Friday, December 20, 2013


Because . . . it’s time to clear the pumpkins and dreidels from the doorstep of the “home” page, because on the Jewish calendar, our holidays are past, and because December is drawing to a close with Christmas just a breath away and the turning of a New Year almost here . . .

It’s time.

To leave the matters of work aside

To pack our bags

To spend the last days of the year

In a celebration of our own making.

Sounds a little crazy, but this year we’re taking a Christmas road trip.

Heading to sites where people normally see in the full bloom of spring or the heat of summer or the changing colors of fall.

 A Winter Photojourney, we call  it.

Taking our cameras, because that’s what we do on the road.

Heading East with the rising sun, through the mountains (where frozen roads are predicted) to Fallingwater – an architectural masterpiece we’ve never seen,

Booking a room in an historic inn where Andrew Jackson once slept. . .

Just the two of us on the road,

Driving through Harper’s Ferry, perhaps to take steps (or snap a photo or two) on the Appalachian Trail . .  . on to Washington, D.C, then back through Wyeth Country, Chadds Ford. . .

Snowbirds? Not us. Not yet.  

The winter roads await. 

Photos: vhenoch
Thanks for stopping by. . .and merry, happy, healthy

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Thanksgivukkah? Our November Dilemma

It's that time of year. . . and never again.

It’s been heralded as the holiday of a lifetime. Stranger things have happened on our calendars and in our kitchens, but it seems that the earth has turned and the stars have aligned to create a convergence of the First Day of Chanukah (technically the second night and candle lighting) and Thanksgiving Day, Thursday November 28.

Hence a fusion - if not confusion of menus. What’s a cook to do as we prepare to celebrate the Jewish Festival of Oil together with the American Festival of  Stuffing?

One mash up holiday meal

Any way you slice it, according to the Jewish (lunar) and Gregorian calendars, the two feasts won’t land on the same date again for another 70,000 years.  So cheers to all,  let's make the best of it and prepare our menus . . . to the max.

On the menu?
Blending the best of both frying and basting, mixing and stirring, we suggest:

Bubbe Knows Best Latkes  with Cranberry Pomegranate Sauce

Wine-Brined Turkey  (or is that Whine and Brine Turkey)

Sage Dressing: Pumpkin Challah Day Stuffing with Chestnuts

Sweet Potato Kugel (No Marshmallows Please)

Roasted Root Vegetables: Parsnips, Carrots, Beets with Pickled Onion

Pumpkin Pecan Rugelach

Pumpkin Cheese Cake

Guiltless Gelt

Bubbe Knows Best Latkes: A Recipe

Bubbe Knows Best Latkes
Mini Latkes and Cranberry Pomegranate Relish for T-Day Appetizers

There’s nothing like a platter of potato pancakes to inspire excess and pure joy. Plain and simple, this recipe calls for measurement in pounds: as many potatoes as you could stand to grate, as many onions chopped as needed to bring tears streaming to your eyes, eggs and matzoh meal – enough to hold the ingredients together, salt and pepper enough to taste, and if you really want to give your Lipitor a workout, add a  dollop of chicken fat to the potato mixture before frying, just enough to enhance that indescribably heavenly Jewish holiday flavor. (Hint: make ‘em “mini” for Thanksgivukkah appetizers.)
A recipe to serve a crowd

  • 3 pounds russet potatoes
  • 6 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 large onions, grated
  • ¾ cups matzoh meal (or panko bread crumbs for extra crispy)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground pepper
  • ¼ cup chicken fat (optional)
  • ½ cup peanut oil (or more) for frying

Cranberry Pomegranate Sauce

Here’s a Chanukah variation on a classic
  • 1 package cranberries
  • ½ red onion diced
  • Seeds 1 pomegranate  –
  • ½  cup brown sugar or to taste
  • ½ cup water
  • ¼ orange juice
  • ¼ cup brandy
  • Pinch salt
In a sauce pan, combine ingredients and simmer until the mixture thickens.

cranberry ingredients-9176

A brief  history of Jewish time

On the Jewish calendar, Chanukah comes up reliably on the same date each year. On the secular calendar, the dates move from year to year, most commonly falling in December.

