Food as a part of culture & tradition
All societies around the globe create holidays and use ritual foods to celebrate them. Food is a primary element of social interactions. Most human gatherings include food.
There are biological re-enforcers for this behavior. Of our five senses one of them has the longest memory power. It is the sense of smell. If you think about this in terms of human survival you realize it increases a the survival rate of a creature to be able to identify food that is safe versus food that previously made you sick, not by tasting it, but by smelling it. Ever we modern humans are likely to sniff a carton of milk that is past its shelf date rather than have a taste.

Smell and taste are closely linked. So food – which we smell and taste – will instill memories that last the longest in our minds. Thus the holiday use of particular recipes builds on our memory of the holiday itself.

Ritual. Ritual is also intrinsically human. We are hard wired for it. Studies of children find that those children who are most resilient, that is they recover from hardships best, are those that have ritual in their lives. I’m not taking about just religious rituals like lighting candles, although those count, I’m talking about routines, familiar patterns in life. We adults may say we like things to be “new” but that’s because we have already laid down a foundation of familiarity. Children, and adults, thrive when they know what is coming. Where will I be today? With whom? Where will I sleep tonight? Just as pediatricians recommend creating bedtime rituals, bath time rituals, mealtime rituals, to provide security in a children’s life, larger rituals linked to the seasons, holidays and lifecycle moments are good.

Food can be used to reinforce these annual rituals when we prepare the same foods each time we observe a holiday. We come to associate the activity with the food. What would a birthday be without a birthday cake? Simply eating a particular food is not enough. I can eat Chebakia, a fried honey cookie eaten to break the fast at Ramadan, but it will not make me feel Muslim nor will I understand the meaning of fasting on this holiday. Food is a support to a meaningful memory.

In my cooking (and eating) classes we talk about how someone who did not grow up with a particular holiday can still learn to use food to create that gut connection to the celebration. We also cook, chat, eat, laugh and generally have a darn good time!

Call me if you have any questions.

Posted by admin under Passover, Shabbat, symbolic foods
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More Jewish Experience – Prayer: Erev Shabbat
There is an internal logic to the order in which Jews say the prayers in the service, but it is not always easy to see. Have you ever wished that you understood what we are doing in the service? This class will examine the Friday evening Erev Shabbat service as well as some of the key prayers. No Hebrew is required.

More Jewish Experience is a new series, designed to expand one’s Jewish knowledge beyond the basics in the areas of Jewish prayer, Jewish texts, and Jewish ethics. While it is designed as a follow-up to Introduction to the Jewish Experience, all interested students are welcome.

Dates: 4 Thursdays, February 7 – February 28
Time: 7:30 – 9:00 pm
Place: Temple Sinai, 2808 Summit St., Oakland
Cost: $50 public, $40 for Temple Sinai members
Register here.

Posted by admin under Past Programs, Prayer, Shabbat, Spirituality
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Everyone loves the smell of baking bread or the taste of warm homemade bread from the oven. Do you wish you could make delicious challah for Shabbat, but don’t consider yourself a baker or are short on time?

Join us in the kitchen, and we’ll quickly put your mind at ease. We’ll talk about the secrets of baking, the power of food as a part of ritual, and favorite recipes for challah.

Experienced bakers are welcome to come and brag about their fabulous recipe. Just be sure to bring copies of the recipe for everyone. Everyone will go home with a loaf of bread, a packet of ideas, and the confidence to bake challah like a professional.

Register early as space is limited to eight participants.

We’ll meet in a private home in Oakland; students will receive the address upon registration.
Sunday, January 27
1:00 – 3:00 pm
Register here.

Posted by admin under Programs archive, Shabbat, symbolic foods
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I always prided myself on delicious challah. But it was a dairy recipe containing milk and butter. I tried several Parve recipes (recipes with no dairy products and can therefore be served with meat). But they just didn’t make. Then Suzanne Fallon gave me Seymour’s Famous Challah recipe. I love using my bread maker so I tweaked it a bit so I could use the machine. Here’s the result.

