Many of you know about the visit to our campus yesterday by a virulent anti-Semitic group. We were alerted to their presence in Florida by the Secure Community Network (SCN), a program of The Jewish Federations of North America, late last week. Along with SCN, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) kept us updated on their status. Our Campus Security Director, Jake Silverman, had been monitoring them since their arrival to Florida and was in regular contact with local, State, and Federation law enforcement to keep us safe.
On Thursday afternoon, Jake’s cell phone began buzzing as local, state, and federal law enforcement offices alerted him that this group was targeting the Holocaust Center on our Jewish Community Campus for their next location to spew their Jew-hatred. With thirty (30) minutes notice, Jake was in contact with law enforcement and within minutes, Maitland Police officers were on campus, preparing to keep us safe. Mike, our security officer, secured the entrance to campus to ensure they would not be able to enter campus. Orange County Sheriff’s officers arrived to provide support and other local police departments, sheriff’s offices, the FBI and Homeland Security offered support if we needed them. It was an incredible thing to see as our efforts to improve our security on campus were clearly shown. Jake’s leadership in keeping us safe has always been something I have valued and he truly exhibited how extraordinary he is during this incident. Mike goes above and beyond to keep everybody on campus safe and while he always makes us feel safer by his presence, his true value, experience, and passion for our campus was on exhibit. The relationships with the Maitland Police Department and other local, state, and federal law enforcement paid dividends as we had their full support.
When this hate group showed up and was denied access to campus, they parked across the street and began spewing their bigotry, ignorance, and hate. It was disgusting and heartbreaking. I was overcome with emotion seeing and hearing them in a manner that was unexpected and a bit overpowering. As I turned around and looked at campus, I was amazed at the dichotomy that was occurring. On one side of the street were anti-Semites, Jew-haters, people filled with hate and evil. On the other side were beautiful children engaged in learning, being picked up by their parents and grandparents, JCC members coming to work out or swim, seniors coming to enjoy Jewish life on our campus. It was a sight filled with love, joy, and happiness.
Anti-Semitism is real and the power of Jew-hatred was on display yesterday. Also on display was the power of community. The national Secure Community Networks and ADL helping alert and prepare us, the planning by our security team and the relationships with law enforcement, the hardening of the campus that continues to occur year after year to keep us safe. People reaching out with love, care, and concern. I heard last night from a representative of the Muslim community in Orlando, reaching out in support.
Last night was Brave Choices, our signature women’s event. We honored 28 amazing women last night and as I watched the program, I was inspired, excited, and empowered, not only by the 28 women who we honored but by the 100 women of various ages involved in the event. Hearing them talk about the Jewish community in Orlando, of the passion they have, of the future of Jewish life, and how they are inspired was beautiful. Hearing the singing in the beginning was powerful and I encourage you to watch it on our YouTube page to be inspired as well. On a day when Jew-hatred and bigotry was front and center, this event highlighted the beauty and love of our community.
We are an incredible Jewish community in Orlando. While yesterday afternoon was certainly challenging, it also gave us a chance to truly see the beauty we have. I encourage you to reach out and be a part of this special community.
We have made it to the finals of Passover Madness. While we had some upsets along the way, it is no surprise who is playing for the championship. Matzo Ball Soup against Brisket. Before I get into the analysis of the championship round, here are some thoughts.
I loved how Passover Madness engaged people to discuss Passover food and their favorite dishes and memories. As I read the comments that went back and forth, I found myself reminiscing about my childhood and the way Passover foods (and Jewish foods in general) bring back so many special memories. The smell of oil, potatoes, and onions always brings me back to my Grandma Esther’s (z’l) kitchen. I see her smiling face every time I breathe in those smells and wish she had gotten to meet her great-grandchildren. When I think of or see Borscht, my stomach no longer gets queasy, I think of my Grandpa Len (z’l) and Grandpa Si (z’l) and how they loved their borscht. What a treat it was for them even though I never liked it. It’s almost enough to make me want to try it now (but not really).
