More About Kosher Meals on Cathay Pacific

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This is the second time I have travelled with Cathay Pacific and so eaten the kosher meals they provide for the economy class, with a three-year interval in between the two experiences.

The caterer for the return flight – from Hong Kong to Paris – had apparently changed and was now Hermolis, an English caterer based in Wembley. One I had tried six years ago while travelling with Swissair.

About half an hour after takeoff, I was shown the three sealed trays for each of the meal I was entitled to, i.e. dinner, snacks and breakfast. Like the first time, there was a certificate on the tray which indicated that the meat was glatt kosher and the roll mezonot.

Dinner, which was served at 2 am due to an 90 minute delay, consisted of: chicken liver pâté (yes, you’ve read correctly), stir fried chicken with vegetables and rice, streusel pie and fruit salad. There was also a bread roll. Apart from the liver pâté, the food was decent – even if the chicken tasted more like a curry than a stir fry. The fruit salad was really good.

I was spoiled for the snacks, compared to other passengers who had the choice between peanuts, biscuits and/or cup noodles since I had three small sandwiches made filled with turkey and pastrami as well as another but different fruit salad.

Breakfast included an omelette with potatoes and baked beans, a Danish Pastry, a challah-like roll, a portion of cheese with crackers, orange juice and a third kind of fruit salad.

For each meal there were a parve coffee creamer, parve ‘butter’ and a sealed cup of mineral water. I have no idea whether there was kosher wine on board since I don’t drink alcohol when I fly.

While the meals on Cathay three years ago had been a bit too light, this was certainly not the case this year. There certainly was ample food but it could have been healthier. Honestly who wants chicken liver pâté in the middle of the night or baked beans for breakfast? A kosher vegetarian option would be a most welcome option to the long list of special meals Cathay Pacific offers.

Another problem was the fact that dinner and the snacks were basari (meat), which means that the travelers who wait for six hours after eating meat could not have breakfast unless they requested to eat the snacks quite early into the flight.

Over all I’d say that the meal was decent but not terrific; obviously the gourmet chefs mentioned on the flyers that were inside the tray had all been on holiday when these meals were made.

My previous posts on the topic:

Kosher meals on Swissair and Air France in 2007

Kosher meals on Cathay Pacific in 2010

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Pesach Post 5 – Soaring from the Mundane

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I believe there are two main reasons numerous people (myself included) dread the P holiday. Ironically they both start with a ‘p’ too.

– Preparations:

Pesach cleaning is not exactly the most uplifting activity in the world. Neither is koshering utensils for the holiday.

Shopping for Pesach is quite stressful too since it involves numerous changes in the shopping list and a lot of label-reading.

– Privations:

Have you noticed how you crave for fresh bread during those eight days, even if you are not much of a bread eater? Not to mention the urge for cakes and biscuits!

As a result we might easily forget that the whole point of Pesach is not so much the preparations and the privations as the reasons why they are necessary. Here are a book and a link that might help you (re)connect to this spring festival.

Slavery, Freedom, and Everything Between: The Why, How and What of Passover is a new little book that can help you see the religious relevance of the different components of Pesach – such as the search for chametz or what it means today to see ourselves as if we were leaving Mitzrayim – through a series of short and engaging essays by various Jewish contributors. It is a perfect book for getting new insights into the holiday that can help us soar from the mundane to the spiritual.

All proceeds from the sale of this book support the work of Mazon: A Jewish response to Hunger.

New London Synagogue Pesach 5773 Guide: practical guidelines as well as spiritual insights into Pesach.

Pesach Post 3 – The People who Love Stories

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The particularity of the way we celebrate Pesach is not through a metaphysical experience but via a story. The haggadah declares: ‘even if we were all wise, all understanding, all experienced and all versed in the torah, we would nevertheless be obligated to recount the story of the departure from Egypt…’

For Maimonides, you must imagine you were a slave in Egypt, that you left and were redeemed.

To remember and relive the redemption, the haggadah provides guidelines but the story will be told differently by and for each of us. Dr William Kolbrener writes: ‘Through the description of the ‘Four Children’ in the seder, the hagada acknowledges that children are different, and that parents must tell the story of the redemption in such a way that their own children can best hear it. Only in this way does telling of the Exodus lead to da’at, a knowing that makes the abstract ideal felt through experience – whether for the wise man alone in his study or for the second grader, part of the seder for the first time.

To ensure a meaningful storytelling, one which provides an opportunity to grow through da’at, it is important to choose and read a haggadah a few weeks before Pesach. Read some of it beforehand: in the doctor’s waiting-room, on the train, in between two assignments, before you go to bed – whatever works for you.

One of my favourite haggadot, for its wonderful and engaging essays, is Rabbi Sacks’ Haggadah – a new version is available form Koren Publishers.

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat has two versions of the same haggadah that can be downloaded from her website – one abridged and one expanded. I have used the expanded version over the years and cannot recommend it enough. The e-version also means that you can download it and select what you want to keep.

What haggadah/haggadot are you planning to use?

