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Keeping Kosher in Antarctica

Antarctica Kosher

Words cannot do justice for what Antarctica looks like. Even photographic images and film can only give an idea. The magnitude and magnificence of a world of, ice, rock, and snow, some of it can be captured in an image. But what of the wind that bites into you regardless of how many layers you may be wearing – as you stand on the deck late at night while the ship breaks through pack ice. You hear the ‘crunch, crunch, crunch,’ and deep down you know you are secretly thinking, what if?

Antarctica is not a place where humans belong. G-d did not intend for us to be there and it is virtually impossible to survive for any lengthy period of time without product and support form off the continent. Perhaps this is a good thing? Antarctica is an incredibly fragile place and it would not take long for man to destroy it. Thankfully, today as people visit, there are many protocols and practices in place to preserve Antarctica’s ecosystem.

Rabbi in AntarcticaI feel blessed to have had the opportunity to experience the grandeur of Antarctica with over hundred fascinating people. I was part of a group of mostly Australian Entrepreneurs who gathered together to converse in, ‘how to get to the future first.’ Together, we brain stormed ideas of what the future would look like and what we collectively, and individually, could, and would do about it.

For me, one of my concerns prior to the trip was how I would keep kosher on the boat. I was sure there would be plenty of good food, but how much of it would I be able to eat. I brought along some energy bars, instant soups, oatmeal, as well as a box of matzo, just in case.

I figured I’d be able to sort something out with the chef when I got on the cruise. Nowadays, anyone working with sophisticated western tourists are usually inundated with all the diets and eating disorders we have: vegetarian, vegan, ovo- lacto-pesco phsycotarian, gluten free, Raw, paleo, low carb, diabetic, and in my case kosher. The challenge I find though with using the term kosher, is that I have come across countless interpretations of its meaning. The most common being, ‘kosher food is food blessed by a rabbi.’ Now I wish it was this simple. I being a rabbi, would never have a problem with food anywhere in the world and could happily order anything on the menu and bless it myself. However, kosher is far more complicated than this.

I don’t want to get into a long discourse now about what is, and what is not Kosher, instead, I prefer to speak about how I kept kosher on a boat in Antarctica. For starters, it was a lot easier then I had thought it would be. When I got on the boat and spoke with the head waiter Narandra, he seemed already versed in many aspects of kosher. He began showing me the kosher certifying symbols on many of the food products. Turns out, the company gets almost all their food in a container shipped from Miami. Anyone familiar with American kosher food products will know that a large percentage of available product is certified kosher. Things like peanut butter, jams, bolted milk, cereals, biscuits, and so on, are often kosher. Thus it was easy for me to find things to eat. Even the ice cream which was served every night was kosher. And strange as it were, and as cold as I was for some reason I still enjoyed eating the ice cream.


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Kosher Airline Meals and What Makes a Good Kosher Airline Meal?

Having flown on some 300 flights in my life so far, I have tasted a fair share of kosher airline meals. Some have been fantastic, balanced, and well thought out, while others could have used some work.
Once, my regular kosher meal did not make it onto the plane. However, a first-class passenger had ordered a kosher meal but did not show up. So I was given the extra first-class kosher meal. The tray was too big even to fit on the tray holder in front of me and it came with real dishes and cutlery! All the other passengers were staring and asking what kind of meal I ordered, which came with a variety of very nice courses. I told them I ordered a kosher meal – boy, they might have been disappointed on their next trip!
On my recent trip to the United States from Australia, I flew with Japan Airlines which coded shared with American Airlines. On the Japan Airline flights I had three meals, two of which were wonderful fish meals, with rice and various side dishes. The third meal was three large pieces of while fruit, which I found interesting. The fruit was wrapped in plastic and had a KSML sticker on it. I tried communicating with one of the air hostess, wanting to understand how they arrived at this unique kosher meal. I explained that the meal was indeed kosher, and I being a fruit lover, I enjoyed the meal. But many other kosher passengers would not be happy with such a meal. I never did get a good explanation.

On the way back with American Airlines I received three meat meals. One was some sort of gooey dried out chicken nuggets, another was frozen meat balls, and the third a pastrami sandwich. My wife, who does not eat meat, would not have enjoyed these meals at all. I guess that is why she always makes sure to pack enough food for an army when she flies somewhere. Once we nearly missed our flight because she was cooking a huge meal to bring with us!

Now those who know me, would be aware that I don’t eat a lot of meat, though I still enjoy a good quality fleishig meal. None of the meals were good, and three meat meals on a twelve hour flight I feel is over doing it. But Americans do like their meat I guess, and Japanese like fish, so the airlines order similar types of kosher airline meals to what they think the passengers would enjoy. Whoever is making those kosher airline meals for American Airlines, I think there is a lot of room for improvement. I’ve had some fantastic kosher airline meals, but sadly yours have not made the list.

