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 Judaism-Islam.com:

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” (Wikipedia.org) @ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baba_ghanoush

“Eggplant (Solanum melongena) Domestication History and Genealogy” (K. Kris Hirst: Thought Co: 2017) @ https://www.thoughtco.com/eggplant-history-solanum-melongena-170820

“Food and Language: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cooking” (Richard Hosking ed.; page 341: 2009) @ https://books.google.com/books?id=3ilvBQAAQBAJ&pg=PT340&lpg=PT340&dq=eggplant+jews+muslims&source=bl&ots=dd1FGfe02J&sig=vbmU7pnqsdV-9T0QjB6UKsJixPI&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwii3LWu577WAhWMuRQKHYW3D1EQ6AEIJjAA#v=onepage&q=eggplant%20jews%20muslims&f=false

“History and Culture of the Eggplant” (InDepthInfo.com) @ http://www.indepthinfo.com/eggplants/history.htm

“Parshat Vayera” (Bar Ilan University: Dr. Joseph Fleishman: 1999) @  https://www.biu.ac.il/JH/Parasha/eng/vayera/fle.html

“The Piquant Origins of Bana Gamoush” (DeliDip.com) @ http://www.delidip.com/home-en/dipping/the-piquant-origins-of-baba-ganoush/

“The Qur’an, Chosen People and Holy Land (Seth Ward) @ http://www.uwyo.edu/sward/articles/ward-quranonisrael-boullatavol.htm

“Regarding Cervantes, Multicultural Dreamer” (Edward Rothstein: NYTimes.com: 2005) @ http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/13/arts/regarding-cervantes-multicultural-dreamer.html?mcubz=0

“Similarities Between Judaism and Islam” (Judaism-Islam.com) @ http://www.judaism-islam.com/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) @ http://blogs.yu.edu/news/a-jewish-founding-father/

“Colonial America and the 17th/18th Century France” (FoodTimeLine.org) @ http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodcolonial.html

“Cuisine of the Thirteen Colonies” (Wikipedia.org) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuisine_of_the_Thirteen_Colonies

“Fundamentally Freund: Unsung Jewish Heroism and The American Revolution” (Michael Freund: Jerusalem Post: 2016) @ http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Fundamentally-Freund-Unsung-Jewish-heroism-and-the-American-Revolution-459694

“Haym Salomon” (Wikipedia.org) @ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haym_Salomon

“How the Jews Saved the American Revolution” (Jerry Kinger: JewishMag.com) @ http://www.jewishmag.com/80mag/usa3/usa3.htm

“The Jew Who Financed the American Revolution” (Ronda Robinson: Aish.com) @ http://www.aish.com/jw/s/The-Jew-who-Financed-the-American-Revolution.html

“The Revolutionary War and the Jews” (Norman H. Finkelsein: My Jewish Learing) @ http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/the-revolutionary-war-and-the-jews/

“Treaty of Paris” (History.com) @ http://www.history.com/topics/american-revolution/treaty-of-paris

“Was Alexander Hamilton Jewish?”  (Morton Landowne: TabletMag.com) @ http://www.tabletmag.com/scroll/218475/was-alexander-hamilton-jewish-a-cambridge-educated-historian-is-making-the-case

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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“Gazpacho” (Wikipedia) @ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gazpacho


“Gungywamp, Groton” (Ray Bendici: Damned Connecticut: 2010) @ http://www.damnedct.com/gungywamp-groton


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“The History of Tomatoes” (Flavour Fresh) @ http://www.flavourfresh.com/historyoftomatoes.htm


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“How Many People Died in the Inqusition?” (Nathan Busenitz: TheCripplegate.com: 2015) @ http://thecripplegate.com/how-many-people-died-in-the-inquisition/


“How Myths Become Realities at the Hands of Portuguese Cartographers” (Gunnar Thompson: Marco Polo Seattle) @ http://marcopoloinseattle.com/wp/how-myths-became-realities-at-the-hands-of-portuguese-cartographers/


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“Is a Tomato a Fruit or a Vegetable?” (Oxford Dictionary) @ https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/explore/is-a-tomato-a-fruit-or-a-vegetable


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“The Jewish – Native American Connection” (Chef Lon: FoodHistoryReligion: 2015) @ https://foodhistoryreligion.wordpress.com/2015/11/03/the-jewish-native-american-connection/


“La Tomatina” (La Tomatina Tours) @ http://www.latomatinatours.com/


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“Native American Origins: When DNA Points Two Ways” (Eryn Brown: LA Times: 2015) @ http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-native-american-origins-dna-20150721-story.html


“New Evidence of Viking Life in America” (BBC News 2016) @ http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-35935725


“New Study Refutes Theory of How Humans Populated North America” (Christopher Klein: History.com: 2016) @ http://www.history.com/news/new-study-refutes-theory-of-how-humans-populated-north-america


