Fasting is the easy part

Kol Nidre, Leo Bar, Pix in Motion

As Yom Kippur is drawing near, I am grateful for a quiet day of reflection and preparations. Since the kids were born,  I have not had that great luxury. Now that I am self-employed, I don’t have more free time (starting a business is a lot of work), but I have a lot more flexibility in how I manage that time. So today, the to-do list is looming large, but I am making a point of ignoring it to read, reflect on Torah, and most importantly, to take stock of the side of myself I am not exactly proud of.

Is there such thing as an easy and meaningful fast?

Call me masochistic, I believe Yom Kippur should be hard. Abstaining from food and drink, spending long hours in schul, on an empty tomach, trying to squeeze an Amidah in while keeping an eye on the kids, getting home and feeding them, playing with them and trying to stay patient as you grow weaker and hungrier is challenging. And yet, as difficult as it is to fast for 25 hours, that’s the easy part.

The hard part is to truly admit the ugly things I’ve allowed myself to do, to let that embarrassment and disappointment come to the surface and face them. As I try to sit and take a deep breath to draft the list of people whom I have hurt, offended, or wronged, everything inside of me is fighting against it: “It’s OK, you’re only human, don’t worry about it, everybody else falters too. Let’s go read a book! Study Torah even, that’s a worthy thing to do, right? C’mon, just send an e-mail or something, and move on to something a little more enjoyable, life is short!” But I want to sit with these feelings, picture the faces of people I have treated unfairly. I want to try to feel what they must feel when I am selfish, forgetful, impatient…

I know that a blanket, Cc-all apology, can never be a real apology, that it can yield no true forgiveness or healing.

I know I must dig deeper. Go where it hurts. Otherwise, I am merely checking boxes on a “how to be a model Jew” to-do list, giving the appearance of doing the work without actually doing the work.

“To not bear a grudge”

This painful exercise has yielded some expected lessons, and some more surprising ones:

– I sincerely want to apologize to my husband and children for letting stress that has nothing to do with them affect how I talked to them and treated them. That is unfair, harmful behaviour, and it needs to change.

– I sincerely want to apologize to my wonderful teacher, Reb Arie, for not staying in touch after the wedding. It has been years, and the embarrassment only grows with time. This one is ripe for action.

– I sincerely want to apologize to my family for never making the time to stay in touch. They know how much I love them, and care about them, but still I should not take them for granted.

– I have so many people to apologize to for not following up on something I said I would do, I must not be nearly as reliable a person as I thought I was. That also needs to change.

But, I also learned that

– There are a few people I do not feel ready to seek forgiveness from, because I do still hold resentment against them, and feel justified. These people are usually ones with whom the aggravating situation is ongoing, and I am not finding in my heart the desire to rise above, knowing full well that I will have to either forgive and find higher grounds on which to base our relationship, or accept the limitations of that relationship and find ways to work around them, some day.

– My heart is so, so full of anger, disappointment and sadness. I have a lot of grieving to do, a lot more than I thought.

We’ll see where these are at by this time next year. In the meantime, I hope the Great Book of Life has a “work-in-progress” section.

Have a beautiful, meaningful fast.

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Double duty recipes – Melon salad with pistachios and mint / Sorbet

Who does not love to cook once, eat twice? These recipes will come in especially handy on Shabbat: you can prepare a delicious meal for the Friday night and a completely different meal with the same ingredients for lunch the next day, no cooking required.

Now, just a reminder: Although I do not mix dairy and red meat at my table, I do mix poultry and dairy … but I try not to mix eggs and poultry. I know, I’m weird, but there is logic to my madness. If you do not mix any meat with dairy, pick among the alternatives in italics.

Cantaloupe with pistachios and mint / melon sorbet (parve)

Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 0 minutes

  1. Open and seed two cantaloupes
  2. Dice the flesh into medium size cubes (or scoop it out into chunks with a tea spoon)
  3. Chop 1 cup of shelled, unsalted pistachios, reserve about 1/3 cup
  4. Chop 1/2 cup of fresh mint leaves, reserve half
  5. Toss half of the melon cubes into a big salad bowl with the rest of the chopped pistachios and mint leaves. Dairy option: You can also add fresh goat cheese, feta or mozzarella. Also, if you are preparing the salad in advance, reserve the pistachios and add them at the last minute.
  6. Toss the other half of the melon cubes into a blender or food processor with the mint leaves (no pistachios)
  7. Add a drizzle of honey to both the salad bowl and the blender bowl, squeeze half a lemon into the salad bowl.
  8. Add a few drops of orange blossom water to the blender bowl, if you have any
  9. The melon salad is ready for prime time, just move to the dinner table or the fridge.
  10. Blend the mix and pour into small freezer friendly cups or into Popsicle trays, put in the freezer and for dessert the next day

Bon apétit! Serve with grilled chicken or fish.

If you have any suggestion or question, leave a comment, I’d love to know!

