Jewish Pirates

Jewish Pirates

You’re in Jamaica: C’mon and smile!

(In Jamaica, y’all) Get it together, y’all!

(In Jamaica) Get it together, now!

In Jamaica, y’all.

[ “Smile Jamaica” by Bob Marley and the Wailers]

Coming to Jamaica

It is during the winter, and especially in February, when I think of the beautiful Caribbean islands. So, it is apropos that this month’s article is about the Caribbean, and one island in particular – Jamaica, and one of its most talented sons, who would have turned 73 on February 6th.

Jamaica is a beautiful island in the Caribbean. It was first inhabited about 2500 years ago by the Arawaks (also called the Tianos), a people that originated from South America.  They named the island Xaymaca, which means “land of wood and water.” The Arawaks lived peacefully in their wooden huts, eating what they grew from the land or caught in the sea. This changed when the Spanish first landed on their island on May 5, 1494.  In only a matter of years the Arawak population was decimated due to killings, overwork, and newly-introduced European diseases for which they had no immunity.

A few small towns were created by the Europeans on the island.  The first was New Seville, but the only one to be developed was Spanish town.  Other ships followed bringing additional Spanish and Portuguese settlers to the island.  Many of these were Jews that had converted to Catholicism under threat of death [these new converts were also called marranos or conversos].  The island, however, was not well maintained nor did it have much support from Spain, add to that the occasional attacks by pirates, and it was not the most prosperous land in the world.

In May of 1655 the English set their sights on the Island and in a short battle, they overtook the island.  The Spaniards freed their slaves and high-tailed it to Cuba.  The slaves and their descendants are known as Maroons. However, this did not end slavery on the island; it became reinstated with the slave trade from Africa once sugar plantations began to grow in size and profitability by the 1730s. Sugar was used for many things, including the alcoholic beverage known as rum. [Fast fact: There were many slave rebellions over the years, including a war between the Maroons and the British, which eventually led to the abolition of slavery. The slave trade was stopped in 1808 and full freedom of the slaves by 1838 (32 years before the United States).]

Besides the small towns that were formerly Spanish, and now English, other settlements began to be established on the island, such as Port Royal. It was originally set up by the Spanish in 1518, and known as a haven for pirates, but became and remained a center of commerce until the late 17th century when an earthquake in 1692 and tsunami destroyed the town. The British and pirates formed a symbiotic relationship on the island.  The British allowed the buccaneers to control Port Royal in exchange for acting as the coast guard of the area keeping the Spanish and Portuguese out of the way.. While under the control of the buccaneers, Port Royal was known as one of the wealthiest and wickedest cities in the world.

A Pirate’s Life For Me

Old pirates, yes, they rob I
Sold I to the merchant ships
Minutes after they took I
From the bottomless pit
But my hand was made strong
By the hand of the Almighty
We forward in this generation
[“Redemption Songs” by Bob Marley & The Wailers]

One of the most well known, and influential pirate of his day was Captain Henry Morgan. He was a terror on the high seas as a pirate (especially against Spanish vessels), then later became a privateer for the English, once again causing trouble against the Spanish. For his actions he was knighted by King Charles II, and appointed as Lt. Governor of Jamaica. [Fast fact: most of Morgan’s exploits come from a book written by Alexandre Esquemeling, who allegedly exaggerated Morgan’s adventures by making him seem very blood thirsty in order to sell more books.  Morgan sued the publisher for being portrayed in such a bad light. The publisher did print a retraction, although the book became a best seller in bother Europe and the Americas.]

Other famous pirates that you may have heard of include Sir Francis Drake, Captain Kidd, Thomas Hawkins, and Blackbeard.  But amongst these swashbucklers, there are many lesser known seamen that took to the profession of pirateering, including a number of Jews. No, I am not pulling your leg, there were a number of Jewish men that were pirates.

Jolly Roger

I am not talking about Pirates such as Barney Dreyfus (first Jewish person to own a professional baseball team), Cal “Abie” Abrams (OF), John Grabow (P), Dave Roberts (P), Jared Lakind (P), Erskine Mayer (P), Jake Pitler (2B), Edward “The Midget” Mensor (OF), Harry Shuman (P), or even Hank Greenberg (the “Hebrew Hammer” ended his career as a Pirate). I am referring to actual pirates, that happened to be Jewish (or of Jewish ancestry), such as Yaakov Curiel, Samuel Pallache, Sinan Reis (“The Great Jew”), and Moses Cohen Henriques.

Piracy is the committing of criminal acts on the high seas.  It was not long after sea trade was first organized in the second century BCE that the first pirates began to terrorize the open waters.  One of the earliest mentioned of pirates are found in records that described the raids of Likka sailors in the Mediterranean Sea (in 1400-1200 BCE).  Pirates would raid ships – both private and military, and in one famous incident, Julius Caesar himself was kidnapped after pirates raided his ship in 75 BCE (a ransom was paid for his safe return).  Since Jewish settlements in the area of Israel were mostly situated away from the Mediterranean, there were not many sea-faring Jews until they began to settle in the city that is now called Jaffa. By the beginning of the last millennia were many Jewish sailors, and a few of them were pirates, but the first wave of Jewish pirates started making a name for themselves in the first century during the Jewish revolts against the Romans.  They were called “pirates” since they were disobeying the laws of the Roman Empire, but they were in fact Jewish revolutionaries who were trying to fight back against their oppression. [Fast fact:  Sadly, one of the outcomes of this rebellion was the destruction of the Second Temple in the year 70, on Tisha B’Av, but also led to the creation of Rabbinic Judaism.]

A millennium and a half later, in the late 15th century there was a second large influx of Jews to take on the pirates life in the Mediterranean Sea. This was prompted by Alhambra Decree in 1492 (also known as the Edict of Expulsion, and more commonly called the Spanish Inquisition). [Fast fact:  The “Spanish Inquisition” technically began in 1478 with the establishment of the Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition in Spain, which became more active following the Decree.] Tens of thousands of Jews (and Muslims) were forced to convert to Catholicism, leave the Iberian Peninsula, or be killed.  Many Jews immigrated to Islamic countries in the South and East or to the Protestant Netherlands.  In order to fight back against the Spanish and Portuguese that kicked them out of their homes, many Jews took to fighting with their host countries, and sometimes doing so in the form of piracy (either directly or as financiers).

What is ironic about the expulsion of Jews from the Iberian countries is that it was Jewish cartographers (map makers), navigators, and creators of navigational instruments (known as the Majorcan Cartographic School) that helped Spain rise to become a naval power and global Empire.  Christopher Columbus (whom I have discussed possibly having Jewish roots) also mentioned the irony in his diary by writing “In the same month in which their Majesties issued the edict that all Jews should be driven out of the kingdom and the territories, in the same month they gave me the order to undertake, with sufficient men, my expedition of discovery to the Indies.” So, with their knowledge of the seas, they helped the Muslims and the Protestants to fight against the Catholics.

Many of these Jewish buccaneers belonged to the famed Barbary Pirates, that ravaged Ottoman ships.  Two of the more famous Jewish pirates were Sinan Reis and Samuel Pallache. Sinan “The Great Jew” Reis, who sailed in the early to mid 16th century under Admiral Hayreddin Barbarossa where they defeated Andrea Doria in battle. Samuel “Rabbi Pirate” Pallache’s was born in Morrocco, but his family had left Spain to escape persecution before he was born. He became a merchant and also ran piracy raids against Spanish ships.  In 1608 he was appointed by the sultan of Morrocco (Zidan Abu Maali) to help negotiate an alliance (“The Treaty of Friendship and Free Commerce”) with the Dutch against Spain. He was also a co-founder of the Sephardic community in Amsterdam, and three of his decedents had become Grand Rabbis in Turkey and one in the Netherlands. Yaakov Curiel was another notable Jewish pirate that was a captain of a Spanish ship who’s family had been forced converted to Christianity.  Inquisitors discovered that he was secretly practicing Judaism, and tried to arrest him.  With the help of his crew (many who were marranos themselves), he escaped, and formed his own company of three pirate ships to gain revenge against Spain.

You teach the youths about the pirate Hawkins

And you said he was a very great man

You teach the youths about the pirate Morgan

And you said he was a very great man

 So, you can’t blame the youths, when they don’t learn

You can’t fool the youths

You can’t blame the youths of today

You can’t fool the youths

[“You Can’t Blame the Youth” by Bob Marley & The Wailers]

A third gathering of Jews taking on the act of piracy also occurred in the 16th century, this time on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, in the Caribbean.  The first Jews called Jamaica home in 1530, and Columbus’ rule over the island kept the Inquisition out. [Columbus was granted the right of rule over any land he captured during his journeys.] However, eventually, the Columbus family started to lose authority, the inquisitors came to Jamaica and began their prosecution of the Jewish inhabitants.  So the Jews took to piracy to help the British fight the Spanish.  It was Jewish pirates that helped torment the Spanish ships, and help the British take over the island of Jamaica in 1655. One of the most prominent Jewish pirates was Moses Cohen Henriques, a Sephardic Jew formerly from Portugal, who helped Admiral Piet Pieterszoon of the Dutch India Company capture a Spanish treasure fleet in 1628, which was carrying what would be the equivalent of $1 billion in today’s currency (the only time it had ever occurred).  He later set up his own pirate island off of Brazil, until the Portuguese forced him to leave. He then served as an advisor to Henry Morgan. David Abrabanel, who’s family included a long line of Spanish rabbi’s also took to a life of piracy in revenge of the slaughter of his family, went by the name of “Captain Davis” and captained a ship named “Jerusalem.” [Fast fact: Jewish pirates named their ships after people and places in the Torah, such as “Queen Esther,” “Prophet Samuel,” and “Shield of Abraham]

Although most Jews after the 17th century did not take up piracy or privateering, there were a few that still took up the profession.  One such man was Jean Lafitte, was a smuggler, pirate, and privateer, and most notably helped Andrew Jackson defend New Orleans against the British in the final battle of the War of 1812. [Fast fact: It is argued that Lafitte was able to obtain a copy of the British battle plan and show it Jackson. Lefitte helped the US Army in order to avoid being imprisoned for smuggling.]

Blue jean baby, L.A. lady, seamstress for the band
Pretty eyed, pirate smile, you’ll marry a music man
Ballerina, you must have seen her dancing in the sand
And now she’s in me, always with me, tiny dancer in my hand

[Elton John, Tiny Dancer]

Fun Fact: While doing my research I had come upon the term “pirate booty” more than once.  However, the word “booty” come up in modern colloquial discussions. So I took a detour from the focus of this article and researched the origin of the word.  Forgive this digression, but I thought that it may be an interesting addendum to this essay.  The etymology of the word “booty” derives from the Middle English (1150-1500 BCE) word būte an/or the Middle French word butin, both translating to “exchange.” It came to mean the distribution of spoils divided amongst those that gained by war, swindling, robbery, or other nefarious means. Note that Merriam Websters does not include the vernacular of booty, meaning one’s derriere. However, it does note that a “boot” is an English word for the rear of a car, which is one possible derivation for the etymology of the word’s modern use, which notes may have its origin from “Black English” during the late 1920s, although provides this origin as “probably an alteration of body or botty,” but also deriving from the same time frame. The word “botty” is also an old English word used informally by children to describe a person’s bottom, which also may be an origination of the modern use of “booty.” Also note, I did some research on the term “pirate smile,” but came up empty. Some theories is that it means a sly smile, a smile that can make you do anything, a smile with missing teeth, and a slit throat. Since Bernie Taupin (lyricist for Tiny Dancer) has not commented on it, your guess is as good as the ones above.


Jews in Jamaica

Not all Jamaican Jews turned to a life of piracy.  They first arrived on the island in 1530 as secret Jews (maranos and conversos from Spain and Portugal) to live a life without persecution from the inquisitors.  In fact, it was the grandson of Christopher Columbus (Portugallo Colon) that allowed them to settle.  Although the first secret Jews had first stepped on Jamaica during Columbus’ second voyage in 1494 (it is known that at least Columbus’ interpreter, Luis de Torres, was a marrano). When the Columbus family began to lose power, the Jews on the Island helped the British to defeat the British and take over the island and under British rule, they no longer needed to practice in secret.

Jewish congregations began to form in the Island, the first synagogue thought to have been built is Neveh Shalom in 1704 (in Spanish town).  It most likely followed the Sephardic style of having a sand floor. Other synagogues were built afterwards. Under the leadership of Moses Delgado, in July 1831 Jewish citizens of Jamaica received full civil rights. By 1849 eight (of 47) members of Jamaica’s House of Assembly were Jewish, and they closed for Yom Kippur due to too many members needing to observe the holiday. Although the number of Jews living on the island has dwindled over the last century and a half, they have always been a presence on the island.

Jamaica does have several Jewish Heritage sites on the island (including 21 Jewish cemeteries), and has been trying to attract tourists by providing Jewish themed tours of the island. The big problem with Jewish tourism on the island is that most of these sites are in places like Kingston, which has the longest continuously operating synagogue in the Western Hemisphere (Sha’are Shalom, founded in 1732), which is miles away from the sandy beaches that tourist flock too on the other side of the island.  The synagogues in Jamaica Another issue for kosher travelers, is that there are not many food options on the island. Besides the fruits and vegetables you may find in local groceries, you may find some boxed and canned items that happen to also be kosher.  There is one kosher “restaurant” on the island, run by Chabad that will deliver food to the local resorts and hotels. A third option is to bring kosher food with you while travelling, however, Jamaica is very strict with any food being imported into the country, so visitors must secure a special permit to do so.

One Love – One Heart

One Love! One Heart!

Let’s get together and feel all right

Hear the children cryin’ (One Love!)

Hear the children cryin’ (One Heart!)

Sayin’: give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel all right

Sayin’: let’s get together and feel all right.

