The Art of Gefilte Fish – A Personal Memoir…

What is Gefilte Fish?

This photo to the right is not gefilte fish!  Gefilte fish does not come in a jar! Not where I come from.  Only in America!  “Gefilte” means “stuffed”. “Gefüllter karpfen” in German, “carpe farcie” in French, stuffed carp in English.  “stuffed” means stuffed into the fish, not in a jar!

First, get the fish!

When I was young, living in Belgium, my grandmother, who had emigrated from Poland, was in charge of making the gefilte fish for the high holidays.  Many folks eat gefilte fish at the Passover Seder, but we ate it at Rosh Hashannah, preceding the chicken soup and the rest of the holiday meal.  First, my grandmother Bajla went to the fish store about two weeks before the holiday and ordered two good size live carps. Other, fancier fish could be used but my grandmother stuck with carp, the people’s choice!  The fish store was a small ordinary shop on Rue du Mouton Blanc in the Carré area of Liège, my home town.  Waiting to the last minute was too risky, ordering early meant that you would get the right size fish, about 4 lbs each, and getting live fish meant it would remain fresh to the last possible moment!

My grandmother would bring the fish home alive – how?, I don’t remember – and place it in a large round galvanized steel tub that was used years before to wash and starch clothes.  My grandmother kept the tub in the courtyard of our suburban row house.  Not much room for the carp but they did not seem to mind as far as I could tell.  Then the dreaded moment came!  My grandmother grabbed one of the beasts, wrapped it in a large kitchen towel, and banged its head on the table which rendered it unconscious, or worse…  Same for the second fish.  The poor cyprinus carpii were then promptly moved to the kitchen and gutted.

Time to cook!

Now it was time to cook.  The following recipe is borrowed from a couple of sources  together with personal recollections.

Heads are cut and scales removed.  The fish are gutted and cleaned from the neck down by holding the tail so as not to damage the skin and the tail. If necessary, make a very small incision under the belly without piercing the bile. The fish are then sliced into 2-cm or half-an-inch thick steaks. 

Meat is carefully removed between the skin and the bones from each slice using a small sharp knife.  Keep the central ridge connected to the skin, leave flesh against the bones if necessary. do not hesitate to leave some flesh.

The meat is set aside for the “stuffing” with about four lbs of extra fillets.  Mild white fish such as hake or cod can be used. Pike or whitefish were old country favorites.  

Let the slices marinate with coarse salt overnight in the refrigerator then wash the salt off.  In the morning, chop the fish set aside for the stuffing, along with eight browned onions.  Small fish bones are removed.

Eight eggs and half-a-pound of matzah meal or bread crumbs are mixed in, with salt, pepper and a little bit of oil.

Now comes the “gefilte’ing”

A large cut-up onion and two carrots are laid at the bottom of one or two large pots then filled with cold water half way to the top and brought to medium heat. 

Peppercorns and a bit of sugar are added, no salt.  Fish slices are gently filled with the stuffing mixture and cautiously lowered into the simmering bouillon. 

The back of the heads may be stuffed.  Bones and other fish parts are added to the broth to increase the amount of gelatin.  Lower the heat at the first boil and remove the foam.  Let cook for two and a half hours, adjusting seasoning after a while and at the end of the cooking period.

Let the bouillon cool down, and gently remove the portions onto one or more large dishes, and decorate with carrot slices.  Fill the eye cavities with carrots too.  Strain the broth and refrigerate all overnight.

A Unique Twist

My grandmother added her unique and amazing twist to this recipe:  Over the summer, she collected seeds, also known as stones, pits or kernels from peaches, plums and especially apricots.  These pits have amazing and complex aroma.  Stone fruit seeds contain amygdalin which is believed poisonous when eaten raw but looses its potency when cooked.  Grandma Bajla sliced or broke the dried seeds and added them to the broth while the fish was cooking.  Wow, I never heard or saw this done anywhere else.  Genius, grandma!