Pesach Post 1 – Pesach Lists

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This year, I want to try and post about Pesach once or twice a week with ideas, suggestions and guidelines for those of us who do not live in places with lots of kosher products and are busy with work – in other words people for whom Pesach looks like a nightmare and who wish they could disappear from the surface of the earth for the full eight days of the chagim. I’ll also post a few simple and quick recipes.

My first suggestion is to plan in advance. I know what you are already saying ‘I’ll be lucky if I can think about it a week in advance so a month….’ By planning I mean: purchase food that is kosher for Pesach little by little, stock it in your pantry so you’ll be happy and proud to find it when the times come!

Products that keep and will prove to be useful:
– Frozen vegetables
– Frozen fish
– Canned fruit
– Tuna
– (Real) coffee
– Tea, but not herbal tea

If you eat kitniyot, add:
– Rice
– Lentils
– Beans

Feel free to make suggestions; I am a fledgeling at this.

Look at one of the lists below and keep an eye for the products you like when shopping.

Here are some links to Pesach lists, articles and guidelines:

Orthodox Union Pesach Page. They also have iPhone and Android apps

London Beth Din Kashrut Division (not updated yet)

Consistoire de Paris

Remember that the Masorti movement allows eating kitniyot (Legumes) on Pesach. Here is an English summary of the Hebrew responsum.

May your Pesach preparations feel more like a walk than a run!

The Jewish Museum – London

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The Jewish Museum in London is the combination of two Jewish museums. One is the Jewish Museum which was founded in 1932 by Professor Cecil Roth, Alfred Rubens and Wilfred Samuel. Originally located in Woburn House in Bloomsbury, it moved to a building in Camden Town in 1994.

The other is the London Museum of Jewish Life which was founded in 1983 as the Museum of the Jewish East End with the aim of rescuing and preserving the disappearing heritage of London’s East End – the heartland of Jewish settlement in Britain. .

In 1995 the two Museums merged but between 1995 and 2007 the combined Jewish Museum still ran on two sites. Finally the museum bought a former piano factory behind the Camden Town site and raised the required funds to combine and remodel the buildings. The new Museum opened to the public on 17 March 2010.

The fist floor of the museum features a gallery entitled ‘Judaism: A Living Faith’, which is devoted to Jewish life through one of the world’s finest collections of Judaica, featuring objects used in all areas of Jewish religious life, in both the public and private spheres.

The second floor gives an insight into British Jewish history from 1066 to the present day. Jews first settled in England in 1066 after the Norman conquest and there were Jewish communities in many towns in the medieval period. However, in 1290 the Jews were expelled from Britain by Edward 1. They were only readmitted to Britain by Oliver Cromwell in 1656. This new community steadily developed until the late 19th century when it increased rapidly with the arrival of some 150,000 Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. Many of the newcomers settled in London’s East End, which became home to a vibrant cultural and religious life. Numerous objects in the museum reflect this period.

The Museum’s Holocaust Gallery is made up of items and filmed survivor testimony from Leon Greenman, OBE, an English-born Auschwitz survivor who devoted his life to speaking about his experiences and campaigning against racism until his death in 2008.

The third floor of the building is for temporary exhibitions.

The Jewish Museum in London is a pleasant small-sized museum where you can spend between one and two hours, depending on whether you choose to visit the whole museum or focus on only one floor. It has a kosher café and a shop.

The Road not Taken

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This week’s parashah begins with a description of God’s travel itinerary with regard to the journey of the children of Israel in the wilderness.

And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not by the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said: ‘Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt.’ But God led the people about, by the way of the wilderness by the Red Sea. (Shemot 13:17-18)

It seems that God leads them through a crooked route (akuma) lest they have subversive thoughts about going back to Egypt. It is clear in this week’s section that, at this point, the Hebrews were still ambivalent about the walk to freedom. They were not utterly convinced that this journey was worth it. In fact they were quite ready to believe that they had been seduced from one place of relative security to one of sure death. The memory of the hardships in Egypt was beginning to fade and their past seemed brighter than it had actually been while the uncertain future terrified them.

And if God could not prevent his people from having such thoughts, he could make it harder for them to act on them. Thus their journey reads like a graph curve (the modern meaning of the word akuma) which records their wanderings but also their ups and downs

In fact, to quote Aviva Gottlieb Zornberg, God even provided them with ‘an academic space’, in which, precisely, to do their thinking. Paradoxically this crooked route in the wilderness gave them the freedom to think and ask their own questions. What looked like a strenuous itinerary proved in fact to be the more desirable option.

Rabbi Sacks reminds us that ‘there is no such thing as a sudden, drastic, revolutionary change in the world we inhabit. Trees take time to grow. The seasons shade imperceptibly into one another. Day fades into night. Processes take time, and there are no shortcuts.’

When frustration appears and when we feel that things are too slow, it is perhaps worth remembering that questions and doubts are the desirable prerequisite steps before a change is possible.

A Practical Guide to the Laws of Kashrut

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A Practical Guide to the Laws of Kashrut by Pinhas Cohen is a short and user-friendly guide which mainly deals with the technicalities of keeping kosher.