Given that the Jewish calendar repeats on a 19-year cycle, and Thanksgiving repeats on a 7-year cycle, you would expect  the holidays to coincide roughly every 19×7 = 133 years.

According to calculations by Jonathan Mizrahi, a quantum physicist at the Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico, the overlap of  the two holidays would have happened only once before in 1861. However, Thanksgiving was only formally established by President Lincoln in 1863. So, it has never happened before.

And essentially, we’ll wait an eternity before it happens again. Why?

Mizrahi explains: The Jewish calendar is very slowly getting out of sync with the secular calendar, at a rate of 4 days per 1,000 years. (Not bad for a many centuries old calendar!) This means that while presently Chanukah can be as early as 11/28, over the years the calendar will drift forward, such that the earliest Chanukah can be is 11/29. The last time Chanukah falls on 11/28 is 2146 (which happens to be the Monday after Thanksgiving).

Of course, if the Jewish calendar is never modified in any way (which by Jewish Law it would be required to modify to keep Passover in the spring), then it will slowly move forward through the secular calendar, until it loops all the way back to where it is now. So, Chanukah will again fall on Thursday, 11/28…in the year 79,811. So go figure.

Menorah and pumpkins-9154

Let’s Talk Turkey:  About the Chanukah Holiday Take-Over

Technically, let’s be clear, the first night and first candle lighting of Chanukah is Wednesday, November 27th.

This year’s calendar fluke placing the first day of Chanukah on the same day as Thanksgiving has given rise to some crazy notions that Chanukah is taking over the menu, the Parade and the true “American” spirit of the day.

Not so. According to Jeffrey Lasday, Director of Federation’s Alliance for Jewish Education, Chanukah and Thanksgiving have worked together to eclipse the original Jewish Harvest Festival of Sukkot –  a sadly-neglected eight-day holiday which in fact traces its beginnings to the Book of Leviticus (23:39-43).

“When you have gathered in the yield of your land, you shall observe the festival of the Lord to last seven days; a complete rest on the first day and a complete rest on the eighth day.”

For hundreds of years in Temple times, the Jewish people observed Sukkot by traveling to Jerusalem for eight days of celebration, camping out in Sukkot (booths/huts) around the Temple. Sukkot ruled!  That is until . . .  the Maccabees.

Here's the story: In 168 B.C.E., the Syrian Greeks take over the Temple in Jerusalem and forbid observance of Jewish rituals including the holiday of Sukkot. A war breaks out for religious freedom. The Maccabees wage battle against the Syrian Greeks. Due to the war, the Jews are unable to get to Jerusalem to celebrate Sukkot. Finally the Maccabees vanquish the Syrian Greeks and are able to regain the Temple in Jerusalem. The first thing that the Maccabees do when they win back the Temple according to the Second Book of Maccabees is to celebrate the eight-day holiday of Sukkot.


As Jeff goes on to explain, “This victory over the Syrian Greeks becomes known as Chanukah (dedication) in remembrance of the rededication of the Temple. However, Chanukah goes on to shine, stealing the limelight from Sukkot. Sukkot’s critical role in the rise of the Maccabees and Chanukah is  forgotten.  But then . . . the Pilgrims come to America.

Like the Maccabees before them, the Pilgrims turn to the Bible and draw inspiration for a new holiday from Sukkot. Both Sukkot, the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles and Thanksgiving celebrate the fall harvest. Once again, Sukkot serves only the inspiration. The rest, as they say is history . . .  as the turkey, the stuffing, the candles, the dreidel-spinning, the candle-lighting, the NFL Games, and the gelt all go on to show.

From our family to yours . . .  Happy Challah Days.

(A version of this post appears in the November issue of -  where I spend a good deal of my waking hours - and some of my sleep time - writing and editing stories on behalf of the Detroit Jewish Federation.  Thanks for stopping by.) 
Photos: Vhenoch

Monday, July 22, 2013

Detroit: Views from the Trenches

A Conversation with Dan Gilbert

Detroit isn’t an easy city to love. It’s a Dickens of a town, the best of times and the worst of places. But there’s a feistiness in its residents that keeps Motor City rolling even as the street lights flicker.

