This article appeared in the Sept. 22, 2006 Jewish Advocate.
Break-Fasts reflect culinary, community spirit
By Susie Davidson
“Keep it light,” is the general consensus on Yom Kippur break-fasts. “Simple yet filling.” say all. Whether or not we stick to this is our own individual doing, but nonetheless, the break-fast remains a wonderfully communal event that goes beyond the setting, the group or the format. It’s an occasion for joining together over that most Jewish of traditions - good food - while emerging cleansed and renewed from weeks of self-analysis and solemn praying. And for break-fast hosts, it’s a chance to serve a meal that is sure to be relished with every bite, and a guaranteed success.
“People should not eat heavy after the fast,” says Joan Wolfson of Belmont. “Have juice, fruit, and coffee available when the guests arrive. A simple meal of bagels, cream cheese, yogurt, eggs, smoked fish and salad can be made in advance.” Joan’s mother, Claire Schechter, served these foods each year, along with her lakshen kugel that was very plain, made without a lot of sugar or dried fruit. “My dad, Bernie Schechter, always used to say that in honor of the seriousness of the holiday, the meal should be good, but not too rich, and simple,” Wolfson recalled. “If people start grabbing a bunch of different things, it will just make them feel sick and logey,” she said, while adding, “but don't forget something chocolate!”
“Do all the cooking in advance of the holiday, as there is only time for warming if you observe the holiday and go to Ne'ilah services,” says Jamie Stolper, who is the Food Editor of ShalomBoston.com. “Serve light foods first, then heavier items, or have both available on a buffet.” Stolper advises including sweets, for a sweet new year, but again, not heavy ones. The Web site’s food resources, which include High Holiday recipes and suggested menus for Rosh Hashana, pre- and post-Yom Kippur fast, and Sukkot, are heavily used at this time of year.
Sherry Alpert has been hosting “Break-the-Fasts” for several years. “They began as a family event,” she said, “but after my divorce eight years ago, I started inviting my divorced friends, particularly Jewish men whom I'd met on dates who had nowhere to go, as well as my ex-husband and his girlfriend (now his wife).” Her parents, brother, sister, niece and nephew enjoyed seeing the ex-husband, and many single friends have met there, even dated, following the annual event. “Last year, I included Gentile friends and professional colleagues in public relations,” she said. “My PR colleagues decided on-the-spot to start an informal dinner club to discuss PR issues.” The club has grown to six people and become a successful venue for them to enhance their businesses.
Alpert’s spread reflects her love of cooking and entertaining. “Despite the fact that my guests bring either a dairy or Pareve dish or a bottle of wine,” she said, “I enjoy the opportunity to throw a party and bring people together, while feeding them well.” She makes a challah and a fat-free, multi-colored pasta kugel for starters. “I add celery to the Butcherie's homemade whitefish salad, add fresh scallions and chives to cream cheese, and make a fat-free (except for the Heath Bar bits) chocolate trifle,” she added. She also serves lox and a variety of bagels. Guests bring salmon salad, salmon mousse, quiche, fruit salad, and bottles of wine. Can we go?
Rick Frank’s break-fasts have an especially healthy twist. “I invite people I know who prepare and enjoy macrobiotic or vegan foods and are Jewish,” he said. “These are people I know through the macrobiotic community, or friends I’ve developed over the years.” Frank, a Roslindale resident, began by sending emails to a macrobiotic email list, and has also held break-fasts at friends' houses, with their own invited guests. He has, however, shifted to just inviting people he knows. “I find that I prefer to do it by individual invitation rather than announcement, having perhaps six to 12 people,” he said, “because I found it satisfying to be with other Jewish people who observed the holiday and fast, so that we shared a common experience of the day.”
Plan ahead, he said. “Being macrobiotic, I have limited choices of dishes I am comfortable with eating. But I have found it very wonderful to plan Jewish holiday meals to share with other Jews who value the same quality of food.” So wonderful, in fact, that Frank has actually been doing this for Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and also for Passover seders. Foods include kasha varnishkas, or kasha knishes, and brown rice or other grain dishes. “I have made a tofu and noodle kugel, a light soup, miso vegetable dishes, and often, a pressed salad or blanched salad with sea vegetables,” he said. There might be a tofu, tempeh or bean dish, perhaps cooked fish or smoked salmon, and, of course, dessert.
Synagogue break-fasts have a similar convivial, culinary spirit. For at least 40 years, Temple B’nai Israel of Laconia, New Hampshire has held one for congregants in their Max Chertok Community Hall following Ne’ilah services. Big annual hits are Evelyn Davidson’s strudel and chocolate chip mandel bread, along with Irene Gordon’s apricot noodle kugel. Members of the congregation sign up beforehand to bring certain items, to ensure variety and basic staples. During the break-fast, synagogue gift shop items, which include many goods made in Israel, are offered for sale.
Beth El Temple Center of Belmont also holds an annual, informal congregant break-fast after Neilah services, as do Kehillath Israel in Brookline and Young Israel in Randolph.
“We have held a break-fast for about eight years,” said Avrom Herbster, Ritual Director at Sons of Israel in Peabody. “Our Social Committee does a great job, and we usually have tuna, egg salad, kugel, etc. There is always a great communal feeling, with congregants having gone through Yom Kippur together.” The shul posts photos of the break-fast afterwards on its Web site gallery.
Shalom.com’s Menu page includes suggestions for a Yom Kippur Meal for Breaking the Fast. “The meal varies, according to family traditions and individual preferences,” said Stolper. “In my house, we break the fast with challah and chicken soup. Then, after a while, we have a meal of the previous evening's leftovers, including the treasured kreplach. What could be bad at that time?” She says that others prefer a dairy meal, which might include the following traditional foods: Tea and orange juice, bagels with cream cheese and smoked fish, noodle kugel, herring in sour cream, sliced tomatoes, cucumber, and onion, fresh fruit…. The page includes recipes for noodle kugel, honey cake and poppy seed chocolate chip cake.