The book was written by Rabbi Pinchas Cohen, a faculty member at Yeshivat Har Etzion in Alon Shevut, Israel and is published by Koren Publishers in Jerusalem. His teachings are based on the classes he gave to foreign students at the Yeshiva.

A Practical Guide to the Laws of Kashrut is organised along clear topics:
– Meat and Milk
– Immersing Utensils
– How to Kasher a Kitchen
– Using Appliances in a Kosher Kitchen
– Insects in Food
– Gelatin
– Food of Non-Jews
– Glatt Kosher Meat
– Kashering Liver
– Kashrut of Eggs
– Separation of Challah
– Separation of Tithes

In addition there is a glossary at the end which provides definitions for most of the Hebrew terms used by the author. And footnotes are found at the bottom of each page for references and sources; a clever layout since notes at the end of a book often prove to be impractical.

The author provides guidelines that are both clear and comprehensive without ever getting wordy. When poskim differ, the author shares the various alternatives, including more lenient options when the latter are available within the boundaries of Halakhah. Moreoever he distinguishes between Sephardi and Ashkenazi minhagim when this is relevant.

The book does not deal with the very basics of kashrut but covers a range of questions that frequently arise in the home or to the modern traveller. Rabbi Pinchas Cohen also tackles more complex issues, some of which I know I’d find find useful to accommodate a more observant host.

A Practical Guide to the Laws of Kashrut by Rabbi Pinchas Cohen belongs to the Jewish bookshelf. This book is a perfect gift to the student who leaves home for the first time to go to college. It is also a very accessible guide for every day use or intelligible references.

Shemot – a Poem

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While researching for my previous post, I came across this beautiful poem by Zelda. Zelda Schneersohn Mishkovsky (June 20, 1914 – April 30, 1984), widely known as Zelda, was an Israeli poet. I find this poem contributes to our understanding of the concept of name and hope you like it too.

Each of Us Has a Name

by Zelda (trans. Marcia Falk)

Each of us has a name
given by God
and given by our parents

Each of us has a name
given by our stature and our smile
and given by what we wear

Each of us has a name
given by the mountains
and given by our walls

Each of us has a name
given by the stars
and given by our neighbors

Each of us has a name
given by our sins
and given by our longing

Each of us has a name
given by our enemies
and given by our love

Each of us has a name
given by our celebrations
and given by our work

Each of us has a name
given by the seasons
and given by our blindness

Each of us has a name
given by the sea
and given by
our death.

You can read more about Zelda on The Jewish Women Archive

Shemot – What’s in a Name?

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Shemot is the name of this week’s Parashah; it is also the name of the second book of the Torah which we are about to start this week. The name Shemot follows the tradition of naming a book or portion after the first significant word – here ve’eleh shemot, ‘and these are the names’.

The name of the previous book, Bereishit (‘in the beginning’), seems clear. Bereishit deals with beginnings: the beginning of the world, of man, of a family, of a faith in a single God…

Does this mean that Shemot is about names? Sure enough, right from the start the parashah lists the names of the sons of Israel who came into Egypt with Jacob to join Joseph, all seventy members of Jacob’s family. Then things get more complicated.

– Soon the name of Joseph is forgotten in Egypt, although he had been Pharaoh’s right hand – ‘Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who knew not Joseph’ (Shemot 1:8)

– We are given the names of the Hebrew midwives – ‘ the name of the one was Shiphrah, and the name of the other Puah’ (Shemot 1:15) – but the Midrash tells us that in fact they were no others than Yocheved and Miriam (Moses’ mother and sister).

– Pharaoh has no name and is always designated by his function: ‘a new king’ and Pharaoh.

– Moses is named by Pharaoh’s daughter (whose name we never learn) and whose name (to draw out) parallels the role he will play for God and the Jewish people

– Most important is the passage where Moses asks God about his name, and God answers:

And Moses said unto God: ‘Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them: The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me: What is His name? What shall I say unto them?’ And God said unto Moses: ‘I AM THAT I AM’; and He said: ‘Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel: I AM hath sent me unto you.’ (Shemot 3:13-14)

A name is a connector. When one has a name one can be called; their name makes them real. One of the first things people want to know when they hear of a birth is the name of the baby. Similarly, as a teacher, one of my first tasks is to learn the pupils’ names within a few days so as to be able to call them directly.

Pupils like to be called by their first names and hate it when I am wrong. Fortunately this does not happen too often but I vividly remember two such episodes. Once I got ‘Melody’ mixed up with ‘Harmony’. On another instance, I called a ‘Haicha’, ‘Fatima’. In both cases the girls were frustrated and expressed their discontent. We like to be remembered and acknowledege and being called by our name is part of the recognition process.

However God’s answer, i.e. the name he gives himself, is anything but straightforward. Commentators usually agree that a better translation of the passage quoted above is ‘I will be that which I will be.’ Interestingly, although it is the name God gives for himself, it is one we never use.

So is Shemot really about names? Isn’t it rather about identity, about who we are and who we choose to be? Our identity, both as part of the Jewish nation and as individuals, is never fixed forever. It can disappear or be forgotten but, as God’s name suggests, it can also change and evolve.