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Another Birthday is Here, But Wisdom to Share

When I was a kid and it was my Dad’s birthday, he often gave gifts to us, his 5 kids. The first time he did this, he actually gave each of us a HUNDRED DOLLAR BILL! He didn’t give us “reverse” birthday gifts every year and they were not usually that generous, but overall, my dad was extremely generous.

Dad grew up with little extra money and did well for himself between dentistry and his passion for real estate, but he was always a giver and never stingy with his warmth, care or money. Whether with his kids, the Jewish community, our local Connecticut town, or his alma maters of Tufts and Georgetown, my Dad taught me to be a giver and not to be cheap when it came to people that you love and care about.

Like my Dad, I too have found that when I give and not take, I feel happier. When I feel cranky or find myself picking at my husband or kids, I find that if I put myself aside and focus on them with all of my genuine love and attention, I feel so much better. Even simple acts of kindness can truly make my day—opening the door for someone who is not able, smiling at people walking by or in the grocery store or offering to help someone who is in need. I often seek out “giving opportunities,” moments in other peoples’ lives when I can make a really helpful difference. If I can “touch” lots of people in one day, I know it’s been a great one.

Aside from feeling happier, I find it genuinely exciting to know that my small acts of kindness will have a viral effect. For example, if I do something this afternoon that will help a stranger, he or she may likely pass on an act of kindness and on and on and on. So, in fact what started out as a small act that was really quite easy and pleasurable for me to give, is going to help repair the world! In Judaism, this is called Tikkun Olum—repairing the world–one of the most basic tenets of Judaism.

A few things I have learned about giving:

-Giving to oneself is job #1. We need to take care of ourselves first and foremost and then we can give to others. For me, I have found that I am best off when I start the day with a healthy breakfast, meditation and then yoga or a long walk outside in nature. What is it about nature that is so healing? The never ending sky, the trees and the colors are all reminders that there is something far bigger then us. This helps to put our small lives in perspective and realize that so much is not in our control so why work so hard trying to control everything? I work hard with passion and direction and then let the universe take over. Whatever will be will be, right?

-It always feels so much better to give then to receive. Feeling down, angry upset? Find someone for whom you can do something really helpful and nice and watch how quickly you will start to feel better.

-Giving with authentic kindness and generosity is key. Never give out of resentment or anger, this tends to backfire and only make you more angry.

-Give without expecting anything in return. That’s right! Your reward for giving will be feeling good about yourself and realizing that there is more in this world than you and your wants and needs.

-Giving is not relegated to humans only. Did you know that in Judaism it is a mitzvah (good deed) to walk your dog? Before you kill that mosquito or bug crawling around your house, ask yourself if killing is necessary. Could you gingerly remove it to the outdoors where it really belongs? Isn’t this how you would want to be treated?

-You are a giver when you apply empathy to others. Someone didn’t thank you for something? Don’t be so quick to think they are ungrateful takers. Perhaps they were distracted by something going on that you aren’t aware of. Or maybe they were just given an awful diagnosis. Let’s not be so quick to make judgments and get angry. Empathy goes a very long way.

SCIENTIFIC PROOF–I’m not kidding!

Do you know that it has been scientifically proven that kindness can breed more kindness and is truly good for you? Here are some great articles that will help you become a happier person—a giver.

http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200607/pay-it-forward

http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/5_ways_giving_is_good_for_you/

http://www.wired.com/2010/03/kindness-spreads/

So, this year, for my birthday, I am sharing this wisdom with you. Try it and watch your world become a happier, kinder and less stressed out place.

Written by Jane Moritz, CEO, Challah Connection, the premiere online kosher gift company specializing in Jewish traditional gifts for Jewish Holiday, Shiva, Jewish Birthday and all Jewish gift giving occasions . “Creating Kvells Since 2002”

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Glossary of Jewish Foods

Here at Challah Connection, Jewish food is our passion and the kosher bakery is the heart of our most popular gift baskets. From our many conversations with customers, we know that there are many who are not familiar with some of our outstanding delicacies. Our hope is that this glossary of Jewish foods will be useful to those seeking a deeper understanding of Jewish foods. For those of you who are know these foods well, feel free to add any personal anecdotes, family recipes or helpful comments. And, if you feel we’ve missed a favorite food, rather then kvetch, please post it as a comment!