[“One Love/People Get Ready” by Bob Marley and the Wailers]

Many Jews had contributed to the economic and cultural growth of Jamaica. The first well known Jamaican artist was named Isaac Mendes Belisario (1795-1849), and he was Jewish.  The first black Jamaican millionaire, George Steibel (1820-1896), had a Jewish father.  The oldest operating newspaper on Jamaica (since 1834), the Jamaica Gleaner, was founded by a Jewish journalist named Jacob De Cordova. The Jewish poet David Lopez (1635-1730), known for transforming psalms into poems also called Jamaica home. In the late 1800s, due to economical decline on the island, many of its Jewish residents (estimated at over 2,500) left the Island to seek better lives in the United States.

It has been widely accepted that, there are only 200 practicing Jewish residents in Jamaica. However, a recent study found that over 20,000 Jamaicans identify as being Jewish (although most are non-practicing, and 424,000 Jamaicans are decedents of Jews. [?source?] In fact, common Jewish surnames are found in Jamaica including: Abrahams, Isaacs, Levy, DeCohen, and many more.

A few such notable Jamaican of Jewish ancestry of more modern times are Chris Rockwell, the founder of Island Records, the rapper/singer Sean Paul, and legendary musician Robert Nesta Marley, better known as Bob Marley.  Bob Marley, known for bringing Reggae music to the world-wide stage, his association with kaya (marijuana), and Rastafarianism, had a Jewish father (Norval Sinclair Marley). Norval Marley had come from a Jewish Syrian family, was a sixty year old white plantation overseer, when he married Afro-Jamican eighteen year old Codella Booker. His father provided financial support to him and his mother, but was often away on business, so the two rarely saw each other before passing away when Bob was only 10.  He eventually went on to form the group Bob Marley and the Wailers, when went on to produce many international hits, until his untimely death at the age of 36 in 1981.

Two, three, four Exodus, movement of Jah people! Oh, yeah!

(Movement of Jah people!) Send us another brother Moses!

(Movement of Jah people!) From across the Red Sea!

(Movement of Jah people!) Send us another brother Moses!

(Movement of Jah people!) From across the Red Sea!

Movement of Jah people!

[“Exodus” by Bob Marley and the Wailers]

Although I was unable to find many sources describing a direct relationship between Bob Marley and Judaism, he did embrace Rastafarianism, which has many similarities to Judaism, such as a strict dietary code (called Ital) and there are Commandments at the heart of their beliefs (13 as opposed to 10 in Judaism), they follow many of the teachings in the Torah, and their messiah is a descendant of King Solomon (Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie), to name a few. [The topic of the similarities (and differences) between Judaism and Rastafarianism will be discussed in greater detail in a future article.] His son, Ziggy Marley, married an Israeli woman (Orly Agai) and his band Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers received the Shalom Peace award from the Jewish National Fund in 2015.  During his acceptance speech, Ziggy stated that he fully supports Israel, and has always had a connection to the country, which was taught to him by his father and mother at an early age.  He went on to say “If you’ve heard of my father…you’ve heard of Exodus….We are strongly connected to the history of Israel and feel a very spiritual and personal connection to that land and the people of that land,” In a 2011 interview, Ziggy Marley also discussed the Jewish-Rastafarian connection by stating “Rastafarianism has a lot to do with the Old Testament and Solomon and David and Moses, so we have a strong connection [to Israel] from many years back.”

The Food of Jamaica

Give me the food and let me grow

Let the Roots Man take a blow (Ay!)

[“Burnin’ & Lootin’ ” by Bob Marley and the Wailers]

The food of Jamaica is as colorful and diverse as the people and history of the island. The food we identify with as being Jamaican was most likely influenced by the many other cultures that have settled there.  The food, like the people are a melting pot of tastes, with Spanish, British, African, East Indian, and Chinese cultures all with their hand in the pot. The islands motto, out of many, one people, can also easily also be modified to state “out of many, one cuisine.”

For instance, escovitch fish is a dish that can be traced to Spain, brought by the Sephardic Jews fleeing persecution from the Spanish. Escovitch is usually fried fish that is pickled with vinegar (almost like a ceviche).  We can thank the British (who took the Island from the Spanish) for their influence in the creation of the Jamaican pattie.  If you were wondering why much of the cuisine is spicy, it was the Chinese and East Indians (whom unfortunately came to the island as slaves) that turned up the “heat” on many of their dishes; for instance, the popular Jamaican dish curried goat, was most likely influenced in such a manner (goats were first introduced to the island in the 16th century by the Spanish and Portuguese).  The dish, ackee and saltfish, can trace its origins from Africa, Canada, and Northern Europe. Ackee is a fruit (although really used as a vegetable) that was brought to Jamaica from Ghana in the 18th century and salt fish is (usually) cod that has been cured with salt. Plantation owners would import salted cod to feed their slaves, since it was very cheap food supply which can be stored for long periods of time. After the abolishment of slavery, the locals continued to eat the salt fish (sometimes called bacalao or bacalhau), combined with ackee, and although it had a stigma for years of being a “poor man’s meal,” it has more recently been looked at as a national dish. Bammy is a fried flat bread made from cassava (a shrub native to South America) that was brought by the original inhabitants of Jamaica, the Arawaks. Pepperpot Soup has its origins from West Africa, where it originated as an African stew, then modified by the African slaves using the available ingredients of the island.

One of the cooking styles most often associated with Jamaica is known as “jerk.”  Although you may see jerk chicken, jerk fish, and other jerks at the super market, it was made with dried meat.  [Fast fact: Note that the Arawak Indians had been using a process of drying meat eons before the Spanish had landed on Jamaica.] The term “jerk” is believed to have come from the Spanish word (via Peru) for dried meat, charqui, which probably was transliterated as “jerky” in English (aka beef jerky). The dish has its origins from Africa. The Spanish had brought Coromantee Africans (from an area in Ghana) as slaves. When they fled the oncoming British, they left their slaves behind.  Instead of returning to slavery under the British, the former slaves fled to the secluded part of the island, and lived with the Tainos (who had formerly escaped the Spanish Because they did not have the same spices they used back in Africa, they adopted and made due with  two spices that are native to the island – allspice and Scotch bonnet peppers, which gives jerk seasoning (which is applied via a dry or wet rub) its distinctive flavor. [Fast fact: Scotch bonnet peppers have a Scoville heat rating of 100,000 to 350,000 units. Compare that to the 3,500 to 8,000 units for a jalapeño pepper or 10,000 to 23,000 for a Serrano pepper that many Americans find too spicy.]

An article on the food of Jamaica would not be complete without a mention of its most notable drink – rum. Alcoholic beverages made out of sugarcane juice has been made for thousands of years.  In the 1300s, Marco Polo mentions a wine made of sugar in his journal, and remnants of rum were found in a sealed jar when they raised the ship Vasa, which sunk in 1628.  However, when it was discovered that fermenting of molasses (a byproduct of sugar cane) can produce an alcoholic beverage, it changed history (and brought about the worst in humans, by forming the slave trade triangle, and the popularity of the drink brought about the Sugar Act in the Colonies, which was one of the factors leading to the Revolutionary War). It had long been thought that the creation of rum from sugar cane began on the island of Barbados, more recent evidence shows that it may have begun in Brazil. During the years of piracy, the popular drink was called bumbo – which was a mix of rum, water, sugar, and nutmeg. [Rum will be the subject of a future article.]

Photo of Vasa, from Vasa Museum (courtesy L. Dobbs)Vasa

The Recipe

I usually try to keep my recipes simple for these articles, so I am not going to provide my complete Jamaican Jerk Chicken recipe – there are too many ingredients, and probably too hot for most of my readers palates.  Instead, I am going to give you permission to go very simple by using any Jerk Chicken spice you find on your grocery shelf.

Ingredients (serves 3-4)

Chicken           3 lb. (cut into 8ths)

Jerk spice        To taste (read container)

Oil                   4 tbs

Cinnamon       1 tsp

Wine               2 tbs (white)


1) With fork, poke holes in chicken

2) Mix jerk spice, oil, cinnamon, and wine – then coat chicken

3) Let sit for 2 hours

4) Heat oven to 400 degrees

5) Cook for approx. 40-45 minutes (skin should be brown) or place on grill/BBQ until inside of chicken has cooked and skin is charred





Rites of Passage

In the magnificent wonder that is life there is a beginning.  There is the miracle of birth – the start of something special.  Life eventually comes to an end.  Most of the time, the end comes far too soon, as I know all too well. During the cycle of life there comes a time when the seed grows into a tree, the bud blossoms into a flower, the fruit ripens into a delectable morsel, and the child becomes an adult.

Keeping Up With the Brooks

Although the blossoming of a child into adulthood is a natural procession, many cultures and religions have their own rituals for coming of age.  A person very dear to me will be undergoing this very ritual, as commanded in the Jewish religion, called a Bat Mitzvah. It is a rite of passage that every child goes through in their passage to adulthood in the eyes of their religion.  The earliest known “Bar Mitzvah” (Bar for boys, Bat for girls) may have been written about thousands of years ago in the Torah itself.  Genesis 21:8 states “And the child [Isaac] grew and was weaned, and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned.”  In Pirkei Arvot (a book of the Mishnah), it discusses that this “weaning” occurred on Isaac’s 13th birthday, and was his rite of passage in which he was weaned out of his childish being, and stepping into his adult responsibilities. This was followed by a feast. What exactly does weaned mean?  Weaning, according to Rabbi Hoshaya, in this case refers to the fact that Isaac was “weaned away from the evil inclination.” At the age of thirteen, a person should be able to distinguish between right and wrong and good from evil. Bar/Bat mitzvah translates to daughter/son of the commandment – or in other words, they are not old enough to fulfill all of the responsibilities of Jewish law.

However, it is not commanded anywhere that a child should or needs to have a bar/bat mitzvah and the accompanying feast (and definitely nowhere is it written that there needs to be a party with a DJ and pretty dancing girls).  A boy at thirteen, and a girl at twelve automatically become a bar/bat mitzvah upon turning that age – even if there is no party, no reading of the Torah or Haftorah, or even if they do not go to temple.  However, the Polish scholar Rabbi Shlomo Luria, stated in the 15th century that attending the bar/bat mitzvah feast was a “seudat mitzvah” – it is considered a mitzvah to attend the associated feast. The making of the feast is also considered such a mitzvah (Mishnah Brurah §225:6).

What constitutes the celebration of a “bar mitzvah” has changed over the years, and is different for various groups even today.  For instance, the Orthodox community does not believe in the fancy party.  A big feast is held in the honor of the boy, with much food and dancing including many baked goods, and usually includes a derashah (learning/discussion) during the course of the meal. The more orthodox will include a reading of the Torah by a boy, but not by a girl (whereas the Conservative movement allows for women to read from the Torah). [Fast Fact: The literacy rate for the Jewish population was probably around 10 percent, so it was unlikely that most 13 year olds (or even adults) would have read the Torah until that time.] The Conservative Jew may hold a lavish party with DJs and all the bells and whistles, reminiscent of the Steins (in Keeping up with the Steins).

There are no real rules for how to celebrate a bar/bat mitzvah, but the custom seemed to have become popular about 400 years ago. It was not until after the Middle Ages that literacy amongst Jews (really most people) began to rise, so until then neither the child, nor his father could read Hebrew, or any other language.

There was not one steadfast custom. The custom had many different flavors and varieties, and it still does. Outside of the Ashkenazi and Italian Jewish communities, the bar mitzvah was not celebrated before the 1800s, and it was strictly for the boys.  Prior to the 1600s, the bar mitzvah celebration consisted of the father saying a special blessing over his son, followed by a festive meal. In the 1500s, the reading of the Torah by the bar mitzvah was added, as well as a speech. In the 1600s, a test was also given.   The idea of this being a Jewish confirmation did not begin until the 1920 by German Jews. [For a detailed history of Bar Mitzvahs, see Bar Mitzvah, A History by Rabbi Michael Hilton @]

In recent years Bar and Bat Mitzvahs have sometimes gone too far into extravagance. The rich have spent millions of dollars on some outrageous parties that have included performances by top entertainers.  In 2005, David Brooks spent a whopping $10 million on his daughter’s bat mitzvah, which included live performances by Aerosmith, Kenny G., Tom Petty, and 50 Cent.

Why 12 and 13?

In the Torah it does not specify at what age a child becomes an “adult.”  There is the story I mention above about Isaac, but it does not really specify the age or if that is the age of adulthood.  The only reference to age in such a sense is when Aaron is asked to take a head count of every male of age 20 and over – for the purposes of allowing them to bear arms (see Numbers 1:20). In the Mishnah, many rabbis differ and argue that different ages or actions distinguish the age of maturity into adulthood. However, the Mishnah does discuss the age at which a person is able to take a vow.  For a female it is 12 years plus one day, and 13 years and one day for a male. [???Source: Shulchan Aruch Harav, Orach Chaim 55:12???] This may be where the notion of those dates originated.  However, it should be noted that these ages are discussed in the section of the Mishnah called the Niddah, because it covers the topic of puberty.

It is interesting to note that the celebration of a birthday was only mentioned once in the Torah (the pharaoh in the story of Joseph).  In ancient times, records of the precise date of birth were rarely kept, so the celebration of birthdays was not very common. The only way they would have known their approximate age was by keeping track of the number of seasons that have passed since their birth.

The Rite of Passage

The bar/bat mitzvah is the rite of passage into adulthood in Judaism. However, this is not something inherent to Jews. Many different religions and cultures have their own rites of passage, and vary greatly from what one might expect. A few of these rites are listed below (many come from a list created by Brian Pegg).