At the Family Table

Finally, the large platter is brought to the holiday table, covered with gorgeous slices of gefilte fish, each one a marvel of Old Country cookery and engineering, surrounded by sweet broth jelly and garnished with carrot slices. Red horseradish is not far.  The holiday meal has started but not a word is said or heard.  A reflective mood?  No! each of us is savoring the delicate and rich flavors and watching for sharp bones!   

Happy holidays! 

 

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Anat Fort’s Story

From a blog article published by Yotam Ziv on the Israeli newspaper Haaretz website March 28, 2019. (The article was translated and edited) Disclosure: I am a big fan of Anat Fort! See links to other Israeli jazz artists at the bottom of this post.

Anat Fort and her ensemble
Anat Fort and her band

After 20 years of relentless and uncompromised persistence, Anat Fort became the first Israeli to be signed on the prestigious ECM jazz label. Her story is a story of great passion and Israeli daring . In an interview on the occasion of the release of a new album, she talks about being a female jazz artist in an almost-exclusively male field. “There’s something very cool about feminine energy that is sometimes lacking”, she said, “something that inspires young musicians,”

“We have about 10 percent of female students at our Stricker Conservatory, about the same as when I was a student there.

Women are ready and want to enter the field just like men do, if it were not for the discriminatory ‘bullshit’ that they have to endure.

What do you mean?

“Our trio played a double performance for a German radio station, together with another all-male band. We all sat in the bar where I was the only woman, as usual. One of the men from the other band sat next to me. He saw us play beforehand and knew that I was the band leader on my side. ‘What cool pantyhoses’, he asked me, ‘where did you buy them? Maybe I’ll buy the same for my group.’

“It’s like some of the BS in jazz that demeans women”, Fort said, “it’s like testosterone that rules the world, the solos have a lot of show-off, which is an essentially masculine trait, and I’m less connected to that, and there is a lot of gender talk among musicians, even I am culpable of that! It’s a fact that there are almost no successful instrumental women in this field”.

But hopefully, that may be changing for the better as more successful models are emerging. ”

Fort, 49, began playing at the age of five and asked to join a military band while serving in the Israeli Army. “Towards the end of high school, I realized that my classical music studies were going downhill, and I looked for other musical avenues.” I applied for the Army bands. When I entered audition room, Yoni Rechter, one of the judges, asked me if I knew how to play chords… John Coltrane, I was in shock, I never heard such music before!”

After release from the Army, Fort traveled to the United States to try to get into a jazz school that had never accepted foreign students before. She was not deterred. She asked for an audition, persevered and was eventually accepted. That is when she started to learn what it feels like to be a woman in a man’s world. “My first job after school was to accompany actors at the Lee Strasberg school,” she recalls. “Because of my versatility as a pianist – classical, jazz, cabaret and musicals – I was able to survive in New York, meet people in my field and play jazz, sometimes two or three gigs each night. I swallowed all the jazz that New York had to offer.

The opportunity for Fort to play her own compositions came when she met singer-composer Vered Dekel. “My relationship with her inspired me, and Vered wrote a lot of original music which was very significant to me, In 1999, I recorded my first album, alone, independently, real indie, which was also arund the time when when musicians started to record without the backing of a record label .”

Paul Motian – A class about my music at his house

The album was passport to exposure and performances of sorts. But a significant leap came after a musical encounter with Paul Motian, one of the greatest jazz drummers and a former member of the Bill Evans’ partner trio, one of the best jazz bands of all time. “I went to hear him wherever he played and eventually I found myself playing with bassist Ed Schuler who knew him. I approached Ed with my typical Israeli hutzpah and asked him what I needed to do to play with Paul Motian. Paul agreed to hear my music. He said he really liked it and might record my stuff. I almost fainted with my jaw wide open! A class about my music at Paul Motian’s place?! “

Motian did not record Anat’s music in the end, but refered her to Manfred Eicher, manager of the ECM jazz label. “Even then it took another three years for the ECM album to come out, which is one of the reasons why it was called” Long Story, “says Fort,” Eicher did not accept material that he was not involved in. I felt responsible for being the first Israeli to be signed on this special label. This gave me tremendous exposure to new markets, and it opened up the Whole World to me where people started to buy my albums, it was a breakthrough in every way. “