When I think of horseradish, I always remember my cousin Eric (z’l) and our massive horseradish eating contests. Who could get the biggest spoonful in their mouth, eat it, and survive the heat? When the horseradish at our Seder this year was incredibly hot, I flashed back to him and if this would have been the year he won (we always tied, neither of us could stand losing) because I just couldn’t get a big spoonful down.
I brought my homemade charoset, macaroons, latkes, and Passover cake (new recipe that was easy to make and so delicious – it’ll be shared next year) to my parents’ house during Passover this year, the memories of our big Passover family gatherings flooded back. The house filled with family and our annual whiffle ball game with my Grandpa Si umpiring and the one year my Grandma Esther pitched.
Passover, and Judaism in general, is about memory. We remember our exodus from Egypt. We remember our loved ones and gather together to celebrate what it means to be family and to be part of the Jewish people. Thank you to everybody who participated in Passover Madness and commented on their favorite foods. It made this year’s Passover that much more special for me.
Now onto the matchup!!
This is a high-level, difficult matchup. You have the traditional ‘Jewish Penicillin’ in Matzo Ball Soup against the elite meat, Brisket.
While you can order a brisket sandwich at most BBQ places in town and enjoy it, it’s not Jewish Brisket. There is a difference. The sauce, the juiciness (even when slightly overcooked), the excitement of it on the serving plate, and how that serving plate is always empty at the end of the meal while the turkey or chicken serving dish always seems to have plenty of leftovers. Brisket is high-end Jewish food. A good cut is expensive and worth it. It’s a treat. It’s special. While there are tons of recipes for Jewish food, it seems every Brisket recipe ends up tasting basically the same. It’s the winning lottery ticket of Jewish foods. So how could the winning lottery ticket of Jewish foods ever lose?
Matzo Ball soup presents the challenge. While Brisket is the lottery ticket of Jewish foods, Matzo Ball soup is the base, the foundation, and the core. It’s filled with chicken and scraps. The chicken bones give flavor to the broth and the skin gives us that wonderful schmaltz that ‘sticks to your bones’. When you aren’t feeling well, it’s Matzo Ball soup that is the go-to. And unlike Brisket, the matzo balls are different in every house. Some are floaters. Some are sinkers. Some use seltzer and some don’t. Everybody has their own twist to make their matzo balls special. While I prefer floaters, when I get sinkers at somebody else’s house, I don’t complain, I eat them and still enjoy them (just not as much). Matzo Ball soup isn’t just Passover, it’s Shabbat. It’s Rosh Hashanah. It’s any special dinner and sometimes it’s just what’s for dinner.
In this epic battle, who comes out on top. Early in the tournament, I couldn’t see how Brisket could lose. It’s just so delicious and so special. It’s not an everyday food which makes it more exciting and more delicious. It’s a favorite. But Matzo Ball Soup just keeps on chugging. It’s comfort. It’s home. It’s family. It’s delicious.
So here’s how I picked the winner. In my house, the smell of Matzo Ball Soup on the stove gets my kids out of their rooms, away from their video games, and excited to eat. Brisket is delicious but doesn’t have that impact. Sure, it tastes delicious, but it doesn’t have that sensory impact that a pot of matzo ball soup on the stove does. So just like the smell of oil, potatoes and onions remind me of my Grandma Esther, the smell of Matzo Ball Soup on the stove will always remind my children of Jewish food, Shabbat, Rosh Hashanah, and Passover. And the creation of those Jewish memories is what I think will give Matzo Ball Soup the win in the 2021 Passover Madness.
It’s the Final 4! We’ve been waiting all year to see who gets here and it has been an exciting journey. Three of the top seeds cruised into the final 4 however it was the exciting run made by Gefilte Fish that captivated everybody. Expected to be eliminated early, Gefilte fish hung strong, had a huge upset win, and then took Tzimmes into overtime before just losing on a questionable call. I’m not sure if it was people thinking there was an actual Gefilte Fish swimming in the ocean or the love of something to hold a lot of horseradish, but Gefilte Fish more than surprised in this tournament.