  • Jumping with ropes around your ankles so that your head comes as close to the land as possible (South Pacific: Vanuatu People)
  • Kill a lion with only a spear [note: this has been outlawed by the government] (Tanzania: Maasai People)
  • After learning how to fight, young men would then show their skills in battle against slaves (Ancient Greece: Sparta)
  • Either sacrifice or capture and bring a prisoner back to their village (Mecico: Ancient Aztecs)

Physical Pain

  • Jumping over cows while men of the village whip the young person (Ethiopia: Hamar Tribe)
  • Before a boy’s first hunt, a poison is put into their eyes, then they are beaten and whipped, and then insert the poison of the Giant Leaf Frog into themselves using a wooden needle (Brazil: Matis Tribe)
  • The initiates whip each other with sticks (with sharpened points). The winner is chosen by the crowd has become a man (West Africa: Fula People)
  • At the age of seven, young boys are taken away for ten years to live in an all-male hut, during which time they engage in nose bleeding, forced vomiting, ingesting semen, and defecation (Papua New Guinea: Sambia People)
  • For cleansing purposes: wooden canes are stuck down the boy’s throat until they vomit, reeds are forced up their noses, their tongues are stabbed (Papua New Guinea: Sambia People)
  • Initiates are forced to stay away for four days, on the fifth day, while maintaining a smile, they hung from poles by the chest until they passed out. Upon awakening, their little finger is cut off as a sacrifice (United States, North Dakota: Mandan Nation)
  • First circumcised without anesthesia, then cut from the head to the scrotum while bleeding over a fire (Australia: Mardudjara Aborigines)
  • Young boys put on a glove for ten minutes with the stingers of bullet ants pointing inward – and they cannot flinch (Brazil: Satere-Mawe Tribe)
  • Female circumcision – practiced throughout the world


  • Sending young men into the forest to fast and reflect (United States: various Native American Tribes)
  • Young men and women are circumcised, then secluded from the adults for several months – during which time the initiates would paint themselves white (with clay) and act like wild creatures (Kenya: Okiek Tribe)
  • Young men are sent into the wilderness and need to keep themselves alive for 6 months without any help (Australia: various Aboriginal Tribes)
  • Young men are shaven, then brought into the wilderness in a hut built for him by his family. At some point someone will come out to circumcise them – they can return on when they are healed.
  • Young girls, after their first menstruation are secluded in a small chamber for a few months, where they are presumed to travel the underworld (Northwest Amazon: Ticuna People)

Physical and Mental Changes

  • Young women chisel their teeth to sharp points (Indoneisa: Natives of the Mentawai Islands)
  • Young women have their face tattooed with a sharpened piece of wood, which usually takes several hours (West Africa: Fula People)
  • Young men are placed into a cage and made to drink a powerful drug which would make them forget everything about their youth.  If it does not work the first time, they will take a second helping (United States: Algonquin Nation)
  • Young men are scarred throughout their bodies (scarification), many times into specific patterns. This practice has actually been widespread through history.
  • Young women will sit by the river and sing to them for days at a time in order to end their relationship with the water spirits (Nigeria: Okrika Tribe)
  • Young men shave their beards and remove their bulla (an amulet meant to protect youth), and put on their toga virillis (“toga of manhood”) during a celebration called the Liberalia (Ancient Rome)

Celebrations & Ceremonies

  • Young girls, at 16, have parties, sometimes very elaborate (United States)
  • Usually followed by a reading of the Torah, there is a party to celebrate (Worldwide: Followers of Judaism)
  • Young children wore breeches, then between the ages of 2 and 8, they were “unbreeched” and wore dresses or gowns (Western World – 16th to 19th century)
  • Young women of rich/aristocratic families who were of age had large parties called debutante balls. It originally began as a way to show that a young woman was ready for marriage. (Worldwide)
  • Young men and women have a confirmation in many religions throughout the world.  The age and ceremonies performed differ between religions and even within each religious sect. (Worldwide)
  • Imitates go through the Amrit Sanchar ceremony (Followers of Sikhism)
  • Upon turning 15, a young girl has a huge party called the Quinceañera (Latin America)

A Torah Connection

Both the Parsha Shemot and its Haftorah (Isaiah 27:6), which are recited this month, mirror each other in the lesson of redemption for each of the story’s main characters (Moses and Isaiah). Shemot tells the story of how the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt, and a young child named Moses was born, raised by the daughter of the Pharaoh, killed an Egyptian taskmaster to protect a Jew, then fled to the dessert. [Fast Fact: Scholars estimate that it was 210 years between the time the Jews were first enslaved and the killing the Egyptian by Moses; and it was another 60 years between the time Moses fled and returned to Egypt.] When Moses returned to Egypt to free the Israelites, the Pharaoh refused, but G-d promised that there would soon be redemption.  In the Haftorah, the Jewish people were settled in Israel, and had begun to prosper, but the leaders had begun to get drunk and become corrupt.  G-d came to Jacob and said that this too shall pass, and they shall be redeemed.

Another parallel that both of these stories have in common, is that they both make use of variations on the word “fruit.”

  • Isaiah 27:6 – Those who came, whom Jacob caused to take root, Israel flourished and blossomed and they filled the face of the world with fruitage.
  • Isaiah 27:9 – Therefore, with this shall Jacob’s iniquity be atoned for, and this is all the fruit of removing his sin; by making all the altar stones like crushed chalkstones; asherim and sun-images shall not rise.
  • Isaiah 28-1 – Woe is to the crown of the pride of the drunkards of Ephraim and the young fruit of an inferior fig is the position of his glory, which is at the end of a valley of fatness, crushed by wine.
  • Isaiah 28:4 And his glorious beauty shall be the young fruit of an inferior fig, which is on the head of the valley of fatness; as a fig that ripens before the summer, which, if the seer sees it, he will swallow it while it is still in his hand.
  • Exodus 1:7 The children of Israel were fruitful and swarmed and increased and became very very strong, and the land became filled with them.

The word is being used to describe how the Jewish people have grown and prospered. It is being used to describe just rewards, it is being used to describe coming of age, and it is being used to describe the food.

This was a great segue into the culinary portion of this article – the fruits of Israel, and then more specifically, nature’s candy – grapes.

[In the Torah reading, Moses strikes down an Egyptian taskmaster to save a Jew, who he makes the connection with as one of his “brethren.”  This moment can be thought of as the Bar Mitzvah of Moses, where he grows and matures to understand right and wrong, and the possibly connection to his Jewish roots.]

The Fruit of Israel

Did you know that there are forty different types of fruit grown in Israel?  Besides the five listed as part of the Seven Species of Israel (grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates – the two grains are wheat and barley) – they are so called because they are the only fruits and grains allowed for use in the Temple.  [Fast fact: only one other fruit is mentioned in the Torah – the apple tree.] Other fruits commonly grown in Israel include avocados, bananas, apples, cherries, plums, nectarines, strawberries, prickly pears, persimmons, and loquat. However, the country’s leading exported fruits include oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, and pomelit (a pomelo and grapefruit hybrid). [Fast fact: Although it is now grown in Israel, the etrog is not indigenous to the region, it was first brought to the Middle East from India sometime in the 7th century BCE.]

Israel exports over $2 billion in produce each year.  Much of this is due to science, and scientifically engineered fruits and vegetables that last longer and taste better. Some of these new fruits include the Galia melon, nectarine-mango, pomelit, nano watermelon, and the Anna apple.


Archeologists have found evidence (in Gadachrilli Gora, Republic of Georgia) that humans began cultivating grapes as early as 6500 BCE – possibly one of the earliest fruits cultivated by humans. Grapes are classified as being a type of berry. There are two major species of grapes – New World (genus vitus) found in the Americas and Old World (vitis  vinifera) found in Asia and Europe.  However, there are over ten thousand varieties of grapes.  Most grapes are used in the making of wine, however, very few varieties (about 50) can be used for wine making.

By 4000 BCE, the fruit was grown throughout Western Asia and even in Northern Africa (e.g., Nile Delta). When the Hittites expanded their empire further into the Mediterranean area around 3000 BCE, they brought the grape along with them. Grapes were spread further throughout Europe by the Romans, although the growing of grapes, and the making of wine was mostly under the auspicious of monasteries.  They not only used grape for wine or as a food, they also created syrups with the grapes that they would use as sweeteners (since sugar was almost non-existent at that time).

When Europeans first came to the Americas, they brought cuttings of their Old World grapes with them, but they could not survive the climate.  Americans improved upon the indigenous New World grapes until they came upon the Concord grape, which is very popular today.


Although grapes are great to eat, most grape production is used for wine making.  The act of making wine is thousands of years old. There is evidence of a winery existing in ancient Armenia in 4100 BCE.  References to wine are found in antiquity, including the Torah, Egyptian hieroglyphics, and many other ancient texts. A 3,700 year old wine cellar was discovered in Northern Israel which they estimate could hold the equivalent of 3,000 bottles of wine.

[Note: Do to the length of this article I will most likely discuss wine in greater detail at a future date]

The Recipe

Although you can use grapes in many recipes to make great dishes – especially desserts, here’s a recipe for a grape syrup with you can use to accompany and enhance many of your own dishes, such as pancakes, waffles, and yogurts.


2 lbs                Concord grapes (de-stemmed)

¼ cup              Water

1 ½ cup           Sugar


1) Place grapes into pot with water and heat

2) Once at a boil reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes (stir occasionally), then let cool

3) Strain grape “juice” with colander

4) Strain juice again through cheesecloth

5) Place the juice and sugar in a saucepan and heat

6) Once at a boil reduce heat and simmer for approximately10 minutes when juice begins to thicken

7) Take off heat and place into sealed glass jars – store in refrigerator

Keep on Cookin’

Chef Lon


“25 Crazy Rites of Passage” (Brian Pegg: 2017) @

“Agriculture in Israel” ( @

“The Bar Mitzvah” ( @

“Bar Mitzvah, A History” (Rabbi Michael Hilton: 2014) @

“The Birth and Afterlife of Israel’s Precious Etrog Fruit” (Emily Harris: The Salt: 201) @

“Etrog” (Jewish Virtual Library) @

“Fruit in the Bible” (David Moster: 2017) @

“Grapes: A Brief History” (University of Missouri Integrated Pest Management: 2013) @

“How Wine Colonized the World” ( @

“The Laws of Bar Mitzvah” (Aryeh Citron: @

“The Most Star-Studded Bar Mitzvahs” (The Daily Beast: 2013) @

“The Origin and History of Grapes” (Rutuja Jathar: 2011) @

“Top 12 New Fruit and Vegetables Developed in Israel” (Abigail Klein Leichman: 2013) @

“What is the Origin of the Bar Mitzvah Celebration?” (Baruch S. Davidson: @



Holiday Sweets

Holiday Sweets

מה טבו אהליך יעקב משכנותיך ישראל

Ma tovu ohalekha Ya’akov, mishk’notekha Yisra’el.

How great are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel!

Ma Tovu

 Ma Tovu is a prayer commonly recited by Jewish practitioners to begin the morning prayers to show their awe of being within a synagogue.  However, what I found most interesting about this particular prayer is that the first line of the prayer was not written by a Jew.  The words are taken from Numbers 24:5, in which Balaam (a non-Jew) gives praise to Jacob and the Jewish people. [The remainder of the prayer is a conglomeration of beautiful text from various Psalms.]  This is just one small incident of how people – people of different races, creeds, and religions, mesh to improve upon each other.  As I have tried to drive home in many of my articles is that we are all more alike than different.  This month Jews around the world celebrate the holiday of Chanukah, and most Christians celebrate Christmas. [Fast fact: Some church sects (e.g., Eastern Orthodox) celebrate Christmas on January 7th.] So let’s take a look at the similarities between Judaism and Christianity.


In last month’s article I showed a direct lineage between Judaism and Islam to a common forefather in Abraham.  There is also a direct connection to Christianity as well, since Jesus was Jewish.  That idea, however, was in contention for a while.  Some scholars have tried to bring forth contrary evidence to the contrary during the 19th and 20th centuries. However, according to an August 2017 article by the Biblical Archaeology Society, most evidence supports his Jewish origin. The Jewish origin of the founder of Christianity is one of the many connections between these two religions. What is interesting about my research is that I found it easier to find the similarities between Judaism and Islam than between Judaism and Christianity.  However, some of the similarities I discovered between Jews and Christians are as follows:

  • Both religions are monotheistic
  • They both acknowledge the Torah (Christians refer to it as the “Old Testament”). [Abraham is not as important in Christianity, and Moses is the most often mentioned figure of the Torah in the New Testament (and even thought of as a saint and/or prophets in some sects).]
  • They both believe in angels and demons
  • Ancient Jewish law and some sects of Christianity practiced polygamy.  However, this practice was outlawed in Judaism in 1310, and most Christian sects that had allowed it in the past had banned it by the early 1900s (e.g., Mormons (Later-Day Saints) officially banned it in the Second Manifesto in 1904).
  • Judaism and some Protestant denominations do not allow the use of religious idols/statues.
  • They both do not allow for witchcraft.
  • There is a holy day of the week for both religions (Shabbat (Friday night to Saturday night) for Jews because that is when they believe G-d rested after creating the world; Sunday is celebrated by Christians because they believe that is the day Jesus rose from the dead). [Note: Seventh Day Adventists celebrate on Saturday.]
  • There are laws and traditions about head coverings in both religions.  Married Jewish women are required to cover their heads.  Christian women, depending on the sect’s interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:5, may be required (or through tradition) to wear head coverings during prayer.  While yarmulkes have become a tell-tale sign of one’s religious leaning, there is no law in the Mishnah or Talmud requiring men to cover their heads; and was not practiced until the 7th or 8th century. It eventually became halakah (Jewish law) to do so while studying or praying (as per Masekhet Sofrim (14:15) in the 8th century), but did not become widely accepted until the 14th century (through the decree of Rabbenu Yerucham). It was not for another 200 years that Rabbi Joseph Karo dictated that Jewish men should wear a head covering at all times – but even then, it did not immediately become a widespread practice. The Roman Catholic clergy wear a head covering as part of their uniform called a zucchetta, but it is not required for men who are not in the clergy (although the reason is not known, the clergy began to wear the zucchetta as early as 1290, as depicted in an old church fresco).
  • The ritual of baptism may have its roots in Judaism’s ritual of the mikveh (ritual washing by submersion in water), and ritual washing was mentioned in the Torah on a number of occasions. However, the earliest archeological evidence of a mikveh is only dated to about the first century BCE. Note that there are a few Christian sects that do not practice baptism (e.g., Quakers, Salvation Army, and Hyperdispensationalists (followers of only Paul’s Epistles).
  • Both religions use bread and wine as part of their rituals (although in very different ways).

