Yom Kippur Without Fasting

Rabbi Mitchell Ackerson sayshealth takes top precedent in Judaism, even when it means deferring from tradition. (Provided)

Rabbi Mitchell Ackerson sayshealth takes top precedent in Judaism, even when it means deferring from tradition. (Provided)

Each sect of Judaism has its own way of observing the Jewish Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, but there is at least one custom observed across the board: fasting.

As members of the Baltimore Jewish community spend the day in synagogue with empty stomachs beginning the night of Oct. 3, some observing the holiday won’t be able to take part in the ritual.

“I have Stage 3 kidney failure,” said Pikesville resident Mike Solomon. “They don’t want me not drinking or eating, because the kidneys could shut down.”

While Solomon said his condition is stabilized and that he is not on dialysis anymore, he and his doctors would like to keep it that way.

Solomon’s condition is just one of many that exempts him from fasting, according to rabbis and physicians.

“In Judaism life always takes priority over anything else,” said Rabbi Mitchell Ackerson, director of pastoral care and chaplaincy at LifeBridge Health. “If fasting is going to get you sicker, then you shouldn’t be fasting.”

Dr. Elliot Rothschild, an internist at Pikesville’s Baltimore Suburban Health, said patients who can’t fast include those who are frail, have heart conditions, take medications that require food, some diabetics and those with acute conditions such as pneumonia that could worsen from fasting.

“I tell somebody not to fast if I think it will destabilize their condition, particularly someone who is frail,” Rothschild said.

Perfectly healthy people, such as some pregnant women, don’t fast either.

“It’s just generally not a good idea,” said Daniela Levine, an expectant mother. “You don’t want to deprive the growing fetus of nutrients.”

Levine, who is modern Orthodox, still plans to celebrate the holiday and said she will miss fasting.

“It gives you a chance for introspection, it gives you a chance to really think about all the things you’ve really done over the past year,” she said. “Although difficult, I think it takes away that little bit of pleasure you get from eating, and it gives you a chance to really think about all the things that Yom Kippur is about.”

Owings Mills resident Dennis Duell said he last fasted about 10 years ago. He and his wife both have medical issues that prevent them from fasting.

“That’s what happens when you get into your golden years,” he said.

He takes medicine for his rheumatoid arthritis that requires food. And although they can’t fast, Duell sees the value in the tradition. He explained it as a way of connecting to past generations and their hardships.

“We didn’t suffer as other people suffered prior to us, so [fasting is] really little compared to what other people went through before us,” he said. “It’s an important thing because it’s symbolic.”

Rothschild said some patients do fight him on not fasting but joked that it’s no different than any other time he gives them instructions. Some, he added, can fast with precaution and consume small snacks and drinks. For those who fight him, he cites a story a rabbi at his synagogue, Suburban Orthodox Congregation, told about a man whose wife told the rabbi he wasn’t following doctors’ orders to not fast.

“The rabbi visits him [and says], ‘I just want to let you know I won’t be able to give you an aliyah in shul anymore,’” Rothschild said. “The rabbi says, ‘You have decided to practice a different religion. The law is you have to eat.’”

Rabbi Ackerson has dealt with similar situations. Although those admitted to the hospital generally understand why they can’t fast, there’s one population that sometimes has trouble with the notion of not taking part in the ritual.

“It takes more effort in terms of that emotional side, particularly with some of my very elderly Holocaust survivors,” he said.

“They’ll say, ‘I fasted in Auschwitz and now you want me to eat?’ That’s a very different situation.”

So what does a rabbi say to that?

“For most, it was their deep faith, that’s what allowed them to make it through,” he said. “We tell them, ‘That deep faith is what tells you to make your life a priority.’”

At the end of day, even though it means missing out on a lifelong practice, Solomon said there really isn’t another option.

“It’s just one of those things where you have to go by what the doctors and the rabbi says,” he said.


