Tangerine Fishballs

A Pesach Seder alternative for the gefilte-hesitant.

Tangerine Fishballs

No tangerines were harmed in the making of this dish. As the estimable cookbook author Mr. Copeland Marks (z”l) notes in his landmark tome Sephardic Cooking (copyright 1992, 1994), “The inhabitants of Tangier are known as Tangerines, an amusing but accurate name” (p. 464). Accordingly in our house this Pesach adaptation of Albondigas de Pescada (p. 469) is known as Tangerine Fishballs. It makes an excellent (and easy) Seder alternative to the ubiquitous gefilte-fish starter (appetizer).

For the fishballs:

12 oz (340 grams) boneless mild white fish. This year I am using denis – turbot, carp, or tilapia should also be fine, whatever works out best for you. I have a wonderful fish monger who really exceeded my expectations this morning. He first showed me the very fresh fish, before whisking it away to clean; within a few minutes he returned the prepared, chopped fish, neatly packaged for me to take home.

Very fresh fish at the Mayan Zvi Industrial Zone

To make the fishballs

1 clove garlic

1/4 tsp turmeric powder 

2 T fresh parsley, chopped

1T matzah meal

1/8 tsp hot paprika


This year working with the fish chopped by my fishmonger was much easier and i did not have to use any oil. Also this dish is more attractive with the fishballs slightly smaller rather than on the larger side. Appearance is a big part of how food tastes and it is worth taking a few more minutes to make your fishballs neat and petite.

  1. Blend fish gently with other ingredients until smooth
  2. Coat spoon (or hands)with oil to make it easily form 1” balls (yield: approximately 30– 32 fishballs;

To make the Sauce

Tangerine Fishballs Sauce – Simmering

3 Tablespoons oil (I use 2 Ts sunflower oil and one T EVO)

1 shallot, chopped

3 medium tomatoes, cored and deseeded

1/2 inch peeled and sliced fresh turmeric or 1/4 tsp turmeric powder

2 celery ribs, diced

1/2 cup water or vegetable broth

1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste


  1. Heat the oil and sauté the shallot with the turmeric and tomatoes until the shallot is transparent and the tomato is softened.
  2. Add water / vegetable broth and simmer for 5-10 minutes over medium low heat.
  3. Remove turmeric slices and blend the sauce until smooth (you can skip this step if you prefer a less smooth sauce).
  4. Add the fish balls and cook, covered for 15 minutes over medium low heat.

Leaving Washington DC

“Somebody once said that Washington was a city of Northern charm and Southern efficiency.”

John F. Kennedy

After nearly 30 years as a Washingtonian I left DC in October 2018 with very mixed feelings about the nations capital. More than 3 years on – and from a distance of some 6000 miles – I am writing this to acknowledge and accept the bad things that happened and in doing so to try to reclaim happier memories of our past life in Washington DC.

Although neither my husband nor I had joined the US Foreign Service to sit behind a desk in the uninspiring gray structure known as Main-State, after our son’s ASD (Autism) diagnosis we stayed state-side and settled into life in DC. We were fortunate to find a semi-attached townhouse in a leafy neighborhood, a child-friendly corner of Cleveland Park with our nursery school/synagogue, library, community pool, shops and restaurants all within a radius of a few blocks. I cherish memories of family and friends in the house and garden and the scent of flowers that greeted passersby and guests alike as they approached the house.

Front garden path, our old house on 30th Street NW

Washingtonians are very busy working at their very important jobs and living their very important lives. As long as my husband and I fit that mold – relatively speaking – life in DC was ok.

Within 2 years I had left State Department for a prominent trade association in search of both more resources and flexibility. We laughed when others called us a ‘power couple.’ Still it was disconcerting when some of these same friends disappeared after I subsequently left organized employment to better meet the needs of both of our kids. Washington DC can be a cold and indifferent place and we felt the chill when I no longer had what others considered to be an important job.

That was a sign of things to come.

In 2011 my husband had to take a mandatory Tour of Duty in Kabul, Afghanistan, and so for 360 days I was a single mother of two teens – one with ASD but both with special needs during this challenging time for our family. Our immediate neighbors were wonderful, and a handful of longtime friends reached out. However the silence from our wider circle was deafening.

In the rarified atmosphere of Cleveland Park, DC, serving in Kabul, Afghanistan was something that happened to other people. We had been very active members at our neighborhood synagogue, and it was hurtful to be left alone on countless Friday nights (Erev Shabbat) when my kids most missed their Dad. This seismic event in our lives had made us invisible in our own community.

