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Exploring Cuba–notes on my recent trip

Blue CarMy husband Josh and I recently returned from 9 days in Cuba. We went with a group of 8 friends on a “people-to-people” trip. We had a fabulous time and would like to go back to explore more of the country. However, if you’re curious and thinking about going, please know that it’s not for the “faint of heart.” It’s a country filled with friendly, nice people, great weather, fascinating history and terrific music as well as lines for everything (restaurants, changing money are 2 examples), poverty, stray dogs, cats and chickens (some of which are dead on the side of the road).


As we always do when we travel, Josh and I sought out Havana’s Jewish community and food. Like many places in Europe, where Jewish communities once thrived, Havana’s Jewish scene is fairly light. Before the revolution in 1959, there was a significant Jewish community however most of the Jews of Havana left for Miami or Israel, leaving a very few (200 or so?) who currently live there. The Jewish food scene also is sparse. There are 2 “Jewish food” items I saw: “Grandma’s Chicken Soup,” which is on many restaurant menus and it is described the way we think of it but without the matzo balls. The other is “Cuban humous” which is made with black beans and possibly tahini (not 100% on this). If you can consider rum a Jewish food, then it’s abundant and possibly the best I’ve ever had (I am now a champion pina colada drinker and missing my daily double).

pretty building
There are atleast 2 synagogues in Havana and one day we took a cab (one of those American cars that are long overdue in the car cemetery, in my opinion) to the Vedado section of Havana to find Congregation Beth Shalom. Vedado is also the area where University of Havana is located, which we were interested to see but was unfortunately closed for the official mourning day of Fidel’s death. We then started our navigation to the synagogue, which was not completely straightforward on the map, but a really pretty walk in an area very different from Havana Vieja (old Havana) where we were staying. In Vedado, the houses were large, beautiful and mostly old Spanish-style with palm trees and greenery. We sat in a pretty park and decided that this part of town was the Upper West Side of Havana (like NYC’s UWS) and Old Havana being more like Times Square.


Once we were about 10 blocks from Beth Shalom, we started to see signs for the synagogue like the one above, which we found comforting, not just for the obvious reason but also as it signified Havana’s respect for the synagogue and Jewish community. We found it and unfortunately it was closed BUT as we were leaving, someone ran after us calling us to come back. This kind man worked there and wanted us know that there would be a Shabbat service on Friday at 6:30 and we should come since “this is our home.” We were delighted by his friendliness and warmth and came back 3 days later for Shabbat, arriving just before 7.

When we walked into the sanctuary, we were taken aback by the almost-full sanctuary—200 or so people. This was not what we expected given the history. The bima was full of Virginia Tech students who were completing their week long community service trip with a final prayer from the Rabbi. Another group was there from a Minneapolis synagogue plus many local Havanites.

Unfortunately the service had actually started at 5:30 so we missed it almost entirely, which we were extremely disappointed about. But we met several of the people there and they could not have been more friendly. It was a lovely reminder of the Jewish solidarity that can be found anywhere in the world.  When we returned to our travel buddies (sipping their mojitos–great rum!!!!), they were all excited to hear about our excursion and genuinely disappointed that we missed most of the service. As we had already learned several times already on the trip: “It’s Cuba,” which is travelese for “go with the flow.”

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Heros and Heroines: Hospice Caregivers

I recently read a fascinating article in the New Yorker about something I knew nothing about: care givers in hospices. As part of life, I have witnessed the loss of 2 close family members; my own father and my father in law. Both died in the hospital so I have never had the occasion to go or learn about hospice and the amazing people that work in them.

Fruit and Friends Comfort Crate | Challah ConnectionSimply, hospice is where people go to die. Whether a patient is suffering from an incurable illness or has suffered a stroke or accident that will lead to death in the next few months, it is often hospice where they go. Dying, is often a difficult and drawn out process and can be one or more of the following: boring, painful, scary, easy, ugly or more. Unlike the role of a nurse or Dr. where the job is to restore to health, the hospice worker is there to smooth the road to death and that road is often very bumpy. There are unresolved issues and anger that won’t allow the dying to let go and die. There is the looming birthday that keeps one hanging on. There is fear. There are difficult family members and unresolved family fighting. There are patients who are made happy only by certain music. The list goes on but these amazing caregivers act as stewards to the next life by doling out support however they see fit: acting as therapist, or as great listener, birthday party organizer, bedpan cleaner and so on. They seem to have an innate ability to understand what is needed for each patient while never forgetting the mission: to usher them with kindness and respect into the next phase.

