Of Books, Mosque, Schools and Divrei Torah – a Weekly Review


On My Blog

Baked Apple and Almond Pudding

IT in the Classroom: Looking Backward and Forward

The Red Book, a book review

Elsewhere in the JBlogosphere

Hannah interviews Yael Levy, Author of Brooklyn Love

Book Review: Of a Feather A Brief History of American Birding
, by Leora

Book Review – The Marriage Artist, by Jewaicious

Rabbi Fink reposts his father’s D’var Torah: A Missed Opportunity

Vayishlach – Welsh myth style…, Zivah writes about this week’s parsha

Web articles

Why I want to open a gay-friendly mosque in Paris, a Guardian article

The JC wonders: Are Jewish schools good for Judaism?

Shabbat Shalom!

The Red Book


I first read about The Red Book by Deborah Copaken Kogan via a review on The FT where the plot caught my attention.

Four former female Harvard roommates – members of the class of ‘89 – are about to attend their 20th reunion. Obviously such a meeting involves some kind of life assessment which has the potential to lead to unpleasant realisations as the characters are reminded of whether and how their dreams have materialised or faded away.

When you are a Harvard alumna, a place where the bar is set so high, the tension between keeping up appearances and being true to thine own self is bound to generate some kind of frustration and unhappiness.

As the plot unfolds and shifts from one character to the next, we gradually get more insights into their lives during the past twenty years.

When Mia graduated from Harvard, she had hoped to be an actress but one child led to the next and she is now the stay-at-home mum of three poised sons and a baby daughter. She is married to Jonathan, a successful but much older Hollywood director, and they have a house in California and one on the French Riviera. Mia is active at her local chapter of Planned Parenthood and in the soup kitchen of their synagogue.

Clover has only recently got married. She used to work in the mortgage backing department of Lehman brothers until the company went bankrupt. Currently she is unemployed and living off her past earnings. She is currently struggling with fertility issues. Half-black and half-white, Clover comes from a very different kind of background. She lived with her mother on a commune with hippies and as a result was witness to all sorts of very-70s experiences and was home-schooled until entering Harvard.

Addison comes from a very privileged background; generations of people who have attended Harvard. She had planned to be an artist and had a significant relationship with a woman before deciding to marry into her own social sphere and have children. Her husband is a narcissistic writer who has only ever written one book. They live off of their trust funds though she has recently discovered that this money has been mismanaged. Parenting doesn’t come naturally to Addison and she rarely sets limits to her children who have turned out to be rather wild and unpleasant teenagers. Her marriage is in dire straits and the couple have reached a point where they can no longer stand each another.

Jane is of Vietnamese descent and still has to make sense of her fractured world.. She saw her whole family die during the Vietnam war. An American army doctor decided to adopt her and she was raised lovingly by him and his wife though he died very soon after she arrived in the US. Currently, Jane lives in France and is a foreign correspondent for the Boston Globe. Her first husband was a reporter and was killed during an assignment in Afghanistan leaving a daughter, Sophie, behind. She is now living with Bruno, her husband’s best friend. But when she learns that her deceased husband, her current lover, and her deceased mother all had affairs, she is forced to face realities she’d rather have ignored.

The title refers to the Harvard Red Book, a book which is published every five years by the Alma Mater and sent to its alumni. Each former student sends in a personal update a few months before publication which then becomes an entry in the Book.

The Red Book by Deborah Copaken Kogan is a well-written and engaging book. The characters feel true-to-life; they are people I could identify with or recognise. I think this might be the case for a lot of educated women who attended college some time ago and believed then that options were unlimited.

IT in the Classroom: Looking Backward and Forward


Four years ago I discussed the IT forthcoming innovations in our school and expressed my worries about some of these changes. In hindsight it is interesting that I was mainly wrong on the issue.

The school has tried different digital work environments but the ‘perfect’ tool is yet to be found and we do not use the one we have as much as we should have done when the new scheme was announced.

On the positive side, we fill in online term reports for each student, can read what colleagues have written and I now have a computer in my room.

Yet the digital school attendance system does not work, which is a shame since I could now do it at the beginning of each period from the classroom computer.

I have created and provided the dreaded email address. Contrary to what I had anticipated, I have received no email from angry parents – and none from ecstatic ones I am sorry to add! However a pupil sent a Thank You email after the latest Swedish exchange.

What I had not foreseen is that for my pupils email is the new snail mail; in other words, some of them have no email addresses and use their parents’ to write to me. Others have an email address but hardly use it, which means that if I write back the email is not read.

