Have a Happy, Healthy and Delicious New Year

Sept. 18, 2020 – By BARBARA SILVERSTEIN

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Samayach. Welcome to “Kitchen Talk,” the weekly food blog of the CJR. Rosh Hashanah begins this evening and I would imagine that many readers have already prepared most of the special dishes they’ll be serving this weekend.

With COVID looming large throughout the country, preparing and serving holiday meals will entail safety logistics. I’ll still be celebrating the holiday with my siblings and their children, as we do every year, but we’ll be eating outdoors.

There will be no chicken soup this year but we’ll still be eating brisket, as is customary. In this issue, I’ll be sharing American celebrity chef Michael Solomonov’s recipe for Coffee Braised Brisket, which people may want to try on Sukkot.

Chef Solomonov, author of the award-winning cookbook Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking, did a Rosh Hashanah food demo for Israel Bonds’ Chef’s Table last week.

I attended three virtual Jewish communal events with Solomonov this summer. Despite winning seven prestigious James Beard Foundation Awards, the culinary equivalent of the Academy Awards, Solomonov is very gracious and humble about his success.

Mangoes have been very plentiful this summer so I am including, cookbook author Daniella Silver’s recipe for Fresh Mango Salad. It’s a quick and simple recipe and a perfect side dish for a holiday supper or lunch. The recipe comes from Silver’s first book, The Silver Platter: Simple to Spectacular Wholesome Family Recipes, co-written with the late, great food maven, Norene Gilletz.

It’s not too early to think about Break Fast dishes for Yom Kippur. Award-winning food author Amy Stopnicki of Kosher-Taste fame has generously shared her recipe for Spinach Feta Quiche. Follow Stopnicki @amyskoshertaste on Instagram.

MY MOM’S COFFEE BRAISED BRISKET Michael Solomonov

2 tbsp (30 ml) finely ground coffee
1½ tbsp (20 ml) ground cardamom
1½ tbsp (20 ml) ground black cardamom
1 tbsp (15 ml) plus 1 tsp (5 ml) kosher salt
1 brisket (first cut, about 4 pounds (2 K)
¼ cup (60 ml) canola oil
2 large onions, sliced
4 carrots, peeled and sliced
10 garlic cloves, sliced
1/3 cup (90 ml) tomato paste 
1½ cups (375 ml) dried apricots
2 cups (500 ml) brewed coffee
8 large eggs in their shells
Grated fresh horseradish

Two days before serving: Mix the ground coffee, cardamom, black cardamom, and salt in a small bowl and rub into the brisket. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

One day before serving: Preheat the oven to 475°F (245°C). Set a rack inside a roasting pan. Put the brisket on the rack and roast until the exterior has browned, about 20 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 300°F (150°C).

Warm the oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add the onions, carrots, and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have softened but not browned, about 8 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook until it reduces slightly, about 2 more minutes. Transfer the vegetables to the roasting pan with the rack removed. Add the brisket, dried apricots, brewed coffee, and eggs in their shells. 

Add enough water to bring the liquid halfway up the side of the brisket. Cover the pan tightly with two layers of foil, return to the oven, and braise for 1 hour.

Remove the eggs, gently tap them all over to make a network of small cracks, and return them to the braise. Continue cooking until the brisket shreds easily with a fork, about 3 more hours.

Let the brisket cool in its braising liquid, then refrigerate overnight.

To serve: Preheat the oven to 350°F (189°C). Slice the cold brisket, return to the braising liquid, and bake until warmed through, about 30 minutes. Spoon the broth over the meat. 

Serve with the peeled eggs and grated fresh horseradish. Makes 8 servings

FRESH MANGO SALAD Daniella Silver

5 ripe mangoes, peeled and cut into long narrow strips
½ cup (125 ml) thinly sliced red onion
½ cup (125 ml) chopped fresh parsley
2 tbsp (30 g) chopped fresh basil

Dressing

¼ cup (60 ml) extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup (60 ml) lemon juice (preferably fresh)
1 tbsp (15 ml) brown sugar or honey
½ tsp (3 ml) kosher salt, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper

In a large bowl, combine mangoes with the red onion, parsley, and basil. 