On to the Final 4 and this exciting matchup.
Game One – Brisket vs. Tzimmes
Tzimmes had perhaps the easiest road to the Final Four, facing Cholent in a non-Shabbat category and then the surprising Gefilte Fish. Their color, pretend healthiness (carrots and raisins but filled with sugar and honey) and sweetness explains their making it to the Final Four, but will it be enough? It’s a delicious side dish but can a side dish really make it to the Passover food championship?
Brisket was an early favorite to make it to the Final Four and they have delivered. Many have them as the overall favorite to win the title. It’s delicious, has a great smell and color, and is filling. It’s not just A main course, it’s THE main course. Having already defeated chicken in the first round, I don’t think there is another main course that could possibly compete.
Prediction – Brisket in a rout. While Tzimmes is delicious and colorful and may even make people feel good because they are eating vegetables and fruit, there is nothing like Brisket. There is a reason Brisket was the odds-on favorite to win it all and its overall dominance is shown here. Brisket on to the finals!!
Game Two – Matzo Ball Soup vs. Charoset
This is the semi-final matchup everybody had circled on their calendar. Two of the heavyweights. It could be a championship matchup – they are both that good.
Charoset is the definition of Passover foods. Apples, nuts, wine (or grape juice) simply seem to go together. It looks great on the Seder plate. It’s delicious on Matzo or mixed with horseradish on Matzo. It’s a side dish all by itself. It’s simply multi-talented and a true Passover fan favorite. It’s the one thing that there is always way extra made because everybody always wants more.
Matzo Ball Soup should be a Passover food only but it’s so good that it’s a Shabbat food as well. And a regular mid-week ‘feel better’ food. And it’s Jewish Penicillin. The 5th question during the Seder could very well be ‘One ball or Two?’ The steam coming off the soup, the schmaltz created in cooking it, the veggies, the chicken, the matzo balls, some salt and pepper – what’s not to love. Early predictions had Matzo Ball soup facing Brisket in the finals but they have to get through a very tough and committed Charoset to get there.
Prediction – Oh boy is this a tough one to call. I have a feeling this is going to be very close throughout as the love for Charoset is real. In the end, I think Matzo Ball soup is simply too strong and in those closing hours of the vote, it pulls away for a solid victory and a chance to face Brisket for the ultimate title. And what a great matchup that will be!!
Round one is over, and we are now at the Elite 8 of Passover foods. I did well in projecting the winners in Round one, let’s see how I can do in a much tougher round 2.
Gefilte Fish vs. Tzimmes
I underestimated the negative power of liver as Gefilte Fish won a tight race. The deliciousness of Tzimmes and the beautiful presentation was far too much for Cholent to overcome. As we move to round 2, it’s hard to see Gefilte Fish moving on beyond their first-round upset. It’s packaged in jelly. It’s made of multiple fish and can’t even be called a ‘filet o’fish’. It is still the best way to eat horseradish but I think this is the end of the road for the Gefilte Fish. Tzimmes has the beautiful colors, the sweet delicious taste, and the advantage that it’s not Gefilte Fish and plenty of people may not even know what it is. That ignorance may hurt it in the future but certainly doesn’t here.
My pick: Tzimmes in a rout. I may need to make some this week just because of this bracket and the desire to have something that I can pretend is healthy because it’s got vegetables in it.
Brisket vs. Chocolate Matzah
Just as I predicted, both moved on. Both were easy selections in round 1. I don’t think round 2 will be any more difficult to predict the winner. Chocolate Matzah is delicious but it’s still both a Passover dessert and made of matzah. I don’t know people who eat it other than during Passover. Against a lesser foe it may stand a chance because of the chocolate but it’s facing Brisket, one of the most delicious of all Jewish foods. The smell of a cooking brisket fills a house with joy and children with excitement about dinner in a way that Chocolate Matzah doesn’t.
My pick: Brisket in another rout. It’s simple deliciousness. Brisket is the #1 overall see and it’s going to be hard to see it losing Passover Madness. It certainly won’t happen against Chocolate Matzah.