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“Was Columbus Secretly A Jew?” (Charles Garcia: CNN.com: 2012) @ http://edition.cnn.com/2012/05/20/opinion/garcia-columbus-jewish/


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“What Archeologists Really Think About Ancient Aliens, Lost Colonies, and the Fingerprints of The G-ds” (Kristina Kilgrove: Forbes.com: 2015) @ https://www.forbes.com/sites/kristinakillgrove/2015/09/03/what-archaeologists-really-think-about-ancient-aliens-lost-colonies-and-fingerprints-of-the-gods/#b34f8807ab0c


“Why the Tomato was Feared in Europe for More than 200 Years” (K. Annabelle Smith; SmithsonianMag.org: 2013) @ http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/why-the-tomato-was-feared-in-europe-for-more-than-200-years-863735/

Life Is A Picnic

Life Is A Picnic

Havin’ A Picnic

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

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

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


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

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

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

Now That’s A Sandwich

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


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

Pic-a-nic Baskets

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

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

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


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

Ingredients (6 servings)

½ cup mayonnaise

3 tbs sugar

1 ½ tbs lemon juice

1 tbs vinegar

½ tsp black pepper

¼ tsp salt

6 cups shredded cabbage

1 cup shredded carrots


  1. Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl



“Dallymyr” (official website) @ http://international.dallmayr.com/

“Delicatessen” (Wikipedia.org) @ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delicatessen

“Fun Holiday – International Picnic Day” (TimeAndDate.com) @ https://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/fun/international-picnic-day

“History in a Basket: It’s Picnic Time” (Stephanie Butler: History.com: 2013) @ http://www.history.com/news/hungry-history/history-in-a-basket-its-picnic-time 

“History of New York Delis” (Pastrami Blog: 2009) @ http://pastramiblog.blogspot.com/2009/09/history-of-new-york-delis.html

“International Picnic Day” (WinCalendar.com) @ http://www.wincalendar.com/International-Picnic-Day

“International Picnic Day (June 18)” (WeirdHoliday.com) @ http://www.weirdholiday.com/2013/06/international-picnic-day-june-18th.html

“Pastrami on Rye: A Full-Length History of the Jewish Deli” (Kenny Sokan: PRI.org: 2016) @ https://www.pri.org/stories/2016-03-31/pastrami-rye-full-length-history-new-york-jewish-deli

“Picnic Pique – Rumor: The Word “Picnic” Originated with Crowds Gathering to Witness Lynchings” (David Mikkleson (fact checker): Snopes.com: 2017)  @ http://www.snopes.com/language/offense/picnic.asp

“Reuben Sandwich History and Recipe” (What’s Cooking America) @ https://whatscookingamerica.net/History/Sandwiches/ReubenSandwich.htm

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

“Yogi Bear” (Hanna-Barbera Wiki) @ http://hanna-barbera.wikia.com/wiki/Yogi_Bear

“Yogi Bear” (Wikipedia) @ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yogi_Bear

“The Relationship between Yogi Berra and Yogi Bear, Explained” (Laura Bradley: Slate.com: 2015) @ http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2015/09/23/yogi_berra_and_yogi_bear_the_relationship_explained.html

Is Mr. Spock Jewish?

Is Mr. Spock Jewish?

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

Live Long and Prosper

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

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

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

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

May the Schwartz Be With You

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jews in Sci-Fi

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

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

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

Food in Science Fiction

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

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

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

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


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


1 cup blueberries + 3-4 blueberries on side

8 oz plain yogurt

2 oz. Blue Curacao

3 oz. Vodka

4 oz ice

2 tbs sugar

2 oz. seltzer

½ tsp vanilla extract


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



“9 Jewish Things About Star Wars” (Lior Zaltzman: Forward.com: 2015) @ http://forward.com/schmooze/307464/may-the-fourth-be-with-jew/


“A commentary on the deafening silence in response to anti-Semitism in the genre community in comparison to the unabashed banter in response to Samuel Delany’s 1998 NYRSF essay ‘Racism and Science Fiction’. Contrasts & disturbing impressions” (Season of the Red Wolf: 2012) @ https://seasonoftheredwolf.wordpress.com/2012/11/03/a-commentary-on-the-deafening-silence-in-response-to-anti-semitism-in-the-genre-community-in-comparison-to-the-unabashed-banter-in-response-to-samuel-delanys-1998-nyrsf-essay-racism-and-science-fi/


“Fantasy and the Jewish Question” (Abigail Nussbaum: Wrong Questions: 2010) @ http://wrongquestions.blogspot.com/2010/02/fantasy-and-jewish-question.html


“Food in Science Fiction: In the Future, We Will All Eat Lasers” (Jason Sheehan: NPR.or: 2013) @ http://www.npr.org/2013/07/13/201181637/food-in-science-fiction-in-the-future-we-will-all-eat-lasers