I’m not a native. Born and raised in another post-industrialcity with a Great Art Museum and World-Class Orchestra- Cleveland -- three hours down the road as the time flies. 

A Clevelander, I never dreamed I’d be a Detroiter, transplanted and staunchly adapted to a city so vastly wanting. Driving to work (and yes, there’s still a rush hour here) on the morning after Detroit filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy, I listen as a BBC report on NPR describes Detroit as a “ghost town,” an urban prairie, a curious return to wilderness.

Easy for outsiders looking in to see the worst in Detroit, a city I8 billion dollars in the hole with a crumbling infrastructure once built for 2 million, hanging in today with a population estimated around 600,000. At last “count” there was something like 128,000 buildings - commercial and residential properties -  that need to be removed, razed, cleared to make room for . . . ?

But wait, c’mon . . . Like every place else, our world view keeps spinning,  And now that we’ve hit rock bottom, the state of the city is looking up.

According to the Detroit Free Press, weeks before a state financial review team found Detroit's fiscal condition so dire that Gov. Rick Snyder would soon appoint an emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, discussions behind the scenes indicated that an orderly Chapter 9 bankruptcy for the Motor City might be the best option.

To stop the bleeding

"This is an opportunity to stabilize Detroit,"  stated Governor Rick Snyder, appearing  on Sunday morning on NBC's "Meet the Press, "and even more importantly in the longer term, I'm bullish about the growth opportunities of Detroit. There's many outstanding things going on in the city, with the private sector, with young people moving into the city. It's got great opportunities. The last major obstacle is the city government." 

  • Buzz feed:  Transformers 4 is calling all Actors, looking for paid extras.  Detroit remains a great place to shoot movies, by virtue of its spectacular ruins, including the abandoned train terminal,  Michigan Central Station,  and the Packard Plant, both wildly popular with photographers

  • Whole Foods just opened a location downtown – a positive sign of urban gentrification in the city core

  • On Thursday morning, just hours before the city filed for bankruptcy protection, Quicken Founder Dan Gilbert put in a bid for an undisclosed amount  to bail out yet another chunk of the city in a deal encompassing the stalled-out Wayne County “Fail Jail” site.   

As everyone in Detroit knows, Dan Gilbert is Chairman and Founder of Quicken Loans and Rock Ventures. Drawing attention around the nation as a driving force in the new Motor City, Dan is the man determined to transform Detroit’s urban core -  one building at a time.  In three years his company has invested about $1.2 billion in 30 downtown properties, more specifically about 4 million square feet of commercial space and another 3.6 million square feet of parking.  Several of the buildings include headquarters for Gilbert’s various companies, which have brought more than 8000 employees downtown to live, work and play.

“You gotta dream anyway, you may as well dream big.” -Dan Gilbert

Gazing over the city on a warm summer evening from the vantage point of the 11th  floor of  the Chase Building downtown,  the view of Detroit holds promise.  We have come for drinks and nibbles to listen with rapt attention to Dan Gilbert as he addresses a group of “NextGeners” – a division of the Detroit Jewish Federation, focusing on “retaining and attracting” young talent to the city.  For many, it’s a first time opportunity for a look at new developments in Detroit’s urban core from a rare, inside view of Quicken Loans’ new digs.  By design the offices in the Chase Building look more like a creative agency or high tech firm- aptly described on the Quicken Blog as a “mortgage banking Candyland.”

There are whoops and stadium cheers, as the CEO of the Federation, Scott Kaufman warms up the audience.  “The efforts  of many are driving Detroit forward,” says Scott,  “but all movements need a leader, and Dan is the leader at this moment to rebuild Detroit.   There is no place in America with a deeper connection from people to place than here …  and we are very grateful that he has decided to put his energy here.”

A hush then falls over the room.  Dan Gilbert is in the house.

Dan has entered the room, just moments before his introduction – accompanied by what appeared to be an entourage of staffers, some of them wired and large enough to conceivably be bodyguards.  (At 5 foot 6 inches tall,  Dan’s stature in the community has nothing to do with his height.) Choosing not to speak at a podium, Dan takes a comfortable seat on stage, accompanied by longtime associate and Quicken Political Operative Dave Carroll.  In talk-show format, Dave lobs questions to Dan.  The following are excerpts of their 35-minute conversation:

DAVE: 8000 people downtown.  1000 summer interns.  Millions and millions of dollars invested downtown. Why Detroit?