-Jane Moritz, Challah Connection CEO, Chief Maven

-Babka: bab-ka. From Eastern Europe/Polish origin-a loaf-shaped coffee cake made with sweet yeast dough. A favorite treasure of the Jewish bakery.  Babka Set Challah Connection
-Bagel: ba-gel. A dense bread roll in the shape of a ring, made by boiling dough and then baking it. The origin of the bagel is still an issue for debate. Most food historians have come to the conclusion that the bagel is of Jewish origin, probably in Poland, sometime in the 17th century.  Bagels Challah Connection
 

 

-Bialy: bi-a-ly. A flat breakfast roll that has a depressed center and is usually covered with onion flakes. Yiddish, short for bialystoker, from bialystoker of Bialystok, city in Poland.

 
 

 

-Blintz: A thin pancake folded over a filling usually of apple, cream cheese, or meat which is fried or baked. Russian Origin.

 
 

 

-Brisket: Braised meat from the chest of a cow. In traditional Jewish cooking, brisket is most often braised as a pot roast, especially as a holiday main course, usually served at Rosh Hashana, Passover and Sabbath.

 
 -Challah: chal-lah. Hebrew Origin. The traditional loaf of rich egg bread, usually braided or twisted, eaten by Jews on the Sabbath and holidays.  Challah, Challah Connection
 

 

-Charoset: ha-ro-seth. Charoset is one of the symbolic foods that Jews eat during their Passover Seder every year. It represents the mortar that the Israelites used to make bricks while they were slaves in Egypt. A mixture of chopped nuts and apples, wine and spices.

 
 

 

-Cholent: cho-lent. A Jewish Sabbath dish of slowly baked meat and vegetables, prepared on a Friday and cooked overnight. Origin is Yiddish: from uncertain or unknown; perhaps French.

 
 

 

-Farfel: far-fel.   A popular side dish in Jewish Ashkenazi cuisine, are small, pellet-shaped, egg noodles. Yiddish origin.

 
 

 

-Gefilte fish: ge-fil-te fish.In Yiddish, gefilte fish means “stuffed fish.” A dish of stewed or baked stuffed fish, or of fish cakes boiled in a fish or vegetable broth and usually served chilled.

 
 -Hamantashen: ha-man-tasch. Triangular-shaped pastries that are traditionally eaten during the Jewish holiday of Purim. “Hamantaschen” is a Yiddish word meaning “Haman’s pockets.” Haman is the villain in the Purim story, which appears in the Biblical Book of Esther.  Hamentashen, Challah Connection
 

 

-Holishkes: hol-ish-kes. A traditional Jewish cabbage roll dish, served at Sukkot. Yiddish origin.

 
 

 

-Honey Cake: A traditional cake of the “land of milk and honey.” A must for Rosh Hashana since its sweetness symbolizes the wishes for a good year ahead.

 
 

 

-Kichel: kich-el.  A popular Jewish and Israeli sweet cracker or cookie commonly made with egg and sugar rolled out flat and cut into large diamond shapes. Origin Yiddish for “small cake”.

 
 

 

-Knish:   A knish or knysh is an Eastern European snack food made popular in North America by Eastern European immigrants.  A knish consists of a filling covered with dough that is either baked, grilled, or deep fried.

 
 

 

-Kugel: ku-gel. Kugel is a baked pudding or casserole, similar to a pie, most commonly made from egg noodles or potato. It is a traditional Ashkenazi Jewish dish, often served on Shabbat and Yom Tov.