I am in awe of these dedicated and hardworking caregivers and am so grateful to the author, Larissa Macfarquhar, for writing this piece. These caregivers seem to be almost a step or 2 above the rest of us with their ability to see the present and the future so easily. There are no gifts that could truly honor their almost G-dlike work but I think we should start with some essentials to keep their nourishment up and to show the immense gratitude for their dedicated and courageous work. Here are some gift ideas from Challah Connection for your favorite care giver, whether they are caring for someone in hospice, at home or for your favorite childcare provider. We always feel happier when we acknowledge others and show them gratitude.

-Jane Moritz, Chief Maven Officer, Challah Connection

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Broadway’s Fiddler on the Roof Finds a Perfect Match with Challah from Local Company

Norwalk, CT, March 1, 2016 – When a show representative for the new Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof, began searching for props she wanted to find just the right challah to be used on. The challah, a traditional braided bread, would symbolize the union of Jewish tradition and family which are such strong themes of the show. She did a quick Google search for “challah delivery” to find just the right vendor to deliver this old world baked good to Broadway night after night, and discovered Challah Connection. Based in Norwalk, CT, the company specializes in traditional Jewish foods and gifts. Challah Connection was named “Official Nosh Partner,” delivering 16 kosher challahs weekly as well as providing additional noshes for unique occasions.

“Challah Connection is about connecting people to Old World Jewish foods like challah, babka, rugelach and so much more,” says company owner Jane Moritz. “We are thrilled to be a part of this production of Fiddler on the Roof, with our signature challahs being used on stage in every production!”

“The producers of Fiddler on the Roof are thrilled to be partnering with Challah Connection. We’ve been drooling for some delicious and homemade tasting challahs over at The Broadway Theatre and are happy that our on-stage Fiddler family led by five-time Tony Award nominee Danny Burstein as Tevye and Tony nominee Jessica Hecht as Golde, will get to enjoy the bread 8 times a week.”

Challah Connection was launched in 2002 as a challah delivery service, helping people in and around Fairfield County, CT get weekly deliveries of this ritual bread that was, at the time, hard to find. The company expanded into offering the highest quality kosher gift baskets brimming with favorite Jewish foods. “We put thought and meaning into our baskets. Our offerings soon included acclaimed babka loaves swirled with chocolate and cinnamon, comforting rugelach from Eastern European recipes, and gift baskets with dried fruits, nuts and specialty candies,” says Moritz.

To celebrate the Fiddler connection, the company has created a new website page featuring new product offerings like “Tevye’s Traditions” and “Golde’s Bakery Gems.” They’re filled with classic kosher bakery goods: challah (just like the one now on stage), rich chocolatey babka, Eastern European rugelach pastries, and black and white cookies.

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Entrepreneurs are Everywhere

A few months back I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Steve Blank for his radio show, Entrepreneurs are Everywhere. We talked about the many challenges and rewards associated with starting your own business. If you’re toying with the idea of being an entrepreneur Blank’s show can be heard on Sirius XM Channel 111. And here’s my interview — hopefully good food for thought. :)



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New Holiday Products

My favorite thing about my job is talking to you–our beloved customers. Whether it’s to hear of something we did with awesome greatness or about a problem where our “human-ness” got in the way, speaking to you allows me to learn more how Challah Connection can secure that special place in your heart called “online home.”

My second favorite job activity is finding new products for you. I have been having ALOT OF FUN lately! I’ve scoured the food shows, gift shows and every possible place to find you gifts that you want to share with friends and family–or for yourself! My travels have produced some exciting new kosher gifts, such as the NYC Food Tour Tower, Happy Hanukkah Chocolate Gift Box and Blissful Brownie Gift Box (we are happily working our way through the sample box sent to our office–these are GOOD). As for Jewish and Judaica gifts, we have some gorgeous new menorahs, dreidels and decorations from Emily Rosenfeld, Gary Rosenthal, Tamara Baskin and some terrific Israeli artists. We have also found a really impressive new artist, Murray Eisner, who has taken a pop art approach and applied it to some of our favorite food icons. His prints make stunning additions to your homes and offices. Finally, for all of the baseball lovers out there (and there are alot of you!), we have teamed up with Steiner Sports to offer you Ballparks of the MLB and a baseball commemorating Derek Jeter’s 3000th hit.