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The High Holidays and the Significance of Food in Judaism

The High Holidays and the Significance of Food in Judaism

Below follows my High Holydays message as published in The Voice, the Adelaide Hebrew Congregation newsletter.

I guess if I’m going to be Jewish (and a Rebbetzin, no less!), it’s a good thing I like cooking.  In these weeks leading up to Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot, it seems like all I’ve been doing is cooking and baking up a storm.  My fridges and freezers are full to capacity, but with 18 (yes, eighteen!) meals this holiday season, I think it’s best to work ahead a bit.

Food and eating play a central role in Judaism.  You know the old joke about Jewish holidays: “They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat!”  But the reality is that eating is much more than that for us.  Food is a means of connection and connection is extremely important in Judaism.

On the one hand, we use food to connect with other people.  We often use food to show our love, by putting our time and effort into creating something for someone else to enjoy, even though we know it will not last (except maybe on our thighs!).  Family mealtimes are an opportunity to spend time together and to focus on one another, especially on Shabbat and Yom Tov, when there are no distractions like TVs and phones.  In fact, family therapists often recommend that their clients begin repairing damaged relationships by having one family dinner per week, with no interruptions.  Judaism is ahead of the curve – we do this every week anyway, helping us to build strong families and relationships before there is a problem.

Food in Judaism also serves the dual purpose of connecting us to G-d.  Before we eat or drink anything, we make a blessing on it.  This brings us into a state of mindfulness and an attitude of gratitude that experts on happiness all agree is essential to living a joyful life.  But making blessings on food does not just help us tap into a high spiritual state; focusing sincerely on our relationship with G-d actually changes physical reality.  A molecular photographer once took some photos of water molecules.  They were boring, straight-edged shapes.  But once a blessing was made on the water, the molecules miraculously changed shape.  They looked like beautiful snowflakes.  Yet these were the exact same water molecules.  By using them as a tool to connect with G-d, they were actually physically changed.  When we ingest something that has been changed in this way, we are not only emotionally and spiritually connecting to G-d, but we are physically connecting ourselves to Him.

On Rosh Hashanah there are a variety of symbolic foods we eat.  Using foods as symbols helps make their message a part of us, and has the added bonus of making their meaning more interesting and memorable.  Apples and challah dipped in honey signify that we should have a sweet new year, as does honey cake.  Round challahs remind us of the continuity of creation – as we finish the Torah in the holiday season, we immediately begin again.  We also eat a new fruit on the second night of Rosh Hashanah, on which we make a “shecheiyanu” blessing thanking G-d for keeping us alive and bringing us to this season.  Thus we are reminded to be grateful not only for every day we are alive, but also for the ability to enjoy the bounty G-d has given us.  We also eat fish (or lamb), generally with the head still attached, to signify that we should be a “head” and not a “tail,” as Rosh Hashanah is the “head of the year.”  Fish is also a symbol of abundance and fertility.  Some people even make up their own “symbols” to include, which can be as clever and creative as you like.  For example, you might make a little salad with half a raisin and some celery, so you can “half a raisin celery” (“have a raise in salary”).

On Sukkot, the food you eat is less important, but where you eat it is very important.  It is the Feast of Tabernacles.  While it is a great mitzvah to spend as much time in the sukkah as possible, it is much more important to be in the sukkah when you eat.  It wouldn’t be much of a Feast of Tabernacles if you did your feasting outside of the tabernacle, would it?  While we eat, we seek shelter in a makeshift booth, where we rely upon G-d for protection from the elements (and the bees!).  Within the sukkah, we shake lulav (made up of a date palm frond, willow branch, and myrtle) and etrog (citron).  The etrog is a fruit with a strong taste and smell, symbolizing Jews with Torah learning and good deeds.  The date is a fruit with a good taste but no smell, representing Jews who have Torah learning but no good deeds.  Myrtle smells good but has no taste, for Jews who have good deeds but no Torah knowledge. Finally, the willow has no taste and no smell, for Jews who have neither good deeds nor Torah knowledge.  All four are held together because all types of Jews are important and loved by G-d.  To remind themselves to strive to both learn Torah and do good deeds, many people eat etrog jelly after Sukkot is over, and it is seen as a segula (symbol) for easy birth when a pregnant woman eats it (maybe I should try this!) or for a blessing on the home when it is eaten on Tu B’Shvat.