 
 -Latkes: lat-ke. Potato pancakes are a traditional Jewish dish, often served during Hanukkah. The name is of Yiddish origin, and may have come from either Germany or Russia.  Latkes, Challah Connection
 -Lox: A fillet of brined salmon. Traditionally, lox is served on a bagel with cream cheese, and is usually garnished with tomato, sliced red onion, and sometimes capers. The word lox is derived from the German word for salmon.  Lox and Bagels, Challah Connection
 -Macaroons: A type of small circular cake, typically made from ground almonds or coconut, with sugar and egg white. Origin from French macaron, from Italian dialect maccarone.  Macaroons, Challah Connection
 

 

-Mandel Bread: The Yiddish word mandelbrodt literally means almond bread. It is made by forming dough into a loaf, baking it, slicing the loaf into oblong cookies. It is likely that Eastern European Jews fell in love with mandelbrot because it made the perfect Sabbath dessert.

 
 

 

-Matzah: Matzo, matza or matzah; is an unleavened bread traditionally eaten by Jews during the week-long Passover holiday.

 
 -Matzo Ball Soup: Matzo balls are an Ashkenazi Jewish soup dumpling made from a mixture of matzo meal, eggs, water, and a fat, such as oil, margarine, or chicken fat. Matzo balls are traditionally served in chicken soup.  Chicken Soup & Matzo Balls, Challah Connection
 -Rugelach: rug-a-lach. A Jewish pastry of Ashkenazic origin. Traditional rugelach are made in the form of a crescent by rolling a triangle of dough around a filling.  Rugelach, Challah Connection
 

 

-Sufganiot:   A sufganiyah is a round jelly doughnut eaten in Israel and around the world on the Jewish festival of Hanukkah. The doughnut is deep-fried, filled with jelly or custard, and then topped with powdered sugar

 
 -Teiglach: teig-lach. A Jewish confection made from spiced dough shaped into small balls and boiled in honeyed syrup. A popular dessert for Rosh Hashana to usher in a sweet New Year.  Tegalach, Challah Connection
 

 

-Tzimmes: tzim-mes. A sweet stew of carrots, yams and sometimes raisins or other dried fruits such as prunes or apricots. Including tzimmes in Rosh Hashanah is an old tradition traced back to Germany and Eastern Europe.

 
   

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What is Shiva? The Jewish Mourning Period

For those who have not experienced the passing of a loved one and therefore learned this difficult lesson, death is a natural occurrence. We can only hope that death comes easily and at a very ripe old age. Here at Challah Connection, we have become experts at helping friends and family console their friends and family. Through our work, we have heard many stories of tragic deaths as well as those of individuals who led vibrant and meaningful lives right up to the end of a very long life. We should all hope that that is the way we will go. However, while we are still here, let’s all understand the Jewish way of mourning and Shiva.

Sitting Shiva is the tradition of mourning in the Jewish religion. Gathering together as a community is at the core of sitting Shiva, just as it is at the core of many Jewish traditions. The strength and support of friends, family and neighbors plays a key role in helping the bereaved through the process of grieving. “During a time of loss, there are heightened emotions.  An awareness of traditions and customs can be very helpful,” says Michael Shimmel , Shiva.com CEO, an online resource dedicated to helping mourners, friends, family and co-workers seeking information about Shiva.

Shiva, which means “seven” in Hebrew, is the mourning period observed by the family of the deceased. During Shiva, which is a seven day period that begins immediately after the funeral, the family stays home to focus on their grief, remember their loved one and receive visitors. Many families sit Shiva for a shorter period; perhaps 1, 2 or 3 days, depending on family traditions. The Shiva period is often announced at the funeral or in the obituary.

