Saturday, November 2, 2013

לא על הלחם לבדו יחיה האדם

For those familiar with the blog, you will know that that the NF finds good nusach to be important. What you may not have known is that the NF is obsessed with finding great challah.

One would think that Israel being the Jewish state and all, and Jerusalem being the Holy City and all, that it would be a snap to find perfect challah here in the hood. But alas, it's just not so.

Upon making aliya many moons ago, the NF traversed across the many neighborhoods of Jerusalem seeking out the perfect challah --- crusty but chewy on the outside, with sweet overtones but not cake, not overly dense, no artificial preservatives etc.

 A few weeks ago on a Friday morning, Mrs. NF suggested that with the 4 little NFs in school all morning, that we take a drive to the city of Tel Aviv for a bit of change in scenery. Upon arriving in Tel Aviv, Mr. and Mrs. NF sat down for a cup of coffee (and a bit of pastry) in an upscale bakery/cafe in downtown Tel Aviv. As we sat there. some beautiful looking challot were being brought out to the front of the shop. Should we get one, asked Mrs. NF, "they certainly look good".

While deliberating whether to take out a second mortgage to finance a potential gourmet challah purchase, it dawned on me that challa in Israel can be broken down into 4 categories:

1. The homemade challah. Let's be honest, homemade challah often can be heavier than a rebetzin after 20 years of childbirth and strudel ....denser than an Amercian college football player, be overdone on the outside and raw on the insde and have that slightly alcoholic taste of over fermentation. Of course there are exceptions: Mrs. NF makes very good (if not a bit dense challah) and Mrs. Dr. D makes a golden spatula worthy streusel challah....but by and large homemade challah is not my thing ----
 (A digression regarding home baked challah - Many homemade challot seem to come from a 40-women baking challah to save the world ceremony. Let's be clear: The NF doesn't believe in this 40 women baking challah/segula. To quote the Big Gong  upon hearing  that 40 women would be getting together to bake challah to help cure some poor cancer sufferer, "I realize I am no medical professional, but I always found that chemotherapy more effective in treating cancer". Anyway, Mrs. NF had once invited the big gong and family for Shabbat lunch. Unfortunately, a young lady in chu"l was diagnosed that Monday with terminal brain cancer. On Tuesday, 40 women including Mrs. Big Gong got together and baked challah --- Mrs. Big Gong  put the challah she baked in the freezer. Sadly, by Wednesday the person in chu"l was no longer (see above  regarding the efficacy of 40 women baking challah)....Mrs.Big Gong called us and asked us if she should bring the challah for shabbat lunch taking into account that the choleh it had been baked for had died. Being a rational, non-superstitious Jews, we encouraged Mrs. Big Gong to bring the challah over. However, I must admit that with trepidation, I cut into the challah. Happily, I can report that no malignancies were found)

2. Heimeshe Challah - Heimeshe challah at its best is beautifully braided, smells like heaven, chewy on the inside and crusty on the outside. Slightly sweet but not too sweet, it's worth eating this challah even if the rebbe has licked it up and down before distributing pieces as shirayim. Typically challah is bought in bakeries where toothless women of a certain age named Manya, Blima and Gittle Genedel who are shaped like 3x3 linebackers, wearing little white jackets and speaking with heavy Polish/Hungarian accents are working behind the counter. Alas, heimeshe challah in Jerusalem can be misleading and challot can look and smell heavenly ---- but upon making hamotzi you find that the challot have no taste or worse have been baked using water drained from the men's mikveh just before yom kippur. However, there are a couple of good options in Israel: HaTzvi, Gerelitz, Vizhnitz (which while the NF can't stand others swear by), Brooklyn Bake Shop and Moishe's. Drink of choice for the crowd of people who buy this challah: A glass of tea with a sugar cube or some slivovitz to wash down the herring and onions they had for breakfast.

3. The challah of the Amcha (the common people) - Included in this group is the terrible water challah that can be purchased at every makolet in Israel, cheap supermarket challah that leaves you with a terrible preservative aftertaste and mass produced tasteless challah (Angel, Berman). (It should be noted that while the NF doesn't like this challah, the water challah is perfect for soaking up the sauce that accompanies  חריימה --- Moroccan fish and other Eastern delicacies.  Drink of choice for the crowd of people who buy this challah: Botz (Turkish Coffee).