Count Your Blessings

Saying a blessing before inhaling snuff, sometimes stored in ornate boxes or tins, can assist in reaching the required 100 blessings a day when meals are not taken. (Wikipedia Loves Art participant "Opal_Art_Seekers_4" via Wikimedia Commons)

Saying a blessing before inhaling snuff, sometimes stored in ornate boxes or tins, can assist in reaching the required 100 blessings a day when meals are not taken.
(Wikipedia Loves Art participant “Opal_Art_Seekers_4” via Wikimedia Commons)

Based on a verse in the Book of Deuteronomy, the Talmud declares that a Jew should recite 100 blessings a day to adhere to God’s ways and to serve Him.

Fortunately, reciting the blessings for prayer and meals, each three times a day, easily achieves the required number. But it becomes a challenge if meals are not part of the daily regimen, as on Yom Kippur.

During the Yom Kippur fast, when all food and drink is forbidden for slightly more than 24 hours, some turn to making a blessing before smelling a fragrant spice, fruit or herbs to make it to 100.

Others, like Avie Yudin, might even inhale a pinch of powdered —and sometimes flavored — tobacco known as snuff.

“Another reason why we do it,” said Yudin, 57, and a member of Congregation Ohr Simcha, “is there are certain points during the day where you get tired and lethargic. That’s the last thing I want to [feel] on Yom Kippur. … This helps me wake up a bit. Believe me, I’d like to be able to smell coffee [instead] and feel this way.”

Yudin said the smell of snuff also invokes memories of his grandfather.

“Apparently he used to do that on Shabbos, yom tov or every day, so he had the little box where he would keep it,” said Yudin, who still has the snuffbox.

When Yudin was a boy, his father would offer smelling salts around the synagogue, but he didn’t care for it much.

“But as I got older, someone passed around snuff, and I loved it,” he said, “because it reminded me of my grandfather and it woke me up.”

A few years ago Yudin’s good friend, Dr. Sol Langermann, returned from Israel with a gift of snuff  “because he knew I liked it on Yom Kippur, and now that’s what I take out every year and use.”

Yudin’s snuff has a powdery texture, mixed with a menthol scent.

It’s called shmek tabak in Yiddish, he said, a reference to the “pinch of tobacco” traditionally taken between one’s thumb and index finger.

“You put [the pinch] up by your nostril, and breathe in,” he said. “I probably do it three or four or five times.”

Yudin shares the snuff with fellow congregants, he added, and “most people refuse it, because they don’t know what the hell it is, and some people smile when I pass it around probably thinking, ‘Oh, the old guys used to take it.’

Binyamin Ziman, a maintenance technician at Ner Israel Rabbinical College, prefers to inhale aromas of spices and other pleasant smelling things. He’s practiced this for years and it’s especially important for him on Yom Kippur because when a “person is fasting, you can’t eat but you can smell and you can make a brachah while taking in the smell. That in itself, it’s a merit to make extra brachahs on a day like that.”

Ziman, a member of Bnai Jacob Shaarei Zion Congregation, leaves the spice bottle at his synagogue for use during the holy days and says smelling the fragrances helps him.

“It’s not like taking a bite out of a candy bar, but it gives you a sense of refreshment,” he explained, likening the practice to using mouthwash instead of a toothbrush; like a quick fix.

Abba David Poliakoff, 62, also a member of BJSZ, says he appreciates the lift and added focus that snuff can provide. He remembers older European Jews at his synagogue that came with a snuffbox.

“And every once in a while, someone comes to shul with snuff. … If somebody there has it I love to try it. I love to try anything,” said Poliakoff. “It’s the novelty of doing it. … It kind of blows your mind literally.”

Taking a pinch of snuff effectively relieves sinus congestion, but it’s typically accompanied with quite a few sneezes too, he added.

“I find that on Yom Kippur there is just so much to look at and understand that I also find myself short on time of doing what I have to do,” said Poliakoff, who is partner and chairman of securities law practice group Gordon Feinblatt LLC. “My key to everything is to be as involved and focused as much as possible, and when one does that, there’s very little time to think about food.” A pinch of snuff seems to help.

