Daily Archives: 18 July 2010
I have always had a love affair with Jerusalem, even before I first came into contact with what is one of the most beloved cities in the world. My first time was at the age of 16. My family was here for the summer to celebrate my brother’s Bar Mitzvah, and my favorite uncle, Abi, rented a car and drove us to Jerusalem, taking us first to the Kotel. My first reaction was very emotional. This wall, for me, is the symbol of how high we have risen, how low we have fallen. In the countless times I have paid a visit to this wall since that bright summer’s day in 1979, my emotional state has wavered between joy and sadness, but those white stones with the tiny bits of paper stuck in the cracks, messages to Hashem, always evokes a tear, an intaking of breath, a special beat to my heart.
This Monday night we begin the fast of Tisha B’Av, the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av. This day is the culmination of a three-week period of mourning which began with the fast of 17 Tammuz, the date on which the outer walls of the city of Jerusalem were breached during the siege. On the 9th of Av, the temple was destroyed.
My father taught me that this date is the Jewish Friday the 13th, when so many horrible things have befallen the Jewish people. It is the date that the stronghold of Beitar fell to the Romans during the Bar Kochba revolt. It is the date of the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492 during the Spanish Inquisition. It is the date when the Nazis began the deportation of the Warsaw Ghetto. Any Jew who feels the collective emotion of our people cannot help but mourn on this day.
On Tisha B’Av we fast. In Judaism, the purpose of a fast is to lower the volume on our physical pursuits in order to focus more acutely on our spiritual selves. This doesn’t work for me. I find myself thinking of food. What will I serve to break the fast? How much longer until we break the fast? I find myself drawn to foodie blogs, cookbooks, even the Food Channel on television. I have a one track mind.
In my previous life, my girls and I would break the fast on pizza. We would call the local pizza place half an hour before it was time to eat, the pizza would arrive five minutes before the fast was over. I believe that in those five minutes all the agony, the suffering of the Jewish people, was felt. No amount of Bible study, no amount of keening for what once was, could rival the emotions of those last five minutes. It sounds horrible, doesn’t it, that in the last five minutes something as trivial as pizza could cause us to feel the collective suffering of our people.
Now that we are living in Chapter Two, we have adopted Ju-Boy’s family traditions (although I believe Shy-Boy would like us to keep with the pizza tradition). We first break with some fresh orange juice, then a cup of tea (with milk, Brit style), together with a piece of cake or a boureka. Only later do we start digging around to find leftovers from the meal we ate before the fast, and whatever else we can find in the kitchen. There is no set dinner for after Tisha B’Av in our house, we become the scavengers our people must have become when the Temple was destroyed.
This year I will be home during the day of Tisha B’Av. Normally I am in the office, but there is no office for me this year. I will have no distractions except the worst ones: what will we eat later after the fast is over? I think I am going to occupy myself with cheesecake, I have been told I have a commitment to cheesecake. I have one cheesecake in my repetoire that usually makes people cringe, until they taste it — Smoked Salmon Cheesecake. This is not something you serve for dessert, it’s an appetizer, a salmon/cheese pate that, once you get used to the idea, is perfect for a hot summer’s night when you need to break a fast.
Have you ever eaten something heavy after not having eaten all day? Horrible feeling, no? That’s why this is a perfect meal for Tuesday night, after we haven’t eaten since the evening before. Try to wrap your head around it.
Smoked Salmon Cheesecake
- 2 cups savory cracker crumbs
- 100 grams (half a stick, half a cup) melted butter
- 200 grams (1/2 pound) smoked salmon
- 1 cup fresh dill
- 500 grams (16 ounces) cream cheese (I use 5% fat white cheese)
- 4 eggs
- 2 cups sour cream
- 1 tablespoon flour or corn starch
- salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C (400 degrees F).
- Crush the crackers to fine crumbs. Add the melted butter and then pat into a springform pan.
- In a food processor, using the steel knife, puree the smoked salmon. It won’t come out like paste, more like salmon granules. Add the dill and give it a whirl until it has reached a spreadable consistency. Place this mixture into a large mixing bowl.
- Add the cream cheese, eggs and sour cream and mix until all is just combined. Then sprinkle over the flour, salt and pepper. I use a sifter for this so I don’t get clumps of flour. Mix again until all is just combined. You don’t want to incorporate air into the mixture, this will just cause your cheesecake to puff up and crack in the oven.
- Pour this into the cracker crust. Bake this in the hot oven for 10 minutes only. Then turn the oven down to 110 degrees C (220 F) and bake for another hour. Set a timer! When the timer dings, turn the oven off and let the fishy cheesecake rest in there for another 45 minutes to one hour. Then transfer it to the refrigerator, and let it hang out in there for at least 4 hours.
- Serve cold, or even at room temperature. It makes a good nighttime snack a few hours later as well.
A few years ago my daughter Sassy taught me that it is not the right thing to do to wish someone a good fast. You are meant to suffer. So I wish those of you that will be fasting on Tuesday a צום מועיל (tzom mo’il), a meaningful fast.