“From Jediism to Judaism: Star Wars as a Jewish Allegory” (Daniel Perez: Aish.com) @ http://www.aish.com/j/as/From-Jediism-to-Judaism-Star-Wars-as-Jewish-Allegory.html


“Have Jedi Created a New Religion?” (Tom De Castella: BBC.com: 2014) @ http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-29753530


“Isaac Asimov, Two Foundations and The Jews” (Roger Price: Judaism and Science: 2013) @ http://www.judaismandscience.com/isaac-asimov-two-foundations-and-the-jews/


“The Jewish Origin of the Vulcan Salute” (Rabbi Yonassan Gershom: Patheos.com: 2000) @ http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/The-Jewish-Origin-of-the-Vulcan-Salute


“The Jewish Roots of Star Wars” (Jessica Steinberg: Times of Israel: 2015) @ http://www.timesofisrael.com/the-jewish-roots-of-star-wars/


“The Secret Jewish History of Star Wars” (Seth Rogovy: Forward.com: 2015) @ http://forward.com/culture/327265/the-secret-jewish-history-of-star-wars/


“The Jewish Side of Star Trek” (Elizabeth Finkel: Ohio Valley NFTY: 2016) @ https://ohiovalley.nfty.org/2016/11/03/the-jewish-side-of-star-trek/


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


“May the Force Be With Jews” (Liel Leibovitz: TabletMag.com)  http://www.tabletmag.com/scroll/196014/may-the-force-be-with-jews


“The Merchant of Menace” (Bruce Gottlieb: Slate.com: 1999) @ http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/hey_wait_a_minute/1999/05/the_merchant_of_menace.html


“The Religious Affiliation of Director George Lucas” (Adherents.com) @ http://www.adherents.com/people/pl/George_Lucas.html


“Science Fiction and Fantasy, Jewish” (Encyclopedia.com) @ http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/science-fiction-and-fantasy-jewish


“Star Trek: Jewish Thought and Social Revolution” (Matthue Roth: My Jewish Learning) @ http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/star-trek-jewish-thought-and-social-revolution/


Star Wars Producer Blasts Star Wars’ Myths” (Chris Taylor: Mashable.com: 2014) @ http://mashable.com/2014/09/27/star-wars-myths-gary-kurtz/#SRXcKuHEfuq4


“The Tastiest Food Moments in Science Fiction” (Meredith Woerner:iO9: 2008) @ http://io9.gizmodo.com/389720/the-tastiest-food-moments-in-science-fiction


“Vulcan Salute” (Wikipedia) @ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vulcan_salute


“Was Princess Leia Jewish?” (Jeffrey Salkin: ReligionNews.com: 2016) @ http://religionnews.com/2016/12/27/princess-leia-carrie-fisher-dead-jewish/


“Weirdest Foods in Science Fiction” (Cooking Channel TV) @ http://www.cookingchanneltv.com/recipes/packages/kitchen-adventures/photos/weird-food-from-sci-fi-movies


“Why There is No Jewish Narnia” (Michael Weingard: Jewish Review of Books: 2010) @ https://jewishreviewofbooks.com/articles/290/why-there-is-no-jewish-narnia/




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

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

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

Modern Additions to the (American) Passover Table

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

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

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

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

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

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

Passover Traditions from Around the World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

History of Onions

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

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

Onions in Judaism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 A Different Kind of Seder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Different Hagaddahs

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

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

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

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


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


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

2 cups  Flour (all purpose)

½ tsb   Salt

1 tbs    Soy Sauce

1          Egg

14 oz   Water

2 Tbs   Oil (for frying)


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

2) Add scallions and mix

3) Heat oil

4) Scoop flour/scallion batter into oil

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



“7 Passover Traditions Around the World” (Natalia Sloam: TheDailyMeal.com: 2014) @ http://www.thedailymeal.com/7-passover-traditions-around-world/41114

 “10 Unusual Passover Traditions” (Yoni Sherezin: Times of Israel: 2013 @ http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/10-of-the-darndest-passover-traditions/

 “A Celebration of Passover Customs from Around the World!” (Mocha Juden: 2016) @ http://mochajuden.com/?p=4179

 “A Haggadah for a Socially Responsible Chocolate Seder” (Rabbi Deborah R. Prinz) @ http://onthechocolatetrail.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/A-Haggadah-for-a-Chocolate-Seder.pdf

 “All About Allium Vegetables” (Vegetable Expert Staff) @ https://www.thevegetariansite.com/health_allium.htm

 “Chronology, History, and Timeline of the Haggadah” (Elimelech David Ha-Levi) @ http://www.angelfire.com/pa2/passover/haggadah-chronology-timeline.html

