Shabbat ‘Alone’ in Sundrawoti

Back in May, Mordechai gave me a version of a post he’d written while spending several months in Nepal, and he told me to use it sometime when I had a free week on the blog. I knew it would come in handy. Apparently, Shabbat Shuvah, the week in between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is a little busy. So instead of a “this is what happened this week” post, we have a “this is what happened some other Shabbat” post, but nonetheless, it’s a great commentary on alone-ness versus communal-ness that totally thematically fits with this almost-Yom-Kippur weekend. Plus, it includes a new chickpea recipe for me to try.

Mordechai graduated from Penn in 2010 before spending four months in Nepal, where he maintained a blog, Eye of the Treiger.

Nepal is 80.6 percent Hindu, 10.7 percent Buddhist, 4.4 percent Muslim, 3.6 percent Kirat, and a few fractions of a percent ‘other’. Sure, thousands of Israelis stop by after the army to trek the Annapurna circuit or up to Everest Basecamp, but your average Nepali is likely to have never met – much less heard of – a Jew.

So my three-month stint in the remote village of Sundrawoti – I volunteered there with an Israeli organization called Tevel B’Tzedek  (TBT) – was an eye-opening experience for everyone. I lived in a house with five other volunteers, three Nepali staff who helped facilitate TBT activities, and our host family of four.

All week long, the volunteers worked on various projects in the village – at the Community Center, Women’s Groups, Youth Groups, Father’s Group, schools, and so on – and ate at a local establishment (the ‘passal’), but for Shabbat, we cooked for ourselves and celebrated in our private common space at home.

One weekend, the other volunteers made plans to be away: Dafna was in Kathmandu for Youth Seminar, Tal climbed Kalinchowk, and Timna, Avigayil, and Alisa visited the even more remote village of Simigaun. Someone suggested that unless I made plans, I would have to spend Shabbat alone.

This prediction turned out not to be true: I made no plans, but would hardly say my Shabbat was spent ‘alone’. Instead, I spent it with Rajkumari and Balaram and Dan Bahadur dai and Laxmi didi and Tekraj and Monisa. And I’m glad I did.

On a typical Shabbat – as typical as a Shabbat could be in Sundrawoti – I would recite the Kabbalat Shabbat quietly to myself in the courtyard of our house. This week, I was joined by Monisa, our host’s six year-old daughter. I sang while she ate plums. We danced to Lecha dodi while she still ate plums. She offered me one, and I stuck it in my pocket. She offered me another plum, and I tucked it in, too. A neighbor stopped by and emptied his own pocketsful of plums into a cloth Monisa had claimed from its rightful place atop her mother’s head. I beckoned Monisa over and slipped two more into the cloth.

On a typical Shabbat, the volunteers would collaborate on an elaborate meal while the Nepali staff went to the passal like any other night. When it was my turn to produce the main course, I fashioned my award-winning Pindi Chana (recipe below). On this week, Balaram and Rajkumari – two of our three Nepali staff (Upama was also in the Kathmandu for Youth Seminar) – made vegetable curry and rice for three. Delicious.

On a typical Shabbat, we would collect a few rolls in Charikot – the nearest city, about an hour and a half away by bus – to use for hamotzi. I couldn’t make it to Charikot, but I did stop in Soti – the village a 45-minute walk down the road – where fried rolls were available. I also picked up a bag full of plums: 5 Nepali Rupees (~70 Rs = 1 USD) bought me 20, and the lady threw in four for good measure. I tried to give away as many as I could, and was making progress until Dan Bahadur dai – our host, and Monisa’s father – showed up Shabbat morning laden with another few dozen.

On a typical Shabbat, we would stay up late on Friday night playing games like Hijack! and poker and Jungle Speed, while the Nepali staff went to bed early. This week, Rajkumari remarked it was kind of boring to be just three out of the usual nine, so I taught her to play Jungle Speed (Balaram already knew how). I don’t think I’d ever heard Rajku swear before – and I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone say ‘Shit!’ as often as she did that Friday night. Rajku loved Jungle Speed so much that after we agreed to finish for the night, she invited in Dan Bahadur dai, taught him to play, and kept us at it for another few rounds. DBD was surprisingly slow to pick up on the game; Balaram, unsurprisingly slow to pick up on it.

