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What Makes a Holiday Personal?

As I was writing Jewish Cooking Boot Camp, the subject of my book often came up in conversation. Inevitably the person asking would have some sort of recipe suggestion. But with those requests came something else… family traditions. As I … Read More

By / October 1, 2009

As I was writing Jewish Cooking Boot Camp, the subject of my book often came up in conversation. Inevitably the person asking would have some sort of recipe suggestion. But with those requests came something else… family traditions. As I met and spoke with people all around the globe I started to collect all the fun, funny, silly, sentimental and downright crazy family traditions that people would tell me. I loved them so much that I ended up putting out a call via Facebook and E-mail for even more. They came pouring in.

In today’s world the image of the Jewish family, and the traditions they celebrate within their home, is rapidly changing. Some families stay true to what we embrace as "classic" – my friend Avi still bakes challah every Friday for Shabbat with her twin daughters – but that doesn’t hold for everyone. Instead of a holiday dinner, my friend Jill and her family took a Yiddish lesson. Creative? Yes. Traditional? No. But they had a blast. And as a family that’s not necessarily "religious" it was a perfect way to recognize a holiday and spend it together.

As part of my research for the book I spoke with a rabbi named Rachel Greengrass. I met her when she stopped by my daughter’s "Tot Shabbat" and I knew she would be the perfect person to contribute to the book. She’s friendly, approachable, and young…and she did not disappoint. One the main points she talks about in her portion of the book is that fact that being creative and making new traditions IS traditional. She and her husband practice what she preaches – one of her traditions is to drink four shots of vodka made from grapes instead of wine at her seder.

Many of the other family traditions were just as unique. From my friend Aleesa, who celebrates the joys of matzo ball soup with a song that her late grandfather made up, to my mom’s good friend Dee, whose niece has kept a 25+-year list of everyone who has attended every seder they have ever had. There’s Jodi, who had to hide TWO afikomens from her ultra-competitive brother; Stacy, whose mom reenacts the Passover plagues with live table theater and rubber bugs; and Israeli-born Efrat, who teaches her Miami-born children holiday songs in English, Spanish and Hebrew.

My own family’s tradition is my mom’s Jell-O mold. Every year she would serve it and every year my cousins and brother and I would laugh and mock her choice of side dish. In an effort to entertain us even further she began finding funny shapes to "mold" her mold with. There was the turkey, the Star of David, the heart… and many more. Today it still remains the butt of every holiday meal joke. But we wouldn’t have it any other way.

What’s the craziest Jewish holiday tradition you’ve heard? (Who knows? There may be second book…)

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