One of the most popular commercials in television history involves breakfast cereal. In the 1980’s, Life cereal had a situation commercial where three brothers, ranging from two to eight years old, were sitting at the breakfast table. Two of them were contemplating whether or not to eat the new cereal their parents bought them. Apparently, not sure what to do, they thought of a plan to present it to the youngest brother, Mikey. Knowing Mikey is difficult with food, if he eats it, then it must be good. Mikey began to eat the cereal as the brothers were staring at him in anticipation. ‘Hey Mikey, look, he likes it!’
Life is one of many choices of kosher cereals we have. In fact, if you’re talking about choices, I especially like ‘the family variety pack’ (different varieties in mini boxes). Apparently, with the overwhelming amount of different cereals available at the supermarket, it seems like one can never refer to eating cereal as boring.
Last week we spoke of the first of six different categories of cereal and their respective brachot. Because of the vast varieties, one can get lost as to which bracha to make. In fact, it could get so complicated my friend, Ruben Kolyakov, pointed out that one particular cereal, Kellogg’s Crispix, remarkably has two brachot – mezonot and ha’adama because one side is made of rice and one side is made of corn; and they’re both ikar (main brachot of the cereal). Rabbi Avram Sebrow of Yeshiva Chafetz Chaim (writer for the Five Towns News) also agrees about the unique double blessing and adds that one has to make the mezonot bracha first because it’s on a higher level of importance.
This week we’ll discuss the second category, which is oven-puffed crisp rice (Kellogg’s Rice Krispies is an example.)
Crisp rice cereals are made by a process called oven puffing. The main process for making crisp rice is as follows: Whole rice is cooked with sugar and flavoring. The rice kernels are then dried and slightly squashed. The kernels are placed in an extremely hot oven for puffing, after which they are toasted. In another process, ground rice is cooked into a batter and extruded into small pellets. The pellets are then puffed and toasted. Both types of crisp rice are subject to the bracha of mezonot. This also applies to crisp rice which is flavored with cocoa and fruit flavoring (such as Cocoa Pebbles, Cocoa Krispies, and Fruity Pebbles.)
One may ask ‘why was the Life commercial so popular?’ I believe Americans of every age fell in love with Mikey and his brothers because it reminded them of youth, of themselves. Cereal is something which is appealing to all ages and to all walks of life. Everybody gets that refreshing get-up-and-go feeling after a bowl. Folks have gravitated from the simple and sweet cereals of childhood to a healthy high grain, high cosmopolitan-ish contraption of a cereal. I sometimes stroll down the aisle of a supermarket with my son and wonder if I should get the oldie but goodie classic cereal or I should be a daredevil and try something new like Mikey.
Archive for Brachos
By the time I reached my late teens, my family became very health conscious. We decreased our meat intake, ate more fruits and vegetables, had less portions at mealtime, and healthy snacks were encouraged. But it was the fried food that was totally obliterated from the menu, both at home and abroad. Today, unfortunately, I’m not as diligent as I was – with the exception of fried food. There are a number of foods that I missed and occasionally the craving for them is unbearable.
Every time when Purim arrived, Mom would make samuseh puryaih (meat and onions wrapped in this delicious dough – deep fried), which would require napkins. Purim is not the same without it. But I must warn you; it’s definitely not a mishloach manot item (traditional special treats put into a nice basket and presented to friends).
Another item that is missed is fried whiting (fish) served Friday night at the Shabbat table. Today our families bake the fish and it tastes just as good. According to our sages, it’s important to have fish Friday night. The reason is because G-d rewarded Noach and his family for taking care of the animals in the ark, by giving them the ability to eat meat and chicken. But the fish did not take residence in the ark. Therefore, man was forbidden to eat fish. However, as a reward for receiving the Torah, which was given on Shabbat, fish became permissible for consumption from then on.
Another delicacy that is missed is chushcelik served at Bukharian yartzeit dinners. The sweet, soft, fried, thin rounded dough with confectioners’ sugar on top that melts in your mouth, is out of this world. The rounded large Slinky-like shape represents the continuous circle in which G-d runs the world; one life begins and another ends.