Even less well-known holidays in Judaism come with special foods for us to eat.  On the day before Yom Kippur and on Hoshanah Raba (the seventh and last day of Sukkot) (as well as on Purim) we eat kreplach (pockets of dough filled with meat or other stuffing) to symbolize two things: 1) that it is a holiday (symbolized by the meat) yet not a complete holiday (symbolized by the dough covering and hiding it) and 2) that it is a time of judgment for the Jewish people – we ask that the divine judgment (meat, which is a dead animal) be tempered by G-d’s goodness and compassion (bread, which sustains life).  On Shemini Atzeret, although it is no longer Sukkot, we continue to eat in the sukkah.  On Simchat Torah, we eat foods that are rolled, like the Torah is.  (I know many people are thinking of deli rolls, but I am thinking of cinnamon swirls!)  We also drink wine or other spirits on Simchat Torah, to help us feel the joy of Torah and so we can celebrate G-d’s goodness without inhibitions.

For us Jews, food is much more than just a gustatory and epicurean activity.  It is a spiritual experience, a symbolic endeavour, and an interpersonal relationship builder.  It helps us to remember who we are as Jews, where we came from, and where we are going.

So as I cook for the holidays, I’ll be adding some extra honey to my challah and kugels, and extra apple to my cakes.  And most of all, I’ll be adding some extra love and care in the hopes that each and every one of us has a happy, sweet, and loving new year.

Shana tova & be’te avon,

Rebbetzin Rachel

Read more about the Jewish High Holidays:

Read more about Blowing the Shofar Before Rosh Hashanah During the Month of Elul

Read more about Rosh Hashanah Dessert Recipes

Read more about Rosh Hashanah & Sukkot Are Soon: Try Cooking Ahead! 

Read more about Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur in Sydney, Australia

Read more about Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur with the Jewish community in New Caledonia

Read more about Yom Kippur: Facing Your Truth

Read more about Yom Kippur & Jonah: Talkin’ About a Revolution

Read more about Celebrating Sukkot in Newtown, Sydney, Australia

Read more about What is a Simchat Beis HaShoeva Sukkot Celebration & Are There any in Sydney, Australia?

Read more about Hoshanah Raba: We Can All Be Kings

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Rosh Hashanah Dessert Recipes

Rosh Hashanah Dessert Recipes

Rosh Hashanah is coming up in a week and a half! Are you prepared? Have you cooked everything in advance? Or are you just now starting to scramble? (Here are some tips on cooking ahead!)

Apple cakes, cookies, and muffins for Rosh Hashanah!

Homemade rice milk (to use in parve recipes), apple raisin muffins, apple cookies, and apple cakes for Rosh Hashanah! All of this took me only one morning to cook and can easily serve many people for dessert.

A friend recently asked for some easy Rosh Hashanah dessert ideas. Of course there is the classic and inevitable honey cake.  Now, I personally don’t like honey cake.  Every one I taste seems dry and flavorless.  Usually I only like cakes overflowing with decadent chocolate or full of fruit.  But since this year I have to make my own honey cake, I turned to one of my favorite cooking blogs, Smitten Kitchen.  I made her recipe, which she got from Marcy Goldman, and it turned out to be delicious!  Next time I would cut the white sugar in half, but otherwise keep the recipe the same (we don’t like things TOO sweet).  However, taste tests reveal that even with all the other flavors inside, the cake STILL tastes like honey, with just enough spice to make it exciting. Yum! Check it out and try baking it yourself:

Of course what goes with honey on Rosh Hashanah? Apples! Apples and honey! So you could always serve baked apples, but if that seems like the “easy” way out or you want something fancier, here are some good but easy ideas:

Apple cake is easy – here’s a recipe with good ratings. I like the ones with grated apple because I can just toss them through the food processor and not deal with chopping or slicing. I always double a recipe like this and use my grater blade for half the apples and my chipper blade for half (gives bigger chunks to bite into) but it’s not necessary if you don’t have a chipper blade. I haven’t tried this recipe yet, but I expect I will. I followed a different apple cake recipe last time and I can’t find it again.

You could also try making apple compote. I just peel & core all the apples & toss them with a splash of water into a pot on the stove and slow cook them, stirring occasionally. I use whatever apples I have lying around, but Granny Smiths are the best for baking (although because they are a bit more sour, you may need to add some sugar). (If you don’t feel up to messing with apples on the stove, you can just chuck a bowl in the microwave for 7 minutes or so – same effect, less time!)

Homemade apple strudel is easy to do with leftover or extra apple compote as filling and store-bought filo dough or puffed pastry dough.

Homemade apple strudel is easy to do with leftover or extra apple compote as filling and store-bought filo dough or puffed pastry dough.

Apple compote is really versatile, so you might want to make a LOT. Remember, apples cook down quite a lot! You can serve compote on its own or with some whipped cream. You can also use it as filling for apple strudel (use filo or puffed pastry dough – lay out one sheet, use a pastry brush to “paint” it with melted butter or margarine, fold in half lengthwise twice to form a long thin rectangle, put a spoonful of apple compote mixed with cinnamon & vanilla on the end, and fold it in triangles like a flag, paint the outside with butter, then bake on a tray in the oven).

Or use apple compote as a filling for apple pie! This is my grandmother’s recipe… YUM and easy!

