Friday, August 29, 2014


Tomorrow is my father’s sixth yarhzeit.

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The morning  my father died I called him.   He asked me if I would be visiting him that day. I told him that I wouldn’t be able to since I was in New York and  he was in Boston.  He then slipped into what I called his “ Darth Vader” voice. Towards the very end of his life when I would speak to him he would slip into a  morphine induced deep throated mutter. After several minutes of Darth Vader he suddenly said “Excuse me, I need to hang up the telephone now”.


Apparently he was going into his final crisis, my sister got a call about five minutes later that it was time to gather at my father’s bedside for the end. My other sister called me and suggested that I fly to Boston. I chose not to because I assumed that if I did, that my day would be consumed with frantic travel and I assumed that I would arrive too late and be left with the eternal sense of having missed the boat.  Instead I stayed home.  My family gathered at my father’s beside. My sister called, the family was singing my father out.  I had the old songbooks, I had siddurim . So they would start to sing, and forget the words. So I sat on the phone in my apartment singing along with my family reminding them of words from old Zionist songs, or verses from z’mirot and together we sang my father out.

My father was a big man. For much of his life he was fat.  He loved food, he loved thinking about it, he loved cooking vast quantities of food and he loved eating good food. I used to ask him what he would have done if he hadn’t become a rabbi, he used to say that perhaps he would have become a lawyer. I don’t know if that would have been such a great alternative career. He adored hearing the stories of people’s lives. he loved hearing what made people tick. He loved those pre-funeral meetings with congregants where you hear the story of the life of the person who had died.



Those stories of how people made big life decisions, how people put food on the table during times of poverty, funny stories, tragic stories were re told at the dinner table and then were crafted into eulogies


My father grew up poor. He loved beautiful things. One of his favorite things to do was to walk down Madison Avenue or Newbury Street to look at  beautiful fancy things.  Car trips always involved checking out the interiors of synagogues and churches. Finding a great religious space gave him great pleasure.


When my father was dying he planned his funeral. He asked one of the funeral directors to wear a pin  that he particularly admired when she worked his funeral.


My father loved davening. He thought that it needed to be done  with great gusto. My father was a loud davener regardless if he was the leader or just a member of the kahal. He loved the words in the siddur. He loved the feeling of alliterative piyutim rolling around in his mouth.


My father had a more than slightly subversive sense of humor. Famously, when he was a rabbinical student he stuck his head out the window of his dorm room on 122nd Street and Broadway and yelled

שפך חמתך אל הגוים

and then in English

Love they neighbor as thyself

For those who can’t read Hebrew it’s Psalms 79:6.That story was famous among my father’s colleagues. Rabbis still repeat the story to me, but usually it’s embellished.


That line is also part of the haggadah, We used to sing that line to bandiera rossa.

My father used to sing Methodist Hymns in full voice in the car while he drove us to Orthodox Day school. He also used to sing hit from the 1940’s, some in English and others in Latin. he had an inventive Latin teacher in High school who translated popular songs into Latin and used to sing them with her class.  He also sang horribly racist minstrel songs that this third grade teacher taught him in when he was growing up in Florida. And he fought to have inner city kids bussed to our town’s schools. My father also belted out every track from his Paul Robeson album.  My father made sure to play the Chassidic records that asked on the cover do not play on the Sabbath or Holidays on Shabbat and Holidays.



My father called a spade a spade. People didn’t pass away or pass on or go to heaven.They died.


On the fourth day of Elul, six years ago my father died.

יהי זכרו ברוך

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Getting ready for the New Year

Today is Rosh Chodesh Elul, the new moon of the month that precedes Rosh haShanah. Traditionally it is a time for reflection, a time to repair relationships. During the month of Elul the shofar is blown each morning at the end of services to remind people that it’s time to do teshuvah. Teshuvah  is usually translated as repentance. The meaning is less of the Bible thumping sort of repentance but more a sense of reviewing your actions and behaviors of the past year and working on mending behaviors and relationships.


I am blowing shofar on the second day of Rosh haShanah. I use the month of Elul to practice.  I do do  two practices each day. Today was the first day. It sounded good.


I also did the lettering for Mike’s tallit.



The text comes from Jonah’s prayer

In the wrapping up of my soul with GodSAM_2869

I pan to add some hand or machine stitching around the letters.  Those little eddies are supposed to indicate water.