Matzah Ball Soup vs. Apple Kugel
Both were also picked to move on from round 1 and didn’t disappoint. Apple Kugel is good. It’s even delicious when cooked right. It’s fruity and sweet and filling. It’s a solid choice and deserves to be here. Matzah Ball soup falls in line with Brisket. It’s delicious. We eat it all year because it’s so good. Floaters or Sinkers, it’s still good enough to move on in round two. Salt, pepper, carrots, celery, some long-simmered chicken with the skin on so we have some homemade schmaltz at the top of the boiling pot of soup. Have I given away my pick already?
My pick: If the schmaltz comment didn’t give it away, you need a good Yiddish and Jewish cooking lesson. Schmaltz almost always means a winner and in this case, it’s a big win. I know people who don’t like Apple Kugel. I don’t know anybody (even people who are not Jewish) who don’t enjoy a good bowl of Matzah Ball soup. Matzah Ball soup rolls over Apple Kugel in a blowout.
Charoset vs. Sweet Matzah Brie
I think we finally have a matchup that’s worth analyzing here. Sweet Matzah Brie is a staple of Passover food. It’s breakfast, it’s lunch, it’s dinner – whatever you want. Sometimes people eat it for more than one meal a day during Passover. The sprinkling of cinnamon and sugar over the hot matzah brie off the stove is always a winner, even if I’m not hungry. But this is Charoset we are talking about. Mounds of it go as a side on plates during Passover. It’s not just part of the Seder, it’s part of the Seder people sneak to eat. Have you ever seen somebody try to sneak some Karpas during the Seder? Or just a bite of the roasted egg? Gotta have that extra dip in the saltwater? I didn’t think so. But that spoon digging into the Charoset is a tradition at my Seder table. That along with the multiple containers of Charoset in the fridge to last well beyond Passover shows the power of Charoset. This one may be closer than people think.
My pick: Like in the movie Beetlejuice where if you say his name three times in a row he shows up, it’s Charoset, Charoset, Charoset, and I’m looking for some now. There is no chance that Charoset, the elusive Passover food that is so good we think we should eat it all year long, but we somehow don’t move on with ease.
After getting 7 of 8 right in round one (That delicious Chopped Liver somehow lost to Gefilte Fish which isn’t even a real fish!) I am more confident in my selections to reach the Final 4. VOTE VOTE VOTE!!!
In the appetizer face-off, we have the infamous Gefilte Fish against chopped liver. Growing up, I thought there really was a Gefilte Fish swimming in the ocean and never consider that chopped liver was actually chicken livers that were chopped up. The way we trick our children with these foods is enough for them both to lose, however since one has to move on, here is the analysis.
Chopped liver is a staple of Eastern European Jewish food (I just can’t write cuisine). Like fricassee and many other foods that my children would laugh at me for eating while I grew up when my Grandma Esther brought out the chopped liver, it was a signal the feast was on. You could call it Jewish pate but that’s probably an insult to pate (although I must admit I prefer good chopped liver to pate every single time). I’ve had bland chopped liver but not bad chopped liver. It’s very consistent.
Gefilte Fish is the pressboard of all foods. It’s a hodgepodge of fish pressed together, soaked in a jelly, and then covered with horseradish to hide the taste, and if you use the pink/purple horseradish, to also cover the look. I love gefilte fish but after years of eating I have come to realize that what I really love is having something to put lots of horseradish on and to burn my tastebuds and clear my sinuses, not really the gefilte fish.
My pick: Chopped liver moves but it’s closer than people think because many do realize it’s liver and thinks there really is a type of fish in the ocean called ‘Gefilte’.
Tzimmes vs Cholent. An epic matchup. I wonder how epic it really would be if we were eating cholent during the week. On Shabbat, it’s the hot food. It’s got the cooked meat and hot potatoes and veggies. Unlike the cold leftover Shabbat dinner food put out or deli meat, there is steam when you open the pot and a fresh smell in the air. It’s an undefeated Shabbat food (except against freshly baked Challah) but as a mid-week dish? I’m not sure it holds the imagination the same. Tzimmes on the other hand is colorful. It’s tasty. It’s sweet. I love tzimmes. I’ll make tzimmes on the holidays and just as a side for midweek dinner. It’s consistent, delicious, and holds up every time.