However what I had feared concerning constant connectivity is still a problem. Even if I use a different email address for work, it is difficult not to have a look at what fills this email inbox during my free time.

I now ask the pupils to record themselves and send me oral homework (or task) – the latest was an oral presentation where the year 11s were supposed to convince an audience that they were the best candidate for the TV show of their choice.

The next challenge is to make myself understood when I explain the technical side of the task. In other words, I need them to remember that mp3 is the only format that I can easily listen to on any of the device I use. This may sound pretty simple to you but, believe me, it is not that straightforward for all teenagers; only this morning I received an audio file in 3ga!

So if you have any tip, please share and you will make my day!

Baked Apple and Almond Pudding


Having made a soup and a salad for the Friday evening meal, I felt I could indulge in a dessert. I had some organic apples and ground almonds and wished to combine the two. A quick Google search led me to Delia’s recipe which I slightly adapted (one omission, two additions and a time modification).

3-4 servings
1 lb (450 g) Bramley or Elstar apples, peeled, cored and sliced
4 oz (110 g) ground almonds
4 oz (110 g) butter, at room temperature
4 oz (110 g) caster sugar
2 large eggs, beaten

Place the apples in a saucepan with approximately 2 tablespoons of water, simmer gently until soft, and then arrange them in the bottom of a buttered baking dish. Sprinkle with cinnamon.

In a mixing bowl, cream the butter and caster sugar until pale and fluffy and then the beaten eggs. Add and incorporate the ground almonds. Now spread this mixture over the apples, and even out the surface with the back of a tablespoon.

Then bake on a highish shelf in the oven for 40 minutes at 180°C/350°F. I am convinced 1 hour is far too long.

This dessert can served warm or cold. It is nice on its own but you can probably add cream, custard or a scoop of vanilla ice cream. It keeps well in the fridge and is still lovely the next day.

Weekly Review


On My Blog

Living a Year of Kaddish: a Memoir

Carrot and Red Lentil Soup

Elsewhere in the JBlogosphere

Leora explains What not to Bring and What to Bring to a Shiva House

Phyllis writes about trying to find 36 Reasons to Say Shehecheyanu

Rabbi Fink shares his toughts on a Magnificent Article by Professor Schiffman and its Implications for Orthodox Judaism

Traveling and Asperger’s Syndrome Don’t Always Go Together, a blog post by Rebecca Schorr

Jewaicious reviews Unorthodox: : The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots

Vayeitze – to boldly go…, Zivah writes about this week’s parsha

Web articles

Too late for Thanksgiving but a rich source of inspiration: Well’s Vegetarian Thanksgiving 2012

Simon Rocker at The Jewish Chronicle explains Why the Bible should give food for thought

Book Burning: Prelude to Persecution, by Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz

Shabbat Shalom!

Carrot and Red Lentil Soup


1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp turmeric
pinch chilli flakes
2 tbsp olive oil
400g carrots , washed and coarsely chopped or grated
100g red lentils
1l hot vegetable stock
65ml pack of coconut milk or plain yoghurt
fresh or frozen coriander

Heat the olive oil and fry the cumin, turmeric and chilli flakes for 1 minute. Add the oil, carrot, lentils and stock to the pan and bring to the boil. Simmer for at least 30 minutes or until the lentils have swollen and softened.

Whizz the soup with a stick blender or in a food processor until smooth (or leave it chunky if you prefer). Season to taste and finish with a dollop of yogurt or a splash of coconut cream. Sprinkle with cilantro.

Serve with toasted leftover challah or warmed naan breads.

Living a Year of Kaddish: A Memoir


The day after he celebrated his 50th birthday, Ari Goldman got a call from Israel announcing his father’s death. Goldman could not attend the funeral but he tore his shirt and began the Jewish bereavement process. He sat shiva for his father for only one day, since Sukkot started the following day but decided to undertake the mourning ritual of saying kaddish for his father (as required by Jewish law). He also proceeded to write the story of his year of kaddish in Living a Year of Kaddish: A Memoir.

In traditional Judaism, as part of the Jewish mourning ritual, the sons (and some argue the children) of the deceased are expected to say kaddish (a prayer praising God) every day during the morning, afternoon, and evening prayer services for 11 months, with a minyan (a group of 10 men in Orthodox Judaism).

Ari L. Goldman is a professor of journalism at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, a former New York Times journalist and the author of three books, including The Search for God at Harvard.

The book is broken into sections for each season of Goldman’s kaddish. He writes about his family, his beliefs and his thoughts about death and about being survived by his own children.

