take hold, an article about chicken soup, its healing properties, and the influence on Jews on medicine would be a warm welcome for this chilly December weather.

History of Chicken Noodle Soup

Chicken soup (with or without noodles) was not invented by our mothers, grandmothers, or even your great-great-grandmothers back in the old country.  The ancient Greeks were serving chicken in broth thousands of years ago (and it was probably being made centuries before that).  Scholars are unsure of exactly when or where the first chicken noodle soup was made.  Some say it was in Ancient Greece that noodles were first comingled with chicken broth as a delicious soup, or as others claim, the dish originated in the Far East, where they first invented the “noodle.”  The cooking of soup itself is even older (soup would have consisted of any meat or vegetable boiled in water). Up until recently the scientific community believed that the ability to boil water was not discovered until about 5,000 to 9,000 years ago (when waterproof and heatproof containers were invented), however, scientists recently discovered 20,000 year old pottery that shows evidence of being used in a fire (but there is still conjecture about what this pottery was used for).

The earliest reference to the use of chicken soup is dated to the 12th century by the Jewish Renaissance man and physician, Maimonides. In his book, On the Cause of Symptoms, he prescribes chicken soup for such maladies as asthma, malnutrition, “neutralize body constitution,” and even as treatment for leprosy.

“Have Some, It’s Good For You”

Although we all know that chicken noodle soup is great to help us fight illness, it was not until 1990 that research was conducted on this dish to try and discover the medical reasons for its effectiveness – especially against the “common” cold and influenza.  The researcher, Dr. Stephen Rennard, used his grandmother’s recipe for chicken soup (without the noodles) and conducted a three year study.  His results, published in 1993, showed that the consumption of chicken soup can: (1) alleviate symptoms of the flu and the common cold; (2) actually help fight off the underlying infection. To get more technical, the study also showed that chicken soup slows down the movement of white blood cells, which inhibits mucus production and inflammation of the affected areas.  In addition, the results of a study published in 2000 in the Journal of the American College of Chest Physicians, found that chicken soup helps to relieve upper respiratory inflammation (stuffy head & sneezing).

Chicken soup also reportedly (no research to has yet clinically proven it) has other medical benefits, such as helping build strong bones and cartilage, improve digestion, boost liver function, and provides many nutrients (proteins, calcium, and gelatin  from the chicken – as well as other vitamins and minerals from the vegetables that are also cooked into the broth).  Although there has been research into the “why” chicken soup has healing properties, it still remains a mystery.  Not only do our mother’s know what they are talking about when it comes to chicken soup, but now they have scientific evidence to back them up.

“My Child, The Doctor”

Jewish doctors and researchers have long had an influence on medicine. Although men of healing, pharmacists, and midwives are mentioned in the Torah, the ancient Hebrews, looked to faith for their healing.   However, the priests did take a role in enforcing the public hygiene in accordance with their religious duties, but not directly in the capacity of an actual healer. The Torah does not directly provide any specific medical information. Many of its commandments have the practical effect of keeping a large number of people healthy so they do not spread disease (e.g., washing/keeping clean, prostitution and sex (to limit spread of disease), circumcision, disposing of the deceased, etc.), although some of the books of the prophets do mention various natural remedies for various diseases.

It was not until Talmudic times that Jews had begun to turn to physicians to cure their maladies, and it was not seen as turning against their faith in divine healing. It was during this time period that Jewish men began to learn medicine and practice it themselves. Some of these early Jewish doctors became known for their skills around the known world. In fact, medicine was even taught at Talmudic schools as early as 200 BCE, and many of their finding can be found in the Talmud.