You Can’t Attend the Shiva—What to Send?
Jewish custom discourages sending flowers since Shiva is a time to allow complete mourning, not for being uplifted. Attempts to distract oneself from the task at hand—mourning—is shunned. During Shiva, friends and family visit the mourners to support them and show their care. Food is served to the visitors and this is where the need for Shiva baskets comes in. Food is brought or sent to alleviate the need for the mourners to do any work regarding food preparation. It is best to send a Shiva basket or Shiva foods that are easy to serve and require little heating or other prepping. At Challah Connection, we make sure that all of our Shiva gifts include foods that are both soothing and easy to serve. We have also found that sending a kosher Shiva basket is optimal so that everyone who attends can enjoy the food. Additionally, we have found that even non-religious people tend toward religious practices during this time.  Our most popular Shiva baskets are those that feature baked goods that are both comforting and nostalgic including Sympathy Comfort Basket and Sympathy Essentials. Danna Black, owner of Shiva Sisters in Los Angeles says “Deli still remains the most popular food for Memorial or Shiva meals however we see more requests for leaner meats, less roast beef and more turkey. Healthy salads have been added as well as vegetarian options. It does appear that the comfort of Deli, which is the most familiar, is still preferred.”

Gift Message-What to Say

Writing a gift message for a Shiva gift is perhaps one of life’s most difficult tasks. The truth is that there are no words that can appropriately console a mourner but we can try. We find that people often struggle with the words but the best advice is to keep it simple. Mourners are not going analyze each word and including a simple note that expresses your own heartfelt words is going to resonate most powerfully. Here are some messages we recommend, please feel free to use any.

“We are so sorry for your loss and send our deepest condolences.”

“With our heartfelt sympathy”

“May XNAME’s memory be a blessing to all who knew him/her.”

Or the most traditional, “May G-d comfort you among all mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.”

Please be sure to sign your note and consider a closing that includes “love.” This is the time for generosity of spirit. Please don’t be shy with your loving kindness at a time like this.
Shiva-An Act of Kindness
Shiva calls should be thought of as an act of kindness, not as a burden. Sharon Rosen, owner of Shiva Connect, a free Jewish registry service where Shiva details and more can be posted, states that “Judaism teaches us that when a member of our community feels the heart-wrenching pain of grief and loss, we should be there to comfort, console and sustain them.” The visit can be an hour or less to avoid tiring the family. Different families will observe Shiva in different manners. It is traditional for mourners to have a tear in their clothing to symbolize their loss. They may sit on low stools or even on the floor to show the depth of their sadness.

Usually a 24-hour candle burns in memory of the deceased. In some homes, mourners will recite Kaddish up to three times a day with a minyan, which is a group of 10 Jewish adults. At times it is difficult to gather a minyan, so visitors who can participate are especially appreciated.

Written by Jane Moritz, owner, Challah Connection, the premiere online kosher gift company specializing in Jewish traditional gifts. “Creating Kvells Since 2002”

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This Father’s Day, Appreciation Is a Great Gift

As my 3 sons are getting older and more independent—24, 22, 18—and I see them out and about in the world, I am thankful for my husband. I married Josh because unlike the other men I dated who were braggers and selfish, Josh is kind and generous of heart—a true mensch.

The thing about having kids who are on their own is that we are no longer controlling them (if we ever really did). This is not an easy transition for a Jewish mom like me! Now that they are on their own all we can do is hope and pray that the lessons and values we taught them are going to keep them protected and moving in the right direction.

But perhaps even more important now is “Dad.” It is said that boys in particular need a Dad but not having any daughters, I can’t vouch for that. However, I am very grateful that my boys have gotten to see their Dad as a down to earth, hard working and honest person who is good to his wife, his own mother, mother-in-law and family. Josh has his values and priorities straight and I pray that they model themselves after him.

This Father’s Day, I am hoping that my boys will honor their Dad. Fancy gifts are not important but acknowledging him and making an effort to show their appreciation is.

-Happy Father’s Day, Jane Moritz

 

Jane Moritz is owner of Challah Connection and Kosher Gift Box, the leading online destination for traditional kosher and Jewish gifts.

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The Popularity of Jewish Food: Taste, Nostalgia, Tradition

Here on the East Coast, it’s not hard to come across a media story about the popularity of “Jewish food.” Recently, much of this coverage has been about the food entrepreneurs—mostly in Brooklyn—who are “reinventing” recipes. Since my company Challah Connection is all about Jewish food traditions and kosher gifts, I find this new coverage really exciting. Not only does it validate our mission, but it makes me proud of our younger generation who are embracing traditions which will help to make our Jewish heritage live on and on and on.