‘For me, kaddish, was as much of a chain as it was a prayer. It was a chain that in some way continued to connect me to my parents, and will some day connect me to my children.’

His relationship with his father was complex. As his parents had divorced when Goldman was a young child, they had never been very close. In addition Ari’s father had moved to Israel when he was 70 years old but because his father had been a devout jew, Goldman is aware of how much he owes him.

The divorce had had a strong impact on Goldman and he was still trying to come to terms with it even as an adult.

‘I was, for the first time in forty-years, no longer the child of divorce. Being the child of divorce had significantly shaped the person I had become (…). I clung tenaciously to Orthodox Judaism, the faith of both my parents, as one would cling to an ancestral home, because, with divorce, there is no ancestral home.’

Goldman had lost his mother four years before, and during his year of saying kaddish for his father, he compares and contrasts the grieving process for each of them; he also looks at how his mourning affects his role as a father, a brother and a husband.

Living a Year of Kaddish: A Memoir is not just about mourning a deceased father, it is about being the member of a religious community, about your responsibility in being part of a minyan so that your fellow Jews can fulfill this mitzvah too, about the other people you meet because they are also saying kaddish for a parent – including a Conservative woman.

‘Every one of the people I got to know in my year of kaddish has stayed with me. Each experience shaped me…each person and each experience helped mold my consciousness about life and death and prayer.’

Living a Year of Kaddish: A Memoir is a profound and touching personal narrative about mourning a parent. It is also book that strongly emphasises the relevance of this traditional Jewish ritual for today’s Jews.

‘To me, kaddish is more for the living than the dead.’

For more information on kaddish:
Kaddish, a Memorial Prayer in Praise of God, by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin
Women and Kaddish, by Rabbi J. Simcha Cohen
Women and Kaddish, by Barabra Gaims-Spiegel

Weekly Review is Back Too!


On My Blog

An Old Blog in a New Skin

Noodles with Eggplant and Mango

Elsewhere in the JBlogosphere

Hurricane Sandy Highland Park in Review, a post by Leora

Training the Next Generation–Youth involvement in the Shaarei Tefillah Women’s Tefillah Group, a JOFA article

Mrs. S. blogs about an Israeli film and Operation Pillar of Defense

Toldot – the old switcheroo, Zivah writes about this week’s parsha

Web articles

The Challenge of Going Vegan

Jews in the British Armed Forces: They did their bit – the story of three centuries of heroism

Speaking out for the Women of the Wall: Arrest threatens Orthodox too

On the JPost: First Person: Cloudy with a chance of missiles

Message from Masorti Rabbi Mauricio Balter, President of the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel and rabbi at Kehillat Eshel Avraham in Beersheva

Shabbat Shalom!

Noodles with Eggplant and Mango


Adapted and simplified version of Yotam Ottolenghi’s Soba Noodles with Eggplant and Mango.

Ingredients for two servings:

1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 garlic clove, crushed
red chili flakes
1/2 tsp sesame oil
juice of 1/2 lime

1 small to middle-sized aubergine, cut into 1cm dices
125 g soba noodles or Soba Pumpkin, Ginger & Brown Rice Noodles
1/2 mango, peeled and cut into 1cm dices
fresh or frozen basil and coriander, chopped

Put the vinegar, sugar and salt in a glass pitcher and gently heat in the microwave until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and add the garlic, chilli and sesame oil. Then add the lime juice.

Heat some sunflower oil in a wok and shallow-fry the aubergine. Once golden-brown, add the sauce, turn down the heat and simmer gently for a few minutes, until the aubergine is cooked.

Meanwhile cook the noodles in plenty of boiling, salted water, stirring occasionally, for 5-6 minutes – the noodles should retain a bite – then drain and rinse under cold water.

Toss the noodles into the wok along with the mango. Add the herbs and serve immediately.

Nice on its own or with steamed white fish topped with lime and sweet chili sauce.

An Old Blog in a New Skin


For numerous reasons I had more or less disappeared from the blogging world but after almost six months I realised that I missed it. So here I am again!

For technical reasons, I have merged my two blogs by importing the first blog into the second one. This means that you can read the posts which were on Ilana-Davita as well as those posted on Hannah’s Nook. Of course, I have kept the header which I find fits the blog perfectly but I have adopted a slightly different WordPress theme.

To ‘celebrate’ my return to the blogosphere, I have added a new page – Books I’ve read – where you can find all the book reviews on this site. I hope some of you will find it useful.