Yudin said there are other methods people use to stay awake, remain focused and avoid headaches, like caffeine suppositories. But Yudin sticks to snuff for its effectiveness and nostalgia.

There is one drawback, he said. “It’s pretty disgusting when you blow your nose.”


High Holidays: Toddler Edition

Coloring, crafting and shofar blowing?

With Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur just around the corner, Jewish preschools are inviting the high holidays into their classrooms. From dipping apples in honey to learning where the horn for the shofar comes from, teachers in Baltimore are rolling the Jewish holidays into their curriculums.

Enter Ilene Brooks’ classroom at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation’s EB Hirsh Early Childhood Center. With Rosh Hashanah play box sets and baby shofars, her 4-year-olds learn about the holiday through playtime. Brooks’ students plant apple trees, taste honey samples and create birthday cards to introduce the Jewish customs and values at an early age.

“We focus on play as a main pathway to education,” says Brooks. “From this Rosh Hashanah table set that has a fake round challah and candlesticks to baking a birthday cake for the Jewish New Year, we incorporate the holiday’s general concepts into our classroom every day.”
As part of the BHC community, rabbis and cantors also make guest appearances in the classrooms. By triggering different senses, the entire staff allows students to see, hear, touch, feel and taste the holidays.

“All this week, rabbis and cantors will visit the classes with the shofar,” says preschool director Renee Stadd. “We want the students to feel the horn of the shofar and listen to the sounds it makes. By appealing to the senses, students will remember different aspects of the holiday better than from a lecture.”

While Baltimore Hebrew focuses on playtime, Melissa Lebowitz, director of the Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community Preschool, says she is giving the power back to the students. Studying the Reggio Emilia self-guided approach to education, she applies the academic technique to the High Holidays.

“I traveled to Italy to learn how the Reggio Emilia approach works and brought it back to Beth Tfiloh,” says Lebowitz. “The approach is based off the students’ interests and how they want to study. For example, when we were reading a book about Rosh Hashanah this year, one of the students asked where honey comes from. From there, we planned the entire lesson around honey and beehives. Now, when students see honey, they associate it with the Jewish New Year.”

By creating a connection between Rosh Hashanah and birthdays, the emergent curriculum also uses material goods as part of the lesson.“Rosh Hashanah is a birthday,” says Lebowitz. “Here is how we would teach it: First, we ask, what is a birthday? Then, we would have the students play with hula hoops. Hula hoops are circular. Birthdays come around once a year. Rosh Hashanah is the world’s birthday. It is a continuous thread of study.”

Rachael Schwartz also uses a hands-on approach at the Joseph & Corinne Schwartz Preschool at Beth Israel Congregation. Using different techniques to teach the high holidays, she intertwines the upcoming Jewish events with her general curriculum. With students ranging from 2 to 5 years old, Schwartz builds High Holiday ideals from year to year.

“During Rosh Hashanah, we use apples to solve math problems,” says Schwartz. “We will cut the apple in half and look at the seeds. We count the seeds and use them for addition and subtraction. Through the combination of secular and Jewish concepts together, our students have a well-rounded education.”

In addition to educating the students about the High Holidays, the Owings Mills institution brings the entire community together to celebrate the holidays.

“We have an annual trip to Baugher’s Orchards in Carroll County,” says Schwartz. “Families come together to pick apples for Rosh Hashanah. On Sept. 21, preschool students and
parents will build holiday traditions together.”

While most preschools focus on Rosh Hashanah, early childhood centers also bring in basic concepts of Yom Kippur as well. From throwing challah in local lakes — a reference to the Rosh Hashanah afternoon custom of tashlich — to decorating flip flops to wear instead of leather shoes, students slowly understand that Yom Kippur is a day of atonement.

“We tell students that Yom Kippur is a day to say ‘I’m sorry’ for all the mistakes they made,” says Brooks. “Although we focus more on Rosh Hashanah, we want students to understand why their parents do not consume food and why the holiday is so important.”

