challah loaf

Shabbat (the Sabbath) is the central observance or holy day of Judaism. Just about everything gives way before Shabbat – including Yom Kippur. Because it is the day that God gave us for rest and enjoyment, it should be a day of joy. It’s a great time to put something absolutely delicious on the table for Shabbat. How about warm bread, roasted chicken, a savory kugel, and a mouthwatering dessert. We won’t stop at the food. We’ll share lots of secrets for making Shabbat something worth staying home for, even if you have teenagers.

Date: May 1
Time: noon to 4pm
Place: Beth Am Congregation(in the kitchen), 26790 Arastradero Road, Los Altos Hills
Cost: $35
Sign up here.

Posted by admin under Holidays, Jewish holidays at home, Programs archive, Shabbat, symbolic foods
No Comments


You may have heard me tell this story because it had a deep impact on me – years ago in a workshop a non-Jewish wife told me that she waited all year for Christmas. She described herself as “a pressure cooker waiting to let off steam.” She recounted her love of the rituals of Christmas. She didn’t identify as Christian and she had considered conversion but she felt deeply attached to Christmas and her annual festive BANG.

It didn’t seem to me that she needed to convert; I thought she needed to have more than one day, one season, of celebration. Since she was married to a Jewish man and raising her children Jewish I suggested that she try adding the observance of Jewish holidays. I conjectured that her husband might be more engaged and participatory and that that would improve her celebrations/holidays quota. I even suggested she try Shabbat.

Two years later I saw her in the lobby of a JCC. She dashed to my side and in glowing terms told me that she had indeed begun observing Jewish holidays including Shabbat. She felt that her needs for ritual, spirituality and celebration were being met at last.

I have never forgotten that image of a pressure cooker. How very hard to have to “save up” your emotions for one holiday. What if this year Christmas doesn’t live up to your expectations and needs? I know that there are lots of people in danger of that happening. If you have set your heart on a bang-up Christmas please identify a few easy to accomplish activities. You might even plan them for after Christmas. You could have:

A games night with your kids & friends
A sing-along
A cookie bake-athon
A volunteer day at an animal shelter
A walk in the woods
A drive through the most Christmas decorated blocks in your town
Go out to dinner and a movie
Watch an old, beloved movie in pjs with popcorn.

Do one or more of these things with people that you love. Being with loved ones perks up any day of the year.

I wish you a Merry Christmas if you celebrate Christmas and to those who don’t, you can still schedule one or more of these activities.

Posted by admin under A meaningful life, Christmas, Community Activities, Couples, Holidays
No Comments

2 challah loaves sweet cropped

Now I ask you, is there anything better than hot homemade bread? I’ll answer, No!

Come make challah, the most delicious bread ever! We’ll mix, knead and braid our own challah dough. Learn how to braid with 3 or 5 strands as well as making round loaves. You’ll take home your own loaf of warm bread.

Date: Sunday, July 12
Time: 2:00 – 5:00 pm
Place: A Private home in Oakland, near Lake Merritt. Registrants will receive the address.
Cost: $25/person

Every Friday I make challah. It is a ritual in my home and everyone loves it. I’ve experimented with both dairy and parve* recipes and found the BEST RECIPE in the world. Got one you think is fantastic too? Bring it! We’ll share.

Email to sign up for the class.

Posted by admin under A meaningful life, Holidays, Past Programs, Programs archive, Shabbat, symbolic foods
No Comments

Easter Eggs Sweden

I’ve received many questions this month about painting eggs. Spring brings Passover and Easter, sometimes right on top of each other. While Jews are focusing on slavery, emancipation and unleavened bread, Easter seems to be focusing on bunnies, candy baskets and egg hunts. The real meaning of the holiday gets lost on a lot of Jewish families, especially the children. So I did some research on Easter that may be helpful in deciding what is best for your own family.

Dear Jewish parents everywhere,
We hear just bits and pieces about the meaning of Easter. I did some research so that we could have a more thorough understanding. Then, we can make our own determinations about what is best for our family. My firm belief is that knowledge makes our decision making easier and more comfortable. It can help to cut down on arguments between spouses and between parents and children. I want you to know what Easter observances are about, where they came from and, armed with this knowledge, decide what works for you. And yes, I know many Jews with two Jewish parents who colored eggs as kids. It was basically a craft activity for them.

The Easter Story
Easter is not a jolly holiday about the birth of a baby; rather it is a grim story of a gruesome death. The story’s ending is positive for believers in that Christ’s resurrection symbolizes salvation. Religious Easter is impossible to separate from its Christian message. Many Jews can’t put aside the fact that the person who is horribly killed is a Jew and yet all Jews get blamed for it… for all eternity. So be prepared for many Jews to have a visceral reaction to the idea of celebrating Easter in anyway. You may feel that you’re just doing the chocolate part of the holiday, yet others may see that as unacceptable. Be prepared to deal with these emotions. Remember that that’s what they are, emotions, and as such are neither right nor wrong.