Dressing: combine dressing ingredients in a glass jar; seal tightly and shake well.

Add the dressing to the sliced mangoes and onions and mix well. Cover and refrigerate until serving time. Makes 6–8 servings

SPINACH FETA QUICHE Amy Stopnicki

6 eggs
½ cup (125 ml) milk
1 cup (250 ml) grated mozzarella cheese
3 cups (750 ml) baby spinach, cleaned and checked, chopped 
1/3 cup (90 ml) feta cheese
1/3 cup (90 ml) pine nuts
salt and pepper to taste
1 ready-to-bake frozen deep dish pie shell

Preheat oven to 350°F (150°C).

In a large mixing bowl, combine the eggs, milk, cheese, spinach, feta cheese, pine nuts, salt and pepper. Pour the mixture into the frozen pie shell.

Bake for 35– 45 minutes or until set. Makes 6–8 servings

COMMUNITY SPOTLIGHT 

An occasional series on how Jewish-owned restaurant and food operations in Canada are faring during the pandemic. 

Community Spotlight is an occasional “Kitchen Talk” feature on how Canadian Jewish food entrepreneurs and chefs are faring during COVID. The pandemic has hit many restaurants and other food businesses very hard.

This week, we shine a light on Lev Levine, 30, owner of the popular restaurant, Lox + Schmear at 1030 St. Clair Ave. W. in Toronto, which is offering its in-house smoked fish despite COVID.

You could call the St. Clair West-Oakwood Ave. area in Toronto “Bagel Central,” as there are three bagel businesses located near each other: Lox + Schmear (1030 St. Clair Ave. W.); What a Bagel! (827 St. Clair Ave. W.) and the Primrose Bagel Company (317a Oakwood Ave.)

Lev Levine, 30, owner of Lox + Schmear, set up the first of the three bagel shops in this mid-town Toronto neighbourhood, now home to a large number of young Jewish families.

Lev Levine

It was three years in June that she opened her shop, Levine said in a recent telephone interview.

Asked about the close proximity of her competitors, Levine replied with a laugh, “As long as people are eating bagels lox and cream cheese, I’m happy. Of course, I’m happiest when they choose my product.”

Lox + Schmear specializes in small batch fish smoking, she said.

“All the fish is smoked in house. It’s the freshest smoked salmon you’ll ever have. It’s really our specialty. We do the whole process. It’s all hand-sliced. There are no additives or preservatives, no artificial flavouring or colourings.”

Before the pandemic, Lox + Schmear was a popular neighbourhood hub known for its loaded cream cheese and lox sandwiches, served on Montreal-style bagels. Levine also offered soups and salad, but the smoked salmon was “king,” she said.

However, in March, Levine closed the restaurant and pivoted to online sales: https://loxandschmear.square.site

While she is no longer preparing her famous bagel sandwiches, she’s selling all the ingredients so her customers can make their own.

Along with bagels and cream cheeses, there’s an impressive selection of hot smoked salmon and trout options, as well as Levine’s ever popular house-smoked lox and pastrami-cured smoked lox.

She takes orders during the week and her clientele pick up their food on Sunday mornings.

“It’s been going quite well,” she said. “It gave people a sense of comfort when the pandemic started that we were doing all the [food] prep in a safe and thoughtful way.”

She said she grew up eating bagels, lox and cream cheese and this was her preferred dish for breaking the Yom Kippur fast.

CULINARY CALENDAR:

Sept. 22, 2 p.m.: On Lox and Life: The Forward is sponsoring a conversation about all-things-appetizing with Len Berk, the last Jewish lox slicer at Zabar’s, and Melissa Clark, the New York Times food writer and cookbook author. This talk will be moderated by Jodi Rudoren, editor-in-chief of the Forward https://forward.com/culture/452758/september-22-on-lox-and-life/

Sept. 23, 11 a.m. Bernard Betel Cooking Club: Prepare healthy make-ahead breakfasts and snacks with Maria Lindgren https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZYocuyupjgtHdH4SkYK9XS69aolga5nsjd_

Montréal Sait Faire: Cool Ways to Mark High Holidays

Sept. 15, 2020 – By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL — Six months into the COVID pandemic, Montreal Jewish organizations have come up with creative ways to observe the High Holidays outside the synagogue, while adhering to health regulations and making the best use of technology.