As Shabbat wound down and Balaram and Rajku cooked tarkaari bhat for the second straight night, Monisa joined me once again. I showed her where to tap your bones to make them sound hollow, I swung her in every direction except into the ground, we traded shoes, and danced to the most popular song in Sundrawoti: Waka Waka.

Just like you see in every movie, our moves attracted a crowd of seven boys around Monisa’s age. When it came time to count stars for the conclusion of Shabbat, I made it to two before they caught on: three, four, five, six, seven, they helpfully added. OK, OK, I get it, that’s enough, I told them, eight, nine, ten, they replied, and I ducked inside for Havdalah, laughing.

As promised, my award-winning recipe for Pindi Chana:

Pindi chana

1 cup chickpeas
3/4th inch of ginger, chopped
2-3 tbsp oil
2 onions chopped
2 tsp garlic, crushed
2 green chilies, sliced
3 medium tomatoes, chopped
2 tsp ground coriander
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 – 1tsp red chili powder or as per taste
Salt To Taste
1/2 tsp garam masala (optional – but only because I don’t expect you to have it)


  • Soak chickpeas overnight or for about 6 hr (or use from can)
  • Cook the chickpeas with salt and enough water until fully done. Drain
  • Heat oil and sauté onions till golden, then add garlic and chopped ginger and green chilies. Sauté for 5 minutes.
  • Add tomatoes, cumin, turmeric and chili powder and sauté over low heat until the oil separates.
  • Add chickpeas, one cup of water, and salt. Simmer, uncovered until the liquid has been absorbed.
  • Add a pinch of garam masala (optional) and serve

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Swiss Shabbat

I’ve been eager to hear about Ariel and Eric’s adventures in Switzerland, and this is a great snippet of their new life. Philly will of course miss having them here for Rosh Hashana, but what fun they’re having! To them and everyone, Shana tova, a sweet and happy New Year!

Eric and I moved to Luzern Switzerland recently and had our first extended interaction with the Swiss Jewish Community this Shabbat.

Side Note on Jews in Switzerland:  While there are substantial Jewish communities in Switzerland, they are located in some of the larger cities, including Zurich and Basel.  We are adjusting to the trek to Basel or Zurich (each over an hour by train) to access Kosher meat.  This is made a slightly more interesting challenge as shops are not opened on Sundays in Switzerland, which for kosher shops means they are only open during the week. Yes, this does mean that all shopping for Shabbat and Rosh Hashanah this year had to be completed by midday on Friday.

We were invited over for a Shabbat meal, where we had the pleasure of interacting with an interesting cross-section of Jewish Luzern.  I am not sure our interaction can be considered representative of Swiss Jewish culture, but certainly representative of Jews in Switzerland.  What do I mean by this?  There were very few Swiss at the table.  Our hosts were a couple originally from the US who moved to Switzerland a number of years ago.  All of their children were born in Switzerland.  There was an Israeli couple visiting Switzerland on their honeymoon, and a couple from the US in Switzerland to help with High Holiday services.  And finally, a mother and her adult son, both actually born and raised in Switzerland.  About half of the table spoke German, and about half spoke Hebrew, leaving English as the common language.

Maybe it was because the conversation was in English, and the Hebrew blessings were mainly with the tunes I know, but this meal felt very much like a Shabbat meal in the US.  Which has me thinking:

(1) It is amazing that you can travel half way around the world, and feel right at home in the local Jewish community.

(2) What was the diversity around the Shabbat table when I was in the US?  What languages did everyone speak?  Where were they born?  Would a Jew from Switzerland, Australia, or China feel at home at my Shabbat table?

