If you ever need to explain to someone what makes cholent so cholenty, start with this pic.
Archive for the Heimish Category
So there he was, spotted as soon as I entered the shul. Couldn’t have been more obvious if he’d been wrapped in neon and fitted with the bass system from a riced out Honda Civic. He eyed me the same and proffered an Ashkanazi siddur, one of the rare ones in this little nusach Sefard chassidic place. I accepted the siddur and sat down next to him. He asked where I was from, I told him. He apologized for not recognizing me, offering by way of explanation, “I’ve been in yeshiva for the past few months, this is my first time back since Elul.” I smiled at him. “I know,” I said. “I know.”
You can spot them everywhere at certain times of the year. Many greenhorn spotters (or “grotters” as we prefer to be known) will tell you that chanukah is the best time for this widely practiced, yet little talked about sport. Others, the ones with less finesse, you might say, will dig out the binoculars and set up camp only at pesach time. Not to be too arrogant, but they’re amateurs. My preferred game is the unexpected. It takes more skill to find them, but when you do they’re unawares and therefore easier prey. I tag the species and the location in my little book and release them back into the wild. Just this past week I saw a fantastic example of a Medrash at J2. Perfect specimen, a prize catch. He was talking about how he’s just recently started to buckle down and work on himself. It really made my week. I eschew the obviousness of catching them when they come back for yom tov in favor of spotting the ones who trickle in here and there for the family bris or wedding. It makes them more of a catch because you never know if there will be many, if any at all.
They’re an interesting species to be sure. This time last year they were just another batch of seniors obsessed with pog cards and their hippety-hop music (I think. I have no idea what the kids are into these days), totally unaware of the evolution that would soon transform them. They head off to Israel to their chosen (or not so chosen) yeshivas and then, I wait. When they start to trickle back, the season begins.
There are certain signs to start your hunt with. My favorite is the linear siddur. You know the one, the hebrew is on one line with the english below it so the words match up rather than the block of english text being on the opposite side of the block of hebrew text. These siddurim are used by only two people; those becoming frum who are trying to learn hebrew, and newly minted yeshiva guys trying to learn the meaning of all those words they’ve been mumbling daily since they were eight. You could also look for the copy of Pathway to Prayer, that little book where it goes into detail about one part of the davening (the greenhorns tend to prefer the shemonai esrei one), but I think that’s too easy. Other things to note: the white shirt. Is it crisp, like it’s new to him and he still takes pride in his appearance? A favorite tactic of mine is to check the collar if it’s on shabbos. Is it buttoned up to the neck, with the tie properly done? See, if it looks like it fits correctly, then he’s new to this. Look at the ex-yeshiva guys in their late twenties and thirties. They’ve been wearing it for so long that the neck hasn’t fit in years, so they simply go to the second button and pull the tie up partly, for comfort. If he’s more Mad Men than Hocker, you’ve got a greenhorn on your hands, my friend. Other things to look for are shoes, belt, glasses and type and frequency of chumash used for leining, but this has become a wall of text so those, my friends, are for the next installment.
Chanukkah is here, and frankly, I can’t think of a better time to be celebrating it, seeing as Chanukkah is basically just an eight day celebration of fuel savings and conservation. I mean, eight days of oil from one small jug? When can I get that technology in my Buick? (Hey-oh!) Maybe we wouldn’t need carbon offset charges if the maccabis were running Chevron. I mean, eight days of continuous fuel from a jug that small? Are we sure that menorah wasn’t hybrid? Please, settle down. I’ve got a million of ’em.
But more important than jokes about gas savings is making sure the holiday is celebrated correctly. A quick summary for those who may be in the dark; Chanukkah is a festival where the Jews, after taking back the Beis Hamikdash, managed to light the menorah for eight days with only one small jug of oil. This is so they could use the rest of the oil to fry things. Ever since then it’s been a mitzvah to fry things in oil on Chanukkah. What most people don’t realize is that it’s actually an aveirah to eat things that aren’t fried on Chanukkah. I recently had to grab my sister to stop her eating an apple when she came home from school. Remember, as Jews we have to watch out for each other. If your neighbor sins the blame is on the whole congregation for not stopping and helping him. That’s why I threw that sucker in the deep fryer, then made her eat it. She may be mad at me now, but she’ll thank me later when she doesn’t go to gehenom for her sinful unfried-fruit eating ways.
But it’s not enough to simply fry everything you eat. You have to eat the right things. Just yesterday I organized a protest outside my local bakery after I witnessed them selling doughnuts on Channukah that weren’t jelly. Sadly, in our modern days this is just another commandment that people seem to think is optional, like not having a haircut before the age of three or not owning a kosherlamp. We have a mesorah to only eat jellified doughnuts on chanukkah, just like the maccabis did right after they conserved that gas, just like Yehudah did when at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the reopened Beis Hamikdah, just like moshe rabbeinu did right after he defeated Voldemort by throwing his streimel over his eyes, then squirted the jelly in them, blinding the dark lord, as so often happens to us when we bite into a doughnut from a Brooklyn bakery. Point is, these traditions have kept us alive as a people through a long a dark exile, and to abandon them now is to ensure our death as a nation.
So light your menorah and shine a blaze into that ever darkening night. Preferably with your kosher lamp.
While my brother and his fiancée (is it frum to say ‘fiancee’?) plan their wedding, I get to sit back and watch so I can learn to plan for my own someday. Sadly for my own laziness, I’ve had to be involved in a small way, coordinating my various relatives expectations of what they can expect and be expected to do at a frum wedding.
My father’s family are not frum at all. Never were, probably never will be. My brother and his betrothed are both recently-flipped-out-in-Israel frum. (Last week he bought a Borsalino. True story.) The only religious functions my dads family has ever had to attend were our bar mitzvas. which compared to a wedding are pretty low scale events. All they had to do was show up in the right section at shul and not wear anything cut too low on top or too high below.