Chabad of Westmount got an early start with “To Life! An Epic Celebration of 5781” at a drive-in theatre held Sept. 14.

The sprawling Royalmount Drive-In Event Theatre opened this summer at the heavily-trafficked intersection of Décarie Boulevard and Highway 40, providing a venue for socially-distanced, open-air live entertainment.

The aim was “to life our spirits and celebrate the coming new year and the new hope it brings,” said Chabad director Rabbi Yossi Shanowitz.

Participants could stay in their car or sit beside it in chairs they brought, maintaining two-metre distancing for movements beyond that.

“To Life!” featured the eight-piece band Shtreiml and a performance by acrobats from Cirque du Soleil, which has been grounded since the start of the pandemic, and a pre-packaged dinner. There was also blowing of the shofar and song.

Jewish National Fund Montreal is also encouraging its supporters to prepare for the new year in a freilich way. It’s presenting a virtual wine tasting and live tour of the Golan Heights Winery in Israel on Sept. 16.

Participants can purchase packages of three, four or seven bottles of its Mount Hermon label vintages in advance to enjoy the tasting for real, and get a partial tax receipt.

Zoomed yoga and mindfulness are part of observance for Montreal Open Shul, a “post-denominational” pop-up project started by Rabbis Sherril Gilbert and Schachar Orenstein and Cantor Heather Batchelor that has been bringing inclusive, participatory Judaism to “unexpected places” like cafés, community centres and yoga studios since 2018.

Its High Holiday services and programs, all online, promise “more joy, less oy.”

The first-day Rosh Hashanah service is accompanied by live music with Fran Avni. On the second day, Orenstein, a certified instructor, leads a hatha yoga practice “through the lens of teshuvah” and a chanting service. Gilbert continues the theme of deep repentence during the Days of Awe through “centring practice.”

The sole in-person component is tashlich and shofar blowing at Beaver Lake on Mount Royal.

Following a Yom Kippur service, American musician, actor and Jewish studies instructor Anita Silvert present a “Bibliodrama” based on the Book of Jonah.

Two American rabbis, Jan Salzman and Mark Novak of the Jewish Renewal movement, join Gilbert and Orenstein for the concluding Yizkor and Neilah observances.

The Mile End Chavurah is also going almost entirely virtual. Founded 11 years ago, the grassroots, multi-generational community describes itself as “irreverently pious,” while seeking to re-imagine religious practice.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services are conducted by ritual leaders, singers and musicians, and aim to be as participatory as is possible with everyone at home.

On the second day of Rosh Hashanah, four options are offered: a one-day out-of-town retreat for contemplation and study that may involve yoga and nature walks; an apple-picking outing; an outdoor gathering in the city; or the online “Songs of Social Action,” when participants can sing songs on themes ranging from anti-racism to LGBTQ issues to Israeli-Palestinian peace.

The Museum of Jewish Montreal reports that the virtual cooking workshop on Moroccan Rosh Hashanah cuisine held on Sept. 13, hosted by its partner Wandering Chew, went well.

Ron Arazi of New York Shuk, an artisanal food purveyor specializing in Sephardic and Middle Eastern Jewish cuisine, showed viewers how to make such traditional holiday dishes as tanzeya, a stew of dried fruits, nuts and carmelized onions, and pain petri, an anise-flavoured challah.

Even the annual POP Montreal International Music Festival, which opens Sept. 23 in a hybrid in-person and virtual edition showcasing indie and alternative acts, is getting into the spirit of the season.

It closes Sept. 27 with “Alphabet of Wrongdoing: A Jewish Liturgical Redux,” a live-streamed performance by Daniela Gesundheit from Los Angeles. She sings her composition inspired by the High Holidays liturgy, adapted “for secular audiences and secular spaces.”

Gesundheit, who divides her time between Los Angeles and Toronto, is a cantor and serves Toronto’s LGBTQ-inclusive Congregation Shir Libeynu as musical director. She is also founder and lead vocalist of the indie-pop band Snowblink. 

“Alphabet of Wrongdoing,” which she created a few years ago, is derived from the Yom Kippur prayer Ashamnu during which one confesses sins of the past year – alphabetically.