Literally the one time that someone from our shul called me it was to ask for money, specifically a $500.00 contribution for an event intended to make the Minyan warmer and more inclusive. And the person who made the call had not even thought to invite me in for a cup of coffee the entire year my husband was in Kabul. There was an irony there that I failed to see at the time. (No dear reader, I did not write the check.)

Over time we found our long-time shul generally unwelcoming as our son grew older and sought continued opportunities for participation commensurate with his abilities. We ended up leaving our long-time synagogue and found more accepting communities farther afield. But the worst was yet to come.

To celebrate our son’s graduation from high school on the honor roll, we had a lovely Oneg Shabbat (Open House) where he led the Friday night prayer service followed by a buffet dinner. The number of people who wanted to celebrate Aaron’s achievement – and who insisted on contributing home-made salads, main courses and desserts – made the event that much more special. The house and garden were full of love and laughter.

Then reality set in. Our planning for his so-called transitional years proved grossly inadequate, as it became apparent that there was nothing to take the place of the supports we had relied on during his high school years. This is a national tragedy for tens of thousands of young men and women annually who graduate or age out of educational programs with no bridge to adult life.

If you have been following my blog you may recall that my family, like so many others with special needs children, struggled mightily to find meaningful opportunities for Aaron in young adulthood. Over time the walls began to close in. Of course as Aaron’s world narrowed, so did mine. And when he became essentially home bound, so did I.

A few wonderful, kind friends and neighbors stuck with us, continued to invite us out to places and events with Aaron in mind, or just dropped by to keep us company – many days that was the most that we could manage. We also found an amazing rabbi who really ‘got’ Aaron and so we had a reason to get up in the morning to help make the minyan at the 6:30 am prayer service.

In this manner we cobbled together a schedule for Aaron that brought a minimum of spiritual engagement, physical exercise and social activity with Aaron’s friends – many of whom were in similarly leaky boats – but it was far from where we needed to be, with no hope in sight. Even the direct support of the Washington DC bureaucracy – we were blessed with exceptionally positive relationships with both our DC Social Worker and her supervisor – could not change the reality that there was no future for Aaron in DC.

And there were other traumatic family events of the period that I won’t revisit here. My point is, if you felt claustrophobic during COVID-19 lock-downs imagine how it would feel if that was all you had, all the time, with nothing to look forward to, adding in the necessity of drugging your son to help him get through the reality of his daily life and his very real feelings of being in his words ‘left behind.’ This was my reality, and of course Aaron’s most of all.

Watching the returns of the 2016 election I suspected it would not get better. So that night as Hilary Clinton lost the presidential race I opened our Israel immigration file and began a lengthy and complex process to leave DC culminating in our departure on October 10, 2018.

Our decision has given Aaron the opportunity for a fuller, more meaningful life and this in turn has released me and my husband (in early retirement) from our Sisyphean existence in DC.

I am hoping that with enough time our good experiences here in Israel may balance out the pain of our last years in DC, and that some day I will be able to contemplate going back for a visit.

I am not there yet.

Meditations on Moving House and Reaching Your Destination

Our new back yard; the furniture we brought from the US to Israel (the cat came separately).

We have arrived at our destination. Just short of three years after we left Washington DC, we completed purchase of our permanent ‘second-hand’ home here in Zichron Yaakov.

Fun fact: while in the US it is common to buy an existing home in a desirable location, here in Israel many people buy real estate ‘on paper’ – that is to say, they work with a builder during the construction process and are actively involved in decisions about the design of the new house, with the idea of building your dream home.

Needless to say there are plusses and minuses to this approach, including frequent delays, cost escalations and other problems associated with new house construction. One friend of ours said that with any new house, you should wait to take occupancy until after the first rainy season!

It is also much more challenging for newcomers to Israel to navigate the process of new home construction, on top of everything else we had to learn about buying a house outside the US. In this case this led us to where we are now as the happy owners of a 12 year old house, built by the family that sold it to us.

While we have a lot of work ahead to make this house our home, we have by now unpacked (most of) the boxes and are enjoying both the house and the knowledge that we are not looking forward to another move anytime soon – as far as we are aware.