The influence of Jewish physicians was first seen during the Middle Ages (no Hebrew medical texts have technically been found prior to that era), with such early medical practitioners as Maimonides and Hasdai ibn Shaprut leading the way.  [Fast Fact: Although many cultures have limited the occupations a Jew may hold in their societies, the occupation of a physician was usually not one that was denied to them.]  That being said, there is one Jewish medical text that may have existed long before the Middle Ages, the Book of Remedies. It is/was a book that held many cures and remedies.  Since the use of the book would have been seen as a lack of faith in G-d (and it would have been considered magic, which is forbidden under Jewish law), the book was kept secret, and hidden from most people. Legend states that the text may have been written by one of Noah’s sons, or even perhaps by the great King Solomon.  This is only one of a few forbidden books of Jewish magic, which I hope to make the topic of a future article. No one knows for sure if the Book of Remedies still exists . . . or does it?

In the past century, the contributions to medical science made by Jews have been innumerable. Since 1908, 53 Jewish men and women have won Nobel Prizes for their work in physiology or medicine, whom have made great advances to better humanity.  There are even more names to add to this list that have not won Nobel prizes, such as Jonas Salk, who discovered the first successful polio vaccine; Oskar Minkowsk, the father of diabetes research; and Henry Heimlich, the creator of the Heimlich maneuver which has saved countless lives, and in the area of mental health, Sigmund Freud, is the founder of psychoanalysis; and the list goes on.

The next time you take a sip of chicken (noodle) soup, remind yourself that you are not only having something that tastes good, it is also something that is good for you.

Keep on cookin,

Chef Lon


The Recipe

Everyone love’s their mom’s soup, and I love my own mother’s version with noodles and matzo balls. Below is the recipe directly from my mom, Chef Grandma Babs . . . . .


  • Whole chicken cut up – Kosher chicken preferred
  • Soup greens (parsley, dill (buy extra dill) (tie parsley and dill together with thread)
  • 1 parsnip, peeled
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 1 onion peeled
  • bunch of carrots peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
  • Chicken bouillon cubes – about 6 large per pot
  • Dash of pepper
  • Noodles
  • Matzo balls (optional)


  1. Put cut up chicken in pot- bring to a boil and skim off all the foam (the smutz)
  2. Add bouillon
  3. Add all soup greens and carrots
  4. Cook noodles and matzo balls if desired to add to soup (I buy matzo ball mix)
  5. Cover and bring to a boil then to a simmer for about 2 hours




“Chicken Noodle Soup” (iFood.TV) @


“Chicken Soup Around the World” (Leah Koenig: My Jewish Learning) @


“Chicken Soup Really is “Jewish Penicillin” For Your Cold: Mom Was Right” (Kate Bratskeir: The Huffington Post: 2014) @


“Encyclopedia Judaica: Medicine” (Samuel Vaisrub, Michael A. Denman, Yaakov Naparstek, and Dan Gilon: Jewish Virtual Library: 2008) @


“Food History: Chicken Noodle Soup” ( 2015) @


“Jewish Contributions in Medicine for the World” (Nadine Goldfoot: Jewish Bubba: 2013) @


“Proof Chicken Soup Really Is A Home Remedy for Colds and Flu” (Jessica W.: @


“Stone Age Stew? Soup Making May Be older Than We’d Thought” (Sarah Zielinski: @


“Too Holy To Print’: The Forbidden Books Of Jewish Magic” (J.H. Chajes: 2014) @








This month a number of members of the Jewish faith will participate in the celebration of Loi Krathong (sometimes writen Loy Krathong). What, you have never heard of it?  That is because it is not a Jewish holiday, but an annual celebration in many regions Thailand. However, it is celebrated by many individuals that identify themselves as JuBus (or BuJus) – Jewish Buddhists. In this article, I am not going to go into “how” someone can observe these two practices, instead, I will discuss the similarities between Judaism and Buddhism in a cultural sense as well as through the shared culinary practices.

