Esti’s Passover Playlist

One of the biggest Jewish holidays, Passover, starts this evening at sundown. What would a celebration be without a playlist.  Enjoy them, share them, and share the Passover story with your friends and families!


FREE Mama Doni Concert At Streit’s Original Matzo Factory This Sunday, March 18!

PASSOVER PALOOZA! Lively and Unleavened!

March 18 – At the Original Streit’s Matzo Factory, Lower East Side, NYC

Is it possible to make Jewish holidays fun and engaging for children? Yes, and I am proud to personally know one of the best and most talented musicians doing that today. Mama Doni and The Mama Doni Band. They are reaching Jewish children and their famliies as Jewish holidays are happening. Here are what other people are saying:

Her stage name may sound as if it belonged on a jar of pasta sauce, but Mama Doni is an indisputably Jewish performer. Doni Zasloff Thomas in real life, she specializes in putting a Jewish spin on all kinds of musical styles, including reggae, rock, disco and Latin.” – The New York Times

New Jersey’s Mama Doni makes a zany musical chicken soup of reggae, rock, disco, Latin, klezmer, and other styles.”
The Boston Globe

“Not since Woody Allen’s Radio Days has American Jewish youth culture been celebrated with such a sublime mix of silly and substantive.” – Miami Herald

Join Doni Zasloff Thomas, a.k.a. Mama Doni, in kicking off Passover 2012 with Passover Palooza, a free event at the original Streit’s Matzo Factory, 150 Rivington St., NYC, celebrating Jewish culture with a high-energy Mama Doni show, a tour of the matzo factory, a Behrman House Publishers Jewish book fair, giveaways of matzos, macaroons, CDs, and posters, and more!

Streit’s, the famous New York City family-owned matzo company, has been making matzos for 87 years, and, of course, Mama Doni loves matzo. In anticipation of Passover, Streit’s and Mama Doni present a new kids’ music video, “MISSION IMMATZOBLE,” all about the quest for Kosher for Passover food:

Mama Doni is the lead singer/songwriter of The Mama Doni Band, honored with a 2011 Parents’ Choice® Award for their recent release, Shabbat Shaboom, and winner of the Simcha Award for “Inspiring Joy Through Music” in competition with more than 100 bands from 15 different countries at the 2008 International Jewish Music Festival in Amsterdam. The band celebrates Jewish culture with irrepressible zest in its interactive family rock concerts filled with catchy pop songs that break the mold of traditional Jewish music. Quirky, offbeat, and unpredictable, The Mama Doni Band offers up a contagious and unexpected blend of reggae, rock, disco, Latin, klezmer and “Jewgrass” – all woven together with a hip Jewish sensibility.



WHERE: Streit’s Matzo Factory, 150 Rivington St., New York, NY 10002

WHEN: Sunday, March 18.

1:00 p.m. FREE Family Concert (geared toward kids ages 12 and under and their families).

2:00 p.m. Streit’s Matzo Factory Tour and Behrman House Publishing Jewish Book Fair.


INFO: 718-813-7170

Chanukah Days 5 & 6: Celebrate At Home

Friday night was the 4th Night of Chanukah and Shabbos! A double header for us Sabbath observant Jews. My husband made latkes that flew off the serving platter. Sure, they were full of oil (symbolism of Chanukah) but they were also delicious. The kids loved them and so did I! The recipe was easy as ever. Simply combine pealed Idaho potatoes, onions, egg, salt and pepper in a bowl. Mix it up. Put at least ½ of oil (we use canola) in a pan. Make sure it is hot before adding the potato mixture. I asked my husband how to know when the oil was hot enough. He told me the secret. Drop water on the oil and if it dances, it is ready for your potato latke mixture. Drop in the pan and when they are brown and crispy flip, about 5 minutes on each side. Another tip in making latkes, do not drain the the water with the potato starch. It is this starch that keeps the latkes together. Latkes are an appetizer that you can serve even when it is not Chanukah. I know that we will definitely have these again and again.

Once Shabbat ended, we continued our regularly scheduled Chanukah program. We lit the candles and sang Mazur together. The kids couldn’t wait to get back to their coloring sheets. I also decided to make my own Chanukah Party Play List (see below). This was a big hit and the kids were still singing the words to “Chanukah Fever”and “The Funky Gold Menorah” when they went to bed.