Given our cumulative moving experience – 6 moves in the last 3+ years, probably a few dozen more both within the US and overseas including back and forth from London, Tel Aviv, Manila, and Kabul (this last just my husband – he left the family at home for his tour of duty in Afghanistan), I am sharing a few key points about what had made the experience of moving more or less successful:

1. Focus on the Kitchen:

The kitchen is always my top priority when packing/unpacking – in my family it is the room that is the most important to get up and running as soon as possible.  

Setting up the new kitchen is always my highest priority.

I like to try to pack the kitchen ahead of time to the greatest extent possible. If you can start moving the kitchen – apart from big items – the night before, that will give you a head start on the day.

2. Empower your fellow travelers:

Each member of your household should be deputized to pack their own bag/trunk with whatever they will need for the first 1 – 2 days.  That way you won’t have to search for things that people need right away and each person can take responsibility for packing an overnight bag, toiletries, bedding, hand towel and bath towel, etc.  

Even when we had two children under four we generally had them carry their own small backpacks on international flights to give them the experience of having their own bag with their stuffed animals and a small book, etc. (You have not lived until you have traveled solo with two small people 24 hours in transit between Manila to Detroit, giving thanks for the Mary Poppins room at the Tokyo airport.)

3. Plan ahead to make beds:

My strategy is to pack a separate labeled trunk or duffel bag with bedding and towels. Of course there are other approaches; the point is to organize it ahead of time so that people can make their beds on arrival at your new home without the hassle of rifling through bags or boxes.

4. Try not to be outnumbered:

If possible, the number of movers should be the same or less than the number of people available to help support you on moving day, i.e., man-to-man vs. zone defense. This is important because it is impossible to overestimate the capacity of movers to scramble the contents of your home.

The exception that makes the rule is if you are being moved by careful, caring people. We were extremely fortunate to have wonderful movers here in Israel. As the saying goes, hope for the best and plan for the worst.

4.  Pack plants last:

Generally speaking, I like to go back a the end to move plants. If you can wait to do this overnight, that is the best thing so that you can go back the next day when you are less tired and can give the potted plants the attention they need to not get hurt on the way. This goes double for anything you may be pulling out of the ground to replant. Just make sure you water everything the day of the move.

For our move, we had the ‘benefit’ of it being the start of a non-planting year, known as the Shmita year here in Israel. (This is a complicated issue and I am not going to try to explain it here.) Still we had potted plants to bring along that we are now enjoying at our new home.

5. Think about dinner:

One other thing which I also try to do, is to order delivery of food to the new address for the day of the move – I try to draw down our food reserves in the old apartment/house also of course – and then if we have food coming to the new place I know that there will be fresh fruit/vegetables/prepared food for an immediate meal, etc., arriving on the day of the move.   

Those are the highest priority points. 

If you have the time / resources, its great if you can complete your own inventory, room by room, taking pictures with your phone and noting both where the items are in your old house and where you want them in the new house.

Movers are supposed to provide a written inventory, but that has not always been our experience, to say the least. On the international leg of our move from DC to Jerusalem we had an inventory from the US company that was derided – literally laugh-out-loud bad – by our Israeli movers. (I am shaking my head as I write these words because I never thought the day would come when we would find Israeli movers kinder and gentler than movers in the US.) So it is really best if you can make your own inventory, to the extent possible.

Moving day is inevitable at some point. If you are lucky, you won’t have to repeat the process as often as we have in recent years! At least we ended up spying a beautiful double rainbow from our back balcony.

We found that our back balcony is the perfect place to spot a double rainbow above the Mediterranean Sea.

If you have an upcoming move I hope that the foregoing may be helpful. And if you have recently survived a big move you have my sympathy.

Let me know in the comments what you found most helpful!

Another photo of our amazing yard-cat – aka the Warrior Princess.

Gluten Free (GF) Potato Latkes

So now it is Hanukkah, the Jewish holiday of lights and the miracle of the oil that lasted 8 days. Potato latkes cooked in oil are an enduring Hanukkah tradition and I have been making latkes at home for more than 30 years. That’s a lot of latkes!

Here is my fool-proof gluten free (GF) potato pancake recipe. Part of the secret to crispy, light latkes is to turn them twice to ensure that they are golden brown and well cooked on both sides. They then are drained on paper towels and transferred to an oven rack or toaster oven to retain their crispness on the plate. Quantities can be doubled or tripled; and its great to prepare a larger number of latkes ahead of time so that you can enjoy your Hanukkah guests.