Her composition draws on its “themes of reckoning, forgiveness, mortality, striving and atonement,” she says, which should resonate with everyone.

High Holy Days Greetings from the Presidents of GTA Conservative Synagogues

Since the beginning of the COVID pandemic, presidents of Greater Toronto Area Conservative synagogues noted below have been meeting by Zoom on a weekly basis to discuss concerns, share ideas and brainstorm solutions. We’ve talked about the challenges of managing our shuls, large and small, through this crisis and the impact on our day-to-day operations. And we’ve discussed how we’ve responded with online services and programs, our respective plans for the High Holy Days, and much more.

Most of us did not know one another before we began our weekly calls, which we all look forward to and which we hope will continue in the future. We have all thoroughly enjoyed the experience and have developed a profound respect for one another and for the outstanding work of our clergy, executive directors and staff, lay leadership and volunteers. Most of all, we have developed, through regular communications, a deeper appreciation of the remarkable power of community.

All synagogues, regardless of denomination, offer a vital service, particularly during a crisis, and we are all here to support our members and communities in times of joy and sorrow. We thank you, our members, for your commitment, support and contributions in helping to sustain a vibrant and relevant Jewish community through your synagogue affiliation.

As we approach a High Holy Day season unlike anything that many of us have ever experienced, we extend our best wishes to you, your families and loved ones for a safe, healthy and happy New Year.

David Urbach – Adath Israel Congregation 
Larry Miller – Beit Rayim Synagogue and School
Andy Pascoe – Beth David B’nai Israel Beth Am
Malcolm Weinstein – Beth Emeth Bais Yehuda Synagogue
Mark Vernon – Beth Radom Congregation
Abe Glowinsky – Beth Sholom Synagogue
Doug Millstone – Beth Tikvah Synagogue
David Lewis – Beth Torah Congregation
Debbie Rothstein – Beth Tzedec Congregation
Jeff Shabes – Lodzer Centre Congregation
Steve Bloom – Pride of Israel Synagogue 

September 14, 2020
Elul 25, 5780

Reform Jews Begin High Holiday Period Online

Sept. 11, 2020 – By STEVE ARNOLD

Canada’s Reform congregations are going online tomorrow (Saturday) night to mark the start of the High Holidays.

Sponsored by the Canadian Council for Reform Judaism, the event follows the Reform movement’s successful online “Tikkun Leil” late-night study session at Shavuot.

It will be the movement’s fourth effort at staging important events online. Previous efforts included the “Rise Up for Israel” fundraiser that collected $100,000, and a nationwide Tikkun Olam town hall.

Saturday’s event, however, will be the first involving an actual service. Twenty congregations across the country are expected to take part.

“Selichot is the official kick-off to the High Holy Days season,” said Rabbi Jordan Cohen of Temple Anshe Sholom in Hamilton. “It has always been a uniquely different service that I find very moving.

“We knew we had to do something to get the most out of this season,” he added. “We got together on this rather than having everyone reinvent their own wheel. With this, we are all working from the same siddur and everyone is literally on the same page.”

Cohen and his wife, Cantor Paula Baruch, took the lead in organizing the event. His team put together study sessions and a keynote presentation by Rabbi Larry Hoffman of Hebrew Union College. Baruch led a group that arranged the pre-recorded service.

Anshe Sholom’s traditional Selichot service includes a period of text study, changing the dressings on the Torah scrolls to their High Holy Days white, and a period of prayers where the sanctuary lights are dimmed and congregants are encouraged to spread out and search their souls.

That’s a spirit Baruch said they want to preserve in an online service where participants will have a chance to see their own sanctuary.

“We want to give people an inclusive, intimate moment, even though it’s all on a screen,” she said.

“Every congregation will be able to see inside their own sanctuary and their own rabbi and cantor. That will make the experience very special.”

Headlining the service will be a new version of Avinu Malkeinu performed by a virtual choir of cantors.

Dr. Pekka Sinervo, president of the Canadian Council for Reform Judaism, said the council is providing advertising and technical support for the event.

“We see it as doing the things we are supposed to do, supporting the community,” he said.