DAN: We had a decision to make. Our leases were coming up in the suburbs. We had three choices: To stay in a bunch of office buildings spread out all over the suburbs;  to find a piece of vacant land and build a new headquarters;  or to come downtown. 

We chose the third option for altruistic as well as business reasons.  My grandfather was born in Detroit, my father was born in Detroit, I was born in Detroit; a lot of our leadership in all parts of our company had generations in Detroit.

"We were in a position we felt we could impact the outcome and make a difference.  We came down here with the number of people we had and the capital we had to invest. We could at least give it a shot.

It was a “doing well by doing good” strategy.

DAVE:  There was something big going on today. Tell us about Demo Days? 

DAN: A part of our engagement downtown is a partner called Detroit Venture Partners (DVP),  with Managing Partner Josh Linkner (a serial entrepreneur whose last gig was ePrize.)  DVP had this Demo Day where all the companies we’ve invested in are now pitching other venture capital companies from around the country.  And interestingly enough, we had 200 people there today and 120 of them were from VC (venture capital) firms from around the United States.  Last year we did this we only had 10 or 20. 

The story here in Detroit and in the technology corridor is that the interest from California and New York and all over is now very strong.

DAVE. What does opportunity in Detroit look like. 

DAN: Roll tape.

Opportunity is molded It’s built. It’s created.  Opportunity, Made in Detroit.

We launched (the campaign) #Opportunity Detroit for a reason. Because we believe that there’s massive opportunity in this city and the momentum keeps growing. It’s beyond us.  

We have 8000 people down here working full time now.  45oo were hired in the last three years. 3500 lived or worked in the suburbs  at one point. There’s no way we’d get the work we get done every day in four office buildings that are spread out all over the suburbs, it just doesn’t happen that wayThe kind of logistics and the kind of technology and facilities, the quick action and decision that takes place when you’re close together makes those  things easier.

"If you are an entrepreneur, your company can not excel in 2013 in a suburban location as quickly as it’s going excel in a downtown core that’s focused on technology, where the creative energy is,  and where those with skills and talent most want to be.   Live work and play here is the word.

Look: this summer we have 1000 interns with 187 colleges represented. What people don’t know is that we received 18,000 resumes without advertisingWhat that means is there really is a national interest in Detroit. I’m sure they don’t wake up and say, “Wow I wish I could work for a mortgage company in downtown Detroit.”  That’s not the deal.  That’s not Quicken Loans. We think we’re cool, but not that cool.  It’s the city and the fact that they can make a difference.  

A QUESTION FROM THE AUDIENCE: There are a lot of us here tonight trying to impact the outcome.  What one or two points of advice would you give us?

DAN: You can’t just do the same thing we’ve always done and incrementalize your way to greatness or major impact. It’s not going to work that way. There’s a saying: Incrementalism is the enemy of innovation, and I believe that because what it means is if you improve things a little bit or are satisfied with little bites of the apple, it doesn’t register on the dial. 

You have to take a risk. So I would say if it’s in you, if you have the dog in you, and you really do want to make major impact and change, you have to be bold, you have to be very determined to make that happen.  No matter what the noise is around you.  No matter who doubts you. No matter if you doubt yourself, no matter if you fail.  

Because  (even if you fail) you’re going to learn stuff and next time go a different direction much quicker than you otherwise would.  That's what I would say.

“You’re going to think anyway, so you may as well think big. You’ve got a dream anyway.  You may as well dream big. We’re only here for a relatively short period of time.  You may as well impact positively as many people as you can.”


Detroit photos: VHenoch,   Dan Gilbert: Brett Mountain Photography

Portions of this article are previously posted in the July Issue of  and cross-posted on Open Salon

Thanks for stopping by

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Taking a Breath(er) and a Blintz

I know, I know.  I am in violation of the first rule(s) of blogging.  Stay current.Write. Stay disciplined.  Write, right away. Know your stuff, right?

