Is There a Blessing for a Blintz?

Three blintzes on a plate garnished with peach slices and a dollop of sour cream

When you marry someone, you not only get a spouse, you also get another family. When I married my husband, Rabbi Donald Goor, I inherited his mother and father, his siblings, their children. I even inherited his grandmother: Jeannette Multer. Jeannette wasn’t “Nana” or “Bubbie” or “Safta” or “Gramma.” She was “Grandmother.” Grandmother. And the properness of “Grandmother” embodied who she was: exacting, precise, and at times a bit rigid.

But Grandmother was also a voracious reader (she had once owned a bookstore), an astute student of politics and world affairs, a lifelong, dedicated Reform Jew, and a passionate Democrat left-wing voter who wrote letters to politicians with whom she both agreed and disagreed. Her cooking was legendary and holiday tables were overflowing with family favorites: matzah farfel muffins and an almond torte for Passover, assorted fruit pies for Thanksgiving, an amazing sour cream coffee cake, and for Shavuotthere were Grandmother’s blintzes.

Shortly before Grandmother died, she shared the secret to the blintzes with me and my friend Rachel Andress-Tysch. We stood alongside Grandmother in her Beverly Hills kitchen and watched her mix and pour batter and flip from pan to plate the “bletlach” (Yiddish for crepes). Two, small aluminum steep-sided pans moved back and forth across the stove’s gas flames and with a quick “zetz” (Yiddish for smack or hit) to the pan’s handle the blintz turned.

“The first one you throw away…it’s greasy and it’s useless…but taste it, “she said.

It was light and airy and not too sweet. And as if we were in our own Food Channel episode, she taught Rachel and me how to make blintzes. The kitchen was perfumed with toasted butter as we poured and flipped and filled and rolled and fried again. We stuffed half the thin pancakes with a cream cheese-farmer cheese recipe and the other half were filled with Grandmother’s recipe for a cheese-less fresh fruit filling. And those crepes that were not perfectly round and browned – we sprinkled them with powdered sugar and devoured them standing around the stove.

At the end of the cooking lesson, Grandmother gave me a Nordstrom’s shopping bag. Inside were the two aluminum pans additionally wrapped in plastic bags: “You take them. Use them. Make blintzes for your friends with them. Just throw away the first blintz. Always throw it away.”

When we moved to Israel – made aliyah – in July 2013, we got rid of a lot of stuff as we were moving from a large, four-bedroom house to a two-bedroom apartment. But I kept Grandmother’s pans. They were a link to the past: to heritage, to history, to family. They were carefully placed in a box filled with lots of other kitchen paraphernalia: wooden spoons, a flour sifter, drawer dividers, a colander I especially liked for draining pasta, an orange zester, a variety of baking pans, a set of plates for serving asparagus, and other items I was convinced I’d never find in Israel. (Indeed, I’ve never, ever seen asparagus plates here in Jerusalem.) But when our cargo container finished its voyage from Los Angeles to China and into the port of Ashdod, that box was missing. The pans (along with the asparagus plates and my favorite colander) had disappeared.

Last year, I was cleaning a cupboard above the refrigerator when I noticed a Nordstrom’s bag pushed back into the corner of a shelf. Inside was a plastic bag and inside that were the blintz pans. How they got there is a still-unsolved mystery. At the bottom of the shopping bag was a note in Grandmother’s distinctive cursive penmanship that said:

2 blintz pans.
Use them for Shavuos – or whenever.
Wherever you may be.
Love, Grandmother

I’ve used the pans for Shavuot – and on other occasions. And now, “wherever you may be” is in Israel – in Jerusalem. As I mix that first batch of batter and melt the butter in the pan (” Never use oil!!”), the spirit of Don’s grandmother stands next to me thousands of miles from that kitchen in southern California and her unseen hand guides my fingers as I pour those first spoonsful of batter into the pan. I wait for the bubbles to appear on the surface indicating the bletlach is almost ready. As I see the edges of the blintz brown, I take the spatula and gently pull it from the pan but as I place it on the plate covered with a tea-towel, I instantly remember Grandmother’s cardinal rule of blintz making: “Throw out the first one!” But rather than tossing it away – I roll it up, sprinkle it with a bit of powdered sugar, and in lieu of a blessing (I wonder, is there a blessing for a blintz?) say to myself:

Ashreinu ma tov chelkeinu umah naim goralinu umah yafah y’rushateinu!
Happy are we; how good is our portion; how pleasant is our lot; and how beautiful is our inheritance!