Reform congregations, he said, have been leaders in responding to the COVID pandemic by using technology to continue offering services and programs to members, something he thinks will continue, especially for marginalized communities such as the elderly and handicapped.

“With this, we are taking advantage of technology to rethink how we reach out to our community,” he said. “With the pandemic, it became very clear that this was the right thing to do. This opens up a new dimension to what out congregations can be,” he added.

Saturday’s program on Zoom begins at 9 pm with a keynote presentation by Hoffman, followed by discussion groups at 9:30; Havdalah at 10 p.m.; and the Selichot service at 10:15.

Among those helping to organize the event were Rabbi Stephen Wise of Oakville’s Share-Beth El congregation; Rabbi Elyse Goldstein of Toronto’s City Shul, Rabbi Debbie Dressler of Temple Israel in London, and Cantor David Rosen of Holy Blossom Temple.

Register at https://urj.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJAqdeqvpjgpE91beim3eE_6amUJqlmlQpdy


Steve Arnold
Steve Arnold

Steve Arnold worked 42 years in Canadian journalism, retiring in 2016 from The Hamilton Spectator. He holds a BA in history and political science, an MA in public policy analysis and has received 25 awards for writing excellence. He now lives in St. Catharines, Ontario.

Selichot: The Fine Art of Apology

Sept. 11, 2020 – By ILANA KRYGIER LAPIDES

“No man ever became great or good except through many and great mistakes.” – William Gladstone

In the delightful children’s book The Hardest Word – A Yom Kippur Story by Jacqueline Jules, illustrated by Katherine Janus Kahn, a gigantic mythical bird called the Ziz makes a mistake and trashes his friend’s beloved vegetable garden.

When the Ziz flies to Mt. Sinai to ask God for help, God tasks the bird to search the world to find “the Hardest Word.” The Ziz embarks on his journey and finds words like “spaghetti” and “rhinoceros,” but each time, God sends the Ziz back to keep looking.

When the Ziz has exhausted his search, he visits God to announce he’s stumped. “I’m sorry,” he says. “That’s it!” God pronounces. “There are lots of words that are hard to say, but ‘I’m sorry’ is the hardest.”

This weekend, Jews will be chanting the first Selichot service of the High Holiday season. The service takes place during the Hebrew month of Elul (Aramaic for “to search”) which is an acronym for Ani L’Dodi V’Dodi Li – “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.”

This phrase from the Song of Songs is usually reserved for weddings. In this context, it is about our desire for a closer relationship with God. Selichot, usually held around midnight, includes a recitation of the “Thirteen Attributes” of God. These Attributes, originally found in Exodus after God pardons the Hebrews following the creation of the Golden Calf, speak to God’s capacity for forgiveness and compassion.

The writer Forest Rain Marcia says of the Selichot service: “Properly chanted, it forms an oratorio expressing the despair that accompanies separation from God and the desire to change and repent. The self-deprecation contained in the words, which express the feeling of life’s fleetingness, and the burden of vanity that motivates so much of what one does, all cause us to ponder how we can break the cycle of our lives and change ourselves for the better. The possibility of change and of a better life is inherent in these prayers.”

Selichot prayers are like a preamble to the High Holiday season, when we ask one another and God for forgiveness for our transgressions. Our goal is teshuvah – literally translated as “to return” to God or “repentance.”

One wonders why we have a specific occasion to ask for forgiveness. Isn’t apologizing relatively straightforward? Shouldn’t we be doing it on an ongoing basis? Well, yes and no. Human nature leads us astray sometimes. Sometimes, instead of apologizing when we should, we dig in our heels, cast blame, justify our actions. If pressed, we may issue the famous Canadian non-apology apology – “I’m sorry you feel that way.”

In our tradition, there is no place for this kind of feeble apology. The Rambam defined teshuvah in the Mishneh Torah as requiring these four steps:

  1. Verbally confess our mistake with details and understanding.
  2. Express sincere remorse with a complete and heartfelt apology.
  3. Do our best to right the wrong and make the person we harmed feel better.
  4. Resolve not to make the same mistake again – and don’t.

How is one to tell whether a penitent is genuine? Rabbi Judah said: When the penitent has the opportunity to commit the same sin once and once again and he refrains from committing it. (Yoma, 86b).