The Easter Egg
The early Christians actively proselytized and one of the effective methods of doing so was to absorb the traditions of the community into which they spread their faith. Reinterpreting a ritual and reframing it in Christian symbolism was a less obvious way to monopolize the religion practices of indigenous peoples and to ease them into Christianity. It may feel creepy to our modern ears, but it’s better than being killed. So, Easter, like many Christian holidays, borrows heavily from pagan practices; in this case, springtime rituals.

The tradition of coloring eggs goes back thousands of years in pagan traditions. The egg was widely used as a symbol of rebirth and renewal. Painted eggs are still used at the ancient Iranian spring holiday, Nooruz, which is from the Zoroastrian religion. Just a note, Zoroastrianism is as old as Judaism; both of us have our beginnings in the earth based rituals of early civilization. Pysanka eggs, those gorgeous wax-resist eggs from the Ukraine, also date back to a pagan religion from a time when Ukrainians worshipped a sun god, Dazhboh. Part of that worship included decorated eggs.

Easter Pysanky eggs

Easter Pysanky eggs

The Easter egg is the latest addition to these springtime egg festivities. It is also called the Paschal egg, Paschal meaning “pertaining to Easter or Passover” How’s that for mixing things up! The egg was re-interpreted to symbolizes the sealed tomb in which Jesus’ body was placed. Think: just as a bird hatches alive from an egg, so too did Jesus emerge alive from the tomb. The message being that believing Christians will also experience eternal life. Traditionally the eggs were dyed red to symbolize Christ’s blood.

The Easter Bunny
The rabbit has always been known to be quite fertile so their association with springtime, fertility and rebirth is natural. Ancient Greeks believe that the rabbit was a hermaphrodite and could reproduce without a partner. Christianity interpreted this to mean that the rabbit remained a virgin even though it gave birth and it became associated with the Virgin Mary.

Now, what do we do with this knowledge?
Clearly there is nothing Jewish about Easter. Celebrating or observing any of the rituals of Easter, whether you see them as Christian or pagan, is going to be seen as “not Jewish” in the Jewish community. Now you must ask yourself, what do I want to teach my children? And what do I feel about other people’s opinions?

So, what about the kids?
If you want to color eggs because “it’s fun” I suggest you teach your children the historical meaning of painted eggs. By teaching them the truth you are equipping them to respond with confidence, and probably greater knowledge, to anyone who challenges them. You can say, “Decorating eggs has been a tradition for thousands of years in other religions, here are some of the ways that it was done and understood by people from other places in the world. We are painting them because it’s fun and pretty and we are learning about their history.”

To the Jewish mom who said her daughter wants to paint eggs to represent the 10 plagues I say, wow, your daughter is wonderfully creative! You could tell your daughter that people from different backgrounds borrow from each other and you are borrowing the idea of painted eggs and turning it into a Jewish expression for your family. You could use the eggs as part of your Seder table decorations and get the kids to guess which egg is which plague. This practice isn’t a Jewish tradition now, but who knows, maybe she’s starting something!

What about the opinions of others?
I’m not going to tell you to ignore or denigrate them. Judaism is a communal practice; we do it together for better or worse. I suggest you use your now superior knowledge to explain to them what you’ve learned, what you’ve decided based upon that and your family’s best interests. If they still can’t accept what you are doing AND they are important to you, I suggest you ask them if there is a Jewish practice that seeing you do would comfort them. Explore whether they feel that these eggs are going to curtail your Jewish practice or damage your child’s Jewish identity? If you currently send your child to Hebrew school, observe Shabbat, and have a Passover Seder gently point out to them that your Jewish practice far outweighs some colored eggs. If they still can’t accept your practice, or these are people you don’t really care about anyway, tell them that you will have to agree to disagree, and walk away.

Posted by admin under Children, Community, Holidays, Jewish Culture, Jewish Learning, Parenting
No Comments


A lot of folks will be making resolutions over the next few days. Why not make a Jewish resolution for the year 2015?

Here are some ideas.

1. Increase your Jewish knowledge. The best way to feel confident is to know what you’re doing. Don’t suffer with a feeling of ignorance, learn. Take a class, read a book, see a movie. Resolve to learn something new. Jewish wisdom teaches: find yourself a teacher, make yourself a friend.

2. Deepen your spiritual observance. Whether God is a part of your belief system or not I’m betting that the beauty of nature and the warmth of community give you a feeling of joy and gratification. Look for ways to experience both the beauty (God) in nature and the beauty (God) in humans.