My pick: Tzimmes but closer than expected because people don’t know what it is (calling it cooked sweet carrot casserole would help) and Cholent has the huge Shabbat edge and love the gets the vote out.
Brisket vs Chicken. The heavyweight division. This is a finals matchup, not a first-round matchup. Who did the seeding for this bracket anyway? I love them both. I can eat chicken for dinner every single night and be happy. If it’s overcooked and dry you just add a little gravy, applesauce, or barbecue sauce and it’s back to delicious. It’s perhaps the classic Jewish Shabbat dinner week in and week out. How can it possibly lose? Because it’s up against Brisket. The all-time great of Jewish dinner entrees. Growing up when you heard there was brisket with the chicken for dinner, you wanted to help serve the food to ensure your side of the table got the brisket platter first. If you ended up with a small piece of brisket and lots of chicken you were disappointed. The brisket platter was always empty while the chicken platter had half of the food still left on it.
My pick: It’s not fair to chicken but this is Brisket in a blowout. Perhaps it’s the regularity of chicken but brisket is simply the elite entrée for any holiday (or on Shabbat). The cut, the sauce, the messiness on my plate. It is such a blowout I don’t think I can wait until Passover to have brisket and it is going to be my Shabbat dinner this week.
Chocolate Matzoh against Macaroons. The dessert matchup. Chocolate Matzoh is almost good enough to eat all year long. And if it’s homemade, it certainly is. Even the store-bought is good enough to consider (but not good enough to select). This is ripe for an upset though. Homemade macaroons are amazing. I’ve made them and they are easy to make and incredibly good. When those show up on the dessert menu they are very hard to beat. Maybe impossible. But those store-bought ones are what usually show up and they simply aren’t that good. We eat them because it’s Passover. Sort of like those Passover sandwich rolls my mom and grandmothers used to make. We ate them because it’s Passover and they sort of looked like rolls. But they aren’t and once I realized all they did was sit in my stomach longer than regular matzoh did, I was done with them. Because the likelihood of the store-bought macaroons showing up instead of the homemade ones, it is hard to depend on macaroons.
My pick: If I had any faith it would be the homemade macaroons, they would pull the upset over chocolate matzoh. But those store-bought ones are everywhere and what usually shows up. Dessert for Passover seems to be disappointing unless you find the recipes to bake yourself. Since we are likely looking at both being store-bought, I have to go with the chocolate matzoh and don’t think it will be close as most people have only eaten the Manischewitz or Streits versions and well, even with a glass of milk they aren’t good.
Borscht vs. Matzoh Ball Soup
My grandfather ate/drank borscht. The look and smell of it still turns my stomach. I love my grandfathers and they were a key part of my life growing up – this is one of the worst memories I have: Them forcing me to have some of their borscht. Cold beet juice with sour cream on top curdles my stomach to this date. Having said that, there is a resurgence in the younger Jewish community around borscht. I think there is something cool about drinking a beet smoothie that has a very Jewish name and comes from the old country. Personally, I’d rather eat gefilte fish with no horseradish (and you know from above that I believe the entire purpose of gefilte fish is something to put lots of horseradish on) however if the young vote comes out, Borscht could be very dangerous. Matzoh Ball soup, on the other hand, is something I love to cook. I have my own secret recipe (I have adjusted it for years and mix it up – sometimes with noodles, sometimes without) and will make it any day of the week. My secret recipe for Matzoh Balls (ok, it’s not really secret – just cover the pot for 20 minutes and DON’T PEEK) ensures they are floaters- light and fluffy. I make enough for a family of 25 which means it lasts 2 weeks in my house. When my kids smell it they can’t wait to eat it and are excited. It’s THE Passover food that people eat all year long with joy. It’s so good, it may get overlooked and the hipness of Borscht with the younger generation may keep this close.