In the next few weeks, like the Ziz, we are in search of the strength and wisdom to say the Hardest Word. It’s one thing to know it and another thing entirely to genuinely apologize with dignity, grace, and sincerity.

May the upcoming Days of Awe bring us the strength and humility to make peace with God and with one another. We may not be giant mythical birds, but we know the hardest word. And now is the time to say it.

Shabbat Shalom. 


Ilana Krygier Lapides
Ilana Krygier Lapides

Ilana Krygier Lapides is a Jewish educator and storyteller. She is currently attending rabbinic school at the Jewish Spiritual Leaders Institute and will be ordained in June 2021.

Synagogues Reinvent High Holiday Services Amid COVID

Sept. 8, 2020 – By LILA SARICK

When Rabbi Lisa Grushcow ascends the bimah on Rosh Hashanah at the Montreal synagogue she leads, it will be in a silent and nearly empty building.

Like many synagogues, Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom has decided it is not safe to gather together, and so all the High Holiday services will be virtual this year.

While some rabbis may be negative about “three-day-a-year Jews,” Rabbi Grushcow said she is not one of them.

“I love that feeling of a full sanctuary, of people being there with each other and for each other,” she told the CJR. “There’s no question I’ll miss that.”

While Jews may have participated in Zoom seders over Passover, few thought that Jewish life would be still be online by the High Holidays. But COVID has forced synagogues of all denominations to radically change how and where they will worship this fall.

For some institutions it will mean moving to technology in a way they never envisioned. For others, it means shortened services, outdoors if possible, to reduce congregants’ exposure to each other.

For many synagogues, the priority has been connecting with members in a time of isolation. Rabbi Grushcow’s temple distributed 600 High Holiday kits with a honey cake, a yahrzeit candle and a mizrach – decorative art used to indicate the direction of prayer – to help people transform their homes into sacred spaces.

“We’re trying to create that feeling of connection. That’s what’s at the heart of what people are looking for,” Rabbi Grushcow said.

While Jewish history is long enough to demonstrate that the current situation is not entirely unprecedented, technology is certainly changing the landscape for synagogues, Rabbi Grushcow pointed out.

“We are all working not to reinvent our mission, but the way we deliver it,” she said. “The fact we can use technology is a huge help and there’s a certain openness to doing things new ways that is helpful.”

Rabbi Adam Cutler will be conscious of new technology when he begins Rosh Hashanah services at Adath Israel Congregation, a Conservative synagogue in Toronto.

Only about 170 of the synagogue’s 1,100 seats will be filled, to comply with social distancing rules, but the service will be livestreamed to members who do not feel comfortable attending this year.

The Conservative movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards had been considering the halachic implications of livestream technology in synagogues before the pandemic started, but hastened to issue a ruling in May that approved the use of cameras on Shabbat and holy days.

Individual synagogues can decide whether to adopt the ruling, and after studying the decision and speaking with colleagues, Rabbi Cutler felt it was the right thing for Adath Israel.

“It’s not something we plan on keeping permanently, but it’s there until everyone feels comfortable being present in the shul.”

When leading services, Rabbi Cutler said, “I make a point of noticing the additional people (watching) at home. It means looking at the camera, which is new for me.”

Adath Israel’s services will be shorter in order to limit exposure, and require pre-registration for contact tracing.

Recognizing that people may need more preparation for the High Holidays this year, the synagogue prepared a month-long program of daily videos highlighting different character traits as well as booklets with texts and essays for discussion.

The synagogue parking lot will also be the site of a drive-through holiday experience before Rosh Hashanah to allow children to hear the shofar, eat apples and honey, and symbolically cast away their sins (into an inflatable pool), all while remaining safely in their family’s car.

Like most synagogues that have re-opened, Adath Israel has not restricted people from attending, but suggests that those who are older consider whether they should come to services in person.

“I fundamentally believe that people have the right to their own agency, you can decide what’s right for you,” Rabbi Cutler said.

Still, it will be an unusual experience when Rabbi Cutler enters a sanctuary where only a fraction of the congregants will be in the pews.

“You have to gear yourself up, and realize there are empty seats for appropriate reasons,” he said.