4 medium potatoes, peeled and grated

2 eggs beaten

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp turmeric

1 T brown rice flour*

1 clove garlic, minced

1 T onion, finely chopped

vegetable oil, as needed for frying

* any gf flour can be used, or if gluten is not a concern substitute with matzah meal  or all purpose flour.


1.  Place grated potatoes in a colander over a bowl to drain excess moisture from the potatoes.  Use your hands to squeeze as much liquid as possible out of the potatoes.

2.  Mix the potatoes with additional Ingredients.

3.  Using a non-stick frying pan, heat at least three tablespoons of vegetable oil over medium heat to the point that a small amount of batter starts to form little bubbles when it is added to the pan.  Then, use your hands to form latkes and place them carefully in the pan; depending on the size of the latkes and the size of the pan, you should be able to get at least four or more pancakes in the frying pan at any given time.

4.  After a few minutes, the bottom side should be starting to brown.  Turn them to brown the top.  Then, turn a second time to insure a uniformly crisp latke.  When golden brown on both sides, remove to drain on paper towels before serving.

A cook’s secret for making perfect latkes for Chanukah parties:  To make ahead in larger quantities, preheat the oven to 175 degrees.  Spray baking racks (found in the oven), with a generous quantity of non-stick spray.  Place a long shallow baking pan at the bottom of the oven, and place drained latkes directly onto the baking racks in a single layer so that air will circulate around them to keep them crisp and warm until serving time. 

Serving suggestion:  You can’t go wrong with homemade applesauce (see following recipe), or in the alternative slices of apples are also nice – and a lot less work.  

When I make more latkes ahead of time I keep them warm and crispy in the oven after draining on paper towels.


Homemade Applesauce

The following is the recipe for the best applesauce I have ever had, with thanks to Mrs. Minna Recht of Cherry Hill New Jersey for sharing it. Once you try it, you will really see the difference between applesauce from a jar and homemade.


10 apples, grated*

1/4 Cup water

1 Cup of sugar

1 T ground cinnamon

1 tsp. ground ginger

1/2 tsp. ground cloves

1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg

1.  Place grated apples in a pot with 1/4 C of water, and one C of sugar.  Bring to a boil, turn to low heat immediately, and add spices.

2.  Simmer for 20 minutes or until brown.  Chill before serving.

* For best results use a mixture of 2 – 3 apple varieties.

Gluten Free (GF) Granola

GF Granola accompanied by our (cookie-jar) cat

Back in the day, we used to eat granola in the morning with milk or yogurt for breakfast, as a snack throughout the day, and in the evening to top fruit or ice cream. I am not sure why we stopped making it (and eating it), however of the blue last week my husband asked if I would make him some granola. Now we are off and running again.

As a student at the University of Michigan I burned my fair share of granola using a standard recipe that required baking the granola at high heat. So I decided that my granola recipe would be cooktop-compatible. Granola also has a reputation for being very sweet and oily. This recipe cuts back on the sugar and omits oil completely without any sacrifice in taste. Now with a greater need for gluten free (GF) recipes, I have substituted ground flax seed for the traditional wheat germ., bringing us to the recipe below.

Over the last few days we have enjoyed two batches of this recipe without even noticing the change. If you are looking for a healthy snack for yourself or your family, give it a try!


1 1/2  Cups thick-cut rolled oats (oatmeal)

1/3 Cup broken cashew pieces, walnuts, almonds and/or other raw nuts

1/4 Cup raw sunflower seeds

1/4 Cup sesame seeds

1/4 Cup shredded coconut (optional)

1/4 Cup ground flax seeds

1/4 tsp. salt

2 T brown sugar

1/3 Cup raisins (optional)

This recipe is easiest to prepare in a large pan with relatively high sides.  The ingredients have a tendency to scatter while being stirred, and a high-sided frying pan, wok or a wide sauté pan is ideal for keeping them in the pan.  

1.  Over low heat, stir together the rolled oats, cashew pieces, and sunflower seeds.  Stir for five to ten minutes, until the oats and cashew begin to brown.  If in doubt, taste a sunflower seed.  It should taste almost done. 

2.  Next, add the sesame seeds, coconut (if desired), and ground flax seeds, and stir together with the other Ingredients.  (If you can’t find ground flax seeds at the store you can easily grind whole flax seeds with an immersion blender – that’s what I do.)   Stir for another five minutes, until the sesame seeds and become golden brown.