3. Increase your commitment to social justice. Did you know that doing something to improve the world, to assist those less fortunate, is a significant way to feel happy? It is. Look for ways to act out your values.

4. Focus on heath. Judaism teaches that our bodies belong to God and it is our responsibility to maintain them. So if you are not taking care of yourself because you put others first, give yourself permission to to fulfill your obligation to care for your own body and mind.

5. Experiment with Jewish activities. Try something new – a Jewish food, light candles this Shabbat, bless your children, watch a Jewish themed movie, read a Jewish book*, pick a tzadakah project as a family.

*For Jewish books for kids – check out the many listed at PJLibrary.

For adults, here’s a list of the “top 100 Jewish books” from My Jewish Learning.

Or explore The Jewish Book Council’s website.

You can start here but branch out. Email me and tell my your favorites, please! (

Posted by admin under A meaningful life, Holidays
No Comments

Happy Hanukkah Banner

A big part of the fun of holidays — like Christmas — is the decorations, the spiffy seasonal accessories. Hanukkah can come up pretty short in this regard and that’s natural since this minor Jewish holiday has nowhere near the glamour of Christmas. But there are still things you can do to decorate and accessorize your Hanukkah. Here are some things to consider for your holiday festivities.

Always check your nearest Judaica store; they carry the most extensive stock. In the San Francisco Bay Area that includes:

Afikomen in Berkeley
Dayenu Judaica in the SF Jewish Community Center in San Francisco
Alef Bet in Los Gatos

Some other festive ideas
Hanukkah Banner
Hanukkah tablecloth – you can get them at many mainstream shops
A funny Hanukkah doll, Mensch on a Bench

Do you love those gingerbread houses? The Hanukkah options are a lot of fun.
Hanukkah House from Manischewitz

Gingerbread Menorah from Sweet Thrills

Baking holiday cookies with children is fun and delicious. Get Hanukkah themed cookie cutters, at your local Judaica store or online.

Posted by admin under Chanukah, Holidays
No Comments

Halloween pumpkins

Halloween is the second biggest holiday in America according to KCBS News. Did you know that? I sure didn’t. Yes, I’ve noticed that Halloween has become dramatically more marketable than it was when I was a kid, or even when my own kids were little. Costumes are no longer homemade – with the hobo costume, your dad’s work shirt and some charcoal smudges on your face, being the easiest. Gone are the paper bags, left over from grocery shopping. Now you can buy it all – costumes of all shapes and sizes, yard and house decorations, candy of all sorts, pre-shaped jack o’lantern cake pans, you name it. What does KCBS mean by “second biggest holiday in America”? They mean it generates a huge amount of money. Second only to… well, you know.

On the Jewish calendar we are in the quiet period of no holidays, other than Shabbat, from Simchat Torah to Chanukkah. For American Jews this period may include Halloween and most likely does include Thanksgiving.

What is Halloween? It is Christianity, really Catholicism, absorbing a Pagan holiday. It’s origin is All Hallows Eve.

For the rabbis this has clear and strong Christian and Pagan meanings. So in traditional Jewish homes there would not be a Halloween observance. Many people, Jewish or Christian or atheist, don’t resonate to the religiosity of the holiday and just like it for the candy and dressing up.

Live a life of intention
My first suggestion is that rather than tossing aside the meaning of the holiday and just jumping into the candy, live intentionally.

Learn about the holiday. It has things to teach us about our culture and the cultures of others.

Make a conscious decision to do, or not do, Halloween in your family. Don’t do Halloween “because everybody does.” That’s never a good reason and you don’t want to teach it to your children.

Consider adding Jewish elements to the holiday. Check out these two useful articles here and here for good ideas.

There are Challah-ween events going on around the bay. Here’s an example of one, it was put on by Urban Adamah.

Of course, be safe, be sure that any costumes worn by your children allow for ease of movement and sufficient warmth. Have your kids bring their candy home to show you before then eat it. It is unlikely that there will be anything bad among the goodies but there’s no harm is being sure. Plus, you should monitor the sugar consumption since you probably want them to go to bed without a stomachache.

I wish you a wonderful end of October; don’t forget to have something pumpkin flavored – ice cream, muffins, something!

Posted by admin under A meaningful life, Holidays, Non-Jewish family, Parenting
No Comments

Are you a crafter? Let’s do something fun and Jewish!

Homemade Rosh Hashanah Card

Homemade Rosh Hashanah Card

DIY Judaism: Jewish Greeting Cards
Hallmark shops don’t have cards for Rosh Hashanah or Sukkot. When it comes to the December holidays, can Jews send greeting cards in December? Should they be Chanukah cards? Can they send Christmas cards? What about solstice cards or those annual update letters? Join Dawn Kepler to discuss Seasons Greetings questions and make your own special Holiday cards while we talk. Plus we’ll have some card fixings to make your own unique cards for Rosh Hashanah, Sukkot and Purim!