 “Different Types of Onions” (The Nibble) @ http://www.thenibble.com/reviews/main/vegetables/different-types-of-onions.asp

 “For the First Time in 800 Years, Rice and Beans are Kosher for Passover” (Smithsonian: 2016) @ http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/first-time-800-years-rice-and-beans-are-kosher-passover-180958856/

 “Guide to Vegan Passover Seder” (Abigail Wick: VegNews: 2014) @ http://vegnews.com/articles/page.do?pageId=1851&catId=2

 “History of Onions” (National Onion Association) @ https://www.onions-usa.org/all-about-onions/history-of-onions

 “Is it Safe to Eat Onions During Pregnancy?” (Manjiri Kochrekar: Mom Junction: 2015) @ http://www.momjunction.com/articles/onions-during-pregnancy_00359009/#gref

 “Miriam’s Cup” (Tamara Cohen: MyJewishLearning.com) @ http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/miriams-cup/

 “The Missing Fifth – An Extract From Rabbi Sacks’ Hagadda” (Jonathan Sacks: RabbiSacks.org: 2015) @ http://rabbisacks.org/the-missing-fifth-an-extract-from-rabbi-sacks-haggada/

 “Non-Traditional Items Showing Up on Seder Plates” (JPost.com: 2011) @ http://www.jpost.com/Features/In-Thespotlight/Non-traditional-items-showing-up-on-Seder-plates

“The Odd Account of the Overnight Onion” (Rabbi Yehuda Spitz: Ohr Somayach: 2012) @ http://ohr.edu/this_week/insights_into_halacha/5213

“Olives on the Seder Plate” (Haggadot.com) @ http://www.haggadot.com/clip/olives-seder-plate

“Onion” (Jewish Virtual Library) @ http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/onion

“Onions” (Katherine White and Jonathan Zellner: Hamilton College: 2008) @ http://academics.hamilton.edu/foodforthought/our_research_files/allium.pdf

“Onion History – Origin and History of Onions” (VegetableFacts.net) @ http://www.vegetablefacts.net/vegetable-history/history-of-onions/

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

“The Onion Plot” (Yerachmiel Tilles: Chabad.org) @ http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/1399/jewish/The-Onion-Plot.htm

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

“Pregnancy in Ancient Rome” (Natasha Sheldon: Decoded Pregnancy: 2013) @ http://decodedpregnancy.com/pregnancy-ancient-rome/3256/

“The Real Story Behind the Orange on the Seder Plate” (Anita Silvert: Jewish United Fund: 2012) @ https://www.juf.org/news/world.aspx?id=414773

“Scalion” (Wikipedia) @ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scallion

“Scallions” (Encyclopedia.com) @ http://www.encyclopedia.com/plants-and-animals/plants/plants/scallion


“Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, Volume 7” @ https://books.google.com/books?id=Z9EBrkBE4-oC&pg=PA376&lpg=PA376&dq=onions+in+the+talmud&source=bl&ots=dl97hEKgwF&sig=RDuIyvu9USV1XPv-MgpOyFDgn_k&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi9372Nwu_RAhUorlQKHatoDdY4ChDoAQg2MAY#v=onepage&q=onions%20in%20the%20talmud&f=false

“Enclyclopedia of Medicine in the Bible and the Talmud” @ https://books.google.com/books?id=Lbv7gJ5lrFMC&pg=PA233&lpg=PA233&dq=onions+in+the+talmud&source=bl&ots=8mk5-zisMG&sig=8gy8yb9OM8ZPW8rT6nc7zEjfGVg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiFj_iPwO_RAhXG7YMKHdMoA6sQ6AEIRjAH#v=onepage&q=onions%20in%20the%20talmud&f=false



These Jewish Eyes Are Smiling

These Jewish Eyes Are Smiling

 The Irish Connection

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

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

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

“Corned” Beef

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

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

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

Happy Out,

Chef Lon

The Recipe

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


6 tbs                mustard seed

2/3 cup             mustard powder

½ cup              beer (may substitute with water)

2 tbs                brown sugar

3 tbs                white wine vinegar

2 tsp                salt


1) Ground the mustard seed

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

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

4) Stir in vinegar

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





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


“Are the Celts One of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel?” (James O’Shea” IrishCentral.com: 2016) @ http://www.irishcentral.com/news/are-the-celts-one-of-the-ten-lost-tribes-of-israel-233823021-237790101


“The Irish-Jewish Parallels” (Rory Fitzgerald: HuffingtonPost.com: 2010) @ http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rory-fitzgerald/the-irish-jewish-connecti_b_545088.html


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



“Some Tales of ‘Celts’ Exposed by the Science of DNA” (Michael O’Laughlin: IrishCentral.com: 2016) @ http://www.irishcentral.com/roots/some-myths-of-tales-of-the-celts-exposed-by-the-science-of-dna-214731551-237762461