For this Shabbat, leading right into one of my first High Holiday experiences away from my family, I had a wonderful experience.  Great company and excellent food…

The meal started with homemade Challah, egg salad, corn salad, broccoli salad, gefilta fish with horse radish, and chumus.  We then had chicken cooked in a sweet sauce, with rice. And finally a coffee ice cream pie served with berries for dessert.

Swiss Food Notes

Corn salad: This salad seemed to consist of corn, finely chopped pickles, finely chopped red pepper, and mayonnaise.  In my brief Swiss experience, this type of corn salad seems much more popular here than in the US.  I have regularly seen this on top of prepared green salads here in Switzerland.  Interestingly, I spoke with some Swiss co-workers recently who told me corn was considered cow food until recently.

Berries: The berries served with dessert were red currents.  I have heard of currents before, but do not think I had ever seen fresh currents before arriving in Switzerland.  Here they are including in standard berry mixes.

Recipe: Broccoli Salad

I am not sure if this is particularly Swiss, but it was certainly tasty.  I collected this recipe by watching the preparation, so I have no measurements to share.  Mix the below ingredients together and adjust to your taste.

  • ·         Broccoli cut into small pieces
  • ·         Red onion chopped
  • ·         Craisins
  • ·         Small spoon of sugar
  • ·         Scoop of mayonnaise
  • ·         Lemon juice

Shana Tova!

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Chairs, Chocolate, and Chinoise

I especially like that Deborah focuses almost as much on chairs as she does on food, since my own folding chairs have frequently made an appearance in her apartment.  This very Friday afternoon, I asked her if she still had any of them since some other grad students needed to borrow them.  When Deborah told me that she was hosting Shabbat lunch this week because she was blogging, that pretty much made my year.  With only 12 (!) unclaimed weeks left in the year, I hope more people are inspired to host, write, and cook!

For me, Shabbat is very much about both the food that you prepare and the people you get to spend Shabbat with. So when I invited people to come to me for lunch this past Shabbat, I started inviting friends somewhat randomly, until I realized that I’d invited more people than I had chairs. Somehow, the balance this time between last-minute cancellations and last-minute RSVPs was perfect—I had no extra chairs, but also no one needed to volunteer to sit on the floor. Of course, the lesson that I take from being worried about chairs while preparing is not to invite fewer people, but to get more chairs.

In regards to food, my one absolute rule is that whenever I have people over for Shabbat, I make challah. My mother wakes up early Friday morning to bake challah—as a grad student, I stay up late Thursday night instead. This Shabbat I made chocolate chip challah, but you can add onions to challah just as easily!

When Miriam was last soliciting bloggers, I’d just received 25 lbs of tomatoes from my CSA (I asked for them, it wasn’t a surprise, I swear!), so I volunteered. But Brian beat me to volunteering, and I suppose Shabbat on a mountaintop beats Shabbat filled with tomatoes. It all works out, though, because this Shabbat I invited my friend Josh, who hates tomatoes, and I think he would have been very hungry if all he’d been able to eat was challah. Nevertheless, I served gazpacho, in honor of the tomatoes, and the most interesting gazpacho recipe I’ve ever received. The recipe is from my friend Andrés, who in turn got it from his mother Amor. The recipe begins with the instruction to follow her directions exactly, without any experimentation, and concludes by saying to use your imagination… It also calls for bread, and suggests that hard-boiled eggs may be included. Amor lives in Spain, so this is definitely an authentic gazpacho recipe—though I will admit I had no idea that gazpacho could have bread in it!