Another fried food star is falafel. The aroma of falafel is very mesmerizing and therefore hard to resist. I’m sure there are many places to get good falafel. There are a few that come to mind. Moshe’s Falafel on 45th St and Ave of the Americas in New York City is very good. This establishment operates out of a cart. Another highly regarded and famous falafel place is Shlomo’s in Jerusalem. Shlomo also operates out of a cart and one can find him in the Bukarian quarters near Kikar Malchei Yisrael in Geula. The falafel is so good at Shlomo’s that people come from all over Jerusalem go to eat there. Don’t forget to bring reading material because the lines are long!
In many Yeshiva high schools, there is an extended Thursday-night program that is mandatory. When I was in Yeshiva, there were not many people who had an interest – as evidenced by the attendance, and the school had a hard time enforcing this rule. But in my junior year, changes were made. The school decided to serve delicious breaded fried chicken with potato salad for a side dish, resulting in an escalation in attendance by 98%. After a few months, some students got smart; they wanted the best of both worlds, and decided to leave through the back way after dinner. But the administration anticipated this move. The principal himself was guarding the front door, while the assistant principal guarded the back. Eat and run doesn’t apply here.
We learned last week that if one is in the middle of a meal (after saying the blessing on the bread), and cake is brought on the table, a blessing is required only if he’s eating it as a dessert. If he’s eating it for satisfaction, a bracha is not necessary. In general, if enough cake is eaten to satisfy your hunger, a hamotzi is required. There is an exception to this rule – if the bread was fried. According to Jewish law, frying the bread changes its form and structure, and will lose any potential of raising its status to bread. One can consume as many jelly doughnuts as he wants and the blessing will always be mezonot.
One of the staples in a synagogue – besides Kiddush wine – is “marble cake”. This is universal, whether it’s Sephardic, Ashkenazi or even Bukarian. We know a hamotzi or mezonot is needed for the requirement of a meal. Therefore, you will always find cake at happy occasions to fulfill this mission. According to our sages, human nature shows tremendous favoritism when we are introduced to something for the first time. Perhaps that’s why childhood experiences are vital in understanding a person’s actions, because the inception makes a huge impression and shapes his future. Possibly, that’s why Jewish law forbids testimony of one party while the other is not present. The judge tends to favor the first words he hears. For me, there definitely is an association between marble cake and childhood, whether it is in synagogue or mom’s weekly shopping indulgence at our favorite bakery. I could not wait to tear open the rectangular white box containing that delicious chocolate frosted marble cake.
Furthermore, Bar Mitzvah celebrations in our elementary school consisted of a tradition of going from class to class with a box of marble cake and a bottle of scotch. The proud Bar Mitzvah boy offered a l’chaim to the Rabbi in a little shot glass with a piece of marble cake. We all watched as the rabbi dunked the piece of marble cake into the scotch and ate it. The scent resulting from the cake-scotch combination would make us hungry. Every time there is a Kiddush today, the first order of business is scotch and marble cake. Those of you who were with us last week learned the concept of ikar-main food, and tofel- secondary. The mezonot (cake, main food) is considered more important than shehakol (scotch, secondary). Therefore, one would only say the blessing mezonot. Scotch is considered a precious commodity by many – including yours truly. Regardless of these strong feelings, it is secondary in the case of the dunking.
Today, when we are yearning for that marble cake taste of yesteryear or perhaps when one has developed a more mature taste, one would wonder where they can satisfy that particular craving. For starters, there’s excellent marble cake at Kaffs Bakery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn; Ostrovitsky’s Bakery in Flatbush; or Queens Pita on Main St. Whether chocolate frosting is on their marble cake or not, it is amazing. I’m sure there are many others that we missed. If there are others, an email would be appreciated.
My parents often took pride in their Bukarian hospitality as being the best. Visiting other ethnic Jewish communities over the years, I find them also boasting that their hospitality is the best. So much for cultural superiority; for many Jews, hospitality and Shabbat go hand and hand. When the marble cake makes its entrance after a four course Shabbat meal, do we make a bracha on the cake?