Not every synagogue in Canada is facing the same restrictions. In Halifax, where COVID cases have been low, current health regulations allow groups to occupy 50 percent of a building’s capacity.

Rabbi Gary Karlin, spiritual leader of Halifax’s Shaar Shalom Congregation, estimates his sanctuary will hold up to 150 people, accounting for social distancing, with more accommodated in a tent. The service will also be livestreamed.

Halifax Synagogue
Halifax Synagogue

Rabbi Karlin will also blow the shofar at the Conservative synagogue’s tashlich ceremony, which is held on the city’s boardwalk, facing the Atlantic Ocean.

While it will be a different High Holiday season, with restrictions and masks, Rabbi Karlin who is celebrating his second Rosh Hashanah in Halifax, hears from colleagues about synagogues that will not be able to open at all.

“I feel very fortunate that things are good deal safer in Nova Scotia. I thank God I’m in a relatively safe place.”

Not opening for the High Holidays was not an option for Congregation Shaar Hashomayim, a Montreal Orthodox synagogue that has taken its classes and programs online, but eschews livestreaming on Shabbat and holidays.

Instead, the synagogue will be offering multiple shortened services, indoors and outside, as well as a pre-recorded service featuring the choir and cantor that was produced over the summer.

Rabba Rachel Kohl Finegold, a member of Shaar Hashomayim’s clergy and president of the Montreal Board of Rabbis, will be leading a family service in a tent this year.

“None of us are having children in the building, which is counter to every instinct we have,” she said.

Instead, the synagogue has sent out a High Holiday box with at-home activities for its youngest members, and volunteers have made calls to older members. “There’s a lot of isolation,” said Rabba Finegold. “We want people to know we’re there for them.”

The pandemic has also thrown new light on Jewish home life, she said. “We’ve all spent so much time at home, that’s reinvigorated that home base for many families.”

The synagogue, for instance, made a challah kit for families, who could then participate by Zoom with Rabba Finegold as she and her daughter braided challah and sang Shabbat songs.

“They’re in my kitchen and I’m in their kitchens. That’s a new way of Jewish engagement.”

Rabba Finegold has also been working with families to craft bar mitzvahs and baby-namings that were completely different from what they had envisioned.

“It’s an amazing time of innovation. There’s the silver lining and we have to harness that too.”

While she could never have imagined the restrictions that COVID has placed on people, she said it may also open new avenues.

“To be outdoors in a tent greeting the New Year, maybe there are possibilities there. We’ve invented some pretty engaging things.”

Menu Planning for Safe Holiday Gatherings

Aug. 21, 2020 – By BARBARA SILVERSTEIN

Shabbat Shalom and welcome to Kitchen Talk, the CJR’s weekly food blog. It’s hard to believe that Rosh Hashanah is less than one month away. Erev Rosh Hashanah falls on September 18.

It may be time to try out some new dishes for the High Holidays, but the pandemic may determine how we serve the meal and the type of dishes we prepare. We still have to be extra mindful of health and safety for any family get-togethers.

COVID certainly affected our Passover seders back in April. There were no dinner guests. In fact, the first seder was my introduction to Zoom.

At the time, social distancing was a relatively new experience. Now it’s a way of life, but at our home, we have eased up. My kids usually visit on Sunday and we eat dinner on the backyard deck.

We have had a few larger family get-togethers – all outdoors – for special occasions. I actually hosted a small wedding in my backyard.

We were very COVID-conscious for the simchah. The bride wore a beautiful white dress with a matching mask. We all wore masks and the intermingling of families was kept to a minimum.

We also served the food very carefully. Everyone got an individually boxed meal. It was beautifully presented, but simple.

I also recently attended a backyard birthday party. People arrived in shifts and every person received a box of party tidbits. It worked out well.

Now my siblings and I are hoping to celebrate Rosh Hashanah together with our children and grandchildren. We’ll all be outdoors and wearing masks. We’ll probably group in nuclear family units. For past celebrations, we set out the various mains and side-dishes on a table, and people served themselves. There will be no buffet this year. My sister and I will be plating or boxing the meal, which has yet to be planned.