About 10 years later, Anat went back to Israel, and it seems that her return has only done her good. She continues to teach, record and perform non-stop. Her compositions have been celebrated for 20 years now. Although members of her trio its have split geographically, Fort in Israel, drummer Ronald Schneid to Germany and bassist Gary Wang in New York where he remained. This makes producing music a bit more complicated, but here (in Israel), a new album – Color – is about to come out and a tour around the country is about to start…

More fun stuff about Anat Fort

Listen to NPR’s Anat Fort’s ‘Long Story’ from New York

Listen to NPR’s Why Are So Many Jazz Musicians From Israel These Days?

Listen to NPR’s Anat Fort On Piano Jazz on
MARIAN MCPARTLAND’S PIANO JAZZ

Read my blog post about 33 great Israeli Jazz Artists

Please like my post if you enjoyed it 🙂

The Beth Elohim Synagogue and Solomon Nunes Carvalho

Immigration

Most of us know about the massive Jewish immigration to the United States from Central and Eastern Europe that started in the late 1800’s.  But less is known about earlier movements to North America.   

Jews began to settle in Charleston, South Carolina in 1695, 25 years only after the English founded Carolina.  These Jewish immigrants were mostly Sephardim who came to Charleston from England, by way of the Caribbean islands. They were attracted by the burgeoning commercial opportunities but also for the religious freedom and personal rights offered and tolerated by the colony’s Lord Proprietors. (Virtual Jewish Library.)  

Ca. 1812 drawing, KK Beth Elohim Synagogue, built 1792-1794, burned 1838. In 1825, South Carolina architect Robert Mills wrote, “It is a remarkably neat building, crowned with a cupola.”

The first Charleston synagogue, Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim (KKBE), or Holy Congregation of the House of God, was opened in 1749.  The congregation followed the Sephardic minhag (liturgy) of the Spanish-Portuguese communities of London and Amsterdam.  By 1764, the synagogue had moved to a third and larger structure. (College of Charleston.) 

One of the KKBE congregants was Solomon Nunes Carvalho. Carvalho was born in Charleston in 1815 to parents who were themselves born in England, and had moved to Barbados, then to the United States.  Solomon studied photography – a new technology back then! – with his father who opened workshops in Charleston and then Philadelphia.  Solomon was also a gifted painter who later studied with famed artist Thomas Sully

The Great Fire and a Heartwarming Gift 

On Friday evening April 27, 1838, fire broke out at the corner of King and Beresford streets in Charleston, soon ravaging more than 1,100 buildings of all kinds – dwellings, tenements, boarding houses, stores, workshops, kitchens, stables and sheds, and four houses of worship. Synagogue Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim was one of them.  

Solomon Nunes Carvalho. Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim, Interior, 1838; Oil on canvas. Collection of Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim

Twenty-three year old Solomon immediately started to paint a highly detailed picture of the interior of the synagogue from memory.  A few months later, he presented the canvas to the Beth Elohim trustees “for such compensation as the Board may deem proper to allow”. The sum of fifty dollars was sent to Carvalho by the Congregation!

I had the thrill of seeing this amazing painting and 10 other works of art by Solomon Nunes Carvalho as part of the Princeton University exhibit “by Dawn’s Early Light – Jewish Contribution to American Culture from the Nation’s Founding to the Civil War“.  In the exhibit catalog, Dale Rosengarten, co-curator of the exhibit and curator of the Jewish Heritage Collection at the College of Charleston Library remarked:

“The young painter had captured a haunting memory of the beloved temple: light pours through two rows of compass-headed windows evenly spaced along the side walls… The muted tones of the empty sanctuary capture a mood of sanctity and loss”

Solomon’s Ultimate Calling 

Carvalho continued to paint and to develop his photography business.  In June 1849, he opened a gallery in Baltimore offering both oil portraits and a variety of daguerreotypes—a new process that brought the cost of photography down.  In 1853, Solomon Carvalho was invited by Colonel John C. Frémont to join him on his fifth crossing of the continent. The primary objective of the expedition was to pass through the Rocky Mountains and Sierra Nevada Mountains during winter to document the amount of snow and the feasibility of winter rail passage along the route.  Almost every day of the expedition, Carvalho made daguerreotypes, photographing not only the landscape but also the Native Americans and their settlements.  Fremont was thrilled with Carvalho’s work.