I hope you enjoy these recipes.  There should be enough variety there to keep you enjoying a different dessert at every meal, but without having to overdo the cooking.

Shana tova and be’te avon!

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Scientific Proof That Keeping Kosher Can Increase Your Happiness

Scientific Proof That Keeping Kosher Can Increase Your Happiness

There are a lot of reasons for keeping kosher.  Of course the best reason to keep kosher is because G-d said to, because it’s written in the Torah.  We could do it because it’s a mitzvah (and who doesn’t need to get some extra merit in the world to come?!).  Some people who aren’t even Jewish keep kosher because it’s healthier – yes, even today, with all the FDA regulations (FDA regulations really don’t mean much, to tell you the truth).  But here’s another reason to keep kosher: IT CAN ACTUALLY MAKE YOU HAPPIER.


Yes, as in more joyful, more smiley, less depressed.  Happier. Why? How?

Well, in my last post I spoke about the power of choice.  Choice is undeniably a good thing – up to a point.  As with all good things, it is fantastic in moderation, but dangerous in too-high doses.  In fact, too much choice can be paralyzing.  It can cause you not to choose anything at all.

Another side effect of choice is making the wrong choice.  If you only have 3 choices and you’re not thrilled with the one you pick, you can always shrug your shoulders and say, “Well, it was the best of the bunch!”  But if you have 3 dozen or 300 choices, suddenly if the one you choose isn’t the best, you end up blaming yourself. Surely ONE of those choices must have been the perfect choice!

The result is that although we have more choices and we may choose something that is objectively better than what we would have chosen previously, we are LESS HAPPY with our choice.

Here’s where keeping kosher comes in.  When you keep kosher, you inherently have fewer choices.  Even if you live in Israel, where entire supermarkets are kosher, there will always be some things off-limits to you.  You can’t buy pork chops, you can’t have calamari, and even if you can put cheese on a soy burger, it never tastes quite like the real thing.  If you live, as we do, in a community where there are far fewer kosher options than, say, Jerusalem or Monsey, your choice is restricted even further.  I can still buy pickles, but I don’t have to choose among 20 different versions: Instead, I have 3 to choose from. This applies across the board.

And you know what? The same thing can apply to other areas of Judaism as well.  Dressing modestly means mini-skirts and skimpy tank tops are out of the running, but it doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of other options you can use to express yourself.  But if there are 200 tops in the department store and only 20 are tznius and of these only 2 suit you, then after choosing between them you will be happier than you would if you did not keep tzniut and had to choose one out of 20 tops that suit you.

And there is scientific proof to back this up.  If you don’t believe me, just check out this TED video! Enjoy and happy kosher keeping!

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A New Healthy and Kosher Food Option When You Travel

A New Healthy and Kosher Food Option When You Travel

When Rabbi Ben and I travel, we’re usually in it for the long haul.  When you are traveling long term, it is unwise to bring too much food with you because A) you probably will not be able to carry enough kosher food for the entire trip and B) your bags will be really big and heavy if you try to.

However, sometimes we do take shorter trips, and on those trips, we do take food with us.  When I did my trip to the Amazon rainforest, I spent a week there and a week traveling in Peru.  For two weeks, I could carry a reasonable amount of food just in my backpack.  I carried things like vacuum packets of tuna, basic condiments, instant oatmeal, and granola bars.  But that was over 5 years ago and today the number of kosher products has expanded. There is more available than ever before.

Recently, I reconnected with an old friend of mine from Miami.  She and I always had in common our interest in healthy, home-cooked food and exercise (especially on the Wii Fit!).  We shared many recipes, Shabbat dinners, and we would compete with each other on her Wii Fit.  I guess some things never change because we are both still interested in the same things! In fact, my friend recently started a website called Kosher Healthy Living.

One thing she pointed out to me that is really interesting is a kosher product available for travel that I had never heard of before.  It is a product called Shaklee 180 and it’s designed to help people lose weight in a healthy way.  Well, Rabbi Ben and I don’t need to lose weight, so maybe we’d eat two or three of these servings… but! Some of the products really are perfect for travel.

I haven’t tried it yet, but something like the “Meal-in-a-Bar” that’s available sounds similar to what I was trying to do with my granola bars on my short trips. Often I would eat just one granola bar to replace a meal. But I would almost always still feel hungry because granola bars are not really designed to be a balanced meal; they are more of a snack.  So if you are looking for a light and easy travel food, this might be a good thing to try.

There are other options, too, like Smoothee packets.  They are another easy meal substitute that won’t take up much room or weight in your luggage. All you have to do is mix them up with some milk or soymilk. (Be sure to check that the milk where you are traveling is reliable.)

So enjoy your travels, pack light, and maybe even lose some weight while you’re on the road.  Sounds like a good deal to me!

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