Okay, enough with the wordplay, like playing with the food on your plate. 

Have you ever taken note in the movies how actors actually eat in dining scenes?  Imagine the impediment of the food on the plate, how unappetizing it really is, take after take. It’s cut! Then eat again.  So what we see on camera are just the nibbles, the tiny bites, taken furtively for the lens. Uck.  The spaghetti twills, that never leave the fork, that plate still full.

Writing sometimes feels just like that.Tiny bites for the scene, working through a full plate of ideas.  Uck.  It’s a beautiful day. Almost 10 a.m. And here I sit. At my keyboard.

When we say we have a full plate, we mean too busy – a state of perpetual distraction. 

I “meant” to be out at this time, breathing deep, balancing on one foot on a yoga mat in a class down the street.  But no.  I missed the 7 a.m. window there. And I “meant” to be outdoors at this time – digging in the dirt, pulling weeds from the garden, planning a trip to the nursery.  But not yet.  Through the window  in my room there’s a brisk spring breeze stirring the papers on my desk.  But here I sit, staring at a grey screen, tapping grey words on an electronic page, heading nowhere outside my own head, which is nowhere in particular. 

Some  of higher mind call this ‘the writing life.’ A form of self-imposed torture for many.   For others, as necessary to life as breathing.  For me, it’s a curious kind of give and take, more like a clinical exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide.  I’m no writer, I would say.  I’m not a “journalist!” I confessed to the 10 people   interviewed last night  in a roundtable discussion for an article - an article on the “Greening of Detroit” that I will spend the next week and a half : laboring. Writing.

I’ve made a life writing.  Like this, on days like this, meeting deadlines, set by the parameters or obligations of work  -  a job, where I sit most of the day . . . writing. Ad copy. Jingles. Press releases. Annual reports. Video scripts. Speaker notes. Exhibits. 

And now. . . in free fall, I write articles of my own choosing, setting my own “editorial calendar,” agenda and schedule to meet a monthly deadline, as the “founding editor” of a little e-publication of the Detroit Jewish Federation – we call it  (because I named it) myJewishDetroit 

Now there’s a declaration: I’m Jewish.  A Detroiter (albeit former Clevelander).  I work for the Jewish Federation – the “engine of philanthropy” as we say, for the Jewish community here. 

You don’t have to be Jewish to understand our mission: to care and tend to our families and the most vulnerable members of our community, to teach our children well, to work towards the greater good, a vibrant future for generations to come, to repair what is broken in this world.  And indeed, there is much that is broken here in Detroit, in Israel and the world over. And so we plow our fields, plant our seeds, persist in the work and the hope. When you got a big mission like that, well, honestly, there’s plenty of work to go around. 

My work goes just as so: tap-tapping on a keyboard, melting through hours, word by word, putting together small pieces of the Big Puzzle.

As our sages tell us – We are not obligated to complete the work, nor are we free to desist.  (Pirke Avot – Ethics of Our Fathers - 2:21, if you must know.)

And then we get these holidays – like today is Shavuot. Time out. I’m on holiday today, a holiday which I am not particularly observing, and one which seems something of an interruption of everything I have on my plate.

And so here I sit at work of my own choice.  I will proceed to the yoga mat and to the garden, in due time, perhaps within the hour. But for now, as I will, and as I must: I will post my own work

About Shavuot 

In case you are still wondering – as most people do -- Shavuot is the holiday that celebrates the giving of the Torah to the Jews. On the Jewish calendar, it falls 50 days after the second night of Passover and historically marks the new agricultural season, the Holiday of First Fruits. 

The food of choice for Shavuot, is cheese (most typically served as blintzes or burekas, Israeli cheese-filled dough pockets.) Why cheese: from Scriptures somewhere in Exodus, Israel is described as the Promised Land, flowing with milk and honey.

Because, and just because,  a recipe is in order here, I offer my link to burekas, posted onFood52.  

For better blintzes than ever  I will attempt – I defer to a higher authority: Joan Nathan on  Chosen Blintzes for Shavuot.

Photos: Blinztes, Joan Nathan, courtesy of Food52   Burkas, VHenoch  
 & Thanks for stopping by.