The story of the unhappy kugel

IMG_3985When Val asked me to make a kugel for this year’s communal Yom Kippur “Break the Fast” at the Aloha Jewish Chapel, I was excited to do so. I immediately thought of the recipe that I have for my mother’s kugel that she served at each of our family’s holiday meals (except Passover) and the memory fueled my excitement.

Her kugel is sweet and simple and incredibly delicious: pecans, butter, brown sugar, eggs and egg noodles. How can you go wrong? While not difficult to make, it takes a reasonable amount of time and a little bit of patience.

Years ago I looked up the meaning of kugel, confused by the different specimens I’ve tasted. I wondered how my mother’s noodle kugel could relate to the potato one served at Passover and the plethora of versions at other people’s holiday tables. Internet sources describe it as a pudding. I am inclined to suggest the word casserole—but not of the tuna variety.

I planned ahead for this one, buying the ingredients on my weekly trip to the commissary the Sunday before Yom Kippur. I set aside time to make it on Tuesday afternoon, before we went out to dinner and to services for Kol Nidre. There was no way I was going to bake a kugel on Wednesday afternoon, the same day I was fasting. Regardless of the fact that it would be inappropriate to cook on Yom Kippur, I knew that the enticing aroma of all of those delicious ingredients coming together in a spectacular kugel would be more than I could bear in my VERY hungry state before Yiskor and Ne’ilah. It would definitely slow the fast.

I timed it perfectly and it was the most beautiful kugel I had ever created. It felt so good to look at it and see visions of all the kugels that had come before at Gershun celebrations. It truly was my mother’s kugel. I finally had the right combination of ingredients, timing and patience to make this great achievement. I left it on the counter, slightly covered, to cool and would put it in the refrigerator when we returned from Tuesday evening services.

When we returned, before putting it in the ice-box, I decided to take a picture of the kugel next to the flames of the burning yahrtzeit candles lit for my mother and father. Maybe I’d post it on Facebook? Or maybe I’d just send the picture to my sisters so that they could kvell with me on this great achievement. Whatever the intent, perhaps it is my hubris that became a tragic flaw and led to the unhappy conclusion of this almost perfect story.

After I snapped a few shots of the holiday kugel (thank goodness I took a picture). I picked up the glass plate on which it rested, turned to the refrigerator, slipped a bit and dropped the whole thing on our stone tile floor. The glass plate splintered in tiny pieces. spraying across the kitchen floor and into the hallway. The kugel plunked straight down, lying in tact on the floor below my feet. It’s golden top sparkled with shards of the pyrex dish and I reluctantly imagined what lay beneath. It became unfit for any palate, let alone a holiday meal. My dreams of the perfect kugel shattered before my very eyes.

The end isn’t so sad. My husband helped me clean it up. The next day I showed Val the picture and told her the story. She shed a tear for my mother’s kugel, but understood. She suggested mac and cheese. No problem. After morning services, I easily whipped up a pan. No memories were invoked as it did not have the familiar delicious aroma to tease me. Services were nice, not too long. We wished each other G’mar chatimah tovah and broke the fast together as a community.

I’m the only one who really missed the kugel that holds so many memories of my mom and dad and the new years and ends of years that our family shared together.

L’Shanah Tovah.


My apologies….

I must apologize to my parents. I am sorry, Mom and Dad. I forgot to light the yarzheit candles in your memory on Yom Kippur.

It wasn’t until  the Yizkor service that I realized my mistake.

I love the moment  when we are sitting in the Sanctuary, the late afternoon sun is streaming through the stained glass windows casting a golden glow over the congregation  and  representatives from the Sisterhood stand at each of the memorial boards and  turn on all of the lights on the memorial plaques.

I know this is a memorial service for those who have passed away and it is traditionally very solemn, but something about the moment makes me feel more joyous than sad.

There is something comforting about all of those people and all of their lights and all of their lives lighting up together for us to feel and remember them all. It is not like the lonely one or two lights that shine during services at each Shabbat, commemorating the individual Yahrzeits.

It is collective and powerful and fills me.

Somehow I imagine that it has a similar effect on  those whose memories are being honored as well. They might feel a little less lonely since they are being remembered in a crowd. Lighting up together, connecting through our collective memories.