Amor’s Gazpacho Recipe in translation [my comments]

[A warning: this recipe makes a LOT of soup, though it stores quite well in the fridge. It requires two utensils that I didn’t have to start with, and may require inventiveness on your part of you wish to duplicate it]

This is how it goes, don’t experiment


1 kilogram of ripe and juicy tomatoes [2.2 lbs, or between 6 and 9 tomatoes]
1 cucumber
1 bell pepper, if it’s red that better, as it gives more color
1 onion, not very big
2 cloves of garlic
oil, vineger and salt
1 loaf of bread [should be a very crusty bread, like a French baguette, all the better if it’s a little stale]


Cut up all the vegetables.
Cover them with good water (not from the tap), and if it’s cold, that’s better. Crush them with a hand-held blender.
Pass them through a Chinese colander [this will be called a chinoise at a kitchen store; it’s a very fine metal sieve in the shape of a cone. The name is a reference to the shape of a type of “Chinese” hat. It may be possible to use cheesecloth instead].
The remaining pulp may be covered in water and the operation repeated in order to get more benefit from the vegetables, until all that is left is pulp, which is discarded.

To the side, we put the bread in fresh water, cut it into small pieces, and add it to the vegetable broth.
Add: 10 tbsp of olive , 10 tbsp vinegar, and 1 tbsp salt
Crush everything with the handheld blender at a low speed, so that it doesn’t splash and it is well-mixed without lumps of oil.
Add oil, vinegar and salt to taste.
Serve with cut up cucumbers, green olives, tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs… whatever inspires you!

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Let a Vegetable Shine

I knew Michelle many years ago at Brandeis, and it was one of those happy life coincidences to be able to reconnect in Philadelphia, with gobs of mutual friends and an almost-overlapping Shabbat community.  Vegetables are the stars of her post, which made my mouth water to read.  Enjoy!

A few weeks ago, a call went out over the e-mail list for Minyan Dorshei Derech asking for Shabbat lunch hosts for new students at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College for the Shabbat just after their orientation.  I graduated a few months ago, and it is hard for me to imagine that there will be a new group of students there who will never be my classmates.   I volunteered immediately to host, remembering how overwhelming orientation can be, hoping to share a bit of calm with some of the new students this Shabbat.  We were joined by a fellow new Rabbi, creating a balance between students just starting and those of us who have just finished.

I like feeding people a good Shabbat meal.  I don’t host meals as often as I’d like, but when I do, I cook.  Somebody else can bring wine or challah, or maybe a salad, but I like to plan and cook a whole meal.   I enjoy making sure that people are taken care of, and I like giving people homemade gifts.  As much as I would like to, I can’t knit gifts for everybody I know, but I can feed people fairly efficiently. When I moved two years ago, I only looked at apartments with space to host a sit-down meal for a dozen people.   I also like simple foods, with only a few ingredients in each dish (I am not a cholent or chili person!), and I especially like to let a vegetable shine.

Having a community garden plot and growing many of my own vegetables has only increased these instincts.  I am not simply putting food on the table that could have been bought anywhere.  This is as local as possible, with no pest management system (when the bugs eat the kale, the solution is to get rid of the kale) and no underpaid farm workers.  Working together with friends, I planted the cucumbers, pruned the tomato plants, and thinned the radishes.   I know very little about gardening, but we seem to have an amazing bounty, and I love to share the produce.  I have dropped off bags of tomatoes on friends’ porches.  I learned how to make a kale salad, radish green pesto, and a chard frittata for potlucks.    I want the bright colors and natural sweetness of each of these foods to be appreciated.

This week, preparing to host Shabbat lunch, I picked sweet peppers, hot peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, beets, and some herbs before I went shopping.  It does help that I work in New Hope, so I can buy fruits and vegetables from a farm to supplement these foods.  The meal was planned around the garden, and around what could be bought at the farm.  We started our lunch with gazpacho, and enjoyed a beet and feta salad, tortellini with fresh pesto, a black bean and corn salad, and a cucumber salad.  We finished this off with individual whole peach pies.  The meal was almost vegan and almost gluten free.  With the expection of the garlic, avocado, lemon juice, and peaches, all of the fruits and vegetables were grown in the garden or at a farm about 20 miles away.  Everybody ate happily, though the peppers made the gazpacho spicier that I had expected and the peach pies were falling apart.   I was glad to have a dining room, and to fill it with new students, new rabbis, and their families.

The favorite dish was shockingly easy, so that’s the recipe I’ll share!