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Video: Shiva, the 7 Day Jewish Mourning Period

Death is part of our journey. The more we can accept that, the more free we will be to live our lives to the fullest. Here is some helpful information about Shiva, the 7 Day Jewish mourning period. May we all live to be 104, but if not, there are things we need to know…

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Let the Challah Connection Mavens Help With Your Mother’s Day Shopping

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How to Write a Sympathy Message

Writing a sympathy message is one of life’s most difficult tasks. Jane Moritz, Challah Connection owner shares with you give messages that customers have used over the last decade.

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Preparing for Passover, Beyond the Brisket

JaneChaibraceletFrom Jane Moritz, Chief Maven Officer, Challah Connection:
Now that our 3 sons are out of the house, my husband and I are cleaning out and packing up our house as we get ready for our next home in our next life phase. With the dumpster filling up outside our garage and my no-tchotcke-left-unturned focus, I was particularly moved when I received a recent email, “From Purim to Passover,” about preparing for Passover. The author, Nigel Savage, President of Hazon beautifully discusses prep that is well beyond the brisket. I wanted to share it with you and whether you are Jewish or not or religious or not, these are thoughts that we can all make use of. Here is an excerpt from his email:

From Nigel Savage, President,
nigel-savage“I think of the period from seder night until Shavuot as a sustained reflection on the nature of freedom, and in particular about traveling from freedom from (want, oppression, slavery) to freedom to (make a difference in the world, exercise choice, restrain oneself in certain ways.)
The period from Purim to seder night is thus preparation for this. It’s the work we need to do to be able to start to leave our own enslavement and to think freshly and confidently about our freedom.

And the tradition’s great insight – hidden in plain view – is that a significant part of that process is about getting rid of stuff.
Certainly this involves removing chametz, traditionally understood – bread and beer and whisky and other fermented products. But the deeper gift of this period – certainly in our time, certainly in the west – is the deeper notion that we have too much stuff of all sorts, and that if we truly want to be free – if we want even to begin to imagine our true freedom – the road to doing so involves getting rid not only of literal chametz but of existential chametz – the superfluities that hinder our freedom.

So in our household we do kasher our home in the traditional sense; we keep a fairly strictly kosher kitchen and that is important to us. But as well as the traditional koshering, we take the opportunity to try to get rid of stuff. We take stuff to goodwill, or to the office. Give things to friends. Throw things out.” For Nigel’s complete letter, click here.

Happy Passover!

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Help Your College Student Celebrate Passover

Spring Break was early this year. Or maybe Passover is late. Either way, the eight-day holiday begins at sundown on Friday, April 22, about a week after classes resume. If your kids attend an out-of-town college, they may be celebrating without you.

SederEssLGCampus Hillel programs and other Jewish organizations do a good job of organizing at least one seder for students. You may want to do a little research in advance, to be sure your student signs up. If your kid tends to procrastinate, he or she might wake up on April 22 and realize that there is no place reserved at the seder table. And college students seldom have the facilities, ingredients – or frankly, the skills – to create a last-minute seder on their own.

PassMealLGHere’s one way to be sure that your college kids have a positive Passover experience at school: Send a seder in a box from Challah Connection. They get it all: the Haggadah, matzah, grape juice, dessert – even a seder plate. Everything is kosher for Passover, so they’ll have everything to make a seder, except the festive meal.

But wait! Challah Connection has the meal too! Order by April 11, and we’ll send your college student a complete Passover dinner on April 21, to feed four to six people: matzo ball soup, roast chicken, brisket, potato pancakes and tzimmes, a stew of sweet potatoes and carrots. This marvelous meal is an amazing treat for students – and you can order it for yourself, too! That way, you won’t have to spend all day in the kitchen before your guests arrive.

CandyMacPlatterLGIf your kids are anything like mine, they are eager to dig into those traditional Passover foods, as they ask the time-honored fifth question of the seder: “When do we eat?” They’ll stuff themselves, but they always seem to make room for those amazing desserts! Be sure your Passover order includes a platter of Pesadich cookies, candy and macaroons, or decadent, chocolate-covered matzo, to make their seder experience complete.

Visit and browse our selection of kosher for Passover gift baskets, for your students, your family and for yourself. Join our mailing list, and receive holiday reminders, delicious recipes, and special, money-saving offers. Happy Passover!

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