Aside

Translating in the kitchen

heavymetalfoodie.blogspot.com

heavymetalfoodie.blogspot.com

It just occurred to me that I approach adapting my favourite French recipes (to make them Kosher) in very much the same way I adapt, rather than translate word for word, English texts into French.

Translating is not substituting one word or expression for another. It is rendering context, feel, style, intent, rhythm, sound, pace, and of course, meaning. In the same way, when adapting a recipe for a Kosher kitchen, simply substituting systematically one ingredient for another can only lead to a complete disaster disappointment.

 

There are simply no substitutes for ingredients like butter, milk, crème fraîche, or pork. Soy milk in a Béchamel is not a substitute, it is a cop out.

It betrays both a lack of imagination and a lack of appreciation for what Béchamel is supposed to be, just as “rétroaction” is a lazy and inaccurate translation for “feedback”, though approved by official instances it may be (there, I said it).

In translation as in adapting recipes, the goal is to produce a result that can stand on its own merit and do justice to the original. There is no point in going through the exercise otherwise.

Kosher or not Kosher, that is the question

I keep Kosher in my home. Unless you ask most people, in which case, I don’t. Let me explain: Torah commands Jews to eat only animals that chew their cud and have split hooves. No horse or rabbit on the menu and, of course, no pork. It also commands us to eat only fish that has both fins and scales, so no shellfish, and no unagi (eel sushi). Finally, it forbids us to cook a kid (baby goat) in its mother’s milk. Although this latter point seems to have been more about which rituals were appropriate than a dietary prescription per se, its spirit, which was to avoid cruelty and to keep life and death separate, has spilled over into Kashrut, for the better.

No moral or ethical explanation is given alongside the dietary commandments in the Torah, but since Torah itself is essentially a Code of ethics, it stands to reason that Kashrut is first and foremost about being holy.

Kosher chicken parmesan, anyone?

Not only do I follow the dietary rules laid out in Torah as mentioned above, I expand on them a bit by not mixing any meat from any mammal with dairy, hot or cold. But I do mix poultry and dairy, hot and cold, because a chicken does not equate milk with life, or with its mother, therefore I see nothing unethical or cruel in my “escalopes de poulet à la crême”.

I also tend to treat fish as meat (according to traditional Kashrut, it is considered “parve”, i.e. neither meat not dairy).

Kosher or organic?

That one is a real struggle for me. If Kashrut is about eating in an ethical and healthy way, meat that is produced within our current mass agriculture system should not qualify. I feel the same way about fruit and vegetables that have been doused in pesticides and other chemicals known to be toxic to humans, by the way.

Even the rules of shechitah (ritual slaughter of animals that is meant to ensure as little pain and distress as possible) seem to have fallen victim to the demands of the market, what with machines flipping cows upside down in front of a giant blade… eesh.

I am not naive, I understand that with the demand for Kosher meat as it is, the idea of a lone shochet slaughtering hundreds of cows is not the most realistic. And yet I wonder if that is not the only way we are supposed to eat meat: a healthy animal raised in its natural environment, slaughtered humanely and in a dignified way by a local shochet, processed and sold by a community butcher. We would eat a lot less meat, we would eat much better meat. Right now, I feel it is more ethical, more “holy”, to eat organic meat than Kosher meat. I wish I could find meat that is both Kosher and organic, but the eco-Kosher movement has not yet gained enough ground to make it an option, at least, I haven’t come across a good one yet.

Updated Simple Shabbat prep list (working parent edition)

One the things I was dreading the most about returning to work after 10 months on mat leave (thank you Canada!), was the prospect of rushed, half-baked Friday nights and Shabbat meals. The system I described in my original Simple Shabbat prep list is not very compatible with working full-time and a two+ hour commute (round trip, but still), so I’ve had to tweak it. I can only assume it will keep evolving, but I think this is a good starting point for working parents :

The basic principles are :

  • Simplify your recipes and prepare things that can easily be turned into delicious cold sandwiches, or salads the next day. If all else fails, embrace the French meal “sur le pouce” (baguette, cheese or cold cuts, salad stuff and a glass of wine)
  • Buy your challah. I used to get the frozen ones and take them out to rise on Thursday evening, to bake them on Friday. Now Adam just picks one up from Bread and Sons Bakery close to his work. As far as I know, it’s not strictly Kosher in the commonly accepted sense of the term, but neither are we, and it is just too delicious to pass up. They bake a fresh batch every Friday, and they go fast!
  • Try to build in some flexibility. When I came back from my first mat leave, I negotiated with my employer to work from home on Fridays. I prepared my case and presented it in a way that took into account my superiors’ concerns, and lucky me, they were receptive. If, unlike translation, your work is not very VPN friendly, it may be worth negotiating a reduction in the number of hours you work. (More on that later).

My new routine:

Thursday night

  • Set out candles
  • Set dinner table

Friday during translation down times

  • Change linens (bed sheets, bath towels and hand towels in the kitchen, change rolls of toilet paper, refill soap dispensers)
  • Prepare simple meal or, if work is too busy, whip up a frozen pizza/salad dinner.
  • Program coffee machine for the morning.