“We are producing a line of pictures of exquisite beauty, which will admirably illustrate the country,”

he wrote to his wife, Jessie Benton Fremont. Only one of these daguerreotypes remains. 

Freedom!

Solomon’s family fled Portugal, Amsterdam, London and the Barbados in search of a better and freer life.  The United States provided them with the religious freedom and the economic opportunities they were seeking.  Solomon’s artistic talent and his business flourished.  In an unselfish act, he left his business behind to join Colonel Frémont’s fifth Continental exploration,  leaving an undelible mark on the Country’s history.  In 1856, John Charles Frémont, now Governor of California, became the first candidate of the Republican Party for the office of President of the United States.

A haunting rendition of Lu Yehi by Yaron Herman and his trio

Israel is fertile ground for jazz.  I have covered some of the Israeli jazz scene in a previous post.

Yaron Herman

Yaron Herman is ירון הרמן‎ is a French-Israeli jazz pianist now living in Paris. After a few years of piano study, he attended the Boston, MA Berklee College of Music at age 19. He then moved to Paris, France, where he began his recording career at age 21.  He is inspired by such jazz legends as Keith JarrettPaul BleyLennie Tristano and Brad Mehldau – my favorites too!   His website can be found at http://yaronherman.com/ 

BBC’s Kevin LeGendre reviewed Herman’s Muse album, where Lu Yehi is featured, in 2009. “Melodically gifted as he is, Herman is no slouch as an improviser and a fleet, precise right hand unfurls a number of sparkling, at times Chick Corea-like statements in which the Spanish-Arabic flourish is strong.”

Herman’s cover of Lu Yehi follows the song’s haunting melody but introduces a jazzy dissonance that evokes the hurt, chaos and uncertainty of war.

Lu Yehi

The famous Israeli song LU YEHI – לוּ יְהִי  (May It Be) was written and composed by Naomi Shemer during the Yom Kippur War (1973).  Naomi also famously wrote “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav” (“Jerusalem of Gold”) in 1967 after Israel won the Six-Day War.  In “Lu Yehi”, Naomi Shemer hopes for a quick end to the war and for the safe return of IDF soldiers (“This is the end of the summer, the end of the road, let them come back.”)

[see other Israeli Jazz-related posts: Anat Fort and 33 Israeli Jazz Artists ]

Lyrics in Hebrew and English (from Hebrewsongs.com)

Od yesh mifras lavan ba’ofek
mul anan shachor kaved
Kol shenevakesh – Lu Yehi.

Ve’im bacholonot ha’erev
Or nerot hachag ro’ed –
Kol shenevakesh – Lu Yehi.

Lu Yehi, Lu Yehi, Ana, Lu Yehi
Kol shenevakesh – Lu Yehi.

Ma kol anot ani shomei’a
Kol shofar vekol tupim
Kol shenevakesh lu yehi

Lu tishama betoch kawl eileh
Gam tefila achat mipi
Kol shenevakesh lu yehi

Lu yehi…

Betoch sh’chuna ktana mutzelet
Bait kat im gag adom
Kol shenevakesh lu yehi

Zeh sof hakayitz, sof haderech
Ten lahem lashuv halom
Kol shenevakesh lu yehi

Lu yehi…

Ve’im pit’om yizrach mei’ofel
Al rosheinu or kochav
Kol shenevakesh lu yehi

Az ten shalva veten gam ko’ach
Lechol eileh shenohav
Koll shenevakesh – lu yehi

Lu yehi………

There is still a white sail on the horizon
Opposite a heavy black cloud
All that we ask for – may it be

And if in the evening windows
The light of the holiday candles flickers
All that we seek – may it be

May it be, may it be – Please – may it be
All that we seek – may it be.