That, for sure, is a suitable blessing for a blintz handed down with love and care through the generations.

Chag sameach!

On Shavuot: “Re-Covenanting” as a Unified People

Kotel (Western Wall) crowded with throngs of visitors

And Israel encamped [at Sinai] as one person with one mind.
— Rashi on Exodus 19:3

Remarkable unity characterized the Jewish people in the days before receiving Torah at Sinai, an event we commemorate on Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks. As a student in Jerusalem one year, I experienced that unity powerfully on Shavuot. At the end of the traditional all-night learning session, I joined thousands of others streaming toward the Old City. We poured into the Western Wall plaza and I nestled myself in with one prayer group among the hundreds. Tens of thousands of people packed the plaza, a sea of white prayer shawls and people swaying together to the sounds of our ancient liturgy. Indeed, my sense of oneness with the Jewish people at that moment was “like one person with one mind.”

The next year was very different. I finished the night of study in Jerusalem with friends from one of the liberal Jewish seminaries. Again, we joined the masses walking to the Old City, this time with our own Torah scroll in hand. When we arrived at the Western Wall plaza we set up our prayer service toward the back, away from many of the other groups. My friend started the morning blessings, our group of men and women standing around him.

Almost immediately, a man with a prayer shawl ran up to our table and yelled at us in Hebrew, motioning with his hands for us to leave. “Forbidden! Forbidden!” he called out repeatedly, gesticulating wildly. He was drawing attention and more people began to approach. A guard told us to move to an area in back of the plaza and up some stairs. We were not prepared for a major confrontation, so we moved to this area called “The Archeological Garden,” a quiet and lovely place to pray, so we began again.

Again, within moments, a man stuck his head out a window in his home near the garden and yelled those same words, “Forbidden! Forbidden!” My friend walked over and spoke quietly with him, assuring him that we were permitted to pray – men and women together – in this area. After a short conversation the man calmed down and we continued until we were finished.

The unity and the feeling of the year before were gone. I felt marginalized, separate, and disrespected, humiliated and furious all at once. This was my first experience with the depth of divisions in the Jewish people, divisions so deep that the Orthodox majority felt empowered to marginalize liberal Jews who came to celebrate receiving our shared inheritance, the Torah. I realized that the unity I had felt a year earlier was merely an illusion. Could a Jewish community this fractured ever be whole enough to stand again at Sinai?

This ancient story about receiving the Torah provides a way forward. The Talmud, in Shabbat 88b, tells us that when the Torah originally was presented to the Israelites, God held the mountain over their head and basically said, “I’m making you an offer you can’t refuse. Accept the Torah, or else.” Commenting on this coercion, one of the rabbis of the Talmud explained that the Jewish people can’t be held accountable to fulfill the Torah because they only accepted it under duress. Another rabbi agreed but added that, during the time of Esther and Mordechai, hundreds of years later in Persia, the Jews accepted the Torah voluntarily and thus are obligated in its fulfillment.

In the language of community organizing, the two different models of receiving Torah are called “power over” and “power with.” A power over model features domination and coercion.  God, so to speak, forced a unified acceptance of the Torah. A power with model invites people into participation, as Esther did by making herself vulnerable and asking the Jews of Shushan to unify together in a three-day fast.

In a power over model, the dominant group forces its vision and understanding of the world on everyone else – which is what happens at the Western Wall. Those who reject the dominant perspective are marginalized, threatened, and discounted. A power with model emphasizes sharing power and raising up previously marginalized voices for the good of the whole.

Only the power with model will help the Jewish people – in all our diversity of thought – achieve unity. The more one segment tries to impose its will on others, the more resistance and division it will create. If you sense your community is unified, who might be on the margins, not feeling that unity? In what ways does the dominant group in your community impose its will on the collective?

The key is for us to employ a power with approach – listening, not telling; cultivating curiosity for Torah, not imposing our approach; and making room for diverse perspectives. Although a power over approach may be easier, it won’t create unity. Knowing that real unity involves every voice, on Shavuot, let us commit to learn how others make sense of our shared Torah and bring people in from the margins.