So that’s when I remembered that I forgot to light the candles at home and I was sad. It gives me similar solace to see the light of my parents’ memories dancing together on our kitchen counter for a full 24 hours and I missed it.

I light a single candle on the anniversary of each of their deaths, but it feels a bit more lonely and a reminder of our  loss.

The funny thing is that I planned ahead. If you call shopping on eBay planning ahead. I ordered yarzheit candles and special holders from Israel. I purchased them months in advance in anticipation of this moment.

And then I forgot.

My family suggested that I could still do it when we got home, but it did not feel right. The flame would seem false. In reality, the service would be enough.

I am pretty sure that it bothers me more than it would my parents. They were of a generally forgiving nature in life. I can’t imagine it would be any different now.

I will remember next year. I will remember them and the others and the candles.

Meanwhile, in the spirit of the Yamim Noraim, my apologies. I will try again in 5773.

Why do they call it a fast when it goes by soooo slow(ly)

Fasting was a big topic of conversation in our family this weekend. My oldest daughter is 13 and it is the first year she felt responsible for observing this Yom Kippur ritual.

Considering how much time we usually spend talking about food and what we are going to eat and how we will prepare it and how good it tastes, it is not a surprise that in its distinctive  absence  we  filled the void with conversation about not eating, or when we would eat or how hungry we might be feeling or how the feeling of hunger kind of goes away after a while.

At one point I mused that the word fast is really an oxymoron all by itself. Why on earth would they choose a word that suggests a rapid finish for an act that takes such a very long time?

We usually go to Temple in the morning until about noon when we go home and do not return at 3 pm for the afternoon service. Traffic and school nights always made it seem so inconvenient.

This year, Yom Kippur was on a Saturday, eliminating both of those issues. Also, I really wanted to go to the Yizkor (memorial) service in the afternoon. This is the first year that both of my parents are gone and it seemed very important to attend services in both of their memory.

I lit the two Yarzheit candles  before sundown on Friday and they burned the requisite 24 hours on our kitchen counter. It was amazing how those two little twinkling candles were such a comfort, like my parents were here with us for a short time, sharing the day with us. The light, their dancing spirits, brightening our home for while. I felt so sad when they were done.

It turns out that the afternoon service is now my favorite. It was peaceful and meaningful. The sun pouring into the Synagogue as it set and the warm glow from the lights of the memorial plaques taking its place.

And it is totally easier to fast while you are at services praying and reflecting and concentrating on other thoughts than when you are sitting at home waiting for the day to end so you can eat.

We broke the fast at Kit n Kitchen on University Avenue. I’ve only been to this restaurant once before, but I have very fond memories of that meal. My husband took me there  for dinner four years ago, soon after we were engaged. We planned our wedding that night. The food was good too.

It was good again on Saturday–and not just because we were hungry.

While I think it would be nice to invite people to our home and break the fast together, it is very  hard for me to imagine preparing a meal when I am so hungry. I haven’t quite figured out  the logistics of that one, so we go out.

The kids had the Volcano Stone Grilled. They bring the hot stone to the table and grill the meat and vegetables right there.

We were treated to the owner, Kit’s, presence as he helped prepare the steak for our children.

Both  my husband and I ordered lamb and savored every bite.

The kids enjoyed their Coca Cola bottle collection.

It was a particularly meaningful holiday, fast and services and memorial and all.

How/where did you break the fast?

We should not be the lost tribe

One of the reasons that I started this blog is because very little is written about the Jewish people who live in Hawaii.   While we might be a minority in this diverse island culture, we are still a vibrant, active community who deserves appropriate representation and coverage by our local media.

Most people don’t even know we exist. In Hawaii we are an anomaly.

Community events, local elections and school activities are scheduled with no regard to our most religious holy days like Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur or our widely popular festival, Chanukkah.

I don’t expect the local public to stop functioning on our account. That would be ridiculous. But it would be nice if they tipped a nod in our direction every once in a while.

The community in which I grew up in Southern California in the 1960’s had very few Jewish families. I know what it’s like to be one of the few Jewish kids in a school, but at least they knew we existed. I got to sing the dreidle song in our school holiday program every year. And while I might have sung it a bit off-key, I sang it with pride in the opportunity to represent my family and my Jewish community.