4. Foofy challah - Many bakeries and coffee shops/patisseries in Israel offer challot along with other assorted baked goods and delicacies. One should be very careful before purchasing a challah from such a shop. Invariably, the challot look alright but then you realize that the menu includes, whole grain, brioche, organic, pumpkin, non-gluten and other abominations that have nothing to do with challah. As bread, these offerings might be quite good but let's be frank: It is not challah. and the regular challah is usually mediocre.  I call this foofy challah  because it is the challah bought by foofy people --- you know the type --- the kind of people who wear off-weave, multi-colored talitot in shul, the kind of people who insist on carlebach every friday night (but don't come to shul on time) and the kind of people who give their children unisex names. These people are probably ordering a soy latte while purchasing their challot bread. Foofy.

Getting back to our story,  Mr and Mrs NF purchased a challah from this fine bake shop expecting it to be foofy. but alas we were pleasantly surprised that the challah could have passed for Heimishe.

Why is this relevant to the Nusach Freak blog? It isn't. So there.

A modern reading of our High Holidays in Jerusalem

It gives the NF great honour to present you with a recap of the High Holidays (in particular Yom Kippur) as observed at  our South Jerusalem synagogue. The recap has been written by Marc Rosenberg of


The World Series just ended (congrats Boston fans) and thus ends the hype and glory of the MLB baseball season.  With all of the hoopla, it gives me the appropriate context to share my reflections on the burgeoning davning rivalry in the pews of a certain South Jerusalem Synagogue.  We have the classic titans, the Yankees who traditionally have their run of the amud, but in the past year, there is a bunch of youngsters (read, under the age of 50) – for lack of a better comparison the Florida Marlins - who are challenging the tefilla hegemony for davening domination.

My first and only disclaimer is that I am not a hazan. I only learned the techniques because my Dad died suddenly and had to daven a LOT from amud than I ever had before. I was the kid at summer camp more concerned about which girl person I sat next to than what page we were on (but that is another story).  Basically, I am the guy who couldn’t really make the ball team but somehow got stuck watching so much that I am sharing my play-by-play.

Our certain South Jerusalem Synagogue is an interesting place and offers a showcase of combative competitive davening skills, week in and week out.  The gabbaim run a tight ship; a core (read OLDer) group of men make sure that the leining and davening are appropriate for their tastes.  (I know of a good guy, principal at US day school, smeicha and even a kohen to boot, who told me of the time that he was at Our certain South Jerusalem Synagogue many years ago and they didn’t have someone to lein and he could, and did so, but was corrected on his accent and heavy askenazi style).  But I keep coming back because the davneing is a good and good things seem to happen when I daven there. Another important note is that in the past 8 years, a wave of younger families have joined the shul and while much of the control of the shul is with these elders, the younger people are starting to flex their religious muscles.

Each Shabbat, one can witness the ongoing battle between the Yankees and Marlins, as there is sometime a desire to split shacharit and musaf between the two groups.  It was once said that the Yamim Noraim are the playoffs of davening  - so too it was at Our certain South Jerusalem Synagogue.

I personally hadn’t been at Our certain South Jerusalem Synagogue for YK for four years, and returned this year to competing minyanim within the same building.  There was the vatikin vs. main minyan showdown which showcased the selection of hazanim of the different teams.  I did align my davening selection with the Marlins schedule and followed the NF’s schedule which did earn me points with my wife (for going early).  I did choose to go to Kol Nidre in the downstairs slot which was a reply of Kol Nidre from the 1950’s. The davening was led by a Yankee davening horse (NF Editor's note: Dr. CT) which trudged along the same intonation and tunes as in the days of yore.  The morning brought a lighter, faster, and meaningful cruise through shacharit, thank you NF – followed by an incredible musaf by Dr. D – was quite pleasing and I didn’t even go to the Gush. 

Mincha was led by a younger guy who clearly wanted to play for the Yankees and consequently sent me to the upstairs minyan for ne’ilah out of fear of what would happen to my soul.  Interestingly, Our certain South Jerusalem Synagogue's internationally known Rav davened and started off with a thirsty voice causing fear amongst the crowd about his vocal stamina and ability to elevate for the davening finale.  It actually was brilliant and punctual, and something even beautiful happened. Not only did the Rav’s voice get stronger as ne’ilah progressed, he brought in the hazanim from the Yankees and the Marlins to run backup.  They helped select tunes and pitch, and I may have even heard harmony.  Yes, some may say that the Marlins really carried the choir that night – with a special nod to Dr. D, but it was quite nice to see the gathering of hazanim from both sides standing together. 

But now that the season has passed, and I, sitting in my back row seat in the corner, watch the davening duel continue, rooting for the Marlins and hoping that davening ends by 10:45.


thank you Marc 

---- the NF