3.  Add the salt and the brown sugar.  Mix well to evenly distribute them among the other Ingredients.

4.  Remove from heat and allow to cool before adding raisins (if desired).  Store in an airtight container to maintain freshness.  If your family is anything like mine storage won’t be an issue!

Taking the Middle Path to Bein Hatlamim Farm (חוות בין התללים)

Neat Rows of vegetables growing at Bein Hatlamim (Between the Furrows) Farm

Some time back I wrote about my on-again, off-again love affair with weekly boxes from our local organic farm, called Between the Furrows Farm or Bein Hatlamim (חוות בין התללים in Hebrew).

To recap, after our relocation from Jerusalem to Zichron Yaakov we were initially living yet another temporary apartment with limited storage and a weekly box of fruits and vegetables was just too much. At the same time the quality and taste are amazing and we missed the experience of supporting local organic farming.

One day in mid-summer I thought it would be a good idea to go to the farm in person, to take a break from our seemingly endless house-hunting and to see the farm for ourselves. I mistakenly thought that it was generally open to the public – this is not so, however they were friendly even allowing us to buy a smaller amount of produce, and gifting us with the very first ear of corn of the season.

During our visit, we were invited to harvest the spinach / other vegetables that we took home with us!

Visiting Bein Hatlamim was an amazing experience, providing an opportunity to learn about the meaning of the name – it is a smallish farm located literally ‘between the furrows’ of other farms surrounding it.

We also learned a bit about the history of the location, which some time back had been a plant nursery, growing trees, among other things. Bein Hatlamim is now surrounded by verdant groves of ficus trees that started out as seedlings in pots and took root, becoming a permanent part of the landscape and providing pleasant shade at the height of summer. Looking at the trees up close it is amazing to see how many of the pots are still in evidence, decades later.

Now that we have moved into our permanent home we have settled into a routine of ordering a box every other week or so, which has proven to be a happy medium, ie the middle path. Establishing relationships with our local organic farm helps us to feel at home.

My Dad’s 3rd Yartzheit

Murray G. Kling, MD (February 1, 1930 – November 3, 2019)

Today is my Dad’s 3rd Yartzeit – the anniversary of his passing in the Jewish calendar. Every faith has its own way of remembering our loved ones; in my 2nd Middle Age I am finding enormous comfort in Jewish traditions. In the days leading up to my Dad’s Yartzheit, I thought a great deal about the funeral in 2019, and my thoughts at that time. I crystalized my thoughts and feelings to share with my Shul (synagogue) here in Zichron Yaakov as follows:

Dr Murray G Kling (1 February 1930 – 3 November 2019) was a loving husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather; uncle, mentor, doctor, teacher and friend. He was a lifelong caregiver who never took a day off from hospital rounds – checked on every patient he knew who happened to be in the hospital. (I grew up thinking every doctor did that.) He was a doctor’s doctor – a gifted surgeon who had a healthy fear of surgery (and anesthesia), a life-long educator and student who learned from everyone, and who never lost his concern for others. His last mission was care of my Mom following her Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and he dedicated himself to her fullest recovery, which was miraculous. 

Dad’s 3rd Yartzeit this year falls started the evening of Saturday (Shabbat) the 29th – always the night before). Today I am missing my Dad enormously – despite his professional responsibilities and extended family obligations he was there for me at key moments in my professional and personal life (selected photos below).

In the Jewish tradition, the different Parshas of the Five Books of Moses (known as the Chumash – the contraction of the Ḥamishah Ḥumshei Torah) are all named for the first word or major theme in the chapter. Yesterday (Shabbat) we read the story of Noah, which ends with the summary of genealogy of Abraham’s father Terach. Then in the evening we started the next chapter in the story of the Jewish people, known as Lech Lecha – Go forth!

One very interesting thing about the construction and structure of the Chumash is the prevalence of cliff-hangers. Noah’s story starts at the conclusion of the previous Parsha, Bereishit – the story of creation (Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and their progeny). And the story of the pilgrimage of Abraham and Sarah – the OG Jewish Patriarch and Matriarch – begins at the end of Parsha Noah.

So there is frequently a connection or a relationship between the end of one chapter and the beginning of the next.

For many years I have closely associated both of these chapters (Parshas in the Jewish vernacular) with my Dad. So experiencing my Dad’s 3rd Yartzeit in connection with both Noah and Lech Lecha was particularly meaningful for me.