Everyone Loves Jelly Donuts

A long-held custom that both of these religions have followed since their inceptions is the tradition of serving food, lots of food, for holidays and special events.  For many of these holidays, not only are many savory dishes prepared and served, but are usually accompanied by sweets.  For instance, in Poland, it is a tradition for Christians to eat jelly donuts (called pączki, which translates as “flower buds”) on Fat Thursday (the last Thursday prior to Ash Wednesday and sometimes referred to as Paczki Day,). One origination idea for this dessert is that the ingredients needed to make the donuts (sugar, eggs, fruit, etc.) are not consumed during Lent, and it was a good way to use them up before Lent begins. This month Jews around the world observe the holiday of Chanukah, celebrating the defeat of the Roman army by the Maccabees and reclaiming the Holy Temple. One of the miracles of the holiday is that there was only one day’s worth of oil to light the lamp within the Temple, but it lasted for eight days.  Due to this miracle, many of the dishes of the holiday are associated with oil. Many of the foods are made with oil, or are deep fried in oil.  One of the most enjoyed dishes is the sufganiyot (jelly donuts), a deep fried dough with a sweet fruit center (and many times coated with sugar).

The first known published recipe for a jelly donut can be found in the German cookbook, Kuchenmeisterei (Mastery of the Kitchen), which was first printed in 1485. The name of the recipe was entitled “Gefüllte Krapfen,” which consists of jam placed between two pieces of yeast bread dough and then fried. However, since sugar was an expensive commodity until the mid-1600s (and usually only enjoyed by the rich), most of the “donuts” of the time were filled with various meats (fried meat pies).  Once the price of sugar dropped by the early 1700s, the sugar/jelly filled variation became popular in Germany and quickly spread across Europe. By the early 1800s, jelly donuts were commonly called Berliners as they spread across the globe. [Fast fact: the donut received its name from a military baker from Berlin that would fry these desserts over an open fire, since ovens were hard to come by in the field.] By the early 1900s, these sweets were referred to as Bismarks (after Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck), and still known as such in parts of the Northern Midwest and Canada.

“Ich bin ein Berliner”

“Ich bin ein Berliner” were the words spoken by President John F. Kennedy in a speech he gave in 1963 in Berlin during the heat of the Cold War.  The paper his speechwriters gave him were inadequate to fully elicit the feelings he wanted to express to the world as he looked upon East Berlin from his side of the wall.  He took it upon himself to mold the speech he was to give that day. He looked back in history to the words he would use.  In antiquity, it was a noble statement and a compliment to the Empire to state that “I am a citizen of Rome” (civis Romanus sum). So he turned those words for his own purpose and stated Ich bin ein Berliner – which translates to “I am a donut.” The “ein” before the word Berlin modified the meaning from being a citizen of Berlin to that of a donut. Although his speech was eloquent, and spoke of West Berlin as a beacon of freedom in the world, the faux pas was noticed by his detractors and the Soviet Union listening on the other side of the fence.

 “All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words Ich bin ein Berliner.”

An Oily Tradition

Although traditionally fried in lard, Polish Jews used schmaltz or oil instead to make their kosher version of jelly donuts called ponchiks. At some time during the Middle Ages, a tradition had begun for eating these during Chanukah.  The tradition slowly spread across Europe, to the U.S., and around the world. When the tradition became introduced in Israel, they renamed the donut a sofganiyot after the soft and spongy treat mentioned in the Talmud (“sofgan and sfogga” – in fact sfog means “sponge” in Hebrew).

The enjoyment of fried dough (donuts) during Chanukah had already begun long before the jelly donut was created.  Rabbi Maimon Ben Yossef (1110-1166), in one of his commentaries on the Siddur, writes that:

“Anyone who is able to should engage in a festive meal to publicize the miracle of Channukah, and should eat the fried donuts known as sufgenin that are covered with honey, for this is an ancient custom. They are fried in oil as a memory of the blessing that occurred (with the oil).”

As stated, this was already an ancient custom by the time he wrote these words in the 12th century. [Fast Fact: Rabbi Maimon Ben Yossef is the father of Maimonides.] The sweet that he describes is not exactly like today’s jelly donuts.  It was most likely a pancake coated with a sweet syrup (in Arabic, they are called svingous).

The consumption of sofganiyot during Chanukah was given a big push by the Histadrut (Israeli Labor Federation) in 1920. In order to create jobs, they heavily promoted selling this sweet during the holiday instead of (or in addition to) the more traditional potato latke (potato pancake). While latkes could be made in the home easily, jelly donuts cannot. This campaign created jobs for the bakers, sellers of the ingredients, and the delivery system; as well as made it a more accepted traditional food for the holiday. Although there are other a number of different fillings that are inserted into the sufganiyot, the most common (70%) are made with jelly. [Fast Fact: the largest jelly donut ever made weighed 1.7 tons.] Potato latkes are still the overwhelming food for the holiday in the U.S., but Sufganiyot take the prize in Israel, with 24 million being sold each year.

Although kosher bread is not to be baked as a dairy item, sufganiyot fall under an exception: it does not look like bread, nor cannot mistaken for bread.  Or as the Talmud states, it can be dairy if it is “like an oxen’s eye.” This allows you to make or purchase the donuts to match your meal. [If you are interested in the Jewish laws regarding sufganiyot (e.g., what blessing do you say over them), see the following article by Beit Hillel: Sufganiyot and Jewish Law.]

The filling, which is made up of jelly or some type of preserved fruit, also has its own history. Early man had a need to preserve food, and may have done so in primitive ways as far back as 2.6 million years ago.  By 12,000 years ago drying foods was a popular method of preservation.  The earliest known recipes for making jams and preserves are from the 4th century (although the process had probably been performed for years) in the antique cook book De Re Coquinaria (“The Art of Cooking”). However, it was not until sugar became available in Europe due to soldiers returning from the Crusades with this new spice that jams and preserves started to become a little more widespread, although sugar at this time was still very expensive. [Fast Fact: A record from 1319 in London shows sugar being purchased for two shillings a pound. That would be $50 today, so only the rich could afford this luxury at that time.] The full history of jams and jellies is a lot more detailed than what I have written above, but that will be a story for a future article (only eight more years – December 2025).

Other Sweet and Oily Traditions

Suganiyot are not the only fried desserts that have been used to celebrate the holiday of Chanukah. For instance, there is also an old Spanish & Portuguese custom of eating waffles cooked in oil during Chanukah. Another dessert which I would be negligent not to inform you about are loukoumades. These are a Sephardic treat made during the holiday, which are fried balls of dough usually topped with honey (or honey syrup) and nuts. They are also known by different names, such as zvingoi in Greece, sfingi in Italy (of course, with olive oil), and bimuelo in Spain. In Morocco and other areas of Northern Africa, they make a donut called sfenji, which is light and airy on the inside, with a little crust on the outside, and usually infused with juice from the Jaffa orange; it can be eaten plain, with powdered sugar, or soaked in honey.  In Colombia, instead of dough, they fry slices of plantains in oil, which are called patacones (or tostones).

This is the time of year to celebrate. Not only your own traditions, but to also celebrate the diversity of the world we live in. Make a tray of your favorite sweets and enjoy them with friends regardless of their beliefs – we are all more similar than different. Don’t be afraid to embrace your differences, but also be able to respect and honor the differences of others. There is no better time during the year than this holiday season.

The Recipe

I have tried to make sufganyot myself twice, and I cannot claim that either time was a huge success. So, I would like to offer a recipe for Loukoumades (see above), which is a bit easier to pull off (although getting these perfectly round is a challenge), and it is perfect for Chanukah or any time of the year.


Yeast                           1 packet

All Purpose Flour       2-1/2 cups

Sugar                           2 tsp

Egg (lightly beaten)   1

Salt                              1/2 tsp

Oil                               for frying

Honey                         1 jar

Water                          3/4 cup plus 2 tbs warm


  1. Combine yeast and warm water, wait 10 minutes (until you see bubbles)
  2. Mix flour, sugar, salt, and egg
  3. Slowly add water until it forms a sticky dough
  4. Cover with plastic wrap and place in warm area for 90 minutes
  5. Add oil to pan and heat
  6. Form dough into small balls and place into oil until golden brown on all sides (don’t worry if they are not round)
  7. Remove from oil and place on tray – cover with honey
  8. Optional – you can also add crushed nuts or powdered sugar to top them off


“24 Million Donuts, 10.8 Billion Calories – it’s Hanukkah in Israel!” (Marion Lebor and Sally Halon: @

“Ahaba Beta’nugim – Hanukkah” (Rabbi Ira Rohde: @

“Baptism” ( @

“Christianity vs. Judaism” ( @

“Food 101: The History of Jam, Jelly, & Preserves” (The Nibble: 2017) @

“Hanukkah Traditions Around the World” (Kara Wexler: 2015) @

“The History of Jam and Jelly” (Christopher Wilson: 2013) @

“History of the Jelly Donut/Sufganiyah” (Gil Marks: LeitesCulinaris: 2010) @

“Hyperdispensationalism” ( @

“The Jewish Roots of Baptism” (OneForIsrael) @

“Loukoumades (Sephardic Greek Donuts) ( 2016) @

“Ma Tovu – From Torah to Prayer (Yoel H. Kahn: 2010) @

“Paczki” ( @

“The Real Meaning of ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ ” (Thomas S. Putnam: The Atlantic: 2013) @

“Sufganiyot and Jewish Law” ( 2014) @

“Sufganiyot Are Serious Business” ( @

“Was Jesus a Jew” (Biblical Archaeology Staff: Biblical Archaeology: 2017) @

“What Jews and Christians Should Know about Each Other: An Important Primer on the Two Religions” (Rabbi Bruce Kadden: @

“When Christmas is Celebrated” ( @

“Why Does the Pope Wear a Yarmulke?”  (Elon Gilad: 2014) @

“Winter Solstice: Beliefs about the diversity of celebrations. Origins. Ancient and recent celebrations from Ancient Brazil to Christian countries.” ( @




We Are All The Same

We Are All The Same


I had a best friend in High School and in College named Stu.  We did everything together. We went to sporting events, worked on cars, went on vacations, double-dated, etc, etc.  The one thing we did not do was go to the same house of worship. Stu was my friend.  I never once referred to him, or even thought about him, as my Muslim friend – he was just my friend. When it came to religion, we both respected each other’s views, but it never became an issue in our friendship.  So I ask the question, why is it such an issue on the larger world stage? As I have been attempting to do in my articles, I try to highlight the similarities between Judaism and other people, So this month, in which we read parshat Vayera in shul (where Moses banishes Hagar and her son Ishmael) and on which many Muslims celebrate the birth of Muhammad (Mawlid Un Nabi) I have taken on the not so difficult of discussing the many similarities between Judaism and Islam. The below similarities are a summary of an article on

Agree on a common history.  Both began with Abraham who had two sons.  Isaac was the forefather of the Jewish people, while Ishmael was the forefather of the people of Islam. In at least one way, the followers of both religions (if they like it or not) share a common ancestry. Both are also monotheistic religions, and both write about many of the same prophets . 

Have common prayer customs.  Both religions face towards their most holy religious site, pray in a congregation, and have prayer services for the different parts of the day. Both have pilgrimages to holy sites (Jews – hag to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem; Muslims haj to the Ka’ba in Mecca – and circle each respective places seven times – and both required (in antiquity) to perform sacrifices). They both have fast days throughout the year.

Give charity.  Both religions command charity to be given, and given freely. Both provide special obligations to the poor, orphans, and widows.

Modesty and Purity. Both religions preach modesty in dress and appearance (e.g., women cover their hair), unmarried men & woman should not be alone, and no pre-marital sex, unmarried men and women should not touch each other. Their ides and practices for purity are very similar.

Calendar.  Days begin and end at nightfall (instead of midnight). Both calendars are based on the moon (although Judaism has a lunisolar calendar, while Islam is purely lunar).

Life Events

  • Birth – There is a time after birth where the mother is “un-pure” (niddah in Judaism, and nifas in Islam); immerse/cleanse their body in water in water after the un-pure period. Baby boys are circumcised.  The child is not named until a period of time after birth.
  • Marriage – similar traditions and customs in marriage, including the creation of a marriage contract (ketubah in Judaism, katb el-kitab in Islam), adultery is forbidden, the husband provides shelter, food, and protection, the wife looks after the home, multiple wives are allowed (in the Torah),
  • Divorce – An amount of money is put aside at marriage for the bride in case of a divorce (mohar in Judaism, mahir in Islam)
  • Death – Both wash and wrap their dead in a shroud, both bury their dead as soon as possible after death, the dead are buried facing their holy sites, cremation is forbidden

Dietary Laws – Both have strict dietary laws, the slaughter of animals for food is similar (cut across the neck); both drain the blood from the animals; animals must be examined after slaughter for purity; both cannot eat pork items, certain birds, blood, amphibians, and insects, and meat that was improperly slaughtered

Respect for Each Other. The most ridiculous thing about the tension between the Jews and the Muslims is that in their own holy books, they speak highly of each other. The liturgies of both religions actually state that the Jews are the chosen people, as well as Israel being the blessed land of the Jewish people. In the Torah itself (Genesis 21:13), it says that G-d will make a nation out of (Abraham’s son) Ishmael. If there was so much respect for each other’s religion way back in antiquity, why does it not exist now, and where did it go so wrong?

Love of Eggplant

Before the Spanish Inquisition of the 15th century, Jews and Muslims (Moors) lived in Iberian Peninsula.  [Fast fact: Pork dishes became very popular in Spain beginning in the 15th century so people could show that they were neither Jewish nor Muslim). Both cultures were known for their love of the vegetable we call the Eggplant, and their dishes were likewise associated with them. The eggplant, even today is associated with both cultures and of many countries area around the Mediterranean Sea.