If you want to listen to a bit of Rosh haShanah Music…

Cantor David Bagon singing Hamelekh.

Pita Za’atar Pictorial Recipe

My dear buddy Miriam Isserow  is one of the very few of my friends whose mother was good buddies with my mother.  Miriam has many talents, is incredibly smart and is also a serious cook. unlike me, she comes from a long line of serious cooks. One of the profound taste memories of my childhood was a Dobos torte that Miriam’s mother made for a 7th or 8th birthday party.  Miriam has a food blog and her latest post was about egg cooked into Pita Za’atar. you can read her post here. I am also taking advantage of the fact that my sesame allergic son is away at college.


I thought that it might be easier to show how to make the Pita Za’atar. Za'ataris a magical spice mix. It makes everything taste better. You can toss it on chicken or fish or throw some into salad dressing or eggs and they will all taste earthy and Middle Eastern and delicious.


1- Put two cups of water in a microwave and heat for a minute. If your kitchen is warm skip this step.

2- Add a teaspoon of yeast to the bowl of water.


3- Yeast needs to be fed. Sprinkle a teaspoon of flour over the yeast.


4- I added wheat germ and ground some hard winter wheat in my coffee grinder and added them to the bowl. This is optional.SAM_2842



5-Add a big glugg of olive oilSAM_2846SAM_2847

6- Add a tablespoon of salt


7- Start adding flour by the cup-full. Mix with a big spoon or a spatula.


8- Keep adding flour until it makes sense to mix with your hand instead of with the spatula or spoon. Basically you use your hand like a giant spatula, lifting and stretching the dough and then pushing it down with your open hand.  Add flour when mixture feels sticky.




9-When the dough is fairly smooth, cover with a tea towel. Then go away.


Your dough can rise from anywhere from 1-4 hours depending on your schedule. Yes, you can set up the dough before you go to sleep, put it in the fridge over night and bake the next day.

10- Roll out your dough. Or you can just pat out rounds.  I have a rolling pin that I love, so I use that. If you don’t have a rolling pin you can also use a wine bottle to roll out the dough.



If you want fluffy pita let it rise for about an hour before you pre heat your oven. If you haven’t the time just pre heat your oven to 400 and start rolling out your pita. If you want plain pita just bake your pita  right after the loaves are formed. If you want Pita Za’atar first dribble a small pudde of olive oil on leach loaf, then sprinkle with Za’atar and then rub the Za’atar into the loaf with  the back of a spoon.  Yes, you can use other spice mixtures Herbes De Provence is wonderful here as is black pepper and rosemary or sumac and smoked paprika.

Bake until done




Sunday, August 24, 2014

A Sunday Adventure

Today was beautiful, but a little cool, not quite beach weather. We decided go go someplace I had been wanting to visit for about thirty years, the Socrates Sculpture Garden in Astoria. We took the subway. One of the nice things about taking the subway out to Queens is how spectacular the views are.




We walked several blocks along Broadway and passed an astonishing array of restaurants representing the cuisines of  nearly a dozen countries.

We got to the Socrates Sculpture Garden. Unfortunately they were between exhibits. But it’s a such a pretty spot sort of half way between being industrial wasteland and being a beautiful bit of nature.




We could just spot Columbus Circle across the East River.




I never thought that I would ever eat grapes that I picked next to an abandoned factory in Queens.




I loved how this rock looked like wood.




We then walked the block and a half or so to SAM_2804

the Noguchi Museum. But first we stopped off at Costco which was across the street. Their liquor store was having tastings of cucumber vodka, a very fancy tequila and  an aged rum. They gave us tastings of each one on their own and in a small cocktail. We were in a very good mood when we went into the museum.

The Noguchi is a great place to go after a difficult experience, say like after sitting shiva, or a bad break up. It’s a very soothing place.




There were times when I preferred the wooden supports to the sculptures themselves.SAM_2823




We were then ready to go. The museum shifts your understanding of objects in space, so you leave the museum slightly different than you were when you went in.

This taxi garage/repair shop is a block or two away from the museum.


I loved the shapes that our shadows made on the sidewalk.


Queens is full of anomalies like this sweet house


that is next to a factory building. SAM_2834

A few blocks further east we came upon this treasure of a building. You have to look past the Rite Aid signage.



I love the nautical themed decoration. I have no idea what this building might have been in it’s previous life. SAM_2838

We ate a spectacular dinner at a Greek restaurant and then came home after a delightful day.