Having spent time in places like Warsaw, Budapest, Prague and Israel and therefore being familiar with the source of great rugelach, babka, knaidelach and more, it’s almost like coming full circle seeing these foods being reinvented right here in New York City. Jeffrey Yoskowitz, an owner of Gefilteria, a boutique purveyer of old world Jewish food, said in a recent New York Times article: “It turns out that our ancestors knew what they were doing.” and “The recipes and techniques are almost gone, and we have to capture the knowledge before it’s lost.”

Traditional Jewish Meal from Challah Connection

Traditional Jewish Meal, what makes this some alluring? Taste, Tradition and Nostalgia

Thanks to these new food entrepreneurs, the new versions of these foods will be more appropriate to the way we eat now. For example, my husband talks about the gribenus (fried chicken skin) his grandmother cooked on the Lower East Side. No chance that we would eat that now. But on the other hand, Gefilteria’s gefilte fish, which we sell at Challah Connection, has nothing bad! Ok, a little bit of sugar—but other than that, all of the ingredients are simple, clean and gluten free. It’s downright exciting that Melissa Weller and Black Seed Bagels are bringing bagels back the way they used to be and should be. Bagels should not be a puffy mound of dough enough for 3 people!

But thinking broader then just food is the idea that these younger people are embracing and redefining being Jewish. In addition to new takes on favorite Jewish foods, concepts like Moishe House and Pop-up Shabbat are bringing a new, easy going and inclusive way to be Jewish. You just need to love the food and the warm, homey feeling to go to these events. At these venues, everyone is invited and accepted. Hopefully, you’ll sing and dance-and EAT– and come back next time. Of course, not everyone agrees that this new Jewish openness is “kosher” but of course, that is another discussion topic for another day.

There is no doubt in my mind that “Jewish food” creates a strong connection to being Jewish and it does for 3 important reasons: Taste, Tradition and Nostalgia.

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Our Jewish Bakery Favorites are the Hit of the Holiday Weekend

It’s Memorial Day–almost. When it comes to desserts for weekend guests and barbeques, I think of ice cream, chocolate chip cookies, brownies and so on. So, I am happily surprised to see that Jewish Bakery favorites–our Classics Care Package–which includes challah, babka, rugelach and black and white cookies are flying out of our doors! When I think about it, I get it: these are are yummy, homey, nostalgic foods that people LOVE. These are foods with soul! Not to mention that our challah makes the BEST french toast–perfect for breakfast for the visiting friends and family.

Jewish bakery favorites, kosher bakery

Classics Care Package from Challah Connection

Happy Summer! If you are looking for some the finest from the kosher bakery you know where to find it–at Challah Connection, of course.

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Passover Recipes To Make Your Meal

I am so proud of my fellow kosher foodies! They have recently written a terrific new Passover cookbook–4 Bloggers Dish: Passover, Modern Twists on Traditional Flavors.

4 Bloggers Dish: Passover, Modern Twists on Traditional Flavors contains over 50 new recipes from four award winning food writers who have gotten to know each other  through their blogs: Whitney Fisch of Jewhungry, Liz Rueven of Kosher Like Me, Sarah Lasry of The Patchke Princess, and Amy Kritzer of What Jew Wanna Eat.
In addition to mouth-watering modern recipes such as Balsamic Braised Short Ribs, Matzah Brie Caprese, Spaghetti Squash with Quinoa Meatballs, Sautéed Kale, Tomato, and Mushroom Quiche with a Hash Brown Crust, and Cinnamon Donut Balls, this e-cookbook also includes step-by-step instructions and beautiful visuals as well as helpful tips such as Freezer Instructions, Prep Ahead Rules, and a To-Go Guide.

4 Bloggers Dish, Passover: Modern Twists on Traditional Flavors, is now available online via Amazon and compatible for Kindle, the iPad and the Nook.

Click here to purchase: http://amzn.to/1iSZr7h

 

 

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Alcohol and Purim–How Much is Enough?