Upcoming Dates to Remember for May

 

 

2 Last Day of Hebrew School

4  Lag Ba-Omer Cookout

5  Saturday Service, Tisch with Rabbi & Carrie

6  Last Day of Sunday School

11  Kabbalat Shabbat with Dr. Mark Packer leading services

12  No Saturday Service

13  Mother’s Day

16 Hadassah Closing Meeting

18  Sisterhood Sabbath

19  Saturday Service

20  Temple Board Meeting

20 Yizkor Service & Blintzes

25  Kabbalat Shabbat

26  Saturday Service

May 2018 Worship Schedule

May 4 & 5

Friday: Lag BaOmer

Dinner at 6:00 pm

Saturday: Cinco de Mayo Tisch with Rabbi & Carrie

9:30 am

May 11 & 12

Friday: Service at 7:30 pm

Saturday: There will be no Saturday Morning Service

May 18 & 19

Friday: Kabbalat

Shabbat 6:00 pm,

Refreshments at 5:30

Saturday: Morning Service 9:30 am

May 25 & 26

Friday: Kabbalat

Shabbat 6:00 pm,

Refreshments at 5:30

Saturday: Morning Service 9:30 am

FROM THE HEART WITH RABBI LIEBOWTIZ

Whoever looks at four things, ought not to have entered this world: what is above (heaven) what is below (the afterlife) what is in front (the future) and what is behind (the origins of the Universe). Talmud Hagigah

Dear Friends,

As the holiday of Shavuot beckons, we Jews turn our attention to spiritual questions. Indeed, the seven-week period that begins on the second night of Passover, our counting of the Omer, has been seen as a mystical period of contemplating what was called the Sefirotic Tree. This imagining from the Zohar, our mystical Midrash on the five books of Moses, dabbled in explorations regarding God’s nature as expressed in various emanations. Quite complex and at times most mind-boggling, the Sefirotic tree has amused, puzzled and elevated Jewish minds and hearts for nearly a thousand years. The mystics warned that we would be wise to postpone its study until one is well grounded in observance, which was typically seen as being forty years of age. One well-known passage from the Talmud speaks of four rabbis who entertained mystical practices in search of Paradise or the heavenly abodes. In that venture, one became mad, another heretical, a third died, and only Rabbi Akiba entered and returned whole.

Questioning and exploring is a main feature of the Jewish mentality. The Talmudic spirit encourages investigation, not only of observance but of the nature of the divine. Very few limits! Only on rare occasion does the Talmud say “When the Messiah arrives.” (Meaning he alone could answer such a question. Live with mystery!) I have noticed in my teaching young people, mostly of the Protestant Christian faith, mystery is often taken to extremes to the point that it is verboten to question. Sometimes, it is seen as quite sinful to delve into realms best let unexplored. Such a posture, in my judgement has given many persons of faith a permission slip to accept unquestioningly the tenets of their faith, with portentous consequences.

Judaism has sought to strike a healthy balance between being so questioning that we may tread our way into being nihilistic and being so accepting that we fail to have a deeper understanding of the divine. Shavuot is not only a time of cheese blintzes, but a time for earnest review of our connections to God, true spiritual nourishment. So many of us (as am I) are taken with the gifts of science that we avoid looking for God, favoring only material explanations. Shavuot then is a badly needed antidote to excessive rationality. The great scholar Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel put this simply in the title of one of his most moving books; “I asked for wonder!” Let us then through the gift of our holiday cycle also look for wonder as we delve into regions often left unexplored!

Rabbi Yossi Liebowitz D.D.

May Events at a Glance!

Last Day of Hebrew School: Wednesday, May 2

Lag Ba-Omer Cookout: Friday, May 4 at 6:00 pm

Saturday Service & Tisch with Rabbi & Carrie: 9:30 am May 5-Cinco de Mayo

Sunday School: May 6 beginning at 9:30 am with Hebrew,

Last Day of Sunday School

 

 

Kabbalat Shabbat: Friday May 11 at 6:00

 

Saturday Service: May 12 at 9:30 am

 

Mother’s Day: Sunday, May 13

 

Sisterhood Sabbath: Friday, May 18 at 7:30

 

Saturday Service: May 19 at 9:30 am, Erev Shavuot

 

Yizkor Service & Blintzes: Sunday May 20 at 6:00 pm,

Shavuot Day 1

 

Temple Board Meeting: Monday, May 21 at 6:00 pm

 

Kabbalat Shabbat: Friday, May 25 at 6:00