New Twists on Old Traditions

Purim Hamantaschen Gluten Free Elderberry Syrup Traditional Biscuit Recipe

Happy Purim to you! The sun has gone down and the festival can officially begin, but actually we have spent the afternoon frolicking in a celebration that my husband has declared is a Renegade Purim.

We held a “Purim Picnic Party” in a local park and took a huge basket of costumes, a suitcase full of instruments and rattles, and invited a bunch of kids to come and dress up and make noise with us. There are very few photos of the fun we had because we were having too much fun.

Purim New Traditions Cultural Experience Jewish Celebration Children Holiday Kids

I gather that this is a key purpose of the festival: making merry and having a great time. The other key purpose seems to be making and eating Hamantaschen, which are fruit-filled biscuits shaped to look like the ears of the villain of the Purim story.

And just as I went a bit left-of-centre with the mode of celebration, I also struggled to stick with the traditional recipes that were given to me for the biscuits. I ended up making two batches and started them off the same way; by using equal parts room-temperature butter and cream cheese, to create a lovely texture for the biscuit base.

Purim Hamantashen Gluten Free Traditional Jewish Cookie Biscuit Recipe

To one bowl I added plain flour and to the other I added dessicated coconut and LSA mix (which is made from Linseed, Soy and Almond meal). I combined them both well until I had a firm dough, which I put into the fridge for half an hour.

While the dough became stiff, I combined dates, sultanas, prunes and dried apricots with hot water on the stovetop until it was syrupy. This became the filling for my first batch of biscuits.

Purim Hamantash Gluten Free Elderberry Jam Traditional Cookie Biscuit Recipe

I decided to fill my gluten-free batch with the sticky jam that I made a few months ago with the elderberries from the tree in our backyard. I hadn’t strained the berries so it wasn’t suitable for cordial and it didn’t seem quite right for spreading on toast (it was a very simple recipe with just the berries, sugar and lemon, a bit like this).

Purim Hamantaschen Gluten Free Elderberry Jam Syrup Traditional Cookie Recipe

It turns out that it takes practice to take the step from elegant pastry rounds to excellent Hamantaschen triangles. I never really mastered it and then I ran out of time to get to our picnic. My attempts at gluten-free biscuits looked like puddles when I pulled them out of the oven, so I abandoned them on the stove stop and rushed out the door.

How incredible and wonderful, then, that two other attendees had gone to the trouble to make and bring their own, including another gluten-free version (seen at left in the picture below; the recipe sounds a bit like this one from Friendly Little Kitchen).

Mine are the ones at bottom right that are not triangles at all.

Purim New Traditions Cultural Jewish Hamantaschen Healthy Sugar Free Celebration Children Kids

We told noisy stories, held a noisy parade and played noisy games. Then nobody wanted to come home.

Purim Cultural Jewish Celebration Costume Tradition Cookie Biscuit Recipe

When I finally arrived back in the kitchen, I looked again at those gluten-free puddles and they had come good upon cooling. They were a little bit rustic, perhaps, but recognisable triangles (see the photo at the very top of this post).

And to be fair, all my Hamantaschen — of whatever shape — were actually really delicious.

So I think we were happy to be renegades with our celebration of Purim. Our festivities were a bit “unorthodox” to say the least, and our biscuits were non-traditional.

But this was a fantastic opportunity to connect with other families in our area, in a really fun way that held meaning for us.

Purim New Traditions Cultural Experience Jewish Celebration Children Many Cha Cha

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Lessons in Letting Go

I’m sure I’m not the only one guilty of perpetuating my own unhappiness by reliving horrible experiences in my mind and dwelling upon situations that have upset me. Recently I gained some new “tools” to help me stop these bad habits and take positive steps forward.

My family and I have had a rough time in the 6 months since I last wrote here on Many Cha Cha. We left Tasmania (and have moved a number of times since) due to the malicious acts of one or two vile individuals who operate without conscience. There’s always more than one side to a story, of course, but there is no version of this one that justifies the upheaval and suffering that my children have gone through as a result of those people’s actions.

The experience left me with burning bitterness and seething resentment, which of course does nothing to alleviate a difficult situation. I realised that in order to move on, I needed to let go. But I was so caught in a cycle of stewing and overthinking that I didn’t know how.

I decided to investigate ways of “letting go” used by different cultures around the world, and I found that there are numerous traditional, symbolic ways to release negativity.

Across the globe, there are common themes when it comes to rituals of release. Some traditions involve breaking, smashing or burning significant objects, such as the Italian New Year custom of literally tossing out and burning the old in order to make room for new. Historically, Italians and Greeks would break glasses and plates around the entrance to their homes in order to discourage negative energy from entering.

Many “letting go” rituals require an object to actually be sent out into the environment, either on wind or water. In China, sky lanterns made from rice paper have been used for thousands of years as a way to cast away fears, while kite strings are cut so they may carry sorrow away into the sky. Both of these methods are also used to send hopes and dreams up to the heavens.

