January 25th, 2007

Budapest

First post ever.

This is my first attempt at blogging. I regularly read a number of blogs, whose links can be found at the bottom of this page, and now I feel like trying myself.

I am a Conservative Jew with Modern Orthodox leanings, hence the subtitle of this blog. I admire these two trends of Judaism for their courage in attempting to tackle the issues of today. We often refer to the Torah as the "tree of life" and thus I believe that Hashem gave it to us to live with in our time. Yet as I feel committed to Halakhah (Jewish law) I also consider that these answers ought to be given within the framework of the Torah. I sometimes disagree or even feel angry with the answers but I enjoy the challenge and honesty.

The name of the blog itself is a tribute to Chaim Potok, of blessed memory, who is my favourite Jewish writer. I just love his books and his characters. My favourite is "The Chosen". If you have never read anything by Potok, this is a good one to begin with. A close second is "Davita's Harp" where the heroine is a young Jewish girl who discovers her Jewish roots and heritage and comes to challenge the laws of the community she belongs to.
challah

Getting ready for Shabbat

Whoever has ever tried to live a traditional Jewish life will know what I am talking about. Since we are not allowed to do any work on the Shabbat (starting about an hour before sunset), everything has to be ready by then.

This means that the preceding days can be hectic with quite a lot of shopping and cooking involved. I usually start on Wednesday with the planning and shopping. Then on Thursday, I start cooking and sometimes have to do more shopping, funny how I always seem to have forgotten a capital ingredient. Another reason for doing somme shopping on Thursday is that my favourite grocer is closed on Thursdays so if I want fresh fruit and vegetables I have to shop on Thursday.

This week it is even more important for me to get everything ready tonight. The reason is somewhat unususal. I teach in a high school and since the beginning of december students and teachers have developped all sorts of disorders such as rash, burning eyes, difficult breathing... Analysis were made in december but were inconclusive. Since school resumed in january, more people have been concerned by the symptoms and more analysis were made last week and again this week. Some people have mentioned the "sick building syndrom" but this theory is not "official" yet. The results will be out tomorrow. As a member of the school board I have been invited to attend the meeting during which they will be presented to the staff, parents, students and the press. The meeting is at 3 p.m. Now since Shabbat starts a little after 5 p.m. here, I have the time to go to the meeting and come back home but obviously not to cook.

I can't mention Shabbat without talking about Challah, the soft braided bread we make and bake especially for Shabbat. So here is my favourite recipe:


Challah

By Claudia Roden

Reprinted with permission from The Book of Jewish Food: An Odyssey from Samarkand to New York, published by Knopf.

Makes 4 Loaves

· 2 tablespoons dry yeast
· 2¼ cups (500 ml) lukewarm water
· ½ cup (100g) sugar
· 4 eggs, beaten, plus 2 yolks or 1 whole egg for glazing
· 1 tablespoon salt
· ½ cup (125 ml) vegetable oil
· About 9 ¼ cups (1 1/3 kg) flour
· Poppy or sesame seeds (optional)

Dissolve the yeast in the water with 1 teaspoon of the sugar. Beat well and leave 10 minutes, until it froths.

In a very large bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Then add the salt, sugar, and oil and beat again. Add the frothy yeast mixture and beat well. Now add the flour gradually, and just enough to make a soft dough that holds together, mixing well, first with a large spoon, then working it in with your hands. Knead vigorously for about 15 minutes, until it is very smooth and elastic, adding flour if the dough is too sticky. Pour a little oil in the bowl and turn the dough, so that it is greased all over. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and put it in a warm place to rise for 2‑3 hours, or until it has doubled in bulk. Punch the dough down and knead again, then divide into four pieces to make 4 loaves.