What is the sound that I hear
The cry of the shofar and the sound of drums
All that we ask for – may it be

If only there can be heard within all this
One prayer from my lips also
All that we seek – may it be

May it be…

Within a small, shaded neighborhood
Is a small house with a red roof
All that we ask for, may it be

This is the end of summer, the end of the path
Allow them to return safely here
All that we seek, may it be

May it be…

And if suddenly, rising from the darkness
Over our heads, the light of a star shines
All that we ask for, may it be

Then grant tranquility and also grant strength
To all those we love
All that we seek, may it be

May it be…

Rabbinic Judaism: A Missed Opportunity?

This post is a companion to my post on twenty notable rabbis coming later today.  One of the conclusions of my research for the 20 rabbi post is that Rabbinic Judaism, with a few notable exceptions, missed an opportunity to make significant contributions to World theology and to mankind, and at the same time, isolated the Jewish people and failed to protect it from persistent persecutions from other nations.

In the beginning…

The genius of Judaism, or Hebraism (Note 1) I should say, is the idea of One God.  Maybe the original Hebrews borrowed the idea from another place or another tribe in Canaan or in the Euphrates region, but Abraham and his cohorts made it work.  Monotheism became and is now the leading and most successful World theology.  The Rabbinic system of Judaism took off after the second destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 BC and replaced the priestly system that was in place then. The early rabbis felt that they needed to rebuild the religious foundation of a people who had just lost its land, power and temple for the second time in 600 years.  One of their priorities was to write down and discuss Jewish laws (Halakha).

The good…

Positive

Rabbinic Judaism has some important and positive attributes: it values intellectual honesty and justice, it is (or was) largely a merit-based, democratic system (no central authority.) Rabbinic Judaism formed the basis of a Jewish education system long before other nations, providing opportunities for dissenting opinions, and generally advocating a positive, life-affirming approach.

The bad…

Here are some areas where, in my opinion, Rabbinic Judaism fell, and still falls, short:

  • NegativeWith a few exceptions, discourse in Rabbinic Judaism has been narrow, focusing as I said above on conduct and obedience (Halakha).  Rabbis have spent millions (perhaps billions!) of hours on minute and obscure details of little or no importance to the Jewish as a whole.  One could argue that Rabbinic practices contributed to the isolation of the Jewish people.
  • I mentioned intellectual honesty as a plus, but Rabbis often use(d) convoluted, illogical and obscure arguments such as numerology or “miracles” in order to  make a point.
  • The Rabbis created a closed system of Yeshivoth where deep religious knowledge was shared and discussed within the system and rarely outside of it.  Those who attended yeshivoth often came from wealthy families who could support the students (Note 2).  successful rabbis were often connected in the community and politically astute.  They competed for lucrative positions in wealthy Jewish communities.
  • The Rabbis’ focus on halakhic minutiae has, in turn, hindered or precluded them from addressing important religious issues that could benefit all nations in the areas of morality, equality, oppression of minorities, compassion, interfaith unions, personal choices, etc.
  • To complement this thought, it is my observation that the most impactful rabbis and sages are the ones who were able to bring into their closed loop environments non-Jewish sources of knowledge, and integrate this knowledge into their own work.  For instance, Sa’adia Gaon integrated components of Greek philosophy, Maimonides was heavily influenced by Aristotle, and David Hartman used modern philosophy which he integrated with his Talmudic knowledge (Note 3).

A modern creed…

Modern-Space-Living-Room-Window-DesignCaring for strangers is mentioned more times in the Torah than any other commandment.  Yet morality is a topic seldom addressed in Rabbinic Judaism, except in the context of the law.   Early Christianity, on the other hand, was able to address some of the social and moral issues of the time while leveraging Judaism’s overall framework (Note 4.)