From institution to institution, the general approach is one of experiences over lectures.

Says Schwartz:”The bottom line is: Students need to experience the holidays to learn as much as possible.”


Party Time

050214_israel-dayIsrael is turning 66, and you are invited to the party.

From feasting on falafel to bopping to Israeli beats, Jewish organizations across the area want you to celebrate Israel’s Independence Day in style at Yom Ha’atzmaut events next week.

Fells Point’s contemporary bar, Vale Tudo, will be decked out in blue and white on Monday, May 5 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. for Israel@66, the third annual Yom Ha’atzmaut Party sponsored by Bnei Israel Young Adults. Located at 702 S. Broadway, the party will feature Israeli music, happy-hour specials and lite Mediterranean fare. The event has a $5 cover charge with all proceeds donated to a charity of the attendees’ choice.

“The primary goal of the event is to engage Jewish young professionals downtown to celebrate Israel’s birthday,” said BIYA president Sara Brandenburg. “We aim for the event to be a nonpolitical way for young adults to come together to celebrate Israel.”

Joined by partnering organizations Beyond Birthright, Moishe House Baltimore, Charm City Tribe and the Baltimore Zionist District, the party will bring together young Jewish adults from all over the city to commemorate Israel’s birthday, said Brandenburg. “Every year, we hope that our partnerships will grow and develop. The event is a downtown communal effort to engage Jewish young adults and remind people about Yom Ha’atzmaut. We also hope it will lead to discussion and a desire to seek a way to connect to Israel that is right for them.”

Charm City Tribe program associate and Beyond Birthright committee member Ellie Brown played a major role in setting up the event. With strong ties to two participating organizations, she has promoted the event to the larger Baltimore community.

“By throwing this party and combining different Jewish organizations together for one night, you build a strong Jewish community,” said Brown. “You are introduced to different Jewish organizations that are committed to creating a space for you to engage more deeply in Jewish life as a young adult.”

Moishe House, a hub for young Jewish life internationally, is encouraging its Baltimore branch members to attend the event and expand their circles within the Jewish community.

“Yom Ha’atzmaut is an important day for Jews to celebrate,” said Moishe House member Vadim Kashtelyan. “It is great to get the entire spectrum of
Judaism — Orthodox, Conservative and Reform — to rejoice together and celebrate Israel.”

On Tuesday, May 6, Ohr Chadash Academy is hosting an evening of Israeli songs, dances, plays and flag throwing. Located at the Jewish Community Center in Park Heights, the 6 p.m. to 7:15 p.m. event will feature presentations from every grade at the academy. Focusing on the development of Zionism, the celebration will feature music, a short play, a stomp by middle school boys and a performance by the Daglanut middle school girls’ flag corps. With last year’s event topping 350 guests, this year’s theme showcases the birth of Israel from the state’s beginnings to modern times.

“Ohr Chadash believes in the religious significance of the modern State of Israel and encourages our students to build a relationship with the people in Eretz Yisrael and with the land,” said media marketing committee chair and board member Terri Rosen. “At school, the day is filled with learning about Israel’s history, culture, people and food.”

The Yom Ha’atzmaut event, she said, is “a wonderful, fun way” to get the students excited about celebrating Israel’s birthday.

“They spend weeks preparing for Yom Ha’atzmaut, learning the songs and dances, and they look forward to presenting [them] to the community.”




For the many members of the Jewish community who more or less avoid consuming chametz year-round, Passover brings welcome relief.

“Passover is a big treat for everybody,” said Chana Fishkind, who, along with her two sons, maintains a gluten-free diet. Her husband, she said, just goes with the flow.

Two years ago, Fishkind discovered that her youngest son, who is now 5, couldn’t eat gluten. While transitioning to gluten-free cooking for him, she realized that she was sensitive to gluten too and felt a lot better when she avoided the protein, which is commonly found in wheat and other grains.