1 tsp. salt
1/4 c. each honey and olive oil
1 1/4 c. hot water
1 pkg. yeast
2 eggs
5 cups flour*
1 egg yolk combine with 1 T. water
1 tsp. Poppy or sesame seeds

Put salt, honey and oil in bowl, pour the hot water over and stir. Cool to lukewarm. Add eggs. Stir in yeast.

Put it all in your bread maker. Put the flour on top. Set it to dough cycle and let ‘er rip. When the dough is finished take it out and divide into three parts. Roll each part in your hands until you have three ropes. Braid and put on an oiled sheet, cover with a damp cloth and let rise.

When doubled in size brush with the egg yolk mixture and sprinkle with the seeds. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes

*I use 4 1/2 cups white flour and 1/2 cup whole wheat flour.

Posted by admin under Shabbat, symbolic foods
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image from wikipedia

I received this invitation from Kol Emeth via their newsletter:

This Friday night shabbat is Friday the 13th. The number 13 is a special number in Judaism. According to the Torah (and the haggadah), 13 is the number G-d’s attributes. 13 is also the number of Israel’s (Jacob’s) children. Using gematria (the system by which Hebrew letters add up to a number), the words: אהבה (Ahavah, Love) and אחד (Echad, Unity), both also add up to 13. Why not celebrate Shabbat and Friday the 13th with us this week at Kol Emeth, 6:00pm? We’ll sing and pray together for love and unity, and other of G-d’s gifts, celebrate Shabbat and have a little wine or grape juice together with Kiddush afterwards. Your attendance will also insure that we’ll be able to say kaddish for departed loved ones. Hope you can join us!

All of this made me think about the number 13. Americans are pretty thoroughly steeped in supersition about the number 13. There are hotels that don’t have a thirteenth floor! From a brief search of the internet it appears that fear of the number 13 is relatively modern and European in origin. So it makes sense that it didn’t catch on in Judaism. If you read the “Who Knows One?” in the haggadah at Passover you’ll recall that it ends with, “Who knows 13? Thirteen are the attributes of God.”

All this suggests that this Friday would be a wonderful time to explore a synagogue near you. Not sure where to go? Here’s a link to the Jewish Resource Guide, Jump to page 30 and find a synagogue near you. Or just email me, Dawn, and I’ll help you find one. Summer is a great time to shul shop!

Posted by admin under Jewish Learning, Shabbat
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Pride-B-Que Shabbat
In honor of GLBT Pride and Freedom, you and your friends, family, kids, parents – along with the rest of Beth El are invited to our first annual Pride-B-Que on Saturday, June 23, 2012. Following our gay and festive Shabbat morning service – with special readings and music for the festival – we will gather under the oak trees for a Pride-B-Q picnic lunch, featuring veggie burgers, mahi-mahi burgers, kosher hot dogs and all the sides…

Date: June 23
Time: Shabbat morning services start at 10:15 (but the Prideful stuff will start around 11) and the Pride-B-Q will commence at around noon.
Place: Beth El, 1301 Oxford St., Berkeley

Posted by admin under Community, LGBT, Shabbat
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Wish Shabbat were a peaceful family event? Come home too tired to cook and with two fussy kids? Come learn some tricks to turning your Friday night into a warm, cozy family time. It’s all about family, food, fun and a little peace! Led by Dawn Kepler.

Saturday, April 9 at 5pm
Temple Sinai, 2808 Summit St., Oakland
Call Dawn for more details.

This workshop is one session of the Temple Sinai Shabbat-o-rama. Come just for this or come for the whole day. Learn more about Shabbat-o-rama here.