The Rabbinic “us versus them” model likely contributed to Jewish isolation in the World and missed an opportunity to share the strength and true meaning of the original biblical message.  Today, Judaism needs a new framework in tune with our science and fact-oriented world, a framework that focuses more on values and morality than halakhic details.  Morality has the power of truth, said Maimonides.  Judaism needs to become an open and moral religion, a modern room with windows. “Judaism beyond the (kosher) kitchen” as David Hartman said (Note 3).

Notes:

(1) One idea, attributable in part to Rabbi Leon Askenazi is that Ever (the original Hebrew), grandson of Noah, is really the founder of Judaism.  I will post on this. later.

(2) Just an example:  “At age fifteen, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi married Sterna Segal, the daughter of Yehuda Leib Segal, a wealthy resident of Vitebsk, and he was then able to devote himself entirely to study.”    Rabbi Akiva married the daughter of the Ben Kalba Sabu’a, a wealthy citizen of Jerusalem, etc.

(2) It is no coincidence that I mention Rabbi David Hartman who created the Shalom Hartman Institute.  Rabbi Hartman was a philosopher and leader of the Modern Orthodox Movement .  Some of the ideas in this post originate with his teachings and vision.  The first post on this blog was devoted to a short but critical essay by Rabbi Hartman called “Auschwitz or Sinai“.

(3) Early churches met almost exclusively in homes. These gatherings became close, supportive communities that shared resources, including money, when someone was needy. They became surrogate families. Not only that but they were radically egalitarian—something novel in the Roman world of that day. Paul made his ringing announcement that “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

***

To Life! – Le’ Chaim!

Recent scientific news tell us something our ancestors already knew:  life is precious, life is rare!   On this day of remembrance, let us praise life.  Let us praise the Godly and magical concept of life that brings us all here together: humans and animals and plants.

Let us acknowledge that we are all products of life, first and foremost by smiling at one another!  Today! Smile at your goldfish, at your tomato plant, at your neighbors and at strangers.,

Let us remember kindly those who brought us life, our parents and their parents and their parents.  Let us remember the innocents of all nations and all faiths who perished at the hands of others,

Let us acknowledge our difference of opinions but recognize the miracle of life that unites us all.

To life, Le’ Chaim!

Anti-Semitism being ‘normalised’ in Poland, Jewish Congress warns

Source: Anti-Semitism being ‘normalised’ in Poland, Jewish Congress warns

The European Jewish Congress expressed “grave concerns” Thursday over an increase in anti-Semitic acts in Poland under the rightwing Law and Justice government.

“There has been a distinct normalisation of antisemitism, racism and xenophobia in Poland recently and we hope that the Polish government will stem this hate and act forcefully against it,” EJC president Moshe Kantor said in a statement.

The group cited a proliferation of “fascist slogans” and unsettling remarks on social media and television, as well as the display of flags of the nationalist ONR group at state ceremonies.

Such incidents “appear to have coincided with the Polish government closing its communications with the official representatives of the Jewish community,” Kantor said.

According to the congress, it has been around a year since a senior Polish minister met with leaders of the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland, which represents the fewer than 10,000 people who belong to Jewish organisations in the country of 38 million people.

Poland was once home to Europe’s largest Jewish population, numbering around three million people, or 10 percent of the Polish population in 1939.

But only about 300,000 survived the Second World War after Nazi Germany occupied Poland and set up the death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau on its territory.

Earlier this year, University of Warsaw’s Centre for Research on Prejudice found that acceptance for anti-Semitic hate speech — especially among young Poles on the internet — had risen since 2014.

The study, released in January, found that 37 percent of those surveyed voiced negative attitudes towards Jews in 2016, up from 32 percent the previous year, while 56 percent said they would not accept a Jewish person in their family, an increase of nearly 10 percent from 2014.

Read more: http://www.digitaljournal.com/news/world/anti-semitism-being-normalised-in-poland-jewish-congress-warns/article/501334#ixzz4rN1HVOTz