While holidays such as Chanukah and Purim may require those who are gluten-free to avoid staples such as jelly doughnuts and hamantashen or seek special recipes, Passover is a holiday where, thanks to halachah, many of those with dietary restrictions can eat just like everybody else.

For Aviva Kidorf, who has severe allergies that require her to avoid gluten, Passover is her favorite holiday.

“Passover doesn’t affect me as much,” she said, comparing the spring holiday with other holidays in the Jewish calendar. Unlike the other holidays, when she watches her family and friends consume some of her once-favorite and now-forbidden foods, she is able to eat most things at her family’s Passover Seder table, although her additional avoidance of sugar does require her to bake her own special desserts.

“I don’t miss things [on Passover],” she said. “Just my Keurig.”

Fishkind and Kidorf are far from alone. Celiac disease, which causes an immune reaction to gluten, is especially common in the Jewish community. Unfortunately for many of the Jewish sufferers of celiac, many staple Jewish foods contain gluten — and lots of it.

“A lot of people have said to me, ‘Wow, I could never do that,’ and I said, ‘You would if you had to,’” said Fishkind. “It’s become a part of our lives.”

Both women’s diets require them to get imaginative in the kitchen. For Fishkind, whose youngest son also cannot have eggs and eldest cannot have nuts, potatoes are a staple. She’s also experimented with pancakes that use banana in place of dairy and flour and even found a recipe for avocado mousse she plans to try for the holiday.

“I have creative cookie recipes that don’t need eggs and use margarine instead,” she said. “I do potato kugel — I substitute zucchini for that. I’ve learned to work with things.”

Recently, that work has become increasingly easier. With the growing popularity of gluten-free food among even those with no dietary restrictions and increased awareness of conditions such as celiac, options for those like Fishkind and Kidorf have exploded in stores such as Wegmans and Whole Foods. Fishkind even sells her own baked goods, including doughnuts and hamantaschen, and business has been great. A lot of her customers aren’t even Orthodox.

Matzoh options have also expanded over time. While years ago people with gluten ailments may have been unable to partake in the eating of matzoh, now there are multiple companies that produce gluten-free varieties, although some special rules apply.

“Growing up, we never heard of such a thing. But a lot of the food products are changing to make it cheaper to make,” said Fishkind. “When my older son first started it was horrendous.”


Passover and Your Pooch



It is common knowledge that the eating of chametz is forbidden on Passover, but what do you do when your cat has been eating cans of chicken and gravy all year? What about your hamster that loves his oat-based treats?

Since Jewish law forbids even deriving benefit from chametz during Passover, your pet cannot consume it for the duration of the holiday, say many rabbinical authorities. In fact, it can’t even relieve itself on it.

Star-K asserts that one may not feed stray animals chametz, give zoo animals dispenser food (which may contain grains) or even allow pet litter to contain chametz during the holiday. If you choose to board your pet, you should be certain it will not be fed chametz, the Baltimore-based kashrut organization advises.

While the simplest solution may seem to be to sell your pet for Pesach, some Baltimoreans find it’s just too hard to part with Fido.

Karen Schwartzman has found a way to keep her pets happy and obey halacha. Years ago, she gave her dogs soft, prescription, chametz-free food for Passover, and they liked it so much she decided to switch them to it permanently. For hard food, she uses Taste of the Wild brand, a company that promotes a grain-free diet for dogs and cats.

“I wanted a high-quality food, and grain is not good for the dogs,” Schwartzman said in an email.

For the unsure pet owner, Star-K publishes a list of approved foods each year.

Rabbi Zvi Goldberg, who complies the list of foods for Star-K, said putting the register together is a lengthy process.

While the list is not all inclusive, the organization tries to include options for consumers at every income level. Those foods that are included are checked and double checked, first by an online ingredient search, then again in person when Goldberg visits local stores to read the ingredients listed on the packaging of the foods for sale.

“Many people want the list, and they want it early,” said Goldberg. “The pets have to be weaned off the regular food for a couple weeks and given the Passover food, so they want to know what’s available.”