Date: Sunday, Sept. 14
Time: 2 – 4pm
Place: Private home in Oakland
Cost: $10

Register here.

Some of the beautiful cards that were made.

card by Louis

card by Natalie

card by Susan

Posted by admin under Holidays, Jewish holidays at home, Past Programs, Programs archive
No Comments

Tu B’Av, the 15th of Av, is a minor holiday with few customs. In modern times it has become a sort of Jewish Valentine’s Day in Israel. You can read a traditional view of the holiday here.

To add some romance to the day my friend, Faith Kramer, came up with two recipes that are made with roses. Why not give them a try? They will be equally delicious any time of year.

If you would like to try more of Faith Kramer’s recipes you will find them on her site, Her site features many Jewish recipes so check it for other holiday foods.

These recipes originally appeared in the J-Weekly, which features a food column every week.

Chocolate Rose Berry Cake

Chocolate Rose Berry Cake

Chocolate Rose Berry Cake
Serves 8-12
1/2 cup butter plus extra for pan
10 oz. semi-sweet chocolate
6 eggs, divided
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup cocoa
1 cup ground almond flour
1 cup raspberry jam
1/2 to 1 tsp. rose water
3 Tbs. confectioner’s sugar
Whipped cream topping, optional (see below)
Raspberries for garnish, optional

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 9-inch springform pan with butter. Line bottom with parchment and grease.

Cut 1⁄2 cup butter and chocolate into pieces and melt, stirring occasionally until smooth. Separate four of the eggs and whip whites until stiff peaks form. In a separate bowl, beat yolks and remaining eggs with sugar, vanilla, cocoa and almond flour until smooth. Working in batches, fold in chocolate. Gently fold in egg whites in batches. Pour into pan. Bake for 35-40 minutes until top is firm and springs back to the touch. (Cake will be wet inside). Let cool in pan, remove sides, invert on plate and remove bottom of pan and paper.
Stir jam with 1⁄2 tsp. of rose water. Taste. Add more as needed. Once cake is completely cool, use a serrated knife to horizontally cut in half. Spread top of bottom layer with jam, place second layer on top, cut side down. Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar. Spread with whipped cream topping and decorate with raspberries.
Whipped Cream Topping: Whip half-pint heavy cream with 2 Tbs. sugar and 1⁄2 tsp. (or to taste) rose water until soft peaks form.

North African Chicken Sauté

North African Chicken Sauté

My husband has already put dried apricots on his shopping list and is eager to try out Faith’s second recipe.

North African Chicken Sauté
Serves 2-3

2 cups chicken stock, warm
1/2 cup dried apricots
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
2 Tbs. oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 tsp. minced garlic
1/4 tsp. ground coriander
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground allspice
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground red pepper
2⁄3 cup 1/4 sliced carrots
2 cups (6 oz.) artichoke hearts (defrosted if frozen)
1 Tbs. crumbled rose petals
1/2 cup chopped mint
Soak apricots in warm stock. Sprinkle chicken with half of salt and pepper. Heat oil in large pan over medium high heat. Brown chicken. Cook until somewhat firm but not cooked through. Set aside.
Sauté onions and garlic until golden. Add remaining salt and pepper and other spices. Sauté briefly. Add carrots. Sauté until carrots begin to soften. Add artichoke hearts. Sauté 2 minutes. Add stock and apricots, bring to and keep at a simmer, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are cooked and sauce thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir in rose petals. Return chicken and juices to pan. Lower heat. Cook until chicken is cooked through. Stir in mint.

Posted by admin under Holidays, Jewish holidays at home, symbolic foods
No Comments

easter eggs

From the Mixed and Matched column in the J-weekly.

The question:
My son-in-law isn’t Jewish. My daughter and he took their 2- and 4-year-old sons to a huge Easter egg hunt this year. It’s the first time they’ve done that and it really upset me. I’m sure my daughter knows this bothered me. I haven’t said anything because they say they are raising the boys Jewish and I don’t want to jeopardize that. I’m so upset. What should I do? I want to remain close to my daughter but I feel like this is just the first step in a downhill process away from Judaism. — Distraught Grandmother

Dear Distraught: I’m sorry this has hit you so hard. Let’s see if we can cut this down to a manageable size. You are close to your daughter and you believe she knows you are upset. The best thing to do is to have an honest conversation with her that’s not colored by negativity that will put her off.

Let’s begin by taking a look at your fears. Read more.

Posted by admin under Grandparents, Holidays, In the News, Mixed & Matched, Non-Jewish family
No Comments

« Previous PageNext Page »