Continue reading

First Night of Chanukah: Celebrate The Miracle With Jewish Food From Around the Web

I can’t believe tonight is the first night of Chanukah, or is it Hannukah, or Hanukah?? However you spell it, this is one of my favorite Jewish holidays. Not only because it is so rich in meaning (and the food is rich too, oy) and symbolism. Who else would eat vats of oil for 8 days straight!! Lite, baked,or fried, this holiday can help us all see the miracles around us every day. Especially if we don’t gain inches!! So, let’s get this party started with some good Jeiwsh food!

If your Jewish holiday cooking book is falling a part, or has to much caked-on (what is that?) flour to see an entire recipe, I can help. I have included some links that you will find helpful in preparing a festive and delicious feast (sans cookbook) for your friends and family. I already feel guilty because I may have left somebody off this list. Please let me know if you have stumbled upon a great Chanukah recipe or blog that I could share with my readers. Continue reading

Halloween in March? No, Purim in Adar!

Halloween in March? No, Purim in Adar!If you have had the opportunity to walk down Main Street in Kew Gardens Hills, between 73rd Avenue and Jewel Avenue, you may have noticed an abundance of costumes on display in store windows. It may look like Halloween in March, but a different kind of celebration is behind the masks this time of year. Jewish communities around the world are gearing up for the global celebration of Purim, which falls on March 20th this year (Adar 15 in the Jewish calendar).

Purim is a celebration of freedom. A celebration of a miracle and two Jewish heroes, Mordecai and Esther. We celebrate their intervention, which we also consider a great miracle. We celebrate how Mordecai and Esther were able to avoid the command of the wicked Prime-minister, Haman. Haman wanted to annihilate an entire Jewish community in Persia 2400 years ago. His plan was overturned and we continue to celebrate today!

There are some great customs associated with Purim. As a Jewish community, we listen to the entire story, also known as The Megillah. The Megillah is also called The Book of Esther. Each time the wicked Prime-minister’s name (Haman) is read aloud, people use noisemakers (groggers) and make a lot of noise. This is especially fun for children. Speaking of children, this is a fantastic holiday for them. There are numerous Purim events in Jewish schools, synagogues, and Jewish community centers around the world. Children dress-up in costumes, some of the most popular are the characters in The Megillah (Purim story).

What is a Jewish celebration without food? There are some special foods that we enjoy during Purim. If you have been in a Jewish bakery recently, you probably have noticed the addition of cookies in the shape of a triangle, filled with jelly. These cookies are called Hamantaschen. They are symbolic of the hat Haman wore 2400 years ago. These are delicious and easy to make at home. You can find some delicious recipes for Hamantaschen over at Speaking of food and a Jewish holiday. That’ right, there is more to it than just dessert.

It is customary to send Purim baskets (Shaloch Manot) to friends and family during Purim. These baskets contain as much food, or at minimum, two food items that can be eaten on the go. In school, children give out small packages that contain an apple and a Hamantaschen. It is also very important during Purim, and year round, to think of those people that don’t have enough to eat . People donate money to organizations that provide food for the needy. This is a big Mitzvah on Purim (good deed), as well as any other time of the year.

What is a Jewish celebration without friends and family? This is what a Purim feast is all about. An array of meat dishes, wine, and desserts are consumed. Songs about Purim and kids having fun is what it is all about.

Now, time to bake the Hamentaschen!!

Hanukkah Music Brings On A Festive Beat This Year

I am having so much fun with my kids this Hanukkah. Sure, we eat a lot of latkas, donuts filled with jelly (sufganiot), and open a few presents. This year we have had the best time watching some Hanukkah videos and I wanted to share them with you before the end of the eight nights.

Mama Doni has an entire CD devoted to the festival of lights, “Chanukah Fever”. One of our favorite music videos from this CD is”Chanukah Fever”. You will be up on your feet and shaking your hips to a festive beat. Mama Doni and her band are incredibly talented and you can catch them live on December 8, Soho Center for Jewish Life – My Little School NYC – (100 Reade Street, Manhattan, NY) at 5:00pm.

The Maccabeats have also been on our replay list a lot (my kids just can’t watch it once). Never heard of them? I had not heard of them until I started to see my friends share their music video “Candlelight,” on facebook and twitter. I was very familiar with Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite,” but the parody of this song has me kvelling and telling the story of Chanukah with a song. What could be more fun?