Some stores, such as PetSmart, even keep a list on hand so employees can help customers determine which food is OK to purchase. The Owings Mills Petco, with the help of a rabbi, set up endcaps in their store that feature chametz-free foods for customers to purchase.

Other pet owners told the JT over Facebook that they feed their animals grain-free food all year, since many have trouble getting their pets to adjust to a new diet just for the holiday. If an owner prefers to switch only for Pesach, Star-K recommends weaning the pet off the regular food and onto the chametz-free variety slowly by mixing the two together. This gets the animal used to the flavor and texture of the food before it is the only kind available.

Introducing any changes to your animal must be done gradually, said dog behaviorist and obedience instructor Joy Freedman.

“If you’re going to change anything in a pet’s world, you always want to do half [old] and half [new],” she said.

Freedman feeds her own dogs a grain-free diet year-round because she says she doesn’t trust the quality of the grains used in pet food.

“If you ate McDonalds for a week and then you ate at Woodberry Kitchen, you’d have a similar effect,” remarked Freedman. “It takes a dog’s digestive track a long time — really like three days — to get used to any change in type of diet.”

She recommends basing your pet’s Passover diet on what he or she is already eating right now. If their food is chicken-based, center their holiday diet on chicken. If they usually eat beef, feed them beef with other foods, such as carrots, pumpkin or sweet potato, mixed in.

Many of the Jewish pet owners Freedman talks with keep their animals on a grain-free diet year-round.

“Switching the dog’s food can be more toxic to the dog’s system,” she said. “They will go through intestinal distress, and nobody wants to clean that during Passover to begin with.”


Confessions of a Chametz Buyer

Michael Hillard, buys breaded foods from the Jewish Community before Passover. (David Stuck)

Michael Hillard, buys breaded foods from the Jewish Community before Passover. (David Stuck)

The prohibition against eating leavened bread containing wheat, barley, oats, spelt and rye at Passover is well known. Some Ashkenazic authorities also prohibit the consumption of rice, millet, corn and legumes during the holiday, and most Jews make a point of cleaning their homes and cars, removing any crumbs that may have accumulated prior to Pesach.

What they don’t get rid of, they sell to a non-Jew for the duration of the holiday. Rabbis typically serve as the go-betweens, and in Baltimore, Rabbi Jeremy Benyowitz is one of several in the area who facilitate the sale. For the past four or five years, the rabbi has relied upon the assistance of Michael Hilliard, a former major in the Baltimore Police Department and now community services director for the Harbel Community Organization, a nonprofit in Northeast Baltimore.

Benyowitz’s mother, Naomi Benyowitz, is executive director of Harbel. Close colleagues, Hilliard and Benya-witz “put together one of the largest citizen’s patrols on the East Coast. It was based on the Northwest Baltimore Citizens Patrol,” said Hilliard.

“One day, Jeremy approached his mother looking for a trustworthy gentile who could buy the chametz,” said Hilliard. “Naomi suggested me.”

Before meeting Benyowitz, Hilliard knew a little bit about Passover but nothing about this particular custom. Yet, he was happy to help.

“I have been a devout Christian all of my life,” said Hilliard. “This is an opportunity to help others of great faith celebrate one of the most important holidays of the year. I feel it’s a worthwhile endeavor. I’m also interested in meeting people of other cultures. It gives me a chance to meet some special people.”

Hilliard described the annual transaction.

“I go to his apartment and he has stacks of documents. They are contracts that people have signed giving him the right to sell the chametz. “I don’t actually pay, but the whole idea is that it’s mine. I could go to someone’s house and take it if I wanted.”

The chametz that has been collected is not kept in Hilliard’s home. Instead it is stored in a locked cabinets in the homes of the sellers, but Hilliard holds the keys. After Passover, the rabbi comes back to Hilliard, who then offers to sell it back to him.

“I might say to him, ‘Oh, it has been a real burden, Rabbi,’” Hilliard said. “‘I haven’t been able to sell it. Could you buy it back?’”