Friday evening

  • Tidy up kitchen, so that clean up time from dinner is minimal – this does not always happen…
  • Turn off computer, cell phone and appliances
  • Put on different music
  • Bathe children, shower
  • Tzedakah, candles, blessings, songs, stories, and usually a few jokes from Sam.

Friday after the meal

  • Set up breakfast table, just because.

 

I am a bad convert

Or maybe an excellent one, depending on how you look at it. I certainly “wrestle with God” as Jews are commanded to do, or more exactly with Jewish practice. It all comes down to the “selectively observant” mention in the subheader of this blog, but the truth is I often feel more deprived, unfulfilled, or frustrated than selective. Sure, I am proud of the fact that I always try to understand both the letter and the spirit of any law or tradition. I find the exploration of the historicity of Jewish law (i.e. how it evolved over time and under what circumstances) exciting, inspiring and fascinating, but the bottom line is:

I observe Shabbat, but in my own way. I keep Kosher, but in my own way, I practice taharat hamishpacha, sort of, I celebrate all of the major holidays and put effort in preparing for them, both logistically and spiritually, but, the thing is… I am not sure any of that makes me legit in the eyes of any Jewish community, and I can’t find where to belong.

Both my esteemed teacher and the Beit Din probably had hopes that I would be a little “further along” both the doing and the learning by now. They would probably look at my unconventional ways and declare my conversion a failure, recall it  perhaps, if that’s even possible.

And so what? Why do I care so much? I am not sure. I have always been one to do my own thing. I was never a big fan of group think or conformity. I’m not exactly a rebel or an original though. In fact my life is quite ordinary, but I have always preferred solitude to pretense, if pretense was the cost of company.

So why did I even convert? I could have practiced without the need to make it official, it turns out a lot of people do… I just felt compelled to, but that too, I had to do on my own terms. I searched high and low for a rabbi and found one who lived in Montreal. Adam and I drove two hours each way every Sunday evening for two years to enjoy the wonderful teachings of Reb Arie Chark. I didn’t do it halfway, but the trouble began when Reb Arie suggested I found a congregation to call home and a rabbi to convene a Beit Din. I was fortunate to find Rabbi Popky, who was also a wonderful teacher and whose philosophy jived very well with mine. Yet no congregation has felt quite right.

I know I am Jewish, I’m pretty sure God has no particular issue with the way things are, so why am I not content with the current state of affairs?

The beauty of being a convert is that you get to figure out  what works for you from scratch. You get to write your own traditions, to bring your own understanding to millennial, century or decades old practices.

That of course, is also the greatest challenge of being a convert. Nothing is self-evident. There is no deeply rooted emotional attachment to this or that practice to guide you, no memory of the smell of challah baking in the oven, or of a family gathered late into the night around a Seder table. Everything is brand new, it’s a colossal effort.

There is so much to learn and understand, I often feel like one lifetime is not enough, especially with weeks currently going by faster than I count them.

And then there is what I simply can’t do on my own: incorporating or creating family traditions requires that the family be on board, and, although they most often are all for it in theory, practice is another challenge entirely when every new idea must be submitted, debated, explained before you can jump in and make a jolly, joyful mess of it.

The Beit Din is just the beginning, I knew that then, I know this now. I knew also that it would not be easy, yet I never imagined that the hardest part would not be how to incorporate this or that observance, but to decide what observances to incorporate. This difficulty has turned into urgency now that the little ones are here. They look up to us, they look up to me, and other than beautiful, complex, rich theories and stories, I feel that I don’t have much to offer them. Yet.

Shameless fangirl praise for my new Z30

There it was, big, shiny and new, calling my name from the display shelf. I grabbed it, thinking it would probably only confirm my intended move to a Galaxy S4, but lo and behold, the exact opposite happened.

It’s been a couple of weeks now, and all of my previous concerns have evaporated: the browser is very fast, the battery life is incredible (2 days! I put it on Airplane mode at night, it must help) and, I never thought I’d say this, but I actually *prefer* the touch screen keyboard, thanks to the predictive typing feature that works seamlessly in both English and French, with no need to switch language settings. For this translator, this is unheard of, and a huge bonus.

Add that to the fact that, since Blackberry compresses data through its servers, my data usage stays well below the 1G allowed under my $60 Rogers plan, and you have a very happy customer.

Not only is it very functional as a work tool (I can reply to incoming messages from within any app, and edit MS Office documents on the go if needed), I can now get all the fun apps as well!

From a Jewish point of view, that has enriched my daily practice in a way I did not expect: for example, I have been using the super My Omer app (see link above) daily before bed, I can update my mikvah calendar anytime, anywhere, and have been listening to Hebrew lessons during my morning and evening commute (yup, I am a working mom again!)

That being said, it’s almost Shabbat, and I take my Shabbat seriously. So, even the amazing,  shiny new object of my wireless affection will get its 25 hours off.

Shabbat shalom everyone!