In Lech Lecha, we begin the story of the first Jewish Patriarch and Matriarch, Avraham and Sarah, which is also the beginning of the story of the Jewish people.  G-d speaks to (then) Avram at the age of 75 and delivers two seemingly contradictory messages:

  • Avram is told to leave his country, his kin and specifically his father’s house (literally, Beit Aviecha);
  • Avram will become a great people, with great wealth, vast fame, and blessed by G-d.
1And the Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you. אוַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְהֹוָה֙ אֶל־אַבְרָ֔ם לֶךְ־לְךָ֛ מֵֽאַרְצְךָ֥ וּמִמּֽוֹלַדְתְּךָ֖ וּמִבֵּ֣ית אָבִ֑יךָ אֶל־הָאָ֖רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֥ר אַרְאֶֽךָּ:
2And I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will aggrandize your name, and [you shall] be a blessing. בוְאֶֽעֶשְׂךָ֙ לְג֣וֹי גָּד֔וֹל וַֽאֲבָ֣רֶכְךָ֔ וַֽאֲגַדְּלָ֖ה שְׁמֶ֑ךָ וֶֽהְיֵ֖ה בְּרָכָֽה:
3And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse, and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you.” גוַֽאֲבָֽרְכָה֙ מְבָ֣רֲכֶ֔יךָ וּמְקַלֶּלְךָ֖ אָאֹ֑ר וְנִבְרְכ֣וּ בְךָ֔ כֹּ֖ל מִשְׁפְּחֹ֥ת הָֽאֲדָמָֽה:
4And Abram went, as the Lord had spoken to him, and Lot went with him, and Abram was seventy five years old when he left Haran. דוַיֵּ֣לֶךְ אַבְרָ֗ם כַּֽאֲשֶׁ֨ר דִּבֶּ֤ר אֵלָיו֙ יְהֹוָ֔ה וַיֵּ֥לֶךְ אִתּ֖וֹ ל֑וֹט וְאַבְרָ֗ם בֶּן־חָמֵ֤שׁ שָׁנִים֙ וְשִׁבְעִ֣ים שָׁנָ֔ה בְּצֵאת֖וֹ מֵֽחָרָֽן:
5And Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had acquired, and the souls they had acquired in Haran, and they went to go to the land of Canaan, and they came to the land of Canaan. הוַיִּקַּ֣ח אַבְרָם֩ אֶת־שָׂרַ֨י אִשְׁתּ֜וֹ וְאֶת־ל֣וֹט בֶּן־אָחִ֗יו וְאֶת־כָּל־רְכוּשָׁם֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר רָכָ֔שׁוּ וְאֶת־הַנֶּ֖פֶשׁ אֲשֶׁר־עָשׂ֣וּ בְחָ֑רָן וַיֵּֽצְא֗וּ לָלֶ֨כֶת֙ אַ֣רְצָה כְּנַ֔עַן וַיָּבֹ֖אוּ אַ֥רְצָה כְּנָֽעַן:

In Lech Lecha, we hear G-d instructing Abraham and Sarah to leave their land, their extended family, and their father’s house to reach the land where they were destined to found Judaism. Through study of Lech Lecha, we can see that in order to become who we are meant to be in G-d’s eyes, we need to move out of our own comfort zones, i.e. literally leaving home, and take on what may seem like daunting or impossible challenges in our lives.

This all seems to come as a bolt out of the blue, however if we go back to the end of Parsha Noah, we come to see that Abraham’s father Terah also received the same message, and had in fact started the journey:

31 And Terah took Abram his son and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter in law, the wife of Abram his son, and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees to go to the land of Canaan, and they came as far as Haran and settled there. לאוַיִּקַּ֨ח תֶּ֜רַח אֶת־אַבְרָ֣ם בְּנ֗וֹ וְאֶת־ל֤וֹט בֶּן־הָרָן֙ בֶּן־בְּנ֔וֹ וְאֵת֙ שָׂרַ֣י כַּלָּת֔וֹ אֵ֖שֶׁת אַבְרָ֣ם בְּנ֑וֹ וַיֵּֽצְא֨וּ אִתָּ֜ם מֵא֣וּר כַּשְׂדִּ֗ים לָלֶ֨כֶת֙ אַ֣רְצָה כְּנַ֔עַן וַיָּבֹ֥אוּ עַד־חָרָ֖ן וַיֵּ֥שְׁבוּ שָֽׁם:
32And the days of Terah were two hundred and five years, and Terah died in Haran. לבוַיִּֽהְי֣וּ יְמֵי־תֶ֔רַח חָמֵ֥שׁ שָׁנִ֖ים וּמָאתַ֣יִם שָׁנָ֑ה וַיָּ֥מָת תֶּ֖רַח בְּחָרָֽן:
Source: https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/8175/jewish/Chapter-11.htm

So what do we make of the two stories taken together?