In the past, Hilliard has “purchased” goats and sheep because they are fed fermented grain. He has even held the keys to a liquor store.

“I find it to be a unique and personally rewarding experience,” he said “If you’re a person of faith, you get it. If you’re not, you might not.”


Pesach With Flair

Passover is truly my favorite holiday.

Every year I like to add a unique dish to my table, making tradition relevant to the young people at the Seder. Two of my granddaughters, Jahna and Hannah, take French at school — and both enjoy eating crepes. So I decided to find the very best crepe recipe to include for Passover.

It turned into quite a challenge. (You could even say it made me meshuges.) My kitchen turned into a Passover crepe test kitchen, as I experimented with dozens of recipes to get the perfect Pesach crepe. Below is my final recipe.

For savory courses, I plan to stuff the crepes with leftover brisket, cholent or chicken. For those crepes, I changed the salt ingredient to onion salt for a more savory flavor. They can be dressed with gravy for a great leftover meal. For dessert, I will make some stuffed and frozen in advance with ice cream to serve with a drizzled warm chocolate sauce surrounded by little chocolate frogs. Frog molds can be found at koshercook.com.

My newest favorite cookbook is “A Taste of Pesach,” a project of Yeshiva Me’on Hatorah in New York. Every recipe has a lovely color photo, and many are very creative, such as balsamic French roast and Hungarian brownies.

There are many new apps to help out with Passover planning this year. The Manischewitz Recipe & Holiday Guide is my favorite. It can be downloaded free to any Apple or Android device by searching for Manischewitz in the app stores. To everyone, have an “appy” Pesach!

Ilene’s Passover Crepes

Balsamic French Roast

Broccolini With Lemon Mustard Dressing

Hungarian Brownies

Tips & Tricks
• Don’t forget to use leftover, drained charoses to marble through mondel bread dough.
• You can use fresh asparagus or broccoli instead of broccolini, but broccolini will look and taste unique.
• Use the freshest farm-raised eggs for Passover. The yolks are vibrant, and the whites are richer — so good for beating up whites. It’s worth the trip to Faithful Friends Egg Farm (410-374-3432): $4 a dozen, with assorted colors from special chickens and an extra one for your Seder plate!

Ilene Spector is a local freelance writer.

An Unleavened Market


Jean-Claude Neymann

For most Jews, matzah season comes once a year. But for Jean-Claude Neymann, matzah, or pain azyme in French, is a defining family tradition.

Neymann runs the oldest matzah bakery in France, located in the town of Wasselonne near the German border. The family company, Etablissements Rene Neymann, traces its matzah-making tradition to 1850.

“I’m the fifth generation of my family to bake matzah in Wasselonne,” said Neymann.

Walking along the steep, cobblestoned streets of Wasselonne, a city of nearly 6,000 people at the foot of the Vosges Mountains in northeastern France, is like stepping into a Grimm’s fairy tale. Timbered facades look more German than French, a reminder that Alsace and Lorraine have been shunted back and forth between two countries that regularly warred with each other in the not-so-distant past.

Salomon Neymann, a peddler and the father of this unleavened-bread dynasty, set up his first bakery in nearby Odratzheim, where he began to bake Passover matzah for his family and the local Jewish community. His matzah became popular, and by 1870 he and his son, Benoit, moved the factory to larger quarters in Wasselonne, a market city with an industrial district that also had the advantage of being the site of a flour mill.

The Etablissements Rene Neymann matzah factory is located in the  Alsatian city of Wasselonne. (Phtotos Courtesy of Etablissements Rene Neymann)

The Etablissements Rene Neymann matzah factory is located in the
Alsatian city of Wasselonne.
(Photos Courtesy of Etablissements Rene Neymann)

Between 1870 and 1919 the Neymann family manufactured regular and shmurah matzah in their factory, but Benoit Neymann’s youngest son, Rene, had bigger ideas for the company. In 1919 he industrialized production, changed the company name to Etablissements Rene Neymann and in 1930 began to market the wonders of unleavened bread to the non-Jewish public. It was a hit and sales grew.