I’m starting to experiment with dishes that might work for a holiday boxed meal. I’m thinking that a grain dish can easily be served in individual reusable containers. It can also look festive.

This weekend, I’m going to make Amy Rosen’s Kasha Pilaf, a modern take on the traditional dish. The recipe comes from her book, Kosher Style: Over 100 Jewish Recipes for the Modern Cook.

I’m also going to prepare Balsamic Mushroom Salad, a recipe from another Amy. It’s from Kosher Taste: Plan Prepare Plate, by Amy Stopnicki @amyskoshertaste. The mushrooms can be served warm or at room temperature.

Of course I’ll have to try a dessert. The recipe for Chocolate Tahini Cookies looks really yummy. The recipe can be found in Tamara Green and Sarah Grossman’s book, The Living Kitchen: Healing Recipes to Support Your Body During Cancer Treatment and Recovery.

Cookies can easily be packaged and included in a boxed holiday meal. I can’t say the same for brisket.

KASHA PILAF – Amy Rosen

4 cups (1 L) vegetable stock
2 cups (500 ml) kasha
1 small bunch of kale, fibrous veins removed
1 cup (250 ml) walnut pieces
1 tbsp (15 ml) olive oil
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
4 cups (1 L) button mushrooms, stemmed and quartered
¼ cup (60 ml) chopped dill
Juice of one lemon
Sea salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp honey

In a medium pot, bring the vegetable stock to a boil, then add the kasha. Bring the kasha back to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer for 10 minutes or until it is cooked. Fluff the kasha with a fork, then tip it into a large bowl to cool.

Rinse the pot and add about 1 cup of water. Bring it to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer and add the kale. Cover the pot with a lid and steam for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the kale is tender. Drain and chop the kale and add it to the big kasha bowl.

Wipe out the pot and toast the walnut pieces over medium heat for 3– 4 minutes, or until slightly browned. Add the nuts to the kasha. Drizzle the olive oil into the pot and sauté the red onions over medium heat for 5 minutes, then add the quartered mushrooms and cook for about 15 minutes more. Add the onion and mushrooms to the kasha, along with the chopped dill, lemon juice, salt, pepper and honey. Serve warm. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

BALSAMIC MUSHROOM SALAD – Amy Stopnicki

5 large Portobello mushroom caps, cleaned, checked and finely diced
½ pound (250 g) white mushrooms, cleaned, checked and finely diced
5 cloves of garlic finely chopped
2 shallots, finely diced
¼ cup (60) ml olive oil
½ cup (125 ml) balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C)

Combine the mushrooms, garlic, shallots, oil, and vinegar in a roasting pan. Season with salt and pepper. Bake for 25–30 minutes or until the mushrooms have shrunk to half their size. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool. The mushrooms can be served warm or at room temperature. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

CHOCOLATE TAHINI COOKIES – Tamara Green & Sarah Grossman

1 large egg
1½ cup (125 ml) tahini
½ cup (125 ml) blanched almond flour
½ cup (125 ml) coconut sugar
½ tsp (2½ ml) baking powder
One 3.5 oz (100 g) dark chocolate bar – 70% or higher – coarsely chopped
¼ tsp (1 ml) coarse sea salt

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium-sized bowl, mix together the egg, tahini, almond flour, coconut sugar, and baking powder. It will make a thick, sticky mixture. Fold in the chopped chocolate.

Scoop about 1 tbsp (15 ml) of batter and place it on the baking sheet. Continue to do this, spacing each cookie about 2½ inches (10 cm) apart, until you have used all of the dough. If you prefer a larger cookie, scoop 2 tbsp 30 ml) per cookie.

Sprinkle cookies with the coarse salt. Bake in the oven for 8–9 minutes, watching carefully because they can burn easily. They should be just lightly browned on top. Let cool for 10 minutes on the baking sheet. Then transfer to a plate or container for storage. Makes 14 cookies

The cookies can be stored in a cool place in the pantry for two days or in the fridge for one week.


Barbara Silverstein
Barbara Silverstein

Barbara Silverstein is a Toronto-area journalist and an award-winning food writer. She was a long-time contributor to The Canadian Jewish News. Her articles have also appeared in Homemaker’s Magazine, The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, and Tablet Magazine.