Festival of Lights

Although the Loi Krathong is translated as “to float the box” in English, it is also known as the festival of lights.  It is celebrated by placing a candle onto a floatable box and releasing it onto the water.  The origin of the holiday is not known.  Some believe it may have begun to honor a water deity. It may have begun after Nama Noppomas (the consort of the king) gave the king a leaf cup, and the king floated it down the river. Another belief is that the celebration has its roots directly from Buddha – and shows respect to him during his visit to the Naramaha River. Others celebrate in such a manner to show respect to their elders and/or ancestors. Using lights for celebration is also widely used in Judaism during many celebrations (e.g., Shabbat candles, Havdalla candles, Menorah, etc.) and mourning.  [Fast Fact: The Hindu celebrate Diwali, which is their own “festival of lights” in celebration of the coming of the autumn.] It is also interesting to note that some of the floating boxes are made from bread so that when it “sinks,” it can be eaten by fish – which reminds me of the Jewish ritual of tashlikh, in which Jews cast out their sins by throwing bread into the water to be eaten by the fish.


Ten to Eight

Unlike the Christian and Muslim religions, which have their origins in Judaism, Buddhism evolved separately.  Buddhism has its roots in the 5th century BCE, with a man named Siddhartha Guatma, who is the historical Buddha. He was the founder of a small sect of

At the core of both religions are a set of moral/ethical rules which all followers should follow.  In Judaism, the Ten Commandments are at the heart of the Torah and Jewish law, which resembles the Noble Eight Fold Path of Buddhishm.  Although they are worded differently, the tenets of both revolve around the idea that a person should respect themselves, and everyone (and everything) around them.

Ten Commandments: You shall 1) have no other gods before me, 2) make no idols, 3) not take the name of the G-d in vain, 4) keep the Sabbath day holy, 5) honor your mother and father, 6) not murder, 7) not commit adultery, 8) not steal, 9) not bear false witness against your neighbor, 10) not covet.

Eightfold Path: 1) Right Mind, 2) Right Intention, 3) Right Speech, 4) Right Action, 5) Right or Honest Livelyhood, 6) Right Effort, 7) Right Mindfulness, and 8) Right Concentration.

How To Feed A JuBu

Although most dishes thought to be traditionally Buddhist are vegetarian, some sects do allow their members to eat meat (although there are restrictions).  For instance, those in the Theravdan sect obtain their meals via alms, which may include donations of meat.  However, many sects do include sutras (rules) that forbid the eating of meat so that no harm will come of living things. The sects in East Asia take this one step further and will not harm any living thing, so any plant that may be killed from consuming/harvesting it is restricted, such as root vegetables (potatoes, carrots, etc.). They also do not consume addictive foods and drinks, such as alcohol, drugs, and tobacco; however, caffeine, especially in tea is allowed because the “addiction” is mild, and the benefits of tea are great.  Since all vegetables are kosher, most Buddhist dishes are de facto kosher as well (depending on what is added to the dish), with the most popular being stir-fried vegetables. [Fast Fact: Although vegetables are kosher, insects are not; so a vegetable that is infested with bugs, may be inedible if they are not cleaned out.] So if you ever have a dinner guest that is following Buddhism, break out with your favorite vegetarian dish.

Keep on cookin’

Chef Lon

The Recipe

For this month I am providing an easy to make dish I prepared for last year’s charity Pasta Night. The sauce was served over wide noodles, but could also be used to add flavor to many other dishes and can be used almost as a satay. This month I present . . . . .  Nam Chim Sate Nga (Thai Noodles with Sesame Sauce). I created this dish especially for serving at a large party, so you will need to adjust if making for just your family.

Directions and ingredients (serves 40)

  1. In a blender, mix together:
  • 1 ¼ cups honey
  • 1 ¼ cups smooth/creamy peanut butter
  • 1/3 cup crunchy peanut butter
  • 1 tsp coconut flavoring
  • ¾ cup soy sauce
  • ½ cup rice vinegar
  • ½ cup + 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1/3 cup sesame oil
  • 4 tbs minced garlic
  • ¼ cup ginger root
  • 2 tbs red pepper flakes
  1. Taste, adjust, re-blend.
  1. Serve over your favorite pasta (wide noodles recommended)



“Festivals of Lights: Diwali, Hanukkah, and Loy Krathong” ( @


“Fruits and Vegetables” ( @


“Is Buddhism Kosher?” (Tzvi Freeman: @


“Judaism & Buddhism Similarities” (Dr. Ursula A. Falk: @