A Social Media Schmooze With Metroimma

metroimmashmoozeOn Monday night, and (that’s me) co-hosted another successful Jewish Social Media Shmooze in NYC. Jewish bloggers and entrepreneurs participated in an online and offline discussion about social media. Don’t Jewish people always shmooze? Why is this night different than any other night? Continue reading

Spending Time With Ourselves

Spending Time With OurselvesI am so thankful to have married an incredible mensch with an incredible family attached. We are gearing up for a visit with my in-laws today. They have decided to drive up to Queens to spend the next couple of days with us. The kids loving spend time with their grandparents, something they do not get the chance to do as often as they should. We live in different states from both sets of grandparents and just getting  together for Sunday brunch is not always an option. I love that when our grandparents do get a chance to spend time with the grandchildren, they do very special individualized activities. One of the best activities is when they read books together and I love that! We also love the opportunity to eat at a restaurant together.

My husband and I are the only members of our immediate family that keep the strict laws of kosher. We do this both in and out of our home. As a result, it is a challenge to just go out to a restaurant and grab some lunch when visiting our family near their homes. We love the chance to take them to some of the great kosher restaurants in our neighborhood. We have decided to go to one of our favorite Shwarma and Falafel stops tonight, Pita Hot! Another very special event happened today!

I started the day early and for the first time in a very long time I recited the morning blessings.

This is a beautiful way to start the day and especially since we are in the month of Elul, new beginnings are encouraged! First of all, if you are not familiar with Elul and why it is a month of renewal, here is a short explanation for you.

Elul-What a great and meaningful time of year and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Elul, is the name of the Jewish month that we are in right now. Elul is a month also known as a time of repentance, as the Jewish people prepare mentally for the upcoming Jewish High Holidays of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur just a couple of weeks away. The Aramaic (the vernacular of the Jewish people at the time that the month names were adopted), the word “Elul” translates to “search”. This is extremely appropriate because we are encouraged to search in ourselves for where we have been this past year and where we want to go in the year to come. I really love this time of year because we are all encouraged to reach out from our own lives and look at how we have treated our fellow friends and family. We are also encouraged to apologize and ask for forgiveness. Even the sweetest friend will come right out and say sorry. You know we all have friends like that!

Let me just start out my saying I am sorry if I have hurt or dissed any of you in any way. Now, that feels better. It is normal to ask for forgiveness even if you are not sure what you might have done wrong to a friend or relative. For more information on Elul and some of the Jewish customs Jews take on during this month go to Elul is in the air and I have decided to really focus on meaningful things and I started out my day by reciting the Brachot Hashachar (morning blessings).

When I recited the morning blessings this morning, I felt so much more focused than I had in a very long time. When I mention focused, I am referring to the very essential things in life that busy days of rushing off to car pool does not allow me to acknowledge and appreciate. This morning, I felt that I gave proper credit, recognition and praise to G-d for giving me intelligence and understanding and providing a world in which to live. I also felt great that I could thank G-d for creating me as a human being and as Jew, and for the simple things in life, such as our senses, our bodies, and our freedom.

Shavuot And The Torah

I love Shavuot. Not only are my most favorite foods eaten in abundance, but the very center of Judaism is recognized. The Torah. I wrote a blog post about this holiday last year (I must have had more free time). This year, I wanted to honor all of the people that have rescued Torahs from dangerous places for thousands of years.

The image I have included and link to is about such a rescue as recent as Katrina. The caption from the picture read, “Removing Torah scrolls from New Orleans’ flooded Beth Israel Synagogue following Hurricane Katrina” , written by Alan Smason. I was so touched by that image that I requested well-known water colorist, Jordan Krimstein, use it as his Jewish New Year card that year. He did and the response was incredible. Here is the original letter that was sent out with the beautiful water color painting of the card: 

August 2006

We all remember the intense destruction of last year’s Hurricane Katrina. One photograph Jenny saw was incredibly emotionally moving. Alan Smason, freelance writer for The Cleveland Jewish News explains:

Members of ZAKA carry the precious Torah scrolls from the main Congregation Beth Israel sanctuary on September 14, 2005. The synagogue suffered catastrophic damage following the landfall of Hurricane Katrina on August 29. Waters rose so quickly from a nearby burst levee that no one was able to launch a rescue effort before the oldest Jewish Orthodox synagogue in New Orleans was destroyed. The stained glass windows entitled the Creation Windows are visible in the background as sunlight streams into the flooded Beth Israel sanctuary. Rabbi Issac Leider of ZAKA carries one of the holy Torah scrolls to a waiting boat outside.