So I was on the phone with my cousin, trying to explain to her what to wear to the wedding, as their idea of traditional wedding outfits wouldn’t quite cut it amongst my brothers new crowd. Until I hit the simplest solution and directed them to onlysimchas.com with the instructions to “just wear what those girls are wearing”. Thousands of frum girls at hundreds of weddings must give them some idea of the expected outfits, right?
They called me back in less than five minutes wanting to know why everyone seems to be wearing black. Cue a montage of the girls outfits at every wedding I’ve ever been to in my mind and I realized the obvious. “Just dress for a funeral”.
Because it’s true, black is not the new black for frum Jews, it’s all there ever was. And not just for the girls, black suits, black shoes, black hat… if not for the white shirts we’d be invisible at night. The most color I ever see on most frum girls is maybe a pink sash or bow, but only over her all black outfit. Maybe that’s why jean girls are the casual standard, because if formal wear limits you to one color, who wants to have to wear it during regular days too? Although that doesn’t explain why the GAP hoodies are always navy or black as well.
I don’t have a closing. I just have a request for the girls. Why the all black and who enforces it? Because someone must be directing this mono-fashion show.
I’ve done time. Hard time. Yeshiva time. I went to yeshiva, post high school for multiple years. When it comes to food, I’m a tough battle-hardened son of a gun. I’ve had the month old cholent. And yes, I cooked that cholent in my dorm rooms George Forman. I’ve choked down my fair share of grease based meat substances. I’ve got stories of rummaging through left over simcha food that could make your intestines curl up and beg for mercy. I once had milk that was four years old. It was a little crunchy, but still good.
Or so I thought.
One of the standout meals I had this past year was a shabbos lunch spent with a chassidic family in Jerusalem. When I say chassidish I mean Chassidish, capital C. The women ate in the kitchen. Everyone but me owned a streimel. Yiddish was flying haphazardly in all directions. The peyos were swinging and the gartels were tight. For the appetizer, my host was brought a massive tray with about thirty hard boiled eggs and several whole onions. While we watched, he proceeded to shell the eggs and chop the onion, enrapturing us with what was presumably a chassidic tale from his rebbe about how generations before us had prepared their own egg and onion dishes at the shabbos table while the guests waited slavishly wondering if for the main course, he would be brought a live chicken and all the ingredients of a cholent, to prepare it in front of us and tell us more tales in yiddish, leading us to take mental bets on whether or not we would finally be eating by tuesday.
It’s not that I’m spoilt. I can appreciate different customs and foods. It’s that I’m squeamish. Very American, chicken-soup-and-brisket type. I can try new things, I just don’t like to eat them when they’ve been passed hand to hand to reach me. I was polite, I ate my eggs and fish and it wasn’t bad, but seeing it passed under all those beards made me choke it down. Something that was almost reversed when the next course was passed down – boiled cows hoof. They told me it was boiled for a full day until it was just a blob of wobbly gelatin. I can try new things, but not the part of the cow that spends it’s life wading through feces. And it looked… wrong. It doesn’t look like food, and watching people slap it on bread and eat it with a gusto made me reconsider my previous plans to digest my food rather than regurgitate it across the table. (I found out afterwards that it’s more common than I thought. My grandmother knows what it is, but I still don’t understand why you would eat that part of the cow unless forced to by poverty or some sadistic poretz.)
But nothing could have prepared me for the main course. Initially I breathed a sigh of relief when the cholent was served. Finally, something familiar. Meat, beans and potatoes. Nothing can go wrong with this, right? That was until the boy next to me shows me the special delicacy his mother puts in the cholent. A whole chickens foot. Bones, skin and all. The whole thing, sitting right there on his spoon, practically squawking at me a warning to consider what other delights might my cholent contain. I’ve never lost my appetite faster, especially as he described how she cooks it until the bones are soft so it doesn’t crunch that much in your mouth. I’ve nothing against chicken feet per say, but they don’t look like an appetizing part of this complete breakfast. I spent the rest of the meal picking the potatoes in my bowl, too grossed out to eat the meat, but trying not to appear rude.
I’ve never thought before that there were things I simply couldn’t stomach to try and eat. Years of yeshiva food is supposed to steel you for anything. By all rights I should be able to eat anything anywhere. But I learned there’s a difference between spoiled litvish food and properly cooked chassidish delicacies. And I’ll risk the infection of a piece of schnitzel from three months ago thats been sitting under my dorm mates bed, before I’ll attempt to eat a fresh chicken foot, cows hoof or even a fresh piece of salmon passed hand to hand to hand.
You know why you can’t park on certain roads? It’s not because the city is hoping you will park there and make some money off of you, (although I’m not discounting that that’s a bonus for the bean counters at city hall). It’s because it’s dangerous to park there.
Let me set this up. I go for my Thursday night store run to get some beef shin to add some heimishness to my cholent experience. This store is on a main road, but there is a parking lot at the side. Let me emphasize that – at the side – not even all the way around the back. Literally a right turn from the front door. And there’s plenty of parking. I know, because I saw the empty spaces next to my car. So I try to make the turn onto the main road, because I need to get home and get this baby in the crock pot, because we all know that your cholent meat loses a bit of heimishness as soon as it leaves the heimish store, heimishness that can only be restored by placing it back into that most heimish of environments, the cholent pot. But I can’t see around the corner, because you idiots had to park both your minivans, illegally, in front of the doors. Five feet away from the corner where the parking lot begins. With the empty spaces next to my car.
I guess because when you have to make that trip, you have to save every second. No matter the price. If I hit another car or yours, that’s just collateral damage.