We recently sent an email out to our customers reminding them of the 3 mitzvot we are to do for Purim. Know what they are?

1) Read the megillah, from start to finish

2) Get drunk

3) Send gifts of food and wine

Rightfully so, one of our customers quickly responded letting us know that encouraging readers to “Get drunk” without any sort of explanation was not responsible on our part. We quickly made sure to qualify this with the inclusion of “with safety and moderation.”

Our friends at My Jewish Learning have posted a great article that examines the source of Purim drinking and just how much is enough. It’s an interesting read, check it out.

Happy Purim and bottom’s up–within reason!

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7 Species Recipe Contest

I just returned from another amazing trip to Israel where I was one of 3 leaders shepherding 14 Jewish moms helping them learn and grow their Judaism and spirituality. Naturally, given the foody person that I am, one of my favorite places in Jerusalem is Mahane Yehuda—the main food market where spirituality and life lessons (patience, self control among the top) abound, especially on Friday afternoon before Shabbat. Let’s just say: OY—very hot and crowded. But, during my visits there I was reminded of the truly biblical foods, the Seven Species:

  • Olives
  • Grapes
  • Wheat
  • Barley
  • Figs
  • Dates
  • Pomegranates

Photo By Erika Yarmoff

Photo By Erika Yarmoff

These are the foods that accentuate a sense of continuity between the biblical Land of Israel and the modern state. They were very significant during ancient times, as the fruits were discovered and embraced the very moment the Israelite’s entered the land after their bondage in Egypt.

 

 

With Rosh Hashana just 7 weeks away I wanted to get you thinking about something yummy to prepare for the holiday! With that in mind, I challenge you to come up with a recipe that includes as ingredients at least 3 of the 7 species listed above. Whether the recipe is for an appetizer, main course, or dessert, everything qualifies as long as the recipe includes at least 3 of the 7 species. The individual with the most creative and tasty submission will receive a 7 species tote bag! Additionally, one runner-up will receive a 7 species pot-holder.

Entering To Win The Tote Bag Is Easy!
  1. Formulate a recipe for an appetizer, main course, side dish or dessert that includes at least 3 of the 7 species
  2. Include instructions for how to prepare the meal
  3. Post your recipe & instructions as a comment below
  4. Submissions must be made by August 16th. The winners will be announced shortly after.
  5. We will email you if you are a winner or runner up.

Best of Luck!

Jane Moritz
Owner

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Introducing Lox, Bagels & Deli Baskets!

If you haven’t been keeping up with your calendar lately, Fathers Day is just around the corner! Surprise dad with one of these delicious deli-style gift baskets!

New York City is home to one of the most famous and authentic Jewish brunch foods – lox and bagels. However, we understand that not everyone can easily make a trip into the city to enjoy this delicious meal. That is why at Challah Connection we are introducing the NYC Brunch Basket. Packed into a lovely woven basket, the lucky fressers (eaters) will receive a half pound of smoked salmon, 6 tasty and chewy toasting bagels, cream cheese, and much more! Purchase this today for $109.99, and you don’t even have to deal with all of that Manhattan traffic! Click Here to learn more!

 

 

Remember back when mom and pop would take you to the Jewish deli around the corner, and all of the distinct aromas that you can still make out from miles away? Well here at Challah Connection we have created a similar experience that you can enjoy from the comfort of your own home! With this Kosher Deli Deluxe Basket comes 6 tasty and chewy toasting bagels, a quarter pound of smoked salmon, 2 full pounds of our favorite kosher salami from Hebrew National, as well as Eli’s European Rye Bread. Purchase today for $249.99, and Click Here for complete details on this special offer!

 

 

Looking for a simpler version of the Jewish deli experience? Well we have just the right Jewish Deli Gift Crate, which is perfect for any occasion! Securely packed in a wooden crate are a 2 lb. Hebrew National salami, Eli’s European Rye Bread, real deli mustard, 2 cans of Dr. Browns Cream Soda, and much more! Purchase today for $119.99, and Click Here for complete details.

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