After France fell to the Nazis in 1940, the bakery was shuttered, and the Neymann family was forced into exile in southern France.  Liberation came in November 1944 with the army of Gen. Phillipe Leclerc, and in 1948 Rene Neymann restarted the business.

The decades following World War II saw many changes in how people ate and shopped all over the world.

“Supermarkets started to replace traditional food markets, and eating a low-fat diet became fashionable,” Jean-Claude Neymann noted.

Robert Neymann, Rene’s son, seized the opportunities — he modernized and automated production, expanded the product lines and secured new
distribution outlets.

With Robert Neymann at the helm, Etablissements Rene Neymann continued to extend its products and brands by manufacturing other types of matzah for different tastes and appetites: matzah made from rye and whole-wheat flours; bran matzah; spelt matzah; certified organic matzah. Even Neymann’s kosher-for-Passover matzah, under the supervision of the chief rabbi of Strasbourg, is made from an array of flours.

Jean-Claude, Robert’s son, took over the company in 1983.

“Regular matzah is still our biggest Passover item, but about 62 percent of our total manufacturing output is sold outside France,” he said.

Signs of Passover

040414_Passover-signsJudy Harrow, assistant teacher at the Ben and Esther Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC, shares her knowledge of American Sign Language with students year round. To commemorate the end of Jewish Disability Awareness Month, Harrow and teacher Barbara Stadd invited Leah Caplan, a hard-of-hearing member of the Jewish community, into the classroom to teach signs specific for the Passover holiday.

Caplan signed and spoke as she taught the class of 5- and 6-year-olds words for “Passover,” “Seder” and “matzah,” as well as the blessing over wine. Students introduced themselves to Caplan using ASL and also sang and signed the Shema for her at the end of the event. For all but one of the 17 students, Caplan was the first hard-of-hearing and signing person they had ever met.

Caplan is active with the Center for Jewish Education’s JADE program: Jewish Advocates for Deaf Education. Yael Zelinger, the coordinator of JADE, received the request from the kindergarten class and reached out to Caplan, who was happy to visit and teach.

The students had plenty of questions, many of which were about Caplan’s family and how she communicates with others.

Caplan, whose parents are both deaf, uses a hearing aid. She grew up signing in Hebrew with her Israeli father and in English with her American mother. The two sign languages are very different, she explained. Caplan’s two siblings are not hearing impaired; her husband is hard of hearing, and their three children, who attend the Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, are not hearing impaired. From Caplan’s description, she has navigated back and forth through the hearing, deaf, hard-of-hearing, speaking and signing communities throughout her life.

“When I speak to my parents, I turn off my voice and sign because they can’t hear,” she both said and signed to the children.

The JADE program at CJE aims to raise awareness throughout the community about the needs of those who are deaf and hard of hearing. They provide workshops about how to talk to a deaf or hard-of-hearing person and will send a representative to a classroom, board meeting or community center.

“People should be familiar with how to take a [TTY relay] call from a deaf person,” said Zelinger. “The program provides tips on how to [feel comfortable and] look a [deaf] person in the eye when speaking and talk to them in first person.”

There are many tips for respectful communication with deaf and hard-of-hearing people that JADE can provide in a brief 30- to 40-minute program to help make conversations comfortable and productive. The organization will also invite a person with a specific disability to speak to a class, board or staff, said Zelinger.

JADE also has an interpreter fund, so that parents of deaf or hard of hearing children can bring an interpreter to a parent-teacher conference, a play or other activity so parents can gain full access to their child’s education. JADE also received a grant to pay a stipend toward interpreters at Jewish events to encourage accessibility for all who wish to attend.

The organization provides a list of Jewish language and culture-knowledgeable interpreters for hire as well.

“My goal is, I’m trying to find every deaf and hard-of-hearing person here in Baltimore,” declared Zelinger, “and get them access to the resources they need.”