The first time I suggested that the holiday program at my daughter’s school be about more than Christmas it started a HUGE controversy. Luckily they have come a long way since then and we are quite comfortable with the season. They actually listened.

Local media Christmas coverage begins long before the Thanksgiving turkey is defrosted, yet there is nothing written about Chanukkah. It cracks me up that the Kapolei “Holiday” parade only represents Christmas and is often scheduled during Chanukkah.

This Saturday was no exception. Yom Kippur came and went with little  acknowledgment from our local media. The Star Advertiser features their religion page on Saturday, a perfect opportunity to feature the Jews’ most holy of holy days.

Instead their lead story was, “Church leaders learn to set physical limits.” They included a poem submitted by a local Jewish woman in the briefs at the bottom of the page.

There are so many stories they could write. Here’s a few great angles they could have chosen:

Yom Kippur and the primary election were on the same day. How did Jews vote?

Governor Lingle attends services at the local reform Jewish Synagogue. (Hello?)

Jews fast on Yom Kippur, where were they breaking that fast this year?

And these are just a few good ideas. I recently learned that on Rosh Hashanah a few weeks ago, several of our Temple members were at Magic Island for the ritual of Tashlich and ended up saving a drowning child’s life while they were there. That might have made a good story.

Instead it was posted as a brief in the Police section, never mentioning the mitzvah performed by this group of people who happened to be at the right place at the right time—-because they were Jewish!

Local TV news isn’t much better. Hawaii News Now briefly mentioned the primary election dilemma and Rosh Hashanah was brought up in connection with the businessman who was arrested in relation to charges of human trafficking. Nice!

I don’t think we are left out on purpose. I think we just don’t exist for most people in Hawaii. That cracks me up too.

There are communities on the mainland where their schools are actually closed for the Jewish Holidays, like we close the schools for Good Friday here. Except they close the schools there because too many people would be absent and it isn’t worth the money it takes  to operate on those days. Good Friday is a state holiday in Hawaii. Explain that one!

Thus, my blog was born, to give our local community a voice outside of ourselves. Being Jewish in Hawaii is definitely a unique experience, one that certainly needs to be shared with more than just my fellow local Jewish community.

L’shanah Tovah and bon appetite (or b’tei avon)

It’s the holiday season which brings up the discussion of food. No, not that holiday season….the Jewish High Holy Days. For each one we eat traditional foods symbolizing our deeper understanding of that particular observance, bringing us together in celebration of the joy that it brings. That’s just how we roll.

Rosh Hashanah means apples and honey and honey cake and honey buns (okay, I added that one.)

On Yom Kippur we fast, which is the distinct absence of food. The day is a solitary journey of internal reflection. But when we do  break the fast, we once again come together.

For Sukkot we eat outside under the stars and on Simchas Torah there is candy.

No wonder I love being Jewish.

Today I would like to share with you the challah that Rachel Nudelman gave to me on Erev Rosh Hashanah. While she didn’t bake it exclusively for me as a special gift, it sure feels that way and I am loving every bite as if she did.

She brought it to serve at the oneg after services at the Aloha Jewish Chapel on Pearl Harbor. But it was announced between the Aleinu and the Kaddish that there is a child with nut allergies and no nuts of any kind could be served.

Rachel had brought platters of honey cake, frosted and plain, made with walnuts and a gorgeous Rosh Hashanah challah coiled in the traditional holiday fashion to symbolize the cycle of the year.

Instead of adding raisins as a symbol for the sweetness of the new year (thank goodness, because I do not like raisins in challah,)  she folded apples and nuts into the coil. She said that they had their own at home and offered this beautiful, sweet challah  to me. Not one to have to be asked twice, I readily accepted and heartily thanked her.

I carried it carefully to the car, nestled it close to me, protecting it like I would my own baby the entire way home.

I cannot stop eating that challah.

I had a piece as soon as we returned from services. We had it for breakfast this morning, sliced straight onto our plates. Tomorrow it will make excellent french toast.

I can’t help but mention that Rachel made the most amazing matzah ball soup for our model seder at Temple Emanu-El School of Jewish Studies last spring. She is definitely among a new generation of balabustas and I am pleased to be in her acquaintance–for more reasons than just food.

Thank you, Rachel. Shanah Tovah U’metukah.

Wishing your family a healthy and sweet new year.