Cakes serve as a dual function. It could be eaten as a dessert or snack in order to satisfy one’s desire for sweets. However, cakes are also often eaten to satisfy one’s appetite. Accordingly, if cakes are eaten for dessert, a bracha should be required. But if cake is eaten for satiation, a bracha is not required. There is however, another consideration; there are some mezonot that fall under the category of bread, so no bracha is necessary. It is important to note every community has slightly different laws and one should ask their local Rabbi.
There was a period on Shabbat morning, where I used to pray at the Yeshiva Chafetz Chaim. It was a beautiful, quite inspiring service. I got to know and eventually became good friends with a Rabbinical student named Noam Abramchic. One Shabbat morning, our conversation centered around food. Perhaps the reason the conversation gravitated toward food was because it’s at the end of the prayer services and everybody is hungry. Or perhaps those who know me understand it’s a predictable part of my nature to talk about food. The topic was deli. “I know of the best delicatessen that would beat any of New York’s establishments”, he ranted. “There’s a place in Chicago called Romanian and it’s out of this world.” I did not take Noam seriously, considering I’ve been eating fine deli since I was in diapers. “Do you really think any place on earth will compare to a New York deli?” I said to him. Soon after visiting his parents for the holidays, he brought me packaged pastrami from Romanian Delicatessen. “Try this” he said proudly. So I came home and I tried it. WOW! It’s amazing! This is really, really good pastrami.
A few years ago a friend David Bodenhiem said he received Romanian’s famous hotdogs (there are four kinds) from a pal coming back from Chicago. David said numerous friends of his in the Five Towns get packages through friends from Romanian for their special occasions. It reminds me of a particular popular 1970’s TV episode of M*A*S*H. The show takes place in Korea during the war in the 1950’s. The characters are doctors in a medical unit. The main character, Hawkeye gets a craving for “Adams Ribs” located – out of all places – in Chicago, and throughout the half hour episode goes through a lot of red tape to get this anticipated delivery. Finally, the package arrives. He and his companions are in the mess tent anxiously and triumphal opening and smelling the aroma of the food. The final scene has Hawkeye nervously going through the delivery bags in frustration. “What’s wrong Hawkeye?” one of the colleagues asked. Hawkeye replied, “They forgot the coleslaw!”
If we appreciate what G-d has done for us and are committed in acknowledging Him before we eat, then we should do it right. We have to try to give the proper blessing. We know if we have pastrami on club or rye, the blessing is Hamotzi lechem min hararetz. Bread is the most significant blessing you can recite. But what about sandwich wraps? One should know, this too is the blessing of hamotzi as well. Even though content of some wraps is mezonot, since you have the intention of having a meal as opposed to a snack, one would require to wash and recite al netilat yadayim and then hamotzi.
Bread and mezonot are considered in the category of important foods. The Torah attributes significance to the mezonot grain, wheat, and barley (INCLUDED IN WHEAT IS SPELT, INCLUDED IN BARLEY IS OATS AND RYE). These grains have an intrinsic importance because of their role in sustaining human life. There are rare times where one would eat bread and not recite hamotzi. These examples require the understanding of the concept in Jewish law called Ikar-main food and Tofel–secondary. Let’s say I’m sampling a taste of hot chili, one eats a bit of bread for no reason other than to soothe the harsh taste in his throat. Since the bread was not eaten to satisfy his hunger nor for his enjoyable taste, he is not required to make a hamotzi on the bread. The bread is included in the ha’adama blessing made on the chili.
Another example is with ice cream. Most people eat ice cream cones to enhance the taste of the ice cream. Therefore, the ice cream would require a shehakol and the cone (even though it is tofel) will require a mezonot. However, if one were to use an ice cream cone merely in place of a cup rather than enjoy the flavor, the cone will not require a separate blessing.
The mechanics of ikar and tofel are: Even though the tofel is subordinate to the ikar, the tofel is not considered to be so insignificant as to not require a bracha. Rather, we consider the bracha made on the ikar to extend to ‘cover’ the tofel as well. According to this approach, when a blessing of the ikar cannot be applied to cover the tofel, a separate bracha on the tofel will be required.