Recent DNA tests have provided evidence that the origination of the eggplant may have come from North Africa, then made its way into the Middle East, and eventually to Asia (some scientists argue that it originated in Asia). The eggplant is believed to have been first domesticated in Southeast Asia about 4000 years ago. It may have first been used as a medicine rather than a food, and the earliest know mention (for its health benefit) is from ancient Indian texts written about 100 BCE (and it may have been referenced in Sanskrit from 300 BCE. [Fast fact: eggplants are related to the potato, tomato, and peppers – and is actually a fruit, but categorized as a vegetable.] Evidence of eggplants in the Mediterranean (from carvings) is available from about the second century AD (although it is possible that Alexander the Great brought eggplants back with him after invading India in 327 BCE). During the Medieval Age people in northern Europe shunned the Eggplant because they thought it had produce insanity (and it was called the “mad apple”). However, it did gain popularity in Germany, and by the time of the Renaissance Period also became more used in southern Europe as well. The Spanish had first brought the eggplant to the Americas, but it was President Thomas Jefferson that had first popularized the fruit on this side of the Atlantic.

One of the popular eggplant dishes originating in the Middle East is baba ghanoush (also spelled baba ganoush and baba ganouj. Countries from Greece to Turkey to Israel, to Egypt all claim to be the place of its origin. In Arabic, it means pampered father – possibly because it is a soft food that can be fed to the elderly with bad teeth.  It can also be translated as coquettish daddy – so it may have originated by wives in a harem for a sultan. There is not one correct way to make the dish – there are numerous variation to meet the desires of every palate.

The Recipe

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, I wanted to make this recipe even simpler than usual, so I figured it was time for us to make a Quick Eggplant Parmesan.

Ingredients (feeds 8-10)

3 eggplants (sliced thin and skinned)

3 eggs (beaten)

4 oz oil

6 cups pre-seasoned breadcrumbs

8 cups pre-made sauce

16 oz mozzarella cheese (pre-shredded)

8 oz ricotta cheese

½ cup parmesan cheese (grated)

1 tbs black pepper

½ tbs salt

½ tbs sugar


  1. Dip eggplant in eggs, when moist, coat with breadcrumbs
  2. Heat oil in frying pan. When hot, fry each piece of coated eggplant until golden brown (then place on paper towels to absorb oil)
  3. In bowl combine sauce, all three cheeses (leave about 2 oz of the mozzarella cheese on side), black pepper, salt, and sugar.
  4. In a half-pan stack place eggplant in a layer. Cover with sauce. Repeat. Sprinkle remaining mozzarella over the top layer of sauce.
  5. In an oven, preheated to 350 degrees, add the pan and let it cook for about 35 minutes.



“Baba Ghanoush” ( @

“Eggplant (Solanum melongena) Domestication History and Genealogy” (K. Kris Hirst: Thought Co: 2017) @

“Food and Language: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cooking” (Richard Hosking ed.; page 341: 2009) @

“History and Culture of the Eggplant” ( @

“Parshat Vayera” (Bar Ilan University: Dr. Joseph Fleishman: 1999) @

“The Piquant Origins of Bana Gamoush” ( @

“The Qur’an, Chosen People and Holy Land (Seth Ward) @

“Regarding Cervantes, Multicultural Dreamer” (Edward Rothstein: 2005) @

“Similarities Between Judaism and Islam” ( @





From Supernatural to Super Sweet

From Supernatural to Super Sweet

Who can take a rainbow, wrap it in a sigh, soak it in the sun and make a groovy lemon pie?
The Candy Man. The Candy Man can.

[Bill, the Candy Store Owner; Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory]

When October comes around, the winds begin to blow hints of winter, erasing those few months where the sun warmed our bodies and minds.  October is the time of change, but in non-parochial America, the month does not end with a roar, but a scream of glee. For the end of October means making merry with Halloween costumes and sweets. Although Halloween is not a Jewish holiday, even in its current commercial form, it provides the excuse for me to discuss the supernatural this month, specifically the ghosts, ghouls, and golems in the Torah and other Jewish literature. Of course, another association with this celebration is candy

This celebration has undergone three mutations over the centuries.  The ancient druids of Western Europe (Ireland, France, England, etc.) celebrated the end of the summer harvest season while both honoring the dead and protecting themselves against evil spirits.  Although note, Judaism has its own harvest celebrations (e.g., Sukkot and Shavuot), as do most ancient cultures (however, the protection against evil spirits is not part of those celebrations).  In the 8th century, in an effort to keep converts following the Christian church doctrine, they added the celebration of Halloween to their calendar, allowing some of the “pagan” rituals to continue on All Hallows Eve, to be followed by a day to honor the Christian Saints (called All Saints Day).  The most recent transformation of the holiday has been to take this celebration and turn it into an evening of non secular festivities which is celebrated by millions of individuals, regardless of religious affiliation – or if no affiliation at all.  Children look forward to dressing up and trick-or-treating for the candy. Most people cannot identify any connection between the celebration and religion. [The question of, should Jews celebrate Halloween, is your own concern and none of mine (but click here for an interesting article on this subject with differing opinions).]

Now that we got that over with, let’s move on to the subject matter of this article . . . .


The idea of monsters is not now.  It is not a concept created by Hollywood to entertain movie goers.  Nor were horrible beast first created by nineteenth century authors like Mary Shelly and Bram Stroker. [Fast fact – the earliest known horror story in Gothic literature is The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole published in 1764.] In fact, authors have already been writing about monsters and evil creatures for centuries, including Virgil and even earlier by Homer (7th or 8th Century BCE). However, the Torah and other Jewish literature from millennia ago also include references to what modern people may consider monsters.

A few of these mythical creatures of Judaism include:


  • Many angels appear throughout the Torah and Jewish literature or are referred to many times.  They have visited a number of the people in the Torah including Moses, Jacob, and Joshua to name a few.

Animal-like Creatures

  •  Behemoth – A large beast mentioned in Job 40:15-20. Could be an elephant or large hippo. Become the term to describe a large entity.
  • Re’em – A large creature that is likened to a large ox (or modernly described as a unicorn), mentioned several times, including the Book of Job, Deuteronomy, and Numbers.
  • Shamir – A worm-like creature able to bore through any substance, and legend states that it helped Solomon to build the Holy Temple (Talmud and Midrash)


  • Bar Juchne – a large bird with a wingspan long enough to block out the sun (Talmud – Bekhorot, fol. 57 col. 2)
  • Broxa – Originally described as a bird that sucks the milk of goats during the day and blood of humans at night. During Medieval times, it was said to appear as a witch or a demon and may be able to possess one’s soul. (Jewish folklore)
  • Ziz – A giant bird that can block out the sun (Psalms 50:11)


  • Dybbuk – A spirit that possesses others (Kabbalah)


  • Nephilim – Giant humanlike creatures mentioned in Genesis 6:1


  • Animated human-like being created by magic (Psalms 139:16 and Talmud

Sea Monsters

  • Leviathan – A large and powerful sea creature (mentioned in Job, Amos, Isaiah, and Psalms)
  • Rahab – A sea monster in Jewish folklore, also described as a water dragon
  • Tannin – Great sea creatures described throughout the Torah


  • Lillith – A female demon of the night (Talmud and Jewish folklore)
  • Mazikeen – Invisible demons that cause problems (Jewish mysthology)
  • Naamah – A demon described in the Zohar
  • Qliphoth (representation of evil in Jewish mysticism)
  • Samael – Described as the archangel of death by the Talmud.
  • Shedim – Psalm 103:37 and Deuteronomy 32:17)


  • Estries – Female vampires in Jewish folklore

Ghosts – The topic of is a fascinating discussion in the context of Judaism.  Ghosts have appeared in Jewish literature (e.g., King Saul contacting the ghost of the Prophet Samuel). But note, the Torah forbids the living to contact the dead (Deuteronomy 18:11), so there are no séances and the use of Ouija boards in Judaism. However, Jewish scholars (not all), such as Maimonides,  state that in that case it was more of a miracle since ghosts rarely appear on earth – and in that case it was to help Saul defeat the Philistines.

As you can see, there are many supernatural creatures that have appeared in Judaism, including many that have appeared in the text of the Torah. The interesting thing about how many of these creatures are mentioned in its text, is not very detailed, which has allowed us to interpret them to the best of our abilities.  For instance, the Leviathan has been described as a sea monster, but to people living in the biblical era, it may have been a whale, which was not a common sighting for people living in the area of Israel [Fast fact: in 2010 a gray whale was spotted off the coast of Israel.]


Just as this late October celebration has morphed over the centuries, so has its means of celebration, including the act of trick-or-treating.   The origin of going door to door dressed up in costumes and asking for candy is an American invention and began around less than 100 years ago – in the late 1930s – and it was not for another decade that it began to catch on nationally.  In the early days of trick-or-treating candy was not the main item given out at each door – it could be coins, cakes, toys, etc. – but maybe some candy.  It was not until the 1950s that candy makers began to promote their sugary treats as great bag stuffers  – and families figured out that these small confectionaries would be great and convenient to hand out as treats. Although it still took another twenty years until candy became the king of treats for Halloween – and the reason was due to fears of parents of people tampering with homemade goodies, where they could trust a pre-wrapped manufactured piece of candy. [Fast fact: Decades before candy became a multi-billion dollar business, in 1916, candy makers tried to create a new holiday called Candy Day.]

The origins of candy itself can be traced back to Ancient Egypt, where they combined honey with fruits and nuts as far back as 2000 BCE. Not long afterwards the Greeks did the same by combining honey with various fruits and flowers. Although honey was used for hundreds of years, it was not until around the year 250 that candy using sugar was created in India.  Modern candy, as we know it today, probably had its beginnings in the 1500’s in Europe. The first candy cane can be traced back to Cologne, Germany in 1670, and the first chocolate bar was made in England by Joseph Fry in 1847. The first box of Valentine’s Day candy was produced by Richard Cadbury in 1868, starting a very sweet tradition.

The Recipe

I will give you one of the easiest recipes for candy that I know which I learned as a Boy Scout learning about Native American culture – making Maple Candy.


Oil (to grease parchment paper and spoon)

2 cups pure maple syrup

Parchment Paper


1) Line a 9×5 square pan with parchment paper

2) Add oil to the paper

3) Boil the maple syrup in a sauce pan, then turn to a medium heat

4) Cook at 250 degrees for 30 minutes

5) Pour into a bowl and mix (using beater if possible)

6) Pour into lined pan and smooth top

7) Cool for approximately an hour until it gets hard

8) Remove from pan and cut into chunks


The Jewish Revolutionaries

The Jewish Revolutionaries

[Originally Published September 2017]

A Revolutionary Man

On September 3rd, we commemorate the signing of the Treaty of Paris. This is the negotiated treaty by John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and John Jay that ended the Revolutionary War and also established the recognition of the United States by the British as a sovereign nation. Besides the names mentioned above, we can also add those of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Aaron Burr, and so many more of the founding fathers are so well known to us as being instrumental to the founding of the Unites States of America. However, virtually all of the well known players had any Jewish ancestry (I will get to that in a few paragraphs).

We should also add Haym Salomon’s name to those whom helped to ensure that the struggle against the British king was successful.  He is known as one of the two persons that financed the American Revolution (the other, another unknown hero, by the name of Robert Morris).   Without his financial strategy and personal sacrifices, the United States may still be under British rule.

Although a broker by trade, Solomon was also a patriotic sympathizer and a member of the Sons of Liberty, he was arrested twice by the British.  The first time he arrested as a spy and was forced to work as an interpreter for Hessian soldiers. However, in this position he was able to help some British escape and argued for the Hessians to abandon the war.  Soon after his first release, he was arrested (for helping prisoners escape) and sentenced to death. He was able to escape and flee to Philadelphia. In Philadelphia he returned to a profession as broker, but also worked as an agent to the French consol and began working extensively with Robert Morris, the Superintendent of Finance for the Colonies. By creating and using a strategy of converting French (and Dutch) loans into ready cash (thousands purchased with his own money and property), which were sold as bill of exchange to Morris, he was able to raise over $650,000, a large sum in those days (almost 17 million dollars today).

It was the last of the money raised that had the most impact.  When Cornwallis was trapped at Yorktown, and Washington needed the funds for provisions and troops to besiege the British – he exclaimed “Send for Haym Salomon” who was to find the money since the American war chest was completely empty.  Salomon was able to raise $20,000 (including $1400 personally donated by Morris).  This campaign was to be the final blow. Cornwallis surrendered thereby ending the war.

In addition to his role in helping to finance the way, he also bequested money to war veterans, and also helped to establish the hospital at Valley Forge (as well as donating his own money for medical supplies). In 1884 he also led the effort to remove the religious test oath that was required for office holding in Pennsylvania. Due to all of the loans that were still outstanding to the French, he died penniless in 1785 after a bout with tuberculosis.

There is a legend that during the time the US was designing the great seal, Washington asked what Salomon wanted for compensation for all he did financially for the fledging country.  Salomon stated, I want nothing for myself, but for my people – and that is why the 13 stars are placed in the sign of the Star of David.  Although, there is little proof to corroborate that story, it is a fitting story to define such a great man.