Cucumber Salad with Soy and Ginger
Adapted from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian
Cucumbers (ideally small Kirby or pickling cucumbers)
Fresh ginger
Soy sauce
White vinegar

Slice cucumbers into thin slices.  Peel and mince some ginger.  In a bowl, mix equal  parts soy sauce and vinegar with a teaspoon or so of honey.  Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl.

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Shabbat at 11,000 Feet

You may remember Brian from  his post about LimmudPhilly, or, if you live in Philly, from just about every Jewish event and organization there is.  It’s obviously not  his style to write about a “typical” Shabbat, so this one involved an exciting outdoor adventure, mountain climbing, and soup. 

3 days. 16 miles. 3000 foot elevation gain. That was my experience over Shabbat this past weekend. I flew out to Colorado with five good friends from my summer camp (shoutout to Camp Galil) to meet up with a sixth and climb up a mountain over the day of rest. It might sound like the opposite of what some would want but I can tell you the serenity of being on top of a mountain is quite amazing.We hiked up the mountain on Thursday with all our bags (probably 40 pounds of material each), including all the food for each meal. Lunches were simple (pita, cheese, avocado, or PB & J). We spent Friday exploring even more of the mountain with the same. But the best meal was by far Shabbat dinner. My friend Alon is a soup connoisseur and so brought the supplies for a split pea soup that was to die for. We spent two and a half hours preparing Shabbat dinner while watching the sun set through the pine trees outside of our cabin. With no electricity even possible in this cabin, it made me think of how it must have been decades ago to celebrate the weekly holiday.

Dinner was made even more festive by the surprise of our local contact and friend, Evan, who secretly hiked up with two wine bottles, re-packed in compactable plastic containers, of course. We sang. We ate. We swapped stories. We were in bed by 10pm. Evan is also a sleep researcher and was fond of telling us about the amazing thing that is the cyrcadian rhythm. I only hope to take some of the relaxing lessons from this weekend to heart in the hustle and bustle of daily life.

And to climb more mountains.

Recipe for soup:

1 pound split peas (sift through to ensure no rocks)

4 large carrots
1 bunch of celery
2 onions
6 cloves garlic
1 potato
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Thyme, salt, pepper to taste
1) Boil split peas for two hours (watch out for elevation !)
 2) Dice all vegetables and saute them in olive oil
3) Add vegetables into the peas and all spices
4) Boil until tasty

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Maimonides Shabbat Dinner

In addition to cooking me dinner on Friday, Shira was also nice enough to let me talk her into writing about it!  This dinner was a great example of how to be welcoming, how to build community, and how to make sure all the guests leave dinner with just a little bit of chocolate still on their faces.

The Friday at the end of the first week back to school was a welcome sight foreveryone. There is more to the wonder of Friday than it simply being the end of the work-week or the school week, because Friday means the coming of Shabbat. This past Friday night the Maimonides society at Drexel med hosted a Shabbat dinner. The dinner was an Italian themed Shabbat with salad, eggplant lasagna, pasta with marinara sauce, and an amazing dessert of s’mores bars. Of course, there were the traditional Shabbat staples of challah and wine.

It was wonderful to have so many med students from years 1-4 coming together for a Shabbat dinner. It was a great way for the new first years to get to know classmates better (ones that they may or may not have already met during orientation) as well as a way for them to meet members of the other years. For the members of other years it was a chance to catch up with people they had not seen in a while and also to get to know students from the other years better. Everyone was taking the time to enjoy the homemade Shabbat meal and talk. Hopefully as the year continues and the Maimonides Society hosts future events for the various holidays the people who came out to this first Shabbat dinner will remember the great time they had and they will come again, leading to the development of a welcoming, strong and connected Jewish community at Drexel med.

For me personally there was an added bonus besides the wonderful group of people to celebrate Shabbat with. My younger brother came to visit for the weekend. I enjoyed giving him a taste of the med school life and having him spend Shabbat dinner with my classmates.  Overall the Shabbat dinner was a success and a wonderful way to start of the year.  Hopefully the future Friday night dinners and other events will go as well!