There is an art in the preparation of certain deli meats. Who out there remembers Bernstein’s on the Lower East Side? I would always put sweet red peppers on my big shmulk which consisted of four different kinds of meats on club or rye and, in addition, potato salad and coleslaw as sides. We always had a certain pride going to Bernstein’s because it was named, one year by the New York Times, as the best deli in the city. New Yorkers as well as Chicagoans take their deli very seriously.
An interesting study was brought to my attention by my wife about the effects one has on water. Apparently, a study was taken by a Japanese scientist, Dr. Emoto, who discovered that thoughts and feelings affect physical reality. By producing focused intentions through written and spoken words and music and literally presenting it to the same water samples, the water appears to change its expression.
He took three samples of water. The first he expressed negative thoughts and words; the second he expressed nothing and the last he expressed loving words. The test result showed the water astonishingly mimicked the expression. What would be the results if a person drinks these waters? Would he be affected by the different expressions that the water has inherited?
The sages have instilled in our daily lives the ability to make brachot (blessings) on food and drinks. These brachot consists of G-d’s name, who is the Creator, not only of us, but of these foods. When we recite these blessings in front of the particular food or beverage, the item gets inspired and it absorbs positive energy of the blessing. We then consume the blessed positive energy food.
Many years ago, there was a plague during King David’s time. In order to stop the plague, David instituted that the people should say 100 brachot a day. Perhaps the positive energy of the 100 brachot, some of which were from food consumption, may have had an effect. G-d’s name is powerful and if said in the right context, could produce very positive energy.
This past Sunday, the mothers and daughters of 147th and 76th road, (actually, it spilled over to 77th Ave as well), in Kew Garden Hills, organized for the boys and girls of their families, a siyum hasefer – a finishing of a book party, in the park. Every Shabbat for the past six years, approximately, these tzadekot would organize a brachos party where the kids would hear a story from various popular inspirational Jewish books. They then, make blessings and answer amen to various goodies that are prepared and presented on the host table. A different family would host each Shabbat.
The Sunday get-together reminds of a story I read a number of years ago which I would like to share. This story probably took place within the past 20 years. A man was walking past a synagogue in Boro Park where a funeral was taking place. Curious, he walked in to see who had passed away. Realizing that indeed, he knew the deceased, he approached the family and insisted that he would like to say a few words about him. Although, he was not scheduled to speak, nevertheless, he got the opportunity because of his persistent nature. Everybody was curious, especially the family, what this person, whom they did not know, was going to say. He began telling his story; “Every morning, I would be waiting at the bus stop for my bus to get to work. After some time, I realized something peculiar on the opposite direction of where I was going, across the street. There was this old man, the deceased, waiting at the bus stop, however, he never got on any bus. He’d be watching all the vehicles that passed by. One day, I got to the bus stop very late and realized that he was getting up to – I guess – walk home. Curious George that I am, I decided to cross the street and asked him, “What’s with your routine?”
He was very friendly and he kept on blessing the Jewish people. Then he started to tell his story. “I was in a concentration camp and we were always taunted by the German guards how it’s the end for “you Jews”; we all felt doomed. Today, 50 years later, I would get up early and go to the bus stop and count, about 30 school busses, with little Jewish children going to Yeshiva. I would not leave until I count 30. After the last bus, I would remember the Germans’ words, “It’s the end for you Jews”, and then I would thank G-d for all he has done.”
It’s a wonderful feeling seeing my children make brachot and even tell stories at this special Shabbat get-together. It’s a tremendous merit that innocent children are saying brachot and answering amen. I remember walking in Yerushalayim, as well as my son’s yeshiva in Queens, and hearing the boys singing in unison passages from the Torah. It reminded me of when I did that. The adrenaline running high and you are screaming and singing on the top of your lungs.
The old man’s last words to the Curious George friend, “It’s not the end for us, Jews”; he then smiled and said, “we are still alive.”