Posted by admin under Past Programs, Shabbat
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Shabbat image from Wikipedia

There are many times when I talk to you about “interfaith life” but I don’t actually talk about religion. This week I will be leading a workshop on Shabbat and while I will be talking about Shabbat as a ritual, you can generalize this information to other practices in your life. I promised the participants one idea that will improve their life and the lives of their family members, but I will actually have several suggestions. Let me give all of you one bit of useful parenting information right now.

Studies find that children who have rituals in their lives are more resilient. The studies looked at kids who faced adversity. God willing, our children will face less dramatic setbacks than those in the study. But as the saying goes, into each life some rain must fall. So how very good to create a home in which there are things that strengthen our children. What is a ritual? It is a repeated behavior that happens basically in the same way at a certain time and/or place. It creates predictability and helps our children – and us – gain a sense of mastery. I bet you have aimed to have bedtime rituals, mealtime rituals, homework rituals. And for ourselves as adults, we shoot for bill paying rituals, house cleaning rituals. I hope you’ve also put in some self care rituals and socializing rituals.

In the workshop I’ll talk about the psychological gifts we give our children with rituals that also connect them to a larger community, a group of people to whom they belong. If you have not decided which group of people you want to attach to, or you’re having trouble getting that going, by all means come talk to me afterwards or contact me.

The program:
Making Shabbat Your Own
Would you like to start doing Shabbat? Need to start small or do you want to take it up a notch? Come learn easy steps to create “your” Shabbat. We’ll tell you how to have warm, homemade challah even if you work until 6pm. How to engage children of all ages. Ways to approach teens or other skeptics in your family. As a bonus, we’ll tell you how one simple ritual can improve your child’s and your health, happiness and well being. No kidding!

Posted by admin under A meaningful life, Children, Shabbat
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Would you like to start doing Shabbat? Need to start small or do you want to take it up a notch? Come learn easy steps to create “your” Shabbat. We’ll tell you how to have warm, homemade challah even if you work until 6pm. How to engage children of all ages. Ways to approach teens or other skeptics in your family. As a bonus, we’ll tell you how one simple ritual can improve your child’s and your health, happiness and well being. No kidding!


Join Rabbi Judy Shanks and Dawn Kepler


Date:    Saturday, Feb. 20

Time:    1:15pm.

Place:   Temple Isaiah, 3800 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Lafayette

For more information call Dawn at 510-845-6420 x11

Posted by admin under Holidays, Past Programs, Shabbat
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Savor the moments of your life


When my youngest was an infant there was an evening when we had company over. After dinner my husband took the adults into the living room to chat. I took the baby into the bedroom to nurse, rock, and put to bed. I wanted to get back to adult conversation and it seemed to be taking an eternity to get him to sleep. I wished he would just fall asleep! Then it occurred to me that he would grow fast and soon he, like his four year old sister, would no longer need to be rocked. I paused and mentally recorded his small body, his length, his soft breathing; I relaxed into the moment and saved that memory. From then on I noted how his legs got longer and rocking switched to rubbing his back in bed and finally to a good night kiss. Now my “baby” is nineteen, thousands of miles away, having the time of his life and I am glad that I paused and lived in the moments.

Some of you are longing for a child, or happy without them, some are racing to meet schedules of pick up, homework, soccer or piano practice. Some of you, like me, have graduated from the parent as manager/orchestrator to parent as consultant.

What you do matters, it matters immensely, to you as well as your children. I want you to enjoy as much of every moment as possible – and no, not all parenting moments are enjoyable. So slow down, enjoy the good times, learn from the hard times, and bask in the love of your children, your partner, your friends. Do it now.

Making meaningful moments really isn’t hard. Observing Shabbat can be a great way to create a moment. Make it family time. Have a meal that is fun – order pizza if you don’t have time to cook. Spend time without phones or electronics. Talk. Play games. Sing. Laugh. Tell your family, “I want to remember times like this because I love you so much.” Let them know that you are making a memory.

Posted by admin under A meaningful life, Children, Parenting, Shabbat
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