Doing Their Part

There were other Jews that served the revolutionaries that also should not be forgotten:

  • Fancis Salvador – The first Jew elected to public office in the colonies as member of the Provincial Congress. He was the first Jew to die in the cause of American independence (on July 1, 1776). He was killed and scalped during an attack by Cherokee Indians stirred up by British soldiers.
  • Morecai Sheftall – Head of the local revolutionary committee, and responsible for provisioning the troops. As a Deputy Commissary of Issue, he was the highest ranking officer in the Continental Army. He was imprisoned by the British in 1778 and freed in 1780.
  • Reuben Etting – Enlisted in the Continental army, then became imprisoned. Upon learning that he was Jewish, they only fed him port, which he refused – this lead to his untimely death in prison
  • Reuben Etting II – A cousin of the above, fought for the American troops, and was appointed by President Thomas Jefferson as a US Marshall (in 1801).
  • Abagail Minis – She (yes a woman) supplied provisions to Washington’s troops, until being stopped by the British authorities.
  • Two brothers, David Salisbury Franks and Isaac Franks, served as officers in the Continental Army. They are brother-in-laws to Haym Salomon.
  • Joseph Simon – Supplied the Army with Henry rifles.
  • Isaac Moses, a ship owner, outfitted privateers to harass British shipping or to run through the British blockade to provide the army with supplies and provisions. Many other Jewish merchants (especially from Newport, Rhode Island) had also done the same. Most lost all of their fortunes due to the cost of the war.
  • Mathias Bush – President of the Mikve Israel Congregation in Philadelphia, and the first person to sign his name in a petition against the Stamp Tax in Octber of 1765.
  • The “Jew Company – which was so named because of the number of Jewish volunteers in one unit. Most of whom came from King Street in Charleston, South Carolina. The unit included a cantor, a rabbi’s brother, and the founder of a synagogue.  The company fought bravely in many battles.
  • The Jews of St. Eustatius – This was a free trading port during the Revolutions, where many people risked their lives to provide provisions to the Continental Army. Jews had helped in making this island a major arms center. In February 1781, Admiral Sir George Rodney, Commander of the British Fleet wrote “They (the Jews of St. Eustatius, Caribbean Antilles) cannot too soon be taken care of – they are notorious in the cause of America and France.” Rodney took half his fleet to take over the weakly defended St. Eustatius, and took his time destroying everything on the island (and he was especially cruel to the Jewish residents).  While Rodney was away, the weakened fleet was turned away from Yorktown, and then without reinforcements was decimated by Admiral DeGrassee and his French fleet. Cornwallis had tried to retreat with his troop. Washington took this opportunity and surrounded the fleeing British troops, causing Cornwallis to surrender and thus ending the war.
  • Of the approximately 2000 Jews that lived within the 13 colonies. One hundred of them became soldiers that fought for the freedom of independence, and fought in almost every major battle from Bunker Hill to Valley Forge.
    • Aaron Solomon, Abraham Levy, Phillip Russell
  • Fast Fact: A copy of the Declaration of Independence was sent to Amsterdam, but was intercepted by the British with an accompanying letter. The letter was written in Yiddish, and thought to have been a secret code for interpreting the Declaration.

A Jewish Founding Father?

When discussing the formation of the United States, many quote that it was based upon Judeo-Christian beliefs.  But how can that be if none of the founding fathers were Jewish? Many Jews helped win the war for independence, but they had little influence in the drafting or ratification of the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution.  Or did they? Although there had been rumors and very thin shreds of evidence through the years, Dr. Andrew Porwancher, after a great amount of research, has provided a lot of evidence that Alexander Hamilton (the guy they are singing about on Broadway) is Jewish.

Some of the evidence includes that fact that Hamilton, as a youth, attended a Jewish primary school on the island of Saint Croix. Hamilton’s mother, is asserted, to have converted to Judaism in 1745 when she married Johann Michael Levine (sometimes spelled Lavien). Although naysayers state that Levine was never listed in the early records as being Jewish, Porwancher has found a number of other known Jewish members of the community that were not recorded as being Jewish either. Critics also point to the fact that Hamilton attended a Jewish school because he was illegitimate and could not be baptized (he was born out of wedlock to James Hamilton); however, Porwancher also showed inconsistencies to this as well in records he had found. Although he may have stopped any practice of Judaism (even slight) when his mother passed away when he was thirteen, he may have always kept it in his heart.  For instance, he was one of the few that openly had Jews as clients (the other being Aaron Burr), and had always embraced the idea of religious freedom for all.

French Connection

The French had a huge impact on the outcome of the Revolutionary War.  If it was not for their men, provisions, and loans, the Continental Army would have been routed early in its ordeal, nor would it have been able to bring about one of the final blows that led to surrender of Cornwallis to end the war.

At the end of the war, the negotiation of the end of the war occurred in Paris, on French soil.  However, the American contingent did not coordinate their strategy with the French and took their own course. [Fast Fact: The Treaty of Versailles, which ended WW I was also signed on French soil. This “treaty” was one of the major factors that led to WW II.]

The new nation could also not repay the loans to France, which not only created tensions between the two countries, but also was one of the factors that led to the French Revolution only six years later.

Prior to the war, the relationship between the French and the Colonists were shaky as best. This was because the Colonists were British subjects, and there was no love between the French and the British.  There was also that French and Indian War a few years earlier. Due to this adversarial relationship, French food was not found very often in the colonies; there was even a disdain towards French cooking. Even in areas, such as Louisiana, which had large French populations had begun to create and adopt their own style of cuisine. However, towards the end of the war, as the relationship began to warm, French food began to make its way into some early American households. Towards the end of the War, Hannah Glasse’s widlely used American cookbook (The Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy) began including recipes for French dishes. Due to the French Revolution, a number of French chefs immigrated to the U.S., bringing the culinary influence of their country with them.

The Recipe

I was recently watching How To Catch a Thief – a wonderful classic movie starring the talented Cary Grant and beautiful Gracy Kelly.  In one of the scenes, Quiche Lorraine was served, and since we are in a French mood, that seems an apropos dish for this month’s featured recipe . . .  Quick Quiche Lorraine.


1 Layer pastry dough

2 Tbs imitation bacon pieces

4 Eggs

1 Cup heavy cream

½ Tsp salt

1/8 Tsp white pepper

1/8 Tsp nutmeg

1 ½ Cups shredded gruyere cheese


  1. Preheat oven to 375
  2. Place pastry dough over round deep-dish pan
  3. Sprinkle half of the imitation bacon bits onto pastry dough
  4. Beat eggs and mix with remainder of bits, heavy cream, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and cheese; add mixture to deep dish
  5. Put into oven and bake for 45-50 minutes (eggs should be set in middle)
  6. Cool and serve


“A Jewish Founding Father” (Yeshiva University: 2016) @

“Colonial America and the 17th/18th Century France” ( @

“Cuisine of the Thirteen Colonies” (

“Fundamentally Freund: Unsung Jewish Heroism and The American Revolution” (Michael Freund: Jerusalem Post: 2016) @

“Haym Salomon” ( @

“How the Jews Saved the American Revolution” (Jerry Kinger: @

“The Jew Who Financed the American Revolution” (Ronda Robinson: @

“The Revolutionary War and the Jews” (Norman H. Finkelsein: My Jewish Learing) @

“Treaty of Paris” ( @

“Was Alexander Hamilton Jewish?”  (Morton Landowne: @

Christopher Columbus May Have Been a Secret Jew, and Other Stuff Your History Teacher Never Told You

Christopher Columbus May Have Been a Secret Jew, and Other Stuff Your History Teacher Never Told You

[Original publication date: August 2017]

“In 1492 Columbus Sailed the Ocean Blue”

This month marks the 525th Anniversary of the embarkation of Columbus and his crew upon his famous journey that brought him to the island of San Salvador in North America.  Although Columbus and his journey had been revered for centuries, and criticized in recent years had a great impact on world history, there is an untold story of how Judaism was a part of this undertaking, as well as how this also greatly affected the history of food, especially in one country.

Who Was Columbus?

Christopher Columbus, as he has been known in English, has become universally known for his four trips to North America (which he mistook for India), and establishing the first lasting European settlement in the “New World” for the King and Queen of Portugal, taking three ships; the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria.  For years, he was celebrated in America (and elsewhere) for discovering America and the basic facts about his voyage were taught to school children.


What is not taught in school is that Columbus may have been Jewish. In Spanish, he was known as Cristóbal Colón. Although the theory of Columbus’s Jewish roots is not new, a number of Spanish Scholars recently provided factual back-up to this theory based on Columbus’s own will and testament (dated May 19, 1506).  But first, a little history lesson:

Beginning in the 13th Century, the rulers began a series of armed campaigns to rid their lands of the Moors/Muslims. Europe had rid itself of most Muslims by the mid-15th century, and some Kingdoms, like the Spanish Empire, had consolidated into European powers.  Although the Jews during this time period were subject to occasional period of anti-Semitism (e.g., the Pogroms of 1391), many Jewish communities flourished.  By the mid 1400s, with the Muslims out of the way, the rulers began to consolidate their followers into one religion, Catholicism.  Powers, such as Spain began forcing their subject to convert to Catholicism, leave the country, or be put to death.  This became even more prevalent, and violent, in the late 1400s when the church began putting a great deal of pressure on the recently married King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. They had originally been friends to Jews, and even surrounded themselves with Jewish nobility and scholars.  However, the pressure from the church was too great and they banished Jews from their territories in 1492 (the Alhambra Decree), and the Pope sent Inquisitors to make sure that this was carried out.  Many Jews converted to Christianity to avoid this banishment or punishment, and the Spanish referred to them as conversos.   However, there were many that converted publicly, but still secretly practiced Judaism – these individuals were known as marranos (“secret Jews”).

Although many Jews converted, the Spanish authorities were distrustful of the conversos. They would conduct investigations that included brutal beatings and torture if they suspected anyone of being a marranos. They would do cruel and unusual things to make the conversos admit to practicing Judaism, and to rat out any other marranos they knew about. And punishment by death was sometimes conducted by being burned at the stake. [They never taught you these things about the good king and queen back in school either.] So, being a Jew, even one that had previously converted, was something that a person would need to suppress if they were to survive in Europe at that time. [Fast Fact:  The Inquisition was not only limited to Spain.  It was also prevalent in Portugal.  This even had tried to rear its evil head in Italy, and began in Sicily, but it was unable to expand or take hold in that country. The Inquisition continued in Spain and Portugal until the 1800s.  Even after Joseph Bonaparte suppressed the Inquisition in 1808, Ferdinand VII restored it when he came to power in 1814.  It was officially ended in Portugal in 1821 and Spain in 1834. [Fast Fact: Don’t just think that the Inquisition was solely for the prosecution of Jews and Muslims, the Inquisitors went after Protestants with the same veracious tenacity. Thousands of Protestants died directly by the tribunals, with tens of thousands more dying due to maltreatment and torture.]

Now that the background has been laid out, it is easy to see why a converso or marrano living in late 15th century Southern Europe would want to hide all traces of their Jewish heritage. This may be what happened in the case of Columbus, and his family according to historians Jose Erugo, Celso Garcia de la Riega, Otero Sanchez, and Nicholas Dias Perez.  They back up their hypothesis on several supported and unsupported facts, including his last will and testament.

Some of the reasoning (by the above scholars and others) behind the theory of Columbus being a secret Jew includes the following:

  • Although mainstream historians have stated that he was born in Genoa, Italy (and also briefly lived in Savona, Italy, before going off to sea at age 10. However, little is known of his early childhood, and he has always been vague on that subject. There are theories that he may have actually been born in the Catalan region of Spain. The most compelling reason is that he always wrote in Spanish and never wrote anything in his supposed “native” language – Italian. In addition, he referred to himself as Cristóbal Colón. Historians that have analyzed his writing and phonetics, and claim that they are typical of someone living in the Catalan region at that time.
  • Author Walter McEntire, in his Book “Was Christopher Columbus a Jew?” claims that his mother comes from a Jewish family (Ponti Rossi). His mother’s name, Susanna, probably was Shushana, a Hebrew name, when she was born. He also claims that when you look at portraits of Columbus, that they show Semitic characteristics. However, James S. Mellet, PhD, states that Columbus did have a Jewish mother, but she was Izabel Gonçalves Zarco, a Sephardic Jew and was illegitimately fathered by Dom Fernando, Duke of Beja – and was born in Cuba, Alantejo, Portugal. Mellet’s theory helps to explain how Columbus was able to associate so freely with those in the circles of high society and nobility.
  • In his will, he provided at a tithe (one tenth) of the income from his estate be given to the poor, and also to make an anonymous dowry to poor girls.  Both of these are Jewish customs.
  • Also in his will was a provision to give money to a Jewish man that lived at the entrance to the Lisbon Jewish Quarter.
  • He left money in his will to support the Crusade to free the Holy Land.  In Carol Delany, a cultural anthropologist suggests that Columbus’s desire to go Asia was to obtain enough gold to provide the funds to conquer the Holy Land and free Jerusalem from the rule of the Moors in order to provide a safe haven for Jews, and rebuild the Temple. In Columbus’s Libro de la Primera Navegacion, he infers that the reason for his going to “India” made necessary by the Moors being driven out of Spain.
  • A notation by Pope Pius II (in Historia Rerum Unique Gestarum) indicates that Columbus used both the Gregorian and Jewish calendars.
  • Columbus was taken under the wing of Count De Credo. When Columbus needed some influence with King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, he him to his cousin Cardinal De Mendoza.  Mendoza and Credo shared the same grandmother, who was born Jewish.
  • He used a signature of dots and letters on this document that has also been found on Jewish tombstones throughout Spain.

It is theorized that these letters are a cryptological symbolism for the Kaddish (Jewish prayer of mourning), so that his sons would be able to say Kaddish for him when he died without giving away any reference to their ancestry.