The lesson that I take from all of this is the recognition that even in our own journey and destiny it is not all about us.

Whatever our own talents and accomplishments we stand on the shoulders of giants, including our own parents. While we consider Abraham and Sarah the first Jewish Patriarch and Matriarch, in actuality it was Terah who first pulled up stakes and started the journey.

Before my father’s passing, I associated these two Parshas with him because of my literal continuation of his work relating to care of cancer patients, and my own interest in anti-cancer peptides from the microbiome with effectiveness against Gastrointestinal and Genitourinary solid tumors. (I may share my story of surprising synchronicity later.)

Over the last three years I have thought more about how my sister Nancy – who does the heavy-lifting in support of our mother – has continued Dad’s efforts.

Dad’s care of our Mom after her traumatic brain injury (TBI) was incredible, with miraculous results. He literally dedicated his life to ensuring her recovery in a way that was all-encompassing, inspiring and compelling. Now my sister (and me to a minor extent) is doing what he would have wanted, literally, to ensure her continuing health and safety. We have often talked of how she is carrying forward his mission to support Mom – the relationship that meant more to him than anything else in the world. This has required both of us to leave our comfort zones and take on daunting challenges.

There is no guarantee of success of course, however like Abraham and Sarah we carry on the journey. And of course we are who we are because of both Mom and Dad.

We may not reach the promised land, and we are not obligated to succeed, just to keep trying to move forward.

Practicing Radical Acceptance: 5 Minutes at a Time 

A big part of my journey through Second Middle Age is acceptance of things as they are, and not as I wish them to be.  This does not mean that I have given up on big dreams – in fact acceptance and release of what I cannot control allows me to breathe and creates space for new good things.

There are many ways to release conflict and move on.  One that I find particularly helpful is called Radical Acceptance, and is part of something called Dialectical Behavior Therapy or DBT. 

DBT was created by Dr. Marsha Linehan as an outgrowth of Cognitive Behavior Therapy inspired by Zen practices, and originally developed for Individuals suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder or BPD. 

Over time, DBT has proven to be very helpful for a range of issues and I found it to be an effective tool for my son (diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder) at a time when the world looked bleak and he had few prospects for ongoing growth and development. While Aaron was not able to participate in DBT group therapy, however he really benefitted from one-to-one DBT with the support of an excellent social worker, John Dunn.  One of the core elements of DBT is Distress Tolerance, which includes the concept of Radical Acceptance.  

Sometimes no matter how hard you try, you can’t make the pieces of the puzzle fit together.

Radical Acceptance aims at removing the judgment from things in our lives that are not working, to make it easier to accept painful realities that may cause embarrassment or shame.  

Many times we judge ourselves harshly for situations where we would show sympathy / empathy to others.  If we can accept those things that are making us unhappy and that we can’t change (at least in the present), this can lead to greater peace and tranquility in our everyday lives.

Removal of judgment, while challenging, is essential to make space for adaptation and to alleviate suffering.  

While Radical Acceptance is best known for its benefits for adolescents and adults with BPD and other serious mental health diagnoses, it can be helpful to anyone suffering from circumstances or events beyond their control.

This practice of Radical Acceptance is particularly effective in dealing with the collateral damage of the breakdown in relationships that are out of an individual’s control. 

Rejecting objective reality – a form of Magical Thinking – was in retrospect most likely a coping strategy that served some purpose for a limited period of time.  But denial of reality does not change that reality.

When someone does not accept the truth of a situation, it causes the event or situation to hurt them over and over again, instead of just once or sometimes for years after it is no longer happening. If something happens and you resist the truth of this thing, then not only are you having to deal with the hurt of the situation when it happens, you have to deal with it over and over again every time reality asserts itself. 

The Little Shaman

For now the causes, the ‘rights and wrongs’ of the situation are immaterial.  The most important thing is to accept the reality as it is, and not as I wish it to be, and to find peace in living in reality.  Accepting the truth of my situation:  my own personal daughter does not want me at her wedding; she does not want her mother (and father) in her life in any meaningful way.

