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Archive for the ‘Jewish Year’ Category

Last Thursday night was Lag BaOmer. This is the 33rd day from the festival of Pesach and is held by tradition to be amongst other things the day that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai died. He is acredited as having written the major mystical work – Sefer HaZohar (literally “the book of luminance”). As a result there is a widespread custom of lighting bonfires and sitting round them doing unmystical things like eating roast potatos and marshmallows.

If there is an opposite to greenness then Lag BaOmer is it. I suppose you could call it a red festival (red being the complementary color to green). Large amounts of waste (and not so waste) timber get collected by packs of marauding teenagers in the weeks leading up to the festival in order to burn them all night when it comes. And I haven’t spoken about the air quality the next morning…..

But anyway, why be a killjoy? Let’s spend the rest of the 364 days of the year being green. After we’ve done that we can start on curbing the excesses of things enshrined in our culture that give enjoyment and meaning to our lives.

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Yom HaAtzmaut

Thias year we are celebrating 60 years of Israel’s independence. Independence Day is on Thursday. As good Israeli’s we are meeting with friends for a barbeque on the day and before that going to see some naval display, marching bands and whatnot in Haifa. Most Israelis just go for the barbeque.

A happy day to all – Hag Sameah – and here’s to hoping that the next sixty years will bring amazing achievements, less bloodshed and more happiness!

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Pesach in the air

If you have been wondering why I haven’t been doing any painting recently (or blogging a lot either) it is because Pesach is in the air.

Pesach is the Jewish festival that commemorates the Exodus from Egypt. For those unfamiliar with the story, the family of Jacob went down to Egypt where in the course of a couple of generations they were enslaved by the Pharoah. After a couple of hundred years, God called on Moses to take the people out of Egypt and lead them back to Israel. Pharoah refused to let them go, God sent 10 plagues until the Egyptians ejected their Hebrew slaves and the march to the promised land began.

As with all Jewish festivals there is the historical story on the one hand and the inner meaning on the other. So what is Pesach really all about? It is about the belief that there is right and wrong and that evil empires and their emperors do not have a divine right to rule. It is about the belief that there is meaning to history, right will prevail and that there is a basis for hope. It is also the birthday of the Jewish people as a nation and a time to look at the relationship we have with God.

So why is this stopping me from painting?

Unlike some people, I haven’t been busy making my own Matza, but getting ready for Pesach is always a busy time.

First there is the yearly battle to clean the house of Hametz (crumbs and bits of anything leavened). You may think this is easy, but this has become the annual spring clean (nothing to do with Hametz) – with a deadline by which time all the house must be spotless. Later this week I do the real cleaning bit and kasher (make kosher) the kitchen for Pesach which is a whole exhausting day’s work.

Secondly preparing for the Seder. This is a big family meal held on the first night of Pesach where the eating is in fact the less important part, but rather the telling over the story of the Exodus based on the traditional text of the Hagadah way into the night. This is Jewish-family education’s big night. In order to prepare well for this I have had to do a lot of reading to get back up on the subject matter.

All in all a busy time.

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Happy Purim

Tonight and tomorrow are the Jewish festival of Purim. Purim is a pretty crazy festival by Jewish standards. It celebrates the fact that a royal decree to kill all the Jews in ancient Persia was thwarted. Really it is the festival of Jewish survival and that things aren’t as bad as they seem and turn out always for good. There are several things you need to do on Purim:

  1. Hear the reading of the Megilla – the book of Esther
  2. Give a present of at least two items of food to at least one friend
  3. Give charity to at least two poor people
  4. Have a festive feast
  5. Drink wine at the feast (there are differing views of how much)

So everyone פורים שמח – a happy Purim!

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A Green Hannuka?

I just read a blog about a daft proposal to light less Hanukka candles in order to do our bit to save the world from greenhouse gasses.

As the writer correctly notes, this is the kind of daft suggestion that gives the environmentalist movement a bad name. We should be concentrating on the real issues – promoting a sustainable and sensible level of energy and resource usage.

Interestingly, the Ashkenazim are the offenders here. The Sefaradim have a much greener Hannuka as they only light one Menora/Hannukia per household. If these green Hannuka guys new about Halacha (Jewish law), they could have suggested following the Sefaradim on this or alternatively going back to the original custom related in the Gemarra of lighting a single light every night.

Incidentally the conclusion of the Halacha was to light progressively more lights every night in order to symbolize the idea of the small lone light getting bigger and spreading as the festival goes on. Personally I’ll keep my Hannuka that way.

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Happy Hanukka!

A happy Hanukka to all my readers!

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Etrog jam

For the etrog jam recipe, click here.

Last night instead of painting I made some etrog jam.

For those of you who don’t know what an etrog is, it’s a citrus fruit that looks a bit like a bumpy lemon. If you’ve never seen one that won’t really help you because you’re extremely unlikely to ever cross paths with one unless you’re jewish. You certainly won’t find one in your local supermarket.

The big deal about the etrog is that it is one of the “four species” – four plants that are connected with the jewish festival of Sukkot: a palm-branch-bud called a lulav, three sticks of myrtle, two bits of willow and an etrog. We hold these during prayers on the festival and they represent plants from different climates in Israel (desert, mountains, rivers and the hot coastal plain) as well as a lot of other more esoteric things.

Anyway, come the end of the festival, what do you do with your etrog. I had three of them and I got another from my mother. Loads of etrogs (etrogim). They don’t taste of much and have very think skins, a bit like a pomello but on a fruit the size of a lemon. The actual fruit inside is real small, sour and full of seeds. One of the popular things you can do with them is to make etrog jam.

I did this a few years back and ended up with several jars that no-one wanted to eat except me, but the children have grown up up a bit since then so I reckoned I’ll have more customers this time. I got out my etrog jam recipe book and followed the instructions.

Unfortunately there were two recipes there – the first one for a mirkahat (don’t ask me to translate that into English) and the second one for a jam. Last time I read the whole page and made the jam, this time I didn’t bother reading down and made the mirkahat.

The picture at the top shows what I created. A mirkahat apparently is a sugar syrup full of fruit. It tastes fantastic, but it’s no marmalade or jam. If someone could invent a way to give tasting over the Internet then you could try it yourself. As things stand, you’ll just have to take my word for it.

The only problem is that the syrup is very stiff and the bit of peel came out hard instead of soft. I might try adding some hot water to one of the pots and see if I can dilute it and make it easier to get out of the pot and spread. All the same, three pots of etrog jam is not a bad product of a couple of hour’s work.

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