Beth Israel was devastated by the intense hurricane and resultant flooding. The main sanctuary was flooded with water polluted by raw sewage, random debris, and chemicals. The holy Torah scrolls were painstakingly rescued. Following Katrina, six American volunteers with ZAKA arrived in New Orleans, offering aid and assistance to Jewish victims of the hurricane. Who is ZAKA? ZAKA is a New York-based Jewish rescue and recovery organization known in Israel for providing emergency aid at the scene of bombings. But the efforts were too late. Seven Torah scrolls were soaked, handwritten letters were illegible, parchment was disintegrated.

What else did Beth Israel lose? Everything inside including the chairs, tables, pews, bimahs, kitchen equipment, library, office files, all records, memorabilia, etc. was lost. Shul President Jackie Gothard stated that, “Our biggest challenge is the in-gathering of our members, many of whom evacuated to other communities and are not returning to New Orleans, and others who are challenged with the rebuilding of their homes and lives; especially our members who lived in the same neighborhood as the shul, and had the same 8-10 feet of water in their homes. Many of the congregants of Beth Israel are generational members, whose parents and grandparents built this congregation for them.” It is heartwarming to hear about the Jewish community pulling itself together on not only a local level, but a global one as well.

So what ended up happening to the Torah scrolls? On a sad note, all seven of their Sefrei Torah scrolls were so badly destroyed that they had to be buried. Over 3,000 prayer books met the same fate. Who was left to bury the Torah scrolls? Bruce Nolan, Staff Reporter for the Times-Picayne explains that an unaffiliated Christian named Rebecca Heggelund carefully buried the ruined Torah scrolls in her back yard. “Her respect for our faith and our tradition was just a beautiful tribute,” said congregation President Jackie Gothard. Rebecca Heggelund worked as a secretary at Beth Israel for eight years during the 1990s. Heggelund said that she came to understand Jewish rituals and values, including Jewish reverence for the Torah. The Torah is the center of Jewish life and law. In the Orthodox tradition it is the exact record of God’s own words. As a result, the handwritten scrolls containing the first five books of the Bible are any community’s most precious possessions. And tradition prescribes that at the end of their usefulness, they must be ritually buried in a cemetery among deceased Jews. That was not possible shortly after Katrina struck the city. Gothard said. “We evacuated with no idea what the extent of this would be,” she said. “We were like everybody else. We figured we’d be gone two or three days, we’d come back, clean up, that would be it.” Since the devastation to the area was so severe, the Torah scrolls were buried in Heggelund’s backyard until they were able to be moved for proper internment. This burial ceremony took place this past March 19, 2006. The seven Torah scrolls were buried next to the long-serving gabbai of Beth Israel, Meyer Lachoff, who died prior to the hurricane and wasn’t able to be buried until a few weeks later, due to the devastation. The Burial ceremony was attended by over 200 members/friends of Beth Israel and the Jewish Community.

The following press release written and distributed by the Orthodox Union, March 21, 2006, Rabbi Waxman, OU Director of Synagogue Services provided words of inspiration at the burial service for the Torah scrolls, declaring, “There are several times, burial being one of them, in which a Jew is compared to a Sefer Torah (Torah scroll) and a Sefer Torah is compared to a Jew. As we bury these Sifrei Torah it is crucial that we do not bury the principles of Torah with them. It is important that the vibrancy of Torah and of the New Orleans Jewish community remain strong.”

When we are burying Sifrei Torah, in no way does it mean that we should forget the contents,” Rabbi Waxman said. “It would be tragic if, in fact, we forgot our Torah. But it is good that we are able to dispose properly and honorably of these receptacles of the Torah. Unfortunately, Beth Israel has been destroyed. The Sifrei Torah were ruined and must be buried. But by this action we have the opportunity to go on. We have the opportunity and the necessity to continue in the Torah lifestyle; to plant these physical seeds of Torah and to tend to them by reestablishing places of Torah-true prayer; and to dedicate time each day to learn Torah and to perform Torah precepts.”

Jackie Gothard shares exciting news. Rabbi Elazar Muskin along with several Los Angeles Young Israel congregations have a Sefer Torah ready to donate to Beth Israel. The dedication ceremony is August 27, 2006, just two days short of Hurricane Katrina.

 As we approach Rosh Hashanah, may we always keep the Torah at the center of our hearts. The Torah’s precious words have inspired Jewish communities for thousands of years. Whether we give tzedaka (charity), donate to a Jewish organization, or call distant relatives to wish them a happy new year, we are a light onto the nations. Do an extra mitzvah. The whole world will glow more brightly.

As we celebrate Shavuot today, remember all of the beautiful Torahs that you have seen around the world. They arrived there with care an honor, just as the Torah instructs us to be to the people around us.