A charming and probably very healing Native American tradition apparently involves digging a hole in the ground near a tree (or perhaps using a knot-hole in the tree itself) in which to whisper all your stories of anger and grief, then filling in the hole and thanking the tree for listening.

My children and I used these traditional ideas as starting points for activities. We made simple kites from twigs, paper and yarn and then ran with the wind, attempting to fly the kites by a flat lake. We blew up balloons and let them go, giggling ourselves silly as they blurted around and deflated. Together we foraged for broad leaves and gum nuts to make little boats. We sent them floating out onto a glassy billabong beneath soaring eucalypts.

Perhaps it was the symbology or the “ritual” aspect of the activities that helped me let go of much of my venomous anger. Maybe it was the running or the children laughing or the calm reflections in the water or the rustle of overhead gum leaves. It doesn’t matter.

Hanukkah for Beginners

When it comes to being a good Jewish mother, I’m a Learner Driver. If only it were as simple as saying “Eat Something!”

Chanukah Hanukkah Toy Children Menorah

Here are a few things that I have learned from my most recent — hopeless and embarrassing — attempt at incorporating some Jewish culture into our holiday season:

1. When it comes to getting the dates right, don’t rely on road-side posters in Caulfield promoting a related event or your “memory”.

2. Don’t use google to find latke recipes. That’s why you have sisters-in-law.

Chanukah Latke Potato Mix Recipe

3. And don’t take any notice of internet people who say “Latkes must be served with apple sauce and sour cream!” because the husband may say he’s never heard of such a thing, what are those funny-looking sauces.

4. Do not assume that by giving the kids some Chanukah toys (fantastic gifts from cousins), they will suddenly get into the spirit of it. They may sing “Happy Birthday to you!” to the Menorah and pretend to fry snails instead of latkes.

Chanukah Toy Play Set Wooden KidKraft

5. Don’t forget to dig out your Menorah well in advance, so you don’t have to use the toy one to undertake the ceremonial lighting of the candles. And don’t forget to buy proper candles, too, so you don’t have to use birthday candles.

Chanukah Menorah Candles Beginners Lighting Children

6. Never stop being grateful that the kids don’t know the difference yet, and that their dad is extremely easy-going about it all. Now, eat something already!

Chanukah Hanukkah Latke Plate Ideal Colour

Rolling Like a Stone

Cycle Life Jewish Cemetery Garden Menorah Gate Garden Hobart

I visited a local Jewish cemetery today and I placed some stones on one of the graves: it is one of my favourite Jewish customs.

There are a variety of understood reasons for the tradition, but the purpose seems intuitive rather than rational. Pebbles and rocks are sturdy, weatherproof, solid, heavy. By placing one on your grave I am marking my respect in a tangible way, I am adding to the monument of your life, I am letting future visitors know that you have been acknowledged by me.

Cycle Life Jewish Cemetery Henrietta Moses Grave Stone Pebbles

(Henrietta Moses died at age 13 in 1853, around the time when the Jewish population was at its largest in Tasmania).

Cycle Life Henrietta Moses Tasmania Jewish Cemetery

The cemetery at Cornelian Bay is located on land that was once government farmland, and it has been used as a burial ground (on and off) since 1872. Many of Hobart’s original cemeteries became health hazards because it wasn’t possible to dig deeply enough into the rocky earth to make suitable graves.

Cycle Life Hobart Cemetery Magen David Head Stone Jewish

I gather that the old Jewish cemetery, used from 1828 to 1871, had a block of apartments built upon it but was exhumed in its entirety once the building was demolished. The human remains and some salvaged head stones have been reinterred at Cornelian Bay and a lovely garden space has been created as a memorial.

Cycle Life Jewish Cemetery Hobart

I wasn’t able to linger long over the graves today, but I did reflect upon the contribution of these long-ago people to the development and culture of the place that I now call home. There were Jewish convicts and free settlers in Tasmania, and the plaques in the cemetery dedicated to infants are a stark reminder of the harsh conditions in which these people attempted to raise families. Meanwhile, one of the plaques names 89-year-old Sarah Moses, who died in 1861; she must have been one tough cookie.

Cycle Life Jewish Cemetery Moses Infant TasmaniaCycle Life Sarah Moses Jewish Settler Tasmania Cemetery Hobart

Having been at this place and thinking about these things today, I was particularly struck when my husband received news this afternoon of a family member’s pregnancy, while another beloved relative is very near death.

The cycle of life and death is a mystical, but somehow also very ordinary, thing. All we can do is roll with it.

Cycle Life Death Jewish Cemetery Harrington Street Hobart Reinterred

(The photographs feature all the Moses graves that I could find for a writer and archaeologist on the other side of the world, Lois Elsden, who has ancestral links to early Tasmanian settlers).