My pick: Matzoh Ball Soup in a landslide. Or as we call it in my house, Chicken Matzoh Ball Soup in a landslide. It suffers only because on Passover you can’t dip challah into it but the smell and taste….. Guess what I’m having with my brisket this Shabbat???
Apple Kugel vs. Potato Kugel. Sweet vs Starch. One of the toughest matchups to call as both are delicious and very different. Potato kugel is the standard side for all holidays. It’s sturdy and delicious. It’s hard to mess up and adding salt and pepper will usually fix any issues related to being bland. One of the most solid foods around. Hard to find any fault with potato kugel and a vote for potato kugel can’t be faulted. Apple Kugel is sweet and tasty. It adds flavor to any dish and can even serve as a dessert in a pinch. It can also be a bit risky as unlike potato kugel, sometimes it’s not good. This one is a toss-up and gonna be a close one.
My pick: Apple Kugel is a stunner. Personally, I’d vote for the potato kugel but I think the sweetness of the apples is going to win out here. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a blowout as potato kugel is a bit dull, although delicious. Apple Kugel could pull a few more upsets along the way – they are a sleeper pick to win it all!
Charoset vs. Horseradish. Charoset is the Miller High Life of Passover foods (for those of you who don’t get the reference, Miller High Life’s ad campaign was ‘The Champagne of Beers’.) It’s one of the few Passover-only foods that people love to make and love to eat. It’s fruity, nutty, and has a hint (or more) of wine (or grape juice). Seems to be a pretty perfect food which begs the question, why only during Passover?? Horseradish is Budweiser (the King of Beers). It simply rules. It is what makes gefilte fish edible. You use it on Prime Rib. It’s good enough to have on Matzoh without anything else (although most prefer charoset with it). It’s close to the perfect condiment.
My pick: I’d like to see Horseradish hold its own but I think this is the biggest blowout of the tournament. People LOVE Charoset. Unlike me, who will eat horseradish with a spoon, most people do that with Charoset. They make a huge side dish of it. It’s one of the highlights of Passover. I can see Charoset winning by double digits easily.
Sweet Matzoh Brie vs Salty Matzoh Brie. Sweet vs. Savory. Another classic matchup of tastebuds. The key question here is which do people prefer during Passover – sweet or savory. Matzoh Brie with the Passover syrup that is only good because it’s Passover is amazing. You can put jam or jelly on it. Cover it with fresh fruit. So many options to add a sweet flavor to your Passover breakfast. But that salty touch makes your mouth water too. It makes it more than something just for Passover (until Passover ends when you realize you still have enough Matzoh inside your body to last a month!) This one could go either way depending on the taste buds of our voters.
My pick: Like before with the potato kugel vs. apple kugel, I’m going with the sweet choice here. Passover has plenty of salt in it and the opportunity to add sweetness is a bit too enticing. In a close one, I think sweet wins out over savory and the Sweet Matzoh Brie moves on to round.
Two weeks ago, my friend Atif Fareed from the American Muslim Community Clinic reached out to let me know that they were approved to give the Pfizer Covid Vaccine and wanted to save spots for their “Jewish brothers and sisters’. I had the honor last week of helping people get vaccinated.
Atif reached out this week with even more spots for me to help people get vaccinated. I have been overwhelmed both weeks with the people who have reached out, the individual stories of their trying to get vaccinated without success, and my ability to help them get the vaccine.
Each time I register somebody, I get a wave of gratitude. To Atif and the AMCC along with the fact that I have the privilege of helping people.
There are people I have spoken with about this who have inspired me and who I will never forget. People who desperately wanted the vaccine but weren’t able to get it until now.
One of the great benefits of working for The Roth Family JCC and The Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando is that I truly get to change and impact lives on a daily basis. This has been an even higher level of impact than I imagined.
Thank you to everybody who used their networks to let people know about the opportunity and who reached out to ask if people they knew could get a spot. They may be grateful to you but so am I. And thank you again to Atif and the Muslim Community who opened their hearts, their community center, and their community clinic.