And so to Radical Acceptance.  John Dunn once wisely told Aaron and me that it is something that you practice in five minute increments, every day, until it feels normal.  So I am working on it. 

It does not feel normal at this stage; it does feel better. 

Life is good even if this is not. 

Faith and Phenomena: The Wonder of the Irrational in Judaism

My Bubbe Leah’s Candlesticks

Here in Israel, we have just completed the annual Jewish fall holiday schedule. Now we get to focus on all of the day-to-day challenges that we said we would tackle “after the holidays.”

And yet we are still left with the positive feelings of the holidays, this shiny Jewish new year with its promise of fresh starts and manifold blessings. One of the most wonderful gifts of Judaism is the literal sanctification of the every-day. 

Jewish dietary practices, for example, recognize the holiness of life and the need to give thanks for our daily bread.  Like so many other areas of Judaism, Kashrut can be seen as a long list of arcane strictures or as an opportunity to sanctify our everyday experiences.  I choose the latter.

Beyond the rules, there is a beauty to Jewish practice that is intangible, amazing, and almost impossible to share. This is the wonder of the irrational.  And sometimes when we are lucky or just caught off guard, a bit of the irrational can creep into our well-ordered lives. 

This past Shabbat I had one of those irrational, wondrous experiences. 

Last week we lost my late father’s remaining brother and the last of the generation.  It has been a challenging time in the world and at home; COVID has made travel difficult and separated families.  Like so many others, we have suffered the loss of people who are incredibly important to us, and yet far away geographically.  The last time I saw my Uncle – everyone’s favorite uncle and a fixture in my life growing up – was at my father’s funeral in November 2019, pre-pandemic.

Even at times of great loss, we are blessed by the rhythm of Jewish holiday observance.  The morning that I learned of my Uncle’s passing I was able to take comfort in Sukkot services and the undeniable joy of the holiday.  The next day was also Erev Shabbat (Friday night), and we lit the candles as usual.  We use 4-hour candles, fulfilling the requirement that candles burn for at least 3 hours. 

4-Hour Candles for Erev Shabbat (Friday night)

On any given week, one candle may not burn down, leaving a layer of wax at the bottom.  Last week I had just cleaned out the candle holders (glass inserts that protect the candles from drafts), and did not manage to do it two weeks running, so there was about an inch or so of wax at the bottom of the left hand side.  

In the rush of preparation for Erev Shabbat, I just put the new candle on top, without really thinking about it, like I had done countless times in the past. This time something very different happened.  

Overnight I felt the strong presence of my late Uncle, buried in Michigan the day before. I awoke early on Shabbat morning, and walked into the kitchen, only to see that the left hand side candle was still burning bright.  

Assuming that it was something like 6:30 am Saturday morning at that point, this 4-hour candle had already burned for 12 hours.  I wish I had had the presence of mind to look at my watch – it might have been later – but I was transfixed by the still-burning candle.

Fascinated and still feeling the strong presence of my late Uncle, I watched as the candle continued to burn for what seemed an eternity, finally igniting the wick from the previous week for an amazing blaze of light before burning out.

I don’t take photos on Shabbat so I am writing not to capture the image in words, if not visually.  Understanding that no description can fully convey what I saw and felt, I can only add that my experience was both wondrous and comforting. 

Whatever your faith / practice, I hope that you have the faith and fortune to experience the wonder of the unexplainable.

Celebrating the Circle of Life with Round Challah Shapes

Throughout the Jewish fall holiday cycle we have a tradition of round Challah shapes to symbolize wholeness and return (Tshuvah). As we approach the climax of joy for the Jewish fall holiday cycle with the onset of Shmini Atzeret (8th day of Assembly) and Simchat Torah (rejoicing in the Torah), I am writing briefly to share simple round shapes that look great without stress.

I have three basic round Challah shapes based on the basic ‘snail’ made from a single coil. This is the easiest to master and looks great all by itself.

Here are single and two-strand snail shapes

The second is a twisted snail, made with two strands, and the third is a three-strand braid, also coiled into the snail shape.

Here is a two-strand snail.

The three-strand snail starts with a simple braid:

Here you can see the difference between the two and three-strand snail shapes.

Whatever shape you choose is the right one – there is no wrong answer.

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