You might already be wondering why I am writing about religious holidays in an article typically reserved for foreign cultures. Well I got the idea after recalling one night when I was invited over to have dinner with family friends of whom I’d known my whole life. They are Jewish and they asked us to celebrate Passover with them. My family did this many times before, and so had I as a small child but this was my first Jewish dinner as an adult. What I found at the “grown up table” was quite miraculous…
The people who were practically family, all of a sudden seemed to be a part of a whole other culture. The dinner was full of exotic foods, rituals and practices that were completely unknown to me. However my inexperience was only not in religious sense but rather it truly felt like I was in another part of the world. Everything from how we ate to how we spoke was foreign.
This was paradoxical to say the least because I was experiencing it all in a house I’d spent my childhood in with the people that knew me since birth. So I when I started writing these weekly articles I remembered back to how stupid I felt that it took me this long to figure out how cultural the Jewish religion can be. And I thought how I should share this memory and help people like me who might not have taken the time to search out the cultural experiences within their own lives. Because once you find it, it’s a pretty amazing discovery.
Do: It is more than likely that you have at least one friend that is Jewish. If you do and you have not spent a Jewish holiday with them, now is the time. Even if you are a Christian, agnostic, atheists or whatever your affiliation, going to a Passover dinner or a Yom Kippur break fast will give you a new cultural experience while learning more about the people you call friends. And even though the major holidays, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, have passed, this season is still filled with Jewish holidays. The next one is one of my favorites and is calledSukkot. It is a part of a harvest festival and is when they build a wooden structure to eat under the stars every night to give remembrance to a time when god gave them shelter. Its part nighttime picnic and part camping. Not all Jewish people build their own structure though, so ask your friends if and how they are celebrating and if you can join. You will definitely enjoy yourself and learn a lot.
Eat: The most authentic experience you can find is to first join your Jewish friends for a Jewish holiday meal. That is what I did on Wednesday night when I went to my good family friend’s house and had Yom Kippur break fast (not breakfast, but literally a break in fast). They had been fasting since sundown the other day so it was an interesting event to participate in. The father and oldest son kept watching the minutes pass and debated which clock was the one with the correct time while the mother kept suggesting they just break the fast now. They were all clearly hungry but they explained to me the fasting helps you get rid of distractions and reflect on the year. The night was filled with antics and insights such as these but also wonderful food. When it did come time to eat we had this perfect, crispy and doughy bread called challah and a warm and comforting bowl of Matzo ball soup. They were both delicious and I suggest you try them this Jewish high holiday season. They also suggested a great place to get authentic Jewish food. The Bagel Deli is a well-known eatery in Denver that is known for their pastrami and other Jewish fare. I personally was unable to go but I trust their recommendations and will be visiting this place soon.
Make: Nothing is better during this slowly settling fall season than a bowl of soup. Matzo ball soup is especially a good choice and is a well loved staple of the Jewish people. Here is one good recipe I found that looks wonderful and easy:
Matzo Ball Soup:
Original recipe makes 10 servings
2 (10 ounce) packages matzo crackers
1/2 cup butter
salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
2 onions, minced
5 ounces matzo meal
96 ounces chicken broth
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil.
Break matzo crackers into small pieces, and place in a large bowl. Add water to cover; allow to soak for a few minutes, until soft. Drain off excess water.
Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat and stir in drained matzos; stir until mixture is dry and slightly brown. Remove from heat, and mix in eggs, salt and pepper to taste, parsley, and onions.
Mix in just enough matzo meal to make mixture hold together. Roll one golf ball-size matzo ball. Place matzo ball in the boiling water to test the mixture. The ball must rise to the top of the water and not break apart. If it does not rise, then too much matzo meal was added. In this case, add another beaten egg to the mixture and try again. When desired consistency is reached, roll all of mixture into golf ball size spheres.
In a large saucepan, bring chicken broth to a slow boil over medium heat; add balls to broth. Serve soup as the balls rise to the top of the broth.