S’mores Bars

1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 king-sized milk chocolate bars (e.g. Hershey’s)
1 1/2 cups marshmallow creme/fluff (not melted marshmallows)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan.

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light. Beat in egg and vanilla. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, graham cracker crumbs, baking powder and salt. Add to butter mixture and mix at a low speed until combined.

Divide dough in half and press half of dough into an even layer on the bottom of the prepared pan. Place chocolate bars over dough. 2 king-sized Hershey’s bars should fit perfectly side by side, but break the chocolate (if necessary) to get it to fit in a single layer no more than 1/4 inch thick. Spread chocolate with marshmallow creme or fluff. Place remaining dough in a single layer on top of the fluff (most easily achieved by flattening the dough into small shingles and laying them together).

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until lightly browned. Cool completely before cutting into bars.

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Gary, West Virginia

Jonathan and I got to know each other while he was in grad school in Philly. I’m so glad we’re still connected and that he’s guest blogging this week, sharing a really interesting experience he had on a service learning trip run out of DC. 

I experienced Shabbat in a new place this past week. Or rather, an old place. A closed school in Gary, West Virginia, in an area that was once prosperous from coal mining but is now one of the poorest parts of one of the poorest states in the country. The school building has been taken over by a Christian missionary group that coordinates service projects for visiting volunteers. Some of the classrooms have bunkbeds, and two others have had showers installed. Nothing fancy, but it works.

I was in Gary for a long weekend service trip with a group of 18 people from 2239, the young professionals group of Washington Hebrew Congregation, through the congregation’s ARK (Acts of Religious Kindness) initiative. My understanding is that we were the first Jewish group to ever work with
with School for Life, the organization on the ground in Gary, and possibly also the first with Experience Mission, which coordinates thousands of volunteers around the world each year. Obviously we were not trying to spread Judaism (or Christianity!) to the people we were working with; we were there because
these organizations do good work in a place where it is desperately needed.

After a day in which part of our group worked to fix up the grounds of an old abandoned church that is being turned into a community center, and the rest of the group started work building a new patio for a family’s home, we returned to the school for Shabbat dinner and services. For logistical
reasons, we started with Hamotzi and Kiddush, then had dinner, then did the text study we call “A Shot of Torah,” and then had a Kabbalat Shabbat service.

At least some of the Gary natives who we encountered had never met a Jewish person before. One of them, 21-year-old James, who helped to coordinate volunteers, joined us for the initial prayers through the text study. He found the experience to be very different from anything he’d been exposed
to in the past, and he particularly liked the challah.

Other than the challah and wine, we had the same dinner that others at the school had that night: pieces of chicken breast in Sweet Baby Ray’s barbeque sauce, corn, rolls, salad, and watermelon. I don’t have any recipes for you, but Sweet Baby Ray’s is excellent.

The next day I got a chance to talk to James’ 19-year-old sister, Alicia, who also had never met any Jews before. Her knowledge of Judaism came from a cartoon, though she couldn’t remember which one. She said she knew two things about Jews: “You have the funny hats and the parties.” It was easy enough to figure out what funny hats referred to. With some follow up questions, I figured out the parties were Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. She asked me what Jews believe. I deferred to the rabbi on the trip, Aaron Miller, who I figured has been trained to explain Judaism to Christians in various degrees of

For those of you who may find yourselves in a similar situation, I’ll note his three points. First, of course, Jews do not believe Jesus to be the Messiah. Second, Jews do not believe in original sin. Third, Jewish thinkers and communities have developed many traditions and ways of living over time that are not reflected in Christian communities.

Of course, this summary only goes so far. We weren’t providing a full sense of what it means to be Jewish, but that wasn’t the purpose of our trip. We were there to serve, and the fact that we were a Jewish group was secondary. James told me we were the best group that they had all summer – and that’s a first impression we can be proud of.



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