  • Most of Columbus’s personal letters were written in a dialect know as Ladino (or Castilian Spanish), which is a Jewish version of the Spanish language; like Yiddish is to German. This was not used by the common Spaniard of the time.
  • Columbus would write notations in his books, many times citing the Old Testament. In one instance he referred to the Holy Second Temple as Casa secunda (“Second Temple”) – a reference rarely used by non-Jews at the time.
  • At the top left of 12 of the 13 known letters to his son Diego, he added an inscription that some, such as linguist Estelle Irizarry, believe to be the Hebrew letters bet-hei (meaning B’Ezrat Hashem – translating to “with G-ds help).” This inscription is not on any letters to anyone outside the family, and the letter to Diego that did not contain the inscription was also meant to be seen by the king.
  • On March 31, 1492 King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella made a proclamation that all Jews were to either convert or leave their kingdom by August 1st, or be executed. [Fast Fact: Many other countries in Europe had expelled Jews in their countries years before.] There is evidence that Columbus hired at least one, but probably many other marranos to travel with him so that they could avoid persecution. The known Jewish adventurer was known as Luis de Torres (born Yoseph ben HaLevi HaIvri and “converted” two days before leaving).  Torres was specifically hired so that Columbus could communicate with any Jews found living in the courts of the Asian rulers (or if they found one of the lost tribes of Israel). [Fast Fact: The first Jewish Synagogue in the Bahamas (Freeport), was named after Torres]. There are at least four other crew members that are thought to be secretly Jewish, including Alonso de Calle, Rodrigo de Sanchez, Dr. Marco (surgeon), and Maestre Bernal. One anomaly to consider about this voyage is that there were no Catholic priests on board.
  • The first Voyage of Columbus was originally planned to leave on August 2nd, which was the Jewish holiday of Tisha B’Av. It has been suggested that Columbus intentionally stalled a day so that he would not leave on the holiday.

There were other Jewish connections to Columbus and his voyages to the New World that are not readily learned in school.  For instance, much of the money used to fund the expedition was not from the king and queen, but from many converso Jews such as, Alfonso de la Caballeria, Juan Cabrero, Louis de Santangel, Gabriel Sanchez, and Rabbi Don Isaac Abramanel. In fact, the first letter written by Columbus back to Europe was not to King Ferdinand of Queen Isabella, but to Santangel and Sanchez. Rabbi Abraham Senior (he became a converso in 1492) was a smaller financier, but had huge influence upon the king and queen. [These four men all had interesting lives, and might be the focus of a future article.]  Why were so many Jewish financiers interested in sending Columbus on his voyage?  A number of historians speculate that due to the edict banishing Jews from Spain, Columbus might be able to find a new place for Jews to escape and live without persecution.  While this may or may not have been true, it foreshadowed the fact that Columbus’s voyages provided the spark for the exploration of North America, which spawned the birth of the United States, which fosters and protects religious freedoms to all its citizens.

Although there is only a collateral connection to Columbus’ possible Jewish heritage, there were many additional Jews that were integral in making this, or any sea voyage possible. It was a Jew (before being expelled from Spain) that created the first metal astrolabe and many of the astronomical tables that Columbus used on his voyages. Columbus had also consulted with Joseph Diego Mendes Vezinho, a Portuguese converso, who also created a number of astronomical tables and nautical instruments, including his works on establishing location and direction while at sea were indispensible for Columbus and all other ship captains.  Although Jews are not usually thought of as a seafaring people, there more Jews before Columbus that had helped the evolution of maritime navigation such as: Levi ben Gershon (cross-staff/baculus Jacob), Jacob ben Machir ibn Tibbon (quadrant Judaicus), and Rabbi Abraham Zacuto (astronomical charts) [Fast Fact: Zacuto’s tables were written in Hebrew and used by Columbus.]. There were many instruments created by Jayme Ribes (named Jehudah Cresques before he was forced to convert), who eventually became director of the famed School of Navigation founded by Henry the Navigator. [Fast Fact: King Ferdinand’s own grandmother (Paloma of Toledo) was born Jewish, and Isabella was delivered by a Jewish doctor (Maestre Semaya).]

The most disturbing thing (IMHO) about Columbus’s possible Jewish connection, and one that flies in the face of everything provided above, is the fact that he mentions in his writings that his voyages are being financed by the confiscation of Jewish wealth and property due to the banishment of Jews from Spain, but he does not mention any disapproval of this atrocity. In fact, in his Journal of the First Voyage, he begins with a letter to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, which includes the banishment of Jews as one of their accolades:

So after having expelled the Jews from your dominions, Your Highnesses, in the same month of January, ordered me to proceed with sufficient armament to the said region of India.”

So thus, in a more direct, yet cruel way, it was the desecration of the Jewish communities of Spain — their misfortune, mistreatment, torture, and death of many thousands of Jews, that paid for the exploration of the New World. It is estimated that between 160,000 and one million Spanish Jews left Spain in 1492 against their will.  Although the Jews immigrated to various other parts of Europe, the Middle East, and Northern Africa, besides the Netherlands in Europe, it was the Ottoman Empire that took them in and treated them most favorably in comparison to the other locations they took refuge (just like it was a Muslim country such as Albania that gladly took in and helped Jews fleeing Nazi Germany during WWII). [Fast Fact: Queen Isabella was considered for canonization as a Saint in 1974 for her contribution to spreading Catholicism to the New World.  However, after very strong opposition from Muslim and Jewish groups, they dropped the idea.] On the other hand, if he had written any disapproval of what the church was doing, in the environment of that time, it would have been considered heresy.  For someone that (allegedly) tried to keep his ties to Judaism a secret, he would have been smart enough not to write any such ideas on paper which could be found and used against him – even in his personal journals.

Even if the above discussion throws light upon his Jewish heritage, was he a secretly practicing Jew? Regardless of which story of his Jewish birth is to be believed, how much Jewish education would he have received? There are also historians that believe that he was a Messianic Jew; one who combines elements of Judaism with the belief in Jesus. Because of the bigotry against non-Catholics of any kind at the time and the lack of information on his early personal life, we may never know for sure.

The Columbus Controversy

While some of the Hebraic faith would like to welcome Columbus with open arms, others would rather not have him associated with Jewish history and culture.  The explorer and adventurer also had a dark side that is also not taught in school.

Over the last few years, the mention of Columbus, especially on social media, can get one severely chastised.  With the current temperament in society, the negatives of historical figures have come under fire, regardless of the good they may have also done.  For instance, universities taking down pictures or changing the names of buildings because the person depicted or the building being named after had a dark past beyond their sanitized history we learn in school.

A Dark Side

In school we learned that Christopher Columbus “discovered” America. Although this is now being taught as untrue, that myth still continues on today.  The fact is, he failed at finding an ocean trade route to India, and stumbled upon an Island in North America.  What we were told is that he set up a settlement there (the first long-lasting settlement in the New World; actually the first settlement (called La Navidad) was destroyed, it was after his second voyage that permanent settlements were set up), but not the effects that it had upon the local populace.  Columbus set out to convert the local population to Christianity, and also to use them as slave labor.  Many of the inhabitants that were not wiped out by the diseases the Europeans were brutalized by their new overlords.

Upon landing, Columbus noted how impressed he was by the hospitality and friendliness of the native (Arawaks). Columbus immediately claimed the land in the name of Spain and put the natives to work in mines.  It took only two years for half of the population (about 125,000 people) to be killed off.  He even wrote about selling 9 and 10 year old native girls into sexual slavery.  Some of the brutality included the cutting off of native’s noses and ears, burning them at the stake, and setting attach dogs upon the natives. Although most of the acts may not have been committed directly by Columbus himself, as Governor he either approved of them or did nothing to stop them from occurring.

The brutality was so bad that he was arrested in 1500 and literally brought back to Spain in chains.  One of Columbus’s men (Bartolome De Las Casas) was so mortified by the inhumanities he observed, that he left his service and became a Catholic priest. In his journal he had written “My eyes have seen these acts so foreign to human nature that now I tremble as I write.”  King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella let Columbus go free because their treasury was growing from the wealth of the Island and the newly created slave trade. However, he did lose his Governorship, much of his prestige, and wealth, but he did make a fourth and final voyage. Historians estimated that there about 3 million inhabitants in the Caribbean islands when Columbus arrived.  In 20 years, the number was cut down to about 60,000. After 50 years, practically no natives were still alive; it was genocide.

Birth and Death

Just as there is controversy as to how Columbus lived his life, as we have learned, there is also controversy as to where he was born and even where he was buried. Much of his early life is not really known. Even his date of birth is not known – although most believe that it was in 1451.

In connection to his possible Jewish roots, I had mentioned two possible places of his birth, but many countries claim him as their own:

  • Genoa, Italy.  This is the supposed birthplace of Columbus and has been listed as such for hundreds of years.  Most historians still believe this to be his true homeland. Columbus even mentions this in his own letters.
  • Catalan region of Spain. Columbus only wrote in Spanish using a Catalan dialect. He also referred to himself as Christobal Colum – which is Spanish.
  • Peru, Portugal. There is a theory he was born to a Portuguese Duke, which may explain how he had so many friends in the aristocracy.
  • Greece.  This is a theory by scholar Seraphim G. Canoutas, based on text written by Columbus’s son regarding his father’s voyages with Colmbo the Younger, with ties to Greece – and there are ties between some Greek families and those in Genoa Italy.
  • Poland. There are two theories. One that claims that Columbus is the Son of King Wladslaw III (history records him as dying in 1444, but the theory states that he did not die, but hid on the island of Madeira, where he married a noblewoman named  Filipa Moniz Perestrelo and gave birth to Columbus).  The other theory is that Columbus was a spy of Poland based on the similarities between the coat of arms of King of Poland at the time and Columbus’s own coat of arms.
  • There are also claims that Columbus was born in Norway, France, and even Scotland.

The date of the death of Columbus, May 20, 1506, is not disputed.  He died in Valladolid, Spain two years after returning from his fourth voyage. It is the location of his remains that have been a controversy. His body was interred in Seville, Spain.  However, the journeyman in life was a journeyman in death as well.  In 1542, his remains were moved on his posthumous fifth voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to Santa Domingo (modern day Dominican Republic).  The journey did not end there.  When France took over the island in 1795, his remains were moved to Havana, Cuba.  A century later, after Cuba’s independence in 1898, the remains took another transatlantic journey when they moved back to Seville (Cathedral of Seville). HOWEVER . . . . . In 1877, a lead box containing skeletal remains and a bullet with the inscription “Don Christopher Columbus” was found in Santa Domingo, and they have claimed them to be his actual bones.  In 2003, A DNA test showed that at least some of the remains in Seville could have been from Columbus himself. However, authorities in the Dominican Republic have not allowed a DNA test to be conducted. [But wouldn’t it be apropos for his remains to be buried in both the old world as well as the new?] [Fast Fact: The heirs of Columbus sued Spain for unpaid sums of monies due to him when he was alive.  The suit was not finally settled until 1790.]

Discovery of America

Columbus discovered America. This was an undisputed fact taught to school children for centuries. Not only was he not the first to discover America, he was not even the first European to do so.  Below is a list of some other “explorers” that have been purported to have visited the Americas before Columbus (i.e., the “Pre-Columbian” explorers):

  • Early Asians. Recent studies show that people from Asia first came to North America between 15,000 and 23,000 Years ago. (Two independent studies in 2015 researching DNA evidence came to differing conclusions as to where in Asia they originated).  However, there is DNA evidence of people living on the continent about 14,700 years ago (with the earliest actual burial site dated to 12,700 years ago).  These were the first true discoverers of America, the Native Americans.  However, some recent evidence shows that these early arrivals may have come here from Asia via boat since the land bridge was probably impassable when the earliest immigrants settled here.
  • Ancient Egyptians. Tobacco and Cocoa beans (as well as cocaine and nicotine) only grown in South America at that time have been found buried with mummies buried almost 3000 years ago.
  • Ancient Israelites. The Book of Mormon explains that Lehi the prophet came to the Americas about 2800 years ago.
  • Ancient Israelites. There is a theory that one of the Lost Tribes of Israel sailed to the New World at sometime around 2700 BCE.
  • Irish. There are stories passed down through generations that Saint Brendan the Navigator sailed to North America (possibly Nova Scotia) about 2600 years ago, but no evidence exists to prove this claim. Another tangential claim is that an Irish Monk had visited America (at Groton Connecticut) in the 5th Recent translation of medieval Spanish documents may show an Irish sailing to the Carolinas with possible collaborating physical proof at the Reinhardt Boulder.
  • Romans. A small terracotta roman head was found under a pre-Columbian structure in Mexico that has been dated to have been sculpted between 870 BCE and 1270 BCE. Although there is little debate over the age of the head, the veracity of the person that “discovered” and his methodology it is in doubt.
  • Mongolians. Based on theories of the origin of the East Bay Walls (mysterious walls in Northern California), the Mongolians may have visited the Americas at some time in the past.
  • Polynesians. According to DNA evidence, some Polynesian explorers may have made it to the Americas between the 6th and 8th However, scientists are baffled by this because they did not have the correct ships for long seafaring voyages. One piece of evidence is the existence of sweet potatoes and chicken bones, which originated in the Americas, were found on Polynesian islands in the 1700s, when Europeans first landed there.
  • Vikings. There is evidence that the first Europeans to travel to North America were the Vikings, who did so under the leadership of Leif Erikson around the year 1000. Many Viking artifacts from that age have been found in Nova Scotia, Canada.
  • Welchs. In the 12th century, Prince Madoc returned from a sea voyage in which he described a strange land in the West. In the year 1171 he went on another voyage, never to be seen from again.   Some early explorers to North America mention a native group known as the Mandans, who had lighter skin and spoke a Welsh-like language. However, this theory has been widely discredited.
  • Malian. There is a legend that the Emperor of Mali, Abu Bakr II, advocated his crown, gave up his wealth and sailed west with 200 ships in 1311. No evidence has ever been found to give credence to this story.
  • Scottish. Admiral Henry Sinclair sailed west to find a “fertile land” in 1390. He planned to return, but died in battle in 1400. Although there is no actual evidence that he landed in North America, when his grandson built a chapel in his honor, sculptures of cacti and corn plants only found in North America were carded into its façade.
  • Chinese. Chinese Explorer Zheng He may have stumbled upon the Americas when lost at sea in the 1400s. However, the only evidence of this was an old Chinese map found (possibly from 1418) that shows the American continents. However, most experts claim the map to be a fake.
  • Portuguese. It is known that Columbus had used maps of the Atlantic Ocean created by the Portuguese. Some of these maps (by Andreas Bianco and others) from the early to mid 1400s show areas of the North American Coastline, such as Newfoundland, and more importantly, Bianco’s 1448 map shows islands with the names of Brazil and Antilla. In addition, there was a map by Henricus Martellus (from Italy, but map possibly made for Portugal) between 1485 and 1491 that also showed the New World.  Columbus may have seen all of these maps before setting sail.  Some experts believe that these maps were made from connecture, speculation, and mythology, while others believe them to be from actual voyages by Portuguese sailors. Some historians believe that these maps were commissioned by the King of Portugal as a red herring for Columbus so that Spain would waste its time on a foolish errand, while they secured the known trade routes going Eastward.
  • Ancient Aliens. It might be foolhardy to include this, but there are theories of ancient alien races visiting the Earth, and the Americas thousands of years ago (e.g., Puma Punku, Nazca lines, Star Children, ancient iron smelting sites, skeletons of giants, etc., etc.). Believe what you like about Ancient Aliens, but this article would be incomplete without at least this brief mention.

