Saturday, April 15, 2017

Mind The Gap

Monday, April 10, 2017
Having recently finished reading Tim Weiner's fascinating book about Richard Nixon, One Man Against the World, I've just begun his history of the FBI, Enemies.  I found this interesting observation in chapter 6, electronic page 56 (different in the print edition):  "The Harding Administration, from the top down, had been led by men who worshiped money and business, disdained government and law, and misled the American people."  Can you believe it?

The weekend New York Times has a special section on education, featuring articles on the "gap year," usually taken between high school graduation and college entrance.

While I appreciated reading about young people's experiences in Senegal, New Zealand, and Thailand, I reflected on my gapless, homebound education path from high school through graduate school.  Money (the absence thereof), the Vietnam War, a narrow worldview, and cultural inhibitions kept me on Woodhaven Boulevard until college graduation.  Moving to Ithaca, New York for graduate school did little to change the other factors and, in fact, I secured my first passport seven years after being thrown out of graduate school.  While I was very much in need of "finding myself" back then, I traveled no further than Minneapolis, Minnesota and Mount Carroll, Illinois on separate occasions.  I am certain that a gap somewhere along the way would have been very beneficial to me for the same reasons that I never had it.

We are attending the first Passover seder tonight in Massachusetts, at the home of the second and third generations, the first time that they are hosting this event.  America's Favorite Epidemiologist, drawing upon her vast skill set, aided our daughter-in-law Irit in mounting a fabulous meal, in spite of facing the massive handicap of keeping it strictly vegetarian.  I realize that that skirted the outer fringes of Jewish customs and practice, but the presence of four different chocolate-based desserts picked up a lot of the slack.  The menu included vegetable soup with matzoh balls, matzoh lasagna (matzoh replacing the noodles), "Sfongo" (potato and spinach casserole topped with parmesan cheese), butternut squash soufflĂ©, and eggplant moussaka.  Note that Law Professor David's masterful conduct of the ceremony could lead him to be mistaken for an Elder of Zion.  
Tuesday, April 11, 2017
We packed up and headed for the Holy Land in order to enjoy the second Passover seder at Aunt Judi's and Uncle Stu's in Englewood, New Jersey, as we have in the past.  Aunt Judi approaches her menu in a more traditional fashion, so, after beginning with the deep-fried gefilte fish (something that reaffirms my Zionism year after year), we were served her famous sweet and sour meatballs; beef ribs, cooked with cranberry sauce, bouillon and onion soup mix; chicken, cooked with French dressing, apricot jam and onion soup mix; vegetable kishke; matzoh kugel with apples; broccoli soufflĂ©; Israeli cous cous, bigger and more assertive than ordinary; rhubarb and strawberry compote.  Desserts included chocolate mousse, chocolate chip mandelbrot, chocolate chip cookies, and almond drop cookies.  It was almost worth 40 years in the desert.  

Speaking of Passover, the New York Times had an essay entitled "Don't Make Passover Too Easy."
It makes the interesting point that the explosive growth of Passover food items, "more than doubl[ing] since 2011, to 52,000 from 23,000," have "made the holiday far less onerous," and thus less genuine.  This parallels the development of products that emulate some of the forbidden fruits of non-Kosher (treyf) cuisine, such as bacon and shrimp substitutes, and products that allow the evasion of the rules, such as non-dairy cheese and non-dairy ice cream which may be eaten alongside meat dishes.  

These trends are consistent with other modern innovations to ease the burden of Jewish observance, for those who take their observance seriously, maybe to an extreme.  For instance, hotels in Israel as well as apartment houses in Brooklyn have Shabbos elevators that stop at every floor, obviating the need to push a button, considered work not allowed on the Sabbath.  Similarly, timers turn on and off lights and appliances on the day of rest, because the ignition of an electrical circuit, akin to lighting a fire, is also banned.  

Why take the trouble?  The essayist says the "challenge of making a meal with so many restrictions serves as a reminder of where Jews have come from and the importance of retelling the story of a time when they were not so fortunate."  This is perfectly reasonable to me and I would honor this as I honor fasting on Yom Kippur, bringing a touch of humility and continuity into modern life.  But, I think that many Jews follow the Passover and Kosher strictures, because that's the way it always was, not unlike our originalists in Constitutional law.  If it was good enough for Rabbi Gamliel, a leading Hebrew scholar of the first century, or Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, signer of the Constitution from South Carolina, it should be good enough for you.  While I cannot claim to channel either the rabbi or the delegate, I would hope that both would accept, if not welcome, change, without abandoning their overarching values, as the world that they knew moved ever faster into new and unpredictable directions.  Overarching values, after all, should not be tied to a time or place.  

Thursday, April 13, 2017
Law Professor David not only led Monday's night's seder masterfully, today he has an essay published in the Washington Post

I won't spoil it for you, but our family's legal eagle indicates that some big companies are trying to keep their owners (shareholders) from exercising any control over their property.  Sounds un-American to me.

Friday, April 14, 2017
I can't attest to all of Time Out New York's recommendations for cheap eats, but many are familiar and worth a visit.   Of course, omitting Wo Hop, 17 Mott Street, is a near-fatal deficiency, I'm not a fan of Shake Shack and I suggest that you purchase knishes at Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery, 137 East Houston Street, to take home because they usually reheat them in a microwave which eliminates the crispiness of the wrapper.  A few minutes in a hot oven brings out their exceptional character.  

This is the time of year that Jews and Christians alike celebrate enduring traditions -- the Stanley Cup playoffs.  


  1. After reading the various translations of the Haggadah and over the years, the daily reports from the Middle East. After recording a new translation of the book of Maccabees, I finally decided I just couldn't do it any more. Missing the jolly meal of course and the earworm of my Mothers davening (She was the frum one). One of my favorite Pesachs was in Marrakesh where I was shooting a film with Kris Kristofferson and Jane Fonda (name dropper !) The film was Rollover. I was invited by a crew member who found out I was jewish, to his house where they have a celebration, which may be common to other countries. The family's non jewish (Arab) neighbors brought back the chometz dishes and food , for a celebratory meal. Anyone know if this is a common international celebration or particular to Morocco ?

  2. tell me more about your movie "career"! I liked how they celebrate in Morocco!