Columbus Day Celebrations

When Columbus returned from his first voyage, he became an instant celebrity throughout Spain and the Iberian Peninsula.  Since 1492, people have been singing his praise, celebrating holidays in his name, building statues in his honor, and naming streets and cities after him.  [Fast Fact: Columbus’s fame did not spread throughout the rest Europe. It was Amerigo Vespucci, a decade later, who gained fame after he published his reports from subsequent voyages he took to the New World. This new continent was named after him when map-maker Martin Waldseemuller used his findings to create a map in 1507. He Latinized Amerigo’s name, then feminized it (since countries, like ships, are named after females). Also note, there is a great deal of controversy in the academic world as to the works produced by Vespucci.]. Although Columbus Day became a federal holiday in the United States in 1937, it was celebrated in various cities throughout the 18th century.  The first known celebration was in 1792, sponsored by the Columbian-Order in New York. Italian and Catholic groups around the country embraced this idea and began to hold celebrations each year. In 1892, President Harrison made a Columbus Day proclamation.  However, it was not until 1937, after a great amount of lobbying by the Knights of Columbus, that Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed Columbus Day an official federal holiday.  It was originally observed on October 12th (to correspond with his landing in the Bahamas), but in 1971 it was subsequently changed to be observed on the second Monday of October.

But with everything else Columbus, this holiday has also caused controversy.  There was a big push-back by the anti-immigration movement in the late 1800s because of its pro-Catholic association.  As facts about Columbus’s governorship became better known in recent years, Native Americans and other groups began protesting these celebrations for his genocide of the indigenous people in Hispaniola.  Some cities and states have created alternate holidays, such as “Native American Day” in South Dakota, Discoverer’s Day (to commemorate the arrival of the first Polynesian settlers), and

In Latin America, many countries celebrate Dia de la Raza (“Day of the Race”).  In 1892, Mexico (then ruled by Porfino Diaz) had a huge celebration in honor of Columbus coming to the America on October 12th.  This celebration took hold.  In 1918, Antonio Caso (a Spanish philosopher) wanted to use the opportunity of this event to celebrate the coming together of the Spanish and indigenous cultures. The “race” being the Mesitzo race; a person being of a mixed race (usually Spanish and Native American). The celebration became official in Mexico in 1928, and has spread to most other countries in Latin and South America. However, in South America the opposition to the glorification of Columbus had been going on for a few centuries.  In 1836, a historian named Don Carlos María de Bustamante wrote that Columbus coming to the Americas was “the most villainous day there could ever be in America; the day its slavery was established.” Although it took many years, in 1992, one of the positives to come from this controversy has been the creation of the Latin American Fund for the Development of the Indigenous People of Latin America and the Caribbean, which was established to bring wellbeing and recognition to native populations. Also note that some South American countries have reimaged this celebration into something more meaningful, such as Dìa de la Resistencia Indìgena (“Day of Indigenous Resistance”), to recognize the culture and contribution of Native people. In the Bahamas, they celebrate “Discovery Day,” and Costa Rica celebrates “Day of the Cultures.”

In Spain, the country where Columbus set out for his journeys, celebrates Hispanic Day each October 12th to celebrate Columbus’s accomplishment. Interestingly, Italy does not have a national holiday for Columbus. However, the town of Genoa, Italy (where he may have been born) does put on some celebrations for their famous son.


There are dozens of geographical locations (towns, cities, etc.) that have been named after Christopher Columbus, 54 of them in the United States alone. There are many streets, schools, buildings, and other places named for him as well.  In addition, hundreds of monuments have been erected in his honor (Columbus Monument Pages lists 600 of them, including photo and basic information). [Fast Fact: the first statue created in his honor was in the 16th century and it stands in Palazzo di San Giorgio, in Genoa, Italy.  The earliest statue of Columbus in America erected in 1792 can be found in Herring Run Park, in Baltimore, Maryland (USA).] Once again, controversy once again surrounds Columbus in regards to his monuments.  Just as institutions have recently been renaming buildings and taking down monuments to historical figures and events such as the recent Civil War monuments in New Orleans, the monuments Christopher Columbus is also at risk. This includes the famous 197 foot statue in Barcelona, where a few council members are trying to gain support to tear down it down since it “inappropriately celebrates the explorer’s colonial history.”

[Opinion: I usually try not to interject my own opinion into these articles, especially when it comes to matters of politics, but I will make an exception here. History is important.  Remembering history, especially that history which should never be repeated, should never be erased.  Taking down statues of slave owners does not erase what happened. Instead of erasing it, use it as an opportunity to teach and to remind others not to repeat such atrocities.  Maybe add a plaque to the statue to educate people. As a Jew, one may ask me, what about a monument to the Nazis? If it is a historical statue added at the time of their occupation and is currently displayed somewhere, I would say that these statues should not be taken down, but once again used as an item to educate people. The worst thing would be for the history to be forgotten, so that these things can happen again. However, I would have to consider whether I would be okay with a brand new statue commemorating the Nazis were erected.  I would have to weigh the First Amendment rights with the action (regardless of how stupid it is) – and would that action cause anyone actual harm. In the case of Columbus, although he was, by accounts, a cruel person, he did take the chance to travel west, which in turn (for good or bad) fostered the expansion of Europeans into the Americas.  As to the Civil War monuments, I would tear them down, especially the one commemorating Jefferson Davis, who willed the deed for his estate to a former slave.]

As a final note on Cristóbal Colón, ironically, although he is known throughout the world in connection to his voyages to the Americas, he believed, even to his dying day, that he had discovered a route to India.

Tomatoes – Columbus’ Gift from the New World

Although historians cannot be sure of whether Columbus was born in Italy, if it was not for Columbus daring to go west, Italy may not have become famous for its tomato sauces.  Tomatoes were not introduced to Italy or Europe until the early 16th century.  They are indigenous to South America (around the area of Peru, Chile, Bolivia, and Ecuador), and probably did not become cultivated until the early 8th century by the Aztecs and the Incas.

But, even here, there is debate.  Although some credit Columbus for bringing tomatoes back to Europe, there are also theories that it may have been other Spanish Conquistador, Hernán Cortés, in 1591, who brought back the seeds of the yellow variety back to Spain as an ornament. [Fast Fact: Cortes is the person known for bringing the fall of the Aztec Empire.] Another legend credits two Jesuit priests for bringing tomatoes directly from Mexico to Italy, who brought back the red variety in the 18th century.

Tomatoes were not a big hit when they first arrived on the shores of Europe.  They were first planted as a decorative plant in gardens.  Eventually, Spain began using their “fruits” as food, which subsequently made its way into the kitchens of Italy. The tomato was originally thought to be poisonous. When the tomato first made its way to Europe, it was first served in the houses of the aristocracy.  However, many of their plates were made from pewter.  The acidity of the tomatoes would remove the lead from the plates, which was consumed leading to sickness and death. So the poor tomato took the blame and was frowned upon, especially in Northern Europe for almost two centuries.

There is also a second reason for the poison tomato myth which stems from even before they made their arrival.  Upon reaching European shores, they were classified as part of the atropa belladonna family of plants, more commonly known as “deadly nightshade.” This group of plants also included eggplants, tomatoes, and mandrake.  Although all of these plants are related, they are part of the much large solanum genus, which contains a very diverse number of plants, both toxic and edible. [Fast Facts: The roots of the belladonna plant is extremely poisonous, and has been used as such for centuries (it was used to kill Emperor Claudius by his wife); and the mandrake is mentioned in Genesis 30:16 as being used in a love potion.]  This poisonous distinction was made by John Gerard in his 1597 book on horticulture, Herball. Much of what was in this book was inaccurate, and supposedly the information on the tomato was added incorrectly due to a printing deadline, which doomed the tomato in both Northern Europe and the colonies of North America for almost two centuries. [Fast Fact: The tomato had another setback in the mid 1800s, when tomato worms over four inches began becoming prevalent. A rumor began to spread that these worms were dangerous, and spray poison out of their mouths.]

I cannot write about tomatoes in an article such as this without mentioning another Jew’s influence on this food.  The first female captain of industry was a Jewish woman by the name of Tillie Lewis, who popularized tomatoes throughout the United States beginning in the mid-1950s through the sale of canned tomatoes, which made this vegetable available around the country all year long.  [Note that I will be delving into the life Tillie Lewis in an upcoming article I am writing on everyone’s favorite food . . . . pizza.]

Tomatoes not only taste good, but are good for you.  They include large amounts of lycopene, an antioxidant that is good for the body and maybe effective to treat certain cancers.  Tomatoes also include vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and potassium.

Today, tomatoes are eaten all over the globe, and there are over 7500 different varieties.  The United States alone grows over 3 million tons of tomatoes each year.  [Fast Fact: In the town of Bunol, Spain, they celebrate the festival of La Tomatina (on the last Wednesday of August), in which over 40,000 people have a tomato fight.  It is estimated that about 150,000 tomatoes are hurled at each other.] They are eaten raw, cooked in various ways (healthier when heated), used in a huge variety of sauces from salsa in Mexico to Sunday gravy in Italy to the sauce poured over the pasta at my last Men’s Club Pasta Extravaganza in my town. Tomatoes added to all types of dishes, including some delicious soups, like a basic tomato soup or a tomato-based gazpacho.

Cold Soup: A Gazpacho Tale

 “De gazpacho no hay empacho”

[“You can never get too much of a good thing or too much Gazpacho”

– an old Spanish proverb]

Merriam-Webster defines gazpacho as “a spicy soup that is usually made from chopped raw vegetables (such as tomato, onion, pepper, and cucumber) and that is served cold.” The most common being the tomato-based gazpacho.  The origin of gazpacho, which dates back to the times of the Roman Empire, was nothing like the dish we eat today.  It’s beginnings started out as a blend of stale bread (best if a week old), olive oil, garlic, along with some regionally grown vegetables and nuts. This would be pounded into mortar, and then a liquid was added (e.g., water or vinegar). The dish evolved in each distinct region, each with its own variation.

Gazpacho may have first been created by Roman soldiers that carried dried breads, garlic, and vinegar with them to form the basis of the soup.  Historians state that the dish became popular in the southern region of Spain known as Andalucía. Centuries ago, the workers in the hot fields were given rations of bread and oil, and along with some vegetables, and water, they would make this soup-like dish. It was traditionally made in a large bowl called a dornillo. In the 8th century, when the Moors took over Spain, they brought ajo blanco with them, which is a cold soup dish very similar to gazpacho (and also has Roman roots) and sometimes referred to as “white gazpacho.” The culinary infusion of these two cultures transformed this dish into a regional staple.

Now back to Columbus. It is very likely that he ate gazpacho on his voyages.  However, he also had an impact on the dish as well. Remember, it was Columbus who opened up the water route to the Americas, which, in turn, allowed the Europeans to return with various “contemporary” vegetables, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers. These new-found ingredients were infused into the dish, transforming it into the version you are more familiar with today.

The dish was not well known beyond the Andalucían region until the late 1800s or early 20th century, when Eugenia de Montijo (wife of Napoleon III) began spreading it to other parts of Spain. However, the dish did make its way over to the United States by the early-1800s and a recipe for gazpacho appeared in the 1824 edition of The Virginia Housewife.  The etymology of the word is not known.  One popular theory is that it comes from the Mozarab word caspa, which means “fragments” for the pieces of vegetables and other items in the soup. [Fast fact: Mozarabs are the Christians that lived under the rule of the Moors in Spain. In contrast to the subsequent Inquisition, they were allowed to practice Christianity, although they had to swear allegiance to the caliph, among other restrictions.  Christians that converted are known as to as muwalladun.] Interestingly, another possible source of the word comes from the Hebrew word gazaz (גָּזַז), meaning to “shear” or “break into pieces” in reference to the breaking of the bread for the soup.

The Fruit vs. Vegetable Debate

Knowledge is knowing that tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad” [Brian O’Driscoll]

When we were kids, adults tried to confuse us by calling tomatoes fruits, but then telling us that they are fruits.  What gives?  Scientifically, according to botanists, tomatoes are a fruit.  They are developed from the ovary of the plant and contain seeds.  However, because they are savory and not sweet, and have been cooked and prepared as vegetables for eons before science classified them as such, they are vegetables when cooking or food is concerned.

The Supreme Court of the United States in the 1890s made the distinction very murky (Nix v. Hedden, 149 U.S. 304 (1893)), when the U.S. Customs Agency tried to categorize tomatoes for whether they fit under U.S. Tariff laws as a vegetable or a fruit. The Court held that they are to be considered vegetables for application under the tariff law due to the way they are used by the average person.  However, the court did not change the scientific categorization of tomatoes as a fruit.  Tomatoes are the state fruit of Ohio, but they are the state vegetable of New Jersey.  Arkansas tried to stay unbiased on the issue and named the South Arkansas Vine Ripe Pink Tomato as both the state’s fruit and vegetable.  Also note, tomato juice is the state fruit of Ohio.


Tillie Lewis (mention now – go into during pizza article next year)

Tomato Trefe









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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



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